Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Night Fights!

The Question Says:

The ends justify MY FIST!

Brings The Friday Night Fights!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Odd Place For Innovation - The Mighty Avengers

Today we're taking a look at some new things being done in comics. This has minor spoilers for Marvel projects, specifically those involving people who may or may not "Avenge" things. With that, let us commence:

Brian Bendis is an influential guy.

Love his work, or hate his work, you can't deny that Bendis has popularized a more fast-paced, cinematic style of dialog in popular comic books. Through the use of short bursts of incomplete sentences, important beats of repeated key words or phrases and Bendis' total lack of fear in using technical terms and real world slang very quickly made him our very own David Mamet/Aaron Sorkin.

In fact, looking back over his body of work for Marvel, cinematic is kind of the key word. The Bendis work in Daredevil, especially, brought a film noir atmosphere to the Marvel Universe that managed to be both very gritty and somewhat grim thankfully without involving Venom, The Punisher, or Spawn (What's up, 1990?). It felt like a great gangster movie, and as I've said before, I consider this work to be the absolute best modern run of super-hero comics to date.

This trend reached it's zenith a few months ago, when Civil War concluded, it's story crushed under the influence of books like The Authority and The Ultimates. In Civil War, readers saw everything wrong with making comics more like film - scenes that on film would be packed with action were shrunk down to one panel rendering them cramped, images that would have been awe inspiring or exciting became boring when rendered in static. Pages that could have been used to character or story, or heck, anything were taken up by huge splash pages to better evoke big-scale "widescreen" action. I can think of no better example in recent comics that is a clear example of not writing for the medium that you're working in.

So it's in this darkest hour, with that heavy hand of influence that Brian Bendis brings the comics innovation, and like The One Ring it's found in the most unlikely of places:

The Mighty Avengers #1

What's so innovative about this issue? Let's put the content aside. The Mighty Avengers is on the surface your standard super-heroes smash story, and the last page was especially ridiculous:

Seriously... there better be a good reason
for this nonsense in issue #2.

However, separating the content from the technique, this book does things in some brilliant new ways.

I got into a discussion of what defines "innovation." The two devices Bendis brings back to mainstream comics are thought balloons and back-story caption boxes. That's right - Thought Balloons are back.

Back? Then how can it be innovative? I got into a discussion about this with Mike at Comicazi. He described Bendis' use of these old comic book conventions (not THAT kind of convention) as more of a "return to form," and as such was not innovation. But it's the elegance of their implementation and seamless integration into the story that makes this issue such a great example of how to use the medium of comics to show things no other medium can do.

Remember the days when you'd pick up a comic, and Peter Parker would say something like, "Boy, it sure is good I got rid of that alien costume!" and there would be a teeeeeeeny box in the corner saying the likes of "Spidey picked up the costume during Marvel's Secret Wars! - Smilin' Stan!" While those were informative and a great way to make sure noone felt totally lost going into a book for the first time, they were more than a little obtrusive.

In this issue, Bendis works those back into the story in case someone left on the planet doesn't know what happened in Civil War, and he does it through Iron Man's armor. The "HIT TAB" boxes gave us access to what Tony's armor would tell him, but really referenced the read to Civil War, or to the time the Avengers met Ares. Very smooth.

But really? What did you read this far for? That's right - Thought Balloons.

Ever get the feeling that someone isn't saying exactly what they mean? That they're mind's in another place entirely, or that they have something more to say? Well, film can convey a character's thoughts loosely through action - a quick glance or camera movement - or clumsily through voice-over. Prose can simply spell it out, but there's obviously the complete lack of visuals in a novel or short story. Or now thanks to Brian Bendis, comics can use Thought Balloons to do it.

This device does everything right. It better fleshes out the characters by showing the reader a side of them that not even the others in the scene get to see. It manages to give us multiple points of view to the story without the use of multi-colored caption boxes. And it shows us what the characters really care about.

Take the example on the left -

Throughout the book, Tony Stark is talking to Carol Danvers, and his mind is on math, his armor, an emergency elsewhere. Though at one point, she really grabs his attention, and by placing a thought balloon that mirror's Tony's words Bendis is able to deftly emphasize that she's got his attention. I was blown away.

