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Master of Kung Fu gets collected (or: After 100 years, Fu Manchu is still a villain)

This was the news last night from the Diamond Retailer Summit via Heidi MacDonald, EIC of Comics Beat:

Photo by Heidi MacDonald

Photo of Marvel’s slide from the summit by Heidi MacDonald of ComicsBeat.

This is a series you’ve probably never heard of, yet it’s both historically significant and solidly entrenched in the top 10 most-wished-for Omnibus editions from Marvel’s online collector community.

What’s the story behind the excitement and why does this seemingly obscure series merit four massive volumes? To figure out the answer, we need to travel back in time over 40 years to 1974.

Similar to Marvel 70s horror titles Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf by Night that emerged in 1972, Master of Kung Fu both featured a major non-Marvel character and was built to serve a public craze.

In this case, the craze was the titular Kung Fu. It was blowing up in the summer of 1973 thanks to a culmination of factors including the television show Kung Fu, a number of successful movies imported from China’s booming cinema, and one man: Bruce Lee. To read more background, I suggest starting with a marvelous pair of blog posts from “A Shroud of Thoughts” – parts 1 and 2.

Marvel wanted to license the popular Kung Fu to take advantage of the nationwide interest in martial arts (which also yielded Iron Fist), but they failed to obtain the rights. Instead, they turned to another pre-existing mythology: the story behind villain Fu Manchu, a fictional criminal mastermind who coined the mustache of the same name. He was created by author Sax Rohmer in 1912 in a serialized novel, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu.

Fu Manchu was popular enough to merit an initial trilogy of serialized books in the 1910s and even more starting in the 1930s, plus a number of film adaptions ranging from 1929 to 1980. The character can be a controversial one – even in the 1930s he was seen as a racist caricature representing the “Yellow Peril” of an East-Asian threat to the wider, whiter world.

MoKFv01 - 0038Enter Marvel Comics. They licensed the Fu Manchu universe from Rohmer’s estate, which was mostly focused on film adaptations in the 60s after Rohmer’s death and final book in 1959. Instead of keeping it isolated in its own continuity they created Shang-Chi as a part of the Marvel Universe and made him the son of Fu Manchu! What used to be Special Marvel Edition introduced Shang-Chi and then quickly made him the headliner of the book, swapping the title to Master of Kung Fu with issue #17.

The Master of Kung Fu series remains well-regarded by fans not only because of its rarity, but due to the pedigree of its creators. It was written almost entirely by Doug Moench (creator of Moon Knight) for 100 issues and includes a 30-issue run of pencils by Mike Zeck (you know him as the artist of original Secret Wars). That places MoKF alongside some of the other most notable single-creator runs of the period (like Uncanny X-Men) when it comes to the strength and coherence of the ongoing plot.

In the same month they launched MoKF, Marvel also launched a magazine called The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. DHoKF featured martial arts editorial content with B&W backups from a laundry-list of martial arts characters characters like Shang-Chi, Daughters of the Dragon, Iron Fist, and White Tiger (debut in #19).

Unlike Dracula, who has always been in the public domain in the US and who entered that status in the 1960s in Britain, Fu Manchu has remained the intellectual property of the Rohmer estate. While all Dracula stories are fair game to tell, print, and reprint, Fu Manchu requires a licensing agreement to use. At some point after the series ended in 1983, Marvel let their rights to the Fu Manchu universe lapse. While they still retained Shang Chi and brought him back in 1988, they could no longer name his villainous father in print. Further, Marvel could not reproduce or reprint those Fu Manchu stories in print and digital collections.

The announcement of this reprint implies some form of agreement as been reached with the Rohmer estate. Also, characters that belong to Marvel but originated in some of these series could very well be a part of their Netflix plan, since Iron Fist is tied closely to characters like Misty Knight and Colleen Wing. (Incidentally, this may also clear the way for some other core Marvel heroes issues to be reprinted due to Fu Manchu appearances. This is considered to be the hold-up in continuing the Marvel Team-Up Marvel Masterworks line.)

As to what’s going to be included in these four massive tomes, the sure bet is Marvel Special Edition #15-16, MoKF #17-125 and Annual 1, and the later-published anthology story from Marvel Comics Presents #1-8. Weighing in around 115 actual-length issues, that makes for four 28-issue volumes … that’s a bit under Marvel’s typical par, especially when it could easily fit into three volumes and knowing a fourth volume will be a hard sell. (For reference, Marvel has produced some omnis in the >45-issue range.)

What will merit stretching out to the fourth volume? It’s likely the companion book, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. If Marvel only reprints the original stories, that would add #1-9, 11-18, 29, 31-33 and Special #1. That’s another 20+ issues. Yet, every issue – even the ones that order skips – included original editorial content, like Kung Fu how-tos.

While that material likely isn’t affected by any manner of licensing embargo, this is the best and most sellable chance to reproduce it. It also easily extends this material into the four-volume range, since each issue was 64 pages – that counts for about 70 more standard comics worth of content. Even if Marvel ditches some of the content, that places these books somewhere in the hefty 40ish issue range that would merit stretching out to four volumes.

Regardless of the contents of the collections, the announcement of this release is not only a major win for classic Marvel collections, it’s a terrific example of Marvel’s complex and sometimes thorny licensing relationships.

(Of course, the best example is the biggest licensing game of all – Star Wars! Marvel produced reams of original Star Wars stories in the late 70s and early 80s, but Dark Horse held the licensing rights up for over two decades until this year, when the Disney house brought them back into the fold. [Disney owns both Marvel and LucasFilm.])



All-New, All-Different Marvel – a book-by-book break-down

ANAD-Marvel-Comics-2It’s upon us! Even though Marvel’s mega-event Secret Wars won’t quite be over until December, they’re pressing ahead with a line-wide All New, All Different Marvel relaunch starting in October with over sixty new books debuting into the spring, and more announced each week. That’s a lot of comics, many of them with completely fresh directions and creative teams – how can you wade through to find the most-interesting titles?

As always, I took care of the sifting for you! Here’s a list of every book Marvel has announced to date, the amount of hype I’m feeling on it, a one-sentence summary of the concept and creative team, and the elevator pitch on why you should care.

Ready? Here we go!

Hype Factor: 3.5 stars
What is it? An all-female team of Marvel heroes
Who’s creating it? Written by G. Willow Wilson (Ms Marvel) with art by Jorge Molina, one of Marvel’s most consistent artists

Why read it? Even for someone like me who lives for the women of Marvel, this assemblage of female heroes seems like a bit of a hodgepodge. At least Marvel Now’s Fearless Defenders had a cleverer central trope, but, it began with a pair of B-list players. Here, Marvel is pulling out all of the stops short of Storm and it’s probably going to pay off. Plus, Wilson was ace on her brief run on X-Men Vol. 4 – she clearly did the homework on the character’s rich histories, and they never sounded so good.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Hype Factor: 2 stars
What is it? Marvel’s comic version of the TV team
Who’s creating it? Original Green Arrow showrunner Marc Guggenheim

Why read it? It’s Agent Colson and friends mashing up with/against Hydra, which should be very palatable to Marvel’s TV fans. However, it’s going to take a lot for this to top both the prior Coulson-starring books, Ales Kot’s Secret Avengers and Mark Waid’s Agents of SHIELD. Plus, Guggenheim was weak on his X-Men arc in Marvel Now – the history was there, but the voices were off. Is that because a TV writer writes for actors and not pictures on a page? Either way, I’ll believe it when I read it.

