“I Think Guys Don't Know These Things.” COMICS! Sometimes I May Be Slow To Praise But When I Praise It Comes Like The Rains!

Sometimes people stop me in the street and ask me to stop following them what the best monthly periodical genre comic currently on the stands is. And I tell them, all these people who I’m pretending constantly stop me in the street and ask that question, that the best monthly periodical genre comic currently on the stands is STRAY BULLETS. I haven’t said that before on here because, honestly, I didn’t think it needed saying. It seems I thought wrong. So no blame, no shame and let’s don our knuckle dusters, knuckle down and rectify this shabby state of affairs right damn now. Also, I tell you how to get CHEAP COMICS!!! Yeah, thought you’d like that.  photo SBK05Pheader_zps8a884138.jpg

Anyway, this...

 photo SB01b_zps7d85de86.jpg

What is STRAY BULLETS? I’m glad you asked. STRAY BULLETS is in all likelihood all the things you say you want in a comic and a few more things chucked in for good luck. It’s a long form story told in done-in-one chunks; the dialogue’s to die for, being smoothly natural and never, not ever, no, not once, nope, degenerating into tic driven idiocy; the pacing is aces and while it’s got sex, violence, profanity and perversion by the pound it’s also got characters, intelligence, humour and heart to spare. STRAY BULLETS might hide behind Crime but it’s neither desiccated homage nor a canter through the clichés reliant on violence for impact. Superficially STRAY BULLETS is a crime book but like all the best crime fiction it’s really all about life. I never said I was above stating the obvious. STRAY BULLETS is set in a world where everyone pretends they live in a civilised society but they are all just a moment’s inattention or single surrender to temptation away from finding out just how many teeth the world still has. Sometimes teh chracters find out they have the sharpest teeth of all. STRAY BULLETS is about many things but mostly it's about surviving. Or not surviving.

Now you may say that away from STRAY BULLETS Lapham’s a mixed bag. Me, I thought YOUNG LIARS was a modern classic, his strange take on Batman (City of Crime) was pretty frosty large plant seeds and SPARTA U.S.A. was messed up in the right way but sunk by the art (who can ever forget High Blood Pressure Colin Farrell?). There’s others but it’s variable stuff. Which is fine; which is how that stuff goes. But when Lapham’s on STRAY BULLETS he’s up there with los Bros Hernandez, with Clowes, with Speed McNeil. When David Lapham's on STRAY BULLETS he is on. Bang a gong.

 photo SB02b_zpsb87c5a2c.jpg

STRAY BULLETS is in all likelihood all the things you say you want in a comic and a few more things chucked in for good luck. But you aren’t buying it. What’s all that about?

Right, my sleeves are rolled up so let’s get stuck straight in. Firstly, roll your jellied orbs of sight over this ridiculous nonsense:

March 2014: STRAY BULLETS #41 – 8,297 March 2014: STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS #1 – 14,208 April 2014: STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS #2 – 9,147 May 2014: STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS #3 – 7,935 June 2014: STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS #4– 7,092

Those figures are taken from Chris Rice’s Indie Month-to-Month Sales June 2014 column which lurks on Heidi McDonald’s The Beat. With admirable brevity and mordant understatement Chris “Numbers Are My Wonders” Rice comments only, “Should be selling better.”

He’s not wrong.

Okay, sure, STRAY BULLETS #41 was the final issue of a storyline left dangling since the cessation in 2005 of the regular publication of STRAY BULLETS; mass turnouts weren’t ever really on the cards. Staggeringly, in 2005 the world of comics was so preposterous that David Lapham couldn’t actually afford to publish his Eisner winning (not that that matters, but still) and thoroughly EXCELLENT! comic. Beyond staggeringly this nonsensical state of affairs persisted for nine years until Image Comics rescued David Lapham’s EXCELLENT! series. An understandable state of affairs then that such a long delayed comic should shift so few ‘units’ (ack!). Turning that frown upside down though; that’s a remarkable number of units for a nine years delayed comic to move. Always a silver lining, that’s me. Anyway this is collected in STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES EDITION which we’ll get to shortly but STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS is the new stuff and y'all ain't picking it up.

 photo SB03b_zps83dd8397.jpg

I like to try before I buy and purchases cost money and money is not something I am fat with, you might say. Hush, for this is a strange new world where procurement does not always require payment in full. All the sexy souls riding The Future bareback like the Pope intended can just get right on the STRAY BULLETS bandwagon right here and right now at the slightest possible cost. See, the first issue of the original 1995 series is available for just $.99 and just $1.99 for each issue thereafter at just the touching of a screen or two. Being all old and not really into the whole riding my jetpack to the mall thing I won’t risk embarrassment by going into any further detail but, yes, Digital users curious about STRAY BULLETS can have a virtual bunch of them in two shakes of a Vic20. Okay, there’s the hidden cost of actually being able to afford one of those tablets or pads or gadgets; which might explain why you haven’t any money left to purchase comics on the shinily enticing thing. But I just showed you a way round it that doesn’t involve piracy (not a fan, sorry). No worries, my pleasure. While I do want you to read STRAY BULLETS I do draw the line at discretely placing it on your devices without your consent like some shower of tax dodging rock star ****s in servitude to some dark Corporate Beast. Politeness is the first casualty of synergy it seems.

