Mara #1

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Comic book, 2012

The few Brian Wood comics that I’ve read have proven to be frustrating experiences for me. This is due in part to the fact that the ideas for them sound so good on paper. It’s the execution of those ideas that doesn’t agree with me. I first experienced this with his relaunch of the Wildstorm property DV8 a while back. The basic premise was that a bunch of young, bratty superheroes get transported to a primitive land, where they are then worshiped as gods. It’s a unique idea rife with potential for action and drama, except the fact that the entire story was being told by one of the superheroes in the past tense, eliminating much of the immediacy and danger inherent in the concept. I had a similar experience with Wood’s new comic Mara, which takes place in a world where government supported sporting leagues serve as a distraction from a constant state of war, and is centered around its biggest celebrity, a volleyball star named Mara. Another great concept with built-in social commentary and visual potential. Unfortunately, Wood again takes a smart concept and tells it in a way that allows only for the minimal amount of thought from the reader. The first half of this issue is nothing but narration, explaining Mara’s world in a way not dissimilar from the way I do above. It tells us its story by practically reading us a summary of itself, instead of showing us this world and letting us discover it for ourselves. I want to love your stories Brian Wood. Please let me enjoy them instead of cramming them down my throat.


Cable #105

Comic book, 2002

I was lucky enough to find a full run of Igor Kordey’s issues of Cable in the dollar bin the other day. It had been on my radar because I had noticed a number of think pieces online about it, which is especially unusual to see based around a character like Cable, who is one of the poster boys for early 90’s, Rob Liefeld-styled comics dreck. My only familiarity with Kordey was his issues of New X-Men, and my only thought about his work at the time was taking quick note of how distinctive it was (think 80% Richard Corben, 20% Peter Chung). The book as a whole is one of those things that merits more thought than something of its quality might normally merit, due in large part to its distinctiveness in its field and its ambition. To that end, it’s probably mostly only noteworthy to people who would have an interest in seeing superhero comics feature a broader range of themes and topics. Kordey’s issues of Cable were a part of a small group of Marvel comics at the turn of the century doing just that, including Milligan and Allred’s X-Statix and Morrison’s New X-Men. Out of that group, Cable was probably the hardest for traditional superhero fans to stomach. It takes a superhero, there’s little reason for it to have been Cable, and inserts him, somewhat awkwardly (especially in the early issues), into the World News section of the New York Times. I imagine it could be hard for some people to not get self righteous about being presented this type of material wrapped in a superhero comic, and I wouldn’t hold that against them. But if you’re capable of taking such a concept at face value, Cable is an interesting, strange little comic. I picked issue #105 in particular, as its the run’s first stand alone story, and also the first to be written by Darko Macan, who was replacing David Tischman. Tischman’s pitch at the end of issue #100 implies that he’s the person who got the ball rolling on this take on the character, but it’s all but impossible to imagine it without Kordey, both because of his distinctive visual style and because of his connection to the material as an ex-Croation soldier. (Macan, as we learn in the letters column, was as well.) This perspective seems to have done a lot to inform the book. There’s are no cliches, but many hard truths, and nothing is black and white. More often than not, all parties involved have dirty hands, not the least of all Cable himself. Cable features a bunch of tangled messes of situations that are not untangled in the least once a superhero is plopped in the middle of them. If you broaden your perspective on this material to include narrative fiction at large, it’s probably passable at best, possibly not even that. But I was thrilled to find this new-to-me product of this interesting creative period at Marvel (frequently referred to as “Nu-Marvel”), and I’m secretly optimistic that there’s more waiting out there for me to discover. In the meantime, I’m off to eBay to get the continuation of this series, Soldier X, which I’m told ratchets up the weirdness a bit.


