Kirby Crackles with Kamandi!

I was tempted to type “Crackles” with a “K,” but then I’d be in a “Oops, my title spelled out KKK scenario,” and have to deal with all sorts of awkwardness.

Phew, now that we’ve gotten through that potentially awkward hypothetical scenario, on to Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth by Jack Kirby.

It’s a scenario we’re all familiar with. Intelligent, humanoid animals ruling over a planet in either a dystopian future, alternate timeline, or distant planet. But has there ever been a moment when someone in the human refugee/uprising group totally blows it for everyone because they’re allergic to animal hair? Like “Guys, we have to be absolutely silent, these FerretMen have amazing senses” and then the fat guy sneezes? I don’t think there has. So nobody steal it, it’s going in my epic poem (I’ve decided to pursue writing epic poems now–they’re making a comeback), The FerretMen Cometh! (FerretMen® Paul DeKams, 2012)

But anyway, if this feels like a familiar scenario, it’s partially because DC Comics saw how people were loving up on Planet of the Apes, lost their bid at acquiring a license, and asked Kirby to come up with something similar. Full details here, but the gist of it is, Kirby didn’t rip it off, but was following DC’s mandate to…rip it off.

But we’re presented with a different hero than Planet of the Apes. Kamandi isn’t an astronaut transported to the future, but he has grown up isolated from the world around him, in a bunker with his grandfather. He’s sent out into the world to reclaim it. And what a world. Kirby opens things EPICALLY. With a splash page introduction to Kamandi, and a double page look at a sunken New York City. You know immediately that you’re on earth and things…THINGS. HAVE. GONE. TO. SHIT.

Kirby quickly intros the reader to Kamandi’s world when Kamandi returns to his compound to find that his traps have been set off, leaving the attackers and his grandfather, dead. But one remains, and he’s as shocked by Kamandi, a talking human, as Kamandi is by he, an upright talking wolf. Yup, talking wolf. We’re on a planet ruled by animals, peoples.

So Kamandi whups the wolf spectacularly, with agility, fighting skills, and the classic comic mainstay, throwing a power line into the water that the villain is standing in. This results in the first instance of “Kirby Crackle” in this comic. Look at that…it’s…it’s wonderful. “Kirby Crackle” is the way that Kirby chooses to show immense displays of energy, explosions, and cosmic things in general.

Now, in your modern comic book, all this action would take up an entire issue. And justifiably so. A lot has occurred. BUT. This is a comic from the 1970s, written and drawn by Jack Kirby. So Kamandi also saves a tiger from assassination, is taken in as a bet, tries to blow up an atomic bomb, yes, TRIES TO BLOW UP AN ATOMIC BOMB, and befriends a talking dog doctor and a human astronaut that isn’t Charlton Heston.

So, if you like the Planet of the Apes films, if you like Y: The Last Man, you should READ THIS COMIC. It’s 99 cents per issue on Comixology and about $30 on Amazon for a purty, purty hardcover.  You can also, of course, buy it in stores, but you’ll pay a smidge more. I’ve only read the first issue so far, but plan to read and review more, so I hope you’ll join me.

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Hey, You Should Read This!

So, Mai said: “Pauly, I really like 50s-60s Sci-Fi —  Isaac Asimov and Phillp K. Dick. What should I read?” (NOTE: she didn’t actually phrase it that way, but this is my site, so I will quote you as I see fit!)

Now, I must admit to not having read anything by those authors. I did see Blade Runner and Total Recall though. That may lessen my qualifications, but I’m not going to let it stop me. I’d argue that these authors’ works would fall into the realm of “Hard Sci-Fi,” and call upon my compatriot, Forrest Karbowski, to make some recommendations in the comments section.

But anyway, recommendations for Mai and Asimov/Dick fans (Ha! Dick fans).

I’ll start broad with author recommendations: Warren Ellis and Jonathan Hickman. I’ve talked about some of their works already. Transmetropolitan for Ellis as well as Fantastic Four and The Manhattan Projects for Hickman. Those are good starts for both authors.

If you’ve already worked your way through Transmet, Ellis collaborated with J.H. Williams on Desolation Jones, the tale of a former spy living in Los Angeles and becoming like many people in Los Angeles seem to do, a private investigator. The first arc involves a search for the lost pornographic films of Adolf Hitler (This is what Wikipedia tells me right now and I’m not sure if it’s Hitler’s porno collection or if he is IN the pornos). It’s been awhile since I’ve read this comic, but I assure you I’m going to read it again right now.

Hickman-wise, check out The Nightly News, written, drawn, and info graphic-ed by Jonathan Hickman. The dude loves info graphics. Anyways, this is another thing I haven’t read in years, but it’s about a violent rebellion against the news media. I lent this out to someone and have never gotten it back, so I should probably just re-buy it. When I do, expect a post on here, as this was a comic that I bought and had shipped to several friends, I loved it so much. I also wrote to Hickman, and he wrote back a nice reply. So…support a nice guy and buy his comic.

I would also recommend a team of collaborators: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. They started working together on Sleeper, a Superhero/Sci-Fi/Noir/Spy story about an operative acting deep cover in a super villain terrorist organization. There’s some winking at the super hero genre with villains passing the time with “origin” stories, but it feels more Tarantino than Family Guy if that makes sense to you. They’ve also done Criminal, Incognito and now, Fatale. Criminal is straight crime novel, Incognito is a bit more like Sleeper with more emphasis on Pulp and Sci-Fi heroes, and Fatale is Sci-Fi/Horror/Noir. These two are completely in-sync and continue to operate at the top of their game. A bonus if you buy the print single issues of Criminal, Fatale or Incognito; each issue contains an essay about other works within the genre that book is based in.

So, Mai, hopefully I haven’t totally wasted your time and have offered some stuff you’ll enjoy, even if they’re not on exactly the money for a Dick fan like yourself. Again, hopefully some other folks who’ve read a bit more in that genre, some fellow fans of Dick, can help open us both up to some new books.

(NOTE: I am giggling with every “Dick fan” joke I make. I am hilarious).

Hey Paul, What Should I Read?

Some of you have been reading and liking these posts. Maybe you’re going to read the comics I’ve recommended, but maybe you really really (REALLY!) want a specific recommendation to your tastes.

“Hey Paul, I like chicken tenders and hot dogs, and don’t like vegetables, which comic should I read?”

Well, hypothetical reader, you sound like a child based on your limited diet, but you also might be me. So therefore, to be safe, I’ll recommend Owly, Bone, Atomic Robo, or Fantastic Four.

But I’m not going to sit here and jaw with a buried (or more likely surface) version of myself. I want to know what you’re looking for in a comic. Have you tried comics before that you’ve loved? That you’ve hated? Maybe you’re still just overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of comics out there and don’t know where to begin.

Well, either through the comments or by emailing me at readthiscomicbook2012@gmail.com, let me know what you’d like to read, and I’ll do a follow up “letters page” post where I’ll make some recommendations based on what readers tell me.

Kickin’ Skulls Y’all

Today, we’re talking about Skullkickers by Jim Zubkavich and Edwin Huang.

Yup, that’s right, Skullkickers. If that title, combined with the above image doesn’t fill you with some form of glee, go ahead and stop reading. If you scoffed…first off, HOW DARE YOU FOR SCOFFING, THERE WILL BE NO SCOFFING ON THIS BLOG! But if you scoffed, really, don’t continue. Come back when I review Blankets. (AND I WILL REVIEW BLANKETS, YOU…YOU…SCOFFER!)

Skullkickers, to quote Ranier Wolfcastle (star of McBain: Let’s Get Silly), is “a mix of action und comedy,” with a bit of fantasy and horror thrown in. That’s four genres, people! Four genres for your valuable moneys!

Skullkickers (are you getting that I love typing this title?) stars “Baldy” and “Shorty,” a pair of monster killers for hire. They inhabit a world set in medieval times, filled with monsters, but everyone talks like they’re in an 80’s action movie (Note: This is a GOOD THING, as the 80’s were the golden era of action movies. This dialogue gets 3.5 Shane Blacks out of 5 Shane Blacks).

Zubkavich and Huang do very well together in marrying the four genres, though comedy is their priority. The above page conveys the hilarity of our heroes escaping the flaming scene of a crime with the same casual tenseness of a Simpsons “I left your present in the car” gag. Allow me to explain, without the aid of asterisk OR parenthesis, The Simpsons “I left your present in the car” gag. Often, a negligent character, like Homer J. Simpson, will have forgotten to buy a present for his wife, or one of his children. Upon being reminded of the birthday, anniversary, etc., he will then say that the present is…in the car…yeah, with appropriate hesitation and pauses, for comedic effect. The rest of the gag is pulled off via off screen audio, as we hear him slam the door, run to the car, start the car, and drive it away quickly. To see it in action, please view “Treehouse of Horror III,” which is in the fourth season of The Simpsons.

Anyway, I’m not diving deep into what the creative team is doing. They are quite simply creating a fun comic. They are also crafting a quality comic. Often “Fun” is used as an excuse for why something is crappy. It doesn’t have to be good, because it’s “dumb fun.” NO. The characters may not be smart. They may engage in some pretty dumb activities. But the comic isn’t dumb. Skullkickers is just FUN. Read it. You’ll get to see a dwarf and a big bald guy fight monsters, jerks, and more monsters.

But I should comment briefly on the art in Skullkickers. Huang’s art is most definitely cartoony, but I’m also curious about the influence of Capcom on his style. There’s definitely some Street Fighter in his character design. Also maybe a Joe Madureira influence? Anyway…

Skullkickers!

Skullkickers is published by Image Comics, you can purchase it on Comixology, Amazon, or your local comic or book store. Do not buy it from the guy offering you a signed CD in Times Square. He is a scam artist. He does not have any comic books.

Folks Talkin’ Bout Comics: Genres

I present to you, dear readers, a look into the past. Below is a chat with my friend Seth Dellon that took place in January, in which we chat about my initial ideas for this blog, Comic Books as a Genre VS Comic Books as a Format, and some of our other thoughts on comic book publishing in general. Since we’re not talking about any specific comic, I’ve inserted panels from several comics that I’ll probably talk about in the future, but by including them here, I’ve gotten a jump on recommending them now!

“Conversation” by James Kochalka and Craig Thompson

Paul: So I want to start up a blog that’s comics focused, but that is geared towards educating people about how it’s not all superheroes.

Seth: So…is it going to be reviews of non-superhero comics or more than that too?

Paul: I guess it’ll include superheroes in some cases too, but it’ll mainly be about showing the whole spectrum of comics genres, as well as the different formats: single issues, trades, and digital formats.
As well as diving in more to trying to understand panel structure or other storytelling devices. So it’s partially for me as an exercise in understanding the medium better.

Seth: That sounds pretty cool.

Paul: Yeah, and if it caught on, i.e. if I got friends, or readers of the blog to read some of the reviews/recommendations, then I would post their reactions.

Seth: I like the idea of comics as lit (even comics that aren’t considered “lit” comics)…I always argue/discuss (mostly with my boss and librarians at the book fairs I go to) that comics aren’t a genre, they’re a format.

Paul: Would you like to be a part of this site?

Seth: I would love to…if I have something applicable to contribute. I think the last comic i read was Blankets.

Paul: That book, and Craig Thompson work in general is something I would highlight.

Seth: I think I’d like to write a post about how comics are categorized by book distributors.

Paul: Nice. That is something I have no knowledge of at all!

Seth: I actually just had to do a fairly large project at work for it….there’s a system of categories called BISAC, which book distributors use in the states, and then another system I can’t think of the name of that’s used in Europe and Asia, and the BISAC system has something like 30 separate graphic novel categories and the other system has zero, and that struck me as interesting.

Paul: Wow.

“American Vampire” by Stephen King, Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque

Seth: Yeah. So my project was to find an applicable category from the system I can’t remember the name of for each of the 3600+ BISAC categories, and there are three major categories that BISAC covered that the other one didnt: cooking, antiques and comics. But the cool thing for me–and this was the argument I had with my boss–was that for comics there were several applicable categories for each one. For example, for “Comics & Graphic Novels/Contemporary Women” which is a BISAC category, I could put, Art, Literature and Sociology, instead of just “comics.” So i guess the article would be something like “does the categorization of graphic novels help or hurt the medium?”

Paul: That sounds like a good start, you would argue it helps, yes?

Seth: I dunno, I think I’d present both sides of the argument like…classifying comics as comics helps people find comics, but classifying comics as “sociology” or “literature” or whatever (where applicable) might help the format legitimize itself more as a format VS. a genre.

Paul: gotcha

Seth: Cause I honestly don’t know what I think about it. On one hand, I think it’s weird that this major categorization system doesn’t include comics, but on the other hand, maybe they don’t because they just see it as literature, not as a gimmick.

Paul: I wrote a really long rambly response to that…that basically amounted to hmmmm in the end.

Seth: Hahahahahaha. And on top of that, you deleted it…and then recapped it.

Paul: Yup, that’s how I do. But basically, the whole genre classification is a big part of why I want to do this thing, cause I feel like comics are written off entirely because of one genre, however, I still think you’d want to classify them separately from regular books as you wouldn’t put a book next to a movie on a shelf.

Seth: I suppose..but they’re still both books…unless you’d argue that they’re not really “books” which is also an interesting point of view.

“Grrl Scouts” by Jim Mahfood

Paul: I would start with a hypothetical book store. Either brick and mortar, or online, comic books are considered a genre of books currently, alongside Fiction, Nonfiction, etc. But then there’s no further breakdown because of the dominance of the superhero. Whereas in fiction ,you might drill down into Horror, Sci-Fi, Romance, or Hard Sci-Fi; graphic novels have one section that is generally unorganized. So there’s no recognition of the graphic novel or comic book as anything other than its delivery system. It’s a ‘comic’ therefore it belongs in said section. But movies and music (if they exist in said store) are branched off into their own sections, and have sub genre designations. I don’t know that I’m arguing a point yet, just that I’m laying out my understanding.

Seth: I see it the same way….the store is divided by “medium”….audio, video and print. Within each though, how is it broken down? If its by genre, then maybe the comics shouldn’t be their own section, but if its by format, then maybe they should. Or maybe the get the benefit of being in both….but usually they wouldn’t.

Which is my point…I have no idea, I just know what I know about formats, and a lot of people don’t know that, so I figured I could write it up.

Paul: I think format is the word…that’s where it really breaks out.

Seth: I guess that’s generally why you have comic book stores as their own thing, instead of “fiction book stores” or “sociology book stores” (with some exceptions of course).

Paul: And then you have the newsstand for newspapers and magazines.

Seth: Also true.

Paul: This is a sidetrack of sorts, but do publishers base book sales on units sold to stores and it ends there, or it’s based on what the stores actually sell as well?

Seth: I’m not 100% sure…a lot do it based on Nieslon Book Scan which is only those sold to consumers. Books (and CDs) are “returnable” which means a bookstore can send unsold product back to the publisher (or for some things like Mass Market books, bookstores remove the covers to send back to the publisher and then throw out the actual book)…the returns eventually become what they call “remainders” and the remainders industry is a huge industry in and of itself. The Strand is a used bookstore, but probably 50% of their inventory is remainders I’d guess.

Other things can be remainders too….the display copies that we use at our book fairs would be remainders, and the remainders aren’t counted in the units sold.

So…to answer your question I have no idea. But I would guess it includes only those sold to consumers (which would include libraries and stuff…places that wouldn’t resell them).

Paul: Interesting…cause with comics, for the comics that are sold in comic stores, not everything is returnable, and they base their sales figures on what they sell to the comic stores. So they could report a comic as “sold out” while 30 copies sit on a shelf.

Seth: Yeah, comic book stores are considered “specialty stores” and specialty stores cant return stuff. That’s why publishers want their books in Urban Outfitters and stuff. So I guess those are also included in the books sold.
Paul: But specialty stores are non-returnable purely because it’s dictated by publishers, or is it law?

Seth: Hmm…I dunno.

Paul: Hmmm…and how do books get to book stores, are there middle men or do stores order directly from publishers?

Seth: Depends on the size of the publisher and the size of the store. For example, Barnes and Noble is big enough that Random House would consider them an account…likewise, Random House is big enough that Barnes and Noble would want to buy direct from them….whereas a small shop would probably do all of their ordering from a distributor like Ingram because it’s easier to do it all in one stop and because the publisher isn’t going to give them any handouts because they won’t be doing as much business.
As in..Random House probably has no idea that [name of small indie bookstore] exists, so they won’t really have an account person for them, but there are regional sales people that cover that territory, in which case its subjective for the store where they want to get stuff from, and most publishers are carried by several distributors.

Libraries almost never buy direct from the publisher, though most publishers have library marketing departments (at least that’s what I’ve been taught).

Paul: This is all very interesting, I don’t fully know how to process it yet. a lot of my thoughts are based on the big store model that’s attempting to offer all entertainment mediums. But specifically with comics, it falters, because they’re not able to offer as much diversity because they still wind up having to pander to the super hero fanbase.

Seth: What do you mean? Diversity in what?

Paul: Sorry, I’m bouncing back to genres now.

Seth: I dunno if that’s true..I think it’s like anything where there’s a popular version of it….good pop music exists, but most pop artists you hear about are Katy Perry and Beyonce.

Paul: I guess my point is that there’s not as much awareness of other comic genres so there’s not as much to help them break out in the format…So I guess you’re right there as there are those people that Music = Pop Music. They don’t venture outside whatever rock, rap, country that has been absorbed by pop radio, or rather pop media.

Seth: But I think that there are a lot of mainstream book outlets that treat comics the opposite way…that they see graphic novels as a medium ruined by superheroes. Which I guess is like any sort of snob. I dunno if he still does, but Stephen King had a standing stint at Entertainment Weekly and one of his essays was about the like…”snobification” of books, saying that calling something “high literature” will just hurt the sales and make it not marketable, and I think that it goes the same way for comics, but also that the same people that consider certain lit comics as high literature (for example, Craig Thompson’s Habibi) would scoff at the idea that superhero comics be considered good literature at all.

So I think it goes both ways. If that makes sense.

Paul: I guess going back to wondering about differences in format and such if they would be better served by being put alongside other genres…since they’re often placed near Sci-Fi and Fantasy. So crime comics might get more play if placed in the Mystery/Thriller section.

Seth: Exactly. Although, it probably helps them with press to be kept separately….they’d most likely never make a regular bestseller list, but having a graphic novels bestseller list is probably a huge coup for them, and Publishers Weekly (and probably others) dedicates part of their reviews to just graphic novels.

“Casanova: Avarita” by Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba

Paul: I think I can sum up our conversation this afternoon with “Hmmmm.”

Seth: Yeah. We should just post the whole thing as a post on the blog.

Paul: Agreed.

Current Paul: Hey Past Paul and Past Seth, guess what?

Paul: What?

Seth: What in the name of Lars Frederiksen?

Current Paul: I just posted this as a blog. Mission accomplished.

(All three jump into the air, high fiving, then disintegrate, along with the rest of the universe, due to obscure time travel rules that were broken when the two Pauls met).

Folks Talkin’ Bout Comics: Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson Part 1

Paul: I’m going to chat my way through all 10 volumes of Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan with my good pal, Forrest Karbowski, who’ll also be joining me on Read This Comic! as a contributor. Forrest?

Forrest: For those who don’t know, Transmetropolitan is a gonzo-esque sci-fi comic about a muckraking journalist named Spider Jerusalem who writes acerbic editorials that – through the power of words -actually have the potential to inform and change minds. (Like we said, it’s science fiction.) While the future society he lives in is exaggerated to the extreme, the stories often have real-world parallels to issues that we face today – and like all good sci-fi, it has some interesting conjectures about problems humanity will face in the future, too. Oh, and if that doesn’t make you want to read it (what’s wrong with you?) did we mention it looks like this:
 
 
For those of you who haven’t read the series, be aware that there will be some spoilers, due to the rambly nature of our conversation.

Paul: There’s lots of words here, and we jump around a bunch, but hopefully it’ll give you a sense of how much we both like this series and how much there is to get out of it. For today’s post, we’re starting with volumes 1 and 2. I also apologize for the crappiness of the images taken with my iPhone. I’ll try and figure out something better, but in the meantime, take it as more motivation to go out and buy the comic.

Forrest: I should apologize because I didn’t make it through the third volume, just the first two. We can totally talk about the third volume, I just might be a little rusty.

Paul: yeah, we’ll see how far we get..there’s plenty to talk about in the first two.

Forrest: Absolutely. It turns out the second volume has almost all of my favorite issues.
Paul: I think that’s one of my favorite things about the series…is how substantial it is…I was surprised at how much happened so soon. For example, Ellis gives a great sense of Channon in the second volume, we really get to know her quickly.  It feels like she’s Spider’s assistant for much longer.
Forrest:  That’s true, I was actually surprised to see her go – I thought I’d skipped a volume. I was surprised at how many bread crumbs were dropped as early as the first volume – the Smiler, the foglets…
At this point, we took a brief foray into catching up on our personal and work lives. Now, we get into the thick of things:
Paul: Let’s start off with “what’s Transmetropolitan like? What kind of reader/consumer is going to enjoy this?” I think for starters, Hunter S. Thompson fans are an easy sell.
Forrest: Yeah – I’ve always described it as “Hunter S. Thompson in the sordid, unwashed future, and he kills people.” Re-reading it, I was surprised at how foul it is – not that it bothered me, but it’s certainly not for the easily offended.
Paul: Aaaand, I’m gonna make a stretch and say these books fall into the genre of Hard Sci-Fi?
Forrest: That’s an excellent point! (Note: Forrest LOVES Hard Sci-Fi. My emphasis on this is 73% erection joke based – ‘Powerful Paul’). I really think a lot of the technology in Transmet, even the society… despite being shown through a warped lens, everything feels very plausible. For example, I think the foglets (or something similar) is very much humanity’s future (if we last that long). Ellis tweeted recently something about how Google won’t send him a pair of Google Glasses because he made Spider do horrible things with them in Transmetropolitan.
Paul: I would say the worst things he did were to a) tell the uncensored truth and b) record sex with his assistant, Yelena.
Forrest: True! Somehow I think our society would be more upset about A than B, of course.
Paul: This is very true, though American society always wants to believe in the truth of the principled, muckracking journalist.
Forrest: I think that’s true of us in the past, although I’m not so certain in the age of noisy, instant newsbites and internet scrolls.
Paul: Hmmm…but I think there’s still an undercurrent of “you’re not telling us the truth” that allows sanitized versions of characters like Spider to catch on, while the public may not want to actually take it in. Like that movie with Julia Roberts and Nick Nolte where they’re reporters on the run…
Forrest: True. the people who swear by Fox news probably actually think those guys are giving the unfiltered truth that no one else has the balls to cover.
Paul: (continuing my recollection of this Nick Nolte/Julia Roberts film) …and she shows her boobs to a boyscout troop.
Forrest: I haven’t seen that movie but I am going to now!
Paul: It may exist. I could also be imagining it.
Forrest: Haha.  Sidebar – (NOTE: This is where we actually get back on track)there’s a great image in issue 1, page 5. The panel where Spider says “I decided to be depressed for a little while. ” I love the visual pun of the telephone covering his penis.

Because A) it’s hilarious, and B) Spider treats communication like his genitalia – he has to spread it far and wide, at every opportunity.

Paul: For all the nudity in the books, I don’t believe we ever see Spider’s penis. So, for the folks who are looking to see a journalist’s genitals, sorry. Another artistic note here, and I still haven’t figure out entirely what it means yet, is that we have a Spider that looks very Alan Moore-ish.
Forrest: I thought of that as well. I don’t know if Ellis and Moore are friends, although I’d imagine they are.
Paul: It could be an expression of the idea of the hermit writer, which Moore essentially is, though Thompson also spent a great deal of his career living and writing remotely…so maybe it’s just a friendly reference.
Forrest: Can I mention that as brilliant as Ellis’ writing is, what really drew me to these books in the first place is the amazing artwork by Darick Robertson. Maybe you can do better than me at describing his style – it’s almost like cartoon realism? That sounds stupid, but it’s what comes to mind for me.
Paul: There may be a better term for it, but it sounds about right. So much is left “unsaid” about the world and left to Robertson’s background characters, advertisements…I don’t know if Ellis worked ‘full script’* or not, but still, it’s on Robertson to draw all these insane details into the background…the constant streams of television and advertising, the Sex Puppets…oh how I love the Sex Puppets.
Forrest: The art does a lot of the world building. I kept thinking “Blade Runner” when I looked at the images, but that’s stupid because it’s nothing like Blade Runner. It’s bright and gaudy and loud and alive, where Blade Runner is dark and stylized and noirish.
Paul: But Blade Runner does have that explosion of screens and advertising.
Forrest: That’s true…they’re similar in certain ways, but I think Blade Runner is an obvious touchstone because it’s the only other reference we have…the energy of the cities are different. But then, the energy of the stories are very different, so that’s fitting. I also noticed on the very first page, two very blatant homages – Spider has a copy of “Fear and Loathing” and “Confederacy of Dunces” on the floor.
When did you first read Transmet? for me it was college, I think.
Paul: It was college for me as well…probably over the course of sophomore/junior years…it had just ended, I had started getting into some of Ellis’s other work, while also starting on Hunter S. Thompson’s books, so I dove right into these. I was all about angry writers with crazed, hilarious, furious prose. I think it was also right around the time of the 2004 election, which was the first presidential election I voted in.
Forrest: Perfect timing!
Paul: So I of course saw Nixon in The Beast, and Bush in The Smiler even though The Smiler is the ‘liberal’ candidate.
Forrest: Ellis really doesn’t let anyone off the hook in this. Not even Spider, to some extent.
Paul: No, in the second volume, we get a former intern who fell under the influence of a sex bomb, who Spider doesn’t even remember. And of course, the tossing of his wife’s frozen head off a roof (though we’re on Spider’s side with that one).
Forrest: I think that’s significant. Both events are sort of played for laughs, but behind the humor there’s a suggestion of something darker. I remember when I first read these books, I was on my college newspaper, and my love of journalism plus sci-fi made this an easy sell. But one of the reasons I left journalism was because I felt like to truly be a great journalist, to some extent you have to give up a bit of your own humanity…to be truly objective, you have to doggedly chase the facts, emotions be damned.
Spider is nothing if not dogged.
Paul: Though one thing seems to set off his emotions and that’s hypocrisy. In volume one, he’s set off by Fred Christ’s ploy for power and fame through the Transient Movement.
Forrest: I think when you boil away everything else away, all that’s left is anger. Although we do get some tender moments from him – with Channon, very occasionally. Also any time he encounters a true underdog.
Paul: Mary’s story in volume two is beautiful.
Forrest: oh my god yes
Paul: On page 111, when he kisses her on the forehead? Jeebus.
Forrest: Ellis marries that righteous anger against society’s injustices with the profound inspiration you get when you read something that challenges you to be better, because humanity has that capacity to be better, dammit. That’s absolutely one of my favorite issues.
Paul: (I don’t know what it says about me that my drunken rants often center on the potential of humanity to be better, but I hope it makes me like Warren Ellis).
It also pairs nicely with the issue proceeding it, with Channon’s boyfriend joining the foglets.
Forrest: Prooooobably my second favorite storyline.
Paul: Each group, the Foglets, and the Cryogenics are seeking to transcend their own lifetime. The Foglets seem to give up humanity, while insisting that they’re still a part of it.
Forrest: Exactly. Although the cryogenics want to have and eat their cake – they want eternity without giving up anything. While the foglets forsake their physical form in order to become something different. Greater, maybe? But certainly different.
Paul: There’s also a group that leaves the idea of the future behind: The reservationists. I had forgotten this issue until now, but it’s one of the more disturbing ones for me, mainly for the Mayan reservation (or the Mayan equivalent). That groups of people willingly sacrifice themselves to be a part of a reenactment.
Forrest: I like that storyline – it shows the romance of living in the past, but also has the reasoning to show that the past kind of sucked, because – exactly – human sacrifice, no penicillin, etc. But the disturbing thing is – what about the kids of the people who decided to be a part of the reenactment?
(and that’s where we come to M Night Shyamalan’s The Village)
(just kidding)
Paul: Hahaha. Well, there’s the moment on page 132 where two refugees from what I would assume is a Communist China reservation have escaped and found love that undermines the value of the reservations. At first it does seem like a good idea, playing off the “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it” until you realize that they are in fact repeating it.
Forrest: Right, exactly.
Paul: It’s not like they’re playing out the Mayan scenario again and again to see if they can come out of it with a group of surviving Mayans.
Forrest: Haha, yes.
Paul: And that plays out in the larger world too, what Spider rails against, the people who want the status quo, who want to be lied to.
Forrest: Good point.
Paul: The one exception being the Farsight reservation (which I think plays a role in the end of the series too, but we’ll get there) which is based off of an idea of the future. Farsight DOES seem to exist to explore the new “This is a test bed for humans. Within these walls we seek to make HUMAN work, without all the shortcuts and get-outs like going Foglet.”
Forrest: Do they? What about their children who look like giant bugs?
 “they have sex using bacteria” Haha. That’s the one reservation i could never wrap my head around.
Paul: Well, it’s a perception thing, they probably see starting with a human base and building upon it as perfecting Humanity
  rather than abandoning the human body to the cloud.
Forrest: I see.
Paul: (ooh the cloud…tech buzzword!)
Forrest: Relevance! What really amazes me about all of this is the breadth of Ellis’ imagination. Like, it wasn’t enough for him to create this insane, tripped-out version of our future, he had to fill it in with all these subcultures and niche groups and really explore the whole spectrum of sci-fi. Because the future of humanity isn’t just the future version of…New York, or whatever (The City is definitely not supposed to be NY, but you get the idea), it’s the future of humanity as a whole, which already covers an unimaginably huge range of cultures.
Paul: Yes, within the first volume he gives us the Transients, humans that are transitioning via alien designer genes.
Forrest: Again – one of those things that just totally makes sense to me, like of COURSE in our future, people are going to mutate themselves genetically, not just for function, but for fashion. it’s the next step in body art/modification.
Paul: Then we get an issue on religion, which includes Ellis/Spider’s take on “The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.”
Forrest: So good – another one of my favorites. Spider as Jesus.
Paul: In spite of all the violence in the first volume, his beat down of the “icepick in the head” religious leader was probably my first instance of being taken a little aback by the brutality.
Forrest: “Read my fucking scripture!”
To be fair, the dude was going to put an icepick in his head.
Paul: Robertson can draw him some gore. And it’s the cartoonishness of the injuries that really does it. It takes things beyond real and somehow makes it more real in doing so.
Forrest: Yeah, there’s some brutal stuff for sure. Even just the imagery of Spider’s “Son” without that head…ugh. Reminded me of Arse-face from Preacher.
Paul: But so funny, and again, the second volume is only probably about 10 issues into the series, but they’ve done such a great job of world building, that along with Royce, we believe that Spider could have fathered a child without a head.
Forrest: Haha, yeah.
Paul: This mini arc, which contains a number of people conspiring against Spider, also has a meta(?) joke where portrayals of the future are concerned. In Blade Runner, in Firefly, they run with the prediction that China is going to be a much larger power, and become a part of the English language. But here, we have America WIN A WAR WITH FRANCE to assert the dominance of the English language. “Les Miserables” is “The Miserables.”
Forrest: Hahaha yeah, it’s brilliant. I was typing this earlier, but I don’t think I ever sent it – I know some people who liked Transmet less and less as it went on, (which I disagree with – I love it all), but I think that speaks to the power of these early issues. You do feel a bit disappointed when the plot catches up and becomes more central (even though it’s been going on quietly in the background throughout the whole thing) because a part of us just wants Spider to keep walking the beat, writing a new column every week into eternity.
Paul: So, before we get into THE PLOT, which really takes off in volume 3, I’m gonna cut us off, cause I’m starting to crash, but I think this is a good Part 1/coverage of volumes 1 and 2.
Forrest: sounds good – that’ll give me time to do more than skim vol 3
Paul: I’ll edit it together with some scans of panels and send it your way before I post in case you want to add anything.
Forrest: Awesome! Feel free to add extra words in to make me sound more eloquent…and capitalization.
Paul: I’m gonna make you sound like Gambit in 90’s X-Men comics.
Forrest: Perfect! That’s actually how I hear myself, in my head, mon ami.
Paul: And that’s round one of Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan. Where can you read it? Via Amazon, Comixology for you tablet owners, or your local comic or book store.
Levar Burton: You can also find it at your local library!

The Manhattan Projects, Issue 1 by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra

I want to forget what I know of history and believe in what this comic tells me. After all, I’ve already forgotten enough real history and filled in that space in my brain with popular culture. Mostly Simpsons references.

So we’ve talked a little about science adventures, featuring Atomic Robo and the Fantastic Four. Hopefully that’s tickled some of your fancies. But maybe you’ve wanted some horror mixed in. Some gore. Something…disturbing.

Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra’s The Manhattan Projects starts off during World War II. In this first issue, we’re introduced to Robert Oppenheimer as he joins a team dedicated to make “imaginary weapons…through scientific exploration” under the cover of creating an atomic bomb. We’re also introduced to Einstein.

No, not Albert Einstein the actor (Albert Brooks), or Bob Einstein.

Albert Einstein. Mr. Theory of Relativity. Mr. Mustache. (Also Mr. Einstein). We’re introduced to Einstein, and a monolith of sorts that calls back to Kubrick’s 2001. But just a brief introduction. Neither Einstein nor the monolith are in action this issue, they’re present to let us know about the scope of things.

There’s a big twist concerning Oppenheimer at the end of this issue, and it works so well because of Pitarra’s art as well as Cris Peter’s color. Check out the panel/page structure.  Hickman and Pitarra take us through the lives of Robert Oppenheimer and Joseph Oppenheimer. Robert is blue, while Joseph is red. Robert represents the peaceful side of exploration and discovery, while Joseph seeks enlightenment through killing and consumption. Robert embraces minerals while Joseph embraces animals. In the end, there’s a reverse Cain and Abel…oh. Well, I don’t want to spoil it.

I love. Love love love, when artists play around with color in comic books rather than simply color a comic in a straightforward, follow the style guide manner. Lightning round of other comics that do this awesomely: Watchmen, The Killing Joke, Batman: The Black Mirror, V for Vendetta…if there’s more I’m not thinking of, drop that knowledge in the comments.

I also love Pitarra’s eyes (the ones he draws, I have no idea what his actual eyes look like). Look closely at the eyes of the brothers. I think the third panels in the first page of the spread are what really do it for me. Both sets of eyes are conveying wonder, and pride, but the color backs up that picture of wonder on top, while unveiling horror on the bottom.

There is a poop-ton of stuff to talk about in this comic. And this is only the first issue. I’ve read the second, and it was ALMOST as good, but I have a feeling by the time I get to issue 6, my socks will have been thoroughly knocked off. I feel like we’re on track for some Re-Animator or Cronenberg style science horror, and hope that some of you will start reading this series along with me, and hold my hand during the scary parts.

Also, if we can all wear fake Einstein mustaches while reading, that’d be pretty great too.

Fantastic Four: Not Superheroes

The Fantastic Four are not superheroes. Yet they get lumped in with the superhero genre, which I have said I’m going to try and avoid on this blog. But despite being published by Marvel, which is a superhero comic book publisher, I disagree with this…generalizing of them. They’re adventurer/archaeologists, scientific explorers. Who happen to have super powers and save the world here and then. They’re the nerds, they’re the smart kids, and don’t always get the same respect or accolades that the average super hero does. So if you’ve ever enjoyed Indiana Jones, or Star Trek, or Doctor Who, or anything with a bit of adventure and exploration, this comic is for you.

However, not every creator has understood this, so there’s been plenty of bad takes on the characters as well as good. On top of that, there’s no need to buy into the “collector” mentality and go after every single appearance of the team. Here’s the volumes by the creators who got the FF right. Read these, and you’ll be yelling “It’s Clobberin’ Time!” in no time. Each of these can be read and enjoyed without reading any others.

Essential Fantastic Four, Volumes 1-5 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

The original Fantastic Four comics (as well as the Stan Lee and Steve Ditko run of Amazing Spider-Man) display the outsider/outcast “Marvel” feel that early Marvel Comics fans latched onto. Ben Grimm, AKA The Thing, is pretty brutal in early issues. He’s depressed, he lashes out at his friends easily and with minimal provocation. He IS a monster at first because that’s what he believes himself to be.

Fantastic Four 1234 by Grant Morrison and Jae Lee

Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom, engaged in a cosmic chess match. A family broken up by self loathing and jealousy of each other. The day isn’t one by punching (well, there is some punching), but by Reed Richards stretching his mind.

Fantastic Four Volumes 1-3 by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo

The first issue of Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s run on the title was 9 cents, and summed up the duo’s intentions for the series pretty well. Within the comic, the Fantastic Four is a brand, they have a comic book published by a fictional version of Marvel Comics. Their new PR guy rejects a concept that positions the family as superheroes, and gives a speech that defines these characters and lays out the blueprint for how to do them correctly.*

Fantastic Four/FF  (ongoing) by Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham, Steve Epting, Barry Kitson, Juan Bobillo, Nick Dragotta

Hickman’s run** builds off of what has come before with the transformation of the Fantastic Four into the Future Foundation, further seeking to not simply save the world, but to help it to innovate and evolve.

This group travels through time and space. They’re not fighting crime, they’re exploring and experimenting. For science. So if you like adventure, science, or science adventures, read this comic!***

*There’s a patch in the middle with Dr. Doom having armor made of his ex-fiancee’s flesh that is a little…weird. Skip it, or stick with it for an excellent story that answers the question posed oh so long ago by Ms. Joan Osborne, “What if God (Galactus) was one of us?”

**I know I’ve been trying to stress collaborative efforts, but in the case of this modern run of Fantastic Four, I feel that Hickman exercises enough control over and is enough of a driving force behind the series that I can refer to this as “his” run.

***Fantastic Four is my favorite comic.

Saga, Issues 1-3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Before I get in my words about why you should read this book, a better writer than me, Abhay Khosla over at The Savage Critics, has some reasons. Go over there and read it, I’ll enjoy a cocktail while you’re gone.

So, for the folks who didn’t hop over, I really think you should. In the meantime, can I get you anything? A cocktail? An omelet? Cherries jubilee?

Ok, is everyone settled back in? That was awesome, right?

Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, opens with the line “This is how an idea becomes real,” instantly drawing parallels between the birth of a child and the creation of a story/art. It’s not easy, or entirely fun for the parties involved, but something beautiful can come out of it. Once the kid is born, we jump right into things. There’s a war. Between a faction of some Magick the Gathering type folks, and some people led by a guy with a TV-head. So it’s a war between Sci-Fi and Fantasy. The ultimate geek/nerd throwdown. Moreso than Star Wars VS Star Trek, this is what it’s all about people. And caught in the middle? Marko representing Fantasy, and Alana representing Sci-Fi; have fallen in love and just given birth to Hazel, who’s our narrator for the series.

Saga evokes the feel of 70s-80s Sci-Fi and Fantasy films but is not derivative. It’s fun, there’s a sense of danger, and there’s a believability both in character and character design (Like, anything with a believable guy in a suit creature: Predator, Star Wars, the little midget aliens in the beginning of Night of the Creeps…things I can believe exist during the course of a story). There’s no winking references to beloved franchises. Yeah, A flying monkey pops up in the first issue, but no characters stand out as straight up pastiches of existing characters.

However, there’s something at work that feels like imagination and storytelling are important to this world. Based on the map above, which is taken as a legitimate map by the main characters, a world where “The Uncanny Bridge” and “Rocketship Forest” are real locations. There’s also moments in issues 2 and 3 where the forces of the Sci-Fi faction are confused by a romance novel. So another genre is thrown into the mix, and it’s one that’s foreign to the people of this world. Hmm. The only trap I could see the series falling into here is if it’s all taking place in some autistic kid’s snow globe.

Anyway, Vaughan and Staples have created a wholly different world, thus eliminating two of Vaughan’s biggest strengths/weaknesses as a writer: pop culture references and factoids. It still feels like his voice, but this is a world where he can’t fall back on a joke about Darth Vader, or insert a conversation about two characters’ favorite New York City Mayors (he’s totally done Star Wars in all of his work, and prior to reading Ex Machina, a story about a super-powered mayor, I knew nothing of NYC Mayors other than Ed Koch and his need to have a nosh). The playful banter that’s been enjoyable in his books like Runaways and Y: The Last Man is definitely present in Saga, though. It’s nice to see that Vaughan’s dialogue is able to stand on it’s own, that his characters are able to stand on their own, without history or pop culture facts to prop them up.

Now, the art. Oh my, the art. Fiona Staples has a loose but confident line, as well as brilliant character design. Check out “The Stalk,” a badass bounty hunter. I honestly can’t think of what I’ve seen that is like this character. A hot/scary spider-lady? Not ringing any bells. You’ve got to wait until issue 2 for her to appear, but when she does? It’s all kinds of (and I’m going to probably quickly wear out this word’s welcome) awesomesauce. Boba Fett, you’re done. And this bounty hunter’s not getting taken out by any Sarlac pit.

Staples is responsible for the color as well. I just learned this right now, while looking up who to credit for the following panels. A little context for my praise. Recently, some comics have tried to emulate movies and television, cutting back and forth between talking heads. This results in copying/pasting the same face sometimes and really lazy, boring storytelling. That is not the case in Saga. Whether or not Staples is using the same drawing as a basis for the panels on this page is irrelevant because she pulls off the feeling of time passing through color.

And geez, this panel? I don’t even know what to say. It’s in issue 3, so you either need to buy all three issues now, or keep staring at my blog to see it. I recommend buying the issues.

This comic is beautiful. War between Fantasy and Sci-Fi. Love between fantasy and Sci-Fi resulting in the birth of something new. It’s restored my love of the single issue. This isn’t a series you’ll want to wait for a collection of, though I’m sure that’s beautiful too. This is a serial, and a serial done right. That’s a sentiment you’ll hear echoed around the interwebs, and it’s absolutely true. I can’t wait to see what Vaughan and Staples continue to create.