Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Diamond's 2013 Stats Show Comics Sales Growing

The Walking Dead #115 was the top-selling comic book of 2013.

Despite all the turmoil, 2013 turned out to be a fantastic year for the comics industry.

Diamond Comics Distributors just posted its year-end stats, revealing comic book sales were up more than 10 percent over 2012 and graphic novels up 6.5 percent. That's an overall sales boost of just over 9 percent.

Both unit sales and dollar sales charts showed Marvel and DC collectively accounting for about two-thirds of the business, followed in dollar share by Image Comics, IDW, Dark Horse, Dynamite, Boom!, Eaglemoss, Valiant and Avatar Press.

The Walking Dead #115 turned out to be the top-selling single issue of the year — fueled no doubt by the ten connecting variant covers celebrating the series' 10th anniversary— followed by DC relaunches Justice League of America #1 and Superman Unchained #1. Marvel dominated the rest of the top ten, with Guardians of the Galaxy #1, Superior Spider-Man #1, Infinity #1, X-Men #1, Age of Ultron #1 and Uncanny X-Men #1. Rounding out the list was Superman Unchained #2.

Graphic novels were dominated by Image, with volumes of Saga and Walking Dead taking the top six spots. Marvel's sole title on the list was Hawkeye, Vol. 1, while Batman scored two for DC with The Court of Owls and The Killing Joke Special Edition.

The charts also show why publishers are constantly rebooting and relaunching titles: Those tactics sell lots of comics. So I expect we'll see a lot more of that.

On the plus side, it's great to see almost all the major publishers posting gains and also that each has forged for itself a strong identity in the market through publishing quality work. I can think of books I like from pretty much every one of the top publishers, which is saying something.

It's also interesting to see Diamond list its account tally for comic book specialty shops at more than 3,500. That's up from what I remember it being in the not-too-distant past, and an increase in this number likely has a lot to do with market growth considering these sales tallied here are sales to retailers, not sell-through numbers. I've long thought that more comics shops were important for the industry just to get the damn things out there and in front of people who'd buy comics and like them if they could actually see them for sale somewhere.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Marvel Recaptures 'Star Wars' License; Can It Recapture the Magic?

Star Wars #107 (Sept. 1986), the final issue of Marvel's original run of Star Wars comics.
I really want Marvel to get Jo Duffy and Cindy Martin back and restart with Star Wars #108. 

After more than 20 years of publishing Star Wars comics, Dark Horse will give up the reins as Disney hands the license for the mega-franchise back to Marvel, the company that had it in the first place starting in 2015.

This move was absolutely no surprise to anyone after Marvel parent company Disney acquired Lucasfilm and the entire Star Wars property last year. But it's a big change for fans of Star Wars comics given the job Dark Horse has done for many years on the property.

I grew up with the original Marvel series and collecting it was my gateway into the entire comics medium. Those comics have many quirks that came from being produced on a monthly basis in and around the original trilogy release. That meant Marvel had odd obstacles to the series, like being unable to resolve the major plot points of the movies and forcing them to avoid direct confrontations with Darth Vader or have the rebels race off to rescue Han Solo.

But there was some excellent work done in there that had real energy and remain good comics. I particularly liked the long run of Archie Goodwin and Carmine Infantino, which gave us the "Waterworld," "Wheel" and "Valence the Hunter" storylines; the excellent run by David Michelinie and Walt Simonson that introduced Shira Brie and turned Luke into a traitor; and the final run by Jo Duffy and the delightful art of Cynthia Martin that was sadly cut short when Lucasfilm basically mothballed all Star Wars licenses in the mid-1980s. This was good stuff and I'd like to think Marvel could once again do a good job with Star Wars.

But Dark Horse and its approach of many miniseries and filling in the millennia-long history of the Galaxy Far, Far Away seems more in synch with what modern fans want from Star Wars comics. When Dark Horse began its Star Wars comics — picking up the Dark Empire miniseries that had originally been in the works at Marvel's Epic line — it really was a huge part of an entire Star Wars renaissance that, along with the Timothy Zahn novels, reminded people how much fun this stuff was. It also took the entire canon more seriously and Dark Horse clearly put a lot of thought into its Star Wars comics and a lot of effort into the execution. There long ago were too many Dark Horse Star Wars comics for me to want to keep up with, but every year or so there would be something cool to pull lapsed fans back in. I'm thinking in particular of the very cool adaptations of the Zahn novels and, more recently, the Brian Wood series and the current miniseries adapting George Lucas' rough draft screenplay into comics form.

I'll be sorry to see the end of the Wood series in particular, but at the same time Marvel might be able to bring some raw energy and more focus to Star Wars comic-dom. Plus, I'd love to see a Marvel Omnibus edition of the old series. I'd have to dig deep and splurge for that one.

Friday, January 3, 2014

'X-Men: Days of Future Past' Leads 2014 Comics Movie Pack

Original art for X-Men #141 by John Byrne and Terry Austin, as it appears in
 Fantagraphics' The X-Men Chronicles II from 1982. 
2013 was a pretty good year for comic-book movies in particular — and movies in general — with 2014 also looking sharp.

Top of my list to see is, not surprisingly, X-Men: Days of Future Past, due out May 23 and looking to have the same sort of big Memorial Day box-office debut as X-Men: The Last Stand. This is adapted from one of the most influential and beloved X-Men stories, published long ago in 1980 in The Uncanny X-Men #141 and 142.

I remember being a new X-Men fan in the mid-1980s and realizing the importance of this story was second perhaps only to the Dark Phoenix saga in the mutant mythos. I scored my copy of #141 at a long-gone comics shop in Phoenix for something ridiculous like 50 cents back in the fall or winter of 1986-87. The following summer, I bought #142 at All About Books and Comics for an amount I can't even recall. I took #141 to my first Comic-Con in San Diego in 1993 and got it signed on the first page by John Byrne and on the cover by Chris Claremont. The story — in which an adult Kate Pryde psychically travels back in time from the desolate future of 2013 to her younger self in 1980 to convince the X-Men to stop the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants' planned assassination of future president and anti-mutant activist Sen. Robert Kelly.

This story fully brought the Holocaust themes Claremont had been hinting at into the X-Men, and the future timeline in which Sentinels rules America and had hunted down or imprisoned in work camps all known mutants was startling in its boldness. Not only were bunches of X-Men already dead, but we saw a glimpse of the future reformed Magneto, the then-mysterious redhead Rachel, and the gruesome deaths of Wolverine, Storm and Colossus. Even though it was copped from an episode of one of the Brit sci-fi TV shows like The Avengers or Doctor Who — favorites at the time of both Claremont and Byrne — the story really works well as the ultimate expression of everything that the X-Men are fighting for going wrong. The movie version will be quite different, with Wolverine reportedly put in the main role of time traveler instead of Kitty, but it's exciting to see the X-Men movie series move forward with a kind of merging of the best parts of Bryan Singer's original films and Matthew Vaughn's First Class crew. I expect big things for this movie, and for the Apocalypse follow-up Singer teased for 2016.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is due out May 2 and I expect to like it much more than the first installment in the series, which spent so much time retelling the origin story that it was hard to figure out what made Marc Webb's version very different from Sam Raimi's. I like Jamie Foxx as Electro and Paul Giamatti as The Rhino, but I'm not looking forward to playing out once again the inevitably tragic fate of Gwen Stacy. That'll probably be saved for part 3, but we all know it's still coming.

300: Rise of an Empire, due out March 7, makes me scratch my head a bit. I don't think we really needed a prequel or sequel to this movie, which I think got a bit of a bad rap when it came out from critics. It was a cool exercise in style that paid off extremely well for Zack Snyder et al., but I suspect there will be little here to make the sequel stand out and stand up on its own.

