Thursday, February 27, 2014

Today's News about "Future's End" and Multiple Weekly Comics Illustrates That DC has Gone and Utterly Lost It's Mind

My Hesitation about Weekly Comics
Weekly comic-series. That assortment of words can stir up a mess of emotions in me I can't easily comprehend. When I talk about a weekly comic-series I don't mean how there are so many Avenger's comics that arguably one comes out every week. I am referring to those times when a comic publisher will do an event comic that comes out once a week, every week, for a whole year. These always make me nervous and hopeful at the same time.

The shining example in many people's eyes of what would count as a weekly comic-series that was done marvelously well would be DC's, "52". The worst example of this can also be found within DC, with their "Countdown to Final Crisis" comics. Really, I can't think of any time in recent memory Marvel had a weekly year-long comic series coming out besides when they were doing "Amazing Spider-Man" on what was basically a weekly basis, but that didn't have a set time-length so much as it eventually ended and became the current "Superior Spider-Man" comic and its assorted tie-ins.
A "Batman Eternal" teaser image.
DC is already starting one weekly comic soon called "Batman Eternal". They also have one called "Future's End" starting in May. That sounds excessive as it is, but today I read some absolutely mind-blowing news.

A little earlier today DC went and dropped the bomb that not only do they have their new weekly series "Future's End" starting up in May, but come September every ongoing DC comic will kick it into overdrive by looking ahead some years into this potential future, and result in another weekly comic (to be named later) being launched that examines the things that could lead to this potential future, or something. Oh, and the September comics will be in that annoying 3-D-cover format DC used for Villain's Month of 2013.
One of my favorite satirical news duos sums up my view perfectly.
I don't swear much, but has DC gone utterly fucking insane?

I mean honestly, they already have the pressure of one weekly comic starting in April, another in May, and before I absolutely rip into them maybe we should simply examine three big flaws with simply doing just a weekly event comic, never-mind having two going on, with "Batman Eternal" and "Future's End" being in full-swing by the time September arrives and then brings October with a third weekly series.

3 Big Potential Weekly-Series Flaws

If the concept is bad, the whole thing will be bad
If the overall idea of the story is flawed, or the concept doesn't work well, then the whole series will suffer. Putting aside how "Countdown to Final Crisis" was also harmed by its many tie-in comics and was barely acknowledged by "Final Crisis"--in fact with some plot points in that comic directly contradicting the series--"Countdown" was hobbled from the start.

The whole point was that it was building to the real event, and basically all the readers were getting was setup. It flowed poorly, it was often dull, and the focus was scatter-shot in a way that was annoying whereas "52"'s way of jumping around to various characters made sense as an overall tapestry was formed. "Countdown" was an utter mess, but it was basically doomed from the word "Go", in my opinion. With a comic-book there may be the occasional mediocre or terrible story-arc, which is fine because you just wait for the next tale. When its a 52-issue're screwed.
This snazzy teaser for "Countdown to Final Crisis" was basically the only thing that I liked about the series
Another problem with weekly comics is sometimes the art can feel rushed, to put it lightly. You have all these artists working on a tight schedule and fill-ins will almost undoubtedly be needed, it can be quite messy. Now, if a careful balancing of artists is done where certain ones illustrate particular stories things can work out well. "Brightest Day" was a comic that came out every other week (switching-off with "Justice League: Generation Lost") but the majority of the time it was clever in having a particular artist stick with a story-beat. Ivan Reis was the main person who drew the Aquaman sections, for example.

The cost of knowing what the Hell is going on
When a comic comes out weekly for a year that is a big investment for a reader. Should it be a $2.99 comic you're easily paying over a hundred if you don't get a store discount, and if there are numerous tie-in comics for the event, or some-to-most issues are $3.99 for some reason you're now at almost 300 benjamins for the privilege of keeping-up with the big event.

"Future's End"--A Weekly and Line-Wide Event?
A slightly-older "Future's End" teaser
Clearly, weekly-comics can worry me, even if sometimes they turn out to be delightful in the way "52" did. Therefore, with DC having announced they are going to have two weekly comic-book series, "Batman Eternal" and "Future's End" you can understand my hesitation.

Then DC announces another soon-to-named weekly comic which will have the entire publishers line-up serving as a kind of massive prologue in September while apparently crossing-over with the "Future's End" weekly series, and my hesitation turns to shock.

THEN DC declares how the covers will come in 3-D as they did for Villain's Month,which many may recall was a royal mess, and my shock turns into slack-jawed disbelief at the combination of gall and idiocy I feel DC is displaying.

I can't wait to pay extra for a stupid cover gimmick
Honestly, are we being serious here? DC wants to have two weekly comics already going, then do a line-wide event in the month of September, and have that lead into another weekly comic? Even if the concepts are slightly interesting (addressing one concern I have about weekly comics) and even if the art works out well too, isn't the cost of this basically going to be astronomical for the reader?

Between the many comics with 3-D covers (that you already know DC will be charging $3.99 or more for), the weekly cost of "Future's End" and whatever the weekly comic that comes in October will cost, someone who just wants to enjoy the entirety of these events could easily spend half a grand--before even taking into account if they also want to read "Batman Eternal"!

I really do feel that DC as a company has lost its mind. This "Future's End" and October-series business sounds bloated with there being so many comics between the weekly series and September event. Plus, it feels like a price-gouging exercise with the horrendously stupid 3-D covers making a return. I'm honestly terrified this kind of excessive behavior is bringing us right back to the absurd shenanigans  that occurred right before the last great big crash of the comic market.
Who would have thought a reboot would now look restrained compared to what DC is doing now?
The Month of Madness
I liked the Nu52 reboot DC did, it was ballsy and dangerous but paid off. Over time the comics haven't been that impressive however and I've been reading less and less titles due to either dropping them or having the ones I liked cancelled. Now we have gotten to a point where DC is again doing something surprising, but where it is sheer lunacy instead of a brave risk that's worth taking. Does DC honestly think its reader-base can support three monthly titles, a big month-long event, and the regular issues of series that will be coming out before and after September--or as I'm thinking of calling it, "The Month of Madness (trademark pending, but not really)"?

This is insane, overly-expensive, and I plan to have little-to-no part of it, simply reading the main (and thankfully just monthly) Batman comic, Green Arrow (because of its incredible art) and a Justice League comic or two occasionally.

