Digital Comics… Not Just Animation. Oooo- Clicky!

17 03 2012

So a bit of a departure today- more musings than anything. I’ve been reading up on some of the digital comics news of the last month or so, in particular: DC’s announcing their surprise that digital comics sales actually seem to be helping PRINT comic sales; Mark Waid’s assuming himself the mantle of comics’ digital white knight; Marvel’s announcement of their Marvel AR Re-Evolution Revolution Augmented Reality And Infinite Digital Comics And MY, Aren’t We Technically Literate And Hip Initiative; Marvel hiring Waid to work his digital magic for them; Marvel’s Joe Quesada and Waid both talking about how they worship this guy Balak; and how all this affects me. Because that’s what it really comes down to, right?

First, at the ComicsPRO meeting earlier this month, DC’s John Rood revealed some vague statistics that some are interpreting to mean that digital comics might be helping print. Somebody suggested that this could be just a matter of greater exposure for what is a very niche product. This makes sense to me. It also occurs to me that this doesn’t necessarily mean we have nothing to fear from digital comics- to me, it just means that digital comics still stink. As soon as digital comics actually start truly replicating the vast majority of the experience of print comics, (like Mp3 files do for CDs, or epub files for print books,) then we have reason to worry about the state of the print comic industry. But that death knell is still a touch further off than many people seem to think. Because with comics, it’s not just a matter of software to display the individual images of a comics page, but the canvas: the overall display device itself. Comics are far more tied up in their medium than other forms of traditional media, and as such, the digital media to display them has a long way to parity.

Mark Waid thinks he’s got this thing just about figured out. To his credit, I applaud him for trying so hard. I agree with him entirely that a major part of the excitement about the promise of digital comics is the chance for independent creators to brave the frontier in ways more conservative large companies might not. That said, digital also entails a much broader skill set than traditional comics, and perhaps the infrastructure of  a larger company can do more than individuals. Not that I have much faith in Marvel or DC to spearhead this. Rather than traditional comics creators working to reinvent comics for digital, wouldn’t it be wild to see computer programmers come at the problem from their end?

Marvel does have quite a big plan in the works, a two-pronged approach of Marvel AR and Infinite Comics, under the banner of Marvel ReEvolution. Seems a bit of a scattershot approach, and currently a bit confusing in their branding of it. Marvel AR is an augmented reality app for phones and tablets, (and I do really like that they’re marketing this as for “tablets” and not “iPads.” This seems practically a first for the digital content delivery industry, and is sorely needed.) The app allows you to point your device’s camera at a print comic and it will then display on the screen additional content overlaid on the comic image. It’s described as akin to DVD extras, and they’re insisting that it’s only for print comics, (for now,) which I’m glad to see they’re interested in using digital as a means to help print. This is smart. But what they’re offering can even more easily be offered for digital comics, so to not do so is just introducing artificial scarcity into the equation, which is just silly and never works. Plus, the (admittedly very limited) content I’ve seen so far seems gimmicky and annoying. Time will tell, but I see this sort of content being far more successful when linked with digital comics themselves.

Marvel’s Infinite Comics is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.

Oooo. Clever logo!

Motion Comics were a joke, current digital comics are little more than glorified scans, but Infinite Comics seems like the first try at actually experimenting with the digital medium on its own terms. So that’s exciting. From what I can tell it looks like both writer Mark Waid & Marvel’s Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada saw French comic artist Yves Bigerel’s 2009 experiment (and you should definitely check this out!) and were totally inspired by it. (Bigerel is called Balak on DeviantArt.com.) It bothers me that I’ve seen  Quesada extensively cite Bigerel, while I’ve only recently seen Waid mention the guy when questioned about him in reference to his work with Marvel on this project. Waid either came up with this same stuff independently or in tandem with Bigerel, who he calls a friend, and maybe he’s cited him a lot outside of where I’ve read. And I know Waid has cited Bigerel before. But in all the digital! digital! digital! I’ve heard from Waid in recent months I wish he and the press would have mentioned Bigerel a bit more.

