Friday, December 28, 2012

Alex Ross Art at the Norman Rockwell Museum

Over the holidays, I had the chance to visit the "Heroes & Villains: The Comic Book Art of Alex Ross" exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA. Ross' art is familiar to many comics fans, but the exhibit is an opportunity to see it up close at original size, and also to see his early work and influences.

The selection of his early work includes some fun crayon sketches from Ross' childhood, and even some homemade action figures. But where the exhibit really shines is in showing the influences on Ross' work. There's some wonderful 1960's art from Ross' mother Lynnette, a commercial artist and fashion designer, and you can definitely see the resemblance to her son's style. The highlights are originals from influence Norman Rockwell, including the original of a 1968 Look magazine cover that the "Justice" trade paperback cover was based on, and even a couple of Andy Warhol originals! I particularly enjoyed the section on "Uncle Sam" showing Ross', Rockwell's and Warhol's takes on the character.

I highly recommend the experience. The exhibit is at the Rockwell Museum through February 24, and I believe it will be travelling to other museums -- it's already been in Pittsburgh -- but I couldn't find a tour schedule on Ross' official site. (I also don't know if the original Rockwells will stay with the Ross exhibit.)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

H. P. Lovecraft, CREEPY style


CREEPY #10  (Dark Horse,  October 2012) was one of the best issues so far of the revived comics-sized version of the late, lamented classic CREEPY magazine from the 1960’s –1970’s.  I highly recommend this issue to anyone with a serious interest in the Lovecraft mythos.  I wrote an extensive review, which was recently posted to the Nameless Magazine website.

Creepy 10

You can read the full review here . . . . . . . . .

Saturday, December 22, 2012

RECENT READINGS: More Now, Samurai, Pulp, Recycling


47 Ronin

  47 RONIN #1 of 5 (Dark Horse, November 2012): Anyone interested in feudal Japan and tales of samurai honor will want to read this adaptation of the classic Japanese legend. Dark Horse founder and publisher Mike Richardson has been contemplating a comics version of the tale for over twenty-five years. Recent events occurred to prompt him to script it himself after finding the ideal artist partner in Stan Sakai. In eighteenth century Japan a powerful landholder, Asano Takumi-Naganori, is summoned by the Shogun to help prepare for some visiting envoys from the Emperor. The Shogun has appointed a court official to instruct Asano and others in proper court etiquette. However, the Shogun’s palace is rife with corruption. Bribes are commonplace.” Court official Kira Kozukenosuke Yoshinaka confronts Lord Asano and demands an additional “gift” as proper compensation for the training. Offended by the suggestion, Asano stands his ground and refuses to pay the bribe. Things become more difficult for him from that point forward as Kira sets him up for failure. Things take a bad turn during a meeting with the other Lords and Asano, baited by Kira’s critical words in front of his peers, gets himself in further trouble. This sets the stage for the classic story of the 47 Ronin and a long mission to avenge their master. In the text background piece, Richardson refers to how he was looking for just the right artist “who was familiar with the customs, clothing, and politics of the period. I particularly wanted to find someone who could evoke, but not copy, the woodblock prints of Ogata Gekko.” Sakai pulls it off. His work has never looked better.

FF 1

                                                                      FF #1 (Marvel Now!, January 2013): I haven’t had this much fun checking out the art since the days when Mike Allred penciled X-Force. Why? Because Mike Allred is penciling this new FF series! I love what he does with super-hero books in his distinctive and irreverent style. There is also a fun and light-hearted approach to the scripting of this book that reminds of exactly how the former Wolverine & The X-Men title started out (until it had to get more serious due to A VS. X crossovers.) I like this lighter side of writer Matt Fraction as well. The real Fantastic Four has to take a time-travel trip in search of a cure for their ailments and ask some FF (Future Force) members to stand in for them. Who are these temporary Fantastic Four ? (The job is only supposed to take four minutes of real time, so what’s the risk?) Why, they are Scott Lang (Antman) , Medusa (Medusa), Darla Deering (Ms. Thing) and Jennifer Walters (She-Hulk). Seems like a real fun group.

great pacific

                           GREAT PACIFIC #1 (Image, November 2012): This is the most impressive debut I’ve read these last few months and possibly the one book out there with the greatest potential. Co-creators Joe Harris and Martin Morazzo lay out the beginnings of what , in a text only format, would be an epic novel ; and cover a lot of ground, particularly with character introduction and development, within just this one issue so far. Young Chas Worthington has inherited his father’s seat as C.E.O. of Worthington Corp, an energy conglomerate into deep sea oil drilling and mountain top strip mining, among other things. Chas is at odds with the board of directors and has his own ideas about how to make money off the land. He’s an advocate of recycling and an eco-friendly thinker who sees great potential in masses of plastic, garbage and junk and devotes some company funds towards research in these areas. Realizing he has neither respect nor the attention of Worthington Corp officials, he puts several events into play with stunning consequences. How this all plays out should make some interesting reading. I am so impressed with the scripting abilities and pacing skills of writer Joe Harris. The art by Martin Morazzo is stunning as well as the bright vivid colors throughout. Morazzo’s style will remind of Frank Quitely.

