Monday, December 14, 2009

Upcoming Poetry Feature

I'll be the poetry feature at the Ugly Mug's Two Idiots Peddling Poetry this coming Wednesday, December 16. While that may not seem comics related, the guys (who are far from idiots in real life) are quite the fanboys themselves and have agreed to let my reading double as an action figure drive for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fullerton this holiday season. I'll also be selling some of my self-published comics. So, if you're in Orange County, California, come get your geek on poetry style this Wednesday night! The info is on this flyer.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Twisted Tales

Halloween has long been my favorite holiday, so I’ve decided to return to reviewing comic books with some regularity this month. Every week this month, I’ll post at least one special Halloween-oriented review, criticizing the issue based on its reverence for this hallowed holiday season through four distinct categories worth up to five points each. The comic that earns the total possible 20 points could be one of the best Halloween issues ever!

Twisted Tales, November 1987, Eclipse Comics
writer: Bruce Jones
artists: Rick Stasi, Jim Mooney, Scott Saavedra, Henry Mayo
letterers: Mike Worley, Kurt Hathaway, Carrie Spiegle
colorists: Marcus David, Barbara Marker, Henry Mayo

PREMISE: Twisted Tales is a compilation of, well, twisted tales by favorite comics horror writer Bruce Jones. While I wouldn’t call this a definitive collection of work, it is a diverse collection of psychologically-slated stories of macabre intrigue. For someone like me, unfamiliar with Jones’ work past his run on The Incredible Hulk a few years ago, this collection offers insight into the way a mastermind spins yarns, and his skills in characterization and surprising plot twists certainly make it easy to get tangled up. As a proverbial graphic Twilight Zone experience, Twisted Tales earns three out of five points.

STORY: This issue contains three twisted tales, and to be honest the lead story is my least favorite. “Termites from Mars” is a Goonies-esque adventure, taking place in the 1956 suburban town of Crystal Falls. Jones takes his sweet time establishing his four major players, pre-teens all fulfilling some stereotypical role as the burgeoning adolescent; one plays peeping tom to one of the older girls from school as she changes in front of her bedroom window, another loves racing model trains in the basement, another is the fat, unfortunate comic foil. The lead character, Brian, loves science fiction and is drawn to the premiere of the film Termites from Mars at their local beloved Rialto theater. When the fat kid gets his friends thrown out of the picture, Brian vows to reclaim his stolen pocket knife from their angry, old reclusive neighbor. When the kids run into some gangsters along the way, a cemetery romp results in the lead thug getting mysteriously devoured by, you guessed it, rabid termites. Jones must’ve delighted in the details here, but the story ultimately fell flat with me, as the “twisted” part was severely stunted by the kids’ perpetually innocent perspective, and the overall blissfully average setting.

“Fraternity” is much more engaging; Mr. Soames is a petty, ugly little man that just wants the affection of a woman and flails in the face of constant rejection. When he uses a tragic newspaper headline to elicit the sympathy of a lady, claiming a slain victim was in fact his brother, he finds a modicum of success and develops his strategy into a lucky streak. Unfortunately, he quickly feels that someone is watching him, and when he confronts the shadowy figure, his ghoulish new “brothers” consume him! Short and sweet, I liked this tale for its tongue-in-cheek woe-is-me vibe . . . and it goes to show just how scary the world was before the Internet!

Finally, in “Night Dive,” a down-and-out boat keeper runs into an old high school acquaintance, and in a bid to appear more successful feigns a lifestyle worthy of the local yacht club. When an old man approaches them about finding a sunken treasure, they jump at the chance, and when our boatman kills his acquaintance to claim the treasure for himself, he finds himself a part of another exclusive club, where he does indeed have his own locker . . . right next to Davy Jones’! Hey, I’d take any hell that involves doting mermaids, though, as our anti-hero himself claims, even if they are “frustrating on a date.”

These three twisted tales are so diverse in their subject matter, even if I didn’t like one, I was sure to like one of the others -- which is perhaps exactly what Jones and Eclipse Comics intended with this compilation. For their sheer variety in style and psychological horror, I’m giving this issue a full five points.

ART: Twisted Tales is a writer spotlight, but fortunately the art isn’t too shabby, either, each tale drawn in the way the author might’ve intended, considering the subject matter. “Termites” has a very traditional style, and “Night Dive” is a bit more flamboyant, but “Fraternity” stands out the most, as Scott Saavedra’s pencils are wild, angular, and almost satirical in their flexibility, while still retaining the solid expressionism needed to sympathize with the main character. Honestly, it saves the whole collection from an otherwise unfortunately standard look, so I’ll give the issue as a whole three out of five points.

PACKAGING: Ah, the reason I picked up this issue in the first is its awesome cover by Dave Stevens -- yes, that Dave Stevens, of Rocketeer fame. Just look at that ghoul leaning into some Pat Benatar lookalike -- I was totally intrigued as to what their story might be, but unfortunately this doesn’t reflect any of the issue’s content. Still, the thing is bound in a prestige format, very durable and for the original cover price of $3.95 is a steal, even in 1987. Thanks to Stevens, Twisted Tales earns four out of five points.

TOTAL: Fifteen points, with a solid third of them awarded to the plots themselves -- what else would one expect from a writer’s spotlight? Further, what better way to celebrate Halloween than with the concept of the horror story? I mean, kids can just as easily dress up as pretty princesses and brightly colored superheroes for this hallowed holiday, but many prefer ghouls, monsters, witches, and ghosts. Bruce Jones holds up that mirror and proves, we’re all a little twisted sometimes.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Gone South #1

Halloween has long been my favorite holiday, so I’ve decided to return to reviewing comic books with some regularity this month. Every week this month, I’ll post at least one special Halloween-oriented review, criticizing the issue based on its reverence for this hallowed holiday season through four distinct categories worth up to five points each. The comic that earns the total possible 20 points could be one of the best Halloween issues ever!
Gone South #1, July 2003, Atomic Basement Entertainment
writer: Mike Wellman
pencils: Marc Sandroni
inks: Larry Welch
ink assists: Christi Fischer
lettering/production: Johnny Lowe
cover colors/logo design: Jeff Parker
panel effects: Jon St. John

PREMISE: Spoiler alert! You wouldn’t know it by this issue’s cover, which is also effectively the story’s first panel, but Gone South is about vampires. Rest assured, though, it was about vampires before everything was about vampires, so it’s still cool. Victoria and Sylvia are two good-looking brunettes hiding out in some Podunk southern town -- from what or who, we don’t know yet. I admit, the premise seems a little shaky to sustain this issue as a legitimate focus for Halloween, but hang in there with me as I award Gone South three out of five points here.

STORY: I think writer Mike Wellman knows what he’s doing. The first half of this issue keeps things quiet -- a little too quiet -- as suspense builds around Victoria’s need for “getting some,” despite this backwoods towns’ slim pickings. She accepts the company of a local yokel, Clyde, who despite her insinuations to be alone takes her to his buddy’s house, where “Drunk Dave” and a group of horny hicks drug up a wayward wanna-be actress. Victoria accepts their drugged drinks and drags the ring leader behind closed doors, only to emerge alone and rescue the damsel in distress. She almost spares Clyde for his ignorance but her needs get the better of her, and just when the fangs come out -- Sylvia comes to his rescue! She wipes his mind of the day’s memories, hopefully assuring their privacy. At its best moments, this issue plays like an old Trauma film, its dark comedy exposing the flaws of man so we actually don’t mind seeing a few of them slain just to satiate some creature’s bloodlust. Four out five points!

ART: The art team of Sandori, Welch, and Fischer pull off a very effective black and white issue, with clean lines emphasizing all the right details. The panels are well paced and hit all the right beats. The art is consistent, characteristic of this kind of independent work, and appropriately goth when necessary. Still, mainstream audiences would be drawn to its crisp commercial appeal, as well. Another four out of five points.

PACKAGING: This is a nicely produced independent comic; I remember buying it from Mike at a book fair in Los Angeles a few years ago (along with an issue of his Mac Afro), and I’ve been waiting for the right time to read it. Although the cover would benefit from some more dressing, perhaps to exploit the current vampire trend, the supplemental “vampire glossary” in the back of the issue, defining the physical and psychological class structure of vampires in Wellman’s world, is a nice touch. I’ll mention that my copy has a few off-printed pages, but I know that often isn’t the creators’ intention, so it won’t affect their score of three out of five points.

