Recommendation: Haunt #19

HAUNT #19 (Image Comics)

by Joe Casey, Nathan Fox, FCO Plascencia and Comicraft

01. Haunt is a book that I thought I was never going to enjoy. It all came down to the concept of the book, and not the creators. When the series kicked off, it featured Robert Kirkman on scripts and Ryan Ottley on pencil duties. Later, Greg Capullo (you know, the guy currently killing it on Batman?) moved from his position as layout artist, and climbed on board as the book’s main penciller. All of this was filtered through Todd McFarlane’s inks and ideas (Haunt being a co-creation of McFarlane and Kirkman’s).

And yes, I’ll admit, it was the McFarlane thing that was throwing me off. He’s a guy that generally champions a style and story type that hews quite far from my comfort zone, and Haunt’s premise was no exception. The story (such as it was in the beginning) starred two brothers. One was a hard nailed (HARD NAILED) army secret agent spy man who was in the shit. As in, into spy stuff. The other was a priest who was disillusioned with God and quite illusioned with whores. Or maybe not whores specifically, but with the sex-company of women what he payed to bang. Anyway, the military brother dies, and becomes a ghost that when fused with his brother turns in to a creepy horror spy-op Spider-Man. Oh, and their last name is Kilgore. The Kilgore brothers.

KILGORE.

So uh yeah. Not for me. But that’s not saying the book didn’t have an audience. It did and it does, and I sell it to them gleefully. I just never figured that it would be a book that I would ever pick up.

Whelp, that’s changed.

02. With issue #19, McFarlane decided the book needed to go elsewhere. In the back matter of the issue, he details the experience of the book shedding it’s old creative team, and his desire for things to go elsewhere so the book wasn’t just more of the same. Enter Joe Casey and Nathan Fox. These guys are THE BUSINESS. As in holy fuck this book is good. Casey, you might know from Marvel’s current Vengeance mini that is taking everyone by surprise. Or the Dark Reign: Zodiac book that he did with Fox for Marvel during that period of time. When he’s making comics, he tends to ply a touch of Kirby with a lot of pop, or a touch of pop with a lot of Kirby, depending on the flavour. Here there’s more pop than Kirby – more sex, drugs and rock and roll stylings than crazy hats and exclaimation points – but that really goes with the general territory this book has tread before. It’s keeping within the same realm of storytelling, but doing something that I can sink my teeth into a little more.

03. And of course, I love Nathan Fox’ art. The looser style, like an inkier, more florecent Paul Pope… it really does a lot for me. Granted, his style won’t be to everyone’s taste, but damn if it doesn’t just jump off the page here. Very expressive, very kinetic and when called for, quite horrific. A great choice to go with Casey for this book. The moral of this little article (if you can call this a moral?): you should check this book out, even if you wrote it off before. It’s something new and awesome, and you just might find yourself enjoying it.

 

You Read These With Your Eyes! – November 30th, 2011

Hellooooo, nurse!

Every week, Comics! The Blog goes through the list of new releases and we tell you which comics to plug into your mind hole. Your mileage may vary.

ARCHIE #627 (Archie Comics)

Archie meets KISS!

ARCHIE MEETS KISS!

ARCHIE MEETS KISS!

Bang a gong (get it on)!I mean come on, people!  There are a few things I love about this idea beyond the basic part I’ve already shouted a few times:

1) Archie, a boy who constantly leads on two girls, dressed up as Gene Simmons, an established fan of groupies who refuses to marry his common-law partner because marriage is disrespectful.

b) The idea that this is something that Archie Comics considers to be hip and new.

I’m not judging, mind you.  This looks to be an incredible comic, one that is absolutely nothing but fun from cover to cover.  In other words, this is exactly the kind of comic that Archie puts out on a regular basis.  Between their industry-leading digital approach, heartwarming message of love and acceptance and Bieberiffic Life With Archie pinups (not to mention that Archie & Friends issue with Justin Beaver), I’m so thrilled that Archie freakin’ Comics is becoming the source of some of the most exciting comics coming out today.

(Also there is an Archie Babies OGN coming out this week and that is just the Best Thing.)

MORNING GLORIES  VOL. 1 DELUXE HARDCOVER (Image Comics/Shadowline)

Listen, it will come as exactly no surprise that here at C!TB we are fans of Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma‘s fantastic creator-owned series about a group of John Hughes-esque high school students and the spooky sci-fi school whose faculty loves is trying to kill ???? them.  It’s complex and rewards rereading more than any other series currently being published that isn’t Casanova and we are absolutely in love with it.

To that end, the new deluxe hardcover collection being released this week is the perfect thing for any fan of the series (or their holiday shopping family member) with a little bit of extra money to pick up.  While it’s m0re expensive than the two trade paperbacks it collects, this has a lot of cool backup material like all of Rodin Esquejo‘s fantastic covers, sketches, character studies and more!  It’s also oversized, so Eisma‘s gorgeous art will have never looked better, and that’s worth the price of admission alone.  Toss in an introduction by Damon Lindelof, the co-creator and co-showrunner of Lost, one of the comics’ inspirations, and this is something that I have been craving for months and now I am spreading that to you.

THUNDER AGENTS #1 (of 6) (DC Comics)

Speaking of Nick Spencer, THUNDER Agents is back!  I’ll be honest: when Spencer became a Marvel exclusive and DC introduced the New 52, I figured this series was a goner.  And if the series had ended like the first volume did, that would have been good.  It was moving!  It was intriguing!  It was a superhero spy story!  That was enough for me.  Then… DC decided to give us a little gift.

I don’t know exactly where the series will be picking up in its second volume, and I don’t know how much material will be a reintroduction to the team, but as long as the series is true to its core – a spy/special ops series with superheroes whose powers will eventually kill them – I think I’ll be happy.  Check it out if you’re a fan of James Bond, Secret Warriors or any Nick Spencer book, really.  It’s high concept, funny and exciting.  What more do you want?  (See Archie Meets KISS).

Yes, that is an Adam Hughes cover. I hope you liked having money!UNCHARTED #1 (DC Comics)

This miniseries, based on the popular video game series – wait, come back!

I know what you’re thinking.  It’s a comic based on a licensed property, almost certainly as part of a big cross-media synersplash, and those are frequently not something you like.  But Dark HorseBoom! and IDW have been putting out some good licensed comics for years and DC recently got a win with the Arkham City miniseries that supported the video game, and all this has me feeling pretty sanguine about the whole thing.

It helps that writer Joshua Williamson is a big fan of the games and went to a lot of effort to craft a story – Nathan Drake gets hired to find a clue to a lost treasure, uncovers something more, hijinks ensue – worthy of the franchise.  Plus, his work (Xenoholics, Sketch Monsters, that issue of Superman/Batman (#77) where Supergirl and Damian Wayne team up) shows that he’s got a good handle on witty banter, one of the series’ hallmarks, already.  With Sergio Sandoval‘s expressive art backing him up, I’m actually really excited to check this miniseries out and if you’re a fan of the game, I think you should give it a look, too.

UNCANNY X-MEN #2 (Marvel Comics)

I’ve already talked recently about how great I think this series and the overall Regenesis story are, but let me say it again: Regenesis is the X-Men story I have been waiting for all my life, and you should jump on while the gettin’s good.  The first issue of the relaunched Uncanny X-Men introduced us to the new status quo of Cyclops’ island of misfit mutants, along with an extinction-level threat worthy of the title: namely, Mister Sinister using a sleeping space god to turn San Francisco (and soon, I imagine… THE WORLD!) into a creepy Victorian version of itself where everybody looks like him.  Issue #2 is going to dig further into this, and if it’s anything like the rest of Kieron Gillen‘s run on the series, things are going to be bananas.

If you’ve been holding off because you were worried you wouldn’t be able to understand anything (given the last decade of the X-comics, I totally understand this opinion), give it a shot!  Gillen does all the heavy lifting to make it accessible and artist Carlos Pacheco brings the noise.  The art noise.

Listen, it’s not a perfect metaphor.

These are just five of the many great books being released this week! You can find the full list of comics being released here. If you have any other recommendations, let us know in the comments below.

C!TB's Best of the Week | November 28th, 2011

Ta-daaaahhh

Hola, internet buddies!  How were your Van Der Thanksgivings?  Did you spread the love of the Beek and all His projects with your friends and family members?  Good!  May Beek’s Tears be upon you.  Unless you ruin the Walking Dead midseason finale for us, in which case the Beek will shed no tears.

In addition to all the revelry of the High Holiday, there were also some great comics!  Who knew, right?!  These were some of the best:

COMICS RULE EVERYTHING AROUND ME

FLASH FACT: LOS ANGELES

Yeaaaaaaah!

If that is not your reaction after reading The Flash #3, then I just don’t know what to do with you.  For the third straight month, Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato stands out as one of the highlights of DC’s New 52 for both its changes to the life of Barry Allen post-Flashpoint but also an amplification of the series’ visual style and layout now that Manapul and Buccellato are not just the series artists, but its writers as well.

