Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The problem with time travel

Last week, Greg Burgas at Comics Should Be Good mentioned his difficulty getting past the way time travel is being portrayed in The Return of Bruce Wayne.

So in this issue, Dick and Damian investigate the weirdo coffin in which Bruce was trapped and the Justice League checks out the cape that they found in the cave, and the God of All Comics is pulling it all together decently. But here's the thing: while Diana and the rest of the League and Dick and Damian are talking about all of this stuff, I can't get over the fact that the past and the present simply can't exist at the same time. It bothers the hell out of me that, in comics, a person in the "present" can be talking about events that happened in the past, and those events are being shown, not as if they're happening in a different time, but as if they're just happening at a different place in the world and at the same time. I can't get past that, I'm sorry.

Meanwhile, several fans have pointed out the obvious blunder in the art on page 15 of issue #3, which shows Green Lantern Hal Jordan sitting at the JLA table, even though he is supposed to be with Superman and the others hunting for Bruce. J. Caleb Mozzocco illustrates the mistake on his blog with some added dialogue.

Personally, what I can't wrap my head around is why when people travel to a different time they would then be absent for an extended period in the present. It doesn't matter if they go on a year-long journey, they could still return to the moment immediately following their departure. That's what the time machine is for! Why keep everyone else waiting for weeks?

Similarly, in issue #1, Superman and company showed up just moments after Bruce Wayne had disappeared from prehistoric times. Their reaction: "Oh, no. We just missed him. We have to keep chasing him through time." No, you don't! You know he was there 5 minutes ago, so just use your time machine and go back in time!"

It doesn't make any sense. But that's the thing with stories involving time travel - they almost never do. So I'm trying not to let this spoil my enjoyment of the series, which is really quite a lot of fun in many other ways. I'm just a little bit disappointed that Grant Morrison wouldn't treat time travel more intelligently.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Is It Wednesday Yet?

Here's what I'm considering buying this week.


Since JMS's Superman run looks like it's going to suck (at least based on the prologue in Superman #700), I am now tempted to give Action Comics a try, even though it won't actually feature Superman for a while. I've heard very good things about Paul Cornell (who recently signed an exclusive contract with DC) and in particular his work on Captain Britain and the MI-13. Here's an interview where he talks about his plans for the title, which stars Lex Luthor.


Still on the fence about this one, but mostly leaning toward trade-waiting.


Definitely interested in purchasing this book, which collects stories from Greg Rucka's award-winning Batwoman run on Detective Comics. I probably won't buy it this week, due to budgetary restrictions, but it's going on my shopping list.


I was pleasantly surprised by how good the first two issues were, so I'm looking forward to the next installment. Francis Manapul's art has been gorgeous so far.


Urgh. Another overpriced "giant-sized anniversary issue." If I had realized these were going to be five dollars a pop, I might not have put all three of them on my pull list. Oh, well. It'll be interesting to see how this one compares to the other two.

NORTHLANDERS #29 (Vertigo)

I've never read this title, but I think it looks pretty good. This month's issue is a stand-alone story called "The Sea Road", so it seems like a perfect opportunity to sample the book before the next multiple-issue storyline (called "Metal") kicks off next month. Writer Brian Wood talks about it on Vertigo's Graphic Content blog.


I have no idea what to make of this, but I'm curious enough to at least flip through it in the shop. I probably won't buy this, but it all depends on what I see in the store.


Issue #1 was great. Looking forward to it.

Also, I was looking for a copy of Bulletproof Coffin #1 after reading several positive reviews online, but my comic book store sold out before I had a chance to buy it. Good news: Image is giving away the full issue online for free, via Bleeding Cool. Check it out.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Review: Detective Comics #866

Written by Dennis O'Neil; art by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs.

Here's a perfect example of how certain comic book fans let their obsession with continuity ruin their enjoyment of the medium they supposedly love. (This is a topic I've been wanting to write about for some time, and I will elaborate on it in a later post.)

There's nothing wrong with Detective Comics #866. It's written by Dennis O'Neil, who knows a thing or two about how to write Batman comics, and it's drawn by Dustin Nguyen, who's one of the best artists currently working at DC. Both do an excellent job with this simple, enjoyable, unpretentious story.

So what's everybody complaining about?


Because, you know, Dick Grayson didn't actually nail the Joker on one of his first nights out at Robin, and Batman didn't encounter the Order of St. Dumas until much later in his career, and according to Dark Victory, Harvey Dent was no longer District Attorney by the time Dick Grayson became Robin.

My answer to all of these complaints is simple: Shut the fuck up! Seriously. Stop being a continuity geek for five minutes and try enjoying the story that you are reading for what it is – i.e., one of many possible interpretations of these characters, which fits into a rich history of multi-layered and sometimes contradictory interpretations. Turn off the ridiculous instinct that compels you to make 70 years of storytelling by hundreds of different storytellers fit into a neat, linear timeline in which everything makes perfect sense. You might actually enjoy a comic book or two that way.

