A longtime showbiz journalist and fan's thoughts on comic books, movies and other cool stuff.

Tag: Image Comics

Short Takes: Prophet #2

This is really conventional stuff for a second issue, and surprisingly coherent for an early Image title. Dan Panosian takes over all the art on this issue, and it’s quite solid, evoking the style of DC stalwart Dan Jurgens to good effect. The Rob Liefeld-penciled cover makes your head hurt if you think about what motion might be required for two men to get in that position. Not much actually happens inside the comic. Kirby and Prophet fight their way into the Alaska complex and Prophet connects with D.O.C.C. What’s really strange is that it’s this satellite that’s giving him energy and “life force” while the comic’s narration quotes Bible passages. Is D.O.C.C. God? Or does Prophet interpret D.O.C.C. as God? Oh, and Bloodstrike shows up at the end, only to be completely indistinguishable from Youngblood or Brigade or StormWatch, etc. The story runs 19 pages, with the rest of the issue filled out with pinups, Extreme Studios employee profiles, an autograph appearance announcement, and a talent search ad. There’s also a coupon for Prophet #0 stapled into a centerfold that’s a two-page spread, so you can’t read it or see the entire image without — gasp! — removing the coupon and damaging your comic’s collectible value. (It goes for $3 in near-mint condition at MyComicShop.com as I write this.)

Short Takes: Prophet #1

Cover to Prophet #1 (Oct. 1993).
Art by Rob Liefeld and Dan Panosian.

If your prediction for a 1993 Extreme Studios comic was Bible verses quoted over page after page of a grunting hero chopping up robots, you likely won the prize of an extra $2.50 in your pocket. Prophet breaks into his own series with creator, layout artist, and scripter Rob Liefeld mashing up the origins of Captain America, OMAC, and The Six Million Dollar Man into a comic that actually might qualify as a story in the most technical sense. The opening action sequence — a dream, of course — with the aforementioned robots is reasonably entertaining, until it ends in a reveal that makes zero sense. Some idea of who these people are and what they’re doing is helpful. Having Jack Kirby show up as a character improves nothing, neither does repeating the reveal in a random way just few pages later. Sharp readers may learn the following unknown and nonexistent facts: High-ranking FBI agents in 1993 wore lingerie and super-short miniskirts to the office, and Jack Kirby was so manly he didn’t even get cold going shirtless during winter in Anchorage, Alaska.

Diamond’s 2013 Stats Show Comics Sales Growing

The Walking Dead #115 was the top-selling comic book of 2013.

Despite all the turmoil, 2013 turned out to be a fantastic year for the comics industry.

Diamond Comics Distributors just posted its year-end stats, revealing comic book sales were up more than 10 percent over 2012 and graphic novels up 6.5 percent. That’s an overall sales boost of just over 9 percent.

Both unit sales and dollar sales charts showed Marvel and DC collectively accounting for about two-thirds of the business, followed in dollar share by Image Comics, IDW, Dark Horse, Dynamite, Boom!, Eaglemoss, Valiant and Avatar Press.

The Walking Dead #115 turned out to be the top-selling single issue of the year — fueled no doubt by the ten connecting variant covers celebrating the series’ 10th anniversary— followed by DC relaunches Justice League of America #1 and Superman Unchained #1. Marvel dominated the rest of the top ten, with Guardians of the Galaxy #1, Superior Spider-Man #1, Infinity #1, X-Men #1, Age of Ultron #1 and Uncanny X-Men #1. Rounding out the list was Superman Unchained #2.

Graphic novels were dominated by Image, with volumes of Saga and Walking Dead taking the top six spots. Marvel’s sole title on the list was Hawkeye, Vol. 1, while Batman scored two for DC with The Court of Owls and The Killing Joke Special Edition.

The charts also show why publishers are constantly rebooting and relaunching titles: Those tactics sell lots of comics. So I expect we’ll see a lot more of that.

On the plus side, it’s great to see almost all the major publishers posting gains and also that each has forged for itself a strong identity in the market through publishing quality work. I can think of books I like from pretty much every one of the top publishers, which is saying something.

It’s also interesting to see Diamond list its account tally for comic book specialty shops at more than 3,500. That’s up from what I remember it being in the not-too-distant past, and an increase in this number likely has a lot to do with market growth considering these sales tallied here are sales to retailers, not sell-through numbers. I’ve long thought that more comics shops were important for the industry just to get the damn things out there and in front of people who’d buy comics and like them if they could actually see them for sale somewhere.