These two new tools, I hope, will take main stream comics closer to where they need to go; Towards becoming a medium of their own, something capable of communicating in a unique way, something that's more than just a static movie on paper.

Kudos, Bendis.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Saturday Morning Reviews

Good morning, dear Readers! Here are a few reviews for those of you looking for something to grab at your local shop this Saturday.

52: Week 44

Well, the Great Weekly Comics Experiment is coming to a close in just eight more issues, and after a shaky start, I'd say it's a success. I'm progressively more excited for 52 every week as it ramps up to its conclusion - a sign that the exceptional group of writers they've put together is doing something right. Because of that eight week countdown (No pun intended. Wait, is that even a pun?) the book has begun to wrap up its stories at a startling pace.

We get the exposition needed to complete the rather gory twist from the end of last issue, and along with that, a fight finally worthy of the might of Black Adam. It's been too long since we've seen him cut loose against someone on his own level. But with that kind of build up, with the suspense of not seeing this character unleashed for 43 issues, the last blow ended up a little anti-climatic. We also finally arrive at the destination Montoya's story has been chugging towards for a month or so now... it's one that I've come to accept, if not celebrate. While this issue isn't the best DC has put out in recent weeks, I was sad and excited throughout, and provoking a real emotion out of me is rare enough in a capes and tights book to warrant recommendation.

Phonogram #5 (of 6)

One part Harry Potter and a second part High Fidelity, Phonogram is a book where people use magic through music, and Pop is a powerful force. Not taking us through the usual fantasy paces of introducing a new realm of magic (there's no bespectacled young lad stumbling into it, Phonogram a la books of magic or the aforementioned Potter series), Phonogram goes another route. It introduces us to David Khol, a phonomancer who's losing his power and his identity when the Goddess of Brit-pop is missing. Khol is long burnt out when we join him in the story, and grasping at straws - think John Constantine with a better record collection.

In Khol is where you'll find the beauty of Phonogram. It makes you feel for a truly worthless character. David Khol is self-centered, an outdated music snob, and uses women frequently and with wanton disregard. By all rights we should hate him. It's through a couple cute tricks that creators Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie keep us empathizing with him - The book is a black-and-white six-issue mini-series from an independent publisher, and David does have genuinely good taste in music. So in reading this, we're snobs right along with David, how could we judge him? In this issue, Khol finally finds his way through some demented memories of when his power and Brit Pop were at their peak, and we finally get some answers about him, and the goddess Britania.

Extra mention should be made of the Glossary of every music reference, along with an essay by Gillen, in the back of each issue. There's even still space and hard work left for a letters page. Well done all around.

Feeble Attempts
by Jeffrey Brown

This was a complete and pleasant surprise to me! Anyone who frequents this blog knows that I really feel for Jeffrey Brown, he manages to juggle real romantic joy and heartbreak in one book (like Clumsy) and then seamlessly move to absurd or satirical comedy (Bighead) in another. So when something as good as a new Jeffrey Brown sneaks up on me it's like forgetting it's Halloween and having trick-or-treaters giving me the candy.

With no introduction other than a comic about a young Jeffrey with dreams of X-Men pin-up artistry, Feeble Attempts presents itself as a collection of Brown's unpublished work to this point - work that is happily representative of Brown's aforementioned range, the self-deprecating title another piece of his unique brand of subjective honesty.

The stand-out piece of the book for me was Brown transcribing his day on September 11th, 2001. It's entitled "Ok, Bye" and while the attacks on that day dominate his comings and goings like it did everyone else's, the title shows what was most important to him - the panel where he and the girl in his life decide to stop talking for a while. This is the kind of understandable self-centered thinking we can all relate to. That relatability is the core of Brown's appeal.

At $5, this is the perfect Jeffrey Brown Primer - like the adventures of Cycloptopus? Pick up Bighead. Did "I'm Not Your Girlfriend, Jeffrey" cause tightness in your chest? Go read Clumsy or Unlikely. I cannot recommend this enough, and it's definitely:



Thursday, March 08, 2007

Why I'm Not Up In Arms About Captain America

Now, we're dealing with real acid here. So I want to see SPOILERS, people, SPOILERS!

