The Pull List
(Click title to go directly to the review)
Q & @ with Warren Ellis on Avatar Press’ BLACK SUMMER
OMEGA FLIGHT #1
AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE #1
THE MIGHTY ANT-MAN #7
FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN #19
Indie Jones presents BIZARRE NEW WORLD #1-3
Indie Jones presents FALLING SKY OGN
Indie Jones presents FALL OF CTHULHU #0-1
Indie Jones presents…
Tales From the Crevice: It Came From the Nineties – SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATER
Warren Ellis has made quite a name for himself in comics. He’s embraced almost every genre harvesting new ideas and utilizing fresh storytelling techniques for both mainstream and independent comic book companies. One such independent company, Avatar Press is teaming up with Ellis along with artist Juan Jose Ryp to bring us BLACK SUMMER. Mr. Ellis was kind enough to answer some questions about this upcoming project.
Because this emerged from a bet that Avatar publisher William Christensen sent me. We do this every now and then -- it's how BLACKGAS and WOLFSKIN happened. It keeps my brain turning over, and, frankly, I'm 39 now and my brain needs all the help it can get. The bet revolved around superhero fiction and the "event programming" kind of book -- we'd been talking about 24 and that kind of intense, involved, twisty storytelling. Originally, we'd been talking about eight-page weekly episodes. And this conversation's been going on for 18 months or more. Eventually, I wrote the first episode, what is now the Zero chapter, and said something along the lines of "gotcha, fucker. Send me the whores and goats now." And then he got me. I sent in the second part and he said, this seems awfully crushed, we should do it as a seven-issue series...
First and foremost, why Avatar for BLACK SUMMER? Why didn't you go with a company more acclimated to producing superhero-centric stories like either of the big two or even Image?
Is BLACK SUMMER going to run in the vein of THE AUTHORITY when it comes to its "change the world" philosophy? Meaning, is this going to be a world forced to change directly by one person or persons pushing it to happen, or is this going to follow a world that comes to rely on its heroes to the point where they basically govern the planet?
It's not a long-form project. It's a self-contained miniseries, a serialized graphic novel, exploring one idea from several angles: where do you draw the line? If you're committed/mental enough to become a masked street vigilante in the first place, where do you draw the line in your pursuit of justice?
So according to the solicit for BLACK SUMMER there are apparently some political overtones that shape the events in the book. Are we looking at some parallels to what is going on in the current political climate in our own reality or are maybe we even looking at some future-casting, a look at what could be happening if things keep unfolding they way they are now?
I think it's just an apposite time for people to consider applying justice to authority. The minute the words "illegal war" come out of anyone's mouth, you're into the question of authority's culpability for death in any designated war zone. And it's hardly the first time it's happened, of course. It just happens to be the political ambience at a time when I was looking at superhero fiction again and considering what questions were left to be asked of the genre.
With THE AUTHORITY, and even STORMWATCH to an extent, whenever it came down to "right or wrong" scenarios those books played it very Black and White. These guys were the bastards, the good guys came in and cleaned up the mess (leaving behind a little debris of their own in the wake). Is there a kind of similar philosophy that's going to be running in BLACK SUMMER or are there going to be a lot of shades of grey in the big picture?
Oh, a lot. And I'd even question the black and white of STORMWATCH and particularly THE AUTHORITY to an extent. From a certain perspective, The Authority were absolutely the bad guys -- it just happened that, as in JUDGE DREDD, the other side were even worse.
But yeah: BLACK SUMMER is a situation where a member of a "superhero team" has taken the rule of law into his own hands, and the remaining members of the team -- many of whom don't even talk to each other any more -- have their own reaction to what that man did on a unilateral basis.
Are we going to be seeing much "traditional superheroing" going on--i.e. your usual assortment of costumed powers taking down evil doppelgangers of themselves? Or is that just the framework you're using to do a more in-depth examination of the questions the series raises?
None of that, no. As I say, it's a graphic novel, a single story told in serial. One of the Seven Guns has done something frightening, and it's about society's reaction to that, the rest of the team's reaction to that, and the hard decisions about what needs to be done next. Which is made harder by the fact that the rest of the team are tarred by the same brush as John Horus, the man who killed the President...
Are you anticipating a shitstorm in the mainstream media, considering the content of the story? Is it something you intend to actively court the way Marvel's done recently, or would you just as soon avoid it entirely?
I don't have time for all that. I don't expect any MSM reaction in any case. It's a big operatic superhero comic, it doesn't have the intent of, say, the "Death of The President" fictional-documentary of recent months. The act itself doesn't go unquestioned; it's not a didactic thing that makes an unchallenged case for the execution of a sitting President, and no names of living persons are used.
Recently there has been a whole lot of tearing down, disassembling, and deconstructing of heroes. Why do you think it is such a popular thing to do these days in comics?
Recently? It's been an ongoing process for twenty-five years or more, going right back to MARVELMAN and MOON KNIGHT. Hell, one reason why I wrote THE AUTHORITY the way I did was that we'd had twenty years of de-mystification of the superhuman and I figured we were due a little bit of super-mystification. It's just another palette, these days, and part of my thinking on BLACK SUMMER was that I hadn't really done a lot of that and wanted to give it a go. It comes down to asking questions of the genre, as opposed to obeying and enjoying the genre or, as in PLANETARY, scraping away the weeds and dog shit around the roots of the genre to get a good look at where it all came from. There's no big socio-cultural axe to grind, I'm just looking for a good story...
Can we expect more Avatar projects like BLACK SUMMER, WOLFSKIN, and BLACK GAS in the near future?
I have a ton of new projects coming through Avatar. William and I have been talking a lot about changing people's expectations of Avatar as a publisher. This summer I'm doing a historical graphic novella, CRECY, and a new long-form sf serial, DOKTOR SLEEPLESS, through Avatar, and there's more to come.
Are you done with the BLACK GAS and WOLFSKIN properties, or do you find yourself coming up with new ideas to continue them at some point?
I'm done for the moment. Maybe in a few years I'd take another crack at WOLFSKIN. I will, however, be writing another three-issue STRANGE KISS book sometime this year.
Is there a genre of comics that you won't go near?
Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk with you. BLACK SUMMER is solicited for June 2007.
OMEGA FLIGHT #1
Writer: Michael Avon Oeming
Artist: Scott Kolins
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
OK, let’s get this out right off the bat.
Is it scrawled somewhere in the Marvel offices that every first issue of a new series has to have the hero/heroes of the moment fight the Wrecking Crew? Don’t get me wrong. I like the Wrecking Crew. I think they have some cool powers and a nice little history in the Marvel U. I especially like their role as hell-raisers in MARVEL SUPER HEROES SECRET WAR and the main dudes who put a hurtin’ on Jarvis when the Masters of Evil were actually evil and laying siege to the Avengers Mansion (you newbs just don’t know what kind of coolness you missed back in the day). But to see this group of brawlers take on everyone from the Runaways to She-Hulk to Captain Ultra, and now Alpha…I mean…Omega Flight, it kind of dilutes the threat factor, knowwhatumsayin’? Marvel has a rich history with many, many characters (heroes and villains). I think Marvel needs to dig a bit deeper into the villain pool next time they think about a first issue foe.
Now that that’s out of the way, I am here to decree Alpha Flight the JLI of the Marvel Universe. Not only have they suffered from bad to horrid relaunches throughout the last years, but Brian Michael Bendis (who admitted he knew nothing about the characters) writes the team who once was close to Marvel’s number one book into a one panel death scene in one of the worst issues of NEW AVENGERS ever. In this issue, the sole survivor of that onslaught looks to be pushing up daisies as well. I understand and commend the writer (Michael Avon Oeming) for giving this character an entire issue as a spotlight (it’s much more of a sendoff than BMB gave the entire team when the Collective walked through them like tissue paper in NA), but can’t we have a few members of Alpha Flight in this new incarnation? After reading this issue, I was left, once again, pissed and screaming “the fuck?” Like DC, Marvel seems to be putting forth the bold message that characters that once embodied a feeling of fun have no place in modern comics. Alpha Flight was always that quirky team of misfits with weird looking costumes and powers. They were fun to look at and read. Now…they’re just dead and we have another series whose sole purpose is to make up for a mistake offhandedly made by Bendis.
Apparently there hasn’t been enough death and sandcastle stomping in the Marvel Universe these days, so Marvel decided to resurrect Alpha Flight. This time they decided to call it Omega Flight because it’s no longer cool to be the first line of defense. Now they’re the last line. They’re in the back with all the cool kidz now.
I’ve loved pretty much every incarnation of ALPHA FLIGHT since Byrne decided to take a chance with the quirky band of heroes in the late eighties. I read the conspiracy-laced relaunch from the nineties and thought it was cancelled too soon. I even chuckled a bit when the team was resurrected as comic fodder for a twelve or so issue series a few years ago. But I don’t know if I can get behind this series, not even on a nostalgic level.
I mean, so far, there aren’t even any Canadian members on the team. SHIELD decrees that USAgent and Julia Carpenter/Arachne /Spider-Woman have to be members. We know from the CIVIL WAR fill-ins that the Collective (the guy who killed the last Alpha Flight) has been recruited as a way to redeem himself. Beta Ray Bill is included seemingly for shits, giggles, and whythefucks?!?! And it looks as if, due to the way things turn out for the one lone Alpha Flight member still breathing (for now), the original Shaman’s daughter Talisman will probably join out of a sense of obligation and guilt over how this issue ends.
So we have an Alpha Flight with one Canadian, an alien, a lame-ass who is able to access any mutant power lost during the lamer-assed HOUSE OF M debacle, an ex-junkie heroine, and the Guy Gardner of the Marvel Universe. Normally, I’d jump at this offbeat team-up if not for the ramshackle way this issue was put together. Other than Talisman, none of the other team members on the cover actually show up. It’s just the last surviving Alphan trying to get the band back together then tussling disastrously with the Wrecking Crew. Since this is supposed to be a five issue miniseries, wouldn’t one think that the writer would get the team together quickly? 20% of the story is over already and not one member of the team has showed up. Despite some decent lines by Oeming, I think he could have picked up the pace with this first issue a wee bit. I know originally, when Oeming first signed on, this book was supposed to be an ongoing and not a mini. But that’s no excuse for this type of slackass storytelling where the writer is too busy trying to be clever by setting up the person you think
is supposed to be the hero as the fall guy and the real
hero/heroes doesn’t/don’t even show up until issue two…maybe.
It’s no shocker who is on the team either, so why shroud it in mystery in the story when the members are plastered on the front cover?
There is a clever sequence as some school children talk about clones and bring up inconsistencies prevalent throughout Alpha Flight’s rich past. And this is the best art I’ve seen from Scott Kolins since he left the FLASH, but I just can’t recommend this book because of the sloppy and meandering pacing, the uninspired choice of villainy, the stupid marketing (mainly the inconsistency between cover and content), and the taste of turds in my mouth from Bendis’ mistreatment of the characters in NA and this “piss-on-the-grave” move by not even having any Canadians in a book that once took pride in being offbeat representatives of our Northern neighbors.
RUNAWAYS # 25
Writer: Joss Whedon
Penciler: Michael Ryan
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee
So after taking time to give the team that created this little book of teenaged, superpowered misfits a little bit of a sendoff with last issue, I figure it's up to me to go ahead and take a gander at the new boys at the helm--that being mastermind of the Buffyverse Joss Whedon and penciling veteran Michael Ryan.
Now, first things first, I'm already caught a little off guard because this book started in no way what I expected it to; with mixed feelings. When we last saw our ragtag band, they had just one upped the godlike beings that were the cause of the Pride (the evil organization that was headed by the RUNAWAYS parents), the Gibborim, and had returned home to find themselves staring face to face with junior fascist Iron Man. And from there I was expecting a full blown "Registered Runaways" and blah blah storyline, which I was almost okay with and even kind of prepared for since Marvel decided to go ahead and throw together a completely disposable RUNAWAYS VS. YOUNG AVENGERS mini for CIVIL WAR.
But alas it was not to be and instead of being treated to that we're thrown into a scenario I'd have never imagined this book doing...having dinner with The Kingpin? And honestly, is he even the Kingpin right now? I don't even know what is going on with the guy. First he's in jail with Matt Murdock, and then he's getting acquitted by MM as well, and then he's putting out hits on Spider-Man, and now he's offering our protagonists protection while they're in the Big Apple in exchange for one little favor involving a little bit of theft. Oh well. I don't know and I'm sure Marvel Editorial doesn't either, no need to dwell, he's there for a reason and gets to the point rather quickly.
Honestly, there isn't much going on in this particular issue beyond that encounter with the portly crime lord. This issue is more to set the stage for the arc as a whole, it looks. The emphasis here is more on giving a little bit of a glimpse of a new foil for the Runaways, and for Whedon to flex his characterization muscles and show us he understands the characters. This is key given the whole drive of this book is the characters and their particular quirks and the changes they go through. Little side encounters between the team show that Whedon still knows his awkward teenagers, and understands the complex relationships Brian K. Vaughan instilled amongst his creations before he let them run free. There's a nice little jolt of action towards the end of the book when the crew are attempting to honor their end of the bargain with the Kingpin that shows that next issue should be chock full of adrenaline as one very angry and heavily armed man in black is now involved in the whole debacle.
The art chores are also in good hands, as Michael Ryan brings some really detailed stuff to the world of the Runaways. As much as I still didn't want to see BKV leave this title, I knew at least that Whedon had the same kind of touch and therefore could work well on this. But on art I wasn't so sure. Alphona's art was a very integral part of how this title worked as well, and his unique blend of realism and cartoonism was going to be sorely missed. And it still is, but Ryan brings the house when it comes to loading every single panel (or damn
near) with so much detail that it really does bring a new life to the pages. Every page has so much eye candy going for it, but also never loses the heart of the book with the extra emphasis he puts on his facial ticks. Ryan's art is also another successful "casting call" when it came to this new direction.
So overall this was a pretty solid read. We know our creative crew can handle these characters, so that's a big plus, and there's some pushing and nudging towards a greater story, so we've got something to look forward to. I was hoping for more of a "jump right in and go for it" approach (which to be honest this does have to an extent) but I can handle a slow burn for an issue and the interpersonal stuff was handled really well so the story paced itself well. This actually does make a good jumping on point if you're one of the many fans who probably had no idea this book existed until Joss "Goth Overlord" Whedon's name
became attached to it, but there will be some details that will probably go over your head at first so it would be nice if you went out and at least tried some of those nifty digests that cover the span of the book thus far to see what you missed. But this was a nice start to what I hope turns out to be another great chapter in the saga of the RUNAWAYS. Go Joss go. I know you can do it.
AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE #1
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Stefano Caselli
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
I find it funny that so many people rip on the old New Universe, yet so many of today’s writers lift “hot ‘n fresh” ideas from that failed line of Marvel books from the eighties. During the final months of that comic book line, THE DRAFT was released. Since sales were so low, the heroes of the cancelled books were all glommed together into one story. The premise was this: After a devastating event which destroyed the city of Pittsburgh, the military initiated a draft which required all superhumans to register and receive army training. It was a boot camp/FULL METAL JACKET-type book that focused on the training of these various heroes, putting them through a rigorous training process in order to prepare and keep tabs on them to be used whenever the need arose.
Well, it should because toss in the above synopsis and a heaping dose of YOUNG AVENGERS and you’ve got AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE #1.
Writer Dan Slott does a decent job of working with the mess Marvel has become over the last few months. He’s trying his damndest to make pro-registration characters seem sympathetic even though there is a strong stench of Nazi-style politics going on at the book’s core. Young women and men are enlisted without much choice to undergo a rigorous training regimen. If they pass, they become full-blooded, board certified and registered American heroes assigned to serve on one of the fifty superteams sanctioned in every US state. If they don’t pass, they are “grounded.” Although we aren’t given the full details on what “grounded” means, we are given a clue as one hero’s superpowers are literally stripped from her body at the end of this issue. Never the subtle storyteller, Slott even gives the doctor in charge of the “grounding” a thick German accent and the name Dr. Von Blitzschlag.
The young heroes introduced are interesting enough, but their resemblance to the Young Avengers and the Runaways are a bit too distracting. There’s a goth kid. An all-American descendant of Dr. Erskine (the guy who created the Super Soldier serum). A chick who can fly on clouds (whose resemblance to the old Defenders member Cloud may seem uncanny to us old-schoolers). A chick with a gun for an arm (with SHE-HULK’s Southpaw and this issue’s introduction of Gauntlet, who I’ll get to later, I think Slott has filed his quota on characters with weapons for appendages). A chick who consumed a lizard formula from Dr. Curt Connors. And a dude who seems to be able to make balls appear over his hands (he’s popular in certain clubs, I’m imagine). These characters are your typical BREAKFAST CLUB grouping. Nothing we haven’t seen before. Not badly conceived, just blandly familiar.
And because Marvel is sorely lacking in the “angry black man” department, the aforementioned Gauntlet is introduced. He’s a hard-nosed, no nonsense African American military hero with a mechanical thingee replacing his hand. His job is to whup these new recruits into shape. Which leads me to ask the question, “Why are all African American Marvel heroes so angry?” We’ve got Luke Cage, Ultimate Samuel L. Jackson, Black Panther, War Machine, Falcon, Supreme Power’s Nighthawk, and a guy who is actually named Rage, fer chrissakes. I know plenty of African American guys and not all of them are angry. Some of them are damn funny or quite sensitive. But in the Marvel Universe, the rule not only is that if you have super powers, you MUST register. Nope, the carvings on the wall also states that if you’re black, you’ve got to be super-pissed.
Like I said, the story itself, although plodding through familiar territory, isn’t bad. Slott amps up the unpredictability factor in a Danger Room style sequence towards the end. If you’re looking for Slott’s trademark funny, you aren’t gonna find it here (although Slapstick does show up for a panel or two). Slott has a big cast to play around with and enough respect for Marvel history to make me come back for a second helping. The art is an added bonus. Stefano Caselli gives the book an animated cell quality with crisp, dark lines which really give the characters depth in the panel. Here’s hoping that, with this series, Slott can squeeze a diamond out of the coal mine Marvel has thrown its universe into. So far, he’s going by the books, but Slott is a good enough writer (as seen in his excellent SHE-HULK and THING series) to make AVENGERS: THE INTIATIVE into something interesting.
THE MIGHTY ANT-MAN #7
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Penciler: Cory Walker
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee
So this is what it comes to: a shameless tie-in to Marvel's MIGHTY AVENGERS mixed in with Kirkman's unsympathetic take on an old superhero archetype, the shrinking man. And honestly, I can't really blame them at this point. The sales on this are pretty dismal, showing once again that in the comic book industry it doesn't really matter what's in the pages, but who's on them (or is it whom? Me sucky at English). But the book really is hitting a stride and becoming a very entertaining read each month. This isn't exactly a "high art" book or anything. This isn't my making a case for something like a FABLES that is criminally underbought and is one of the best books the market has to offer from an entertainment AND quality standpoint; I'm just here to say that ANT-MAN is a very fun book, and it really would be a crime if its shelf life was to be cut off prematurely.
The first several issues did have some trouble spots admittedly. The way the narrative jumped around from flashbacks set primarily in two different periods, plus how they unfolded in "current time", was a bit jarring but now that all that stuff is out of the way this book is hitting a really nice stride. And this issue in particular strides to one main point (or three depending how you look at it): Ms. Marvel TNA. That's right, the World's Most Unlikeable Superhero has set his perverted sights on Marvel's quickest up-and-coming fanboy sex symbol,
and hilarity ensues.
What is great about it all is that Kirkman, much like his much maligned
creation, just doesn't care when it comes to the levels of depravity he's willing to write here. This issue literally is 22 pages of Eric hiding around Ms. Marvel at her "home" and on the job trying to take in as much of her lovely female form as he possibly can. There's even a two-page, sixteen panel grid dedicated to Eric just looking at her lovelies while she's in the shower. His perversion knows no bounds and the fact that Kirkman revels in it just makes it comedy gold. The same goes for ANT-MAN's impromptu "team up" with THE MIGHTY AVENGERS and how through the entire time we find Eric trying to figure out how he can capitalize on the situation he's in with Avengers all around him and how he can turn it into the beginnings of a fortune. And he does it all in a way where you obviously can't help be a little disgusted by his actions, but at the same time your amusement at them makes you kind of cheer for him a little inside (think anytime you take a friend out drinking and he makes a total drunken jackass out of himself with the ladies).
Honestly, from a pure entertainment standpoint, this was probably my top book that I read this past week. I haven't had so many chuckles and yeah, even total Laugh Out Loud moments from a comic since I was getting monthly fixes of NEXTWAVE (another prime example or what I was trying to make a point of earlier). As much as I try to be a big proponent of "comics as art" even I just want to sit back and let the brain take a time out while at the same time treating it to something that will tickle it the right way, and THE IRREDEEMABLE ANT-MAN is doing wonders for me in that regard. I hope at the very least Marvel
does go out of its way to see this in trade so you all can see what you've missed. In this past year alone I've lost NEXTWAVE, I've lost, gained back, and apparently lost again MANHUNTER, and things aren't looking on the up and up for CHECKMATE. Please, don't make me lose ANT-MAN too.
FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN #19
Writer: Peter David
Penciler: Todd Nauck
Inker: Robert Campanella
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Not to state the obvious but when I’m reading a comic, at the base what I really want is a writer whose has a story he really wants to tell. That’s it. Just someone who’s got a hell of a yarn for the reader. Even if maybe I don’t love the story, even if I have issues with it, if I can tell the writer is busting ass to tell me a good story, I’m usually in.
That’s one of the problems I’m having with the Spider-Man books lately. Not saying there aren’t writers on the books with stories to tell, but the stories seem to be having to take second or even third place to marketing concerns. Ya just can’t tell a Spider-Man story straight up. First the writer has to figure out how to tell their story while fitting it into the whole new Marvel world order. Pain in the ass. I almost wish Spidey had stayed pro-registration just so we wouldn’t have to deal with this fugitive hero stuff.
Now I’m a realist. I mean, comics have done big company-wide events before that have to be accommodated (although I don’t think ever this big and intrusive). But in this case it’s worse because the Spidey books aren’t just having to work in the CIVIL WAR/Initiative stuff. There’s a giant blockbuster of a movie coming they have to work to cross-promote. So while Spider-Man is hiding from the law he is also being put into his black suit to tie-in with Spider-Man 3. Okay, if that can be done smoothly, well then… okay, it’s not being done smoothly. Does anyone out there see the black suit coming back as anything but a cynical promotional maneuver? Expected and understandable but still. And it isn’t done smoothly. He was running around for a whole bunch of issues in the black suit with no in-book explanation of why he was back in black. Then AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, the last to put him back in the suit after the others have had him in it for multiple issues, FINALLY explains why he’s in the black suit again. And even with that I’m still not positive I buy it. He’s pissed and going hardcore! Okay… is that enough reason to put back on a suit that resembles a crazy freak villain and that scares the living hell out of your wife? You know, the wife ruining her own career and going into hiding with your on-the-lam ass? I just don’t quite buy it.
But back to FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN in particular. Peter David has his ducks in a row. He’s got the Initiative worked in. Spidey is in black. But David is taking it a step further. He seems to be fully embracing the movie push. He doesn’t just have the black suit to tie-in with the movie. He actually goes the extra step to mirror elements of the movie itself. The trailers are selling that Sandman might have a connection to the death of Peter’s Uncle Ben. So FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN says, okay, we’ll also have a plot where Sandman is tied to the death of Uncle Ben…sorta kinda maybe. Seems Sandman’s dad is being falsely accused of killing a version of Uncle Ben from another reality and Sandman needs Spider-Man’s help to clear his dad’s name. Okay, a little far to go to get the tie-in but if it’s good, hey, I’m in.
But as it the story comes to a close, I gotta say, I ‘m kinda cold on it. It feels more like an attempt to try and make a marketing move into some sort of a decent story rather than a writer who really truly has a good story to tell.
The weird thing is there is all sorts of stuff in the story that has potential but it just doesn’t jell. Spider-Man and Sandman, arch foes, working together for a common cause? Good idea. Almost always fun to see people who annoy each other forced to find common ground. Nice to see a villain showing some humanity. They bring in some time travely stuff. That can be fun. Other dimensional nonsense. Nice. Only…I think all of that together starts to be just too much stuff. I only have so much disbelief I can suspend!
But maybe the biggest problem for me is Uncle Ben. Okay, it is not THE Uncle Ben. He’s Uncle Ben from two universes over. Whatever. At some level he still is Uncle Ben. If you are going to kill Uncle Ben again, even a double, it would seem to me a prime opportunity. Forget the pain and angst Spider-Man is feeling from the CIVIL WAR junk. Ya got Uncle Ben in his life. Even if he is the worst jerkiest Uncle Ben ever to exist, there is hay to be made of re-killing any version of the man whose death helped make Spider-Man who he is today. There is soooo much to be done with that. But in this story, hell, he might have as well have been anybody. Spider-Man is so removed from Ben’s death physically and emotionally that the death is kind of wasted.
So way too much going on, a waste of a perfectly good uncle snuffing…what else could go wrong? Hey! I know what lets do! Lets end on a deus ex machina! Lets end with a random, crazy, and yet…ugh…poetic, accident that wraps everything up. It’s like a Rod Serling twist if Rod was tired and didn’t quite care. And I’m not sure Peter 100% did care. I wanted to. I really did. But…I can’t care about something this blah. I don’t care about The Initiative. I don’t care about marketing a movie. I care about reading stories someone really wants to tell.
Like Peter David, hated this story.
BIZARRE NEW WORLD Issues # 1-3
Written by: Skipper Martin
Pencilled by: Christopher Provencher
Published by: Ape Entertainment
So is it too early in the year to proclaim that this book is the best new comic of 2007? Because it is. Pay attention kiddies because BIZZARE NEW WORLD is the best new comic I've read so far in 2007.
Yes, it's true. You may not believe me. You may say, "Superhero, an indie book the best new comic of 2007? Surely you jest!" To which I would say, "First of all, don't call me Shirley. Second of all, don't be such a jackass…read the book because it is awesome."
It's so great when a book just gets thing right, y'know? When a book is just so perfectly neat-o that you just read it and think…man, this is good times. It's rare when it happens. In today's world of early internet newsbreaks and company-wide crossover events it's really a welcome surprise when a book this fun comes along. BIZARRE NEW WORLD is a true jewel in the ugly morass that so many comics have become.
Now, I don't want to overhype this baby for you. There's no Galactuses coming down to eat the innocents of Earth. No nubile demon slaying females fighting the forces of darkness. No ultimate steroid-heads coming to kick terrorism ass. Nope. What makes BIZARRE NEW WORLD work is that it's simple and straightforward. It doesn't need flash. It doesn't need glitz and glamour. Y'know why? Because it's good.
What's so good about it? It takes a simple concept and pushes forward with it. And, in my opinion, that's where some of the best stories come from…simple ideas made good. What's the concept you ask? Well…what would happen if you woke up the next morning and found out you could fly?
That's it. It's that simple. What if regular Joe Schmoe woke up the next morning and could take to the air like Superman? See? I'm sure the concept alone already has you thinking.
But the authors of BIZARRE NEW WORLD don't make the obvious choices like some other creators might. It keeps the tale of an average guy who can fly and keeps its reality, for lack of a better term, firmly planted on the ground. For all the fantastic aspects the idea of human flight offers this book sticks to the human aspect of the story and keeps its protagonist identifiable. BIZARRE NEW WORLD's central character is someone who many readers will absolutely recognize as your average, everyday American. And when I say average, everyday American I'm not talking about Peter Parker or Jesse Custer comic book normal. I mean he's got a gut, a humdrum job, and looks like, well, any guy you'd see on the street. Which is what makes the book so endearing. It's not Mr. Perfect Abs who gets flying powers…it's a character that looks and acts just like someone you'd see in your everyday life. Hell, it's someone who probably looks a lot like what a lot of comic book fans see in the mirror.
Which brings me to the artwork. Penciller Christopher Provencher provides an almost Dale Keown-ish type of smoothness to the art chores, but he's able to succeed with his artwork where Keown always seem to have trouble. Keown could draw overly muscled Hulkster figures with great skill but his normal folk always seemed to me to be a bit stiff in places. Provencher doesn't have that problem at all. He's able to illustrate the mundane and average details of everyday life with a cartoonish style that makes his world look more interesting than it has a right to. Many comic artists have a hard time drawing the objects that surround us every day, much less make the setting of everyday life come across as engaging. Provencher is able to draw the world around us and keep the whole thing interesting and entertaining. It's a skill that's hard to pull off in comic books but Provencher does a great job in helping suck the reader into the tale of an ordinary guy who can fly.
Special attention should be paid to the colorist of this book. While Provencher's pencils are certainly a high point of the book the colorist of BIZARRE NEW WORLD is the ingredient that takes the whole package to a level of true professionalism. The coloring here is subtle but not flat. Colorist Wes Dzioba doesn't overdo the coloring and is also able to make the pages seem vibrant and alive. There's a warmth to the palette of this comic that is lacking from so much computer colored work these days and I have to say that without Dzioba's work here the book would certainly be missing something special. The coloring in this comic brings so much to the feel of the book that I couldn't help but be impressed by it.
In the end the authors of BIZARRE NEW WORLD offer up a story that is fun, endearing, humorous and intriguing. In many ways the tone of this book reminds me of stuff like the recent ESCAPISTS mini-series or something like SPIDER-MAN LOVES MARY JANE. It's a story that's based somewhat in the "real" world but has its own fantastic elements that don't take away from the humanity of the central character. BIZARRE NEW WORLD is a terrific first production from Martin and his cohorts and they should be proud of their work. If you're a comic fan, pick it up. If you're a retailer, order it. BIZARRE NEW WORLD deserves attention as it's the kind of comic book that comes along once in a blue moon and is an honest pleasure to read from start to finish.
FALLING SKY OGN
Although I gave this book a sparkling review last summer, it is officially available for purchase now. This “end of the world” story has a concept that has been done before in such big budget extravaganzas as ARMAGEDDON and DEEP IMPACT, but never has an “asteroid headed towards earth” story moved me in the way this story did.
Benjamin Dickson not only creates a dire scenario, but some fully realized characters to take part in it. The story begins with a bank heist resulting in the kidnapping of company director Charles Pearson. The robbers think they can get a sweet ransom by kidnapping the millionaire, but find out that Pearson has spent his entire fortune recently on a secret. What transpires is more of a conspiracy story than an action adventure, but there are plenty of moments to get your adrenaline pumping too. FALLING SKY is a multi-textured social commentary on class, culture, media, and science in the modern world. It realistically looks at how the world would react if an asteroid were, in fact, heading for earth and destruction of civilization was evident. This story is very much like the best of zombie fiction in that it depicts humanity with all of its ugliness and beauty when it’s forced to come face to face with its own destruction.
The look for this book is amazing as well. Dickson admits that he had to be convinced by a fellow artist to actually attempt to provide his own art to the words he’d written. Utilizing photo-referencing techniques at first, Dickson seems to blot out everything but the form of the person. He then chooses to fill the forms with the most simplistic of lines, only suggesting emotion, action, and context. Not only is this an innovative mode of artistry providing a unique look to the book, but it forces the reader to search a little deeper into the panel in order to fully come to grips with the action that is taking place in the scene and the emotions the characters are experiencing. Once read, you really feel as if you’ve experienced the horrific events in this book firsthand. The art and the depth of story have everything to do with that.
Those of you mainstreamers who normally skim the Indie Jones section but never seek out these books should take heed with this one. I love my mainstream books too, but none of them have placed me into the story and gripped me until the last page and beyond like FALLING SKY did--not only the first time I read it, but the second and third time as well.
FALL OF CTHULHU #0-1
Writer: Michael Alan Nelson
Artist: Jean Dzialowski
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
Although I can appreciate the appeal for those who are interested in Lovecraft, I’ve never really been that big of a fan. I do find what I’ve seen from Lovecraft’s attempts to define the unknown to be pretty interesting though. BOOM!’s earlier CTHULHU TALES, for instance, was about as good as you’re going to find if you’re looking for a spooky anthology. I had a chance to read the first two issues (issues #0 and 1) of BOOM!’s follow-up offering of CTHULHU madness and I found it to be a mixed bag. Upon reading the #0 issue, I was a bit befuddled at all of the terminology. It is an issue that lays a lot of groundwork and supplies a lot of back-story (which has become the function of these #0/origin issues). I could see that this would be a must have for Lovecraft aficionados, but it left this newb scratching his noggin. I was ready to write off this series until I got my hands on issue #1. This issue is told from a layman’s perspective, introducing new characters, who, like myself, know next to nothing about the Cthulhu mythos. This issue proved to be the antithesis of the origin issue which alienated me so much as it drew me into the story and had me intrigued with these characters and their fates. By introducing these characters who know just as much about this mythos as I did, the creators behind this book did a great job of introducing the story, the problem, and some of the terminology to new readers. So if you’re keeping score, issue #0 is strictly for the hardcore Lovecraft fans and issue #1 is for those of us who are interested, but not familiar. Going back to issue #0 after reading #1, though, helped me piece things together, and I enjoyed it a bit more after a second go around. All in all, this is a promising new series from BOOM! If you’re a fan of Lovecraft, then this is required reading and it’s pretty friendly to those, like me, who are curious too.
Now, Squashua is a fan of Cthulhu and has been known to make sacrifices to the tentacled one out behind the ol’ @$$Hole Clubhouse. Let’s see what he thought of issue #1.
FALL OF CTHULHU #1
FALL is the first recent legitimate contender for an ongoing series featuring the H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. I was very excited for this book when I read that it was coming out. As a book of the Mythos, it ends up being a good entry that hits all the right notes; eccentric uncle, a stash of strange artifacts, obscure research into occult connections through news clippings and websites, and a mysteriously creepy boarding house. Heck, I'll even go so far as to give the writer serious props for slipping an interpretation of the
Dreamlands into this book and not letting any "bad lorem-ipsum" drop into the articles. The art is sufficiently dark, and it defines a clean distinction between the world of dream and the world of "reality", but in the end, this issue just didn't do it for me.
The characters are a little too self-aware, maybe even a bit too modern, and definitely too...made for television. And the world is a bit too obviously creepy. This reads as if someone made a series about Cthulhu intended for prime time, but it went straight to UPN or Spike TV. With the ham-handed approach it takes with referring to "The Call", I wouldn't quite give it "Battlestar Galactica" on Sci-Fi Channel renown, but I'm willing to let it take in “Dead Zone” numbers, if you know what I mean.
If you're new to the Mythos, pick up this book because it will give you a proper introduction. Serious fans of the genre will probably buy a copy no matter what, but please page through it first because at $4 a pop, you might not get anything you haven't seen before. I am going to pick up the next issue just to see where this leads, and because I fall under that "serious fan of the genre" veil, but if it continues to disappoint, I won't be around for a third issue.
