C!TB’s Best of the Week | Jan 31, 2011

Ta-daaaahhh

Hey hey hey, sex party people!  How was the weekend swinging?  I hope you reinvigorated your marriages, because here at C!TB, we’re ready to reinvigorate your minds.  Now, where do you want the electrodes?

While we’re hooking those up, why not enjoy a different kind of smooth, exhilarating rush?

WHEN A BODY EATS A BODY, COMIN’ THROUGH THE RYE

Ah, Uncanny X-Force. Has there been a superhero comic in recent memory that’s managed to genuinely shock the reader like this one has with this issue?  Now, nothing against the previous incarnation of the X-Force team, but their adult situations generally involved just cold murderin’ dudes who weren’t very sympathetic and usually didn’t have names.  Now, what about when that situation involves a little kid… who’s name just happens to be Apocalypse?  Is it right to murder him just because in a previous life he was kind of a dick who maybe enslaved the entire world?  Is it oh so very wrong?  That’s the conversation the team has here, except it’s right in front of that very same terrified, sobbing kid.

So, yeah.  That’s intense and uncomfortable and pretty brilliantly executed.

But wait, there’s more!  Because this is a comic where a dude straight up feeds himself to another dude to make him big and strong and ready to murder a little kid, maybe:

Oh yeah, and this takes place on the moon inside a tent shaped like the first dude.  As a reward for making me feel very, very uncomfortable, C!TB gives Uncanny X-Force #4 the first (and, if there is decency in the world, which, thank god, there’s not, last) Alive! Award. (J)

IF I CAN MAKE IT THERE, I CAN MAKE IT ANYWHERE

Confession time: I absolutely own the entire run of Gossip Girl books – including the spin-off series, The It Girl. This probably comes to a surprise to a few of you who only know me from this site – I have yet to really let loose on all of my girly addictions – but for a good chunk of you, you’ve come to realize that this is merely par for the course. If pressed to explain my appreciation of certain sections of teen lit, I will often tell people flat out that I feel no shame reading those books. Hell, the last time my car died, I read some of those babies on the bus – and if you think reading comics will get you scared – try being a grown ass man reading some Gossip Girl. I’m pretty sure a woman told her kids to not stare at me once, because she thought the book was some kind of bait. But anyway. Fact is, I enjoy me some teen lit. But I will not settle for just anything. There has to be a certain depth to the characters, and the situations they find themselves in – and the women have to be strong. Not physically per say, just emotionally. Which, you would think you’d be able to find in a lot of teen lit, considering how the bulk of the genre is written by female writers – but man, nothing will get me to close up shop on a book faster than discovering the girl in a book’s only function is to fawn helplessly over a guy, and be saved from stressful situations.

I’m getting a little off track here. Let’s focus.

A few years ago, DC started an imprint called Minx, which aimed to capture the teen lit market, using graphic novels. For the most part, these books were great – but one of the best was New York Four - a Brian Wood/Ryan Kelly book that was half teen lit drama, half guide to the absolute best of New York. Well, this week, that book returned, and god damn, was it awesome. All of the characters returned, and the drama is ever present. The relationships found within are definitely not easy ones, and the characters have to work really hard to keep their lives – such as they are – together. But man, that’s hard to do when you’re in your first year of college and dealing with having the training wheels off for the first time ever. All the terrible teenage drama hasn’t quite disappeared yet, and now it’s mixing with adult responsibility and it really, really sucks – and this book captures it perfectly.

And so, for being such an accurate depiction of college life – and for being a sweet look at the city of New York, we give New York Five our coveted Concrete Jungle Where Dreams Are Made Of Award. [B]

Our pick for best of the week probably won’t surprise anybody,  but that doesn’t mean it’s not the right one.  Jonathan Hickman‘s Fantastic Four #587 made the news on Tuesday and caused many comic book shops to run out of stock before the rest of the week’s comics even went on sale.  Here at C!TB, we wrote about it on three different days: a spoiler-free review, a story about trying and failing to avoid having the ending ruined and a final review with all things discussed.

But far more important than that, it was a great, beautiful read.  Hickman managed to make the death of a major superhero more than a publicity stunt. Instead, the death of Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, felt like a vital part of the story and its natural conclusion to this part of the Fantastic Four’s arc and the beginning of the next.  Steve Epting drew his goddamn heart out and left absolutely every devastated emotion on the page.

Johnny Storm, the eternal optimist.  Johnny Storm, the heart of Marvel‘s first family.  With Fear Itself coming and Johnny gone, who’s going to make sure the family makes it through?  How will the rest of the heroes, especially Spider-Man, respond?  It’s going to be tough.  It was certainly a difficult read to get through.  Johnny went out the only way anybody could ever expect him to: courageously.  But the last scene with Johnny and Ben?  That final panel of The Thing, broken, holding his niece and nephew as they cry and mourn?  Heartbreaking.  There’s no other way to describe it; I’m tearing up now as I write about it.

So for making a comic book death feel vital and real, for making tears well up in my eyes despite the fact that I knew what was going to happen, I can’t think of a comic more deserving of being called the best last week.

This is Comics! The Blog. We now commence our broadcasting week.

Double Team: A Modest Proposal, and There Ain’t No Party


Much like women, some topics are no match for just one man!

Over the weekend, Eric Powell (of The Goon fame) posted a YouTube video that held a volatile message for the comic book industry. Naturally, we had a few opinions on the matter – and thus, like thunder, the Double Team was born.

