Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Essentials: New Warriors by Fabian Nicieza

Growing up, I always liked to root for the underdogs; maybe it was the burgeoning Red Sox fan in me, who knows. I pulled for the Buffalo Bills to upset whoever they would inevitably lose to in the Super Bowl, rooted for guys like Kerry Von Erich to win the Royal Rumble, and always made sure my favorite character on any TV show was the third most popular at best (i.e. Laser from American Gladiators as opposed to Nitro, Gemini or Turbo).

In comics, I was no different. The more well-known a character or property was, the less interest I had. Of course the secondary reason for this was that the more undiscovered a comic was the more fun I had learning all about it, but I didn’t really get that consciously until later.

I knew who Superman and Batman were, so I eschewed DC for Marvel. I was at least somewhat familiar with Captain America and Iron Man, so I passed over the Avengers for the X-Men (who of course were anything but obscure to comic book fans, but they didn’t have a TV show or anything yet). Even within the X-Men titles, I always preferred X-Force to the main books because Cannonball was more interesting to me than Wolverine.

And then there was New Warriors.

One day early on in my comic book journey as I was rooting through the back issue bins of my local baseball card store, I happened across three or four issues of New Warriors from the original run by Fabian Nicieza and Mark Bagley. I was mesmerized by these characters who all had great designs thanks to Bagley and the artists he was borrowing from, but who I had no familiarity with whatsoever, yet there was the Marvel logo up in the corners, so they did somehow share a universe with Spider-Man and the rest. That it was a book about teenagers closer to my age than the X-Men or most other prominent characters of the day was a welcome discovery I would make upon returning home and reading the book, but I bought every issue I could find just on the strength of those first few covers and my curiosity about the unknown.

New Warriors ended up becoming the book that served as the spine of my first Golden Age as a comic book collector and remains not only one of my favorite series ever, but one I feel more than comfortable pointing to and saying “This totally holds up as proof the 90’s weren’t all bad.”

I know that looking back at my favorite childhood comic inevitably means many of my observations are going to be tinted through a haze of nostalgia, but I still think I can speak pretty conclusively to some of the things that really made New Warriors work.

In my mind, Nicieza’s commitment to the book and the characters was the most important factor in its success (and for my purposes, we’re talking about “success” more in terms of being a critically well-received and much-beloved by me personally comic if not necessarily a commercial blockbuster), but no doubt the environment of Marvel at the time, at least in terms of their treatment of Warriors, played a huge role in making that possible.

During the 90’s age of super-continuity and titles often being sucked up into bigger events beyond their control, New Warriors was for the most part left to its own devices. Yeah, Nicieza brought in plenty of guest stars from The Punisher to Namor to Darkhawk to an entire alternate Egyptian-themed Marvel Universe in those first couple years, but they added to rather than distracting the larger stories being told over lengthy periods of time in Warriors, stories that felt very self-contained and that as a reader of the book you felt a great deal of ownership over and satisfaction in.

Out of the aforementioned sense of standing alone, I always dug that the New Warriors felt like a far more intimate and welcoming group in opposition to their counterparts at both Marvel and DC. While the X-Men were fighting for Xavier’s dream, the Avengers were Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the Justice League were (at the time) working for the government and so on, the Warriors had no great modus operandi and were really just a group of misfits who ended up becoming friends because they enjoyed hanging out together; it was far closer to my (and I’d think most people’s) junior high/high school experience than any other comic.

To wit, the Warriors were founded thusly: Night Thrasher wanted to create a team of young super heroes to fight crime and avenge the death of his parents (yes, I know it sounds familiar); Marvel Boy (later Justice) wanted to join the Avengers but was deemed too young; Nova got his powers back thanks to Thrash and was looking to kick ass; Firestar was at loose ends; Namorita wanted a place on the surface world; Speedball was just looking for a good time. Six completely different agendas, but through more coincidence than design, they ended up banding together to beat Terrax and decided it made more sense to be a team than not to be one. From there they got a cool warehouse to hang out in, brought in some other directionless recruits, and of course started pairing off romantically like bunnies in heat.

In other words, it’s one of the most unique and yet most realistic depictions of teens as super heroes ever; because honestly, at age 17 were you and your buddies more likely to hold formal meetings with roll calls and such or meet up every so often in your clubhouse, order pizza, and go fight aliens because you saw them attacking New York on the news?

In interviews, Nicieza always said his run on New Warriors was about two things: making hard choices and seeking the truth. Again, as a kid, these were things I grasped really easily and found far more compelling than simply “We’re out to save the world” or even “We’re out to foster peace between our race and those who hate and fear us” (no offense meant to my other childhood comic book loves of course).

With those two guiding principles, New Warriors often tackled issues that you wouldn’t see in your average comic on a semi-monthly basis. Marvel Boy was a victim of child abuse and ended up killing his father accidentally while using his powers for self-defense, which formed the crux of one of the title’s most monumental storylines when he went on trial (defended by Foggy Nelson no less). Namorita led the team into a hostile Middle Eastern country where they were unable to determine whether the dictator in charge or the leader of the rebellion was a bigger scumbag. Foes like eco-terrorists the Force of Nature and the vigilante Bengal had the Warriors constantly having to make those aforementioned hard choices as to what side was the right one.
On the seeking truth side of the equation, the mystery behind what exactly happened to Night Thrasher’s parents ended up becoming far more complex than a simple Batman knock-off and the revelations would for an epic that dominated much of the book’s second year and concluded explosively alongside Marvel Boy’s trial in Bagley’s final issue. Nicieza being able to meticulously plot and unfurl these intricate tales gave New Warriors much of its strength.

