Saturday, June 30, 2012

Scalped #59, or, When It All Comes Crashing Down

Scalped #59
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: R.M. Guera
Colors: Giulia Brusco

Quick, grab a rubber band. Loop it around your two pointer fingers and slowly start stretching it out. That’s issues #1 through #58 of Scalped.

Eventually you’ll reach a point where there’s no stretch left in the rubber band. It’s given you everything it has. That’s Scalped #59, and on the last page, the rubber band finally snaps.

For a comic that’s been building tension since issue #1, there’s really no other way to do it. The characters have come too far, and been through too much, to release the pressure and keep the rubber band in tact.

In the penultimate issue of what I consider to be the best comic book on the shelves today, the characters we’ve seen at their very worst and their very best come back to their roots; back to their most basic motivations. In fact, these are summed up eloquently on a single, four-panel page.

For Red Crow, it’s his never-ending fight to do what’s best for the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation, no matter how gruesome or morally questionable it might seem in the moment.

For Catcher, it’s trying to reconcile the pain and guilt of a lifetime of bad decisions.

For Dash, well, I’ll just let him speak for himself, “Everybody in this place deserves to die. Me most especially. Just so long as I go last.”

Even FBI Agent Nitz, for whom we’ve been given a laundry list of reasons to hate, reminds us of his original, heart-wrenching motivation: revenge on the person who killed his best friend, hero and mentor.

All of the main characters in this comic are the type of people you would not want to run into in a dark alley. More than your traditional anti-heroes, throughout the course of the series there have been times when the reader has no choice but to root for them, only to despise them two issues later.

What makes this issue such a fun read is that it reminds us who the characters truly are and makes us root for all of them simultaneously, in some cases begrudgingly. The only problem is, they’re all pitted against each other (in a fight that involves a burning casino, a pack of wild, rabid dogs, a tomahawk, more gunshots than were fired at the O.K. Corral, oh, and a cliffhanger of a Mexican standoff).

By the last three pages, three of the main characters are hanging on by a thread. There’s nowhere left to run, and they wouldn’t be running even if there were. It’s the showdown we knew all along was inevitable. The final scene, absent of any words, is brilliantly paced and drawn, and drips with desperation.

After I read the last page, I let out an involuntary gasp. It was all I could do to release the tension. I turned to my wife and said, “That is one of the best comic books I have ever read.”

Some long-running series end ambiguously, or let the reader interpret the final outcome. While these types of endings have their place, they sometimes leave me feeling a little cheated.

It doesn’t appear that Jason Aaron has one of those endings in mind for Scalped, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Still, it will be bittersweet reading issue #60 next month, as it means the wild ride has come to a close.

Oh well, time to get a new rubber band and start over again with issue #1.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dear Deadpool, or, It’s Not You, It’s Me

Dear Deadpool,

This is the last letter you’ll ever receive from me. I couldn't bear to see the look on your face when I tell you, so I figured it would be best to do it in writing.

We can’t be together anymore.

Over the past year I’ve been there with you every step of the way. Through every explosion, one-liner and hare-brained scheme that miraculously succeeded in spite of itself. 

That is, until about issue #40. That’s when Daniel Way stopped treating you like the “Merc with a Mouth” and stared treating you like, well… let’s just say it… like a major pansy sissypants.

Frankly, Deadpool (read: Daniel Way), I deserve better than that.
The Institutionalized, You Complete Me and most recently Dead arcs fell flat because, and this sounds selfish, you showed me a side of you I had no interest in seeing.

Don’t get me wrong, there were times during our relationship when I was genuinely happy, like your fights with Macho Gomez and watching the plan you hatched to take down Evil Deadpool unfold. And if I'm honest, I enjoyed most of Dead until the last issue.

I love being with you when you’re doing what you do best: going bat-shit crazy with a pair of machine guns, katanas, bazookas, or whatever the flavor of the day happens to be. I love getting to listen in on the internal dialog you have with the voices in your head. And man, those pouches on your costume. I’ve always been a sucker for some good pouches.

But I stopped caring when your internal struggles changed from “doofus mercenary haphazardly makes good” to “action hero rom-com, melo-dram.”

I didn’t get into this relationship for character development. There, I said it. I’ll admit it. I only care about the mask, not the man behind it. I came to you for the contents of those glorious pouches and the hilarious and often violent ways in which you put them to use.