ANADAvg-promoAll-New, All-Different Avengers
Hype Factor:4.5 stars
What is it? A team of second-generation heroes takes the Avengers mantle (but not the budget)
Who’s creating it? Writer Mark Waid with artists Adam Kubert and Mahmud Asrar

Why read it? Take four of Marvel’s hottest properties of the past few years – Falcon as Captain America, the black and hispanic teen Spider-Man, a female Thor, and the new Afgani-American teen Ms. Marvel. Add a pubescent Nova and cinematic smashes Iron Man and Vision. Oh, and Waid will write it hot off of one of the best (and most playful) Daredevil runs of all time. Yeah: everybody’s going to buy this comic book. I’m slightly less excited by the artists – Kubert is wildly uneven and Marvel has yet to find the right colorist for Asrar. Still, this book will be a smash.

Continue reading ›

10 Skills Every Queen Needs To Be Sickening on RuPaul’s Drag Race (according to data)


Jinx Monsoon is by no means my favorite queen, but when it comes to a dectuple threat on this show she’s as close as we ever got, even if a lot of her fashion wasn’t so great…

Like wishing for snow in the dead of summer, right now we’re about as far from a new season of Drag Race as we can be, even though we know both Season 8 and a new All-Stars Season are already shot and in the can!

In the past year I’ve watched every season of Drag Race except for the storied and hard-to-obtain first, and I’ve noticed some trends. Specifically, 10 skills that are positive indications of a queen’s potential success as supported by the data of every main challenge ever performed on the show.

Will these skills get you surely to safety every week? No – there’s always something that only vaguely relies on these traits, whether that’s a parade float boat to sink you or a magazine concept to tear you down. Yet, if you’re killing it in these 10 categories all season long, you’ll probably survive even turning yourself into a Presidential candidate or Hello Kitty character. Plus, what deadly challenge used every one of these ten skills?

Of course, what do I know? Last time I was in drag as a woman was as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and that was almost 20 years ago.

The Criteria: For the purpose of this post, the seven seasons I evaluated were Season 2-7 and All-Stars. I did not specifically evaluate final runways for the potential of a sewing challenge unless that happened to be the main challenge.  Continue reading ›

Music Monday: “Chasing Time” – Azaelia Banks

azealia-banks-chasing-timeStop whatever you are doing and fall in love Azaelia Banks.

(I was supposed to be loving her in person in a few days during her first big national tour along with K. Michelle, but it was cancelled and now I am bereft, so the next best thing is sharing my love with the rest of you.)

If you’ve heard of Ms. Banks, I can 98 and 3/4 percent guarantee that it’s for one of two reasons. First, it could be for her international smash debut single “212.” (Yeah, it was awesome.) Second, it could be her ongoing social media feuds that critics use to paint her as the crazy foil to more media darling rappers like Nikki Minaj or Iggy Azalea.

My bold proposal is that Banks’s music ability and virtuosic genius far outstrips any perception of her being a loudmouth on social media, and that in fact her loudmouthedness is really just the combination of her relative youth and intellect manifesting as rage at all the injustices small and large in the world around us. And, not for nothing, but we accept young loudmouthed men and white people all the time and merrily consume their music, but as a woman of color we’re expected to dissect every single thing she says.

Consider that.

Azaelia Banks does not need me to say these things. I don’t even want to talk about them. I am saying them for you, because if Bank’s media image as a Crazy Girl or Big Bad Wofl are getting the way of you listening to her music you are losing out. I fucking love just about every piece of music Azaelia Banks releases.

Case and point: “Chasing Time” from my favorite album of 2014, her debut, Broke With Expensive Taste.

This song. This fucking song. I’m not even sure where to begin.

Let’s start with her voice. The song starts with a husky contralto rap, then shifts up to that nasally standard female R&B voice, then through to the chorus it gets bigger and clearer until we we’re getting fully, throaty stacks of harmony unlike anything today’s crop of rap crossover stars are delivering. You can hear the influences in there, but you can also hear how Banks’ voice doesn’t fit simply into a box. There’s no straight-line to a single prior act.

(Spoiler alert: this is not a fluke. That amazing dynamic range is all over her album.)

Next, the music. Despite being born a few weeks after “Vogue” hit the charts in 1991, Banks has a sound that’s deeply rooted in the 90s house music of the period that Madonna summed up in her major hit. Yet, it’s not the only noise she knows how to make – “212” is a much more straight-forward beats-driven rap song. In fact, Banks even issued an EP titled 1991 that was bathed in this sound. Here its represented by sustain passing synth chords and rapidly changing clanging chords, but also a weirdly alien burbling drum track.

(Spoiler alert: this is a star whose brain is wired for ingenious arrangments. I’ve seen interviews where she describes singing all of the parts of an arrangement to her producers, a la Michael Jackson.)

Finally, the lyrics. While the chorus has a hook-and-repeat vibe, the track on the whole is a lot deeper than that. Here’s how it begins.

I want somebody who can take it apart, stitch me back together make me into who I wanna be.
But all you ever do is sit in the dark. Dealing with the Devil, you ain’t never ever gonna be mine.

Cause I’m born to dance in the moonlight
I feel like spending my nights alone
I try to give you a little more space to grow
White lies, I don’t wanna be around anymore
I’m through giving, I’ve got to go….

Am I chasing time? Cause I wasted all mine on you.
Am I chasing time? Cause I wasted all mine on you.

Check my watch, I had the future in my pocket, but I lost it when I gave it to you.
If tomorrow drops, I had my time right in my locket, but I lost it when I gave it to you.

These are all reasons I am in love with Azaelia Banks, and with “Chasing Time” in specific. She is a rare pop auteur putting the pieces together in new and interesting ways, made all the more interesting by the fact she is an outstanding rapper. Good rappers who are good singers are few and far between, and ones with ideas this interesting (and, frankly, images so seldom about sexual provocation) are far fewer.

I want you to give her a listen, and don’t take her advice from the final lines of this song.

And you’re like, “Girl, how you do that?”
My attitude is bitchy but you already knew that…
And since we can’t get along
I think we should both move on

my first custom-bound comics project

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Top to bottom: Marvel’s B&W Essential She-Hulk Collection, my bind of the same issues, my Sub-Mariner binder, a color Spider-Man Epic collection of about the same length, and a color Marvel Masterworks collection of about half the length without its dust jacket.