TOTAL: At fourteen points, I assure you that Gone South #1 is an excellent read all year ‘round. That I only chose to read it now more emphasizes my ridiculous mania with the holiday season (and my inability to flip to the end of an issue so I know what it’s about ahead of time)! Also, considering the mad trend of vampirism in pop culture lately (from the Twilight series to the WB’s The Vampire Diaries to that latest ‘tween-friendly flick The Vampire’s Assistant), I just had to include a vampire-exclusive story in this Halloween series. Fortunately, unlike vampires themselves, it didn’t suck!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Death, Jr. #1

Halloween has long been my favorite holiday, so I’ve decided to return to reviewing comic books with some regularity this month. Every week this month, I’ll post at least one special Halloween-oriented review, criticizing the issue based on its reverence for this hallowed holiday season through four distinct categories worth up to five points each. The comic that earns the total possible 20 points could be one of the best Halloween issues ever!

Death, Jr. #1, April 2005, Image Comics
writer: Gary Whitta
illustrator: Ted Naifeh
editor: Terri Selting

PREMISE: The Grim Reaper has a family. If that isn’t a strong enough pitch for a comic book, television series, or movie, I don’t know what is. In this case, Death, Jr. is a cute little skeleton boy, ignorant of his father’s gritty work and taught to appreciate people for what’s on the inside. This contrast makes for some great conflict in the future, and this initial issue establishes the story’s premise with sharp wit and charm. As an all-ages Halloween concept, I’m giving Death, Jr. a full five points.

STORY: This inaugural issue is Death, Jr.’s first day of school, and, boy, is he excited! I was initially curious how writer Gary Whitta would establish such a strange little character like Death, Jr. in a supposedly “real” world, but at school D.J. meets other odd children, like Pandora, the hollow-eyed girl with a penchant for opening things, Smith and Weston, the conjoined twins that share a brain, and Stigmartha, who bleeds from her hands when she gets nervous. Over half of this first issue is pure character-building and clever wordplay, as D.J. steps out of his comfort zone and learns to “live a little.” Sure, his touch kills the classroom goldfish and withers a bold bully’s good punching hand, but that’s life -- or in this case the life of Death, I suppose! Anyway, I was satisfied with D.J.’s first week of school as the plot, but Whitta kicks it up a notch when the kids go on a field trip to the Museum of Supernatural History and Pandora opens the Necronomicube, a box that releases Moloch, an old nemesis of Death himself. When Moloch discovers his old foe has a child, he hatches a revenge scheme. While I understand the need for a cliffhanger ending, this issue had the potential to be a charming one-shot/teaser for more, so I grant it four out of five points.

ART: In a word, Naifeh’s art is perfect for this issue. His character designs are simple (and would easily translate into animation, which may have been the point) and expressive, reflecting the writer’s both wry and tender tones. Further, he balances the nuances of a regular world with this tale’s more macabre aspects most effectively, from D.J.’s blissful Mrs. Cleaver-ish mother, to a basketball game at the school playground, to Pandora’s visit to Death’s house, which isn’t nearly as “Munsteresque” as she thought. Kids would dig it, and I was enthralled by it. Naifeh’s art earns four points.

PACKAGING: Death, Jr. #1 is a prestige format book (if they still call them that), with a whopping 48 ad-free pages of pure comics goodness, so its original $4.99 price tag isn’t outrageous, especially since some standard singles push that now. The issue definitely didn’t seem to take longer to read than most, either, because the story is so entertaining, especially in the beginning as well paced, more episodic moments establish D.J.’s character and the world around him. However, I take issue (no pun intended) with the cover art. I don’t know if Naifeh is responsible, but for some reason the characters on the cover look more like concept pieces or colored excerpts from a sketchbook, in no way reflecting the charm of the interiors. I wonder if these minimalist images were meant to attract a younger audience; if so, it’s a disservice, because Naifeh’s regular style is surely all age-friendly. Anyway, this discontinuity compels me to award this issue only three points . . .

TOTAL: . . . giving Death, Jr. #1 a total of 17 points! That’s my highest ranked issue so far! Considering the Halloween holiday celebrates kids dressing up in creepy costumes for candy, Death, Jr. just cuts out the costume part, featuring strange little kids that really act no differently than your average brutal youngster. Still, the fact that Death, Jr. must’ve inherited his father’s ability to affect humanity’s mortality . . . its subtly spine-chilling. Uh, just don’t tell his dad I said that.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Goin' APE!

A special thanks to John Parkin from the blog Robot 6 for his detailed article about this year's Alternative Press Expo at Comic Book Resources, and for including some quotes from yours truly! Not to brag, but one of my quotes was actually used as the article's headline!

If anyone is checking out my humble little blog as a result of that article, drop me a line, and I'll happily send you a complimentary copy of my first solo self-published comic, Karaoke Comics #1. Otherwise, the rest of my self-published work can be found at KaraokeFanboy Press -- and don't forget to check out my K.O. Comix buddy Brent's new dogs vs. cats apocalyptic western, Dog Town, too!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

APE '09: The Portrait of Two Ladies & The Bourgeois Blues

The Portrait of Two Ladies by Marvin Jackson
The Bourgeois Blues by Ja Liebe

A zine is a many splendored thing, because it has the potential to be or do anything. Some of them analyze pop culture or contribute to the arts by interviewing musicians, reviewing the latest albums and books, or offering editorials on political or social developments. Others are simply multi-faceted pictorial stories and comics, oftentimes using the page or some other canvas as a means for telling a tale more dynamically than the average mainstream funnybook. I’ve seen all of this done effectively, and terribly. When it’s the latter, it’s just a waste of office supplies, but when it’s the former, it’s like a spike strip in the road that unexpectedly throws you off course. In a good way.

The Portrait of Two Ladies and The Bourgeois Blues are two such examples of mind-shaping material, but, I warn you, you have to let it sink in a bit. I’ve picked up material by these authors before at the now defunct Edge of LA Comic Con in Claremont, California, and I was pleased to find them at this year’s Alternative Press Expo -- and even more delighted to chat with them a bit over morning coffee that Sunday morning. Two warm-hearted guys passionate about their craft, Marvin and Ja keep traditional zine making alive with some contemporary analysis of life, liberty, and society, and their zines might either make you really happy to be alive in America, or really angry that the everyman has the right to challenge you about this stuff in the first place.

Now, like with Mike Rios’ War Is Gay, Marvin and Ja assure me that these random smatterings of images are actually linear and coherently connected, so I tried to read the zines that way, versus the temptation to randomly flip through them and enjoy each page like disjointed works of art in some cutting edge museum. I’ll confess, The Portrait of Two Ladies makes more sense to me, as it uses newspaper headlines and pictures to create a consistent contrast that challenges the mind to analyze both concepts differently than their original context intended. I’m particularly drawn to the collage of various newspaper headlines that, when combined, read:

“Do you wish you could walk around in your backyard NAKED? You could amid the stench of death.”

The implications of this Frankenstein headline are truly thought-provoking, as Marvin takes what must’ve been some Life & Times fluff piece and sews it to a serious piece about some sort of international strife. Could such wanton destruction be the only way to achieve such correspondingly visceral freedom? Would it be worth such a high cost? Frankly, I’ll just close the window and wear my birthday suit inside, thank you very much.

The Bourgeois Blues is a combination of similarly displaced headlines and crude drawings -- some of which might make Tim Burton proud, or make even his skin crawl with these little characters’ creepiness. At the very least, one can only imagine the amount of work journalists and graphic designers put into the wording and placement of these headlines in the first place, so for someone like Ja to couple them with sketches of goblins or devil-horned little creatures spins the reverence of the mainstream media on its ear a little bit. These sacred cows are certainly the elephant in the room of these zines.

I look forward to seeing more of these guys’ work around town in the coming months, if the comic con circuit permits. A zine is indeed a many splendored thing, especially when it takes willfully strips away all of the splendor to show you the underbelly of existence.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Superboy #189

Halloween has long been my favorite holiday, so I’ve decided to return to reviewing comic books with some regularity this month. Every week this month, I’ll post at least one special Halloween-oriented review, criticizing the issue based on its reverence for this hallowed holiday season through four distinct categories worth up to five points each. The comic that earns the total possible 20 points could be one of the best Halloween issues ever!

Superboy #189, August 1972, DC Comics

creators uncredited

PREMISE: Just before the planet Krypton exploded, scientist Jor-El rocketed his son to Earth safely, where . . . Oh, everybody knows the “premise” behind Superman. Now, this issue of Superboy (about Superman’s teenaged years, of course) isn’t a Halloween issue per se, but it does feature a curse on the Kent household that retains a definitive creepiness appropriate for this hallowed holiday season. Sure, ghosts and monsters are tangible mascots for Halloween, but let’s not forget the importance of those strange forces in the universe that have it out for man -- the intangible curses and oddities that made The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits so endearing. Still, I’ll give this issue an average three out of five points, until you’re convinced . . .