I came to you for knock-down, drag-out fun. And explosions. But most importantly for the laughs. That’s what made you special, Deadpool. You have your own unique way with words and you were always good for a few chuckles.

But you’re different now. The outcome of Dead changed you, and not for the better. The change has been a bit of a slow burn, but now that the smoke has cleared I can plainly see the path you’re on. I’m sorry to say I can’t continue down that path with you.

 Believe me when I say this: it’s not you, it’s me.

So this is it, Wade Wilson, the Regeneratin’ Degenerate, the Crimson Comedian… goodbye. Maybe we’ll meet again someday when the inevitable happens and you regain what you lost in Dead. Until then, I don’t see any way this relationship can continue.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Wendigo vs Werejaguar, or, Pick of the Week - April 18, 2012

B.P.R.D. The Long Death #3
Story: Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art: James Harren
Colors: Dave Stewart

Sure, comics are a great medium for things like plot, pacing and character development. Good comics excel in these areas. But comics are also a great medium for bloody, knock-down-drag-out brawls between vicious, kick-ass monsters.

The thing that makes B.P.R.D. The Long Death #3 special is it shows that these things are not mutually exclusive.

When was the last time you saw two crazy monsters tear each other apart while completely understanding and empathizing with where they’re coming from?

The Wendigo is the soul of a good, family man who’s wrongly locked in a prison meant for the souls of murderers. Captain Daimo/Werejaguar is unable to come to terms with a horrible act he committed in the past.

They’ve both been tortured and tormented and have finally reached the point where they have nothing left to lose.

When they collide in this comic, the fight is one for the ages.

Artist James Harren’s pacing is perfect. Each panel is a critical beat in the rhythm of this brawl. In poorly drawn comic book fights, muddled panels and bad pacing make it hard to follow exactly what’s going on. Here, the clean panels show you every bite, rip and drop (in this case more like gush) of blood.

But it’s the beats between those moments we’re shown that really make a difference. The gathering of strength before the strike. The exhale of breath after the jaws let go. Colorist Dave Stewart alternates between backgrounds of a deep blue night sky during these quieter moments and a bright, fiery orange when the beasts collide.

You feel every punch, throat bite and neck stab. I found myself imagining the sounds of the battle (and not only during the well placed “ROOOOOOOOOAAAAARRR” from the Werejaguar to break the silence toward the end of the fight).

When all the dust settles, the outcome hits home for Johann, who's been growing on me more and more since B.P.R.D. Russia, which makes the somber end to this comic that much harder to swallow.

Great characters. Better fight. Comics!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Comics Conspiracy, or, How a Critical Look at My Collection Uncovered a Dark Secret

Why do the letters A-D make up nearly three-quarters 
of my comic book collection? Read on, O frantic one...

Smoke-filled backrooms, shadowy handshakes set to the tune of sinister laughter and The Man pulling the wool over the eyes of the huddled masses. Who doesn’t love a good conspiracy theory?

Well, grab a bag of popcorn and cuddle up with your childhood teddy bear because and I’ve got a conspiracy theory the size of a 125-year-old sturgeon.

Sitting on my dining room table is a cardboard long box full of every comic book I’ve purchased over the past two years. They’re neatly organized in alphabetical order by title. When filing away a few weeks worth of comics recently I noticed something very suspicious: The letters A-D make up nearly three-quarters of my collection.


How could this be? Out of 24 inches of comics, how do the first four letters of the alphabet take up 14 inches of real estate?

Here’s my theory: In all of the comic book shops I’ve ever been to, the racks of new comics are alphabetized by series title and (here’s the kicker) the letter A is usually the closest to the door, or, the first thing you see when you walk inside. As a customer, it’s only natural that I begin perusing the racks at The Avengers and work my way down to Zatanna.

The evil publishers know this and title their series’ accordingly. They know that as the lowly customer makes that long walk down the racks, picking up whatever grabs their attention, they’ll be more likely to think twice about the last book they pick up than the first.

Closed circuit to Mr. Fancy-Pants-Publisher: I am onto you. I refuse to spend another day as a slave to your alphabetical trickery. From this point forward I’m starting at X-Men and working my way back to Batman. Take that!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Covers of the Week - April 11, 2012

Deadpool #53
Cover: Dave Johnson

Ya see, Deadpool here has this pesky healing factor that won't allow him die, but he's made up his mind to do just that, as this cover conveys less than subtly. I love it.

