Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Art Attack: Ben's 90's X-Men Sketchbook

The year was 1993 (or 1994) and 11-year-old (or 12-year-old) Ben Morse's eyes were glued to either Fox's X-Men: The Animated Series or the epic X-Cutioner's Song crossover. And like a lot of kids my age, lack of formal artistic training (and possibly talent) certainly didn't stop me from attempting to emulate Jim Lee or Andy Kubert in depicting my favorite comic book characters.

I linked up with my buddy Husani Johnson to actually put together a "sketchbook" of our favorite X-Men as well as members of X-Force and X-Factor leader Havok (sadly Captain Britain made the cover alone and in name only).

Cleaning out my room back at my folks' house in Boston over Thanksgiving, I found said artistic treasure trove, and of course I had to share it with the world.

I offer the following with only two comments: I clearly still didn't quite have a hang of what women (or limbs) looked like and I was a friggin' logo master.

(Also, I attempted to only print my work here since I haven't spoken to Husani in years and don't have permission to show his, so I apologize if I got some mixed up by mistake)

We don't usually post press releases, but...

Good friend of the blog Sean T. Collins has unveiled the new digital HQ of his awesome web comic tour de force Destructor! Hopefully we're gonna be speaking to STC himself later in the week all about the Destructive One, but in the mean time, check out our man's origin of the concept here, his official PR below, and a spot of fan art from myself and Rickey following that...


November 29, 2010 - Writer Sean T. Collins and cartoonist Matt Wiegle are pleased to unveil DestructorComics.com, the home of their new webcomic series DESTRUCTOR.

Set in a science-fiction-fantasy world that becomes all the more dangerous the second the title character sets foot in it, DESTRUCTOR is the story of the titular tyrant -- an armor-clad immigrant to the sprawling Alpha System who rises to unimaginable power with the help of his brutal Mob of allies. Destructor and his world were first conceived by Sean when he was in third grade, 24 years ago. Ever since -- in copious notes, in crude drawings, and in his head -- he has developed and expanded the story, with the entire arc of Destructor's career as a criminal and conqueror mapped out.

Now that career has been brought to life by Matt Wiegle, 2010 Ignatz Award winner for Promising New Talent. A fan of Matt's ever since he first saw his comics in the school paper while the two attended college together, Sean is thrilled to see the people and places he's known for all these years appear before him, more vividly than he ever imagined, thanks to Matt's bold, thoughtful art.

DestructorComics.com is launching with two previously published DESTRUCTOR stories, "Destructor Comes to Croc-Town" and "Destructor in: Prison Break." Originally seen in black and white on Top Shelf Productions' Top Shelf 2.0 webcomics portal and in the anthologies Elfworld (Family Style) and Murder (Partyka), the strips will be republished in full color for the very first time. New pages, freshly colored by Matt Wiegle, will be posted every Monday and Thursday. And upon the conclusion of "Prison Break," a series of all-new, never-before-seen, full-color DESTRUCTOR adventures will be serialized on the site.

Incorporating influences from Robert E. Howard and He-Man to Fort Thunder and Boards of Canada, DESTRUCTOR is an ongoing adventure-saga exploration of action and spectacle, violence and camaraderie, loneliness and anger.

About the authors:

Sean T. Collins has written about comics and popular culture professionally since 2001 for such publications as Maxim, The Comics Journal, Wizard, A&F Quarterly, Comic Book Resources, Giant, ToyFare, The Onion News Network, and The Comics Reporter. His comics have been published by Top Shelf, Partyka, and Family Style. He has lived on Long Island since 1978, with his wife and their cats since 2002, and with Destructor and his world since 1986. He blogs daily at Attentiondeficitdisorderly and regularly at Robot 6. Email him or follow him on Twitter.

Matt Wiegle lives in Brooklyn and draws things. He is responsible for the minicomics Ayaje’s Wives, Seven More Days of Not Getting Eaten and Is it Bacon? He was presented with the 2010 “Promising New Talent” Ignatz Award for his story “The Orphan Baiter,” which can be found in Papercutter #13. Email him or follow him on Twitter.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sayonara, Smallville: "Patriot"

Incredible but true: This year, The CW's "Smallville" embarks on its tenth and final season, making it not just the longest-running Superman TV show ever but the longest-running comic book TV show ever produced. Bananas, right?

To celebrate its final year, we're teaming up our collective powers of dumb DCU trivia, long experience watching and writing about the show and general obsession with serial TV to bring you "Sayonara, Smallville" – a semi-regular feature where we'll review the most notable episodes of the season whenever we can. Everyone is invited to play along.

Ben: Let's do this! So we're covering "Patriot" this week?

