Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On Barbara Gordon's recovery (preliminary thoughts)

(This was originally posted on Tumblr, but it seemed substantial enough to repost here as well.)

I was going to wait until issue #4 comes out tomorrow - or possibly even until issue #7 in March, as based on the solicitation text it sounds like it’s going to be a big one - before writing anything about Barbara Gordon’s recovery from her spine injury, but since a lot of people are already reacting to the feature and preview in USA Today (and Gail Simone has reacted to some of the reactions), I want to share a few thoughts.

First, let me just say that this is an ongoing discussion about an ongoing story. While I understand where the kneejerk reactions from fans are coming from, I think it’s important to acknowledge that we only have small pieces of the puzzle. Until the full story of Barbara’s recovery has been told, we need to be careful about jumping to conclusions based on the little bits and pieces we’re getting. Gail Simone has stated many times that Barbara’s recovery is going to be explored in depth over a long story arc. Let’s just all keep that in mind, because otherwise it really undermines some of the very valid points that people are trying to make when the discussion gets derailed into an argument about whether or not we know the full story.
So here’s what we do know:

  • In the New 52, Barbara was shot by the Joker, spent three years in a wheelchair, then went to a clinic in South Africa to get some kind of procedure done to repair her spine, regained the use of her legs and is now adapting to being Batgirl again and dealing with a little bit of post-traumatic stress disorder in the process.
  • “Miracles” have been mentioned a lot in Batgirl, hinting that there is more to it than “just” a clinic in South Africa. It remains to be seen how that factors in, though.
So it’s a scientific/medical explanation, but the door is still open for a little bit of comic book fantasy “miracle” to play a part in it.

I’ve noticed that a lot of the discussion and controversy around the issue of Barbara’s recovery has focused on HOW she recovers. This is what Gail Simone herself has often emphasized in interviews, stating that treating that story of recovery with respect and a certain amount of realism was important to her as well as to her readers. (I’m paraphrasing from memory, so please forgive me if those are not her exact words.)

Now I don’t doubt that this aspect of the story is important for some people, and I’m glad that Gail Simone takes it seriously. But personally I don’t understand how this has become the central issue in the discussion. Granted, if we were given some really lazy or awful explanation for how Barbara recovered, it would probably make things even worse. But I don’t see how having a realistic and respectful portrayal of her recovery really makes things “better” for anyone who was hurt and upset by this change. At best, we can be thankful that insult is not added to injury.

As I’ve said in a comment on Barbara’s Not Broken, what it comes down to for me is very simple: There used to be Oracle; now there isn’t.

The important question which has so far been left unanswered (and is not even being asked, for the most part) is this one: What was Barbara Gordon up to during the three years she spent in the wheelchair? So far, there has been absolutely no mention of there having ever been an Oracle in the New 52 continuity. There is not evidence that Barbara was involved in crime-fighting in any capacity during those three years. Now, I’m sure we’re going to eventually find out more about what happened during that time, but it’s looking increasingly likely that Oracle will not be part of that story.
And for me, that is what’s upsetting. That is the real loss that I feel when I think about the fact that Barbara Gordon is back in the Batgirl costume. There used to be a character in DC Comics who was both disabled and a hero. Simultaneously! Now we have a character who was once a hero, then was disabled, and now is a hero again.

When we first found out that Barbara would be Batgirl in the New 52, one of the fears people had was that her whole history of having been disabled would be wiped out of continuity. (And that the almighty Alan Moore’s Killing Joke would be wiped out of continuity in the process.) But this, DC assured us, would not be the case. We were told this would be a story of recovery and survival and that everybody felt it was important to keep the disability in continuity.

But what DC seems to have missed is that it wasn’t just the fact that Barbara was in a wheelchair that made her such an important and inspiring hero for a lot of people - it was the fact that she was also a hero. Keeping the disability but removing the heroic part of it seems even more problematic to me than simply wiping it out of continuity.

And that’s what I’m worried about and what I’m waiting to find out about as I continue to read Gail Simone’s Batgirl series. Sure, the story of how Barbara recovered is interesting. But there are other (in my opinion more important) questions that I hope will be answered in the story.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Flashmob Fridays, tumblr, and other stuff

I know this blog has been dormant for the past few weeks, but that doesn't mean I haven't been reading comics, thinking about comics, and even writing about comics.

First of all, check out the new Flashmob Fridays blog, maintained by the guys from Trouble with Comics. And yes, I am one of the regular contributing writers! The concept is simple: each week, a bunch of us submit reviews for the same book, and they all get compiled on Friday so you can compare the different reactions and opinions. We're working on a way to follow that up with some discussion.

The blog launched last week with a review of Daredevil #6, for which I unfortunately wasn't able to make the deadline. But I did participate this week with my take on Kevin Keller #2. Check it out.

In other news, I've started posting on Tumblr again. I really needed a place where I could post more spontaneously and about a broader range of topics than this blog, and Tumblr seemed like the best platform for that. If you decide to follow me there (and you really should), you'll see a mix of comics art, fan art, introspective autobiographical posts, and plenty of commentary on issues like feminism, sexual identity, politics, etc.

You can also of course follow me on Twitter.

And if you missed it completely here on this blog, be sure to check out last month's interview with Nathan Fairbairn.

I'm going through some pretty big life changes right now, including a new job and a new schedule. I hope to start posting here regularly in the new year. Don't give up. Irrelevant Comics will rise again. And thanks for reading.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Interview with Nathan Fairbairn

Batman Inc #7
When I started reading comic books (just a few years ago) I mostly paid attention to stories. Writers were the first names in the credits I started recognizing. But over time, my attention shifted more and more toward the art, to the point where the artist is usually a bigger determining factor in what I decide to buy than the writer. (Although, obviously, the best comics are the ones that combine great writing and great art.) As my appreciation of the art and craft of making comics deepened, I also started to realize that a big part of what defines the art that I like is the way it is coloured.

Colourists are still largely unsung heroes, not always recognized as part of the creative team. But their work has a huge impact on my enjoyment of the comics I read. I got really excited when I started to notice that some books by different artists had a distinct quality that I liked because they shared the same colourist. This was what prompted me to read the credits more carefully and make an effort to remember the names of the colourists whose work I liked.

One of those names I started noticing was Nathan Fairbairn. Recently, I was particularly impressed by his work on Swamp Thing (colouring Yanick Paquette's art) and Mystic (colouring David and Alvaro Lopez's art), two very different books with completely different tones, art styles and colour palettes, and yet both visually striking.

I wanted to find out more about Nathan's approach to colouring, so I reached out to him and he graciously agreed to answer a few questions. As it turns out Nathan is not just a talented artist, but also an eloquent writer with some very interesting things to say about his craft. Read on for the interview.

[Note about spelling: I use Canadian English spelling ("colour") for this blog, but I opted to keep Nathan's use of the US English ("color") since that's how he submitted his answers, hence the inconsistent spelling in this post.]

Irrelevant Comics: Aside from the obvious task of adding colour, how would you define the colourist's role in the production line of comics? How do colours contribute to the storytelling?

Nathan Fairbairn: A colorist has three main concerns: mood, depth, and focus. Mood is pretty simple: the palette needs to suit the tone of the story/art/genre. Depth is also pretty self-explanatory and mostly involves using lighting and atmospheric perspective to break up the planes of the art and generally add to the illusion of volume and third dimension. Focus is perhaps the most important aspect of the job. As a colorist, it's my responsibility to help the writer and artist draw the reader's eye to the crucial element in any given panel or page by playing with contrast of value, hue and saturation.

IC: In a lot of mainstream comics, the colours tend to be "invisible," in the sense that you don't really notice them unless they are strikingly bad. Is that a deliberate choice? Are colourists encouraged to stick to the "house style"? Do you ever wish colourists would make bolder choices or experiment more?

Swamp Thing #2
I actually disagree with the premise that colors are ever "invisible."

In addition to coloring comics, I also play the bass. Now, if you ask the average casual listener what they think of a bass line in any given song, you might get a shrug of the shoulders in response, but that doesn't mean the bass line is inaudible or unnecessary for the listener's enjoyment of the song. It just means that the listener is either incapable of distinguishing the bass from the other instrumentation, or that they're so focused on the melodies of the vocals that their awareness of the accompanying music is almost subconscious. This is why when you go to a live show and a band starts to play one of their hits, you often get two waves of recognition and appreciation: those who pay attention to the music respond with applause after the first notes or bars are played, and then a few moments later, those who only pay attention to the vocals start applauding when the first words are sung.

I think that it's kind of the same thing with comics and coloring. Some readers (usually those who are as interested in the craft as they are in the stories being told) are as keenly attuned to the color in a comic as they are to the pencils, inks, or lettering, and for them, it's never invisible. Like bass players, colorists can be boring, uninterested, lazy, technically incompetent, brilliant, astonishing, masterful, prosaic, formulaic, daring or just downright shitty. Like with any art form, there's a full range of practitioners.

In answer to your question about a house style, I wouldn't say there is one (except, obviously within color studios such as HiFi). I would say that there are definitely those colorists out there who have no interest whatsoever in reinventing the wheel. And usually they're right to do so. There's a time and a place, you know? You don't try to cram a funk bass line into a Bruce Springsteen song.  Similarly, if you're coloring a George Perez drawing of Captain America throwing his shield, don't get cute about it, right? Conventional stories require conventional art require conventional colors, whereas unconventional stories require unconventional art require unconventional colors.

