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Category Archives: consume

New Collecting Guide: Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger (and an explanation of who they are)

I’m happy to share The Definitive Cloak & Dagger Collecting Guide and Reading Order! It includes every Cloak & Dagger appearance ever published – both together and apart – with notes on trade-reading order and the importance of guest appearances.

Cloak_and_Dagger_Vol_4_1_TextlessI know what most of your reactions will be – “Who the hell are Cloak & Dagger?” They’re not exactly Marvel’s most-prominent characters and they haven’t had an ongoing series to call their own since the 1990s, but they happen to be Marvel’s most-recent property to garner an order for a television season – on ABC’s Freeform network.

Bright-eyed readers may have seen this guide already, but as of today the guide is officially out of its beta-release phase and ready to help you collect Marvel’s pair of would-be-mutants who recently garnered an order for a TV show!

This is one in a series of new and revised collection pages I’ll be highlighting; last week I covered Doctor Strange, and you can already see several of the others in action in Crushing Comics.

Who are Cloak & Dagger?

The short answer is that they were writer Bill Mantlo’s insertion into Spider-Man of a pair of teens whose lives were altered by the prevalence of street drugs in blighted, early-80s NYC. They adopted the powers of darkness and light and briefly took on a life of their own for the next decade.

Marvel was having a bit of a younger-character resurgence in the early 80s, with Chris Claremont spinning New Mutants off of X-Men and Louise Simonson launching Power Pack. Cloak & Dagger were conceived just prior to those two moves but offered a terrific contrast to them both. They were more rough-around the edges than either team, and lacking in the scholastic environment of Xavier’s school and the familial love of Power Pack. (They would make guest appearances in both series.)

Cloak & Dagger first spun off into a 1983 mini-series after their Spider-Man debut, and then into a 1985 ongoing title that was released bi-monthly. In 1987, they were relaunched into Strange Tales, Vol. 2, a monthly title they split with Doctor Strange.

Then there was the little matter of mutant hysteria. Continue reading ›

Marvel Now! 2016 – a book-by-book break-down

It’s that time again!

Marvel Now 2016July brings us the October comic solicitations, and that’s the month Marvel uses each year as their launchpad for a new wave of books. That’s the result of an increasingly network television influenced strategy for Marvel’s comic publishing, which sees volumes of books as seasons of a show that it makes sense to renew regularly – sometimes each year.

With their 2016 Marvel Now! initiative, Marvel has so far announced 62 titles, including a stunning 33 new launches or limited series (and that’s with only one X-Men title so far on the slate!). This post covers every single title, detailing what it’s replacing, the creators, how hyped I am, and what it will be about – plus, it points you to the collection & reading order guides where each title will be recapped.

Basically: this is your one-stop resource for all things Marvel Now! 2016.

If a title isn’t on the Now! list, is that a smoking gun that it’s cancelled without a replacement? That’s unclear. For example, Moon Knight releases issue #7 in October, but the issue listed for Now! is #10 – so, these new jumping-on points will be staggered. It could be some of the unlisted books are mid-arc and didn’t make sense to label as Now, or it could be they’re due for a relaunch in the new year. Of course, I expect some of them will simply wrap up in the three months of Now launches.

Here’s the list of titles so far absent from the Marvel Now checklist: Continue reading ›

Kickstartered: Steve Lichman by Dave Rapoza & Dan Warren

Given that my to-read pile of graphic novels is currently a nine-month backlog and my to-play pile of new games is at least six boxes deep, I thought it might not be a terrible idea to highlight things I receive from Kickstarter as they roll in, rather than whenever I get around to reviewing them.

Steve Lichman CoverSteve Lichman, Vol. 1 arrived a few weeks ago, and I must admit I had completely forgotten it existed since the Kickstarter campaign closed in October.

It only added to my confusion that the padded envelope I opened contained a cloth-bound hardcover book the size and heft of a novel with a skeleton debossed onto the cover in gold foil. Had I pledged to support a horror anthology?

In fact, this tome was a graphic novel – quite literally the nicest graphic novel I think I’ve ever received out of my collection of thousands of books. It has all of the external trappings of a beautiful signed-and-numbered 1st edition novel (mine is #5,518) and the paper and reproduction quality of a professionally produced comic collection – all for less than Marvel charges for a crap-quality six-issue trade paperback.

That means creators Dave Rapoza & Dan Warren self-published a literal 250 pages of comic all in one go. Given that the history of Kickstarter is littered with the failed projects of similarly ambitious creators, the quality of this project (and it hitting 1000% of its funding goal) makes more sense when you learn that Rapoza is a professional illustrator who works with client IP like Bethesda (Fallout, Elder Scrolls), Hasbro, and Blizzard (Warcraft), and on concept art for films like the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

It’s hard to explain exactly what it’s about. I guess it’s It’s sort of like Seinfeld if Jerry was a Lich and George was Dracula and their apartment was a dungeon? I don’t know, I’m an old, you can probably think of a better sitcom analogy than that after you read a lengthy preview of Steve Lichman on Rapoza’s site. Here’s their Kickstarter video:

As for how I found about this project or why I pledged… I’ll get back to you on that one. It literally doesn’t ring a single bell, and I can’t find mention of it on any of the comic sites I frequent. This might have literally been a blind pledge from browsing the Kickstarter comics section, and it could not have possibly turned out to be a better choice!