Writers often talk about the writing input that their artists give when designing the layouts for an issue, and because of that, I’m always interested when an artist moves to writing duties in addition to a book’s art.  With The Flash, we’re seeing this combination at its best and the best iteration of the character in years.

This isn’t to knock Geoff Johns‘ previous work with Barry Allen that had Manapul and Buccellato on art.  I enjoyed the hell out of that series, partly because it had the artists’ energy with Johns‘ sensibility and world building.  And to be honest, I was worried with what would happen when he stepped away.  Of course, all my worries were alleviated as soon as I saw the actual comic.  Not only does it keep the energy of its predecessor, it adds so much sheer visual inventiveness that it’s nothing short of stunning.

Consider the first page of this issue.  The first page:

Francis and Brian, can I mail you all my money?

When I first saw a smaller version of this, I couldn’t immediately tell where the word “Flash” was supposed to be.  Then it all came into focus and my jaw dropped.  There are at least five genuinely genius bits of design here and it’s the first page.  More than that, it sets up the scene.  It’s not superfluous in the slightest bit.  As gorgeous as it is, it serves the story above all else.  It always does in The Flash.  Every little visual quirk, specifically regarding Barry’s powers and how he uses them in the moment,  makes complete and utter sense and it only exists because the writers are the artists.  The rest of the issue is just as wonderful and inventive as this, and the only other artist I can think of taking such risks at DC these days is J.H. Williams III, which is fine company for Manapul and Buccellato to be in.  They’re two of the best.  For that, I give them the Jitterbug of Justice Award. (J)

BRANDON FIGURED OUT HOW TO USE HIS PENIS TO TYPE, SO THINGS ARE GONNA BE MORE PROLIFIC FROM HERE ON OUT

“So who had ‘less than one day’ in the ‘how long before the whole school gets demolished’ pool?”

Bold words to start your second issue with. But honestly? We were all thinking it. In the comic store, as people were buying issue one from me, at least half of them remarked about how the school would inevitably be torn to the ground. After all, that’s a thing that just happens when you house a chunk of the Marvel Mutant population in one easy to access place. It reminds me a bit of this one day we got a gun threat at our high school, and the people in charge thought it would just be a fantastic idea to herd, oooohhhh everyone in the school into one giant room with only one open exit to “talk” about what the threat meant, and how seriously they were all taking it. Would it have been a better idea to talk about it on the intercom? Have the general population spread out a bit? I certainly thought so.

But look, am I here to talk about the so called real world or am I here to lose my shit over some awesome comic books? If you pull at the threads of pretty much any bit of superhero fiction, you’re going to find frayed seems. I mean, these are people with powers. They wear underwears and costumes because… because why? To be noticed? The masks I get, but everything else is a little ostentatious, yeah? But much like the glory days of wrestling, where everything was rife with gimmicks, comics are just more fun when you bypass that disconnect and have fun reading books about garish folk punching the shit out of each other for dubious reasons. Which is a roundabout way to get around to this: Wolverine and the X-Men has to be one of the best new books on the stands today. It’s big, it’s ballsy, and it’s just packed with fun things. This issue pulls away from the inherently hilarious conceit that sees Wolverine don and ill-fitting suit to teach kids and fret about budgety things, and gets into some high action as the gang fights giant underground monsters and Frankensteins with flamethrowers. Oh and also, the people from the school board who are inspecting the place have been turned into a Sauron and a Wendigo. Like I said, it’s a fun book that more people should be reading. Thus, we give this book the Snick! is Another Word For I Love You Award. Because dang.(B)

Better than alllll the rest

Most of my life, I thought the Fantastic Four were a pretty great concept – adventuring family of scientists and adventurers? WHAT IS THIS MY WALLET IS ALREADY OUT DO YOU TAKE CREDIT – but I never checked out the comics for whatever reason.  When I finally dug in with Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch‘s run on the series, and while it didn’t light a fire in me as I had hoped (though it certainly did in others, which is rad), it made me happy and got me up to speed before the team’s current era under Jonathan Hickman began.  Almost immediately, Hickman began setting up a complex, multifaceted story spanning the depths of the Fantastic Four’s history – that was almost completely new-reader friendly, so let’s seriously give that man an award already – that did something unthinkable to many:

He killed Johnny Storm.

The result was an emotionally moving story and a new era for the team as Peter Parker stepped in upon Johnny’s suggestion in the new Future Foundation.  Over the better part of a year, Hickman has continued his expansive, swirling story, bringing in more characters – once again without making me have to use Wikipedia to see who people like the Kree Supreme Intelligence are – and keeping me riveted every single month.  And with the 50th anniversary of the Fantastic Four and the momentous Fantastic Four #600, I had a feeling he’d have something special planned.

Oh, boy howdy.

Give yourself a round of applause

The first thing you’ll notice is the sheer size of the issue.  96 pages.  Of story.  All written by Hickman.  And there’s another issue of FF coming out one week later.  That’s almost superhuman, without even taking into account that each story in the issue is absolutely incredible.  Seriously.  It’s the size of more than four comics for the price of just over two-to-three, so it’s already an incredible deal, but the fact that each of the issue’s five stories is awesome?  That’s almost unthinkably great.

The first story pushes forward the narrative that’s been building in FF all year and in Fantastic Four before it.  Pieces are falling into place, and as the world’s superheroes put on a stand against the invading Kree, threats are brewing elsewhere.  And that last page?  That cliffhanger reveal?  It’s wonderful.  It feels like a great cap to not only the last year of storytelling, but the franchise’s storied history to date.  I’m not going to spoil it for you – though look at other sites, the information is easy to find if you want it – because I want you to experience that for yourself.

Often, in anniversary issues, that’s where it ends.  There are backup stories – many of them awesome – and pinups, but it feels more suited to the overall franchise being celebrated than the story currently being told in the series.  In Fantastic Four #600, it’s both.  The stories take characters and plots from various parts of the franchise, but they all relate to what’s happening now.  The second story directly relates to the first’s cliffhanger ending and I’m glad I got it on the next page, because I can’t imagine being forced to wait any longer for it.  The third takes a question I’ve had since Black Bolt of the Inhumans reappeared, namely why did his wife seem to accept his regal bigamy so readily, and explores that and the Black Bolt/Medusa relationship in a touching manner.  Ming Doyle kills on the art here, as does Carmine di Giandomenico preceding her and Leilil Francis Yu immediately after in a story about Galactus and a new perspective on both his massive ego and the even bigger role he has to play cosmically.  Steve Epting is a great artist in the series already, and editor Tom Brevoort did a great job finding all these others who can follow him without looking weak by comparison.  It makes you realize the sheer range of brilliant artists working in the industry if this is just some of the comics that this one company puts in one issue.

My favourite story, however, was the last.  “Remember,” features the art by Farel Dalrymple and Lovern Kindzierski in a story about Franklin Richards, the son of Reed and Sue and, as far as they know, formerly one of the most powerful mutants and beings in creation.  Little do they know, however, that Franklin got his powers back before Johnny died, and has been secretly practicing with Leech.  Of course, practice turns to play, and it’s time that Franklin starts to become the man he’ll need to be to save everything.  For most of his recent history, Franklin has been left out from most of the Future Foundation’s activities, his genius little sister taking most of the attention.  Nobody knows what he can do.  He’s just a kid.  But now… I can’t wait to see what he becomes and where Hickman takes me.  Whatever you call them, the Fantastic Four should always be about adventure and the future, and right now Franklin represents that look forward to me.  He’s the future of the book, both metaphorically and in the story Hickman seems to be planning.

Jonathan Hickman has turned The Fantastic Four and FF into must-read series.  He celebrates Marvel’s first family every single month, and never moreso than in this milestone issue.  I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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

The Spirit of Van Der Thanksgiving

Greetings fair rabble of the internet! How is your post Van Der Thanksgiving Day coma treating you today?

What’s that? You say you’ve never heard of Van Der Thanksgiving before? And that you live in the town of Footloose where all dancing is banned because of that one time those kids died? Presumably from car related AIDS? Well. Sounds like someone needs a lesson in what the spirit of Van Der Thanksgiving is all about.

01. THE ORIGIN (B)

Before we get too deep into the spirit of the thing, we should probably talk about how Van Der Thanksgiving came to be.

In general, there are two widely accepted origins for the holiday. The first stems from a long ago time called “The Nineties”.

Simpler times, right? Anyway, back in this time, it is said that James Van Der Beek would appear once a week a deliver unto the people theatrical performances the likes of which none had ever seen before.