The same could be said for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, which really should have been made about five years ago. Due out Aug. 22, this won't have the same "wow" impact that the first Sin City did, but the stories Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller have to work with are pretty good and should make for a fun movie and a modest hit if it turns out comparable quality wise to the original.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, out April 4, looks very good. The opportunity to see Cap working in the modern world will help keep things fresh after the obligatory World War II outing in the first movie. I haven't read Ed Brubaker's run and am not familiar with the specifics of the Winter Solder storyline, though people whose opinions I trust assure me it's good, so I'm thinking this will be another hit for Marvel.

And then there's the big wildcard and gamble of the year: Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, due Aug. 1, right after Comic-Con. Marvel's obviously putting a lot of muscle into this one, with some interesting casting and a more movie-friendly take on the franchise already tested out as a comic. I expect this gamble will pay off for Marvel, especially in the usually sleepy movie month of August, and show the studio's savvy at turning even its C-list and D-list characters into hit movies. I wish they'd lend some of that knowhow to DC, which still is having a hard time getting B-list characters off the ground in theaters.

And that's just the comic-book movies. There's also cool stuff like Transcendence, Interstellar, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 and The Hobbit: There and Back Again to look forward to.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Random Notes: TV Comics, Back Issues and a 1990s Flashback

Sons of Anarchy #1
* Lots of TV shows (of the prestigious variety!) have been making the jump into comics, with Boom! putting out a very cool Sons of Anarchy series and Marvel taking Dexter on a tangent with a series by the character's creator Jeff Lindsay and a second coming soon. That's in addition to The X-Files: Season 10 series that's more like the sort of thing you expect to see in comics. Sons of Anarchy is a show I've only tangentially watched, but I enjoyed the comic quite a bit.

Dexter #5
Marvel's Dexter series was quite good and a lot better than the last few seasons of the Showtime series. I read the first Dexter book a few years back after Showtime dropped a copy in the gift bag from a Dexter TV show party at Comic-Con and really enjoyed it. Turns out there's a long-running series of books that take Lindsay's original idea in a different direction. Lindsay is enjoying doing comics (at least he said so on his Reddit blog). It's always interesting to see creators from other fields tackle comics, and I think comics could benefit from more novelists jumping into the fray to counter the overdone screenwriting influences and the decompressed storytelling it inspires.

As for The X-Files: Season 10, I still think writer Joe Harris is doing a good job and it's cool that creator Chris Carter is pitching in, too. I don't think this show will ever quite re-capture the same zeitgeist it did in the 1990s, but it is nice to revisit the characters and ideas in comic book form, which has a bit more kind to the series than the big-screen sequel of a few years back.

Grendel #1
* I visit my old stomping grounds in Arizona once or twice a year, and finally managed to make time for a visit to All About Books and Comics. I used to frequent the store during summers in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and always enjoyed the depth of the back issue selection in particular. I'm happy to report that hasn't changed a bit, and a good portion of the store was devoted to selling inexpensive packs of classic comics runs from the past 30 years or so. I snagged a batch of Captain Canuck originals and the first 10 issues of Comico's Grendel series, as well a lengthy run of the original Power Pack run — all for a great price. I briefly chatted with owner Alan Giroux about the old days and how much we both like shops that stock lots and lots of back issues. I am grateful that Los Angeles has so many great comics shops, but one that stocks back issues like All About is at this point just another item on my want list.

Shade: The Changing Man  #1
* Also in Arizona, I found some boxes of old Star Trek and V paperbacks from the late 1980s and early 1990s, along with a few relics from the speculator age of comics: three sets of X-Force #1, three sets of X-Men #1 and polybagged black cover and green cover copies of Spider-Man #1. I also found a poster from Atomic Comics' 1993 Mega-Jam, signed by a ton of creators, including the late Steve Gerber. I don't remember where it came from, as I didn't attend the event, but it's totally extreme, dude. And just to show I don't have completely horrible taste, this box also included most of Steve Ditko's 1970s DC Comics series Shade: The Changing Man. That was some funky, weird, cool stuff.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Everywhere You Look These Days, It's Comics, Comics, Comics!

Hey, look! Random notes!
  • For Christmas, I got a copy of that really big book 75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking, by Paul Levitz. It’s taken me a while to make much of a dent in it (though it could certainly put a dent in just about anything else) but it’s a really great book. The presentation alone is fabulous.
  • The Wolverine was a decent movie, but I’m afraid it hasn’t stuck with me. (My previous post on the movie was written in mid-August, but somehow I forgot to publish it until now!) I was compiling a list of this year’s releases for work-related research and actually forgot it came out. Maybe once it hits Blu-ray, it’ll make more of an impression. Same for Man of Steel.
  • I’m still not especially interested in the various DC TV series, having sampled Arrow and never taking to Smallville despite numerous attempts to get into it. Plans for Fox’s Gotham series sounds like it could change that, though I also really would like to see that WB-Fox collaboration yield a home-video release of the 1966 Batman TV series. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was entertaining and full of quippy characters but not exactly strong on story, making it a fairly typical Joss Whedon TV series. I hope it gets better. 
  • My 2-year-old daughter loves superheroes, as I have mentioned before, and one of her favorites is Wonder Woman. Looking at the version of Wonder Woman that gets licensed to the mass market, I have to say I like it a lot more than I ever liked any of the WW comics I have read. 
  • I bought some digital comics a while back to pass the time while my daughter played at a local playground. It was a smooth process and a nice reading experience, though I still think they are priced too high. For $1.99 or more, I want a physical copy of the book, too. 
  • Thor: The Dark World is looking pretty good from the various trailers and such — better than the first one. I missed Kick-Ass 2; will have to catch it on Blu-ray. 
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation first went on the air 25 years ago this week. This makes me feel old. I was a freshman in college when it came on, and vividly remember how excited people were to have an actual sci-fi show back on the air. I never would have believed in 1987 that there would be so much sci-fi, fantasy and comics stuff on TV and in movies as there is now. 
  • I’m reading the novel of A Game of Thrones and really enjoying it. But, boy, has it been a long time since I’ve read 800 pages of prose fiction! Does anyone know for sure if the shadowcats mentioned in the book are a reference to Kitty Pryde of the X-Men? I know George R.R. Martin is a Marvel fan and Claremont put references to Martin's book The Armageddon Rag into the X-Men and The New Mutants way back around 1984. Anyway, I’m finding the effort, so far, is worth it. Now, if I can just stay awake long enough to find the time to finish it ... 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

'The Wolverine': A Lot More Good Than Bad


I've been thinking about The Wolverine, which I caught at a morning screening — it's what you have to do when you have a toddler! — on opening weekend.

There's a lot to like in this movie, but it's far from perfect. The movie's been out a few weeks now, so I'm going to talk about stuff that qualifies as spoilers, so consider yourself warned.