Today, February 27th, 2014, is the day I think DC officially showed us how it has gone over the deep end. These three weekly comics, a big September event, and all the regular titles may, for all I know, do gangbusters in terms of sales. However, I really think that isn't likely and instead we could be on the verge of a comics market-collapse that will be so immense it'll cause us to marvel at the grotesqueness and majesty of it all.

I honestly just hope all the comic stores will be okay if this blows up in DC's face and leaves Marvel, Image, and the rest of publishers laughing.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Rant-Reviews--Five First Issues of Random New Series

The Intro
My God, it really has been forever since I've done capsule reviews, hasn't it? The last time I engaged in "true" miniaturized reviews was back in May of 2013 when  I spent a day discussing Marvel comics in the Morning and other publishers in the Afternoon/Evening.

Perhaps I haven't done much in the way of capsule reviews because I've enjoyed  giving more detailed thoughts on certain comics. Maybe I haven't done mini-reviews because I read fewer titles. Perhaps I just didn't feel like it.

Whatever the reason I haven't done these sorts of reviews for awhile. However, because I have recently read a bunch of "first issues" of various series (or mini-series) I thought I would share my thoughts on them in somewhat bite-sized form. None of the comics were bad by any means, but some definitely were great and others just  good. Keep reading to see what I mean...

The Reviews
Loki: Agent of Asgard #1
For quite some time Loki has been written by Kieron Gillen, who sort of rehabilitated the character's image from being a simple one-dimensional bad-guy into the youthful trickster we know and love. From the re-booted "Journey Into Mystery" to his shenanigans in the amazingly-awesome (and sadly just-ended) "Young Avengers", Loki has been doing marvelous stuff thanks to Gillen and his artists. Hence, when I heard someone besides Gillen would be writing this title, Al Ewing, I had some nervousness.

I'm not familiar with much of Ewing's previous work, but have been enjoying his "Mighty Avengers" despite Greg Land's art and thought if the same quality could be carried over to this book all would be fine. Luckily, all is indeed fine and possibly even better, because "Loki: Agent of Asgard" is an incredibly fun romp discussing some of Loki's past and much of what he hopes for the present (and future). This comic has the Loki who is not evil, but more of a fun and lovable trickster. The tone hits just the right mixture of adventure, comedy, and foreboding with a surprising twist at the end,  making for a comic that had me wondering what I was all worried about. This is a wonderful first issue and shows that maybe there are some fresh ideas in the "House of Ideas"/Marvel after all.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

The Royals: Masters of War #1
This comic basically asks, "What if Royalty, in addition to having everything, also had super-powers?" and then runs with the idea. We have some exposition explaining to us how throughout time Kings, Queens, and their offspring from various nations have had super-abilities, but things are currently at a point in World War II where it is agreed no such powers will be used. At least, that is the case until one of the royal sons gets fed-up with all the pointless death and destruction, and takes action...which then sets us up for future issues which will undoubtedly have lots of fighting between royal-folk who have powers.

Rob Williams (who wrote the awesome "Daken" comics I loved a bit ago) turns in a sturdy script and the art by Simon Coleby makes everything look "grounded" enough that there isn't too much of a disconnect between the 1940's atmosphere and people with the ability to fly--it probably helps no one is wearing a bright costume or such. This is a solid comic, but it hints at much more interesting things coming than which actually occur in this issue. In other words, it is good enough for a flip-through but maybe it'll read better in trade with the whole story collected.
3 out of 5 stars.

The Bunker #1
Writer Joshua Hale Fialkov and artist Joe Infurnari have a story here that is a strange mixture of science-fiction, young-adult drama, and a dash of horror. Basically, a group of good friends (some of whom are couples) stumble upon a mysterious bunker when going out to put away a time capsule before they all split up for their various jobs and such they now have. Inside the bunker they discover messages from their future selves that warn how they are going to be responsible for the near-destruction of the Earth. The question now becomes if these letters will help them avoid the mass-death and violence they seem destined for, or only ensure the horrible things we see in the mixture of past-and-present storytelling come true for sure. It is all pretty trippy.

The science-fiction aspects of the story are evident, where I get the feeling of hints of horror would be in how the characters are freaking out and trying to run away from this dark destiny almost as if they were the same youths in a slasher film attempting to dash away from a chain-saw wielding maniac. Plus, the horrible things we hear about and see are almost more scary than any monster could ever be--if only because the idea of humanity almost being wiped out the way the story describes sounds so eerily plausible (and no, I won't spoil just what puts humankind near the brink of extinction, finding out is part of the fun). This comic has a fascinating concept, plays out interestingly, and I wonder just where things will be going next.
4 out of 5 stars.

X-Force #1
This is an odd one. The art is by someone I don't recall ever seeing the work of before, Rock-He Kim, and it is a new "X-Force" comic, kind-of spinning out the previous two that ran for a bit. The odd part is that with Si Spurrier is writing it, there is a quirky and slightly-absurd tone, but Rock-He Kim's art style reminds me of the excessively muscular and tough-style comics of the 1990's. Therefore, it is almost like a tonal clash between the writing and art. Spurrier is pretty much done now with "X-Men Legacy", and that too had a somewhat off-kilter style, but the art matched it. I just feel kind of strange reading dialogue and captions that seem to be a tonal 180 degrees from the art.

The thing is though, it kind of actually almost works. The story is interesting, and the art isn't bad so much as giving me flashbacks to 20 years ago; the weird mashing-up may give a reader weird feelings, but I still liked the comic plenty. I just wonder if Rock-He Kim would be better served on a more serious straight-up action comic and Spurrier would be more complimented by an artist in the vein of his previous collaborators on "X-Men Legacy". I may just really miss "Legacy" however and be trying to imagine this comic being something it's not because as I've said before, "X-Men Legacy" is/was a really, really good comic. This isn't a really good comic, but it is a good one and I'm interested in seeing where Spurrier will be taking the plot and if eventually the art will feel like it meshes better with the tone. We shall see. Oh, and I give Spurrier bonus respect for remembering something most writers forget, that Fantomex likes to pretend he is French and speak with an accent.
3.5 out of 5 stars (the extra .5 is for remembering the accent for Fantomex).