Just a quick one today to share a project I completed earlier this year.

Even with my primary focus being on graphic novel collections of individual comic books, I have a ton of single “floppy” comics boxed up in my house. Some of them are from my original 1990s collection, which I’ve bought others to fill gaps between official collected editions. The rub is I am completely disinterested in reading single comic book. So much picking up and putting down, plus those annoying bags and boards to keep them safe. I love a book I can bring with me to bed or on my commute.

As a result, I took a spare low-grade run of The Savage She-Hulk plus some cheap Saga of The Sub-Mariner recap comics and sent them off to be custom bound per my exact specifications. Some people carefully clip out unnecessary pages and back covers, but I wanted to begin by just getting some whole comics bound.

Here are the results – the only difference between the two books is that the She-Hulk bind is oversewn (stitches pass through all pages a short distance in from the spine) and Sub-Mariner is sewn through the fold (each comic is effectively one signature of the book, with stitches through the fold of the book).

What I loved about learning about book-binding was that it wasn’t just about comic books. I didn’t get to work on anything with a hardcover in my years of print production, and this really opened my eyes to the types of binding methods used in the books we encounter every day.

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Review: Red One, Vol. 1 – Welcome To America by Dorison, Dodson, & Dodson

Terry Dodson’s art occupies a space between cartoon and cheesecake. His men are muscled and smirking, his woman curvy with cheshire smiles. With his inking wife Rachel adding a slick, bold line on all of his figures his work is positively animated. That makes him a tremendous artist for a prior gig on Wonder Woman, but strange fit for some of the more grounded Marvel titles he’s graced, like Uncanny X-Men and portions of last year’s event flop Axis.

What Dodson hasn’t done much of is creator-owned work – and, why would he with the time restrictions of an artist who is in demand for Marvel’s highest-paying projects!

Yet, here his is, collaborating with French author Xavier Dorison. Together they’re penning a Communist superhero invading America in the late 70s to preserve its hedonism, a take surely inspired by The Americans.

How did it hold up?

Red-One-Vol01Red One, Vol. 1 – Welcome To America 1.5 stars Amazon Logo

Written by Xavier Dorison with art by Terry and Rachel Dodson

#140char review: Red One is a misguided mis-mash of 70s-worship and Cold War fetishizing, supposing the commies would win if we stayed Hedonists. Disjointed.

CK Says: Skip It

There’s a very interesting premise here: The Cold War served the ruling class of Russia as much as that of America, and the best way to extend that was to make sure America was a land of increasingly liberal hedonists. What if America was suddenly gripped by an evangelical vigilantism that threatened to plunge the country into a conservative movement bordering on Neo-Fascism? What if Russia was willing to send in their best agent – Black Widow under another name – to disrupt the trend?

If you think that sounds like an amazing concept, you’re not alone – I think so, too! However, Red One never quite gets there.Xavier Dorison’s script and his direction of Terry Dodson’s animated panel work is disjointed, with word balloons that don’t quite make sense and actions that don’t quite track from panel to panel. What should be a rich mythology winds up a flimsy plot that barely keeps the pages turning in this outlandishly oversized tome – it’s the size of a 70s magazine, like the old format of Rolling Stone.

The size serves Dodson’s artwork well. It is bold and beautiful, with Rachel Dodson using a seemingly-slimmer line on her inks. Maybe that’s the size of the format, or Dodson handling his own colors (which are beautiful). Yet, even this beautiful oversized format has some flaws, among them mis-sized letter balloons and badly fit words – completely uncharacteristic of super-pro Clayton Cowles.

The true problem here might not be bad storytelling, but a flawed premise. While setting this book forty years ago gives it a chance to play in a historical context predating the dissolution of the USSR, the present day would be a better fit for the thematic context. A few touches of same sex relationships, sex-positive attitudes, and polyamory come off as lurid rather than thoughful. Even if you can make the leap to root for the Russian disruptors and against the cultish, prudish anti-hero The Carpenter (yeah, really, it’s that subtle), there’s the implication that Russia likes all this hedonism because it’s bad for America. That puts a oily film over all of it, even though Red One is weirdly okay with it all (because it totally makes sense that Russia’s top agent, trained for 21 years of her quarter century of life, would actually be a total party animal).

I don’t mean this to come off as some form of thought-policing. Your superhero book can be about the downfalls of redefinition of morality and still be good. The problem here is that there is just no nuance to Red One’s chauffeuring of a famous porn director while beating up Neo-Cons on her breaks.

Red One is the boring cartoon fairytales The Americans might tell their children before bed, and not one you should spend your time reading unless you are a prohibitive Terry Dodson fan.

Marvel Now In Hindsight: Every Comic Book Series, Ranked

marvel-now-bannerAfter Avengers vs. X-Men at the end of 2012, Marvel reloaded their entire line save for a handful of just-launched books and dubbed the era of titles “Marvel Now.” There have been a few incremental waves of additional launches since then, but the main spine of Marvel has been telling consistent stories since then – the Avengers and X-Men flagships, their big three Avengers heroes, and Spider-Man.

The stories haven’t only been consistent – they’ve been really good. Unlike the 2011 DC New 52 launch, Now hit the stands with nothing bad in the bunch. Even as some books declined as the period wore on, we got other amazing winners in the intermediate waves.

Now that we’re only weeks away from the next major period of Marvel where every book will be refreshed, I thought it was the right time to look back about what was so awesome about Marvel Now by ranking every book we got along the way – over 70 ongoing titles!

As with my Writer-Rankings last week, being low on the list doesn’t mean a book was bad – just that it’s not my top pick for you to spend your hard-earned dollars on.

The criteria: I’m a trade-waiter, so books had to release at least one trade by this week. Books from before Now only count if they made it through 2014. No series that were explicitly disclaimed as limited (short series that got cut off by Secret Wars do count). Two volumes of a book by the same author or with continuous story count as one entry – like Daredevil Volume 3 and Volume 4, both by Waid, or Iron Man and Superior Iron Man.

The final trades for these series were too late-breaking for me to evaluate them fairly, but I’ll add them into the order with the appropriate post-dated annotation when I catch up: All-New Captain America, Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3, Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier, Deathlok, Savage Hulk, Silk, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Woman, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Uncanny Avengers Vol. 2, Wolverines.

Let’s get to it!

CK Says: Must buy!

Thor, God of Thunder + Thor by Jason Aaron

The pinnacle of what Marvel Now had to offer in every regard. Writing, character voice, plot, art – all of the above were the best they could be in this landmark run on Thor, which gave way to a historic makeover for one of Marvel’s biggest heroes. It’s like watching Thor as it’s own multi-part cinematic epic with a scope as large as Lord of the Rings. It has my highest recommendation.