Here's the pro side:

  • This is the most faithful adaptation of a Marvel comic-book story to come to screen so far. There are deviations from the 1982 Wolverine miniseries it's based on, but I was surprised by how much of that story was kept intact. 
  • I liked that the female characters were interesting. Yukio in particular is a favorite of mine from the original comic. And while she's not quite the same character here, she played a major role in the story and held her own quite well. Mariko didn't fare quite as well. I never fully bought the romantic connection between her and Logan. The comic version, despite its hokey elements, is a bit more convincing. 
  • The end tag previewing next summer's X-Men: Days of Future Past was terrific. Patrick Stewart is back! So is Ian McKellan! I am now very much looking forward to that pic and find myself hoping Bryan Singer can really pull off an amazing movie that not only heals some of the wounds left by X-Men: The Last Stand, but also unifies the whole franchise and gives it an exciting way to go forward. My biggest concern is living up to the impact of the original comic book story, which has to be significantly fleshed out for a feature film.
  • I liked that there was a lot of Japanese spoken in the film, both with and without subtitles. 
  • While Viper was probably the least necessary addition to the movie, I really liked Svetlana Khodchenkova in the role. She had just the right amount of sexy sinister for a character like that.
  • The posters with the Japanese style artwork are great.
Here's the con side:

  • After a very satisfying and interesting set up, the final act is so conventional as to be boring. The Silver Samurai, as done in this movie, was far less interesting than in the comics. The big reveal of Harada as being inside the big robot suit is just plain dull and has almost no emotional impact.
  • I wish more had been done to play up the love triangle of the original comic, with Yukio being an obvious and very willing match for Logan, who just can't get over Mariko. That was a nice touch in the comic that this movie could have used a bit more of.
  • Viper is not well integrated into the story. She seems pretty unnecessary and her power is oddly portrayed and never explained. I don't recall Viper having any powers in the comics. But I do remember she somehow convinced Wolverine to willingly marry her for some reason. (I remember it was in Chris Claremont's return to the character in Wolverine #125-128 or so, but not the reasons behind that twist.) That might have been a more interesting element to play with here.
  • I hate the ripping out of Wolverine's claws. The bone claws, in a word, suck. I always thought the bone claws were the lamest thing ever done to the character. My problem with it is it makes absolutely no sense. We were told for decades that the claws were housed in some kind of bionic mechanism, which must have been confirmed by all the medical exams done on Logan by everyone from the Sentinels (as far back as The Uncanny X-Men #98) through the Shi'ar and onward. Even in the original Days of Future Past storyline, when the Sentinels burn off Wolverine's flesh, you can see the manmade mechanism that operates his claws in his bones. Of course, that's a future timeline Wolverine, so it's easy to explain away. But that doesn't mean it's still not a stupid idea.
  • No credit whatsoever for Chris Claremont, Frank Miller or Josef Rubinstein for coming up with the original comic-book story. Even more interesting, it appears Claremont doesn't get even a token payment, while Len Wein, who officially created Wolverine but had little to do with the character as he exists today, did.   
The Wolverine looks like a solid but not spectacular hit. So far, it's made about $113 million at the domestic box office and about $195 million overseas, for a decent total of $308 million on an estimated budget of $120 million. Anticipation for X-Men: Days of Future Past is running high, and it's clear Fox is going to continue to develop and release X-Men movies on a regular basis, thus preventing the rights from reverting to Marvel. The series appears to be on the upswing, with the well-received X-Men: First Class and now The Wolverine getting fans past the disappointments of X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine

I would love to see the franchise move past prequels and into new, fresh territory with new characters, new villains and new scenarios. After The Wolverine, it's looking more likely than before, and I think fans of the comics and the movies can be glad of that. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The 2013 Comic-Con Takeaway Post

It's been a week, and I finally feel like I have recovered from my one day at San Diego Comic-Con.

Visiting the show for the first time in three years, it was interesting to see how little had changed. Most of the booths were the same, offering much the same kind of material. It made me feel less like I had been missing out by not being at the show every single year, and that in itself was a relief.

Marvel Team-Up #74
With only one day, I cruised around the floor most of the time and hit some key booths, including my pals at Animation Magazine. I did a tiny bit of shopping, picking up an advance copy of Alter-Ego #120 from TwoMorrows, featuring a cover story on the Silver Age X-Men. I also picked up a Wonder Woman bendable figure for my daughter, who's become a big fan thanks to DVDs of the old Lynda Carter series, and a few inexpensive back issues, including Marvel Team-Up #74, featuring Spider-Man and the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time-Players (a.k.a. the original cast of Saturday Night Live). I've always been interested in this comic, but never had a chance to pick it up until now. I hadn't realized Chris Claremont wrote it, making it an even more interesting oddity from the late 1970s.

I didn't buy much more because, well, everything was so expensive. It seems every booth is pushing an "exclusive" item costing anywhere from $20 to $75 and up, and very little appeared to be discounted. Perhaps that's just a function of exhibitors needing to recoup as much as possible the rather expensive booth rate at the show. Either way, it put a dampener on my shopping interests, especially since almost everything I was interested in can be acquired via a local comics shop or online, often for less and without the need for me to lug it around the show. 

The highlight of the day was the Sequart: Advancing Comics as Art panel, during which I talked about my book, Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen, in conjunction with the upcoming documentary Comics in Focus: Chris Claremont's X-Men run on the series. Director Patrick Meaney and producer/cinematographer Jordan Rennert showed some footage from the doc. It was cool to see how well the shots they took of my original X-Men comics collection turned out, as they were going for a different look when presenting the work from an older, more analog era. 

I also jumped at the chance to join Patrick, Jordan and Sequart founder Julian Darius as they interviewed Louise Simonson for the Claremont documentary. I can now check her off my very short list of comics pros whose work I admire who have not yet had a chance to meet.

If there is one reliable result of attending Comic-Con, it is for me a revitalized interest in comics. I've been pulling out stuff to read ever since and have managed to catch up on some of my immense reading backlog to very enjoyable effect. I'll write about some of the more interesting stuff soon.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Random notes: Comic-Con, Pacific Rim, Sequart and Drive-ins

Just a few notes to pass the time while I try to find some time to read a few comics to write about here.

  • I will be attending San Diego Comic-Con on Thursday only! This will be my first trip to the Big Show in three years, I think. Very much looking forward to it! Anyone know of any particularly good new COMICS projects I should check out while I'm there? I think it's cool that Kazuo Koike is going to be there, though I doubt I'll be at all inclined to stand in a long line to meet him. Anyway, if you see me, say hi. I expect I will be mostly on the floor and avoiding the lines to get into panels, with one exception ...
  • That exception is the reason for my visit. I will be appearing on the Sequart: Advancing Comics as Art panel, Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in room 24ABC. Sequart, in case you don't know (and if you're reading this blog, how come you don't know?) published my book, Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen. They also have gotten into the movie business, with Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods, Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts, and a bunch of upcoming projects. I helped out a bit with their upcoming release, Comics in Focus: Chris Claremont's X-Men. I was interviewed for the film and provided some additional assets for the shoot. I'll be appearing on the panel to support this film and the filmmakers, Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennart, as well as Sequart founder Julian Darius. There should be lots of good stuff going on, so if you can attend only one panel at Comic-Con (lucky you!), make it this one!
  • Pacific Rim is a really fun movie. As I mentioned, I saw it a while back and wrote about the VFX work on the film for an upcoming issue of Animation Magazine (who also will be at Comic-Con, stop by booth 1535!) and with its release now imminent, I have to say I really had a fun time with this movie. It's crazy insane in all the right ways. And it's an original film! Not a sequel, not a reboot, not an adaptation — not a hoax! It's really cool and I think anyone who gives the movie a chance will be pleasantly surprised if not turned into a big fan.
  • Additional movie fun: Both Monsters University and Despicable Me 2 are also a lot of fun. I wrote extensively about MU for Animag – check out the cover story here — and it's funny and cool and looks great, through without rising to the level of Pixar's best. Me 2 impressed me with the quality of its animation, which looks absolutely terrific. The minions are hilarious and Steve Carell is really good as the weirdo Gru. Again, not quite as innovative as the first one, but still worth the time. 
  • I caught both those films — along with The Internship and a second viewing of Man of Steel — at the Vineland Drive-In Theater in City of Industry, Calif. This is an ideal setting for parents like myself, as 2-year-old Kaya can make all the noise in the car she wants without disturbing anyone else and then, after she falls asleep, my wife and I can enjoy a second movie for less than the price of one at the Arclight or a similar arena. The image quality is quite good, and the sound comes in over the FM radio, and it's a better experience by far than it was when I was a kid and you had to listen through those little window-mounted mono speakers. Drive-ins are few and far between these days, so I want to call attention to this little gem because it's a fun experience that I think many movie buffs with young families would enjoy.
That's it for now. Later.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

At the Movies: Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness and Pacific Rim

Henry Cavill as Superman in Warner Bros.' Man of Steel.
I pretty much only get to see movies I am writing about these days, so it's a good thing a lot of those are movies of interest. Here are some notes on my summer blockbuster viewings so far, including Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness and Pacific Rim.

I saw Man of Steel a few days before it was publicly released, as I wrote an article on the VFX in the movie for Animation Magazine. (It'll be in the issue out at Comic-Con, as well as online, but more about CCI in a moment).

There was a lot I liked about the movie. And, honestly, I'm surprised it's generated as much debate as it has. My first reaction was that the movie was really good. I very much liked the new take on Superman that Christopher Nolan, David Goyer and Zack Snyder had come up with. I liked Henry Cavill as Superman and Amy Adams was a terrific Lois Lane. Those are all very hard things to do. If I had one complaint, it was that the fights could have been trimmed back as the destruction becomes a bit overwhelming even though it's done incredibly well. I particularly liked one shot in the final fight between Zod and Superman where Zod punches him through four or five buildings, with the interior workings of each building exposed in incredible detail.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Catching Up with the X-Men, Part 2


It's interesting that X-Force, once the most laughably unnecessary re-launches in X-Men history, has become surprisingly fertile ground for the franchise in the past five or six years. Beginning with the Craig Kyle and Chris Yost revamp of the team as a covert operations unit for the X-Men, X-Force has been a consistently good and interesting read. (I will exempt the X-Force: Sex and Violence series, which painfully included not-so-subtle scenes of Domino offering — and giving – oral sex to Wolverine.) 

Marvel Now! turns X-Force into a franchise with the franchise, splitting the idea into two books: Cable and X-Force and the second series of Uncanny X-Force.

Starting with Uncanny X-Force, the covert ops concept mostly continues here, though with a mostly new cast including Storm, Spiral, Cluster and Puck along with returning mainstay Psylocke. This is a pretty messed up bunch of characters, with Psylocke having serious issues with Spiral over that whole blinding and bionic eyes episode way way back somewhen in the character's Marvel UK days. And then Cluster is a clone of Fantomex — and is in some way romantically involved with him.

Writer Sam Humphries does a nice job keeping things fun and action packed, but what I liked the most was the dominant role for Storm. I've said before that the character has seemed frequently lost since Chris Claremont left the X-Men in 1991, but reading Humphries version, it's almost like she never left. I do have reservations about Puck, a character I always liked best when Byrne wrote him in the original Alpha Flight run. I really despised the ridiculous origin Bill Mantlo came up with for the character, where he sacrificed his full size body to keep a demon genie trapped inside himself. Mantlo's run on Alpha Flight remains atop my list of Most Destructive and Regrettable Runs.

But, I digress. I like that Humphries makes Puck fun again, but I'm seeing near enough "eh's" in his dialog. Also, I don't recall him ever being quite so cosmopolitan, or even being from Saskatchewan. I always thought he was from Toronto, but whatever.

Oh, and Bishop is in the book, too.

The art is very solid and nice looking, with the vastly underrated Ron Garney on the first batch and the last couple of issues by Adrian Alphona of Runaways fame. I also like the redesigns on the costumes, with Psylocke in particular getting a nice full-body redesign that finally gets her out of the purple bathing suit Jim Lee designed in 1990. Overall, this is an entertaining and solid book, although I wouldn't say it's setting the world on fire.

Cable and X-Force on the other hand reads more like a straight Cable book. That's not to say there's not good stuff going on with the other characters, especially Colossus, long one of my favorites. But the supporting cast, which includes Domino, Forge, Doctor Nemesis, Hope Summers and Boom Boom is pretty nondescript. Domino and Boom Boom never really stood out as especially interesting characters, while Forge has lacked direction since 1987's Fall of the Mutants and Doctor Nemesis has always seemed like a bad caricature of Warren Ellis, if Warren were a member of the X-Men. This book comes in second to Uncanny X-Force for me, saved in large part by the excellent artwork of Salvador Larocca, who has long been one of the better pencilers at Marvel.

Moving on to Wolverine, there's two new series here, including a new main Wolverine title by Paul Cornell and Alan Davis, and Savage Wolverine, which looks to be more of an anthology series in the mode of Legends of the Dark Knight. On Wolverine, Cornell and Davis do a solid job of telling a good Wolverine story in more of the superhero mode. Davis' art is always worth looking at. Cornell's story works mainly as an action piece, giving Wolverine some cool stuff to do like bring down an airplane before it hits Yankee Stadium. If we're going to have this many Wolverine comics, at least these are a bit of fun if not much else.

Frank Cho writes and draws the first five issues of Savage Wolverine, which feature Logan in the Savage Land with Shanna the She-Devil. That gives Cho a chance to draw what he is best known for — attractive, well-endowed women. The story is not bad, but it's definitely on the lighter side of Wolverine. A bit of humor is always welcome in comics as grim as the mutant books often are, I just wish the attempts weren't so clumsy and were a bit more, you know, funny. This is a lot of eye candy, and it's really nice looking eye candy, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Savage Wolverine #6 features a new creative team, this time writer Zeb Wells and artist Joe Madureira. As you might expect with Joe Mad back on an X-book, this feels like a nostalgia trip back to 1997 or so. I overall like Madureira's art, which is expressive and shows the influences of animation and video games. But there's a cartoonish quality to it that has always seemed at odds with the general grimness of its tone. Anyways, this so far features Wolverine teaming with Elektra and Spider-Man and the Kingpin's in there, too, along with some new characters. It's a fast-paced comic with lots of fun quips and cool posing and it's a reminder that not everything about 1990s superhero comics were bad.

The light — with that being a very relative term when it comes to X-comics — tone of the Wolverine books is interesting given the thing that made the character popular in the first place was his edgy elements and the promise of real violence. I don't think a Wolverine book needs to be graphic, necessarily, but nothing about the character really stands out or works the way it could without more serious elements. Wolverine was always all about pain — managing his own and inflicting it on others. He should always be a bit uncomfortable and out of place, and these tales are awfully safe. This is certainly nothing new in the way Marvel has managed the character, but with so much of the company's output reading very solid and entertaining these days, it's a shame they couldn't take a little bit more of a chance with these books.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Catching Up with the X-Men, Part 1

All-New X-Men #1
The most well-read post I ever put on this blog was one that went up Feb. 23, 2012, in which I talked about breaking my 26-year weekly superhero comic-book habit.

More than a year later, I find myself drawn back to superhero comics, though not as much as I have been. I’ll start by saying I’m just not into DC’s The New 52. I’m sure there are some good books in the line, but nothing I’ve seen inspires me to invest the time and money required.

Pretty much the only thing that can get me to plunk down my coins and invest my time are my two favorite Marvel franchises: X-Men and Avengers. For me, X-Men was always the best idea Marvel had. I may have said this before, but it bears repeating: X-Men is at heart a science-fiction concept dressed up with superhero conventions. As such, it has a depth to it that straighter takes on the superhero genre generally lack. It certainly has helped it maintain a hold on my imagination and has the ability to suck me back in, repeatedly, throughout my life.

I stopped reading X-Men comics twice before. The first was in 1995, when the Age of Apocalypse came along at a time when my discontent with the X-Men titles in those post-Chris Claremont years was at a high. Like The New 52, it made a great jumping off point. It lasted a little more than a year before I was sucked back in around The Uncanny X-Men #332. And it didn’t last long — I was gone again by the time the Onslaught crossover arrived only a few issues later. This second absence lasted, again, about a year or so before I came back on board. The second return was aided by my move to California in 1996 and the discovery of numerous cheap back-issue sources that made it easy and fun to fill in the gaps in all the various series.

So it was again that, after the horrid event called Schism and the inevitable re-launch of The Uncanny X-Men after 544 issues, that it was again time to say good-bye. And, again, it held for a little more than a year before access to cheap back issues overcame my resistance and pulled me right back in.

The break has, overall, been good for me and I come back to the X-Men family of books with fresh eyes and a new appreciation for how much they’ve managed to improve in my absence. While they are in no way great works of art or classics of the genre or medium, the X-Men books have become a rather enjoyable line of comics. More than at any time in recent memory, the various books have — for the most part — a reason to exist, some kind of point to them, and are nicely executed in both script and, especially, art.

I have to give kudos to Marvel for double shipping series like All-New X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men. At first, I thought that would just be too much, but it turns out to make those series even more engaging because there’s a decent new episode coming out pretty much every week. I have heard some store owners complain how difficult it can be for them to handle orders on those titles, but overall they seem to sell well enough that no one’s nose is too far out of place.

Having recently read through pretty much all the Marvel Now! issues of nine different X-Men series, I’ll run though them all very quickly. This will take more than one post and spoiler warnings are in full effect for those who haven’t read these books.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Byrne's The High Ways veers off course

John Byrne is at his best when he’s doing science fiction. Take Next Men as the ultimate example. That series followed the old-school rules of science fiction, by setting its premise and following through as realistically as possible. Byrne’s affection for classic Star Trek (i.e., the good stuff, not the recent reboot flicks from Jar Jar Abrams) and its attempts very early on to be the TV version of classic science fiction literature is obvious.

A lot of that drives The High Ways (IDW, $3.99 each) a four-issue sci-fi series that should be better than it is. The story begins with rookie Eddie Wallace joining the crew of the space freighter Carol Anne, along with first mate Marilyn Jones and Captain Jack Cagney. After Wallace is appropriately initiated into space life (always wear your suit!) the Carol Anne heads out to pick up some cargo on Europa. That’s where the mystery begins, with a strange creature spotted outside the science base there and no cargo for Cagney to pick up.

What follows is an odd story with a bunch of twists and turns that end up feeling very random instead of satisfyingly twisty. This is the kind of story that attempts to avoid the common sci-fi criticism of scientific inaccuracy by being as scientifically realistic as possible. And it achieves that aspect of it, but in doing so it fails to give its characters any real personality or tell a story with sufficient emotion or reason for the reader to fully engage in this world.

Byrne’s art remains consistent and I still think no one draws spaceship-style tech stuff as well as he does. The storytelling is very solid and Byrne’s style has evolved over the years into something looser and more expressive than his classic 1970s and 1980s work on X-Men, Fantastic Four and Superman. It’s quite a nice change if you can just let go of expecting his work to have that same clean and pristine quality and just enjoy it for what it is, and what it is is some damn fine drawing.

I would check out a sequel to The High Ways — I think there is something in the approach and style. A more engaging story could build this up into something really cool.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Thief of Thieves steals the show

I’m not the biggest fan of crime comics — I like them, but am not compelled to read a whole lot of them with the notable exceptions of series like Stray Bullets and Sin City, neither of which seems likely to return soon. (I was going to include 100 Bullets in that comment, but I just saw there’s a Brother Lono sequel miniseries coming soon ... .)

But Robert Kirkman’s Thief of Thieves is a really fun read. This second arc (issues #8-13, Image Comics, $2.99 each) is, I think, better than the first. This arc sees master thief Conrad Paulson, a.k.a. Redmond, in some family trouble as his son, Auggie, gets in deep trouble trying to follow in his old man’s footsteps. That sets up some conflict with his ex-wife and the cops trying to nail him. Of course, Conrad has to step in when Auggie’s girlfriend is kidnapped and the best-laid plans fall victim to Murphy’s Law.


None of this is particularly innovative stuff, but it’s very slickly done. The characters are believable and their motivations clear. It’s also not too bogged down by details and arcane politics. It’s an easy series to get into and follow, with nice, spare scripting from James Asmus.

The art by Shawn Martinbrough is a major selling point. His style is modern, clear and moody but not as cartoony or abstract as a lot of crime comics seem to be. He’s also doing all the art, on every issue to date, with coloring by Felix Serrano. That gives the book a consistent look that way too many comics fail to achieve.

My thought after finishing the arc was that this would make a great TV series for USA Network, where it would fit in very nicely alongside Burn Notice and White Collar. It looks like exactly that idea is in the works at AMC, which makes sense with that network being home to Kirkman’s mega-hit The Walking Dead.

That this comic is published on a regular schedule is also something very much worth noting. It’s just another factor that makes this an interesting read and a title very much worth picking up.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Perky art, story keep up interest in Sex


Joe Casey is at his best when he’s experimenting. That’s why his explicitly subversive comics like Automatic Kafka and Butcher Baker stand out so far ahead of his work on Marvel or DC superheroes despite their short runs.

So, what could be more subversive than a comic titled Sex (Image Comics, $2.99 each), which evokes instant interest but is also vague enough that there’s no clue in it to what the book might actually be about.

What it’s definitely not is a traditional “adults-only” tale in the style of late-night weekend programming on Cinemax. There is sex in the book, and it’s relevant to the story. But there’s a lot of other stuff going on here, starting with Simon Cooke, a retired and repressed superhero who returns to run the mega company his family started in futuristic but kinky Saturn City.

Simon’s repression is tested by Annabelle LaGravenese, who was formerly a Catwoman-like villian to Cooke’s Batman. Now owner of a sex club, her appearance confuses Cooke as to what exactly it is he’s repressing — the desire to play superhero or just plain sex.

The art by Piotr Kowalski is terrific. This has a very European look to it, very much owing a huge debt to the works of Moebius in both art style and coloring. Even the lettering evokes Moebius’ work, with colored highlights used instead of bold copy to emphasize certain words.

I’m still not exactly sure a lot is happening plot wise in this book, but after three issues, I’m still interested in Sex, so I’ll be back for the fourth.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

There's nothing recycled about Great Pacific


Another entry in the eco-thriller sub-genre is Great Pacific #1-6 (Image Comics, $2.99 each), from writer Joe Harris and artist Martin Morazzo.

This takes a very different tack from The Massive, focusing on a fascinating real-life phenomenon known as the Great Pacific Gyre — a spot in the middle of the ocean where tons of plastic refuse has congealed into a kind of floating island. Harris injects Chas Worthington III, an idealistic oil company heir, into this environment, bringing along with him an experimental technology that could break down plastic waste into useful components like oil or fresh water. 

After staging his own death and embezzling billions from the family business, Chas and his major domo Alex set about inhabiting the gyre and establishing it under international law as the nation of New Texas. Of course, very little goes according to plan, with pirates, lost nukes, native populations and a mutant octopus entering the mix. 

Harris’ story is more fantastic, but with the gyre itself being real, it works really well. Morazzo is obviously influenced by Frank Quitely, though his style evolves for the better over the course of the first six issues. The colors by Tiza Studio are also of note for adding to the distinctive look of Morazzo’s open-line style with a distinctive and consistent palette that never overwhelms or obscures. 

The ending to the first arc includes a nice surprise twist that I think will make the second arc more grounded and possibly even more exciting. This book has become a genuine hit for Harris and Morozzo and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wood's eco-thriller is Massive-ly entertaining


The Massive #1-11 (Dark Horse Comics, $3.50 each) is a highly engrossing series that’s probably the best entry in the relatively new (to comics, anyway) sub-genre of eco-thrillers. Written by Brian Wood with art on various issues by Kristian Donaldson, Garry Brown, Gary Erskine and Declan Shalvey, The Massive takes place after a yearlong series of ecological disasters collectively known as The Crash has radically changed the Earth’s surface. Rising oceans have put major cities under water while other disasters have knocked out power, technology and communications with large portions of the world.

In this bleak setting is Callum Israel, leader of a pacifist, direct-action marine conservation organization called The Ninth Wave. Based on a converted warship known as the Kapital, Israel and his international crew are both struggling to survive and to continue their mission of conserving the world’s oceans as best they can. The series starts with an over-arching mystery, as the Kapital’s sister ship, The Massive, has gone missing for months. Israel believes The Massive is still out there, somewhere, and the search for the ship is ongoing. In between that, there are pirates, utopian communities and a constant need to resupply the ship’s food, water and fuel stores. 

This series benefits immensely from Wood’s research and his broad, international view. The characters have complex but believable backgrounds and hail from all over the world. They include first mate Lars, the can-do Kenyan Mary (also Israel’s lover), and Mag, a former colleague of Israel’s from his days with a Blackwater-style private security (a.k.a. Mercenary) group. No one is quite what they seem and their stories and viewpoints are revealed naturally through the series, offering a welcome relief from extensive contrived exposition. 

The series is so far broken down into three-issue arcs, though the individual issues stand up on their own very well, again providing relief from the unfortunate norm in comics publishing. The art is overall very good, with Donaldson setting the tone in the first three issues with most of the rest of the series drawn in a similar and satisfyingly gritty style by Brown. The colors by Dave Stewart are a major draw, as are the covers and backmatter pages, which have Wood’s very welcome design fingerprints all over them. 

If there’s a flaw to the series, it would be the deliberate pacing. A fascinating premise and characters like this cry out for stories that are ambitiously broad and that just plain move a bit faster. The Massive is a bit of a slow burn so far, but it’s a consistently fascinating and satisfying one that I look forward to seeing build itself up into an even better series over time.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Happy! is upbeat, but not ecstatic


Happy! #1-4 (Image Comics, $2.99 each) is a creator-owned miniseries from Grant Morrison — his first in a long while after a very long stretch writing big superhero franchises for, mostly, DC Comics. 

The art is by Darick Robertson, of Transmetropolitan and The Boys fame, and the pair are quite well matched for this story of a cop turned hitman whose life is saved by a flying blue horse named Happy that appears before his eyes and guides him through a rough Christmas misadventure. 

Robertson’s art really sells this hard, and mostly succeeds. The story itself reads like Morrison is channeling Warren Ellis, though maybe that’s just the unavoidable Transmet link, and works reasonably well without rising to the level of Morrison’s signature work. I think three issues might have worked better than four, but it makes for a decent, slightly off-kilter read with some really nice art.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Braga's TNG miniseries is great Star Trek comfort food


I’m a long-time Star Trek junkie. The original TV series became an instant favorite when I was 6 years old and it was shown each afternoon after school in syndication. Star Trek: The Next Generation was an immediate favorite of mine when it came on the air in 1987 — at a time when there was almost no sci-fi, fantasy or genre fare to be found anywhere on TV — and it remains one of my favorites.


Star Trek: The Next Generation — Hive #1-4 (IDW, $3.99 each) boasts as its key selling point a story by Brannon Braga, who was a writer and eventual executive producer on TNG and many of its theatrical and television followups. The key influence here is the 1996 feature film Star Trek: First Contact, which Braga wrote with Ronald D. Moore, and is generally regarded as the best by far of the four TNG movies.




This series begins in the 29th century, by which time the Borg have fully assimilated the entire galaxy and Capt. Jean-Luc Picard reigns with the Borg Queen as Locutus. Realizing the Borg have hit a dead-end, he concocts a time-travel plot to alter history. Back in the 24th century, the Borg seek the help of the Federation to stop the alien Voldranaii, which they claim they cannot assimilate and which poses an equal threat to both civilizations. 

That set-up is enough to get me on board for all four issues, especially when the script by Terry Matalas and Travis Fichett, and the art by Joe Corroney convey the classic feel of the show so well. As has often been the case with Star Trek comics, the storytelling style of the TV show comes off as a bit slow and talky. But it retains the spirit of Star Trek and the heyday of the DC Star Trek comics (the best ever done for the franchise, I think) from the 1980s and 1990s enough to make me think there’s still a future for TNG outside some horrid J.J. Abrams-style reboot.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Star Wars #1-3 tries hard to recreate late-1970s excitement

This is a good Star Wars comic book series, but not a great one.

Star Wars #1
The good parts of Star Wars #1-3 (Dark Horse, $2.99 each) are the intangibles: This is a comic set right after the very first movie (Episode IV, not Episode I) and therefore carries none of the weighty baggage the franchise began to carry with the complications of The Empire Strikes Back. It evokes the most simple pleasures of the series, back when Star Wars was just a super-cool, exciting movie and not a mythology or a franchise. For folks like me, who were kids in the summer of 1977 completely enthralled by the movie, that’s pretty powerful stuff. The covers by Alex Ross, the simple cover logo all evoke that simpler time and pure childhood love of Star Wars.

As for the insides, it’s pretty good, but I have some quibbles. Brian Wood overall has done a good job extrapolating events from Episode IV, and his focus on Princess Leia is very welcome indeed. But there are some areas where it falls short of the excitement a Star Wars title like this promises. A lot of it comes in the characterizations of the main characters: Luke, Leia and and Darth Vader. I’ll start with Vader, who Wood writes as embarrassed by the defeat at Yavin. Palpatine punishes Vader in his own special Sith way, handing control of Vader’s command vessel to another officer. These issues show a certain amount of political jockeying at the higher levels of the Empire, and that Vader is not very adept at it. (At least not yet — we’re only three issues in). Episode IV and V showed Vader as being so good at being bad that it’s scary. And seeing him mope about the Emperor taking away his keys to the family car is out of line with that.

Star Wars #2
Looking at Luke, Wood has him having grown up rather quickly. Episode IV showed him to be a promisingly gifted pilot albeit still naive, cocky and hotheaded about a lot of things. Here, he’s flirting with another female pilot and declared one of the top pilots in the Rebel Alliance. That may be true, but I don’t think anyone goes from day-dreaming teenager to some one so self-assured so quickly. That maturation is at the heart of Luke’s arc as a character throughout the trilogy.

And, lastly, Leia. It’s always nice to see the girls front and center in Star Wars, because there’s so few of them in the movies and, I think, so much demand from the legions of female Star Wars fans for more. I liked Wood showing Leia mourning the loss of Alderaan, but take issue with portraying her as a kick-ass pilot and ruthless soldier capable of killing an Imperial pilot with a point-blank laser blast as she does in the first issue. I always thought Leia’s strengths were more in her leadership abilities, her intelligence and a compassion that compelled her to act. In the original trilogy, we never see Leia fly anything except the speeder bike in Return of the Jedi. She completely sat out the battle of Yavin itself, and it makes no sense to ground so talented a pilot in such a last-ditch effort to save the base.

Star Wars #3
Those issues aside, the book is attractive, slick and entertaining to read. The art is by Carlos D’Anda, who delivers a clean and clear look for the series with a modern comics art style. It’s a bit cartoony in some cases for my taste, and I wish Han Solo looked his age here, but as someone who really digs the radical approach Carmine Infantino brought to Star Wars comics in the late 1970s, I can handle it and maybe it’ll grow on me. The Alex Ross covers are a huge selling point, though I can’t help but think the first three were a bit busy with their collage style — the more I look at them the more I have to think about what I’m looking at and the more I wonder what’s going on.

With Lucasfilm now part of the Disney machinery and Dark Horse’s Star Wars license widely expected to be living on borrowed time, I hope Wood and D’Anda have enough time with this series to really ramp up the excitement and deliver some Star Wars comics that add a chapter worthy of the name.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Comics Wandering: From Gold Key Star Trek, to Howard Chaykin and more

Wow, time sure flies when you’re too busy to read comics. What have I been doing? Well, I’ve got a toddler, a new puppy, I did a lot of interviews and wrote a lot of articles for the just-concluded awards season, tried brewing beer, and I’ve been focusing on learning to play the guitar well enough that it doesn’t sound like a chainsaw cutting through a chain-link fence. I also made a guitar from a kit — a Lake Placid Blue Telecaster style that, after much tweaking and adjustment, is at last starting to play well.

And I have been reading comics, when there’s time and comics I want to read. It’s just been very inconsistent reading and a bit of an oddball selection compared to the weekly superhero habit. I am finding the overall comics habit is very hard to break, if not impossible for me to break at this point in my life. I admit to slipping back into some old habits, but I’ll elaborate on that in a bit.

I admit it: My name is Tom and I’m a comic-holic. I especially still love single issue comics. The collecting part of the hobby remains one that I find satisfying in a way that reading a collected edition is not. This isn’t true for everything, but it is for things like superhero comics, which are still written and drawn for the serial comic format, no matter how quickly they got to collected editions.

So, what have I been reading? Lots of Image comics, which for all the variations in the quality of its output, remains the only dependably creative publisher of mainstream superhero, adventure and genre comics.

I’ll just run down some of the cool stuff I’ve read and liked since my last, long-ago post to this blog. I will be unsurprised if no one is reading or still checking this blog, but just in case there’s a few of you out there, thank you! If you're new, please be sure to check out my book, Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen, available in print from Amazon and on Kindle.

Last summer, I had two comic book pursuits, both inspired during a trip to the excellent Queen City Comics in Cincinnati, Ohio. First was completing my collection of Gold Key Star Trek comics, which I now have done. I have been a Star Trek fan ever since I first saw the show in the fall of 1975, when ITV began re-running the series weekdays at the perfect hour for me to catch it after coming home from a hard day in Grade 1. As a kid, I remember buying a few issues of the Gold Key series off the stands, but it never impressed me very much. I thought the stories were silly, such as issue #46 (Aug. 1977), in which aliens gave Spock a giant brain and he became slightly villainous before Kirk talked him down.

I got into Trek comics much more seriously in the late 1980s, when DC started publishing its second ongoing Star Trek series and launched a regular series for Star Trek: The Next Generation. On TV, The Next Generation was really kicking into high gear and I just fell right into being a pretty serious Trek fan for the next seven or eight years. In addition to collecting all of the DC output from that point on, as well as the Malibu Star Trek: Deep Space Nine stuff, I collected all the previous DC series, the Marvel series and made a pretty good start on the Gold Key series. My interest in Star Trek peaked by the mid-1990s, and Marvel’s second round of Trek comics just was not very good, in my opinion. (Remember the Star Trek/X-Men crossovers? Yikes.)

Cut to about 10 years ago, when a friend of my Dad’s had come across a large collection of comics from his parents‘ old book shop and set about sorting them and selling them on eBay. He reached out to me right at the start because he knew nothing about comics, so I helped him with the basics about getting an Overstreet guide, conventions and what to really expect from eBay sales. In thanks, he let me pick out some stuff when I was over visiting and came across a near-complete set of the Gold Key Star Treks. These were easily accessible and time was short, so I took them as compensation and was very pleased. I still had a few holes, though, and would every once in a while fill one in when I came across an issue I needed in a shop or convention.

But this past summer, when I hit Queen City Comics, they had pretty much all but two or three of the issues The prices and conditions where great, so I bit the bullet and bought them. That lead to me heading onto eBay to fill in the last two or three issues I needed, and finally the last issue — #9, with the photo cover of Spock from the episode “Amok Time” — arrived to complete the set. These are cool comics and I really dig them now in a way I did not twenty or so years ago. Yes, they’re goofy and at times completely contradictory to the show itself, but they have a unique energy and the art is often terrific. Plus, I still enjoy the tactile experience of reading an old comic printed on slightly yellowed newsprint.

My second summer comics pursuit involved the works of Howard Chaykin. This pursuit also started at Queen City, where I found mint condition copies of both Time2 graphic novels and the Epic collected edition, The Complete Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, which I had never even heard of before seeing it in the bin. All were cover price, and I scooped them right up. I also found a few other 1970s Chaykin bits, including the Monark Starstalker issue of Marvel Premiere (which I wrote about last summer) and a couple of Dominic Fortune tales. Chaykin’s art has always been a joy, especially when he’s doing painted work printed on high quality paper.

Along with this came The Art of Howard Chaykin, written by Robert Greenberger and published by the nice folks at Dynamite! (As an aside: Greenberger used to edit the DC Star Trek comics and printed a couple of my letters way back when. I always thought, based on his thoughtful letter columns, he was one of the most professional and likable editors in the business.) I worked my way through these books and really enjoyed them, following them up with a few digs into the archives for some other Chaykin stuff from the 1990s, such as Midnight Men and Power and Glory.

The Time2 books were especially fascinating. I found the plot a bit hard to follow on my first read, even though I thoroughly enjoyed everything else about the books. After reading the Greenberger book with Chaykin saying it was heavily influenced by his interest in jazz music of the 1930s, it made a lot more sense and my second reading was even more enjoyable.

During my one convention visit last year, to the Long Beach Comic Con, I stopped by and chatted with Chaykin — who I had met a number of times over the past ten years — and chatted with him about the books. The Stars My Destination is a really interesting adaptation. I had read the novel years and years ago and remembered a bit about it but it hadn’t made the deep impression on me that Frank Herbert’s Dune or Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End had. I enjoyed (and surely understood) much more of the book as an adult, and really dug Chaykin’s interpretation of it. You can’t go wrong with a couple hundred pages of painted Chaykin art from the late 1970s.

And then, there’s Black Kiss 2. I waited until all six issues were out before sitting down to read this and was happily surprised with how great it was. It’s been a long time since I read the original Black Kiss (I have it in single issues and a collected edition — somewhere) but I remembered enough for this to make sense. It’s both a prequel and a sequel to the original, and it jumps around through a lot of different time periods that allow Chaykin to draw all the stuff he likes and/or is good at — cars, cityscapes, men’s fashion, jazz musicians and, of course, lots of dirty, dirty sex. All in crisp, beautiful black and white! I don’t know if the climax of the book was as satisfying as it could have been, but the ride was definitely worth it.

I haven’t read anything in the past year from DC’s The New 52 because it just plain fails to interest me in any way. I liked a few of the series at the start, but the way series suffered sometimes radical, unexplained, and usually arbitrary changes in tone, premise and creative teams debunked any true creative rationale for the relaunch. It made for a great jumping off point, and I’ve not missed any of those comics or characters. I keep hearing how great Batman is these days, and I am sure it is good because they do have some good creators on those books and Batman is far and away DC’s best character. But I still find myself uninterested. Having read so many good (and bad) Batman stories, it’s almost like my brain has no more room for Batman comics unless they’re truly outstanding, i.e. true classics in the making, on a par with Batman: Year One or the great Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams collaborations of the now-distant past.