Lobster Johnson - The Burning Hand #4
Cover: Dave Johnson

The last couple issues of this story have been a blast after getting off to a bit of a slow start. Things hit the fan in this penultimate issue, which includes the following two one-liners: "The only thing you'll find here tonight is justice!" and "Feel the claw!" It doesn't get much better than that. 

Dave Johnson's mastery of the comic book cover and his versatility are as evident as ever this week. The second hardcover edition of 100 Bullets also came out this week, which for my money is Dave Johnson at his best.

Batman Incorporated Vol. 1 Deluxe Hardcover
Cover: J. H. Williams III

While I haven't read much Batman Incorporated, this cover does a great job conveying the basic premise of the series, which deals with the Caped Crusader expanding his reach far beyond Gotham. I've always been a fan of Batman's old, gray costume and I like the contrast of the black cape in front of the bright flags.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Looking Forward: America's Got Powers #1

America's Got Powers #1 (of 6)
Story: Jonathan Ross
Art: Bryan Hitch

Let's face it. If super powers really did exist, so would this show. I love this concept for its simplicity and accessibility.

Here's the solicitation from the publisher, Image Comics:

Welcome to AMERICA’S GOT POWERS! It’s the biggest TV show on Earth, where the chance to win fame, fortune and get laid are dangled in front of a generation of super-powered teens. All they have to do is WIN. Who is the fastest, the strongest or the greatest? Who survives? Young Tommy Watt’s dreams of being the greatest hero of them all might just be shattered when the greatest show on the planet begins to reveal its dark heart.

Hard to not be a little interested based on that alone, right? I'll follow up and let you all know what I think. Hopefully the anticipation won't be too great and you'll be able to sleep between now and then. 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pick of the Week - March 28, 2012 - Spaceman #5

Spaceman #5
Story: Brian Azzarello
Pencils: Eduardo Risso
Colors: Patricia Mulvihill

In a week that saw the beginning of one of Marvel’s latest shameless cash grabs events with Avengers vs X-Men #0, it’s a dark, quirky trip into a fickle, frenzied future that gets my Pick of the Week.

Full disclosure: All I had to do was hear the names Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso mentioned in the same sentence and I was in the driver’s seat of the bandwagon for this comic. Their acclaimed series 100 Bullets is what got me back into comics.

While Spaceman and 100 Bullets are light years apart (see what I did there?) they’re equally as enjoyable.

For those unfamiliar, I’ll do my best to sum up the basic plot: It’s sometime in the not too distant future. Our lovable protagonist, Orson, is a NASA-engineered “spaceman” living in a world in which ocean levels have risen and skyscrapers stick out of the water like monuments to a world gone by. One night while out in his boat, Orson gets caught in the middle of a good old-fashioned kidnapping gone wrong. The “kidnapee” is the star of a bizarre reality show in which orphans compete to be adopted by a Brangelina-esque celebrity couple. We come to learn (and are still learning) that there’s a web of conflicting motives at play here.

Whew. Still with me?

The world Azzarello and Risso have created in Spaceman is so unique, it’s only natural that it comes with its own language. The way people speak is a mixture of Internet-style shorthand and street slang. It felt a little clunky the first couple of issues, but now that I’m accustomed to it I revel in my grasp of this not-so-foreign tongue.

So much of the way we think about the world is based on the words we use to describe it. The unique language in Spaceman is a misshapen building block for the off-kilter mood of the story.

Risso’s simplistic art is flawless. His use of shadows and the color black complement the foreboding tone of the story. It makes you feel like there’s something bad hiding around every corner (which for Orson, there has been).

I love comics that you have to read twice to make sure you got everything, comics that make you think. Spaceman is one of those.  

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Saga Behind 'Saga'

I was such a good little comics purchaser. I did what the publishers always tell you to do before a big, new title comes out: I went to my local comic book store and put Saga on my pull list several weeks before it was released.

“Alright,” I thought, “When March 14 rolls around I won’t have to fight the masses to grab a copy off the shelf because mine will be safely hidden away in the long box behind the counter.”

Alas, I was wrong. My local shop didn't get nearly enough copies to fill all the orders they had. The clerk showed me a stack of 25 order forms from sad saps like me who missed out. I have yet to track down a copy of Saga #1 and have resigned myself to waiting for the elusive second printing.

Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson recently posted a fascinating blog post that details the ins and outs of how publishers decide how many copies of a certain comic to print, and how comics like Saga, which despite knowing there would be huge demand for, sell out. It’s a great read from a business standpoint and really interesting to get an inside look at the relationship between publishers, distributors and retailers. 

(Hat tip: iFanboy)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pick of the Week - March 21, 2012 - The Goon #38

The Goon #38
Story and Pencils: Eric Powell
Colors: Dave Stewart

Six simple words appear in the first caption box of this comic: “This is how it all began.” The beginning told in this comic goes further back than you might expect and involves an age-old battle: that of nature verses nurture. 

My wife and I were recently discussing the same topic during a long drive with our 9-month-old son napping in the backseat. We were wondering if his calm (and basically awesome) demeanor is a result of something we’re doing, or simply the sweet ass genes we gave him. I don’t think we came to a definitive answer but this issue of The Goon seems to come down on the nurture side of the argument.

This origin story is vastly different from your run of the mill, guy-gets-struck-by-lighting-and-gains-the-ability-to-run-really-fast-type origin story. It’s not even about the main character of the book. This issue gives us the story behind the person who shaped The Goon into the guy he is.

It’s Kizzie “The Iron Maiden’s” story.

We already know Goon grew up as the resident elephant poop shoveler with a traveling circus. We know how Goon assumed the role of enforcer for the powerful crime boss Labrazio by bashing in said crime boss’ head and taking up his mantle (as it were) from behind the scenes. All in all, we’ve seen some pretty dark moments in Goon’s tortured life.

But we also already know about how Goon was raised by his aunt Kizzie, the circus’ strongwoman. About how she raised him to have respect for good people and stick up for the little guy when he’s firmly pinned under the big guy’s boot. Kizzie is Goon’s “nurture.”

We learn Goon’s “nature” in this book and it ain’t pretty. It’s summed it up in two panels after Goon’s father (Kizzie’s older brother Rooney) shows up after years away to pawn baby Goon off on Kizzie.

“Look, if you don’t want it, just do what I was gonna do with the little goon,” Rooney says. “Put him in a sack and throw him in the river.”

See? Told you. Not pretty.

Goon’s nature is stacked against him. His DNA says he should be a two-bit loser like his father. But as we already know, he’s far from that.

If nurture really does beat out nature, then I hope that means my wife and I really are doing something right in the way we’re raising of our son. If he grows up to take down the Zombie Priest and clean up Lonely Street, well, I’ll be a proud papa.

The Goon continues to be one of the most beautifully drawn, complex, hilarious titles out there. I don’t think it gets enough respect. You’ll get an emotional, character-driven issue like this, followed by one about Goon taking down a crazed, mutant ape, but Eric Powell makes it all flow together seamlessly.

Monday, March 19, 2012

X-Men Season One, or, Why I Love Superhero Comics

X-Men Season One
Story: Dennis Hopeless
Pencils: Jamie McKelvie
Colors: Matthew Wilson

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for an origin story. Give me the last of a dying race, a radioactive spider bite or (one of my favorites) a millionaire playboy stranded on a deserted island forced to master the bow and arrow to survive, and I’ll ask you where to sign.

What is it about seeing someone who’s extraordinary gain that important little “extra?” I’ll get to my answer to that question, but first: X-Men Season One.

This is a fun comic. The story of the first team of X-Men has been told before, including in a recent major motion picture, but this story feels fresh. It feels young. I’m guessing it feels kind of like Lee and Kirby’s first X-Men comics felt to people in the 60s (before the weight of 50 years of continuity was eagerly heaved over the shoulders of that first, little, scrappy X-men team).

At its most basic, this is a story we can all relate to because it’s about a bunch of teenagers finding their place in a world where it feels like they don’t have one. I don’t care if you were a jock or a nerd or whatever in high school, you felt like that at least once. We can relate, but at the same time, it’s so much more fun than your usual coming of age tale because this one is about a guy who can shoot laser beams out of his eyes and a girl who can throw rocks at a T-Rex with her mind, among others of course.

Dennis Hopeless meticulously develops the characters in this comic, but it feels effortless and light. The dialog is true to life, quirky and fun. You come to root for the X-Men without too much convincing.

But for me, that feeling of youth and eternal hope was conveyed mainly through the art of Jamie McKelvie. This guy can straight up draw. The lines are clean enough to eat off. The action scenes are kinetic. But what really gets me are the faces. You can say so much with a glance and in many cases McKelvie tells us everything we need to know about how a character is feeling in a single panel.

The way Jean bites her lip during an awkward conversation with a potential love interest.

The disappointment on Warren’s face after a badly handled social situation.

The way Bobby stares at the beautiful Scarlet Witch as she passes by.

The reason it’s fun to watch all these human moments being played out by the X-Men and their caped and spandexed brethren gets at why superhero comics are great.

They feed our imagination and give us something to aspire to, no matter how extraordinary it might seem. It’s right there within our reach because all that separates us from them is that little “extra.”

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Comic Book Reviews - Week of March 14, 2012

Welcome to the inaugural post on Thought Bubbles, a blog about comics. I hope to post weekly reviews about the comics I'm reading, good or bad, and anything else I find mildly amusing. I'm not one for long-winded introductions, so let's get to it.

The Secret History of D.B. Cooper #1
Story, Pencils and Colors: Brian Churilla

How would I sum up The Secret History of D.B. Cooper #1? Easy. Kill Bill meets Inception and they go on an acid trip. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Perfect place to plop in one of the most mysterious criminal figures of the past 40 years, right?


I love comics and this issue serves as a great example of how they are a storytelling medium unlike any other. There are things you can do in comics that you simply can’t do in books or movies.

The majority of this issue takes place in two places: the real world, and a place I’ll call Acid Adventureland (“A theme park coming to a back alley near you!”). In the real world, we have a fat, bald Russian sitting behind a desk in a dimly lit room somewhere inside The Kremlin. In Acid Adventureland we have D.B. Cooper, his one-eyed teddybear buddy, fighting a monster with a samurai sword.

It’s only as both stories simultaneously unfold that we begin to realize they’re connected. Brian Churilla leaves subtle clues to guide the reader in making the necessary connections. We’re forced to jump between stories, sometimes as rapidly as every other panel. In a book or a movie that could feel jarring and messy, but it works beautifully here. When the events of the real world and Acid Adventureland finally collide the payoff is worth the wait.

Right off the bat Churilla’s art reminded me of Eric Powell’s early work on The Goon, which is one of the most beautifully drawn comics on the market today (feels funny calling drawings of zombies and mutant lizards getting their faces punched in “beautiful”). It’s an interesting coincidence that the creators of both The Goon and The Secret History of D.B. Cooper do double duty on the story and art.

I liked this first issue a lot, partly because I have absolutely no idea what direction the series is heading. There are a lot of ways you could go in the psychedelic world Churilla has created here. I’m excited to learn more about Cooper himself and the strange place he calls home.

Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Conan the Barbarian #2
Story: Brian Wood
Pencils: Becky Cloonan
Colors: Dave Stewart

Here was my basic thought process when considering whether or not to jump onboard for the latest iteration of Conan: “Hmmm… I need more badasses with swords in my life. Oh, hey there, Conan the Barbarian.”

Having never read any of Robert E. Howard’s original Conan stories, or the previous comic adaptations, I had zero expectations or preconceived notions about the character or the world in which he lives. OK, in the interest of full disclose, I’ll admit I had one small expectation: that Conan’s level asskickery and badassery be similar to that of Jesse Ventura à la Predator.

Thankfully, the goods measured up and then some in this comic. The events of this issue in particular, which focuses on a knock-down, drag-out brawl on the high seas, demonstrates Conan’s proficiency with a sword as well as hand-to-hand combat. His narration and display of “the three basic principles of bow [and arrow] mastery” was a fun part of the story and showed that while Conan may come off as young and brash, he’s a skilled and intelligent warrior.

Becky Cloonan’s art perfectly complements Brian Wood’s Conan. We get a close-up on Conan as he explains the feeling of “battle calm” he gets as he single-handedly slaughters the evil Belit’s crew. The look on his blood-splattered face tells you all you need to know about Conan. He's a wolf. He's battle-tested.

And man, while Cloonan’s pencils are deserving of praise, I’m so glad Dave Stewart is coloring this comic. He’s so good at creating a distinct mood for a story and pulling you in through it. The bright orange backgrounds during the height of the battle give the scene an intensity and momentum that simply wouldn’t be there if the background was the blue sky or gray ocean.

I’m excited to see where this comic goes and whether it will begin building toward a longer story arc versus a series of minis. I do like the idea of Wood adapting some of Howard’s original Conan stories like he’s done here in issue #2 of The Queen of the Black Coast. Either way, with the creative team Dark Horse has assembled for this book, I’m in it for the long haul (or until Conan goes soft, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.)

Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars