You Read These With Your Eyes! | February 1st, 2012

If it's good enough for Elvis, it's good enough for you, dammit.

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.

AN ABUNDANCE OF “A” ADVENTURES (Marvel and DC Comics)

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN # 679

ANIMAL MAN #6

Listen, I know this is supposed to just have five issues in it every week, but I needed to talk about Spider-Man or this bus would explode and I also couldn’t not talk about the consistent brilliance that is Animal Man.

First, in Amazing Spider-Man #79, we get to see conclusion to the last issue’s story where Spider-Man is racing against the clock to prevent a catastrophe from occurring at 3:10pm, the aftermath of which he saw when he went “missing” for a day to briefly travel to the future where he was missing for a day and couldn’t prevent the mystery disaster.

It’s… all very complicated.

Unfortunately, it’s 3:09pm and Pete has no idea what to do in the next minute.  Could this be the end of our hero and of New York?  Oh come on, pull your head out of your ass.  There’s a giant Spider-Man event starting in like a month and he kind of has to be alive for that.  Plus, killing the company’s mascot wouldn’t be good for business.  Still, I have no idea how he’s going to get out of this and there is no better feeling in comics than that.  Dan Slott, you complete me.  You too, Humberto Ramos.  Hug?  Hug.

Instead of an ending, in Animal Man #6 we’ll see a brief interlude after the terrifying conclusion to the first arc in Issue #5, where, you know, Buddy and his daughter accidentally helped the evil force known as The Rot spread throughout the world, risking the very future of the earth as we know it!  GODDAMN, comics!  In this interlude, we get a callback to the series’ first issue, where Buddy mentioned trying his hand as an actor in a low budget but critically-acclaimed superhero movie, except now we get to watch the movie, starring a comic book character, in a comic book about the fictional actor, giving me my first meta-storytelling fix of 2012..  Eat your heart out, Grant Morrison!

This is either gonna get really sexy or really NOT.BETRAYAL OF THE PLANET OF THE APES #4 (Boom! Studios)

Okay, to be totally honest, I missed the third issue of this because I am an idiot and I am kicking myself over it.  Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman’s story set before the first Planet of the Apes movie is actually making me want to watch all those old movies and have some serious Ape Talk because even from just the two issues I’ve read so far, it is exactly the Apes story I want.  It’s got intrigue!  Politics!  Hard questions about society!  Violence!  Bearded men with loincloths!  Everything you could want, really.

Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes tells the story about how the world of the original Charlton Heston movie became aligned the way it was in the years preceding it.  However, instead of just being a prequel and contributing little other than nostalgia, Bechko and Hardman have taken a world that is familiar to even the most casual Apes fan (me) because of its timeframe and used it to tell an ambitious story about society and how it treats change.  Plus, it certainly helps that Hardman is producing one of the most beautiful, breathtaking books on the shelves.  That dude just loves himself some apes and hey, if he wants to draw the heck out of those and some gorgeous environments, who am I to not start giving him all my money?

DEFENDERS #3 (Marvel Comics)

If you’ve visited the site before, you’ll be familiar with this drill.  There is a new Matt Fraction comic!  You will buy it!  It has pretty Terry & Rachel Dodson art!  Where did all your money go?

For those who are less familiar, I’ll elaborate.  Defenders is a book about the Hulk bringing together a group of the few people in the Marvel Universe that he believes he can trust, and asking them to take care of a little problem: a being of pure rage and destruction – and for the Hulk to be saying this, I imagine this qualifies as Serious Business – that might destroy everything if they don’t stop it first.  But they can’t tell anyone, so they ask Iron Fist to come along so they can use his experimental billion dollar private jet to get around secretly.  They immediately get it destroyed and then the team gets involved in sci-fi religious fanatic’s desire to also destroy everything so that he can get to a better universe.

Comics!

Defenders is an exciting book, full of big, bold ideas and a relentless enthusiasm that the creators get to tell this story in this medium.  Fraction has described Tom Brevoort selling him on doing the book by reminding him that he could write all the characters he loves but who couldn’t carry a solo series at the moment, and his love for all of them, from Iron Fist to She-Hulk, shows.  Reading it, it feels like a modern spin on old Silver Age styles of storytelling, with a voice that’s unmistakably Fraction’s.  It’s a team book that has the kind of action you expect with a sly, subversive note running through it.  Plus, the Dodsons make some super pretty art!

I think things are gonna work out just fine!FATALE #2 (Image Comics) (BONUS: FATALE #1 second printing!)

I am not usually a horror fan, though I am definitely a crime fiction fan.  Despite this, it took me a shockingly long time before reading Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ series Criminal last year.  Of course, I fell in love because a) it is brilliant; 2) Last of the Innocent has some riffs on the Archie Comics characters and that is just wonderful.  Fully jazzed on the power of comics (and murder), I jumped wholeheartedly into Fatale, the pair’s latest creator-owned story combining crime fiction and horror, with a mysterious woman with an unnatural lifespan and strange power over men at its centre.  Fatale #1 blew me away with how elegantly it presented the world of the comic – a recognizable world with something sinister peeking in at the periphery of the mind – and drew me into the emotions of its lead characters.  As always, Phillips’ art was beautiful and he and Brubaker remain one of the partnerships in the world of comics.

Fatale #2 looks to deepen the world of the comics with more exciting, terrifying events and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.  There’s a bonus, too!  If you didn’t manage to get a copy of the first issue, its second printing arrives in stores tomorrow, so pick both up at once and thank me later (preferably with baked goods, email me for my address, non-perverts).  If you like it, remember to tell your shop to order it in for you so that you never miss an issue!

WINTER SOLDIER #1 (Marvel Comics)

In his first Captain America story, Ed Brubaker brought back the character of Bucky Barnes, long thought dead, as the Soviet-brainwashed covert operative known as the Winter Soldier.  Throughout Brubaker’s years on the title, we’ve seen him kill Steve Rogers and have Bucky take over for his friend and mentor.  What many heralded as a cheap storytelling ploy became one of the most rewarding serial stories around, as we got to see Barnes grow into his new role, become accepted, and eventually “die” in the service of the country, allowing Rogers to take up the shield once again.  Throughout his rise and public fall, readers grew to love and accept Barnes all over again and now, in the next phase of Brubaker’s operatic story, we get to see what Barnes does after taking back his Winter Soldier persona to right the wrongs he committed before.  Basically, I am on board because this sounds incredible.

This could blow everything about James Barnes open all over again.  He grew into the role of Captain America, growing up and finding himself, but never really finding peace.  That seems to be the goal of his new series, with one part road trip/travelogue and another part tension-fraught action-espionage story.  What will Bucky and the Black Widow do?  Who will they cross and how will they grow?  I feel like the sky’s the limit.  And with Butch Guice and Bettie Breitweiser bringing their artistic chops to bear, the series is going to look absolutely gorgeous, with both realism and a smoky, distorted feeling to give the series a riveting, ghostly air.

Guys, I fuckin’ love comics and stuff like this is a big reason why.

These are slightly more than 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 | January 30th, 2012

Ta-daaaahhh

What’s up, fellow nerdlingers?  How were your weekends?  Ours were great, thanks for asking!  On Saturday, we met with some awesome pals to record an episode of the podcast and hash out a lot of details for that super cool Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World screening we’re putting on with them.  Remember to check in on Friday for the big announcement with all the details!  But in the meantime, how about some comics that were rad?

Hooray!

COMICS RULE EVERYTHING AROUND ME

DECAPTIVATING!

Sometimes I find myself in the mood for something a little irregular. Certainly, as much as I enjoy the superhero genre (and I do quite a bit), there’s something about taking the tropes and guts of a straight punch-em up and veering wildly off course.