Regardless of that matter of my small perspective, what Bigerel, Waid, Marvel, (and others!) are playing with is basically clicking the screen to advance the comics panel, or elements thereof. Word balloons appear at the click of a mouse, picture elements change incrementally, and even the panel frame shifts, revealing different parts of a scene. Bigerel’s experiment is exceptional, much more interesting than Waid’s Luther, but it all feels more like reader-directed animation than comics to me. Bigerel and Waid keep talking about how for comics to remain comics the reader must remain in control of the passage of time. They advise that introducing actual audio, whether sound effects or full voice performances of the script, and uncontrolled animated elements, like in Motion Comics, breaks the reader’s control of time. This makes perfect sense to me. However, I feel they’re missing something else integral to comics. Bigerel states that “Comics are about creating Time with SPACE!” He even second guesses himself, wondering if he’s not just employing digital gimickry, but eventually decides that No, he’s not. However, I believe he, and Waid and others, are in error to suggest that giving the reader control over just the rate of time’s passage is all that’s required of a comic. I’d argue that the simultaneous juxtaposition of sequential images is also required. Scott McCloud at least hinted at this in his explorations of the definition of comics.

As I click through Bigerel’s, (very enjoyable!) experiment comic I use the arrow key. As he says, it’s very easy and natural. I advance the story at my own pace. Some transitions are quite exciting and I even enjoy the usage of identical copied images from frame to frame while a single key element, like a word balloon or facial expression, is all that changes. (I’ve ranted before about how I loathe the use of mechanically reproduced images in print comics.) It’s a great experience. But at times, especially at some of the most exceptionally compelling transitions, I start to get a familiar feeling. It feels like animation. I do my own experiment: I hold down the arrow key. The images fly by, a bit too fast, but the effect is clear. This isn’t comics. This is animation. I play around some more, looking for what makes this different from comics. I realize something else important. Bigerel says comics create time with space, and I agree entirely. However, he’s overlooking what makes time Time. Time is one event following another. In print comics individual images visually follow one another in space, creating the ILLUSION of time. The reader has to make a creative/imaginative effort to decide that these two images represent the same subjects sequentially in time, despite their juxtaposed existence AT ONCE in reality. Yet, in Bigerel’s “click-comic” experiment, (yeah, I just coined that idiotic term,) no two sequential images ever exist for the reader at once in her experience of the comic. Each image is  always at least a click away and can never be viewed simultaneously, and are therefore ACTUALLY separate events in TIME. Therefore, these type of comics break the one rule that Waid & Bigerel consider sacrosanct. Time is actually NOT in the hands of the reader; it still absolutely controls the manner in which she must experience the comic. Yes, the reader controls the rate of time’s passage but they don’t actually perform the essential imaginative act of creating time’s passage in their minds. Without this key element, I’m afraid these click- or swipe-through comics are actually far more akin to animation than their creators hope.

And that’s all pretty darn interesting to me. Without a doubt, experiments like this will only lead to a greater understanding of these art forms, maybe even creating some new ones in the process. And it’s fascinating to me that it took comic creators playing with new tools available to their medium to discover a brilliant new way to allow a viewer of animation to experience that medium. And for comics, this experimentation leads us to an even more refined definition: A comic uses a visually juxtaposed sequence of images as a metaphor for a temporal sequence of events, asking the reader to make that imaginative leap. So click-comics, by being composed of individual events separated by time, are not comics.

It is called sequential ART, after all, not sequential events.

 





I’m Cuckoo for Co-ops!

8 03 2012

Hey there, you groovy gamers!

Well, last night’s Game Night was another hit, with Fix, Fitz, Stu, Dav, and myself indulging in two games each of the cooperative games Pandemic: On the Brink and Space Alert: Keep the Roommate Awake. The gang all trickled in around six o’clock and we started out with some frosty beverages, idle chatter, and exchanging of library material. Making the rounds this month are: Scott Chantler’s beautiful WWII graphic novel, Two Generals; last year’s best new comic series relaunch, Daredevil #1-9, by Waid, Martin, & Rivera; Scott Snyder, Scott Tuft, & Attila Futaki’s terrifying comic miniseries, Severed #1-7; and two Terry Pratchett Discworld novels: Guards! Guards!, the introduction to his beloved City Watch characters, and his most recent and perhaps last Sam Vimes story, Snuff. After that bit of housekeeping, we got down to business.

The Pale Blue Dot.

