Saturday, 18 May 2013

The Inconceivably Large Comics Post - Part 1: The Big Two

Alright, here we go. These are the comics I've been bringing in on my monthly pull from the local shop, the current and mainstream stuff from Marvel and DC. Some good, some bad, and some wedged solidly in-between. Oh, and...spoilers.


Green Lantern - We haven't seen the leave of Geoff Johns yet. I have a bad feeling that this title is going to suffer some when he goes, but that remains to be seen. The story...escalated, fairly quickly, from where I picked up in issue #12. Hal and Sinestro and Simon Baz have found themselves in the Dead Zone (the closest the lanterns will get to an afterlife), and Sinestro has escaped to find himself face to face with The First Lantern. It's getting alittle crazy. In a lot of ways there's just too much going on, and I miss the driven simplicity of Rebirth, when Johns brought Hal and his buddies back from the, um, dead-ish, and pitted them against Parallax. That was a good fight, and it was Hal's kind of fight: hit fast, hard, and pull no punches. But here there are dimensions and play, and that always gets messy. We're dealing with unknown quantities of spirituality and the Emotional Spectrum, and there's no precedent. This all makes it a little hard to read, BUT...once it all comes together, it's going to be joy to sit down with all the issues and read the whole thing at once without waiting a month in the middle. Also, it's a joy to see Sinestro get shut down by a lantern with a handgun. Three cheers for Simon Baz.

DC's Emotional Spectrum

Green Arrow - This series interests me because of the fact that it has a television series running simultaneously, and yet it remains unclear whether those storylines will converge at all. At this point, I'm guessing not. The CW's Arrow is drawing heavily and obviously on Mike Grell's The Longbow Hunters from '87, while DC monthly emerald archer is younger and more of a hotshot. The writing's good, and the art is decent though a little patchy and un-resolved (if that makes any sense; there are images where the artist has gone for a noir feel, and ended up obscuring everything that might make sense). Still there's a stylization there that works for the character. I say the writing's good; it is, but the story could use some help. We've seen three issues now of two archers chasing each other around a city, each getting shot a few times, and no real plot. Jeff Lemire's overhaul of this series should've been a big deal. The instability in creative teams on this title had crippled it, and this was going to be its saving grace, but...well, we're still waiting. It's better, but not there. I've become academically invested in Green Arrow this past year. I'd like to see Lemire return the character to the role of social relevance I believe he was meant to play, as he did in the 70's with Neal Adams and Denny O'Neill at the wheel. Maybe we'll see that. Or maybe DC will once again confirm our fears that comics are losing their edge, and push me further down the road to comic buff cynicism.

Justice League of America - It had never occurred to me that The Justice League and The Justice League of America could be two creatures so different from each other. This series has assembled a team of underdogs, which I'm cool with, designed to take down the major players, which I'm still questioning. I like that DC is playing both sides of this at the same time, having a series dedicated to the team with the mission to destroy the other team. That's kinda cool. And the writing's been good; the series definitely has its moments. I feel like the next issue, #4, is going to resolve a lot. They've certainly built up excellent inter-character tensions, from Catwoman ending up in Martian Manhunters memories, to Vibe being straight-up scared of Hawkman, and Katana talking to the spirit in her sword. It's a great cast of characters, and all too soon to pass judgement. Maybe next month.


Guardians of the Galaxy - I remember picking up a preview issue beside the cash register at some point back in January and seeing a space-Ent fighting beside an armoured racoon with a multi-barreled rocket launcher. "Sold", I thought, and three issues later I'm still thinking it. This series is excellent; a little short on story, perhaps, this early on, but excellent. And judging by the last issue, about to get much, much better. Iron Man is in space, there's a ton of intergalactic politics that we never knew existed, and one of our heroes is being regrown in a dish of dirt. This couldn't end any way but well. There's also the creative team to blame for my optimism. Neither Brian Michael Bendis nor Steve McNiven have ever let me down, and having both of them on this project is a treat. And hey, if nothing else, it's pretty to look at.

Secret Avengers - This wouldn't have been nearly as interesting to write about before the trailers for Joss Whedon's new Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series were released, but now there's a whole lot more to wonder about. When I opened the first issue, I knew there was something going on. "Agent Coulson's in this", I thought, scanning it. "That can't be bad." Seeing a character make the leap from cinema screen to mainstream Marvel monthly title is kinda a big deal. Knowing now that Phil isn't actually dead helps this make sense. In the comics, he's helping Fury run a team of covert operatives including Black Widow, Maockingbird, and Hawkeye. A.I.M. is involved, and we just saw their silver screen debut with Iron Man 3. The Hulk just got roped in, and Taskmaster has made an appearance. It's an intriguing blend of characters. There's much political intrigue, and a lot of mind-wiping going on. Again, we're only three issues deep, so it's hard to make a judgement call. But I find myself looking forward to reading these when I pick them up, and I'm looking forward to following the title as it progresses, and seeing if what Mr. Whedon is cooking has any pull on what happens in the pages.

