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