The Next Nexus #4

Comic book, 1989

Nexus isn’t an especially emotional comic for me, and I say that as someone who just gleefully devoured sixty plus issues of the series over the last couple of weeks. I don’t suspect it’s an especially emotional comic for many of its biggest fans. Nexus‘s true strength lies in the unique flavor resulting from the juxtaposition of two of its most considerable strengths- its fun, vibrant design and its dark, brooding themes. But there’s a moment in this issue that almost brought me to tears. In it, a depowered Nexus has just had his life saved by his estranged, immensely powerful adolescent daughters Sheena and Scarlett. They are joined by Claude, the good-hearted, if ineffective, vice president of Nexus’s planet Ylum. Nexus: “Girls, say hello to your Uncle Claude!” Claude: “I remember when you girls were knee-high to a gnat!” Sheena: “Hello, Uncle Claude.” It’s the kind of small, reflective moment, rarely allowed in a book as grandiose as Nexus, that immediately brings into focus the full, immense history of these characters. We, like Claude, also remember the girls when they were infants, and are also delighted to see what precocious young women they’ve turned out to be. This small moment is especially powerful in comparison to the huge, dark developments that occurred moments before it. It’s the kind of moment that only works the way it does because it’s a long form story, because of the particular bond you form with characters whose lives unfold over a period of many years, parallel to your own. Are there even any other comics that can fit in this category besides Nexus and Love and Rockets?


My Appointment Comic Book Reading

This is a list of comics and comics makers whose new editions I buy as soon as I find out about them.

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Alan Moore’s Lovecraft pastiche comics

B.P.R.D.

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Future Shock

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Happiness Comix

Hellboy

jinandjamHellen Jo

ojitos2

Inés Estrada

love and rockets 31

Jaime Hernandez’s Love and Rockets stories

Bone-One-Volume-EditionJeff Smith

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Julia Gfrörer

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Lala Albert

rav

Mickey Zacchilli

Nexus-10

Nexus

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Noel Freibert/ Weird Magazine

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Pope Hats

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Brandon Graham’s run of Prophet

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Ryan Cecil Smith’s SF

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Uptight


B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth: Exorcism #2

Comic book, 2012

Due to a drastically increased output over the last bunch of months, with none of the added material holding much weight plot-wise, one might get the impression that the B.P.R.D. editorial staff is throwing a bunch of new artists at the wall to see which ones stick. Of course, they announced Tyler Crook as the new main artist after mainstay Davis’ departure, but the last few months have seen more artists draw B.P.R.D. than the few years before them combined. Some really work James Harren and Jason Latour’s styles maintain the savage, energetic personality of the series established by Davis. I find Crook and Cameron Stewart, artist of Exorcism #1, however to be too restrained and conservative. Stewart’s got chops, don’t get me wrong. Technically, he’s a marvel. But I don’t think he’s a good fit. (Additional complaint about Stewart and Crook- when drawing a figure that is far away, they alter their proportions making their subjects appear child-like.) And while I wouldn’t say Stewart’s writing is bad, there’s a fair amount not to like- his characters’ dialogue is often guided more by the needs of the plot than the characters themselves, and I found the protagonist, a plucky, eager to please, young go-getter who is insecure about her abilities, to be a personality more familiar to popular media than the very real characters this series normally hangs its hat on. The final nail in the coffin for Stewart for me was his monster design, another backbone of B.P.R.D. Most of the creatures looked no more threatening than Ninja Turtle villains. (I’ll give credit where credit’s due on that demon-goat though, that looked pretty good.) While I think he’s a super talented guy, I’m sorry to say that I hope Stewart’s jaunt into the world of B.P.R.D. is as short as the tangential nature of this series suggests it might be.


Ragemoor #2

Comic book, 2012

I fell in love head over heels with the first issue of this comic. It was like an Evil Dead-y Twilight Zone, with maniacal writing, disarming artwork and a gnarly atmosphere. The atmosphere makes it to the second issue intact (in this issue we learn that the living castle Ragemoor employs bare-skulled baboons to keep subterranean worm-monsters at bay) as does the writing (“Summon the servants! Arm them with knives from the kitchen! Tell them we are hunting baboon!”). But, while it was serviceable, I thought the art come down a notch. It’s not bad, but certainly lighter, like less time was spent on it. That’s a slightly bigger deal to me because I feel that the atmosphere of Ragemoor, both the book and the place, is served well by dense art, and I felt the protagonist lost a bit of definition. It’s funny, as I picked this up off the shelf I glanced over at Corben’s other book Murky World, then remembered his recent Hellboy graphic novel and thought “That’s a lot of pages, how does he do it?” Hm. Well. Still though, greatly worth the price of admission for the writing and atmosphere, and it’s got a killer, killer cover.