 photo SB04b_zps62741310.jpg

STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES EDITION Written & Drawn by David Lapham El Capitan/Image Comics $59.99 STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham

 photo SBUA01b_zpsb205ad25.jpg

If I can just prise the offended fingers of noted paper based merchant and mini brew swigger Brian “Two Shops Are Better Than One!” Hibbs from around my throat I’ll swiftly make amends by shilling the physical things. Because what of those resistant to the tug of the Future? What of those medieval souls who through habit or penury remain chained to the physical world? Oh, shred not thy garments and untear thy hair for those wayward dregs also have the ability to start at the beginning; thanks to STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES EDITION. This is not a low cost entry point; it is in fact $59.99. But for that money you do get 41 issues of consistently EXCELLENT! comics. Yes, that is a lot of greenbacks, a lot of hours at the coal face, a lot of time staring at a screen while your arteries quietly harden, but it is worth every ass busting cent in terms of comics. Also, you’ll get STRAY BULLETS #21. You don’t know this yet but STRAY BULLETS #21 is one of the finest single issues ever made. If I was stranded on a desert island I’d die within three days of exposure. But if before that happened I was allowed to take two comics one would be OMAC #1 by Jack Kirby and the other would be STRAY BULLETS #21. That’s because they are my idea of perfect single issue genre comics and together the two of them would provide enough entertainment for the three days I had left to live.

STRAY BULLETS #21 is just great comics as Lapham smoothly fillets the heterosexual male psyche with the scalpel of satire without once faltering in his deadpan delivery. All those lazy boner scenarios which flit across the inside of the bored suburban male’s skull are drily depicted in all their banal hilarity. In the character of Benny David Lapham wrought a comic creation the equal of Jack Kirby’s OMAC. For just as OMAC was the ultimate man for the world which was coming!!! Benny is the ultimate man for the world that’s already here. (Fucking Benny. You fucking shambles, Benny.) And then there’s a whole bunch of comics around that little sweetie during the course of which David Lapham shows us many things, all of which come under the umbrella heading of Comics: How They Should Be Done. Reading STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES EDITION it becomes apparent that it is possible to create a series with a strong sense of time and place without wallowing in received clichés; it is possible to create characters at once grotesquely monstrous but also unsettlingly human and relatable; it is possible for the ridiculous to sit beside the realistic without duelling elbows; it is possible to take for granted art displaying the influences of Mazzucchelli, Munoz and Meskin; it is possible to get things right right from the start and to keep right on getting them right. STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES EDITION might look pricey but it’s a steal for what it is, because it is EXCELLENT! multiplied by 41!

Of course it’s cheaper just to hop on board the new series so let’s see how that’s shaping up! (SPOILER: It’s EXCELLENT! You didn’t know I could be this positive for so long did you? Ack! I think something just popped inside my head.)

STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #1 Written & Drawn by David Lapham El Capitan/Image Comics, $3.50 (2014) STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham

 photo SBK01Cb_zps128f1cd1.jpg

But c’mon! Where were you all with this one? STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #1 was a real Double Deckers (“Get on board! Get on board!”) moment but it seems most of you forgot to set your alarm and missed the bus. Because, according to those figures at The Beat in June 2014 STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS was the 234th best-selling comic book to North American retailers. 234th. Two hundred and thirty fourth. True, nestled just beneath it in 235th place was Parker & Shaner’s bubbly respray of FLASH GORDON, so it’s in good company down there. But it remains a fact that STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS is being outsold by 233 other comics, many of which, horrifically, have Mark Millar involved. While you don’t need any prior knowledge of STRAY BULLETS if you do have prior knowledge of the series then it’s a richer experience but then that’s what knowledge does; it makes experiences richer. All you need to enjoy this comic is to read it. But to do that you have to buy it. If you do you'll find that this one’s about Dads and how men who become Dads don’t stop being men. When people say it’s a full time job being a Dad they mean it’s a full time job not backsliding into being an asshole. Thematically this issue is akin to that episode of East Bound And Down where Kenny took everyone to the water park. It’s EXCELLENT!

 photo SBK01Pb_zps8e2b7b4e.jpg

STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #2 Written & Drawn by David Lapham El Capitan/Image Comics, $3.50 (2014) STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham

 photo SBK02Cb_zpsd6fb9d77.jpg

Well, that was upsetting. But not in a cheap way. It's EXCELLENT!

