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 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.



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.

What the %^&# is up with Marvel covers this month?!

30 04 2009

I don’t know if you noticed, but it seems that most of Marvel’s books this month have a second alternate cover. I’ve been noticing more alternate covers on books in the last year or so and it unnerves me to no end. I hear the publishers’ age-old rationale that they are just offering a choice to the consumer, but I don’t trust it and I’m incredibly nervous of the speculation cycle returning. (But seriously, in this world, NOW, they’re trying this shit?! What kind of morons are they?) Marvel’s covers are very eye-catching, mostly because they don’t look like traditional comic book covers. They exhibit a wide variety of artistic styles and are even billed as something like “alternative art appreciation covers.” Which on the surface seems like a cool idea. Comics are dying to get recognized as a valid art form in this country; what better way than they themselves recognizing other art styles and drawing in new readers. Except it’s all a crock of shit.

The alternate cover of Spider-Man has an image of Wolverine. Not with Spider-Man, just Wolverine by himself.

OK, so maybe Wolvie appears in this issue, and the art appreciation rules are very loose. On the alternate cover of Daredevil is also Wolverine. Wow, Logan’s busy this month. Same with Hulk. And Hercules. And X-Men. In fact, ALL the alternate so-called “art appreciation” covers exhibit Wolverine. Why ever would they do such a thing? CAUSE THEIR DAMN WOLVERINE MOVIE IS OPENING THIS WEEKEND!!! What the hell!?? They’re co-opting art appreciation as a mere marketting gimmick? That is low, man, even for Marvel. It’s bad enough that they’re saturating the stands with tons of new one shot and mini-series Wolverine comics this month. I flipped through several and they’re as lousy as you might expect. Just out to make a quick buck off the poor saps who, inspired by the big Hollywood movie, decide to buy a comic book for the first time in 15 years. And boy, will they be disappointed. Potential new comics readers probably won’t have been this disappointed since they picked up the copy of Spider-Man with Barack Obama on the cover. Ugh. Boy, there’s a surefire way to hang on to new readers. Give them crap. And just to add an extra layer of vile ooze across the whole debacle, the alternate cover versions, (at least at my comic shop,) are $10 a pop. For that price, who can afford to appreciate art!!!? Ah, it’s like 1993 all over again!

OK, I just did some checking, and it seems the covers in question are actually part of a “Wolverine Art Appreciation Month.” And in fact, the images are pretty cool looking. But whatever, it still stinks of cynical marketing tactics rather than just putting out good product. I should also point out that I’m quite anxious to see the Wolverine movie, (I know, I know, it’s real title is X-Men: Origins: Wolverine, or something, but that’s just dumb.) I’ll let you know what I thought of it next time. Till then.. Peace!

Who likes awesome comics? I do! I do!

19 04 2009

After seeing Watchmen this week I was pretty depressed regarding comics place in this world, but then I made a trip to my regular comic shop, (Midtown Comics on 40th & 7th in midtown Manhattan,) and I’m as giddy as a schoolgirl! Comics are a pretty diverse medium and as often as something new or original or interesting comes along, twice as frequently you see nothing but the same old stuff on the stands. But this week, as I’m picking up the next Old Man Logan story, an only mildly interesting Wolverine story set in a bleak future, and the increasingly bad Invincible, I notice a JAMIE DELANO(!) PIRATE(!!!) comic! And a Frank Frazetta WESTERN!!! Holy Crap! And there’s the obligatory Savage Dragon #145 with President Obama on the cover, which turns out to actually be good! And Terry Moore’s Echo just keeps getting better and better! Even Robert Kirkman makes me happy this month with another heart-stopping cliffhanger in The Walking Dead! Man, reading comics this week really rocked. Let me tell you why.

Earlier this year I began reading the collected John Constantine: Hellblazer comics from the late 80’s/early 90s by Jamie Delano. Being a fan of old-school and classic horror literature, (Lovecraft, Poe, Barker, Blackwood,) and it’s rather unique ability to use not-so-subtle metaphor to address our contemporary fears, I was quickly blown away by Delano’s ability in this genre within comics. I’ve also enjoyed Moore’s Swamp Thing, and some of Ennis’ work, but they seemed too quick to get it out of their system and move on to superheroes. Delano seemed ready to really dig into the meaty, messy gristle of modern horror themes in comics. But he hasn’t been a terribly present writer on the comics scene lately, so it was with great excitement that I discovered on the stands his new pirate comic: Rawbone, published by Avatar Press. It has a thrillingly moody wraparound cover of a pirate ship, sailing by a jungle-clad coast with clearly South American pyramid temples jutting up through the treetops. All too often, fringy work like this gets saddled with young, unskilled artists, but flipping through the pages revealed Max Fiumara to be quite a talent. I’ve not been overly wowed by his versatile work with Warren Ellis and on the dragon comic Four Eyes, but this moody stuff seems to be where he can shine, especially coupled with a good colorist. Anyway, when I got the comic home and read Delano’s story of a Cuban pirate witch and her white lesbian lover, full of male frustration and assault and vile rape, with at least three main story acts in just the first issue, and all told in a disgustingly rich flowery language, I knew I couldn’t wait for more. My only regret is discovering that this is merely a 4 issue limited series. It’s thrilling to read something so unique by such a skilled veteran talent. Delano has long understood the comics form and his horror roots are quite evident as he embarks on this incredibly dark pirate story. While it’s not yet apparent whether the tale will incorporate the supernatural, it hardly needs to in order to investigate man’s darker nature.

Next was Frank Frazetta’s Freedom, a western one-shot. I’m not actually sure what Frazetta had to do with this comic other than provide the inspirational cover image, (which is typically luscious,) but the interior art and story, by John Cboins and Mark Kidwell respectively, more than lives up to Frazetta’s reputation. Cboins has a very unique style, very expressionistic, a recent comic art movement I’m also enjoying in the work of Proof‘s Riley Rossmo.
Cboins colors this issue himself in all sepia tones, a trick that could have seemed gimmicky, given the setting, but thankfully is very well done here. The story involves a gunfighter and his dime-novelist bard, and is reasonably light hearted for a western, though prostitutes and death are certainly not absent. It’s so nice to see two negelected genres given such quality treatment in the same month, and even by two different publishers! It makes me yearn for more, but at the same time, I’d hate to see the market inundated by mediocre pirate and western comics, similar to the zombie craze of the last couple years.

Not so unique, but still very satisfying this month were some more mainstream books, starting with Erik Larsen’s long-running Savage Dragon, #145. This issue featured U.S. President Barack Obama on the cover, fist-bumping the title character, and colored in a style like Shepard Fairey’s famous red, white, and blue Obama Hope posters. It’s an obvious cashing in on the moment device, but Obama’s scene within the comic, while brief, actually is WITHIN the story and seems natural, puts our heroes, the Dragon and Obama, on equal footing, and just generally seems great. Quite unlike the pandering, badly drawn, and pointless and out-of-continuity, but much more hyped Spider-Man appearance, which I discussed here. In fact, this is Obama’s second appearance in Larsen’s book; he appeared last year when Dragon first endorsed Barack Obama for the presidency, a move far too political for corporate Marvel to ever consider making with their flagship character, as depressing as that is. I regret not having read Savage Dragon over the years. In fact, back at the founding of Image I didn’t care for Erik Larsen much at all. But over time I’ve picked up an occasional issue and every time I’m very impressed with what he’s done. In a large way I really feel he’s gone on to carry the torch for a lot of what Jack “the King” Kirby did before him. Larsen’s graphic style definitely shares many of Kirby’s traits, from the bold thick use of blacks, to the overly dramatic and energetic shapes exploding off the page. Not to mention Larsen’s style, once a rather slap-dashed mess not overly distinguishable from many of his contemporaries, has over years and years of honing his craft become inimitably his own, not easily reproducible and possessed of incredibly powerful storytelling traits- rather similar to the King’s, if you ask me. Maybe I’ve got to buckle down one of these days and really start reading Savage Dragon.