I love reading new stories by veteran writers like Dennis O'Neil or Paul Levitz. Their old-fashioned approach to comic book storytelling makes them stand out in this contemporary context, but I like that they're not trying to completely reinvent their styles to fit current trends. O'Neil's third-person narration at the beginning of this issue doesn't sound dated – it just sounds classic.

It's a weird coincidence that there were two stories featuring Dick Grayson in an early Robin adventure last week. The other one, unexpectedly, was in Superman #700. I always enjoy these stories for the little details. In Superman, there was a moment where Dick apparently calls Alfred "Alfie" for the first time. Here, we see him still adjusting to the idea of calling Bruce "Batman" while they're in the field.

But what makes this comic book such a gem is Dustin Nguyen's amazing layouts (with finishes by Derek Fridolfs). He uses two completely different styles for the different time periods in which the story is set, with the flashbacks in a somewhat more cartoony style reminiscent of Batman: The Animated Series. Colourist David Baron emphasizes this difference by giving the flashback scenes a more faded palette and adding effects that make the pages look like an old, worn comic, with creases and colour dots.

Batman #700 tried really hard to tell a story that spanned several different eras of Batman's history with different art styles for each period. The story came across as a big mess and the art felt rushed and poorly patched together. Without any fanfare, Detective Comics #866 achieves all that and makes it seem effortless. And you don't even have to pay an extra dollar for a bullshit pinup gallery in order to read it. Big win.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Review: Birds of Prey #2

Written by Gail Simone; art by Ed Benes.

(Review contains spoilers.)

While I thought the first issue was a good start, I have very mixed feelings about this second issue. This is a very action-packed book, which, combined with Gail Simone's snappy dialogue, makes this a very exciting and fast-paced reading experience. I was totally sucked into it on my first read. I ate it all up, including the shocking scene where Creote shoots himself in the head live on video for Oracle.

It was only after I'd finished the issue and started thinking about what I had read that I had a few problems with it. As a lot of fans (on blogs and message boards) were quick to point out, the last thing DC needs at this point is for more minority characters to get killed. So what are we to make of gay character Creote's suicide? The only reason this didn't register immediately with me is that I have no attachment to this character. I didn't even know who he was until I read the first issue last month.

To be honest, I still don't know what to make of his death. I find it a bit distasteful, but I am inclined to give Gail Simone the benefit of the doubt and wait to see where she is going with this. I would like to think that the woman who first brought to light the women in refrigerators phenomenon wouldn't then turn around and "fridge" a gay character she created unless she had a damn good reason for doing so. Her immediate reaction to fan outrage online was that all is not as it seems and that fans should wait to see how this plays out. But unless this means that the character is not actually dead, I don't really know what kind of aftermath would justify this move.

(I don't have the stomach to read all the flame wars about this on message boards. Online discussions drive me crazy, especially when they deal with hot topics like race or sexual orientation. I tried contacting Gail Simone directly to see if she would be interested in answering a few questions by e-mail. I thought that we would have a better discussion away from all the trolls and "fanboys," but she hasn't returned any of my messages. She probably received a lot of mail about this, so I'm sure mine was just lost in the sea of insults/complaints.)

In any case, I've decided to try not to analyse this too much for the time being and wait until at least the next issue before forming an opinion. The bottom line is I enjoyed the story and I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next, which means that Simone must be doing something right.

On the art side, however, I can't say I'm too impressed with this book. There are two problems with the art in this issue. First, due to some unexpected health problems, Ed Benes was unable to complete the art, so they had to get Adriana Melo as a fill-in artist. I don't know who did what exactly, but the overall result feels very rushed and unpolished. Second, there's a limit to how many camel toes and wedgies I can look at without starting to feel a bit grossed out. It's not even that I'm a prude or overly concerned with treating female characters like objects to be gawked at – it's just that those outfits look so damn uncomfortable, I don't know how these women can stand it. Maybe I'm being incredibly naive, but I find it hard to believe that people buy mainstream super-hero comic books to jerk off to, so I'm not sure exactly who this appeals to. It's distracting and completely unnecessary.

Bottom line is that I consider this book now on probation. I'm definitely going to stick with it until the conclusion of the first story arc, and if the writing stays strong and the art improves, there's a very good chance that I'll stick to it beyond that. We'll just have to wait and see.

Review: Superman #700


Superman's "giant-sized anniversary issue" doesn't suffer from any of the problems that made Batman #700 such a frustrating mess. While it carries the same inflated $5 price tag, we get a full 42 pages of story, instead of a thrown-together bullshit pin-up gallery at the end. And instead of a high-concept convoluted tale spanning past, present and future, we get three fairly simple but contrasting stories, each by a different creative team. It's not as ambitious as the Batman anniversary issue was, but it ends up being a much more satisfying read.

