Say Hello To The Bad Guy…

Say Hello To The Bad Guy…

When talking about comics with people that aren’t into comics a book that comes up a lot is Sandman. Sandman is, in my experience, the most recommended book to people who don’t like comics, haven’t read a comic, don’t take comic books seriously, or think comics are ____________ (insert sweeping generalization). It’s a great comic, but hey, it’s 2014. There’s a new sheriff in town.

In comic form.

There’s a new good fantasy comic you can give to any random person on the street is what I’m trying to say. Loki. Except it’s not really just one series. Nor is it really one continuous vision by a single creative team. It’s a story that has spanned three years, and about three and a half different comic books published by Marvel.

In 2011, Marvel did a convoluted crossover thing-y called Siege. Loki died. Thor brought him back. As a kid. A kid that was seemingly innocent. Kid Loki got his own series: Journey Into Mystery. Issue #622 of that series set Loki on a path to figure out why he did some bad things that led to his death and rebirth.

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I’m simplifying in the interest of not spoiling, but Loki didn’t want to be Loki anymore. He sacrificed who and what Loki was in order to craft a new Loki. BUT, as Journey Into Mystery came to a conclusion, and all of us had fallen in love with Young Loki the hero, we learned that the Loki that was acted in a manner that was as selfish as we’d expect from a trickster god.

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Loki made a backup. He was working the long con and in ensuring that a version of himself would be resurrected with a clean slate, he also made sure that the backup of Loki-Classic could replace New-Loki once all the pieces were in place. He wanted the illusion of change.

The illusion of change. It’s a key factor in comic books, and in ongoing fiction in general. Characters die. They change costumes. They swap minds. But ultimately, they revert back to what we expect them to be. There’s a reset button that’s ready to be pushed when sales dip.

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Loki can’t avoid being Loki. Marvel won’t let him. More importantly we won’t let him. We’re not comfortable with actual change, in fiction or in real life. It’s easy for us to become a part of a narrative. either one that we tell ourselves, or that we let others tell about us. And it’s easy to get trapped there.

Young Avengers by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie saw Backup-Loki-In-Kid-Loki’s body formulate the identity of New-New-Loki. Kid-Loki’s desire to do good was burdened by New-New-Loki’s struggle with his own nature and the guilt over the reasons for his own existence.

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Loki’s tale is now being told by Al Ewing and Lee Garbett in Loki: Agent of Asgard. Loki performs missions in exchange for erasure of his past deeds.

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It’s a simple story told in an epic manner. Trying to redefine yourself. Who you are. While the old you can rear their ugly head at any moment. We’re introduced to what appears to be the “Old Loki”:

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Loki will always be Loki.

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So many mainstream comics are marketed with the tagline “THINGS WILL NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN.” Few have dared to admit that no matter what you do, no matter how much you love this little cult hit, things will just revert to what they used to be in the end.

 

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That’s Okay With Me

That’s Okay With Me

There’s a misconception that The Simpsons and Family Guy are alike because they reference things. In fact, these days, nearly any show/movie/comic book that references another piece of work risks being labeled as Family Guy-style. Or is explained as “You know, like Family Guy.” Worse yet, someone pulls out “Family Guy-esque.” Yeah, you took a film class or two, Me (or person incredibly similar to me). You’re not that smart! Anyway, The Simpsons, and other works on that level pulled off references, or “allusions,” if you will with skill, precision, and purpose. The gag wasn’t based on you knowing the reference (South Park has shit on Family Guy far better than I ever could, so please view their “Cartoon Wars” episodes if you don’t know what I’m talking about). The gag was based on if it was funny or not, and if you got the reference, all the better for you. And if you didn’t get the reference, but learned it later at college while getting your head filled with literature and foreign films and naive political notions, well then BULLY FOR YOU! That made what The Simpsons writers had pulled off all the more impressive.

Why, Paul? Why are you going off on Simpsons and Family Guy and writing vaguely like a Dusty Rhodes promo on your blog about comics that you haven’t posted on in nearly a year?