Here’s another pair of photos of their marvelous book! I’ve loved the humor first few pages and the illustrations are consistently great, so I’m looking forward to digging into this further when I dig deep enough into my to-read pile.

Steve Lichman Endpaper

Steve Lichman Interior

 

Using Pokémon Go for interval training (or, how I went from Couch to 5k in one day)

pokemon-go-logoI just ran five miles.

The last time I ran five miles was NEVER. The longest run I’ve ever been on (even with a generous definition of “run”) was The Color Run 5k – and that was with Allie as my personal pace car.

The last time I ran 5k was last night.

I had no pace car these past two days – just Pokémon. I return to you accomplished, sore, sweaty, way more knowledgable about Pokémon Go and with four more levels to show for it, but still not much more of a Pokémon fan than I was two nights ago.

How did mobile game I don’t even love get me from couch to 5k in one day, and from 5k to 5 miles the next?

The first step was deciding I was playing – and running – for efficiency. I generally only have an hour to play at night after EV heads to bed if I expect to have time to do anything else before passing out. With limited time to play, I wanted to maximize my level gain and cover a lot of physical ground to try to collect a lot of stuff – both Pokémon and items – since I’m way too weak for my local Pokémon Gyms.

The temptation is to amble constantly so you can engage with each potential encounter or to camp in an area that’s heavily lured. Here are three ways to short-circuit that to turn playing into more consistent exercise: Continue reading ›

New Collecting Guide: Doctor Strange (plus, 5 suggestions for new fans)

I’m happy to share The Definitive Doctor Strange Collecting Guide and Reading Order! It includes every Doctor Strange issue ever published with notes on trade-reading order and guest appearances.

Agamatto-eyed readers may have spotted it last week, but as of today the guide is officially out of its beta-release phase and ready to help you collect Marvel’s most-famous mystic.

Doctor Strange by Alex RossThis is the first of several new and revised collection pages I’ll be highlighting over the next few weeks; you can already see several of them in action in Crushing Comics.

Doctor Strange was one of Marvel’s original Silver Age heroes, debuting in 1963 in Strange Tales, a title he split with Nick Fury. He is a brilliant-but-prideful surgeon whose career is ruined when his hands are injured in an accident, and in his quest to repair them he stumbles into the world of mysticism.

Like Fury, he was one of the few freshly-invented Silver Age solo heroes not to be hoovered up by The Avengers. This was exploited by his inclusion in The Defenders, a team of relative outcasts that also included The Hulk, Namor, and Silver Surfer.

Aside from a brief blip at the beginning of the 70s, Strange starred in an ongoing book in continuous publication through 1996, when his third volume was cancelled with no replacement.

Unlike fellow hot-in-the-90s hero Ghost Rider, Strange got no ongoing revival in the 00s, although he was finally absorbed by the Avengers under Brian Bendis’s tenure (partially due to his participation in The Illuminati).

After playing a critical (some may say “starring”) role in Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers mega-story that began in 2013, Doctor Strange finally found his way back into an ongoing title from Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo in the fall of 2015 in anticipation of his big screen debut in 2016.

I’ve always had affection for the good doctor, but I did some foot-dragging on giving him his own guide due to his relatively low profile in past years. However, with his movie coming up this fall, it was finally time to attack his guide – no small feat, since he’s had over a dozen series and one-shots to call his own plus a starring role in most incarnations of The Defenders.

If that all sound great but you’re kind of new to this comics game, what should you sample to find out of you like Doctor Strange? Here’s a few books to try: Continue reading ›

Pokémon Go through the eyes of a newbie trainer

I am lying in the middle of my living room floor, likely creating a puddle of sweat beneath my back, and it’s all because of Pokémon Go.

pokemon-go-logoLet’s back up a few days.

Pokémon Go is an augmented reality mobile game that was released last Wednesday across the United States by Niantic Labs (formerly of Google; now an independent company). In it, you run around in the real world while throwing virtual digital balls imaginary fantastical creatures. Oh, and apparently you go to church. A lot.

Okay, okay, I know a little more about Pokémon Go than that, but only through the past few hours of firsthand experience. Honestly, I only understand what Pokémon even are in the vaguest of terms. I was just aging out of spending my money and time on stuff like games, cards, and comics by the middle of the 90s, so I wasn’t even aware of the existence of Pokemon until I met E’s little brother in 2002.

Even then, I only understand it as an execution of several geeky archetypes – characters who collect things, summoning of creatures, opposing elements in a fighting game, and evolving creatures. I have no concept of how any of the games play or the story behind them.

As reports from seemingly every single person I have ever met about their Pokémon Go play experiences began to crop up over the weekend, a familiar urge began to bubble up inside my gut. Yes, it was the special brand of agita created by OCD Godzilla. There were people out there playing a game about collecting things, and if I didn’t start playing it right now I might miss content and experiences that would never be available again.