First we had another go at Pandemic, with the On the Brink expansion set. After getting trounced twice last time we tried hard to do better this go. The first match we got stomped by 8 disease outbreaks before we even discovered 2 cures. The second round we let Fix play the BioTerrorist, (since Laura wasn’t there,) and that was really fun. We were doing pretty well, and it got right down to the wire. We were accountably just 3 turns from losing by running out of Event Cards when Dav, Fitz, & Stu hit upon an incredibly complex series of moves and card combos which looked like it could win it for us. I could explain it to you but I was apparently distracted by a dog outside the window. He was really cute. The other guys will tell you that this took me out of the game, but we did win after all, for which I’m sure I deserve a fair share of the credit; we were a team after all! It was nice to finally, after all these years, beat Pandemic.

Wait, the game gets HARDER?!?

Can I get visual confirmation on that dog, Lieutenant?

Next we sat down to Space Alert, the game whose object is apparently to explore hostile deep space by yelling at everyone enough to forget what it was you were supposed to be doing in the first place. It was around this time that our roommate, Liz, came home, preparing to study and then go to bed. She graciously assured us she could deal with our raucous ruckus, and even complimented us on our running playback of the Star Trek: The Next Generation’s ambient engine noise. I wonder if she still feels the same way. Last time we played I acted simply as the instructor, but this time around I got to play along with everyone else. I’m still thrilled at how fun this short game is to simply watch, but playing is even more enjoyable. If you’ve ever wanted a realistic game crewing an intergalactic starship- well, you just might be fooled into thinking this game is for you. But if you can occasionally enjoy Galaxy Quest over Star Trek, Starship Troopers over Ender’s Game, or Munchkin over Dungeons & Dragons, then this game is right up your alley. We first played a Simulation round, which we did reasonably well on and didn’t even die. Too bad you’re not supposed to keep score on Simulation Runs. I even managed to get us a couple extra points for visual confirmation! (Otherwise known as looking out the window, which is apparently a running theme tonight. But you do get points for it! Serious!) With our confidence buoyed by the successful Simulation Run, we attempted a real mission. Suffice it to say that it didn’t go as well. For one thing, our ship was overrun by internal threats alone. For another, BOTH our security robot teams LEFT the rooms the evil seeker droid was in in order to defend an empty room. As for myself, I stick with what I know, and so I looked out the window again. There was a dog there! Sirius!… … huh? huh? See what I did there? (Did I say “running theme?” Perhaps I meant running gag.) Anyway, the seeker droid evaded capture, blowing a gaping hole in the side of the ship so big I figured the kamikaze fighter would sail on through it. We had no such luck. Soooo, after that ignominious defeat, we decided to call it a night.

It was a great time had by all, as always, and I can’t wait to do it again. I did just pick up some additional zombie and skeleton miniatures, so maybe another round of Super Epic Zombies Plus is in the cards?

Braaaaains!
Kris

Red Shirts

Serendipity





OMGBPRD!

27 02 2012
<To my (three) blog-readers. Forgive me for not posting in a while. -cough-cough- Here’s hoping I get back into it. Here’s a fawning letter I just sent to the Hellboy/BPRD editors at Dark Horse, and it rants a bit about the rest of the industry as well.>

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth - The Long Death #1 - Click thru to read a preview and see the eyeball!!

Ladies and Gentlemen of Dark Horse,

What did I do to deserve you? No, seriously. BPRD: Hell on Earth-The Long Death #1? James-mother-lovin’-Harren? (“How do I like the artist, huh,” Scott? HOW DO I LOVE HIM, YOU MEAN!!! GEEEZ!) Eyeball-tooth monster in Johann’s suit!?!?!! Freaking blood red wendigo thing ripping the agents to shreds? I am beside myself with joy. Apoplectic. Breathe, Kris, just breathe. MAN! Page 3, panel 2, the gruesome miasma flowing up into Johann’s helmet; I literally grimaced in pain. Turn the page. THAT EYEBALL!!!! I’m looking at it right now and it turns my stomach and quickens my pulse. All this, and then followed with that great line “I was sleeping!” HA! Oh, good it was only a drea– HOLY CRAP A BLOOD WENDIGO IS KILLING EVERYONE!!!! And. It’s. The. Best. Comic. All. Year. So just what did I do to deserve this? Thank you so, so much. (And if I haven’t made it clear, I want James Harren to do every possible issue of BPRD from here on out.)

