Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My Amazing Spider-Man 666 Retailer Variant Covers

Retailer exclusive variants are nothing new to collectors, but for fans with love for their local comic shop, Amazing Spider-Man 666 will a be a must-have issue for their collection. Spidey is shown on the cover holding the Daily Bugle with a headline touting the rescue of your LCS by everyone's favorite webslinger. Because these variants required a large minimum order, not every store was able or willing to participate. But here in Chicago, four stores decided to order the incentive covers, and I was lucky enough to have my photography grace the covers of two. Considering only about 200 stores worldwide will have this incentive cover (see Marvel's master list), I feel honored to have my work on these covers. A special thanks is necessary to both Challengers and Graham Crackers for entrusting me with the task of representing their unique stores. They could have taken their own photo, hired a different photographer, or just used a store logo, but they thought of me first and I am thankful. Check out the final covers below and order your copies today by clicking the links - they'll go fast!

Challengers Comics+Conversation

Pat and Dal requested an image of Challengers from the outside, keeping the focus on their unique storefront design. It is worth noting that the selected image did have some post production work completed by artist Luke Smarto since all non-Marvel characters / advertising had to be removed. His photoshop skills are almost as good as his comic book art, but not quite.

Graham Crackers Comics (Loop)
Since Graham Crackers is a chain, the owners felt the best way to represent the stores as a whole would be to have all of the managers on the cover in front of one store, in this case the location in downtown Chicago. Surprisingly, it took serious convincing to get 9 comic book store managers to pose with Captain America shields and a Thor hammer.

Again, order directly through their websites or go to the stores to get your copies soon. Lots of fans are trying to collect as many covers as possible!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Odyssey X, Week 2: X-Men #15, X-Factor #222, Uncanny X-Men #541

(For those joining late, please see the introductory post on Odyssey X, where I explain my attempt to read every X-Men title during X-Men: Schism)

X-Men #15
Writer: Christopher Yost
Artist(s): Dalibor Talajic & Wil Quintana
Cover Price: $3.99

It's tough for a reader to jump into a story at the end of a multi-issue arc. All of the previous momentum is meant to culminate at long last, but instead of relief we get a bombardment of mindless action sequences with little attention to character development. At least that's how it felt reading X-Men #15. Cyclops and company are attempting to stop an old enemy who want to destroy all of mankind in order to protect mutants. The issue jumps back and forth between the current struggle and their original confrontation with these Evolutionaries. The big difference we see between "then" and "now" is that Magneto is no longer working with the enemy, but other than that it is the same, "We don't want your genocide, thanks." The previous and current battles are relentless to the last page. It may sound exciting, but without any tension or real danger, it is a tedious read. Their is little reflection, and each and every character feels inconsequential. Literally, there are characters that make one appearance, or simply stand in the background looking menacing. Can we even technically call them characters? Window-dressing would be a more appropriate description. Namor is in this book, and I have no idea why he is in league with the X-men. Storm also makes a silent appearance. When fans talk about a comic not doing their favorite characters justice, this is exactly what they mean. This book should only have as many characters as Christopher Yost  (or any writer) can write and keep well rounded. Currently, no one stands out in this over-crowded book.

Verdict: Back on the shelf. Maybe a new story arc will embrace "less is more".

X-Factor #222
Writer: Peter David
Artist: Emanuela Lupacchino
Cover Price: $2.99

Here's another book mid-storyline, but in this case it isn't a chore to read. This being the only x-title I have been consecutively reading for the last several years, I don't have the same perspective as a new reader, but even an old biased fan like myself can see why this comic is more engaging than any other X-Men book this week. A new reader may not know why Shatterstar and a pregnant Rahne are in danger, or why "Strong Man" Guido is returning from a recent hospital trip, but they will care for these characters. Despite the imminent danger the gang faces, we actually see them interacting, not just throwing punches. Another reason Peter David's title will stand out is because it is a very different concept from the other X-Men titles. It isn't set in San Francisco or Utopia, and Cyclops and Emma Frost don't make an appearance (and I thought Wolverine was overexposed). X-Factor isn't a one-note comic, either. It's as exciting as it is funny, and often heart wrenching. Lucky for readers new and old, Lupacchino returns to the art for this issue. If there is one fault X-Factor has, it is too frequent changes of artists.

Verdict: Bagged, boarded, and kept in the long box. Also the cheapest book this week!