He did this for six whole years, before disappearing from the hearts and minds of many for a long period of time. This absence hit Canadians quite hard. Many attempted Canadian suicide by leaving their front house holes open and inviting the cold to bring unto them the sweet release of death. Roughly 100 of Canada’s boisterous 230,000 died that year – a tragedy that spurred the people of Canada to… not mourn the absence of the Beek, to but celebrate his time amoung us by starting Van Der Thanksgiving.

(Note: it is said that Americans did not experience such a harsh feeling of separation, as they had already dealt with similar emotions when Party of Five was cancelled, and Scott Wolf was no longer around. Canadians had no such problem as Party of Five never aired in the deep north, due to some strict legislation involving wolves in general.)

The second origin – one that seems to have been making the rounds quite a bit lately – is one that involves a Canadian sitting at his work, bored out of his mind on fake Thanksgiving, creating a holiday involving James Van Der Beek as an excuse to watch Varsity Blues at least once a year.

Personally, I think that last one is a bit bullshit, but you can’t really stop rumour from spreading, now can you.

02. THE CELEBRATION (B)

Now, Van Der Thanksgiving is celebrated the world over by Canadians. This once a year festival of a lifetime takes place on what Americans would like to call Thanksgiving – or what is properly known as fake Thanksgiving.

Every year, Canadians gather in various houses, cook a fantastic meal, and digest by watching their choice of Beek flavoured pleasures, such as select episodes of Dawson’s Creek or my personal favourite, Varsity Blues. During this day, we often talk about what we are Van Der Thankful for, and talk about our hopes for the Van Der Future.

This year was the first year that I spent Van Der Thanksgiving with James – and boy, did we have a time. James cooked an amazing meal, but instead of having me stumble over the details, I’ll let James take over from here.

03. THE MEAL (J)

What would Van Der Thanksgiving be without a Van Der Thanksgiving feast? Nothing, that’s what. It would be trash. It would be like you just pooped all over the noblest of all holidays. Listen up, internet.

Of course, while Americans were celebrating Fake Thanksgiving with amazing turkey feasts (seriously, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s, judging from her tweets, might have been the absolute best thing), we had to do something different. Why? Because here in Canada we don’t take a day off for a false holiday, that’s why, and Van Der Thanksgiving hasn’t really blown up like Chrismukkah yet.

Yet.

So since I couldn’t actually make a turkey in the few hours after I got off work and before Brandon did, I did the next best thing that isn’t a duck: chicken! Specifically, Cook’s Illustrated’s Weeknight Roast Chicken recipe, which Is so simple that it is literally:

  • Rub chicken with oil, salt and pepper (plus garlic, because come on)
  • Put chicken in preheated skillet in hot oven
  • One hour later, eat.

That’s it! The oven isn’t even on for half that time! If you have an oven and a pan, you can make this recipe, and what is Van Der Thanksgiving about if not realizing your own inner potential and building your confidence?

And seriously, this thing looks amazing. Because you’re not actually applying heat for half of the cooking, juices don’t evaporate and you end up with white meat that’s actually juicy and not the worst part of poultry, like it is as a general rule. Luckily, even the worst part is still poultry. Plus, if you add a lemon sage pan sauce [Ed. Note: Substitute tarragon in the recipe above], anything gets extra delicious.

And to go with that, how about some easy side dishes? I am nothing if not magnanimous, after all. First, boil some new potatoes. Drain and squish them like they done you wrong, baby. Then toss them with some pesto! If you’re like me, that’s something you just have sitting around left over from a previous meal. If not, just add some oil, parmesan, garlic, pine nuts and either basil or spinach in a food processor (or finely chop them by hand like a peasant). It takes 10 seconds! If you go to a restaurant and they try to make it sound like they are being super fancy by giving you pesto, they are doin’ you wrong, baby. Squish ‘em.

I also made brussels sprouts so simple that it’s “toss with bacon fat [Ed Note: Because you are awesome], cover in foil, bake, remove foil, bake.” I know a lot of people aren’t down with the brussels like they should be, but “Born to Run” was playing in the grocery store as my eye fell upon them and I knew it was a sign from on high.

And how does this all turn out? Brandon made undignified noises like a champ.

 

And there you have it! Van Der Thanksgiving dinner, nice and easy, yet incredibly delicious. This isn’t some Thanksgiving dinner that takes an entire day to put together and then someone doesn’t like gravy and you murder them. Like the rest of C!TB, Van Der Thanksgiving is about making things accessible and sharing what’s important: love and the Beek. If not everyone can do it, we’re not that interested.

Whatever you like, have fun with the High Holiday. Make what you like, watch your favourite bit of Van Der Acting and be cool to each other.

04. VAN DER THANKS

And of course, what Van Der Thanksgiving is complete without giving Van Der Thanks?

LEASK: As corny as it sounds, I am Van Der Thankful for Brandon. Not only is he my incredible comic book guy, but he’s one of my closest friends and making him laugh is pretty much the only goal I have when writing anything on this site.

And this site, oh man, this site. Last autumn, Brandon came to me about starting a site together, where we could talk about things we liked and not have to worry about format or numbers or ratings or anything but the reason we read comics in the first place. Against all likelihood, people actually read the crazy things we write, and we’re looking to expand our minor empire of ridiculousness in new and exciting ways in the coming months. My life is pretty great, and that is pretty dang rad.

SCHATZ: Oh dang. Um… ignore the wiskey tears, the pollen is just ridiculous in the room right now.

Of course, I’m thankful that we get to do this site – and thankful that people seem to like what we do here. Honestly our main goal with the site doesn’t go far beyond just amusing ourselves and making horrifying jokes, and the fact that people want to read what we want to talk about? Well, that’s pretty rad. Also, we’ve gotten pretty good at spreading the good word of comics – and I’m thankful for that too.

I’m also thankful for my special lady friend – as well as the fact that she seems to get all of this craziness – and is right now having a Twitter war with James making jokes about yiffing and cheese racism. She’s a keeper.

And finally, there’s James. I’m thankful to be his special lady friend. More so, I’m thankful that we can spend hours making terrible jokes to one another, and take a good one hour detour while watching an episode of The Walking Dead to talk about our favourite eras of TGIF. Seriously, that guy is rad, am I’m more than glad to call him my friend.

But now that Van Der Thanksgiving is officially over, it’s time to look forward to the future. It’s looking pretty bright. Christmas is around the corner, and I have it on good authority that if you’re all very, very good, a video of a young Brandon figure skating to the elevator music version of the old Spider-Man cartoon theme song will make its way to the internet.

God bless us everyone.

Digital Comics Life: Wherein I disagree with Mark Millar's logic

Steve Jobs, accidental pimp?

Hey y’all!  Well, I guess these digital comics things must be takin’ off pretty well if I have to write about them so much – literally every time I write one, within a day or two there is a new development, like, say, Top Shelf Comics entering the market, or, you know… Mark Millar saying things.

Before I get into any of this, I want to emphasize that I have nothing against Millar as a creator.  I like some of comics a lot.  Others, they’re not for me but I’m glad to see them do well because that helps everyone.  I bear him no ill will, but sometimes he says things I just don’t agree with.

Most recently, he spoke to Comic Book Resources about digital comics, especially day-and-date releases.  Along with a pretty bold ad for Kick Ass 2 #5, he said (bold text is my emphasis):

I think digital could be a useful tool, but I’m increasingly concerned for friends in retail that they’re going to get shafted here.  I really think day and date release is a disastrous idea and makes no economic sense at all to comics as a business. It’s potentially ruinous for comic stores, and in the long term it’s not going to do publishers any favors either.  I see the attraction on a very superficial level. They think they’re cutting out the middle men and all the guys taking a piece of their gross, but there’s an equivalent number of hidden costs in digital too, and it’s short term thinking to obliterate the life-blood of the medium.  Retailers are as big a part of comics now as the characters or the creators.  They’re not just an outlet.  These are carefully crafted communities and owned and staffed by people with a genuine passion for what they’re doing in a way that the ‘Amazon Also Recommends’ box isn’t quite going to match. I’ve got an awful lot of friends on the retail side and so many of them are hanging on by their finger-nails right now. Even a five or ten percent dip could be enough to put huge numbers of comic stores out of business.  I know two huge American retailers, like really famous stores, in this position, and once they’re gone these guys are gone forever.  Retailers stuck with us through the ’70s collapse and the ’90s post-speculator boom.  Shouldn’t we be showing them a little loyalty now? Everything from the chair I’m sitting in to the keyboard I’m typing on has been paid for by royalties that retailers have made me, so I feel quite passionately about this.

What Millar says is his main concern – the success of his friends in retailers – is a valid one.  And if publishers were trying to obliterate retailers by offering day-and-date digital sales, I would agree with him that it’s kind of a dick move.  Here’s the thing, though.  Marvel and DC still offer retailer-specific support above and beyond the fact that they’re still letting them sell comics every single day.  They send promotional items.  Hell, they gave stores twice the copies of Point One that they ordered to help them out.  And I can still go to a comic book shop every week and buy comics that aren’t available digitally because the back catalogs aren’t complete yet.