The Fuse #1
As with "The Bunker" this is a science-fiction comic, but this one isn't scary so much as an example of what could occur if you mixed a police-procedural with a futuristic spaceship tons of people live upon. Antony Johnston writes about a gigantic piece of metal floating in space where life sounds kind of miserable, and the idea of a cop volunteering to work there--as one of our protagonists named Dietrich has--sounds utterly absurd. There is humor (much of it from the grizzled old detective, Klem, she isn't one for beating around the bush), some action, and of course a mystery that needs solving and which will hopefully be figured out successfully by our investigators.

While this comic does a good job of establishing our main characters, they do come off as a bit one-dimensional. Klem is older and sarcastic, and Dietrich is serious and clearly a talented officer, but what else is there to them? I also feel as if readers don't really get a feel for what life is like for people who live on the Fuse, or why exactly it is supposedly such a bad place. Perhaps later issues will delve into those matters more, but as it stands now this is a comic that has a great concept and some quality storytelling. The thing that will determine if this is truly an awesome comic is how interesting the current mystery (and future ones) turn out to be, and if there is more to Klem and Dietrich than initially meets the eye.
3 out of 5 stars.

The Closing
A variety of comics have debuted lately, and it is encouraging to see many of them are good as opposed to boring junk. Perhaps I've just been lucky enough to not stumble across a particularly bad comic lately, but we all know they are lurking out there.

I suppose the key is to be open to examining new things, because you never know what fascinating comic you may find. Of course, should a comic be so good you want to get all future issues you may need to cut something else if you are on a tight budget like myself, but so is life.

I hope these new capsule reviews were enjoyable enough to make up for their lack of appearances for some time, and maybe I'll get more up in the future before as much time has passed. I guess the key is there being enough comics I want to talk about, but not do too in-depth with. We will see.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Stan Lee Tells Me How to DRAW Comics? AKA This Book Title Bugged Me

Stan Lee Teaches Me How to...Draw?
I found this book at a craft store near the section for drawing supplies with some "how to" books for people who want to sketch everything from furries to spaceships. The book didn't agitate me, it is your usual drawing-guide, but the title bugged me. A lot. Honestly, probably more than it should, but if I explain my feelings perhaps people will agree they are justified.

Let's start with a fact:  Stan Lee is probably the most famous name in comics that isn't a fictional character. Sure, everyone in the world may know who Superman is, but do they know who created him (Hint: it was two guys who later got screwed-over by DC)? Ask your average guy/gal on the street to name a famous comic-maker and they will almost assuredly say, "Stan Lee," regardless of if they know what characters he created, or even what publisher he made them for--"That company with, 'The Avengers,' right?" Stan Lee wasn't just a writer, he was and continues to be a master showman, expertly using the press to garner recognition for himself and the art form of comics. All that as it is though, Stan Lee was never an artist. How in the Hell would Stan Lee know anything about telling me how to draw comics? He could tell me a bit about writing, especially using "The Marvel Method", but illustrating?

A Complicated Relationship
Kirby (Left) and Lee (Right) back in the old days.
I've always said how I feel that I and many comic-book readers have a complicated relationship with Stan Lee. That is an opinion though. It is a fact that Stan Lee was never an artist. Depending on whom you ask, "Stan the Man" either wrote detailed scripts for his artists and did all the "heavy lifting" creativity-wise, or would just throw out an idea to his collaborators such as Ditko or Kirby and they would then pretty much do all the work (until the end when Stan would pencil in some dialogue to go with the amazing creations he had almost nothing to do with). This fascinating article/editorial delves into some of these issues and points out that regardless of what we think, it seems Stan will always feel he deserves the lion share of the credit because in the end, it was his ideas and masterful press-maneuvering that got Marvel where it is today (at least, that is arguably what he believes). Still, all of that said, Stan Lee was never an artist.

Stan Lee may have churned out scripts with great effort or sat around doing little besides providing ideas--as I've stated, it depends on whom you ask--but I think everyone who knows the slightest bit about comics can agree Lee never actually put pencil to paper in an effort to illustrate the creations of his collaborators and himself. Should you look closely at the bottom of that book you'll see it describes how they are examples from big names such as the aforementioned Kirby, so it is good he and other artists are getting their due, but that due is coming in the form of very small print, at the bottom of the book--the book which loudly exclaims in its title how Stan Lee of all people is going to tell you  the way to draw comics. That just bugs me, immensely.

He Who Lives The Longest Gets the Last Word
Stan Lee today.
Jack Kirby has passed on and Steve Ditko has chosen a life of quiet isolation putting out the occasional Objectivist-themed comic but otherwise shying away from the media as if a single quote to them would kill him. Also, many of Lee's other less-known collaborators are no longer with us. Lee is still alive and as much the showman as he ever was, though. If you're the last one alive, and most of the old guard of comics have died out, then basically what you say is all people have to take as the facts.

Stan Lee was always the more press-savvy one, talkative one, and otherwise charismatic-half of any writer-artist duo he was a part of. The man is just quite possibly one of the best wranglers of press ever, capable of garnering attention and T.V. cameras still today in his 90's. Perhaps because of his ability to promote comics, as well as himself, and through simply living the longest, Stan Lee has won. He gets the last word, and he has been around long enough and done enough work (even if you think it was relatively little) to have every right to put out a book telling folk how to make comics the way he did, and maybe, just maybe, succeed at it. Still, even if Lee has earned the right to put out that book, he frankly lacks the skill to tell us how to draw these potential comics.

Lee was never an artist, he was a writer, ideas-guy, and showman. He contributed so much to this industry, and I feel he did do a fair amount of hard work making all those comics and their characters that now garner billions of dollars a year thanks to movies and merchandising. Lee had an impact on this industry that cannot even begin to be measured, and I'm truly thankful for all that he has done and continues to do...BUT, he was never an artist. For that reason a simple book and its title really irritated me when I saw it at that craft store, and I just wanted to share with everyone why, even if in the process I come across as a bit nit-picky or whiny. I don't mind if I do though, because for all he did Lee was never an artist. Without those artists all the ideas and showmanship in the world would have meant nothing, so please don't tell me your book is going to have Stan Lee instructing me in the ways of drawing comics. It insults both the reader and all those folk Lee has worked with.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Everything Old Is New Again AKA The Strange Saga of "Bloodhound"

This isn't a review, but if I may tell you tale about a comic with a history that is interesting to say the least, then I can almost guarantee you will be entertained by this story of convoluted copyright and minimal marketing. Plus, I will tell you the point of all this at the end.  I won't 100% guarantee entertainment, however, because if you fail to be entertained I would be a liar; anyways, let's proceed...