Now if you haven’t seen the video – or can’t watch it now, because you’re at work, don’t worry – a description of the video can be found in the articles below. Read, and share your comments below.


A MODEST PROPOSAL

by Brandon Schatz

I have been assured by a very knowing American that a young healthy artist breaking into comics will be raped in the ass by a man in a cape. Which is to say, on Saturday morning, comic book creator Eric Powell took to the internet with a simple message: if comic books don’t get their act together and start diversifying, they’re going to leech themselves dry and die out – though, using much harsher language than that.

The video message depicts the life of a fairly young and honored comic book artist. He’s done work that’s been lauded the world over in the form of the Eisner for Best Comic Created By A Man in the History of Forever Comma of All Time and Time Magazine’s Greatest Comic Artist of the Decade – which is great, but it sure doesn’t pay the bills, as his sales aren’t even covering the cost of printing. And so this young man (so named Swordfish Trombone) goes on the phone, and begs Dildo Comics for a job – wherein he is offered to work on a superhero book? Or a gritty superhero book. After being laughed at after suggesting another kind of story, Trombone agrees to a superhero book, after which one appears at his house, and rapes him in the ass while his family watches in horror. It’s at this point that Powell enters the frame, and details the video’s message: things are not okay. Superhero books are monopolizing the industry – and the bulk of them are coming out from companies owned by those who could give two shits about printing comic books. This kind of reliance is not a good thing, and will end in tragedy, if something isn’t done about it. And so, he suggests, we should all be supporting creator owned comics – all of us, from the publishers, to the retailers, to the readers.

After witnessing a man getting raped, Powell’s basic message seems pretty sane – it just happens to be the rag at the top of a Molotov cocktail, and so it seems volatile. Despite its bombastic package, the spirit of the message rings true. The comics industry does need to find a way to sustain itself on a wider variety of genres. But of course, that’s easier said than done.

Near the end of the video, and elsewhere online, Powell states that this is not something he is placing at the feet of Marvel and DC. Even though most of the video implies they are the biggest problem, he admits that if the comic book industry is to change, it will have to occur at all levels. After all, it’s not as if Marvel and DC have not [i]tried[/i] to do new things – it’s just that every time they have, their audience reacts badly, and the projects no longer become monetarily sustainable. And can they really be faulted for bailing on product that is not making them any money? Much like the creator in Powell’s video, companies have to go where the audience tells them to go – so as much as this problem is on them it falls to us as well.

As a retailer, it is my job to make sure people leave the store with comics in their hands. To do this, I have to make sure we have enough product to meet their demands. At the same time, I have to make sure that I don’t stray too far above a certain order level, or else we’ll be stuck with a bevy of unsold comics that we will eventually have to sell off at a loss. Within this system, it is very easy to dismiss untested product. For example, we have years of data that support the notion that a Wolverine comic – whether it be a one shot, a mini or an ongoing, will inevitably move a certain amount of copies. As the creative teams and formats change, orders are adjusted to match, and for the most part, we end up being very happy with the stock that we bring in. On the other hand, when we see an issue of Swordfish Trombone’s Anal Mysteries appear in previews for the first time, we’re stymied. We don’t have years of data, we just know what little information we get inside of a blurb, and the name of an untested talent. Without more information, its hard for us to justify grabbing a whole lot of copies – and so yes, there’s always a danger that a comic will be under-ordered – which sets forth that cascading domino effect, wherein a reader might not be able to find a copy, a creator might not be able to feed his family, and the comic goes away forever. Obviously, this is not ideal – but it doesn’t have to be the case.

As much as its the retailers job to order for their customers, we can’t do that when we’re ill equipped, and the pittance that Diamond offers in the way of information is not going to help us make an informed order on your book. To make sure that your comic has a chance to survive in the market, a creator needs to go out and make sure they’re doing everything they can to get eyeballs pointed at their book. It is, after all, their baby – and while it’s definitely more fun to make a baby, once it exists, it needs to be treated with care. For the most part, creators tend to let their publishers try and take care of their children, and then complain when sales just aren’t there. Yes, it is the publisher’s job to nurture – but you absolutely can’t expect them to pay the same amount of attention to someone else’s child, especially when they have several of them to look after. So it comes down to the creator. They have to really hit the pavement, and sell a their book – and there are a lot of ways to do it.

Comic book websites are always looking for content. Hit them up with an interview opportunity. And not just at one place, at several. Week after week, having something new on the internet. A teaser, an interview, a podcast appearance, something. Stir up some noise, and get the readers excited. But don’t stop there. Hit the retailers too. Look into the cost of sending out a preview copy to retailers the week before the month’s order have to go in to Diamond. Something like a PDF in their mail with the first issue would be great. If you’re worried about pirating, just send them the black and whites, or maybe overlay the retailer’s name on the preview, like a movie does to a movie script. Or hell, just send them the first half – enough to let them see what your book is all about, so they will know who to order it for. That kind of contact information is easy to come by if you go about getting such info through your Diamond Rep. After orders are placed, definitely keep plugging away at the internet – reminding readers to let their stores know about ordering copies – and then right before the Final Order Cut-Off sets in, send another e-mail to retailers, letting them know that the time has come to bump up their numbers once more – and they will, especially if they’ve been hearing noise from their customers. Some of this will fall on deaf ears, as there are places that will not budge in terms of their grand total of zero copies ordered – whether it’s due to a perceived amount of shelf space, or a general laziness. The unfortunate part is, there is nothing that can be said or done for folks like that – they will run their shop how they will run their shop. Which is where readers come in.