Kiel: Yeah!

Ben: Ok, I'm going to just open right up with this:

Kiel: Hit me.

Ben: In my opinion, this was the worst episode of Smallville this season. Thus far...Worse than "Isis." It wasn't 100% bad, but I really struggled sitting through it.

Kiel: Well, I'll let you run on why in a moment, but I'll make a guess up front that it was the flat performances and dialogue that sunk it most?

Ben: Far, far more of the latter. This episode was incredibly poorly-written. Obviously, a hallmark and joking point when it comes to "Smallville" is the crazy reliance on forced metaphors in dialogue – I mean that was basically 90% of Chloe's character – but this episode felt like it maybe had three lines in it that weren't a metaphor, cliche, analogy or simile of some sort. It was painful.

Kiel: It was like 84,000 bad military puns with one or two "what are true hero?" speeches thrown in.

Ben: Exactly. That conversation between Lois and Ollie was like water boarding before they got to the actual water boarding. There are other nits to pick, sure, but I'm pretty sure if the dialogue was better they could have been overcome.

Kiel: Well, what got me the most was that Michael Hogan from "Battlestar" was brought on to play Slade, and that should have been a perfect match. But all of his lines from the very beginning read like a twelfth rate NY Times story about in fighting at the State Department. Just blah blah blah "ends justify the means" blah blah.

Ben: I have never seen an episode of BSG, but even from early on, I could see what a slam dunk that dude as Deathstroke should have been. But then he started talking. There was so much that could have gone right with this episode, which made it all the more sad that poor writing tanked it.

Kiel: And really, the whole superhero registration act is the worst plotline of the season because if anyone thinks about it for five minutes, superheroes should be registered in some way, but the series writers never A) give a compelling reason why our heroes would push against it outside of "We think that they might be wanting to hurt us with this law" or B) clearly define what said law is, what it will do or whether it got signed into law.

Ben: Super hero registration is such an old chestnut that writers get lazy with it.

Kiel: And it's a real shame because a continuity-heavy, hero-heavy episode should be the kind of thing that works best in this season of this show

Ben: It's an issue with plenty of complexity just waiting to be explored, but it always just gets the short form of "Scary government guys want to ruin the lives of your favorite heroes! Bad!" I remember during "Ambush" we agreed how great it was that General Lane was presented as a rational argument FOR registration but was also open to hearing the other side. Slade this episode was like somebody heard us and decided they couldn't have that.

Kiel: But I think maybe this will be the end of that thread for good? I hope?

Ben: I doubt it. Given the Omega sign on Slade's skull and Godfrey's position as an anti-vigilante rabble rouser, registration is key to Darkseid's larger plans. And yeah, like you said, an episode with Aquaman, Mera, Deathstroke and all the big plot landmarks here should have been much better. Deathstroke ain't dead, so unfortunately, I don't think we've seen the last of it.

Kiel: Yeah, you're probably right. But at this point the show has pretty much declared for its own purposes that registration is totally evil, so with any luck we won't get any more episodes where the writers Liberal tendencies become literal talking points on the show.

Ben: It's too bad. They really have handled Darkseid so well on some levels, so it's a shame to overshadow him with this registration garbage. It's also too bad, because if they're using Legends as their framework, they've got the right way to do this right in front of them.

Kiel: Well, I've got a few thoughts on Darkseid this week in a bit, but I will say on the larger character issues that the one thing I DID like about this episode was just seeing all the crazy pieces of the DC Universe together on one board. In fact, what I liked the most was the "Previously on Smallville" bit where we saw clips of like five name DC heroes and Deadshot and Flag and everything. If they can stick the landing on bringing those threads together, I think it may overpower the bad

Ben: Oh absolutely. There's an undeniable coolness to seeing all that laid out regardless of individual episode quality.

Kiel: I do wish Aquaman would have been handled better this week....Actually, let me take that back. I wish MERA would have been handled better and through her all the big Aquaman ideas.

Ben: Interesting. Elaborate.

Kiel: I mean, no offense to the young lady they tapped to be the sea queen, but it really felt like she got the part only to walk while swinging her hips in that "Va-Va-Voom" fashion. I know the dialogue was not ideal here, but she didn't bring one reading to a line that made me think she had any character at all. It was just vomiting out fan service lines about how Aquaman's real name is Orin and shit...though Aquaman himself was still a dick here, which is how I see the comic version, so that was good.

Ben: Oh yeah, totally. There is no question in my mind that the casting notice for Mera was "hot chick." Who knows if there was even an audition process – and to her credit, she filled out that notice – but she had way too much dialogue and important stuff at that for somebody (to use an appropriate metaphor here) who was in way over her head.

