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