STORY: Shortly after Superboy receives and extra-sensory projector that allows folks nearby to send mental messages, his father Jonathan is attacked by a noose. Of course, the Boy of Steel saves his dad, who explains that the Kent family was cursed when their ancestor, Judge Julian Kent, was gallows-happy with anyone brought before him in court. Every 50 years, the man of the Kent household is mysteriously hung, so Superboy decides to protect his family to thwart the curse. Unfortunately, other global disasters distract our young hero, though he returns just in time to save Jonathan from a villainous garden hose and an ivy vine, until he realizes that General Zod and the other Kryptonian convicts in the Phantom Zone are using his new extra-sensory projector to manipulate things in the real world. (Ghosts! That’s Halloween-y, right?) The curse is lifted when Superboy destroys the alien device . . . or is it? When a wayward roll of cable wire almost takes out Jonathan at the end of tale, Clark realizes, “. . . there may be dark forces in this world not even I can understand!” “Dark forces” that render even the world’s greatest superhero helpless? Are you scared yet? I give this issue four out of five points for making my fanboy skin crawl.

ART: This issue is drawn is all the campy goodness one might expect from a ‘70s issue of Superboy. I failed to mention the back-up Superbaby story in this issue, which is more notable for its art anyway, as it takes itself a little less seriously than the feature and strikes me as just this side of Mad magazine caliber. I’ll give this issue a three out of five points for the sheer variety.

PACKAGING: This issue’s cover is what inspired me to consider Superboy #189 as a potential Halloween issue in the first place. The silhouette of a hanging Jonathan Kent is frightening -- just take a gander at Superboy’s horrified face. Anything that can freak out the Boy of Steel is worthy of Halloween holiday, don’t you think? Four out of five points, I say!

TOTAL: Superboy leaps the tall expectations of the Halloween season in a single bound with fourteen points, dutifully earned by the creators’ undoubtedly challenging call to generate compelling stories from the hero’s youth that didn’t affect the Superman titles too direly. What, you don’t see it? Just picture an episode of Smallville dedicated to the “Curse of the Hangman’s Noose!” A special Halloween episode starring Tom Welling wrestling with a garden hose? Okay, now that’s scary . . .

Thursday, October 22, 2009

APE '09: Will You Marry Me ___?

Will You Marry Me ___? by Nathan Carter

Admittedly, I’ve been making stupid little zines infrequently for years, and what keeps me from embracing the art and hobby whole hog is my ignorance of zine and mini-comics distribution. I’ve dared distribute zines by hand at war protests before, where I thought a charged political crowd would be open to such fringe material, but as suspected they were too consumed with their own cause to consider anyone else’s. When I search on-line, many zine distributors’ sites seem out of date, perhaps folded entirely (no pun intended). It’s enough to give up the practice all together.

Enter Nathan Carter and his zine Will You Marry Me ___?

Nathan takes the bull by the horns and mails you his zines, and all you the reader have to do is send him the stamps. Sure, the zines are single sheets of regular letter-sized paper, but Nathan uses the folds as proverbial page turns so you get at least two little works of art -- again, all for the price of a stamp. I was taken by two of his latest zines at the Alternative Press Expo, and Nathan was kind enough to let me take them both; one is a traditional newspaper/photography collage, the other a little more text-intensive. I appreciate the transparency of both media, as the author expresses feelings of inadequacy and adaptation, though admittedly the former sadly takes less to consume than the latter. Interestingly and ironically, I bet it takes more time to make . . .

. . . which brings me to the final point. Did I mention these zines cost the meager price of a stamp? Yes, for the price of postage, Nathan would mail you a little piece of his soul every month -- and I’m not being melodramatic. That’s what it is, on colored paper, to boot. When he recommended them, you could tell he favored some over others, like any self-criticizing artist, but the consistency is in their availably, and I hope Nathan’s inspiration to continue producing them. I’m excited to think, in this small way, APE will arrive in my mailbox all year long.

And I may consider sending some of it out myself someday . . .

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Reese's Pieces

Halloween has long been my favorite holiday, so I’ve decided to return to reviewing comic books with some regularity this month. Every week this month, I’ll post at least one special Halloween-oriented review, criticizing the issue based on its reverence for this hallowed holiday season through four distinct categories worth up to five points each. The comic that earns the total possible 20 points could be one of the best Halloween issues ever!

Reese's Pieces #1 & 2, October 1985, Eclipse Comics
writers: Otto Binder, Michael Cahlin, Chuck McNaughton, Jerry Siegal, Bill Pearson, Terry Bisson
artist: Ralph Reese
colorists: Denis McFarling, Tim Smith, Teresa Bieri, Philip DeWalt

PREMISE: A comic book named after candy with covers promising grotesque horror? What says Halloween better than that? In this case, “Reese” is Ralph Reese, contemporary horror comic artist, and Eclipse Comics compiled some of his most notable work into these two single issues. It’s a reverent miniseries, tipping a hat to a master craftsman, and admittedly had I not bought and read it, I would never have known who Ralph Reese is. For its sheer educational value alone, I’ll give these issues four out of five points.

STORY: These two issues contain four stories each, ranging from Twilight Zone-like weirdness to straightforward horror and gore, and interestingly some of them repeat the same thematic concept or macabre twist -- which, admittedly, over the course of Reese’s career, may not have been apparent, but is strikingly obvious when compiled in a mere two issue miniseries. For instance, in the first issue, when his girlfriend is eaten by a band of sewer dwelling mutant cannibals, the guy’s wanton rage turns him into one of the creatures. Similarly, in the second issue, a greedy hunter tracks and kills a Yeti within the beast’s sacred circle and eventually turns into a Yeti himself. Greed as a justification for violence or horrific transformation is actually a common thread throughout, as is the weirdo-with-a-conspiracy-theory shtick. Because some tales are more thought-provoking than others, these issues earn three out of five points.

ART: If Eclipse Comics sought to expose Reese’s work to fans that may never have heard of him otherwise, mission accomplished . . . and I’m sold. Why this guy never achieved Brian Bolland status is beyond me, because his detail-oriented line work and intricate cross-hatching remind me of Bolland’s. The style does vary somewhat with the subject matter, too; the two-page story “Midnight Muse” has a strong photographic quality to its realism, whereas “The Skin-Eaters” is drawn in a Conan the Barbarian style, appropriate considering the subject matter deals with aliens versus humans in a barren wasteland. I have to give this series five out of five points in the art department, since it’s a virtual portfolio of a single man’s brilliantly frightening work -- a graphic haunted house with just one man pulling the strings.

PACKAGING: Okay, here’s the problem. A few significant printing errors throw off this otherwise enthralling compilation of work. First of all, the covers are reprints of interior panels, which is fine, but issue two’s quality pales in comparison to issue one, probably because the panel selected was more of a frontispiece and isn’t as intricate. When expanded to cover size, some detail is lacking and makes the initial impression of the entire issue less favorable. More notably, though, is the “Midnight Muse” story from issue #1. Obviously intended to be a two-page spread, the story is printed on a page turn, so panels are literally cut in half, and I actually read the story wrong before I realized the error. For such a serious oversight, this series gets a mere two out of five packaging points.

TOTAL: Thirteen may seem like a low score with twenty points possible, but thirteen is also the creepiest of numbers, so considering Reese’s artwork earned the full five points possible in that category, I hope he’d be strangely satisfied. Oh, well, it’s just like a sack of Halloween candy, isn’t it? A mixed bag . . . but in this case, the Reese’s pieces are pretty sweet.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

APE '09: The Magic Yo-Yo

The Magic Yo-Yo by Oke Rosgana

I was beckoned to Doctor Popular’s booth at the Alternative Press Expo by his quarter-sheet silk screenings of a Pac-Man headed Ghostbuster. Yes, Doc Popular had managed to combine two of my favorite things from childhood, and he was happily giving it away with the purchase of a comic from his table. For the little print alone, I had to take him up on it.

My eyes were drawn to The Magic Yo-Yo, starring Doc Pop but lovingly drawn by fellow artist and yo-yo enthusiast Oke Rosgana. As a 24-hour comic (if you haven’t heard of Scott McCloud’s 24-hour comics challenge, check it out here), this little comic is impressive, and the story is linear and charming. Basically, The Magic Yo-Yo is Doctor Popular’s ethereal origin as a yo-yo master and how he uses his skills to better the world around him. If Sam Raimi has decided to give Peter Parker a yo-yo instead of organic webshooters, this comic is what the first 20 minutes of the Spider-man movie would’ve looked like.

Unfortunately, as with most 24-hour comics, some panels are better drawn than others, but the passion is apparent on every page, and the lines are bold enough to reproduce clearly -- a challenge for every independent comics artist, especially if they’re hurriedly using the copy machine at work or something. The pivotal panels really pop off the page, propelling the story like any good yo-yo trick, and most importantly Doctor Popular’s caricature is consistent, keeping the whole issue visually grounded. In the best way possible, Rosgana proves that anyone and everyone should consider the 24-hour challenge. He makes it look like a blast!