However, let’s put this in perspective.  Digital sales are a completely additional alternative to buying in a store.  I still buy comics every week specifically because of the “carefully crafted communities and owned and staffed by people with a genuine passion for what they’re doing” that Millar describes.  Some people don’t have a comic book store close to them!  When we talked to Gail Simone in the summer, she pointed out that digital comics allow her to buy things she otherwise wouldn’t always be able to, because the nearest store is over an hour away.  Those aren’t sales stolen from retailers.  This is a situation where without digital comics there wouldn’t be some of those sales, period.  Digital comics let people be readers if a comic book shop isn’t an option.

Or if a good comic book shop isn’t an option.  Yes, some comic book shops really are great communities.  The one I shop at is, and this whole site exists because Brandon and I are friends because he is an amazing retailer.  But I’ve had stores try to charge me 1000% the labeled price for a comic, I’ve had stores ignore me and I’ve had stores lie to my face.  For some people, stores like this are their only retail option, and they shouldn’t be forced to give a jackass their business just because that person is in the same industry as some of Mark Millar’s friends.  Not every retailer is deserving of loyalty and of being the only option readers have.  Retailers aren’t owed exclusivity.  The reason there are so many bad retailers is because of exclusivity in the first place.  Day-and-date digital won’t hurt the good shops that give readers reasons to keep going in, but it will hurt the bad ones who lie to, steal from or otherwise disrespect their customers and I’m hard-pressed to think that’s a bad thing.

Further, Mark Millar talks about how retailers deserve loyalty because “Everything from the chair I’m sitting in to the keyboard I’m typing on has been paid for by royalties that retailers have made me,” and this is absolutely a backwards idea to have because it is absolutely, factually wrong.

Every penny Mark Millar has, he has because readers bought his comics.  Nothing else.  Millar says that the retailer is the lifeblood of the industry.  He’s wrong.  People who love comics are the lifeblood, and while some of those are people who sell comics, every single one of them is someone who buys and reads comics.  Without people buying comics, there isn’t an industry.  The industry came up without the direct market, lived for decades without it and if pressed would find a way to live without it again.  The one thing that doesn’t change, regardless of where people buy their comics, is that people love them.

Of course, Millar explains that he’s not really against digital entirely (after all, Wanted and Kick Ass sell extremely well on Comixology), he just sees it as something lesser:

The primary phase of selling would be comic stores and theatrical. This is where the bulk of the investment is recouped or maybe even recouped entirely. The secondary phase is DVD or, in comic terms, the collected graphic novel sold in book stores as well as comic stores. These fans aren’t as hardcore as the first group, but they’re a great place to recoup any money lost in the initial phase. Digital comics are like TV rights to me in that they’re the tertiary phase of all this. These are for the most casual, mainstream readers or viewers and much cheaper than the primary or secondary waves. They’re a great way of pulling people in for the next product coming out in theatres or in comic stores, but absolutely not the bedrock of your business. The fact they’re not on paper doesn’t matter as these guys aren’t collectors as such and the lower price point is very attractive to them.

Now, beyond the fact that day-and-date comics releases by and large sell for exactly the same amount as paper copies (itself a concession to retailers), something Millar is, again, factually incorrect about, this creates a massive gap in Millar’s logic.  Day-and-date digital releases absolutely cannot mean the death of retailers if digital readers are casual and less dedicated as a rule – a point he argues more than once in his interview – if they are by definition people who aren’t going into comic book stores anyway.  If they are two entirely different revenue streams, as Millar argues, the success of one doesn’t effect the other.  Saying “Release [sic] comics digitally on the same day as a higher price point print edition [Ed Note: once again: this is factually incorrect, especially because Millar owns his Millarworld comics and can set his own price] is basically sentencing the latter to death” right after you’ve extensively described how digital readers aren’t a significant threat is massively cognitively dissonant and it undercuts Millar’s argument when he points out immediately that his own argument is fundamentally wrong.

Really, what it comes down to, as Millar himself explains, is that “It’s not really worth a lot of money yet, but it has the potential to be at some point.”  He describes his approach to use digital sales of older comics to encourage readers to pay more for physical copies of his newest comics and give him more money in the process.  Here’s the thing: that is a totally valid approach.  Mark Millar is fully entitled to try and make the most money that he can, because that is how he affords things like food and shelter and, of course, comics.  I don’t begrudge him that.  What I do begrudge him is making an economic decision and wrapping it in a false morality of taking care of friends while fundamentally disrespecting readers.  He flat out says that he thinks digital readers don’t mind getting things later because they’re not dedicated fans.  He’d rather villanize people, some of whom buy his comics and help pay for his house, as people destroying the industry because they’re not buying comics in the right place.

The real irony to me is that Millar admits that digital could be big some day and that “As a creator it’s obviously in my interests to have my work reach as many people as possible,” but literally his entire interview before that is an argument for why he’s not trying to reach as many people as possible or building a future platform for the industry and his own livelihood.  What matters is that digital isn’t giving him as much money now.  By Millar’s own admission, he’s focusing on the present instead of his future, and that’s the dictionary definition of the “short term thinking” he accuses publishers of falling victim to through the crime of selling comics to as many people as possible.  Every new reader is someone to nurture the art form and the industry.  Period.  It doesn’t matter how they go about it.

Mark Millar’s entire argument against day-and-date digital is this:

  • Digital readers aren’t going to comic book shops, generally, because they’re casual fans, not real ones.
  • Despite this, selling two different types of readers comics at the same time will destroy the comic book industry.
  • Give Mark Millar as much money as you can.

Quite simply, it’s an argument that just doesn’t hold up, and in the process Millar is actively villainizing people who buy comics (look at his ad and try saying he’s not) because they don’t do it the “right” way.  I reject his argument and I reject the idea that if I buy a comic digitally that’s somehow lesser.  I am a comics fan, no matter what.

That’s enough.

Regenesis is the X-Men Story I've Been Waiting For

It is so weird that right after this they started kissing.

Like many kids born from the mid-eighties and on, I grew up loving superheroes but didn’t come to them through the comics they originated in.  Don’t get me wrong, I had the occasional comic and I loved each one as if it were a precious heirloom, but life was filled with superheroes, from Batman movies that dominated the theatres, Happy Meals and our imaginations, to the cartoons that we watched every day.  It was in these 22-minute adventures that I discovered a lot of the comic book world, and the X-Men animated series on FOX Kids was no different.  It’s how I was introduced to the world of Marvel’s mighty mutants and whether or not it has held up over the years, it holds a high place in my memory’s esteem because it was one of the things that made me want to read all the comics.

Because I wanted so badly to read comics, and because even when I was 10 I was incapable of not being a giant nerd about every single thing I liked, I bought the Official X-Men Handbook and read the whole thing, front to back, over and over again.  I memorized everything, even the memberships of the Blue and Gold teams, the kinds of pranks Boom-Boom liked to play and the ways everybody would cheat outrageously at baseball because of course they would.  Goddammit, I was ready.

Of course, I didn’t actually jump into the comics until much later – I wouldn’t have even known there was such a thing as a comic book shop if it wasn’t for sneaking episodes of The Simpsons – and when I did, it was with the “Endangered Species” storyline.  I had no idea what was happening and despite an embarrassing number of hours spent on Wikipedia, I never quite felt like I had a real grasp on what was going on for the next several years.

Until now.  Until Regenesis, which is absolutely the X-Men story I have been waiting for since I first saw “Night of the Sentinels.”  And how does it accomplish this?  Through good old-fashioned incredible setup and storytelling.

Don't worry, Emma Frost still dresses the same.

01. SERIOUSLY THE WORLD IS COLD TELLIN THE MUTANTS TO DIE AND CYCLOPS IS PRETTY POLITE ABOUT IT ALL THINGS CONSIDERED

The heavy lifting for all this is done in Uncanny X-Men #1, by Kieron Gillen and Carlos Pacheco.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a ridiculously packed story that puts front and centre the reality of the mutants’ situation as an endangered species fighting for survival, but it does one thing better than just about any other: it doesn’t assume I know who everybody is or why they’re there, but doesn’t bury it in exposition, either.  Here is what I need to know:

  • Mutants are an endangered species, hated and feared by many.
  • They live on an island near San Francisco.
  • Various teams of mutants fill various duties.
  • Cyclops is a stern but skilled leader who has just about had enough of the world’s shit.

That’s it.  Period.  Everything else is delicious gravy for established readers, but more than a little bit of it chokes new ones.  It’s a hard balance to find, and I was pleased to see that Gillen absolutely gets it.  When I was reading the first relaunched issue of Uncanny, I was struck by how much it felt like someone’s first X-Men comic, where they could move forward but still get the sense that the world of the comic was so gloriously, wonderfully big.  Don’t get me wrong, some readers will be lost, and some have said they were, but what I loved is that I didn’t have to use Wikipedia once to catch up on who somebody was; even Mister Sinister’s history was alluded to but you didn’t need to know it to know that (a) he has been messing with Scott for years and 2) he is a pretty dangerous dude.  Hell, I don’t really know what Sinister’s deal is and yet I knew that turning-the-world-into-a-Victorianesque-version-of-him is a very bad thing the X-Men are going to need to stop.  It just worked.

