Showing posts with label comics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label comics. Show all posts

Friday, January 4, 2013

Top 5 Comics of 2012

I probably buy too many comics, but I can’t help myself. I’ve been a fan of the medium since I was a kid buying Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles books. Every time I’m in a comic book store I get so enticed by everything I see. Sometimes it’s the art, other times it’s the writing, often it’s both. I’ll take a chance on almost any book and more often than not I get roped in for the long haul. I did try to cut down a little bit in 2012, but then Brian Wood decided to come out with several new titles, and there was a Marvel crossover that I couldn’t miss due to it’s major involvement of the X-Men and it’s promise to potentially reverse one of the biggest X-universe plot twists of the last decade. All this along with the random new titles I pick up and the fact that I’ve gotten into several Star Wars books now, has me spending a lot of time and money on my comic book habit. I enjoy it though and there are honestly a lot of quality books in the market today. As long as I’m being entertained I guess I can’t complain and these 5 are some of the comics that have entertained me most this past year.

1. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
I never got into Y: The Last Man, Brian K. Vaughan’s much lauded 2002-2008 running monthly book. Even still, I always recognized his talent and when I heard about Saga and saw Fiona Staple’s brilliant artwork I knew it was a book I’d want to be picking up. Saga is a science fiction epic that’s part Romeo and Juliet, part Star Wars, and entirely captivating. Saga tells the story of Hazel, a child born to parents whose worlds are at war with each other. The tale to this point is told by Hazel in 3rd person from some point in the future, as her parents attempt to flee the forces who see their union and offspring as an abomination. Vaughan’s writing is natural and succinct and his characters feel remarkably three dimensional without ever overstating themselves. Fiona Staples art is a wonder to behold, capturing gestures and emotion with spare, balanced line work and brilliant washes of bold color. Out of 2012’s new books this is the one that overall has impressed me the most on all fronts.

2. Conan the Barbarian by Brian Wood and various artists
I’ve been a fan of Brian Wood’s since Channel Zero way back when I was in college and since the end of his relationship with DC/Vertigo last year he’s been busy putting a lot of new work into the field. I should start off by saying that I’ve never been a fan of Conan, but neither have I ever held any ill will toward the property. Pre-war sci-fi and fantasy has always been an area that I’ve never really warmed to and (despite mainly being known due to to movies from the 80’s) Conan as a property falls into this category. Brian Wood is one of very few writers that I will follow to any book however and based on his excellent medieval Norse-themed book Northlanders I figured I had a good read on what I could expect from a Conan book. In Conan the Barbarian Wood uses his Northlanders experience to color his writing, but approaches the character and the world of Hyboria from a direction tailored specifically to them. The end result combines Wood’s expertise with tone and depth of character with Robert Howard’s pulp mythology in a way that satisfies and strengthens both.

3. Wolverine and the X-Men by Jason Aaron and various artists
At it’s heart, X-Men comics are about two things: 1)A persecuted minority that seeks to protect a world that hates and fears them and 2)Teenagers with newly developed super powers going to a school where they can be educated in peace and learn how to control their abilities. Wolverine and the X-Men focuses mainly on the later and concentrates of the lighter, but also more outrageous aspects of the setup in featuring both heroes and villains with bizarre powers. The whole thing takes on an almost Joss Whedon-esque feeling as it recalls both the absurdity and seriousness of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Teen mutants find themselves navigating the rigors of high school while simultaneously saving the world, all before study hall. The end result is incredibly fun and easily one of the best things to happen to the X-Men (and Wolverine) in a long time.

4. Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja
Nobody ever says they’re a Hawkeye fan. In his own words he's "an orphan raised by carnies, fighting with a stick and string from the paleolithic era." A comic about Hawkeye’s life when he’s not with the Avengers should be about as successful as Baywatch: Nights but (perhaps knowing this) Fraction manages to make Hawkeye off duty, more interesting than he has any right to be. Armed not just with arrows, but with wit and guile, Fraction and Aja illustrate Hawkeye’s extra-Avenger actions in brilliant fashion as he deals with both the absurd and mundane. All of a sudden a character that most people previously couldn’t have cared less about becomes part Spiderman, part James Bond, and part Robinhood, all wrapped in a slick package by Fraction’s excellent dialog and Aja’s uncluttered, expressive visuals.

