(Click title to go directly to the review)
Advance Review: THE DARK ARK #1
MISTER MIRACLE #1
SECRET EMPIRE #8
EQUILIBRIUM: (DE)CONSTRUCTION #1
IRON FIST #6
18 DAYS #25
Opinions Are Like @$$Holes presents You Guys, Comics Are Pretty Great!
DARK ARK #1Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Juan Doe
Publisher: Aftershock Comics
Reviewer: Justin Burkhardt and @justinburkhardt on Twitter
Cullen Bunn’s newest AfterShock comic is a simple yet original as hell concept. We all know the biblical story of Noah and his ark, but DARK ARK tells the story of what happened to all the unnatural creatures during the time of the great flood. The book comes out on September 20th, but I was given a chance read an advanced copy and trust me you’ll want to snag this book up when it’s released.
Bunn (X-MEN BLUE, DEAPOOL) has created the story of Shrae, a sorcerer, who has created his own ark filled with vampires, unicorns, dragons, manticores, harpies, and many more mythical creatures and monsters. Shrae was told by a dark power that if he created an ark to save the creatures of the unnatural world, his family would also be spared.
And just where is Noah’s ark during all of this? Well it’s not too far away floating in the flooded earth as well. The dark ark’s food supply (human sacrifices for the beasts by the way) is dwindling, and while the animals on Noah’s ark look really taste to both humans and beasts alike, Shrae has been told that harm is allowed to come to Noah’s ark (because the evil beasts do need some prey in the new world). The dark ark is starting to get restless, which isn’t a good thing when you’re talking about a boat full of monsters living in close quarters.
In a flooded world where only two boats exist, it’s really impressive just how complex of story Cullen Bunn has created in DARK ARK #1. There are a lot of moving pieces during this first issue, but it never feels complicated or overbearing, which is also impressive. Before this book, I never once thought about an evil re-telling of Noah’s story, but I wish I had. Bunn really has done a lot with this first issue, and the possibilities truly are endless on where this story could go.
The art is by Juan Doe (AMERICAN MONSTER, WORLD READER) and it looks great. The colors in this book, especially in the monsters, really catch your eye against the dark and dreary background. The art matches the story in that it has a real metal type of feel to it. I mean really though, what’s more metal than a dark and monstrous twist on a classic bible story?
This first issue was fantastic and will likely be another hit for AfterShock, who has quickly become one of the best indie comic labels in terms of storytelling. This book is a must read for fans of monsters, horror fans, and those who like creative retellings of classic stories. I give DARK ARK #1 a score of 5 out of 5 demons. Take a journey on the dark ark when it arrives on shelves September 20th.
MISTER MIRACLE #1Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Humphrey Lee
I apologize up front for it, but in recent weeks my “Mark” gauges have been filling pretty steadily as I’ve dug pretty deep into hobbies to stave off the crushing despair that is, well, everything. It all started by making the huge mistake of catching up on the best of what Pro Wrestling had to offer in the fifteen years since I quit that stuff, which culminated in my getting a New Japan subscription so I could watch Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks everything and oh my god how have I ever convinced girls to go out with me? It’s not just muscular, spray-tanned men that get me to Mark Out, though, what really gets my juices flowing is when I find myself facing a comic book writer whose growing body of work hits me in all the right places given that I love comic books more than anything that isn’t the 14 pounds of love that is my fat, short-haired cat. Sometimes it’s a particular tonal style of theirs I fall in love with, or it’s a “workhorse” who I can count on to bring good to great work to my subscription slot three time or more a month, or it’s something like a knack for producing a diversity of material to the table. Or, of course, it could be a mixture of all those things and then some to earn some hard Marking Out points. Obviously, the point of all of this is to lead to my saying that, especially over the past year, Tom King has become the subject of my burning Mark desire.
Between his work on THE VISION, SHERIFF OF BABYLON, BATMAN, and THE OMEGA MEN the past couple years, it’s been easy to start digging on King’s work. Everything he has presented has this amazing ability to ground even the most fantastic of concepts, like an intergalactic war, or a family of androids living in the suburbs, or a lunatic fucking billionaire who dresses up as a bat to beat up criminals, but while relishing in the source material. His writing style and tone always brings an emotional resonance to the subject at hand, whatever it may be, and to run a spectrum of these feelings. His BATMAN run so far has done a good bit of balancing the Bat’s gritted teeth, determined demeanor with a soft side revolving around his relationship with Catwoman. THE VISION was a goddamn unexpected emotional gamut as the android Avenger and his family suffered through trials and tribulations and losses that would have felled even the mightiest of heroes and their humanity shone through in that remarkably well-crafted piece. Our review subject here, MISTER MIRACLE, likewise pulls its punches not even a millimeter as King and SHERIFF OF BABYLON co-creator Mitch Gerads tackle an enigma of a character with as heady a background as you can get in the world of comics.