Chapter 1--The good comic nobody knew about
The original first issue.
The new paperback collection's cover.
The lack of a DC logo will be explained.
There once was a comic called "Bloodhound". Written by Dan Jolley and illustrated by Leonard Kirk, it was a DC comic in the mid 2000's...but not really. You see, it theoretically took place in the actual DC Universe at the time, but other than a cross-over with the comic "Firestorm" for issue #5 during the "Identity Crisis" event and a brief appearance of some other random villain, it basically could have existed in its own little world. In fact, the way DC took zero effort to promote "Bloodhound" made that essentially the case.

"Bloodhound" basically existed on a periphery of the "capes" comics. It looked at how authorities would deal with people who had powers, but didn't throw on an elaborate outfit and threaten to take over the world. No, this was serial-killers and other nasty folk who just happened to have super-human abilities, and the one man with enough skill to take them down was the titular Bloodhound, Travis Clevenger. Not super-powered himself, but utterly ripped from time spent in prison, Clevenger was an ex-cop highly talented at profiling who allegedly killed his partner (the reasons why are part of a mystery I don't want to spoil) and then surrendered himself to custody. Years went by, and when they needed his profiling skills the police came to take him out of prison, resulting in his series.
The last issue of the series back in the 2000's
This was a super-hero comic DC did with basically no super-heroes, instead being more of a crime comic. It was in the main DC Universe but not shown to be at all important. It also had basically zero promtion. Hence, we had this comic called Bloodhound that people said was great, but which got so little attention due to its coming into existence during that whole "Identity Crisis" event it may as well not have existed. It isn't surprising to hear it only lasted 10 total issues. Really, it went nine if you don't count the pointless cross-over.

Were this the late 2000's our story would have ended there, another tragic tale of a quality comic left by a big publisher to die. This is the early 20-teens though, so the story continues, and gets even more interesting.

Chapter 2--From death to rebirth
Dan Jolley worked with DC to get the rights back to "Bloodhound". He finally was able to get a rights reversion and everything original to the Bloodhound Universe was now his intellectual property. The thing was, any reference to the DC Universe had to be scrubbed from any re-printing. As Jolley tells it, that wasn't a problem as the DCU had so little to do with the comic as it was. Other than that cross-over issue and a minor villain, "Bloodhound" was its own beast. 
You won't find this in any "Bloodhound" collection,
but it's okay because you really don't need it.
Jolley went to Dark Horse, had some new Bloodhound material appear in "Dark Horse Presents" and even got a collection of the original issues (minus the 5th) published titled, "Brass Knuckle Psychology". In a sign of great writing, Issue #5 of the original DC series was so carefully done as to not be important to the main story, those reading this book would have no clue the 9 parts are missing one unimportant extra part.

Now, there is currently a new mini-series of Bloodhound coming out that picks up right where the old series left-off, although this time truly in its own universe where there are powers, but no outlandish outfits or such. The new arc is "Crowbar Medicine" and from what I've read of it, it is pretty snazzy--just like the original series.

Chapter 3--The Point Of The Story
The first issue of the new mini-series.
Travis Clevenger seemed like he would be gone forever, remembered by few, but now he's back with a vengeance. It is a strange saga indeed, but one which in the end got us some slightly-older quality comics and now some cool new ones, which leads us to answering just what my point is. 

I suppose my point is that maybe there are no bad comics, just companies that do a bad job promoting them? Nah, there are some pretty bad comics out there that get plenty of promotion.

Maybe my point is that if you let a writer and artist do what they want with limited editorial interference you'll get good works? That could be it, unless of course the writer and artist need some editorial guidance.

I think the point really is though that considering how many comics-creators have been screwed-over on ownership or seen their creations flounder in copyright limbo its good to see the occasional positive story.

Yes, that's it! "Bloodhound" was stuck in the corner of the DC Universe, basically ignored. Now, it is one of the quality comics being put out by Dark Horse and getting much more press in terms of the company's marketing and reviewers enjoying the series--both the old one and the new mini. My point is that if you treat creators right you get better results for your company and pleased creators. That's my point!  
So yes, this is a happy ending to the story of what went on "behind the scenes" in comics, and happy endings can result in some really good works!

Sadly, happy endings are all too rare, but that is a different "point" for another time.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The "Thickness" Anthology Series, Book 3

Earlier today I discussed the 1st and 2nd issue of the great erotic anthology "Thickness". I now present my thoughts on the 3rd and final issue.
Thickness 3
The last issue of "Thickness" is also its biggest. With a paper-sleeve with scenes from the a last story holding the contents of the bulky main comic and an additional mini-comic this is quite a big book--at least compared to its preceding issues. While the 2nd issue is probably my favorite there is still some interesting stuff in here too for sure.

The first story is "30XX" by Lamar Abrams. It featuers some anthropomorphic guys and gals playing a video-game that is sexually charged, to say the least. Basically, it sprouts appendages and holes for people to interact with. The art is quite snazzy-looking and the tone is light and fun. I like it. Here's his website.

The second story is "Protestploitation". By Jimmy Beaulieu, it features two woman who have sex and then put on a war-paint of sorts and go take part in what appears to be some kind of mass-protest-revolution. Its sort of random, but again, it had good art so I like it. Check out Beaulieu's work here.

Next up is "Nightcrawlers" by Edie Fake, it is about a man and a woman who have sex with the aid of the titular animal. It's...odd. The art is okay, at first I thought the woman was a man as Fake seems to draw his characters in a masculine manner--which could very well be on purpose. I wasn't overly impressed with the story. Fake's website is here.

Within the pages of "Nightcrawlers" is a pin-up simply titled, "Pin-Up," by Hamlet Machine. It features two men bound up sharing an adult-toy. It's pretty well-drawn and serves its purpose as a pin-up. Hamlet Machine's site can be found here.

After that is "The Chasm" by Julia Gfrörer, which I honestly could make little-to-no sense of. There is a naked woman with a mask and she receieves oral sex from various people for the purposes of some kind of ceremony, I think? I don't know, its pretty nonsensical. I didn't care for this story much because it just is unintelligible. Here is her site.