Thief of Thieves steals the show

I’m not the biggest fan of crime comics — I like them, but am not compelled to read a whole lot of them with the notable exceptions of series like Stray Bullets and Sin City, neither of which seems likely to return soon. (I was going to include 100 Bullets in that comment, but I just saw there’s a Brother Lono sequel miniseries coming soon … .)

But Robert Kirkman’s Thief of Thieves is a really fun read. This second arc (issues #8-13, Image Comics, $2.99 each) is, I think, better than the first. This arc sees master thief Conrad Paulson, a.k.a. Redmond, in some family trouble as his son, Auggie, gets in deep trouble trying to follow in his old man’s footsteps. That sets up some conflict with his ex-wife and the cops trying to nail him. Of course, Conrad has to step in when Auggie’s girlfriend is kidnapped and the best-laid plans fall victim to Murphy’s Law.

None of this is particularly innovative stuff, but it’s very slickly done. The characters are believable and their motivations clear. It’s also not too bogged down by details and arcane politics. It’s an easy series to get into and follow, with nice, spare scripting from James Asmus.

The art by Shawn Martinbrough is a major selling point. His style is modern, clear and moody but not as cartoony or abstract as a lot of crime comics seem to be. He’s also doing all the art, on every issue to date, with coloring by Felix Serrano. That gives the book a consistent look that way too many comics fail to achieve.

My thought after finishing the arc was that this would make a great TV series for USA Network, where it would fit in very nicely alongside Burn Notice and White Collar. It looks like exactly that idea is in the works at AMC, which makes sense with that network being home to Kirkman’s mega-hit The Walking Dead.

That this comic is published on a regular schedule is also something very much worth noting. It’s just another factor that makes this an interesting read and a title very much worth picking up.

Perky art, story keep up interest in Sex

Joe Casey is at his best when he’s experimenting. That’s why his explicitly subversive comics like Automatic Kafka and Butcher Baker stand out so far ahead of his work on Marvel or DC superheroes despite their short runs.

So, what could be more subversive than a comic titled Sex (Image Comics, $2.99 each), which evokes instant interest but is also vague enough that there’s no clue in it to what the book might actually be about.

What it’s definitely not is a traditional “adults-only” tale in the style of late-night weekend programming on Cinemax. There is sex in the book, and it’s relevant to the story. But there’s a lot of other stuff going on here, starting with Simon Cooke, a retired and repressed superhero who returns to run the mega company his family started in futuristic but kinky Saturn City.

Simon’s repression is tested by Annabelle LaGravenese, who was formerly a Catwoman-like villian to Cooke’s Batman. Now owner of a sex club, her appearance confuses Cooke as to what exactly it is he’s repressing — the desire to play superhero or just plain sex.

The art by Piotr Kowalski is terrific. This has a very European look to it, very much owing a huge debt to the works of Moebius in both art style and coloring. Even the lettering evokes Moebius’ work, with colored highlights used instead of bold copy to emphasize certain words.

I’m still not exactly sure a lot is happening plot wise in this book, but after three issues, I’m still interested in Sex, so I’ll be back for the fourth.

There’s nothing recycled about Great Pacific

Another entry in the eco-thriller sub-genre is Great Pacific #1-6 (Image Comics, $2.99 each), from writer Joe Harris and artist Martin Morazzo.

This takes a very different tack from The Massive, focusing on a fascinating real-life phenomenon known as the Great Pacific Gyre — a spot in the middle of the ocean where tons of plastic refuse has congealed into a kind of floating island. Harris injects Chas Worthington III, an idealistic oil company heir, into this environment, bringing along with him an experimental technology that could break down plastic waste into useful components like oil or fresh water. 
After staging his own death and embezzling billions from the family business, Chas and his major domo Alex set about inhabiting the gyre and establishing it under international law as the nation of New Texas. Of course, very little goes according to plan, with pirates, lost nukes, native populations and a mutant octopus entering the mix. 
Harris’ story is more fantastic, but with the gyre itself being real, it works really well. Morazzo is obviously influenced by Frank Quitely, though his style evolves for the better over the course of the first six issues. The colors by Tiza Studio are also of note for adding to the distinctive look of Morazzo’s open-line style with a distinctive and consistent palette that never overwhelms or obscures. 
The ending to the first arc includes a nice surprise twist that I think will make the second arc more grounded and possibly even more exciting. This book has become a genuine hit for Harris and Morozzo and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with it.