IC: Part of a colourist's work is very technical. For example, you need a good knowledge of anatomy and lighting when adding texture and shadows to a character's face. But there's also an element of design to the work, in terms of how the colours match on the page and giving the book a distinct look and feel. How important is design for you?

Any art form requires a considerable amount of technical knowledge and coloring is no different. Without that foundation, no amount of raw talent is going to sustain you or your career. Which works out nicely for me, since I don't actually consider myself super talented artistically. I just work hard and think about what I'm doing a lot. I always have a reason for why I'm doing what I'm doing. You point to any color on a page and I can articulate to you why I chose it. There's very little that is free or spontaneous about my work. It's all very deliberate.

Hawkeye & Mockingbird #1
As for design, it's extremely important to my work. When approaching the colors of a single page, it is important that the reader's eye moves around within a panel and then on to the next in the way that I want, and knowledge of basic principles of design and composition is key to achieving this. Obviously, it's best if the penciller also has this in mind right from the outset, and I can just enhance the design that's already there, rather than try to impose a design through color that doesn't already exist. Furthermore, the initial and overall color design of an entire project is an incredibly important phase of my work. The look and feel of my work is clearly going to be directed by the line art on the page, but I also want to suit my color work to the story being told, which is why my work with the same collaborators often varies from book to book. If you look at my work just with Yanick Paquette, you'll see how my palette and overall rendering style changes depending on the project. Batman Inc is a bright and saturated pop art world, whereas Weapon X is duller and grittier, slightly washed out at times even, and Swamp Thing is vibrant, but dark, if that makes sense. Better yet, if you look at my work with David and Alvaro Lopez on Hawkeye & Mockingbird and on Mystic, the difference between the overall look of the books is massive. David didn't really draw Mystic much differently than he did H&M, but I decided I wanted to color the whole mini like it were a Disney movie. It took a bit of convincing, but the team all had great faith in me and I think I was able to pull it off  almost exactly as I'd hoped.

IC: I was really impressed by your recent work on Swamp Thing and Mystic. Not only do both books look gorgeous, but they're also very different styles and colour palettes. Can you talk a little bit about how you approached each project? Did you discuss the colours with the artists or writers or editors, or were your choices mostly based on your own response to the art?

I rarely discuss the colour design of a book or the specific page-to-page, panel-to-panel color choices with the writer before I get to work. I'm not opposed to it; it just rarely happens. Sometimes there is a specific note in the script to the colorist and sometimes the editor has some ideas for me before I get started, and occasionally the artist has some requests/preferences that he makes known up front, but usually my choices are just a careful response to what's written in the script and drawn on the page. If I have any concerns, I ask the team, but generally I just go for it. Comics are usually done on such a tight schedule there's really no time to color by committee.

IC: Without providing an in-depth tutorial, can you give us a quick step-by-step breakdown of your technique?

All of my work is done in Photoshop. The first step is always to drop in the flat colors on a layer beneath the line art. I spend a fair amount of time on this step, making sure that all my choices are right. This is where the real thinking is done, when all the design and storytelling issues are figured out. After that comes the lighting and rendering of the scene and figures, followed last by whatever special effects are required on top of the lines and color (glows and explosions and the like). Oh, and sometimes there's a layer for color holds, which is when you go in and actually color the inks themselves, as I did on Mystic. You've got to know your tools, obviously, but there's really not much technical knowledge required. I could teach you everything you need to know about Photoshop to do my job in a day. Someone once asked me at a con how I colored a particular page in such a way that it was clear he knew a lot about Photoshop and next to nothing about art. I had my laptop with me, so I opened up the file and showed it to him. It was very satisfying to see his face as he realized there were only 3 layers: the colors, the lines above that, and a layer with a few glows above that. In other words, no fancy tricks: I just colored the bloody thing.

IC: Where did you learn the craft and technique of colouring? Anybody can pick up a pen or pencil and start drawing at home but colouring is mostly done by computer. How does an aspiring colourist start to learn the basics?

Mystic #1
Well, get your hands on Photoshop, obviously. There are free trial versions, and cheaper editions for students available. Then buy some books, such as Color Theory, by Jose Parammon, and the DC Guide to Coloring and Lettering, by Mark Chiarello. Get your hands on some line art online and start practicing every minute you can. Take life drawing classes and design classes if possible. Pay attention to color design on the page, canvas and screen whenever you see it. Take up traditional painting. And for God's sake, get impartial feedback. Go to cons and get your samples in front of professionals.  Put your work on art forums and really listen to what people are saying. Check out gutterzombie.com, a forum specifically for colorists. It was an invaluable resource in my own studies. Above all, just do the work and enjoy the process.

Oh, and if you want to color comics, then color comics. I'm amazed by the number of wannabe colorists I encounter who don't have a single page of sequential art in their portfolio, just page after page after page of pinups and covers. I don't keep count, but I'd guess I've colored 2,000 or more pages of sequential art in my career and maybe 60 or so pinups and covers. The job is telling stories, not making pretty pictures.

IC: Colourists rarely enjoy the same kind of name recognition that writers or artists do. How important do you think Marvel's policy of including the colourist's name on the cover is? Does it bother you that not all companies do the same thing? Where do you think that reluctance comes from?

It's great that Marvel gives colorists the credit that they are due and a share in the incentives/royalties program that writers, pencilers and inkers participate in.  They've been doing so ever since I started working for them in 2007, and frankly I never gave it much thought. It just seemed obvious to me to include the colorist as part of the creative team. So when I started working for DC recently, yeah, I was pretty disappointed to find that they don't consider colorists to be members of the creative team, but rather the production team, and so give the colorist neither cover credit nor royalties. From what I understand, it's an institutional holdover from the very early days of the company when comics coloring was pretty rudimentary, restricted to a basic palette of like 27 colors, and no one cared if the sky was yellow, the road green and the buildings pink, as long as the Flash was red. Back then, it honestly didn't matter who colored a book -- it would always look much the same (i.e. terrible). Pencilers and inkers were the show; colorists were just the stagehands. Nowadays, the colorist has a profound influence on the finished product, in many cases moreso than do inkers, and should be recognized accordingly. It drives me nuts when a book or series is nominated for an Eisner and the entire creative team, including the colorist, isn't included. Dave McCaig, for example, despite being the sole colorist on several Eisner-award-winning books, such as American Vampire and The Other Side, is somehow not an Eisner Award winner. It's a scandal.

IC: When you started your career in comics, was your goal always to work as a colourist, or did you first want to be an illustrator? If the latter, then is that still something you aspire to, or did you discover that colouring was your true calling?

I have some fairly lofty ambitions in the comics medium. In addition to my training in art, I studied English Lit and Creative Writing at university and worked as a journalist, editor, and English teacher before becoming a full-time freelance colorist, so it may not be surprising to hear that I want to write comics as well as draw and color them. Heck, I'm even interested in the art of lettering. In music, I have a lot of respect for a guy like Dave Grohl, who started out his career as a drummer -- a role player -- on someone else's project and today is a respected and successful singer/songwriter/guitarist/frontman of his own band who is also considered a dream collaborator as a drummer on other musicians' projects. In 10 years, I hope to be producing my own graphic novels, writing an ongoing series or two for other artists, and coloring the occasional project by artists I admire.

Nathan Fairbairn's website is here. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Five random thoughts on Buffy (S1, ep 1-8)

Yes. I am watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the first time. No, it's not a comic book. But Joss Whedon has written comic books. And even Buffy itself turns into a comic book after it stops airing (if I understand that correctly), so please bear with me.

Here are 5 random thoughts after watching the first 8 episodes of the first season. I will post more thoughts as they come to me over the next several weeks as I make my way through this cult TV show, 15 years too late.

1. What is it with 20-somethings playing teenagers on American TV? I think it's mostly a logistical thing having something to do with child labour laws and maybe unions, but nevertheless, it's weird to me that so many people are willing to suspend disbelief and watch all these shows with very obviously adult actors pretending to be kids. Considering how this is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, I was surprised how easy it was to ignore with this show. I think that says something about how well written the characters are, that they can be convincingly read as teenagers despite looking so much older.

2. OMG, the 1990s. Especially evident at "The Bronze," the nightclub that looks like a warehouse and lets teenagers in indiscriminately and where they apparently have a different live band playing every night. Imagine if those places had actually existed in the 1990s! How much more exciting my teenage life would have been. It's also hilarious when this kind of thing happens randomly:

Grunge!

3. Speaking of fashion accessories, Giles' ties are driving me insane! Every time the character appears onscreen, all I can focus on is how crooked his tie knots are. I know it's part of his character, this mix of stuffiness and perpetual "disheveledness," but there's something too calculated about the fact that his ties are NEVER straight. I can tell that's exactly how the wardrobe department wanted it to look and it's just distracting to me. (I know. I'm a little bit crazy. But I'm very passionate about ties and tie knots.)

4. The lack of diversity in the casting took me by surprise. One of the most talked about aspect of the show is the real effort to subvert traditional gender stereotypes (and I think the praise is well deserved), so I think because of that I expected a similar attention to ethnic representation. Off the top of my head, I can only think of two non-white characters so far: one black bouncer at The Bronze who becomes vampire food, and one black student who had a few lines of dialogue in one scene, also at The Bronze, in a different episode.

