Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Totally Cliché End of Year Post

Here we are on the verge of a new decade, and we’re all burdened with the obligatory self-reflection that comes with the glorified holiday that is New Year’s. For many, the only change that will last is the hangover, and even that will hopefully be short lived. I’ll put aside my other posts for another day, and acknowledge the elephant in the room. Enter the obligatory “Top ______ of the Year” list! Since I’m not a huge fan of overrated milestones, or randomly ranking things, this post may come off more snarky than usual. I promise to be back to my chipper self in about 5 days. And my apologies for the lack of images, I'm in Australia, it's 90 degrees, I'm melting.  (Images Updated, 1/1/10) Enjoy!

Top 9 Books of 2009 I Would Pay You to Read

9. Detective Comics
Publisher: DC
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: J. H. Williams III

I can’t plug this book enough (previous Detective review). Batwoman’s days in Detective are numbered, as I’ve already seen promo shots of the various ways Batman will return (two words: time travel). Let’s hope there is room in the DCU for a Batwoman book!

8. Anything Dave Stewart Colored in 2009

Publisher(s): DC, Dark Horse

You can’t really go wrong with that recommendation. Detective Comics. Hellboy. Umbrella Academy. Joss Whedon’s Sugar Shock. It’s not a coincidence, the guy definitely keeps some talented company!

7. Strange Tales
Publisher: Marvel
Writer(s): Various
Artist(s): Various

This isn’t really a hard sell, mostly because it kept selling out at several stores. For those of you who didn’t get a glimpse of it on the shelf, this three-issue mini is worth hunting down. Each issue contains short stories by various artists and writers, showing the humorously twisted side of Marvel characters from past and present. It’s a nice little break from the deadly serious reality of the Marvel Universe post Secret Invasion (dullsville in my opinion!) and showcases some hilarious and eclectic artwork not usually seen in superhero books (Tony Millionaire draws Iron Man fighting henchman made of salami, if that gives you any indication of what to expect). On second thought, I will not pay you to read this book, that would be ridiculous. 

6. Ender’s Game & Ender’s Shadow TPB’s
Publisher: Marvel
Writer: Christopher Yost, Mike Carey (Ender's Shadow)
Artist(s): Pasqual Ferry, Sebastian Fiumara (Ender's Shadow)

These mini series follow two boys, Ender and Bean, as they enter Battle School, an elite training program that exists to find and create Earth’s future war mastermind. Released simultaneously, these were not only fantastic adaptations of the Orson Scott Card novels, but they served as solid reads for anyone looking for a good sci-fi book as well. With the individual issues running $3.99 a book, you’ll save some money getting the trades and won’t miss out on any extras like letters pages or articles in the back. A good point of entry for the sci-fi fan looking to get into comics.

5. Powers Volume 1
Publisher: Icon (Marvel)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Aritst: Michael Avon Oeming

This didn’t even come out in 2009! What a wacky list. Seeing how I just discovered Powers in the last year, and it’s getting re launched for about the third time, I thought it could use a plug. With twelve volumes already out, you’ve got some catching up to do! If Law & Order took place in a world where superheroes were prevalent and worshipped like celebrities, and contained overarching storylines, it would resemble Powers.

4. Green Lantern Corps
Publisher: DC
Writer: Peter J. Tomassi
Artist(s): Patrick Gleason and Rebecca Buchman

After the big fat jumble that was Final Crisis, I wasn’t too keen on picking up any event crossover tie in books. Blackest Night sounded cool, so I’d check it out. But seeing how Rage of the Red Lanterns was so damn good, I got a bit of Lantern fever and added both Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps to my list this year. And I gotta tell ya, the latter has been a lot more exciting. The moral questions being raised about the leadership of the Corps in this book make the events of Green Lantern seem like petty personal dramas. If you want more epic space action, this is the book for you!

3. House of Mystery
Publisher: Vertigo (DC)
Writers: Matthew Sturges and various
Artist(s): Luca Rossi and various

Am I the only one reading this book? It’s not making the kind of waves it should, people. I’m not going to review it again, so I’ll just link to my previous post. I will add this for you Fables fans though, this series must be taking some of that book's creative juju, cause House of Mystery is going places while Fables seems to still be recovering from its crossover experiment.

2. The last 51 issues of X-Factor
Publisher: Marvel
Writer: Peter David
Artist: Marco Santucci and various

Okay, so they just renumbered this series, which is a great way to pull in new readers. Because jumping in at issue 200 is a great place to start! Concerned with the ventures of a group of mutant gumshoes, X-Factor has survived a lot of editorial meddling. Messiah Complex issues that seemed to go nowhere. Secret Invasion crossovers involving She Hulk. Moving the detectives to Detroit. But with Peter David as the writer for its entire run, X-Factor has been worth sticking with through the occasional forced sidetrack. Maddrox and crew face a lot of changes in 09, the least of which includes tackling time travel paradoxes, the birth of a mutant baby, some dude on dude action, and always with the signature X-Factor witty banter.

 1. Scalped
Publisher: Vertigo (DC)
Writer: Jason Aaron
Aritst(s): R.M. Guera, Davide Furno and Francesco Francavilla

Scalped is always a hard sell, mostly because it’s difficult to describe without making it sound so bleak. The last year of Scalped has been just as gut wrenchingly bitter as when the series started three years ago. It has gradually shifted from a book about undercover FBI agent Dashiell Bad Horse working his hometown Indian reservation, to an ensemble book about life at the bottom of the barrel. No one in this series has good luck and 2010 doesn’t look much brighter. It’s pretty grim stuff, definitely a gripping drama – and with full confidence I can say that there isn’t another comic like it being published today.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Genuine Nerd - Part II

 Here is Pat holding down the register. Challengers doesn't glow, that's just a light leak in my camera.

In showcasing comic book fans, and continuing with my favorite comic book store employees, I bring you the proprietor of Challengers Comics + Conversation, Pat Brower. Anyone who knows Pat will tell you, they are the luckier party.