The first blow is landed on you almost immediately as you pull back the cover and see titular lead, Scott Free, collapsed on the floor and bleeding out from a suicide attempt made because, well, who knows. As the book goes on it is made clear that something is wrong, but very much front and center, this a story about that opening moment and the harrowed mind of Free and why he would do it before some of that Fourth World starts creeping in at the edges. In no way do King and Gerads undersell this action, in fact future interactions with his wife, Big Barda, and “brother” Orion really sell the effect this had on those around Free, which in its own way comes off as even more profound considering these characters are almost quite literally gods. Even they run their own coping mechanisms to help Free through this, even if in the case of Orion it involves beating the ever living fuck out of the Miraculous one. At the end of it all though, even when some weirdness starts creeping in at the edges, the front most point being played here is why someone like Scott Free, Mister Miracle, would try to end his life and the impact it had on those most important to him and vice versa and just in that vein this is a very important and resonant book. And then the odd shit starts going down.
As deftly as King and Gerads handle the attempted suicide of Mister Miracle, they slowly start pulling at already frayed threads that make up the fabric of Free’s life and the Fourth World from which he originates. Almost a panel a page once Free is home and recovering, the main story is a black panel that simply says “Darkseid is” before going back to some sort of emotional interaction or a moment that makes you, and eventually Free himself, wonder what exactly is going on. A conversation with Highfather, Free’s actual father despite his upbringing of galactic shithole Apokalips, tells him that universal baddy Darkseid has completed his Anti-Life equation and then that dovetails into a call to war by Orion, but by the end of the issue who the fuck knows what stakes this book is actually playing for, which is wonderful. Is this all just the sputtering mind of a Scott Free still bleeding out on his bathroom floor, or comatose from the attempt itself in a hospital? Is this just a mind-fuck from Darkseid himself aimed at Free or is the long-brewing war between Apokalips and New Genesis actually playing out in this Maxi-series? Whichever way (or even combinations therein) that these talented men go with this book, this debut and setup for the year-long story to come is one of the most impressive things I’ve experienced in comics so far this year.
On the way out, it has to be noted that one of the things that makes Tom King such a draw is that he’s always getting himself just absolute knockout talent to the actual drawing part of these projects since he started writing funny books the past couple years. There’s a reason why he’s reteamed with Mitch Gerads for MISTER MIRACLE and that reason is goddamn awesomeness. As Gerads proved working with King on SHERIFF OF BABYLON, and even a two-parter with him on BATMAN telling a very personal Batman/Catwoman story, the man knows how to wring every last bit of detail and emotional impact and energy out of a comic book page. There isn’t a millimeter of unused space, there isn’t a single panel-to-panel movement that doesn’t provoke an emotional response or convey a picture perfect tonal shift or advancement. It’s just amazing stuff and really sells a book that started out just as excellent, possibly surpassing even my already high expectations for the book because while I was already anticipating the best from King and Gerads, I wasn’t sure what the final form of this book would end up like. And I’m still not since, thanks to those talents, these gentlemen have crafted a book that is as emotionally resonant as it is meta-textual and promises to continue bringing a heavy dose of both as it progresses. Just amazing, fantastic stuff worth the utmost Marking Out for, as I’m sure I will be for the next year.
Humphrey Lee has been an avid comic book reader going on fifteen years now and a contributor to Ain't It Cool comics for quite a few as well. In fact, reading comics is about all he does in his free time and where all the money from his day job wages goes to - funding his comic book habit so he can talk about them to you, our loyal readers (lucky you). He's a bit of a social networking whore, so you can find him all over the Interwebs on sites like Twitter, The MySpaces, Facebookand a blog where he also mostly talks about comics with his free time because he hasn't the slightest semblance of a life. Sad but true, and he gladly encourages you to add, read, and comment as you will.