Finally, my brief conversation with Doctor Popular (who was kind enough to sketch a karaoke-singin’ Pac-Man for me) revealed that he and Rosgana have actually never met! I only wish I had a friend that cared so much that he’d draw a comic book about me, for one whole day on the other side of the planet, to boot, but perhaps their mutual love of comics and yo-yos transcends geography. Around the world, indeed.

Monday, October 19, 2009

APE '09: War is Gay

Last weekend, my buddy Brent and I exhibited at the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco as K.O. Comix, our self-publishing comic book company, where we displayed Brent’s new amazing comic Dog Town, not to mention my KaraokeFanboy Press stuff (all of which are available for purchase through our blogs, but anyway). Although I was technically one of “the talent,” I love mini-comics and zines (which is why I make them), so I was also a critical consumer, too, and I picked up some the most subversive and innovative stuff in the medium today. Of course, as in any forum of genre saturation, I also picked up some crap -- so in conjunction with my series of Halloween-oriented reviews, I’m going to sprinkle in some posts about this independent, and good or bad, I challenge you to check it out. What can it hurt to go ape from time to time?

War is Gay by Mike Rios

War is Gay is an interactive, neon-colored zine you can put in your pocket and share with your friends. In fact, I reckon author Mike Rios would encourage it, since his website, Mike Rios Is A Whore, implies shameless self-promotion, and by buying this zine, I feel totally empowered to be his pimp -- especially since I’ve tried the product. Er, take that as you will.

When I saw fellow APE exhibitors and attendees strolling about the convention floor with “Mike Rios is a Whore” tote bags, I wondered if someone was brazenly boasting their product, or bashing an enemy behind his back. While a zine titled War is Gay could be just as easily dismissed as pretentious vulgarity, I was drawn to its bold, brightly colored design, and while its image-laden interior could be digested in less than a minute, I encourage consumers to chew on its content a bit and ponder what the author meant, beyond satire and graphics-intensive social commentary.

Unfortunately, because of its relatively text-free nature, War is Gay is difficult to summarize, but when we spoke briefly Rios assured me that the content is linear and strategic. If it does indeed have a point, its commentary on masculinity in America in contrast to the history of war and the poignancy of homosexual rights creates a wry reflection of society and challenging springboard for thought. Otherwise, it’s just really pretty to look at.

Finally, I emphasize its interactive nature; at five dollars, War is Gay is the most I spent for any product at APE, and rightfully so since Rios and company painstakingly hand-cut and glued some of the issue’s manipulative elements. I’m drawn to any comic book artist that manipulates the humble canvas of a single piece of paper to tell a story (with an emphasis on the story), and considering the cost other artists were charging for traditionally published and bound books, Rios’ five dollars is very reasonable considering the time and effort put into each piece -- not to mention the free tote, handy when shopping for awkwardly sized zines and prints!

Okay, Mike Rios may be a whore, and war may be gay, but in this case his passion is pretty straightforward. Pull up to the dark corner of comicdom, roll down your car window, call him over, and check it out.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor #12

Halloween has long been my favorite holiday, so I’ve decided to return to reviewing comic books with some regularity this month. Every week this month, I’ll post at least one special Halloween-oriented review, criticizing the issue based on its reverence for this hallowed holiday season through four distinct categories worth up to five points each. The comic that earns the total possible 20 points could be one of the best Halloween issues ever!

The Occult Files of Dr. Specktor #12, February 1975, Western Publishing Company (Gold Key Comics)

PREMISE: When the curious Dr. Spektor investigated the presence of “evil dark gods” on the “mystic Mount Algol,” a demon wolf “injected its venomous curse” into his veins, transforming him into a werewolf! Now, the good doctor roams the world in search of a cure . . . and in fear of the full moon! (Man, I totally could’ve written those old origin blurbs at the top of Silver Age comics!) Anyway, the classic werewolf origin, coupled with Dr. Spektor’s presumably preexisting penchant for the occult, grant this issue four out of five points in the premise department.

STORY: At the beginning of this issue, Dr. Spektor leaves his lady love behind for her own good . . . only to promptly fall for another, even more helpless chick! In this case, she’s the daughter of Dr. Tong, a self-styled wizard he seeks to help his condition, until Tong captures him to drain his wolf-power for himself! Tong has also found and captured the Frankenstein monster, and when Tong’s daughter ruins the power-draining experiment, the two classic creatures battle it out! It’s an awesomely epic little scrap that ends when the two monsters tumble out the window, into raging waters below. While Dr. Spektor surfaces to say good-bye to yet another forbidden love, the Frankenstein monster is nowhere to be seen -- perhaps on the loose once again! A crazy mad scientist and his faithful assistant, a werewolf, Frankenstein’s monster -- together under the roof of dark, foreboding castle? If that isn’t Halloween, I don’t know what is! Five points!

ART: I wish this issue credited its creators, but so many older comics didn’t take the time or space to do so, presumably in favor of art and story -- or at the greedy publisher’s behest, perhaps? Anyway, this issue of Dr. Spektor was drawn like a ‘70s acid trip, and I mean that in the best way possible. Loose expressive lines, psychedelic shapes and colors, and frantic choreography make for an engaging tale even during those talking-head panels; further, interestingly, some 30 years after World War II, the Asian nemeses are still yellow-skinned, pointy-eared, and buck-toothed. Alas, again I wish the artist had thought to use a little more black in his backgrounds, to emphasize the creepiness of it all. Three out of five points.

PACKAGING: Despite the more modern interpretations of the werewolf and Frankenstein monsters inside this issue, its cover depicts them in their iconic glory, hands at each others’ throats in a timeless struggle for who’s scarier. Dr. Tong’s daughter adds an elements of intrigue and mystery to the image, too, as the tireless damsel in distress with at stake than her own safety. Like last issue, I can see the hardcore fanboy using this comic as a Halloween decoration, in a classic Universal Studios movie monster kind of way. Four points.

TOTAL: Sixteen out of twenty points. I’m glad I picked up this issue! Unlike Dr. Spektor’s, my curiosity paid off.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Untold Tales of Purgatori #1

Halloween has long been my favorite holiday, so I’ve decided to return to reviewing comic books with some regularity this month. Every week this month, I’ll post at least one special Halloween-oriented review, criticizing the issue based on its reverence for this hallowed holiday season through four distinct categories worth up to five points each. The comic that earns the total possible 20 points could be one of the best Halloween issues ever! Based on its cover, I couldn’t think of a better way to start this series than with Purgatori #1.

Untold Tales of Purgatori #1, November 2000, Chaos! Comics
writer: Steven Grant
illustrator: Al Rio
inker: Tie
colorists: Jason Jensen & John Merrifield
letterer: Comicraft’s Oscar Gongora
editors: Mike Francis & Brian Pulido

PREMISE: Purgatori is a bloodthirsty Egyptian slave girl turned vampire. This issue is a prelude to her ongoing series, establishing some of its canon, I presume. So, while the cover of this issue depicts Purgatori as a Jack O’Lantern-loving witch, she’s actually a demonic vampire, before vampires were all the rage, to boot. This combination of beloved Halloween iconography grants this issue a solid four out of five in the premise department.

STORY: In 57 B.C., a band of British druids rebels against their traditional code in a demonic bid to embrace a new age. Unfortunately, they killed the wrong druid in their quest for power, because his lover is a witch that summons and possesses Purgatori to avenge him. The leader of the rebels inhabits the body of a devilish lord to match her might, but the combined power of Purgatori’s strength and the witch’s blood alchemy conquer all. In the end, the mourning witch muses that wearing a demonic mask is a practice best kept to an annual celebration. So, this story’s bid to contribute to the origins of Halloween seals another four out of five points.

ART: Al Rio and Tie’s art teeters between the exaggerated trappings of the ‘90s, taking every opportunity to contort Purgatori’s feminine frame into the most sexually suggested poses possible, and some blockbuster action sequences that rivals the heyday of Dale Keown’s Hulk work. While Rio and Tie don’t hesitate to drench everything in blood, and rightfully so in a comic about a demonic vampire, I would’ve appreciated a heightened use of darkness or shadow to accentuate a sense of dread and mystery. In the Halloween-oriented department, the art earns this issue two points.

PACKAGING: Although I purchased this issue for a mere quarter at the Los Angeles Comic Book & Sci-Fi Expo a year or so ago, I was fortunate to find its glow-in-the-dark variant cover, and with its minimalist title dressing, that stark image of a devil-horned vampire witch stirring a cauldron surrounded by Jack O’Lanterns makes this issue a veritable Halloween decoration. It actually sets a high standard for the other issues I’ll review in this series -- whether or not a collector could actually hang them up to celebrate the holiday. Setting a standard gives Purgatori a well-earned five out of five points.

TOTAL: Fifteen out of twenty points. A great start! Too great, in fact. So great . . . it’s scary.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Superman: More Powerful than a Loco Movie?