As readers, it is our job to read what we like. Which – oddly enough – seems to be a hard task. In my store, I have a few customers who will buy books they actively despise for some reason for another. Heck, just one look at the internet, and you will see nothing but complaints about books that people are continuing to buy. While sometimes it’s hard to let go of what’s going on in, Batman or Spider-Man at any given point in time, it is always always important to recognize when a story, or a character is not meant for you personally, and it is time to find something that you enjoy reading. If that thing happens to be another flavour of superheroics, than the more power to you – but sticking with something you hate is not doing you any favours, or the industry any favours.

Now of course, there’s a lot more to be explore in regards to Eric Powell’s video, and the ever unravelling thread that each tug seems to lengthen – but we have many days to fill here at the blog, and we will no doubt be revisiting this concept from time to time – but to close my little rant for now, a few thoughts:

Yes, Powell’s video is harsh – and yes, it generalizes a few things – the least of which being the fact that he seems to equate “creator-owned” books with diversity in comics. However, much like “A Modest Proposal”, he’s not actually telling you all to eat babies – he’s just merely offering a piece of satire, aimed at starting the conversations that could lead to a bit of change.

No, the problem the video addresses is not any one person’s fault – its everyone’s, from the publisher, to the retailer, to the creator, to the audience. Everyone needs to do their part, to help facilitate diversity in comics.

And finally, no. There is nothing wrong with liking steak – but if you’re not going to drink some water every now and then, you’re still going to die.

That last part one was a mixed metaphor. You’re welcome. Now let’s make some change.

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THERE AIN’T NO PARTY LIKE A CREATOR-OWNED PARTY

Because at a creator-owned party, people can afford their own beer instead of pouring out the last bit of empties into their cupped hands

By James Leask

So, can we all agree that Eric Powell isn’t actually accusing Marvel and DC of ass-raping its writers and artists?  Because guys, things are going to be so much easier if we all just admit that maybe he’s being a little bit hyperbolic for the sake of making his argument.  For chrissakes, he flat-out says that the men and women working at those two companies are good people who love comics.  That doesn’t really jive with an actual accusation, you know?  He’s being all ironical or something (Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, please!).

Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t think he isn’t being a little bit unfair.  Back before I started writing science manuscripts and turning numbers into slightly better numbers for a living, I went to school to learn how, and another big part of my booklearnin’ was about serialized storytelling and how different storytellers, either working with superheroes, pulp heroes or fairy tales, have been telling their own versions of stories with familiar characters they didn’t create for longer than they’ve been written down.  The fact that The Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault didn’t create a single one of the fairy tales they wrote about – and in the case of the former, kind of went around the countryside stealing other people’s stories – doesn’t mean that what resulted wasn’t art.  It doesn’t mean that the emotions they’ve made people feel aren’t real, and it doesn’t negate the enjoyment readers have gotten.

Because of that, I think Powell’s suggestion that Marvel and DC’s superhero comics are creatively bankrupt is more than a little bit extreme.  The fact that Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All Star Superman is about a superhero owned by Warner Bros. doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a fantastic, moving story.  And the fact that Bruce Timm has made a career out of putting superheroes in TV and direct-to-DVD movies doesn’t mean that Batman: The Animated Series wasn’t a work of art that just happened to look awesome on bedsheets.  Frankly, with Powell’s creation The Goon currently emblazoned on T-shirts, toys, lunchboxes, iPhone skins, shot glasses, Zippo lighters and six different flavours of Jones Soda over at the Dark Horse website, I’m not sure he should be the one accusing the Big Two of using superheroes as synergistic cross-media cash cows.  Because there’s a whole thing about that.  It’s got a pot, a kettle, it’s… well, it’s a whole thing.  It’s all very technical.  No, the difference is that when The Goon’s action figures sell, Powell makes more money than he would if it was a series he published at Marvel.

And that’s a perfectly fine thing to complain about.

Because he’s right about that.  He has more freedom to make more money with his own creation than he ever would if that was just another Spider-Man series.  Hell, Bill Finger’s name still isn’t listed in Batman comics as one of the creators of one of the most lucrative characters of all time, which is exactly why the character is so lucrative.  The reality is that creator-owned comics are the best case scenario for the people in the industry, from an avoiding-feeding-their-kids-sawdust point of view.  And even if there’s a little bit of pot-kettling involved in Powell’s argument, he’s not wrong to want more people to buy comics featuring characters he owns and with whom he can do anything he wants.  Because just a few more people reading those can mean they exist or they don’t.

Look at Phonogram, by the inestimable Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie.  It’s a fucking incredible series, but unless it’s resurrected at Icon, Marvel’s home for creator-owned comics (natch), now that Gillen has an exclusive deal at Marvel, those two trade paperbacks, those thirteen issues, are going to be all we get.  As Gillen explains,

It’s not that we’re bitter about it — well, not just because we’re bitter about it — but that it’s been emotionally exhausting. We’ve been doing “Phonogram” for over 4 years, not including the years before the first series came out. Imagine if we could have just done the comic and not had to deal with any of the shit we’ve had to. We’d have been up to issue 44 now. Instead, we have 13 issues.