 photo SBK02Pb_zpsee01e910.jpg

STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #3 Written & Drawn by David Lapham El Capitan/Image Comics, $3.50 (2014) STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham

 photo SBK03Cb_zps4dafaa6b.jpg

This one’s like David Lynch trying to do one of those John Hughes movie things people who aren't me like. One of those full of loveable scamps and risky japes. If you worked in Television and needed everything reducing to a formula you could kind of boil this one down to: Hi-jinks ensue when Laura Palmer babysits for Bobby Peru! It’s all kind of light and frothy except for all the darkness and psychological pain which keep bursting into the dollhouse setting like a mental elephant at full pelt. It’s EXCELLENT!

 photo SBK03Pb_zpsc379b2de.jpg

STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #4 by David Lapham El Capitan/Image $3.50 (2014) STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham

 photo SBK04Cb_zps8e518910.jpg

Wherein David Lapham focuses in on the burgeoning romance of his young leads without once making me do a bit of sick in my mouth. Maybe that’s because Lapham’s such a good storyteller that he can communicate that early adult feeling of being so trapped between the life you have, the life you want and the life everyone else wants for you that you can feel your brain physically flex. And then you go and do a load of dumb shit and get to live with it. Forever. Jellybeans for everyone! Or maybe it’s just that David Lapham knows just when to throw in a panel of monkey cuddlies dangling from a beach hut roof. Either way in this issue I watched a couple of kids behave as foolishly and as purely as any real hormonal basket cases and I liked them even more by the end. It's EXCELLENT!

 photo SBK04Pb_zps88243749.jpg

STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #5 by David Lapham El Capitan/Image $3.50 (2014) STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham

 photo SBK05Cb_zps51e74c0b.jpg

This is one of the regular breather issues which have peppered the series since it started. One of the ones some folk don’t cotton to overmuch. One of the issues where Lapham interrupts the regular narrative to catch up with the ridiculously violent, bombastically nonsensical and wholly imaginary adventures of Amy Racecar. It’ s possible these issues act as the very dreamlife of the series itself with all the key themes and motifs allowed to frolic across the pages without the constraints of logic the preceding issues worked within. I’m probably the wrong man to ask about that kind of stuff as I’m busy laughing my ruby red ass off at it all. Can a mass murdering and quite fetchingly befreckled fugitive from justice who has sworn off killing find love with a suicidal and blind quadruple amputee; yea, though all the guns of the world be turned against them? Buckle up and find out. Makes Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers look like Downton Abbey, and I like Natural Born Killers. STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #5; the louder you scream the faster it goes! It’s EXCELLENT!

 photo SBK05Pb_zps3e305e46.jpg

STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #6 by David Lapham El Capitan/Image $3.50 (2014) STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham

 photo SBK06Cb_zps1286dff1.jpg

It’s a bit late in the day but I should probably say that STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS is for mature readers. Sure, it’s for mature readers in the commonly accepted sense that it’s frequently rudey-roo and would make your vicar’s cheeks shine like a freshly slapped arse. However, it’s also for mature readers in that it can tease and hint at the contents of a locked room and let your mind fill in all the unspeakable details only to wrongfoot you at the end with an ending which admits that sometimes reality is horrible enough. Basically (and it’s unusual for genre comics this) STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS is for mature readers in the sense that it treats you like a fucking grown-up. It’s EXCELLENT!

 photo SBK06P_zps8965f01d.jpg

So, there you go, I’ve told you all about STRAY BULLETS (and STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS) while leaving you no wiser. Some might argue that that’s pretty thoroughly bloody useless but, what; you want me to spoil everything for you? That isn’t going to happen. All you need to take away from this is that I think STRAY BULLETS (and STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS) is EXCELLENT!

Or to put it to you a little more pithily:

David Lapham’s STRAY BULLETS is – COMICS!!!

All over the map: Hibbs' 11/7

Comics, TV, and a movie, after the jump.

Comics, first? OK with me!


FUCK ALAN MOORE BEFORE WATCHMEN: MOLOCH #1: Much like MINUTEMEN, this would be one of the FAMBW books that I was at least curious about -- we don't really know a lot about Moloch, and he's arguably a principal... well, "catalyst", at least, if not "character". And I was hopeful because, hell, Eduardo Risso is drawing it, and that cat can fuckin' draw, y'know? Sadly, though, it has all the subtlety of any other comic that J. Michael Straczynski has written recently, that is: slim-to-none, and the result is just a cliched horrible mess -- Moloch's bad because he's ugly (no explanation for the bat ears is given), and because all women are horrible predatory whores. Yay!

Even Better is how this was hastily solicited to fill in a massive scheduling hole, where, suddenly, they seem to have lost an entire month's worth of FAMBW titles -- going from weekly to skipping five week's worth of issues is a kick in the gut on momentum on this series which was pretty strongly selling to a specific group of customers who are buying the entire project (not specific minis, like I thought in advance) -- well, damn, it makes DC suddenly look like Marvel in terms of schedule.