Last week's pictorial revelation of a Tim Burton-directed Nic Cage Superman had fans hypothetically reminiscing about the horrors of what could've been, and perhaps further musing that Bryan Singer's Superman-as-deadbeat-dad maybe wasn't such a bad idea after all. However, this image remains a cautionary tale of what yet may come, as our beloved comic book icons are forever susceptible to any Hollywood producer's or director's drive to make their mark on characters and mythologies with such universal appeal. So, why shouldn't a humble blogger like me do just the same? The following is my list of recommendations/expectations for the next Superman movie, in the hopes of remaining faithful to the character while making Big Blue appealing to mainstream and hardcore fanboy audiences alike.

1. No more Lex Luthor! This is my first and most emphatic plea. Lex Luthor is an excellent archnemeis, but like Coldplay overexposure has dulled his wit and softened his ruthlessness. Further, excluding Superman's fight with General Zod, mainstream movie-going audiences have yet to see the Man of Steel achieve his full potential as the most powerful human being on Earth. So what if a bullet bounces off of his eyeball? Let's see him take a whooping, so we know that when he delivers one in kind it actually hurts. This was why the advent Doomsday was an effectively marketing ploy and could be an adequate choice for an antagonist on film. However, might I sugges . . .

2. Go Bizarro! First of all, Bizarro has become a household term, even if most folks don't know he's a twisted Superman doppelganger. Further, doppelgangers are all the rage in comic book movies lately. Spider-man's Venom, Iron Man's Iron Monger, Hulk's Abomination . . . all arguably dark reflections of their respective heroic foes. Bizarro would match Superman's strength, but he could also provide the strange psychological edge that comes from fighting oneself, or who "I could've been!" Plus, the studio could pay just one actor to play both roles, with a little CGI assist. You're welcome, Hollywood.

3. Subplots involving the supporting cast. One of the reasons I like the Daredevil director's cut so much more than the theatrical release is the Foggy Nelson subplot, as he battles the Kingpin in court while Matt Murdock gets down and dirty in the streets. Foggy becomes a character of true dimension and conviction when he isn't just the bumbling, shallow sidekick or comedic foil -- which is exactly what Jimmy Olsen and Perry White have suffered from since even the 1950s, in the original black and white Superman television show. Perry, the gruff newspaper editor, and Jimmy, the gee-willikers pal, have become so much more in their native comics, and writers can easily develop a plot that involves their investigative prowess . . . perhaps why S.T.A.R. Labs would create a Bizarro, or something? Alas, this is just a recommended list, not fan fiction, so I'll move on.

4. Lois Lane. Superman loves her madly, and always will. We get it. It isn't even story-worthy anymore, hardly even a romantic subplot. If Lois and Clark can't be married on film by now, or at least partners via her knowledge of his double life, give Supes someone else to ogle. I don't mean Lana Lang, either, because we've seen that in Superman III and Smallville. Come to think of it, Maxima, the warrior woman that stalks and lovingly fights Superman, would be a great villain, as her crazy affection might challenge Lois to become more than the damsel, or even more than just a hard-headed journalist, the 21st century woman. In those efforts, she's always worked against Superman by giving him more to worry about -- who knows how appealing she might be as a legitimate, at least equally motivated ally?

5. The moral dilemma. Obviously, a morally righteous character like Superman must experience the gray area of the law from time to time, but seeing him operate as a vigilante is still controversial enough for mainstream audiences to enjoy. The animated series episodes in which he's brainwashed by Darkseid, and consequentially wanted by the military, are extremely compelling, or even now in the comics as the world lobbies against him. What if an innocent attempt to helps overseas troops go awry, and the government bans his flagrant do-gooding? How cool would an undercover Superman be, on film? Seeing a subversive Clark Kent makes that alias more than the corn-fed, bumbling Kansas boy he's always been . . .

. . . which may be our hero's biggest weakness. Superman is always best as Superman because that's how we've always seen him. A little stretching of the creative muscles can offer a different Superman story that still operates within hardcore fans' expectations. After all, it's only 90 minutes, compared to decades' worth of comic book literature. Hey, but you know what they say about the pictures. They're worth a thousand words.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Marvel!

On Tuesday night, comic book shops across the country celebrating Marvel Comics' 70th anniversary with special after-hours sales and events, and I went to two stores in Orange County that celebrated the House of Ideas, and although I passed on the much hyped The Marvels Project #1, I did acquire some completely affordable back issues of X-Statics. To celebrate Marvel's birthday, I've decided to list my top seven most personal, memorable Marvel moments. Disclaimer: The comics on this list aren't necessarily my favorite singular Marvel issues, but they are attached to memories that have enabled me to treasure comics in the mighty Marvel manner today!

7. Daredevil: Born Again. Before he redefined Batman with the beloved The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller deconstructed the Man Without Fear in the Daredevil story arc "Born Again." I read this arc as a whole, collected in trade paperback, and was most impressed with Miller's ability to strip away everything we know of Matt Murdock, from his position as a lawyer, to his friendships, to the very Daredevil costume, yet expose and retain what makes the character relevant to readers and the Marvel Universe as a whole. It truly takes a man without fear to see his life destroyed and still find a way to save the day and win the girl.

6. The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank. I was a fast fan of the Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon collaboration thanks to their work on Preacher, so picking up this Punisher relaunch via trade paperback was a no-brainer. I'll be honest; I wasn't overwhelmed with the story. Sure, the action was fast-paced, and the characters were true to the original spirit of Punisher comics, but the complexity I'd anticipated from the context of Preacher wasn't there -- until the last page. A ragtag group of Punisher wanna-be's catch up with Frank, ask him if he'd like to join their crusade, if a team of gun-toting vigilantes eradicating crime is what the Punisher has always wanted . . . and, gun firing, Punisher replies, "No." The importance is two-fold: Frank prefers to work alone, and perhaps without his war on crime, he'd have no reason to live at all. So why would he really want it to end?

5. The Secret Wars Tower of Doom Playset. I only had eight Secret Wars action figures as a kid, and I certainly didn't know they were attached to a multi-issue comic book epic, but before I enjoyed their adventures on the printed page, Captain America, Spider-man, Iron Man, and Wolverine were my Avengers that battled the likes of Dr. Doom, Magneto, Dr. Octopus, and Kang on the Tower of Doom playset in the living room. That playset had so many cool features, from the elevator to the secret war room, from the jail cell to the hidden compartment . . . I can really go on, but trust me. No five-inch plastic bad guy could ask for a better hideout.

4. Iron Man. By far, my favorite comic book movie to date. Yes, better than Dark Knight. Iron Man simply has it all: action, comedy, romance, significant character development, and two things Dark Knight just didn't have: the staging of a world bigger than its characters, and the upbeat wonder that superheroes should inspire. Think about it. At the end of Dark Knight, Batman is public enemy number one, which is certainly dynamic in its own right, but if he's content to let the people in his world think he's a murderer, what of us? At the end of Iron Man, Tony Stark lifts the curtain. "I'm a superhero, and it's awesome." As a kid, whose boots would you have preferred to fill?

3. The Incredible Hulk #372-#377. Writer Peter David culminates years' worth of subplots in this Hulk story arc that ended up defining the character for decades to follow. Simply put, Doc Samson puts Bruce Banner in a hypnotic trance to confront his inner Hulk selves, and in the end his mind merges with the green and gray Hulk personalities to create "the Professor," a quickly enraged but analytically thinking green goliath. While the emotional subtext of this story was heavier than most comics usually allow, I was particularly moved by #372, in which Betty and Bruce reunite. That last page, where they embrace, is -- pardon the Hulk pun -- smashing.

2. Bret Blevins' Cloak & Dagger Sketch. My girlfriend at the time and I were simply strolling down the main street in Prescott, Arizona, when we went into an artists' gallery on whim and I surprisingly spotted paintings by Bret Blevins, who, among other things, had illustrated two of my favorite Marvel titles, Cloak & Dagger and Sleepwalker. The caretaker of the co-op said that Bret would be in the next day, and sure enough I had the pleasure of meeting him and soliciting a free Cloak and Dagger sketch. I treasure the memory and this sketch almost as much as Bret was totally hospitable and kind -- which is to say, completely.

1. Amazing Spider-man #347. I've told the story before, essentially my origin story as a collector, but I'll summarize it again here. When I was about 10 years old, my dad worked for a moving company, and one of his customers offered him a small box of comics. One fateful Saturday morning, Dad left the box at the foot of my bed, and in it I discovered the beginning of Peter David's run on The Incredible Hulk, Strange Tales volume 2 (starring Cloak and Dagger), and bunch of other titles I still collect to this day . . . but the issue on the top won me over completely. Venom holding Spider-man's skull like Hamlet in the graveyard, and the eerie island chase that ensued within the issue, masterfully choreographed by Erik Larsen . . . it changed the way I look at comics. It gave new ideas about how to tell a story through a cooperative relationship between words and pictures . . .