I feel frustrated. Enormously lucky, sure, but frustrated. We’ve done this wonderful thing we’re crazy-proud about. But if the whole economic system was just a couple of degrees to the left, everything would have been different. I mean, just to give you an idea about narrow the margins are between what we are and what we could be, if we were selling 6K instead of 4K, we could have done those 44 issues. The difference between breaking even and actually being able to do it in comics is insane. It’s like being kept under ice, clawing. I feel like a bonsai plant.

And it absolutely sucks that what happened, happened.  I hate that when it was being published, I was just falling back into comics after a decade away and was too busy catching up with what had happened to Batman and Spidey during my walkabout to pay attention to some of the other cool things, like Phonogram, that were going on around me.  Hell, I don’t even think I’d started to read Y: The Last Man yet.  I didn’t know any better.  But I wish I did.

If I could go back in time and buy those issues when they were originally released, I absolutely would.  I would scream from the goddamn roofs about how incredible Phonogram is and how Gillen and McKelvie should have all the moneys.  Because it is and they should.  Well, except maybe for the Casanova money going to Matt Fraction.

Ah, Casanova.

That’s the dream, isn’t it?  Make genius, move on, make good, get famous, bring back old genius, get paid.  Well, it’s a dream.  It could be a very good screenplay that I am absolutely not writing as far as Mr. Fritchman’s lawyers are concerned.  But that comic and that man set something alight inside me.  I want more and now I get more.  And the best part of it?  People are paying attention.  People are buying it and now the twins get paid.  No more sawdust dinners for them, no sir.

Big Two superheroes are always going to be the reason a lot of people first go into a comic book store, at least for the near future.  And sometimes, like with Cass, this can be a springboard for creator-owned stuff.  Which is great.  But it can’t be the only way the latter half of the equation happens.  Because that system isn’t working as well as it should.  Because Phonogram isn’t on issue 45 right now.

As for myself, I need to be better.  I’ve definitely made inroads away from the comics and characters I grew up with, and I’ve discovered incredible art because of this.  But, really, I’m blessed with Brandon, who is a great comic book guy.  Easily the best I’ve ever come across, and that’s the whole reason he and I became friends in the first place; he put a copy of The Umbrella Academy in my hand, said, “Listen, I know what you’re thinking.  But this is good, trust me,” and I did, and he was right.  Now, whenever he puts a comic in my hand, one I wouldn’t otherwise read, I buy it.  And each time, I love it.

But Brandon’s not there every New Comic Book Day (the bastard) and I probably won’t always live in the same city as him.  At some point I’m going to have to start putting comics like Casanova in my own hand, so why not now?  Why not take that part of Eric Powell’s challenge and run with it, instead of the rhetoric?

By now, Brandon has talked about why creator-owned comics are good and why you should read them, and probably made some heartfelt, passionate entreaty to the rest of us to be better comics fans or something.  I don’t know, because we’re in separate isolation chambers as we write these.  For all I know he’s just made 1800 words worth of ASCII dongs.

The point is, I can’t talk about that the same way he can.  He flat out knows more about it than I do.  It’s actually his job. I can only speak as someone who loves a lot of things and wants there to be as many different awesome things from as many awesome people as possible.  I firmly believe that Batman/Warner Bros. and whatever creator-owned titles come out can peacefully coexist, and that both can be art, but that I’m going to have to help out the little guy on my own initiative a little more than I do right now.  Because if even just a few of us do that, it could mean good series stick around instead of dying premature deaths.  A few can add up to a lot more really quickly.  So from now on, I’m going to be better, or at least I’m going to try.  There’s a lot of it out there, so I’m sure I can find something.  To quote Elijah Snow:

The world’s a strange place.  Let’s keep it that way.

You’re Welcome, Internet | January 24-28, 2011

Another week, another lawsuit from Brad Meltzer (Ed note: Possibly untrue).  Listen, Mr. Meltzer, we said we were sorry.  What can we do to make it up to you?  Read The Inner Circle?  Done.  Thank you sir, you’re very gracious.  And everybody else?  You’re Welcome, Internet.

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I don't see what the big deal is.

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Cowboy hat. Clock tower. Huey Lewis. Hoverboard.

This is the entire annotated timeline from the Back to the Future trilogy.  You’re welcome.

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Philosoraptor is hungry for your Derrida! Also, your meat.

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KNEEL BEFORE YOUR NEW GOD

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This explains why I had that weird dream about Mark-Paul Gosselaar, I hope.

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Live every single day…

…like you’re body checking white trash in a mascot’s uniform.

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And now, Steve Rude draws Gwen Stacy:

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LEASK: What a week!  I mean, did you see Community last night?  That was so totally babies.  The rest of the week?  Well, I got Fantastic Four #587 spoiled for me in the funniest way I could imagine, saw a dude feed himself to another dude in Uncanny X-Force #4, had my Fringe Season 2 Blu-Ray set arrive right when I had to write an article about the first season and made some truly disturbing Mackenzie King sex jokes on the Tweetiebox.  So yeah, it was pretty rad.  See you in the future, homeslices.

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SCHATZ: Man, what a crazy week for comics. Three of the biggest selling Avengers and X-Men titles came out, as well as three Ultimate books, and the big Black Bag issue of Fantastic Four. That alone makes for a big week, but there was also some Cursed Pirate Girl and Off Road! So much great reading to be had! It’s weeks like this that really make me smile, giving me just a steady flow of reading that will take me through the week. And hey, plus, I got to re-read some of my favourite comics while sauced this week (yes, you heard me. Favourite) which is always a fun thing to do.