On the other hand, there is no part of Pokémon Go that particularly interests me – not the IP, nor the augmented reality. Plus, I’m never aimlessly walking around other than with EV, who I categorically prevent from fussing with screens, digital games, and IP other than Marvel’s. (Sorry, I’m weak.)

On the other other hand, “FEAR OF MISSING OUT,” roared OCD Godzilla from his position just below my spleen. Continue reading ›

protagonists, plot armor, and diversity in fiction

There is no question in my mind that diversity of representation in fiction is important, and not just because EV naturally gravitated towards female heroes as a baby.

The media we consume helps to construct the reality we assume, which is highlighted by one of my favorite communication theories, Cultivation Theory. It’s a pretty obvious theory at its root – if all we see on the news are stories about muggings and murders, we assume the world around us is disproportionally unsafe. We cultivate our perceived reality from the media we consume.

Similarly, I think if we consume fictional worlds where we see ourselves reflected we are emboldened, and when they are filled with people different than ourselves, we come to hope and expect our lives will be filled with those people, too.

MAvgV02 - 0001 epting variant promo

Marvel relaunched Mighty Avengers in 2014 as a majority POC team of Avengers. Art by Steve Epting.

That means all representation is good representation, like Riri Williams as Iron Man, but having a diverse cast just step one of a truly representative fictional world. Step two is how you treat those characters and who among them gets to be the protagonist.

One of the challenging aspects of being the author to construct those worlds is putting your cast of diverse characters into perilous situations. For a story to be thrilling – especially a story serialized in the long term – we have to believe that characters are truly in danger.

This is part of what makes an auteur like Joss Whedon so compelling (and so maddening): with him, everyone is in danger, all of the time. There is no status quo. Of course, comic books on embrace this concept wholeheartedly –  nothing thrills them like making the transgressive choice of killing the seemingly unkillable (only to bring them back to life later). It’s no coincidence Whedon was a comic fan before he was famous (he’s said many times Buffy was based on the template of Kitty Pryde).

(I don’t mean to deify Whedon, as he has his weaknesses from the critical lenses of feminism or queer theory (the two I feel somewhat qualified to speak to), but he is easily the best mainstream male creator to use as an example here – and not just for his visibility. The fact of the matter is, he’s willing to kill popular white guys and let women win. That’s a start.)

Is the way to make a story with a diverse cast more thrilling to kill more characters more often? Not really, because that doesn’t fully recognize the problem of protagonists and plot armor, among other reasons.

The protagonist of a serialized story tends to wear some unavoidable amount of plot armor – a form of extra-fictional protection derived from the fact that we know they will be in the commercial for the next installment. They might be injured or tortured, or even killed in the long run, but they don’t tend to die in random, unhyped episode.

(Many forms of episodic fiction use this to their advantage, setting up a fake set of protagonists to off shockingly early. I can only think of one that legitimately killed main characters left and right at all times: Spooks AKA MI:5 from BBC. Be warned – you are going to be upset when you watch it.)

To make the world around the protagonist seem like it has some amount of stakes, it’s the supporting cast who must go without plot armor to be placed in peril. Thus, if the only diversity in your fictional world is in the supporting cast, then your diversity tends to be expendable. If they aren’t, it feels like they are also are wearing “plot armor,” and now your fiction has no consequences.

The unfortunate result of this is that the people who need to see themselves represented more in heroic fiction – people who are black, indigenous, Asian, LGBT, female, disabled, and on – also wind up seeing themselves maimed and killed to make their protagonists feel something and to give their world the illusion of danger.

(The disposal of supporting female characters to make male protagonists feel was deemed “fridging” or “Women in Refrigerators” by then-critic/now-author Gail Simone. At this point, fridging is a more generalized term applied to the suffering of any (typically minority) character in order to create a reaction in the protagonist.)

There’s a deeper vein being tapped here than simply the expectation that these characters will be endangered. There is also the risk that readers begin to see those grim fates as inextricably tied with their identities. A great example that isn’t tied exclusively to identity is the horror movie trope that the girl who has sex is sure to die. The implication (sometimes intentional, sometimes not) is that sex is sinful and it makes you narratively expendable (or, worse, a target for violence).

YAvgV02 - 0013 promo

In 2013, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie launched a Young Avengers team that turned out to be all-minority and ALL QUEER. Wow. Art by McKelvie.

What is the implication when the gay friend or the black friend always dies? When a reader who identifies that way sees themselves being killed again and again in the media they consume, what reality do they begin to cultivate?

Do they believe their life matters?

Author Kieron Gillen recently addressed this in a response to a reader question on Tumblr; here’s an excerpt:

Reader: I (queer myself) understand an issue with such a lack of proper representation/appreciation for queer characters, especially with the recent discussions of queer deaths in media. Yet with WicDiv I see all characters as equally cared for, even in death. Just curious on your thoughts?