Then we have "The Cockroach." It's a funny little tale written by Sean T. Collins and drawn by William Cardini. It is about a man who kills a cockroach at his lady-friend's insistence and she rewards him with a beer and satisfying him with her hands. I think its supposed to be a sort-of satire of a male fantasy where he does a simple task and is rewarded with a cold drink and sexual favors. The illustration-style is a weird minimalist-looking kind of art, and I liked it. Collins' site can be found here and Cardini is here.

Nearly last within the book we have "Standing Ovations," by Gengoroh Tagame. The book has you go to the end page and start from there reading right-to-left as it is a translated manga. While the art-style is good, I really didin't care for the story. It features a boxer who has been abducted by some evil group and is sexually tortured with all kinds of horrendous things done to his genitals. It's disturbing and unpleasant, which is fine, stories should make us feel all sorts of ways, but it basically is about little more than a man having terrible things done to him without his consent--it isn't a story, its just torture-porn. I couldn't find an English website for Tagame, so if you want to see his stuff you may need to learn a second-language.

The last page features yet another strip by "True Chubbo". Again, its passable but by no means overly memorable. Here's their site.

There is also an excerpt in the book called "Qviet" by Andy Burkholder. It's sparse lines and avant-garde style is pretty appealing, so I liked this a lot. Here is more Qviet stuff.

While overall I do have quite fond feelings about this anthology series, the third issue is a bit more lacking than the other two, so I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

In Closing
Valentine's Day is about love, caring, and often intimacy. I hope this overview of a very interesting comic-series was fun for you and inspired you to try and find the issues or grab the collection of everything that should be happening relatively soon.

The "Thickness" Anthology Series, Book 2

Earlier today I started this three-part segment where I discuss a fascinating comic anthology known as "Thickness". I now present to you the 2nd post about (what else?) the 2nd issue.

Thickness #2
This was the second release and possibly my favorite due to it just having some absolutely stellar stories. With a cover by Michael Deforge and some amazing tales within, if you were to get only one issue of this anthology I would recommend this one. Now, let's break down the tales that make this so smashing a read.

The first comic is an untitled 4-pager by Angie Wang about two women having sex that is so good they fly into outer-space or something. The art is nice but this is a totally forgettable piece. You can find Angie Wang's website here, and it is worth a visit as her other stuff is in fact pretty cool.

Then we have it, what I consider to not just be the best comic of this issue, but the absolute best of the series. Yes, I am talking about "College Girl by Night" which is written and drawn by the immensely talented Michael Deforge--whom I have spoken highly of in another post. It is a seemingly simple tale about a boy who as of "about three years ago" started transforming into a woman anytime there was a full moon. Within that idea however Deforge examines concepts of gender, with our narrator wondering if he is unimaginative with the only thing he does when a woman being having sex. The thought is discussed of what his orientation is if he is a straight man, but when a woman he has sex with men...making him a straight woman? The character's excitement at transforming but feeling saddened about being unable to have any meaningful relationship with someone (as a woman) makes for a fascinating tale of confusion and longing--something many of us probably feel when it comes to relationships. Plus, Deforge is just plain amazing when it comes to art, of course. See more of Deforge here.
Graham's "Dirty Deeds" is lusciously illustrated
"Dirty Deeds" is the next comic, done by the quite-talented Brandon Graham. It basically uses some futuristic sci-fi technology as an excuse to have all sorts of wacky sex-antics, but what amazingly drawn antics they are! Between artificial appendages and virtual-reality shenanigans it is quite the fun and good-looking tale. See more of Graham at his website.

After that, we have in the middle of the book a pin-up by Jillian Tamaki of a woman with strange little dolls just kind of posing. It is quite pretty. More of her here.

My least favorite comic occurs next, which still isn't horrible so much as just incredibly obtuse. "Slime Worm", by Mickey Zacchilli. There is a woman who loses a wedding ring, goes into some metaphysical swamp, talks to a strange snake creature, and, um, there is discussion of ice cream? As I said, it is all very strange. At least the illustration is somewhat neat with its creepily-dark look. His site is here.
The last full-story is a weird one called "Early Bird" and features an anthropomorphic bird teaching a class about narration techniques before finding himself so aroused by a student with the head of a worm he begins to have sex with her...whilst still imparting his lesson to everyone. It is very silly and a bit funny, plus the writer/illustrator Lisa Hanawalt does a good job drawing all the characters. I've reviewed her latest book on the blog, and her site can be found here.

The book closes with another "True Chubbo" comic that again is perfectly fine if unremarkable. Once more, their site is here.

With the mostly amazing work in this book I don't hesitate to give it 5 out of 5 stars and declare it awesome!

The "Thickness" Anthology Series, Book 1

Love is in the Air
In honor of Valentine's Day I thought I would put up three articles today reviewing each issue of the erotic anthology "Thickness".

"Thickness" is an anthology series of erotic tales that sadly seems to be done as of its third issue that came out a some time ago (but will have a big collected edition before too long). I find it fascinating because it has some really awesome names doing art who are becoming quite popular among the indie-comic crowd, and even some of these folk are now achieving mainstream success. Note when I say erotic I'm talking about what could arguably be hardcore illustrated pornography if not for the fact I'd argue much of these stories would pass the popular "Miller Test".

Some of the contributors to these anthologies are getting quite well known, some have a few small-press works out, and others I had never seen till this series. With that in mind let's go through the three books in separate posts discussing each story contained within in as much or little detail as I feel the need to discuss. Do note there will be an absence of pictures a fair amount of time as I try to keep the website "safe for work/reading at the library/generally appropriate. Okay, that is all out of the way so let us begin!

Thickness #1

The first one released of the series with a cover by Jonny Negron, Thickness #1 contains one amazing story and another I quite enjoyed, along with two other totally fine tales and a short one-page strip at the end of the book.

