Friday, January 29, 2010

Comics I Read: Catching Up #16

World’s Finest 1-4: All these team-ups were fun, especially the New Batman/Kal-El story in the last issue (the ending of which hints at a potentially important connection to the “New Krypton” storyline.)

It’s hard to make any comment about the “Blackest Night” books at this point without giving away at least some of the plot. I’ll try not to reveal any huge surprises, but if you’d rather be completely unspoiled then you may want to skip the rest of this entry.

Blackest Night 6: Not a whole lot of plot advancement in this issue, but I did like the choices of the characters for the “New Guardians” and their new, different colored, costumes a lot.

Blackest Night: Wonder Woman 1-2: I’m a big fan of Greg Rucka’s Wonder Woman run, and the rematch with Black Lantern Maxwell Lord at Arlington National Cemetery in #1 is as good as any of his regular WW issues. However, #2 is the first Greg Rucka comic in a long time (maybe ever) that I didn’t like. I hated the “it was all a dream” ending, and I think the reveal that Diana needed Aphrodite’s help to break free of the Black Lantern ring diminishes that achievement. I generally like that the BL miniseries are taking place “between pages” of the main book, but this was one case where I would have been happier without the extra scenes.

Blackest Night: Flash 2: I like the stuff with the Rogues way better than the Blue Lantern scenes, but Scott Kolins sure draws the blue costume purty (see the splash on p. 8). The whole book is gorgeous, actually, and the Captain Cold/Golden Glider scenes are especially brutal, as you see the purple (“Love”, in the lantern spectrum) drain from Cold’s face.

Blackest Night: JSA 1-2: There’s a wide variety of dead characters to choose from here, and I think the ones used are well chosen, even though their origin recaps take up a lot of space at the beginning of #1. I thought James Robinson is doing a really good job so far of showing how the JSA (and the reader) can be fooled into being sympathetic to the Black Lantern characters even though intellectually they know they’re fakes.

Power of Shazam 48: This was one of the “resurrected” books I was most looking forward to, as a fan of both the original series and the Marvel Family segments of “52”. However, it reads as if it was made by people who had no idea what “Blackest Night” is about. It would be a decent enough redemption story for Osiris, except that Black Lantern Osiris is treated as the real deal when it’s explicitly clear in all the other books that the Black Lanterns are not the real characters – they’re just extensions of Nekron that he’s using to provoke emotional responses. This is one of the fundamental principles of the whole crossover, so I’m baffled by how this book made it out the door this way.

Weird Western Tales 71: This one-shot is a little better, but it still doesn’t quite get the point that the Black Lanterns are meant to be connected to who they’re going after to best get an emotional response. Which is odd, since it comes from the keyboard of Dan Didio. It’s not terrible, but it’s got Simon Stagg and The Ray (working together!) in it for no reason and a bunch of western characters that have no emotional connection to the main character. By the time Jonah Hex, who is (sort of) connected, shows up it’s a little too late.

Phantom Stranger 44: Good, though I have trouble with the idea that The Spectre is vulnerable to the Black Lantern rings. Some Deadman stuff that will probably be important later is set up, and I liked the explanation of the Stranger’s shifting doctrine – “My definition of “interfering” is quite subjective…as is my choice of being proactive and reactive during the course of my, shall we say, travels.” – a reference to the Vertigo “Madame Xanadu” series, where he appears throughout history.

Starman 81: Easily the best of all of the one-shots I’ve seen so far (I don’t have “Suicide Squad” or “The Question” yet). Robinson slips effortlessly back into the tone of the original series in a story starring The Shade and a lot of the original supporting cast. I respect Robinson’s decision to leave Jack Knight out of it even though that’s a little disappointing. It would have been nice to see Tony Harris do more than the cover, but Fernando Dagnino and Bill Sienkiewicz do a nice job with the art. (Actually it comes out mostly looking like Sienkiewicz.)

Atom and Hawkman 46: This is also quite good, by none other than Geoff Johns himself. It’s a major turning point for Ray Palmer, and Green Lantern fans will also find some information about how the Indigo Lantern rings work that I don’t think was previously revealed. (I wonder why they don’t actually wear their rings?) There’s also a kind of closure on “Identity Crisis” here, for fans of that series. (Though the scene from there that’s re-enacted would have had more impact if Johns hadn’t done something similar in “Booster Gold” a while back.)

Green Lantern Corps 43-44: Well, that was the shortest comics death on record. So much for it predicting the return of all the dead characters at the end of “Blackest Night”. (Though I still believe that will happen, especially after hearing that the followup is called “Brightest Day”.)

Green Lantern 48-50: I liked the wrap-up of the space-based Hal Jordan story in #48 – he and the other colored Lanterns return to Earth after that for BN #5 & #6. The John Stewart solo story in #49 is terrific, and I look forward to seeing a lot more of him after BN. The Nekron “origin” backup in #49 isn’t terribly enlightening, but maybe it’ll make more sense when collected with the rest of the BN issues. Surprisingly, #50 felt a little rushed and hard to understand to me – maybe Johns was stretched a little thin this month – but the ending promises something interesting next month.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Comics I Read: Catching Up #15

S.W.O.R.D. 2-3: Sadly, since this is one of my favorite new book launches of the last year, it is already cancelled – #5 will be the last issue. (“Doctor Voodoo” has had its run similarly truncated.) I have mixed feelings about this; I certainly don’t expect Marvel to publish books that aren’t profitable, but there’s an emotional investment from the reader too and it feels wrong to solicit that investment in an ongoing series (with interviews, podcasts, etc.) and then stop it after a miniseries length. However, I also feel that fans today are too involved in the business details of the publishers, so I’m really not sure what the appropriate response is other than disappointment. Anyway, Kieron Gillen’s blog entry linked above says a trade is planned, so I recommend you get that when it comes out instead of spending for the individual issues. (If anybody at Marvel had said that increased sales could have an effect on the cancellation I would say buy them, but they noticeably have not said that.)

Astonishing X-Men 31-33: Definitely an improvement over the last arc: this one feels more like the Joss Whedon issues. It’s always great to have Phil Jimenez on art, and interestingly (in a good way) his work here feels more like John Byrne than George Perez. It’s a shame that the story features animating dead mutants at the same time as “Necrosha” and “Blackest Night” are going on, but I guess that’s the kind of coincidence that can’t be avoided when you have Warren Ellis writing far in advance.

Thunderbolts 137-140: The post-Andy Diggle era is mostly positive: Rick Remender does a good job with the Power Man/Iron Fist story in #137, but I hate the whole idea of Osborn trying to brainwash heroes at this late stage of the game, and the use of the characters doesn’t really square up with “New Avengers”. Starting in #138, Jeff Parker shows the slow disintegration of the team – my guess is that the concept is unlikely to make it through “Siege” – and the “Agents of Atlas” appearance is logical given how they deliberately provoked Osborn in the first issues of their book. (And they actually have a lasting effect on the ongoing story in this book.) I’m not in love with the art, though, which is murky and hard to follow in places.

Adventure Comics 6: I wish Geoff Johns’ and Francis Manapul’s Superboy comics could go on forever, but sadly this is the last one for now. The art is as beautiful as ever, and the coloring in the locations outside Smallville (Bizarro World, Paradise Island, etc.) is superb. I also like the characterization of Luthor as more of an evil scientist than a politician/businessman because they’ve literally gone as far as they can go with that. (Who’s more important than the President of the United States?) I won’t give away the surprise guest star, but he helps set up the next big Superman storyline.

THE WALKING DEAD TV


We've been hearing about the AMC network's plans for a WALKING DEAD tv series based on the popular Image comic book.
Now things are moving forward as a director has been announced - - - and what a catch he is! I'm getting excited about this show already.

You can read the details here.

(Edited by admin to fix the link.)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Figurines of the Week

I don’t usually like 3D representations of the Peanuts characters. They’re perfectly designed for the page – even the “Charlie Brown Christmas” animators had to figure out perspectives of the characters that Schulz had never drawn – so they always look weird to me in “real life”. However, I may end up ordering these because they look terrific and I love the 1950’s versions of the characters. (The 50’s Charlie Brown pose above is straight out of the very first strip, if memory serves.)

