Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It Must Be Wednesday: Batman Gates of Gotham #1

Batman: Gates of Gotham #1(of 5)
Writer(s): Scott Snyder & Kyle Higgins
Artist: Trevor McCarthy

Batman: Gates of Gotham has many elements of a modern Gothic mystery. A hidden figure wreaks havoc on the city by planting bombs on several bridges, killing more than Batman and his fellow vigilantes can save. Vignettes into Gotham's history reveal a connection between major players in the story and their ancestors, including the grandfathers of The Penguin and Bruce Wayne. The bridge-as-target is an appropriate metaphor for connecting the past to the present, and it could make for an interesting visual element. Despite the potential this story has, the book doesn't quite come together. For starters, the artwork is not a good fit for the story; disturbing moments are awkwardly portrayed leading to some unintentionally hokey results (see Batman's attempts at underwater rescue, or his interrogation of a pleather wearing henchman). Complicated action sequences are further hindered by overly-busy layouts. That's not to say McCarthy doesn't have his moments. He deftly portrays turn of the century Gotham, but that is only a few pages of the book. A more well-rounded artist could have maintained a consistent tone between the past and present, or made them different enough to serve as interesting comparisons. The story itself also feels disjointed, especially when Dick, Tim, and Damian discuss solving the mystery at hand. This rag-tag team of Batman & Company feels more like the Hardy Boys with cowls. The book's concept is intriguing, but it is not elevated by the writing and one is left to wonder what could have been had the book been given to a different creative team.

Since "madman on the loose" is a tried and true story for the Batverse, I'd imagine the most interesting bits will be revealed in the history surrounding the Gates of Gotham. Maybe keeping the story in the past would have helped keep my interest. As it stands, if I want a good Gothic Batman tale, I'll re-read Arkham Asylum, and for a team book Batman, Inc. is a more satisfying take on that concept. DC promises this title to be a "gamechanger", but considering how often that adjective is attached to stories these days, it has lost its weight.  The secret history of Gotham, as tantalizing a reveal as it may be, isn't enough to keep me reading.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Unoriginal or Rip Off? Cliff Chiang and Mighty Fine Tees

This past weekend Mighty Fine Tee's revealed a new line of women's t-shirts featuring Marvel comic book characters depicted in the iconic style of Patrick Nagel's album artwork. But that wasn't the only artist to come to mind when I viewed these new duds - Cliff Chiang has been creating very similar parodies for years.
Like showing up to Prom in the same dress... (Chiang's take at left)
In Mighty Fine Tee's defense, they have a lot of really awesome, original designs available through their site. I myself own a Scott Pilgrim tee from their store, and I am seriously considering buying this art nouveau style Shadowcat tee. But these new designs have only been online for a day and already several of Cliff Chiang's fans have pointed out the similarities, myself included. This case is a little less cut and dry compared to some of the blatant infringements that have been brought forth by artists, such as Jess Fink's recent battle with several t-shirt vendors and one Etsy user. When comparing Mighty Fine's "80's throwback tees" vs. Cliff Chiang's series 12 In. Remix, no one owns an exclusive copyright to parody, but it is a little embarrassing on Mighty Fine Tee's behalf. After all, how many people are out there creating mash-ups of comic book characters and album covers from the 80's? Well, at least two now. Not only do the designs share the same concept, Chiang and Mighty Tee's both have remakes of the same Duran Duran album cover. Kind of hard to believe it is mere coincidence.

Since he created the first remix piece in 2008 to his most recent addition earlier this year, the series has continued to bring exposure of Chiang's work to many people outside of the comic book world. A google image search for "Cliff Chiang" brings up as many hits from his 12 In. Remix series as any of his work for DC. His series went beyond Nagel and includes mashups of Teen Titans and The Breakfast Club to Storm and Janet Jackson. All of Cliff's pieces are instantly recognizable as homages to the well-known original works. The choice of characters are intentional, often humorous, a sure sign that they are successful parodies. Vampirella as a stand in for the infamous Duran Duran Rio album cover is perfect since Nagel often used pale vixens in his work. The love triangle between Jean Grey, Scott Summers, and Wolverine make them an obvious choice for the Pretty In Pink poster. And Batgirl as Prince? Inspired. In other words, Cliff Chiang has created clever, memorable pieces; Mighty Fine Tee's has created some tacky shirts that do not add any commentary to the original works, serve no comedic purpose, and have debateable aesthetic pleasure. Anyone with an appreciation and understanding of parody can recognize 12 In. Remix as original works.

But who knows, Mighty Fine Tee's may have just unluckily created a similar attempt at parody as Cliff Chiang. It's a tough break though. He did it first, and he did it better.

UPDATE: 5/23/11 - Cliff Chiang Is A Classy Dude

"Thanks so much for the heads up. To be honest, I don’t feel like my idea was 100% original to begin with (CB Cebulski and Jason Pearson did Johns Hughes posters on “Loners” a couple years beforeme), but I REALLY appreciate your looking out for me. Those shirts are a fun visual mash-up like the Star Wars Nagel posters (and man, is it hard to draw like Nagel), whereas I try to draw more connections between the characters and history to make an extended gag. There’s room for all of it!"- Cliff Chiang

Monday, May 16, 2011

It Must Be Wednesday: Super Dinosaur #1

In an ongoing series for the Comic Vault blog, I will be reviewing one or more new releases each week (meant to post this one BEFORE the Flashpoint review). We're calling the series "It Must Be Wednesday", for obvious reasons! Here is a look at the recent review for Super Dinosaur #1:

"Wow. What a fun book! I know a genuine snap judgement like that might come across as sarcastic, but that reaction accurately sums up this new title from Kirkman and Howard. I wasn’t sold at first, as the hype made my expectations pretty high. Kirkman doesn’t disappoint with this action and intrigue packed debut issue."

The rest of the review can be found at It Must Be Wednesday: Super Dinosaur #1

It Must Be Wednesday: Flashpoint #1

Here's a look at my recent review for Flashpoint #1, written by Geoff Johns with artwork by Andy Kubert (Spoilers: I really liked this first issue). It's also worth mentioning that since I wrote this review last week, this issue has sold out from DC and will be going to a second print. Get it while you can!:

"Have you picked up Flashpoint #1 yet? Have event fatigue? Planning to wait for the trade? Were you confused / uninterested by the concept? None of these are sufficient excuses to skip this latest DC mini. It’s actually really good. If I sound surprised that’s because I too was reluctant to pick up another “what if / alternate scenerio / not-quite-but-kind-of-an-Elseworlds” book. After finishing this first issue I’m still not entirely sure how the alternate universe came to transpire, but in this case not knowing is totally okay."

You can find the rest of my review at It Must Be Wednesday: Flashpoint #1

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Free Comic Book Day 2011: An Overview

The month of May brings more than just warm weather and summer blockbusters. For comic book fans the world over, especially those in Chicago, Free Comic Book Day is the shining beacon that marks the end of a long, cold winter. FCBD means those much touted event books from the Big Two are right around the corner, and comic book movie adaptations aren't far behind either. This year saw the release of Thor the same weekend as FCBD, while past releases have included Wolverine and Star Trek. Despite a large amount of store participation across the world, many fans still do not know what this wonderful event is about. Speaking from retail experience, many casual comic readers see posters for FCBD and think, "What's the catch?" Though every store has different criteria, the main idea remains the same. Stop in to your local comic book store on the first Saturday in May and you can get 1 or more free books specifically released for FCBD, no purchase necessary. These books are not free for retailers, but they are a great promotional tool for comic shops to introduce new readers to hot titles, especially younger fans. It's a wonderful event that I eagerly await every year, and 2011 was no exception. I managed to visit four stores in the Chicagoland area, though I would have liked to go to more. Here's a rundown of the exciting events, and of course, the free goodies that were obtained!

Graham Crackers in Edgewater

This guy means business. Take the free books already!
Starting with the store closest to my home, Graham Crackers was already packed and bustling with activity less than an hour after opening their doors. In case passers by were unaware of the event, a fan dressed as a stormtrooper standing on the sidewalk gave the hint that fun was underway. My visit was short, yet I saw several young fans walking by that were overjoyed by the prospect of free comics. For shop owners, seeing even a few unsuspecting pedestrians discover your store makes the event worth the cost. Free comics weren't the only draw for Graham Crackers either; plenty of other freebies were available as well from Hero Clix to movie passes. Also in attendance, local writer Matt Anderson was on site to sign copies of his recent all-ages release Kung Fu Panda, a perfect fit for FCBD. This being my first stop of the day, I made sure to pick up the books I knew I wanted: Locke & Key, Giant Sized Action; Super Dinosaur, Origin Special; and the B.P.R.D. Seattle One-Shot, an Emerald City Comic-Con exclusive that Graham Crackers had on hand as an extra for the day.
Seen at top right, writer Matt Anderson. These crowds made me glad I stopped in first, as they surely ran out of a few titles early on.

Dark Tower in Lincoln Square
FCBD adverts dominated Dark Tower's windows for weeks beforehand.
Another crowded venue, Dark Tower still had plenty of books to give away at noon. One of the best parts of FCBD is that publishers offer such a wide range of titles for the event that it is nearly impossible for a store to carry every single release, making it worth your while to visit more than one shop. Dark Tower generously had a few hefty stacks of titles that were not released for FCBD, full price books that they were happily giving away to fans. This included the first issue of Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom. Considering this is a $4 issue of a fantastic ongoing series, I felt compelled to show my gratitude by picking up Locke & Key: Head Games as well as Jeffrey Brown's Cats Are Weird. (It was tempting to pick up more books considering all trades were 40% off.) Dark Tower also had two artists on hand, Chris Burnham and Hillary Barta, though they had yet to arrive when I was there. I didn't stick around as I wanted to visit as many stores as possible. I did catch an appearance of Zatanna before I left! The official FCBD books I picked up included Discovery Channel's Top 10 Deadliest Sharks; Top Shelf's Kid's Club; and the Dark Horse flip book with Baltimore and Criminal Macabre.
For those that aren't familiar with Zatanna, she is famous for her spell-casting backward speak. Also above, the as-yet-to-be-filled table for Burnham and Barta, and the large stack of free Locke & Key issues.

Of all of the stores on FCBD, Dark Tower was the easiest to navigate despite the crowds.

Challengers Comics + Conversation in Bucktown
Step 1. Find free comics. Step 2. Pick free comics. Step 3. Enjoy.
I arrived just in time for the re-stocking of Challenger's free comic book shelves. As co-owner Pat Brower pointed out, this gives participants an equal opportunity of free books to choose from no matter when they stop by. Some stores such as Ohio's Bookery Fantasy even give away pre-selected packages of the books to ensure late comers get a variety of titles. Pat and company also gave me a few recommendations for the best books to grab while they re-stocked. I picked up Captain America and Thor, The Mighty Fighting Avengers; Oni Press' Rated Free For Everyone; Atomic Robo; The Intrepid Escape Goat; and Young Justice and Batman Brave and the Bold Super Sampler. Two artists with books being released for FCBD were on hand to do sketches, and it was amazing to see these guys in action. Both Chris Mitten of Criminal Macabre and Mike Norton of Young Justice happily met every and any request for fans willing to stand in line. My request for a femme fatale with tentacles was granted by Mitten, while Norton's Kid Flash will make a fine present for a certain Flash fan I know with a 7th birthday on the horizon. Seeing these pros in action was a highlight of the day. For fans in a hurry, one could stop in Challenger's Rouge's Gallery to view original artwork from both Mitten and Norton. Still currently on display, the works are available for purchase.
From top left: Mike Norton documents a sketch before giving it away; Mitten and Norton hard at work; Mitten's tentacle mistress in progress; another Mitten sketch, Iron Man, handed out; Norton puts the final touches on Kid Flash.
At right, Chris Mitten shows off the final product. I love love loved this sketch!

Comic Vault in Uptown
From top left: FCBD is made a family affair at Comic Vault; Jonathan Hickman with his S.H.I.E.L.D hardcover; Hickman signs a copy of FF for a young fan; a Hickman sketch for FF; and of course, free books!
I told myself I would visit at least two more stores after Comic Vault*, but this ended up being my final destination. With six creators on hand, it is no wonder that I stayed longer than expected. Two artists began the "Creator Death Match" shortly after my arrival, which made it even harder to pull myself away and head to the next store on my list. I was most looking forward to meeting Jonathan Hickman, a writer that has quickly become one of Marvel's most important creators. Without a doubt, I have a much easier time meeting artists in person. One can request a sketch, or simply watch them in action if reluctant to chat. When I meet writers I turn into Chris Farley from those SNL sketches where he interviews celebrities only to prove himself a nervous starstruck amateur. I felt more in my element photographing Hickman rather than chatting about his recent work on Fantastic Four. Awkwardness in action! The "sketch-off" between artists Dave Lasso and Tom Kelly was judged by the additional creators in attendance including Hickman, Tom StillwellMike Moreci, and Brian Crowley. The lucky winner Tom Kelly received a Thor Slurpee topper / hood ornament of The Destroyer. Not to be overshadowed by the events of the day, free comics were also enjoyed, including the Archaia double feature of Mouse Guard and The Dark Crystal; Toy Boy (being distributed for free by writer Stillwell), and Green Lantern: Special Edition.
From Left: Mike Moreci and Brian Crowley judging the final works; Lasso's work begins to overtake Kelly's; Lastly, victor Tom Kelly with his prize and Dave Lasso looking crushed.

Top Left: artist Brian Crowley works on a watercolor; At bottom, Tom Stillwell with his book Toy Boy; Hickman and Comic Vault owner Matt Sardo let their inner 12-year-old loose; A young fan peaks in during the Hulk match.
Finally, a special thanks to all of the stores that I was able to visit, and the ones I didn't get a chance to see as well, such as Third Coast Comics and Evil Squirrel just to name a few. FCBD is only possible because these stores are willing to give away the books and organize the events. Show them your appreciation by stopping by and picking up a few extra titles!

*For those that missed the announcement, I am now a current employee of Comic Vault, though I was not working the day of FCBD,

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Return to Retail

The last month my blogging has slowed considerably, but no fear, I have not lost interest in comics. In fact, I've been reading more than ever! My increasingly busy schedule has been in part due to the fact that I have returned to the world of comic book retail. Since its opening in the Block 37 shopping center in early April, I have been a regular employee of Comic Vault Downtown. I thought it best to make an official statement in the interest of full disclosure, especially considering how frequently I write about the retail experience. The only major effect I foresee this having on my blog will be an increase in availability of reading material, and perhaps more frequent spotlights on events occurring at the Comic Vault stores. Thus far it has been a blast working with the Comic Vault crew, and I've had even more fun getting the chance to talk to other fans face to face about the books coming out each week, discovering new series, and being in the thick of it every Wednesday once again. I have also been writing regular reviews for the Comic Vault blog in a series entitled "It Must Be Wednesday" (links coming soon!). As I expressed to owner Matt Sardo upon accepting a position, I still plan to visit other stores on a semi-regular basis, not only for the blog, but because I've always been one to shop around even while having a regular pull file. The ongoing Retail Therapy series will continue soon as well, though my coverage of the new Comic Vault store may be impossible to do without a little bias. I look forward to making more frequent updates to the blog, including an upcoming series entitled Odyssey X where I attempt to read and review every single X-Men title to be released in one month. Things may get ugly, but I hope to be surprised! I wouldn't be a very good employee if I didn't tell readers to stop by Comic Vault Downtown, which is located on the third floor of Block 37 at the corner of State and Washington. If you want to chat comics, or get a recommendation from yours truly, stop on by Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. This Wednesday will be a good time to check out the new store as Chris Burnham will be signing copies of Batman, Inc. #6 from Noon to 3pm.