Either way, I know this isn't aimed at me, but we continue with "Exceptionally pretty, but emotionally bankrupt", which the closest on the Critic scale is, I think, EH.


DEADPOOL #1:  Brian Posehn (!), Gerry Duggan, and Tony Moore do the Marvel NOW! relaunch of  "the Merc with the mouth", and he's pretty much a character that I've never really cared one teensy bit about ever -- to the point where I don't believe (from the tags) that we've ever once reviewed a straight Deadpool comic on the site ever! -- and, hey, guess what, I thought it was reasonably entertaining! I can't say I'd personally add it to my monthly reading stack, but there was some charm and wisecracking, and an imaginatively funny series of antagonists, and it's almost certainly modestly GOOD.

What's funny for me, as a retailer guy, is just how much better this is selling right now then the next book (about 250% of that figure), as well as outselling it's previous incarnation, handily (for now at least) -- I went long on this #1, chasing that fat 70% discount, and I'm confident they'll eventually go (week 15, or 16, I'm guessing), while the next book I can already tell I'll never ever sell them all. *sigh*


IRON MAN #1: is that next book, and, in many significant ways for this retailer, my real litmus test for the commercial viability of MarvelNOW! as a branding exercise for Marvel.

I'm sure that in a month or two I'll write a post-mortum on the launches for TILTING AT WINDMILLS, but going into this my feeling was that Marvel comics are a significantly more popular "brand" than DC, and have a MUCH larger number of "lapsed" readers. The "New 52" launch succeeded by any dream of avarice I might have had, where even books where it was clear that they WOULD be cancelled within a year (HAWK & DOVE, anyone?) still sold 70-80% more copies than I ever thought they possibly could have, and the "big books" totally dominated fourth quarter sales charts.

Now, to me, IRON MAN is the modern quintessential Marvel comic -- two hit movies, lead role in the AVENGERS film, can't HELP but benefit from a big wide "push". DC reboots sold like 500%+ their previous issues, I didn't feel at all shaky going 300% of "current" IM sales, scored the extra discount on the first issue, at least (as I did with most, but not all, NOW! books)

So far? I've sold precisely one FEWER copy of #1 than I have of #522 in the same time period (day #6). Uh? What? The? Fuck? Again: I'm sure that will pick up eventually, but, damn, that's the exact opposite of what was supposed to happen.

The big problem is that I can't actually push the comic very hard on the strength of its contents -- I'm no real fan of Greg Land's stiff-and-lightboxed art, and Kieron Gillan's script, despite being one of the "Yeah, that makes sense!" names attached to NOW!, gives us a story whose premise is essentially that of "Armor Wars". I've read "Armor Wars". God help me, I've even read "Armor Wars II", this isn't what I want to read as the Big Relaunch.

I mean, it isn't terrible, or anything, but it's also not much better than OK, and for a $4 asking price, am I really going to suggest people buy this over, say, STUMPTOWN or even the next book, this week? Yeah, didn't think so.

This week is going to be the real test of it, I think (with 6 NOW! books), but I'm starting to feel like MarvelNOW! is going to be as big of a miss as New52 was a hit, and that's truly terrifying if that's playing out in the rest of the world the same way.


DIAL H #6: A beautiful, beautiful done-in-one story essentially ruminating on the stupidity and banality of some characters, and just how hard it is to "fight crime", and the real selling point for me was that the issue was drawn by David Lapham, who, of course, isn't even cover billed. Yeah, this was a truly great issue of this series -- I thought it was VERY GOOD.


How about some TV? Sure, can do!


ARROW: much to my disconcertion and surprise, I thought this was kind of non-shitty.  I was expecting more "Smallville" (ew), but instead it's kind of about as close to "Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters" (well, or more properly, the monthly book by Grell & Hannigan just AFTER that mini-series) as you're likely to find -- there's a structured mystery, and plan, and it seems like it is playing out alright, and while it's a version of Green Arrow from Earth-TV (Speedy is his sister, Deathstroke is some sort of army torturer, or something, the probably-some-day Black Canary is named "Laurel", rather than "Dinah", so on, so forth) it has an interesting continuing flashback structure -- yeah, I don't love it (I'd never have watched it if I didn't own a comic book store), but I like it very fine. Marc Guggenheim has managed to make a very solid little weekly vigilante TV show.

Two notes: first: man, the budget on this thing seems loooooow, to me -- they're constantly setting scenes in "night clubs" which are fairly clearly a soundstage, with a curtain hanging in the background with colored lights playing against it, and like two silhouettes dancing behind it -- yet they sell it pretty damn well.