Well.

It’s cause of Hawkeye. I know. Groan. Fart. We covered this in 20 other posts. But Hawkeye has expanded in scope in its second year. The first year focused on Hawkeye (Clint Barton), and what he did on his non-super hero-ing days. The creative team was headed up by writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja, with Javier Pulido taking on issues 4&5. The second year has seen the book grow into almost two books (which will surely converge again into one), following both Barton, and his female protege Kate Bishop, with the focus alternating monthly. Also alternating monthly, are the art teams, with Aja telling Barton’s tale, and Annie Wu telling Bishop’s (Though Pulido got Kate’s tale going in the Annual).

Anyway, we’re talking about the Kate issues. The Annual, and issues 14 and 16.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 10.04.04 PMThis is from the second to last page in the Annual. I missed the reference at first, but then my friend Jeff pointed it out while we were geekily talking about issue 14 coming out. The cat with a taste for a specific brand of cat food is a call-out to Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye starring Elliott Gould as Raymond Chandler’s Private Eye Phillip Marlowe.

The annual’s tease paid off with cat food aisle conversations in 14 and 16 between Kate and an unnamed P.I. that looks quite a bit like Mr. Gould did back in 1973.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 7.56.40 PMGoing back to the hippie women for a moment, they also  happen to be dead ringers for Marlowe’s neighbors from the film. And maybe they have his cat? (“What do I need a cat for? I got a girl…”)

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The latest issue also visually references the characters of Dr. Verringer and Roger Wade from the film, while also bringing in a bit of the parasitic relationship as well. Henry Gibson, who played Verringer in The Long Goodbye, is an easy visual shorthand for villain. Just ask Tom Hanks.

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So why does it matter? How is this just not the same thing I derided Family Guy for, except for people who took a film class about the films of Kubrick and Altman? Because rather than dealing in the surface level of “We like the same things,” Fraction, Wu and Pulido are communicating through the reference. It’s part wink, part context, and for those not in on the references, part “Go check these books out at the library Reading Rainbow episode wrap-up” to get readers to take in the art that played a part in influencing this story.

Modern storytelling is constantly derided by lazy people across all mediums as “having been done before.” Well, good for you, enjoy your show about a carefully workshopped marketing construct masquerading as reality. Things have been done before yes, but sometimes there’s an art in acknowledging it, and maybe even in saying that we’re all trying to tell one big story. Yeah. That’s it. My wrap-up is that Fraction and Wu are bringing Altman’s Long Goodbye into the Marvel Universe. I can’t wait til Marlowe brushes off Thanos with a “That’s okay with me” as the Mad Titan wishes half the universe into non-existence one more time.

Going back to the series as a whole, though, it seems to be exploring many of the themes and storytelling techniques that were present in many of Altman’s films: Humanism. Non-conformity. Expansive messed up families. Overlapping dialogue. Telling a story from a dog’s perspective-no, wait. That one doesn’t really fit.

What I’m saying here (if I’m conveying anything coherently at all), is that Fraction and his many talented collaborators are telling a fantastic story, and they’re doing so using the paints, the ingredients, the whatever-metaphor-you-want-to-insert-here elements that make Altman films like The Long Goodbye great to make their story even more richer and satisfying.

 

 

BAM! POW! Batman: Not Just For Depressed People With Vigilante Fantasies Anymore!

BAM! POW! Batman: Not Just For Depressed People With Vigilante Fantasies Anymore!

Every now and then the media gets a wild hair up their ass and decides they should do a report on comics and how they’re edgy. And violent. And…not just for kids anymore! Pop culture writers have been doing this during most of my 29 years on this earth, and whenever they do so, they usually invoke the sound effects associated with the 1966 live action Batman series.

It’s a shorthand. It’s a reference people get.  Something familiar that they can associate with the thing you are trying to tell them about.

So when a new Batman comic was announced that was based off of the Adam West Batman series, I was not excited. I probably said “UGH” out loud. But the first issue arrived, and word of mouth was good. Really good. So at a price of 99 cents, I decided to check it out.

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I’m happy to report that Batman ’66 by Jeff Parker and Jonathan Case is a fun and incredibly well-crafted comic book that goes well beyond paying tribute to a property that people are nostalgic for. This isn’t an empty embrace of “camp” like Joel Schumacher’s films.

Parker and Case use the digital format to play with color, echoing and expanding upon the moments in the show when action would pause for a sound effect laid over the action. Going from one page to the next, the page layout will appear similar, but the colors, dialogue and action all change. Check out these two pages:
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Case’s artwork captures the feel and the designs of the show, but he brings his own style to the book, casting different “actors” that look a bit like their real life counterparts, but never look stiff or photo-referenced.

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I can’t wait to see what Case does with the Joker on the book, as his Riddler is jumping off the page with energy.

Parker’s script shines in amazing moments like this:

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.08.04 PMIt helps set the tone of the world. It gets away from the restrictions that a word like ‘camp’ puts on a book, and brings it fully into a realm that is fun without any pretensions.

Plus, we can look forward to a showdown with Dracula.

Or Count Floyd, I suppose.

Soup R. Man: My Favorite Superman Comics

Soup R. Man: My Favorite Superman Comics

As I’ve written on here before, people are dismissive of comic books. But they’re REALLY dismissive of Superman.

He’s corny. He’s old. He’s a “boy scout” (often said with a sneer). He has too many powers.

There’s all sorts of excuses for why people don’t enjoy Superman, or wouldn’t read a Superman comic, but the fact is…most of these people have NEVER read a Superman comic book.

I won’t argue that these people aren’t right in some way to carry some preconceived notions about Superman, but if I might get all analogical on yo asses for a second: There are more bad pizza joints in the world than good, but people are still willing to eat pizza so…OK, this is just collapsing on itself. I really want pizza right now.

Anyway, yes, there are probably more bad Superman comics than good, but there are some GREAT Superman comics out there. There are a bunch on sale RIGHT NOW at Comixology: http://www.comixology.com/Superman-Unchained-plus-Sale/comics-collection/1257

Here’s some of my favorites:

All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Screen Shot 2012-12-22 at 7.56.05 AMI’ve mentioned it numerous times before. This is THE Superman comic. It’s earnest yet never corny. Morrison and Quitely pay tribute to what has come before them without a wink or a smirk, but don’t get lost in nostalgia. Their Superman is not only one that is “super” by having powers, he’s also trying to be the best in all possible ways.

Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 8.39.18 PMThis isn’t a Superman that takes Lois on some cheesy romantic flight. Or gives her an amnesia kiss. This is a Superman that analyzes Lois Lane’s entire DNA sequence and figures out to give her superpowers for 24 hours. And he even sews her a super-suit!

Not only is he a hero that has saved the world a thousand times over, he is the best scientist/boyfriend ever. In the opinion of your humble comic book recommender, it is the best Superman comic ever done. It’s all the best parts of the character told by two of the best storytellers in the medium.

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Also written by Grant Morrison, with art by Rags Morales and Andy Kubert, is Action Comics (volume 2). It features a modern update to Superman, with a brasher, more idealistic Clark Kent/Superman.

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He knows a bit less about his heritage or where he fits in. What he does know, is he hates corporate fat-cats, and goes after them hardcore. It’s a great examination of what any of us would do with super powers after taking our first mind-blowing college course about how unfair the world is. And I say that without dismissing how that feels. Rather than getting lost in the wonder of super powers, this Superman is about what happens when powers and raw ideals collide.

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SPEAKING OF IDEALS. Superman: Red Son, by Mark Millar and Dave Johnson is a 3 part tale about a Superman that crash-lands in the Soviet Union rather than the United States. It then jumps back and forth as Superman and Lex Luthor act out their own Cold War until it culminates in a fun, Twilight Zone-y ending.

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Also, it has freedom-fighter Batman!