Iron Man 1

                                  IRON MAN #1 (Marvel Now!, January 2013): For those who are counting, this is Volume #5, meaning the fifth time that the Iron Man series has gone through a re-boot. For the NOW! Age, writer Kieron Gillen gets a chance to make an impact and put his personal stamp on the Iron Man/Tony Stark mythos. He chooses to revive a classic storyline - - Extremis - - a combination of nanotechnology, biology and electronics that produces an ultra-human through the infusion of a specialized serum into the body. Sound like just another “super solider serum” story? Yes, but the original Extremis storyline by Warren Ellis became a memorable success because of the other elements that Ellis introduced into the Iron Man canon - - a slightly spun version of his origin, a re-thinking of his values, and a commentary on the power of the military and science and what is morally right and what is ethical, and a bunch of thought-provoking concepts. So can Gillen pull all that off? It sure looks like he’s going for it - - and I’m betting he can. There’s quite a bit of soul-searching to start this off. That a faux corporation (fronted by AIM) would be merchandising Extremis science to the highest bidders sounds exactly like something from Ellis. This issue (“Demons And Genies”) is the beginning of “Believe”, a five-part story that may just define Tony Stark/Iron Man a bit further. Greg Land is on board on art, although it doesn’t look to be his better work (so far). Give it time. Land’s best assets (in my opinion) are most noted when he is involved in a fantasy project rather than a super-hero book. Still, everything here (story and art) is interesting and worth keeping an eye on.


                                                                                                                  MASKS #2 (Dynamite, December 2012): As more characters get brought into the story, it taxes your knowledge of classic pulp crime fighters (those heroes in “masks”). Writer Chris Roberson doesn’t always introduce them by name. This issue begins with the enforcement arm of the newly governing Justice Party shaking down a high society gathering as they collect “the new tax”. Slipping outside to quickly change into costume are The Green Lama and The Black Cat. (I’m very sure about who the first person is, and not so sure about the second). The scene quickly shifts to last issues’ battleground, where The Shadow, The Green Hornet and Kato, and The Spider are surrounded by police in heavy armor complete with protective metal faceplates. I was a little disappointed to see that the magnificent art of Alex Ross is no longer between the covers and only visible on 25% of the multiple covers. However, artist Dennis Calero is no slouch, so I’m okay with the change. Who wouldn’t be, when the style (especially the diagonal panels) reminds you of the late great Gene Colan? This issue has a pulp feel all over it and Roberson work it all in and keeps things moving at a fast clip. There looks to be a real handful of characters involved before this one is all over. Now’s a good time for you to get in before things get too crowded.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

DIGITAL COMICS: Thrillbent now available through ComiXology


Since we’re on the subject of digital comics, and I know several Mark Waid fans among the Refugees - - - here’s more to share.  From the official press release . . . . .

December 19, 2012 – Los Angeles, CA – New York, NY – Thrillbent,  Mark Waid’s publishing imprint for new creator-owned digital comics,  announced today a digital distribution agreement with comiXology – the revolutionary digital comics platform available across the iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire, Windows 8 and the Web, recently announced as iTunes #3 top-grossing iPad app for all of 2012.

To celebrate this new partnership, Thrillbent is digitally debuting Eisner Award-winning Mark Waid and Eisner-nominated Peter Krause’s exciting ongoing super-hero saga Insufferable platform wide, collecting the online comic in editions featuring new covers and brand-new bonus material.  Also, comiXology fans reading on iPads with the Retina Display will get to experience these comics in stunning high-definition with CMX-HD.  Insufferable follows an estranged father and son superhero team (Nocturnus and Galahad) forced grudgingly to reunite to tackle a dangerous new case.

“Mark Waid is one of the premier comic creators of our time and it’s an honor to feature Thrillbent across the entire comiXology platform,” says comiXology co-founder and CEO David Steinberger.  “Waid made waves when he announced his digital-only line of comics and it’s only natural for us to give the Thrillbent line the comiXology Guided View experience and global reach.”

“When we launched our goal was to get expertly crafted creator-owned comics in the hands of readers worldwide, and we see comiXology as the perfect avenue to help reach that goal,” said Thrillbent co-founder Mark Waid.  “Thrillbent’s unique style of comics storytelling is a great fit to comiXology’s Guided View, and I know fans everywhere will be astonished by the digital comics evolution both companies are spearheading. You’ve never seen anything like what we can do together.”

Recently announced as iTunes’ #3 top grossing iPad app of 2012, comiXology has over 30,000 comics and graphic novels from more than over 75 of today’s hottest publishers,  giving comiXology the widest selection of digital comics anywhere.  ComiXology’s availability across the iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire, Windows 8 and the Web makes it the best digital comics platform for current, newly interested and lapsed comic, current and graphic novel fans.