KG: There’s certainly been people who’ve found it upsetting and stopped reading the book for it, which we understand entirely. At least part of the reason our story front loads the “All these people are going to die” is that we want to put our cards on the table. … [I]n culture, we are so used to seeing bad things happen to LGBT characters because they are LGBT, that we can read negative intent into stories where bad things happen to them despite that they they are LGBT. I suspect she’s right.

(Like Whedon, Gillen’s approach works within the context of his stories – they’re typically stories about fear and loss where anyone might suffer a terrible fate, and he telegraphs that at the start. Also, not every one of his stories is one of loss – his brilliant Young Avengers is the mainstream book with the most diverse group of characters I’ve read in years and it doesn’t end in misery.)

Just as the solution for every author isn’t constantly killing characters, the solution also cannot be plot armor for every minority character that walks into the story. That’s both patronizing and predictable. There is no good fiction without risk. To again reference the familiar horror trope, just as it’s no fun (and: awful) to know that the virgin will live to see the end of the film, you don’t want to think a character is invincible just because she is latina or disabled.

The solution to the representation problem isn’t just more representative casts – it’s more diverse protagonists. That’s not only because it puts different people in the plot armor, but because it strips the unfortunate association of punishment from the characters who do perish.

In Gillen’s Young Avengers, for a major character to die they would have to be a minority character because the entire team was a minority in one way or another – a woman, a gay couple, a pansexual male, a bisexual black male, and a latina daughter of a same sex couple. In fact, given the final panel, it might have be an all-queer superhero team – a sentence which makes me smile every fucking time I write it.

That’s why representation matters. That’s why diversifying the casts of the fiction we consume is not “political correct” or “diversification for diversity’s sake.” Representation matters because stories matter. We’re each our own protagonist, but many of us don’t see that reflected in the media we consume. When we have a world of comics books, movies, and television shows populated similarly to our actual worlds, then every person will own a key component of cultivating a reality where they matter and they are safe.

And, people exposed to those who identify differently than themselves will begin to have it reinforced that The Other is not an expendable character in their story.

(This was originally going to be the introduction to a review, but it (a) turned into its own piece and (b) would seem to unnecessarily spoiler the outcome of the comic.)

Marvel introduced a black female Iron Man – is that a good thing? (Yes.)

Today, Marvel and writer Brian Bendis broke the news via Time Magazine that at the end of the currently-running event “Civil War II” the mantle of Iron Man will be taken over by a 15-year old black MIT student named Riri Williams

(This IIM - 2016 - promois a major shocker, because the vast majority of fans assumed Riri’s introduction in the pages of Invincible Iron Man (visit the guide)where she was reverse-engineering Tony Stark’s armor – was a set-up for her to take over the mantle of War Machine. Rhodey has become unavailable to carry that title due to the events of Civil War.)

Riri Williams as Iron Man is a very good thing. We do not have enough female heroes or heroes of color, and to see a that in a character who is both as she takes over the mantle of ostensibly Marvel’s most popular single hero outside of Spider-Man is a huge, visible step not only for Marvel comic readers, but for their film fans who this news will surely reach. To have Williams also be a female super-scientist when Marvel generally boasts only a handful is even more wonderful.

(The most prominent female geniuses of Marvel are Kitty Pryde, who is frequently shown to be nearly as genius as Beast; Valeria Richards, whose preternatural intelligence is partially attributed to super powers; the new Moon Girl; and Mockingbird, an oft-forgotten PhD) .

So Riri Williams as Iron Man is a good thing, right?

On the face of it, yes. Inclusion means representation. I love reading books about heroes that are women, and so does my daughter – also a girl of color.

However, there are some aspects of this character choice that have given some fans and critics pause, which I’d like to discuss here – three in particular. I’m very interested in your input. (Edited to add: Here is a post with similar critique from black writer Son of Baldwin, Here is another from black female nerd BlerdGurl.)

1. Minority legacy heroes are only useful until the original makes their return; then their marginalization can be worse than the average minority hero.

“Legacy Heroes” is a term applied to heroes that are the replacement or junior version to their original heroes. They are sometimes used by creators as an opportunity to change the gender or race of the character bearing the main mantle.. The easiest examples to give are from DC comics (Superboy, Batgirl, Wondergirl, etc), because Marvel simply isn’t known for this practice outside the past few years.

Let’s stick with Marvel, for the moment. For a brief time in the 1980s, Tony Stark could not serve as Iron Man and Rhodey Rhodes took over the title. Rhodey is the best possible example of a Legacy Hero – he was a dynamic, well-developed character long before he became Iron Man, and that mean that he was able to continue to be featured even when Tony Stark returned.

Ms-Marvel - 2014 - 0004As War Machine, he’s lead his own title on many occasions (though they are usually short-lived) and he’s and been a significant character in both comics and now films (though he’s frequently sacrificed as a narrative reason to make Stark feel bad, as has happened twice this year alone).

His time as a Legacy Hero made him more visible, but after being Iron Man he didn’t stay an A-level hero. The white guy bumped him.