Having been SOOO let down by the New 52, (tried THIRTY of them, kept one: Wonder Woman.[edit: kept TWO: also Batwoman.]) I’ve been really depressed about the state of the industry, where the big two almost seem to be actively trying to drive floppy periodicals to extinction, if not the entire action-adventure comic medium. Sure DC/Vertigo has Unwritten, (sweet, sweet Unwritten!) and American Vampire and Marvel has Ultimate Spider-Man (Miles Morales Forever!) and Daredevil, (sweet god, Daredevil!!!) but otherwise? Ugh. But then I get to the shop, (Bergen Street Comics in Brooklyn,) for the first time in a month and come home with a luscious looking stack, little knowing just how great it is.
–OK, quick sidenote. Dark Horse and IDW know how to do ads. I want to tear every DC and Marvel comic to shreds when my damn story is interrupted every other page by boring full page ads for their own books with SIX-month-old cover images! ARGH! But Dark Horse and it’s brethren compose quality ads highlighting their amazing creators telling me about upcoming books in time to place an order. Their Horsepower columns and the like help me connect with the creators and gain a deeper reading of their comics, (Vertigo often nails this one too,) and it all adds up so that I actually look forward to flipping through the back of the book after reading to see what’s coming next! How do those other boneheads not get this!? —
Sidenote done, but it’s WHY I was looking forward to this stack of comics. I was blown away at the Cloonan/Wood Conan ad a couple months ago and added it to my pulllist immediately. (btw, Dave Stewart’s coloring in that first issue was a masterpiece.) Likewise with the ads for The Strain before that. Also in my stack is Severed 7 and Prophet 22; even Image seems to be enjoying a renaissance of creativity these days. So I guess it’s just superheroes that are dying an ignominious death. That’s sad, and it pains me and makes me worry about comics. But you Dark Horsey folks and your peers really remind me where good comics are at. I checked out your website today, and I LOVE your How a Comic is Made feature and your flipbooks (but fullscreen, please!) and your Zones- you really prove that you’re trying lots of different things and are seeking to engage, cultivate, and GROW your new digital audience, rather than just bilk them for a few bucks. Very impressive.You’re what, 25 years old or so now? You ARE the future of American comics. You’re so many light years ahead of what the competition is doing. Keep it up. It can only get better from here.
(Oh, and that’s two years running for you, by my reckoning anyway: Best Comic Last Year: Hellboy: The Fury #3.)
Thank you.




Chew on this!

25 07 2009

I just put down Chew #1 by John Layman and Rob Guillory and couldn’t get to my keyboard fast enough. This is a comic that needs to be reviewed, NOW!

Tragically, I never picked up Chew when it first came out on June 4, and needed to be tricked into it by Image Comics putting it out in a third printing on the back of Walking Dead #63, one of my regular monthly books. Truth be told, I somehow never found the premise that interesting: the main character is a cop who gets psychic impressions from the food he eats. Big deal. Sounds like just another twist on the quirky television cop show trend, a la Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Ghost Whisperer or some such other drivel. Well, if you felt this way as well, lemme tell ya, sister! You were dead wrong! And I knew it after only the second page. If this doesn’t hook you, nothing will.

It was the beets that really got me. Well, first it was the “something else entirely” line. It’s timing and the arresting image by Guillory hit me just right. And then the beets made me laugh out loud. So now I knew this book had something going for it- a cool and quirky take on a rather dry genre, with some appropriate leavening humor thrown in. But can it sustain? Well, the next page certainly indicated more of the same. So that was good. Then the book started getting into the plot, slowly revealing the absurd situation that the United States finds itself in, (I’m trying not to give it away here- the reveal is too good to be spoiled by the likes of me,) which adds yet another layer of excellent humor to the book as well as some fine political commentary. Can this book get better? You bet it can! The first issue’s plot ends with our protagonist being forced into an extreme situation- one which gives the premise one final twist and one which made me yell out loud in shock and excitement!