Uncanny X-Men #541 (Fear Itself tie-in)
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Greg Land
Cover Price: $3.99

In another smash-em bash-em book this week, Cyclops and company must prevent Juggernaut from destroying San Francisco. A normally easily defeated enemy, this time he wields one Asgardian hammer and appears to be especially indestructible. Even super-charged, he makes a comical villain. Every word from his mouth is garbled magic-speak, but it looks more like mystical burps as they are only ever one-word blurbs. The almost military like precision of Cyclops leadership is unable to stop this mindless threat from continuing his charge on San Francisco. Of all the fear-inducing enemies, the X-Men have Juggernaut? Why even have a Fear Itself tie in? Another particularly lacking element was the portrayal of new mutant Hope. Greg Land does little to show any difference in appearance of this new mutant to Jean Grey. She also looks no where near her young age. Land has been drawing various x-books for several years, and that must mean he has faithful fans out there. I find his overly cheesecake depictions of female characters distracting. Since he is known to use photo references for his work, it is baffling that all the women he draws look so similar. Women come in all shapes and sizes (and have different noses, mouths, and eyes) but the differences here are left to hair style and clothing. In contrast, his male characters are far more dynamic and distinguishable. Personal preference aside, this book could use some fresh talent, if not to attract the once large female fan base these titles once touted.

Verdict: Back to the shelf. Not even a little sad to see it go.

Week 2 Summary
Total Potential Cost: $10.97
1 Book Purchased, 2 Books Shelved

What makes these books unique? Why would a reader pick up one over the other, or any at all? With the exception of X-Factor, this week saw two very similar struggles, each with a similar roster of characters as well. Enemy threatens humans. X-Men move to intervene. Cyclops was there! Emma Frost uses her mental powers at some point! Schism will result in two different teams with very different ideologies. The split couldn't come soon enough, and I'm beginning to think two teams may not be enough to sustain all of these books.

Last week I had a miscalculation of the potential cost for the comics in Week 1. The error has been corrected. Thanks, careful readers for pointing this out!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Odyssey X, Week 1: X-Men Schism #1, New Mutants #27

Part of the appeal of completing Odyssey X (reading all of the X-Men titles during X-Men: Schism) is to experience these books with fresh eyes. What if a new reader tried all of these titles in one go? Would it make sense? Would it be engaging enough to bring them back for more? How much would it cost  to commit to reading every X-Men title? In the truest sense, I am not even reading every single mutant-featured comic. Wolverine will not be on my reading list, nor will Deadpool. Both of these over-exposed characters frequent the Marvel U proper as much as the X-Men titles. I also know my limits, and I have a pull list full of other Independent, DC, and Marvel books to read. Any extra books I pick up will be included as "bonus" reviews. This week saw the release of a second printing of Uncanny X-Force #11, and since it boldly states that it is "Chapter 1" of the Dark Angel Saga, I thought I'd jump in now so I can more easily understand "Chapter 2".

X-Men: Schism #1
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Carlos Pacheco
Cover Price: $4.99

Without committing to Odyssey X, I would have needed serious convincing to pick up this book. It may be an oversized issue, but $4.99? Steep, even by Marvel standards. With all of the talk about this being the biggest X-Men story to come in years, the art certainly does not look the part. Both Wolverine and Cyclops are featured on the cover looking very constipated amongst a pile of robot rubble. Did I think sentinels would be in this story? No. Did I think male camel toe would be a plot point? Yes. Because that's all I see here. The interiors are also by Pacheco, which added to my lack of enthusiasm. If this is meant to be an iconic story, remembered and read for years to come, an equally memorable artist would have been more appropriate. Pacheco's art feels like a safe choice.

Despite my disinterest in the artwork, I read on, and found that the story was not lacking. Aaron does a good job of introducing Utopia on a micro scale to new readers. There are no sweeping views of the mutant inhabited island, just Wolverine coming in from a rough night of....being Wolverine, only to return to more obligations. Scott needs his second in command to accompany him on a trip to Switzerland for an arms control conference. Before the obligatory action sequence begins, we get to witness some wonderful back and forth between Scott and Logan. There is obvious mutual respect between them, but long forged resentments still linger. Despite the tense arrangement, Aaron humorously portrays the uneasy relationship between the  frenemies. A promo image for Schism featuring a savagely clawed visor may haven given away the fact that Schism will pit Logan and Scott against one another, but their ideological leanings are surprising. I couldn't help but compare their relationship with that of Magneto and Professor X, especially in reference to the recent X-Men: First Class film.

I won't give away too much concerning the events of the attack on the international delegation, except to say it is brilliantly executed. The villain isn't who you think it is, and the ramifications to come are epic in proportion. Breathing room is something often missed in big event titles, and Aaron uses it here to great affect. The extra space allows for plenty of telling interactions and revelations about minor characters. The first issue left me wanting more, and according to the editorial notes I won't have to wait long for the second issue which comes out on July 27th. I am also delighted to see that Frank Cho will be taking over art for that issue, and the wonderful Daniel Acuna will pencil issue three. If the talent keeps increasing by the issue, so will my recommendations to read Schism.

Verdict: Putting it in the long box! Even at $4.99, it's worth keeping.

New Mutants #27
Writer(s): Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Artist: Leandro Fernandez
Cover Price: $2.99

I know it is blasphemy for any fan of the X-Men to say they don't like Age of Apocalypse, but I am part of that quiet minority. I prefer my X-men in the here and now, fighting social injustice and trying to save those that hate them. Back by popular demand, the characters and conflicts surrounding AoA have returned. For someone who could care less about that alternate time line, this issue wasn't entirely unenjoyable for me.

The last in a three issue arc, #27 concludes the story line "Unfinished Business". The New Mutants consist of the younger, yet capable ranks of the X-Men and Cyclops has given them the vague mission statement of "tying up loose ends". In this case that means rescuing X-Man (yes, that one) from the clutches of Sugar Man (I feel silly just typing that) who is attempting to use the reality warping powers of Nate Summers to return to his home world. Dani, leader of the New Mutants reacts to Sugar Man much the same way as I did. "Him? Really?" I got a kick out of this meta criticism. When drawing a multi armed mohawk-ed blob, things can get a little muddled on the page. The tight shots on close hits are the most satisfying moments of Leandro Fernandez's artwork, but pull out for a wider view and the momentum (and interest) is lost. What both Fernandez and company accomplish best in this issue is showcasing Dani's ass-kicking abilities. This "Sugar Man", former ire of the X-Men proper, is no match for her tenacity. After (unsurprisingly) apprehending the perp, the New Mutants return to Utopia where Cyclops talks to Nate about their family and always having "unfinished business". A tad heavy handed, but probably satisfying for those who care about this character. I personally would have enjoyed seeing more of Dani, who was the best discovery in reading New Mutants.

Verdict: Back to the shelf! Surprisingly not bad, even slightly enjoyable, but I won't be keeping it. More of a focus on Dani next issue may change my mind.

(Bonus Book)
Uncanny X-Force #11
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Mark Brooks
Cover Price: $3.99

"After assassinating the new incarnation of the X-Men's archenemy Apocalypse, and a successful defense against an invasion of superhuman cyborgs and the mind-thief known as the Shadow King, Deadpool, Psylocke, Fantomex and Wolverine have found that they have an even bigger problem on their hands."

Intimidated much? That's just the first sentence of Uncanny X-Force's overly long recap. There is a rule amongst comic book writers to write each issue like it is your reader's first. You can't pick up one book in the X universe without having a long explanation of the previous story arc's events, and the funny part is that in most cases, these are unnecessary and work against the goal of attracting new uninformed readers. Within the first two pages of the actual story in this issue, Wolverine's inner monologue reiterates everything from the recap. Imagine that, the writer bringing a reader up to speed without relying on editorial intervention?

Back to the issue at hand; despite my immediate disinterest in a second book featuring Age of Apocalypse, I continued on, once again pleasantly surprised by the quality of the story within. Remender writes Uncanny X-Force with a surprising amount of humor, and not just from Deadpool. Our team of anti-heroes must travel to the time line of Apocalypse in order to obtain an object that can free Angel from forces that threaten to turn him into the next Apocalypse (I guess that last potential host wasn't worth the trouble since they simply killed him). Their attempt to find the "Life Seed" results in a confrontation with the AoA version of Nightcrawler, which gives everyone the willies because he recently died in regular continuity. When things go south for X-Force, their new uneasy AoA allies take them to a safe haven where they are introduced to more ghosts from the past. Once you get to the end of the book, you'll realize why this issue sold out immediately and went to a second print. The twist can aptly be described as a "bombshell" but we won't know if it's really just a big tease till next issue.

This book has a lot going for it despite sounding like a hot mess. Two different continuities to keep straight, characters that are dead remain alive in other dimensions, and a lot of implied histories between characters. Remender uses Wolverine's narration as a successful device to guide us though these confusing waters without too much exposition. Mark Brooks shows ease in creating movement on the stagnant page with careful composition. This is a rare quality amongst artists, and of the three x-books I read this week, his art was the best of the bunch. The coloring, however, is overly dark and almost flat at times, making it difficult to distinguish characters at times. I understand this series is "edgy" and "graphic" but you can create a dark atmosphere without sacrificing a varied color palette.

Verdict: Back to the shelf! This was mostly a budgetary decision; at $3.99, those two extra pages don't feel worth spending the extra dollar.

Week 1 Summary
Total Potential Cost:
$12.97 $11.97
1 Book Purchased, 2 Books Shelved

My first week of Odyssey X is complete, and I am happy to report that I remain cautiously optimistic. Reading every x-book this week did reveal a few similarities; several Grant Morrison-created characters from New X-Men appear in important roles, proving that it doesn't take an event title to have a lasting impression, just good writing. Age of Apocalypse has returned full force in other titles, but does not appear to play a role in Schism. We'll see if these worlds collide in the near future.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Odyssey X: A Reconsideration of the X-Men Comics

It's hard to think of an equal comparison for the downfall of the X-Men titles; once flagship books that were consistently among the top sellers in the industry, the last several years have seen dismal sales despite increasingly talented creative teams coming aboard. The likes of Warren Ellis, Ed Brubaker, and Matt Fraction have tried - and failed - to rejuvenate the once crowning jewel of the House of Ideas. That lost luster has come at a high price as once loyal readers are reluctant to give the books another chance. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, I'll never buy your book again. Or so should be the saying in comics. With the econapocolypse showing no end in sight, readers are more selective than ever and that's not even considering competing (cheaper) entertainment.

X-Men books brought me into a comic book shop as a 15 year old girl. Specifically, I wanted to be Jean Grey; intelligent, beautiful, sought after by many suitors, and oh yeah, insanely powerful. Any intelligent teenage female will tell you they can relate to the alienation Jean Grey felt because of her gifts. I may have been awkward because I was unaware of my defining traits, while Jean was afraid of killing her closest friends and family, but I could relate to feeling uncomfortable in one's own skin. That alienation can be doubly felt for young female comic book readers, too. Adolescent male fans don't often get excited about their female counterparts; they feel intimidated and often threatened by what they see as intruders of their historically male dominated past time. I didn't truly feel like a part of the comic book community till after high school, but I kept coming back for more because I was an x-addict. This story is not uncommon amongst female fans as so many found an "in" to comics via the x-titles. Many male readers found comics through the X-men too, but they didn't have to look hard to find male leads that reflected their own struggles.  There was only one Kitty Pryde, one Storm, one Rogue, and all in the same book.

I began to lose interest in the X-Men comics shortly after Phoenix: End Song. I did not recognize it as the tipping point; at the time I enjoyed reading the Greg Pak story with the overly cheesecake-like Greg Land artwork. In retrospect, perhaps I was content to read any title with Jean Grey, even if she began and ended the mini series as a corpse. Had I known that she would really be gone from comics for the next six years, I might have been a little more offended by the fact that it featured Cyclops and Emma Frost consecrating their relationship (after a torrid psychic affair) in the same story that is meant to be a sendoff to his dead wife. After Grant Morrison's departure from New X-Men, the death of my favorite character was enough to send me packing. With the exception of Astonishing X-men, my forages into the X-Men titles since have left me disappointed. (I have continued to read X-Factor, but honestly, that title is barely an X-book. It's a fun, supernatural tinged gumshoe book that happens to have mutants.)

But the X-Men books are tempting sirens that continue to lure me back with hopeful curiosity. I would like nothing more than to see my once favorite books restored to their former glory. And once again I am an employee at a comic book store. After the closing of Comic Vault, I'm back with Graham Crackers Comics, this time at their new Lakeview location (formerly the Lincoln Park store). The only reason anyone works at a comic book store is because they love comic books. Keep this in mind next time you stop by your local comic shop, especially before you ask them if they read comic books (yes, yes, yes, the answer is and always should be yes). I have the privilege of reading whatever a please without having to pay for it, something I rarely do. Why should I convince a customer to pick up a book that I wouldn't take home myself? But I will use this opportunity to undertake Odyssey X. This endeavor may be one I will regret, but the parameters are as such: I will read and review every X-Men title during X-Men: Schism. If I like a book I will buy it, but I'll leave the rest on the shelf. I hope to come away from this experience with a rediscovered love for the books that gave me so much joy as a youth, though I am likely to come away with some disappointment as well (they can't all be good!). Check back soon for the first installment with X-Men Schism #1 and New Mutants #27.

Odyssey X, Week 1: X-Men Schism #1, New Mutants #2
Odyssey X, Week 2: X-Men #15, X-Factor #222, Uncanny X-Men #541

Odyssey X, Week 3: X-Men Schism #2, X-Men Legacy #252, Astonishing X-Men #40, Uncanny X-Force #12, New Mutants #28, Bonus Book Generation Hope #9

Odyssey X, Week 4: X-23 #13 , X-Factor #223

Odyssey X, Week 5: X-Men #15.1, X-Men Legacy #253, New Mutants #23, Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force #2 (Bonus Book)

Odyssey X, Week 6: X-Men Schism #3, X-Factor #224, Generation Hope #10, Uncanny X-Men #542

Odyssey X, Week 7: X-Men #16, Astonishing X-men #41, New Mutants #30, Uncanny X-Force #13, X-Men Legacy #254

Odyssey X, Week 8: Uncanny X-Force #14 and a Mid-Point Reflection