Another terrific example is the relatively new Ms. Marvel, the Pakastani-American Kamala Khan (visit the guide). Kamala is a wonderful analog to the original Spider-Man as a new, unsure hero, and Carol Danvers is very unlikely to ever retake her “Ms.” hero mantle now that she is officially Captain Marvel.

Her books sell ridiculous amounts of copies and have been nominator for Eisners. She’s now an Avenger. Things are going well … but we’re only in year two.

There are examples that don’t go as well. At the end of the comics version of the original Civil War, Captain America appears to die, and Bucky takes over the mantle as Cap (visit the guide). His days as Cap are amazing – great, layered storytelling. When Cap came back they shared the mantle for a while before Bucky was spun back to being Winter Soldier, at which point he began to sink back into obscurity – and he’s a white guy who stars in movies.

As with War Machine, he’s now a character Marvel needs to periodically kickstart into a new title or team only to watch him sink again.

Despite those concerns, check out the amazing list of Legacy Heroes Marvel is currently fielding: Continue reading ›

Marvel Collected Editions Solicits – March, 2017

Marvel_logoHere’s a holiday surprise for you – another month of Marvel solicitations just arrived on Amazon! These books take us though the Amazon release date of March 28, which means these books will hit the direct market on March 14. I covered the January and February solicits last month.

I’ve broken out the books below. They don’t yet list their contents, so I’ve made a few educated guesses until we can fill in the final contents. If you pre-order with Amazon, please keep in mind that Amazon releases dates are two weeks later that Direct Market release dates.

Please note: This post will not be updated with corrected dates, titles, or issue ranges for these titles. For the most up-to-date information, visit the accompanying collection guide pages.

Marvel Masterworks

There’s only one of these books released each month, so this big reveal is a guaranteed feature of each new month of solicits. Continue reading ›

Review: Unfollow, Vol. 1 by Williams & Dowling

No one can ever own or end a concept.

I think about that a lot in my constant state of creator’s decision paralysis, stemming all the way back to when I first starting writing my novel as an eighth-grader and then that summer a comic with almost the exact same concept came out.

I was young then, and I thought, “Oh no! Now they own that concept! They’ve done it so well that no one can do it again. They ended it.”

I’ve thought that many times about a lot of my creative endeavors. People have owned being a boy/girl duet band, blogging about Philly, the theme of my novel again, and many other things. Heck, it’s no so different in the start-up world, where at RJMetrics we saw dozens of other companies with similar concepts get funded and join the fray.

Here’s the thing – concepts are very rarely a zero sum game. There’s room in a single theme for many different variations.

The case and point for me is an actual zero sum game – the “many people enter, one person leaves” theme in fiction. Highlander might be the best example of this for us children of the 80s. There can be only one! Many film fans thought Battle Royale was such an innovative, transgressive take on it that no one else ought to bother. Then, of course, came Hunger Games. Some people called it a Battle Royale rip-off, while others thought it was such an innovative, transgressive take on it that one one else should bother. I loved a comic called Avengers Arena, which many people called a Battle Royale and Hunger Games rip-off, and by that point I knew better than to think it should prevent anyone else from trying the same thing.

Unfollow-tpb-vol01People keep bothering. There is something elemental about concept of a zero sum game where the sum is both power and life. No one owns zero sum games, or superheroes, or zombie apocalypses, and no single work on any of those is so prohibitive a mic drop that no one else ought to make an attempt.

All that matters is that your story is good – that your creation is compelling.

Unfollow, Vol. 1 – 140 Characters 4.0 stars Amazon Logo

Collects Unfollow #1-6 written by Rob Williams and drawn by Mike Dowling with Pahek and R.M. Guerra, with lettering by Clem Robins and color art by Quinton Weaver and Giula Brusco

Tweet-sized Review: Unfollow: a comic for tweeters who’d love a real-world Hunger Games about wealth’s abundance rather than its lack

CK Says: Buy it.

Unfollow, Vol. 1 contains the first six issues of a maddeningly intriguing comic that breathes fresh life into the concept of a zero sum game where there can be only one winner, which we’ve seen used to such great success in Highlander, Battle Royale, and Hunger Games.

Part of its delightful conceit is that there really can be more than one. Larry Ferrell, a Zuckerbergian figure, is facing imminent death and has decided to dispense his $17 billion fortune between 140 people. Their selection isn’t entirely random nor is it perfectly deliberate, and it is extremely public. Some of them are potential future CEOs and world-altering documentarians, while others are bored rich kids and god-fearing one-man militias.

There’s a catch: for every one of them who dies, the remainder of the 140 get to split that person’s inheritance of $120 million. That’s less than an extra million each, so there’s not a lot of incentive for assassination – unless, of course, you plan to slim down the ranks considerably. Continue reading ›

Review: Savage Hulk, Vol. 1: The Man Within by Davis, Farmer, & Hollingsworth

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about audiences and about screaming into the void.

One of my earliest ongoing creative endeavors was writing fan fiction inside the Final Fantasy II (Japan IV) universe. I was writing it just to write it, but then I discovered a few other like-minded folks on the internet and we had a small, shared universe of fiction. Honestly, I have no idea how 14-year-old me put it all together – the details are a blur. It was mostly just that same handful of people who were reading it. No one was writing for attention or exposure. We were all writing for the joy of writing.

The same is true for my songwriting. I spent years writing songs for no one to hear before I started pushing to play them for more people. Even after being in a gigging band for years, to this day the vast majority of my catalog has never been heard outside of our house or this website because I write so darn many songs. I’d have to put out an album a year to keep up and tour constantly.

I have the luxury of doing those things for fun. My fanfic was niche and so is my music, but it doesn’t really matter. I am happy to cast that art out into the void knowing no response would echo back at me.

The problem with doing art for the love of it comes once you’ve actually earned some attention. What happens when more than a handful of people like your writing or your music? Now you have an audience. If you were making art for the love of it, their eyeballs and ears shouldn’t make any difference to you. Yet, it’s hard to avoid their influence, even if you aren’t performing craven acts of fan service to keep them all pleased. Once you’ve seen an indicator that your art is actually being consumed it’s hard to ignore it completely.

Let’s advance that to it’s end state: a popular artist who has followed their own path and pleased fans along the way now wants to do something inherently less popular – or simply something different. I’m not thinking about the dangers inherent in each new release. Instead, consider an independent artist experimenting with a new genre or a big money director wanting to make a decidedly non-mainstream film. J.K. Rowling is a terrific example; after Harry Potter, she didn’t want to write another young readers opus, but that’s what everyone wanted!

It’s a risk. Do they trust fans enough to compartmentalize this work of otherness away from their main oeuvre? You might not be able to afford the detour if it turns too many people off. In Rowling’s case, she released one novel under her own name (The Casual Vacancy) and then another under a pseudonym (The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith). Neither detracted from the fervor for Potter, but the latter earned higher marks from fans and critics, called “a brilliant debut.”

Was it the quality of the Galbraith book that made it more successful, or that it was free of baggage? How would you enjoy the new album from your favorite artist if you didn’t know it was by them?

Savage_Hulk_Vol_1_1_TextlessThese questions occur to me with every subsequent piece of art I purchase or consume from a known artist.

Savage Hulk, Vol. 1 – The Man Within 3.5 stars Amazon Logo

Collects Savage Hulk issues #1-4 written and penciled by Alan Davis, with inks by Mark Farmer and colors by Matt Hollingsworth. Also includes X-Men (1963) #66 written by Stan Lee with pencils by Sal Buscema.

Tweet-sized Review: Alan Davis writes/draws a lovely, clever sequel to X-Men #66, a face-off w/Hulk, in this ode to early-70s Marvel.

CK Says: Consider it.

This Alan Davis Hulk and X-Men story is a love letter to early-70s comic books and it’s possible you simply won’t care. His tale in The Savage Hulk, Vol. 1 – The Man Within branches off from a bash-em-up encounter between the heroes in X-Men #66, the last comic before the hiatus ended by their Giant-Size comeback in 1974.

In a follow-up to that orphaned story, a recovered Professor Charles Xavier feels compelled to design a device that could help Bruce Banner control the Hulk as repayment for Banner’s cure for his mental exhaustion. However, the Hulk is being hunted by the military after causing serious damage in Las Vegas, while Xavier has unwittingly attracted the attention of Hulk’s foe The Leader. Continue reading ›

Review: Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Vaughan & Chiang

E and I had our first DVD player when we lived in Pine Street, just after I graduated college. I suppose it was in a laptop of hers, because we didn’t have a television and I remember watching movies in bed.

I was excited to reclaim some of the films of my youth long since lost on the beta tapes they were captured on, so between that year and the next I filled them all in. Dark Crystal, The Lost Boys, Labyrinth, and more.

The thing about these nostalgia viewings is that you can re-watch the thing you once loved, but it might not produce the same magic. I was so excited to show E The Lost Boys, labelling it as a sort of proto-Buffy as we settled into bed to watch it, but it was laugh-out-loud lame. Yet, there are still new layers to unravel in Labyrinth.

The 80s produced so much of those wonderful coming of age stories, and I don’t think I’m saying that because I was young at the time. Actually, I was ignorant of most of the stuff like Stand By Me and The Goonies, because at the ripe old age of seven I already felt I was too old for their messages. The Lost Boys, at least, had vampires. Yet, looking back there are so many seminal movies in that Amblin Entertainment model set by E.T. and Goonies that are still referenced today, right down to their feel being aped by films like Super 8.

Paper-Girls-vol-01I’ve never seen Stand By Me or The Goonies. I know, I know – it’s sacrilege. Just now I looked them up on Wikipedia to make sure I wasn’t mistaking them for something else.

It’s odd for me to watch this new generation of media being produced by the folks who came of age with the first set – usually a few years older than me, probably old enough to have seen these films in theatres on their own.

The 80s vibe is unmistakeable, but I don’t know all their influences by heart the way I do things that reference David Bowie or Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

Paper Girls, Vol. 2 2.0 stars Amazon Logo

Collects issues #1-5 written by Brian K. Vaughan with line art by Cliff Chiang, color art by Matt Wilson, and letters by Jared K. Fletcher.

Tweet-sized Review: Vaughan and Chiang’s Paper Girls tries for all-girls Goonies but maybe foregrounds too many monsters too soon

CK Says: Skip it (for now)

Paper Girls is the newest Brian K. Vaughan jam to hit its first collection, but I think you’d be better off waiting for a second trade paperback before you start reading.

Vaughan is the master creator of critical hits like Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, Marvel’s Runaways, The Private Eye, and the still-running deeply personal space fantasy Saga, which is currently the biggest independent comic after The Walking Dead. Vaughan is joined on this creator-owned Image Comics series by artist Cliff Chiang, directly from his run on DC’s Wonder Woman, and uber-colorist Matt Wilson, from everything.

Paper Girls promised a return to normalcy after the devious Saga, focusing on a group of girls on their 1988 paper route. Of course, Vaughan would never go full-normal on us – these girls would surely tangle with something fantastical. Continue reading ›

Crushing On: “Ain’t I” – Lizzo

In a major shock, Sleater-Kinney reassembled in 2014 and released a new album in January 2015.

This is not a post about Sleater-Kinney. It could not exist without them, though.

Being a massive, massive Sleater-Kinney fan and working with another one, I decided we absolutely must see their show despite it being sold out. I procured a pair of tickets, and David and I found our way to my favorite spot in just about any venue – the back left corner of the soundboard.

(Totally by coincidence, both my friend Jenn from high school and CK hall-of-famer Aim were standing within ten feet of us. People with good taste in music always stand behind the soundboard.)

I had never heard of the opening act, Lizzo, and hadn’t bothered to look into her much further past divining she was some form of rap artist. I thought: Good for SK for bringing something different on tour with them, I thought.

My body was not ready. Nothing about me was ready. Lizzo’s set was one of those soul-devouring sets you get lucky to see from time to time, where you don’t know one note of a performer’s music and it doesn’t matter a damn bit because they come out on stage and swallow the audience whole.

I have never danced so hard at a concert. I have never heard anyone so effortless swing from an emcee flow and dance moves to ridiculously amazing vocals. Like, diva-level vocals. I could not believe they were even happening, on top of recorded tracks, a DJ slash emcee, and an incredible live drummer.

As soon as Lizzo left the stage and the lights came up, I SPRINTED into the lobby to buy a copy of her CD. It was in rotation in the car for a little while and it featured a ton of the songs from her set, but they mostly just didn’t PUNCH like she did live. They had the same beats and samples, but not the same raucous energy. They had the same explosive vocals, but without the visual of Lizzo cutting back and forth from rapping to belting.

I’d straight-up pay $100 just to see another Lizzo set, so when she released another album – for free! – in December 2015 I was all over it. “Ain’t I” is the first track from Big Grrrl Small World.

This feels a lot more like her set to me than the material on her first LP. It’s a little less festooned with stuff – the entire first verse is only drums and a fuzzy two note bass, but it’s still head-noddingly catchy. If this comes on while I’m driving I reflexively reach over to crank the volume. Continue reading ›

Review: Black Magick, Vol. 1 by Rucka & Scott

I am a contrary person and at times in my life I have totally given up on certain things that other, normal people find it totally okay to engage in with moderation. For example, I went through a period where I felt slow-dances were “boring, rotating hugs,” and used such time to rehydrate for the next uptempo set of songs.

There was a period in my life where I had completely given up on movies. They were necessarily assembled by committee and that meant they couldn’t be perfect. Who would want a story spoon fed to them visually for two hours when they could read the same material four times as fast?

Our movie collection makes obvious that I overcame my discrimination, though if you example that large library you’ll see that the films they largely fall into one of two camps. One is special-effects or period films like Star Wars or Braveheart, which present a reality I could not otherwise witness. The other are the finely coordinated works of auteurs like Wes Anderson. Some are both, like Primer and Donnie Darko, or most of Christopher Nolan’s films.

I still don’t see the point of watching a two hour comedy or drama that it took hundreds of people to produce unless I am watching it for some spectacle, whether that’s visual or in caliber of performance.

Yet, the sheer scope of film cannot be denied. That widescreen window on the world and its beautifully pushed colors – that is a thing to covet and convert to other mediums. It is why television shows and advertisements and comic books yearn for that stamp of cinematicism.

black-magick-vol-01That wasn’t always the case for comics. I’m not sure when it started – perhaps with David Finch’s widescreen take on The Ultimates, which ultimately informed Marvel’s The Avengers film. Now it has infected the entire medium. No more caption boxes or thought bubbles, because movies so rarely have narrators and voice-overs. Massive establishing shots with no text, despite the fact that each panel tells the geography of a scene in miniature. Glossy colors that cram in reflections and lens flares, because only movie magic can help you suspend your disbelief.

Every comic book wants to be its own film, but very few of them actually feel like one.

Black Magick, Vol. 1 4.0 stars Amazon Logo

Collects issues #1-5 by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott, with color assistance from Chiara Arena.

Tweet-sized Review: Black Magick v1: spellbinding cop procedural w/dose of magical ritual, but only half of Act 1…I want the whole play!

CK Says: Buy it.

Black Magick is an entrancing, deliberately-paced dose of witchy mystery, like Homicide: Life On the Streets crossed with The Craft, by a pair creators at a newfound apex of their powers.

Not a word more can be said for this book without talking about artist Nicola Scott’s grayscale, ink-washed artwork. It is a sight to behold. Black and white major label comics are few and far between, but this isn’t true black and white – her flood of gray inks have tone and depth. They give her figures a sense of texture and weight that would be hard to replicate with typical digital coloring. Chiara Arena contributes only occasional splashes of color – a bloodshot eyeball, a burst of flames, or a green mist of spellwork.

Scott’s world is filled with so much detail and organic motion that panels seem to sweep from one to another like a strip of film passing across the bulb of a projector. At points, I honestly forgot I was reading a comic book with static pictures and tangible pages. Scott’s art transported me. Continue reading ›

Review: The Private Eye by Vaughan, Martin, & Vicente

Lately, I trust journalists less than ever before. Or, maybe I trust them, but I don’t trust the stories they’re telling.

filibuster-interactive-data

Last week during the gun control filibuster on the Senate floor I compiled the names and demographic information from all the participating Senators, and my friend Lauren created an interactive infographic with the information. I did not read a single media story that named all of the participants after the fact.

I know this is a theme in conservative American politics right now – the bias of the mass media. I’m not talking about bias. I’m talking about facts.

The past few weeks have been full of big new stories nationally (Orlando and gun control) and locally (sugary drink tax and the DNC), and the biggest of those stories have been missing so many facts. They’re all headlines and quick hits. Hot takes with no depth. No quoting from primary sources. Lots of people coming away with incomplete ideas and parroting them as reality.

Those same weeks have also been full of truth. I become deeply invested in last week’s filibuster from the floor of the Senate and did not consume a single pundit’s take on it. I watched it live and was my own pundit. Yesterday’s sit-in in the House circumvented pundits even further – it couldn’t even be broadcast by networks because the House was out of session and cameras were off, so representatives broadcast it directly to the public via Periscope, cutting all all possible middlemen.

Of course, the next day journalism swept in – but, as a first-hand witness to the events in question, I found the subsequent coverage lacking. Where were the names of the participants, the lengths of time they spoke, the information they shared? I put more information together about the filibuster with data visualization from my friend Lauren than I saw from any news site!

I don’t trust journalists or I don’t trust the stories they tell, but I can hardly blame them. After all, I have a journalism degree and I never set foot into that field. I went CorpComm because I wanted job security and a standard of living, and that was before online outlets were effectively subsidizing their print editions and running on pay-per-click ad units. But I still believe journalism should represent unfiltered truth with a neutral point of view, unless it professes itself as opinion. I had a lot to say about the filibuster, but none of it made its way into the data.

What if journalists didn’t have to worry about the funding and the hits, and could focus on terrific journalism? There are some outlets today that fit the bill, and I don’t think it’s coincidence they produce some of the most thorough reporting. I know it’s hard to picture state-run journalism, because so often it’s journalists who expose the flaws in the state, but that’s one version of what I’m talking about. Instead of asking journalists to make personal sacrifices to do what they love and write for maximum eyeballs, imagine a minimum number of reporters guaranteed on each beat, with job security, fair pay, and a retirement plan.

Do you think the journalism would get better or worse? Does it take sacrifice to want to dig as deep as journalists dig? Or, would the skill and commitment increase?

The-Private-Eye-hardcoverThe Private Eye 3.0 stars Amazon Logo

The Private Eye collects the 10 chapters of a complete web comic story by Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente.

Tweet-sized Review: The Private Eye finds Vaughan & Martin a bit too clever for their own good; I liked the world better than the story

CK Says: Consider it.

The Private Eye is a much more interesting world than it is an interesting story – and, it’s a pretty decent story.

Private Eye is an Eisner and Harvey Award Winning comic story conceptualized by Brian K. Vaughan and created in collaboration with Marcos Martin and his wife, colorist Muntsa Vicente. It was initially released beginning in March 2013 as a web-only comic via Panel Syndicate, with its 10 chapters released across 24 months. Each chapter was available as a DRM-free as a pay-what-you-will download.

You can still purchase it that way, or you can opt for a gorgeous $50 hardcover version released in December that includes the complete Vaughan/Martin email chain conceptualizing the story and their method of release (complete with fretting over what to call the website and how to make a profit from it).

The story of Private Eye depicts an America where the press has taken over peacekeeping for the police thanks to a landmark omni-leak of every possible piece of data. The event, called “The Cloudburst,” exposed everyone’s online information to everyone else. It wasn’t the leaked account balances or private nudes that did everyone in, but the search histories. It turns out that was as close as you could come to knowing what was going on inside someone else’s head – their deepest fears and desires. A lot of those heads were pretty dark places. Continue reading ›