I was always more of a Marvel fan, so my feelings for Marvel in general and the X-Men in particular are much more complicated and deserving of a post all its own.

A few more comics I’ve read and liked include Saga, Thief of Thieves, Grant Morrison’s Happy!, Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ The Secret Service, Harbinger, The Massive, the new Star Wars ongoing from Dark Horse, John Byrne’s new sci-fi series High Ways, The End Times of Bram and Ben, Star Trek: The Next Generation — Hive, and my favorite new comic in the last year, Joe Harris and Martin Morazzo’s Great Pacific. I’ll try to go into more detail on those in another post.

Here’s hoping it won’t be six months until I write it. Cheers!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

DC Quick Reads: Punk Rock Jesus, Dial H, He-Man

I get review copies, sometimes. Here's three from DC I read recently:

Punk Rock Jesus #1 (DC/Vertigo)


Punk Rock Jesus #1 is the best new comic I've read from DC/Vertigo in ages. It's an old-fashioned, black-and-white indie comic about a reality show that's going to take DNA from the shroud of Turin, clone it and "bring back" Jesus Christ. Written and drawn by Sean Murphy, it's full of that good ol' punk-rock indie spirit of the early 1980s and comes off as a mad little bit of all right.

Dial H #1 (DC Comics)
Dial H #1 is written by acclaimed sci-fi novelist China Mieville, and proves that it's not always easy to transition successfully from one medium to another. Honestly, I was completely lost in this story — I don't think I understood anything that was happening in this story, so I won't be picking up any further issues. The Brian Bolland cover, however, is quite nice — though that's not saying anything new.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #1 is another book that confounds me. I was never a fan as a kid, being just old enough to have stopped playing with toys or watching cartoons by the time this one came along. I know next to nothing about He-Man or the story, so I'm definitely not the target audience for this book. This appears to be a complete reboot, starting over at the beginning and showing how blond woodsman Adam begins the journey that will transform him into He-Man. We only get foreshadowing of this, so He-Man isn't even really in this comic. It's pretty standard stuff for DC these days, and I do give the book props for looking better than a He-Man comic has a right be, thanks to Philip Tan and Ruy Jose. What's most disappointing to me is that this is written by James Robinson. Yes, James Robinson, the guy who wrote such great comics as The Golden Age, Starman, Leave it to Chance, Bluebeard, etc. And he's writing a toy comic for DC. Maybe he's a big fan of the character and wants to do it, but it seems like a big problem for the industry if a guy as talented and established as Robinson is reduced to doing a toy revival comic instead of something original that could reach a wider audience than adults who once played with He-Man toys.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #1
(DC Comics)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Comic of the Day: Howard Chaykin's Marvel Premiere #32 (1976)

Marvel Premiere #32 (Oct. 1976)
I'll be heading down to the comics shop today to pick up Howard Chaykin's Black Kiss II #1, which I'm sure will be worth the effort. I've been on a bit of a Chaykin kick lately, so today I'll offer a quick look at an oldie I picked up on a recent trip: Marvel Premiere #32 (Oct. 1976), featuring Monark Starstalker!

This is an early effort by Chaykin as both writer and artist, and it unfortunately shows. The good stuff is the artwork, which is sleek and well-designed. It's pretty unusual stuff for Marvel at the time, though the style seen here would become more familiar with both Chaykin's later work and Frank Miller's style on his original Daredevil run. The individual panels and pages are well-designed and look decidedly un-comic-book-y for the era. Chakyin goes heavy on the blacks and it looks most like Chaykin's work on Star Wars #1. (I believe Roy Thomas stated in an issue of Alter-Ego that I don't have handy to confirm that it was this issue that prompted the Lucasfilm folks to specifically request Chaykin draw the Star Wars comic.)

While this looks great, it's a complete mess to read. The story nominally involves a guy named Monark Starstalker, who's a kind of bounty hunter pursuing a target on a remote planet. It's a simple premise, but it gets bogged down in clunky exposition intended to inject a sense of reality into this world. The character is a prototypical Chaykin hero: hard-boiled, tough and irresistible to the ladies.

This book is also awfully murky looking — the heavy inks just didn't translate well into the printing processes used for comics at the time. It'd be nice to see this done on better paper that could present the images more sharply and vividly.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Last issues: Star Trek #61 and Marvel Team-Up #150

For some reason, I've always found final issues of comic book series to be of particular interest, especially ones from the pre-Internet, pre-fan press days. I'm always curious to see if there was any kind of attempt to wrap up the series creatively, or whether there was any kind of notice or explanation to readers that the book was going away.

Here is a couple of examples:

Star Trek #61 (Gold Key)
Star Trek #61 (March 1979) was the final issue of the original Trek comics series, published from 1967-1979 by Gold Key. I've long been a huge Trek fan and have all but eight issues from this series. (I'm missing 9-11, 14-16 and 58-59, in case anyone is interested in selling to me.) The Gold Key series was a real mixed bag. Some issues featured stories that deviated so radically from the Star Trek style that they are Trek in name only. Others, especially the later issues, were much better. They always featured nice art and, except for a couple issues like this particular one, very cool painted or photo covers. Also, there were no issue numbers on the cover, at least until this issue.

Marvel had long wanted the rights to do Star Trek comics, but was unable to get them away from Gold Key. That changed when Star Trek: The Motion Picture came along in late 1979. Paramount was looking to emulate the success of Star Wars with the picture, and Marvel was by this point looking like a pretty hot partner for this kind of licensing given the huge success of its Star Wars comic. So the plug was pulled on the Gold Key series, with this being the last one.

The story by George Kashdan is pretty entertaining. The Enterprise and the Klingons are both looking to secure a source of dilithium from an alien planet. The mysterious leader of the planet strikes a deal first with the Klingons. Kirk's not pleased by this, and he's even less pleased when Spock finds out this dilithium is synthetic and therefore highly unstable. The mysterious leader is revealed to be Harry Mudd, whose scam now threatens to destroy the Klingons' vessel and start a war between the and the Federation — unless Kirk can stop it. The art by Al McWilliams is nice and polished — it's clear and attractive and tells the story simply in that Gold Key style. It's a really fun Trek comic.

And there's absolutely no indication that it's the last issue of the title. There's no letters page, no blurb on the cover, no nothing. I've read online that a script exists for issue 62, so the end obviously came quickly for Gold Key's version of Star Trek.

Marvel Team-Up #150 (Marvel)
Going in the completely opposite direction is Marvel Team-Up #150 (Feb. 1985), which alters the logo to read "The Last Marvel Team-Up," and features a dejected Spidey in the corner box. The cover itself is a great Barry Windsor-Smith portrait of Spidey and the X-Men as they follow the cover blurbs' advice and observe "A moment's silence ... before the action begins -- ."

The story itself isn't exactly an obvious finale. Written by Louise Simonson, the story sees Juggernaut go after the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak so he can give it (and Juggernaut powers) to his pal Black Tom Cassidy on his birthday. Black Tom is less than thrilled, and chaos ensues as both Spidey and the X-Men get involved in stopping the destruction. It's a solid, mid-1980s Marvel comic, which means it has an actual story, competent and clear art from Greg LaRocque and Mike Esposito, and a lot of action. (All things Marvel should think about putting in its current releases.)

There is a blurb on the letters page from editor Danny Fingeroth announcing that MTU is indeed ending, but will be replaced by a new series called The Web of Spider-Man in six weeks. Of course, the "The" was dropped, and Web had a long life of its own.