I wonder if this is also a byproduct of the 1990s and I've just forgotten how much less diverse TV was back then. (I know, it's not like ethnic diversity is great nowadays, but it's definitely getting better, slowly but surely.) I'm also curious whether this will improve in later seasons or if it remains the status quo throughout. It's too early for me to really draw any conclusions, but it makes me slightly uncomfortable, especially when combined with the constant flirting with "exoticisation" of the Other. In the episode "The Pack," for example, the evil of the week the white heroes are fighting against comes from some tribe in Africa (via the imported hyenas at the zoo). It's definitely something I will continue to think about while I watch the rest of the show.

5. So far, each of the three main teen characters has had a brief romantic fling that ended more or less tragically: Xander with the praying mantis teacher, Willow with the Malcolm/Moloch, and Buffy with Angel (although obviously this one isn't over yet). I was definitely aware of this during the Moloch episode ("I, Robot... You, Jane") and was both surprised and delighted that the writers acknowledged this explicitly at the end of the episode. It was a good example of how the show gets away with a lot of clich├ęs by sort of winking at the audience. It's not quite meta, but it's just self-aware enough to keep things interesting.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Books I read: Batgirl, Batwoman, Frankenstein, Shade, Batman, Wonder Woman

I know I promised to feature some non-DC/Marve comics on this blog this month, but you know how it is. Life gets in the way. But I will get to them eventually. Aside from my regular pull list, I've also gotten a few graphic novels of interest lately: Nate Powell's Any Empire, Craig Thompson's Habibi, and Daniel Clowes' Death-Ray. I hope to write about all of them, so thanks for your patience.

Meanwhile, here are some very quick thoughts on the DC books I read the past couple of weeks.

Batgirl #2
Written by Gail Simone, pencils by Ardian Syaf, inks by Vincente Cifuentes; colours by Ulises Arreola; DC.

I find myself disliking the art in this book a lot more than I ever expected to. Ardian Syaf's action scenes are confusing and his faces are inconsistent and weird. And the colours by Ulises Arreola are positively garish. Storywise, we find out what the villain's deal is and it's a bit more complicated than what I was expecting. I'm not really sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. I feel like it's too soon for me to really care about this villain's backstory and I wish Gail Simone had waited a bit longer before giving us that information. Meanwhile, she continues to tease about the "miraculous" way Barbara was cured, which is fine for now, but I hope it doesn't drag on for too much longer. Bottom line is I'm still very curious about where all this is going, but not completely sold on it either. I want to give Gail Simone a fair chance, though, so that's as far as I'll go with my analysis for now.

Batwoman #1 and 2
Written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman; art by J. H. Williams III; colours by Dave Stewart; DC.

The first issue sold out before I could get my hands on it last month, so I grabbed the second printing last week along with the second issue. J.H. Williams doesn't disappoint. He delivers exactly the kind of spectacular art that everyone was expecting, with incredibly complex and ultra-stylized layouts. As impressive and beautiful as it is, though, I find it a little bit exhausting. I'm a big fan of simple, elegant design and grid layouts, and sometimes I find myself wishing that J.H. Williams would show a little bit more restraint. I'm a little bit sick of those double-page spread layouts with the panels forming a giant bat symbol, which we've seen him use in Elegy as well as in the Batman stuff he did with Grant Morrison. I feel like there's only so many times you can pull that off before it starts to feel like a gimmick, and Williams is getting awfully close to that limit. I've also read at least a couple of comments from people saying they're finding the unexplained whiteness of Kate Kane's skin kind of distracting, and I tend to agree. It was fine as a stylistic choice at first, but now I keep asking myself what is wrong with that woman's skin and why doesn't she spend more time in the sun?

Still, I'm being critical here, but that doesn't mean I don't get any pleasure out of this beautiful art. Besides, all these pretty pictures would feel more superfluous if we didn't get some good stories to support them, and so far I'm liking what Williams and Blackman are doing with the characters. It might not be on the level of Greg Rucka's excellent and defining run writing the character, but it's good enough to keep my interest. Also, the fact that Amy Reeder is going to be drawing the next arc gives me something to look forward to. It's going to be a nice change of pace.


Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #2
Written by Jeff Lemire; art by Alberto Ponticelli; colours by Jose Villarubia; DC.

I enjoyed this issue a whole lot more than the first one, and I think this title might turn out to be one of my favourites of the New 52 after all. Lotta fun, good art, good colours. What's not to like?


The Shade #1
Written by James Robinson; art by Cully Hamner; colours by Dave McCraig; DC.

This is going to be a 12-issue mini-series, with each arc by a different artist. If you've read James Robinson's seminal Starman run (or even just part of it, as I have), then you know how awesome this character can be. I really enjoyed this first issue, despite the appearance of one of my all-time least favourite villains in the last few pages. And Cully Hamner's art - wow! This just made me want to rush out and buy more of his books. (PS: What do you recommend?)


Batman #2
Written by Scott Snyder; pencils by Greg Capullo; inks by Jonathan Glapion; colours by FCO; DC.

This is good. Of course it's good. What else would you expect from a Batman comic written by Scott Snyder? There isn't really anything about the story that's blowing my mind yet, but I can tell that Snyder is slowly putting all the pieces in place and when the shit hits the fan, our minds are going to suitably blown. Greg Capullo's art, which I wasn't all that thrilled with at first, is starting to grow on me. It still kind of seems like a weird fit for this book, but it's good.


Wonder Woman #2
Written by Brian Azzarello; art by Cliff Chiang; colours by Matthew Wilson; DC.

And this is my favourite book of the batch this time around. As unconvinced as I am about the idea of Zeus being Wonder Woman's father, I have to admit that so far it definitely looks like Brian Azzarello knows what he's doing and he's got a good story to tell, so let's wait and see what he does with it. Cliff Chiang's art is juts phenomenal. I don't know what else to say. This book is just full of awesome, and right now it's competing with Swamp Thing for the #1 spot in my heart out of this relaunch.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

About that kick in Huntress #1

I've seen a few reviews of Huntress #1 take issue with some of Marcus To's art, and in particular with one panel that shows Helena's body twisting in ways not humanly possible to kick one of the bad guys in the face. This is the offending panel:


Marcus To takes the criticism seriously and has responded on his Tumblr by pointing to a scene in a Tony Jaa movie that inspired the move and a picture of a gymnast standing in a similar position, while also acknowledging that he did screw up some of the details, like the orientation of the foot.

All of which is cool, but the thing is, I don't really care. This was one of my favourite panels in the book. It made me laugh out loud, not because I thought it was ridiculous but because I thought it was delightfully absurd in the way that superhero comics inherently are (or should be). These are the kinds of panels that automatically put a smile on my face. Criticizing it for being unrealistic sucks all the joy out of it.

I appreciate some level of realism in my comics. Artists that play fast and loose with anatomy and perspective sometimes bother me (for example, Jim Lee's art in Justice League #1). But I also want comics to be fun and I want these heroes to pull off move that nobody else can pull off. And if that means a little bit of cheating from time to time, I'm perfectly fine with that.

It seems like a strange thing to pick on when readers and reviewers seem to fully accept anatomically impossible female bodies with tiny waistlines, twisted so that their boobs AND their ass are pointed at the reader, in high heels and an unzipped suit, supposedly being "empowered." At least To's art is respectful of the character. The above panel is meant to show how incredibly skilled Helena is. It doesn't emphasize her crotch or her boobs. There's nothing objectifying about it.

In my opinion Marcus To is one of the best artists working for DC right now. His layouts are simple and elegant. His lines are super-clean. He can make any costume look great. He never goes for cheesecake. He's always on time and never needs fill-in artists to finish his pages. Sure, there's room for improvement (I find he has a limited range in body types and faces, for example) but his strengths as an artist far outweigh his weaknesses.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Books I read: Action Comics, Animal Man, Huntress, Swamp Thing

Yes, I do plan on spending some time this month reviewing some of the non-DC/Marvel comics on my pull list. But that doesn't mean I stop covering the New 52. Here are some quick thoughts on the new issues I read this week.

Action Comics #2
Written by Grant Morrison; pencils by Rags Morales and Brent Anderson; inks by Rick Bryant and Brent Anderson; colours by Brad Anderson; DC 

One of my biggest concerns with DC's relaunch is that their commitment to shipping all the books on time will lead to more unsolicited fill-in artists. I hate unsolicited fill-in artists with the passion of a thousand suns. I understand that artists need a break from time to time. But I think how much work an artist can handle should be planned into the schedule. Either alternate between two art teams, or plan for guest artists between story arcs. It's simply not acceptable to announce a book with one creative team and then ship it with a different (and most of the time inferior) creative team.

Consistency of art is really important to me. I have a feeling that I'm in the minority, but whatever. As a consumer, I'm just not willing to keep supporting books that constantly disappoint me in that department. I've learned my lesson from DC in recent months, and one of the conditions I set for myself when I decided to try out some of these New 52 issues was that the moment an unsolicited fill-in artist would appear in a book, that book would get dropped from my pull list.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, Action Comics made it through one-and-a-half issue before Rags Morales needed some help. The art in the second issue is wildly inconsistent. I'm assuming that the pages not drawn by Morales are the ones that feature Lois Lane. That would certainly explain why she looks like a completely different character in every panel she appears in.

The patch-up art job is already enough for me to stop buying this book. But there's another reason. This book costs $3.99. If I remember correctly, the justification for the extra dollar on some of the New 52 books (despite DC's much publicized "holding the line" campaign pre-September and their promises to stick to $2.99 till the end of the year) was that it's a longer than the standard 20 pages we get in other books. Well, I counted the story pages in this issue and there are 20. The rest are bonus material, ads and a preview for some Batman graphic novel. So where's my extra dollar going? Hint: It's not "bonus" material if I have to pay extra for it.