This is the second offering from First Second Books that I have read and the second to have knocked my socks off with its innovative storytelling techniques and artistry. Italian artist extraordinaire, Gipi uses his subtle and simplistic linear style to illustrate a biting look at mistakes, motivations, and the monumental dreams of youth. Centering around a group of young musicians, this story uses simplistic lines,dirty shades of watercolor, and intimate and often painful story moments to make a truly original and memorable read. There is a feeling of real literary quality that exudes from this book. I feel as if I am experiencing a work of art rather than reading a funny book. The lessons learned by the characters of this book are hard, but necessary. This book not only shows a love of art and storytelling, but each chapter ends with silent panels of the band playing, exhibiting a true respect and love for music and the musicians whose troubled lives often make the most bittersweet of sounds. This is a book that should be absorbed rather than read. It is a full throttle experience of a book. I can’t recommend this one more. - Ambush Bug
Never before have I entered the world of Mike Allred's MADMAN and I figured this was as good an opportunity as ever to see what the deal was. And this is about as good as it gets in that regard. Right off the bat this book smacks you in the face and grabs you by the cajones with Allred's trademark visuals, but the primary function of this book is to be that recap someone like myself so desperately needed to set myself up to get fully behind this book. It looks like it's all here: origin story, quick detailing of the supporting cast, some synopsysing of the kinds of adventures our title character has gone on whilst getting you into the mindset of the book with its uber-quirky and sometimes downright insane sense of humor. And now I'm ready for more. Oh so much more. This is definitely a great three dollar investment, because now I'm ready to see what the world of MADMAN has in store for me, and the same could go for you if you just give this a shot. Now all I have to do is find me the extra scratch to get order one of those MADMAN GARGANTUAs that are apparently thick enough to flatten an infant. Now that's a hell of a deal right there. - Humphrey Lee
Although this is your typical by the numbers “survivors trapped in a building while the zombies are outside and trying to get in” type story, it is slickly put together artistically and I like the way the story itself started out right in the middle of the action and kept the pace going until the last panel. Utilizing LOST-style flashback sequences, the narrative jumps around showing how each character got to the point where the story began, revealing tidbits about each character in the process. There is an especially effective scene that showed a pair of children forced to shoot their mother which had been turned into a zombie. Although you can’t throw a rock in a comic shop without hitting a zombie book these days, this is a good looking offering with a story that shows some kind of finesse and style. I’ll be sticking around for issue two to see where this old-school story takes me. - Ambush Bug
GUIDE DOG DETECTIVE #1-2 (plus mini-comics #1-2)
Panda Sushi Comics GUIDE DOG DETECTIVE is one of those tiny little labor of love comics printed in black and white, copied, and stapled by a self publisher who obviously works hard to bring the best possible product despite a low budget. You’ll recognize quite a few detective and cop films, TV shows, and books homaged and referenced in this series which follows a canine detective through the seedy (and possibly flea-ridden) underbelly of the streets of crime. What I found most endearing about these books was the fact that the characters take themselves so seriously. This is a detective story played straight. There are real crimes. There is real drama. Real consequences. And the characters depict these scenes with a straight face and that edge that only the best noir mysteries have. It just so happens that the cast is made up of dogs, cats, ferrets, deer, and other creatures. I had a lot of fun reading both full length issues and the mini-comics which have an endearing quality all their own since they fit into the palm of one’s hand and read very quickly. Contact Jess Bradley to get a copy of your own. - Ambush Bug
This is another strong one-shot comic from Moonface Press, a company that is dedicated to bring “one & done” comics into the spotlight. This is an entertaining read along the same lines as BUFFY and BLADE in that it takes an in depth look at vampire culture, establishing the age-old rules of the vampire in a fresh and energetic manner. Artist Ken Burns has a Jim Califiore feel to his work in that shape and form are hinted at with dark shadows and shapes rather than straightforward line work. The artist has a good sense of perspective and camera angle. The story itself takes quite a few unexpected turns which I found to be refreshing. The surefire sell for this book, though, is the fact that the main character is wearing a shirt sporting the name of the best damn rock and roll band in this and any age, the Supersuckers! Any comic book cover giving homage to my favorite band is ok in my book. - Ambush Bug
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It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to delve into the world of the previous decade. Real life has unfortunately kept me from rereading any comics from that underrated decade. Thankfully, I had a spare day recently to go through a few volumes of the amazing world of the Sandman.
No, not that Sandman, the other Sandman. As in SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATER.
Set in the New York of seventy years ago, this book features the kind of realistic superhero I can get behind, mainly because of how much effort is made in establishing the world these characters inhabit. Pre-WWII New York is as much a character as Wesley Dodds or Dian Belmont. There’s an atmosphere to the setting, one that gives the book room to breathe. In fact, if you squint at this book you can see a pretty damn close precursor to BATMAN BEGINS. Only with a better romance plotline, of course.
It’s the three dimensional level to the romance between Dian and our hero that gives this book its backbone. There’s nothing forced or artificial about the way these two characters interact. Everything they say and do, Dodds running around in a fedora and gas mask notwithstanding, has an air of honesty to it. The whole relationship helps to make this book one of the most adult comics I’ve read. Not adult in the same way as HOUSEWIVES AT PLAY mind you, although there is plenty of sex to be had. No, adult in that the book doesn’t hit the reader over the head with some half assed analogy and cheap plot twists. No, this book treats the reader with respect by assuming that you have a brain. In the third collected volume for example, titled THE VAMP, a killer of high society gentlemen drains their victims of blood. No explicit reason is given, a la the shrink in the ending of Psycho, but if you’re paying attention you can understand the rationale for yourself. No other superhero book I’ve read rewards a close reading of the story as much as this one.
Then there’s the whole bit about the fellow in the gas mask playing at vigilante. There’s something about the look of the Sandman that manages to be both iconic and mundane at the same time. But I think that’s part of the charm. Taken on one level, it’s just a guy in ordinary clothes wearing a gas mask. But taken separately, this costume gives a great deal of insight into both the motives of the character and the story. The gas mask, for example, reminds one of the First World War, and the figures of the Lost Generation that came out of it. And Dodds is nothing if not lost in himself. As for the fedora and trenchcoat…well, if I have to be the one to explain to the readers of THIS site about stuff like the works of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Film Noir, then Harry’s not doing his job right.
There are currently four TPB volumes collecting SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATER available, with Vertigo releasing a fifth in the coming weeks. By any gauge they are quality books, well worth reading. That they also happen to be a product of the 90’s just goes to show that the decade that nearly broke comics wasn’t as bad as some would have you believe.
QUESTION FOR DISCUSSION
What do you think is the most adult, mature superhero book currently on the market?
Check out the @$$oles’ ComicSpace AICN Comics page here for an archive and more @$$y goodness.