Finally, also continuing to be exciting this month are Terry Moore’s Echo #10, and Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s The Walking Dead #59. If you’re not reading either of these comics, you should be. Echo is a nice chance to see Moore bringing us more of his very fine comics art and storytelling, but with a more sci-fi/superhero twist. The story is kind of The Fugitive crossed with The Incredible Hulk, but with strong women characters thrown in as only Terry Moore knows how. Every issue is a real cliffhanger even though the plotting seems a touch slow at times. Walking Dead, for those of you living under a rock for the last 5 years, is THE post-zombie apocalypse comic to read. Zombie comics are a dime a dozen these days, but none hold a candle to this incredibly well done and intense ongoing storyline of real humans surviving in a dark sad world where the dead walk. Kirkman’s main intent with the series is to focus on the realistic human melodrama that occurs between the characters, with the zombie-riddled world serving mainly as backdrop. It’s an utterly fascinating book, from issue to issue, and though Kirkman suffers from frequent slow pacing and sometimes a sense that nothing is really happening, it’s not nearly as bad as in Invincible, and I’m always chomping at the bit for the next issue of The Walking Dead- especially this month! Man, I can’t wait to see how the characters survive the “zombie stampede!”

All in all, this past month has been a good one for comics. With the economy in arrears as it is, I’m sure I’m not the only comic book reader taking a close look at his pull list and deciding to drop a few books here and there, as well as having a hard time deciding which, if any, new books to pick up. I hope this blog can give you some assistance in these choices.

Until next time,


What I’m loving this week:
Echo #10, by Terry Moore
Frank Frazetta’s Freedom one shot
Rawbone #1 (of 4), by Jamie Delano
Savage Dragon #145
The Walking Dead #59
What I’m reading this week:
Invincible Iron Man #10&11
Wolverine #71 “Old Man Logan”
What I’m thinking of dropping next week:
Invincible #60
What I’m dropping this week:
Nothing… yet…

Echo is published by Abstract Studios.
Frank Frazetta’s Freedom, Savage Dragon, and The Walking Dead are published by Image Comics.
Rawbone is published by Avatar Press.

Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Oh, what have you done with my Spider-Man?

23 01 2009

Wow, there’s lots to get to this week. I’ve got some gripes with Marvel’s current treatment of Spider-Man, very mixed feelings about Robert Kirkman, plus a bit of a game review. Let’s get started.

Well, for many years now Marvel has been floundering about what to do with their flagship character: Spider-Man. I’d say things first started going downhill with the advent of Carnage, all the way back in the early nineties, then the infamous Clone Saga, and really, things have been a mess ever since. There’s been periodic upswings (pun intended) in the storytelling, as with J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr.’s run from a couple years back. Marvel’s been well aware of the public’s discontent with the character and has been trying everything to revitalize him, but they’ve just been batting zero after zero.

