Say Hello To The Bad Guy…

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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.

 

That’s Okay With Me

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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!

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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

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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…

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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

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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

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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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Iron Man, Iron Man Does Whatever an Iron Can

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So you come out of Iron Man 3. You’re excited. You’re jazzed. You look down, you have jazz hands you’re so jazzed. You want to buy Iron Man action figures, you want to buy Iron Man…comic books. But what should you buy?

Well, to kick things off, let me start by saying that there is a lot you don’t need to read, and a lot you probably shouldn’t read. Iron Man has done a number of weird things over the years including starting a team called “Force Works” (I guess they were supposed to be violent and stuff?), having a mullet, being mind-controlled and becoming a murderer only to be defeated by a teenaged version of himself that took his place who then…became the same old Tony Stark from before…or something. Also, his suit gained sentience and wanted to marry him on a tropical island. ALL OF THESE THINGS HAPPENED. Does your head hurt? Mine does. If you don’t believe me, go to Wikipedia. You’ll probably come out of it wishing you had simply taken my word for it.

Anyway, if you’re looking to read about a Tony Stark/Iron Man that’s pretty similar to the one crafted by Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr (and perfected by Joss Whedon and Shane Black), these are the books you’re going to want to read:

Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s The Ultimates

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The Ultimates was the movie version of The Avengers before there was a movie version of The Avengers. Bryan Hitch illustrates widescreen action like few others, and with writer Mark Millar, presented a version of Marvel’s super team that existed in a more “real” world. Tony Stark is an adventurous, hard partying playboy, and all the characters are dicks to each other (YAY). Also, this is the comic you have to thank for having Sam Jackson play Nick Fury. It’s an entertaining (though almost ridiculously cynical) read, and the first two volumes are almost like storyboards/concept art for Whedon’s Avengers. I thought it was REALLY cool in college. Now I think it’s still pretty cool.Screen Shot 2013-05-14 at 9.07.16 PM

Warren Ellis and Adi Granov’s relaunch of Iron Man in 2006 presented a modern origin for the character, while also upgrading his tech in the present day with Extremis.

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Granov went on to design the armor for the first two Iron Man films. He also brings a widescreen, movie-esque approach like Hitch, but has a cold and digital photorealistic look for his characters. It feels detached. It’s harder edged. Ellis and Granov put Stark in situations where he has to kill to survive. Ellis, in addition to being able to write tough but caring characters, also researches the shit out of science. And it shows in this book. This is probably the most science-y Iron Man book that has ever scienced.

Matt Fraction and Salvador LaRocca’s Invincible Iron Man came out almost immediately following the first Iron Man film, and features a much more Downey-influenced Tony Stark (though LaRocca seems to use Josh Holloway’s face as a reference for much of the second half of the series).

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The run starts and ends with Stark in space. It begins with him confessing his nightmares to the reader and ends with him beginning to dream again. Fraction addresses nearly every single thing that has happened to the character over the years, yet manages to not induce suicidal thoughts like the Wikipedia page. It’s a greatest hits for the character, taking him through new highs and lows as his attempts to change the world as Tony Stark falter due to his attempts to save the world as Iron Man.

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Fraction and LaRocca also assemble a great supporting cast, starting with Pepper Potts and James Rhodes (who each get multiple variations on the Iron Man armor) and growing to include a team of scientists that complement Stark’s own genius. At times, LaRocca’s photo-referenced faces get distracting, but he makes up for it with some beautifully drawn action, and well-rendered suits.

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Fraction also brings the funny while adding dimension and gravity to Stark’s alcoholism. Under other writers its almost always been a gimmick, or something reactionary, to show how Tony feels awkward in party situations. Fraction has documented his own sobriety on his blog, and the understanding he brings to this aspect of the character really rings true without ever feeling preachy.

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This is probably my favorite run of Iron Man, and the perfect realization of everything the character has to offer. If you’ve liked any of the Iron Man films, and want to check out the character in comic book form, Read These Comics!

Folks Talkin’ Bout Comics 4: Transmet Wrap-up, Gender-izing, and Superman Origin Stories

Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid and Lenil Francis Yu
It was way longer than we said this next chat would come, and possibly even longer for me to edit and post it. To be fair, we’ve been busy not only with our work lives, and comic book reading, but we each also were enrolled in an online course called “Gender Through Comic Books.” It was a challenging class that I wish I had dedicated more time to. I’ll write more about it later, for now, here’s another comic chat between myself and Forrest, in which we wrap up our Transmet series (why are you even reading our thoughts about it anymore, read the damn thing!) and talk about all things comic books.
Forrest: Hey. How’s things?
Paul: Pretty good. Part of my reason for not doing my MOOC homework is that I’ve been running, so thats good I guess.
Forrest: That’s great! I’ve been trying to get in shape too. With varying results.
NOTE FROM PAUL: HEY KIDS! EXERCISE IS NO EXCUSE FOR NOT READING COMIC BOOKS!
Paul: But I’ve also been reading a lot of the Marvel #1’s…it’s very addictive having that many comics. And not many of them are good.
Forrest: Yeah – I had to abandon that quest for the same reason. That and the ones that were good were tempting me to drop too much money.
Paul: I nearly bought the whole series of Strangers in Paradise, but not having the money to do so was effective in stopping me.
Forrest: I’ve been reading a shit ton of Superman.
Paul: Such as?
Forrest: I think I’ve read 6 different versions of his origin story? Do they tell any other Superman stories?
Paul: They do…sometimes. The animated series from the 90s is excellent.
Forrest: The most recent Geoff Johns one made me angry. Mostly because it cribbed all the good ideas from Birthright and then threw in a bunch of shitty comic book shit to fill in the “new ideas.”
Paul: I am not a fan of Geoff Johns…I’ve tried a bunch, but he’s never worked for me.
Forrest: I liked Long Halloween (NOTE FROM PAUL! I think Forrest confused Jeph Loeb and Geoff Johns, but I didn’t call him on it cause I was exhausted!), etc…back in the day, but I haven’t read them in ages. My favorite Superman origin was Secret Identity, though. Birthright is close second.
Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid and Lenil Francis Yu
Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid and Lenil Francis Yu
Paul: Secret Identity is fantastic. Both that and Birthright are among my favorites. As is All Star Superman.
Forrest: I purchased that, but I haven’t read it yet.
All Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
All Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
Paul: I’m trying to think of good non-origin ones…and I mainly go back to the animated series. Same as Batman. I feel like so many DC heroes get lost in trying to retell the origin to make them relevant to a new generation.
Forrest: Yeah! Especially Superman! Everyone knows his origin! I think DC heroes are limited by – outside of Batman – not having as many immediately recognizable members of their rogues gallery, at least not to the general public.
Paul: That’s true. Although Marvel might be more obscure, but manage to power through it.
Forrest: I mean, there’s Lex Luthor – he’s a smart asshole. Braniac is a…smart…robot…asshole? Who knows wtf Metallo, Bizarro, Parasite are?
Paul: I do! But because I watched the animated series…not because of any DC Comic book.
Forrest: But I grew up with X-Men and Spider-Man and Batman the Animated Series, so it could just be my ignorance. Yeah, I will have to watch that. BTAS is so good, I’d watch anything from the same creative team.
Paul: it’s great. It’s got a whole different color palate and tone. and it introduced me to Darkseid, which years later would play into me trying out DC’s beautiful Jack Kirby collections.
Forrest: He’s like DC’s Apocalypse, right?
Paul: More like DC’s Thanos.
Forrest: Haha. See?
Paul: …and in fact the inspiration for Thanos.
Forrest: I don’t even know who Thanos is.
Paul: Ooh, if you got it in the Marvel #1s, read Thanos Quest. Its a great introduction to the character, and to the cosmic side of Marvel.
Thanos Quest by Jim Starlin and Ron Lim
Thanos Quest by Jim Starlin and Ron Lim
Forrest: I was one of those people at the end of Avengers who was like “Oh hey, it’s the purple dude the internet told me to look out for!”
Paul: Hahaha
Forrest: Cool I will check it out.
Paul: Darkseid is a fantastic Superman villain, in that he’s out to end all free will…he’s in search of the “anti-life equation.” He’s generally not reacting to Superman, he considers Superman below him, and that’s a rarity amongst any hero’s villains.
Forrest: Well I certainly have more to explore. I’m really glad to have Comixology. For the longest time comics felt like this dense jungle of knowledge that I could never navigate.
Paul: Yes, it’s fantastic. But I wish DC/Vertigo would have sales as frequently as Marvel. I feel like what would really break comics open to more readers is if Comixology (or another platform) offered an “all you can eat” model like Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.
Forrest: Yeah that would be insane. I didn’t end up subscribing to that because the Comixology reader has me spoiled. I’d rather pay for Marvel comics on that platform, ha.
Paul: Yeah, plus you’re really limited in terms of reading choices if your only choice is Marvel. I like a lot of what they’re putting out right now, but it is pretty much exclusively super hero or super hero riffs.
Forrest: True. I’ve been making a point to pick up #1s of new series if they look interesting or inventive. For example I like this book Theremin. And I think I told you about Nowhere Men.
Paul: I think you did…I grabbed Nowhere Men issue 1 since it’s free…and I’ll definitely pick up Theremin later this week since it’s a buck! Have you checked out High Crimes?
High Crimes by Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa
High Crimes by Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa
Forrest: No, what is it?
Paul: It’s another Monkeybrain series…it’s about a former snowboarder that works as a guide on MT Everest, but also ransoms bodies found on Everest to their families…
Forrest: That sounds messed up. I’d probably like it!
Paul: But when running prints on a body her and her partner found, it triggers a response from an elite (and sinister) commando unit in America. Who are coming after anyone who came in contact with their former colleague…and fucking shit up hardcore.
Forrest: I will check it out! I also bought Sex, because it’s dirty. And I like to support artists exploring adult themes in mediums traditionally blah blah blah it’s dirty
Sex by Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski
Sex by Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski
Paul: I like Sex (the comic series).
Forrest: But not sex, the sex thing, right? Because that’s gross.
Paul: Right.
Ew.
Fluids.
Forrest: TOO FAR
Paul: Not far enough. The people have to know.
Forrest: They’re not ready!
Paul: People of the internet! Sex. Goo. Sex goo! Things squishing together! Babies! Baby goo! There. I’ve said my peace.
Forrest: I’m out!
Paul: No, wait. Comics!
Forrest: Or, as a wise man said, “I’ll be in my bunk.”
Paul: Anyway, I am a fan of Joe Casey’s comic book output. He usually takes high concept stuff like Sex (virginal super hero explores sex after retiring) and executes it well. Have you heard of Butcher Baker (also written by him)?
Forrest: No.
Butcher Baker by Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston
Butcher Baker by Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston
Paul: It is insane. I’ve only read the first two issues, but it feels like Kurt Russel’s character from Big Trouble in Little China combined with Freddie Mercury combined with Duke Nukem as the world’s greatest hero taking on every villain he’s ever fought.
Forrest: That sounds like it would have a high probability of being terrible? But I will trust you.
Paul: It’s fucking crazy. But the art is beautiful, and it’s just crazy enough to work story-wise.
Forrest: After all, you were right on about Saga, and I don’t know how anyone could desbcribe that without making it sound bonkers.
Paul: I’m pretty much dialing it down, too.
Forrest: Ha! Stop! My wallet, it hurts. The place where the money goes…
Paul: He also wrote a good Iron Man mini series…that’s on sale today
Forrest: …it’s EMPTY. Which one? I picked up “Demon in a Bottle” because classics.
Paul: Iron Man: The Inevitable. It’s written during a period where Tony Stark was trying to deny he was Iron Man after having previously revealed his identity. And he’s trying to move past all his old villains, even help them rehabilitate, but they won’t evolve, they just want to kill or humiliate him.
Iron Man: The Inevitable by Joe Casey and Frazier Irving
Iron Man: The Inevitable by Joe Casey and Frazier Irving
Forrest: Hmm. That sounds…really good…
Paul: You should already have issue one from the #1s…(pops up on your shoulder as the devil in an iron man suit) But you should probably save your money for the new comics coming out on Wednesday (slightly less evil devil on your other shoulder)
Forrest: Yeah…I really should!
Paul: (Both devils laugh and disappear)
Forrest: Hahaha. I should also read this week’s SuperMOOC comics. I really loved Captain Marvel – that one is going on my monthly buy list now.
Paul: I don’t even remember what’s on deck for this week yet.
Forrest: I think it’s all Gail Simone – Secret Six (which I am very excited to read!) Batgirl
Secret Six by Gail Simone and Nicola Scott
Secret Six by Gail Simone and Nicola Scott
Paul: Ok good, I’ve read most of those. Secret Six is one of my favorite series, and Birds of Prey got Chrystal into reading comics.
Secret Six features the best comics version of Bane.
Forrest: All exciting stuff. I’m looking forward to the last week when I can chill because I read Y: The Last Man years ago. All the rest has been new to me!
Paul: I think it’s been 50/50 for me…Strangers in Paradise was the most exciting to “discover.” Mainly because even though I’ve been reading more varied comics cause of Comixology, it has all still been mostly super hero, sci fi, or fantasy.
Forrest: True. I think they could branch out if they do this again. I was surprised there weren’t more autobiographical/slice of life/indie titles. Maybe it’s due to what’s available on Comixology, or maybe they assumed people who are interested in comics would be more interested in superhero books?
Paul: I think its probably based in easing people in with super hero books. But there’s also probably more examples of stereotypes and breaking of stereotypes in the mainstream books.
Forrest: True.
Paul: I’d like to see a follow up class that has Neil Gaiman’s Books of Magic on the syllabus. That has a character that is male in the normal world, and female in the magical world.
Forrest: Interesting! I love Neil Gaiman. Haven’t read that book, but I will add it to my ever-growing list.
Paul: Hahaha.
Forrest: Ok, so my wife is going to stab me in the face if I ignore her much longer…and you know what book has people getting stabbed in the face (probably?) Transmetropolitan! (segue segue segue)
Paul: Ha. Great segue! With all the recent real world terribleness I have been again pondering the prophetic nature of Ellis and Robertson’s opus. It seems very much like the world of Transmet could be our future, and I think that’s a great selling point for those who haven’t read it before. It’s not necessarily an entirely bleak future, but it could very easily be the culmination of all the good and bad things occurring now.
Forrest: It is, but I think the compelling/frightening flipside of that is how much it’s reflective of our past as well. See page 59 of vol 10 for a particularly explicit example, though there are plenty of implicit ones as well. Do things ever change, that much?
Paul: True. As I’ve mentioned before, I read the series in college, during the Bush presidency, while reading about Nixon’s presidency as seen by Hunter S Thompson, so I was seeing plenty of things repeating themselves.
Forrest: And the state of journalism these days doesn’t leave much room for hope that we’ll ever have the likes of Spider Jerusalem to scourge the bowels of our corrupt systems. Do we have a voice like that?
Paul: Well. It’s interesting, cause I thought all the “in the moment” reporting via Twitter this week was like the way news was reported in Transmet.  And I thought Anonymous’s foray into reporting with Your Anon News was similar to The Hole.
Forrest: Hm, true…But
Paul: But there isn’t a Spider Jerusalem.
Forrest: Yeah. Because Spider Jerusalem has standards, for lack of a better word.
Paul: The closest thing I could think of is Jon Stewart…and he doesn’t want to be that.
Forrest: Yeah, Jon Stewart comes close, but he plays the jester too eagerly. I mean, I love the guy, but he doesn’t display the righteous rage and disrespect for gastrointestinal systems that are necessary for the job.
Paul: Our generation has tried to assign a status to him as head truth teller, as “our” reporter, but it’s something he’s denied again and again.
Forrest: Which is a shame, because I think he has it in him. But he likes to hide behind comedy (which he’s brilliant at) when push comes to shove.
Paul: Yes. But I wonder what a Jon Stewart with nothing to lose would be like. He could make a Louis CK type move at this point.
Forrest: Kidnap his children and find out! (Kidding.)
Paul: Hahaha. Jon Stewart in “Give me back my kids, internet Guy!”
Forrest: Haha
Paul: I think what we’ve hit on is that Transmetropolitan is a timeless series. It speaks to us, it speaks to past generations, and to future ones as well.
Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson
Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson
Forrest: I’d like to think we can move past some of this bullshit, but I think you’re right. It would be just as relevant if we handed it to some fiefdom vassals in the Middle Ages. If they could take time out from burning us at the stake to read it, and if I could take time out from calling my next rock band “Fiefdom Vassals.”
Paul: I think by calling your band the “Fiefdom Vassals” you’re setting yourself up for a situation in which a traveller from the future will give you a time machine so that you can finish your homework and become the greatest band ever.
Forrest: Hahaha. I can only hope!
Paul: And then you would likely find yourself in a scenario where you would recommend Transmet to someone from the past.
Forrest: I guess hopefully Spider Jerusalem teaches us that the truth is worth fighting for, profanely if necessary. He teaches us to look out for the little guy, and to find the humanity where there may seem to be none. And he also teaches us that sometimes, assholes just need to be trolled.
Paul: I feel like Spider would like Superman (bringing this shit FULL CIRCLE). Especially Waid’s Superman (with a little bit of “teach those broads a lesson/working out Mort Weissenger’s issues” Superman).
Forrest: That would be the weirdest crossover series ever.
Paul: I think the closest is an issue of Ennis’s Hitman where Ennis’s foul mouthed hired cyncial killer basically tells Superman that he matters. (another series to read!)
Forrest: Re-reading these volumes, I noticed there seemed to be much more emphasis on action than in the previous volumes.
Paul: Yes, yet I don’t think it feels out of place. I think the series has built to it. Once Spider goes on the attack against the Smiler, the Smiler has nothing left but violence.
Forrest: There’s some cool ideas for tech on display as well. The ID trashcan thing that removes all genetic trace of a body, the victimbots…
Paul: Yes. The ID trashcan freaked me out. As did the “Ebola Cola” commercial. More disturbing art from Robertson.
Forrest: Speaking of disturbing, there are quite a few creepy, flavorful non-sequitors that pop up, like the lonely cannibals that fall in love, or the three-breasted transvestite(?) Annabel who commits suicide randomly?
Paul: Yes, the Annabel thing was funny tragic and disturbing…especially the porn producer who said “Hi Annabel” on her way down.
Forrest: More weird worldbuilding? Or do you think there’s intent behind these vignettes?
Paul: At this moment, I can’t think of any intent…except maybe that like most of the book, it’s the real world dialed up to 15 and a half? They’re those weird people that you fleetingly encounter in your every day life, but exaggerated.
Forrest: I think you’re right. They seem like throwaway gags, but at the same time there’s a core of tragedy to them. It establishes the world as extreme, but also kind of relatable?
Paul: Yes. Exactly. Any day, either one of us could have a suicidal person come crashing down next to us…but they’d probably be pretty normal looking.
Forrest: Yeah, apart from aesthetics, the crazy shit that goes down in Transmetropolitan is the same crazy shit that goes down in our world. We just don’t talk about it as much.
Paul: And for most part, neither do they. Spider (and the other journalists) barely bat an eye at most of these everyday occurances. People die, people eat each other and it barely rates a sentence in many cases. It’s something we and they are aware that happens, but there might not be a story in it. Or it might not be a story we want to hear.
Forrest: Interesting. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Although Spider does make a point to give a voice to the voiceless throughout the series.
Paul: He does. But realistically…he can’t give a voice to everyone.
Forrest: True, but that’s why we need more Spiders! For example, I like that Mary, the revival woman, keeps popping up. And even plays a small role in Spider’s eventual (spoilers!) victory over The Smiler.
Paul: Yup, and even Robert McX is a Spider of sorts. He’s a Spider who probably sold out early on, but through Spider’s actions maybe reclaims some of who he used to be.
Forrest: Yeah, I liked that character. How do you feel about the ending? Specifically, Spider’s fate? Although any other thoughts you have on the plot resolution are welcome as well…
SPOILERS SPOILERS END OF THE SERIES SPOILERS DAMMIT
Paul: I love the ending. I love how Spider and Yelena’s relationship has ended up, and how Spider still is fucking with everyone…and before that, I do enjoy that Spider is the ‘one man that can make a difference’ and successfully takes down The Smiler.
Forrest: The first time I read it, I was disappointed in the resolution of Spider’s illness. I guess at the time it felt like it was an unnecessary twist, like maybe there was something poetic in him losing his mind after it all. I don’t think I feel that way anymore, though. It does seem like if anyone can beat the odds, it’s Spider. And maybe it’s a mind over matter thing.
Paul: Yeah. And he is still infirmed to a degree…he mentions that in all but 1% it’s progressive…so he’s going to be at the level he’s currently at…not getting better, and messing with his filthy assistants by pretending to drop down a level or two when he feels like it. And that’s perfect for Spider. He gets to retire, to be loved, but to still also fuck with people.
Forrest: I like that Yelena becomes the new Spider, although I wish we could see more of it. But that’s not this story.
Sequel! (Please!)
Paul: No! Cause then DC will do a crappy Before Transmet series…
Forrest: Well, “After,” but yeah.
Paul: They’ll do it all!
Forrest: I’d only be down if Ellis and Robertson re-teamed and were super passionate about it.
Paul: Or if they were at least being paid in mountains of drugs and money and the skulls of their enemies (what I assume is in Ellis’s contract). Well, I think that’s a good place to wrap up if you’re good.
Forrest: I’m not sure what else to say! I feel like nothing I write can possibly do justice to this series, which is one of my absolute favorites and everyone should seriously read. It’s thought-provoking, visually rich,
Oops
I realized I didn’t want to finish that paragraph.
Meant to just send “I’m not sure what else to say!” Haha
Paul: You ruined it!!!
Forrest: Noooooo. Also I picked up Gun Machine (Warren Ellis’s new novel).
Paul: Nice.
Forrest: I’m only on page 3. But it’s good!
Paul: Yeah it is. Well. I think we should re-convene in the near future to talk more comics in general…keep this thing going.
Forrest: Ok – now that we’ve spoiled the entire thing for everybody – GO READ TRANSMETROPOLITAN!
Paul: I CONCUR WITH THIS STATEMENT

“Patronizing Headline About How Comics Aren’t For One Sub-Group of People Anymore!”

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 10.17.03 PM

I created this site in an attempt to get tell people about the comics that I love, and engage them in discussions about said comics.

Some folks are reading it, though based on search terms a number of you are here because I’ve typed the words “Sex,” “boobs” and “boobs sex comics” one time or another (And apparently stuck around and read some stuff? Good on you, ‘boobs sex comics’ searcher! Excelsior!).

Anyway. One thing I always have trouble getting across is that comic books are a medium for storytelling, they’re not just Super Heroes or Sci-Fi or Fantasy. There are comics about cops, musicians, and people who work at dead end jobs. And then there are, believe it or not, good “genre” comics in which writers and artists explore things like themes about politics, religion or…GENDER!

I think I’ve mentioned before that this was an early exposure to mature comics for me:

Screen Shot 2012-09-09 at 3.46.42 PMTeenaged me thought that was AWESOME. Teenaged me took that comic book into the bathroom and really studied that panel. Really studied it. Hard.

Teenaged me, and comics like Witchblade are probably how most people not reading comic books view the average comic book reader and how the average female comic book character is portrayed. There are people and portrayals like this. Yes. Otherwise it wouldn’t exist in your brain, comic book stereotyper! But there are a number of creators, both modern and throughout comic book history, that have created comic books that have not only attempted to appeal to both genders, but to explore them.

So as someone who is constantly trying to get more people (and many of them female members of my family) reading comic books, I’m really excited to start taking a course taught by Christina Blanch entitled “Gender Through Comic Books.”

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 10.14.43 PMThe course is entirely online. It’s totally free, you just have to buy the comic books. And Comixology is selling the entire syllabus at 35% off. Click here to sign up for the course and to buy the comics: http://www.comixology.com/mooc

It’s pretty fantastic. Not only are these some great comics, but there are a number of creators on board to discuss these comics, including Read This Comic Book! favorite Brian K Vaughan (BKV!) and new Read This Comic Book! favorite Kelly Sue DeConnick (She’s currently writing Captain Marvel, which I just read the first seven issues of and highly recommend).

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 10.17.03 PMI’m excited to be tasked with thinking critically about something again. My brain needs a little bit of that structure to work better. I’m also pumped to be discussing something I’m passionate about with people who share that passion. If you’ve been reading this blog and said, “well, this sounds kind of interesting, but I need something that’s less about Paul’s hangups,” then you should sign up for this class, and learn more about how ladies and dudes are portrayed in the funny books.