And yet while New Warriors did hard-hitting “torn from the headlines” stuff better than most mainstream capes and tights titles, it could flip on a dime to stuff that made the universe shudder as well. That Egyptian alternate universe story, for instance, was the Warriors’ first encounter with Nova’s near-omnipotent old foe, The Sphinx, albeit a female version, and that “Forever Yesterday” trilogy not only stands out as a perennial favorite to anybody who has read it, but also heralded more mammoth tales pitting our young heroes against the immortal lovers in a Shakespearean drama gone cosmic.

The Warriors also took on world beaters like their old buddy Terrax as well as the Inhumans and Star Thief, not to mention having to help Nova save an entire dead world in “The Starlost.” They tussled with The White Queen and her Hellions as well as out-of-control mutant Darkling who brought half of New York City’s good guys under his control, including several Warriors. They had memorable moments from Nova and Namorita’s first hook-up to Rage snapping the neck of the man who killed his grandmother.

Like New Teen Titans, New Warriors was a comic that could adapt to any genre, be it topical issues, fantasy, science-fiction, etc. The heart of the book was the family that Fabian Nicieza and his artistic collaborators created in these characters and that you felt a part of.

Speaking of those collaborators, Nicieza and fans like myself were damn lucky as we not only got Mark Bagley for 25 issues, but then no less than Darick Robertson as an encore through issue 50. New Warriors was always a great-looking book and a lot of the fun in following it monthly was seeing both men grow from the rookies they came on the title as into the superstars they’ve become today.

I think I’ll wrap on that point of the New Warriors feeling like a family, which is an overused cliché in singing the praises of good comics to be sure, but that doesn’t make it any less apt. However, the Warriors never felt like a family in the traditional sense, they felt like the way you call your best friends “family” and know you can count on them to be there for you when maybe you don’t want to go to your parents or siblings. Coming full circle to why I picked up New Warriors in the first place, since they weren’t an established property with years of history when I started reading, I felt like I got in on the ground floor of basically the first week of school and got to become friends with Dwayne, Vance, Angel, Rich, Nita, Robbie and the rest at the same time they were becoming friends with one another; as their fictional bond grew, so did my attachment to following their adventures, hardships and triumphs.

Interestingly enough, I can still draw parallels to that original run of New Warriors to my experience as teenager into the present. In the same way I haven’t really remained close to many of my friends from high school but can still talk to them for hours when we do run in to one another, I don’t feel any great void in my comic book-reading life for lack of a New Warriors ongoing, but I still get excited whenever any two or more members of the team appear together.
Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning illustrated pretty well in an issue of Nova last year where Rich got together with Justice and Firestar to have some pizza and beers that you can never really go home again as far as those glory days. Today, Night Thrasher and Namorita are dead. Nova is off in space. Speedball is a haunted basket case. Justice and Firestar didn’t end up getting married, they went their separate ways. When the survivors hang out, they talk about the good times they had way back when, but their lives are elsewhere now, for better or for worse.

Sound familiar?

Like high school, New Warriors is something I got a lot out of and would never want to trade in, but it’s also something I’m happy leaving on the shelf, revisiting once in awhile before moving onto something else. Those 50+ issues were really something special, but also a neat instance of a comics saga with a good beginning, middle and end that you can always remain satisfied with even as the characters move on to other things.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Earth's Mightiest Sketch Blog: The Wasp

Well this could have gone a lot worse.

Seriously, in all humility, I'm quite pleased with my first lady Avengers sketch of The Wasp.

Since I've always had trouble drawing women (I'm sure that speaks to some sort of issues, but I'll save myself some cash on counseling and just keep sketching), so I used this reference piece by an uncredited artist (Banks? As in Darryl?). However, I ended up doing a lot of "leg work" myself, including switching over to the character's original costume since I find it her most distinctive and because, hey, it's a Jack Kirby design.

So yeah, not too shabby. We'll see if I can hold it up as we continue.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Iceman's Wacky Existential 80's Adventure

One thing I share in common with my Marvel cohort Tim Dillon is that Iceman is far and away my favorite member of the X-Men.

As with so many of my favorite characters, I'm note entirely sure when or why I started digging Iceman, but I think it can be traced back to somewhere around 1991 when Chris Claremont and Jim Lee unleashed X-Men #1 on the world and likely had a lot to do with aesthetics. Particularly the way Lee drew him back then, I just thought the character looked cool (pun unintended), with his sleek, simple "costume" and it was something most artists could nail pretty easily. He also had neat powers that were different from the ill-defined energy blasts, generic super strength and claws of every kind that populated the 90's.

Just like with Wally West and Rich Rider, as I got to know the Bobby Drake side of Iceman, I found in a nice coincidence that he had a persona I really dug as well. He's the perennial cocky wiseass of the X-Men, but he's also extremely powerful albeit mostly via untapped potential and is crazy insecure about that and a litany of other things; a perfect cocktail for a fun, multi-layered character in my book.

Unfortunately, it seems more often than not that creators don't have much use for Iceman. Don't get me wrong, most of the time writers have good intentions for the guy, but the fact is there are five million X-Men and Iceman just doesn't often make the cut for the A-team. Folks like Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Mike Carey and others have made great strides at tapping some of that aforementioned potential, but poor Bobby just seems to get perennially lost in the shuffle.

However, Iceman has had his share of solo stories over the years, and some really stand out; one such tale is the Iceman limited series from 1984 by J.M. DeMatteis and Alan Kupperberg. I nabbed it in full during college right after I discovered eBay, off which I also got an Iceman action figure from the 90's that I used to freeze in my mini-fridge and a bootleg t-shirt with him and the Human Torch on it.

Anyways, the comic is trippy as shit.

At the time, Iceman was a member of the DeMatteis-written New Defenders, an eclectic group made up of former X-Men like Bobby, Beast and Angel as well as oddballs such as Cloud, Gargoyle and Andromeda. It was a weird time for an Iceman mini, but it happened, and the results were cee-razy.

It starts with Bobby Drake paying a visit to his parents and catching up with some extended family. Bobby's dad as well as most of his relatives consider him a disappoinment because he ditched a job as an accountant, which everybody else in his family does, and they ride him for it during most of issue one.

(On a side note, I've always found it fantastic that Iceman is a certified public accountant)

Bobby gets pissed off, flirts with some mysterious girl who has moved in next store, then this weird characters named White Light and The Idiot show up. From there it gets weird.

Turns out the neighbor girl is some sort of cosmic entity whom White Light and Idiot are trying to recapture for their mysterious boss. Over the course of the next couple issues, she drags them and Iceman back in time where he meets his parents as teenagers for a little "they used to have dreams like me" bit until his dad gets freakin' shot and he gets whisked away again.

The third issue is a surreal journey of self-discovery as Bobby Drake seemingly gets aged through childhood, the founding of the X-Men, his tenure with the Champions and into his Defenders gig, complete with more of his parents calling him a failure, jokes about Jean Grey being dead, Darkstar dissing him because he's a capitalist pig, and other assorted wackiness. It is absolutely bizarre and DeMatteis makes it cool and cerebral like only he can.

Ultimately, we find out that neighbor girl is Mirage, the daughter of the abstract entity Oblivion, who makes his first appearance here before going on to be a Quasar villain and floating head at those power meetings Eternity calls to order whenever Thanos gets the Infinity Gauntlet. Most recently he showed up in Guardians of the Galaxy.

So yeah, the Marvel Universe's embodiment of nothingness and ennui first showed up in an Iceman limited series--how rad is that?

Anyways, our hero gets caught in a tug of war between father and daughter over whether or not life is worth living, taking charge of your existence and destiny, following your dreams, and a lot of other heady concepts you'd think the X-Men's class clown would be the last character you'd use as a window to, but again, credit Marc DeMatteis for being able to pull it off.

In the end, more weirdness happens, but Iceman does end up gaining a victory of sorts over a guy who gives the Silver Surfer fits and then heads home to reconcile with his parents, tell them he loves them, reiterate his lack of desire to be an accountant, then get called away by Beast and Angel for a new mission.

Summarizing that was a load of fun and I know I got a ton of details wrong because I haven't actually read the book in ages, though I now need to rectify that ASAP. The moral is that while most Iceman stories involve him creating slides and throwing snowballs in the background of a big X-Men battle, he had a four issue epic where he traveled through time, fought a guy named The Idiot more than once, almost scored with a cosmic entity, then overcame the universe's most powerful force for entropy.

Thank you, Mr. DeMatteis. And Marvel Collected Editions, let's get working on this, please.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Comic Shop Stop: What I Bought This Week

Sometimes it's new stuff. Sometimes it's old stuff. Sometimes it'll be back issues or the same ol' thing I got 4 weeks ago. Whatever the case is, here's what I got at the shop this week (lemme know if you wanna borrow anything):

Remember the sale at Midtown last week? I went back and grabbed the following:

SKIM - I had a copy of this graphic novel from Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki back when I was at Wizard, but never read it and I can't find it anymore. So I grabbed another and the brush art, tone and camera angles remind me of Night Fisher, one of my favorite books.

ALMOST SILENT - I don't own a whole lot of Jason's work - although I've read a good chunk of it thanks to David - so I grabbed this hardcover collecting the formerly stand-alone graphic novels "The Living and the Dead," "You Can't Get There From Here," "Tell Me Something," and "Meow, Baby." And all for only $25! He started my Watchmen sketchbook, so he holds a special place in my heart.

Otherwise, this week I only picked up:

MEGA MAN MEGAMIX VOL. 1 - I'm not a gamer, and I've never bought an all-ages manga before, but this beautiful collection of Hitoshi Ariga's comics set in the INGENIOUSLY designed video game franchise blew my mind. Please check out this story from CBR for some sample pages and plorp your eyeballs out over that TENSE energy. This thing's so action-packed with robots punching and kicking and shooting and sound-effecting and speed-lining the fuck out of each other that I literally can't stop flipping through it enough right now to get this posted in a timely manner. Next time you're in a shop, flip through a copy and respect that heavy-metal heart. I gotta assume it's books like this that guys like Bryan Lee O'Malley (Scott Pilgrim) and Corey Lewis (Sharknife) are channeling in their work.

Otherwise, I didn't buy anything else at the comic shop today, but I DID notice the following:

1. Salgood Sam's comfy art in today's "Ghostbusters: Tainted Love" one-shot REALLY reminded me of Farel Dalrymple.

2. Dan Hipp (Amazing Joy Buzzards) did the art inside today's Ben 10 Alien force graphic novella from Del Rey Manga written by Peter David!

3. The inside cover paperstock on Popgun Vol. 4 almost made me drool it was so slick.

And that's it. I was able to get my hands on today's Walking Dead, Astounding Wolf-Man, and King City for free, so I'm skipping writing them up this week. What'd you guys get?

(Quick disclaimer: I borrow a LOT of stuff from Ben each week from Marvel, so I don't always buy single issues of the Marvel books. And I get everything from DC, WildStorm, Vertigo, and Zuda for free, so I never really buy anything from them unless I'm picking up for somebody else. So don't take my exclusion of DC stuff as a sign that the books aren't good enough to buy. They are. So there.)

Wizard Features That Never Were: Run Phil Jimenez's Career!

I feel like I say often "so and so is a really cool person" when referring to comic creators, but the lovely truth is I've had the good fortune to work with and befriend more excellent folks in this business than jerks.

That said, I hope it still has appropriate impact when I say Phil Jimenez is a really cool person. Seriously: really cool.

I have great relationships with a lot of creators, but Phil is a guy I can truly say is my friend. I've actually hung out at his apartment and grabbed dinner in the city with him, so that's the litmus test right there. Heck, my wife complains his Facebook feed takes over her page, so that's friendship.

It's always neat when I get to meet and in some cases get to know artists and writers whose work I remember from my childhood, and such is the case with Phil (and I don't feel bad saying that because the handsome devil doesn't age). I totally remember him as the guy who used to do the awesome fill-ins on Robin for Tom Grummett and who crammed a zillion people into that issue of Guy Gardner: Warrior where Guy opened the bar. Before I had any idea who George Perez or even Jack Kirby was, I thought Phil Jimenez had invented the crowd scene, and if he didn't, well, he packed so much detail into his that he may as well have.

While I can't quite remember how I first met Phil voice-to-voice and then face-to-face, I'm sure it was around Infinite Crisis time, as that was one of the first big deals I was intimately involved with covering for Wizard; most likely Geoff Johns made the introduction.

What I do remember was how taken aback I was by not only how nice Phil was, but how inquisitive he was and how he genuinely seemed to want your opinion on everything. He's for real a guy who just loves soaking up what everybody thinks about everything and applying it to what he does; nobody's take doesn't matter to him.

Phil is also ridiculously smart and knowledgable on just about everything, from comics to literature to architecture to theater to medical oddities (those last two comes from Wizard World Philadelphia 2006, during which Phil took me, Megan, Sam and TJ out to an amazing Italian lunch and was the life of the party, seamlessly switching from talking Wonder Woman and zombies with TJ to musicals with Megan; at the end of the meal, he recommended the girls check out an exhibit on medical oddities at the Mutter Museum because they were bored). He can regale you on pretty much any topic for as long as you've got to listen. I've had awesome conversations for hours with Phil on comics, but I'm pretty sure if I called him to talk European history he'd still manage to hold both our sides of the exchange.

It was around early 2007 or so that Phil called me very excited about an idea he had for a Wizard feature. Since Infinite Crisis had wrapped, he had been laying low a bit, recuperating from that epic, doing a gorgeous issue of 52 now and again and looking for his next project. Since he had not settled on said project quite yet, he told me he wanted his fans to do it for him.

As reality shows were (and are) all the rage, Phil wanted to run via Wizard one of his own after a fashion in which the readers helped him select what comic he should draw next over the course of several months. He had thought a lot about it, saying he could come up with a list of characters he was interested in, do up sketches, we publish them, then fans respond with which they liked best. Each month, we eliminate a project or two, and he does more sketched of the remaining characters; wash, rinse, repeat. There would also be an opportunity for folks to suggest their own ideas (though I think that would just be a courtesy; Phil wasn't going to completely surrender his professional destiny and end up drawing Amethyst or something...though as I type that I realize Phil would probably love to draw Amethyst).

I don't remember any of the characters from his initial list other than Green Arrow, who I believe was his example, so maybe he really was pulling for that one.

I loved the idea and also mentioned that we were trying to get some more heat on our web site at the time, so perhaps we could post more frequent updates there, including each sketch, selected reader feedback, polls, and maybe even some video with Phil. He was game for playing around with the format and finding what worked best.

My editors were also keen on the idea, we just had to cross some T's and dot some I's from a legal perspective to make sure it was all kosher. Unfortunately, when you're talking about something as ambitious as what we were, that kind of due diligence takes time, and of course Phil needed to work. Still, I thought we could make it work.

We couldn't.

Why not? Because somebody gave Phil a job first.

It's a shame there was so much manuevering necessary to get the pieces in place for this, because I think it not only would have been real fun not to mention awesome to see Phil drawing all these characters, but also because you'd have virtually a stone cold lock for a hit book off the "fan-selected" angle, I figured.

It didn't work out, but Phil is still awesome; he owes me a Nova sketch though.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lynn Phegley Watches "Lost" - "The Substitute"

My mom's name is Lynn Phegley. She teaches music to elementary school kids in Grand Blanc, Michigan. She likes classic Hollywood musicals, trashy romance novels and "Sex In The City."

And for some reason she's seen damn near every episode of "Lost."

Each week of the series last season, I'm opening up the blog to mom to share her thoughts on what happened. I guarantee that those of you who like to read blogs digging in to the metaphorical underpinnings of the show looking for clues and analysis will almost certainly get nothing out of this. And thanks to this site for the screencaps.

Let's begin.


"I still don't believe in parallel universes. I never read a book about that. Name one book you've read about that, Mr. Science Fiction 101.

[I cite the works of Michael Moorcock and try to briefly explain the DC Comics multiverse.]

"DC Comics isn't a novel! Bullshit. Your brother says Slaughterhouse 5. I don't believe in parallel universes!

"In this book I was reading, I have to tell you how they solved their time traveling dilemmas. This woman time travels in Scotland through one of those stone formations like Stonehenge or something. She goes through the stones and ends up in 1740 or something. She's there all through the book. She never gets back to modern times. She just stayed there. Then at the end of the book in the last chapter, she ends up at this monastery – and she's been through all these horrible things, you know – and she's like...should she change the future and tell people these wars are coming and blah blah. So she finally confesses this to a priest that she's from the future and all these things, and he just accepts it all and goes, 'It's like a miracle that you're here in the past. And if you love your husband now, you should just stay with him.' The end.

[Me: And that was the end of the book?]

"Yeah. She just stayed where she was in the past. This is the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. It's a whole big series of seven books, and this is the first one. She just confessed to the priest, and he was a person who could accept it. Because the Catholic Church was always known for being open-minded in the 1740s. Right. He just thought it was a miracle.

"So maybe they'll all confess to a Catholic Priest on 'Lost' and it'll all end up OK. Do you think?"


"There's Hugo...that was hilarious. That was the hilarious part of the show. 'Oh, I'm sorry I parked in your way. I own the company. Let me get you a job.' And Locke with the girl asking what kind of animal he would be. I think you always read more into this. I think the interesting part was that Hugo was like this kind and wonderful dude. There goes Hugo again being more perceptive than the average bear.

"And that whole thing with Ben in there complaining about the coffee pot was stupid. I thought, 'Oh my God, here we go!'"


"Sawyer is not going to get off the island because he's going to want to be there when Juliet wakes up from the dead. He might not care if Locke is dead, but he'll care if Juliet's waking up. He might now know that, but we know it as the viewer. So he'll figure it out once Locke does something to him. Not real Locke. Real Locke'll come back to life...and they didn't even put a cloth over his face when they buried him! They just threw some dirt on him. Huh?

"And that strange little cemetery there...everyone in that cemetery is going to pop back up. Why don't they just bury him on the beach? Why did they lug him to the cemetery? That was great though when they buried Locke, and she asks 'Did anybody know him?' And Ben goes 'He was a good person. I'm sorry I killed him.' Then the one guy goes, 'This is the weirdest funeral I've ever been to.' [Breaks up in Laughter] The pilot. He's kind of hilarious. He's just the innocent bystander watching the wreckage go by. Didn't you think it was funny? I don't think they probably meant it to be that funny, but it was.

"Who was that little blonde boy? He goes, 'I know you can't kill Jacob.' And then that girl gathered up his ashes. He's probably going to come back to life too."


"He's lying to Sawyer. He's a mast manipulator, the Smoke Monster. I don't believe anything he says. Do you? You'd be falling down on the island then because you'd believe that. Sawyer doesn't believe it. He's just going there because he wants to get off.

"And Sawyer should have realized that [the numbers on the wall were 'The Numbers'] because he was down there punching the Numbers in."


"I want to know when Juliet is going to pop back to life. None of those [big mysteries] are interesting to me. JAck is the most interesting one because he's most clueless. The rest of them kind of have a clue. Hurley is always perceptive. Sawyer can see that's not Locke. Kate can always find water. But Jack, he doesn't get it. The only thing he knew was that that one pill was poison.

"And you know, I don't watch this every week, but I do like those little pop up things they play on the repeat. But I'm not going to watch that whole thing again for another hour. I've given this enough hours!"

Monday, February 22, 2010

Five Comics Worth Reading - Feb. 2010

In the nascent days of this blog, I used to do a weekly feature called Five Comics Worth Reading, where I picked out some books I enjoyed and gave little capsule reviews. It wasn’t long for this world because I’m really not great at reviews and didn’t like having that mandate hanging over my head every week, taking away a bit from the pure joy of just reading my comics (kudos to those who can do it; you’re better than me).

However, every now and again I read a comic and am just like “Wow, this book is sick,” but don’t always have more than a few sentences to say about it, let alone a whole post. To that end, with no ambitions whatsoever of any sort of regular schedule, I am gonna bring back 5CWR periodically to babbly about books I’m really digging.

Books like these.

I read the first issue of this series just because Ryan said so and was pretty well blown away not even knowing what the high concept was, just digging the writing and art. The twin brother team of Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon deliver a pretty standard “day-in-the-life” story about an average thirty-something going about his day, but I mean “standard” only in the sense that the events of the issue were (until the end) ostensibly mundane; however, despite the average nature of what’s going on, Ba and Moon have a way with their words of investing you in this man’s life and making the end of the issue all the more poignant.

I apologize for the vagueness here as I know it must be more than a bit frustrating, but I had no idea what this book was about going in, and that totally helped me enjoy it all the more, so if there is anybody out there who’s in the position I was, I want you to take a leap of faith and have a similar experience. The ending is key to what the whole series is about, and to give it away would be to spoil issues two and three as well, both of which also have that same quality of being beautiful in their take on the ordinary, but also begin bringing in a more sweeping sense of romance and grandeur.

The art—also a collaboration between the brothers—is gorgeous, with every person and every scene bursting with detail and unconventional beauty, as anybody who has followed their work on Umbrella Academy or Casanova would expect.

I wanna say more, but seriously, just trust me on this one and go find the first three issues.

Yes, the whole “What if Superman went bad?” motif has been done to death a zillion times since the dawn of time, but for whatever reason, I’m totally into Irredeemable in a way I wasn’t with all those others.

It may be because Mark Waid is such a fan of Superman and the whole heroic ideal that he really takes care when toying with it; there’s no sadistic glee you find in most of those pastiches (ok, maybe a little), but rather a great deal of care taken and a sense of “yeah, that’s how it would happen,” that comes from knowing Waid has absolutely thought this through. The motivations and fallout are meticulously thought out and add up (to the degree such things can in a book about super-powered demigods in spandex).

Peter Krause’s art has a sorta Dan Jurgens vibe going for it that fits the story well. He infuses the really horrific stuff Waid is putting out there with a sense of innocence gone horribly awry that twists your stomach in the right ways.

Beyond the initial shock factor of seeing the world’s greatest hero annihilating continents with his heat vision, there are also mysteries and tangential threads being laid out like mines by Waid and I enjoy seeing them go off with the precision he intended while I struggle to figure out who I’m supposed to be rooting for; good stuff here.

I’m sure there were plenty of folks out there who didn’t think turning The Punisher into a Frankenstein monster and having him hang out with Morbius and Werewolf By Night was a good idea (probably right here on this very Internet).

They were right; it was not a good idea.

It was a great idea!

Punisher is such a hugely entertaining comic right now it’s insane, and this is coming from somebody who has never been able to get into the character. Rick Remender has done a complete 360 in that he took a concept so wonderfully entertaining in its utter ridiculousness and then brought it full circle into a story that is completely compelling and perfectly fitting for the character.

I love that Remender is doing all this crazy shit but at the end of the day, in the context it is put in, IT MAKES TOTAL SENSE! Yes, if The Punisher went up against an entire team of ruthless super villains with the kind of power and carte blanche the Dark Avengers have, the son of Wolverine would totally end him. And yes, because he lives in a world where radiation doesn’t kill you but gives you fantastic or horrible powers and giant guys in purple suits try to eat or planet, it is not inconceivable in the least that a group of monsters would patch him up and turn him into a Frankenstein because they need a strategic mind to save their asses.

The latest issue—in which Dan Brereton illustrated the hell out of a flashback sequence telling the origin of Hellsgaard—was another quantum leap of awesome as we realize the bad guy Punisher is going after is basically him but replacing the figurative monsters who killed Frank Castle’s family with literal monsters who killed his own. The fact that this doesn’t even faze Frank as he prepares to go to war is a juicy little morsel that I’m interested to see get picked up down the road either as an Achilles heel or further evidence that The Punisher is so far gone a parallel like that means jack to him.

It’s also worth noting that Tony Moore draws not only the best vampires and werewolves in comics, but also does crazy fight scenes like nobody’s business. I love the liberties he’s not afraid to take with established characters and really hope he gets to draw more of them.

I forget sometimes how much I like the character of Tim Drake because a lot of the time he just gets written as “Robin” with folks forgetting that behind the mask he is so far removed from Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and particularly Bruce Wayne. He’ll never be the fighter that Bruce or Dick were, but he makes up for that with his brains and the fact that he’s probably the best natural detective out of the bunch. He’s also the happy medium between Dick’s carefree swashbuckler and Bruce’s grim and hopeless creature of the night.

Chris Yost totally understands this and is making me remember more and more in every issue of Red Robin why this character rocks.

As Red Robin, Tim is refreshingly human, making mistakes but working through them and being driven by faith in his own inherent belief more than any sacred vow or thirst for vengeance. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and it bites him in the ass more than a couple times, but he has an incredible skill set and ability to think on his feet that Yost is extremely apt at showcasing.

I’m also quite a fan thus far of Yost’s new potential love interest for Tim, Tam Fox, as she’s got a good bit of her own capability but also enough damsel in distress in her to keep things interesting; her being Lucius Fox’s daughter is a neat and clever spin as well.

But I honestly realized how much I am getting out of this comic in the latest issue where Tim has both an awesome fight with Killer Moth and then a great emotional hugging scene with Superboy where he breaks down in tears of joy over his best friend being alive that felt so sincere; Yost is so good not just at writing convincing young adults, but also at positioning action and emotion in perfect harmony with one another.

I know there’s a school of thought that Peter David’s writing on ongoing series tends to be too dense for new readers to navigate in easily, and maybe it’s true, but at the same time if you invest the time in his stories, you’re pretty much always guaranteed one helluva return.

I really respect how long PAD sticks around on books, be it a decade on Incredible Hulk, five uninterrupted years on Young Justice, or so forth. I love that he lays out long-term plans, commits to them, changes on the fly if necessary, but generally tries to stay the course on the big characters arcs he’s mapped out and epic stories he’s lad the tracks for. I enjoy the in jokes rewarding folks who have read the book for awhile and the pay-offs that are a long time coming but worth it.

Such is the case with X-Factor, where David has been hard at work for five years, building an impressive cast, imbuing them with great personalities, weaving a tangled web of interpersonal dynamics, and just having a good time.

He just wrapped a year-long time travel story he’d been building for some time before that, and now we’ve got the incredible eclectic cast of Jamie Madrox, Strong Guy, Siryn, Rictor, Monet, Darwin, Longshot, Shatterstar and Layla Miller going in a bunch of different directions that include diffusing an international incident, trying to locate the missing Invisible Woman, and moping in Ireland.

Honestly, the incredible mix of 80’s, 90’s and today B and C-listers I just rifled off as a team roster should have piqued your curiosity enough, but if you come for that, stay for the wit, the well-spun mysteries, the crazy twists, the heartfelt dysfunctional family, etc.

Friday, February 19, 2010


* New entry of "Lynn Phegley Watches Lost" will hit over the weekend, but in the meantime just so you know how smart and rad my mom is, the stuff we've been seriously talking about aside from Lost includes this and this.

* Thanks to Joanna Draper Carlson for rounding up the list of NY Times Funny Pages comics that are still archived online. I was seriously looking for these last week and could not find them using any of the tools actually on the Times front page, including search. FAIL.

* In case you missed it, I'm pretty sure that this interview with Tim Kring is going to end up being the official tombstone for "Heroes." I don't know. Maybe it'll last another year. God only knows what'll happen with NBC. What I do know is that it was kind of fun to be doing those interviews with Kring during the show's early years, but I'm glad that's not part of my job anymore. Some day, we'll reference that show as the nadir of the superhero trend in Hollywood in some funny and entirely unflattering ways.

* There's a Chicago Rockabilly culture?!?!? How did I not know about these people already? (Via Warmoth)

* You know, sometimes I put links in here just to have them saved someplace so I can search them up later? In those cases, I usually go, "Here's an interesting blog about how Wordpress and web comics work together" making sure to use easily google-able words like Word and press and web and comics. See?

* I'm sure a lot of you have seen these already, but Bully's series of President's Day posts of presidents in comics are both hilarious and awe inspiring. See how deep his Abe Lincoln entry goes???

* Stuffy Old Literature Links: this article about the family plantation journal and its information about life in the time of slavery that heavily influenced William Faulkner's novels is fascinating on many levels.

* I swear to God I had a reason for bookmarking this fashion slideshow aside from the fact that it was labeled "Wang Collection" but I can't for the life of me remember what that reason would be.

* Best thing I've read on in months? Their series of stories on the history of the DM that were written for the print magazine first years ago. Does anyone else find this akin to Wizard launching a new blog by putting up one of their rad Steve Ditko profiles from the late '90s?

* Holy shit: Full classic rehearsal video of Prince and the Revolution.

* This NPR post on Aquaman's return is fucking chock full of nerdy detail on the character's entire publishing history, which I love because it's fun to read about all those insane stories in one place and because I don't feel like I can cross "giant Aquaman post" off my long list of blogs I'll probably never get to because of my real job.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pimping My Stuff: What The--?! Winter Games

Over at, we've undertaken the monumental task of celebrating the 2010 Winter Olympics with a new Marvel Super Heroes: What The--?! segment every single day for two weeks. Yep, M.O.D.O.K., Gambit and company are joined by the groovy Gremlin and pretty much every other Marvel hero and villain we could dig up a toy of for their very own Winter Games.

So far mad video genius Alex Kropinak has cooked up coverage of the opening cermonies as well as the ski jump and pairs figure skating, but lest we kill the little fella via stop motion animation burnout, we're also sprinkling in some text pieces, including a press conference from Fin Fang Foom, Mardi Gras at the Games and M.O.D.O.K.'s travel blog.

Well, today I got my chance to shine a little spotlight on some of my favorite character--or rather Werewolf By Night and some other guys. It's my profile of Team Transylvania and in all humility, I gotta say it's one of the funnier things I've written in some time, so I hope y'all dig it.

Keep it tuned to over the weekend and through next week for more What The--?! Winter Games goodness, including the first video I wrote on Saturday: speed skating featuring some very special guest voices!

Earth's Mightiest Sketch Blog: Thor

Over a year in the making!

Seriously, the last entry in this sketch blog was December 3, 2008. Yeesh.

I'll admit it: Thor broke me. I did not ever anticipate I would struggle so much with trying to draw this character. The face and hair came easy enough, but the body gave me hell. Something about a character who is supposed to be super-strong but doesn't have a freakish musculature like The Hulk presented a real conundrum to me, and obviously it took quite some time for me to solve it. After a few tries early last year, I just threw in the towel and quit drawing for a bit (I also got sick, got married, etc., so there were other excuses).

A month or so ago I decided to pick up my sketchbook and try again only to experience yet another false start. I wanted to do a real wild pose, with Thor's arms thrust to the sky, lightning jumping out of his hammer and whatnot, but I couldn't nail it. I also generally fall back on doing the head-on view of characters' faces when I draw, so I wanted to challenge myself and tilt his head slightly upward, but that was no-go as well.

Ultimately, I ended up having to rely heavily on Olivier Coipel's cover to Thor: Tales of Asgard #1 as a guide and came out with this finished product:

I'm pleased enough with it (though I really wish I had erased that original pose better) and think some parts look pretty bad ass, but it was really a lot of aping a great Coipel piece and not enough me for my liking. Also, given how long it took to finally nip this in the bud, I'm not sure anything short of something I could hand to Thor editor Alejandro Arbona to use as a cover would have satisfied me.

Anyhow, at the very least I'm off the shelf for now as far as sketching and will attempt to get myself together enough to move forward both here and over at the We Are The LAW blog that TJ set up. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Comic Shop Stop: What I Bought This Week


All graphic novels and manga were 40% off this week, and since I've been buying less and less monthly books (thus allowing my comic budget to swell a bit), I went ahead and grabbed a few choice books this week that I've been wanting for a while. Here's what I got:

THE DRIFTING CLASSROOM VOL. 10 - Some mysterious explosion sent a school filled with kids spiraling through reality in this 11-volume horror/sci-fi/suspense series. It's like catching a late-night B-movie from the '80s. I have a hard time finding installments for cheap (which is almost the only way I buy manga anymore), so when I stumble upon them at random sales, I grab 'em while I can! Now I only need a couple more and I have the whole set. Goooood stuff.

DAYBREAK VOL. 2 - Brian Ralph's serialized, 3-volume zombie survival story! I've read the whole thing already and owned volumes 1 and 3 (and even bought 3 TWICE MORE on accident thinking it was the one I needed), so when I spotted this gem for almost half off, I couldn't pass it up. I know Sam's been looking forward to finally reading it, too.

IKIGAMI VOL. 4 - This installment of the political nightmare thriller about a government that randomly kills its citizens to invoke a fervor for life was new a couple weeks ago, but I held off on buying it at the time since I knew this sale was coming. BOING!

PAUL MOVES OUT - I can't get enough of Michel Rabagliati's relatable autobio stories and his stark art style reminds me so much of innocent '50s advertising. This book about his time at art school was the last of his I had yet to pick up, but I've eyeballed it at Midtown for a long while as it sat in that shelf above the back issues by the window. It even has the sun-bleaching on the edges to prove it!

20TH CENTURY BOYS VOL. 2/PLUTO VOL. 2 - I went to the shop with my buddy Darren (REMEMBER: shopping with friends is AWESOME) and asked him which of these two Naoki Urasawa releases I should pick up. I've got the first volumes of each, but I haven't read them yet, though I know I'll LOVE them. I wanted to take advantage of the sale price, after all. "Go crazy and get 'em both," he said. Fuck it, it's 2010. I did it.

How about you guys? Get anything good?

(Quick disclaimer: I borrow a LOT of stuff from Ben each week from Marvel, so I don't always buy single issues of the Marvel books. And I get everything from DC, WildStorm, Vertigo, and Zuda for free, so I never really buy anything from them unless I'm picking up for somebody else. So don't take my exclusion of DC stuff as a sign that the books aren't good enough to buy. They are. So there.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Art Attack: May 2010's coolest covers

This May, Marvel is getting Heroic while DC puts their Brightest foot forward, so it's only fitting both companies rolled out some slick, exciting covers to commemorate. Here are my 20 favorite from the Big Two plus the other unusual suspects.

AVENGERS: THE ORIGIN #2 variant by Salvador Larroca
BATMAN AND ROBIN #12 by Frank Quitely
BPRD: KING OF FEAR #5 by Mike Mignola
BRIGHTEST DAY #2 by David Finch
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: SEASON 8 #35 variant by Georges Jeanty
DAREDEVIL: CAGE MATCH by Marko Djurdjevic
DAZZLER #1 by Kalman Andrasofsky (written by Jim McCann!)
DEADPOOL: MERC WITH A MOUTH #11 by Arthur Suydam
DEADPOOL TEAM-UP #893 by Humberto Ramos
HELLBOY IN MEXICO by Richard Corben
I, ZOMBIE #1 by Mike Allred
INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #26 by Salvador Larroca
LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #1 by Yildiray Cinar
NEW MUTANTS #13 by Adi Granov
POWER GIRL #12 by Amanda Conner
SUPER HERO SQUAD #5 by Leonel Castellani
X-MEN ORIGINS: EMMA FROST by Benjamin (no last name given--not me!)