First story: "The Comeback"
by James Robinson and Bernard Chang

The first story is a sort of epilogue for James Robinson's epic run on Superman, which lasted a couples of years and culminated with the "War of the Supermen" (a.k.a. the 100-minute war). I haven't followed any of this sprawling epic, but I know it involved Superman going away on a big intergalactic mission for a long time and this story deals with his return after that long absence, focussing on his relationship with Lois Lane. In a long opening scene that takes up about half the story, Superman saves Lois from Parasite, punching him through several walls and knocking him unconscious. This random fight feels a bit inconsequential, as it's merely a device for setting up Lois and Superman's dramatic reunion. The second half of the story shows the couple relaxing in their apartment and talking about their relationship, and then going out for a night-time romantic fly over Metropolis. Although nothing groundbreaking happens in this story, it's a nice little character piece and a pleasant read.

Second story: "Geometry"
by Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund

This was my favourite story of the three in this issue, which says a lot about my own biases, considering it's mostly set in Gotham City and Superman is almost more of a guest character in it. It's set in the early days of Dick Grayson's career as Robin. While Bruce Wayne is busy at an important stockholder's meeting, Robin disobeys his orders and goes out on his own to stop an illegal shipment of weapons coming in from Metropolis. Of course, Robin gets in trouble, and Superman shows up just in time to save him and stop the bad guys. There was a nice laugh-out-loud moment at the end when Superman helps cover-up Dick's escapade by finishing his geometry homework for him at super-speed behind Bruce's back. Then in the last scene, Clark Kent is back at the Daily Planet office and receives a hand-written note from Bruce, showing he's not easily fooled. It's another nice light moment, giving us a glimpse of the always-interesting dynamic between Bruce and Clark, which is something like a playful rivalry/partnership. Bruce's note is perfect, because it's his way of saying "thanks for saving Robin" without saying it, while at the same time pretending to put Superman in his place and telling him no to pull this kind of shit again. The smile on Clark's face is also perfect, showing that he doesn't take Bruce's posturing too seriously.

Third story: "Grounded prologue"
by J. Michael Straczynski, Eddy Barrows and J.P. Mayer

Just as the first story served as an epilogue for the previous creative team's run, this last one is a prologue for the new team's big story arc, which starts next month in Superman #701. I was pretty curious about Straczynski's run on Superman, and one of the reasons I picked up this issue was to get a sense of what to expect from him. Unfortunately, this pretty much convinced me not to put this title on my pull list.

The concept behind the year-long story arc "Grounded" is that Superman is going to walk across America in an effort to get closer to his roots and reconnect with the people, after spending all this time away on his intergalactic epic. Based on that description alone, I'm already feeling pretty skeptical about the whole thing, but this prologue confirms just how cheesy this is going to be.

At a press conference, Superman gets slapped in the face by a grieving woman whose husband died of an inoperable brain tumor while Superman was away. She says that he could have saved her husband with his X-ray/heat vision. Then Superman chats with Batman and the Flash, then flies into space to contemplate the Earth from above, then flies back down to a parc, where he grabs a handful of dirt from the ground and contemplates it with an intense look on his face. A couple of boys look at him and wonder what he's doing. As he's walking away, they wonder why he's not flying away. "I don't know," one of the kid says, "but it must be important." BARF!

To make matters worse, there's going to be some kind of interactive aspect to this story, as readers are invited to send essays to DC explaining why Superman should visit their home town. I hate interactive art and this whole thing just sounds like a terribly lame gimmick. It's really too bad, because I actually want to read a Superman comic right now, but I have no interest in this year-long arc and he's not going to feature prominently in any other titles for a while, as Action Comics is going to focus on Lex Luthor instead (which, admittedly, sounds like a better story than "Grounded").

In any case, this anniversary issue was all right. I enjoyed two of the three stories, and I'm glad the third one was included as well, as I can now save my money and avoid buying #701. The art was decent on all three stories and much more consistent than on Batman #700.

Review: The Spirit #3

Written by Mark Schultz; art by Moritat. Backup story written by Michael Uslan, F.J. DeSanto; art by Justiniano.

I know that comic book have a long tradition of putting stuff on the cover that doesn't happen inside the issue, but it seems to me this isn't really an acceptable practice with modern comics. Maybe I'm being unreasonable, but I expect covers to actually have some relation to the story inside. So far, all three issues of The Spirit have featured pretty cool covers that had absolutely no relation to the story. Maybe it's got something to do with the fake "retro" feel that the First Wave titles are going for. In any case, I find it dishonest and annoying. Fittingly, though, this third issue shows a bunch of hands doing a "thumbs down" gesture. My guess is that these represent the hands of the readers expressing how lame this book has been.

In this issue, Schultz' first (and last) story arc comes to a conclusion, while Moritat's art continues to get uglier and uglier with every panel. Next month, another writer is taking over the title, but Moritat continues on the art, so I doubt the quality will improve. I couldn't care less, because I'm dropping this title and never coming near it again.

I regret buying even a single issue of this series. It's been a total waste of money. If anything, it's taught me a valuable lesson in comic book consumerism: Don't put titles on your pull list without sampling at least one issue, especially if you're not familiar with the creative team. I'll never make that mistake again.

The backup black and white stories in the first two issues were not as bad as the main feature, but definitely not worth the cover price. This issue's backup is again the best thing within these pages, and probably stands out as the best of the three issues so far. The art is really quite impressive and the short story is simple, but effective.

Still, I can't recommend this based on one short back-up. My advice to you is to pretend this title doesn't exist and wait for its inevitable cancellation.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Review: Meta 4 #1

META 4 #1 (of 5)
Written and drawn by Ted McKeever.

I knew, from having read a little bit about Ted McKeever, that this was going to be weird. But it was ever weirder than I expected. Nice, though. I like weird things.

This is the kind of comic that everyone loves to call "pretentious," that ugly word that closed-minded, ignorant people always use. "I don't understand this, therefore it is pretentious." That's a lazy and dishonest response, in my opinion. It implies a kind of malicious intent on the part of the creator of the work, as though artists actually plotted against their audience, trying to come up with something that looks really complicated but actually signifies nothing, so that people will feel inferior because of their inability to comprehend it, while simultaneously being tricked into thinking it's brilliant.

That's a lot of horseshit. I think the people who imagine these types of scenarios have a very poor understanding of how the creative mind works. They also have a very limited view of what art can be, and the different ways that one can appreciate it and respond to it. Not everything has to "make sense," and the value of a work of art doesn't always depend on whether or not it can be "understood."

When faced with a work that I don't immediately understand, my first reaction is never to assume that there is something wrong with it. I don't blame the artist for not allowing me to understand the work. Instead, I at least consider the possibility that either (a) I am missing something and I should try harder to understand it, or (b) the work is not meant to be understood on a literal level, and I should look for a different kind of meaning. Of course, there's also the possibility that the creator of the work somehow failed to convey meaning. Maybe the work was just poorly executed and that's why it doesn't make sense. But I think usually it's not that hard to tell the difference between someone trying to produce a coherent work and failing, resulting in a jumbled mess of ideas that don't quite hold together, and someone crafting a work that is meant to be appreciated on a different level.

I did not "understand" the first issue of Meta 4. Who are these characters? Where do they come from? Where does this even take place? And what are these excerpts from police radio transcripts pasted all over the place? I'm not sure. But I'm enjoying this. I want to find out more and see where this is going, how (or if) it's going to all come together in the end. The illustrations are nice to look at and the narrative is intriguing, so this works for me.

There's four more issues of this coming up. I'm looking forward to them.

(Sorry if this was more of a rant than a review.)

Review: Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom #1

Written by Peter Hogan; art by Chris Sprouse, Karl Story.

Tom Strong is, as most of you probably know, a character co-created by Alan Moore (with Chris Sprouse, who's drawing this series). And of course, being a total noob, I know nothing about his previous adventures or what he's all about. So I feel like I'm probably missing something here. Peter Hogan does a good job of providing backstory within the issue, so that what is happening is fairly clear, but I can't help but feel that it would all be a little bit more compelling if I was already familiar with the characters.

In any case, this issue doesn't really get into the meat of the story yet. It takes its time setting up the premise, which is that Tom's evil son has somehow altered history and the present is now under the dominion of a global Nazi regime. This is definitely not an original premise, but it's a fun one (if it's not too offensive to think of anything involving Nazis as "fun"), and I suspect that the real thrills are going to be in seeing how Tom manages to fight his way out of this crazy situation. Oh, and also there's going to be "robots of doom" at some point! (They're only hinted at in this issue.)

So yeah, a bit of a slow start, but a lot of promise. And, oh, my God! Chris Sprouse's art is amazing. Such clean, elegant, beautiful line work. I wish every book I read could look as good as this.

One weird, little complaint, though: What's with the lettering? Why does every character use a different font to speak? It's really distracting. Especially when Tom Strong's font is so much bigger than everyone else's. Does that mean he has a very loud voice or something? Is he always shouting?

Apple censorship updates - part 2

Check out this interview with Rob Berry, co-creator of the Ulysses "Seen" comic, about dealing with Apple's censorship on the iPad. As I noted in my previous post, Apple has reversed its decision to censor the comic for nudity.

Apple censorship updates

A couple of noteworthy developments following the widely reported cases of Apple censoring comics on the iPad/iPhone, which I mentioned earlier this month.

First, it seems that the accusations of Steve Jobs calling Pullizer Prize-winner Mike Fiore a liar were based on a partial transcript of the interview. Now a full transcript is available, and it's clear that he wasn't referring to him at all when he talked about people lying to the press.

Second, it seems that Apple has reversed its decision to censor the much-publicized adaptations of Oscar Wild and James Joyce's works. They say they "made a mistake" and are allowing the creators to resubmit their apps uncensored. Good news for them, of course, though I have to wonder if Apple would consider these "mistakes" had it not been for all the bad press they got as a result of the rejections.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Review: Secret Avengers #1

Written by Ed Brubaker; art by Mike Deodato, Rainier Beredo.