About comiXology
Founded in 2007 with the mission of bringing comics to people everywhere, comiXology has revolutionized the comic book and graphic novel world. With the development of the comiXology digital comics platform - with buy-once, read-anywhere availability across across iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire, Windows 8 and the Web— comiXology provides the easiest way worldwide for people to enjoy comics anywhere they happen to be!  Regularly ranking as the top grossing iPad app in the entire iTunes App Store, comiXology is one of the leading drivers of the iPad economy.  Providing the most digital comics on the most devices, comiXology will not stop until everyone on the face of the planet has been turned into a comic book fan.

DIGITAL COMICS = new Liquid Comics App available

from the official press release. . . . NOTE:  This is the return of the original VIRGIN COMICS line-up, a short-lived comics company that put out some quality work.  I highly recommend GAME KEEPER and 7 BROTHERS. I have these series in the print editions.


~ App Debuts at Number 4in the App Store Charts for iPhone Free Book Apps ~

NEW YORK, NY— December 20, 2012Just in time for the holiday season, Liquid Comics launched the new“Liquid Comics” app today for the iPhone and iPad. The app quicklyliquid rose to number 4 in the App Store charts under iPhone free book apps.       The app is available now for download at:               

The app is loaded with free comics and videos from leading creators from both comics and Hollywood including Guy Ritchie, John Woo, Barry Sonnenfeld, Shekhar Kapur, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Andy Diggle, Marc Guggenheim, Mukesh Singh, Jeevan J. Kang and more.

The app will also be the first place to receive updates on new projects coming soon from Liquid, including “Coming of Rageby legendary creator Wes Craven (Scream, Nightmare on Elm Street) and horror scribe Steve Niles (30 Days of Night).

Liquid Comics aims to be a home for great creators across film, television and comics to collaborate together on new ideas and bring them to audiences through the visual medium of graphic novels and interactive entertainment,”commented Sharad Devarajan, Liquid Comics Co-Founder & CEO.  “The Liquid Comics app for the iPhone and iPad allows us to share these creators stories with potentially millions of people through one of the most compelling visual devices ever created.”

The app is a free application that is loaded with free content and additional content that can be purchased when users sign up for an account. Current comic books offered in the Liquid app include:
John Woo’s “7 Brothers,” - from John Woo (Mission Impossible 2, Face-Off) and comic book creators Garth Ennis and Jeevan Kang.  Seven Brothers tells the story of how six hundred years ago mighty Chinese treasure fleets set sail to reach every continent. Now in modern day Los Angeles, an ancient prophecy must be fulfilled and seven men with nothing in common but their destinies must face the Son of Hell to save the world.

Barry Sonnenfeld's “Dinosaurs vs. Aliens” - from  Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black trilogy), and comic book creators Grant Morrison and Mukesh Singh.  The story for Dinosaurs Vs. Aliens is based on a secret world war battle that was never recorded in our history books.  When an alien invasion attacks Earth in the age of the dinosaurs, our planet’s only saviors are the savage prehistoric beasts which are much more intelligent than humanity has ever imagined.

Guy Ritchie's “Gamekeeper- from Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes, Lock, Stock,…) and comic book creators Andy Diggle and Mukesh Singh.  Gamekeeper is a tale of epic espionage.  Brock is a reclusive, enigmatic, groundsman who lives a quiet existence until mercenaries invade it and destroy any remnants of his life he has left.  Now, set on a path of vengeance, it becomes difficult to tell who has more power - - the man, or the animal within.

Shekhar Kapur’s “Snakewoman” - created by Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth, Four Feathers) and comic book creators Zeb Wells and Michael Gaydos.  Jessica Peterson is learning first-hand that the cycle of revenge cannot be broken.  Without understanding why, she finds herself turning into a creature - a vicious Snakewoman.  Her mission - to avenge a centuries old wrong that was conceived half a world away.  Jessica must confront the monster that lurks inside her before it is too late.

Marc Guggenheim’s “Nowhere Man” - created by Marc Guggenheim (Executive Producer of the hit television series, “Arrow”). What if you could have the world of your dreams? ... and all it cost you was every thought you ever had.  A futuristic thriller set in a world where the government monitors everything - including your most private thoughts.

New releases in the app will include previously published Liquid titles such as “The Megasfrom Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3; Surrogates);  “Dead Soldierfrom filmmakers John Moore (A Good Day to Die Hard; Max Payne);  “Voodoo Childby Weston Cage, Nicolas Cage and Mike Carey;  “Dock Walloperby actor and filmmaker Ed Burns and Jimmy Palmiotti.