The first story, "Breeding Season," by Katie Skelly is a silly tale of these two humanoid-type creatures on a fantastical island meeting up and, well, mating. It has a charmingly fun style that is extremely cute if lacking in much of a fancy plot. Skelly's book "Nurse Nurse" came out a bit ago to positive reviews and more can be learned about her here.
The opening to "Grandaddy Purple, Erotic Gameshow"

The next story is the one that is just awesome, "Grandaddy Purple, Erotic Gameshow." By Jonny Negron (whom I have discussed before), It feels like a grind-house flick put to ink between its hyper-stylized violent opening where two characters are taken out by a mysterious man whom is not named in the comic but Negron's website says is named, "Utu The Assassin." Utu fights and kills two men before landing through a sky-light into the game-show and being informed he has won an exotic prize behind the door of his choosing. There, he meets a woman drawn voluptuously--as is Negron's arguable specialty--and they proceed to have sex before at the end she stabs his strange face with scissors, apparently killing him in a black-widow-style fashion. Oh, and Utu has a snake-like tongue. The whole thing is beautifully illustrated by Negron with whites and purples (fitting the story's name) and its mixture of violence and sex creates a comic that reads like an exercise in joyous excess. It is really, really good. More about Negron can be found here.

Next up is, "Pearl Divers," a perfectly passable story of two woman having sex that takes the metaphor of a woman's genitals as a clam to the extreme in its symbolism. It is fun but kind of relies on nothing more than its one idea, leaving me feeling unimpressed. Zijian Shen does this story and more of her stuff can be viewed here.
The titular "Shadez"

The last full-story is the other one I was a big fan of and titled "Trap Shadez". I'm not exactly certain what the point of it is, but the surreal art-style by Derek Ballard is quite enjoyable and makes the comic quite the read. Between the strange aforementioned shades, weird tech-speak, and general insanity I really liked this. See more of Ballard's surreal stuff here.

There also is a short 1-page strip called, "True Chubbo" that reminds me of Johnny Ryan in its design and grossness. It makes a fine little ending to this issue even if it is wholly unremembered once the comic is closed. Once-weekly editions of the comic can be found here.

Overall I would give this issue a 4 out of 5 stars, with its mixture of excellent and decent stories.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Tales from the Dollar Bin: Uncanny X-Men #394

There are comics which are worth incredible sums of money, but so many of the most interesting, tragic, or just downright weird can be found for a simple dollar or less in a  store's "dollar bin". There, comics that never gained much popularity can be found alongside those that sold so much as for a copy to be worthless. "Tales From the Dollar Bin" aims to explore these comics, be they a single issue or an entire run of a series. From the great to the miserable, some of the best treasures and worst nightmares can be found in those infamous boxes. Let's have a "tale" now...

The Forgotten (At the Time) X-Men Comic
When Grant Morrison was doing his incredible run on "New X-Men" there was in fact another "core" book that had been around for (quite a long) while focusing on some of the characters and what was going on with them. It was "Uncanny X-Men", and while it had the new outfits introduced by Morrison, and would touch upon a few plot points going on in what was then considered the "main" book, this was its own beast in many ways. Talented writer Joe Casey came onto the series with this issue that I found in the dollar bin, #394, and continued writing it until #409 with the most notable thing about the series for some people being that at times the amazing Ashley Wood or Sean Philips were on a number of issues for artwork.

A lot of people think of the run as being a bit too weird, unclear in its focus, and otherwise struggling in the shadow of "New X-Men", with there being folk out there who consider it some of Casey's worst work ever. Hell, even Casey admits things never really "clicked". The thing is though, I liked the run, and it finally has been fully collected instead of being in a few trades here and there--and I think it does read nicely as a cohesive whole despite its flaws. It maybe was confused, overly-quirky, and otherwise kind of a train-wreck, but I really enjoyed Casey's time on the series. I'm not going to talk about all of that though, I'm going to focus on this one debut issue that Casey did and what it had to say about the X-men, and comics in general.

Giving Them What They Want

Casey touched upon some amazingly interesting concepts during his time on the series, asking questions about popular culture and the corporatization (is that a word?)  of super-heroes--which he explored even further in "Wildcats 3.0", but that's neither here or there. This issue didn't have that, though, it was more-so just an exercise in bombastic excess that in the end points out its own self-awareness at being over-the-top and merely giving the audience what it wants--explosions and action.

A young mutant--only ever referred to as "Warp"--decides for his 18th birthday he is going to be like those "Mutant terrorists" the media always  talks about, and go to a military base and wreak havoc. He starts destroying everything, and seemingly killing people with his ability to warp them away to some other place--apparently within his own psyche (its never made completely clear how it all works). At one point he warps Logan/Wolverine and Jean into this place of his subconscious, and when in the real world he is finally stopped, in the surreal one it looks like all is about to end for them. Therefore, they kiss...immediately acting like it never happened once they awake in the real world suddenly, what with Jean being married to Cyclops at the time.

The irony comes in that this kid wanted to be the next big mutant-monster, the next "Magneto" but instead just contributed a little bit to giving mutants a bad name, and in the process of trying to be a counter-culture revolutionary caused some of the most cliche things to occur, namely fighting, explosions, and a bit of romance.
Casey is basically saying, "Here is what you want, comic-fans. I'm going to give you it, but spend the rest of my time pointing out how this is all absurd." Ian Churchill's art compliments everything nicely, and this issue encapsulates much of what Casey's run would end up being--a mixture of gorging on cliches and mocking them at the same time in an uncomfortable balance which in most people's eyes ended up not working out that well.

"Underrated" is the Best Word
There is much criticism of Joe Casey's run on "Uncanny X-Men". I like it, even though many don't, and this issue with its mixture of bombast and self-hatred seething below the surface makes for the kind of comic-book I really enjoy. The creator himself may think he didn't do that great a job on this series, but I feel this issue and the others are under-appreciated. Clearly his stuff isn't as popular as Morrison's run, however,  because I did find this in the dollar-bin.

This isn't a bad comic. It just came out at an inopportune time and expressed a lot of potential it was in the end not capable of living up to. "Uncanny X-Men" #394 is the kind of thing many people don't like, but I and some others out there quite enjoyed, resulting in a comic that is mostly forgotten in the shadow of its big-brother's success, but still special and unique. It is truly a good comic, and a good run, making it in the end somewhat tragic how due to being an overlooked diamond-in-the-rough it would end up being another...tale from the dollar bin!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Black History Month, Racial Diversity in Comics, And How We Still Have A Long Way To Go

Black History Month
For this Black History Month I was thinking back to the earlier days of my blog when I wrote an article about racial diversity in comics, or the lack thereof. I would like to revisit some of those thoughts and I have a few new assorted musings to start this article off that all come together to drive one point home.