My Brush with “Logan’s Run”

Mike’s excellent “Logan’s Run” posts here and here reminded me of a story I shared with some of you by email a while back, in the days before the blog. I went to see the movie with my Dad when it first came out, but he never had an interest in SF and I was frankly too young (about 9 years old) for it so we got bored and left before the end. Later, I discovered the comic and not only fell in love with George Perez’ art but I “got” the story because either they dumbed it down or I was better able to follow it at my own pace. Anyway, my enthusiasm led to the only letter I ever wrote to a comic which was published in Marvel’s Logan’s Run #7 in 1977:

image

Yes, they printed full addresses in those days – my family doesn’t live there anymore, by the way, so don’t bother planning a visit – and even though they printed the wrong house number that somehow didn’t stop the hate mail from a random jerk who disagreed with me about the movie, thus ending my letter writing career.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

ORIGINS: LOGAN’S FATHER SPEAKS OUT . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A CONVERSATION WITH WILLIAM F. NOLAN, co-creator of the LOGAN’S RUN novel,  on the return of LOGAN’S RUN to comics and film, an update on some additional projects, and various other matters . . . . . . . . . .

(photos courtesy of Jason Brock at JaSunni Productions LLC)

          There’s nothing  unusual these days to hear of individuals who remain active well beyond their retirement years.  Still, these persons of note do not represent the majority of their age group (not yet, anyway)  so they deserve all the respect and admiration they receive.  I recently had a phone conversation with an 82-year old phenom who’s energy level absolutely surprised me. He gained even more respect after learning how active he remains while still finding time to stay healthy, eat well, exercise and balance his challenging physical and mental regimen.  Even more remarkable and admirable is the passion I heard in his voice when speaking of recent projects related to his  original character, Logan 6.

Nolan_Headshot_Bluewater_300dpi

          Bluewater Productions releases the first issue of LOGAN’S RUN: LAST DAY to comic shops on Wednesday  (January 27) and William F. Nolan is thrilled. He’s excited that this looks to be a treatment of his original subject matter finally worthy of the tone and themes set forth by Nolan and c0-writer George Clayton Johnson in their novel. 

          LOGAN”S RUN the novel (1967) centered around a future society in which a master computer managed the population and provided the amenities.  Part of maintaining equilibrium and ensuring there were enough resources available for survival meant that the population had to be controlled - - upon reaching the age of 21 an individual must submit to execution.  Anyone who chose to avoid the mandatory euthanasia of “Deep Sleep” on their “Last Day” became a “runner” , to be hunted down and terminated by “Sandmen”, the authority enforcers.

          LOGAN”S RUN the movie (1976) changed the age of “Last Day” to 30 and made various other changes and omissions from the original novel.  The movie depicted a colorful, seemingly carefree utopia - - - while the society in the novel was more dystopian and life was darker, as many of the managed systems were breaking down and failing.

          Nolan says that only about one-half of the novel was used in the movie.  “There are no domes (in the book) . . . . people lived in mile-high cities.”  The movie doesn’t explain why society lives in domes and the brief  text prologue that follows the credits referring to a post-apocalyptic society is vague and incomplete.  The book is also global whereas the movie takes place in just one American city.  “Sandmen are free to catch the runners wherever they hide on the whole planet.”

         The biggest change in the movie that bothered both Bill and George was the neglect of what Bill sees as the central core of the novel - -  “it’s a society of young people that is crumbling away.  Nothing works properly because there are no middle age or older citizens to balance society.”  Also, “there’s not much logic in the movie - - running around a shopping mall!” 

       The movie featured some very colorful costumes, and what seemed to this reviewer as almost choreographed, dance-like fight scenes.  Bill comments:  “Logan looked like he was running around in black pajamas!! What runner would fear for his or her life?” - - - “He needs body armor and a protective helmet.”  A Sandman “needs to look like death coming for you.”  Still, Bill retains a fondness for the movie and appreciates it for what it is - - a “pretty silly” but fun film.  He and George Clayton Johnson will be attending a special showing of the LOGAN’S RUN movie at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles in March, and speaking there about the book and film.

         “We want to show something nobody’s seen before in the comics series.”  Nolan has extreme confidence in writer Paul Salamoff’s intentions.  The series is planned for 24 issues.  Each six issue run will be a complete story arc, and make up one of four planned graphic novels.  Nolan and new writing partner Jason Brock will serve as co-editors of the series.

          Bill and Jason worked on the background and plot, costumes and design of the new LOGAN’S RUN: LAST DAY comic and provided an outline for writer Paul Salamoff to use in scripting the first six issues.  After Issue #6 of a planned 24-issue series, Salamoff takes over all plotting.  Bill Nolan expects the book to veer off sharply after the first story arc, and stated that Salamoff plans to utilize elements of the entire Logan trilogy. (Logan’s Run, Logan’s World and Logan’s Search).                          left to right :  Jason Brock, Paul Salamoff, William F. Nolan

          The new LOGAN”S RUN movie is currently in preliminary production at Warner Brothers studios with Joel Silver acting as producer.  The new version will move the date of Last Day back to the 21st birthday and return Crazy Horse Mountain (site of the monolithic computer that runs everything) and the Sky Gypsies.  “With new technology and special effects wizardry they can do so much more today,” explains an excited Bill.  Major filming is expected to occur in 2010 with 2011 reserved for further production and effects for a release sometime in 2012.  No actors have been cast yet.  Joel Kosinski (TRON) is expected to be the director.

          Tim Sexton is writing the screenplay.  Nolan doesn’t have a role in the new film so far but is hoping that he’ll be given that opportunity.  He’d love to be a consultant and would utilize the time on set to write another book - - a production journal of the making of the movie. 

         William F. Nolan was born in 1928 in Kansas City, Missouri.  While he is best known for co-authoring LOGAN”S RUN he has written numerous works of science fiction, dark fantasy, and horror.  He is the recipient of several awards, including the Edgar Allen Poe award from the Mystery Writers of America and holds the honorary title of Author Emeritus from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.  He also co-wrote the screenplay for BURNT OFFERINGS, a 1976 horror film with Bettie Davis and Karen Black.

     At last count he has 85 books to his credit of which 25 are anthologies.   He’s also written over 1,000 magazine articles and published over 55 short stories in various magazines.  His goal is to notch 100 books - -  about 10 to go if everything presently in the works becomes published.  He explains that “I try to write something every day”, which is part of the advice he would give to students during his time as a Creative Writer instructor at Central College in Bend, Oregon.

          Bill points to three major keys to obtaining success as a writer:

  1. “You have to have the talent first”, he states as he explains that if people tell you you’re a good writer and they enjoy reading your work, then that’s a good start.  “Everybody thinks that they can write, but it requires incredible discipline and knowledge.”
  2. “Read, read , read . . . . . everything.”  Bill says you need to study other writers in all genres, as well as fiction and non-fiction / biography.
  3. Write everyday, at least for one hour.

           “Less than 1% of American writers make their living from writing.”  Bill considers himself fortunate to be part of that one percent - - - for the last 50 years his full-time job has been as a writer. 

         When asked at what point in his life did he decide to pursue a writing career, he revealed that up until the age of 25 his major ambition was to be an artist.  He even had his own studio in San Diego and gained a local reputation for his mural work.  He studied at the Kansas City Art Institute in Missouri at the age of 19.  One of his first jobs was as an artist for Hallmark Cards, and he would also illustrate and write greeting cards.  He would dabble in writing at the same time.  At the age of 25 he wrote a short story and sold it to Playboy magazine, who paid $500.

          “Well, $500 for one hour’s work!”  seemed pretty lucrative to Bill, and it convinced him to quit doing art and become a writer.  He’d always been writing (since the age of 9) and confessed that he feels he’s a better writer than he is an artist.  He’s partially color-blind.

          Since the time of his second short story everything he’s ever written has been published.  I expressed astonishment at this statement, and exclaimed:  “What an accomplishment!! To never get a rejection slip !! That’s quite a record!”  Bill corrected me:  “Oh yeah.  I got rejection slips.  My objective was to send the work back out the same day the rejection slip is received.  Just keep pushing and keep going, and your work will find a market.”  He noted that even Ray Bradbury and Stephen King have received rejection slips, and he (Nolan) is no exception.