SECRET EMPIRE #8Writer: Nick Spencer
Artists: Daniel Acuna and Rod Reis and Sean Izaakse
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Masked Man
Spencer's magnum opus is drawing to a close, with just two issues left. Here in issue eight, the Marvel heroes finally get their act together to combat this United States of Hydra America.
First let's talk art. Daniel Acuna jumps into the drawing chair for this bi-monthly series. His unique open line drawing style is very hit and miss. Now while I wouldn't say this is his best work, it is more hit than miss. And overall a huge improvement over the previous issues.
As to the story, it's easily the worst of the series. Spencer has some how managed to break every single storytelling rule there is here. He had to have done this on purpose, because I can't believe he's that bad of a writer. The issue starts with Sam Wilson becoming Captain America, again (remember how convincing his story arc was of not being Cap anymore and now deciding to be Cap again- yeah me neither). Thanks to the heroes recovering a piece of the Cosmic Cube (What? You don't remember that? That's because it didn't happen in this series, nor is it mentioned if it happened in a crossover issue! They just got one- yay), Cap (Sam) is now going to use it to bring down the planet shield (which is locking out the space heroes) and the dark force dome (which is imprisoning the New York heroes). Sam gives a speech and everyone gets all weepy eyed, and their hearts swell with pride, because the Falcon is back, er Captain America.. with wings... who... was... always known... for rousing speeches(?)... (too bad Spencer didn't write one)... so... thank God Captain Sam Falcon America is back... I guess. He also tells these heroes it's not easy for him to ask them for help in freeing themselves (Did he really think people like Captain Marvel and Luke Cage were going to be like, nah, I'm done. Sure, I've been living in a Hydra cage for months (was it?), but I have no interesting in getting out and kicking Hydra butt(!?!)).
Turns out they were up for it, as they had they're own plans for escaping ready. Mind you, it's not like we've seen them working on these plans in the past seven issue. Spencer just figured a brief mention was good enough to create this 'payoff'. And spoiler time, seriously spoiler time, it doesn't work. But, as the still unknown narrator tells us, unlike the past number of months (?), the superheroes are finally serious about this and finally decide to really fight back (because I guess they weren't serious about it all before?). Again we see more plans of action, that the past seven issue barely hinted on. It's like Spencer has no idea how to have the action in a story build to a payoff or climax- really weird. Here are the spoilers, to show you how creative the solutions were: Quasar just knocks the Earth shield down (like it was that easy), Maria Hill finds Black Out (didn't even know she was looking for him) and kills him, taking down the Dr. Strange proof dark force dome. So all the heroes are back together. Oh, and do you remember those Chitauri eggs Hydra hide on Earth so endless waves of Chitaurians would attack the heroes trapped outside the Earth shield? Well now that the shield is gone, Captain Marvel destroyed all the eggs. Personally, I thought it might be clever if Captain Marvel used the eggs to get the Chitauri to attack Hydra. But I'm probably wrong. Also, I suppose the blowing up of all their precious eggs (worth the lives of hundreds of Chitauri warriors), won't just make the Chitauri more mad, and send even more warriors to attack us.
Well, now that all the heroes are back, we are set for the climatic end. Where Spencer promises us that the Cosmic Cube isn't just going to fix everything (just somethings right?). Oh and spoiler, the Winter Soldier is still alive (?!?). I'm not sure why this matters, because he wasn't killed in this series. Now bringing Rick Jones back would be interesting, since he was killed in issue #1. And you'd assume it was all part of the plot: “Ha, ha, you thought we killed him, wrong! This is what is really going on...” As it is, it's just like how they had Bruce Banner come back to life, for no reason at all. So, whatever. I would love to hear from anyone enjoy this series, really I would.
BATMAN #28Writer: Tom King
Art: Mikel Janin
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Humphrey Lee
BATMAN as a comic and Gotham City as a fictional location are now fully embroiled in the “War of Jokes and Riddles” now that we are a couple issues into the arc, and while my overall man love for Tom King grows with every project he produces, I also have to admit there’s a little bit of a noticeable disconnect with this storyline as it progresses.
It’s a weird feeling because I actually do fancy the narrative means by which King is presenting this story, using a war documentarian recounting of the event from Batman to Catwoman as they relax together in what I’m sure makes perfect sense as post-coitous chatter to a man who dresses up as a Bat and beats up bad guys. But, this manner of flashbacking I feel kind of lessens the impact of the brutality the city of Gotham endured as the war between the Riddler and Joker raged on.