And just three weeks in, it looks like things are going quite well for us here at the blog. The views are coming in quite nicely, and we’re having just all kinds of fun, so that’s cool. Stick with us. We got a shit ton more to come.

You’ve been reading Comics! The BlogThis concludes our broadcast week.

Review: Ultimate Spider-Man #152

Kitty wants some candy!Ultimate Spider-Man #152 (Marvel Comics)
By Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli, David Lafuente, Justin Ponsor & VC’s Cory Petit

Synopsis: Iron Man almost outs Peter, who seriously just cannot catch a break.

01. First up, let me say that I am absolutely loving the way Tony Stark is written in this comic.  In the regular Marvel world, Fraction is writing Tony as a suave, put-together genius who’s about to make affordable sportscars powered by clean repulsor technology.  Bendis writes him like a drunk uncle trying to teach his nephew “the ropes” (variously “the business” or “bein’ a man, son”) except then he does something stupid , like, say, practically blurting out his nephew’s biggest secret to everybody within earshot and getting cussed out by sexagenarian and a punk rock live-in girlfriend, but more on that later.  But seriously, would you believe Bendis, Pichelli and Lafuente actually manage to make Iron Man look a little ashamed of himself while floating in his suit over Queens?  Awesome.

02. The gang also brings their A-game when it comes to the Black Cat part of the storyline.  It’s a beautiful example of the decompressed storytelling Bendis does better than almost anybody else, and it perfectly accentuates the style and stealth of Ultimate Felicia Hardy.  As Pichelli draws her, she’s easily one of the most confident characters in the book and is, frankly, kind of scary in her complete control of a pretty serious face off.

03. This:

I told her not to click on any links from Brandon.

04. Of course, the impact of the issue is in the long-simmering state of the union between Peter and Gwen, who’s freshly returned from brief stint riding the rails and livin’ life as only a hobo can, free of any attachments, with just the soft glow of the lights in the next town from a boxcar guiding her down the line.

Fine.  She visited her mum, who’s a real jackass, and immediately came back home to the Parkers.  But I’m pretty sure she hoboed it up just a little bit.  I mean, wouldn’t you?

Anyway, the reason for the conversation has been hinted at ever since the first post-Ultimatum issue, and it’s good to see Gwen bring it out into the light, as uncomfortable as it is.  Even better, it’s great to see Peter take a stand about the relationship, given his uncertainty when we first saw the plot line playing out.  He finally steps up, takes a swing, and, well, you’ll have to read it for yourself to see how everything settles for the time being.  This character arc is nowhere near done and Bendis seeds it just enough to let us know it.

05. I don’t know how they’ve done it, but Ultimate Spider-Man has been one of the most consistently impressive comics that Marvel‘s been putting out for over a decade now.  Every artist change just brings another major talent that brings out the best in the writing.  It’s one of my first reads every time it comes out, and it should be yours, too.

06. Next up: superhero school, taught by a barely functioning drunk man inside a robot suit!  Oh hell yes.

Review: Fantastic Four #587 – Spoiler Edition

FANTASTIC FOUR #587 (Marvel Comics)
by Jonathan Hickman, Steve Epting, Rick Magyar, Mike Perkins, Paul Mounts and VC’s Rus Wooton

Synopsis: Hey you guys, you’ll never believe what happens in this issue.

No seriously, you never will. I’m honestly surprised that no one has really been talking about this, because man, this thing that happens in this issue with uh…

…wait, I’m sorry what? You… you already know? And people have been talking about it since Tuesday? Really? Ah. Well, then.

All kidding aside, we promised you some spoilers here on Friday, and spoilers there will be. Don’t look below this line if you don’t want things spoiler for you.

Yeah, that’s the Human Torch getting his lights snuffed out – which is sad. Of course, any of these characters dying would be a dour affair, but I loved the Torch. He embodied the ideal we like to champion here at C!TB – that of enjoying things, rather than letting shit get you down. Now, the specifics of this book have been discussed to death elsewhere – and we have a scheduled retrospective of Hickman’s entire Fantastic Four run scheduled for the week the new FF book is released – so we’re not going to dig too deep into the issue itself this time around. However, we do want to point out a couple of moments from previous issues that in retrospect, prove that this was in Hickman’s plans for quite some time:

First, there’s Future Franklin tripping through time in Fantastic Four #581, clearly showing Valeria’s deal with Doom, as well as some of Johnny’s final words:


And then, there’s this nice chat between Future Franklin and Valeria in the subsequent issue:

Nice touches by Hickman. Anyway, the issue has sold out at most stores – and second printings are on the way. But just in case your shop may still have copies, give them a call, and read through the issue. It features some masterful storytelling – and at worst, it will just hook you on something you should really be reading anyway.

Late to the Party, No 1: Fringe (Season 1 Edition)

Don't worry, we left you some Cheetos.

No. 1: Fringe (Season 1 Edition)

Pacey Witter solves paranormal crimes.

Now, was that so goddamn hard?  Think of how much easier things would have been for me if somebody had just told me that instead of letting me act like an asshole about how the show was “just like The X-Files” and how “I don’t see what the big deal is about J.J. Abrams, his shows aren’t very good.”

In my defence, I’d only seen bits of Felicity and Alias, which I’m willing to chalk up as “not for me” and let bygones be bygones.  Hell, for all I know I’ll have changes of heart about them, too.  I welcome your insistence that I need to give them another shot; anything to watch all those Highlander movies again.