Well, I've finally made the leap into the Marvel universe! It happened almost by accident. I've been keeping an eye on all the new Heroic Age titles, thinking if there was ever a good jumping-on point this might be it. I considered getting the series that Bendis is writing. I was also tempted by Young Allies and Avengers Academy (since I usually like teen super-heroes). Then this week at the comic book store I was telling the guy who works there that I was interested in some Marvel titles, but wasn't sure where to start. I mentioned that one thing I was interested in was Ed Brubaker's run on Captain America, and I was considering reading them in trades. And that's why he recommended this title.

I was a bit reluctant, at first, because this seems like a somewhat "marginal" title (compared to the ones Bendis is writing, around which everything else seems to revolve), but I figured the fact that Brubaker was writing was a good sign.

I am not sorry that I bought it (except when I think about my budget, as I now have an additional title on my pull list). In fact, this may have been the book I enjoyed the most this week. I was surprised at how easy it was for me to get into it, considering I've never really read about any of these characters before and I am almost completely clueless about what's been happening in the Marvel universe leading up to this so-called Heroic Age. But all the essential information seems to be included in the story itself. The character introductions are handled expertly and Brubaker injects enough personality into them that after reading just one issue I feel like I already have a pretty good handle on most of them.

Brubaker makes writing seem easy. All the information is conveyed without ever resorting to blatant infodumps or clumsy exposition. The story unfolds organically from one scene to the next and the dialogue feels natural. There are no acrobatics or mindbending twists. It just feels like the beginning of a good story. It's a perfect #1 issue.

I'm a little less enthusiastic about the art than I am about the writing, but I have no real complaints either. If anything, I would say maybe the colouring could use a little bit more variety. I know this is the "Secret Avengers" and they work in the shadows and at night, so all these dark blue tones are an obvious fit for the tone. But it would be nice to break it up once in a while. The scene on Mars near the end of the issue, with its warm tones, felt like a breath of fresh air. This is a very minor point, though, and it didn't take much away from my enjoyment of the book.

Review: Red Robin #13

Written by Fabian Nicieza; art by Marcus To and Ray McCarthy.

This is the beginning of Fabian Nicieza's run on the title, so it does feel a bit like a transitional issue. But it's a very good transition, and I like the direction that Nicieza is heading in. This has been said a hundred times already, but Tim Drake is a character who has suffered a lot of abuse in resent years, and by the end of Robin and Battle for the Cowl, he was in a pretty dark and unhappy place. Chris Yost's run on Red Robin was all about bringing him back into a brighter place. I think he accomplished that very well, and now Nicieza is picking up where he left off and setting things up for the next chapter in Tim's life.

The book opens with a very cool scene showing teamwork between Tim, Dick and Damian. They work really well together, and I hope we get to see more of this trio in action before Bruce inevitably reclaims the Batman mantle. There's no guarantee, though, because by the end of the issue, Tim has crossed off a few items on his to-do list – "figure out what to do," "how to do it," and "who to do it against" – but one item that remains unchecked is "who to do it with." The majority of the issue is devoted to him figuring out and setting up the pieces for his master plan, but we don't know yet exactly what that plan is.

Marcus To's artwork is fabulous, and I hope he's going to stick around as the regular artist on the book. (Too many rotating art teams at DC.)

Overall, this is a very good issue.

Review: Batman #700

Written by Grant Morrison. Art by Tony Daniel, David Finch, Andy Kubert, Frank Quitely.

Although there are many awesome things about this issue, it ends up being a disappointment for a number of reasons:

1. The price. I think 4$ books are a rip off most of the time, because the extra pages are rarely worth the extra dollar. So when you price something at 5$, I expect it to have something very special in it, or at least make up for it with a longer story – quality or quantity. Although the cover claims this is a "giant-sized anniversary issue," there are only 31 pages of story inside, followed by a pin-up gallery of mostly recycled promotional images that have been floating around on the internet for a while. As a 4$ book, this would be a great value, but I don't see anything here to justify the extra dollar. Let's get something straight: "bonus" material isn't really a "bonus" if you make people pay extra for it!

2. The high expectations. Part of this comes simply from the landmark number. Part of it comes from all the hype, including stuff Grant Morrison said in interviews, features on DC's blog, and all the buzz and chatter on message boards. With all this excitement, it becomes very difficult for any comic book to hit a home run.

3. The art. The idea of having four different artists, each handling a specific time period that the epic story is set in, was good. Unfortunately, Frank Quitely (my favourite of the four artists) wasn't able to finish his section. (I've read some comments online about health problems being the reason for this, but I don't know where fans get that information or if there's any truth to it. Let's hope he's doing okay.) Quitely has a very unique style, so rather than to try to imitate it, Scott Kolins draws the remaining pages of the section in his own style. The shift becomes even more jarring because there's a different colorist working with each artist, and it occurs smack in the middle of the section, with no in-story justification for it. It's very distracting and it ruins the intended effect of having each time period in its distinct visual style.