B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Long Death #3

 

Comic book, 2012

My obligatory B.P.R.D./ James Harren rigamarole: James Harren draws perhaps the most visceral and entertaining monster fights I’ve ever seen depicted in comics, and kudos to the B.P.R.D. editorial staff for having the good judgement to provide him with scripts depicting, almost exclusively, them. Okay. My Harren caveat for this month is that his rendering of the black guy in this issue looks way too much like an ape. Now I’m just going to geek out on the story: I’ve suspected that Daryl killing Ben was going to happen since we saw Daryl towering over a naked, blood-stained Ben in 2007. It makes so much sense- Daryl finally gets peace, and Ben, becoming a wendigo in Daryl’s stead, is essentially no worse off than before. It finally happened in this issue. It felt a little anticlimactic. Don’t get me wrong, the sheer joy of reading the thing makes up for it, but if something you’ve been saying is going to happen for five years simply happens, you can’t help but feel at least a tiny indifferent about it. I realize that we’re told in no uncertain terms that there are other forces at work here (Johann asks us why Daryl didn’t kill Ben before now, and what did Ben mean when he said “I can’t” and “It’s all gone”?), but I think I could have used something a little meatier than more mystery to feel completely satisfied by this meal after being made to wait for it for five years.


Abraxis and the Earthman

Comic book, originally serialized in 1981 this edition published in 2006

Abraxis and the Earthman is the first long form work by one of my favorite creators, Rick Veitch. It’s a metaphysical re-imagining of Moby Dick in space. It bears many of the hallmarks of Veitch’s work that I love so much, but their effect on me left me feeling  troubled, whereas his later work often leaves me feel as if the author is messing with my subconscious, so I feel this work is less developed. Another funny note is the coloring. The essay in the back tells us that it’s all been done by hand, but it strongly resembles early attempts at Photoshop coloring- the colors are gaudy and have an almost inhuman three dimensionality to them. A testament to Veitch’s technical skill, even if the finished product isn’t something I love the aesthetic of. But even the early themes and imagery of early Veitch has the power to produce images and ideas that I’m sure will stick in the back of my brain for a long time to come.


Orc Stain #7

Comic book, 2012

Well, I’ve bought and really enjoyed Brendan Graham’s Prophet, and now I’ve bought and really enjoyed the new issue of Orc Stain, so I guess I’m officially on-board the Graham/ Stokoe Image fantasy comics train.  I’m a late adapter, obviously. I’ve never been into fantasy, comics, movies, games, any of it, not even when I was 13, the age these comics are ostensibly aimed at. Are 13 year olds actually reading this stuff? Or is it just people that were 13 at the time Graham and Stokoe were, and remember when this exact flavor was edgy and dangerous? Time will tell I guess, but in terms of me reading and enjoying this right now it doesn’t matter. These comics are good. The thing that’s really stood out for me in the second issue of Prophet and also this comic were the elements of surprise. When the story took a turn so unexpected that it actually surprised me. Not an easy, and especially not a common, feat for genre material such as this, let alone in the non-operatic medium of comics. As for Orc Stain itself, I was really pleased with the amount of story contained within it, especially for an art-centric action comic. At a base level, these comics are really well done from both craft and storytelling perspectives, and comics artists of any aspiration would do well to take notes. For my money, that (and raw, expressive imagination) is the greatest gift genre material of any medium can deliver.

Coaching from the sidelines corner: Although I don’t think it would be in Stokoe’s best interest, Kevin Eastman should be throwing as much money as necessary at him to get Orc Stain published under Heavy Metal.


Bade Biker & Orson #1

Comic book, 1986

Full disclosure: I’m friends with the creator of this comic, Jim Lawson. But I was a big fan of his work a long time before we met, and I was very interested to see this extremely early instance of it. In what must be close to his first published work, Lawson shows an unexpectedly high level of influence from 70’s illustration like Sergent Pepper and Vaughn Bode. His high-waisted, long legged depiction of the human form has an undeniable weight and motion to it, showing Lawson to be a naturally gifted artist from minute one of his career. The story is fine, the typical case of an artist throwing their interests in a blender in their early work, but it has a lightness, in both content and storytelling (at least after we move past the exposition), that make it a pleasurable enough read.