1. Bleeding Cool has a magazine they put out sometimes, and they just did their 2nd annual "Power List" of the 100 most powerful people in the comic-book industry. One black person was on the list, a man named James Killen who handles aspects of distribution for Barnes and Noble and can influence how likely a graphic novel is to be stocked in their stores. So yeah, he was the only black person to have enough power in the industry to qualify for the list (heck, besides a few appearances of various races the list is mostly made up of white guys).

2. It still is a big deal when a comic book comes out that has a cast that is more diverse than not. For example the new "Mighty Avengers" has a wide range races and is pretty gender-balanced too, but besides being a really good comic book (other than Greg Land's iffy art), a lot of the reason it caused the hubbub it did when first announced was the racial and gender element.

3. Even if you have a pretty good familiarity with comics try to quickly name five black writers or artists. It might take you a minute, or you may struggle to even hit five, as while there have been some stellar black comic-creators, many are less known and still highly outnumbered by white creators.

I think these three observations serve as just a small example of how despite being a much more advanced, progressive, and accepting society than we were long ago, when it comes to racial diversity in comics (be it among the characters or creators) we still have a long way to go.
A book with a diverse cast such as "Might Avengers" is more of an anomaly than the norm.
Many of my observations in my earlier article still hold true a number of years later. Black creators are still relatively sparse, and black characters seem to often be relegated to the role of the side-kick or temporarily taking over the role of the "main" hero (whom is white) as a sort of place-holder until the "real" hero shows back up to reclaim their title as the actual protagonist.

That isn't to say there is a lack of encouraging signs however. Miles Morales, AKA the Spider-Man of the Ultimate Universe is half-Black and half-Latino and his title has been succeeding incredibly well with its mixture of super-heroics and high-school drama. He may have come in as a character assuming the mantle of a deceased Peter Parker, but he has made the book his own and hopefully the Ultimate Universe version of Peter Parker won't be coming back anytime soon to spoil such a great character.
The first time we ever saw Miles Morales.
He did later get a different and much cooler costume.
Miles is more an exception to what is going on in comics than anything else when it comes to diversity however. As hard as comic-labels can try, it just often seems their books with protagonists of color--any color or creed--don't last. DC's "Vibe" about the young Latino super-hero faded away fast and despite Marvel's Luke Cage always selling well in team books whenever he has had his own solo mini-series lately sales have been more disappointing than impressive, to give two more recent examples.

Sometimes people say comics with leads of color don't sell because they aren't marketed well. Other times folk will state how with a lot of comic readers being white, its harder to get black characters to resonate with them. Then, there will be those who say the biggest problem is not marketing or feeling unable to relate to a character, the issue is that white creators feel less comfortable writing characters outside their race and with a lack of minority individuals in comics that leads to a dearth of content involving people of color. Are any of these statements true? I don't know. Seriously, I don't know what the reason is that comics with black characters often seem to not sell as well or be nonexistent, but I do know that when a comic is well written, illustrated with great skill, and marketed with at least some skill, the book generally will sell.
Who would have thought a comic about nobody's favorite Avenger would be such a hit?
I don't think Marvel expected their comic "Hawkeye" about the titular Avenger and his protege of the same name to become such a big hit, but between the amazing writing of Matt Fraction and incredible art by David Aja and others, the book has become a certifiable commercial and critical hit. Imagine if something as good as "Hawkeye" could be created with one of Marvel's black characters, it would almost undoubtedly become popular.

Perhaps the issue is that with comics such as "Hawkeye" you have a character who has been established for some time. Black characters just haven't been around as long because black super-heroes didn't start getting bigger until after the white heroes had been around for quite awhile already (although there are black characters who predate Hawkeye so maybe even that argument is flawed). You can create new black characters, but when new white characters often struggle to take off in the comic market it could be argued that makes it doubly harder for minority characters, making an imprint like Milestone Media created by Michael Davis, Denys Cowan, Derek T. Dingle, and the late Dwayne Mcduffie all the more impressive for the success it achieved, however brief when one considers the decades-long history of comics.

Milestone had incredibly diversity and some great characters.
In the end it isn't a question of why there aren't more comic book characters and creators of any color besides the demographic of white, but how we can work to increase diversity among our comic-book characters, and the creators who make-up the stories we so love. It doesn't have to be black characters, it can be any difference in race, creed, or religion (for example the new Muslim Ms. Marvel). Just working to achieve a little more diversity is good, would be my point. Should we work hard enough maybe things will improve--it can't hurt to try.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Links, Because Interesting Things Are Always Happening!

Today I thought I would share some links on all the various going-ons in our assorted forms of entertainment and the world itself.

First off, just a friendly reminder in case you forgot, but the 2014 Winter Olympics are starting, with the Opening Ceremony airing tonight! Check your local listings and watch it (or at least tape it). Oddly enough, the Ceremony wasn't until Friday morning US time, and will be broadcast Friday evening. The whole time-difference business threw me off.

In one of the stranger stories I've heard lately, someone who was trying to pull a prank or otherwise just cause trouble posed as Ubisoft's CEO, Yves Guillemot, over the internet and put in a fraudulent request for the company to abandon its trademark to the upcoming (and highly anticipated game) "Watchdogs". Everything has been squared away now, but I wonder if the trouble-maker will find themselves on the receiving end of a lawsuit or even criminal charges.

Jay Leno has made friends and plenty of foes, but the end of his term hosting the "Tonight Show" (for a second time, but that's a whole different conversation) is definitely the end of an era. He has made it clear he wasn't ready to go, but is overall okay with moving on. I truly do wish him the best.

Tom Spurgeon has some thoughts about the issue of sexual harassment in comics, and the question of when things aren't necessarily harassment, but a bit too, "comfy." He links to two fascinating pieces discussing examples of this that are definitely worth a read.

Chris Christie looked like a strong contender for the 2016 Presidential election. Now, with this whole bridge scandal causing countless problems, and his horrendous job handling it, Christie's political career may basically be toast. He is in major trouble unless he can somehow miraculously make this issue go away--although even if he were to prove he is innocent that just makes him look ineffective, as if he has no idea what his staff could have been upto. It's a real no-win situation, at least for Christie--I imagine Hilary Clinton is eagerly waiting for 2016 and this like an early birthday present.

Longtime Marvel-artist and otherwise popular illustrator, John Romita Jr. has switched-to DC or been poached from Marvel by DC, depending on whom you ask. He will be working on the "Superman" comic with one of DC's go-to writers, Geoff Johns. This is quite the steal for DC, who has been seeing more and more of their creators leaving for other companies--possibly due to issues with an over-interfering editorial department, if the occasional rumors and interviews are to be believed.