Start with Thor, God of Thunder Deluxe Hardcover Vol. 1 or visit the guide.

Silver Surfer by Dan Slott & Mike Allred

Utter perfection in every issue. A wry love-letter to the totally zany Marvel comics of the 60s, where space contained the most improbable things. It was a delight to see Dan Slott step away from his Spidey-mode and push his storytelling to the limits. It makes me wish he had the time and inclination to start up some indie comics, but this is even better – a classic, never-better take on a character who has gone a bit under-appreciated in the past few years. Oh, plus a dozen issue run of Mike Allred’s art? No way to go wrong there.

Start with Silver Surfer, Vol. 1

Storm by Greg Pak

Sometimes you see fans ask Marvel editors why a certain character hasn’t yet had their own series, and the reply is usually, “No one’s made the perfect pitch.” Greg Pak had the perfect pitch on Storm. This has everything you could hope for from a series starring the weather goddess and Wakandan ex-royalty, from humanitarian missions to hand-to-hand combat to thievery to clashing with the FBI. Pak executed every moment on this high-wire with precision, and artists Victor Ibanez, Alejandro Barrionuevo, and Neil Edwards gave a real world weight to Ororo’s adventures.

Get it all: Storm Vol. 1 and Vol. 2

Superior Spider-Man by Dan Slott w/Christos Gage

Who knew something so bad would feel so, so good? Spider-Man as a reluctant hero and a recovering villain made for some of the most page-turning issues in his recent history. Even as this All-New Peter Parker reversed his infamous Parker Luck, Dan Slott piled on the misfortune for New York City until the scales tipped and our Superior hero had to make some challenging choices when it came to his newfound success. They say that good stories sometimes put their characters through the worst, and never has that been both so enjoyable.

Start with Superior Spider-Man Deluxe Hardcover, Vol. 1 or visit the guide.

Deadpool by Gerry Duggan & Brian Posehn

I am not a Deadpool fan. I AM REALLY NOT A DEADPOOL FAN. This is a character that induced groans from me in every previous iteration, but Duggan and Posehn found a special magic in decrepit old Wade and turned him into one of Marvel’s most-readable heroes – yes, even with the gags intact. It’s hard to believe. Art from Tony Moore, Mike Hawthorn, and Scott Koblish was consistent, flashback issues were a hilarious bit that never got old, and we even found some weighty highs and lows between Deadpool’s marriage, his friendship with Agent Preston, and the reveal of his lost family. If you like even the idea of the Merc With a Mouth with a half-decayed secret heart of gold you must read this run.

Start with Deadpool Deluxe Hardcover, Vol. 1 or visit the guide.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man by Nick Spencer

Nick Spencer crafted a beginning-to-end farcical delight that wound up more of a Rubik’s cube than anyone would have guessed at the start. This sort of clever, indie-style book that elevates minor characters into majors is one of the things Marvel does best in the NOW era, and despite declining sales this book was every bit as clever as the similar tone and look on Hawkeye – and usually a lot more fun to read. Primary penciller Steve Lieber was the only real superhero on the book, delivering classy, pitch-perfect, gag-filled art for the majority of issues. Even fill-ins from James Asmus struck the right tone. A major success.

Get it all in the Superior Foes of Spider-Man Omnibus

Avengers Arena / Avengers Undercover by Dennis Hopeless

We all love seeing teens take up the mantle of our favorite heroes, but seldom do we ask, “What’s the price they pay?” Avengers Academy did a fine job exploring their scarring origin stories and PTSD, but it never touched on the vengeance a true villain could wreak on an impressionable generation of superheroes. Who would have ever thought that villain would be Arcade, the carrot-topped constant failure who habitually plagues the X-Men and Spider-Man for no reason other than his own amusement? Dennis Hopeless drew together dozens of disparate characters and themes to craft a Marvel-style Battle Royale or Hunger Games, yet there were twists within beyond either of those two works. Meanwhile, Kev Walker bloomed before our eyes from the steady-eddie from Thunderbolts to one of Hickman’s headline artists on Avengers! If only Hopeless got another 10 or 20 issues to extend his ideas on Undercover! Yet, even the aborted themes of descent and redemption there were crafted perfectly.

Start with Avengers Arena, Vol. 1 or visit the guide.

Hawkeye by Matt Fraction & David Aja

For all it’s lateness and idiosyncrasies, it’s hard to ignore the heart in Clint Barton as a unloveable screw-up with enough charm to get by and Kate Bishop as an unrepentant A-Student taking a test she can’t study for. Was it worth the wait for every issue? Maybe so, maybe not, but I don’t think anyone wishes that Fraction, Aja, and Wu were pulled off the book at any point to speed things up.

Get it all with Hawkeye by Fraction & Aja Omnibus

Magneto by Cullen Bunn

Here’s the pitch: Magneto, solo *kinda) – but good (kinda), without powers (kinda), and bald (totally) with a serviceable author (Bunn, who has crashed several series to date). Sounds like a surefire miss, right? Instead, it was a glorious, twisted, dark run that breathed life into a Magneto who has been humbled for many years. This run touched many parts of his long and somewhat-mangled history, from surviving the Holocaust in Germany to the genocide of mutants in E for Extinction. I was expecting a X-Men: First Class cash-in, but instead we got some of the best stories every written about this villain.

Start with Magneto, Vol. 1

Secret Avengers Vol. 2 + Vol. 3 by Nick Spencer & Alex Kot

A messed-up superhero story that didn’t quite require you to read every issue but improved if you did. Spencer and Kot were two of the only authors to innovate on a team book in a period of strong solo work across the Marvel line, and they did it by doing the unconventional – creating a team of heroes that couldn’t remember their deeds, and then augmenting the team with MODOK and a living bomb. Also, Deadpool. It was glorious, and the art – especially by latter-run artist Michael Walsh on Kot’s run, had an appropriately slight cartoonish bent (though never so much as the blocky covers).

Start with Secret Avengers, Vol. 1 or visit the guide.

Daredevil Vol. 3 + Vol. 4 by Mark Waid

As nimble as its title character, Daredevil is a title that hops genres and tones and never gets caught off-guard. A slight bobble at the end of each volume is no reason to be down on this all-time classic book, the first one in a long time to put a shine in Murdock’s smile and a devlish glint in his eye. It doesn’t hurt that the artwork was top-notch throughout, with some truly groundbreaking work from ARTIST at the beginning to define the look of the book.

Start with Daredevil by Mark Waid Deluxe Hardcover Vol. 1 or visit the guide.

Loki: Agent of Asgard + Thor & Loki: The Tenth Realm by Al Ewing

Is it blasphemy to love a new Loki other than Kieron Gillen’s? If it is, then Odin is going to strike me down where I stand. Al Ewing’s genre- and gender-bending take on the god of mischief was full of smarts and smirks in every issue, and his artistic collaborators were always on their A-Game. An enjoyable riddle of a book that tapped into Hiddleson’s mischievousness while making Loki more relevant to the onoing story of Asgard than ever.