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Building further on the “what if Superman ____ in ____” theme, Superman: Secret Identity by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immomen is…well, it’s friggin beautiful is what it is.
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Immomen can do really stylized, cartoony art. This is not it. This is realistic, but not over-realistic. It’s just…gorgeous.
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Oh, yeah. But the high concept. It’s “Superman in the real world,” where a young man named Clark Kent, who has endured Superman jokes all his life just happens to wind up with the exact same powers as the fictional Superman. It’s really, really good. He even meets and falls in love with his own Lois.

I’ll follow up with a few more Superman favorites, but these are my top Superman comics. There’s no barrier to entry for these. Just good stories, that happen to feature an all around super man.

 

 

New Comics Days Are The Best Days…

New Comics Days Are The Best Days…

Screen Shot 2013-05-22 at 9.48.59 PMYou may not know this, but there are new comic books every single week.

They come out on Wednesdays. All due respect to Odin and his day, but Wednesday is done. Let New Comic Book Day shine forth as a beacon of hope in a weak full of Tuesdays and Thursdays and…Mondays.

But let us return to the magic of new comic book day. Its a day on which you can discover something magical that you’ve never read before, or read the latest exiting installment of a series that you’ve been waiting at least 30 days for.

On this new comic book day, I purchased two such gems.

Young Avengers #5 by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

This must be Kieron Gillen week here, in which I rave about his work on two Marvel books in the beginning of the week, then lament that I didn’t tell people to buy his indie work instead, then tell you how awesome his new Marvel work with his indie collaborator Jamie McKelvie is! I know! I’m crraaaazy. Like a used car dealer’s pricing model!

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But hey y’all, this comic is GOOOOOOD.

Issues 1-5 of Young Avengers have dealt with a group of super powered teenagers battling their parents. And dancing. And flying in spaceships named after influential comic artists that are powered by imagination. Let me re-type this for posterity and for those of you that lack reading comprehension and would need me to type in all caps to give this the proper emphasis: Spaceships powered by imagination. Yes. Even questioning such a thing would cause the ship to crash, so the characters themselves have to suspend their disbelief in order to keep themselves suspended in the air.

Here’s where a GIF of someone clapping should go in honor of the excellent comic book that Gillen and McKelvie have produced.

So Young Avengers #5 fits the criteria of “eagerly anticipated series I’ve been following month to month.”

Subatomic Party Girls is the new discovery that made me all tingly and such with excitement.

Subatomic Party Girls is a fun fun fun fun fun fun comic book that fills me with such insane joy from typing the words Subatomic Party Girls.

Screen Shot 2013-05-22 at 10.13.20 PMThe enthusiasm from creators Chris Sims, Chad Bowers and Erica Henderson bleeds off the page. It also does the page bleeding equivalent of that on my tablet screen, too.

It’s about an all-girl band called Beryllium Steel, that’s about to be the First Band on the Moon! They wind up getting blasted into space much like Mike (and later Joel) of Mystery Science Theater 3000, though it appears they will have space adventures with space pirates rather than watch bad movies.

They space rock out while space training for space rocking.

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I don’t want to give up too much more about this comic. Henderson’s artwork is loose and kinetic. At the risk of being repetitive (while being too lazy to consult a thesaurus), I will say that her artwork is “fun.”

Bowers and Sims’ dialogue reminds me a bit of Gail Simone’s early work on Killer Princesses and Deadpool. Mainly for their ability to bounce bubbly characters off of comicly grumpy characters in order to aid in wackiness ensuing.

Screen Shot 2013-05-22 at 10.24.44 PMLook at that!!! There is a space cat pirate lady and she is grumpy as all hell while a space aardvark is dancing happily in the background. If that is not fun, I do not know what fun is. If I am correct about the fun-ness of this panel, the comic, and the authors’ intent (which appears to be having fun), then Subatomic Party Girls looks like F-U-N, and a great addition to my pile (well, digital pile) of comic books that I have to look forward to on New Comic Book Day!