Kiel: Oh, she looked fine, but that even bored me after a while. But again, the plotting on this episode was WAY off in terms of what was shown. We never saw A.C. get kidnapped. Never saw how Clark was rescued. Just a lot of gaps in the action where maybe we never really need to see the connective tissue to get the plot along, but it feels off.

Ben: Aquaman here was actually way more how I'd imagine him being on Smallville than his first couple appearances where he was just kinda a laid back surfer type. He should absolutely be an aggressive dick.

Kiel: I noticed Welling himself directed this one, and I wonder what drew him to wanting to shoot it as I assume he's got his pick of the assignments.

Ben: Yeah, I dunno. I'm tempted to say the producers kicked him one they figured wouldn't need much directing finesse because there were lots of guest stars and explosions, but I feel like he's actually proven himself directing-wise in the past.

Kiel: I did kind of like that we got Smallville Aquaman and Hartley, who would have been Aquaman had "Mercy Reef" been picked up, in the same scene. I'm a sucker for that.

Ben: You saw the initial Justice League episode, right?

Kiel: Yeah, but I'm spacing...did they have a special bit for those two there?

Ben: They had a little aside about how they both slept with Lois. Which I'm thrilled to see was picked up here by Mera. But yeah, I like when they have exchanges. Honestly, I don't fault the actors here all that much for this episode's shortcomings. Not even Mera. I think the shitty dialogue and the stuff you mentioned above with key shots not making it in were hurdles they were never going to overcome even if the cast of "Mad Men" subbed in this week.

Kiel: No, it was poorly written from top to bottom, which is a shame because in a lot of ways it was a crucial turning point episode. For one, they had a nice opportunity to lay the whole "can Lois trust Clark to be honest" thing to rest, but it was fumbled at every turn.

Ben: Yeah, that was important, darn it! As we've noted before, Clark acknowledging he needs Lois in order to become Superman is so key and it was handled really poorly here.

Kiel: I actually think (as usual) that Durance did the best with what she was given, but it wasn't much. I DO like the fact that she's in the clubhouse again, and because of that Clark doesn't have to get super emo about worrying whether he'll be absorbed by darkness.

Ben: That scene where he brought her to Watchtower was actually probably my favorite of the show, but everything up to that was just bobbled. Also, we've had a lot of guest characters coming in to teach Lois and Clark key lessons this season, which works when it's Lois' dad or Kara or something, but Aquaman and Mera being the ones to hammer home the "You need to trust each other" point came off weak to me.

Kiel: The stuff between her and Tess was cute too, if slight.

Ben: And yeah, I liked the Lois/Tess stuff as well. Durance brings out the best in Cassidy Freeman.

Kiel: Yeah, from top to bottom this episode came off like one that read great in a pitch meeting – "Not one, not two, but THREE DC characters colliding in a big turning point actioner!" – but fell apart in scripting. And really, the worst scene of all for me was that last one where Clark lays out the Darkseid stuff to the rest of the crew.

Ben: Yeah. When I said my favorite scene was Lois coming to Watchtower, I more meant my favorite moment was when she walked in and looked around. It went rapidly downhill from there.

Kiel: And I hate to nitpick AGAIN, but did they really need to have Clark just put together that this darkness came through the rift when he fought Zod AND that this entity is causing the big civil unrest AND that it can infect anyone AND that it's set to take over the world all by his lonesome in one fucking scene? Those are some HUGE leaps of logic for a character to make, meaning the fact that they'll prove true comes off as even more ridic.

Ben: He's had a lot to deal with, Kiel. Those Blue Kryptonite cult members weren't going to stop themselves. But yeah, I get that they needed to kind of give a summary of the season to date, but again, clumsy writing killed the scene.

Kiel: HA! I guess what disappoints me most about this is that I like the concept of how Smallville is working in Darkseid a lot. I like this notion that the way he's taking over the world is through ideas and emotions, preying on the worst in people. It's a super strong meataphor and a solid way to use big Kirby stuff on network TV, but they've never once nailed that idea. Every time they skirt around it, they get very nail on the heady and all that. I want them to do better by their own ideas, but I have little faith they'll pull that one off.

Ben: As much as I'd love to think it's all part of the plan, I really do feel like they kinda stumbled backwards into that
I'm hoping they either seize on the mistake or continue to trip the right way

Kiel: I don't know. They get part of that idea I think, but we'll see. Honestly, if the superhero shit really picks up in a cool way as this develops, I'd be happy even if they're totally pulling this out of nowhere.

Ben: Agreed. By the way, what did you think of Slade having the giant Omega symbol on his forehead? It was actually a bit ominous, if ridiculous...better than the Suicide Squad logo tattoos.