Which is why Marvel has earned its self-proclaimed title as the House of Ideas lo these 70 years. Marvel Comics have simply inspired countless others to pursue ideas of their own. It's their birthday, but they're the gift that keeps on giving. Happy Birthday, Marvel!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Shell-ebrate Good Times . . . C'mon!

Can you believe that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first hit the comic book page a mere 25 years ago this year? I partook in the shell-ebration by soliciting these karaoke-themed sketches from artists Jim Lawson and Steve Lavigne at Comic Con! Also, I couldn't avoid the evil Shredder's attack . . .! He wanted my lunch money, but dollars are worthless in Dimension X.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Getting Over the Hump: Wednesday Comics #1

I worry for Wednesday Comics' safety. No, I'm not concerned about its success; I think this title is innovating enough to maintain a core readership's attention for its intended twelve consecutive weeks. I mean, I worry for my copy's safety. If you haven't heard of Wednesday Comics, you probably don't read comics, so you may be interested to know that the title is a weekly newspaper-sized anthology starring some of DC Comics' most popular characters, like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the Flash. It's printed on newsprint, too, which implies an inherent sense of importance and mobility, like the newspaper a businessman might tuck under his arm getting on or off the subway. As such, I'm tempted to bring this thing with me where ever I go, to share its art and format with others -- but we fanboy folk are trained to treasure our comics, to "bag and board" them against the elements, as if the value of the paper they're printed on is more than the story or art within. Now you see my mid-week dilemma.

Of course, when the second issue hits stands tomorrow, I'll probably feel less attached to this first one. I certainly don't intend to lug all twelve issues around with me when this series is said and done. Yet, DC's plan to offer mainstream comics in a more mainstream way has reignited my love for their characters, especially when the monthly titles we geeks are accustomed to browsing are mired in crossovers and continuity. Oh, yes, I'm as excited about Grant Morrison's new Batman and Robin as much as the next guy, but I can't very well share this spirited new title with just anyone -- not without explaining that the Dark Knight is now former Robin Dick Grayson, and that the Boys Wonder is Bruce Wayne's son Damien. Wednesday Comics looks like the Sunday funnies everyone read as a kid, and its content is just as approachable. Oh, Batman is present and accounted for, but as the troubled hero he should be . . . not a continuity victim forced to play pass-the-cowl.

So far, at least. With only one issue available, and with every story only one newspaper-sized page long, these tales promise to move at a snail's pace compared to the usual twenty-two page chapters most familiar to longtime fans. Also, considering the instant accessibility of the Internet, I wonder if the average reader can hold on for twelve long weeks; the most common criticism I've read of this first issue is how either nothing really happens, or it seems something is just about to happen. Uhm, that's kind of the point -- to establish characters and concepts, either through the introduction of a dilemma or a sudden explosion of inexplicable action, all with motivations to come. Me, while I'm usually a story-first kind of guy, I'm willing to fork out the controversial $3.99 every week for the chance to see how these all-star artists are using the bigger format to pace their respective adventures. Some, like the Wonder Woman piece, crammed in as many panels as possible; the Hawkman and Sgt. Rock pieces sought more spacious ambiance than that. I liked both, presuming the story will find a favorable pace once it gets over the hump of week one.

There's the rub. This first issue is experimental, in style and substance, and as such will be hit or miss for many fans, new and old. If Wednesday Comics finds distribution outside the standard comics shop, I wonder if it would become as important a pop culture piece as that well-tucked newspaper. Any comic with the right gimmick can make the news. The distinction between marketing gimmick and legitimate artistic exercise will be in its ability to be the news, to be as important and exciting to read as any other daily headline.

Wednesday Comics #1 was written and illustrated by way too many contributors to list here and was released on July 8, 2009 by DC Comics.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Free Comic Book Day 2009, part 4: Love and Capes!

Love and Capes #10, Maerkle Press
by Thom Zahler

SIGNIFICANCE: Forget the publishers and retailers that made Free Comic Book Day possible, and let's acknowledge the makeshift holiday's unsung heroes: the girlfriends geeks dragged around to multiple comic book stores on a perfectly beautiful Saturday afternoon. While many of them rolled their eyes at the likes of regular superhero/fantasy fare like Blackest Night or The Stuff of Legend, Thom Zahler's Love and Capes might've caught their attention, and rightfully so. Love and Capes caters to both the diehard superhero fan and the woman in his life looking for a way into that rather exclusive world -- and most importantly, it's entertaining.

STORY: I've been a fan of Love and Capes for a long time, and creator Thom Zahler was kind enough to send me complimentary copies of the first few issues a few years ago, so I'm familiar with its lead characters the Crusader, his fiancee Abby, their friends Charlotte and Darkblade, and Crusader's super-ex Amazonia. In this issue, Abby longs to understand the struggles Crusader experiences as a superhero, so she solicits a friendly sorcerer to bestow her similar powers for a limited time, and while what ensues is a string of episodic inside jokes about the responsibilities of super-heroism, Zahler's story takes a mature, tragic twist to keep his characters' feet on the ground -- literally. Generally, Zahler paces his story in four panel bursts, with a punchline or significant develop every fourth panel, which serializes the overall adventure and maintains a playful, episodic tone. Finally, his respect of both superhero and relationship-oriented pop culture fuels a respectful tale that should entertain a definitively co-ed audience. It ain't called Love and Capes for nothin'!

ART: Love and Capes is an one-man show, so while I feel Zahler's strength is in his storytelling and dialogue, his illustrations are equally capable. Betraying shades of Bill Finger and Bruce Timm, his art is cartoony without being cartoonish, since so much of the story concentrates on legitimate adult concerns. His lettering and coloring skills are fluid and critical to the art and page design, creating an overall crisp, commercial package that is as appealing and universal to look at as it is to read. Speaking of which . . .

PACKAGE: Like Erik Larsen with Savage Dragon, Thom Zahler was willing to offer a new issue in the sequence of his series as a Free Comic Book Day offering, which is bold considering the seemingly independent status of Maerkle Press and the ease with which these episodic strips could be placed into a reprinted sampler anthology. Zahler's inside front cover is a perfect primer, with his bio, a story synopsis, and character descriptions -- but the best marketing ploy is in the back, when Thom invites readers to Crusader and Abby's wedding by personalized caricature via a $25 cost. Honestly, I'm considering the offer, because who wouldn't want to appear in a comic book, especially one so critical to the series' development? His pitch is the best: "You might not have been invited to Lois and Clark's wedding. You probably couldn't attend Peter and MJ's wedding (and, if you did, you don't remember it)." Hilarious!

DO I WANT MORE? Isn't it obvious? While Love and Capes isn't an action-oriented superhero title, it doesn't pull any punches in its wry sense of humor or thorough exploration of super-powers in the real world context of male/female relationships. The question isn't really if I want more -- it's, would the lady in your wife want any? If so, this is the book for her.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Free Comic Book Day 2009, part 3: Resurrection

Resurrection #0, Oni Press
Marc Guggenheim & Jim Massey (w), Justin Greenwood & Robbi Rodriguez (a), Dan Jackson & Dave McCaig (c), Douglas E. Sherwood (l)

SIGNIFICANCE: According to Editor-in-Chief James Lucas Jones' inside back cover essay, Resurrection #0 bridges the gap between series' first seven-issue volume and a new incarnation premiering next month. So, this issue is a resurrection in a very literal sense of the term, bringing back a title old readers might recognize yet establishing a fresh start for new readers like me. A wise use of Free Comic Book Day on Oni's part -- and including the reprinted Tek Jansen back-up story, capitalizing on the mainstream popularity of Stephen Colbert, isn't a bad idea, either.

STORY: In Resurrection #0, Dwight Miller is a self-professed alien abductee that survives a global, ten year long extraterrestrial invasion to document the entire experience from his unique perspective and seek out his estranged wife in a barren New York. In the Big Apple, Dwight meets Wendy, a self-taught computer tech that has maintained monthly communications with the only other person on-line, Carlo in Italy. Unfortunately, Carlo has been befriended by the mysterious Paul Cole, who somehow played a part in Dwight's perspective of events, and when Cole captures Dwight in New York, the mystery man discovers that Dwight's journal is missing. His truth being out there is undoubtedly the catalyst that launches the new Resurrection series, and surprisingly it elicits intrigue about an extraterrestrial invasion without actually showing any aliens.

Fortunately, the Tek Jansen back-up story makes up for that in spades, as the Alpha Squad 7 agent is sent undercover to convert a tyrannical alien faction to the ways of equal party treatment, with hilariously violent results.