Wolverine - I always knew there was more to Wolverine that just hadn't been written yet. More than the samurai training, the immortality, the many dead girlfriends, and the rebelling-against-Xavier moments. This title proved me right. There is more. Like the fact that he isn't a "lone wolf". He likes people. In fact, he has his own team, a bar full of friends who research for him, patch him up, buy him a beer, give him the odds, and send him back out into the fight. Real friends. He thinks about "his" kids, the ones at the school, and keeps their safety in mind. So, it's different. It'll be different from any Wolverine you've read, and different from what you've seen on screen. That is, if you read it. Which you should should. Because there is Watcher-sized **** going down here, and we all know what that means.

Fearless Defenders - This title is less than I'd hoped for. I might take it off my list, unless the next issue is something special. I started out hoping that this all-female team would have some real teeth, and carry some oomf when it came to addressing relevant feminist issues. Clearly I've been reading too much Brian K. Vaughn, but that's an issue for another blog. This title has some wit and snark, but that's about all it is. Other wise, it's another weak fantasy thread making an attempt to be modern by excluding all the guys. A good premise, but not as well executed as I'd hoped. Maybe next time, Marvel.

(What's got me far more interested is issue #1 of The Defenders, but I haven't added it to my pull yet. What's not to like about a team-up of Dr. Strange, Silver Surfer, Iron Fist, and Namor?)

Now, in addition to all this, I picked up an issue that I must talk about briefly, which I didn't realize was Marvel until I bought it. I've been a fan of Skottie Young's illustration work for some time now. In a lot of ways, he's the reason I started this blog; I was inspired by his commitment to posting a "daily sketch" and wanted to do something similar. Anywho...from reading his blog I knew he'd been working on an Oz project, and from what I'd seen of the illustration it was something I very much wanted to read. So when I stumbled across an issue titled "Road to Oz" I snatched it up. It turned out to be a prequel to the main series, and I was astounded. It was unlike any comics I'd read, and perhaps that because it's the first time I've actually seen Skottie's work in a comic. His storytelling skill is wonderful. The way the dialogue was written, was as though the cadence was off, changed so that the reader would never mistake it for the speech of the real world. But it fit the story so perfectly I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. I plan to keep an eye out for the other issues (it's a 6-issue limited run, my favourite thing to collect), and someday when I meet Skottie I'll get them signed, and fangirl over the whole thing. Cause that's just how I roll.

The Inconceivably Large Comics Post

I sat down back in February with the intention of writing a weekly comics blog. Clearly, that'd didn't pan out. But here I am, back at, though not perhaps for a weekly blog. Maybe monthly once I'm all caught. And that's the thing: because I haven't written about comics in three months, I've read rather a lot, and I intend to review all of it. Maybe "review" is the wrong word to intention here is not to set myself up as some all-knowing critic of comics. It's more cathartic than critical. I think writing about what I'm reading is a good way to process it, and here is as good a place as any to do so. And if others feel like reading it, well, so much the better!

I'm going to write this in about three parts, starting with DC and Marvel's current stuff that I've been picking up at the shop, then looking at older TPB collections I'm working through, and finally talking about the graphic novels on my list. But first, Free Comics Day!! It was Saturday, May 4th, that much-beloved day for Star Wars fans when we can all walk around saying "May the fourth be with you". It never gets old, not for us anyway. There were many goodies lined up for free at the shop, and some that I am very glad I took home with me. I was able to snag a little preview copy of Mouse Guard by David Petersen, which was a breath of fresh air. It's a whimsical children's tale about love and valour and mice, told in a soft, painterly, Arthur Rackham-esque style. It's beautiful. If you can find it, take it home with you. It will make you smile. I grabbed a Mass Effect comic which, to my delight, tells the story of how Jeff "Joker" Moreau came to be the pilot of the Normandy. It's a must-read for any and all fans of the Mass Effect franchise. You can't help but read it in Seth Green's voice. And the icing on the cake...a free Atomic Robo issue. It's been a while since Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener released a volume of Robo, so it was great to flip through a new story, in which Robo comes up against grim odds and turns to his most trusted hand weapon...the Buick. I'll geek out over Atomic Robo til kingdom come; it's that great. It might also be the fact I met and got a portfolio review from I have a soft spot for these guys. They rock.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: when you are in a comics shop that has all it's back-stock marked 50% off, explore every corner, nook, cranny, and forgotten box until you are convinced there's nothing left in the store that might be of interest to you. I uncovered a shelf of 2007 Free Comics Day issues, with "FREE" printed right onto the cover, and walked away with some pretty cool stuff. Among it, a sketchbook of the most killer pencil work from Stephen King's The Dark Tower, and the first two issues of The 99, which have some academic significance for me. That was probably the most exciting find of the day; these issues will  potentially come into play in next year's art history studies. The series is written by Naif Al-Mutawa, featuring a group of mystically empowered teenagers who take their powers from the ninety-nine attributes of Allah given in the Quran. In its efforts to cross cultural boundaries and make the fight against evil a global one instead of a job for all-American superheroes, the team caught DC's eye, and The 99 ended up teaming up with The Justice League. There's a TED Talk on the series too, well worth watching:

Alright, I've rambled a bit. Let me bag and board my Astonishing X-Men #1 by Joss Whedon, and we'll get started on Part 1 of this inconceivably large comics blog.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Been Thinking Summer Thoughts

Alright, it's past time to put fingers to keyboard here again. School's out, exams are behind me, and all the projects are completed and marked. Summer is here, and with it a host of possibilities. It's an exciting new summer, in some ways; for the first time since I started university here I've decided to stay in Kelowna for the full summer, an option that I had never considered worth it before now. But, such considerations are prone to change. In terms of money this place might not be the greatest. There's not a lot in this town in the way of profitable summer work, but this time I'm in it for more than money. I was able to close the month of April with an unforgettable backcountry camping trip with some of my favourite people. Our second day on the trail we ended up camping for the night on a bluff looking out over the Okanagan Valley, more than a kilometre in elevation above the city of Kelowna. What a view! My oh so beloved truck has died on me, and I've traded one set of wheels for another. I bought a bike off a friend who was moving and fixed it up. I haven't owned a bike for a few years now, and having that freedom again is a beautiful thing. And, in the words of my buddy Jeff, "every day is legs day". It's a good summer to be outdoors, and I picked the right the right town to be outdoors in. I don't think I've ever been this tanned. Now, to find time for some bouldering on Knox Mountain...

All that said, the outdoor recreation options are attractive, but they aren't my main reason for staying. I took a good, long look at my resume as the school year neared an end and realized something: I have no work experience to my name that would be pertinent to an art-focused career. This, I figured, was a problem. I set about researching every internship I could find that would involve my skills as an illustrator, or engage my interest in storytelling. There were positions open in Oregon and California, and many other appealing locations, but in the end the answer was right in front of me. A somewhat groggy conversation with a good friend during a late-night bus ride brought me 'round to a realization: art shows hold a place on an artist's CV as well as any job experience. What if my art employment for the summer could be a show, rather than a job? And so, that's exactly what it is. I've found a place to live with room to set up a studio, and I've begun to plan for the show I'm going to build. It's going to be the final evolution of a project that never really reached completion over the school year; I had bigger ideas for it, but they never saw fruition. I'm splitting my time between this endeavour in what I'm calling illustrative journalism, and part-time paid work. With a lot of focus, a little dedication, a pinch of luck, and my fair share of late nights at the drawing table, I should have a body of work ready for exhibition in the Fall. More on this project as the summer progresses...

That idea still boggles my mind a little, so allow me muse on my bogglement for a moment. I consider myself an illustrator, and I think of the work I do as belonging primarily to the book arts. I've found education in a program bent on churning on gallery artists to be a challenge. That is to say, I've actively avoided the path of the Gallery. And now I find myself spending my summertime on a gallery show, of all things. Earlier this year (and you can read about it in an earlier post) I created a comic drawn on a lengthy roll of paper. The traditionalist in me, that part that has boycotted digital comics for love of the book, was astounded to look at that project afterwards and find that publishing such a comic made more sense digitally than in paper form. I was nearly as confused about my art then as I am now, but isn't that just the way of it? As artists we sometimes find that our work has more say in our practice than we do. My work would have me prepare a gallery exhibition, so, that's exactly what I'll do, and it will be an adventure!

That's most of what I have to say to bring whoever's reading this up to speed on my art-life. I will say that this post will be followed (hopefully soon) by another massive comics review blog. I might actually split it into a few smaller posts...last Saturday was Free Comics Day, and I have rather a lot of new material to review. But for now, I shall leave you with a sketch, the other part of this blog that has been lacking. Wednesday mornings are spent around a table drinking coffee with a group of local illustrators, and last week we decided to all draw a "panda reporter", interpreted however we chose. I couldn't get Russell Crowe's character from State of Play out of my head, so I drew a laconically inquisitive street-level panda.

From a film I recently watched and fell in love with, for there are far to few beautifully filmed fantasy martial arts movies in this world where The Guy Who Serves The Drinks fights valiantly that he might continue serving the drinks:

"Revenge is an act of style. For all practical matters, no one is known to come back from the dead after being avenged in the name of Justice. However so, man can fight anything but his nature. 'An eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth' will forever make better grammatical balance then turning the other cheek."
- Bunraku