In the pages of The Bulletproof Coffin, creators David Hine and Shaky Kane do this in a myriad of ways. At its core, its a book about superheroes that is more inspired by some of the old EC horror comics more than anything else. There are some familiar shapes and characters, but the situations and designs are call back to a far-gone era of creepiness, albeit with a touch more of the fantastic. Add to that the level of meta-commentary about the history of comics, and the act of creation, and you have something that almost lives and breathes on its own – something very close to fiction transcending its roots of non-existence. (Does any of this make sense? God I hope so.)

Regardless of whether or not that previous sentence made any sense, I find myself quite enamoured with the series. This week, the first issue of the second mini-series hit (titled Disinterred), and it continued to flesh out the odd world Hine and Kane introduced in the original series, expand it in some strange ways. A dash of crime is added in with the more horrific elements and (true to form) the whole thing veers wildly into a world full of crazy, and ending with the origin of a superhero. Only in The Bulletproof Coffin would a character have its introduction occur in such a horrific and roundabout way – but of course, that’s part of the book’s charm. And so we award this book the Decapitastic! Award for… well, for reasons that should remain obvious. Kudos to all involved! (B)

LIGHTNING ETC.

For all the smack that some people like to talk about The New 52, a lot of it forgets that despite the mistakes DC Comics might make now and again (like having some of the first New 52 collections come out over a year after the initiative started), there are some tremendous books coming out of that company right now, and right at the top of the list is Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato‘s work on The Flash.

I have never been a particularly big Flash fan.  I always wanted to be – helped in part by Justice League (Unlimited) - but I never seemed to find a place to jump on that made the character as exciting and cool as he was in my mind.  Don’t get me wrong, I am sure there were some incredible Flash comics that have come out before the current run, but with only occasionally ducking my head in, I simply didn’t have the luck to find them.  When Geoff Johns wrote the most recent pre-Flashpoint story with Manapul and Buccellato on art, I finally got a Flash comic that hooked me on the first page, and now that Manapul and Buccellato have completely taken over the series with its relaunch, I’ve got a Flash comic that is exactly the Flash that I’ve had in my mind since I was a kid.

A lot has been made out of some of the elements of the character’s relaunch, namely the lack of Wally West (yet) and the fact that Barry Allen is no longer married to Iris West, but for all those sacrifices from the old continuity, what we’re left with is a Flash that’s unencumbered by its baggage or its protagonist’s time-traveling-alternate-dimensionizing near-omnipotence.  This is a young Flash, still getting used to his powers and discovering what he can do.  He’s not so idolized yet that he has an entire museum dedicated to people loving him in a weirdly meta way.  When he realizes an implication of his abilities and tries to use that, he messes up.  He causes some damage and the rest of the opening arc, right up to the conclusion in The Flash #5 last week, is filled with the resultant doubt and tension.  What all can Barry do?  What are the consequences?  Can he learn how to be better than he is?  The final page sets these questions up as the crux of the next arc, and it’s exciting.

One reason I like teen hero books is because there’s a license for the heroes to make big mistakes and deal with the consequences.  That doesn’t usually happen with the adults in the same way, but with The Flash, it feels like the book isn’t weighed down by the trappings of its hero’s history.  All that went out with the old continuity; Manapul and Buccellato are telling a different story, one with so much possibility and wonder.  The sky’s the limit and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.  To recognize this, I’m happy to give them the Jetpack Adventures Award. (J)

Better than alllll the rest

Whelp, this week’s pick sure is bittersweet.

As many of you already know, a few weeks ago, Kurtis J. Weibe announced that Green Wake would be coming to a premature end with next month’s 10th issue. The news set off a cascade of posts from the heartbroken fans, upset that such a good series would be cut short. But at the end of the day, the support didn’t quite translate into dollars (or at least enough dollars) for the book to continue – and so we find ourselves entering an end game of sorts.

This issue brings a lot of the plot points to a head, giving a bit more colour and motivation for the story’s supposed villain – and the reader is left to ponder who (or what) the real force behind all of Green Wake’s troubles. While this occurs, some tragedy strikes a little close to the home of our protagonist and… well, let’s just say the issue does not end on a cheery note.

As we’ve stated before, this book will be sorely missed. It was one of the best on the stands, and will continue to be until its end in five weeks time. If you’ve missed out on the series, do yourself a favour and grab yourself the first trade. And then immediately demand that your shop pre-order the second… whenever that should hit the stands.(B)

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

Late to the Party, No. 5: Cougar Town

Don't worry, we left you some Cheetos.

No. 5: Cougar Town

Like Scrubs but without a moral centre.

Listen, I am absolutely not judging you if you don’t watch Cougar Town.  First, it is called Cougar Town, which is possibly one of the worst and most misleading show titles in television history.  Now, part of that is because it isn’t actually about a large cat murdering people in a small, wealthy suburb, though if there is any justice in this world that will be a part of an upcoming episode of Suburgatory.  Neither is it about a high school football team whose mascot is a cougar, even though that is the opening shot of the series.

Moments later, a cougar jumps through. It's probably a metaphor.

And then they... kiss?
I couldn't find an actual shot of the Cougar Town cougar entering the field, so just combine these two and reminisce about Mr. Sunshine.

However, the biggest reason why Cougar Town is a misleading title is because since about a quarter of the way through the first season, it has no longer been about its original premise, the one you almost certainly think the show is still actually about.  I will repeat, for clarity:

Cougar Town is not about Courteney Cox fucking younger men.

I can absolutely understand why you might think that.  I watched the first couple of episodes when they aired because I have been a big fan of co-creator Bill Lawrence since he co-created Spin City in 1996, becoming more completely devoted to his work with Scrubs and Clone High.  I have loved the man’s work for over half my life – especially if you consider his writing roles on Friends and Boy Meets World.  When there is a new Bill Lawrence show, I just mentally assign that timeslot every week as UNAVAILABLE because the man knows what I like.  And so, on September 23, 2009, I turned on Cougar Town and, for maybe the first time in my following of Lawrence’s career… wasn’t blown away.  I watched the next week, too.  For the next year, I didn’t.

Looking back, there was a lot to like even in those first two episodes.  Some good jokes.  That familiar sense of fun and wackiness.  A frankly brilliant cast.  What it came down to was that at the end of that half hour, I just didn’t really want to watch a show about Courteney Cox hooking up with younger men.  I didn’t think it was a concept that was either entertaining or tenable in the long term.  And it wasn’t, though not in the way you might think.

Sometime during the second season, I was spending time with my friend Taylor (co-creator of our eventually upcoming sitcom Miracles, about Jesus returning as the owner of and short order cook for the titular greasy spoon diner in the desert) at our neighourhood pub, talking about TV shows we loved and making plans.  Wednesdays were out, he said.  That was Cougar Town night.  I immediately called him on his bullshit.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he told me, laughing.  “It’s not that show anymore.  Halfway through the first season it changed and now it’s awesome.”

He explained going through the same experience as me – he was a fellow Scrubs fan from back in its early days – except that he checked back later in the season and loved what he saw.  We talked for a few more minutes about it and I told him I’d check it out.  The next week, I watched the season’s tenth episode, “The Same Old You,” and fell in love.  I didn’t miss an episode for the rest of the season.  Taylor was right; it wasn’t about its original concept anymore; it was about this group of neighbours, their bonds and the genuinely awful things they say and do to each other.  When it wasn’t on ABC’s fall schedule – or its midseason one – I started to antsy that the series might not come back anytime soon.  When its third season order got cut to 15 episodes, I got especially worried.  Eventually, it got its premiere date of February 14th, 2011 and I set about catching up.  I purchased the series’ two seasons on iTunes and hit play on a Friday night.  By that same time two days later on Sunday, I had watched 32 episodes.  This weekend, I finished the second season.  Today, I’d like to tell you that Cougar Town is absolutely a show that you need to be watching.

The First Thing You Need To Know is that the producers and writers know the title isn’t great.  In fact, the second season title cards riffed on this, with subtitles like “It’s Okay to Watch a Show Called” and “We Pretend it’s Called ‘Wine Time.’”  To someone who was put off by the show’s original premise and cautiously returning, it told me that the crew knew and were working to get past it.

Part of this is a lie.

The Second Thing You Need To Know is, as I’ve said before, that the series isn’t about what you think it is.  Watching through the first season in a frenzy a week ago, I pinpointed the exact point at which the change started happening, the point at which the show left the alright-show-with-some-great-jokes behind and started becoming incredible.  The first season’s seventh episode, “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” works off an interesting premise: Jules (Cox) is called out by her neighbour Grayson (Josh Hopkins, playing the gender-flipped equivalent of Jules who sleeps with younger women but isn’t embarrassed by it) on her need to never be alone and makes a bet that she can’t spend the entire day alone.  Of course she fails because of course she fails.  Hell, she doesn’t just do so mildly and have someone over for coffee, she accidentally throws a neighbourhood barbecue.  This, you discover as the show transforms, is classic Jules.  The episode ends with Jules eventually convincing Grayson to join the barbecue and finally admit that he’s become a part of this circle of friends, the ridiculously and hilariously-named Cul-de-Sac Crew.  Much to his chagrin, he gives in and the series changed forever.

From this point on, the series was about something else entirely and it seems obvious that it was around that time that the producers and writers likely discovered that even if the original premise wasn’t quite clicking, what was succeeding was the part of the show that was about the bizarre, incredibly close relationships between the characters.  It had been slowly slipping that way beforehand because hey, you go with what works, but with “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” it feels like that’s when it became codified.  By the ninth episode, the Thanksgiving-centred “Here Comes My Girl,” the transformation was complete.  At this point, the series is completely about this group of neighbours and their relationships.  A big part of the episode is Jules’ son Travis (Dan Byrd) introducing his girlfriend to this ersatz family as an outsider.  Everybody else is already part of this immutable whole.

Towards the end of the first season, the show finally pairs up Jules and Grayson as part of what became the season’s arc and the final transformation from the show’s original premise.  Courteney Cox fucking younger men didn’t work, but what does is Courteney Cox in a relationship.  There are only so many things about her that can get revealed with Jules dating younger men for an episode or two at a time, but with the Jules-Grayson relationship and the Cul-de-Sac Crew relationships, the series has blossomed.  I’ve learned so much more about her and Grayson since they began the process of baring themselves to each other, and the second season was so wonderfully cohesive and more consistently entertaining than almost any other show on television.

HI KYLIE!

All this lets the show live or die on the strength of its cast and their characters, not a scary premise or misleading title, and the resulting show revels in what is one of the best ensemble casts around with a stunning level of chemistry.  I’ve known Christa Miller, Busy Philipps, Ian Gomez and Cox (obviously) through their work for years, but all four of them are doing the best work of their careers.  Dare I say it, but I like Cougar Town’s Courteney Cox even more than Friends-era Courteney Cox, and I say that as someone who still watches Friends most nights of the week almost a decade after it ended.  Brian Van Holt, Hopkins and Byrd are wonderful discoveries.

I am not atypical of the show’s intensely loyal fanbase.  Before the series’ return date was announced, creators Lawrence and Kevin Biegel decided to harness and maintain this dedication by doing a series of cross-America episode screenings and cast-and-crew meet and greets, completely out of their own pocket.  One of my friends got to attend the one held at the show’s Culver City studios and I am extraordinarily jealous.  Personally, I like to think that it was that kind of fan (and creator) dedication that helped the series get its return date.  Regardless, it’s hard to deny that it helped keep the show in the minds of the public and raise excitement for its eventual return.  If absolutely nothing else, it got a whole lot of Cougar Town fans excitedly talking about the show again and recommending it to all of their friends.

So here I go, again:

Cougar Town is unmistakably a Bill Lawrence show.  If you liked Scrubs or Spin City, you will enjoy this.  It’s got the same wit and the same wackiness.  Instead of Scrubs’ surreal humour and fantasies, that part of it gets expressed through the characters’ own actions.  Instead of having a fantasy about doing or saying something horrible, these best friends will do and say them.  Probably to each other, and then they’ll come right back and love each other so fiercely it catches your breath.  Take away the episode-closing voiceover about morals and amp up Doctor Cox and Jordan (also played by the sublime Christa Miller), and a line from Lawrence’s last show to Cougar Town makes itself clear.  Except get this: it’s better.

I know, I know.  I have been a devoted Scrubs fan since the night it premiered.  It was and still is one of my favourite shows.  That’s why I am so excited to say that after a rough start, Cougar Town is the best work of Lawrence’s career.  He, Biegel and their writers are telling refined, funny and heartfelt stories about a period of life that is so often presented as, well, what people think the show is because of its first episodes.  The characters of Travis and Laurie let them tell the kinds of stories about growing up that Scrubs did, but with the rest they tell stories about being an adult and how you can still change and surprise yourself instead of just being a punchline.  It takes the things that were incredible about Spin City and Scrubs and uses them as stepping stones to a different kind of story.

And it’s funny.  Unbelievably so.  It can oscillate between wordplay, misanthropy and all caps FUN with ease.  After two seasons, it’s created its own lexicon and running gags but is still easy to jump in onboard.  It surprises me and it makes me laugh more than almost any other show on television.  Only Community does it as often.

When it returns on February 14th, Cougar Town will be the funniest show currently airing on television.  Don’t miss it.  It’s not about what you think it is; it’s so very much better.

You're Welcome, Internet | January 23-27, 2012

Drawing sex pictures for the masses.

What’s up, alleged internet criminals?  Need a place to crash for the weekend?  Well, we’re not staying you can stay here, but how about you come in, take off your shoes, wiggle your sexy toes oh yes just like that and enjoy some .jpegs and .gifs at the end of a long, arduous week?

You’re welcome, Internet.

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All my fantasies are coming true!

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Okay, NOW all my fantasies are coming true. Oh, Catkoalaman...
Click for original place of adorableness!

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Let's Rule 63 it up all night, baby.
By Volante Designs, via Bethany Fong

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I assume all T-Rock [Time Lord Rock] is like this?

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LEASK: Listen, I know this is the part of the week where I usually talk about how things were and make a few jokes or something, but I am tired and I really didn’t do much.  Oh, wait!  I had Brandon over for a Robbie Burns Day dinner, where I made cock-o-leekie soup, haggis (okay, I heated pre-bought haggis, but that’s only because making your own on a WEEKNIGHT is bananas), neeps and tatties.  The whole night finished with watching Excused, maybe the most ridiculous syndicated low-budget tv dating reality competition show ever, while eating a deconstructed peanut butter honey sandwich ice cream sundae.  What’s in that, you might ask?  Homemade honey ice cream with a drizzle of organic (and thus super runny, like a sauce) peanut butter and crumbled shortbread.

Your move, Brandon’s girlfriend.

SCHATZ: True story: haggis is good – and the rest of the food James made was amazing! The dude can straight up cook. In other news, I just got a weird text from my girlfriend, and I’m gonna have to take off quick here. Apparently, there’s been a murder?

The week was awesome and I think we managed to put up quite a few good articles on the site. And comics, as always were stellar. We just finished recording our next podcast, which features Erin and Matt from Graphic Content, and we talk about the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World screening that we’ll be putting on and a whole lot more! So check that out on Wednesday. But dang, I really should take off. Apparently I need to bring a shovel and some plastic bags? Not sure what tonight’s plans are, but boy howdy it sounds like a sexy adventure!

You have been reading Comics! The Blog. This concludes our broadcast week.

Me vs The Angry Mob | Women in Comics

Do you think that I'm funny?

The kid is getting on my nerves.

In the past half hour, he’s gone through five binders worth of Magic the Gathering singles. He spends his time looking over each page carefully, weighing his options, muttering nonsense words to himself. Meanwhile, the store is filling up with comic customers. The kid does not seem to notice this, despite the fact that I leave the Magic counter frequently to ring in purchases or help someone find something. While I’m across the room, actually ringing in an item, he’s asking me how much stock we have of a specific card – one that costs 10 cents a pop. This, as I’m pressing buttons that make me at least $3 every time they’re hit. But I grit my teeth and carry on because… well, it’s retail – and everything is just fine until the kid finally closes up the last binder and realizes – oh dang! – there’s quite a few others in the store.

“Oh wow! Never thought you got this busy.”

Which is just a delightful thing to say to someone whose meals depend on traffic. I swallow this comment content with the fact that we’re often this busy – and many more times a whole lot busier. Which is when he says something worse.

“Dang, your boobs to balls ratio in this store is great.”

I take a second to allow my ears and brain to discuss what they thought they just heard. Once they agree, I respond.

“…excuse me?”

“The girls,” he says pointing (POINTING!), “You pretty much have an even ratio.”

“…happens a lot,” I say.

“Dang, really?” he says in genuine shock, “How the hell do you manage that?”

“Well for one, we never. EVER. Say the words ‘boobs to balls ratio’.”

The kid looks confused.

“Why not.”

This is why we can’t have nice things.

WOMEN IN COMICS

There is something so incredibly backwards about how the comic book industry treats women. It’s a problem that permeates almost every level of the game. In stores, women don’t always feel welcome. In the comics, a large majority of female characters are three dimensional in cup size only. In the bullpen (such as it exists in the current landscape), there’s a sharp inequity when it comes to having female creators on books. All of this is not very good – but what can be worst is how many people go about trying to fix the various problems.

IN STORES AND ON THE INTERNET

Obviously, you hang around the internet. You’ve been to many comic book sites. Hell, you’ve probably spent some time in a forum or two, getting to know a bunch of strangers, talking about this things you loved (or let’s face it – hated) about the comics you’ve all read.

Chances are, you’ve come across the “girlfriend” thread. The one that guys will toss up when they’re asking the internet at large what they should try and get their significant other to read… that is, if she’s open to the idea of reading comics. What follows is always well-intentioned. People start listing books that they think women like to read. The usual suspects are books like Fables or Y The Last Man or Runaways and the like – which are not bad suggestions. Each of those series are amazing (in my opinion), but immediately launching into suggestions forgets one very important step: finding out what the girl actually likes to read. It would be like my girlfriend asking a group of people what kind of magazines men like to read, and having someone suggest something to do with sports or trucks. Bad suggestions? Not necessarily, given a larger sampling of dudes. But for myself specifically? I could give two shits about sports or trucks. I might know the vague rules of sport ball or puck sticks, and I might know how to drive a car, but that’s where my interest in all things sporty or locomotive end. (Unless we’re also counting the Locomotion.) The same goes with suggesting comic books for women. For starters, the person who is enquiring about comics for women is asking the wrong question. He shouldn’t be asking what comics women like to read, he should be asking for suggestions for good comics, period. And that’s after he’s discerned the taste of the lady he’s trying to ply the graphic medium to. Seriously, figure out what her tastes are first, and then ask for suggestions towards that. Treat her like… oooh, I dunno, a person with their own likes and dislikes, and not the heaving singular hive mind that some dudes ascribe to women. Not only is that good advice for getting her to fall in love with comics, but it’s great advice for how to treat a lady in general. Do this.

IN COMICS

Boy, is there a lot of ground to cover here – but we can start with the fact that there is nothing wrong with having women in comics who are sexually confident and have large breasts. However, there is a problem if almost every female character is sexually confident, and has large breasts. It would be like if Iron Man and Captain America and Thor and Spider-Man and Batman and Superman all wore super tight spandex to accentuate their junk, and then all similarly said nothing but a stream of sexually suggestive innuendos to their female cohorts constantly. If this were to happen, the internet would be on fire right now. And yet, where’s the outrage about the largely single dimension characteristics of women in comics?

Fact is, women within comics are not treated the same as men. Yes, you’ll find quite a few sterling examples of female characters in the pages of a comic, but you’ll find a disturbing amount more that are nothing but empty sex vacuums with breasts and a little bit of power. There is inequality in within the very fiction that this industry thrives upon, and its a huge part of the problem when it comes to getting more female readers. Those female readers who don’t want to read Fables or Y The Last Man, the ones who want to read superhero books are told quite plainly that these kinds of books are for He-Man Woman Haters – which is bullshit. There should be something for every female reader – and again, there is – but not in the quantities that should exist.

THIS ONE’S FOR YOU

Wherein we really get into the whole vicious circle of the thing. I’ve retained very little from high school (honestly, what exactly did I need to learn conics for?) but there’s a few lessons that stuck quite deep that prove helpful when I’m attempting to make a point like a legitimate human being. In this case, the piece of information that’s floating up to the front of my mind has to do with self-fulfilling prophecies – wherein a person can believe something truly false, because their actions of sabotage (whether intended or subconscious) produce results that go along with their dubious belief. The comic book industry has a doozy of a self fulfilling prophecy when it comes to women – mainly the fact that women don’t read comics and will not read comics in the quantities needed to support “their kinds of books”. This kind of thinking is backwards in any number of ways, but let’s start with some of the low hanging fruit.

Over the past few years, there have been several “Women in Comics” initiatives put forth by various publishers. Marvel spent a year doing female centric projects, running a monthly run of variant covers, the occassional one shots, the anthology series Girl Comics and other minis such as Heralds and Her-oes. DC has quite recently gone under fire for not including female creators of characters in their recent relaunch, accusations that were met with a bit of frustration and assurances from editorial and creative alike that female creators were asked to pitch on books, and that some would appear quite soon, albeit in a subsequent launch. A few years back now, they also attempted to launch a Minx line of comics, designed to appeal to the teen female set. For many of these initiatives, a plan was put in place to hire as much female talent as possible to support the stories – and for the most part, the books were good. Just like any endeavour, some things hit, and others missed. But the sales? Whelp, they weren’t there, specifically because the thinking behind these initiatives are flawed.

Comic book publishers do not understand how to market to anyone who is not an adult male. They don’t, and they display this inability quite plainly when they try. When they try to sell books to kids they do it completely backwards, in that when they are aiming for the 5-9 market, they are putting out books that they think 5-9 year olds will enjoy. This is not how you get a kid into comics. Hell prose book retailers know better how to get kids reading, and they are generally terrible at selling their product to the masses. In fact the kids and teen book market is one of the only places where sales are consistent, if not increasing because of the way they are marketed, which is simply this: when you are creating content for 5-9 year olds, write for 10-14 year olds. And if you’re writing for 10-14 year olds, write for 15-18 year olds. Kids want to feel more grown up. They want to be treated like adults, whether or not they know what that truly means, and that longing relates directly to the content that they are looking for. This was the inherent flaw in the Minx line – they were marketing a line of teen books with books that primarily featured teenage protagonists. This was a line that should have been marketed to the younger end of the teen spectrum. (Minus the New York Four/Five books by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly, who rightfully focused on college students.)

The problem is similar when comic book companies come right out and say “this one is for the ladies.” No one likes being talked down to, or told what they will like – and while these initiatives often feature some great books, the quality is lost with all the hand waving and back-patting. “See? We did this for you. We understand your needs.”

Bullshit. The only thing a woman needs to read a comic, is something of quality in a genre that they’ll enjoy. It’s what anybody needs. But that’s not what the industry gets, from the content pushes, or from people just talking about books in general. Women readers are still treated as though they are mythological or an vague impossibility and therefore not worth chasing down, but it’s not because there’s a lack of will – just a lack of basic common sense and decency when it comes to the production and selling of comics.

IN THE BULLPIN

The phrase “tricke-down” is somewhat apropos here. I know I generally relate that term to bullshit which applies to the situation. Because of the prevalent idea that women don’t enjoy comics – or at least that they are not a market worth chasing – there’s a general lack of female creators. A perceived lack of interest in female characters turns into a lack of produced content. The perceived need for less content also dampens a need for a female perspective. And in turn, the vicious cycle of “non-importance” tells publishers and readers alike that “comics aren’t for women” – and so less seek jobs in the industry.

This is a problem. From top to bottom. And the only way it’s going to change, is if someone, anyone really, starts to champion a modicum of equality without the damn ticker tape parade that yells “THIS ONE’S FOR THE LADIES”. The bullshit needs to be cut, pure and simple. Get out there, and produce quality product. Sell it across the board, and don’t discriminate a perceive taste based on gender. Or hell, how about we don’t discriminate taste in general. All genres are valid. Everything has a market, has the potential to sell, if everyone just smartens the hell up and sells.

This can be done, and it starts with… well, it starts with everyone. Because as much as I would love for the multi-million dollar comic publishers to smarten up, they were largely purchased and keep running based on their access to the lucrative male market. Warner Bros and Disney have other means to satisfy other audiences, and neither company will really put the dollars behind any kind of initiative that would push otherwise, in terms of comics. So it comes down to everyone. It comes down to you on the internet and it comes down to us retailers in the stores. If you want to see the industry thrive, and if you want to see, I don’t know, a modicum of equality, of an industry that’s not mired in bullshit that has (in part) been more cleansed in pretty much every other medium, then we gotta make it happen ourselves.

And it comes down to this: treat female readers like you would like to be treated. Write and create as though you’re not the guy that orders Jager-bombs in the bar with his brosephs. Have some god damn respect for your female counter-parts, and I guarentee you, the industry will be all the better for it.

And sell some god damn comics.

You’ve been reading Me vs. The Angry Mob – Issue 2012.03

Podcast! The Comics, Episode 4 – Weddings and Lesbians

We're trouble.

It’s our time of the week again, which means we’ve manstruated a new episode of Podcast! The Comics, our official and confusingly-named podcast, for you!

Eww.

This episode is brought to you by Wizard’s Comics, home of the best deal on comics in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  Check out their website for a list of the week’s new releases and information on upcoming Magic, The Gathering tournaments, and watch their Twitter account for news and announcements about the shop and its wares.

Episode 4 – Weddings and Lesbians

This week, Brandon tells a story about being the best man at a wedding after meeting the groom the same day and James comes to the realization that his “type” is “less traditionally feminine lesbian,” which is probably unrelated to watching 32 episodes of Cougar Town in 48 hours.  In terms of comics they liked, it’s a Spider Week for the boys, who wrap things up with a discussion of continuity and the silliness of caring too much about it.

Plus, James messes up and adds a “Paul” to Kano’s name again, because apparently he’s combined him with the actor from There Will Be Blood, Paul Dano.  He awaits your jeers.

Download the episode here or subscribe by inserting the following text into your audio program of choice.  To subscribe in iTunes, click “Advanced,” then click “Subscribe to Podcast” and insert:

http://comicstheblog.libsyn.com/rss

You can also find all the episodes to date on Libsyn’s site here.

[UPDATE, JAN. 26th, 2012: We're now in iTunes!  If you wish to subscribe the good ol' automated way, click here and listen to your heart's content.  Apple has let us know that we should turn up in searches within iTunes itself in a day or two.  Rock on!]

 As always, let us know your thoughts on the episode and any technical issues you might have.

Correcting Misconceptions: Learning to Love Characters I Thought I Didn’t

Lemon party!

Almost nobody likes every character.  Probably nobody at all.  Even we here at Comics! The Blog, a site devoted specifically to liking things & writing polemics about why getting hung up on disliking things is a waste of time, don’t like everything.  I don’t like every comic book character.  There are a certain number of comic book properties that, generally, I have to be forced to read.  Brandon is a good source of this, ever since he hand-sold me The Umbrella Academy and basically ensured that I will give anything a shot if he puts it in my hands.

Even still, there are some characters that I simply have a hesitance to even check out.  I like Spider-Man and Batman and most of their related characters.  I like the various Avengers and X-Men teams.  I think the Flash is a pretty neat dude.  These are just my favourites; I pick up a lot of books, so much so that I’m perpetually catching up on my reading.  That said, there are characters that, over the years, I have just decided were not for me and so I never gave them a try.  Over the last two years, most of these hesitancies have been obliterated for various reasons, and I’m going to run through a few of them.

01. DAREDEVIL

This is the first of several characters whose series I didn’t read because the tone was so different than what I prefer.  Since the 1980s, Daredevil has existed very much – as Brandon will put it on the podcast tomorrow – in the shadow of Frank Miller.  Now, I’m already someone who chalks that guy up in the “Not for me at all” category, so the following creative teams’ seeming dedication to out-torture Matt Murdock was something that didn’t appeal to me.  And the thing is, there was some amazing talent on the book in the last few years!  Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev and Ed Brubaker are all men whose names on a cover will sell just about any other comic to me, but not Daredevil.  I just couldn’t understand why Matt Murdock didn’t put a gun in his mouth and I didn’t really want to see writers and artists cocking the trigger.

Now, I could eventually go back, read these arcs and discover that I actually love those Daredevil stories.  All credit for that, however, has to go to Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin.  When Marvel Comics relaunched the series last summer, it was partly Waid’s reputation, as well as what I knew to be the tremendous talents of Rivera and Martin, that lured me in.  That got me interested, but the lion’s share of what drew me in was the promise itself of a swashbuckling Daredevil, of a Matt Murdock who knew how to smile against all the shit life threw at him.  That ultimately put the comic in my hand and ever since I’ve been a devoted fan of the Man Without Fear.

02. MOON KNIGHT

Whereas I had a fairly active disinterest in Daredevil, it was more of a casual disinterest in Moon Knight that kept me away from his series.  He kills guys, I think.  He’s not right in the head.  Dresses in white.  That was all I knew, and even his presence in Secret Avengers didn’t put much paint on his canvas.  He was Moon Knight, and I never really had an urge to learn more.

Then Bendis and Maleev took over, fresh from the opening arc of their creator-owned book Scarlet, and I figured, Well, I loved that, and I never read their Daredevil run, so maybe…

That was ultimately all I needed.  I didn’t dislike the character’s concept, but my impressions of it were so empty that it couldn’t sell itself.  Its creators got me in the door, and its premise – insane superhero gets rich as producer of semi-autobiographical television series while creating multiple personalities of Captain America, Spider-Man and Wolverine – kept me buying every month.  It’s a big shift, but with the announcement that Moon Knight is ending with its twelfth issue, I’m actually finding myself sad.  I want to spend more time with Marc Spector, and I hope I get to again soon.