Still, the few pages we do get from Quitely are amazing. The way he choreographs action scenes always brings a smile to my face. You're never quite sure if they're fighting or dancing a ballet, and while that might sound like negative criticism, I mean it as the highest form of praise:

Meanwhile, Tony Daniel, Andy Kubert and David Finch are all competent artists and they handle their sections well, if less spectacularly (at least for my tastes). Even Scott Kolins is pretty good, and if it weren't for the fact that I can't help looking at those pages while asking myself what they would have looked like if Quitely had drawn them, I would probably be able to enjoy them on their own merit.

As for the story, I didn't like it on my first read, but as often happens with Grant Morrison's work, it got a lot better the second time around. This is probably because of the way I read comics as much as it is because of the way he writes them. I tend to go through the book quickly, eager to find out what happens next and how it all comes together in the end. Even when I don't quite understand what's going on or the significance of certain details, I tend to just move on, expecting things to get become clear eventually. Once I get that out of the way, a second read-through allows me to savour the details and catch whatever subtleties I might have missed.

So the story is fine, and there are lots of very cool little character moments, as well as plenty of references to Batman history (past, present and future). As a regular, appropriately priced issue, I would rate this highly. As an overpriced anniversary issue, it falls a bit short of the mark, but is still a fun read once you forget about your initial expectations.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Comic book stores in Montreal

There must be about a dozen comic book stores in Montreal, where I live. I can think of at least 9 that I have been to. Of those, there are two that I visit on a weekly basis, a couple more that I visit on average maybe once every two or three months, and the others I very rarely go to, either because they're not very good, or they are too far out of my way.

It's interesting how my opinion of the various stores I've been to has changed over time, as I "evolved" (or perhaps "devolved") from a casual reader of trade paperbacks, to a devoted reader a trade paperbacks, to a seeker of back issues, to a regular buyer of monthly floppies.

Here are some thoughts on four of the stores I'm most familiar with in the city.

451 Marie-Anne Est

This was my first favourite store when I started getting into comics, because they have the best selection of trade paperbacks, which they sell for the American cover price. They have almost everything that is currently in print from Marvel and DC, plus a good selection of books from smaller publishers. The staff is nice, the store is clean and well organized, and the books aren't wrapped, so you can browse them before buying. It's still probably the best place in the city to buy trade paperbacks.

They have a small collection of back issues, most of which they sell for a dollar. Last time I looked at it, I was looking for Chuck Dixon-era issues of Robin, and was able to pick up a handful. When I asked if they were likely to get more, they said no, because their bins are mostly just leftover stock from the shelves and they don't buy any back issues. So it's not the best place to get back issues, but they're at least worth browsing through, since they are cheap. One drawback, though, is that they are hidden away in drawers, so it's not the most comfortable browsing experience.

I'm not sure exactly what their deal is on reserve systems, but if I lived closer to this store I would probably get my new issues there, out of convenience and because I like the staff.

1837 Ste-Catherine Ouest

This place has a decent selection of trade paperbacks, but they tend to be more expensive than Millenium. The books are wrapped, so you can't flip through them, and their pricing doesn't make any sense to me. I'm sure there is some logic to it, but I'm not sure what it is. Sometimes it's cheaper than the cover price, other times it's higher.

There's something really unappealing about this store to me, and it's hard to put my finger on exactly what it is. It's a basement location, but it's pretty big and brightly lit with ugly white fluorescents. There are whole sections of the store that I've never really bothered to look at. They sell toys and collectors' items, and a lot of manga that I'm not interested in at all.

Their back issues selection is the weirdest I've ever seen. All they have is one giant unorganized bin of crappy comics that they sell for 50 cents each, or even cheaper if you buy them in bulk. I browsed through the whole thing one time and it was 95% crap. I was only looking for DC stuff, and they had lots of Post-Perez New Teen Titans and terrible-looking Justice League issues from the same period. I did pick up about a dozen issues of 90s Batman and Detective Comics.

I haven't had much interaction with the staff, so I don't know how helpful they are. But overall, I can't find much to recommend this place.

1117 Ste-Catherine Ouest, 9th floor

The weirdest thing about this store is its location: It's on the 9th floor of an office building downtown. There's nothing outside to indicate that there's a comic book store in that building, so unless you find out about it online or through word of mouth, you would never set foot in it.

If you can get over the depressing location, though, this store is definitely worth checking out. Things I like:

1. The dollar bins: Huge, huge selection of random, unsorted treasures. If you want to go through the whole thing, you better free up your afternoon. I've done it a couple of times and it's both exciting and frustrating, because you'll find a couple of random issues from a mini-series and think: "If only they had the full run, I would definitely pick this up." Then three boxes later, you find another issue from it and you're like, "Shit, maybe they do have the full run!" But by that point, you've lost the issues you'd seen earlier, so you have to go back. It's very time consuming, but if you're systematic about it, you can find some good stuff for cheap. The greatest thing about these dollar bins is that the comics are all in pretty decent condition, and they're all bagged and boarded.

2. The modern-period back issues: They also have a very good collection of back issues from the past couple of decades. These are in excellent condition and kept in neatly organized and browser-friendly bins. The drawback is that they are all slightly overpriced (in my opinion). They also have a lot of stock that is not on display, but if you ask for specific issues they'll go looking for them.

3. Golden and Silver Age collectors stuff: I don't have the money (or the interest, really) for this sort of thing, but if that's what you're into, these guys seem to have a lot of it on display.

4. The reserve discount: If you put some titles on reserve, they give you a huge discount.

Things I don't like:

1. Business hours: They close at 6 p.m. all week. Even on Wednesday! I used to have my reserve there, but I got really frustrated having to wait until the weekend to get my comics because the store closes too early for me to get there after work.

2. They don't order a lot of new comics, so unless you put it on reserve two months in advance, you're not likely to be able to pick up any new issue that isn't a major title from DC or Marvel. This also became really frustrating for me, because I would go pick up my reserved titles and expect to be able to pick up one or two things I didn't put on reserve, but then find that I had to go to another comic book store for it, where they would have like a dozen issues on the shelf.

3. The staff. It's not that they're jerks or snobs. They're actually pretty nice. The problem is I get the impression that they don't read comic books. To them, it's all just merchandise that they're trying to sell you. You can't really ask for recommendations, or ask about characters or stories or specific writers or artists or anything. They seem to look at comics as "stuff people collect" rather than books that people read.

I was really sold on the discount for titles on reserve when I discovered the store, but I got so frustrated with the way they run their store that I eventually decided to cancel my reserve and start buying my comics elsewhere, even if it meant paying more money for them. Some aspects of what makes a good comic book store are more important than the price. Which leads me to the next store...

1,000,000 COMIX
1418 Pierce

This is my favourite comic book store in Montreal. But strangely, when I first discovered it, I didn't like it very much. It's a tiny store, and yet they have a huge inventory, so that gives you an idea of how little room there is to move around. None of the sections are labelled, and it took me a long time to really get a good understanding of how the stock is organized. At first, it just seemed like a clusterfuck and made me feel kind of claustrophobic.

But I kept coming back to this store because they have a great selection of back issues, which they sell for a flat rate of $2 each. Not only are there a lot of comics in the bins, but they also have a huge warehouse, so if you're looking for anything specific you just have to tell them and they'll bring it into the store. (Although some of the stuff from the warehouse might be more expensive than the normal $2 price on in-store back issues.)

The guy who works in the store most often when I go there at first seemed a bit unfriendly to me, but once I started talking to him and got to know him a little bit, I really warmed up to him, and he was one of the main reasons why I decided to move my reserve to this store. This guy is the opposite of the staff at Carsleys. He actually reads comics! A lot of them, too. He can actually answer your questions, whether they're about the plot or the quality of the books, what else the writers or artists have worked on, or the history of the characters, or whatever. He also doesn't say stupid things like, "Oh, I'm more of a Marvel guy."

And last but not least is the fact that they order a lot of new stuff every week, so even if you didn't put something on your pull list, there's a good chance they'll get a few extra copies. The guy gave me his e-mail address and I can just send him an e-mail anytime before Tuesday evening if I want him to put something aside for me on Wednesday. It's a lot less pressure than having to decide two months in advance exactly what I'm going to buy.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Where my money goes


I just received an order from Amazon this morning. It contained four books:

A God Somewhere, by John Arcudi, Peter Sneijbjerg and Bjarne Hansen (Wildstorm)
Mesmo Delivery, by Rafael Grampa (Dark Horse)
Pluto, vol. 5 and 6, by Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka (Viz)

I am super-excited about all four of these. I got A God Somewhere mostly because it sounds like a good story, and Mesmo Delivery mostly because the art looks absolutely fantastic. Meanwhile, my mind has been completely blown by the first four volumes of the epic Pluto, and I can't wait to sink my teeth into these two. Somehow, I don't want this series to end, yet as soon as I finish one volume I just want to rush out and read the next one. Only two more to go after these two.


A few exciting comics coming out this week:

Batman #700 (DC): A double-sized anniversary extravaganza written by Grant Morrison and featuring various incarnations of Batman (Bruce, Dick, Damian and an unconfirmed fourth one set in the distant future), with art by Tony Daniels, Frank Quitely, Andy Kubert and David Finch. It's pretty hard to imagine more reasons to get excited about a single issue!

Daytripper #7 (of 10) (Vertigo): Loving this series. I've been tempted to write about it since it started, but I think I'm going to wait until after the final issue.

Meta 4 #1 (of 5) (Image): Ted McKeever's new miniseries about an amnesiac astronaut and a "muscular woman who dresses up as Santa all year round" sounds weird, weird, weird. And the art looks beautiful. I don't really know what to expect with this one, but I'm looking forward to it. I just hope they'll have it at my comic book story, because I found out about it too late to special-order it.

Orc Stain #4 was supposed to come out this week, but it looks like there are some delays. Bummer.

I'm also eyeing the first issues of Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom (Wildstorm) and Avengers Academy (Marvel). Not quite sold on either, but I'll probably check 'em out at the store to see if they strike my fancy.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Apple censorship on the iPhone and iPad

I've read a few stories in recent months about Apple's new self-appointed role as a censor and preserver of morality. Apparently Steve Jobs believes they have a "moral responsibility" to keep porn off the iPhone, which in itself is pretty fucked up, but gets even more problematic when you take a look at the type of apps that are being rejected because of "objectionable content."

First, there's Mark Fiore's political cartoons. Following Apple's rejection of his app on grounds that it "ridicules public figures," Fiore went on to win a Pulitzer, which brought some well-deserved attention to the issue. Steve Job's attempt at damage control, instead of apologizing for the unfair rejection, was to call Fiore a liar.

Last week, Brigid Alverson at Robot 6 pointed out several rather questionable decisions by Apple about which comics to distribute. Of particular concern to me is the way that the rules seem to be stricter when it comes to gay content.

Tom Bouden's adaptaton of The Importance of Being Earnest was rejected from the app store on the basis of half a dozen images, all showing two men kissing or embracing but not having sex, and none depicting full frontal nudity. Apple finally allowed the comic with big black rectangles over the "offending" images.

Alverson concludes that Apple's double standard may have more to do with large publisher vs. small press than with homophobia, but that doesn't really reassure me.

Yesterday, she reported on another case of Apple censorship, this time involving an app for the webcomic Ulysses "Seen," an adaptation of James Joyce's novel. This time, the objectionable content was the visual depiction of a flaccid penis. Here, the creators of the comic managed to get around Apple's content restrictions by altering the offending image, giving us a close-up of the character that moves the objectionable body part off-panel. They reason that users can click on links to the website where the unaltered image is still available.

I guess this seems like a good compromise when you're a struggling artist trying to get your work distributed on a popular platform and you need all the exposure you can get. But to me this is even sadder than the Oscar Wilde comic, because by altering their comic they've hidden more than a penis – they've also hidden Apple's censorship. I would opt instead for drawing attention to it: put a big black box over panel with a note: "This comic has been censored by Apple. The device you purchased doesn't allow you to view original art as it was intended to be seen."

People are quick to point out that you can still access porn or these comics on the iPad by simply opening the websites in the internet browser, but that's completely besides the point. The way people access content is changing and Apple's app store is an important player in these changes. People say it's a sound business decision for them to want to control which apps are available on their hardware, because it helps them control their brand's image, but when you start talking about the "moral implications" of porn, censoring nudity, and discriminating against gay content, it's no longer just a business issue. It's political.

And it's dangerous, especially because not enough people are aware of it. Americans are obsessed with the idea of free speech and defending the First Amendment. And yet this kind of sneaky censorship is considered business as usual. That's the double standard that I can't wrap my mind around.

UPDATE: See also this post by Rich Johnston over at Bleeding Cool.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Read in May 2010

Batman: The Black Glove (TPB)
Mouse Guard (FCBD)
Doctor Solar/Magnus (FCBD)
The Sixth Gun #1 (FCBD)
Batman and Robin #12
iZombie #1
Sweet Tooth #9
Pluto vol. 3-4
The Infinity Gauntlet (TPB)
Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #1-2
Birds of Prey #1
Sweet Tooth vol. 1 (TPB)
The Flash #2
Daytripper #6
Batman R.I.P. (TBP)
The Legion of Super-Heroes #1
The Spirit #2
DC Legacies #1
The Brave and the Bold #34
Swamp Thing vol. 1 (TPB)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sometimes it's hard to understand how DC operates

DC just announced that J.T. Krul, the man responsible for what is almost unanimously being called the worst comic book ever, is going to be the new writer on Teen Titans, a book that has been receiving nothing but terrible reviews lately.

I don't get it. Justice League, Cry for Justice, Green Arrow, Rise of Arsenal, Teen Titans and Titans all seem to be locked in this perpetual state of inter-related mediocrity. While fans and critics alike continue to complain about how awful the storylines in these books have been in recent months, DC keeps pushing them in the same direction, apparently convinced that they are onto something great and all this "controversy" and "fans getting upset" means they are doing something right.

The idea that making fans angry for publishing crappy books featuring characters they love is actually a good marketing strategy is baffling to me, but that was pretty much Dan DiDio's statement following the negative reactions to Cry for Justice.

The only positive thing I can say about all this is that DC (and other publishers) have enough good books out there that it's pretty easy for me to ignore all this crap and spend my money on things that I actually want to read. Still, I can't help but follow the reactions online, and I have to say it blows my mind a little.

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