   Bill finally realized that he had “made it” as a writer at the age of 28, when he quit his Department of Employment work as a job counselor and went into writing full-time.  He’s also written 40 or more television treatments and screenplays for Hollywood.

left to right:  William F. Nolan,  Earl Hamner, Sunni Brock, George Clayton Johnson

         Someone who works this hard at writing must have an extensive library, and Bill has collected the complete works of 100 different authors.  His biggest influences are the works of Max Brand.  Bill has 1,200 books by and about Brand in his collection.  He admires the work of Ray Bradbury, and has been a personal friend for 60 years.  He loves Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett, as well as the humor of James Thurber.  He also admires Norman Mailer, John Cheever and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

          His reading includes a youthful love for comic books, and Bill collected Superman, Batman, Captain America and The Human Torch.  Unfortunately he gave away or got rid of his huge comics collection at the ages of 12-14, and regrets that as much as anybody else who has tracked the skyrocketing market values of those books today.  He doesn’t read as many comics today as he used to, but still follows the Batman books.  He loves the new version of Batman - - it’s much more mature and written for adults.”

          I asked about previous comics adaptations of LOGAN’S RUN.  In addition to Marvel Comics, both Pacific Comics and Malibu Comics have adapted his works.  He was unhappy with Marvel’s series, as they changed the story in order to mirror and follow the events as depicted in the movie.  His favorite adaptation has been the Malibu Graphic Novels based on LOGAN’S RUN and LOGAN’S WORLD.   They were very faithful to the dialogue and scripts from the books, but suffered from “boring artwork.”  Bill loves the art style of Daniel Gete in the new LOGAN’S RUN: LAST DAY series.

          Bill even wrote comics for Whitman Books and has scripted many Mickey Mouse stories for them.    He will be returning to comics under his present contract with Bluewater Productions.

     One of his works planned to be adapted to comics is WILLIAM F. NOLAN’S DARK UNIVERSE, a hand-picked collection of 41 of his best “horror-shock-dark fantasy” short stories for which he received a World Fantasy Award.  This is planned as a six issue Bluewater series - - with one story per issue.   Jason Brock will be writing the adaptations for 3 of the stories.  Bill says to book mark  “Jason Brock” as a talent to watch for in the future.

        Another comic series planned for Bluewater is SAM SPACE, a joking tribute to Hammett’s classic gumshoe detective Sam Spade.  His character is still a private investigator with a snap brim fedora hat that he keeps under a bell jar on his desk (with a sign proclaiming “classic hat.”)  Asked if he would abandon the trench coat for a space suit with this series, Nolan replied yes to both:  “Below the waist, he (Sam Space) looks like Buck Rogers.”   Nolan received an Edgar Allan Poe award for SEVEN FOR SPACE, his collection of Sam Space novels and short stories.

          Forthcoming books include THE BLEEDING EDGE anthology of all original dark fantasy short stories co-edited by Nolan and Brock.  This will include a treatment of a never before published short story by former collaborator George Clayton Johnson based on an unused Twilight Zone television script.   Bill has two other planned collections: another anthology titled DARK DIMENSIONS and KINCAID: The Paranormal Casebook Collection, with Nolan’s stories about a supernatural investigator.

          He’s presently also working on a historical novel titled BUFFALO MAN, an early American west story about a settler who joins a tribe of Indians.   Also in progress is another Logan story, RUNNING WITH LOGAN, being co-written with Jason Brock.

        Asked how he is able to carry on in such an active fashion, Bill attributes this to his good health and habits:  “I never ever smoked, and have not eaten meat for 25 years - - so I’m avoiding the chemicals used in meat processing. “  He eats soy, vegetables, fruits and salads and does not drink caffeine.  He also takes vitamins and supplements.

          His daily routine includes walking one mile per day.  “Walking is better - - brisk walking.” he advocates.  “Don’t jog.  It breaks down the knees and ankles.  Just walk briskly.”  He works out with weights 30 minutes per day.  He also believes in exercising the “brain muscle” every day.  The rest he attributes to good genetics in his family.

         His advice to anyone is to find out after the age of 30 what supplements your body isn’t getting and add them to the diet.  He estimates that he spends between $10-20 extra per week for vitamins and finds it worthwhile.  Bill adds that “with the advances in stem cell research and anti-aging progress”  he expects people to be able to utilize the “scientific advances to live to 100 or longer.’

Bill Nolan currently resides in the Vancouver, Washington area.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Comics I Read: Catching Up #14

Wolverine Weapon X 6-9: We’ve seen the “main character in a mental hospital” story before, but Jason Aaron is a good enough writer to make it interesting anyway, and Yanick Paquette’s pencils give it almost a Vertigo book feel. The dialogue has just the right amount of horror movie crazy (“He’s…he’s got chainsaws for hands.” “I know, isn’t he just amazing?”), but still lets us be sympathetic to Logan. Not what I’d want every month necessarily, but it’s way different than the first arc which shows that this book will have a good range of story types, and the ending has an interesting connection to Wolverine’s “Weapon X” past.

Wolverine Origins 40-43: As much as I’m not thrilled with the whole Romulus idea, I do like that he was able to beat Logan easily and that Logan has to resort to unconventional thinking to get rid of him. The Logan-Banner-Skaar relationship is fun (Banner: “My son’s problems could potentially destroy the planet.” Logan: “Well, ya got me there…”), and the other allies Wolverine comes up with are unlikely but interesting. A pair of them, whose names I won’t give away, have some of the best scenes they’ve had in years. These issues are a vast improvement over the previous couple of arcs, which I was mostly bored by.

I also read the 2009 What If? specials, and didn’t really care for any of them. The issues had more pages this year, which was a good idea, but instead of doing book-length stories they split them up into 2 “serious” stories and a humor section. Except for the Daredevil story none of the stories are long enough – and the DD story is incomprehensible even with the extra pages --  so they have the feel of “this happened, then this happened” instead of being organic and believable. The Spider-Man “House of M” issue is the best of the lot because of Sean McKeever but not by much. (And the less said about the “humor” sections, the better.)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

THE OTHER LOGAN RETURNS - - no claws required

          I’m very happy to see a return of more pure science fiction series in comics.  As much as I may enjoy the Annihilation Saga at Marvel and Adam Strange at DC - - they still seem  like superhero tales, just transported to outer space locales.  However, series like the adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?  from Boom Studios get me more excited  and prove that there is a market in comics for science-fiction themed tales that don’t involve super-powered characters.  

          Back in my early popular culture exploration days I read a science fiction novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson (first published in 1967) that made an impression on me on several levels. For one, it was a fast-paced and thoroughly engaging thriller with lots of action, creative characters and situations.  On a deeper level, it posed some semi-serious questions about our values and culture and supplied an extreme solution to how overpopulation and depletion of resources could be handled in the future.  It was made into  a movie in 1976, which I also saw during it’s initial run in theaters.  The movie seemed much lighter and upbeat compared to the darker tones of the novel.  While I enjoyed it, I remember being a little disappointed that it didn’t exactly follow the storyline of the novel, changed several important things around, and left out quite a bit of explanation.

The book and movie were called LOGAN’S RUN. It still remains popular today among those of us with longer memories.  During the same time as its initial theatrical run, Marvel published a Logan’s Run comic series which adapted the movie and then continued the story.  It lasted seven issues and is more memorable for showcasing some of the early work of artist George Perez rather than any story or writing highlights.   There was also a short-lived television series that I have no recollection of at all.  And, somehow I missed the mini-series from Malibu Graphics in the 1980’s that adapted some of the stories from two of the trilogy of novels (Logan’s Run 1967, Logan’s World 1977 and Logan’s Search 1980).

          January 2010 marks the return of Logan with the first issue of LOGAN’S RUN: LAST DAY.  This treatment should turn out to be much truer to the source material as the story outline and themes, as well as outfits and design have been created by original writer William F. Nolan (assisted by new writing partner Jason Brock).  Dialogue and scripting chores as well as further development of the story will be handled by writer Paul Salamoff.   If you enjoy seeing  interesting science fiction themes depicted in the visual medium of comics then you and  I will be following this monthly series (scheduled for 24 issues, with four separate six-issue story arcs)

LOGAN’S RUN: LAST DAY #1  (Bluewater Productions)  Paul Salamoff writer; Daniel Gete, artist (scheduled for release to comic stores on January 27, 2010)

logans run cover

          Actions first, explanations later.  I love the first five pages of this issue.  The writer and artist give us some pieces of the puzzle but provide no direction yet on how to interlock them to see the whole picture.  It’s not clear whether we should cheer for the runner or the pursuers.  If it was based on their clothing, we might chose the more colorful, brightly garbed citizens including the one who is obviously fleeing for his life.  The enforcement officers appear very menacing and dark, making it unclear whether they serve a just cause.  You wouldn’t necessarily consider them the heroes (unless of course you only read The Punisher books).