Kiel: I'm totally torn. I hate when bad guys are bad guys because some mysterious force just made them do it, but they seem to not be saying that here. It really depends on how it plays out and who gets turned by Darkseid. If Tess or someone gets turned and then that complicates the hell out of the cast, I could be on board.

Ben: I still think Tess as Darkseid would be the wrong move. She's the obvious choice, but she's just got so so much baggage already. Chloe would be a more interesting choice to me, but I don't have faith in Alison Mack to pull it off. I don't feel like anybody is attached enough to Tess for it to matter, despite the lip service that they are.

Kiel: Yeah it'd be overload. It's weird to think that somehow this whole registration/Darkseid/will Clark publicly accept his hero role stuff will eventually cross over with the dangling "what's up with Lex Luthor" at some point. This may be that opportunity

Ben: I'm actually kind of hoping the Lionel Luthor angle is Darkseid animating his body and Clark needing a returned Lex to help him out. Clark did see Lionel as a surrogate dad, so it would work, plus John Glover is dynamite.

Kiel: Yeah, I was about to ask: Have they announced anyone as playing Darkseid as far as you know?

Ben: Not that I know of. And at this point, I do feel like we'd know.

Kiel: Mysteries abound! But I guess that's it? I feel like we should have made fun of this episode more

Ben: There's the rub: We were so disappointed by the dropped balls we didn't even get to mocking Clark escaping the Kryptonite prison with no real effort or Ollie getting water boarded mere weeks after you dared the writers to water board somebody
An episode like this doesn't just hurt the show, it hurts this feature, and that's more than we can abide

Kiel: I think I'm going to make myself feel better by calling the show fat....Smallville, you're fat. Eat a fucking salad.

Ben: I don't really think you can get away with that the week size negative one Mera made her first appearance.

Kiel: Well, at least she was gratuitously naked for four seconds in the middle of an otherwise useless scene?

Ben: She's welcome back any time! Honestly, I'm not even trying to be chauvinist guy here, but that girl made Erica Durance look frumpy...which is ridiculous. I want to sit her down and talk to her about her diet. So maybe your fat taunt was the opposite direction from where you need to go. Mera needs an eating disorder intervention.

Kiel: These are the kind of women who are just hanging out in Canada, Ben! "Smallville" makes their unhealthy choices possible!

Ben: That steady diet of maple syrup and bacon is the key to a killer figure, kids! And that's one to grow on.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Paragraph Movie Reviews: MacGruber

If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back.

I am so glad I ignored every review and all conventional wisdom to watch this dumb movie. There was certainly nothing to distinguish it as any sort of classic, but it provided me with a bizarre and intangible entertainment for an hour and a half...and for this I am grateful. The vast majority of what makes this flimsy premise actually pretty funny is how enthusiastically Will Forte throws himself into making an utter ass of himself as MacGruber with a refreshing lack of self-consciousness, dynamite timing and great physical comedy; whether he's making bizarre noises during sex or griping about his car stereo getting stepped on, he made me chuckle quite a bit. Kristen Wiig is as funny here as I've seen her lately and Ryan Phillippe works perfectly as essentially the Greek chorus of rationality and good taste to the stupidity around him. Despite looking like he's hit about three hundred pounds or so, Val Kilmer is slick as ever and takes an infectious glee playing the villain here. I can't believe they stretched one of SNL's most hit-or-miss gags into a feature length film--and I love how they incorporate the traditional skit--but it was far better than a lot of its contemporaries in that category. I sure wouldn't recommend going out of your way to see this movie, but if you find yourself with nothing better to do, I don't think you'll hate it. Oh, and Chris Jericho is gold in his one scene.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Linko! LXVI

Oh man, you guys. It's been a crazy few weeks here at the CKT. Without getting too personal, we've all been swimming in it in our non-blogging lives, but with this edition of LINKO! I'm hoping to dump off everything that's been sitting in my browser for two weeks and see a big return to more dopey content here for our dozens of beloved readers. I've got a metric ton of cool stuff for you guys to check out while you eat your third cold turkey sandwich, so let's get to it!!!