The app is available now for download at:

ABOUT LIQUID COMICS:    Liquid Comics is a digital entertainment company focused on creating cinematic and mythic graphic novel stories with filmmakers, creators and storytellers.  The company was founded by entrepreneurs Sharad Devarajan, Gotham Chopra and Suresh Seetharaman and uses the medium of digital graphic novel publishing to develop properties for theatrical live-action films, animation and video games. Liquid has created and is creating original graphic novels with acclaimed filmmakers and talents including John Woo, Guy Ritchie, Grant Morrison, Shekhar Kapur, Deepak Chopra, Dave Stewart, Marc Guggenheim, Marcus Nispel, Jonathan Mostow, Edward Burns, Nicolas Cage, John Moore, Wes Craven, Barry Sonnenfeld and others.  The Company currently has a number of film and television projects in development based on their properties.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Previews 12/19/2012: X-O MANOWAR SECOND ARC -- IT SUITS US ALL

X-O MANOWAR #5 – 8 (Valiant, September through December 2012) Writer: Robert Venditti. Penciler: Lee Garbett. Inker: Stefano Gaudiano. Colorist: Moose Baumann. Letterer: Dave Lamphear. Writer Robert Venditti has now completed the foundation and framework for a bigger X-O Manowar structure and seems ready to take the title forward in a big way. I sense something complex is in the works for this book, and I’m not just referring to the upcoming Planet Death storyline that Valiant has already been publicizing.
If you’ve been following this book since Issue #1 then you know that Venditti slides little revealing asides into the story in various places. These interesting bits of background and character information have a way of adding special meaning to later events in the book. For example, the baby abductions and replacement alien replicas in Issue #1 help us understand how the Vine (an appropriate name) has spread their tendrils throughout all facets of modern civilization, including British MI-6 intelligence service. Likewise, these background moments also raise questions that have yet to be answered, such as: 1) . . . How does the plant life, vines and fruit that the captive humans must harvest on spaceship gardens relate to “offspring”? Are these large six-eyed humanoids walking vegetables or something else? 2) . . . How does the X-O armor that Aric wears know exactly what to do and what weapon to use in moments of crisis? Is it responding to his thought patterns? How would an ancient Visigoth understand modern armaments and how to use them? Is the suit making the call, or is Aric? I’m keeping a close eye on his body language for clues. 3) . . . Have we seen the full capabilities of the armor yet? So far, rockets, destructive beams, flight, language translation, teleportation and time travel. Nothing is ever explained or spelled out in this fast-moving storyline --- it just happens and we observe. 4) . . . What are the full implications and capabilities of the mental conference calls that the disguised Vine members on Earth can seemingly bring together at will? During the reading of the second story arc we get more information that will eventually help to completely answer these questions. The second story arc featured here in Issues #5-8 introduces another former Valiant character - - Ninjak - - - a mercenary for hire with specialized skills in all forms of weaponry, espionage and surveillance. (Did I forget to mention murder?) That might seem to be a bit of a distraction as readers are still just getting further acquainted with Aric, a interesting and complex character in his own right - - - a man out of time, thoroughly disoriented by a gap of 16 centuries between then and now, and adjusting to a highly advanced form-fitting alien metal suit with unique powers and abilities. However, Venditti keeps his focus on the main story and gives us just enough detail on the new character (Ninjak) to hold our interest while he keeps the always engrossing central plot front and center of our attention. The great Cary Nord is replaced on art by Lee Barbett, who does an excellent job. I’m really enjoying his work here. There are some great illustrated moments to appreciate throughout these issues. WHAT HAPPENS IN ISSUES #5-8? = Ninjak is hired by The Vine to obtain the X-O armor and return it to them. He meets X-O and they fight. They later stop fighting and join forces (along with a new unexpected ally) to help Aric get his revenge against the agents of the Vine on Earth. This leads up to the next story arc - - Planet Death - - with a two issue prologue followed by four issues of the main story. That will bring us into the second year of the revived X-O Manowar title. At this point, you should stop reading this review and start reading the books. There are spoilers among the highlights if you continue.
HIGHLIGHTS ISSUE #5: In modern day Rome, Aric visits the battlefield where Roman legions slaughtered his Visigoth people so many centuries ago. His suit allows him x-ray vision and he spies an old broken sword under the surface. He later uses the remaining edge of that sword to shave his beard in the waters of the Amazon River. And that moment leads to a flashback memory of being knife-shaved by his wife Deidre during a tender moment. And the battlefield sword becomes a tool of interrogation for Aric later. (See, Venditti never wastes a prop!) The leader of the mercenary band dispatched by the Hive to capture Aric in the Amazon is led by a Vine member secretly living among the humans. His name is Alexander Dorian (a very appropriate last name for someone who true nature is hidden). The X-O suit is powerful enough to propel a fist and arm straight through the human body. The green ray will decapitate. Aric’s methods of obtaining information from captives remind me of Keifer Sutherland as Jack on the 24 television series. HIGHLIGHTS ISSUE #6: The art team’s use of blue shading and highlights during the Vine telepathic conference scenes enhances the effect of an out-of-body meeting. Alexander Dorian has an attachment to humanity and Earth, and is not onboard with the alien’s alternative plans if they don’t get the armor back. If Aric is unconscious the suit detaches from his body and remains on standby as a floating sphere. Aric can use the suit’s power to form a sword of pure energy that cuts very sharply and precisely (like a light saber).
HIGHLIGHTS ISSUE #7: An opening flashback to the year 410 A.D. reveals the beginnings of the Vine’s “secret invasion” plans, methods they have utilized on several worlds. The X-O armor has fully bonded with Aric, and also has a sixth sense that alerts to enemy encroachment. The training of the Vine invasion fleet shows just how cruel they can be. Commander Trill has a streak of determination and an unquenchable desire for revenge that matches the same streak and desire in Aric. The ending image of the massive MI-6 Headquarters is backlit perfectly and serves as a giant teaser for the next issue.
HIGHLIGHTS ISSUE #8: This begins with another opening flashback to 412 A.D. after the fateful battle between Romans and Visigoths. Aric gets a lesson from King Alaric, who blames the outcome of the battle on Aric’s stubbornness, lack of battle wisdom, and recklessness. Aric repeats his mantra (true to his character) in a defining speech that begins here (in the past) and transitions to the next page (in current time) just before the MI-6 assault: “If there comes a day when I no longer have an army at my back, so be it. I will fight regardless. I will slaughter as many of the enemy as the Lord will allow . . . and I will die well.” The battle scenes this issue are magnificent, further heightened through use of multiple short length wide-screen panels. It ends with an uneasy truce between Aric and Ninjak. Alexander Dorian is kicked out of the Gathering and their inside source for Vine information is gone. The invasion fleet readies for action. Next two issues will be illustrated by Trevor Hairsine, followed by the return of Cary Nord. Get them all.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Recent Readings: Judge is no Joke


Bat and Robin 15

BATMAN AND ROBIN #15 (DC) “Death Of The Family” – I just wanted to take another peek at this crossover storyline. Just to make sure it’s worth my getting the trade paperback later. It appears to be so. Robin has been directed by Batman to “sit it out” and monitor the proceedings from the Batcave. Of course, the “little big man” has his own ideas of how to best use his skills and turns them towards finding the abducted Alfred. Naturally, the trail leads him right to the Joker. The Joker as depicted by Snyder, Tomasi and others is madder than ever and even more unpredictable. Tomasi is hinting at an extreme sense of possessiveness that Joker holds for Batman, and a resentment towards the attention he devotes to his “family” members. Classic lines here from the Joker: “The Batman I know and love has more PEZ in the dispenser - - but you all keep pushing his head back, reaching down his neck and taking more than you deserve until one day he’ll be empty and have no PEZ left to give poor ol’ me.” Gleason’s stellar art only serves to enhance the disturbing nature of this tale - - and the rest of the art team backs it up with the appropriate shading. Yes, I’m looking forward to reading the full story - - eventually.

judge dredd 1

JUDGE DREDD #1 (IDW): IDW deserves credit for a very faithful adaptation of Judge Dredd that is respectful of the themes, feel, and look of the British Dredd stories and the entire 2000 A.D. line. While I have never been a regular reader of the 2000 A.D. titles - - there are legions of Dredd fans in the United States who should be thrilled to see publication here of all new stories. Dredd is not a complex character and writer Duane Swierczynski nails it on the first effort. Dredd is sort of one-dimensional, a fascist cop who’s most admirable quality is his grim determination to uphold the law and his impatience with any law breakers, who often experience his violent wrath. The artist on the lead story is Nelson Daniel who accurately depicts the complexities of Mega-City One. About the only difference I detected between the original British books and here is the welcome use of larger panels. The back-up short feature is drawn by Paul Gulacy, whose trademark style is not very much in evidence here. Gulacy adapts to something more suitable to the source material. I almost thought I was looking at Darick Robertson’s work circa TRANSMETROPOLITAN until I checked the credits. Gulacy fans will want to pick this up to see for themselves. The lead story centers around a revolt of the servant robots, which Dredd will continue to investigate into the next issue.


MASKS #1 (Dynamite): The amazing Alex Ross is finally persuaded to move off the cover of various Dynamite books and grace the interior pages with his dynamic art. When the subject matter is classic pulp detective heroes the results are breathtaking. Couple that with a script from skilled adaptor Chris Roberson and we are in for a magnificent mini-series. It starts with a meeting between the Green Hornet, Kato and The Shadow in a darkened alley and moves forward to a dinner meeting between their daytime identities at a posh nightclub. A new political organization aims to curtail crime in a hurry. The Justice Party wins the election and citizens quickly realize they elected some real criminals. One of the newly hired police officers (from the mob ranks) bears an uncanny resemblance to classic horror actor Rondo Hatton. Before this series ends, various pulp heroes will make their way to New York City to team up and take down the corrupt local government. Issue #1 also introduces Zorro and The Spider into the mix. There will be more. The street settings, the dialogue, and the situations all read like classic pulp fiction. The art by Ross perfectly captures this era and lends an air of mystery through his mastery of realistic illustration, panel placement, shading and depth perspective. You really need to see this book to appreciate it fully.


Cap standard_xlarge

CAPTAIN AMERICA REBORN #1-6 (Marvel 2009-2010): This mini-series is a truly amazing accomplishment. A reader completely unfamiliar with Captain America can get up to date with a clear understanding of who he is, who he was, what he represents, and his history just from reading REBORN. Writer Ed Brubaker has never been better, and clearly establishes here why he is the absolute best-ever scripter of Captain America. It’s all here - - back story, suspense, mystery, and action galore. The art team of Hitch and Guice does equally great first-class work here. Pair this mini-series up with CAPTAIN AMERICA: WHO WILL WIELD THE SHIELD? one-shot and then Brubaker’s follow-through CAPTAIN AMERICA #1 (2011) and you will be thoroughly entertained.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Books I Read: Marvel Prose Novels

Marvel's started a new line of prose novels adapted from some of their recent, but classic, storylines. First up are "Civil War" and "Astonishing X-Men", with "New Avengers" coming in early 2013. These are attractive hardcovers, a little wider than standard and on bright white paper. (They'll be issued as paperbacks later too.) Since these are based on comics you've probably already read, there are spoilers below.

"Civil War" by Stuart Moore: Former Vertigo editor Moore is the editor of this line, so he's up to bat first. The advantage of a novel is that it lets us into characters' heads in a way that's hard to do in comics. Moore does this well, focusing on Captain America & Iron Man of course, and also Spider-Man and Invisible Woman. However, I don't think he does a great job articulating Cap's position before Tony gets all fascistic and Bill Foster dies. To be fair, that's also a weakness in the original work, but in the early stages of the novel it's not really clear why Steve is fighting beyond "this is the way things have always been and I don't want it to change." Once the first battle with the resistance ends badly, and Spider-Man starts to learn more about Tony's plans, the two sides are better delineated and Moore conveys everyone's emotional struggles very well. Spidey continuity obsessives will be interested to know that this is the post-Mephisto version of the story: Peter Parker is not, and has never been married as far as this book is concerned.

"Astonishing X-Men: Gifted" by Peter David: David has the advantage here, even though the plot doesn't have as much going on as "Civil War" because he's got Joss Whedon's great dialogue to use. He also makes the smart decision to tell some chapters from Kitty Pryde's point-of-view. That gives him a chance to delve into some X-Men history, and since he's got several Jewish (presumably non-mutant) daughters of varying ages he's got Kitty's "voice" down perfectly. There's also room for him to go into what the kids at the school are thinking more than Whedon did, which I appreciated. I don't think the Breakworld stuff -- what there is of it; the novel doesn't leave Earth -- really works without John Cassaday's visuals, though.

I'm a big fan of novels based on comic characters: I have a collection of them going back to the 1970's. And these are good books, probably among the better written in that collection. But I'm disappointed that Marvel chose to do adaptations instead of original novels. There's a long history of adaptations, and I think DC was still doing them as recently as "52", but that dates from a time when "respectable" grown-ups wouldn't pick up a comic book. In 2012-2013, it's hard to imagine anyone who's interested enough to read "Civil War" who wouldn't just pick up the graphic novel. (Or a fan of the "Avengers" movie who wouldn't want to read what Joss Whedon wrote instead of something once removed from it.) Still, these are well done (and I appreciate the effort that went into them), and if you do know somebody who likes this kind of thing, this is the kind of thing they'll like.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

PREVIEWS for December 12, 2012: David Lapham has HEART


PGHHEAD’S NOTES:  I know of at least two of the BC Refugees crew that are big David Lapham fans.  I post the following article here as a public service “heads up!” message . . . . .

From the official Avatar press release . . . . . . . . . . .

While many are pointing at December 21 (12/21/12)  some people interpret the Mayan calendar to predict this Wednesday,  12/12/12,  to spell the end of the world as we know it.  But, David Lapham feels fine.

The Eisner Award-winning author has three of his own personal series hitting comic shops this Wednesday, all published by Avatar Press.  In addition to the debut of Caligula: Heart of Rome - the sequel to his supernatural horror tale set in ancient Rome - Wednesday will also premiere the trade collection of his original Ferals werewolf crime/horror comic series, and the most recent issue of his gonzo detective series, Dan The Unharmable #8.


Having been in the comic industry for over twenty years, Lapham has worked with Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Valiant, Wildstorm and many other publishers as both a writer and an artist.  He won the Eisner Award for his creator-owned series Stray Bullets, as Best Writer/Artist in 1996.  It is with Avatar Press he has found a home, allowing him to publish stories near and dear to his heart.

This Wednesday’s Caligula: Heart of Rome #1 allows Lapham to revisit his 2011 hit series set during the horrors of ancient Rome.  “The time period is so twisted all on its own,” explained Lapham. “In a matter of years, we go from one of the most depraved and insane men who ever lived  (in Caligula) to the next most insane and depraved man who ever lived (in Nero).   The stories kind of just suggest themselves.  Introduce a demon into the mix and everything just fits in like a perfect puzzle.”

Writing a period piece like Caligula can be challenging and rewarding at the same time.  “The research has been fun,” Lapham added.  “It's amazing how much is known and unknown about that time period. It's just separated enough from the line that leads to us that there's an alien sensibility about it.  The real challenge though comes in the details.”

And what gory details they are.  Having been known for his over-the-top horror in Crossed (Family Values and Psychopath, for example), the first Caligula did not disappoint.  Will Caligula: Heart of Rome deliver?  (Pghhead’s notes: Based on the six page preview I saw  =  it does more than that! You almost want to turn your head away - - but you won’t.)

“It's very disturbing visually,” Lapham admitted.  “It all fits.  Even better here than in Crossed.  I feel, while Caligula might be more visually graphic, it's also more purposeful.  Again, there's a theme of depravity.  But the heart of the story is that one man is trying to retain his honor and dignity in the face of that.”


Staying in the same vein, Lapham’s on-going series, Ferals, is collected for the first time this Wednesday.  Ferals takes a much more sophisticated approach to the werewolf mythos.

“The idea was to do werewolves differently,” Lapham explained.  “In that I had a certain tone and landscape I saw for a setting.  The snow, the mountains.  Small town America.  Simple people.  Dale Chesnutt suggested himself.  He's the detective from Mayberry on the wrong side of the tracks.  He's really turned into a very dynamic character and very natural to write.  For my part, I do think of it like the what if the Andy Griffith Show were invaded by booze and werewolves... and David Koresh.”

“I think one of the most successful aspects of Ferals is that we really created a credible secret society within our own,” Lapham continued.  “The Ferals are out there and they want to be left alone, but if we're not going to leave them alone then we're going to die.  Nobody puts the Ferals in a corner.”

Ferals Volume One collects Lapaham’s complete first story arc and is available as a soft cover, hard cover and limited signed hard cover in stores everywhere.

Also arriving this Wednesday is Lapham’s detective series, Dan The Unharmable #8, taking him back to his crime roots.  “I wanted to do more traditional crime, and going back to Stray Bullet's Amy Racecar and Sadie Dawkins from Young Liars,” compared Lapham.  Fans who want to get caught up on the misadventures of Dan can expect to see the first trade paperback in January.

With all three of Lapham’s personal projects arriving the same day, this Wednesday, it may just be the end of the world.  David Lapham isn’t phased, though.  “I ain't scared of nothin'.”

Avatar Press is a groundbreaking independent publishing company producing a wide variety of cutting-edge comic books, graphic novels, and original web content since 1996.  Their high-quality publications include the work of such industry luminaries as Garth Ennis (Crossed, Stitched, Chronicles of Wormwood), Alan Moore (Fashion Beast, Neonomicon), Warren Ellis (Freakangels) and David Lapham (Crossed, Ferals, Dan the Unharmable and Caligula).  They also produce a diverse range of licensed projects including the classic zombie epic Night of the Living Dead and George RR Martin’s Fevre Dream.  Their Boundless Comics imprint publishes Brian Pulido’s original Lady Death. For more information about Avatar Press, their publications, and creators, please visit

Sunday, December 9, 2012

RECENT READINGS: Speaking of impulsion; NOW and later


Those who know of my comics-buying habits are aware that I don’t like to add books to “monthly pull lists”. I don’t want to be stuck reading a title I’ve stopped enjoying due to a writer/artist change or because it simply no longer holds my interest. For most readers, that’s not an issue. They simply cancel the title and just end up with 2 or 3 issues that they don’t like. However, because I don’t always get to read books I’ve ordered until months later I’d be “stuck” with more than just a few copies. So I continue to order in advance just those books that I feel will be worthwhile in a single month. That also leaves me breathing room to indulge my other comics-buying inclination: picking up books solely on impulse. I don’t want to ever stop doing this. Some of my favorite reads and discoveries have been books I never intended to order yet picked up off a comics shop shelf purely on the whim of the moment. It also provides me an excuse to continue to frequent comics stores just to hang out and look around. My work requires travel, so this becomes a fun way to use up my evening - - visit the local comics store. Many of the books reviewed here have been purchased in different cities throughout the U.S.A.


STITCHED #10 (Avatar): Mainstay Avatar artist Mike Wolfer takes over the writing duties here and moves creator Garth Ennis’ re-animated mummies (the “stitched”) from Afghanistan to Sri Lanka. Rashid Salib is an enterprising mercenary-type who’s discovered how the “controllers” command the living corpses and transports six of them to the estate of eccentric collector Phillip Strathmore. Salib hopes to fetch a hefty price for them, as Strathmore is a “hunter” of the “exquisite, the unique, and the dead.” Salib has also brought another mysterious artifact yet to be revealed. A stealthy unseen killer is brutally dispatching servants foolish enough to wander outdoors in the torrential rains. Wolfer does a nice job here at establishing the scene and adding the background details. While I’d love to see him illustrate this book as well, artist Fernando Furukawa does an admirable job all around - - close-ups, backgrounds, and the horrific moments. This is a good place to jump on this title, especially if you enjoy horror in comics.