But, as all ignorant blanket statements must, this one was doomed to come to an end.  First I saw Star Trek and really loved it.  Then, much to my friends’ relief, I finally started watching Lost and blew through the entire series in a small number of months, including the entire fourth season over two days.  Eventually, I was willing to concede that maybe my previous statement about Fringe, hastily cobbled together based on a press release and the second-last episode of the first season viewed out of context and with minimal attention, might possibly be wrong.  By then, the show was in its third season and time to catch up was slipping away.

I figured that if a blase attempt at describing the show unappealingly was unsurprisingly unsuccessful at convincing me to watch the show before, I needed to do the opposite.  I needed to condense the series into a short statement, fully describing its potential raditude, preferably by referencing something I already loved.  And all of a sudden, it clicked:

Pacey Witter solves paranormal crimes.

And there it was.  Now I couldn’t not watch the show, because hey, I would watch the shit out of a Dawson’s Creek character getting his Scooby-Doo on.  Finally, during Boxing Week, I found the first season on sale at a 60% discount and couldn’t put it off anymore.  So I put in the disc, hit play and discovered something:

Guys, Fringe is rad.

While I was kind of right in my initial dicktacular statement – it does share some qualities with The X-Files – it’s a testament to the writers that it’s considerably more than monsters-of-the-week-plus-conspiracy.  It’s a series of immensely fascinating “what if?” scientific scenarios, coupled with incredible characters.  There’s John Noble as Walter Bishop, a mad scientist fresh from 17 years in a mental asylum with large gaps in his memory.  Paired with Walter is his formerly estranged son, Peter (Joshua Jackson), a similarly genius-level man with much broader talents and a few criminal ties.  The two have a trying relationship, but what I love are the tinges of sadness, affection and humour surrounding the two.  Both Noble and Jackson play it fantastically, and I want more, more, more.

Anna Torv‘s FBI Agent Olivia Dunham is, simply put, one of the best female characters on television.  She’s got the tough position of being the series’ straight woman, but she sells it and gives Olivia such inquisitiveness and passion beyond “I’ll get the bad guys if it’s the last thing I do!”  Torv is the series’ secret weapon that’s conveniently hidden in the front of all the promo pictures.

But hey, at the end of the day, Fringe is a wickedly and disturbingly funny show with great characters and interesting mysteries.  The first season builds the world so well, it’s easy to miss it happening during the more standalone episodes.  But it’s there, and I’m sad I took so long to give the series a chance because the reveals at the end of the season are worth every single second.  Once again, I learn not to be a dick the hard way and Wil Wheaton cackles to himself somewhere.

This is a series where a mad scientist bends the laws of reality while his cow watches in the background and everybody else rolls their eyes.  This is a show that takes every sci-fi scientific postulation and says, “No, this is a world where all this can happen, so watch out before you get your spinal fluid slurped.”  This is a show where villains are white dudes led by a cranky German (OR ARE THEY?), just like all the best Indiana Jones movies.  This is a show with a conspiracy that for once doesn’t involve the Kennedys.  And goddammit, this is a show where Pacey “Stubbles” Witter solves paranormal crimes like a motherfucker!

I’m in love.

Review: Infestation #1

INFESTATION #1 (IDW Publishing)
by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, David Messina, Gaetano Carlucci, ScarletGothica, Elena Casagrande, Claudia Balboni, and Robbie Robbins

Synopsis: A zombie virus bleeds through a portal, leading to what could quite possibly one of the craziest crossovers of all time.

01. I was wondering how they would pull it off – because man, you have to be pretty ballsy to say you’re going to have a crossover including G.I. Joe, Transformers, Star Trek and the Ghostbusters. Imagine, trying to get three different licensers to sign off on such a story. They would all have their concerns, all have their notes, and the result could just be a thick pasty gruel of neutered ideas. But then man. This book.

02. The action begins in a universe containing a couple of IDW’s own characters – including those from CvO and Zombies vs. Robots. There, a portal is being guarded in which a zombie horde is just waiting to break loose. Assurances to the portal’s safety aside, things break and shit starts to go crazy. The CVO (Covert Vampire Operations) are called in to deal with the threat, and again, things go badly – to the point where these zombies manage to get access to four other universes – which is, of course, how this crossover goes down. The concept is brilliant in its simplicity – though coming up with this plan and presenting it in such a way that things felt organic must have been a pain in the ass. But Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning are really strong writers, whose work here should be commended. They had a tough job to do, getting things to go from point A to point B, while setting the stage for four different universes to deal with a similar zombie threat.

Hell, they even build a solid case for how the zombie virus can affect robots, which is just amusing as shit. Good job all around.

03. The artists on this book do a fantastic job with the material. While David Messina no doubt handles the bulk of the book, the prologue is handled by Elena Casagrande – though I’m not exactly sure where one artists work ends, and the other begins – which is a pretty swank move. This series is already saddled with some pretty steep demands when it comes to having a good suspension of belief, and a jarring art change would’ve set things spinning in a strange direction right off the bat. Regardless, the book’s art looks great – and the story is quite good as well – which to me says IDW will be emerging from this little experiment quite victorious. Let’s see how things progress from here.

Review: Age of X: Alpha

Age of X: Alpha (Marvel Comics)I have no idea what's going on here, but I like it.

By Mike Carey, Mirco Pierfederici, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Carlo Barberi, Walden Wong, Antonio Fabela, Paco Diaz, Matt Milla, Paul Davidson, Brian Reber &VC’s Joe Caramagna

Synopsis: In a world where the X-Men never formed, things kind of suck.  Finally, a return to the Age of Apocalypse!

01. I’m glad to see the Age of Apocalypse return again.  I never got to read it when it was originally published – I wasn’t always a comic nerd, sadly – and never read the collection, so I mostly know what I know about it from Wikipedia articles.  A such, I’ve always felt a certain lacking in my understanding of that very important part of American X-History (call me, Ed Norton) and this looks like my chance to finally get a handle on it.

02. I think Mike Carey is a great choice to write this event.  Not only was he one of the apparently few writers not to be a part of the original Age of Apocalypse story, but he’s been doing good work with X-Men: Legacy as it’s made its transition from the story of Professor X reassembling his memory following Messiah Complex, turning what could have been a fill-in-the-gaps part of the X-Family into a consistently engaging and fun read.  I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with this world where the X-Men never existed and where the remaining mutants form a motley crue against their evil overlord.

03. Right of the bat, Carey starts things with an “Alpha” issue much like the original series’.  As he describes it, its purpose is to form the overture to the overall study, introducing the world and what’s become of the characters.  Given that it’s been over 15 years since the original, I think it’s a a smart move.  I’m usually pretty lukewarm on anthology issues (Uncanny X-Men: The Heroic Age #1 being a rare exception), but I have to say I like the story as its being told cohesively here.  The opening segment of the issue, the story of Cyclops’ AoA incarnation Basilisk, is a clear winner.  What would happen if Scott Summers had even less control of his powers, which are controlled  by a sadistic jail warden?  Well, you find out here, and it’s pretty damn neat.

04. Guys, the Chysler building flies.  I don’t know what more you want, but as far as my Umbrella Academy-inspired list of “Major works of architecture gone wild,” that’s pretty much at the top.  Combine that with some fine world building and I’m sold on wherever the rest of Age of X goes in the world of AoA.

05. Wait, is Age of X actually something – no, that would be silly.  I’m sure I’m right.

Me vs. The Angry Mob — Issue #1: Behold, A Startling Origin

The last time a college sent me a letter, it was to tell me that they didn’t want me hanging around anymore. Which was terrifying. I remember staring at that letter for an hour before the reality of it began to sink in. The first coherent thought to form was in the form of two words, seen in my mind’s eye in thick, red block type:

YOU FAILED.

Which was a bigger thought than you might think. This wasn’t just any random failure: this was the first big one. The one that had resulted from my actions as an adult. I had attempted to make myself a life, and right out of the gate, I fucked it up. Boom. Gone.

After a trip to the bathroom, where I got sick for the first and last time from something that wasn’t related to any kind of illness or booze, I sat on the floor and tried to think about what would happen next. At some point, my parents would have to find out – and that would be bad. I had given them the impression that things were going fine – that I was able to keep up with my homework, and that I absolutely knew what I was doing in these classes, 100%. But – as you can probably tell – that wasn’t strictly true. When I was in class, I had to fight to pay attention, and even when I could get my brain to focus on the class, it would refuse to comprehend the concepts it would be given. This lead to a general apathy when it came to the readings, and as a direct result, assignments did not get completed. Tests were often excesses in how well I could weave a bit of bullshit (quite well, but this wasn’t high school anymore, and you needed to have quite a bit more knowledge in your bullshit to fool these professor types). Anyway, shit had finally caught up with me, and there I was, sitting on linoleum with the taste of bile threatening to set off another eruption.

The days that followed were not kind to anyone. My parents found out about my transgressions before I had found the courage to let them know myself, which turned the bad situation into something worse. There was yelling. There was crying. I was told how disappointed everyone was from many different angles. I was pressured to come up with a solution to this mess immediately. I couldn’t think of a way all of this could magically become better – and eventually refused to do so, in defiance of being commanded to do otherwise. I put on a brave face for my friends – though that brave face was accompanied by a lie about how family troubles was the main cause of my boot from college. This, of course, was not entirely true and was an unfair thing to do to my family – but I was already feeling like a failure, and I didn’t want to disappoint even more people. So there was that.

After a few tense months, I moved away from home without giving my mother a proper good-bye. I’ve been told that during that time, there were a lot of tears. I know I heard more than a few of them on the phone, and came to dread the sound of the phone ringing, because it always brought with it some kind of pain – both to me, and the remarkable woman who raised me. My perceived freedom would be short-lived, as I would be asked to move out of the place I was staying roughly six months after striking it out on my own. Faced with life with yet another tether severed, I found myself phoning up my mom, asking her please, if she would let me move back home. She said yes without any hesitation – which was when I realized that… even when I failed, and even when she was disappointed, she would always be there for me, and I would always have her support – whether I deserved it or not (and for the record – I did not).

From that point on, things got better. Slowly. I still couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with my life, but I was somewhat actively searching for ways to discover some kind of solution – and my parent wasn’t really forcing the issue, but rather gently nudging it in a helpful direction. Soon, I recognized the fact that I still needed to move out – but not, as I had before, to get away from my family, but to give myself some kind of fresh start. To be done with that bit of the past, and get on to something… well, better, hopefully, but barring that, something new.

And so, I set about trying to accomplish that. I arranged for myself to be transferred from one book store to another in Edmonton  – a good hour and a half from where was currently living. I would be living with my younger sister, who had transferred up there herself to take dance school, and was staying at a place that had an extra room. In doing all of that, I finally managed to succeed at a goal I had set for myself as an adult. I had not failed. It felt pretty good.

From there, things started to take shape fairly swiftly. While my job at the bookstore was good… it didn’t quite feel like a passion. And so, armed with a solid foundation, I attempted to build. I looked for jobs at places that I would love to work, just to see if positive steps could be taken from there – and soon found myself employed at a comic book store, one day a week. It was good work, and complimented my job at the book store quite well. For a few years, I worked both, amassing quite a few hours at both – until I was offered full time at both during the same week. Now of course, there were pros and cons to working at both – but going through them now would be tedious at best. Suffice to say, it came down to a simple question: did I want to work at the book store and have benefits? Or did I want to work at the comic book store, which, as I had discovered, was where my true passion lied?

I won’t lie: it was a tough decision – one made harder by the fact that my parent was pushing really, really hard for me to take the book store job. As always, she just wanted the best for me, and in this case, she saw the best as being the place where she would know any health issues would be less of a trouble. For me, I just wanted to work at a place that I was excited to be, each and every day – which was why I eventually chose to work at the comic store.

As of today, I’ve been working there for a little over four years, and there’s no end in sight. I love the work, and most days the work seems to love me – but that’s only because we treat each other right. You definitely have to be passionate about the work, and about comics, and I would say if this site were any kind of judge, I definitely have the passion. But passion alone won’t keep things running – and lord knows, some days, passion alone isn’t enough to deal with some of the, uh… let’s say “people” who come through the door. But honestly? In the end? It is all absolutely worth it and I wouldn’t trade this life for the world. I worked long and hard to get here, after all, making a lot of mistakes along the way, and finally, I’ve found a place where I feel happy. And I want to spread that happiness to others.

Which brings us to here. This column. While most of this opening salvo was an extended therapy session, that’s not what the column is intended to be – its intended to be about comics, and the art of selling them. Its about being passionate about something, and hoping to spread that passion to others like some kind of awesomely transmitted disease. It’s about comics.

Please enjoy.

See you then.

Review: Uncanny X-Force #4

UNCANNY X-FORCE #4 (Marvel Comics)
by Rick Remender, Jerome Opeña, Dean White and VC’s Cory Petit

Synopsis: Flesh is eaten, bugs chew through a brain, and the team is faced with the decision to kill a child.

01. I never thought I would have so much fun watching a character peel off layers of his own skin to feed to a dying teammate. That shouldn’t be fun. And yet.

02. Marvel is trying to do something to me. I’m not exactly sure what, but it’s something, and I’m not sure that I like it. Because lately, I’ve been reading this book, which involves a lot of things that I’m normally not that fond of. Heck, this issue features some of the most graphic bits of story telling that I’ve ever seen – and while most of the time, I’m adverse to the whole “hyper violence” thing, the way it was presented here was just so much fun, that I couldn’t help but smile. I SMILED AS I WATCHED HUMAN FLESH BE FED TO ANOTHER HUMAN BEING. Man, comics are doing some strange ass shit to me.

03. So Rick Remender is absolutely messed up. After my roommates had burned through the 13 volumes that were out of The Walking Dead, I told them that they should read my copy of XXXombies that Remender wrote with Tony Moore. And have you read that thing? Basically, zombies hit the porn industry. And there’s a scene where a nun gives a blowjob while she holds a gun… which isn’t really the craziest thing that happens in the book.

Anyway, after they read this book, both of my roommates sort of looked a little… I don’t know, hurt? Or like their soul had just been shat on, but in a way that entertained them? I think the last one, almost definitely. And I told them, in that moment, that it was probably the craziest, most messed up thing Remender had written.

“But to be fair,” I remember concluding, “That was before he had kids. So…”

Well, turns out having kids only changes a man so much. And you know something, thank god. Because this book has absolutely sick, and endlessly entertaining. The next issue can’t come soon enough.

04. And no, I’m not sure what they are feeding Opeña. Or if they do. Maybe they have him in some kind of cage, with electrodes attached to his balls. Maybe they make him draw scenes over and over and over, and from crazy perspectives, because dammit, it has to look perfect or something. Maybe they shock his balls when there isn’t enough detail, because holy wow, this thing looks amazing. Remender must absolutely shit his pants when he sees this gorgeous work hit his e-mail every so often, and he must thank his lucky stars he nabbed the guy for Fear Agent back in the day, because… while he was fantastic back then, he’s just… on some crazy other level right now, and the work is absolutely stunning. I can definitely see why he would need a break in between arcs, just to keep pumping out comics that look this gorgeous.

God damn.

05. I should probably actually talk about some real plot before wrapping things up, eh? I’m a regular bastion of order here, aren’t I. The plot is pretty simple. X-Force need to go to the moon to kill the reincarnated Apocalypse, who just so happens to be a child. This kid is not yet terrible, but man, will he ever be. So it’s that classic idea of… you have baby Hitler in your hands. Do you smother the guy? Or do you attempt to change his upbringing. The members of the team have a few different answers of their own, and the end of this book is… well, you’re just going to have to read it and find out just what happened. No matter what Remender decided to go with for the ending, the consequences were going to be interesting, and yeah. It sure was. Can’t wait to see it all play out. So yeah. Go buy this, or some such.