          Writer Paul Salamoff begins with a very engaging way of exposing the reader to just a few of the key components of Logan’s world, and without much explanation.  Even though I’m familiar with the original story,  and  I knew exactly what he was referring to,  my curiosity was still aroused.   The dialogue mentions “runners” and “flowers”. The suspect’s biography is described in periods of “color” rather than age levels.  What is a “DS man” ?  Who is “Ballard”?  What is  “Sanctuary”?   The cornered runner begs to be taken to “Deep Sleep” rather than face the consequences with his pursuers, who work for the “Almighty Thinker.”   

   logan's alt cover 2  logan's alt cover 3       If Logan's alt coverI have any criticism of this book, it’s that it may be a little difficult and challenging for a brand new reader to Logan’s Run.  It’s going to require more than one reading to develop a sense of what is occurring so far.  However, that may be the one thing that encourages readers to pick up the next issue and continue with the series.   It’s a familiar game plan if you follow some of the more popular action series on television these days, especially “Lost” , “24”, “Flash Forward”,  “Heroes”, etc.  The viewer doesn’t get a clear picture of the complexity of the story until much later or sometimes not until the very end. 

          The trick is to engage that viewer or reader’s attention in the beginning, and issue #1 of LOGAN’S RUN: LAST DAY seems to accomplish that purpose.   Salamoff appear particularly adept and comfortable with this style, as he ought to. He’s been working in films and television for 20 years as a writer, director, effects and makeup artist.

          Daniel Gete seems a perfect fit / complement as artist for this series.  His art is equally creative and engaging and I’m going to enjoy viewing his work.  I wasn’t able to find any biographical information on the web about him, but I suspect he’s a newer artist and it’s going to be great fun watching him employ and develop his style.  I see traces of the influence of George Perez, Paul Gulacy and Jim Steranko in his drawings, especially in both the lean, streamlined appearance of many of the characters as well as their fluidity of movements.  The first five pages of LOGAN’S RUN: LAST DAY are as much a showcase for him as they are for Salamoff.

Lastday1_01

          Gete makes good use of multiple and wide-screen horizontal panels, especially on page one where a scene of a runner fleeing through a crowded thoroughfare is depicted from the knees down.   Page two, where we get our first full frontal look at Logan 6 in his black armor and menacing death mask/ helmet,  is very intimidating as Logan appears to be running off the page directly at us.   The angles and depth in this panel are perfectly depicted, down to the shadow underneath Logan’s elevated and extended foot as he runs after his prey.

          The horizontal borderless panels on page five remind me of Steranko’s work on NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D.  as they boldly dramatize the finality of this encounter with just a single one-word “sound effect” added for emphasis.

          The Logan 6 as conceived by Salamoff here appears cold and calculating, as if he knows more than he will say.  That’s already a change in personality from the movie and the Marvel series, one that makes him more intriguing.

          Salamoff does get around  to providing more details and explanation of how this future society runs as the story moves on , and I appreciate the way this is done through flashback. School children are quizzed by their robotic instructors on the meaning of the different colors of the “palm flowers” and we learn what they already know as they provide the answers.    I also like the way that the background/history of Logan is revealed through the flashback scenes. These are all depicted on pages with black backgrounds and earthier sepia tones rather than the white background and vivid colors of the scenes that take place in current time.  Credit colorist Baker for some fine work.

  Back to the story.  Logan uses the information he finds out this issue to pose as a “runner” in an attempt to gain access to “Sanctuary”.  As he seems about to accomplish this goal in the very last panel, the grim image of his intensely focused eyes peering out of a shadowed countenance make it unclear if his motives are pure or manipulative.  This is a great beginning.

         I deliberately avoided explaining too much of this future Earth society or focusing on it’s central themes in order to keep some surprises intact for new readers.  I’m excited and happy that LOGAN”S RUN: LAST DAY appears that it will do justice to the original work.

NEXT:  LEARNING ABOUT THE ORIGINAL CREATOR, WILLIAM F. NOLAN

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Extra Support For Top Shelf

NOTES:  It was less than a year ago that Top Shelf published CENTURY, the latest League of Extraordinary Gentlemen tale by Alan Moore.  That was my first introduction to Top Shelf Comix, an independent company dedicated to bringing worthy independent works to publication.  Shortly after that  I discovered great reading by Robert Vendetti, Jeff Lemire and others.  It’s great to see a small company get an influx of capital to help with future growth and ensure that they can continue to do what they do best.  It’s also encouraging to learn that the principal owners who started the business will continue to have control of the company.  What follows is an excerpt from the official Top Shelf press release:

January 13, 2010 - - - Atlanta / Portland / New York - -  Co-Publishers Chris Staros and Brett Warnock of independent graphic novel and comic book publisher Top Shelf Productions (www.topshelfcomix.com) announced today that it has entered into a capital investment deal with new media entrepreneur John S. Johnson, and independent film producer Anthony Bregman.

top shelf logo

Johnson, and Likely Story, Bregman’s film production company, have purchased a 33% interest in Top Shelf Productions, Inc.  Johnson will join the board of Top Shelf, and Likely Story will get a first-look deal for all new Top Shelf publications for possible film and TV development.

This deal represents a supportive investment in the company; one that leaves Chris Staros and Brett Warnock as majority stockholders (and firmly in control of the company), but also brings to bear the resources, skills and connections of John and Anthony in helping the company expand and grow over time.

too_cool_to_be_forgotten

The first project slated for development by Likely Story is Alex Robinson’s critically acclaimed “Too Cool To Be Forgotten,” named one of Amazon.com’s Top Ten Graphic Novels of the Year and considered his best work to date.

“Too Cool To Be Forgotten” tells the story of a 40-something father of two who undergoes hypnosis therapy to quit smoking, only to transport back to 1985 and his formative years as a gangly, awkward teenager.  Forced to live through his high school years with all the knowledge of his later life; uncertain whether he is destined to relive the mistakes of his past or if he has been given a second chance to get things right.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Prolonged Annihilation

Annihilation

          I love talking about and sharing favorite books with friends, especially when I help them discover something they might have missed otherwise and vice versa.  I appreciate getting  recommendations that help me cut through the stacks to get to the really good works.

          Now that I’ve gotten comfortable in the role of reviewer I also feel compelled to write about something that was either loaned or given to me as a result of those friendly recommendations.  In fact, I often feel downright guilty if I don’t at least leave some personal comments or feedback with the lender/giver.

          I’ve had a big energetic raccoon on my shoulder for some months whispering in my ear and heckling me about this very same thing.  So, I’m getting it off my back right now.

         Several  months back I reviewed a random issue of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY on this site  ( see  http://bcrefugees.blogspot.com/2009/10/random-reads-as-of-october-7th.html   for the full details).  In fact, I did this with two separate issues  -- not in sequence and several months apart.  I liked it much better the second time I picked up this title but still didn’t get attached enough to want to start following it on a regular basis.  I made a comment that I probably wasn’t being fair enough to the book by  “cherry picking” an issue here and there and not following  a story arc.   Following up on that theme, Shane gifts me with the entire ANNIHILATION saga which spans 24  issues and several different titles.  In fact, he takes the extra time to organize those books in the recommended order of reading for me.

          Now I feel much more than just obligated - -  I feel duty bound to write about these books.  I’ve finally made some space in my comic reading schedule to get down to business.  I’ll be writing about ANNIHILATION in the coming months.   I’m already feeling the raccoon begin to loosen it’s grip on my back although I’m sure it’s not coming off until I get to the set of GOTG  books and comment on those.

ANNIHILATION PROLOGUE #1 (May 2006) by Keith Giffen writer + Scott Kolins with Ariel Olivetti art

annihilation prologue

          It’s the book with the hook!  Had I picked this up when it initially came out I would have been seeking out the monthly issues in this crossover saga.  Five pages into this book and I was thoroughly engaged and focused.  It’s one of the most entertaining and best introductions to a complex storyline that I’ve read in some time.   I’m also surprised and delighted to see that it was written by Keith Giffen, a writer whose works I developed a love/hate relationship with which ended in my avoiding anything with his name on it for the last decade plus.