ART: Artist Justin Greenwood at his best elicits shades of Eduardo Rizzo, and at his worst a rushed Rick Leonardi -- neither of which is a bad thing, but the comparisons never congealed into a truly memorable, unique visual experience. Robbi Rodriguez, however, captures the cocky caricature of Stephen Colbert in an exaggerated interstellar environment with ease, transcending the story's satirical roots to tell a real sci-fi adventure with its own merit.

PACKAGE: As I eluded, the Resurrection/Tek Jansen combination is an excellent way to attract old and new readers alike, with ample ads for other successful Oni projects like Maintenance and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and that behind-the-curtains editorial by Jones. Considering that these comics were free, Jones' appreciation for the editorial and marketing talent that make the production of comics possible beyond the writing and artistic process of the printed page is an interesting insight for anyone interested in the medium as an industry. His essay could be akin to Dwight's lost chronicle, documenting the way things really happen -- and it's up to us to look beyond the story we're given, to give the concept of comics a second look.

DO I WANT MORE? If Resurrection revives the apocalyptic intrigue it promises to deliver, I'm in! An alien invasion is fun escapism compared to the swine flu scare of real life.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Free Comic Book Day 2009, part 2: Fist of Justice!

With this entry, the second review of Free Comic Book Day 2009, A Comic A Day celebrates its 550th post! Considering that several of my posts contain more than one review, I can only imagine how many comics I've discussed during the course of this personal challenge gone awry, but thanks to my annual allotment of free comics, the fanaticism continues! That said . . .

Fist of Justice #1, Digital Webbing Press
Mike Imboden (w); Andre Coelho & Pow Rodrix (a); Edemilson Alexandre, Mick Clausen, Matt Webb, & Ryan Scott (c), Ed Dukeshire (l)

SIGNIFICANCE: Digital Webbing was wise to choose Fist of Justice as its Free Comic Book Day contribution, considering the inevitable success of X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the mainstream attention superheroes will receive as a result. Further, Digital Webbing is actually one part publishing house, one part on-line creative network, so newbies to comics could benefit from the knowledge that such a traditionally print-oriented medium has become a prevalent, multifaceted presence on the Internet, too. Personally, while I've read some Digital Webbing titles in the past, I'd never explored their website before today, and I'm impressed at the depth of their talent and resources.

STORY: Fist of Justice uses many of the superhero storytelling standards fanboys take for granted and coordinates them into an adventure that focuses on action and character development. Following his greatest failure at the hands of the evil Dr. Dibuk, Marc Mason, a.k.a. the Fist of Justice was captured for thirty years, until a magical comrade saved him and restored his youth. With another hero touting the Fist of Justice title, Marc was a man out of time, until another old friend, the retired hero Black Light, convinced him to confront his loose cannon successor and take his mantle back. A few fisticuffs later, Marc Mason gets the upper hand and becomes the Fist of Justice again! With the origin of Captain America and reclamation stories like Batman: KnightsEnd in mind, Fist of Justice retains a Golden Age charm while keeping a contemporary theme of absolute power corrupting absolutely at the forefront. Plenty of action keeps the potential for emo introspection at bay and makes for an adventurous, character-oriented inaugural issue.

ART: I'm actually surprised by how much I enjoyed this issue's interior art. Pow Rodrix gets inside front cover credit for his three-page origin sequence, but Andre Coelho illustrates the majority of this issue and maintains a balanced sense of mood and sequential choreography. His art is particularly aided by the colorists, who kept things dark and cool-toned until our hero's triumph in the end. Further, a real visual treat awaits readers at the end of this issue . . .

PACKAGE: . . . in the sneak preview art pages for future issues of Fist of Justice. Penciled by Pow Rodrix (Does he expect us to think that's his real name?), these pages pack quite a punch and offer a fun behind-the-scenes look at the development of a comic book. Another supplemental page depicting the Fist of Justice prototype action figure by Shocker Toys and some Digital Webbing gags rounds out an excellent introduction to the company, their artistic vision of the comics genre, and their marketing strategy as a business.

DO I WANT MORE? Yes! I know now that Fist of Justice is a few issues deep, but I plan on picking up #2 at my local shop the next time I visit, to see what kind of momentum the story and the company have attained since this first effort. Of course, both the character and the company have been around quite a while, but Free Comic Book Day offers a great chance for new readers to feel like they're joining something from the beginning. In this case, since the title character is a fish out of water in the 21st century, the feeling is thankfully mutual.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Free Comic Book Day 2009, part 1: The Origin of an X-Man!

Denny's can have its Grand Slams. The comic book industry has been giving away its wares for years -- on the first Saturday in May, excitedly dubbed Free Comic Book Day! Although I'm still five comics short of the whopping forty issues available* at participating comic shops today -- after visiting five different stores in Orange County, natch -- I aim to some of these issues over the next few weeks, starting with Wolverine: Origin of an X-Man right now! Free entertainment, indeed!

To keep these forty reviews short and sweet, I'll be reviewing these comics through five categories: (1.) Significance, or why the publisher chose to offer that particular issue for free, (2.) Story, (3.) Art, (4.) the Package, including supplemental material and overall presentation, and (5.) Does It Make Me Want More? After all, Free Comic Book Day is an evangelical marketing campaign that attempts to recruit new readers -- even longtime readers like me that surely haven't experienced every publisher in the industry, or every title they offer. Sure, I jump at the chance to get something for nothing, but is it good enough to make me pay for more? Let's find out . . .

Wolverine: Origin of an X-Man #1, Marvel Comics
Fred Van Lente (w), Gurihiru (a), Dave Sharpe (l)

SIGNIFICANCE: For the past few years, Free Comic Book Day has followed the release of a major Marvel motion picture, i.e. Spider-Man 3, Iron Man, and this year X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Coincidence? Well, offering a comic called Wolverine: Origin of an X-Man is a no brainer . . . like any retailer putting out the Christmas decorations as soon as summertime ends.

STORY: Resisting any allusion to the film franchise's version of Wolverine's origin, in this "Great for All Ages" issue, the government's Department H (for hero?) deploys Wolverine into a town seemingly overrun by nanobots. Determined to prove his worth to the top brass and coping with his amnesia, Logan tears his way though a robotic tractor and an evil seahorse to discover the cause of the town's consumption -- and what appears to be a mindless exhibition of Wolverine's powers turns into a pop psychological allegory for his struggle with identity. The final panel has a similar effect to the film's climatic fight scene, delightfully setting the stage for the character's role as we know it today.

ART: Marvel released Ed McGuinness's cover for this issue several months ago, much to many fans' excitement, but the interior art is provided by Gurihiru, who strikes me as McGuinness-lite with a manga flair. Since Wolverine doesn't fight any organic foes in this story, sparing an all-ages audience the blood bath that would from the mighty mutant's berzerker rage, Gurihiru seems correspondingly restrained, but his Wolverine is the runt we know and love, and page and panel layouts are creative and easy to follow. Considering our hero's battle with identity, this issue's art casts aside any darkness to remind us of Wolvie's adventurous side, too -- and Gurihiru challenges veteran readers to remember the same of comics, as well.

PACKAGE: This issue doesn't offer anything by way of supplemental material, except for an ad about another Wolverine-centric comic currently available, but most interestingly is its size. Most comics measure in at 6 5/8" by 10 3/8" (by my measurements), and this issue comes in at 6 1/4" by 9 1/2". Marvel's Avengers offering is the same diminutive size, which makes me wonder if this format is more economical overall. If so, I wouldn't be opposed to a little shrinkage industry-wide, if it meant saving us readers from increased prices. This 32-pager also boasts only four third party full-page ad pages, including the unobtrusive inside front and back covers, so it's practically unadulterated mutant mayhem in the pure Marvel manner -- proving Wolverine may not be the only one that's the best at what he does.

DO I WANT MORE? While I would've enjoyed a more engrossing battle sequence, Wolverine is an irresistible character, and when he's allowed to slash his way through robots and use a little detective skills to boot, it makes for a fun, albeit forgettable story. Indeed, if not for that final panel, this story would have little to no significance in the character's development at all. Unfortunately, anyone interested in jumping from this freebie into one of Wolverine's monthly comic book appearance might find himself overwhelmed by continuity. The "all-ages" nature of Wolverine: Origin of an X-Man may make it timeless, but it's also already a little dated.

More Free Comic Book Day goodness to come . . .! To be continued . . .!

*The FCBD issues I just couldn't find are APE Cartoonapalooza #2, Arcana Studio Presents, Attack of the Alterna-Zombies!, Dabel Brothers Showcase, The Stuff of Legend, and the anniversay edition of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1. Any help?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dancing Under the Yellow Sun

Last night on Dancing With the Stars, The Guy That Was Naked In The Sex in the City Movie (I'm sorry, does he have a name?) danced the salsa to 3 Doors Down's "Kryptonite" (not a salsa standard, I reckon) and ended the routine by taking off his glasses and ripping his shirt open to reveal a Superman-esque logo. With so many celebrities getting injured as a result of their participation in this competition, was this song a declaration of his endurance -- or a bid to star in the next Man of Steel film? If it's neither, it was pointless.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Who's Watching Us Watch Who's Watching the Watchmen?

