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.