Happy! is upbeat, but not ecstatic

Happy! #1-4 (Image Comics, $2.99 each) is a creator-owned miniseries from Grant Morrison — his first in a long while after a very long stretch writing big superhero franchises for, mostly, DC Comics. 
The art is by Darick Robertson, of Transmetropolitan and The Boys fame, and the pair are quite well matched for this story of a cop turned hitman whose life is saved by a flying blue horse named Happy that appears before his eyes and guides him through a rough Christmas misadventure. 
Robertson’s art really sells this hard, and mostly succeeds. The story itself reads like Morrison is channeling Warren Ellis, though maybe that’s just the unavoidable Transmet link, and works reasonably well without rising to the level of Morrison’s signature work. I think three issues might have worked better than four, but it makes for a decent, slightly off-kilter read with some really nice art.

Comics Wandering: From Gold Key Star Trek, to Howard Chaykin and more

Wow, time sure flies when you’re too busy to read comics. What have I been doing? Well, I’ve got a toddler, a new puppy, I did a lot of interviews and wrote a lot of articles for the just-concluded awards season, tried brewing beer, and I’ve been focusing on learning to play the guitar well enough that it doesn’t sound like a chainsaw cutting through a chain-link fence. I also made a guitar from a kit — a Lake Placid Blue Telecaster style that, after much tweaking and adjustment, is at last starting to play well.

And I have been reading comics, when there’s time and comics I want to read. It’s just been very inconsistent reading and a bit of an oddball selection compared to the weekly superhero habit. I am finding the overall comics habit is very hard to break, if not impossible for me to break at this point in my life. I admit to slipping back into some old habits, but I’ll elaborate on that in a bit.

I admit it: My name is Tom and I’m a comic-holic. I especially still love single issue comics. The collecting part of the hobby remains one that I find satisfying in a way that reading a collected edition is not. This isn’t true for everything, but it is for things like superhero comics, which are still written and drawn for the serial comic format, no matter how quickly they got to collected editions.

So, what have I been reading? Lots of Image comics, which for all the variations in the quality of its output, remains the only dependably creative publisher of mainstream superhero, adventure and genre comics.

I’ll just run down some of the cool stuff I’ve read and liked since my last, long-ago post to this blog. I will be unsurprised if no one is reading or still checking this blog, but just in case there’s a few of you out there, thank you! If you’re new, please be sure to check out my book, Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen, available in print from Amazon and on Kindle.

Last summer, I had two comic book pursuits, both inspired during a trip to the excellent Queen City Comics in Cincinnati, Ohio. First was completing my collection of Gold Key Star Trek comics, which I now have done. I have been a Star Trek fan ever since I first saw the show in the fall of 1975, when ITV began re-running the series weekdays at the perfect hour for me to catch it after coming home from a hard day in Grade 1. As a kid, I remember buying a few issues of the Gold Key series off the stands, but it never impressed me very much. I thought the stories were silly, such as issue #46 (Aug. 1977), in which aliens gave Spock a giant brain and he became slightly villainous before Kirk talked him down.

I got into Trek comics much more seriously in the late 1980s, when DC started publishing its second ongoing Star Trek series and launched a regular series for Star Trek: The Next Generation. On TV, The Next Generation was really kicking into high gear and I just fell right into being a pretty serious Trek fan for the next seven or eight years. In addition to collecting all of the DC output from that point on, as well as the Malibu Star Trek: Deep Space Nine stuff, I collected all the previous DC series, the Marvel series and made a pretty good start on the Gold Key series. My interest in Star Trek peaked by the mid-1990s, and Marvel’s second round of Trek comics just was not very good, in my opinion. (Remember the Star Trek/X-Men crossovers? Yikes.)

Cut to about 10 years ago, when a friend of my Dad’s had come across a large collection of comics from his parents‘ old book shop and set about sorting them and selling them on eBay. He reached out to me right at the start because he knew nothing about comics, so I helped him with the basics about getting an Overstreet guide, conventions and what to really expect from eBay sales. In thanks, he let me pick out some stuff when I was over visiting and came across a near-complete set of the Gold Key Star Treks. These were easily accessible and time was short, so I took them as compensation and was very pleased. I still had a few holes, though, and would every once in a while fill one in when I came across an issue I needed in a shop or convention.