          Back in 1987, Keith Giffen was one of the hottest writers at DC.  He reinvigorated a tired old franchise with his version of the JUSTICE LEAGUE, with a new serio-comic tone, some new characters and a livelier quicker pace.  I was enthralled and followed this faithfully until giving up after Issue #39.  

What made it seem fresh were the funny dialogue exchanges, often sarcastic and satiric, between

Justice League

the major characters of the League. They took their jobs seriously but we also were treated to frequent glimpses of the lighter side of life at JL HQ.  This got older as the book progressed and the title became too silly for my tastes.  Giffen made clowns out of Booster Gold and Blue Beetle.  There were way too many “bwaa –hah-hah” moments for me.  (I’ll never forgive Giffen for making a sappy stooge out of Blue Beetle, one of my favorite Charlton Comics characters before DC bought the rights to several Charlton heroes.)   

  The last book I read by Giffen was the recent re-boot of  THE DOOM PATROL. I didn’t like it much and it reminded me of why I had been avoiding his stuff.  But ANNIHILATION PROLOGUE has restored my appreciation.  I feel it may be his best work.  There are some comic and light-hearted moments here but they are infrequent and a welcome break from some of the rapidly building tension and conflict.  It’s a gripping read that doesn’t let go until the final page.

          All the covers to each of  the crossover books in the ANNIHILATION saga are painted by the same artist, Gabriele Dell’Otto.  Having a common cover style is a nice linking mechanism and the art is very striking.  PROLOGUE’s cover is a nice montage of six of the key characters in this saga, beginning with Nova in the foreground and Thanos in the background.

          Just from flipping through the book and scanning the art I got a sense that parts of this saga will include small tributes/homage to various cosmic creators and themes.  Right there on page one as Thanos meets Mistress Death to witness the beginning of destruction he says to her “I feel it. Something comes” and she responds “Yes. Something wonderful.”  ( - - a famous two-word phrase from one of the classic science fiction movies = 2001, A SPACE ODYSSEY).

         I’m also getting a sense that this series is going to be a bit grim and not afraid to depict the consequences of universal cataclysm and destruction, meaning some characters are going to die.  As if to drive that point home, a major character from Omega Core dies by page 7 as the Crunch Energy Cascade in the Verge system is decimated.

          The art in the opening pages is very epic in scale and does a great job of illustrating the first battle, which ends quickly and not in a good way.  Kolins and Olivetti’s work here reminds me of a mixture of Jim Starlin and Ron Lim (Silver Surfer artist in the ‘80s, in case you aren’t familiar with him).

          It’s been a long long time since I read of the exploits of Nova, and I like the setting here in another galaxy with the Nova Corps.  Despite Richard Rider’s experience and time of service  he’s treated as the rookie here, the “dink” / “greenie” who doesn’t know anything and needs it all explained to him by some of the alien (to him, anyway) members of Nova Corps.  It’s also a neat way for the writer to work in these details by having Richard ask the right questions.

          I like the version of Drax the Destroyer here, not as sure of himself, stripped of his costume and going shirtless (ala Hulk) and proceeding cautiously in order to cast doubt on his true origins.   His terran sidekick, Cammi, is an amusing character.  I feel she’s there to provide a little comic relief and her comments are rather amusing.  I like that her choice of garments don’t really go together, which indicates she’s a bit of an outsider/rebel.  (Short schoolgirl plaid skirt and winter coat, etc.)                                           

Nova_Corps

          The battle scenes between Nova Corps and Annihilus’ minions are very interesting to see and fun to read.  This book uses more and different colors throughout the story than I am used to seeing.  It really enhances the battle scenes and is delightful to view.   And the aftermath of battle as Richard crawls from the wreckage to view the devastation for miles in every direction is so well done and really conveys the giant scale of what has just occurred.

          There’s another tribute/homage later in the book when the scene shifts from the destruction of Nova Corps home base to Kree System 114 and a star base called Yon-Rogg (referencing an original Guardian of the Galaxy character). Several officers are exchanging scuttlebutt and rumors and one refers to hearing information from an intelligence analyst by the name of Star-Lyn  (acknowledging Jim Starlin) who jokingly gets referred to as a “skrull-hugger”.  It’s a short scene that serves as a link/transition to another setting while at the same time giving a little glimpse of the racial bias among some of these cosmic races, something that might possibly prevent full cooperation in fighting the shared threat of Annihilus.   The final pages reveal that it is indeed Annhilus who is behind the invasion/destruction (gee, we would have never guessed).

Annilhus

       There’s a valuable feature at the end of the book with several pages devoted to the Xandar Worldmind Nova Corps Database, providing some illustrations and more detail on Nova Corps, Annihilus, Thanos, and the different galaxy systems featured in the storyline.

          It’s a great beginning. If the following issues are as good as this then I fully understand why this series has become a favorite of many readers.  It deserves the attention / buzz it receives. 

The JSA is on the air in 2010

I never thought this would happen, but the Justice Society of America will be on television twice this month. First up is Cartoon Network’s Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which has already made me happy this year with appearances by the Challengers of the Unknown and Enemy Ace, this Friday at 7:30pm. Then of course, is the big two-hour Smallville “Absolute Justice” event on the CW on Friday, January 22. (There’s also a Teen Titans-centered episode of Brave & Bold that night.)

Correction: The air date for "Absolute Justice" is actually Friday, Feb. 5. Sorry for the confusion.


Edited to add: The JSA Brave & Bold episode is available in its entirety, including the Detective Chimp teaser, on Cartoon Network's web site.

IT’S HAMMER TIME !!!

Thor      

           Let’s take a pause now from the blackest of nights, and darker reigns and sieges to reflect on a “sleeper” title.  You know what I mean.  Some books don’t generate a lot of buzz but just go about their business and remain consistently good and interesting month after month.

          Ten years ago for me that book was THOR (Volume 2) under the capable hands of scripter Dan Jurgens and a revolving stable of artists including Kubert Jr., Romita Jr., Raney, Starlin and Immonen.

          Usually an ever-changing artist assignment on a book spells trouble for the scripter and maybe for the title as well.  (Of course, revolving writers is an even surer way to kiss it goodbye.)  With Jurgens on THOR it didn’t matter.  He seemed able to perfectly describe what he wanted and evoke the best images from the artist no matter who he was working with.  Jurgens also put his own personal stamp on the title, and set his work apart from but equal to the best stories from Lee and Simonson on Volume 1.

          From 199Jurgens Thor8 through 2004, for 79 issues Jurgens entertained and surprised month after month.  Just when you thought he was out of ideas, he put a new spin on events.  And finally after he told all the stories he wanted with THOR, he left the title.  Oeming picked up the scripting duties but couldn’t measure up to the grandeur of Jurgens, and THOR was discontinued after six more issues.                                                            

          Now here we are in the next decade, and the book from Marvel that I consider the current “sleeper” title that deserves more praise is . . . . . THOR Volume 3.  Same character, new situations.  Writer J. Michael Straczynski has successfully restored the glory, the power, and the majesty to Norse mythology with a modern-day spin by placing his center of activity (Asgard) smack dab on planet Earth.  Go back and read the first story arc and it feels like learning about legendary gods for the first time, and the sense of wonder returns.  And, JMS also knows his way around a storyboard and brings out the best as well of his two artists to date, Copiel and Djurdejevic.  The art is gorgeous.

          Sadly, his run on the title is much shorter than Jurgens was.  JMS has left, and I suspect before telling all the THOR stories he had planned.  Hopefully history will not repeat itself and this title will continue to sell well beyond the following six issues it lasted with Volume 2.  At least it’s planned for longer than that.  There’s an interim writer for six issues beginning with THOR #604.  Then Matt Fraction scripts the Free Comic Book Day THOR/IRON MAN one-shot in May before taking over regular THOR writing chores with #610.

          Some comic buyers upon learning that news will opt out of purchasing the next six issues upon the assumption that nothing will happen.  That would be a Frost Giant-sized mistake.  For one, JMS left a very significant plot thread dangling and the new writer is finishing that story.  The other reason is that the new writer, Kieron Gillen, is doing such a fantastic job with the two issues that I’ve read so far (#604, #605) that he deserves some support and recognition and I urge you to check the current THOR issues out for yourself.