Having opened Challengers with W. Dal Bush just a year and a half ago, Pat and company have already claimed a spot among the wide-ranging Chicago comic book scene (Chicagoans have an insane amount of stores to choose from). It’s a store that shares many qualities with Pat’s personality: instantly welcoming, eclectic, and often host to some killer parties. If you are in the Chicago area and have yet to visit Challengers, make the trip sooner rather than later – I guarantee it will become part of your comic book buying routine. But back to Pat! Even if you know him, you probably won’t ever have his taste in comics pegged. He could probably find a common interest with just about anyone who walks into his store, whether it’s a love of Buffy, Doctor Who, or metal bands from the 80’s. I asked Pat to give a recommendation to a customer with no prior comic book knowledge. Here is his response:
"I don't have a blanket book that I recommend to everyone... I need to find out what the person in question is about first. Usually asking, "What TV shows do you watch regularly?" is a good way to gauge which direction to point the reader towards. But I will say that 2 good 'starter' books would be "Y The Last Man" vol. 1 or "Walking Dead" vol. 1. Both books are unlike most regular comics in so much that any pre-supposed comic book expectations will be shattered by either book and both stories are engaging enough to make people NEED to know what happens next. Also, getting new readers into trades over single issues is definitely the way to go.
For kids, "Amulet" or "Jellaby." For teen girls (or 41-year old comic store owners), "Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane."

Pictured is Pat (far left), Ashly (middle, holding 12 sided die), and Donovan (who is amazed by the die)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What's Old Is New Again....And Nothing Is Ever New

“I hope this is the first comic you’ve read in a while. I hope you found it on a shelf in a real bookstore somewhere, and took a chance. I hope a lot of people are picking up comic books for the first time.

You see, a lot of people think comic books are just for kids, like Saturday morning cartoons. And many of them are, though they’re usually better drawn and written. That’s great, but it’s hardly the whole story.

Maybe you’ve seen a story in your local newspaper or a spot on TV that told you about the new kinds of comics that are coming up, all kinds, many of which have the kind of intense character involvement and sophistication of plot that you’d expect from a novel. Maybe you’ve heard of Marvel’s Moonshadow or DC’s Watchmen. Comics are growing up, expanding the borders to include the kind of stories that people of any age might enjoy.

I hope you’ve enjoyed Wolverine. Chris and I had a lot of fun working on it. Just remember, if this is your first comic book in a while, that comics is a form of telling stories, as versatile and full of promise as any other.

Try another.”

- Frank Miller, 1987

Those ominous words are from the back of the Marvel Comics Presents Wolverine trade paperback, the character’s first solo mini series, by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. I got this trade as a birthday present when I was in high school, and I thought it was due for a re-reading. It’s a story that showcases Claremont and Miller at the height of their talents as writer and artist. Not only does the book stand the test of time, but Miller’s words on the comic book industry are as truthful now as they were in 1987. 22 years later and some of us are still defending the artistic merits of comic books, while creators continue to push the boundaries of comics. The industry may have had its renaissance in the 1980’s, but the revolution of the art form hasn’t ended.

I couldn't of said it better, Frank. It’s still an exciting time to read comics.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Comics + Music = Gotham's Sexy Jam

Partly inspired by Bryan Lee O’Malley’s recommended playlists for Scott Pilgrim, and partly showcasing a habit that many comic book readers share, I’d like to offer some comic book mix CD’s. This is a…risky venture. Musical tastes vary so widely, what I may find suitable listening for a book may in fact be offensive to other reader’s ears. I’m willing to take that risk, in the name of sharing passions, which is my reason for writing this blog in the first place!

If the title didn't already give it away, the first book to get the suggested listening is...Detective Comics!

I first got the idea to make this playlist when reading Detective on an airplane. Listening to my ipod on random, a song came on that was so insanely fitting, I made a mental note to share it with the eight of you who occasional read this blog. This playlist is specifically inspired by issues 854-857, the Elegy storyline featuring Batwoman fighting against the Wonderland inspired villain-ess Alice. Unlike a film score or soundtrack, these songs aren’t really organized to fit specific moments in the issues. It’s more for background listening, something to enhance the ambiance during your reading experience. Although some lyrics are quite fitting for the character, the content of the songs is not meant to be specific to the story. There are a lot of female vocalists, which is mostly a coincidence. Almost all of the songs could be described as sensual, and more than a few are melancholy. It’s a lot of music I listened to in high school. I call it “Gotham’s Sexy Jam”.

Cocteau Twins
Song: Serpentskirt
Album: Milk & Kisses

Song: Glory Box
Album: Dummy

The Smiths
Song: Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me
Album: Singles

Song: Enjoy
Album: Post

Massive Attack
Song: Angel
Album: Mezzanine

DJ Shadow
Song: Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt
Album: Endtroducing…

Song: Run
Album: Talkie Walkie

Blonde Redhead
Song: The Messenger
Album: Misery Is A Butterfly

Joy Division
Song: The Only Mistake
Album: Stills

The Cure
Song: Disintegration
Album: Disintegration

If you are less than familiar with these artists or songs, feel free to contact me and I will be more than happy to mail you a copy of this CD, but be warned, postage from Australia may run you $3. I promise to at least broaden your musical horizons, if not enhance your reading experience. Enjoy!

(Batwoman truly despises the "cut in")

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas + Comics + Scott Pilgrim

The fake Christmas tree is up, the John Coltrane is playing, the Nintendo DS is charged, these are a few of my favorite nerdy things. Santa went to Area 52 in Hobart and got me volumes 4 and 5 of Scott Pilgrim. Below are a few of my favorite moments from Scott Pilgrim, some of them feature video game references (there are many). They even quote Monkey Island in this book, a point and click adventure game released by Lucas Arts* in the early 90’s. Obscure? Yes. Satisfying to recognize? Indeed! In addition to gaming references, there are equal amounts of music and film references, from Scott’s various Smashing Pumpkin t-shirts to a blurred Gross Pointe Blank poster in the background. Bryan Lee O’Malley has even included a “recommended listening” playlist in the back of the last few volumes. But the pop culture references aren’t the only things that make this book so loveable. In between the arcade style ninja fights, there are some truly heartbreaking moments that these characters endure. Scott’s quest to fight for Ramona’s love often goes from admirable to questionable in the span of mere panels. Scott may have found his dream girl, but his life is still far from picturesque. Still unemployed. Fast approaching 24. Still trying to figure out why Ramona’s head glows from time to time. Does that describe anyone else’s life accurately? Besides the head glowing thing... I can’t stop recommending this book to people. And now that I’m impatiently awaiting volume 6, due for release next year (!!!) I’ll give you guys a break here at the ol’ blog, too.
* “I’m not sure if Lucas Arts is one word…”- nerdy boyfriend reading over shoulder

Even out of context, I think these panels speak volumes on their own (and although they don't give spoilers, further explanation of their context may indeed give too much away). Feel free to click the images to see larger files for more detail. Especially the last image, the small text is vital to understanding this book's awesomeness.

Coming up NEXT (or soon)… Hear about our wonderful visit to Area 52, Tasmania’s other comic book store!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Genuine Nerd - Part I

Lately I keep harping on about missing comic book stores in the states. It just goes to show how much actually visiting comic book stores on a regular basis effects my reading experience. Sure I'm getting plenty of reading in - I'm up to volume 4 of Scott Pilgrim - but I miss those fresh new books, talking to folks about them, seeing what sells out, and the satisfaction of knowing it will happen again the next Wednesday. Sitting in my apartment here in Tassie, unemployed and reading comics, makes for a very isolated existence.

In addition to the usual comic book banter, my last visits also involved a bit of photography. I took some portraits of comic book store employees (a few of them old co-workers) and asked them to give a recommendation to an imaginary first time comic book reader. It's a hard thing to do, even with a real live person in front of you to find out their interests...but I let these guys be as detailed as possible, even saying they could give recommendations for different age groups. First to be featured is Matt Streets. He's manager of Graham Crackers Comics in downtown Chicago, and he thinks he's a lot cooler than he really is. I was pretty happy with his portrait, having captured that oblivious-to-his-own-nerdiness quality. Honestly though, we all love Matt, specifically because he lives on Planet Matt Streets where obscure comic book knowledge is currency for winning the hearts of women. (I bust his balls because no one else will...well, frequently at least.) Here's his recommendation for an imaginary customer:

"For someone who hasn't read comics in a long time, and is looking for an awesome superhero book, they need look no further than the new Wolverine Old Man Logan hardcover. This collection is easy to get into and requires no previous knowledge of the characters to understand. The artwork of Steve McNiven is cinematic and clean, and the cliff-hangers and twists will keep you glued to the pages. This is some seriously fun comic goodness, check it out!" -Matt Streets

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Nerd Central

Folks, I found a comic book store in Tasmania. It’s called Nerd Central, and what an eye opener this visit was. Remember when I said comics were ridiculously expensive in Australia because of shipping costs? I thought readers in Melbourne had it bad! Here are a few examples to give you an idea of what the Tasmanian reader faces:

1 Pack of 100 Current Size Bags = $9.50
1 Dark Horse One-Shot Comic = $7.20 (Cover price $3.50 US)
1 King Bender Action Figure = $24.99 (That’s actually a really good price…)

Even though comics are cheaper on the mainland of Australia, so is toilet paper. And video games ($65 for a USED copy of Mariokart DS? Thanks, but no thanks, EB Games). For that reason, I don’t think this store is overpricing their books. As for the toys being more affordable, I suspect they get them through a different distributor than the comics, which sadly cannot be ordered through anyone but the stateside monopoly of Diamond Distributions.

It’s hard writing about this store without sounding critical – grateful as I was for having found a store within the whole of Tasmania, I’m still ridiculously spoiled by American convenience. Understandable as it is for a small store, I was disappointed to learn that Nerd Central only orders new books once a month to save on shipping (and we were there three weeks after their latest shipment). Even though I’m having my books pulled at home, I was still hoping to see the latest issues, maybe take a chance on a new series. But there wasn’t much on the shelves I hadn’t seen at the beginning of November. I ended up getting Sugar Shock, a Joss Whedon penned Dark Horse one-shot from the MySpace Presents Dark Horse Comics online series.

Despite missing out on a chance to scope some new books, it was still a fun shop to visit. Just walking into a comic book store gave a familiar jolt of excitement that made the hour long drive worthwhile. They also had a decent selection of trade paperbacks to choose from (no Scott Pilgrim though), and some really awesome toys, too. I think Nerd Central is going for a comic book / American novelty store angle, which seems smart since most casual readers in Tassie probably won’t shell out big bucks for individual issues of comics. There were loads of American candies to choose from, and you could buy Kool-Aid packets and Dr. Pepper. Even though paying $20 for some bags, 1 comic, and some Twizzlers hurt my unemployed stomach, it still felt good supporting a business that is working against the odds to offer a rare product to its customers. Visiting this store made me wonder if I would have started reading comics if I had to face the same economical and geographical obstacles as the average Tasmanian teenager. From what the employee at Nerd Central told me, they are one of two stores left in the whole state. But I’ll definitely be coming back to Nerd Central, and next time, I’ll try to catch the monthly shipment.

(Check out that sweet LOEG banner.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Updates from the comic book desert....

My hefty stack of recent purchases from the US is quickly running low...and I've only been in Tasmania for two weeks. I think there is a direct correlation between how much I'm reading and being unemployed. Running out of comics means I'm also getting back into actual books (you know, comics without pictures?), specifically my Hugo / Nebula Award challenge. These are the anual awards given to works of science fiction each year. Some of my favorite authors have won this award including Frank Herbert and Joss Whedon (they have a Nebula award for screenplays, too). I made a challenge for myself to read every single book that has won the Hugo or the Nebula Awards. I decided to start with the 18 novels that have the prestigious honor of having won both titles. Here's what I've read thus far:

Dune by Frank Herbert
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
The Left Hand of Darkness Ursula K. LeGuin
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling (just the Hugo)
Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (another Hugo only)
and I've recently finished American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Next on my list is The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon. It's not surprsing the overlay in the world of science fiction and comics. There's currently an Ender's Game series being released by Marvel, a publisher that has done other Card adaptations in the past such as The Red Prophet. There's a Philip K. Dick adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? being relased by Boom! Studios, which is 24 issues long and contains much of the text from the original novel. Obviously Neil Gaiman is a familiar name to comic readers, and Michael Chabon's critically aclaimed bestseller The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay centers on two Jewish comic book creatures during the Golden Age. These are just a few recent "crossovers" and don't even take into account science fiction shows and movies that currently have comic book series (Battlstar Galactica, Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.) It's a shame there aren't more original science fiction comics out at the moment. I could name some great original fantasy books, crime books, noir books, action and adventure books of course, but science fiction? I'd be hard pressed to name one. I'm definitely open to suggestions though....

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Isn't he glorious? More pictures (of people and other objects) to come soon....

Monday, November 9, 2009

New Favorite Book Alert

Before my departure from the states, I made one last visit to the comic book shop, bought my books on hold, and picked up a few extra comics to hold me over while I’m in Australia. I took a chance on a series that has flown under my radar for months. It’s not one that I’ve heard many people talking about, positive or negative. But boy am I glad this jumped out at me from the shelf, after months of walking by and thinking “meh, can’t be that good.” WRONG. Oh so wrong. I’m talking about Detective Comics. Yes, the same one that has been coming out for 60+ years.

If you are reading any DC title right now, you’re well aware, the Caped Crusader = dead and gone. And how did the smartest man alive meet his end? A lightening bolt? Helicopter crash? Death by sloppy writing? If you read Final Crisis and got a clear picture of how he died, please enlighten me. What I did get was Superman holding the crispy remains of Batman at the end of Final Crisis 6, and the Flash and Green Lantern remembering the fallen hero while standing at his unmarked grave in Blackest Night 0. Those are some visuals that are easy to comprehend.

Currently DC has various characters filling in for Bruce’s titles until his triumphant return from the beyond (it’ll happen sooner rather than later). For this very reason, I have been staying clear of the Batman books. I truly resent when huge, central characters are killed off with the intention of bringing them back shortly after. It’s a tacky way of getting attention to drum up sales (Helloooo Death of Superman). Even when the resulting storylines are well written (see the current Captain America series) it just feels cheap, like reading it is pointless since the book will return to the status quo as soon as sales are down and the editor needs something to bring wayward readers back in. That being said, I am already annoyed that Detective’s current direction is a temporary venture.
Lately it seems that my favorite titles have been superbly well written, with some good artwork to boot. Good, but not great. Currently, Detective has some truly spectacular and noteworthy artwork. Like holy moses, this book could be written in Latin and I’d still love and understand it. Being well written by Greg Rucka is just an added bonus to this book! I don’t even know what J. H. Williams III has drawn before, but I fear he will go the way of James Jean (of Fables cover art fame) and eventually leave comics for more lucrative illustration work, he’s just that darn good. And Williams is doing the interiors folks, not just the covers! I will say too, Dave Stewart is the colorist on this book, and he really adds that extra something that pushes the book into “work of art.” Am I making you the least bit curious? I sure freaking hope so. If not, I’ve got a few examples as evidence to my point. I’m going to lobby DC to put this run in a giant, absolute edition; it really deserves the over-sized treatment. This is the kind of fervor the book has inspired, and I’ve only read the first issue (Detective #854)!

As you can see from the included sample pages, Batwoman has taken over Detective. There was some hoopla a while back about her becoming a lesbian, but besides that, she really hasn’t been a major player in the DCU. Well Greg Rucka, congratulations good sir, you have made me care about an otherwise ignorable character. Not only that, but Rucka has taken something that has been missing from the Batman books of late and showcased it beautifully here. I’m talking about relateability. Recent years have shown the character of Bruce Wayne as more bat than man. When was the last time he dated someone who wasn’t a criminal, related to a criminal, or simply wasn’t aware of his identity as Batman? His life has been so deeply entrenched in the world of “Batman” that it has been easy to forget the man behind the cowl. What Rucka shows us now is Kate Kane, a person struggling to balance a normal life with the duties of Batman. Her girlfriend, unaware of her late night crime fighting, assumes her tardiness and obvious sleeplessness means she’s been “tomcatting around town.” I don’t know if Batman’s girlfriends would ever accuse a sleep deprived Bruce of cheating. See included an image from part of this confrontation, as well as a delicious exchange between the new Batman and Bat Woman as their paths cross on the patrol.

Well, I think I’ve done my best to sell this book to you all. If not…I don’t know if there’s much else to say that would convince you otherwise (there’s an additional Question story in the back of each issue?). You’re either rushing to get this book now, eager to drink in a full issue of the beautiful artwork and follow the struggle of this character; or you’re just patiently awaiting the return of Batman. If his return is as muddled as his death, I suggest you get out there and enjoy this fantastic book while you can. It may not be nearly as interesting once Bruce is back in town.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Comic Book foreign lands.

A few of you who read this may already know, but I am going to be leaving for Australia here in about 6 days (hence the awesome Australian noir illustration by Sean Phillips.) I have lived their before, and usually my journeys mean long periods of time without reading comics. I *love* my comics, but it's just so darn hard to buy them abroad when I know my comic shop stateside will be holding them for me, with my club member discount waiting, too. Because of the exchange rate (the US dollar is still barely more than the Australian) and the fuel tax on top of the cost of the comics for having them shipped overseas, comic books are a high priced import for the Aussies. Gotta respect the collectors down under. However, I've been planning. I have a  stack of trade paperbacks for my stay abroad. It's embarrassing how many series I haven't read in my years as a comic book reader. We all have those big gaping holes in our collections. Here is what I've got on the menu:

The Sandman
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artist: Dave McKean (and many more)
Publisher: Vertigo (DC)

I know, I know. It's a big one. My reluctance to read this series was rooted in the stereotypes that sometimes surround female comic book readers. We don't like superhero books, goth, fantasy, and Buffy comics are irresistible, and we love everything Neil Gaiman touches. And though these stereotypes are sometimes true (and also disproved by the exclusively goth / Buffy loving male readers out there), I have learned one excellent series at a time that avoiding a book because of who reads it is a quick way to miss out on some good reading. So bring on the book loved by 15 year old goth girls the world over.

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Derick Robertson
Publisher: Vertigo (DC)

I love Warren Ellis. I love Derick Robertson. Soooo.....yeah. I don't really have an excuse for this one. I will admit though, I didn't even know this series existed until I started working in a comic book store. When I recently saw Volume 1 in a 50% off bin, I thought, well, better get on it.

Scott Pilgrim
Writer & Artists: Bryan Lee O'Malley
Publisher: Oni Press

I picked up volume 1 and was going to save it for my trip to Australia, but started it a bit early just to see what all the fuss was about. Well, that didn't last long. I read the first book very quickly and, okay. I get it. Have you ever read a book and thought "Wow, they wrote this book just for my friends and I!" The nerd loving, jobless, 20-something slackers that inhabit Scott Pilgrim's cast are painfully relate-able. With only five volumes for this series so far, I may have to pace myself - this one will be hard to resist reading straight through in one sitting.

These are just a few of the trade paperbacks I have set aside for my trip, but there are many more series that I'd like to have under my belt . For instance, aside from some Avengers books, I've never read any Thor comics. No problem, there are only 50+ years of history to catch up on! That makes it a little harder to find a place to get your feet wet. But as I tell my friends who are reluctant to read any comics because they don't know where to start, you just have to take the plunge. Take a risk, buy something without knowing if you'll like it, understand it, or want to continue reading it. Before you know it, you'll be in the outside looking out, perusing the comic book shelves for books that strike your fancy, and not long after that, you'll be writing a blog for six people, hoping that you've inspired someone else to try something new.

(Images provided by Sean Phillips blog, DC Comics, and Oni Press, respectively.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Comic Book *eye* Candy Part I

Aww yeah, this ones for the ladies (and boys that have man crushes on their favorite comic book characters). This is a little segment I like to call "Comic Book *eye* Candy, or Comic Book Studmeisters". I think it pretty much speaks for itself. Comic book characters that rock my world. Part sex appeal, respect, and of course, features chiseled in ink, these are the men that keep women (and men) wanting more. They keep you reading even if their series becomes less than impressive. How many of you read those Emma Frost minis for the stellar writing? I didn't think so. And you know, I'll throw in the occasional female version of this segment for the male readers, not least of which because *I* have a few girl crushes (helloooo any female characters Gene Ha! gets his hands on). This of course is in no particular order.

Jesse CusterSeries: Preacher
Publisher: DC / Vertigo
If you like: Johnny Depp, James Dean, Buckaroo Banzai, other brooding pretty boys

I don't know a fan of Preacher, male or female, who doesn't have a big fat crush on Jesse Custer, the  titular character of this fantastic Vertigo series. But I'm not here to rave about the series (that will come in the future at some point, it is deserved), rather I'm here to tell you a little bit about the manliest of men, the Preacher himself. He's sensitive yet strong, a sweet Southern gentlemen, and it doesn't hurt that Steve Dillon drew him into one hot fox. Too bad for the gals, he only has eyes for Tulip, his gun toting ex girlfriend. His devotion only adds to his appeal.  He's a wounded soul yet still manages to be one of the most bad-ass characters in all of comic book history. With the power to speak words that must be obeyed, he has the ability to make the ladies swoon on command, but it is totally unnecessary. And if you ladies still aren't convinced, just check out issue 54*.

*On second thought, only RE-READ this issue. I don't recommend starting here.

Future Comic Book *eye* Candy: Jamie Madrox of X-Men fame, Iron-Man of Avengers fame, Jean Grey of dead characters fame.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Random Panel: Part I

And now for a dose of out of context amusement:

Intrigued? Check out issue #1 of Marvel's new mini series, Strange Tales. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Awesome Two Page Spreads - Part II

This Wednesday is shaping up to be quite an impressive day for comics! In addition to Superman: Secret Origin making its debut (see previous post), we have a book making its explosive conclusion: Wolverine: Old Man Logan. Not everyone is a regular comic book shop visitor, so I'll give you a little recap. Set 50 years into the future, the bad guys have won, and all superheroes in the Marvel Universe have fallen. Enter a broken down farmer and family man who would hardly be recognized as the once killing machine Wolverine. The story hints at something having gone horribly wrong in Logan's past, something that has made him vow to never pop his adamantium claws again. Many of the villains in this story are descendants of past powerhouses, such as the "Hulk gang", inbred relatives of the Hulk who hound Logan's family for rent on their small farm. Though some of the issues are a quick read, and you may easily guess where this story leads (a once killer turned pacifist? yeah, that's gonna last), this story is nothing less than a totally awesome ass-kicking alternate future read. Anyone who has been following it issue to issue will no doubt agree it has been worth the long wait (some issues have been up to three months late). For those of you who have missed out on this awesome series, worry not. The trade paperback will be coming out soon (in the next month or two).

Back to the original reason for this post: awesome two page spreads! The latest issue of this series, Wolverine 72, delivered the goods, and gave us what we've been waiting for. And it came in the form of a roundhouse kick to the face two page spread. Here it is below (SPOILERS in video!!!)

Wolverine Issue 72 (Old Man Logan) from Comic Book Candy on Vimeo.

Also, a six page preview of Giant Size Old Man Logan. Enjoy!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hot Hot Books - September 23rd, 2009

As summer comes to an end, we enter prime comic book reading season. Just a few reasons why you should get excited for the turning of leaves and turning of pages:
  1. It's getting colder, meaning you are less likely to ruin your comics with sweaty palms.
  2. It's not too cold, so you won't be putting off your weekly visits to the comic book store.
  3. Did I mention there are a ton of awesome books coming out in the next few months?
Our favorite talented artists and writers are surely pale creatures, as they have been working all summer on exciting projects coming this fall. Criminal (2006) and Powers (2000) will make their triumphant returns, plus we still have the ongoing Blackest Night to supply us with our epic universe-altering fix. But as far as new series, there is one in particular that I have had my eye on since it was solicited (offered for order to vendors for those of you outside of the comics retail world), and that book is Superman: Secret Origin (see image below, cover for issue 1).

You may be thinking "Another Superman origin story?" Didn't we just have one of those a few years ago, called Superman: Birthright (2003)? Or how about the brilliant Superman: Red Son (2003) mini series that re-imagined Superman as a communist crusader? If this project were given to anyone else, I might be apprehensive about Secret Origin. But with  Geoff Johns writing and art by Gary Frank, the task of retelling the well-known origin story could not be in more capable hands. This team has proven time and time again that they can deliver exciting stories, even when working with an old concept (and let's face it, when it comes to Superman, there's precious little new ground to break).

My faith in this team comes primarily from their work on Superman and the Legion of Superheroes, a six issue story arc originally presented in Action Comics issues #858-863. The story shows a young and lonely Clark Kent finding friends in visitors from the 31st century, called the Legion of Superheroes. As an adult, Clark begins to wonder why they have failed to revisit him, only to be warned that he can never contact his once dear friends. Despite their warnings, Superman decides to fight for his companions, unaware of what dangers he will face in the future. Gary Frank's illustrations perfectly capture the alienation felt by both the adolescent Clark Kent, and the adult hiding behind his bumbling nerd persona. With Geoff Johns writing, this  story feels like you're watching a Superman film directed by Steven Spielberg. What results is a touching, wholesome, and uncomplicated Superman tale, without seeming safe or oversimplified. This story proves you can still entertain without pushing the limits, a theory hard to prove in comics today. It is also rare to read a thoroughly enjoyable and humorous comic series that I could recommend to anyone, regardless of their age or previous Superman knowledge.

The six issue Superman: Secret Origin mini series promises the return of the Legion of Superheroes (see above image, cover to the second issue), and also offers a look at other younger Smallville inhabitants, including Lois Lane, Jimmy Olson, and Lex Luthor. It should be interesting to see how Johns and Frank explore Superman's journey from orphan in Kansas to superhero in Metropolis, and the series will no doubt bring new life to this well-known mythos. Expect the first issue next week!

Find more on Superman and the Legion of Superheroes here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What pin up girls and comics have in common....

Two page spreads in comic books smack you across the face, force you to take everything in at once, and if they're really fantastic, can bring forth a Keanu Reeves impersonation with an involuntary "whoa". I love these all consuming visuals, especially cause they are rare. (You'll see more two page ads than artwork.) This secret weapon, part of the writer / artist arsenal, is only used during the most deserving moments of wonderment. At least the most successful ones achieve this, the ones that feel necessary when you turn the page, knowing that it could not have been shown any other way.

So here is the first of many to come in a regular focus on two page spreads. I have quite  a few from memory's past, but the first ones to be shown will be from recent memory (the last two years.) Here Be Spoilers!!!

Giant Size Astonishing X-Men #1
Writer: Joss Whedon
Artist: (that dreamboat) John Cassaday

Giant Size Astonishing X-Men 1 from Comic Book Candy on Vimeo.

When I started this blog, I had hoped to update at least 3 times a week, but I had no idea that something else would come into my life at the same time, stealing many of my free hours. I started watching Buffy. So I thought it would be fitting for my first two page spread feature to be from the mind of Joss Whedon. Heck, even the cover for this issue is a wraparound! If you haven't read this series, regardless of your X-Men knowledge, please, do yourself a favor and get on it! Whedon and Cassaday took on the first 25 issues of this series, and finished up their run with this "Giant Size" special. You may not appreciate the two page spread in this issue without having read it, or even understand what it is you're looking at, but trust me. It was glorious.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A love letter to Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Sometimes its easy to see patterns in what you like. Garth Ennis is writing a new book? I'll check it out. Steve Dillion is drawing it too? Well, that makes it "the team that brought you Preacher". But this post isn't about Ennis and Dillion (expect that post in the future). No, this is about the noir loving, femme fatale fearing duo: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. As each issue of Criminal reminds us, the secret ingredient is crime. And these two definitely share a passion for the genre that shines through in each of their collaborations.

Here's a look at what they've done so far, with a peak at the wonderful things to come:

Batman: Gotham Noir
Publisher: DC (2001)
If you like: What if? comics, alternate universe reads, Jim Gordon centric stories.

This Elseworlds one-shot shows us Gotham as imagined in the late 1940's. It isn't a stretch to see the caped crusader in this time period, especially considering that Batman was created in 1939. The most compelling aspect of this book is its focus on Jim Gordon, portrayed here as an alcoholic WWII  veteran. No longer a member of the Gotham city police force, he scrapes by as a private dick, also taking on the occasional odd job. The plot serves as a solid example of Ed Brubaker's affection for the down and out man. Batman has more of a peripheral role in this story, and there's an interesting history between Bruce and Jim Gordon in this incarnation. As someone who discovered this issue in the back issues long after its inception, I found it was worth the read, if only to see how much Sean Phillips' artwork has developed over the years.  In comparison to his current work in Criminal and Incognito, this seems more like an experimental effort than his current mastering of the crime noir genre.

Publisher: DC / Wildstorm (2003)
If you like: Incognito, Blade Runner, Tech Noir, superheroes + noir.

Well I don't have much to bring to the table about this work, as I have yet to read the whole series. Being a fan of Criminal and Incognito, and also hearing heaps of praise for this book made me go out and get the first trade paperback, but I'm only about two issues in. Many people have compared Incognito to Sleeper, and its easy to see why. Both deal with morally ambiguous characters who are leading double lives, inhabiting the seedy criminal underworld while walking the straight and narrow. This work reminds me of a term coined by James Cameron to describe Terminator: Tech Noir. It isn't noir in the traditional sense, since the main character in Sleeper has supernatural abilities. Rather, it feels like a crime comic book with a bit of noir and sci-fi infusion. Again, I have yet to read this whole series, and this is based solely on first impressions. A few issues in, and its good read thus far!

Publisher: Marvel / Icon (2006)
If you like: Crime stories, Sin City, Goodfellas, early Hitchcock films.

I'm going to set the bar pretty high for anyone who hasn't read Criminal: it is one of the best comic book series I've ever read. This book has been edge of your seat good. Can't wait for the next issue good. First new book I'm reading on Wednesday good. And unfortunately, it's kind of a hard sell. Whenever someone asks me for a new book to read, I always steer them towards Criminal. It's hard enough getting people to read things that are out of their norm, but it's even harder when a book embodies such a specific genre. There is little ambiguity: this is a straight up crime noir series.

Each story arc focuses on a different set of characters, but as you go from one plot to the next, you will see some recurring characters, continued themes, and familiar places. The first arc, and trade paperback, is titled "Coward". It follows Leo, a man who knows how to get out of tough spots. He's an ideas man, the brains behind heists; until one goes terribly wrong. He escapes, but his loyalty to himself gives him a bad rep. You quickly learn that not all of his motives are as selfish as they seem. And like any good noir tale, there is plenty of booze, drugs, deception and sex to get you hooked. You'll be a noir junkie in no time. 

I won't go into too much detail about the additional stories, because if you aren't hooked by "Coward", well, maybe you just don't have the stomach for Criminal. But it only gets better from here, people. The most recent story arc, "Bad Night" was not only excellent, but unpredictable, as well. A trademark of the pulp novels that Brubaker loves so dearly is their ability to get weird very fast. And things definitely get weird, but they also stay firmly grounded in reality. In addition to taking you to unexpected places, "Bad Night" is definitely one of the sexiest story arcs of Criminal thus far (see above image).

Before I send you rushing out to your nearest comic book story to pick up Criminal Volume 1, I will say the back issues are worth the extra bucks. Brubaker and Phillips know how to treat their loyal month-to-month readers. Each issue contains articles (with illustrations from Phillips, see below) that review obscure television shows, movies, and books that are influential to their work, and prime examples of noir in every form.  It is a wonderful "thank you" to the fans, and really serves as a unique reason to buy this book in issue form as these articles are NOT in the trade paperbacks.

Publisher: Marvel / Icon (2008)
If you like: Sleeper, Fight Club, characters leading double lives, Bad Santa (haha).

Incognito is a series that follows Zack Overkill, a former villain who is currently in the witness protection program. Forced to work a dull office job and take drugs to suppress his super-strength makes Zack act out: by becoming a vigilante? Even he is baffled by his do-gooder desires. This series shows some excellent potential; little is revealed about Zack's past in the first few issues, and we are introduced to some wonderful supporting characters, including an ice-queen co-worker who unwittingly lusts for Zack in disguise while hating his worker bee day job persona. I'd love to see this series through for another story arc, but some of what I've seen written makes it sound like six issues is all we may get.

Criminal was put on haitus since this series began, and even though Incognito has been excellent thus far, I would have much rather enjoyed some more Criminal. However, Criminal will be rebooting this fall, and by rebooting I mean focusing on the same characters from earlier plots, and just renumbering the series (for the third time!). It is worrisome, as renumbering is often a ploy to get new readers on board for a series with lagging sales. Hopefully that is not the case, as I would hate to see Criminal leave us anytime soon! Here is a link from Sean Phillips blog for 6 page preview of Criminal: The Sinners #1

6 page preview of Criminal: The Sinners

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Pull List Part 1

Whether you have a subscription pull list at your local store, keep a mental note of the books you are reading, or just buy randomly every Wednesday depending on what strikes your fancy, you have a list of comic books you don't want to miss. The books that you frantically worry about selling out before you get a chance to make a stop at the store. These are the keepers. Here's what I currently enthusiastically read:

Blackest Night
The Boys
Green Lantern
Green Lantern Corps
House of Mystery
Walking Dead
Wednesday Comics
Wolverine (at least until Old Man Logan ends)

Now, a few of these series are obviously on hiatus (Criminal and Powers, oddly both are my Noir fixes) but I will patiently await their returns. Both of these series are rumored to be relaunching as early as this fall.  And The Boys I still have to read the last trade to catch up, but I can't wait for the chance to buy this series book to book, as it is fantastically raunchy.

Every time I update my pull list, I will write a quick review of one these series. Give you guys a few reasons why you should go out there and pick up the latest issue! For this first entry I'll start with a new series that really doesn't seem to garner the attention it deserves: House of Mystery.

House of Mystery
Writer(s): Matthew Strurges and Bill Willingham
Artist(s): Luca Rossi with contributing artists for each issue, including Neal Adams, Ross Campbell, Sean Murphy, Zachary Baldus, Steve Rolston, Jill Thompson, and many more...
Publisher: Vertigo (DC)
If you like: Fables (DC), Sandman (DC), Six Feet Under (HBO), you may enjoy this series.

In the House of Mystery, there is only one currency, and it is entertainment. Spin a yarn for your fellow housemates, earn their respect and a drink. Spending an indefinite amount of time in a house that offers such amenities as multiple dungeons, demons, and rooms that appear and reappear tends to force its inhabitants to...improvise. What better way to get your mind off of your woes than to hear captivating stories from your housemates? Guest artists draw these unique tales from different worlds and dimensions, and all the while each issue also reveals a little bit more about why and how everyone is in the House of Mystery in the first place.

Because of the format, I think it's easy to sometimes lose anticipation between issues. Sure, there is an overarching plot being revealed, but the use of one-shot stories in each issue can slow down the pace. But after each issue, you'll never find yourself complaining. If anything, this could contribute to the possible longevity of this series, as the writers have yet to reveal too much too quickly. There is no doubt that the first 16 issues have been nothing short of completely distinct and fulfilling. Reading House of Mystery is a slow burn. 17 issues in, and not one of them has felt inconsequential.

With two trades out now, and a third one on it's way, it's not to late to start enjoying this series. Vertigo has done a wonderful job of making it easy for new readers to try out a series; here is a link to download the first issue:

House of Mystery Volume 1 

Monday, August 31, 2009

What comic books and candy have in common (more than you'd think)

Comic books have got a lot of competition these days. Many things compete for my (little) expendable income: going to the movies, going to the arcade, photography supplies, yummy burgers. None of these things are necessities in life. Entertainment is a luxury, something I must constantly remind myself in preparation for the zombie apocalypse. I currently work two (very personally rewarding) part time jobs, and still don't work full time. Yet I spend hundreds of dollars a year buying comic books, bags and boards, short boxes, long boxes, trade paperbacks, graphic novels, toys, and other clever tie-ins, such as Batarang shaped belt buckles. If any of you fat cat CEO's of various comic book companies are reading this, don't get too excited; I'm not your blindly loyal customer, no sir. This is a passion of the highest of priorities; but it is not a necessity. And I intend to keep it that way.

I'm relatively new to the comic book fan base. I've been reading comics on a semi-regular basis for nine years, and weekly basis for the last five years. This is newbie status compared to the average age of comic book fans! But in that time, buying and reading comics has never been a habit. (Okay, maybe at the height of my X-Men phase. But really, who can read 15 X-Men titles and not get a little burnt out?) It has been a want. A need that I try to fulfill as often as possible. But it is not like air. I will repeat again just to be dramatic: I don't need comics like I need air. Who really, truly appreciates every breathe they take? Okay, maybe the ones you frantically gulp in shortly after having survived a harrowing experience, but certainly not the ones you take while lazily sitting in front of your computer / television / other glowing form of entertainment. No, I dread the day when I walk into a comic book store and don't feel excited about what I'm reading, worried about how many books I'll "have to" buy. To keep my love of comics burning hot, I've got a few ground rules for reading:

1. Don't be a completist! 

Okay, so you've purchased the first 456 issues of Amazing Spider-Man. Guess what? It sucks right now! Don't feel obligated to buy it just because you have a full run. Because guess what buddy, someday, when are bitter about all of the money you've been throwing away on a joyless experience, and give up reading comics (which you will if you throw away money out of habit), when you sell back your mint condition full run, you'll still only get $.05 a pop on the books that sucked. Everything is mass produced now, there's no such thing as "rare"! People will only pay what it is worth based on the quality of the content, not the availability. (Well, maybe other guys like you will pay more. But they'll feel like a shmuck later, I guarantee it!) Besides, if you're in it for the love of reading, you won't be thinking about selling it later. So why buy it unless you love it? 

2. If you aren't reading it, don't buy it!

This goes right along with being a completist. And trust me, we've all been there. You've been loving a book for years, it's been a fantastic run. Then, it starts to suck. Hard. New writers, new artists, new directions. You just don't like it. But you still buy it, hoping it will get better. DON'T!!!!! I would go by the three book minimum. If you continue buying a title, and you have more than three issues stacked up that you haven't read, then you should probably stop buying it. (Hello stack of 52! Hello Countdown!) If it's not a priority to read, then you are throwing your money away. And you are also sending the message to publishers that you approve of and enjoy the direction this series has taken. Support the art you love, don't settle for mediocrity in hopes that it'll get better. You can talk to other fans / read blogs like mine to keep up on what is good!

3. Don't judge a book by its cover.

Covers are crap these days. Most of the time the cover art work is solicited months ahead, with the artist being given no indication whatsoever of the plot line. I'd love to see these requests. "Give me....Wolverine, claws, spittle, aaaaaand a motorcycle. What's this for? Oh, Moon Knight 26. Or Runaways 39"

Really though, I mean this in both a superficial and genuine way. Just because you've never liked a "superhero" comic doesn't mean there aren't any out there that you may enjoy. And that goes for "indy" titles too! Take recommendations from people! What's the worst that can happen, you become more informed? If someone likes a book enough to let you borrow it, or even buy you a copy, it's worth giving a chance. Genre is just something vendors use to organize the vast quantities of products available, not a way for you to easily ignore the wonderful possibilities that may be offered to you in a different style of storytelling.

4. Follow writers / artists!!!!

Okay, this is one that i really resisted for years. I went into my local comic book store every week, and I went straight to the Marvel section for my weekly dose of obligatory x-books. Those were some fun years, but it had to end. If you want to follow your favorite characters, that's fine! But be prepared to one day have your favorite characters raped in crappy book after crappy book. Because when creative teams change, these things happen! Instead of following say, Hal Jordan, how bout you follow Geoff Johns? He will never disappoint you the way Green Lantern will when they give that book to a second rate writer. No sir. Follow this rule and you will up your enjoyment of comics exponentially! Fun factor will quadruple!

5. Treat comic books like candy.

I bet you thought I forgot about that analogy! If you treat reading comics like the luxury that it is, you won't run the risk of taking it for granted. Make it a treat to look forward to, not the main course! Comics should enrich your life, not provide you with sustenance.

Well that was relatively painless! I haven't the slightest idea who will read this blog, but I hope to showcase a passion for comic books that will be contagious and encourage readers to pick up new books, start reading things they would have never considered, and also document my own explorations of the medium. I'll even write posts for readers that may never have picked up a comic book in their whole life! Getting them to read this blog first may be a challenge, but let's take it one post at a time. Thanks for stopping by for your daily does of: