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