It's also the name of a TV series, which has to help.02. ADJECTIVES NEED NOT APPLY

Wolverine and the X-Men #1 is an entirely different beast.  It’s Wolverine, culturally renowned badass thanks to four movies, as a teacher.  Wearing a shirt and tie.  This is honestly a concept that sells itself and if you don’t understand why, I really don’t know what to do with you.  Writer Jason Aaron has said the key to writing Wolverine stories is by putting him in non-Wolverine scenarios, and a scenario where murdering people is expressly forbidden because they’re state inspectors is up there.

Let me level with you: as soon as this series was announced, I wanted to see a comic where Logan wore an ill-fitting shirt and fretted over the budget more than anything else, and I got this on the first page.  That is literally the first scene.  Thanks to Aaron and artist Chris Bachalo, I got my wish with the series right from the start.  It is exactly what I wanted it to be.

And like Uncanny, Wolverine and the X-Men doesn’t need much explanation.  Wolverine started a school for mutants.  It’s a familiar concept – more on that later – and a simple one.  It’s got high stakes (children are the future and whatnot), a concept based around a really solid, incongruous pairing (Wolverine as a teacher has been played for laughs before, but this also brings drama) and genuinely hilarious physical comedy like Wolverine, the Marvel Universe’s most dangerous motherfucker, hiding behind Kitty Pryde, a short, thin, young woman because because he’s scared of some bureaucrats.  I actually did a genuine double fist pump when I saw that panel.  The point is, the issue gives such an elegant premise that you don’t really need to know anything else, and Wolverine’s tour through the school basically sets it all up perfectly.  It is a high school comedy with kid superheroes.  Licenses to print money have been given out for less.

03. FAMILY BACKMATTERS

One of the most genius things Regenesis does is with its backmatter.  You want to know why things are so fraught with tension between Cyclops’ mutants and the world?  They include his letter to other nations of the world right there.  You want to know what kind of school the Jean Grey Academy is?  There’s the school brochure, which is honestly one of the funniest things I have read all year.  And best of all, each book comes with a handy and minimalist flowchart delineating who’s in each book, who’s on each team and who is just a dang ol’ kid.  Each is one single page and it explains the status quo better than any Wikipedia article does, and it frees up a lot of pointless exposition that would have bogged down the issues themselves.  Freeing up so much explanation lets the issues themselves carry the imagination, the real reason any of us read comics anyway.

04. FOR THE EXPERIENCED LOVER

One thing that Regenesis balances well is the two viewpoints of Cyclops and Wolverine.  It never presents judgment.  Neither is the villain and neither is the misunderstood bad boy, a feat especially great because the latter is basically what Wolverine was created to be.  Schism explained why the two parted ways in a wonderful way that had been building up for years.  Wolverine followed Scott and killed the right people for him because he felt it was protecting others from that.  If Scott was turning everyone – including children – into soldiers, that wasn’t someone he could kill for anymore.  Meanwhile, Cyclops is surprised and angered by Wolverine’s sudden (to him) appearance of a moral high horse considering he has spent over a century murdering people.  To me, it was a great job of breaking up the team without having to shoehorn needless melodrama into everything.  It felt like it honoured the history of the comics franchise in a way that it made me very happy to see.

Regenesis presents this split as something that is still fresh, but neutral.  Each guy has his reasons.  Each one has good reasons.  Neither series spends time having its characters being pissy about the other’s.  It is what it is.  It’s sad, it’s momentous, but it’s done.  Now we move forward, new readers are the better for it and it felt genuinely organic to me.

05. THE SECRET OF MY SUCCESS

As I’ve been mulling over Regenesis for the last month, I’d been wondering why it felt so natural and, dare I say, iconic, despite all the big changes in the franchise.  It’s uncharted water in many ways, but it also felt like things were returning to the way things should be, even if they’d never happened quite like this before.  Then it hit me:

Regenesis doesn’t just divvy up the X-Men.  It divvies up the franchise’s core concepts.

Going back to the cartoon – and the movies, arguably the way the average person thinks about comic book characters these days – I started to think about what the X-Men were to me as a kid, what their cultural imprint has been during my lifetime.  The list ultimately came down to three things:

  • Mutants are hated and feared by the world, constantly on defense.
  • Mutant children attend a school where they learn about their people and their powers.
  • Cyclops and Wolverine do not care for each other.

The franchise’s allegory for civil rights is as iconic as Xavier’s academy.  Neither series post-Schism takes on both sides of this.  Uncanny X-Men takes the struggle for survival and respect, while Wolverine and the X-Men takes the school and that kind of established environment.

As a result, each book takes on enough of the franchise’s cultural identity to be familiar and feel “right,” while the entire idea of the split in the first place is the return to the list’s third item, tying both titles together.  Each takes on enough of the X-Men tradition to be familiar and welcome new readers, while the stories themselves are good enough to not get bogged down by making readers ask “Why?” constantly.  There’s enough in each that it just feels right, and splitting those core concepts is the best heavy lifting of all.  It lets the history get out of its own way so that the comics can sell the part that matters: the X-Men are cool.

I’ve been waiting my whole life to find an X-Men story that felt as perfect to jump into as that first cartoon I watched.  Regenesis is that story, and I’m excited to see where it takes me.

You Read These With Your Eyes! – November 23rd, 2011

Hellooooo, nurse!

Every week, Comics! The Blog goes through the list of new releases and we tell you which comics to plug into your mind hole. Your mileage may vary.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #6 (Dark Horse Comics)

Is Van Der Thanksgiving just around the corner? It must be, as all the comic companies seem to be on a mission to make me poor as fuck this week, with some highly anticipated, high ticket items. Seriously, my file is going to look ridiculous this week. Coincidently, does anybody want a kidney?

I’m getting a bit off track.

This week sees the release of another Dark Horse Presents – and you guys. If you haven’t been buying this book every time it ships, you’ve been missing out on some quality. For instance, this issue features a brand new story by Fabio Moon (of Team Casanova and Daytripper), a brand new Beasts of Burden story, another installment of Carla Speed McNeil’s stunning Finder series, and a whole shit tonne more! Every issue of this manages to be well worth it’s $8 price point (4 comics worth of content for the price of 2) and coming up, Mignola is including a run of Hellboy related stuff, including a tale of the main man himself, written and drawn by Mignola! So what the hell are you waiting for???!? Jump on this now!

FANTASTIC FOUR #600 (Marvel Comics)

The Fantastic Four hit a huge milestone this week, and much like how Amazing Spider-Man #600 was a 104 page package of all new content, Jonathan Hickman is similarly giving you some bang for your buck, with roughly 90 pages of all new content. Ninety. Damn. Pages. And if that’s not enough to whet your whistle, take a look at some of the artists they have working on this thing. There’s Steve Epting, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Leinil Yu, Farel Dalrymple, Ming Doyle and quite possibly more! Plus, you know, Jonathan Hickman has been really rocking the FF stories lately, so there’s that.

A WORD OF WARNING: There’s whispers going around the internet that something huge happens in this issue – and I don’t doubt that it does. Marvel makes it a practice of sharing the contents of their books with retailers slightly before street date, but they’ve kept this one off the readers, and that usually means something crazy is about to happen. Because honestly? You can’t trust retailers with jack shit. But that’s a rant for another time. This’ll be a big book for $8 (again, roughly 4.5 comics for the price of 2), so get out there and get this book!

BATGIRL VOL. 3: THE LESSON (DC Comics)

It’s the collection that wraps up Stephanie Brown’s run as the Batgirl. Sort of bittersweet, this moment. But hey, we got two years worth of stories – which is better than nothing. Plus, I’ve heard rumblings that Bryan Q. Miller will be on tap to write some upcoming DC projects – hopefully they’re announced soon? In March, six months will have passed from the big DC launch, so maybe we’ll be seeing a subsequent second wave of books? Ahh, a guy can hope.

BATMAN: THE BLACK MIRROR (DC Comics)

The best Batman story I’ve ever read gets a nice hardcover collection this week. And yes, I just said a Batman book starring Dick Grayson was one of the best Batman books I’ve ever read. That shit isn’t hyperbole, it’s stone cold fact – and I think the record will show, both James and I are quite the Batman fans. So.

I would expound on the book’s virtues a bit more, but I’ve said my peace in regards to the book already. So, uh… go read that.

IDW MAKES BRANDON SUPER POOR WEEK (IDW Publishing)

I’m pretty sure someone at IDW has it out for me. That’s really the only explanation for a week like this, because they are shipping three HUGE releases this week. The first (and most inexpensive) is the The Rocketeer Jetpack Treasury Edition which features the character’s original adventures in an oversized treasury format – which is to say, the art is BIG and gorgeous. This book will run your $9.99, and is well worth your cash.

In addition to this, they’re shipping the first volume in the TMNT Ultimate Collection series – which reprints the original TMNT tales from the 80s at their original size, in a hardcover format. The book looks amazing, but it will also run you $49.99. But that’s not the worst thing they did to me this week. After a couple of delays, they’ve finally produced the first Parker Martini Edition, which contains Darwyn Cooke’s first two stunning Parker adaptations, alongside a smattering of bonuses – the least of which is a brand new short adaptation produced for this volume. It’s oversized – roughly the size of an Absolute edition – and looks… amazing. And it’s $75.

Anyway, can anyone spare some food this week? Otherwise, I’m just going to have to eat these, and I really don’t want to do that.

These are just five a few of the many great books being released this week! You can find the full list of comics being released here. If you have any other recommendations, let us know in the comments below.

C!TB's Best of the Week | November 21st, 2011

Ta-daaaahhh

Hey pardners!  Now, we realize we forgot to tell you You’re Welcome, Internet on Friday, so we have prepared another peace offering.  Like our last one, it’s pretty rad.  But less sexy, unless you’re weird.

Cute but prickly, like Mark Millar.

Sicko.

Anyway, these were some comics from last week we thought were pretty neat!

COMICS RULE EVERYTHING AROUND ME

DOING SOMETHING TO THE WICKED

They say there’s an exception for every rule, but that isn’t strictly true. I like having rules, like to have them as guidelines, but I’m fairly mailable with them – especially if breaking a rule will mean I get to have fun. (My floorboards will attest to this fact single-handedly.)

And yes, I realize that an introduction like that seems a little… oooooh, let’s say problematic when you intend to write about a book like The Punisher. But it’s not what you think. Really its not. Despite what James will tell you on the Twitter, I’m a fairly well adjusted dude. But if something is funny? If something will bring me joy by saying it? I’ll say it. Similarly, if I think I’m going to enjoy a book that doesn’t quite hew to my general tastes, I’m still probably going to read it. And love it. For instance, Greg Rucka’s run on The Punisher. It’s something that I should not enjoy. I don’t like Frank Castle, not really as a character, but dammit if Rucka hasn’t found a way to make me want to read his adventures. And what’s odd is the fact that it’s so opposed to what I would like to see in a comic.

When Rick Remender was writing the Punisher, I rightfully devoured that run. Reason being, it was insane. At one point, he turned Frank into a Frankenstein that fought kamikazi monster hunters. And it was rad – but it wasn’t exactly what you would expect from a Punisher book. In fact, I remember quite clearly having to be on top of that book’s numbers like a motherfucker because Remender had sort of changed the book fundamentally. Yes, it was still the Punisher, and it carried the character’s motives and rigid sensibilities, but the book wasn’t what people who bought The Punisher wanted. That said, it was a book that I sold hand over fist to people who drooled over things like Jason Aaron’s Ghost Rider run. Because it was a book for them. Suffice to say, the language of Frank Castle doesn’t appeal to me – never did. And then, Greg Rucka enters, and somehow… I’m reading The Punisher.

It’s a book that is almost structured against my sensibilities. Taking place firmly within the confines of the Marvel universe Rucka takes great pains to give the story some kind of internal logic. Generally, I’m against ascribing an internal logic to superhero universes, as it breeds that thing, that need within a certain section of fandom to question the laws of time and space as it exists in that universe. How can Spider-Man be in so many places at once? How could all of those adventures have taken place within just five years? And blah blah blah blah.

But the key to Rucka’s success on the book isn’t all of that odd universal minutae. He’s more concerned about his characters and how Frank would have to function. Turns out, there’s a huge difference than taking the superficial bits of fiction seriously, and taking the emotion of it all seriously. Frank isn’t a normal dude – and if you’re in the same place he is? Something terrible has happened, either by your hand or by someone else’s. But the fact remains, when you see him, and when you are in his orbit, you are well and truly fucked. It makes you jeer against the evil that brings down good, honest people to Frank’s level, and makes you ache for those brought down. It’s thoughtful, it’s careful, and it’s absolutely stunning, and which is why Rucka and all involved in this book get the Mariska Hargitay Memorial Award for Scenes of Law and Order Award.

PROBLEM CHILD

Yes, I know that me saying that I loved a comic Matt Fraction wrote is incredibly unsurprising at this point.  Well guess what, Internet?  This is half my website and I am going to fill it with as many glowing descriptions of Matt Fraction comics as a goddamn want!

I’m sorry, Internet.

Fear Itself #7.3 is the last of the event’s epilogue issues and ties into both the main series and Invincible Iron Man in the fallout of the Grey Gargoyle’s horrific actions in Paris.  Now, I’ve been a pretty big fan of this storyline, so getting a satisfying end to it is pretty important to me.  Seeing Tony in the destroyed Paris was a heartbreaking comic, and it was important that we be reminded that it still happened, that it wasn’t just forgotten.  It’s been weighing on Tony, gnawing at him, pushing him to a place where he thought it was justifiable to drink again.  Now that the Serpent is gone, Paris still needs to be rebuilt and Tony has the Grey Gargoyle locked up and at his mercy.  He could kill this man in a heartbeat, just crush him as payment for the horror.  Reading the issue, I got a palpable panic when I realized that Tony could – and might – actually do it.

Would it be justified?  That’s hard to say.  I’m a pacifist and thus, as a rule, against violence, but with Salvador Larroca reminding us of the horror of a young face frozen in stony terror, with the images just popping up in Tony’s head and ours, with our inability to look away… I could understand the justification.  It was terrifying to realize that, even for a second, but I think that is a testament to the skill of both Fraction and Larocca that they made the horror of something that happened in a comic so visceral and real.

So there Tony sits, ready to obliterate a man who might actually deserve it, and he remembers his own rage at Odin for allowing this kind of horror to happen.  But Tony can’t obliterate a god, no matter how hard he tries, and in return Odin does something truly unexpected.

 I wish I could spoil it for you; I am bursting with words about the last part of the issue.  It was one of the best comics I’ve read all year in a year that’s been full of some pretty astounding comics.  It succeeded in the impossible job of following #7.2, another brilliant comic that perfectly captured the sadness of Thor’s death in Fear Itself and the magic of storytelling.  It was the second week in a row that a Matt Fraction comic made me cry, but for an entirely different reason than the week before.  The emotion just welled up and there I was, at home alone, tears rolling down my face.

So thanks, Matt and Salvador, for giving me an experience like that.  All I can do is give you a silly little meaningless award, but I’d like to do it all the same.  I’ll hope you’ll accept the Raindrops Keep Fallin’ Award and my sincerest thanks. (J)

Better than alllll the rest

After reading comics for so many years, I find it hard to be surprised by something. Between years of accumulated knowledge about story structure and the regretful necessity of having solicitations for upcoming product, there’s not a whole lot of space for something to come along and shake you like so many babies, giving your next a whiplash like sense of wonderment. Whelp, this week, something like that happened.

Mudman is a book about a young boy in a small, nothing little town in England who develops the powers of… mud? It certainly seems that way. In this story, Paul Grist (who writes, pencils, inks and letters the whole dang thing) gives us a decidedly offbeat (and slightly British) take on the teen superhero drama, plying a quiet background to some fantastic circumstances – and the result is quite amazing.

Seriously, think about how Spider-Man would read without New York as a backdrop. Or pretty much any big superhero book, without the metropolitan setting. Yes, it makes for easy story opportunities to have a book like that take place in a city – but flexing a different set of story telling muscles, adding the quiet backdrop really changed this book into something that would have been… well, quality, to something downright surprising. I like this book, and I’m pretty sure given a chance, you’ll like this book. Read it, if you please.

 (B)

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

Drunk Comics Recaps: All Star Batman and Robin #5-6

I have this action figure, it is INCREDIBLE.

Hey y’all, it is Saturday and I have made myself a pretty fine meal, and I have also decided that bourbon and Bruce Springsteen is the way to go for the evening, so that means only one thing… The Depression!

No, wait, that can’t be right.

I think it’s time for Drunk…..Comic…. Recaaaaaaaaaps!

It is a good night.  Y’all know the rules.  I am drunk, I read comics, and in the morning I cannot correct anything except for making things appropriately BOLD and whatnot.  If I, for example, say something like “Brandon pimps out young runaways,” I can’t correct that!  THAT IS THE HISTORICAL RECORD.

The last time I drunk recapped things, I’d made it through Issue #4 of All Star Batman and Robin and decided that people were being assholes.  By which I mean Batman was being a dick.  Have things changed? Has Frank Miller discovered his heart of gold?  Only time will tell in this installment of James’ Struggle With Alcoholism!