But this past summer, when I hit Queen City Comics, they had pretty much all but two or three of the issues The prices and conditions where great, so I bit the bullet and bought them. That lead to me heading onto eBay to fill in the last two or three issues I needed, and finally the last issue — #9, with the photo cover of Spock from the episode “Amok Time” — arrived to complete the set. These are cool comics and I really dig them now in a way I did not twenty or so years ago. Yes, they’re goofy and at times completely contradictory to the show itself, but they have a unique energy and the art is often terrific. Plus, I still enjoy the tactile experience of reading an old comic printed on slightly yellowed newsprint.

My second summer comics pursuit involved the works of Howard Chaykin. This pursuit also started at Queen City, where I found mint condition copies of both Time2 graphic novels and the Epic collected edition, The Complete Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, which I had never even heard of before seeing it in the bin. All were cover price, and I scooped them right up. I also found a few other 1970s Chaykin bits, including the Monark Starstalker issue of Marvel Premiere (which I wrote about last summer) and a couple of Dominic Fortune tales. Chaykin’s art has always been a joy, especially when he’s doing painted work printed on high quality paper.

Along with this came The Art of Howard Chaykin, written by Robert Greenberger and published by the nice folks at Dynamite! (As an aside: Greenberger used to edit the DC Star Trek comics and printed a couple of my letters way back when. I always thought, based on his thoughtful letter columns, he was one of the most professional and likable editors in the business.) I worked my way through these books and really enjoyed them, following them up with a few digs into the archives for some other Chaykin stuff from the 1990s, such as Midnight Men and Power and Glory.

The Time2 books were especially fascinating. I found the plot a bit hard to follow on my first read, even though I thoroughly enjoyed everything else about the books. After reading the Greenberger book with Chaykin saying it was heavily influenced by his interest in jazz music of the 1930s, it made a lot more sense and my second reading was even more enjoyable.

During my one convention visit last year, to the Long Beach Comic Con, I stopped by and chatted with Chaykin — who I had met a number of times over the past ten years — and chatted with him about the books. The Stars My Destination is a really interesting adaptation. I had read the novel years and years ago and remembered a bit about it but it hadn’t made the deep impression on me that Frank Herbert’s Dune or Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End had. I enjoyed (and surely understood) much more of the book as an adult, and really dug Chaykin’s interpretation of it. You can’t go wrong with a couple hundred pages of painted Chaykin art from the late 1970s.

And then, there’s Black Kiss 2. I waited until all six issues were out before sitting down to read this and was happily surprised with how great it was. It’s been a long time since I read the original Black Kiss (I have it in single issues and a collected edition — somewhere) but I remembered enough for this to make sense. It’s both a prequel and a sequel to the original, and it jumps around through a lot of different time periods that allow Chaykin to draw all the stuff he likes and/or is good at — cars, cityscapes, men’s fashion, jazz musicians and, of course, lots of dirty, dirty sex. All in crisp, beautiful black and white! I don’t know if the climax of the book was as satisfying as it could have been, but the ride was definitely worth it.

I haven’t read anything in the past year from DC’s The New 52 because it just plain fails to interest me in any way. I liked a few of the series at the start, but the way series suffered sometimes radical, unexplained, and usually arbitrary changes in tone, premise and creative teams debunked any true creative rationale for the relaunch. It made for a great jumping off point, and I’ve not missed any of those comics or characters. I keep hearing how great Batman is these days, and I am sure it is good because they do have some good creators on those books and Batman is far and away DC’s best character. But I still find myself uninterested. Having read so many good (and bad) Batman stories, it’s almost like my brain has no more room for Batman comics unless they’re truly outstanding, i.e. true classics in the making, on a par with Batman: Year One or the great Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams collaborations of the now-distant past.

I was always more of a Marvel fan, so my feelings for Marvel in general and the X-Men in particular are much more complicated and deserving of a post all its own.

A few more comics I’ve read and liked include Saga, Thief of Thieves, Grant Morrison’s Happy!, Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ The Secret Service, Harbinger, The Massive, the new Star Wars ongoing from Dark Horse, John Byrne’s new sci-fi series High Ways, The End Times of Bram and Ben, Star Trek: The Next Generation — Hive, and my favorite new comic in the last year, Joe Harris and Martin Morazzo’s Great Pacific. I’ll try to go into more detail on those in another post.