A week later, the Internet buzz about The Watchmen, and I've read many fans' reviews and impressions of the movie. They're all exactly the same. While many fans seemed to like to film, they can't help but criticise the original material that was omitted. Honestly, after years' worth of various inspirations and incarnations in pre-production, Zach Synder has created a film that goes out of its way to please steadfast fans and appeal to a blissfully ignorant mainstream audience. One part Forest Gump, one part X-Men, The Watchmen is a story that explores how history would differ if superheroes really existed, and now if they faced age and prejudice. While fanboys mettle over the minutiae of the film's forsaken details, I'm more interested in the piece's timeless ramifications. Over twenty years later, the dark corners of politics and pop culture that inspired Alan Moore still exist, and how would 2009 look in the world of The Watchmen?

First of all, the primary catalyst in Alan Moore's plot is the superhero as the has-been, with each of his Watchmen fulfilling the obvious various roles left when their iconic status dissolved. The Night Owl is the most realistic result, as he lives a meek life that silently regrets but functionally copes with its devolution, like a retired police officer. The Comedian is his polar opposite, living as an extravagant citizen yet obviously haunted by his past, particularly as the weight of his actions and their consequences occur to him in his old age. Dr. Manhattan is the personification of human achievement and therefore represents the inevitable product of mankind's own quest for power and celebrity, consequently both revered and misunderstood. Silk Spectre is his proverbial Tammy Faye Bakker, the first lady trapped by her leading man's reputation, not to mention her mother's legacy, which results in rebellion. If being a superhero wasn't against the grain, she'd garner some other controversy, again like Tammy Fay, or overcompensate with her own quest for authority, like Hillary Clinton. Rorschach is the wild card, like the child actor that refuses to quit and in fact proves himself by embracing the other extreme. Obviously, Jackie Earle Haley related to the role.

From the damaged child star to the retired cop, these archetypes in contemporary society and pop culture are just as vivid and significant today as they were in 1985, and Ozymandias is the best example and most pivotal to the Watchmen's story. At the beginning of the story (I really can't say "comic" or "film," because this plot now transcends either medium), Ozzie is depicted as a brilliant eccentric, hanging out in front of Studio 54 and negotiating his action figure line. Yet, we know behind the scenes he's really a mad scientist with twisted, benevolent intentions. Did Alan Moore know in 1985 that he was foreseeing George Clooney's career? Think about it -- George is a paparazzi darling, yet just recently he spoke with the Vice President in Washington about international affairs. We live in the kind of world where a celebrity feels influential in worldwide crises. If superheroes were real, they would always be on TMZ, and with that kind of attention, could their egos settle for foiling mere street level crime? The humility of Superman is so idealistic, it's unrealistic. Sean Penn stars in a movie about gay rights, and he's become a gay rights activist. How many times would a real Batman thwart the Joker before deciding to go all Erin Brockovich on companies that profit from poisonous chemicals?

The context of The Watchmen story is secondary to its characters and their history. Whether it's a giant squid or a nuclear bomb that destroys the city, the timeless appeal of Alan Moore's script is its heroes' respective resilience, made easier to understand through his frequent allusions and parallels to Hollywood and pop culture. From his opening credits onward, Snyder effectively changes world history by just dropping the stunning visuals of the superhero into the middle of America's Golden Age, and he pulls no punches with how ridiculous some of them looked. That image of the Minutemen is akin to watching The Wizard of Oz today; we know it can be done better, but the charm of how cinema began respects its humble beginnings. Yet now we know that Judy Garland wasn't a perfect person behind that mid-western smile, too. Like a comic book becoming a movie, whenever something takes on another face, we tend to prefer what we're used to seeing. Sometimes, we'd rather not watch.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Reading Reminds Us What's Fundamental in "The Scrapyard Detectives" #4

Monday, March 2, is Read Across America Day, a nationwide educational celebration of Dr. Seuss's birthday. As an advocate for youth by day and a comic book geek by night, I've often tried to reconcile these two passions by introducing kids to comics, since they know many of the medium's iconic characters from television and film anyway. Unfortunately, the likes of Batman and Spider-man are usually too mired in continuity for younger readers. Can you imagine trying to explain Spidey's "Character Assassination" or Batman's "R.I.P." to a seven-year-old? I know that DC and Marvel produce one-shots or child-friendly series free of these stories' bonds, but I regret that today's youth can't pick up any issue featuring their favorite superhero and find instant entertainment, like I did as a kid.

Enter: Jinn, Raymond, and Robert -- the Scrapyard Detectives. I've reviewed The Scrapyard Detectives twice before and was quoted on the back of the series' first trade paperback, so it isn't hard to guess that I really like this book. Creator/artist Bill Galvan has kept in touch over the years and was kind enough to send me complimentary copies of this latest issue for the students in my after school program. This kindness is indicative of the spirit of his series -- getting entertaining comics into the hands of kids, no strings attached. While Jinn, Raymond, and Robert certainly have an ongoing story with their own respective character dynamics, the series' rotating writers assure that each issue is its own reward, including previous tales' themes and relationships while avoiding the loose ends that dissuade new readers. In short, I can think of no better way to encourage reading than by handing a child The Scrapyard Detectives #4.

Further, an appreciation for reading is only half of what this series strives to instill in children. This fourth issue, written by none other than J.M. DeMatteis, takes place on the two-year anniversary of the accident that left Jinn in a wheelchair, and while she copes with the young driver's hope for forgiveness, her teammates deal with the adoration of their biggest fan, Raymond's little cousin Katie. These two plots collide when the Detectives individually shun the people that want their attention the most, inadvertently bringing them together in a climatic moment of revelation and resolution. I won't spoil this issue's ending, because a mere synopsis would stifle the last page's emotional impact and I'd really like everybody reading this review to attain the issue themselves, but needless to say DeMatteis gives readers of all ages a reason to examine their attitudes toward friends and foes alike.

What I like most about The Scrapyard Detectives is its realistic depiction of youth. Its three protagonists aren't perfect. Just like any kid, their tender friendships are just as vulnerable to rash anger and bullying, to emotional outbursts and name calling. Still, these characters remain fictional role models because of their ability to deal with these feelings in time. Also, as this is a youth-oriented detective series, writer DeMatteis tips the proverbial hat to the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, acknowledging the roots of the genre while maintaining a sense of humor about itself. Of course, Bill's illustrations are the consistent spirit of this book, and I'm grateful that his kids look like kids. Too many comic book artists are snared by their inclinations to exaggerate musculature and unwittingly draw children like little adults; Galvan's style keeps things simple and expressive. His attention to detail is admirable, too; this might sound silly, but I like that his depictions of suburbia include power lines. When I look at the Scrapyard Detectives' neighborhood in the background of the main story, I see the cul-de-sac from my childhood. In every way, Jinn, Robert, and Raymond could be the kids next door.

Finally, The Scrapyard Detectives is an unapologetic example of a comic book first. Unlike many other nonprofit or special interest groups that use the comic book format to convey a message, thus producing a sub par product, Diversity Ink seems determined to offer a quality package, from cover to cover. Consider that this issue has three variant covers, one by the legendary Joe Staton, the other by the talented Shawn McManus, not to mention the fun pin-up by J.J. Harrison. Consider the inherent pride that comes with this issue's branding by the Comic Code Authority. Consider its appeal for letters and artwork, and its rewarding said efforts with an exclusive "Secret Case Files" issue. (Bill, does this count as a letter? I want that comic!) The excerpt from the Detectives' forthcoming novel proves that any character with a firm foundation in comics can transcend the medium -- that the power of words and pictures put together make other storytelling efforts want to rise to the occasion, too.

Sometimes I wonder what I'd read on a regular basis if I wasn't such an avid fan of comic books. Would I have developed more appreciation for novels, or nonfiction? Would I read historical texts, or plays? I wonder, would I even really read at all? For me, the comic book has been a gateway medium, instilling an appreciation for the sequential nature of theater, for the vivid imagery of poetry, for the economy of words necessary in short fiction. Today's kids aren't much different. While television, film, and video games offer a basic understanding of plot, the thrill of a comic book can still excite the imagination and inspire new heights of interaction with literature. If society is lucky enough, the right kids get their hands on comics like The Scrapyard Detectives #4 -- the kinds of comics that teach the integrity of good storytelling right alongside the value of having integrity as a person, too.

For more information about The Scrapyard Detectives, please visit The Diversity Foundation's website.

The Scrapyard Detectives #4 was published by the Diversity Foundation, written by J.M. DeMatteis, illustrated by Bill Galvan and Rob Hawkins, and lettered by Dave Lanphear.