          What’s going on in those issues?  Well, I don’t want to be a spoiler so I’ll tell you just enough to whet your appetite but not ruin your dinner.

thor 604

          If you want to experience for yourself just how smooth the transition is from Straczynski to Gillen then pick up GIANT-SIZE THOR FINALE (Marvel one-shot), the last book scripted by JMS and penciled by Marko Djurdjevic.  If you can’t find it don’t worry - - - you can still pick up the story thanks to the opening page summaries on the following issues.

          Thor has been exiled from the Oklahoma Asgard thanks to Loki’s manipulations, and spends his days mostly in the form of Dr. Don Blake and in the company of The Warriors Three and Sif (Volstaag is operating a diner!)  Balder has been appointed king/ruler of Asgard and is persuaded by the scheming Loki to move Asgard to Latveria in Dr. Doom’s territory.

          Doom and Loki are abducting Asgardians, who become guinea pigs in Doom’s mad experiments.  A mortal man, Bill, finds out but is stabbed by Loki’s allies.  Before he dies he tells Balder what he learned.  I love the use of shadows in Djurdjevic’s art, and the action panels explode from the page.  He’s not shy about showing blood.

          The new team picks up the story in THOR #604 and I am amazed by the detail and added features of Billy Tan’s art, almost reason enough to get this book.  There’s a violent storm going on in the opening pages, and the highlighted art won’t let you forget it.

          In a mad rage Billy’s lover, the goddess Kelda, confronts Doom at his fortress and becomes yet another victim of his power-draining experiments.  We learn that the Norse gods, while powerful and immortal, can lose both of those traits.  This is the Dr. Doom that I prefer.  Sure, I’ve enjoyed some of the stories where he actually does the right thing and becomes a temporary ally of the Fantastic Four and others.  But when he shows his true nature, that of a supremely confident and ruthless tyrant without morals is when I hate him the most and love him the best.  He’s a classic villain.  And we get Loki as well in the same story?  Bonus!  (No bias here, but I like him much better as the scheming, manipulative back-stabbing male that I’m used to reading about).

          Balder declares war on Doom and sends out the call to arms.  They are confronted by some morphed Asgardians, turned into cyborg-like killing machines at the hands of Doom.  The settings in this story are wonderfully depicted and the new guy Gillen gets the dialogue just right and conveys the feel of being in the presence of immortal gods.  Nice touch.  thor 605

          In THOR #605, the mighty Thor shows up in a battle rage.  This story concludes in the next issue of THOR  (#606), not on the stands until February.  In the concluding pages of #605, Dr. Doom’s version of The Destroyer begins to beat on Thor.  Dare we ask who/what is the power source?

          This is a fast and furious read that has captivated my attention.  Gillen has stepped in and not missed a step.  I’m impressed with his writing, and may have to seek out his other  Marvel work  (the ARES Dark Reign mini-series, etc.)    I only know of him from reading the first PHONOGRAM trade from Image thanks to Shane’s sharing.  He also handled the subject of gods there, but they were of his own creation and very well done with some neat twists.  (Real gods, or the imagination of the supposedly main character?)

          I recognize that Gillen is finishing off a story as plotted by JMS but he pulls it off nicely.  I’m interested in seeing what he does in his final three issues where the scripting may be solely his creation. 
Get thee to a comic shoppe and see for thy self.


NOTE: This review orginally appeared on the Captain Blue Hen Comics website on Thursday, January 7, 2010.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Comics I Read: Catching Up #13

Batman 690-694: The silly Two-Face-as-Batman costume at the end of #690 put me off enough that I let the next few issues sit around for a while, but Winick’s ending in #691 rescued it and I’m intrigued by the mystery he set up at the end of that issue. I’m enjoying the Tony Daniel issues more than I expected so far, given that I wasn’t in love with “Battle for the Cowl”. The Dick/Selina scenes and the Dick/Barbara/Huntress triangle are great, and the villains are interesting. The art tends a little towards the overdramatic, especially the last pages of #693 and #694, but overall is excellent.

Amazing Spider-Man 614-616: The ending to Waid’s Electro story is great, and has some surprising permanent changes to Spidey’s (OK, Peter’s) world. Fred Van Lente’s two-part Sandman story is also terrific, featuring the best Jonah/Robbie scene in years as well as showing that doing the right thing doesn’t always have a pleasant result. There is sort of an attempt to explain the various changes in Sandman’s personality over the years, although they don’t come right out and say it, but I don’t think it’ll stick. (Write your own “wet sand” pun here.)

Batgirl 4-5: I love the Barbara/Stephanie dynamic, though of course it’s been proven to work in years of “Birds of Prey”. I also like that this is kind of a Commissioner Gordon book too, and Batgirl’s first encounter with the new Batman & Robin in #5 leads to some great scenes. (Damien: “*sigh* I was really hoping to meet Cassandra. She sounds wonderful.”) It’s also good that they’re not treating Stephanie’s recklessness as “cured”, as evidenced by the ending to #5.

Hulk 18: Surprisingly, I loved this. Instead of the usual Red Hulk goofiness – which to be fair, has been getting incrementally more serious recently – Loeb spends the whole issue on a character study of Doc Samson. It’s terrific, harkening back to some great Peter David stories (like Samson’s evaluation of the team in the first run of “X-Factor”). It also shows that the shallowness of most of the rest of the run is a deliberate choice on Loeb’s part, and I hope he continues to choose deeper stories like this one.

Nova 30-32: These issues are very much set after “War of Kings”, which I’ll get around to writing about soon, but they pretty much tell you what you need to know if you skipped the crossover. I like that Rich is left with a limited number of recruits and a grizzled old trainer – it will be fun to see how that plays out after the current storyline. Nova’s arch-enemy the Sphinx is back in #32 (on the cover, so I’m not giving anything away), and it’ll be interesting to see how the more experienced Nova deals with him now. Supposedly, he and Darkhawk are stuck in a version of 1920s Egypt along some other heroes plucked out of time, most notably Reed Richards, but the nature of the space-time rift created by the war makes me reluctant to take that setup at face value. Darkhawk fans – I know you’re out there, though I’m not one of you – should know that he’s in issue #31-32.

Secret Warriors 9-11: The chronology is a little confusing here: #9 takes place before the “List” issue, #11 after, and I’m not sure about #10. The fight with Osborn’s forces in #9 is well done. #10 is more or less a direct sequel to the original “Ares” mini, covering everything between father and son from then until the present day, pretty much resolving the Ares/Phobos storyline except for one big twist at the end of the issue. That’s left aside for now, as #11 shows that Nick’s plan has more facets that we’ve been allowed to see so far, including a former Scorpio that’s related to him. (Not the one you think, old-timers.)

The Torch 2-4: The plot is kind of clever, obviously leading up to a modern-day Torch vs. Sub-Mariner rematch, but it’s filled with explanations of things that don’t need to be explained, like how “Horton cells” triggered Toro’s mutant powers way back when, and how his mother may have been involved with Horton. (My guess is that Horton will turn out to be Toro’s father, making him and the Torch “brothers”.) I also don’t find the robotic Torch that interesting – he hasn’t regained his personality yet, though presumably that’s coming. There are four issues left of this, and it’s hard to imagine it couldn’t be finished in less. The art, credited to Patric Berkenkotter as “Artist” and Carlos Lopes as “Color Art” (whatever that means), is very good.

Wonder Woman 36-39: I keep putting off writing about this book, because it’s so well crafted and satisfying that I’m reluctant to analyze it and maybe spoil the magic. Suffice it to say that Gail Simone packed more story into a 4-issue arc than I would have thought possible, and yet I still find each character’s motivation believable and compelling. Plus, Bernard Chang and Aaron Lopresti make it look great. Look up the “Warkiller” arc when it comes out in trade (or back-issue bins). You won’t be sorry.

Thor 604-605: If you didn’t know that JMS didn’t write these issues, you’d never be able to tell. I mean that as a huge compliment to Kieron Gillen and Billy Tan – I’ve never read a transition this seamless. The Asgardians used by Doom are truly horrific, and invoked pity in me in a way I’ve never felt for “immortal” characters, and Doom’s manipulation in #605 caught me by surprise (even though it’s completely in character.) Highly recommended, and I’m almost sorry that Matt Fraction will be coming in after “Siege”. (Though I’m sure his stuff will be terrific too.)