"The Biggest Loser" is a popular show and I caught some of the later episodes this season, along with the finale. There, we all saw how the winner, Rachel Frederickson, was quite skinny. The kind where you would possibly argue she was now dangerously underweight-skinny. This set social media abuzz and had folk asking if she had just now gone from one kind of weight problem to another. I myself think she may have pushed herself just a little too far to make sure she won the competition, and hopefully will attain a more healthy weight now. I suppose we shall see.

It may officially be a kid-flick, but early reviews have indicated "The Lego Movie" has plenty of jokes that skew toward an older audience, plus I love Lego so of course I want to see it. Now I have heard a Lego version of Batman plays a pretty big role in the film, so I really want to see it.

This chart has been making the rounds on the internet.
If 46.67% of comic-readers are female, then why do we still have so few female comic-creators (besides the obvious sexism and harassment that sometimes seems endemic to comics), and even less comics with a female super-hero lead? I don't know, but maybe statistics like these will help show companies that the stereotype of the sweaty and nerdy man-baby is an incorrect portrayal of all comic-readers. I mean, I am a nerdy man-baby, but I'm not overly sweaty.

Lastly, I am sick of all these snowstorms smacking us down across our nation. They seem to be happening on almost weekly basis since we rang in the New Year. Weirdly enough, it appears the Farmer's Almanac pretty accurately called that we would be getting this nasty winter months ago, so that's interesting.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Revisiting Past Posts Where I Was Wrong

There will be times I make a post and predict something will be awesome or terrible.Also, there may be times I make a prediction about some topic or the other. That's all well and good, but as I human and can mess up, sometimes I might be wrong. Seeing as how I've been at this blogging business for awhile now I thought it might be fun to revisit some of my "Greatest Misses" as it were...

Things I Got Wrong
"The Twelve" Should Have Remained Unfinished
For my 2nd post I ever did, I asked about whatever happened to the comic, "The Twelve", as at the time it had been suffering a lengthy delay since the eighth issue. I was eager to see this promising comic come to a conclusion, but once it finally did finish I learned that whatever I had pictured in my head for an ending to the series was much better than what actually occurred. Namely, we got an android who was murdering people because he had no genitals...or something. I should have known better than to expect a good ending to a story by ol' Joe Straczynski, as pretty much any comic he's done lately either ends with him concluding it horribly, or basically just leaving the tale hanging in the air for someone else to come in and clean up. At least artist Chris Weston stayed solid throughout, which made things bearable.

Solo-Podcasting Is a Lonely Act
Earlier on in my blog I tried to do some podcast episodes. I got up to about 10 I think before I noticed basically nobody was listening--probably because one man babbling on about the "Captain America" movie for almost an hour isn't as interesting as I thought it would be. I suppose the issue is that when I am writing I have time to go back and edit my words to make them the most interesting/insightful/funny/non-crazy I can...and with my podcasts I couldn't. Now I know I could have done more editing, but when I was first doing a podcast I didn't know much at all about sound-editing so it was frankly a mess. Oh well, at least when I did some podcast bits for another website where I contributed for some time I was better.

"Fear Itself" was Awful, and "Flashpoint" was Good
For most of my posts before "Fear Itself" and "Flashpoint" started I had already basically decided that I was going to like Marvel's event-comic more than DC's one. Maybe it was because I thought the whole idea of making an alternate-universe trip an event was lame, or became even more cynical when it was revealed how "Flashpoint" was leading into a big re-launch. Whatever the case, I thought "Fear Itself" was going to be the bee's knees and "Flashpoint" would be trash.

Well, as early as the first issue "Flashpoint" was impressive (much to my then-surprise), and "Fear Itself" turned out to be so terrible I eventually just gave up reading it and looked up important plot-points I needed to know online. Meanwhile "Flashpoint" and some of its tie-ins delivered a quality tale, even with it basically just serving as an excuse to reboot the DC Universe. I definitely called which event comic would be better incorrectly.

A Comic About the Suicide Girls Turned Out to Be Really Good
I had made a prediction that a comic using the concept of the adult modeling site, "Suicide Girls" would be awful. I mean, the comic had a silly sounding science-fiction plot and it wasn't even an adult comic (which would have made sense) it was just a cheesecakey mature-readers comic that seemed like little more than a cash-grab. Well, after a bunch of various people told me I needed to read it, I finally did, and then I ate crow when I admitted it was actually a pretty good comic.

Rob Liefeld is Apparently Actually a Jerk
I had made a post discussing comic-book folk whose work I didn't like but I heard were nice, and people whose work was good but apparently were unpleasant people. I listed Liefeld as a nice guy, but then not too long after he began a very public display of being a huge jackass. So much for my thinking he was at least pleasant. Do please note that should Rob Liefeld want to prove me double-wrong he is welcome to reach out to me and insist he is not a jerk--as long as he contacts me in a non-jerky way; please throw no bricks through my window.

Vertigo is Doing Okay After All
Pretty recently the mature-reader's imprint of DC known as "Vertigo" looked like it might be in trouble. While DC in general may still be quite a mess of editorial shake-ups and changes, the going-ons at Vertigo seem to have stabilized pretty well. The Scott Snyder-written, "The Wake" was a certifiable hit, and other quality books coming out such as "Trillium"and "Federal Bureau of Physics" are garnering good press and unquestionably decent sales. The new "Astro City" ongoing that launched through Vertigo is doing well (it used to be a Wildstorm-imprint comic, but yeah), and of course Neil Gaiman's "Sandman: Overture" which serves as a prequel to his beloved "Sandman" series is doing gangbusters.

While I and others across the web were about ready to declare Vertigo no more, it recovered from some shaky times and looks like it might be able to carry on alright for some more time still. As long as the imprint can still put out some quality books (and has "Sandman: Overture" to pump it full of revenue) I think Vertigo will be alright.

Nobody's Perfect
I can't always be right, and even when I've thought I was incorrect sometimes it was more a matter of my opinion being changed (Some people might have hated the "Suicide Girls" comic even after reading it, for instance). In the end, whether I'm right wrong, and you agree or disagree with my thoughts, I think the most important thing is we learned a valuable lesson. What that lesson is however, I have no clue.