All this ranting and I haven't even talked about the content yet. Is this a terrible comic? No. It's an average comic book that I already wasn't that stoked on after the first issue, but I figured I would give it a chance. I did. And now it's over. I will not be buying issue #3.

Animal Man #2
Written by Jeff Lemire; art by Travel Foreman; colours by Lovern Kindzierski; DC

I didn't enjoy this issue quite as much as I enjoyed the first one. I think it's because of the way Maxine feels more like a plot device than a character. I find it a little bit of a cop out that Buddy doesn't really have to do any work to figure out what is going on. All he has to do is listen to his daughter explain everything to him and guide him to this magical world nobody knew existed just 24 hours earlier. It's just awfully convenient that Maxine has all the answers.

In spite of that, I did enjoy the issue. I still think the art is visually striking and original. I think those who weren't sold on the art in the first issue will probably have even more problems with it in this one, but I actually find it refreshing to have a comic that is so stylistically different from anything else that DC puts out each month. It's about as far away from a conventional "house style" as you can get.

Still a strong title and in no real danger of getting bumped off my pull list for the foreseeable future.

Huntress #1
Written by Paul Levitz; pencils by Marcus To; inks by John Dell; colours by Andrew Dalhouse; DC

This is the first of a six-issue mini-series. The first thing that struck me about it is how unfortunate it is that DC hired Guillem March to do the covers instead of letting Marcus To handle them. The difference between the tacky mess of a cover and the gorgeous, classy art inside is almost shocking as you open the book. Marcus To was fantastic on Red Robin and here he continues to impress me with his clean lines and layouts. The only criticism I have of the art is that there isn't much to differentiate the women's faces from one another, but that's a very common problem in comics. In any case, it's not really a big enough deal to take anything away from my enjoyment of this first issue.

Paul Levitz has a good handle on the character. This was a good, introduction to what seems like it's going to be a pretty straightforward (but potentially very satisfying) story. Helena's character doesn't seem to be affected by the relaunch at all (from what I can tell), so if you're a fan of the character you won't be disappointed.

Solid first issue. I'm onboard.

Swamp Thing #2
Written by Scott Snyder; art by Yanick Paquette; colours by Nathan Fairbairn; DC

The first issue was good, but this second issue is even better. Paquette's art (helped by Fairbairn's detailed colours) is blowing my mind.

A large part of this issue is mostly just an info dump, as (one version of) Swamp Thing explains to Alec Holland what the deal is with the Green, the Parliament of Trees, and his connection to Swamp Thing. I was a little bit worried when I found out a few months ago that Swamp Thing was coming back to the DCU and that Alec Holland would be resurrected. I don't worship Alan Moore's work, but I think some of the concepts he established in in run on Swamp Thing are really rich and fascinating, and I didn't want to see that get wiped out of continuity.

What's amazing is that Scott Snyder somehow manages to honour Moore's run while establishing a new status quo for the character. Instead of just retconning Moore's run, he adds new elements that force us to reinterpret it. I don't know how interesting it is to new readers, but I thought all the back story in this issue was great. And now I'm really excited to see where it's all going to lead.

Scott Snyder is simply amazing. There's no doubt in my mind now that he's the best writer working for DC. I am so completely sold on what he's doing here and in Batman (and in his creator-owned work) that I'm basically just going to buy anything and everything he writes from now on. You want good comics? I suggest you do the same.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Is It Wednesday Yet?

Coming this week is the first batch of #2 issues from DC's New 52. On my pull list are:

  • Action Comics #2
  • Animal Man #2
  • Swamp Thing #2
In addition, DC also has two new miniseries launching this week:
  • Huntress #1
  • Penguin: Pain and Prejudice #1
I'm definitely getting Huntress. In spite of the rather awful covers by Guillem March (why does everybody but me think this guy is a good artist?), the interior art by Marcus To promises to be absolutely gorgeous and well worth the cover price. Paul Levitz is writing. There's a preview here.

I think I'm gonna pass on the Penguin mini, though. It's written by Gregg Hurwitz with art by Szymon Kudranksi, and I'm not familiar with either of their work so that's neither a plus or a minus. But I already have way too much Batman-family titles on my pull list, so I'm not really looking to add yet another. 

Other stuff on my pull list:
  • Sweet Tooth #26 (Vertigo)
  • Severed #3 (Image)
  • Mystic #3 (Marvel/CrossGen)
  • Superior #5 (Marvel/Icon)
Sweet Tooth is Jeff Lemire's magnum opus, which just keeps getting better and better. Severed is a Scott Snyder horror project involving cannibals. Mystic is G. Willow Wilson's fantastic mini-series that I wish could go on forever instead of being a mini-series. It may be the best book of the year, due in no small part to the wonderful art by David Lopez and gorgeous colours by Nathan Fairbairn. Superior is the long-delayed Mark Millar/Leinil Yu fantasy about a boy who gets transformed into his favourite movie superhero, an analogue of Superman/Captain Marvel. I believe this is the penultimate issue.

Finally, IDW has a graphic novel called All-Ghouls School that might be worth a look.  I'm not going to pick it up right away, mostly because I can't afford it right now when there are so many other books on my waiting list (more on that later). But it looks like it could be fun. There's a cheesy trailer for the book here.


Full list of new releases is here.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

DC New 52 debriefing + a mini Daredevil review + indie October

Phew. September is over. One month of relentless hype, debate, outrage, excitement, confusion and snark. Fifty-two new #1s, all sold out. A tremendous success in terms of initial sales. And there's no doubt about it, DC has dominated the comics internet. To the point where maybe we're a little exhausted and sick of hearing about them.

It's going to take a lot more hindsight before we can fully grasp what just happened and start to analyze its full implications. But I can tell you this: The dude who runs the comic book store I got to told me that before September they had about 90 reserves (i.e., clients who subscribe to books and have them set aside for them until they can pick them up) and now they have over 150. So it seems like a lot of these new readers, wherever they're coming from, are in it for more than just the first issues.

I'm impressed. I wasn't at all convinced that this would work. I'm still not sure that this is an altogether positive things in the long run as far as what I personally want out of mainstream super-hero comic books from the Big Two, but I have to admit that DC seems to have hit its short term goals. Remains to be seen whether they'll be able to turn these into a viable long-term strategy.

Out of the new 52, I only read 13 books. Here they are, sorted from best to worst:

1. Animal Man
2. Swamp Thing
3. Wonder Woman
4. Batman
5. Action Comics
6. Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE
7. Batgirl
8. Demon Knights
9. Fury of Firestorm
10. Supergirl
11. Static Shock
12. Stormwatch
13. Justice League

Of these 13, only Justice League was a true stinker. The top 4 were excellent. The next 5 were okay. The bottom four books are off my pull list. I'm going to stick with the other 9 for at least a few more issues to see where they're going.

Noticeably absent from the list is Batwoman, which I wasn't able to get my hands on before it sold out at my store. I have the second printing on reserve and am looking forward to it. Other books that I think might have been worth a look, based on reviews and comments I've seen online: Justice League Dark, All Star Western, maybe Nightwing (especially because it seems like it's gonna tie in with Snyder's Batman), maybe The Flash (I love Francis Manapul's art, but Geoff Johns' run kinda turned me off the character), maybe even Teen Titans (if only because the reviews I've seen are quite positive - I still have a hard time getting past Brett Booth's awful art and Tim Drake's ridiculous new costume).

Everything else I think can pretty safely be ignored.

I'm going to resist the temptation to comment further on the issue of sexism in some of these books, because I would just be repeating myself at this point. (I will say, though, that I'm pretty disgusted by how the discussion about sexism in comics has morphed into a discussion about whether we're allowed to talk about it. If I read one more blog post about how all we have to do is ignore the bad books and promote the good ones for everything to magically fix itself, my head is going to explode.)

My overall impression of the relaunch, based on what I've read and the comments and reviews I've seen online of the stuff I haven't read, is that although there are some good books, there isn't a lot of variety in the tone. You'll notice that my top four books above are all pretty dark/mature/serious/whatever. I don't hold that against them, because they do it well. But I get the impression that DC could really use a few light-hearted fun books.

Again, this comes down to the fact that DC seem to be putting all their eggs in the same basket. Their primary target audience is males aged 18-34. (They've stated this officially, so I'm not making it up.) The problem is I don't think that demographic is large enough to support 52 books, so I don't understand why they didn't try to aim some of their new titles at different readers. Besides, it's not like males 18-34 are a uniform group.

The perfect example of the type of book I think is missing from DC's line would be the current run of Daredevil, written by Mark Waid with art by Paolo Rivera. That book is probably my favourite thing that either of the two publishing giants are putting out right now. The art is fantastic and tone of the writing is light and fun, without making the story or characters seem trivial. It's colourful and flashy without being weird or inaccessible. I think it's a book that almost anyone can enjoy (I don't think I've seen a single negative review of it anywhere). It's almost like Mark Waid set out to prove that comics could be awesome without being grim and gritty, and he hits it right out of the park.

I think DC could learn a thing or two from that comic. I like how dark and violent Azzarello and Chiang's Wonder Woman is. But I don't need every single book that DC puts out to be brutal or serious. The days when DC comics needed to prove to everyone that "comics aren't just for kids" are long gone. It's okay to lighten up a little.