Here’s hoping it won’t be six months until I write it. Cheers!

‘Saga’: A lame title for a really good comic

Saga #1 (Image Comics)

Saga is one of the more interesting and, yes, even exciting new comics to come along in a while. Published by Image Comics, writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples have delivered an interesting science-fiction debut about a pair of soldiers from long-warring worlds who fall in love and have a child together. The series begins with their daughter’s birth, and they quickly find them pursued by robot princes, horrors and bounty hunters for being too politically inconvenient.

There’s a lot I like about this book, but I do have some major problems with it that should be addressed first.

First, I hate the title. Saga is a vague title that tells the reader nothing about the story inside, or even the general approach. Saga could be a fantasy book, a sci-fi book, or even a superhero book.

Second, I question the level of explicitness in this book. This book is rated M for Mature, and the first line of dialog in the first issue is “Am I shitting? It feels like I’m shitting!” In addition to the language, there’s nudity and one fairly explicit sex scene in the first issue. And while that sort of thing is fine in comics, I feel like it throws away an opportunity that the underlying story could exploit to reach a wider audience and have a bigger impact. As it is, the teens who could really enjoy something truly new in comic book form from top creators will likely not be able to find Saga in their library or be able to buy it from a lot of retailers. Not that that ever stopped anyone who really wants to read it, but there’s a reason that all the biggest successes in fiction and movies are roughly PG or PG-13 and not R. The R level just limits the audience, and I think that it’s a shame this book cuts off its potential to reach that audience for some language that, to me, seems unnecessary to tell the story.

On to the things I like: The art is terrific. Staples’ makes these characters and their worlds look and act like real people. It delivers exactly what is needed for a title like this: a specific and consistent look. She also tells the story very well, and the art on the first four issues makes some significant improvements.

Storywise, Vaughan remains a deceptively strong talent. Almost alone among the current A-crop of comics writers, he eschews the self-consciously clever dialog that clutters up most superhero comics and puts enough plot into each issue without the story ever feeling crowded.

The story itself is, for me, unexpectedly compelling. While star-crossed lovers from the wrong side of the track is a well-worn cliche, the addition of the child (who narrates the series) and the sci-fi setting is a good combination that is well suited to comics. I look forward to seeing where this journey, which in some ways evokes Yorick’s travels in Y: The Last Man, takes these characters and reveals about this universe.

Off the shelf: Chew, Vol. 1

One of the great things about comics is their ability to surprise you, to come up with an idea too strange for other media and make it work completely.

That’s the case with Chew, Vol. 1: Taster’s Choice (Image Comics, $9.99), which is most definitely one of the weirdest and coolest comics I’ve come across in a while. None of this will be news to the many folks who picked this up in periodical form. (It’s interesting that this series caused an old-fashioned back issue run when it came out last summer, with prices rising quickly as folks caught on to the series. There’s still some life in the old ways after all, it seems.)

This is the story of Tony Chu, a police detective with the unusual gift of cibopathy — he can obtain information on objects by eating them. This has obvious drawbacks, and Chu takes the vegetarian route to avoid constantly being exposed to the fate of most proteins.

All of which would be interesting enough, but writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory add an extra layer of strangeness by putting Chu in a world where the bird flu has made chicken illegal and made the Food and Drug Administration a major law enforcement agency akin to the FBI. Since “food crimes” are now serious, Chu’s talent comes in extra handy. And it just gets weirder and more fun from there.

While this is in some ways an old-fashioned indie comic on the insanity scale, it also is a polished book that makes it of its time. Guillory handles both art and colors and gives the book a nice, modern, slightly cartoony look that fits Layman’s skewed sensibilities quite well.

Future volumes will definitely be worth checking out, as will the back story of what happens when Chew goes to Hollywood. Cannibalism has never been a terribly popular subject for movies or TV shows — the only exceptions I can think of off the top of my head are the mid-1990s movie Alive and the “Our Town” episode from season two of The X-Files — and think this is a property where trying to make it palatable to a mainstream audience is likely going to make some studio executive’s head explode.

That alone justifies the existence of this comic. But even if we lived in a world where cannibal movies were de rigueur, this still would be a very cool read.

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