Second: this Arrow (oddly called "hood" by most characters IN the show) is a STRAIGHT-UP killer. Some episodes the body counts top a score. And it's all very kind of sub-rosa -- I mean, yes, the cops are after him, but one gets the sense it's more from being a vigilante, rather than being a KILLER vigilante. You'd think that "Laurel", as written, would be appalled by Arrow's actions, but, yeah, kind of not.  It is odd.

Anyway, I think this show is watchable, and surprisingly OK.


THE WALKING DEAD: So far, season 3 has been going swimmingly (I'm a week behind, I think?) -- this has been going breakneck speed, and shock follows shock pretty much every week. What I'm liking the best is that all of the same pieces are in play from the comic, but things come in different order, at different times that you can't really second guess it much. I mean, clearly, we have the prison, we have the Governor, but other than that, "anything can happen". I'm finding this a real thrill this season, and some of the acting this go round is getting downright good -- especially a recent reaction to something that happened involving Rick -- that was some raw-ass human emotion there. This really has been VERY GOOD, with only memories of the first "half" of Season 2 keeping me from wholly embracing it.


What, and a film, too? Sure! (though this has to go faster than I thought, since I just got the call that the truck with this week's comics will be here in a few minutes!)


SKYFALL: The latest James bond film was, I thought, one of the better ones -- it's actually ABOUT something, and when viewed with CASINO ROYALE (skip out on QUANTUM OF SOLACE, I think), it really projects a lot of new possibilities for the character -- but the last act of the film, while emotionally connective, was almost terrifyingly "small" in scope and range for a Bond movie, where you expect it to get bigger and bigger and ludicrous.  There's a crazy villain, however, and bi-sexual flirting (!), and a surprising denouement there at the end, and it even had what I thought were the best credit sequence of the entire series (seriously, it was almost entirely nude woman free, AND relevant to the actual movie, for once). You have to go far to beat MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN in my heart (and SPY WHO LOVED ME / MOONRAKER in my memory, though, watching those again with Ben, I didn't care for either much), and this didn't beat those heights, but, yeah, I thought it was terrific and thoughtful in most ways. It's a very strong GOOD.


Whew! Gotta bounce! How about you? What did YOU think?



Getting Hibbsy with 10/31

Ugh, I’ve missed too many weeks of reviews here, let’s get this back on track! A PLUS X #1 NOW: Finally another ”Marvel NOW!” title ships… and it is the low-to-no plot title. “AvX: VS” was a cute side project for the main AvX comic (and could be, I think, argued that it was often much better than the comic with the actual plot), but I have a hard time seeing this concept sustainable as an ongoing monthly.  As always, things that work out as a joke idea generally can’t survive being stretched out to ongoing status, and I think the low-to-no-plot content is going to not help that one tiny bit. The execution of this issue? Totally competent, but I suspect people are looking for a bit more than “competent” for a $3.99 monthly series. I thought it was EH.

ACTION COMICS ANNUAL #1: Sholly Fisch (Whose name, have I said out loud?, sounds like a golden Age DC Comics writer) takes the big chair here, and the result is perfectly respectable.  Actually, what I found interesting was just how much this comic resembled the basic plot of SUPERMAN EARTH ONE v2 – sudden powers given to someone that Superman must stop, but can’t touch physically lest his own powers be removed; end of comic, villain goes to work for military, which is trying to figure out a way how to kill Superman – also out this week. I think this annual did the story much much better, and it was highly OK.

ANGEL & FAITH #15: I mostly bring this issue up because the back half of it is illustrated by David Lapham, a general rarity these days, much to my sorrow. Isn’t it just nuts that STRAY BULLETS is not in print? Crazy crazy making. Anyway, yeah, ANGEL & FAITH is generally more readable than BUFFY and this issue is no exception, even if it reads a smidge like a fill-in with its two-story structure. Still? GOOD.

AQUAMAN #13: Fourteen issues later, and it’s still all about TELLING us that Aquaman is good, without really SHOWING it. Scowly-Anger-Man is, I guess, a form of characterization, but I’m still not really certain just WHY he’s so pissed off about everything. The only one calling Aquaman lame is the writer of this comic (and they do it again, here, fourteen issues in). Were I paying cash for comical books, this issue would mark me as “Done”, but I work in a comics store, so I quite imagine I’ll read the next issue as well, and not really enjoy it very much either. EH.

BATGIRL ANNUAL #1: I found the painted art (mostly by Admira Wijaya) to be a little too, dunno, paperback cover-like, maybe? Too stiff, too posed, and largely unable to properly render anything too “fantastic” (like Catwoman’s mask, or the perfectly proportioned bandages on SheTalon’s face, and I’m pretty sick of Court of Owls-related stuff at this point, but otherwise, this annual was perfectly OK.

BEDLAM #1: It’s kind of an Arkham Asylum / Joker pitch with the serial numbers filed off in which, at least if I’m following this correctly, the Joker becomes a “good” guy at the end – it carried me right along in its world, which is what a comic is supposed to do, so let’s add this to the rapidly growing pile of intriguing Image comics – I’ll go with VERY GOOD, I think, and, hey, you can buy it on our digital store!