Start with Loki: Agent of Asgard, Vol. 1

Avengers Assemble by Kelly Sue DeConnick w/Warren Ellis

If Bendis’s multi-year addition to Avengers was giving a soul to a sometimes randomly collected team, DeConnick gave it a heart. There were so many small moments in this run where we saw the human connections that result from battling alongside each other for years. Whether it was the Stark vs. Banner rivalry, the Spider-Woman and Hulk playfulness, the Captains America and Marvel’s exasperation, or Black Widow’s ability to be the subtle social glue to get their best out of a team while never being the obvious “leader.” Every issue and arc here was massively enjoyable, and scratched an itch no other Avengers title has ever before quite hit.

Start with Avengers Assemble: Science Bros or visit the guide.

Angela: Asgard’s Assassin by Kieron Gillen & Marguerite Bennett

Kieron Gillen’s parting love letter to Loki and Asgard comes in this brisk single arc exploring Angela’s first solo adventure as a woman without a realm – not accepted within Asgard, and never truly a winged creature of Heven. What results is nothing you’d expect – an unusual tryst, a touch of darkness, and a best friend who is not all that she seems (nor is that sentence). If you’ve enjoyed any of Thor or Journey Into Mystery in the past few years but wished it had more of a female touch, this is it – especially thanks to awe-inspiring art from master Phil Jimenez and the heavenly Stephanie Hans.

Get it all with Angela: Asgard’s Assassin!

Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson

Ms. Marvel was the major can’t-miss-moment of Marvel Now! It’s rare that Marvel creates a new hero from whole cloth, rarer still for them to debut in their own book, and even more shocking to see that book be given so much room to breathe without crossovers and tie-ins. As we roll into a second and third set of stories the bigger villain arc got less interesting and the interpersonal relationships got stronger. It will be interesting to see what G. Willow Wilson does with the next volume to set up a nemesis for Kamala.

Start with Ms. Marvel by Wilson Deluxe Hardcover, Vol. 1 or visit the guide.

Elektra by Haden W. Blackman & Mike Del Mundo

Finally, Elektra who is more than just a killer or just a killer pair of legs and sais! Blackmun’s Elektra was driven by her assassin’s code and a need to be right, and nothing else mattered. While every move seemed to entangle her further in a plot where she had no control, instead of seeing a defeated hero we met one who grew ever more determined. It made for a slick plot and Mike Del Mundo’s art could have been the best interiors of Marvel Now this side of Thor.

Get it all with Elektra Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 and visit the guide for more Elektra.

Keep reading for the books that I recommend and ask you to kindly consider, plus a few I think you ought to avoid.

Continue reading ›

Newly Released Graphic Novels & Collected Comics – Sept. 15, 2015 Edition

Sometimes being a comics fan is about branching out.

As I have documented in the past, I started reading comics with Marvel’s X-Men #3 in 1991.  At the time I had no aspirations of reading other titles or publishers – I just wanted to know what these mutants were all about. However, once I visited a comic store, the purchase pattern started expanding. All the X-Men. Then a bit of Image. Oh, and Wonder Woman of course. Hey, these new Dark Horse superheroes look cool!

That’s part of why I like putting together this list. I’m a complete Marvel Zombie, a phrase historically indicating someone who reads the entire Marvel line. However, I’m not just a Marvel fan – I’m a fan of the comic medium. That means sometimes I need to just see what’s out there to break out of my normal fan comfort zone.

Hopefully this list helps you with that, too!

heart-in-a-box-ognCrush of the Week: Heart In a Box OGN

Buy this comic. Buy it. Buy it!

Kelly Thompson is the brilliant author of the CBR “She Has No Head” column and the books The Girl Who Would Be King and Storykiller who finally exploded as a comic author in 2015 with Jem from IDW and Captain Marvel and the Carole Corps from Marvel. She is the real deal when it comes to amazing characters, and she also weaves in a thick vein of feminism (i.e., everyone has an equal opportunity) into all of her work. This is her first original graphic novel, paired with artist Meredith McClaren, about a girl who needs to literally put her heart back together after a breakup. You need it.

Interesting Unknown: Universal War One 

From writer/artist Denis Bajram, the solicit: The whole world is at war. And it’s about to get worse. 2058. Humanity has colonized our entire solar system. In the middle of a civil war between the core planets and distant outlying planetary settlements, an immense black wall appears, cutting our solar system in two.”

This is a French comic translated and released by a Marvel imprint. The confusing thing is that it’s hit hardcover before – once for the original series, and once for the follow-up Revelations. This is longer than each of those , but not long enough to be both of them in one book(the original series were 64pg issues, the follow-up 48 – we’d have to assume 20% ads to fit into this sub-300pg book, which is high). I’m not sure what to tell you, but it looks cool!

Now, on to Marvel and the rest of the publishers!  Continue reading ›

#MusicMonday: “Open Window” – Sarah Harmer

At 1:30 PM on Saturday it was raining in Maryland.

I love the rain. Maybe it’s because I’m not a hot weather person or someone who spends much time outside. I think it has more to do with the cement porch on our row home on 64th street growing up. I would sit on the stoop when it rained and watch it come down safe from the storm, and enjoy that spicy cement petrichor of the city that followed.

I love the rain, but I’ve also never planned an outdoor wedding in a state park. That’s what I was considering at 1:30 PM on Saturday as our car idled at the foot of a little hill that lead up to the pair of pavilions that would house our good friend Karen’s wedding to her partner Matt. From our position, the rain seemed less lovable.

Karen was one of my earliest and most-persistent theatre friends at Drexel, and we worked on a run of shows together. She is like a Chaotic Good version of a typically mean Kristen Schaal character. Also, she is a experienced alto, a lawyer, and a librarian. As with E, she is one of those human beings that can and will achieve seemingly anything set before her.

I finished lacing up my boots and we mounted steps set into the hill. It was raining hard and I tilted my head sideways to keep my lacquered blue hair safe under E’s umbrella, lest my Super Goo [actual product name] run down my face in rubbery sluices. We did not know anyone in the pavilion. We picked up a pair of programs mounted on wooden handles, a bit spongey from the rain. Printed on the rear was SATB version of Charles Welsey’s “Hallelujah.” We squinted at the first measure to see if the starting pitch in bass was a G or an Ab and E gave me my starting pitch.

It rained during the ceremony, which was delightfully rooted in literature, law, and pop culture. At one point a sustained peal of thunder caused the pavilion to shudder, and while some guests winced Karen grinned madly and gave us all a thumbs up. It was an extremely Karen moment. Inside the pavilion there was love.

After the ceremony, we guests shuffled through the rain across a stone patio to a second pavilion. Inside this one there was magic – lights and glass and color and a murmuring of friends reuniting. I hewed closely to Hillary and her husband, who I can never spend enough time with, and their friend Amanda, who I have met a half a dozen times yet never had a conversation with. We discovered a guest book was full of empty pockets and were supplied with library cards on which we could write our notes.

I decided to catalog the check-outs and returns of our relationship, Karen and Peter: A Brief History (abridged). There was a gap in the middle 00s as we graduated and Karen accumulated degrees, which ended on E and my wedding day; Karen sang “Open Window” for our first dance. I still remember our first listen to Sarah Harmer’s record, driving around in Karen’s dinged little car to buy groceries or supplies for a fraternity event. The memory is mirrored by dozens (if not hundreds) of occasions of E and I singing through the entire You Were Here LP in our car, trading harmony and vocal percussion, me crying during the refrain “Lodestar” every single time.

I looked up from my sketching of our timeline to see that it wasn’t raining anymore. The sun was low and obscured, casting a pinkish hue across the cement patio between the two pavilions. It was perfect light – a sustained “magic hour” to capture every wedding memory in photograph. (“Are you a photographer,” our neighbor inquired later as I extolled the virtues of the light. “No, I learned it from E.” “Oh, she’s a photographer? “No, she’s an an engineer, but her degree is in photography.”) I heard a certain melody lilting through the air…

Here, witnesses appear
And recognize how sacred
Love can be when stated

I leapt up from my seat on our bench to find E already on the patio waiting to dance. We spun slowly and whispered the melody into each other’s ears, pausing occasionally to smile away a potential sob.

As the song ended, a whirling dervish of smiles and flowing white enveloped us in a muscular hug: another perfect memory with Karen.

Review: Birthright, Vol. 1 – Homecoming, by Williamson & Bressan

Image Comics knows what’s up with finding readers outside of the Direct Market. Valiant, too. Really, everyone except DC and Marvel.

These companies realize that buying the first collection an untested property from an author you may or may not know is a risky proposition, and generally not something you’ll plunk a $20 down for. That’s why nearly every Image first volume trade paperback is a handy $9.99 – which puts it in the five to eight dollar range when you buy it online.

That’s the story of how I wound up with a copy of Birthright, Vol. 1 – a $6 gamble on a book with a beautiful cover that evokes Sword In The Stone with hints of more dire elements along the edges. I was completely unfamiliar with creator Joshua Williamson by virtue of him solely writing for DC after his first pair of creator-owned works, both short-form. That’s changed in the past two years, with Williamson writing a trio of ongoings for Image – Ghosted, Nailbiter, and Birthday (plus Robocop for BOOM!).

When I wrote up Nailbiter in last week’s new comic roundup and decided to grab the first volume (again: $6), I realized I had another Williamson book in my in box (an actual longbox) waiting to be read!

How was it?

Birthright, Vol. 1 – Homecoming 4 stars Amazon Logo

Birthright - Vol01

Written by Joshua Williamson with art by Andrei Bressan and color by Adriano Lucas

#140char review: Birthright is Goonies crossed w/Sword In the Stone plus something sinister, like Harry as an agent of Voldemort. Bressan’s art = perfection.

CK Says: Buy it!

Birthright is a batter of different genre tropes that baked up into something a lot tastier than its individual ingredients.

Birthright is primarily a Chosen One narrative in the Joseph Campbell model, like Star Wars and Harry Potter before it. Where it deviates is that we’re getting the story after the fact, and we see that part of the reason all of those stories end so pat is that the orphan hero tends to make some choices that haunt him after his victory. That’s the case here with young Mikey, who disappeared into the woods on an early birthday without a trace during a game of catch with his dad.

Here’s where creators Joshua Williamson and Andrei Bressen do something a little weird. They spend their start-up issues focusing on the human trauma behind a child who disappears, writing a family drama and a police procedural for a few pages before the fantastic main plot gets underway. It’s a risk. It gets a little too simple at points (random cop dude insists, “He is a security risk.” To what, exactly?). There’s a repeated rubber-band snap as we get yanked out of the fantasy-themed pages we crave and back into a dingy interrogation room. Yet, that tension and genre-hopping is what marks Birthright as not the hero story we’ve come to expect. It’s what makes this book a page-turner even before the biggest twist is unfurled.

The remainder of that success comes from artist Bressen and a remarkable set of colors from Adriano Lucas. Many indie comics are well-executed but don’t achieve the right color palette or gradient shading, but here Lucas breathes three-dimensional life into Bressen’s characters. They nearly leap off the page when they are in motion.

It’s difficult to say more without completely spoiling the super-punch surprises of the plot here. It turns out that the fantasy world has an ongoing relationship with Earth, as represented by several unusual visitors who have crossed over. They are working at cross purposes to each other, and it’s hard to know who to trust – especially if you are a family that has been shattered by grief for the past year. Would you believe anyone who told you what you wanted to hear and offered you a means of putting your life back together? Or, would you be skeptical of everything offered to you after such a tragic loss? How Mikey’s family answers these questions divides them down the middle.

Ultimately, the heroic tale and the familial drama are one and the same, and to enjoy them both you might need to forgive the police procedural portion of its weaker spots. What shines through each element is that the whole Chosen One business is unfair. It picks on kids who don’t know who they are or want to be and it tears families apart by necessity. Every one of the four family members has been damaged in the process, and with so much book ahead of us it’s unknowable whether they can help each other heal or if the wounds will just fester.

The dual-worlds narrative plus a last page reveal might leave you a little cynical that this is very much a post-Saga derivative. I’m optimistic. I believe in Williamson’s easy scripting and the consistently gorgeous visuals from Bressan and Lucas enough that I’m signing on for a full-priced second volumeBirthright has the potential to be a lasting epic if it can keep up the momentum of this first five-issue sprint.

Marvel Now In Hindsight: Every Writer, Ranked

ANMN-promoNext month, Marvel launches an all-new era of series and storytelling (with the same history and continuity) called “All New, All Different Marvel!”

What does that really mean? Think of it this way – Marvel treats every few years of their comics as like a TV Season or one of their Cinematic Phases. Every comic released from October 2012 to right now was part of “Marvel Now.” As of the end of this month, every one of those comics will end, and we’ll start a new season or phrase, called All-New, All-Different Marvel.

That means we just had three whole years of brilliant, interconnected storytelling in the largest and most long-running shared universe in the world – and I read every comic along the way.

As a look back at what was awesome about Marvel Now, I’m ranking every writer in the bullpen. What’s great about this list even the writers at the bottom of the rank turned in some five-star issues for me, but the ones at the top are the unquestionable best-of-the-best of Marvel Now – they write the books I immediately snag from the box and read in the middle of the floor like an eager little kid.