Anyway.

October's here. Since September was all about DC, I want to spend this month focusing on some other publishers. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to make an effort to post about the titles on my pull list that are not set in either the DC or Marvel universes. Just to make sure people don't forget that there's a lot of variety out there. Comics are awesome.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Women in the New 52: Catwoman, Starfire, Wonder Woman

First, a confession.

I did not read Catwoman #1 or Red Hood and the Outlaws #1. I didn't read them because I didn't buy them. I didn't buy them because I didn't think they'd be any good. And based on the reactions I've seen online and on the several scanned pages from both books that have been circulating on blogs, I think I was right.

I don't need to have read the books to see some of the problems with them. But since I didn't read them, I won't review them. And rather than offer a big rant about them, I will just link to two very excellent and well-argued pieces about them:

Read them both.

Meanwhile, at Newsarama, Judd Winnick defends the sex scene in Catwoman #1 with this:
This is a Catwoman for 2011, and my approach to her character and actions reflect someone who lives in our times. And wears a cat suit. And steals. It’s a tale that is part crime story, part mystery and part romance.  In that, you will find action, suspense and passion. Each of those qualities, at times, play to their extremes.  Catwoman is a character with a rich comic book history, and my hope is that readers will continue to join us as the adventure continues.
Well, I hope they don't. Ugh.

But seriously, I'm baffled by how tone-deaf this writer can be about the character. It's weird, because when I first started following comics closely about two years ago, I kept hearing about this writer that people online really seemed to hate. I hadn't read any of Winnick's books, but the constant complaint about him on message boards was that he was using comics as a soapbox, constantly writing about gay or HIV-positive characters, and pushing his annoying liberal agenda down readers' throats. Those complaints made me really uncomfortable. It was the first time I started to realize just how conservative and bigoted comics fandom can be. There was something creepy about how much hate this guy was getting for writing about gay characters.

Now, two years later, I feel like his bad rep was largely unjustified. I haven't read a lot of his work, but he just seems like an average writer who sometimes gets it right and sometimes gets it wrong. Or at least that was my impression before this whole Catwoman debacle happened. From the early interviews in his whole take on the character boiled down to "sexy sexy sexy," to the awful pages I've seen from the actual comic, to his add-insult-to-injury response quoted above, I'm starting to think maybe he's just a terrible writer who doesn't know how to write female characters. And this is a guy known for his liberal politics?

I guess this serves as a useful reminder that even liberals can be sexist. (Or, if that sounds too much like an ad hominem attack, at least say or do or write sexist bullshit.)

Another thing that bothers me about this controversy is the way people who don't see the problem respond to it by caricaturing the criticism and reducing it to prudishness. I've seen dozens of comments in response to blog posts that go like this: "What's the big deal? They're two consenting adults. What's wrong with them having sex?"

There's nothing wrong with Catwoman and Batman having sex. None of the criticism I've seen has been anti-sex. It's about how this was portrayed, not the fact that it happened. It's about characters masquerading as "strong female characters" when they are actually male fantasies. It's about pandering to the lowest-common-denominator male fanbase, when this relaunch is supposed to be about attracting new (and potentially non-straight-male) readership.

While I was commenting on some of these issues on Twitter this week, someone told me I was basing my rants on two comics only and that, in fact, this doesn't reflect any widespread problem in DC's New 52. But, first of all, no, it's not just two comics. Do I need to remind you of Harley Quinn's new costume in Suicide Squad? Or Amanda Waller's sexy new supermodel look? I'm not saying every single book DC has put out this month has treated women like sex objects, but there's enough of a pattern here for us to really call them out on their shit and ask how that much-touted commitment to diversity somehow resulted in this.

Still. It's worth remembering that DC is also putting out some good books this month, including quite a few that feature really good female characters. I'm pretty sure that Batwoman is one of those books, but unfortunately I wasn't able to get my hands on a copy of the first issue. I had mistakenly left it off my pull list and it sold out within hours before I could make it to the store. I've ordered the reprint.

I did, however, get a copy of Wonder Woman #1, written by Brian Azzarello with art by Cliff Chiang, and I thought it was fantastic. I've seen some complaints about the level of gore and violence in the book, but I personally didn't have a problem with it. It's too bad that there isn't an all-ages Wonder Woman book that people can give to their kids and I agree that DC should publish such a book. But just because that book doesn't exist doesn't mean there's anything wrong with this one. It's violent and creepy and weird, and I loved it. The opening issue sets up some interesting villains while firmly establishing Wonder Woman's character, and Cliff Chiang's art is absolutely phenomenal. This might very well turn out to be the best looking book out of this month's 52 first issues.

So DC is getting it right some of the time. And I'm very thankful for that. Those books that I enjoy are all going on my pull list and I will continue to support them. But I'm not going to stop criticizing them when they fail. (And, no, the fact that "Marvel's not going any better" is no excuse either. I'm not "singling them out" by pointing out DC's failings. I'm just concentrating on what I know. How well Marvel is doing has nothing to do with it.) If we want DC to finally get the message and stop putting out books that alienate their (real and/or potential) female readership, we have to stay vocal about it.

Finally, check out this alternative take on Batman and Catwoman's relationship, by Mike Hawthorne. I like it a hell of a lot more than those last few pages of Judd Winnick's book.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Two Robin sketches from Montreal Comic Con 2011

First, Dick Grayson (animated version), by Ty Templeton:


And then Tim Drake, by Marco Rudy:


I waited three hours in line to get these. (And to say hi to Gail Simone.) Good times.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Diminishing returns (re: Amanda Waller and other stupid shit)

(Part of this post is adapted from a late-night rant on Twitter while everybody else was apparently asleep.)

(This is in response to this.)

Okay, look, I don't know what goes on behind closed doors at DC Comics. I don't even know what goes on behind open doors. I'm just trying to understand. I know there is a reboot-that's-not-a-reboot going on. I know they want to make things different. And I know that every change potentially will anger some fans, and if DC worries about that too much, they won't be able to get anything done. But still. Just explain to me, somebody, please. What reasoning could possibly have led to the decision to make Amanda Waller skinny?

How did this come about? Did DC editors sit together at a meeting and say, "Yeah, that fat bitch Amanda Waller, gotta do something about that"? Or, "Amanda Waller is a great character. We should do something with her." "Hey, what if we made her skinny?"

I just don't understand. What purpose does it serve? Does it make the stories better? Can people relate to her better if she's thin? Does it make the character more marketable or recognizable or relatable or new-reader-friendly or fresh or edgy or whatever? What is it? Explain it to me, because I just can't make any sense of it. It seems utterly useless and wrong to me.

I can only think of two possible explanations.

1. Total ignorance at a level so incredibly high that it makes me embarrassed to imagine.

2. Done on purpose because it will piss people off and make them talk, and controversy is better than apathy.

I'd like to believe that DC editors are not the kind of disgusting filth that would actually go for #2. So I guess I'm going to have to assume that this was a result of ignorance and stupidity. Unless someone else can suggest another possible explanation that I'm missing. But whatever the reasoning was, I just find this extremely sad.

I've been a good sport since the launch of the New 52. I was a very vocal critic of a lot of DC's decision, but when the relaunch finally came, I cheered for it despite my problems with some aspects of it. I was onboard. I bought books I hadn't originally planned to read*. I was surprised by some of them. I wrote positive reviews (and meant every word in 'em). I shared my enthusiasm on Twitter and elsewhere. Yeah, I still think making Barbara Gordon Batgirl again was a terrible idea, but if Gail Simone is making a good book out of it, I'll give it a chance.

But then I see this kind of bullshit and it's like DC is thanking me with a slap in the face. It makes embarrassed for supporting this company. Being a fan of DC lately means constantly being ashamed of the stupid shit they pull EVERY FREAKING WEEK, it seems.

It almost makes me regret buying all those books the last two weeks. I was going to jump off the bandwagon with this relaunch, but like a well-trained spineless little fanboy, I marched to the comic book store and gave them my money in exchange for those overpriced little colourful pamphlets full of incredibly stupid characters doing incredibly stupid things for the sake of our entertainment. And now I feel ashamed.

Ultimately, what they did to Amanda Waller is no worse than what they did to Barbara Gordon or any of the other characters who were negatively affected by the reboot and lost some of what made them special in the first place. So why is this the change that inspires this rant? I don't even know. I'm just sick of DC shitting on the characters and the fans who love them. And I just know that if anybody asks Dan DiDio about this at a convention, he's going to roll his eyes and yell out, "Next question." And maybe if people bitch about it on Twitter and Tumblr enough, then the following week, they're going to put out an official statement saying that, no, in fact they really really care what people think and diversity is important to them and blablabla. I don't care anymore, DC. I can already imagine all your half-assed attempts to spin this into a positive thing because I've read them a thousand times over.

What am I going to do about it besides posting this rant? Am I going to stop buying comics? Well, no. I'm just pointing out that it's one more blow, and every time something like this happens I care a little less about these characters and this company. There have been a lot of blows lately. And it almost came to a point where I completely lost interest. But then somehow the excitement of the New 52 won me over. But it's a case of diminishing returns. It may not be today, it may not be this week, it may not even be this year. But at some point, I'm going to say, "You know what? Fuck this shit. These books are not worth spending my money on anymore." It's even possible that this has already happened and I'm just in denial about it, holding on desperately to my own illusions because I WANT TO LIKE COMICS more than I actually like them.