Anyway, Spidey’s been my favorite character for as long as I can remember, and it’s been a particular thorn in my backside to have gotten no real enjoyment from his comics in well over a decade. I occasionally pick up a book now an then, just to see how things are going, but am usually disappointed. So just recently, Marvel had this whole Civil War thing lead into the Brand New Day thing, which, from all accounts, was more of the same nonsense. I find it very frustrating that the big two, (Marvel and DC,) have made it their stock in trade of late to traffic in large, year-long, company-spanning crossovers. Readers like me, who haven’t read many mainstream superhero books in a long while, aren’t likely to begin reading them again when it means I have to read a good 10 or 20 books a month just to follow a storyline. And to do so for an entire year! This is frustrating as all get out and I really hope the practice dies a quick death in the near future. Anyhow, back to Spider-Man. He’s been wrapped up in Marvel’s large Civil War story for most of the last year or so. Some major events happened in his life within that story, including absurdly revealing his secret identity, but it was just too large a story for me to invest in. I just want a solid monthly comic about an interesting character that I can care about. Make it exciting, keep the art top-notch, and let the story arcs keep me invested from month to month as well as over the years. Do all this, and I’ll be happy. Daredevil‘s been doing it for years now. So’s Ultimate Spider-Man. Why are so few other books capable of this? Plus, of course Spider-Man’s secret identity became a secret again. Marvel keeps making these earth-shattering changes to Spider-Man, claiming that the events will have permanent effect on the character, so you must read it because it’s so important! Which is just silly. Haven’t they learned that people LIKE the status quo on Spider-Man? We want Peter Parker to have a secret identity because it’s a major part of who he is as a character. We want him to have the same powers and web-shooters he’s always had because it’s a major part of who he is. And we want to be able to follow his life and adventures every month for just a couple dollars and to feel like we’ve experienced the thrill over the years. We want him to be the same character we’ve grown to know and love. Maybe they’ll get it right, someday. They certainly have been getting it wrong enough.

The most recent travesty didn’t take them long to execute at all. Just a couple months ago I started hearing that Spider-Man was “getting back to basics,” and that the book was actually pretty good lately. So I dug up a few recent back issues and whatever was currently on the stands, and took them home to read. First thing’s first: Marvel’s changed their publishing scheme for their Spidey books. In place of 3 different monthly Spider-Man books, they’ve consolidated everything down to ONE title: Amazing Spider-Man, and are having it be released 3 times a month. I guess their theory has to do with streamlining, but I only see it as a poor decision. Firstly, as a reader, I now feel more compelled than ever to have to purchase all the Spider-Man books published every month. After all, they’re all the same title and numbered sequentially week to week: 579, 580, 581, 582… But that’s an awful of scratch to put up every month to read only one comic series. And what if I don’t have the funds to read that many comics a month? What if I only want/can afford to read one Spider-Man book a month? I’m out of luck, that’s what. Nevertheless, I decide to give it a shot and shell out almost $10/month just to read one Spider-Man comic. So I’m expecting every issue to be darn good to make it worth my while, and… well…. That’s just it. They’re not. In fact, they’re a mess; they’re all over the place! Some are actually great, but others are shoddy as all get out.

I started with #575 & #576, two issues dealing with the resurgence of Hammerhead. Joe Kelly wrote these two issues and while they were energetic, I found them a bit crass for a Spider-Man comic. The first issue opens with a long scene of Spidey saving an apparently mentally challenged homeless person named Greta from some flying clowns with guns. Whatever, typical comic book silliness. I hope that stuff was explained in the previous issues, because it sure wasn’t explained here. But the problem is not with the clowns but with the fact that Spider-Man’s usually enjoyable witty banter was directed not at the clowns, but at Greta. Joe Kelly’s Spider-Man spends the entire scene making jokes about how bad she smells and how disgusting her breath is and how badly he wishes he were instead rescuing supermodels. This Spider-Man is not so much a hero as an asshole. He’s just a jerk who makes fun of her weight: “two hundred pounds of bacon fat,” and her breath: “urinal puck omelette,” at every opportunity. Eesh. I was instantly turned off and found Kelly’s take on the character to continue to be rather insensitive, making Peter Parker into more of a self-centered jerk than I’m comfortable with. Oh, and the comic led with a synopsis page, informing me that one of the major subplots in recent issues was the Spider-Tracer killer, a serial killer leaving Spider-Tracers on his victims, leading the police to be seeking out Spider-Man for arrest. Too bad this rather major-seeming storyline was not once mentioned in these first two issues. Hmm…

On to the next issue, by Zeb Wells and Paulo Rivera. The Punisher guest stars, he and Spidey putting the kibosh on a villainous arms dealer, but not without butting heads themselves. This issue was fantastic and exposed me to the rarely seen beautiful art of  Mr. Wells, who really needs to do more Spider-Man. He has a really interesting take on the notion of illustrating just how unnaturally Spidey can move, and it’s just great. This issue was great, but again, was led with a synopsis about the Spider-Tracer killer, a subplot which again made no appearance in the actual issue. Hmm…