SHADOWMAN #2 (Valiant): It works like a one-two punch. SHADOWMAN #1 jolts your head back and makes you pay attention. SHADOWMAN #2 hits you again = faster and harder while reminding you that you’re in for a real fight. Issue #2 does not give you time to breathe and re-group. Jab after quick jab, it provides the necessary background and introduces the other major characters without ever letting up. No pause for your cause. Just read it repeatedly. As a former fan of this character, I’m very pleased with what writer Justin Jordan and artist Patrick Zircher are creating and re-working here: The Abettors. The Brethren. Mr. Twist (a classic creation). Master Darque (the legendary Valiant villain). The primary red hues of the ethereal Universitas Divinum. SHADOWMAN #3 promises the knock-out punch: Shadowman versus Mr. Twist. Pick up the program/fight card now so you know what’s going on before the headline match.

I commented earlier on this site that I was going to hold off from spending time in the MARVEL NOW! books until six or more issues in, when trade paperbacks start to appear. Blame that impulse again. I picked up a couple titles just to see if I’m really missing anything great. Not so far - - but it’s still early. Hopefully, some of these titles will click with readers. Otherwise, 2013 is going to be a very long year for Marvel.


CAPTAIN AMERICA #1 (Marvel NOW!): How does a new writer/artist team follow up after Ed Brubaker and company leave the title? Answer: you don’t try. It’s time for a different spin. As the end text piece explains, new writer Rick Remender decides to go bold: forget the gritty realism of the past and place the character in completely different environs = “high adventure, tough-as-nails, mind-melting sci-fi, pulp–fantasy with constant high stakes, real velocity, and fast action.” As inspiration, Remender refers to the long-ago Jack Kirby run on the title. If anybody can re-imagine that time, it’s certainly Remender. And his previous work shows he’s quite good at it. (FEAR AGENT, etc.) What I’m not sure of is whether today’s comics readers are actually craving what he’s planning. Comics are more sophisticated, mature, complex and better-written then they were back then. In Issue #1, right after Sharon pops the question to Steve he gets transported to this mystical land- - a universe (“Dimension Z”) dominated by arch foe Arnim Zola who wants to siphon some of the super-soldier serum from Captain America to fortify his own test-tube children. There are moments where Remender lets the Captain America persona we all know and love to shine through. I just don’t feel any connection to this new universe. (Just like Wolverine in the Savage Land - - sounds like a good pitch, but how will it play out?) The usually dependable art by John Romita Jr has some nice touches here (his depictions of the new land) but I have never seen it this sloppy and inconsistent before. Now I’m worried for both CAPTAIN AMERICA and Rick Remender. I wish them well.


DEADPOOL #1 (Marvel NOW!) : Deadpool remains ultra-popular for reasons I cannot determine. So I picked up this latest title to see if I can solve the puzzle. It might be because it’s a reminder of how ridiculous and preposterous super-hero titles can become, especially if they take themselves too seriously. The Deadpool books occur within the Marvel universe but exist mostly outside of it with no regard for continuity. It’s a not-so-serious look at Marvel that pokes fun at itself. I’m reminded of the very early MAD comics (from EC) that were spoofs of popular comic book and television heroes. New writers Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn put a modern spin on that popular MAD style. Artist Tony Moore is reason enough to pick up this book. His art style will really remind you of early MAD, and especially John Severin. DEADPOOL #1 sets him up as a subcontracted employee to S.H.I.E.L.D., hired to help put down the threat of re-animated former U.S. presidents. A necromancer is reviving them in order to fix the country’s problems, but they have a demonic intent of their own. I didn’t chuckle out loud while reading. I grimaced more than I smiled. But at least now I understand better.


INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK #1 (Marvel NOW!) What can the very capable Mark Waid do to take the Hulk forward through the post-“Hulk Smash” days? Write into the storyline a month-long absence for Bruce Banner during which he assesses his current state and reconciles himself to the fact that he can’t survive without some Hulk in his life. Once he accepts that he can’t get rid of this other side, he works at adjusting in ways that would be more beneficial to everyone. He wants to be remembered in Marvel history in the same way that geniuses like Tony Stark and Reed Richards will be. So he develops ways to manage his current condition so he can go about helping the world. He auditions for a job and funding with S.H.I.E.L.D. by taking on the Mad Thinker and his latest creations. I like this change in direction and where it may take Bruce/Hulk in the weeks to come. INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK is my favorite of the three new Marvel books I’ve read - - but I’m not sure I’m onboard for this yet. The art by Leinil Yu is different and takes some getting used to. What’s going on in some of the action panels is a little confusing - - it looks a bit cluttered.