Subatomic Party Girls (still loving typing it) is also only a mere 99 cents. So if my words have convinced any readers of my blog that they’re even slightly into checking it out, I’ll buy an issue for the first person that leaves a comment saying “Hey, Paul. I’d like to check that comic out, it sounds pretty good.”

More Digital Things To Buy With Your Digital Moneys

More Digital Things To Buy With Your Digital Moneys

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Today (May 20th, 2013) on Comixology, there is a sale focusing on one of my favorite current comic book writers, Kieron Gillen. So for only 99 cents an issue you can get nearly full runs of his work on Journey Into Mystery and Uncanny X-Men. I say “nearly full” since there are some dips into crossovers here and there, but don’t worry about that. If you have $45…buy them all. If you have less than that, well, I’d say buy all of Journey Into Mystery. Its that good.

Here’s the sale. It’s good until 11pm tonight: http://www.comixology.com/Kieron-Gillen-Sale/comics-collection/1202

Journey Into Mystery is all about Loki, the Norse trickster god and brother to Thor. Loki that nearly ended the world, then sacrificed himself, then was resurrected as a child who remembers little of his evil deeds, but still has a treacherous nature. It’s a beautifully written and illustrated series. Gillen is paired with a number of talented storytellers including Dough Braithwaite, Mitch Breitweiser, Richard Elson, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Alan Davis and Stephanie Hans. It’s funny. It’s heartbreaking. It is well worth your moneys.

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That is Loki’s Hel-puppy, Thori. Yes.

Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men, in which he’s teamed with Carlos Pacheo, Greg Land, Daniel Acuna and Ron Garney, is a fun continuation of themes explored during Morrison, Whedon, and Ellis’s runs with the X-Men, in which Cyclops leads a team of mutants that’s goal is remind humanity that they are there to save the world while also reminding them they are not to be F’d with. There are no adorable hell-dogs in that series, but Namor is a pretty lovable jerk.

Buy these comics and buy them today. Come on. Hel-puppies. There’s at least 5 of them. They’re all adorable and evil.

The Old West That Never Was: East of West by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta

The Old West That Never Was: East of West by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta

I am firing guns into the air with excitement after reading the first two issues of East of West by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta.

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Yeah, like that! Thanks, Mysterious Pale Cowboy!

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Anyway, East of West is a pretty damn interesting Sci-Fi Western Alternate History. It’s like a meaty chili comprised of genres. And meat. Literary and artistic meat. Hickman is setting up a mythology built on repeated phrases and symbols, while Dragotta…man, Dragotta is kicking some serious ass and really coming into his own with his own style. In the past, I feel like I’ve seen him trying to emulate Jack Kirby or Mike Allred, but this comic is where his art shines and is unique. He’s building and realizing a world that he and Hickman have imagined together, and it’s wonderful to see his style develop while building that world.

Screen Shot 2013-05-14 at 9.54.33 PMSo what is the world of East of West? Well, rather than a United States of America made up of 50 states like in our plain old boring real world, Hickman and Dragotta quickly build a world in which the west was not won, but carved up along with the rest of the country into seven sovereign nations. Nations that appear to be united by a desire to bring about the end of the world.

Screen Shot 2013-05-14 at 9.56.35 PMThere’s only one thing in their way. This guy.

Screen Shot 2013-05-14 at 9.55.08 PMYes. THIS GUY.

Screen Shot 2013-05-14 at 9.55.59 PMBLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM

Sorry. That’s Death. He’s not happy. Turns out theses apocalypse-happy world leaders have done pissed off one of the actual horsemen of the apocalypse. And he’s out to get vengeance against them and his fellow horsemen.

WESTERN STYLE

I have no idea how long this series is supposed to go on for, but I’m in it for the long run. If you’re someone who has enjoyed Blade Runner, Firefly, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, The Stand, Django Unchained, Kill Bill, or anything even remotely like any of those things, THIS COMIC BOOK IS FOR YOU. Read it. It is available for purchase wherever it is they sell these comic book things. Issues one and two have come out so far, so you can get in on the ground floor of this shindig.

Sorry. One more time.

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