John Layman tells a really well-crafted and balanced story, squeezing quite a lot into just 22 pages. Chew bends the rules in a satisfying way, truly giving the reader something new and rather unlike anything else on the stands. I’ll be anxious to see if he can keep me guessing like this throughout the series. If so, he’s got me hooked. As with the Zombie craze of the past few years, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing quite a few imitators in the months to come. Rob Guillory’s art is the perfect complement to Layman. Guillory has a quirky, humorous style, which is not at all inappropriate for a book with as many good laughs as this one. But this isn’t a humor book- it just needs frequent lightening of the mood, or else it would get too bogged down in what becomes some pretty chilling stuff. I was enjoying his art throughout the first issue, finding him to be incredibly solid in his style and draftsmanship, (perhaps this comes from his background in children’s book illustration?) but I wasn’t getting a strong impression as to his storytelling talents. And then I turned to the book’s double-page spread and was blown away. To be honest, it certainly had a lot to do with Layman’s scripting of the moment, but Guillory did a fine job supporting it. I’d be remiss not to mention Guillory’s self-coloring, except I didn’t really get to see it- the reprint I read was in black and white only. From what I’ve seen however, the coloring is top notch, with really ubiquitous and defining pallette choices. I don’t know much about Guillory, (or Layman, for that matter,) but I’ll be keeping a sharp eye out for more of their stuff.

(Oh, one other note about Guillory, and a bit of a side-rant. I noticed several moments in the book with repetitive imagery, the kinds of panels that you too frequently these days see simply photocopied or otherwise artificially duplicated. And yet Guillory never resorted to this sort of cheap cop out. (Aside from the obvious photoshopping of the double-page spread. Except here was an instant where the technology was actually appropriate to the effect.) It just drives me nuts when comic artists photocopy panels over and over again; Mark Bagley did it all the time in Ultimate Spider-Man! “Identical” panels are supposed to represent two separate moments in time, and therefore should be drawn separately as well.)

Chew #1 is available in a third printing, (black and white only,) on the back of Walking Dead #63. The first two color printings are extremely hard to find. Chew #2 is already into it’s second printing as well. I’ve no doubt Image will be collecting the first few issues of this book in a trade, but I strongly urge you to try to find them in the single issue format.

To that end, here’s some exciting news from Guillory’s blog:

“On August 5, the first 3 issues of CHEW will be in stores. This is a PERFECT opportunity for new readers to jump on, and for others to catch up. So again, on that date, we’ll be releasing:

CHEW #1 Third Printing
CHEW #2 Second Printing
CHEW #3 First Printing”

Bon Appetit!

Chew is published by Image Comics.





Fluxx Roxx!

4 07 2009

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a game review- they’re harder to get around to since I have to find time to get extra people together to play with. Nevertheless, I finally got around to playing Fluxx and Zombie Fluxx, which I’ve had sitting around for way too many months now, convinced it didn’t look interesting. If you’ve been avoiding it for the same reason, I urge you to ignore your suspicions and play Fluxx as soon as possible! It’s quite a fun game, engaging for both non-gamers and hard-core gamers alike.

The basic principle of Fluxx, (as hinted by it’s name,) is that the rules are always changing, or in a state of flux. There are 4 basic types of cards: New Rules, Actions, Keepers, and Goals. The game starts with each player having a hand of 3, and only one basic rule: Draw 1 and Play 1, with new cards on the table replacing anything they contradict. So on my turn, I would draw one card and play one card, which could be a New Rule, Action, Keeper, or Goal. A New Rule might be “Play 2”. So now that the rules are Draw 1, Play 2, I would have to play 1 more card, so that I would have played 2 cards on my turn, satisfying the current rules of the game. An action card might instruct you to do something like taking a card from another player or taking another turn, things of that nature. Keepers are basically just object cards, like a Sandwich, Money, the Sun, Moon, etc, which you simply play in front of you. Having a specified pair of Keepers is the most common way of winning the game, as dictated on Goal cards, which may say something like you win if you have the Sun and Moon in front of you. But as the Goal of the game can literally change on every turn, or even several times within a turn, it can be quite hectic trying to win. With just these basic mechanics, the game could feasibly finish on the very first player’s turn, or last hours, though an average game might be between 20-40 minutes.

As you might imagine, the game can get quite out of control just trying to follow every rule on the table, and it’s quite fun and unpredictable. On the surface, it might seem to be a rather random and fruitless exercise, requiring no amount of real skill. That’s what I first thought as well, which is why it took me so long to finally get around to playing it. But in practice, the game is nevertheless quite engaging and fun for any number and type of gamers. And the best part, which you may have already figured out, is that this is a GREAT gateway game! The basic mechanic of playing a hand of cards which change the basic rules, playing permanent cards in front of you, special cards that have instant effects… sound familiar yet? Magic: the Gathering, anyone?? Maybe it’s just the geek in me, but I think this is a great aspect of Fluxx.

And since we’re talking geek here, I bet you’re really wondering about Zombie Fluxx by now. Well Zombie Fluxx doesn’t disappoint. The basic Fluxx mechanics remain the same, a couple small new rules and card types are added, and all wrapped up in a great, fun, lighthearted Zombie theme, satisfying to you zombie nerds while not being offensive to everyone else. The basic premise of Zombie Fluxx starts with adding a new permanent card type, called Creepers, which generally prevent you from winning, (unlike their counterpart Keepers, which generally help you win.) Most Creepers are Zombies, (though there is a hilarious non-Zombie Creeper card, which I won’t give away here,) and must be played in front of you whenever they’re drawn. (This does not count towards the number of cards you must play on a turn.) Most Goals require you to have no Zombies in front of you to win. Many Action cards help you dispose of Zombies, but the most direct method is by killing them with the new, more weapon-like Keeper cards, like the Shovel, Chainsaw, and Shotgun. Overall, it’s a fantastic expansion. Yes, it can be added to base Fluxx, or played by itself. In fact, in a remarkably generous move by the game publishers, you may even remove the Zombie-themed cards in order to play a regular game of Fluxx without needing to buy the base set.

Both games are published by a small game house called Looney Labs, whose motto is “Smart Games for Smart People.” They’re clearly a nice bunch of people, and they make you happy to support them by playing their games. There are other Fluxx expansions, including a Monty Python set, which look well worth checking out. And the Looney crew have a really complete wiki set up for all their games. Check ’em out!





ELEVEN QUICK COMIC REVIEWS, as of 6/28/09

28 06 2009

Just some quick soundbites this time as I try to ramp up towards a regular posting schedule.

What I’m loving this week:
-Narcopolis #2, by Jamie Delano, published by Avatar Press
Jamie Delano has been a thrilling rediscovery for me in recent months.

Narcopolis, by Jamie Delano

Narcopolis, by Jamie Delano

Narcopolis tells the story of a thought-police cadet, complete with compellingly real Newspeak dialogue. Not a mere aping of or sequel to Orwell, but certainly intentionally building on ideas from 1984, Delano’s comic brings a high, literary sensibility to the comic stands.

-Incognito #4, by Brubaker & Phillips, published by Marvel Comics
This fantastic comic just keeps getting better, with real twists and turns that I truly do NOT expect, and a story told from a truly unique perspective. Brubaker is fast cementing his place in my top five favorite comics writers.

-Olympus #2, by Nathan Edmonson & Christian Ward, published by Image Comics
A well written comic with a story similar to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and more of what seems to be the hot new trend in comic art: expressionism! Cool!

-Proof #20, by Grecian, Rossmo, & Casey, published by Image Comics
Speaking of expressionistic comic art, no one’s doing it better right now than Riley Rossmo on Proof. Truly mind-blowing stuff. The great story telling by Alex Grecian makes for a complete package.

See what I mean?

-The Unwritten #2, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross, published by DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint
Wow! ANOTHER literary comic! I’m not sure what I mean when I call a comic literary, (Alan Moore’s been doing it for years,) but I know one when I see it. Or read it, as it were. And this book is it! … leading me to believe we’re seeing a trend in comic writing these days as well, and that’s GREAT news! This book deals with the young man who’s the inspiration for a Harry Potter-esque series of books, but just may be a real life boy-wizard himself, all the while dwelling in the post-narrative world explored by Grant Morrison and Terry Pratchett among others.

What I’m reading this week:
-Ultimatum: Spider-Man Requiem #1, published by Marvel Comics
Meh. Mediocre book. As with many critics and fans, I’m pretty peeved at the pitiful ending of the Ultimate Universe comics. Ultimatum never made sense to me, and the main title book was a piece of crap. Ultimate Spider-Man always remains on my list, however, and managed to showcase possibly the best single issue of its entire run in this stupid crossover story. This requiem issue is supposed to help wrap things up, but really all it does is act as a placeholder while we wait to discover that Spider-Man’s not really dead after all! Eureka! And with really shoddily phoned-in art by Mark Bagley, who I had really been looking forward to seeing again since I never really warmed entirely to Immonen, the Requiem book was pretty lame, though requisite reading.

-The Walking Dead #62, published by Image Comics
As always, compelling, but plodding.