The next two issues, #578 & 579 also lead-in with a Spider-Tracer killer synopsis. I’m really beginning to wonder what the big deal is about this storyline. Too bad I don’t find out in these two issues, either. Oh well, that’s just as good, because Mark Waid and Marcos Martin turn in a great story about Spidey saving a subway car full of people from a flooding tunnel deep underground. There’s some gorgeous visuals, a startling revelation about one of the train car passengers, and this Spider-Man is a true hero who makes fun of the villains, but will do anything to help those in need, even if it is the villain. If there were more issues like these and the Punisher issue, I’d be thrilled to be collecting Spider-Man comics again.

Unfortunately there seem to be more of the other. The next two issues actually begin with the actual story revealing something about the Spider-Tracer killer storyline, much to my relief, but this quickly gives way to a far too drawn out domestic story of Pete/Spidey helping his friends the Osborns deal with their extremely dysfunctional family issues. Meh, I say, meh. It’s a mediocre story by Dan Slott, that doesn’t seem that important in the grand scheme of things and with mediocre art to boot, by Mike McKone, (who does some weird stuff with computers, by the way- I am NOT a fan!) the issues seem hardly worth my while.

OK, at this point I was ready to give up the title again, unless they really pulled it together. I had just two more issues in my stack to read, #583 & #584. #583 is the much ballyhooed President Obama issue, with the face of our awesome new president on the cover. Everyone and their mother is racing to find a copy, giving comics in general and Marvel’s Spider-Man in particular some very valuable mainstream press and attention. So surely Marvel will make sure this is a well-done issue with some top-notch talent, right? Oh, if only. Well, they started out by trying: they threw Mark Waid at it, a high caliber talent if ever there was one. Too bad they gave him such a mediocre assignment. Whose idea was it for this issue to be an almost completely action-less story with Betty Brant lamenting how difficult it is to have Peter Parker for a friend? That’s it? That’s the issue? The comic you’re going to sell Five BaJillion copies of to all kinds of potential new comics readers, you make a throwaway filler issue with mediocre art!? Trust me, NO ONE who doesn’t already read comics will pick up this comic because Barack Obama’s on the cover, read it, and then decide it was so good that they want to buy some other comic books. Heck, Obama doesn’t even appear in the main story! No, he’s relegated to a six-page back-up feature. And of course, the issue starts with a completely pointless synopsis of recent events which then go on to have ABSOLUTELY NO bearing on the contents of the comic you’re reading. Yeah, way to court new readers, Marvel; by confusing them. Genius. And then, just to heap insult on injury: the colorist and editor should just be fired. Unless Harry Osborn has taken to wearing blackface. Which he has not. Yes, you read it right: In a minor scene in the comic, Peter is seen talking to a character who is identified as Harry Osborn, Peter’s friend from the entire history of the comic. For 45 years, this character has been Caucasian. But, because the colorist and editor are apparently incredibly lazy and couldn’t be bothered to actually read what they were working on, the character was colored as an African-American. Just pitiful.

One more issue to go— Ah heck. I’m done. Yeah, I read #584 by Mark Guggenheim and John Romita, Jr. And yeah, it finally got moving with the Spider-Tracer killer storyline a little bit. But it wasn’t nearly enough. I just don’t care. You want me to force me to spend $10 a month on Spidey comics, deal with the obnoxiousness of having a different creative team on every other issue, follow subplots that have nothing to do with what I’m reading, and then almost never come out with something of GOOD quality? Forget it. Once again, I’ve given my favorite comic book superhero a try and once again, I’ve given up in disgust. It’s really too bad.

Listen, I really don’t have time to finish what I intended to write about Robert Kirkman’s Invincible and Walking Dead, as well as comment on the board game Thud!, based on Terry Pratchett’s novel of the same name, so I’ll get to those next time. In the meanwhile:

What I’m loving this week:
• Walking Dead, The, #57
What I’m reading this week:
• Invincible #58
• Spider-Man: Noir #1,2
• Best American Comics 2008
What I’m dropping this week:
• Amazing Spider-Man #584
Amazing Spider-Man is published by Marvel Comics.

$H!#!, @$%*, & Other Such Exclamations

6 01 2009

If I say “Oh $H!#!” out loud while reading a comic, generally that is a good sign that this is a good comic. Almost certainly good writing is going on, and very likely good art as well. I was lucky enough to do this twice today.

The first was while reading Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark’s fine Daredevil comic, issue #114. I’ll try not to give away the spoiler, but halfway through the book, in a scene with nothing but a bunch of lawyers sitting around a table together, one lawyer, (not Nelson or Murdock!) pulls out a bunch of photos and I, exclaiming loudly to the cats who only stared at me, about dropped my comic in my lap. Very nice job, Mr. Brubaker. You got off to a fine start picking up the reins from Bendis, and have really made the book your own. In fact, as much as I loved Bendis, I’d gotten so used to him on Daredevil and the many other books I read of his, that he was ceasing to surprise me very much any more, though I do still find his work immensely entertaining and of high quality. Do I worry that Brubaker may become similarly stale over time? Well, perhaps, but I’d say that the issue with Bendis was not so much about stale toast, as a very familiar friend. So even if Brubaker goes down that same road, it’s not a bad place to be. I should probably point out that through the rest of the book I found myself also yelling “No, Carlos! It’s a trap!” and “Matt, you idiot! Don’t go IN!!” High praise, indeed.

The second comic of the day to evoke a hungry gaze from the cats was also Mr. Brubaker’s, (along with Sean Phillips,): Incognito #1. Now, to be honest, it wasn’t the Incognito story itself which made me yelp, though it was very fine. I’ve been hesitant to explore more of Brubaker’s work like Criminal, maybe nervous of one-trick-ponitis, or more likely of my above-mentioned worry that I’d start to feel oversaturated with Brubakerly goodness. But when I saw a new issue one with his name on the cover and some classy interior and cover art by Phillips, I decided to give it a shot. As much as I liked Incognito, I have a feeling I’ll be picking up the first Criminal trade soon. Quickly, Incognito is the story of an ex-super-powered criminal who lets the reader into an exploration of the allure and adrenalin-rush of wearing a mask and acting outside of oneself. Well-crafted and paced by Brubaker, with a nice, modern take on traditional panel art by Phillips, the first single issue feels like five issues worth of story and I can’t wait for the next. But the moment in the book that made me stop in my tracks was after the post-story article and advertisement when I turned the page to a STUNNING double-page painted spread of The Shadow! Unfortunately, I can’t find a clear artist credit for the image, but I assume it is Phillips, and it really is spectacular. Guns blazing, eyes slit like daggers, red cloak bleeding all over the place and GOSH! Just staring at it now is intensely awesome. It’s a lead-in for Jess Nevins’ encyclopedic article on the pulp hero, which is a tie-in to Nevins’ forthcoming Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes (MonkeyBrain Books, 2009.) Really, truly, a wonderful moment in the world of comic art. Thanks guys.

Both Daredevil and Incognito are published by Marvel Comics.

What I’m loving this week:
Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #3
Daredevil, vol.2 #114
Echo #8
Thor, one-shots, by Fraction: Man of War
What I’m reading this week:
Amazing Spider-Man #581
Incognito #1
Invincible Iron Man #7&8
Proof #15
Rasl #3
Samurai #3&4
Ultimate Spider-Man #129
Universal War One #3
The Walking Dead #56
Wolverine #70 “Old Man Logan”
X-Men: Magneto: Testament #4
What I’m thinking of dropping next week:
Invincible #57
What I’m dropping this week:
Ultimatum #1&2