So my fellow blog-o-pimps are all a flutter about certain recent events. So why haven't I weighed in about this supposedly epic turn? Why am I not upset about The Death Of Captain America? I give unto you this, from the top of my head:

List of Marvel Comic Book Characters Who Have Died and Returned:

Jean Grey
Aunt May
Mary Jane
Norman Osborne
Captain Marv-El
Bucky Barnes

And let us not forget -


During all this hoop-lah, people seem to forget that apparently dying and coming back to life is part of the man's Origin Story. He also seemed to die less than 10 years ago, and you can read an amazing issue dealing with his apparent death in issue #50 (pictured).

It's got work from Jim Mahfood, Kevin Maguire, and Evan Dorkin, and contains one of my favorite Doctor Doom moments ever captured in a single panel. But issues later Cap came back.

The reason all these characters come back to life is that they represent something larger than the toys and t-shirts they adorn. Super-Heroes like the ones mentioned are modern myth and they'll never really die.

But Marvel's got people talking again. They've got main-stream media outlets covering comics, and from what I've heard, Brubaker's got some great stories to tell.

So in the end, Steve Rogers will be back, but it'll at least be an interesting time until he does.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Stop, Just... STOP - Wizard Magazine Edition

A warning, as this post is spoilery for Captain America #25, a courtesy not given by major news outlets.

Here's a quick snippet from my G-mail In-Box today:

During the middle of the day, yesterday, I received that e-mail from Wizard Entertainment.

Just look at that subject-line. Go ahead, I'll wait. Look.


Uh, Wizard? I've been meaning to tell you, most people don't have a chance to GO GET THEIR COMICS during the MIDDLE OF THE DAY. As such, you may not WANT TO GIVE AWAY THE ENDING of a book that came out THAT DAY in the SUBJECT LINE of your e-mail.

That being said, in a state of shock, I opened the e-mail, to find two pages linked within.

The first one, you can see to your right -

Let's not even discuss how something could be marked down from $85 when it came out TODAY...

But this book has not been out in some shops for even 12 hours as of this writing. It has a cover price of $2.99. However, if you feel that you need to spend litterally 25 times that amount for the privilage of never, ever, ever reading a comic book, then Wizard Entertainment is the company for you.

Isn't this the kind of wild, speculative market that almost killed the comic book industry in the Ninties? How's the golden goose meat taste, Wizard? I hope it's delicious, it's the last you'll be getting for a while...

There's seriously a whole page of this nonsense here.

Also advertised in the same e-mail was this particularly excellent statue:

Ah, The Ill-Fated Picnic Attempt Saga, chief among the great epic X-Men tales.
I know, were I to choose a particularly iconic moment in Rogue's history to immortalize in a statue, it would be said picnic.

So thank you, Wizard, for my daily dose of total nonsense. Now stop, just... STOP.


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Saturday Morning Reviews

Hey Gang!

Every week I'm going to post reviews of three books from my pull list. Hopefully I'll stick with this regularly, and who knows, I might even add another regular feature in the future!

It looks like Marvel, like Wilco, was trying to break my heart this week. And not in that, "Oh god, Civil War!" kind of way, either.

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane #15

In case you hadn't heard, Sean McKeever, the guy writing hands down the best Spidey book on the shelves every month, is now DC Comics exclusive. To channel Charlie Brown for a moment:


So we've got to get our teenage superhero melodrama while we can.

Speaking specifically to issue #15, this is the confrontation issue, where everyone has Talks (note: big "T") with everyone else. Peter and MJ, MJ and Liz, Liz and Gwen, MJ and Spidey, Peter and Gwen, it's a round robin of romantic strife. What keeps it from becoming "The O.C./Laguna Beach/Whateverthedamnkidsarewatchingthesedays With Webs," is that every single character rings true. All of their emotions feel genuine and make sense, and even when characters make bad choices, they're not to forward a story - the choices are made because that's what the character WOULD DO.