What I’m thinking of dropping:
-Savage Dragon #149, published by Image Comics
Hm. I check this book out every few years, and it always seems immediately interesting again, but then shortly loses that interest. I’ll take a look again in another few years. Here’s to Mr. Larsen for keeping at it though.

What I’m dropping:
-Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #5, published by DC Comics
Mike Kunkel left the book, other than the cover, (or at least he isn’t doing all the issues now,) and his replacement team of Art Balthazar and Franco don’t even come close to capturing the magic he made so exciting and fun.

-The Muppet Show Comic Book #3
-Muppet Robin Hood #1, both published by Disney’s BOOM! KIDS
I reaaaaaaally wanted to like these Muppet comics. I’m a HUGE Muppet fan. But they just aren’t very good. Disney seemed to think it had a Muppet artist, so why bother looking for someone else when they wanted to launch a new book. But while Roger Langridge’s heart is in the right place, I just don’t think he’s a terribly skilled cartoonist, nor does he quite get the Muppets. Likewise with Beedle and Villavert on the Muppet Robin Hood book.  Making this all the more tragic are the ads in the backs of the books for apparently alternate covers by other artists who TOTALLY ROCK! I would LOVE to see some of these artists doing these Muppet books, but that does not seem to be the plan. Sigh…

Just imagine what it could be like…

The Muppet Show Comic #1  alternate cover by Dave Alvarez

The Muppet Show Comic #1 with the AWESOME alternate cover by Dave Alvarez





Animal Man Returns to Examine the Human Condition in Superhero Comics

9 06 2009

Animal Man is no stranger to bringing headier concepts to superhero comics, having well explored the intellectual realm under Grant Morrison’s writing in the late 80s. In fact, Morrison’s run on the character are some of my favorite comics ever written, showing I think even more directly than Watchmen that superhero comics can be about things other than superheroes. Despite Morrison’s success however, the character and the concepts he explored still remain on the fringe of the superhero genre. But now Animal Man returns under the pen of writer Gerry Conway, with the art of Chris Batista and Dave Meikis. The six issue mini series, The Last Days of Animal Man, takes place in a near future where Buddy Baker, aka Animal Man, is losing his powers and being forced to confront his own aging and mortality.

The Last Days of Animal Man, issue 1

The Last Days of Animal Man, issue 1 (cover by Brian Bolland)

I love superheroes as much as the next guy, but it’s always exciting when the genre gets into some meatier issues. Just because the subject matter involves muscly guys in tights doesn’t mean it can’t make you think. And while this comic has an ostensibly typical superhero plot, it clearly is being used as a medium to explore concepts and issues related to aging and death: real, human issues. Even Watchmen’s conceit of examining how superheroes would act in the real world doesn’t touch on such personal and human ideas as this comic.

As the average comic readership ages we find ourselves interested in more than just who would win in a fight. In fact, the things we care about in the real world don’t involve superheroes at all. But we still love the characters of our youth and the market remains glutted with them. They’re hard to avoid, so it’s really nice when they’re used to explore things we’re actually interested in. The last superhero comic I remember really achieving this was Kurt Busiek’s and Stuart Immonen’s Superman: Secret Identity from a few years back. I still re-read that one frequently, as it explores the challenges of facing the world, careers, relationships, marriage, children, aging, and passing the torch to a younger generation. Real, human issues are very compelling to me and I’m thrilled to see Gerry Conway exploring it in the superhero genre.

(For other, non-superhero explorations of the human condition, check out Manu Larcenet’s Ordinary Victories. A more beautiful comic about life and death you will never find.)

The Last Days of Animal Man is published by DC Comics.
Ordinary Victories is published by NBM/ComicsLit.

What I’m loving this week:
The Last Days of Animal Man #1(of 6), by Conway, Batista, & Meikis
Proof #19, by Grecian, Rossmo, & Casey
Rawbone #2, by Jamie Delano & Max Fiumara
Ultimate Spider-Man #133, by Bendis & Immonen

What I’m reading this week:
Irredeemable #1, by Mark Waid and Peter Krause
The Muppet Show #3, by Roger Langridge

What I’m thinking of dropping next week:
Wolverine: Old Man Logan #72, by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven

Graphic Novels I’m enjoying:
La Perdida, by Jessica Abel
Strangers in Paradise, vol. 6, by Terry Moore
Tiny Titans: Welcome to the Treehouse, by Art Baltazar & Franco