In the middle of this issue, Bats recounts the “Battle of Snipers” as Deathstroke and Deadshot spent several days trying to get position on each other and the death and destruction they wrought in their crossfire. And the script does somewhat drive it home with the level of dismay that Batman starts conveying in his tone and with how artist Mikel Janin stylishly depicts the carnage over a couple of two-page splashes, but I feel as though something is lost via this perspective.
It does make a case for how messed up everything is that these badasses are running rampant and they apparently still didn’t warrant a higher priority from the Batman with what he had on his plate, but it’s a little bit in line with that saying “a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic” in which this skirmish and its impact reads more like a harrowing footnote than the epic and brutal showdown it was. Plus, man, who wouldn’t want to read at least a full issue of the two best hired-guns in the DC Universe going at it with a creative team like King and Janin and with a backdrop that is this war between two of Batman’s top villains? Overall, I still really dig this story arc for just how darkly enjoyable it has been watching a deadpan Joker and a very simplistic Riddler failing to derive their normal sadistic enjoyment out of what they do while Gotham burns in between them, but I think some of the tonal choices are lessening the impact of this battle of the titans just a touch.
EQUILIBRIUM: (DE) CONSTRUCTION #1Writer: Laurence Moroney
Artist: Jazz Dela Cuesta
Publisher : American Mythology
Reviewer: Justin Burkhardt and @justinburkhardt on Twitter
Being a film buff, one of my favorite things about comic books is the ability to extend the life of a movie beyond the big screen. From BILL AND TED, to BACK TO THE FUTURE, to STAR WARS, quite a few of the books I enjoy reading the most right now are continued stories from some of my favorite movies.
In 2002, Miramax released the Sci-fi movie Equilibrium, starring Christian Bale. The movie didn’t do well at the box office, but has since become a cult hit among sci-fi fans. I was a fan of the movie myself (as was Roger Ebert, who gave it 3 out of 4 stars) and fondly remember talking about it when I worked at Blockbuster for a stint during my college years.
I was excited when in the summer of 2016 American Mythology released a three-issue sequel to the movie in comic form, and was equally excited when they announced a new officially licensed one-shot prequel comic, EQUILIBIRUM: (DE) CONSTRUCTION, which was just released on August 9th.
The book is written by comic newbie Laurence Moroney, but the story is in good hands. Moroney has written sci-fi books, most notably “The Fourth World”. He’s also written over a dozen books on computer technology, so he’s well equipped for the genre. And after reading this, I must say that he’s clearly a natural sci-fi writer.
This quick one-shot tells the story of the war that would bring on the world of Equilibrium. We even get a look at the beginnings of Prozium, which is really awesome for fans of the film. While this has been solicited as a one-shot, there is definitely room in the story to do a few more issues (like the sequel), and I hope it happens. This is a satisfying one-shot prequel, but I was still left wanting more.
The art is by Jazz Dela Cuesta, who I believe is a comic newbie as well (this was the only published comic I could find with his name on it online). It felt like an Equilibrium prequel, so Dela Cuesta definitely succeed in his first comic book art attempt. I looked up his Deviant Art page, and he’s got some really cool stuff on there, so I think he’s someone we will be seeing more of in the future.
I give EQUILBIRIUM: (DE) CONSTRUCTION a score of 4 out of 5 katanas. While I really enjoyed this book, it’s still a niche comic that works best if you’ve seen the movie. If you liked the film EQUILIBIRUM, then this book is a no-brainer for you. If you haven’t seen the film, read this prequel and then go see the movie!
I must also add that I really love the niche that American Mythology has created for themselves in the comic world. They’re keeping cult films (EQUILIBIRUM, STARGATE, and HATCHET), old cartoons (PINK PANTHER, UNDERDOG), and even The Three Stooges alive for fans to enjoy and new fans to discover.
IRON FIST #6Writer: Ed Brisson
Art: Mike Perkins
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Humphrey Lee
What I have to say I enjoy most about this latest IRON FIST volume, now that we’ve ventured an arc into its tenure, is that is already succeeding in giving me exactly what I want and what I did not know I wanted.
The first arc, while doing the diligence on pushing forward with Danny Rand, the titular Iron Fist’s journey to recover his powers and find the mystical city of K’un Lun where he acquired them, basically kicked this adventure off with the Kung Fu trope of all Fu tropes: A martial arts tournament.
Which was awesome, because artist Mike Perkins rendered it all awesome and writer Ed Brisson was more than willing to cheese it up a bit with the exposition and the “gimmicks” of those he was fighting and a nice dose of “Fighting Technique Mashup” where I assume he kept three separate prize wheels with body positions, animal names, and adjectives for the word “style” to add flavor. Now with that tournament behind him, Danny finds himself facing essentially psychokinetically controlled “zombies” that have been sicced on him as he returns Stateside and Shang Chi, Master of MOTHERFUCKING Kung Fu at his side to battle them and then, of course, to battle Danny himself.
It’s just great. It isn’t exactly a revolutionary new tale or anything, but Brisson and Perkins are knocking it out of the park when it comes to fan service for those like me who lap up this genre of furious fists.
18 DAYS #25Writer: Sarwat Chadda
Artist: Francesco Biagini
Publisher: Graphic India
Reviewer: Masked Man
Graphic India's 18 DAYS, inspired by Grant Morrison's take on the classic Hindu myth, the Mahabharata (which is a must read for any mythology buff), continues to roll (and rock) along. As I mentioned before, they've had a revolving door of artists and writers on this series. As a result the story-line never really went anywhere. But Chadda has been at the wheel for a while now, bringing some much needed continuity and overall progress to the story.
To bring you up to speed, the kingdom of Hastinapura is torn apart in an epic civil war (the classic description of which makes many people today believe in ancient astronauts). The war is between two groups of cousins: the greedy Kauravas, who have the throne, and the honorable Pandavas, who really just want their fair share. The battle lasts 18 days, hence the title of the series. So far the battle has waged for 10 days, and carnage has been limitless.
As to the spoilers for this issue, Bheeshma, the grand uncle of both the Kauravas and the Pandavas, is said to be the greatest warrior of all time. While he respects the Pandavas more, his vow to support the king is unbreakable, so he's lead the Kauravas into battle for the past 10 days. Duryodana, the king, is unsatisfied with Bheeshma's performance, since he refuses to fight Pandavas brothers (he's just been killing their soldiers by the hundreds). So he commands Bheesham to fight Arjuna, the best of the Pandavas and one of the greatest warriors of all time. Krishna, Arjuna's chariot driver, has decided they must accept the fates, and use a young woman, Shikhandi, as his shield bearer against Bheeshma. For not only has Bheeshma made an unbreakable vow to serve the king, he has also vowed to never fight a woman. Shikhandi, likewise, has made an unbreakable vowed to kill Bheeshma, by any means she can. As they close in combat, Arjuna and Bheeshma ready their super weapons bows... And you'll just have to read it to see what happens.
While 18 DAYS still isn't as great as I'd like it to be (love the original myth), it getting there. Chadda is doing well with telling the story. I just wish he'd throw in a few more flash backs explaining all these vows to the readers. Because strangely enough, this issue has a little too much padding to it. And more background info would remove the padding and make the characters richer. Still, this is a fine issue.
Biagini, is a decent artist, who brings a nice sense of (much needed) consistency to this series. He's developing a new, heavier inking style, which is making his work much more intense. His drawings of Bheeshma are most impressive in this issue. But, I don't know. I guess my own personal opinion is that I'd rather see someone more polished on this series. Someone in the vein of Olivier Coipel or Greg Capullo. Someone who could transform Chadda's script into a must read book. But this is a bit unfair to Biagini, who is doing a fine job.
So while not quite a must read book, it's definitely worth a look if you haven't tried it.
SUPERMAN #28Writers: Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason
Art: Scott Godlewski
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Humphrey Lee
Maybe it’s a case of my having gone into such an overload of cynicism just doing anything in our current social climate, to the point I think it’s somehow been weaponized to be in the air we breathe, but I have really enjoyed the nth level Americana that this SUPERMAN volume has been rocking the past couple issues.
The Kent Family has been taking their summer vacation through the American heartland and while at it the team of Pete Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, and artist Scott Godlewski have fully embraced that idea of the “Big Blue Boy Scout” as Supes and Lois have used the journey to espouse on their son Jonathan the virtues of this country we apparently one time had while attempting to show him that fabled “common ground” where, agree or disagree, ideological differences are a thing to be debated and respected. It comes off as refreshing simply because we’ve hit peak marketability of cynicism when it comes to icons of Superman and his peers in their prime time appearances, to the point where our movie version of Superman I think has smiled four times in four and a half hours on screen and, yay, Captain America in the comics is a Nazi ass Nazi in Marvel’s highest profile project of the year.
Don’t get me wrong, this mini-arc has been cheesy as hell, but it has been a welcome cheesy as a reminder to everyone of the ideals we all thought we non-partisanly agreed upon to respect and how the character of Superman has been the beacon of those since his inception nearly eighty years ago. It’s another sterling example of how well Tomasi and company know this character and have been crafting a very iconic yet personalized take on the Man of Steel with this REBIRTH run.
A week ago I, Humphrey Lee of Ain’t it Cool Comics, came back here for the first time in roughly a month to review what I think was a pretty good issue out of a so far pretty righteous Guardians of the Galaxy run in ALL-NEW GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. And my first instinct in this review was to play the cynicism card and bitch about the state of Marvel’s publishing line these days. Not only was that my first instinct but it’s also the way I ended up executing the top of the piece to intro it. Why did I do it? Probably because the world currently is a dumpster fire of a place and everyone on the planet is a walking raw nerve and even talking about the things we love eventually leads to us hating everything because we start focusing on the shitty parts of things we love and that makes us even more angry and it’s a miserable, self-defeating cycle of fuck everything…
Okay, mainly I did it because I thought it would be a good in toward talking about a book I think Marvel and their creative teams are actually handling well and I wanted to juxtapose it against some, yes, glaring problems in how Marvel presents its lineup these days. Admittedly, my current state of mind may be that of feeling so life weary I’m a little beyond dipping my toes into Lake Doom and Gloom and up to my ankles instead, but I do this gig to try and make what I hope are salient points when I write and not yell at the sky for no reason (I may be crazy but I’m no Alex Jones), much as that’s just the current trend in fandoms of every shape and size. And there are many problems with the way this industry works and that we should always be talking about to improve the day-to-day to overcome and strengthen it; stuff like how Marvel as a publisher has grown ever more short-sighted at the least, super greedy at the most with their constant barrage of new events and re-launching of their books, or how the comic business as a whole is apparently overly scared of cooties (or, y’know, just straight-up fucking sexist) when it comes to women getting into the mix, or how sales overall in the physical realm of comics looks somewhat stagnant, and on and on. Such things are the bare minimum we as fans should be discussing and debating or just vocalizing to the companies to make a product we all enjoy better and more accessible for others so that more fans can be created so more books can be made (hopefully cheaper) and down the line we go. Basically, what I’m saying is, that with all the problems the industry as a whole may have going on right now, let’s not forget one thing:
You Guys, Comic Books are Pretty Great!I have been buying comics for over twenty years now. They are, far and away, my favorite means of escapism, my favorite way to absorb the creativity of my fellow human beings, and my favorite means to watch a universe unfold and colorful characters of all genders, ethnicities, species, mechanical autonomy, etc etc. For all intents and purposes, comic books made me the way I am by being my fictional reflection of the world and imbuing on me values that I think our society benefits from such as selflessness, empathy, etc. Spider-Man being of the “Friendly Neighborhood” variety taught me to grow up and respect my neighbors and to help out when I can, in addition to that lesson about Power and Responsibility I don’t think 95% of those with the former ever learned while they grew up. Comic books are a vibrant medium with some of the deepest and/or most ridiculous characters produced by some of the most talented individuals we have on the planet, and I think we would do well to remember and respect that when we open our mouths constantly to (a lot of time rightfully) criticize the industry and medium for its -seemingly willful at times - shortcomings.
And I want to go a little beyond that overwhelmingly gushing praise I just heaped on and have probably spent a college degree’s worth of money on over the years to say this: I think comic books now, from a variety, quality, and talent standpoint are as good as they’ve ever been.
Twenty-plus goddamn years I’ve been reading these floppy pieces of dead trees filled with four-color heroes, villains, aliens, Preachers with the voice of God, and so on, and while the circumstances around them sometimes have and currently make me feel numb and jaded, the content within has always pulled me back from the brink. Some eras are better than others, of course. In fact, a discussion about the “best time for such and such” on one of the many hobby-centric podcasts I listen to teamed up with that shallow pool of aforementioned cynicism I wrote last week to bring me to this piece. The comic books I consumed around the turn of the century definitely had a much more profound impact on me that I don’t think will ever be matched because of course they cannot be; I was eighteen years old and searching for meaning and still shaping my personality in a world that confused and irritated the hell out of me. I also genuinely, probably biased, think we as a comic book community and medium were getting more seminal work then than we are now when I think about the time period and material released during it, like PLANETARY, LUCIFER, TRANSMETROPOLITAN, the opening salvo of Geoff Johns’ career, one of the best stretches of Alan Moore’s career with his America’s Best Comics imprint and on and on. Even with all those examples, which were really just the tip of the iceberg for that era and for my impressionableness waiting to be imprinted upon, I still think we’re flat out seeing things the best they’ve ever been in so many ways, despite the problems we’re experiencing, new and amplified or old and lingering.
I look around the shelves and I look at my pull list each month as I submit it to my LCS and I can’t help but be impressed by the breadth of storytelling and diversity of genre as I pick and choose how to fill out a very loose budget to which I barely adhere. My monthly fix runs a gamut of comic book icons that are still seeing some fantastic runs (particularly on the DC end of things since last year’s REBIRTH) and there’s plenty of the “new generation” to which I’m getting acclimated to but are that off to excellent starts. I’ve got Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples knocking down social taboos while telling one of the most heartfelt Space Operas ever imagined in SAGA. Jonathan Hickman came in and blew the doors off of the Avengers and Fantastic Four for a few years and then sank back into the Image world to do his genre-bending masterworks. Hell, the “regression” of Image back to its roots of being a hub for creators to strike out on their own to make/leverage their names in the industry and tell their passion projects almost alone makes this era earn the moniker of “greatest” given level of talent pushing their work through them and the scope of the publishing line and the stories within.
The current Ms. Marvel is a teenage Muslim American that’s doing her thing, the current Robin is the son of the Batman and is shockingly endearing despite an ego to rival Lex Luthor’s, and it feels like for the first time in a long while (mainly since DC was doing a big Legacy push in the 90’s) there’s been a youthful push in the big two next to the top icons. Spider-Man is probably on one of its best, extended runs he’s seen as a character under Dan Slott and crew (honestly, maybe THE best run if it weren’t for some misfires emphasizing big events like SPIDERVERS and CLONE CONSPIRACY that fell more flat than were impactful). Goddamn Valiant revitalized itself as an independent comic book universe and for nearly five years has presented several of the best titles on the stands with some of the industry’s most underappreciated talents. BOOM!, Oni Press, Dark Horse, the newly minted Aftershock comics, and on and on present themselves as houses for the more eclectic affair that don’t quite crack the Images and Dark Horses of the industry. Oh, and speaking of Dark Horse, it’s still a great house for some of the more fan favorite, independent properties in comics, still a rock solid publishing house for creators to bring their projects to, and now has Karen fucking Berger bringing her talents to its offices.
I can do this all goddamn day. Robert Kirkman is ten years on still rocking two industry-changing books in THE WALKING DEAD and INVINCIBLE which have not dropped a beat in quality or impact. While I openly admit that I don’t quite believe the top tier of my current reads are registering like the leaders of my pull pack from fifteen years ago, stuff like SAGA, SOUTHERN BASTARDS, DEADLY CLASS, and the recently concluded CHEW are damn well vying for my top fifty, forty maybe, and I’ve read a fuckton of comics in my day. We are in the midst of an all-time classic THOR run; hell, basically everything Jason Aaron produces is a goldmine. Have you seen the output of Brubaker and Phillips lately? They presently may be doing their best work ever together and they’ve been colluding like Russian lawyers for fifteen years now. Even SQUIRREL GIRL is goddamn fan hit (which I admit, I haven’t yet partaken in) and all the time I’m presented with quirky affair like it that I somehow missed and have to add to my “to do” list, because, again I cannot emphasize this enough, comic books the artistic endeavor are killing it even if comic books the business are tumultuous to say the least. Have you see the artwork in comics these days? Even the “stock” house styles are vivid and detailed and lush; let alone what’s happening with the top tier storytellers are letting loose on the industry and never getting enough credit for he says completely acknowledging I only mentioned a handful of artists at best while talking about how awesome the creative forces in comics are these days. The unbridled creativity of the stories being told and how so many genres are being re-imagined, or amalgamated, or just plain originated right now in the comic book industry is glorious and energizes me any time I feel drained from the day-to-day bullshit that surrounds everything.