One last related bit of praise for this book - This is the first time I have even remotely cared for Gwen Stacey. The sacred cow (an unfortunately phrased metaphor, but the most fitting one), of the Spider-Man Universe, recent writers who've tried to tackle the character have either done something fairly dull (For all my Ultimate Spider-Man love, I never cared about Ultimate Gwen), or just... just... no.

But the Gwen in this book is seemingly care-free, and I can understand completely why someone with the weight of the world on their shoulders like Pete would fall for her, and through his eyes we begin to like her a lot, too.

Daredevil #94

By all accounts, this should have been my book of the week.

Ed Brubaker managed to pick up on the momentum from Brian Bendis' work, which I will contend is the single best run on a modern Superhero title to date, so he had to do the comics-writing equivalent of leaping into the driver's seat of a speeding car. So when he knocked things out of the park with the Daredevil In Jail story arc, I could not have been more thrilled. It's been a fairly steady steam of goodness since then. So when this issue came out with the very cool John Romita (JOHN ROMITA!) cover, focusing on one of my favorite new Daredevil characters, my expectations were high.

This issue focuses on Milla Donova, Matt's WIFE. If there was ever a super-hero who would be better off single, it would be "There goes another girlfriend!" Matt Murdock. But during the Bendis run, they introduced Milla. A blind woman from Hell's Kitchen who's managed to become a hero in her own right, without the help of a radioactive isotope. When she's introduced, she's a crusader for those who slip through the cracks in the kitchen, lobbying to clean up the neighborhood she loves so much. Sound familiar?

After Daredevil saves her life, she hunts Matt down and their relationship begins. She's essentially put through Hell, but what do you expect when you date a guy who dresses up like a devil, but they stay together in the end. This issue takes a look back at the events since they've met through Milla's eyes, and I expected to get more of this already very fleshed out character,.
Unfortunately, Brubaker takes this woman strong of will, strong enough to stay with Matt, but vulnerable because of her blindness, and boils her down to something kind of dull and cliche:

Milla Donovan is essentially a policeman's wife. She sits at home, wondering if she's going to get "the call" something bad's happened while Matt punches crooks.

You know what, that's dull. Milla's been through so much more, she's here with Matt, after BULLSEYE of all people had her alone in a room... and she's worried about him, she sits up crying every night while he goes out, and it's bland.

What's more, there's a complex attraction and chemistry between the characters that I read in the Bendis run - both of them blind crusaders, both of them full of vision for their neighborhoods and how they should be - but Brubaker does the character a further disservice by having Milla tell us that she's "always had a thing for guys who would be trouble." That her friends "warned her to stay away." The good girl who loves bad boys... it's an archetype that permeates a lot of science fiction (What's up, Lost?), which may or may not stem from writers who were "the nice guy" growing up, and there's a time and place for it, but Milla Donovan? I just disagree. Whole-heartedly.

X-Factor #16

Reader poll time!

When was the last time you actually CARED for Superman's heat vision?
How about the last comic you read where you REALLY worried for the fate of Mr. Fantastic's stretchiness?

When did a super-power actually get you choked up? For me, the answer is this comic.

The latest issue of X-Factor follows Jamie as he goes around to collect another of the duplicates he's made of himself and sent out to learn the ways of the world. He's already had to deal with the aftermath of having one end up a S.H.E.I.L.D. agent, so this time he means business. But surprised yet again, this duplicate is a Reverend. With a family.

The dupe bolts and Jamie is left learning about the life he could of had, the life he more or less DOES have, and the reader goes right with him. Jamie feels for this dupe, this man of god and family, but has to take him with him anyway - even though no one wants him to. The characters debate the right to exist, weapons are drawn, and eventually a decision is made. It's really a great read.

It's also extremely rare that it's a good thing that writing draws attention to itself. Hopefully the reader should be so absorbed by character and story that the writing disappears (unless you're Grant Morrison, in which case you write yourself into the story). By making John Maddox a Reverend, Peter David gets a chance to shine through sermons, to play with words, and to examine exactly the nature of Jamie's relationship with his dupes. It was really a pleasure to read all around, and as such -

So that's it for me this week, Gentle Readers. Let me know if there's anything you read that was excellent that I missed, or if you've got something to say, just hit the comment button!
Till next week!