Fantastic Four 574: I don’t mind that other artists are needed for this book – we already know from “JSA” that Dale Eaglesham can’t do 12 issues a year – but Neil Edwards seems to be deliberately trying to do Eaglesham’s style here and it comes off looking weird and unnatural to me, like a second-generation photocopy. Fine, have all the fill-in artists you need, but let them draw in their own styles. (For all I know, this is Edwards’ regular style and I just don’t like it, but it sure looks like he’s trying to do Eaglesham to me.) Anyway, the story is excellent as always, setting up Hickman’s next major arc. I can’t remember who was asking me about Franklin’s powers, but that question is definitively resolved in this issue.

Fall of the Hulks Gamma: Another very well written Jeph Loeb issue, especially the Steve Rogers/Rick Jones scenes (yes he appears again), and of course John Romita Jr. is always worth the price of admission. My Red Hulk suspect actually appears in this issue, but the last page forced me to change my mind because I don't believe that even now Banner would willingly kill anyone. (Ask me in the comments for details if you're interested -- I prefer to keep blatant spoliers out of my main posts.)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Robert Kirkman: Invincible, Walking Dead, Wolf-Man

I wasn't actually a huge fan of Robert Kirkman when I first started reading his books.  He was competent, sure, but I didn't see the appeal--The Irredeemable Ant-Man was a boring side story in the middle of Civil War and The Initiative (although I've since changed my mind about this), and his Ultimate X-Men run was, in many places, a mixed bag (although I did very much enjoy his "Phoenix?" storyline).  And Marvel Zombies just seemed like a ridiculous idea--not that I bothered to try it at the time.

Now, though?  I've completely reevaluated my opinion on his work, and when his name is attached to a project, I'm far more likely to give it a look.  I don't know if I'd classify him as a master storyteller or a comics icon--but he's very skilled, he has an incredible knack for dialog, and he writes stories that, no matter how ridiculous, seem real.  In a medium where characters frequently violate the rules of physics, that's not always an easy feat.

Invincible is one of the few new superhero characters that continues to grow in popularity.  There were those in the Golden Age, those in the Silver Age, those in the Bronze Age, and even several characters from the first half of the 90's--once you got past that, though, the odds for success dropped severely.  That didn't stop Robert Kirkman, though, and he launched this comic as an ongoing series seven years ago.  Sales were rocky at first, but quickly stabilized--and then grew.  And grew.  And now it's one of the top-selling ongoing superhero books that isn't published by DC or Marvel, beaten only by The Boys and Kirkman's own recent launch, Haunt.

I'm sure that many of you know the "twist" to Invincible, but I'll keep it simple for those that don't--Mark Brooks is a teenager, a high school/college student, whose father is Omni-Man, Earth's greatest protector, a visitor from another world.  Basically, Superman.  When Mark finally begins to develop his powers, he takes on a superhero identity--Invincible--meeting the many other heroes in his world.  But even though he's incredibly powerful with only a fraction of his father's powers, he's not flawless--and it's something that only becomes all too clear when the "twist" really sets in.

The book continues from there, dealing with Invincible's family life, his friends, his superhero allies, his "villains" (many of them incredibly laughable), and his adventures.  Although he's the main character, he's not the only focus--the other characters in his world get plenty of attention, and it never feels like pointless filler.  It's a true soap opera comic in the Lee/Ditko tradition, with many of the same notes that made Spider-Man so successful.  Invincible has the potential to be that hero for this generation, and based on the quality of the title, he deserves our support.

It's worth noting that Kirkman also recognizes the attention Invincible has been receiving, and offers several different formats for the collected editions.  The standard trades are nice, of course, but my format of choice is the Ultimate Collection hardcovers--giant, oversized books that collect a full year of the title, with tons of extras.  Five volumes have been published so far, and the "twist" I'm referencing is revealed halfway through the first one (which would either be at the end of the first standard trade or at the beginning of the second), defining the title from then on.




This was another book that I was reluctant to try.  In fact, when I first learned about it, I think I exclaimed "What, is this the only thing that Kirkman can write--zombies?"  What a pointless book, I thought.  A waste of paper and shelf space.

I was wrong.

The Walking Dead is one of my favorite books currently being published.  Almost all of the human race has been transformed into the undead, with no explanation given as to why, and the survivors are forced to band together.  Standard horror fare, right?

What makes this book different, however, is that the zombies are not the antagonists.  Not really.  They're the background, the scenery--just noise that occasionally drives the story.  The characters even recognize that eventually, treating the zombies like a nuisance.  Sure, they'll kill you if they get their hands on you, and as a group they can be a deadly force of nature--but if you don't panic, if you keep your distance, if you don't screw up, you're fine.

No, the real threat--the real reason to read this book--is everyone else.  The human cast.  In this world, without laws, where the only goal is to survive another day, anything can happen.  Nobody is safe.  You may fall in love with a character, and in the next issue, they might die.  Or go insane.  Or run off.  The pressures that they feel are so accurately conveyed to the reader, and even though none of us have (hopefully) lived in a world filled with zombies, Kirkman and Charlie Adlard (and original artist, Tony Moore) so accurately convey the feeling of that world.

Seventy issues in, and the title still feels fresh, constantly changing.  Kirkman may be making this all up as he goes along, but it doesn't matter--you'll be on the edge of your seat with every issue.

As with Invincible, there are several ways to read The Walking Dead, but the most convenient way is with the compendium.  It collects the first forty-eight issues, and costs only $59.99--less than $40 on Amazon, and even cheaper in some other places.  And despite this price, the quality of the pages remains strong--actually, stronger than plenty of other trades I've seen.  This is how I was introduced to the title, and I devoured those first forty-eight issues in a weekend.  And after I was done?  I immediately wanted more, and moved straight onto trades nine, ten and--soon--eleven.



I don't actually have as much to say about The Astounding Wolf-Man, however.  It's a good title, and an enjoyable read--but of these three titles, the weakest.  I'm not really sure why, but if I had to guess, I'd say that it was because there's not too much to identify with in the main character, other than the sense of being thrown into a situation you can't control.  Except then he learns to control it.  So that doesn't even really count.

Don't get me wrong--I'm gladly buying the trades, and am interested in seeing how it ends--but if I had to give somebody a Kirkman book to sample, it wouldn't be this one.

The Astounding Wolf-Man walks an interesting line between superhero and horror.  The book is flat-out set in the same "universe" as Invincible and most other Image books, even having a crossover with Kirkman's signature book, but deals with werewolves, vampires, and magic.  The experiment is interesting, but I can't help but wonder if it leads to my relative apathy towards the title--if it doesn't have a clear identity, if it tries too hard to straddle these two different genres, why should I feel a connection to it?

The title is only collected in standard trades, although with the upcoming conclusion, I wouldn't be too surprised if an omnibus comes out that collects the entire run.  I'm also very curious as to where Kirkman and artist Jason Howard go next--I think that they've teased another collaboration, but I'm not positive.

Civil War dominates the decade

The Comics Chronicles has just released a ranking of the top selling individual books for the decade just ended, based on sales figures/advance orders reported by Diamond Distribution.

You can see the entire list here:

http://www.comichron.com/vitalstatistics/topcomics2000s.html

Topping the ranks at #1 and with over 500,000 copies sold is AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #583 from January 2009, the Barack Obama commemorative issue. Nothing else comes close, as the #2 issue - - CIVIL WAR #2 in June 2006 - - - sold 341,856 copies.

What's significant is that CIVIL WAR dominates the upper echelon of these rankings, with all six issues of this ground-breaking mini-series crashing the top 10 positions at #2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 9.

Also, Marvel rules as well, with 8 titles among the top 10. (The other is CAPTAIN AMERICA #25, March 2007). DC just manages to grab two slots with ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN #1 (July 2005) at #8 and INFINITE CRISIS#1 (October 2005) at #10.

As you might expect Marvel and DC dominate the top rankings. You have to move down the list to position #111 to find a different publisher (Dark Horse, with BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER SEASON EIGHT #1 in March 2007 with 152,214 copies sold, a humble number compared to the others.)

Keep in mind that these are figures for direct market sales (comic book shops) only of single issues and do not include what sold through newstands and bookstores. Nor do the numbers include trade paperback collections and hardcovers. I'm sure the list would change if those statistics were available. Unfortunately, only Diamond Distribution is keeping the kind of detailed infomation needed to compile a listing like this. I would love to see some details from Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc.