03. THE PUNISHER

What I’m really surprised at, though, is my reaction to The Punisher.  For those playing at home, you’ll notice that all three of these books so far are from Marvel’s Big Shots wave of summer relaunches from last year, but what can I say?  The company knew how to match creative teams I liked with characters I didn’t, and they’ve reaped the extremely minor reward that is three extra purchases from me each month.

The Punisher was a harder sell than the others, though.  I wanted to like Daredevil, but couldn’t get behind the direction his previous volumes went in.  I didn’t like Moon Knight, but I didn’t dislike him, either.  But Frank Castle?  I hate Frank Castle.  He’s a murderer and a sociopath.  He’s an unrepentant killer motivated by an already settled vendetta, a man who lives only to take lives.  Guys, I’m a pacifist.  The Punisher is perhaps the character in the Marvel Universe that is the absolute most antithetical to my world view and I honestly never thought I would buy his book.

Man, fuck Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto.  No, wait, what’s the opposite of that?

Here’s the thing.  Rucka knows that Frank is a monster, an aberration that the heroes of that world shouldn’t allow to exist because he runs so contrary to the believes of basically everyone except Wolverine, and even that guy looks at Frank and goes, “Hey buddy, maybe you need to chill out a bit.”  I’m probably paraphrasing.  Greg Rucka knows grasps something perfectly, something very key to why I love his Punisher book so much: Frank Castle is not the hero, not even of his own story.  He’s a catalyst and he’s a whirlwind, but you can’t treat him like you would even Wolverine.  As a result, the first story in the 8th volume of The Punisher has followed the character’s grim exploits, but never reveled in them.  Instead, it focuses on the people – cops, reporters and widows – scrambling in his wake, and the result has been something grim, haunting and even austere.  There is no joy in this book, but there is an incredible story.

04. ALL-STAR SUPERMAN

The big one.  I realize I should like Superman, even just as someone who appreciates the history of comics themselves.  Throughout the medium’s 20th century history, the character has been a rock, a symbol of justice and goodness and holy god I can’t go on because doesn’t that sound boring?

Maybe not.  Maybe you “get” Superman and never had the problem I did.  I like the character well enough.  He’s a genuinely good man and a paragon of virtue.  Unfortunately, so often for me that resulted in stories that just seemed boring.  The man is almost invulnerable, barring a certain carcinogenic green rock, and I always thought that made for boring stories because of course the dude who’s almost impossible to even scuff is going to win.  Batman and Spider-Man will win, too, but they make mistakes and get the tar kicked out of them.  I always preferred them.  Even when I checked out The Death of Superman from my local library as a child, what I saw was a story where two really strong, almost invulnerable guys hit each other until they both die.  Even the biggest superhero story of my life at that point suffered from Superman just being too good.

It’s that kind of thing that shouldn’t have let All-Star Superman work.  After all, the story is about Superman becoming even stronger and smarter and just better, even as he slowly dies from it.  That sounded like a story that would have written itself.  Superman gets super awesome, does some stuff, dies doing something really awesome.  What I found, however, was something else.

All-Star Superman introduced me to the rich complexity of Superman.  He was a powerful being who took immense care with his power, who was filled with love and sadness and a need to be better.  He cared for his friends and mourned his parents, including an issue of the series that is probably the best use of time travel in any comic – or maybe even fiction – I have ever read, period.  To date, the series is one of the most poetic, sublime comics I have had the pleasure of reading, such an effective thesis statement on the Man of Steel that it’s blossomed a love for the character even in my own heart.  I buy Superman comics now, all because of that one story that made me realize how complex he actually was.

The last few years have been a great eye-opener for me in these ways.  There were series and characters that I thought I would never buy, let alone love, for various reasons, from poor preconceptions to limited experience.  Shopping at Brandon’s store has helped me foster an open mind.  I might pick up any comic now if the story sounds right, because I have realized that with the right team and outlook, any character can be amazing in their own way.  Even assholes like Frank Castle.  For god’s sake, I read The Punisher now.  Clearly, anything is possible in comics.

You Read These With Your Eyes! | January 25th, 2012

If it's good enough for Elvis, it's good enough for you, dammit.

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.

SECRET AVENGERS #21.1 (MARVEL COMICS)

With Warren Ellis’ intense six issue run wrapped, its time for the team to shift once more as Rick Remender takes over writing duties! His name sound familiar? That might be because he’s the dude currently rocking the hell out of Uncanny X-Force and Venom, two books I never thought I would end up buying. Chances are a lot of you never thought you’d be buying books like that either. That’s because Remender is all kinds of awesome, and with him on this series, you’re pretty much guarenteed some crazy high science action.

Joining him on the next issue will be regular series artist Gabriel Hardman (of Hulk and Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes fame which will be amazing – but for this issue, Remender will be joined by the equally talented Patrick Zircher. Plus, this is a Point One issues – which means that the story is a perfect place to jump on for new readers. So what exactly are you waiting for?

BULLETPROOF COFFIN: DISINTERRED #1 (IMAGE COMICS)

The second Bulletproof Coffin series begins this week, and we’re pretty gosh darn excited about it. For those of you who aren’t completely ridiculous human beings such as ourselves, you might not have heard that the first Bulletproof Coffin series was a book that sent Matt Fraction back to the drawing board for Casanova: Avaritia – which for us, is a good enough reason to have this book on the list. But in addition to that, the first series was amazing – and David Hine and Shaky Kane don’t look like they’ll be half-assing this one either.

Plus, as an added bonus, for those of you who haven’t read the first series, this one seems to promise an easy jumping on point – which is to say, you don’t have to read the first series to jump in here. (Although seriously, why haven’t you read the first series yet, you jerks.)

POLLY AND THE PIRATES VOL. 2 (ONI PRESS)

With all the recent hullaballoo about women in comics, I sure am glad to see this series returning to the shelves.

Polly and the Pirates is a fantastic story about a young girl who just so happens to be some kind of pirate princess. One night, she ends up being swept away from an orphanage, and on through a great, rollicking (and somewhat dangerous) adventure. This volume looks to continue the original mini series, and I have to tell you, I’m very glad Polly’s adventures are continuing.

Series creator Ted Naifeh (who is not doing his usual writer/artist combo on this book – merely providing words for talented artist Robbi Rodriguez) is really good at telling great all ages stories that subscribe to the Goonies style of storytelling – in that there’s a fun story at its core, with a touch of actual danger in the mix. You don’t see a whole lot of that kind of thing in kids movies nowadays, which is a shame. Seriously, did The Goonies scar you for life? Absolutely not, and there shouldn’t be any reason why a kid can’t deal with a touch of danger in their stories. Odd tangentially applicable rant aside, this is definitely a book and a series that you should seek out.

AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER – THE PROMISE PART ONE – OGN (DARK HORSE)

The original cartoon series continues in a new series of graphic novels from Dark Horse! Along with the show’s original creators (Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko), the characters from Avatar come to life once again as we’re presented with some further adventures, untouched by the series’ original run! It should make a nice little companion to the new cartoon series coming later this year that also takes place in the same world – albeit several years later. Again, some more great all ages fare hitting the shelves this week. Really, it’s an embarrassment of riches.

DAREDEVIL BY MARK WAID VOL. 1 HC (MARVEL COMICS)

Those of you waiting for the collection can finally breathe a sigh of relief! Avoid spoilers no more, and the first six issues of Mark Waid’s Daredevil run hit the shelves in a handsome hardcover volume.

And yes, I know that some of you will probably still wait for the trade, but really, you’re going to want to spend a premium on this nice HC. The stories contained within deserve the treatment.

(Hell, I’ll probably end up buying this, and the oversized omnibus collections that I’m sure will appear somewhere down the line. And it’ll all be worth it. Damn you Marvel… you know me far too well.)

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.

Spoiler Alert: Heartbreak Soupy

PRELUDE (or) FOURTH WORLD PROBLEMS

I’m surrounded by an embarrassment of riches.

Despite claims of creative bankruptcy, in terms of the superhero genre or the entire medium of comics in general, I would have a tough time believing someone who truly believed that there aren’t a bevy of absolutely amazing comic books out on the stands today. From Morning Glories to Invincible Iron Man, to Fatale and Atomic Robo and Batman and etcetera, in my entire life, I have never been more excited about comics than I am at this moment. There’s something absolutely joyful about the medium, despite all the doom and gloom that seems to be lingering on the edges – and part of that joy absolutely comes from the fact that there is relatively little money to be made from their creation. Make no mistake, almost every other medium offers the potential of turning a creator into a Scrooge McDuck type. If you create a successful television show or movie, or if you’re part of a successful band that can produce some sweet ear candy, you will end up with more money than if you had spent your time and effort into making comics.

Meanering tangent aside, there’s a lot out there to read right now, lots of exciting and vital books that charge my sexy creative batteries. Because of this reality, I have found myself woefully bereft of time to catch up on some of the medium’s classics. The list of old and supposedly amazing books I have yet to read (or finish reading) is quite staggering. I haven’t quite finished reading any of Frank Miller’s Batman stories (except for All Star Batman, which is a hoot). I haven’t quite cracked the shell of Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg. Or Walt Simonson’s Thor, or Warren Ellis and Darick Robinson’s Transmetropolitan or Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher or Jack Kirby’s… well, Jack Kibry’s anything, really. Considering that I’ve landed a job as a comic shop manager, that makes me woefully inept when it comes to talking about, or selling the classics.

At the start of each and every year, I resolved to fix this problem – to start really digging into the past and make some time to read some of the classics that inform much of the product on the stands today. Each year, I have failed in this task in quite spectacular fashion, amassing quite an unread collection as I continued on my merry way. Finally, all that procrastination comes to an end.

Hopefully.

WHAT THIS IS

Welcome to Spoiler Alert, a somewhat personal journey through things I should’ve been better about reading already. (I say somewhat, because we like to swap features between the two of us whenever our fancies are tickled.) Many of these books (if not most of them) have been in print in various formats for over twenty years each, so if you’re like me, and haven’t read them, whelp… beware, I guess. But let’s be realistic – unless you’re fairly new to the medium, (or if the genre is not quite to your taste) we should’ve gotten on these wagons a long time ago.

THE LOVE AND ROCKETS SERIES

PALOMAR – BOOK ONE – HEARTBREAK SOUP

PRE-HISTORY

The places I would hear about Love and Rockets were numerous – but the first place to gain any kind of traction in my mind were inside the pages of Jen Van Meter’s Hopeless Savages. I was in the midst of my discovery of independent comics, and had become quite enamoured with all the books Oni Press put out – including the Monkees-meets-Scooby-Doo-and-punk adventure stylings of Hopeless Savages. After all of the single issues for the third volume hit, Van Meter put out a B-Sides one shot featuring the likes of Becky Cloonan, Mike Norton and Vera Brosgol on art. In one of the stories, the kids all went to a comic shop and started gabbing about all of their favourite comics, and enamoured like I was with the idea that I was reading comics the cool kids liked, I immediately attempted to track down everything they spoke of – including Love and Rockets.

The problem, was this. The series was unwieldy to collection chronologically and came in a myriad of different sizes and formats. Add to this, the fact that I had no solid access to the internets, nor a comic shop that felt like navigating the muddy waters for me, and I ended up waiting a long time for a way to get into the series.

Then, in 2007, Fantagraphics began issuing Love and Rockets stories in a uniform size, featuring stories collected chronologically. The first to hit the stands (as you might have guessed) was the first Palomar collection, Heartbreak Soup from Gilbert Hernandez.

A mere five years later, (and a couple of abandoned attempts at starting the book) I finally gave the spine of the thing a good work out, and pushed through the entire book.

A BACKDROP FOR HEARTBREAK, HEARTACHE, AND OTHER SUCH LONGINGS, UNREQUITED OR OTHERWISE

The volume begins with the introductory Heartbreak Soup, in which we discover the small, poor town of Palomar and learn of the town’s colourful residents. It’s an absolutely necessary tale – one that takes place quite a few years before the rest of the Palomar stories in the volume – but it’s easily the weakest of them all. A couple notes: that doesn’t mean the story isn’t very good. It is, but a little focus is lost as it jumps around from character to character. At the end of the day, the idea of trying to be a master at all things will make you proficient in none comes to play due to the sheer volume of the cast, many of which are given sharper focus in stories that merely feature a handful of them, or at the very least, focus on a singular view point. Again, the story is still pretty great, managing to bring all of the dispirate dabs of characterization and plot together to a tense and foundation shaking ending. Gilbert manages to get you to care about all of these characters in such a way that there are stakes by the story’s conclusion – which propels the book forward through the rest of the stories.

After a few short and seemingly incidental stories later, the long-form stories pick up years later, when almost everything in the town has changed. With Act of Contrition, the stories start to focus tighter on individuals, allowing the characters to pass through each other’s stories, creating a vast tapestry in which fates are alluded to in passing, piquing your interest for when some of your old favourites will re-emerge and fill you in on the various blanks. From there on, time seems to move in fits, as the clock jumps and reverts with flashbacks and fast forwards, all weaving and meshing in phenomenal ways.

In one story, you’ll learn about the marriage of certain characters, the poor fate of others, and pages later, you’ll come to discover the circumstances. You’ll smile to yourself as characters find a bit of peace, cringe as they make mistakes that will (and often do) bite them in the ass later, and you’ll marvel at the craftsmanship that it takes to paint such a wonderful picture. Each brush-stroke adds a bit more to what is already a pleasing tableau, and always, you discover that you’re hungry for more, that you want to spend more time with all of these characters, even the ones that you don’t quite care for.

It’s a marvelous piece of work, one that I definitely wish to continue digging through. Luckily I was smart (stupid?) enough to purchase a grand total of 12 volumes of Love and Rockets before finally committing to actually reading them, so I have easy access to what comes next.

FAVOURITE MOMENTS

There are many. Far too many.

I would say that my favourite story of the lot would be For the Love of Carmen, which details the beginnings of Heraclio and Carmen’s relationship, beginning with its formative years as something else, and transforming into love. Through much of the volume, you witness their great understanding, and sometimes, their greater misunderstandings, but it all comes to a boil in this story, where all of their sins are laid out in front of each other, and they are faced with what those sins could potentially do if they allow them to fester. The results are quite heartwarming, and will no doubt provide fodder for further stories (although those characters remain largely tangential for the rest of this volume).

Another favourite would have to be the story that closes this volume – the stunning Bullnecks and Bracelets that focuses on the goonish Israel, who was always portrayed as a hotheaded lady’s man up until the story. As his own version of events stands revealed, the character becomes all the more sympathetic (even as he often indulges the very worst of his impulses) and his is presented in a fiercely loyal light amidst a very decadent lifestyle.

Each of these stories build on the ones that come before, but can be read completely separate from any other narratives within the collection. In fact, I would almost (almost!) recommend reading these two stories before the first, if you want the claws to sink in a little deeper right at the start. I know that I had a lot more trouble getting into the series because the first story – while strong – didn’t get a chance to dig into any of the characters as deeply. However, be warned – if you read the stories out of order, they won’t quite impact upon you as they are intended to.

CONCLUDING

Obviously, I was quite pleased with my first visit to Palomar. With easy access to the next volume (Human Diastrophism), I’ll return soon – but before that, I want to check out Jamie Hernandez’ Locas series. And maybe a few other classics in between. Either way, I’m glad that I’ve finally committed to getting these books read, because clearly I had been missing out.

Onwards.

You’ve been reading Spoiler Alert – Issue 2012.01

C!TB's Best of the Week | January 23rd, 2012

Ta-daaaahhh

S’up Nerdlingers! Welcome to another week of comics and awesomeness, hosted by those veritable monsters of mirth, James Leask and Brandon Schatz! We have some swank stuff coming into your face holes this week, so howsabout we get things started with some awards!

COMICS RULE EVERYTHING AROUND ME

DOES WHATEVER A SOMETHING SOMETHING WHATEVER

In the last two weeks, we’ve seen an incredible Daredevil/Spider-Man/Black Cat team-up story in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man and Daredevil, and it would have been easy for even the impressive Spider-talents of Dan Slott to lose a bit of their shine in comparison.  Again, that’s not because Slott isn’t the best writer to take over Spider-Man in years, but because Waid is hitting every single note correctly over on Daredevil.  It’s lucky, then, that Slott follows Waid’s crossover issue with a giant sci-fi time travel extravamoganza in Amazing Spider-Man #678!

First off, I love that one the Horizon think tank employees making a localized time travel gateway is treated as a relative ho hum another quarterly project done event until Peter being “missing” for a day basically causes the destruction of New York and he has to retrace his future steps from a newspaper in the “good” future as Spidey while his coworker Grady directs him over Bluetooth.  By reading the newspaper.

Comics, everybody!

Second, I love that the issue isn’t only a high-stakes sci-fi action movie but also a story that shows a fundamental understanding of who Spider-Man is as a character in some really neat ways.  I love that Grady was so impressed and surprised with all Spidey does in a single day because the message there is that the reason the Daily Bugle reads “like [Spider-Man’s] blog” is because Spider-Man does so much for New York and it’s not until you read it all at once that you realize it.  A big part of the Spider-Man mythos is that he’s underappreciated by his own city and Grady’s realization fits into that perfectly.

Slott also sneaks in another genius little moment.  Grady, impressed with everything Spidey does, tries to encourage him to cut a corner when recreating the exploits of his “missing” day (while he was momentarily in the future, which took him “out” of his timeline for that 24 hours, thus causing all the destruction.  Come on, keep up.) and suggests he not stop the last few of the muggings the paper listed him getting involved in.  Spidey, without a beat missing, tells Grady that he can’t do that, because he knows how much one mugger than change someone’s life.  After all, he found out the hard way with Uncle Ben.  It’s such a little moment, but it belies such a massively complete understanding of who Peter is.  And it’s almost a throwaway moment!  Together with everything else, however, it reiterates why Slott is the perfectly person to write Amazing Spider-Man.  He gets the character like nobody else does, and together with an artist like Humberto Ramos, he creates gold, almost every time.  Sirs, you have earned the Web of Justice Award. (J)

BRANDON WRITES THINGS ABOUT DD

The man might be a little crazy, but you can not possibly deny the effect that Frank Miller has had on the comic book medium. Between Sin City, his early Batman stories, the original Wolverine mini series, and countless others, he has left his indelible mark on many characters – the least of which being Daredevil.

When Miller was given the reins to the Daredevil book, it was shipping bi-monthly as a stop gap before cancellation. Everyone had written the book off, and decided to give Miller – primarily known at that time as just an artist – full creative control over the book. What resulted now rests in that metaphorical Comic Run Hall of Fame alongside such other gems as the Claremont and Byrne X-Men run, Walt Simonson’s Thor and many others of its ilk.

Flash forward a few decades, and the Daredevil title is struggling for air. The stories are still good, mind you, but the character had been living in the dark shadow of Frank for so long that his life had become an almost comical string of unfortunate events. A change was needed, especially with the diminishing returns that were the result of years of dour storytelling. It was a tactic that was tried before, but to no real sales acclaim. Hell, when Brubaker was writing the book, he would oscillate between making Matt’s life a living hell, and giving him moments of relative swashbuckling peace. The result (both heard from the writer’s mouth, and within the walls of the comic shop that I managed) would be cries of genius when Matt was being put through the meat grinder, and mumbles of hate and boredom when he was having just the tiniest bit of fun. In my opinion, the quality of both kinds of stories were consistent, but again, the long shadow of Miller was far too dark to emerge from.

Enter Mark Waid, editor Stephen Wacker, and their supreme band of artists (including, but not limited to Paolo and Joe Rivera, Marcos Martin, Emma Rios, and Paul Kano). Right from page one, Waid injected a sense of levity to the book, one that was matched beat for beat by his artists. The storytelling was bold, brash and almost classic, but with that hint of darkness looming at the edges, signaling to readers that the past still happened, that Matt’s life really had been hell and he had not merely forgotten – but had a change in perception. After all, once you’ve been through everything, you can’t really be afraid of anything life could throw at you again – so why not truly become a man without fear?

That sense of fun has carried the book quite far, and even permeates this tie-in with Amazing Spider-Man. The characters – such as they are now – play off each other perfectly, and tossing the Black Cat into the mix (even going so far as to shifting her to the Daredevil cast of characters for the foreseeable future) was a genius touch. And the art by Emma Rios in the ASM issue, and Paul Kano in this DD part have both been phenomenal – well deserving to follow in the footsteps of Rivera and Martin.

Daredevil is consistently one of the best books on the shelves, and this issue was no acceptation – thus it is awarded the Wrapped Up Like a Douche Award. (God, I hope those are the right lyrics.) (B)

Better than alllll the rest

At this point, it should not be surprising when we or anybody else raves about Batman or Scott Snyder in general, because that man has quickly become one of the best writers in the business and that makes me so very, very happy.  By “very, very happy,” I of course mean “Freaking me the hell out.”  Obviously.

Is that a dong you're holding or are you just going to murder me?

It’s one thing to be freaked out by, say, a horror comic like Severed, but it’s something I’m just not used to in a Batman comic despite having read Snyder’s work with the cowl for well over a year, now.  Before, if you’d asked me what his best and most unnerving script to date was, I’d likely have mentioned the front half of Detective Comics #874 [Ed Note: In 2 days I will incorrectly describe it as a backup in an episode of Podcast! The Comics], featuring Jim Gordon’s fears that his son might be a serial killer while meeting him at a diner after his son “jokes” about murdering a waitress and clogging the bathroom sink with her severed head.  Or something from the aforementioned Severed.  After last week, I might have to go with Batman #5.

The issue is unnerving not just because of the final cliffhanger, though.  It’s frightening and unnerving because of everything that came before it.  Why?  It’s an easy answer to a complex, riveting issue: this is a Batman who has lost any and all control.  He’s completely at the mercy of the Court of Owls, who have spent over a week wearing him down physically and mentally in their subterranean labyrinth.  By the time we catch up with him, he’s broken.  He’s seeing things and lashing out at the emptiness around him.  It’s a Batman so out of his element, so outside of what’s familiar to the reader, that it becomes intensely terrifying.  Batman is all about controlling a situation.  Ninja shminja; if he can’t plan for every circumstance and have a contingency plan to establish dominance in any situation, he’s just a guy.  This is a story of Bruce as just a guy and it’s incredibly disorienting.

Of course, the issue’s art absolutely enhances that with its innovative layout.  It’s a comic that you literally end up turning in your hands to read, eventually making a full circle.  At some point, you probably got confused and asked yourself if you were doing it right, if it was supposed to be like that, being read upside-down.  It draws a parallel between the reader and Batman, encouraging you to experience things the way he is.  Which is to say, literally not knowing which way is up.

Congratulations, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo!  You are making one of the best comics being published and turned in your best issue yet.  (J)

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