The criteria: Writers had to be the sole pen behind more than six issues or more than a single arc in the main Marvel Universe during Marvel Now, beginning with Uncanny Avengers in October, 2012 and extending through titles currently in their Last Days arcs during Secret Wars like Magneto, Ms. Marvel, Loki, Black Widow, and Punisher.

Honorable Mention: Warren Ellis – If we let Ellis loose on this list he may very well be its ruler every time, so let’s call him “Warren Ellis the King Emeritus of Marvel”. His 2014 run on Moon Knight (go to the guide!) was a jagged reboot of eminent readibility and his Avengers Assemble (go to the guide!) team-up with Kelly Sue DeConnick was a delight. That’s what Ellis does for Marvel: parachutes in once a year to leave things nice and messy for the next writer up at bat. We love him for it.

In ANAD: Writing Karnak, the Inhuman. This should be pretty interesting since Karnak was dead last time I checked. He’s also one of the most interesting Inhumans, so getting him back under Ellis’s pen is an awesome development.

Now, on to the list! Do you have some different opinions? Sound off in the comments! Continue reading ›

Newly Released Graphic Novels & Collected Comics – Sept. 8, 2015 Edition

Saga-Vol05Happy unofficial end to summer that is really just an end to wearing white pants, because really no one wanted to see you in white pants.

Okay, you probably either already know about that or don’t care, so I’ll stick to the topic. This post covers all of the collected comics and graphic novels out this week. It is more than just a list because I’ve researched each book to give you the context. It’s a guide to what each collection is about and what you might want to pick up to get there.

This is an odd week for comic collections – one obvious blockbuster, a few interesting entries, and a lot of things I’m not so familiar with. I suppose it’s not the best idea to ship a big bounty right after a holiday and with schools and colleges back in session? As a reminder, Amazon is sometimes 1-2wks behind the direct market on these releases.

Let’s go!

Crush of the Week: Saga, Vol. 5 – Collecting #25-30.

If you’ve never read Saga before, it’s an unusual series that can’t be entirely summed up. It’s worth it to try the first bargain-priced trade, which introduces this ragtag group of regular people, bounty hunters, and robotic royalty. Plus a truth-diving cat.

Truth be told, I found the last trade of Saga to be a bit flat – high on acrimonious domesticity and everyone was awful to each other. Space-faring was grounded and terrible choices took center stage, as did Alana as she starred in a popular interplanetary soap opera. Yes, really. I know that’s the story Vaughan is telling, but I don’t like stories with no one to root for. While that still might be the case in this trade, now everyone is coming together (Gwendolyn! Lying Cat! Prince Robot!) and I think we’ll get a hint of the broader plot in store for us. In Vaughan’s other landmark series we’d be at about the halfway point, but he’s said he intends for this to run longer than Y The Last Man and Ex Machina (both highly-recommended!), so who knows where we might wind up from here?

Interesting Unknown: Steven Universe, Vol. 1 TP – Collecting #1-4.

I’ve heard nothing but effusive praise from my adult friends on this cartoon about adventures, identity, and consent. After turning their My Little Pony license into a machine and watching BOOM! have a breakout hit with Adventure Time, I think IDW knows how to make this a success. The interesting thing is that I get the feeling is still slightly under the radar – it’s not an Adventure Time sized hit already, nor does it have as much content and fandom amassed as when that comic began.

Now let’s take a look at what Marvel, Dark Horse, DC, IDW, Image, Valiant, and other publishes have in store for us this week! Continue reading ›

Review: Talking Is Hard – Walk The Moon

I am terrified that Walk the Moon are going to be a one-hit wonder.

Let’s be honest – “Shut Up and Dance With Me” is absolutely that kind of song. A “867-5309” or a “Jessie’s Girl” or “Take Me Home Tonight,” an exuberant male anthem of sudden and unrequited affection that might not last past its consummation, complete with a shimmering and anthemic chorus and a quick solo into a refrain. It feels like that.

I’m terrified for them, because it’s clear they did it intentionally. They do it again and again on Talking Is Hard. I added it to my collection begrudgingly to learn the single for our cover band, and after one listen it became the first LP to supplant 1989 in the “unadulterated pop perfection” category that the most earwormy albums scratch for me.

Opener (and new single) “Different Colors” feels very of-this-moment and modern rock-y. You know the thing: snotty vocals, throbbing synths intertwined with guitar, wordless falsetto hook. There’s something about the refrain, “this is why, this is why … we bite the bullet, we know the kids are right.” It’s something more than the now of modern rock. It’s like Third Eye Blind crossed with Duran Duran. They hit the latter harder on “Spend Your $$$” but it also has a certain Talking Heads quality with the repeated breaks into falsetto, with a little flavor of “Psychokiller.”

The lack of surprise is the surprising thing about this album. It’s of this moment, but it’s not about trends. Yes, there’s “Portugal,” where the synths quote the vocals and visa versa so many times that you’ll lose track of which is doing which at what point in the song. Yet, even there is the plaintive, “Take me with you, ’cause even on your own you’re not alone.” Nicholas Petricca’s voice is pliant and sweet, with just the right amount of explosive belt before an able and imperfect falsetto, in the pop-crossover male mold set by Brandon Flowers last decade.

Just as the guitar intro to “Shut Up and Dance” is pure Edge with the churning arpeggio atop a sparking delay effect, and just as it apes those infatuated 80s anthems, the entire album is a careful study in wearing your influences on your sleeve. “Work This Body” pure Paul Simon without the self-awareness of Vampire Weekend, a well they hit again on the chorus of “Sidekick.”Aquaman” is almost a straight up cover of “Sexual Healing” via its canned drums and synths, but there’s something so “In Your Eyes” about each phrase of the melody.

Only occasionally does it get so by-the-numbers anthemic that you could be a little cynical about it – on the very OK Go “Up To You,” the post-Franz Ferdinand “Down In The Dumps,” and the by-the-numbers single “We Are The Kids,” but if those are the weak tracks on your album you are doing something very, very right.

Walk The Moon is doing something very, very right. I stand in the kitchen and debate with spirit what ought to be the next single. Every song is mentioned. I hum and whistle the hooks on my walk to the bus when the songs are not even on. I am still not sick of “Shut Up and Dance With Me” despite listening to it 100s of times to get the rhythms just right for our cover, but it is no longer the song I am most excited to hear on this album.

You can be a band that wants to sound 80s, or you can be band that knows the playbook of a decade so back-to-front that your album feels like a piece of it despite being completely modern as well. That’s what Talking Is Hard is – and it’s an instant classic.

Honestly, I don’t think I need to be too worried about the one-hit-wonderdom of a band who can string together 11 potential singles on a 12 song album. I think I’m less terrified for them as I am for myself, because I need other people to understand how perfect the album is and mythologize it they way they do other single-laden breakthroughs like Jagged Little Pill or Songs About Jane. It’s that good.

Review: The Divine OGN

While I aspire to not judge any proverbial books by their covers, I don’t think it is such a bad thing to find a proverbial book’s cover interesting. That’s how I found so many interesting artists to listen to in the 90s – I’d just buy the CDs with the most interesting artwork.

In this case we’re talking about an actual book – The Divine. It was nothing I had heard of before from creators who were strangers to me and a publisher I don’t own a single book by. The two boys on the cover had a sort of liquidity to their poses, and they also reminded me a bit of Jamie Hewlett’s artwork for Gorillaz. Intrigued, I checked out the description, which ends with this line:

What awaits him in Quanlom is an actual goddamn dragon.

Clearly, I bought the book.

The-Divine-CoverThe Divine OGN 3.5 stars Amazon Logo

Written by Boaz Lavie with artists Asaf Hanuka and Tomer Hanuka.

#140char review: Divine from 1st Second press…a stunningly illustrated OGN w/dirt beneath it’s nails. I’d’ve liked it more if it paid off more early promises

CK Says: Consider it.

Whatever I was expecting from The Divine, I certainly got something completely else.

It’s a book that unfolds in parts, and you aren’t entirely sure what you’re reading until you are firmly in the middle. It it a story about Mark and his explosives? About his impending fatherhood? About the balance of domesticity and adventure, responsibility and risk-taking? Or, about neglect on an international scale? Or, is it really about a dragon?

Yes to all of that, even if those themes don’t play out so literally as they are introduced in the opening pages (dragon included). Instead, Mark’s trip to the fictional, wartorn country of Quanlom works as an allegory, both in his own life and for the reader. Does it all really happen the way we both witness it, with exploding body parts, clay soldiers brought to life, and fearsome dragons invisible to most men? Or, is that what Mark needed to see? The book gives a clever, blink-and-you’ll-miss it out that lets you consider just how much truth there is to Mark as our limited first person narrator.

All of that comes from a very literal inspiration – an indelible, tragic photo shot by Apichart Weerawong of a pair of Burmese twin boy turned unintended warlords, supposedly imbued with magical imperviousness. Their only magic was in occupying a dark spot in the world’s vision, a space open to intervention but impervious to compassion. (They have since departed, separated, and reunited.)

Photo by Apichart Weerawong.

Photo by Apichart Weerawong.

There is more magic than that in The Divine, and to believe the authors’ note it is out of necessity to give a satisfying narrative to how two boys like these could be put in such a tragic position (because the real story is too terrible to replicate faithfully).

That magic is the magic of the land and of the mysterious and powerful visage of Leh, and they are both imbued with it and in in awe of it. Mark is a creature of destruction but also newly a part of creation – the second is how he reconciles one last massive act of the first before settling down in the deceivingly named Eden. (Says Rachel, “You seriously think they’d call a nice place Eden?”) He finds himself playing out this push and pull as he first negotiates with his lunkhead ex-military co-worker Jason and then later sympathizes with the tiny warlords who have aligned against him.

Divine‘s artwork is – well, I won’t say the obvious, but it’s quite perfect. Despite not looking much like it, it reminded me constantly of Robbi Rodriguez’s Federal Bureau of Physics. I think it’s mainly due to the figures and the details.

The Hanukas’ people are remarkably realistic, sometimes with a slight twist, just as Rodriguez presents a series of verisimilitudinous but mismatched caricatures. This is best expressed by a beautiful and horrific local news anchor who occupies two frames but might haunt your dreams with her broken smile. All of the faces of The Divine have that crooked truth to them. The Hanukas have captured that split-second gawkiness of a face that is handsome when in motion as well as a camera, and that makes their people shine.

The-Divine-InteriorMeanwhile. the surrounding environments are absolutely haunted with detail. In one panel of Mark’s living room my eyes dwelled on the bifurcated plug of a television and a unattractively-placed smoke detector. Later, in the mountainous countryside of Quanlom, their landscapes are liquid. Trees and mountains look like a sluice of melted wax, with highlights dripping across them. As the magical nature of the book increases, so does that liquid, which makes a late change back to reality feel all the more square as a result.

If there is a downside to this quick read it’s that not every detail you pick up on early in the book is paid off in full. Rachel is quickly made into a round character and then left behind, though her actions are crucial to the story. A strangely compelling exchange about a photochromic set of glasses is never recalled. Jason’s cryptic obsession with Quanlom morphs into a scenery-chewing obviousness. Mark’s skill with and fear of explosives is central to the plot, but his facility with them is secondary.

None of that takes away from the experience of the novel. If anything, it will compel you to re-read it, searching for links as you parse the allegory within the allegory. You could spend weeks picking out the fine details of the artwork, but it would be a mistake to not also dissect fine gradations of meaning in the plot. T

his is not a read once and love it kind of book, but if you are willing to let a graphic novel sink in it’s the perfect choice for you.

What came before: from the Hanukas: Bipolar collected as The Placebo Man … from Asaf Hanuka: The Realist … from Tomer Hanuka: Overkill & Philosophy in the Boudoir

You might also like: Federal Bureau of Physics Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (similar art with low-fantasy sci-fi twist on reality)

Newly Released Graphic Novels & Collected Comics – Sept. 1, 2015 Edition

This month I’m going to revisit an old habit, where I blog the new collected comic releases each week with some color commentary. If you find this useful I’d really appreciate a comment or a tweet – I already know what I’m buying every week, so it’s only worth it to do this if you’re finding it helpful!

Dark Horse Comics

Conan-v18-hcAliens: Salvation Premiere HC

A $11 hardcover reprint of a 1993 David Gibbons / Mike Mignola take on Aliens where two mean abandon ship and are left alone with a xenomorph? Pretty damn tempting, I’d say, but I feel that way about most things Mignola. Pity they didn’t pair it up with the 2001 sequel Aliens: Salvation and Sacrifice, though.

Conan, Vol. 18: The Damned Horde HCCollects Conan the Avenger. #7-12

I know, you’re looking at this and asking yourself, “Volume 18? Really? Do I need to pick up all 17 other volumes?” And I don’t know what to tell you, because I own all of one Conan comic and it was my father’s and I’ve still never read it.

Here’s what I can say: Fred Van Lente is a reliable scripter, and they wouldn’t have just rebooted the title if Vol. 17 wouldn’t be a halfway-decent picking up point despite the number stretching from Conan the Barbarian and Conan: Road Of Kings before that and Conan The Cimmerian before that and just plain old Conan before that way back in 2003. So, if you love Conan and want to get back to his comic roots (well, he was a novel first, but then very famously a comic), maybe you should start there. Or, you know, dip way back to Vol. 1, still readily available in TPB, because Dark Horse knows how to manage their backlist.

Hmm… now I kind of want to read Conan. This is how it happens. (Note that the awesome cover is not drawn by the interior artist Brian Ching, but I think his art is strong – it’s just not the cinematic style of the cover.) Continue reading ›