ISSUE #5: WONDER WOMAN, FRANK MILLER SLASH STRIPPER STYLE

Things start in Metropolis, which is “the City of men’s dreams,” as Frank Miller puts it.  So I can only assume everybody will be eminently respectful of women.  Wonder Woman is here and she just called a dude “Sperm Bank.”

Women’s lib, y’all!

She also says that men lie about everything because a secret hideout is hidden behind a “DANDER 80,00o VOLTS” sign.  I can’t help but think but she is being slightly overcritical.

Uh oh, I think I have Stockholm Syndrome.

So Wonder Woman, Superman, Green Lantern and Plastic Man are discussing what to do with Batman, and basically everyone things something needs to be done about him, except for Plastic Man, who thinks that B-Man (ACTUAL WORDS, Y’ALL) “makes us look edgier,” so I guess things are about to get sexy.

And by “sexy,” I of course means that Diana wants to murder “the Bat-Man” and put his head on a spike as a gift from the Justice League.  Superman disagrees and talks about how things are done on “my world,” which means I can’t help but think that he has forgotten the part where he is an illegal alien.  He hits Wonder Woman with only his breath and I have dialed 9-1 on my phone.  Clark, don’t make me call the cops.

Now Clark and Diana are kissing!  I honestly don’t understand why.  They seem to hate each other (and I agree with Diana except for the murder part) and then Wonder Woman spat on the ground to spite Superman and now they are gettin’ all sexy.  It is confusing.

It switches to Batman, who loves “being the goddamn Batman,” so I guess things are working out for him.  It’s important to have job satisfaction.  If you don’t have that, I imagine you’d be pretty sad.  Do you need a hug, Champ?

The summary of the next few pages is pretty much: “Batman enjoys the idea of punching motherfuckers.  Then he punches motherfuckers.”  I think my favourite part is when one of said motherfuckers doesn’t quite hear something Bruce said and so Bruce beats the hell out of him even harder.  I mean, this guy was gonna rape a woman!  I don’t think poor listening comprehension is the real reason you should break his bones, Bruce.  What are you, a grammar nazi?

Now the lady who Batman saved steps on the crotch of one of her attempted rapists, who for some reason was asking her for help.  I don’t think he’s very smart.  She also says she loves Batman, but he doesn’t believe in love.  He’s a lone wolf!  He just survives, and if he has to beat motherfuckers within an inch of their life in the process, well that’s just a perk!  He’s too busy having lightning rattle his whiskers, which I think might be a euphemism.

While Batman is getting an erection from lightning, Alfred is a total badass who gets it on with a punching bag while thinking about how tortured Bruce is and how Thomas Wayne got his son orphaned by insisting that The Mark of Zorro is a good movie.  I haven’t seen it, so I can’t say.  All I know is that Alfred calling Bruce “my clack-eyed, brilliant, willful angel” is a little weird.  Aren’t you his butler?  Shouldn’t you not be having weirdly sexual fantasies about him?  Or whatever.  It’s a free country!  Fantasize away, Pennyworth!

Dick Grayson has an axe.  This is actually the ending to the issue.

ISSUE #6: BATGIRL BEGINS, WEARS PRETTY NEAT EARRINGS

While Batman gleefully relives the beatings he’s given so far this evening, Black Canary is out ridin’ a motorcycle and lookin’ to wreck motherfuckers.  Pay attention, dear reader.  This is important.  Frank Miller is practically a Women’s Studies instructor!  Or not.

While Barbara Gordon puts one over on her dear ol’ dad, he’s conducting an affair over the phone and refusing to believe that Batman would kidnap a kid.

Now, let’s take an intermission.  Dick Grayson will end up being Bruce Wayne’s legal ward, right?  And yet, as Batman, Bruce has kidnapped Dick?  Won’t the cops start making connections when Batman kidnaps Dick and all of a sudden Bruce turns up with him?  I mean, this doesn’t exactly require award-winning deduction, here.

Alfred Pennyworth is Batman.

My favourite part of the series so far is Jim Gordon referring to Gotham cops as “gunsels,” which is actually an old school derogatory term from the Dashiell Hammett days referring to a young man retained for sexual purposes by a man.

Frank Miller, rights crusader!

Jim also talks to his mistress about how Batman is inspiring others to follow in his footsteps, some of whom are old enough to be his daughter.  I think you see where all this is going.  Jim is not a very good detective, apparently.

Now, I know I give this series the business a lot, but I have to admit that Jim Lee’s design for Barbara Gordon as Batgirl is fucking incredible.  It perfectly captures youth and energy and excitement.  As much as people might poke fun at the series, I think we all have to admit that Lee hit it out of the park with Babs’ design.  Black, yellow, charm bracelets?  Weirdly perfect.  But prepare for a sudden scene change, y’all.

Meanwhile, 16 year-old Jimmy Olsen has a total boner for Vicki Vale, but she is totally using him.  Ah, young love.

Meanwhile, Black Canary is out fighting crime.  And wouldn’t you know it, a dick calls her “love chunks” just like every disrespectful man in her life has?  It’s almost like he didn’t read Issue #3!  Needless to say, she wrecks him.  And robs him.  Whatever.  A crimefighter needs funds!

While all this is happening, the Goddamn Batman flying kicks a cop even though he describes how much he hates the dude the cop is escorting.  I’m beginning to think that Batman might not be moral in the strictest sense of the term.

Now thugs with guns have shown up for what I can only assume is a perfectly rational reason and not just a justification for Batman to injure some jackasses.  But Black Canary is there, and how things are getting sexy!  What will happen next?  Who knows?  This is  a Frank Miller comic, just about anything could happen!  Though women will probably still be second-class citizens.

Frank, I think we should talk.

But that’s all for now!  You’ll have to wait until next time to learn about Frank Miller’s opinions about things!

Hasta luego, chochachos!

Me vs. The Angry Mob: Mobbed

Do you think that I'm funny?

His smell hits you a moment after he walks through the door. You say hi, and his eyes go wide with fear, and he nods and aknowledgement. You continue your work and he walks around the store, nervously and absently pawing through comics, not really looking for anything in particular. Eventually, he looks up with an expression that appears to be his idea of resolve. He approaches the counter and mutters, “You looking for someone to work?”

“Not at the moment,” is the stock response. Generally, we’re not ever looking for more workers.

“Can…” he takes a deep shuddering breath through his mouth, “Can I leave a resumé?”

He produces a single sheet of paper that is stained with some kind of food, featuring a list of the five jobs he’s had in the last two years.

“Ohhkay, whelp, we’ll keep this on file,” I say, “and we’ll get back to you if there’s any openings.”

“This is my dream job,” he explains, “Getting to read comics all day would be great.”

“Oh, we don’t get to read comic books all day,” I reply, “If we did that, the store would shut down. And if we hired you, it would be for cleaning or making long boxes or something like that. Starter work, you know?”

The look of disillusionment and heartbreak on his face is nearly shattering. Isn’t there a job anywhere that requires you to do no work and get paid?

“Oh. Well,” he says softly, staring at the resume, contemplating ways by which he can possibly take it back. Unfortunately for him, there are no takesies backsies in the comic shop biz.

But he doesn’t have to worry. He won’t get a phone call. Before he even handed in his resumé, which is riddled with spelling mistakes and terribly unprofessional, he displayed a lack of basic human hygiene, and an aversion to basic social pleasantries.

Every other day, we experience something akin to this, with varying degrees of head shaking. While most present a more solid case than the man in this example, almost every single applicant believes that working at a comic store is not work – and I will admit, in comparison to many, many other jobs, it’s not. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done. I can’t tell you how many people we’ve had to fire, or who quit because (horrors!) there was actual work to do at the comic shop. It’s not all puppies and roses (despite the fact we allow dogs in the store). Sometimes working here can be downright harrowing. Which is what we’ll be talking about today.

ME VS. THE ANGRY MOB

MOBBED

01. A woman walks through the door, a look of confusion on her face. I greet her (as I greet everyone who walks through the doors) and she smiles and walks up to the counter.

“I need your help,” she says.

“Certainly,” I reply, “What can I help you with.”

“My kids. My sons. They like reading these…” her face scrunches into a look of slight discomfort as she waves a hand dismissively around her, “…these graphic novels. And I was wondering, how can I get them to read books.”

I stare at this woman blankly for a moment.

“So you mean…”

“I mean…” she pauses, “It’s just, these books, the ones you sell here. I don’t understand them. They just… they seem lazy to me.”

“Lazy,” I repeat, attempting to hide my flabbergast.

“Because when I was a kid, I was reading books with words in them,” she continues, “And I was wondering if you had anything that could either… I don’t know, trick them into reading better, or just… anything that would help me understand why they’re reading… these.

Tamping down on my urge to just flip the counter over, I smile and say, “You know something, I think I have something you might be interested in.”

I lead her over to the independent book case, and grab a copy of Understanding Comics for her.

“It’s a fantastic book,” I explain, “It talks about the art of making comics, what they can accomplish, and how they accomplish it. As for the kids, uhm… well, maybe some graphic adaptations? Like books turned into graphic novels? Maybe that could get them reading more.”

After a bit of coaxing, both of these answers seem to work for her. She leaves the store with Understanding Comics and a few select choices from our all ages area, including the first Marvel-adapted Oz book. I ask her to please come back and tell me what she thinks of all of her purchases, and how things progress from there. Despite the stress, I really do hope she returns. I wanna know if I can win this person over, or if this is merely a case of “let me ask my opinions at you and ignore all your answers”. The fact that she willingly purchased Understanding Comics suggests she’s willing to have her mind changed. But we’ll see.

02. The man is a crackhead. You can tell because he has a bit of an empty look to him. Plus, I’ve dealt with my share of crackheads in the store, and I can pretty much stop them on sight now.

Anyway, he’s clearly in need. He’s not high, and he’s feeling it, and by the way his eyes are darting around the store, he’s looking for something to grab or whatever. My eye trains on him and never leaves.

“How’re you doing today?”

“Hey, no, fine, sorta, heeey. Do you have the new issue of Batman?”

“…you mean like the one that comes out tomorrow?” I ask.

“Sure, sure.”

“Sorta,” I say, “It’s in store, but it comes out tomorrow.”

“Shit. Fuck. Shit. Oh shit. Okay. Okay.” he asks, “Can I see it?”

“Aaahhh, sorry dude, rules are rules,” I explain, “I can’t break street date, not for anything.”

“Shit. Not even as a favour? I would appreciate it.”

“Sorry dude.”

“Fuck,” he starts scratching. A lot, “Uh, so you say tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Okay man thanks.”

Two days later, he returns.

“Where’re you keeping the Batman comics,” this is a question, but is not phrased as such. This shit is urgent.

“Right over here,” I say, walking him over to the shelf.

He looks at them, picks one up in his shaking left hand, squeezes the spine and says, “Wait, this is issue three. I thought issue one was coming out??!”

“…nooo,” I say carefully, “That was… that was September. Two months ago. This is the new issue.”

“FUCK! SHIT FUCK!” he yells, “You said the new comic would be out today.”

This is not strictly true, as I told him two days ago that a new issue would be out. But now is not the time to be that asshole. That asshole would get stabbed. Regardless, I take a small step away.

“No, just that a new issue would be coming out.”

“Fuck. FUCK,” he looks panicked, “Look, okay, some guy told me that the new number ones were going for lots of money. You don’t have any original number ones do you? Like for cheap? I need the money.”

The crackhead’s logic is both endlessly amusing, and deeply terrifying. I don’t have any time to enjoy it, because… well, because there is a crackhead in my store.

“Sorry dude, we’re all sold out of first prints.”

“Shit.”

He likes that word.

“Sorry.”

“Fuck.”

That one too. Honestly, we have that in common. Again, I don’t bring this up.

He looks at the issue three, slightly crumpled in his hand. He eyes the back door. I’m standing between him and his access to it.

“So how long do you think this will go on for?” he says.

“You mean… Batman?”

“Yeah, how many issues will it be?” he asks.

“…all of them. All the issues. It’s Batman, they’re just going to keep making it,” I explain.

He curses again, because he doesn’t like this news.

“So they won’t just do like a new number one next month or something?”

“Absolutely not,” I tell him.

He puts the copy of Batman #3 back on the shelf. I move it to the back of the stack because… well, it’s damaged. He explores the store for a while and finds second and third printings of various Bat books. I explain the difference between the first prints and subsequent printings to him.

“But no one would be able to tell, right?” he’s almost pleading, “I mean, I didn’t know so I could sell it to someone for about $500 bucks right? I need at least that much.”

There’s a long pause before I explain to him that he wouldn’t be able to get that kind of money for… well, for any of the books. Not even the first printings. Not for the low, low price of $2.99. He seems perturbed by this, which is when he takes to wondering the store, looking nervously at items, and then back at me. After a while, he attempts something that legitimately terrifies me.

He opens by asking if I could go over to a corner of our store, to check the price of a book for him.

“Which book?” I ask him.

“I don’t know, it’s over there,” he says, pointing vaguely to the back, the furthest spot away from the windows, right next to the back door.

“You’re going to need to tell me which book,” I say with a measured tone.

“Nah, I don’t think I can.”

Red flag. Big. Red. Flag. Thankfully, there’s a protocol for events like this. It involves calling over to a nearby eatery and asking for someone there to make an extra special delivery to the store. I do this as nonchalantly as I can – but not before we get out one last hilarious and terrifying exchange

“I don’t think I can look at a book and tell you the price if I don’t know what it is,” I tell him.

“Yes you can! I do it every day!” he yells.

Clearly he has comic shop experience.

I wonder if he has a resumé.

03. Sometimes you come across a book that rocks you to the core. As a person who sells comics, and as an advocate of the medium in general, whenever a book like this comes along, I like to get as many people as I possibly can reading that book.

Recently, I had that experience with a book called OUR LOVE IS REAL – a small press one shot by Sam Humphries and Steven Sanders. Originally it had only been available via a small self published doses, and digitally through Comixology, which is where I had read it. Then it was announced that the book would get a wider release in print from Image Comics. I immediately jumped at the chance to carry the book, and to sell it to as many customers as I possibly could.

Now, let’s get this out of the way fairly early. The contents of OUR LOVE IS REAL is… not for everyone. It’s a satire book along the lines of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal in which he suggested that the Irish should eat their children in order to solve the hunger problem. Swift didn’t actually want the Irish to eat their children, but used an extreme example to drive home a simple point. In a similar manner, OUR LOVE IS REAL depicts a future in which bestiality is common place – but filthy sexual expressions between the human race and plants or minerals is not accepted. Suffice to say, some people focused on the dog fucking, and not on the central message, which had to do with the stark differences between what love is, and what sex is, and the tolerance of said expressions. At the end of the day, it’s not about beastialty, so much as it is about prompting a dialogue about similar cultural inadequacies – for instance, how heterosexual relationships are openly accepted more than homosexual relationships. Specifically, who are you to say someone’s love isn’t real, you unbelievable dicks.

Ahem.

Anyway, word got around that we were selling this book in our store, prompting this one asshole to come in and say some pretty harsh things. He started off by grabbing a copy of the shelf, shoving it in my face, and telling me that we should not be selling such filth to the masses. Also, that we, as a store, as an entity, were clearly in league with Satan. Which is fine. I can deal with being called a Satanist, or whatever.

But then he started using hateful slurs and rhetoric regarding the LGTB crowd. Started tossing around the term “fag” with disregard to his fellow human beings. This, I will not stand for. I never have, and I never will.

I told the man quite forcefully to get the fuck out of my store and to take his bullshit with him. He got mad, but left quickly afterwards.

That man is not welcome back in the store. He’s one of a handful of people we have had to ban for being a complete asshole. The other that I had to kick out personally was a customer who would come in once every two weeks or so looking for trades to read – and I made the “mistake” of selling him Young Avengers. He returned, displeased that I would sell him a book with “that kind of faggot shit in it” – and I told him if he really felt that way, he could leave the store, and never return. He has not returned.

Comic books are many things – but god dammit, they are not built to be exclusive. They’re an artform, a means of expression, and dammit, I will not, and can not abide with people who would seek to limit that due to bigotry. Sometimes, this means losing some sales – but I will gladly take the loss in business if it means I get to keep a part of my soul and sleep soundly at night.

To all who would come into my store, and say hateful things, here is my message:

Fuck you.

You are the worst.

Now go away, and never return.

04. But it’s not all hardship. It’s never all hardship. At the end of the day, it’s a comic shop. It’s a place filled with the impossible and the fantastic – and for the most part, the people who frequent here are amazing.

I remember the day that I got this job. I had just moved to the city, had just settled into a new place and a new job (having transferred from one book store in the chain to another), and was looking for a place to buy comics. As luck would have it, I arrived right when they required help. I brought in a resumé that featured jobs I had been at for years. It looked professional. I was clean, smelled… well, like nothing, and I could speak eloquently when prompted. A few weeks later, after the owner quizzed me a bit on my purchases every Wednesday, I was hired for part time. I was ecstatic. They had me come in once a week, and do monkey work. Bags, boards, sweeping, mopping, dusting, counting, alphabetizing, whatever. I did my job and I did it well. I got more hours. I started working full time. I became the store manager.

It took some work. It took some grace under pressure. It took a sense of calm when faced with the angry mob. But I did it, and I continue to do it, and if I may say so, I am fucking fantastic at it. I wouldn’t trade my job for any other in the world.

Thank goodness I struck that deal with Satan, or else none of this would’ve happened.