CAPTAIN MARVEL #6: Among the many reasons I am not an editor of comic books is not really understanding why you would launch a book with as distinct of an artist as Dexter Soy, then drop him out before the end of the first arc for someone like Emma Rios (who is a swell artist, but nothing whatsoever like Soy in style or tone). Nor, for that matter, why you would jam out those 6 issues in three and a half months. Especially if your artist can’t keep that schedule, apparently? Also: I’d never ever have made the first arc a time travel story, especially with a (sorry) B-level character like Cap who needs to be “reintroduced” to the Marvel U – you don’t make that work by taking the character OUT of the (modern) Universe. Add it all up, and it’s not any kind of surprise we’re already down to single digit sales on this title from just under 30 sold of issue #1. But the worst part of it all, the very worst part? I really thought this wrap up chapter was quite good, and, I think, ended up making Carol’s “secret origin” a much stronger one. I thought this issue was VERY GOOD, too bad I’ll end up being subs only by issue #12 at the rate things are going.

EC KURTZMAN CORPSE O/T IMJIN AND OTHER STORIES HC EC WALLY WOOD CAME THE DAWN AND OTHER STORIES HC : Sadly, deeply, amazingly disappointed in these – purely because they’re in black & white. I was strongly hoping for something like the Carl Barks reprints, with that nice flat coloring, and I was absolutely committed to replacing out my EC library (which consists of all of the Gemstone reprints, the ones that are literally four issues of the comics, covers, ads and all, glued together into an outercover) for handsome FBI reprints… but, ugh, I don’t want them in black and white. The solicitation copy, the press releases, really bury the fact that these aren’t in color, which I kind of find borderline dishonest. This is now the second attempt at upscale packaging for the ECs in a row that gets it wrong (the last HC set had new, shiny, color, ew!), which just hurts. I think I’m going to have to cut my orders on the next set of books by like 80% -- even “Nostalgia Guy” (my name for him) turned up his nose at them when he spied them on the rack. It’s too bad, because these ARE handsome hardcovers, and those spines are going look AWESOME together on the shelf, and it is really smart to collect the ECs by artist and genre – but they’re simply not how I want these stories archived in my library. I love the EC comics, and they really do deserve to be there for a wider audience, but I’d encourage you to have your LCS to try ordering the Gemstone “Annuals” – about ¾ of them are still in print, but Diamond never really advertises the fact. I stumbled across them doing a trawl of Diamond’s inventory, in fact. But those are flat color on newsprint, which is kind of how those books SHOULD be presented. I also don’t like how this edition doesn’t note which specific comics which specific story comes from. I would have preferred a Table of Contents more like a DC Archives edition, which even gives you month/year. *sigh* For the outer packaging, and the underlying work, I wanted to give a VERY GOOD, or an EXCELLENT, but this B&W edition makes me say EH, instead.

GHOSTS #1: Here’s a happy surprise – I kind of flat-out loved this anthology, as virtually every story was stellar. The other thing I really liked is that with the exception of the Phil Jimenez story, I feel like I could hand this comic over to Ben to read at 9 years old, just like its 70s predecessor. That’s the most awesome thing of all, and I think that they should continue that into the future with Vertigo Anthologies. Get that “Suggested for mature readers” off the cover, says I! The only story I really didn’t like? The “Neil Gaiman’s Dead Boy Detectives” which they decided to bill on the cover instead of Geoff John’s first Vertigo work (which I kind of found odd) – the problem is that it isn’t a full story, at all, and “too be continued, somewhere, eventually” is a big fail in an anthology book. I’m also growing more and more convinced that Al Ewing is The Real Deal, and I really loved his kick off story. And presenting the pencils-only from the Joe Kubert story was kind of touching and cool. Yeah, so: VERY GOOD.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE THE ORIGIN OF SKELETOR #1: You also want to know from surprising? LOVED this. I don’t care for/about MotU at all, and their backstories never seemed any deeper than, dunno, a marketing interns stab at creating a fantasy world (Though, really, what else can you do when you have characters named things like “Stinkor”), so when Joshua Hale Fialkov actually manages to build a backstory that is reasonably compelling, then said story is drawn by Frazier Irving (!), then, hokey smokes, you’ve got a horse race. I was loving this right up to the last page when it says something like “And, so, your name is….SKELETOR!” and then I remembered it was a MotU comic. Aw! Still, this really was surprisingly VERY GOOD.

POPE HATS #3: Ooh, and this was even better. Ethan Rilly is going from strength to strength with this comic, and, damn it, I wish I could still sell issue #1 because we should be picking up readers for this great slice of life story about two room mates with very different career paths. Straight up terrific cartooning, and I would call it “Excellent” except for that pesky $6.95 cover price. Ow. So, knocking a grade off for that: VERY GOOD.

Looks like I’m out of time for the week – time to go pay bills! (yay?)

As always, what did YOU think?


“Hell erupts and Heaven can only CRY.” Comics? Bad for your soul, but I read ‘em anyway!

I read some comics. Did a little dance. Wrote some words. So I guess this me asking, "Something for the weekend, sir?"

THE MIGHTY THOR #3 by Matt Fraction(w), Olivier Coipel/Mark Morales(a), Laura Martin(c) and VC’s Joe Sabino(l) (Marvel, $3.99)

“The Galactus Seed 3: Stranger” Galactus lolls about on the moon as Asgard engages in pointless fights and wonky dialogue and all the while the people of Broxton become ever more tedious! Also: Sif’s bongos revealed!

This month The Priest With The Least is having problems with the concept of tolerance. Boy Howdy, those Theological issues are getting a real seeing to and no mistake. Priesty and his cronies are also now drawn with a somewhat demonic aspect. Hopefully this is foreshadowing their true natures rather than just ham handed caricaturing. Hey, a boy can hope even though the lack of subtlety or nuance in this thing is pretty substantial. There’s just a total lack of attention to anything beyond the surface dazzle and bluster, both of which exist purely thanks to the efforts of Olivier Coipel. Rather than being an actual Thor comic the whole lifeless exercise comes across as a bad cover version of a Thor comic. It’s dispiriting is what it is and that makes it EH!

IRON MAN 2.0 #4 by Nick Spencer(w), Ariel Olivetti(a) and VC's Joe Caramanga(l) (Marvel, $2.99)

"Palmer Addley Is Dead Part 4" The notionally moving tale of a talented boy who fell through the cracks is eviscerated by a total disregard for the comics medium! 'Nuff said!

Oh boy, this thing right here. There are no less than 8 pages of talking heads and this follows 6 pages of a woman in a library simply gaining access to a file, reading it and being a bit upset by the contents. There are 4 double page splashes intended to be emotionally affecting but, alas, each totally fails in this due to the inept execution. Respectively these resemble: an outtake from Commodore64 version of Toy Story, an illustration to a magazine article on predatory sex pests, a scene from a fumetti entitled "When Bins Attack!" and an  advert for Lego City: Urban Shooting Playset. This is a horrible comic because it isn't a comic it's an (ineptly) illustrated TV script. One that relies for any impact on the fact that you too have seen the same generic scenes and that you will bring the emotion you felt when seeing these scenes in a, hopefully, better realised context, to bear on this pallid vacuum and give it some semblance of interest or verve. This is not a comic and so it is AWFUL!

SCALPED #49 by Jason Aaron(w), R.M. Guera(a), Giulia Brusco(c) and Sal Cipriano(l) (Vertigo/DC, $2.99)

“You Gotta Sin To Get Saved: Ain’t No God.” Paths are crossed.Secrets are revealed. Scores are settled. A decison is made.

When a character does something that’s totally out of character? That’s bad writing. But when a character does something out of character and then you realize they haven’t, instead it was you who you had the character wrong? That’s pretty good writing. If you’ve read this issue you already know what I’m talking about and if you haven’t read it you best be waiting for the trade, lovehandles, because otherwise you’re missing out on some damn fine comics. Golly, it was beautiful. I was thinking, “Of course. How convenient!”, and then I ended up with cake on my face. The cake of fools. 49 issues in and these characters are still growing and still developing in ways which, while never predictable, are entirely consistent. It’s easy to lose sight of the subtleties of SCALPED embedded as they are in the lurid and sensational aspects which surround them but they always rear up into view at precisely the right point. And the art, well, let’s just say that R. M. Guera is often close to Moebius, and that’s pretty much like being close to God. In a good way.

I may be a fool but not to the extent that I'd doubt for one second that Aaron and Guera would be totally okay with this being a TV show. Yet in the first instance they created a comic which worked as a comic. And worked very well as a comic at that. Ambitions towards other media shouldn't result in a lack of ambition in the source material. Yeah, the bit with the phone alone was EXCELLENT!

DEADPOOLMAX #9 by David Lapham(w), Shawn Crystal(a), John Rauch(c) and VC’s Clayton Cowles(l) (Marvel, $3.99)

“Bachelor Party For Bachelors” Bob’s not getting married in the morning but is that going to stop his zany scarred assassin pal from giving him a night he’ll never forget? You can bet your sweet caboose it’s not!

I’m not proud of this but I should probably tell you that the last couple of weeks I’ve been pulling a “Bobby Shaftoe” and amusing myself by substituting the word “sh*t” for the words “Fear” and “Flash” in everything I read about Marvel and DC’s annual sales spike stunt comics. See, and it’s dead clever this, you get stuff like “Sh*t Itself” and Sh*tpoint” right off the bat and then the tag lines become “Do You Sh*t…Tomorrow!” and “Everything Changes – in a Sh*t!” and there’s now a “Sh*t wave” covering the earth and, this is my favourite this one, Professor Zoom – The Reverse Sh*t!

So, y’know, I have childish aspects to my personality is what I’m getting at. So maybe the fact I don’t find DEADPOOLMAX very funny is actually a good thing? You’ll notice Kyle Baker hasn’t drawn any of this issue which is better than him not finishing drawing some of the previous issues, which has been happening quite a lot. So I make a noise like EH!

DC COMICS PRESENTS NIGHT FORCE #1 by Marv Wolfman(w), Gene Colan/Bob Smith(a), Michele Wolfman(c) and John Constanza(l)(DC Comics, $7.99)

NIGHT FORCE – they force the night to surrender its secrets! If the night needs forcing that means it’s time for NIGHT FORCE! When the NIGHT FORCE…my lonely heart calls! Oh, I wanna dance with somebody!

Ah, sweet Gene Colan.  Gene “The Dean” Colan.  Truly a unique and delightful force in mainstream genre comic art. Beyond the oft-commented upon use of shadows and light I always found his work very similar to that of Gil Kane but less rarefied and more grounded. Where Kane’s work had an operatic fluidity Colan’s was more workaday hustle. While Kane’s characters soared and thrust, Colan’s figures stumbled and lurched within a POV that was more hectic than roving. His work had life bursting out of every panel but it was the life of a bloke rather than that of a demi-god.  You could aspire to be a Kane character given enough genetic engineering and a high tolerance for pain but you probably already were a Colan character.  And although Colan seamlessly grafted his style onto all manner of genres his art possessed an intrinsic familiarity to draw the reader in no matter how fantastic the four colour shenanigans. He was The Dean. He will always be The Dean.

This package collects NIGHT FORCE #1-4 from 1982 A.D.  The issues show Baron Winters recruiting a motley group of people with sad pasts in order to prevent supernatural evil elements from ensuring the world itself has a very sad future. Baron Winters is one of those oh-so-spooky chaps that appears never to age, has a different garden every time he opens his patio doors and owns a leopard called Schnorbitz. Sorry, I meant Merlin. (Obscure reference? Check and mate.) He’s also under some kind of supernatural house arrest, hence his need for human agents who can move freely in the world abroad! So we have Jack Gold (bitter smoker with a poor employment record), Donovan Caine (a professor of parapsychology who has a wife and child who, let’s face it, shouldn’t be starting in on any DVD box sets) and Vanessa Van Helsing (a kind of psychic nuclear attack in the form of a lady). The three are manipulated into close contact via the Baron and the government’s interest in Caine’s experiments. Taking place on campus these seem to involve trying to open the Gates of Hell by stimulating Ms Van Helsing’s nascent powers via the repeated application of orgies. Which is eerily similar to my experiences of not-studying at Coventry Polytechnic. Anyway stuff goes wrong and all kind of bad hoodoo gets a-cooking!

It’s fast pulpy fun which is either enhanced or undermined, your call, by its attempts to try and inject some maturity into the whole exercise. There are references to “open marriages”, “alimony” and, while the “orgy” word isn’t ever used, it’s clear that quite a lot of people are having quite a lot of fun in a confined space via the medium of physical interaction. Sure it’s clumsy and unconvincing but kind of endearing. Of course it was all for naught as in 1984 Howard Victor Chaykin would demonstrate how to graft a more mature sensibility onto genre comics. But this was 1982 and Wolfman and Colan have a pop at it and it doesn’t really work  but, hey, they sure snuck a lot of stuff past the Comics Code.

There are many things wrong with this comic but pretty much all the worst of them are due to sloppy (re)presentation rather than the creative types involved. The last page in particular is a right horrorshow. I guess no one could find a copy of this page so they asked someone who had read it when it came out to describe it over a faulty phone line to someone with a cheap pen and the delerium tremens and then everyone just crossed their fingers. It’s bad.

And, I really don’t want to sound like Andy Anal here but, the paper stock is all wrong. Mr. Colan has gone to some effort use some exciting techniques, mostly with craft tint (is that right? That dotty stuff.), but these depend on a layering effect to succeed and they fail totally because the image just sits right on top of the glossy paper with exactly and precisely no differentiation between the layered elements. The paper also works against the inking which is too sharp for the necessary haziness of Colan’s pencils. Okay, that was probably the case in the original but the old timey soft paper would have mitigated this while the new timey , oh, look even I can’t believe I’m talking about paper stock, but that’s just how much it doesn’t work. It makes it look like Gene Colan doesn’t know what he’s doing. Gene Colan knew what he was doing but the people who assembled this didn’t. Or did but didn’t care, which is worse.

Still, it was The Dean so it was GOOD!

So, yeah, COMICS!!! Buy 'em from your LCS - I do!