5. The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
Not a new comic for 2012, but one that is still going despite what seems to be the culling of DC’s Vertigo label. Unwritten has been one of my favorite books ever since I picked it up on a whim several years ago. If there is any one book that can claim to have picked up the mantle of Sandman and be worthy of it, this is it. Following the misadventures of Tom Wilson as he unravels the secret truth about the nature of story and his own mysterious origins, Unwritten glories in the world of narratives much in the same way Sandman often did. In 2012 Carey and Gross stepped up their game in a big way both in publishing what I believe will serve as the climatic arc to the overall story, but also 6 additional support stories (featuring different artists) that filled in a lot of the blanks we had been left with to that point. As 2013 dawns, Unwritten marches boldly into it’s next chapter and with the stakes higher than ever I find myself eagerly awaiting each issue and whatever revelations may be held within their pages.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Good Cop, Dadaist Cop

From XKCD:

If there's such thing as a bad Dadaism joke, I haven't heard it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Welcome Back True Believers!

Week two and I’m sitting at the New World Deli on Guadalupe and 41st. This place is mostly new to me, although not totally. I’ve been here once before to grab a coffee after dropping my car off at the Midas down the street and waiting for Chris and Ann to pick me up for the Google Places Austin “BBQ Bus” event a couple months ago. I’m not here to talk about the New World Deli though. If you want to read my thoughts on that then check out my Google Places review. No, it’s time for another blog entry, as promised and the subject this week is: comic books. Yeah, I’m saving the heavy stuff for later. Believe me, I’ve got blogs about my unique perspective on relationships at the moment, Socialism, hipsters, and the middling of America all in the wings waiting to be written, but right now we’re going to talk about comics. Why? Comics are awesome!

It was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that first got me into comics. Sadly it wasn't the original  Eastman and Laird indie comics that I'm talking about. No, it was the Archie Comics version, initially based off the cartoon series, that I first started collecting back during the TMNT craze of the late 80’s/early 90’s. In its defense, the series (while originally just a panel by panel retelling of the cartoon series) quickly developed into something much more, to the point where the Turtles adventures were virtually indistinguishable from those of any other superhero group from the time, although maybe a little less gritty. TMNT were the gateway drug, but it was a combination of the X-Men cartoon and Hero Illustrated magazine (which I became aware of as the sister publication of Electronic Gaming Monthly) that sucked me into the world of comics beyond TMNT. I don’t recall all the comics I was reading back then, but I know that the series that I chose as my starting point was X-Men 2099. For those that don’t know or don’t remember, Marvel launched an ill-fated line of comics under the 2099 moniker in the early/mid 90’s that attempted to recreate characters such as the X-Men, Spiderman, Dr. Doom, and Ghost Rider 100+ years into the future. It certainly wasn’t their greatest moment, but I didn’t know any better and I wanted to get in on the ground floor of an X-Men book so I made 2099 my own. It wasn't a bad series, all things considered, but there was more to be had and I was eager to explore.

X-Men 2099 eventually led to other things, mainly more X-Men stuff specifically Jim Lee’s run on the title and eventually his inaugural Image title WildC.A.Ts. Image comics was a HUGE deal at the time. Marvel’s top talent, deciding that they were through with the work-for-hire model and not being able to own their own work, struck off on their own to start a creator owned imprint that ended up being wildly successful. For all that it did to change the industry and champion creator's rights, these days Image is just another publisher in a sea of assorted indies, but back then it was a revolution. I consumed a ton of Image books in the 90's, mainly the stuff coming out of Jim Lee’s Homage/Wildstorm studio, but a few other titles as well, chief among these other being Sam Kieth’s The Maxx.

Earlier this week I finished reading the novel Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, a book that I highly recommend if you’re even mildly into the steampunk genre. With book 5 of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga coming out next week I didn’t want to start another novel in the interim, but having recently reorganized my comic book collection for the first time in 10+ years, I decided that I could probably get through the entirety of The Maxx’s 30+ issue run. I didn’t realize until I started rereading those comics just how much The Maxx inspired my own efforts at writing and drawing comics back in high school and early college. You might even say that my stuff was practically a blatant rip off.

I’ve never been the kind of person who stands idly by when he likes something; I like to get involved, to give back to the community that has entertained me. This is the reason why I own a guitar and a bass that I’m not very good at playing. It’s why I majored in film in college. It’s how I got into game development. And it’s why in high school I started drawing comics. Now make no mistake, my early stuff was very much X-Men/WildC.A.Ts inspired; Jim Lee figured very prominently in my personal pantheon of gods at the time and I still have folders of various superhero designs that are embarrassing if not ambitious . I never really did anything narrative with those superheroes though and by the time I had worked up the discipline to even attempt something sequential, I had moved on from X-Men, WildC.A.Ts and superheroes in general. It was titles like Sin City, Strangers in Paradise, Transmetropolitan, and of course The Maxx that had my rapt attention at that time and it was the influence of those books and my brooding, anti-authoritarian teenage mind that led to the development of my comic Shadow of the City

I “published” 3 issues of Shadow between the end of my junior year of high school and my freshman year of college. The story followed a homeless, amnesiac drifter named Robert Shadow who was befriended by a woman and given a second chance at life. Oh, he attempted to fight crime and he had developing telepathic powers as well. If the premise wasn’t an almost total rip off of The Maxx (albeit bereft of subtleties) my page work was very inspired by Sam Kieth. Even now, rereading The Maxx, I’m impressed by Kieth’s panel work and while I think he let his desire to design a beautiful page get in the way of storytelling sometimes, when it worked it was fantastic.

I eventually gave up on drawing comics when I started film in college, but I never stopped reading. There was Cerebus and Sandman, Preacher, and a bunch of others either monthly or collected in trades. I loved to support the indie comics: Brian Wood’s early work with Channel Zero, Drew Hayes’ Poison Elves, and others, many of which came and went in the blink of any eye. It was an easy habit to feed as living in Boston put me in close proximity to two of the best comic book stores in the country: Comicopia on Comm Ave, and The Million Year Picnic in Harvard Square. Eventually, as series’ ended or I just lost track of late books or those that I never really cared about much to begin with, I was reading fewer and fewer comics each month. I think for a period of time between the end of 2001 and sometime in 2006 or so, I was maybe maintaining fewer than 4 monthly books and that basically included whatever Warren Ellis or Brian Wood were working on at the moment, The Walking Dead, and random purchases here and there. When I moved to Virginia I started looking for new series’ to read again, thankfully stumbling on Unwritten (the new Sandman as far as I’m concerned), Chew, Rasl, and The Stuff of Legend … with a little help from When I moved to Austin (just around the corner from the amazing Austin Books and Comics) this renaissance continued and has recently found me back where I started, with the X-Men.

The thing I’ve always loved about comics is that they really are one of the last narrative mediums left unspoiled by the masses. Sure, you’ve got big publishers like Marvel and DC where you’re likely to find the same stories you’ve read your entire life repackaged and put back on the shelves, but there are so many other books out there and the barrier for publication is tiny compared with other media. It’s no wonder you find so many mainstream writers either coming from or ending up in comics at some point. Guys like J. Michael Stracynski, Kevin Smith, and Joss Whedon all turned to comics at some point and wrote stories they would never get away with on the big or small screen. It’s really one of the few places where a creator can still reach an audience and maintain total creative control. That was always so much of the allure to me when I was younger. As an idealistic youth with a need to rebel against “The Man” and do my own thing and amidst the revolution of Image, comics were the ultimate medium. If you had the vision and a story to tell, you could get it out there in front of people and while there were maybe a couple dozen people who read my Shadow of the City and I never finished issue 4, let alone the series, I was a part of that world in some way and still am, if only as a spectator.

I still think about writing for comics every now and then, but along with everything else I have going with work and life in general I just don’t know where I’d find the time, let alone a genius artist. Maybe someday I’ll be struck with the perfect idea that can only be expressed via sequential art, but until then I’m content just to read others' works. There’s just an endless sea of story out there in comics, unhindered and unabridged from the author’s mind to your hands and there really is something for everyone. I feel bad for people who write off comics as being childish or unrefined; they really are missing out. As much as I read traditional prose and as much as I enjoy novels, some of the greatest stories I’ve ever read are in comics and I hope that never changes.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Funny Papers

Every week for the past month I've gone to Austin Books & Comics and there's only be one of my regular books new on the shelf, or one new book I've decided to pick up. This could only mean one thing: some week soon, I'd end up with a shit load of books all out at once. This was that week.

I came away from the store with no less than 6 new books today, all of them more or less regulars with the exception of one impulse buy. So what did I get?

Wasteland #30 - Antony Johnston / Christopher Mitten / Remington Veteto
It is a bittersweet circumstance that this comic has been coming out less and less frequently since it first hit the scene several years ago. I've been on board since issue 1 and I'm always eager to consume a new issue. The fact is simply that the book's writer, Antony Johnston, has been in high demand and while Wasteland is his labor of love, I get the feeling it doesn't quite pay the bills. Luckily he's got work at Marvel and oh ... he wrote the script for the first Dead Space game as well. Still, it's nice to get a new issue of Wasteland. As a story he's had in his head since he was a teenager, I don't think he'll be letting it go anytime soon. It would be nice to see more than a few new issues a year, but whatever he and Chris need to do in order to put out a quality book is fine by me.

Incognito: Bad Influences #3 - Ed Brubaker / Sean Phillips
This is the second series for Incognito, a sort of noir/hard boiled take on the anti-superhero genre. It's rare that I get into superhero stuff these days, but as Incognito is self-contained and takes a nice twist with it's crime drama edge, I've been into it.

The Amory Wars: In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth 3 #8 - Claudio Sanchez / Peter David / Aaron Kuder
Yes, this is the comic book adaptation of the story in the Coheed & Cambria albums. I understand that there is limited appeal here, but as a huge Coheed fan this falls squarely in my wheelhouse. Honestly, since Claudio paired up with veteran scribe Peter David, the books have gotten a lot better. I think David imposes an improved sense of pacing and fleshed out detail in the dialog that Claudio was missing in the previous series. As the album we know the least about (in terms of official story explanations) it's been a treat for me to see the tales behind the songs illustrated for the first time with In Keeping Secrets.

Unwritten #22 - Mike Carey / Peter Gross / Vince Locke
I don't remember why I first picked this book up several years ago, but I did and what at first seemed like a Harry Potter satire with a real world twist, turned into something much more. Tom Taylor is a real world adult. Tommy Taylor is the boy wizard in his estranged father's best-selling novels. Tom wants as little to do with Tommy as possible, even though fans of the book revere him as much as his namesake. But what if Tom and Tommy are the same person? What if the story became a real person? That seems to be the initial concept behind the whole plot and we still don't know for sure that Tommy and Tom are one and the same. All we do know is that in Unwritten, stories are much more than they seem and there are those who may have been using the power of stories to manipulate the real world for a very long time. Is Tom the key to unraveling the mystery or is he a pawn in a bigger game? This is what keeps me coming back every month. This is DC/Vertigo quality in the tradition of Sandman and Trensmetropolitan. Go read it ... now!

Northlanders #37 - Brian Wood / Simon Gane
When this book started it seemed like Brian Wood writing DMZ except set in medieval Norway. I think he's since grown with the series and now feels much more at home in this time period. Northlanders isn't one big story, but rather multiple stories all set in roughly the same time and place: medieval Europe. It's got a definite pulp feel to it and I think that's something Wood has really embraced as the series has grown. What initially seemed like another set of stories about angst-y teens and 20-somethings fighting against "the man" has turned into a varied collection of tales running the gamut from action to drama, with even a little comedy sprinkled therein. It's just good, brutal fun, and who doesn't like vikings?

Deus Ex: Human Revolution #1 - Robbie Morrison / Trevor Hairsine
I usually don't by movie, TV, or video game tie in comics. Usually these books end up being nothing more than advertisement, typically handed off the the new guys to rush out the door. I don't know that this book is the same deal, but it looked decent enough (good art, not too wordy ... as is often the case with these types of books)
and I hunger for any information I can get about the world of the new Deus Ex game. It's a great fiction that was created in that universe and any reason to go back there is worth the price of admission.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Adaptation vs. Translation

I just saw Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and loved it. As a fan of the comic since the first book dropped 6 years ago I couldn't be happier with how the film adaptation came out. Even with all the liberties taken in the film, especially in a few of the fight scenes, I thought it was excellent. In fact you might say that it was because of the liberties that were taken that I liked the film so much. Allow me to explain:

Watchmen was a comic book work held dear by many and though it had been spoken of in the past, until Zack Snyder came along, no attempt to adapt it for the screen had ever succeeded. Such adaptations are often met with apprehension by fans of the original work and for good reason. People have an attachment to Watchmen and other non-mainstream properties and if that property is going to be brought to a larger audience, they want it to retain it's integrity. They don't want the thing they're passionate about sullied in the eyes of the masses by an inferior adaptation. With Watchmen it was a simple choice, either do it as faithfully as possible or don't do it at all. The fans were too rabid, the backlash would have been devastating. An adaptation wouldn't do, only a big screen translation.

Watchmen the film recreated the comic with at least 90% accuracy and while others were thrilled at the chance to see their beloved story so faithfully recreated in a new medium, I left the theater with really no opinion at all other than that it was a very faithful translation. Scott Pilgrim on the other hand, while it had faithfully translated scenes, was more of an adaptation and I was much more excited after having seen it. The difference for me between an adaptation and a translation is that while a translation is attempting to faithfully recreate the language of one medium in another medium while losing as little fidelity as possible, an adaptation takes liberties in order to do things in the destination medium that cannot be done in the source medium thus making both valid. Watchmen the book is a great book while Watchmen the movie is a great translation of that book. Scott Pilgrim the book is a great book while Scott Pilgrim the movie is a great movie based on that book. See what I'm getting at?

Watchmen the movie didn't take any real liberties with the source material, it didn't do anything in order to make the story a better movie, it just translated what was already there onto the screen. Honestly there was no choice. Watchmen was too big and too tight a narrative to take liberties with. The choice was make the movie or don't and having seen the movie I don't see the point, I'd rather read the book. It's the same for me with Sin City or The Road. Scott Pilgrim remains very faithful not only in theme but in characters, setting, and even certain scenes, but it takes liberties that make it a better movie and that makes the movie not just an image of the source material, but an entity in and of itself.

There's a bunch of material not present in the Scott Pilgrim movie due both to time and pacing concerns, but you don't miss it and its absence is to be expected anyway. Certain liberties that were taken however (like the completely changed fights with the twins and Gideon and certain smaller liberties taken with other scenes) did nothing to detract from the intent of the source material and helped make the film autonomous. If you like the Scott Pilgrim movie you'll like the comics and if you like the comics you'll like the movie. The best part is that there are different things to like about both and that makes them both valid. Liking either the book or the movie can be completely autonomous, but if you like both you're not just getting one original product and another shadow of that product, you're getting two complete things.

I don't need the Hollywood or the mainstream or whoever to like comics. I don't need comics made into movies to show "them" that we're a valid medium. It's not going to work anyway. If you're going to make a movie of a comic and you can only make a Watchmen-style translation then just don't do it, you're not adding anything to it. If you have a property like Scott Pilgrim and you can make a movie that is as valid as a movie as the comic is valid as a comic then be my guest, I look forward to it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Summer Reading

I haven't been a very good reader this year or at least not as good as last year. I think so far this year I've managed to get through two Chuck Klostermans (leaving only his latest "Eating the Dinosaur" to be read), one David Sedaris, the eponymous companion novel to Coheed and Cambria's "Year of the Black Rainvow" album, and then I can't remember if I read one or both of those Dan Kennedy books last year. I've got Norman Spinrad's "Bug Jack Barron" on deck. I came across it via a sort of sideways recommendation by Warren Ellis when he mentioned this novel as an influence for his seminal "Transmetropolitan" comic series. It remains sitting on my side table though as I force myself to plow through my stack of unread graphic novels.

I seem to have a rather bad habit of acquiring graphic novels that I either never read or take months, sometimes years to read. This usually happens when I go to the comic shop and find nothing new to buy or that one time I visited New York a year and a half ago and didn't have any montly titles I wanted out at the time. I can't leave the comic ship without a purchase, so I'll often look for some interesting GN to pick up. This has served me well in the past, but has also left me with books I don't need to read right away.

As of last week my stack included the fourth volume of "100 Bullets", the second volume of the "Flight" anthology, the "Ace Trucking Co." collection I bought in New York, the third volume of "Batman: Black and White" that I also bought in New York, the second volume of "Berlin" (which will require to re-read the first volume thanks to the half-decade it too Lutes to finish it), "Batman: Year 100" (which I started, but never finished), volume 4 of "Freakangels", and "I Kill Giants". I was able to get through 100 Bullets, I Kill Giants, and Freakangels, and start Flight volume 2, but there's still a lot to go. This is a stack built up over the course of at least a year and a half though.

My goal is to deplete the pile before starting another traditional book and then to be sure that I get to any GN's between regular books or during my normal comics reading time in the future. The ultimate goal of this being to buy more comics. If I read everything I have then I can justify buying more and not only do I still need to finish 100 Bullets before I can satisfy my desire to collect the Hellboy GN's, but I know there are other fantastic stories like I Kill Giants out there waiting for me. In the end though, if having too much to read is a problem, it's a problme I'm glad to have.