(* Yes! I actually buy every comic book I read, not like a lot of other people who cry foul on Tumblr and Twitter and who download all their books for free on torrent sites.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Reviews: DC New 52, week 1

(no spoilers)

Action Comics #1
Written by Grant Morrison; art by Rags Morales and Rick Bryant

I wonder if this title is going to outsell Justice League #1. We've all been told last week's crap-fest by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee was the big launch of the New 52, the one that would set everything up for the rest of the line, but I have a feeling the book most people were really excited about was this one. I showed up at my LCS at noon today and they had sold out, whereas last week they still had dozens of Justice League issues lining up the walls. (Though I didn't ask how many they had ordered.)

In any case, this a much better first issue than Justice League #1. It's fast-paced, full of action and information. You get a good sense of how this world and these characters are different from the old DCU, dropping in on important supporting characters like Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and General Lane. There are references to Clark Kent's work as a reporter and how Jimmy and Lois fit into that. It establishes that Superman has started helping people around Metropolis, that the citizens are starting to notice and to appreciate it, and while the authorities are treating him as a threat, you get a good sense of their motivations and understand why they'd be freaked out by this powerful alien among them who seems to be getting stronger every day.

The art is always way better. Rags Morales' art is clean and elegant, two terms I would never use to describe Jim Lee's scratchy mess of over-detailed and cluttered panels. Maybe some of it has to do with inker Rick Bryant or colourist Brad Anderson, but this looks just how you would expect DC's flagship title to look - professional, dynamic, clear, but also very "house-style-ish," meaning it doesn't really take any risks the way some of the other books reviewed below do. And certainly if you think about the amazing work that Frank Quitely did on All-Star Superman, this seems a bit bland in comparison.

I'm not really convinced that this is a book I'm all that excited to keep reading. I'm just happy that it's not awful, I guess. It's a good start and unless there's a significant drop in quality ahead, fans are probably going to get a good Superman story over the next few months. Oddly, in spite of some of the continuity changes, this feels more true to the spirit of the original Superman than some of the garbage we've gotten lately from JMS's "Grounded" debacle.

But will I, personally, keep reading? I haven't quite decided yet. It will probably depend on the quality of the other New 52 books I sample this month. If I end up adding a lot of them to my pull list, for budgetary reasons, I might drop this one. Especially considering the extra dollar on the price tag.

Verdict: Good, but somewhat underwhelming.

Animal Man #1
Written by Jeff Lemire; art by Travel Foreman and Dan Green

Prepare to have your mind blown.

Jeff Lemire's mainstream super-hero work at DC has been a little hit-and-miss for me. There were a lot of good ideas in his Superman run (and it looked like he was building up to something that could have really paid off with the subplot involving Psionic Lad, which was unfortunately cut short by the arrival of the New 52), but the execution never quite gelled. The pacing was awkward (in part because of the Doomsday crossover hijack, maybe) and I kind of got the impression that he was phoning it in.

With this first issue of Animal Man, I feel like I finally recognize the work of the man responsible for what is currently my favourite ongoing series, Vertigo's Sweet Tooth. The writing on this issue flows perfectly. There's not an awkward beat. The dialogue feels natural. The characters immediately come across as real people. It's obvious that Lemire not only has a good grasp of the characters but also is excited about the story he's going to tell.

And the art. Holy shit, where the hell did this Travel Foreman dude come from? I love his style and it's exactly the kind of visually stunning work that Jeff Lemire's storytelling requires. These two are a match made in heaven and I hope the book continues with this creative team for a while.

Verdict: The best New 52 book so far. Add it to your pull list right now!

Batgirl #1
Written by Gail Simone; art by Ardian Syaf and Vincente Cifuentes

If you read this blog on a semi-regular basis or follow my rants on Twitter, you know that I've been a very vocal critic of what DC decided to do with this book. As a fan of both Bryan Q. Miller's excellent take on Stephanie-Brown-as-Batgirl AND the well-established status quo of Barbara-Gordon-as-Oracle, this felt like getting stabbed in the heart... twice!

I've said what I had to say about all that. I've said it loud and I've repeated it a million times. And all those issues I've brought up before are still valid. To the point where I had made up my mind that no matter how great Gail Simone's new series turned out to be, I would not buy it and I would not read it. I felt bad about it, because I love Gail Simone's writing and I know how excited she is about this book. But I just didn't think I could do it. I didn't want to send the message to DC that I was supporting this move with my money.

As it turns out, I ended up throwing all those convictions out the window when someone asked me to participate in a podcast to review this book (among others) (and more on that later, by the way). I was happy to use that as an excuse to justify my purchase. And I'm glad that I did, because as it turns out, this is a fantastic first issue. Gail Simone's writing is pitch-perfect and I'm convinced that there is not another person alive on this planet that could have pulled this off and done the impossible: get me onboard with this move. I'm serious.

I don't want to say anything more because I don't want to spoil it for anyone. But this is a good book and I'm looking forward to the next issue. Ardian Syaf's art is very nice, too, and I have my fingers crossed that he will stay on the book at least for a full story arc. (I will not put up with unsolicited fill-in artists in DC books anymore. I've had enough.)

Verdict: Shed a tear for Oracle, then give this a try. You won't regret it.

Stormwatch #1
Written by Paul Cornell; art by Miguel Sepulveda

This was strangely disappointing. I read through the whole thing not really caring about any of it, up to the very last moment when Midnighter shows up and I got a bit of a chill at the thought of the lover story that was about to begin between him and Apollo.

In a way, I'm kind of annoyed, because that just might be enough to get me to continue buying this book, even if I'm not all that excited by any of the other characters or the premise. I can't say I'm a huge fan of Miguel Sepulveda's art either.

I don't know. Will this gay love story even pay off ultimately? I think it's worth sticking around for a few more issues to find out. Plus, Paul Cornell is usually a pretty funny writer and there were little hints of his trademark style in the dialogue. ("--and certainly the horniest!") That's an added plus.

Verdict: Meh. But I'll keep reading I want Midnighter and Apollo to have sex.

Swamp Thing #1
Written by Scott Snyder; art by Yanick Paquette

Yeah, this was pretty much everything I expected (and wanted) it to be: creepy, well written and beautifully drawn. I believe this is the best work I've ever seen by Yanick Paquette. (Although I noticed how ugly Superman's padded costume is when I saw his rendition of it. What an awful, awful design. Please do not let Jim Lee design any more costumes, ever again. Urgh!)

When I found out that Alec Holland was coming back to life at the end of Brightest Day (which I wasn't reading - I found out on the internet), I was extremely skeptical of this new direction. It just seemed like such a departure from some of the coolest aspects of Alan Moore's run (Swampy's struggle with whether or not he was once human, etc.). It wasn't until I heard Scott Snyder talk about this in an interview, about how it was his idea to begin with and how it was specifically a set-up for what he was planning to do in this series, that I got onboard with it.

With this first issue, I still don't know exactly where it's going to go, but I'm definitely intrigued and excited to find out.

Verdict: Excellent. Along with Animal Man, this is the other must-buy of the week.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Review: Justice League #1

Justice League #1
Written by Geoff Johns; pencils by Jim Lee; inks by Scott Williams; DC.

(Spoilers here.)

When you've been told repeatedly for several months that the issue you hold in your hand is "historic," that it sets the tone for the relaunch of an entire line of comic books, and the creative team behind it includes two of the three people who conceived of and orchestrated the whole relaunch, yeah, it sets up a certain set of expectations.

Add to that the normal expectations that you have for any first issue of a new series. And the expectations you have for a comic book that features Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Batman, Flash and Cyborg on its cover.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I expected it to be awesome. In fact, I wasn't even sure I was going to buy it. The guy at my local comic shop was like, "Come on, you're not even gonna try it?" So I picked it up just to show that I had an open mind about this whole relaunch business. I'm also not a huge fan of either Geoff Johns or Jim Lee, though I think both have done some good work in the past. So, no, I didn't think it was going to blow my mind.

What I did expect, though, was... I don't know, some kind of hook? Something, anything, that would make me want to read the next issue? A hint of how awesome it is to have the "big seven" (well, big six, really, since Martian Manhunter has been replaced by Cyborg) reunited as the core members of the Justice League?

There is none of that in this book. What we get are Batman and Green Lantern being arrogant macho assholes full of themselves. And then on the last page, Superman shows up and hints that he's as much of an arrogant macho asshole full of himself as they are.

Basically, the theme of this book is MY COCK IS BIGGER THAN YOURS.

And that's pretty much it. There's no story. Batman meets Green Lantern. Cops in Gotham are shooting at them and the two superheroes are boasting that they can handle it and don't need help. Then they find a box and Green Lantern's ring is unable to identify it, which he says is impossible, but just by looking at it Batman is able to deduce that it's some kind of alien computer. From this, they deduce that this guy in Metropolis they've heard about might know something about it, so Green Lantern flies them there, and then Superman comes out and is like, "So, what can you do?" Then he pulls out his cock and Batman and Green Lantern's jaws drop.

Okay, I lied about that last part. What you actually get is a teaser that says, "Next: Batman vs. Superman." Because apparently this is what new readers are going to be interested in, a bunch of testosterone-filled frat boys fighting amongst themselves for the alpha dog title.

Yeah, it sucks. It's worse than anything I could have imagined. It's a steaming pile of burning caca. And if this is meant to set the tone for the New 52, things are about as grim and hopeless as I feared they might be when I started seeing some of those awful costumes redesigns several months ago.

The good news, for me anyway, is that I don't think that's true. I don't think the tone or quality of this book really has anything to do with what we can expect from the books that I am looking forward to. So I'm not going to give up on the New 52 because the flagship title sucks. Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Batwoman and the few other titles I'm looking forward to will succeed or fail on their own merit.

But what's depressing is that DC had so much riding on this book. I don't know whether non-regular readers of comics came into the shops last Wednesday to check it out like DC was hoping they would. But if so, are they really going to get sucked in by this? Are they going to come back to buy Action Comics #1 next week, or Justice League #2 next month? I find that incredibly hard to believe.

What would have made a better first issue? Start with a bang! Start with the Justice League already assembled and show us how awesome it is to have all these classic, iconic heroes kicking ass together. Show us how much FUN a comic like that can be. There's no fun in this comic. Just a bunch of angry dudes banging on their chests and asserting their dominance.

It's garbage.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In which I ramble on and on and mention some DC books I might buy

So today is the day that DCU implodes and the New DCU aka DCnUaka New 52 takes arrives on the shelves of comic book stores to take its place.

How do I feel about this?

As you may have noticed, I haven't been updating this blog much lately. I also haven't been keeping up with comics news as much as I usually do. (I keep falling behind on my RSS reader and having to mark hundreds of posts as read without so much as glancing at them when I get overwhelmed.) I've also fallen behind on my reading of actual comic books, although I keep buying them, which is a little worrisome a I watch my to-read pile climb higher and higher on my desk toward the ceiling.

Have I completely lost interest in comics?

No, of course not. Like all of you, I'm sure, I have other things in my life besides comics. And sometimes those things tend to take over and demand more attention, and comics become less important. I think that's what's happening now. Because I still love some of the stuff I've been reading.

But what about the DCnU?

To be honest, it's been kind of a crazy stupid emotional roller-coaster ride for me, to an extent that I find almost embarrassing. I know, it's just comics, right? I don't know why I get so worked up over some of this stuff. But I read interviews and reports from comic cons and opinion pieces and really bad PR from DC and I think it's just overwhelming. The whole thing sounds like such a terrible mess, and so many of the decisions just sound like such terrible ideas.

Meanwhile, I look at blogs like this one, where artists have been submitting their own alternate takes on DC characters and what they'd do with them given the opportunity, and it's a little hard not to bang your head against the desk. There's so much creativity, so much diversity of styles and ideas, such a willingness to explore what these characters could be. I would give at least half the books on that blog a try, whereas there's only a small handful of actual books from DC that appeal to me in any way. It just makes me wish that DC wasn't so uptight about maintaining a consistent look and feel across the line. I wish they were a little bit more willing to take risks. I wish they were actually seeking out a different audience, expanding beyond the current demographic and giving young, creative, talented people free reign to play with their characters and come up with new and exciting comic books.

I don't really see the DCnU as doing that. For the most part, it's the same people doing more or less the same thing they were doing before. I'm not saying there's no creativity in the New 52. Obviously some creators (maybe most? maybe all?) are very excited about their work and I'm sure there will be some good and some bad and some just kind of average comics to come out of it. But I don't see it as being focused on the future or a younger readership or a more diverse approach to superhero comics. There's a very 1990s retro feel to a lot of the art (and the 1990s are the worst possible decade for anyone to get nostalgic about) and for all the big superficial changes it just feels like more of the same.

BUT...

On the other hand, I can't help but get excited about some of the books. I listened to the amazing, amazing interview with Scott Snider on the Three Chicks podcast and, oh, my God, did he ever sell me on his books. All of them! I was already planning to buy the new Swamp Thing (1) but had decided to take a break from the whole Bat family for a variety of reasons. But when I heard Snyder talk about what he has in mind for the Batman (2) book, wow. Sold! 100% sold.

I've also been sold on the Brian Azzarello/Cliff Chiang Wonder Woman (3). I've always been a fan of Chiang's art, but when I started seeing some of the preview art from the first isues I just started drooling. Brian Azzarello calls this a "horror book," which, I don't know, is totally not what I would have expected from Wonder Woman. I still think it could go either way in terms of storytelling, but I'm curious enough to check it out.

I am also sold on Jeff Lemire's Animal Man (4) (though not so much on his Frankenstein) and very tempted by Paul Cornell's books, both Stormwatch (5) and Demon Knights (6).

And Batwoman (7) goes without saying.

There have also been some books announced beyond September that I think are very promising. Marcus To drawing a Huntress (8) mini-series? James Robinson writing a Shade (8) mini-series (with Jill Thompson doing one issue)? Nicola Scott drawing JSA (9)? Dustin Nguyen on a secret yet-to-be-announced Batman project? All of these sound very promising and I will definitely be considering them for my pull list.

So it's not all bleak. There are books I'm excited about, and in the end my DC pull list might not be as dramatically reduced as I had expected it to be. If you've been keeping track (or looking at the convenient numbers in brackets after each title) that's as much as 9 books I might end up buying each month. And there's at least a handful of others that I'll at least be tempted to browse through on the shelves.

And then there's Batgirl.

I can't decide what to do about Batgirl. I'm still devastated that Bryan Q. Miller's take on the Stephanie Brown version of the character is gone. That book had such a unique voice. It's really sad. And then, even worse than that, is the whole undoing of Babs as Oracle thing, which has already been talked about ad nauseam and which I won't get into again.

The Batgirl situation (combined with a few other concerns) were enough to at one point make me want to stop buying DC comics entirely. Now that I've learned more about the books that are coming out, Ive softened up a bit, but part of me still really wants to take a stand and refuse to buy Batgirl. I don't want to support that change with my money, and as much as I'm dying to know what Gail Simone's take on the whole thing will be, I feel like buying this book would be a compromise that I'm not willing to make.

Sometimes I pick the stupidest things to have convictions about. Some people are calling for a Marvel boycott because of the way they treated Jack Kirby and his family. Surely that's a more noble cause than what DC is doing to a fictional character. But I'm not really in this to be noble, I guess. I'm also not calling my refusal to buy Batgirl a "boycott." I just don't want to be part of it. Even though I think that Gail Simone will probably write a very, very good book and I wish I could support her.

Will I crack and buy it anyway? Will I read it in trade paperback? Digital comics? I don't know. I reserve the right to change my mind about it. But for now, this is where I stand.

And now, excuse me, I have to go back to reading Game of Thrones.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Books I read: 'Tec, Gates of Gotham, Mystic, Rachel Rising, Severed, Sweet Tooth

Hey, everyone. I'm back.

Detective Comics #880
Written by Scott Snyder; art by Jock; colours by Dave Baron; DC.

I like Jock's art a lot, but for some reason Francisco Francavilla's issues always pack a bigger punch. I don't know if he just happens to get the best scripts from Scott Snyder or if it's about the choices he makes as an artist. Jock's Joker looks terrifying, but the horror pales in comparison to the creepy pacing of the last couple of issues. Maybe what it comes down to is simply that Jock has been handling the issues featuring Batman whereas Francavilla focused more on the Gordon family. I almost wish Batman wasn't even in this story at all. Not that this is a bad issue. It's a great issue, and it moves the story along nicely, setting things up for what is sure to be a shocking finale later this month. Still the best Batman book currently on the stands.

VERY GOOD

...

Gates of Gotham #4
Story by Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins; written by Kyle Higgins and Ryan Parrott; art by Dustin Nguyen and Derec Donovan; layouts by Graham Nolan; colours by Guy Major; DC.

That's a long list of credits. Three writers on a single issue? Two artists plus a layout artist? Sounds like a rush job to me. I find that I care less and less about this mini-series with each issue. Good thing there's only one issue left. I imagine I will stop caring completely after that one. For a big mystery about the secret origin of the city of Gotham, there isn't really a whole lot that grabs my interest in this. Cass Cain's inclusion in the cast seems kind of pointless. She's just running around with all the other bat kids, not really doing anything that is specific to her character. There was some nice interaction with Damian a couple of issues ago, but nothing much since then.

OKAY

...

Mystic #1
Written by G. Willow Wilson; pencils by David Lopez; inks by Alvaro Lopez; colours by Nathan Fairbairn; Marvel.

Holy shit, this was awesome. This is definitely the best thing I've read from G. Willow Wilson so far. And that art! Those colours! Everything about this comic book is fantastic. Very cool premise, great characters with unique voices, dialogue that flows naturally, beautiful art with expressive faces and body language, gorgeous colours, engaging female characters. Seriously, get on this while you can. Pick up this baby. It's the best comic I've read in months.

BRILLIANT!

...

Rachel Rising #1
Story and art by Terry Moore; b&w; Abstract Studio.

A girl wakes up and pulls herself out of a shallow grave in the woods. She was apparently strangled to death earlier and doesn't remember exactly how she ended up there. Not a whole lot happens in this issue, but it's a nice introduction to the character and premise. Nice black and white art. Looking forward to more of this.

GOOD

...

Severed #1
Story by Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft; art by Attila Futaki; Image.

Creepy, slow-paced horror story with beautiful art. I don't really want to say anything more than that. Just read it.

VERY GOOD

...

Sweet Tooth #24
Story and art by Jeff Lemire; colours by Jose Villarrubia and Jeff Lemire; Vertigo.

Those who complain that "not much happens" in this series will hate this issue. Because, well, not much happens in it. That is, if you define "stuff happening" as actions moving the plot forward. At the end of the last issue, Gus was shot by an unknown shooter. He spends most of this issue slowly bleeding to death and dreaming. At the end, we still don't know who shot him or whether he will live. (The caption "Continued?" at the end made my heart skip and caused me to glance at the September solicits to confirm that this wasn't cancelled! Which of course it isn't.) The thing is, what I get out of this book isn't just a story. I feel like Lemire has developed his own comic book syntax with this series and it speaks to me on a different level than most monthly comics I read. It's possible that this reads better in collections than in single issues, but I don't care. I love reading it in single issue. And even if I zipped through this issue in a few minutes, I know that I will keep going back to it and rereading it and taking in the beautiful art and symbolism.

BRILLIANT!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Brief hiatus

Considering the low frequency of my posts lately, you'll hardly notice the difference. But Irrelevant Comics is going to be on hiatus for a brief period. I'm going on vacation this week and will have even less time to read/think/write about comics than I usually do.

I'll be back sometime in August, and I hope to get back to my regular posting schedule, with weekly previews and commentary. See you then.

Meanwhile, you can always follow me on Twitter.

PS: I'm reading Game of Thrones. Good stuff.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Is It Wednesday Yet?

This is the second week in a row that I don't post anything in between my "Is It Wednesday Yet?" columns. Why is that?

Well, I've been distracted by other things. Planning a trip, doing some writing (not for sharing), getting a new computer, watching Doctor Who, reading Game of Thrones, having sex (yes, it happened; no, I don't have pics), and contemplating an over-ambitious video project which may or may not get realized later this month. All of which means I haven't been reading as many comics as I'd like (my huge pull list from last week is still mostly in my to-read pile), and the ones that I did read I found that I either didn't have anything to say about them or was too busy/lazy to put those thoughts into words.

So, yeah, sorry about that. This weekend I went to the (air-conditioned!) library with my brand new MacBook Pro and sat down to write some quick reviews of the books I'd read over the past few days: Detective Comics #879, Batgirl #23, American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #2, and The Red Wing #1. All of which I thought were very good. But I just stared at the blank screen for a few minutes and then gave up.

Meanwhile, I incessantly spew forth my opinions and impressions on Twitter, so if you really can't get enough of me, you should follow me there.

More words about Barbara Gordon!

There have already been an awful lot of words written about Barbara Gordon and what's happening to her in DC's September relaunch. I've commented on it several times, here and elsewhere, and just about everyone in the comics blogosphere had something to say about it. So why am I linking to this very long piece about her on Bleeding Cool by Eric Glover? Because it's pretty good. I really hope that someone at DC reads it.

To blog or not to blog about Doctor Who?

I'm half tempted to start writing about Doctor Who. I know it's not comics, but there's probably enough crossover appeal to justify posting reviews on this blog, no? What do you think? Or should I preserve the purity of my blog's focus on comics?

Technical issues

I've had a few people tell me they were unable to post comments on my blog, which is super annoying. The other day, I even experienced the technical glitch myself as it took several tries before I was able to respond to a comment someone else had left. I'm very annoyed by this, but I'm not sure what to do about it.

If anybody has anything to say, you an always do so on Twitter or by e-mail. My contact info for both is included in the sidebars.

New comics this week!

After last week's massive pull list, I was glad (and my wallet was glad) to get a break this week. I'm only buying three books:

  • Batman: Gates of Gotham #3 (DC)
  • Supergirl #66 (DC)
  • All Nighter #2 (Image)
I'm sticking with Supergirl despite really hating the art in the last issue. Like, really, really hating it a lot. But Kelly Sue DeConnick's story is good and I want to support very rare occasion of a woman who isn't Gail Simone writing for DC.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Is It Wednesday Yet?

Last week's awful Flashpoint issue, which I didn't even have the strength to review, combined with the sheer idiocy of the reveal at the end of issue #2 of Knight of Vengeance, convinced me to stop buying anything that had the word "Flashpoint" printed on the cover. Even though I was semi-enjoying at least a few of those mini-series and was vaguely curious about where the whole thing would lead and how it would flow into the New 52 in September, I finally realized that there's a reason so many people hate these comic book events. They suck!

And yet in spite of having dropped Booster Gold and that Frankenstein tie-in, I still end up with a gigantic list this week. (See below.) Going over-budget again.

Fill-in artists and unsolicited creative team changes on DC books

Yesterday I got into a bit of an argument with Gail Simone on Twitter after I made a cynical remark about not having faith in DC's ability to hold stable creative teams on the new books for more than a couple of issues. I understand why she was upset about it and how, from her perspective, it might seem like all I do is complain, but honestly I feel like my cynicism over this is 100% justified, given DC's recent track record with this issue and given that it's only going to get worse, based on DC's insistence that books will now ship on schedule and that artists will be replaced if they can't deliver the books on time. It's not like I'm making any of this up. It's coming straight from the horse's mouth. I think when a publisher who already has a rampant problem with art consistency on their books announced that they are going to have even more fill-in artists after a big line-wide relaunch, there's ample reason for me to say: "Fuck this. I'm not spending any money on these books until they come out in collections."

More than any other factor, it's the issue of inconsistent art that has convinced me to stop buying monthly books from DC in September. And let's be clear: I have no problem with occasional fill-in artists on a series. I understand that doing a monthly book must be incredibly demanding for a single artist, especially given the level of detail and craft that's expected of modern comic book artists. But there's a way to plan it so that the fill-in art feels organic to the story, rather than a last-minute patch-up job. A perfect example of this is Scott Snyder's current Detective Comics run, which has been alternating between art by Jock and Francesco Francavilla, both of whom are immensely talented artists who bring their own style and unique contribution to the story. This is the kind of model that I would like to see more books at DC adopt, but unfortunately there is no indication that the editors are learning anything from the critical success of this book.

Another book that I think manages to handle the art teams fairly well is Amazing Spider-Man. The art team is constantly shifting, but it doesn't bother me that much because I don't feel like I'm being lied to by the solicitations. The book ships twice a month, so it would pretty much be impossible for an artist to draw every issue for an extended period of time anyway, so the rotating artists are part of the plan. Some of them I like more than others, but the important thing is there are no nasty surprises when I pick up a book expecting Artist-so-and-so-who-was-listed-in-the-solicitation and instead find a name on the cover that I've never even seen before. If Marvel editors can get their shit together on a book that ships twice a month, why can't editors at DC get it right on a monthly book like Birds of Prey?

So that was the root of my pseudo-argument with Gail Simone yesterday, though I'm not sure I really managed to get any of my points across very clearly. I'm disappointed that she thinks I'm just being silly and cynical, but I guess part of that comes from our different perspective on the issue. When I brought up Jesus Saiz, who was announced as the new regular artist in BOP to much fanfare and who only worked on a single issue before a fill-in artist was brought it, she justified it by saying that editors wanted him to get a head start on the September books instead, as if that was supposed to make it better. In fact, it makes it worse! Because it proves that the inconsistent art teams on BOP weren't the result of unforeseen accidents or incompetence on the part of the artists, but poor planning by the editors. They decided to pull their brand new "regular" artist off the book after a single issue, even though he was listed in the solicitations as doing the next issue, even though the previous 12 issues of the series had already suffered tremendously from this revolving door approach to art. I rest my case.

Comics posi-vibes on Twitter!

On the other hand, I hate being a cynic. It's not like I want to be right about that stuff. I want the DC relaunch to be successful. I want DC to finally get it right. I want to be proven wrong about a lot of the concerns I have about what's going to happen to those books in September and beyond.

I think as a self-appointed comic book blogger, it's easy to slip into the habit of spending more time and energy pointing out the things that are wrong (or that we perceive as wrong) than talking about the things we feel good about.

And there are plenty of comics I'm very excited about. I wouldn't have 13 books on my pull list this week if I wasn't super-excited about the state of comics! So to tip the balance back in a positive direction, I've taken it upon myself to focus on the positive for the rest of the week. I'm going to be using the tag #comicsposivibes to stuff I read and enjoy and stuff I'm looking forward to.

I don't think I have enough followers to get that topic trending, but feel free to use the tag and spread the love.

New comics this week!

  • Batgirl #23 (DC)
  • Detective Comics #879 (DC)
  • Teen Titans #97 (DC)
  • American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #2 (of 5) (Vertigo)
  • Northlanders #42 (Vertigo)
  • Hellboy: The Fury #2 (of 3) (Dark Horse)
  • Godzilla: Gangsters & Goliaths #2 (of 5) (IDW)
  • Gladstone's School for World Conquerors #3 (Image)
  • Red Wing #1 (of 6) (Image)
  • Amazing Spider-Man #665 (Marvel)
  • FF #6 (Marvel)
  • Journey into Mystery #652 (Marvel)
  • Loose Ends #1 (of 4) (12 Gauge)
I want to point out that there's a new epic story arc starting in Northlanders. It's going to be the final story, with the book concluding at issue #50. Like all stories in Northlanders, it's completely standalone, so you even if you've never picked up an issue before, you can jump right in. I highly recommend that you do, because it's one of the best titles at Vertigo - or any publisher, as far as I'm concerned.

Red Wing is a new mini-series by Jonathan Hickman.

Loose Ends is something that was completely off my radar until I heard Kelly Thompson's enthusiastic endorsement on this week's Three Chicks Review Comics podcast. I'm not sure they'll have it at my store, but if so I'll probably pick up a copy.

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