And that bullshit seeps into all the cracks because a) there is a legitimately heaping pile of bullshit to deal with and b) the easiest thing in the world to come out any time there’s a new sales chart that points to market stagnation in the comic book industry and play armchair quarterback on “exactly what the industry needs to do.” I do it myself because I like to think I know it all and try to justify my MBA even though I have no business doing it because I don’t know what the fuck goes on in these offices. None of us do unless we work in them and see the numbers these folks are seeing, the metrics that they are reading and have to interpret as far as adjusting their standing and policy in the market, gauging shifting social norms and how to appeal to them, etc, etc. But its one thing for us to act like the smartest guys in a room we’ve never actually tried to enter to instigate change and it’s another thing entirely to be those actual people in that room making the decisions. All that said, it also doesn’t excuse bullshit from both ends of the Producer/Consumer spectrum in this industry and each side respectively needs to look in the mirror and simply ask themselves “seriously, what the fuck?”
It may be presumptuous of me and us to play armchair quarterback, but seriously, the idea of the “Comic Book Event” has gotten out of control, Captain America as a Nazi is the most hacky shit I’ve already read like three times in my life, and combining the two for nearly a year long company-wide arc is just so dumb. But not as dumb as a Director of Sales blaming comics bothering to feature not top icons, not just white people comics as the reason for slumping sales! Holy shit, what the hell? Though, I can see a point that when one of the most popular characters in the literal world of pop culture is Tony Stark and you’re desperately craving new fans to your medium, having Tony fucking Stark in your comics instead of in a coma due to yet another event you thrust upon everyone to cross market toward that global popularity is counter intuitive as fuck. But, when your justification of your market status is “we don’t know how to sell comics to people not this color and this gender” when there’s numbers out there like, oh, I don’t know, that nearly half of comic book readers are the other gender you supposedly can’t reach, then you may be fucking up. If you’re confronted with that piece of information and your reaction to the market you are in is that “diversity is the problem,” then I have no idea what to tell you except good luck with your job. A group I do know how to tell things to (and I would like to hope is smaller than vocal appearances on the Internet make them out to be) is the group of people that rolled their eyes at my saying that at the least mainstream comics are doing a shit job of being inclusive toward their readership. And what I have to say is that you can fuck yourself as well. I couldn’t go fucking go more than two days between when I decided to start writing this piece and my current act of typing it without seeing whiny piss ants wading through Doritos dust and empty Mountain Dew bottles to their keyboard to bitch about Marvel because a female editor at the company took a selfie with her female coworkers drinking milkshakes. I may have my problems with how the company is marketing itself right now (especially their pricing structures) but if you think the problem with a publisher is that they hired not just one woman but several and they’re enjoying sugary drinks together, then maybe you’re better suited to reading more your speed, like whatever pamphlets Richard Spencer is handing out these days in between getting punched like the punk he is. Admit to yourself that you aren’t reading comics for any sort of altruism to rub off on you or the compassionate, heroic spirit as they were designed, you just want to live out some power fantasy where cartoon cut outs of villainy get punched and the ripped (usually white) guy flies off with the (usually huge-titted) woman he saved and then fuck off out of this medium I love and is so far beyond that petty shit, has always been about inclusiveness even if you had no interest in seeing it, and has no time for your oh so witty generic comeback of yelling that everyone is a “snowflake” because they want the medium to do more in making comics more welcoming for a variety of groups.
See how easy that was? How I could to go from praising the industry for being possibly the most exciting it has ever been and then immediately damning it and the hive of scum and villainy that cowers at the edges of it and the Internet community? There are very real problems we need to discuss and overcome in the world of comics and I could do probably fifty more rant paragraphs like the few above when it comes to things like pricing, market over-saturation, executive and editorial presence and I can definitely carve out a couple thousand more words for those who got itchy triggered fingers seeing a C-tier character like Domino cast as the opposite color from her comic book rendering in a movie where Ryan Reynolds will be making cock jokes every third minute. Because I am the King of Hypocrites and my MBA is actually in Arm-chairing. But we should not lose sight of the good this business and art form is accomplishing and that starts at amazing storytelling with some pretty great people (and some shitty, sure) crafting them and trying to do their best in a workplace that never fails to leave its best foot behind while planting its front foot in dog poop. This may be the oddest “glass half full” analogy I’ve ever made, but it’s easy to forget you have one spotless shoe still going for you while you’re looking for the hose to rinse Fido-leavings off the other. There is a foul odor always surrounding the comic book industry and the community that we need to Febreeze the shit out of for sure, but that shouldn’t undermine that it’s a beautiful house built by talented architects.
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G