As I think back on the last ten years - - if I had to narrow everything down to one single mini-series or title that defined the decade - - I would probably choose CIVIL WAR. It's certainly worthy and had a major impact on what followed in super-hero books, both at Marvel and DC.

Spokesman of the Week?


Will Stan Lee become Disney's front man for Marvel? Disney expert Jim Hill talks about what’s really behind the Mouse’s decision to acquire 10% of POW! Entertainment last week -- read more at jimhillmedia.com.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Book & Blog of the Week

I was going to write about the paperback edition of “Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade” the next time I did a round of book reviews but since kids comics have been a topic here recently and professional comic writer Dan Mishkin just wrote about this book, I thought I’d just link to his review at the Kids Read Comics! blog.

Hellblazer: Pandemonium

A NEW NOVEL FEATURING JOHN CONSTANTINE by JAMIE DELANO and JOCKO

          I haven’t read every single story arc and graphic novel featuring John Constantine, The Hellblazer .  But I have read enough to believe that I have an appreciation for the character and a fair idea of what makes him tick.   If I was making a recommendation to a new reader and could only suggest one book or story, then I’m confident that HELLBLAZER: PANDEMONIUM would serve as a  great example of what John Constantine is all about.   Anything and everything that defines him is included in this original graphic novel, scheduled to be published in February 2010 in a hardcover edition.

          There’s still time to get this included in your February Previews order. If you are a collector of Hellblazer this is essential.  If you enjoy the occasional reading of John Constantine’s exploits you will want to get this.  If you’ve been curious and will be reading about him for the very first time then this is a great jumping-on point.  And, I hesitate on this last one because I just can’t imagine anyone reading this review who has never read a Vertigo title before - - - if you are a Vertigo virgin then this is the one you give it up for.

          In addition, there are several anniversaries coming up that make this title significant as well. 2010 marks the 25th year of publishing the adventures of John Constantine, who was first introduced as a secondary character in Alan Moore’s SWAMP THING #37 (June 1985).  HELLBLAZER is also the longest continuously published title in Vertigo’s history, and was their first or “flagship” title when the Vertigo line of mature books was originally introduced - - so it became a “trailblazer” of sorts.

     jamie delano           HELLBLAZER: PANDEMONIUM is written by Jamie Delano, who returns to the character after a lengthy absence.  While there have been many quality writers to pen his stories, Delano was the very first writer of Constantine’s monthly book and was hand-picked for the assignment by Alan Moore.  He scripted 36 of the first 40 issues of HELLBLAZER and fleshed out and developed the character, expanding upon Moore’s concept of a “blue collar warlock” from a working class background complete with street smarts and a foul mouth.  This occult detective was intended to stand apart from your everyday standard wizard and mystic and rely more on his cunning and deception, often in lieu of magic.   Delano gave him background, morals (but not too many), values and principles, and issues galore to haunt his daydreams.  He fully developed “J.C.”  into the chain-smoking, cynical and manipulative character with a dash of charisma that his fictional reputation is built upon. 

          I read an advance review copy of PANDEMONIUM,  a gripping narrative that finds Constantine exposing  a demon’s handiwork on the sidelines of the Iraq battlegrounds.  How he came to be there, what happens to him, and how he saves the day and later gets some payback make up a very engaging storyline that will keep you reading.  I liked this enough to give it a second and third read, and I’ll eventually order a copy of the hardcover for placement on my “keeper” shelf.  The following paragraphs contain a summary of what occurs.  If you prefer to be surprised, just skip to the latter part of this review . . . . .

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          The story begins on the bloody streets in Iraq where a car-bomber is apprehended and taken to a “detention center” . His presence there causes fatalities to interrogators or any soldiers unfortunate enough to be in the same room with him.

          Back in London, John Constantine has become a shut-in, sequestering himself in an absent friend’s flat and trying to cover his expenses through late night online gambling. After a mysterious and foretelling wet dream brings him out of his stupor, he wanders out to clear his head.   While riding the subway a mysterious yet provocative Muslim woman wearing the traditional concealing black robes catches his attention.  He follows her trail to the British museum of history and they later depart to a nearby coffeehouse.  When an explosion close by causes panic, Constantine arranges for a cab to get her away from the area, considering that she would be a natural suspect.  He lingers at her apartment hoping for a romantic encounter only to succumb to the spiked tea she offers. When he awakes, he is alone with a missing museum artifact as the police break in and arrest him on suspicion of conspiring with a terrorist.

          Obviously he’s been set up by the Muslim woman,  Aseera Al-Aswari, who appears to be much more than just a post-graduate student of Archaeology from Baghdad University.  To avoid prosecution, Constantine is coerced into working for the government, providing his expert assistance as a special interrogator in Iraq.   While there, he learns that Aseera has also been coerced into cooperating with the British Security Service, helping them bait Constantine in exchange for release of her guerilla medic brother.

          During the questioning of the feral prisoner, Constantine learns that he’s a Djinn, released from his “bottle/lamp” and now in service to one of the ruling class elite  of Hell itself.  Complications lead to the prisoner escaping and during the chaos that ensues John and Aseera obtain their immigration papers to hell courtesy of gun-wielding terrorists.  John bargains for their freedom by challenging the lead demons to a game of “war”, a game he’s never played before and doesn’t understand the rules of.  But it’s close enough to high stakes poker for Constantine to bid and bluff his way through.

          His wits and cunning serve him well once again, and John obtains a very satisfying and amusing “payback” in the final pages of the book. 

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          The art by Jock (aka Mark Simpson) is first-class.  His style will remind you of Alex Maleev, and is very well-suited to this material.  I haven’t seen his work on a book (aside from cover art) since DC’s THE LOSERS with Andy Diggle some years ago.  His work on that title helped to define the setting and maintain a feeling of modern-day espionage.  It’s equally inspired and  attention-getting  in PANDEMONIUM,  and suited to the gritty and grim nature of the activities here.   The preview copy I reviewed was an unedited and abbreviated galley, so the art was not necessarily fully completed. But I can tell that it will be extremely worth a look, and will certainly enhance the story.  The hardcover will be in full color.  This preview is mostly black and white, with just a little color added in the opening pages.  But what I see here is a good indicator, as the subtle shades of orange, gold, gray and brown used throughout will further help depict the bleak setting of modern day Iraq.

Hellblazer Pandemonium

          It’s definitely the story, plus the dialogue and narration, that keep me returning.  PANDEMONIUM has a lot going for it as a straight-up action /horror story. But for those who crave a little extra, there are plenty of  philosophical asides, implied commentary and symbolism to keep you coming back.  After several readings, I continue to pull out new revelations, insights and amusements. Delano is a true craftsman and carefully chooses his words.   He won’t hit you over the head with a preachy message, but if you seek a thoughtful commentary on modern-day war and terror, it’s interlaced throughout this book.  Well done, indeed.

          The captions on the opening pages, the shared thoughts of an unknown narrator, perfectly set the tone for the story to come and bookmark the appropriate setting, Iraq:  “This ground is fertile, well watered by the twin rivers of hate and fear.”   . . . . . “Now, ripened under the blazing eye of terror, my crop stands ready for the reapers.    And their flashing scythes.” . . . . .   as the first page shows a street scene just as a car bomb explodes, and then in the ensuing death and devastation on the next page the captions detail further . .  . . . “Then one by one fall silent as I move among them . . . Harvesting each tiny grain of life to swell the granaries of Kutha.”

          There are such gems throughout. Like the description of night life in Baghdad given up by Constantine as he observes from his hotel window and begins to drink to mute the tension:  “Outside in old Baghdad, gunshot jazz.  Ragged rim-shots rattling off the taut skin of night.”  . . . . . “I’m drunk.  I should sleep. But I’m wired awake, fevered heart caught up in syncopated palpitation.”

     There’s a final and welcome bonus in the back pages - - The John Constantine Hellblazer Reader’s Guide - - a chronological listing of the various trade editions collecting the Hellblazer issues in proper order. (Not a single one of the trade paperbacks have volume numbers printed on them).    Let’s see  . . . . if I want to read the early works by Delano I’ve going to have to obtain at least 5 of the 30 titles listed here.  Please save me.