* First of all, because he's been uncharacteristically quiet about this so far, I should say that Ben and his team at Marvel.com have CRUSHED IT with their brand new redesign. I know all those dudes at the House of Ideas put in a lot of late nights over the past few weeks on this, but it really shows. Do yourself a favor and check out some of the new content like this intro story on the site itself (Written by our boy TJ Dietsch), a new installment of Marvel Super-Heroes What The?!? featuring Doctor Strange, the first in an all-new series of "The Watcher" videos hosted by the talented Grace Randolph (writer for Marvel Her-Oes) and Ben's own roundup of creator's Thanksgiving thoughts. Good jorb on the new Marvel.com, guys! (Or should I say NuMarvel.com? Damn, that bit never gets old)

* And hey, if we're tooting our own horns today (and when aren't we?), I've got to say that my News team at CBR has been all over it this week. If you don't believe my, feel free to check out this week's trio of interviews on the ten year anniversary of Ultimate Spider-Man, Dave Richards' two-part chat with Jonathan Hickman on his Marvel U work, our own Kevin's catch-up with Ben fav Fabian Nicieza or the announcement of Scott Lobdell's new Image book, Shaun Manning's fun talk with Mark Waid about BOOM!'s latest Stan Lee comic, Steve Sunu's mega-interview with Garth Ennis on The Boys, Josh Wigler's always worthwhile commentary track with Nick Spencer on Morning Glories as well as Josh's indispensable interview with Rian Hughes or Jeffrey Renaud's back-to-back Batman interviews with Grant Morrison and the entire Batwoman creative team. Oh, and I myself filed stories on Jeff Kinney, Paul Dini's TV team, Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada. Just sayin.

* And man, have I had a ton of fun/weird/interesting interviews get sent to me or pointed my direction the past two weeks. Check out Hearty Magazine's chat with Fart Party cartoonist Julia Wertz (although we really need to knock it off with all this "female cartoonist" bullshit...would you point out that someone was a female school teacher?), Whitney Mattheson's two-part Edgar Wright interview held at Bergen Street Comics, this left field chat with Mark Waid about Shazam comics, a really solid interview with Marvel artist Reilly Brown on fitting in to big events, a random e-mail chat with Tom Brevoort and this "you probably never thought about it" interview with composer Bear McCreary on the music for "Human Target" and "The Walking Dead." Whew!

* And hey! My old pals at Wizard Magazine have reignited a web presence with the blog Pie Monkey! I always kind of liked the magazine's '90s insistence that those two things were always worth a cheap laugh, so they had me at that name, but the content on the site so far is enjoyable as well, like this early tease at what inside jokes are in store for the new "Thundercats" cartoon show.

* I also REALLY enjoyed Matthew Murray's profile of the relaunch of Brit kids comic The Dandy over on The Beat. I enjoy learning about comics that never make it to American shops anyway, but I also have a real soft spot for Bannanaman from way back in the way back.

* A lot of fun think pieces/essays on comics hitting recently too. Here's a Minneapolis newspaper piece on how Scott Pilgrim bridges the Hipster/Geek divide. Then there's this After Ellen piece on queer identities in comics. And Sean T. Collins is SO right that Gabe Bridwell's account of his time at a Paul Pope/Craig Thompson/Svetlana Chmakova-led artist's retreat is a must read, despite the awful site design.

* I read this NY Times opinion piece by sometimes comics writer and all-around nice young lady Mary HK Choi on living in New York as a young professional woman about three times, and I still don't know what I feel about it. There's plenty in there I can identify with, but I have a hard time working up sympathy for anyone who throws themselves into the big city party scene with gusto and is then chewed up by it. Maybe that's just me.

* Comics to read! The indie fantasy story PFS by Billy Burkert and Jaime Van Wart was great. Thanks to Tom Spurgeon for pointing it out as well as this classic Donald Duck comic which brought back "Ducktails" memories for me like whoa. And if you haven't gone through James Stokoe's Orc Stain blog yet for all the radical things in there, I have no idea why you're still reading this blog.

* One non-comics bit: Changing Gears is worth your time if you've ever lived in a rustbelt or Midwestern town. It's an NPR series funded by multiple stations in Michigan, Illinois and Indiana focusing on what cities like Detroit and Gary can do to reinvent themselves like Pittsburgh has.

* Finally, you look like shit:

Paragraph Movie Reviews: The Kids Are All Right

If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back.

I dug this movie in large part because it defied my expectations of it. I went in not really knowing what I was getting other than knowing I liked the cast and it had good buzz; early on, I settled into thinking I'd be watching a decent feel-good flick about families coming together, overcoming the adversity of differences, etc., but this film is insidious in that way, as things are not as cut and dry as they appear from the onset and that was what I really sunk my teeth into. Indeed rather than being about coming together or overcoming anything, this movie showed how some challenges can be insurmountable when it comes to interpersonal relationships, people don't always live up to your hopes for them even if it seems they will at first, and yet in the end there is still the lesson that those who truly care about you will find a way to make it work. There is positivity in this story and just enough feel good, but you come to it through a filter of refreshing realism, not to mention an entertaining script that makes the drama and angst go down easier with healthy doses of wit and some great performances. Even amongst a pretty much uniformly strong cast, I'd say Mark Ruffalo stands out as the easygoing sperm donor rediscovered by his teenage kids who at the onset seems the ideal cool guy, but has so much more bubbling beneath the surface; trying to figure out whether or not Ruffalo's Paul was a decent person, a heel or somewhere in between was probably the most engrossing part of the movie for me. Annette Bening also does a great job as the more pragmatic and neurotic of the two lesbian mothers in the non-traditional family the film centers around; she brings both fire and realism to her portrayal of an imperfect woman doing her best not to lose her family. As the third point of the adult ensemble triangle, Julianne Moore is excellent (as she generally is), bringing great chemistry and subtle comedy to her part. The titular kids really are all right (forgive me for that) as both Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson prove capable of hanging right in there with their more experienced castmates and propelling things forward while getting some great lines in. I'll only take points off for the dismount in that the first two thirds of the film are far stronger than the final half hour or so, where after the big revelation things seems to grind and go on longer than necessary, with a conclusion that didn't fully satisfy me after a great set-up.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Five Comics Worth Reading: November 2010

I actually did not fall in love with Paul Cornell’s Action Comics right away, despite the fact that I was quite fond of Captain Britain and MI:13 and most people whose opinions I respect took a shine to it immediately; I liked it fine and knew I’d be picking it up for awhile because I appreciated the wit if nothing else, but I wasn’t head over heels. It wasn’t the Death issue that turned the corner for me—though it was good—it was the Gorilla Grodd issue, which was among the most delightful comics I’ve read of late featuring the unlikeliest of protagonists for such a tale. Cornell has demonstrated he definitely has a fairly grand vision for Lex Luthor that goes beyond just being the guy who loses to Superman, playing with previously established themes of power lust and whose preservation he’s really after, but in addition to the psychological song and dance, he also doesn’t mind having a giant monkey chase our “hero” with a big spoon with which he hopes to eat his brains. Tipping your hat to the silliness of the Silver Age but not letting the joke overwhelm the deeper commentary you’re attempting to me represents the essence of a really good DC comic, and that’s what Paul Cornell’s doing here. Additionally: Really nice to see Pete Woods finally playing with the big boys. Those Nick Spencer-written Jimmy Olsen back-ups ain't hurtin' either.

It was pretty much a given for me I’d enjoy this book, as it’s a spin-off mini from The Boys, which I love, written by Garth Ennis and featuring that title’s most endearing character, Wee Hughie. However, while Ennis being able to marry ultra-violence to tug-on-the-heartstrings stuff in his sleep is hardly news, he actually opts for less of the former here, just the right amount of the latter, and a good deal of psychological exploration into the main character to split the difference. Much of Hughie’s appeal lies in both his everyman status and that he’s the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet, but you really latch onto him because despite all his good qualities, life just seems to be cutting the guy shit breaks at every turn whenever he finds a glimmer of happiness; he’s almost Peter Parker in a mature readers book with a Scottish accent and better manners. He travels home here for a break from his current trials, and in the process we learn not just about his childhood, but see once more how he has experienced so many of the mundane challenges we all do and doesn’t bear them any better than any of us. He bemoans having a surrogate mother who was too over-protective even as he beats himself up for not appreciating her love enough and resenting his dad for subtly and perhaps unknowingly guilt-tripping him about it. As you can tell from most of what I write, I appreciate guys and girls in spandex fighting monsters as much as anybody, but as a pretty normal guy, I must say it’s a weird pleasure to read about a character whose cross to bear is that his parents were too nice (which is of course over-simplifying and ignoring a good chunk of the book, but I digress) when the story is done well.

The author of my beloved childhood Superboy series, Karl Kesel remains one of comics’ most underappreciated writing talents, a fact he’s proving once more with this series filling in the blanks on Jeff Mace, the second guy to serve as a surrogate Captain America while Steve Rogers was on ice following World War II. It’s a well-constructed adventure yarn, with the requisite fight scenes and double crosses as well as an air of mystery surrounding more than one supposed ally of our would-be Cap, but it’s also a hard look at Mace, the guy who had the tough job of filling in for a legend knowing all the while he could never live up to anybody’s expectations, including his own. Kesel certainly does a good job of presenting Mace as an impressive hero who doesn’t flinch (much) at the awesome burden he carries, but also weaves in the question of exactly what drives him, whether it’s patriotism or just a desire for accolades and acceptance (maybe all of the above), which certainly fleshes out this previously blank slate. However, much as I love me some Karl Kesel writing and will take it anywhere, any way I can get it, this book certainly goes over-the-top thanks to what I’d consider some career best work from artist Mitch Breitweiser. The washes of ink and carefully-constructed backgrounds Breitweiser and his colorist/wife Bettie surround the story’s players with create an ominous mood that distinguishes the world of Jeff Mace’s Captain America dramatically from Steve Rogers’ and adds even more gravitas to his struggle with his identity and figuring out who he can trust. It’s a captivating read and a great-looking book that I have a feeling will make a seminal collection; would love to see the occasional Jeff Mace adventure from these guys after the current run wraps.

Nearly 100 issues in, Bill Willingham is still finding ways to invigorate the expansive universe he’s created with Fables. The series has had its peaks and valleys, but I’ve been fairly impressed that after spending over five years building to one gigantic conflict then resolving said saga with a suitably epic climax, Willingham and the brilliant Mark Buckingham didn’t just pitch their tents and call it a day, a luxury they certainly could have laid guiltless claim to. While the book may have stumbled a bit following the Adversary’s big reveal and then again after the massive war, it has bounced back multiple times and now in the incredible creepy Mister Dark, an antagonist worthy of the big triple digit anniversary has emerged. Whereas the Adversary was a lot of show and ultimately not as much go (he was just an old man, after all), Dark tore through Fabletown like a hurricane, demonstrated enormous power from the get-go, and should prove quite the test for our favorite Fables. Notably, Willingham has been able to build Dark even while taking lengthy (like half-year long) excursions from the “main” story to dabble in stuff like Rose Red’s formative years, government politics on the farm, or just Ambrose hosting a baseball game, and I’ve enjoyed it all. I also admire the way he has a popular and still in many ways untapped core cast of characters, yet still dares to introduce new faces into the mix all the time. Supposedly there are now super heroes of all things around the corner, and I eagerly await the newest reinvention of Fables.

Jeff Parker hit some speed bumps when he first took over Thunderbolts, I think; he managed to crank out some solid stories, but he was really just putting the finishing touches on what Andy Diggle had set up, shepherding his predecessor’s characters through Siege and ending their story. Since Jeff kick-started the new status quo with the Heroic Age and put his own cast in place—with nods to the past by including the likes of Moonstone, Songbird, Mach-V and Fixer, not to mention Diggle’s own addition, Ghost—the book has been picking up steam, hitting a nice note during the recent Shadowland tie-in issues and knocking one out of the park with a great issue #150 guest-starring Iron Man, Thor and Steve Rogers. First and foremost, Jeff clearly relishes writing Luke Cage and getting to focus on the side of him that is both a result and proponent of redemption, as well as a guy who can act perpetually gruff and annoyed with those charged to his service, but deep down you know he’s got an internal grin whenever they do something right. I also dig that Parker is getting the book back to its roots though, as a series about how some villains can actually turn themselves around, but he’s upped the ante a little as far as making it more difficult to tell who will and won’t was out. The Warren Ellis/Andy Diggle era of villains getting to run wild as supposed heroes was fun, don’t get me wrong, but not knowing what’s going to happen next is a hallmark of classic T-Bolts, and I like seeing Parker along with ever-improving artist Kev Walker return that feel; it definitely makes the moments where Juggernaut surprises you or Crossbones finally says to hell with it that much more visceral.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Half Full

You know what's worse than eight issues? No issues.

Perspective: an absolute necessity for the comic book fan.

Thanks to Roger, Chris, Nate, et al for the magic while it lasted.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Age of Awesome

The entire Cool Kids Table would like to extend our sincerest congratulations to Mike "The Miz" Mizanin on becoming World Wrestling Entertainment champion earlier tonight. It's seriously a pretty cool accomplishment for a talented dude who most people never thought would make it at all.Somewhere, TJ is smiling.

I should also add it's always nice to see a Real World/Road Rules alum actually working a real job and being a productive member of society as opposed to letting MTV pay for them to go on vacations and be terrible role models (yes, I'm saying WWE wrestlers are better role models than MTV reality stars).

Monday, November 22, 2010

Comic Shop Stop: Catching Up - Part Two

I used to do these every week - run down what new comics I'm excited enough about that I spent monies on them. But the less I bought the last few months, the less I could post, and I just fell outta the habit. So here's the second post in a series of posts catching up on some stuff I bought since the summer ended that I wanted to share. Here's a link to the first one. It's all rad and I recommend it 100-and-12 percent.

First up, some books I grabbed online:

SIMPLE ROUTINES #12 - JP Coovert first came to my attention as a CCS grad a couple years ago, and since then, I've been a fan of his work including his journal minicomic. He's a young, talented comics creator with an upbeat original voice and style and that shines through in his work.

THERE MUST BE MORE: THE SEARCH FOR BIGFOOT'S BOX - A great example of how fun JP makes his comics, this album-sized adventure features JP and two other oddball characters on a quest whose purpose you can figure out from the title of the book. This, I think, is JP's second album-sized book and his deceptively simple cartooning really benefits from the larger size.

TOO FAR - Anthology time! Joe Lambert edited (and contributed to) this collection of new comics by James Hindle, Alexis Frederick-Frost, Coovert, Jose-Luis Olivares, Dane Martin and Alex Kim. All killer, no filler. I missed SPX this year and when I found out this book debuted there, I worried I wouldn't be able to get my hands on a copy.

Luckily, all the above comics are available at the One Percent Press store. Click on any of the artists' names for more info on each.

Dustin Harbin decided to chronicle his life for a year in short, four-panel strips, and now you can get your hands on the thoughtful, densely illustrated results from Koyama Press for only six bones! It's a great value, Dustin's a great artist and letterer, the production's great, it's all just...GREAT. Go check out Dustin's blog and buy other great stuff from him in his store.

Before Netflix, Youtube, and instant-watch video services, if you were a suburban kid who wanted to see a movie, you had to work your way to a video store. And that's exactly what Brent Schoonover's 12-page minicomic is about - three friends scouring their small town's video shops for a copy of Peter Jackson's gore-classic, Dead Alive! They talk about girls, innocently fantasize pulling off a major crime and contemplate the future in a way that makes this short story comfortingly recognizable to any kid who grew up in a small town. The landscape format gives the story a widescreen feel and as a horror fan, a video fan, a comic fan, and a fan of stories about suburban kids on a quest, I was entertained like crazy. I just wish I had a whole series of these instead of the one.

A new Jeffrey Brown book where he draws comics about how outrageously awesome cats can be!!! The above picture shows how the rad cover has two die-cut panels. Even if you don't like cats, you'll be charmed by the smart comics. If you do like cats, WHY HAVE YOU NOT BOUGHT THIS BOOK ALREADY?! (click here to see Jeffrey talk about the cover process on his blog)

And that's it for the stuff I've bought online. Now for quick rundowns on the manga I recently purchased. With manga, I'm a finicky fan, only picking up more indie-minded titles with a focus on character. So please please please, if you haven't read manga for one reason or another, I promise you there's stuff out there for you, so give some stuff a try.

PEEPO CHOO VOL. 2 - On the surface, it's about sex, action, and an anime-obsessed fan accidentally uncovering corruption behind the comics industry. But beneath that, Peepo Choo explores the cultural differences between western and eastern cultures as mistaken by residents of each. Fast, fun, crazed, and only 3 volumes long, this is my kind of manga. Volume 3 is due out in December.

7 BILLION NEEDLES - A social outcast high school girl stumbles onto an alien invasion plot in this updated manga adaptation of Hal Clement's sci-fi story. Hikaru Takabe's version has tight art, an isolated mood, and a stirring, slow-burn pace. Fun fun fun (and only 4 volumes long).

SATURN APARTMENTS VOL. 2 - In the far future, Earth is abandoned and humans live in a structure circling the planet. It's there that a young boy works as a window washer, a dangerous job that killed his dad a few years prior, but that allows the young boy to rediscover his father through the job. This look at blue-collar workers in a sci-fi setting is a knock-out, but the low-key art is the real draw for me.

More soon, including some single issues I picked up at the actual store...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ben's Indy Odyssey: Fred The Clown

My buddy Jordan recently recommended and lent to me a collection of Roger Langridge’s Fred The Clown, the material that from what I understand put Mr. Langridge on the map and led to such gigs as The Muppet Show and Thor: The Mighty Avenger. As more of a “civilian” than a lot of my other comic-reading buddies, Jordan certainly brings a different sensibility in terms of what he digs, so I was keen to read this just to try and get a handle on his tastes. However, that aside, I love Langridge’s work that I’ve seen in the mainstream, so I was even more curious to check out his signature series and see him really cut loose.

If like me you had heard of Roger Langridge peripherally prior to his more recent high profile stuff but are more familiar with his Muppet or Thor work, Fred The Clown is certainly a departure from that. This collection pulls together an unconnected series of strips and stories featuring a dim-witted and (mostly unintentional) clown in a series of misadventures that range from straight up slapstick to several somewhat bleak commentaries on a variety of subjects tinged with black humor. Again, if you know Langridge via his uplifting all-ages stuff—or just from meeting him, because he’s a heck of a kind gentleman—Fred The Clown may take you a bit by surprise with its often adult subject matter, fearlessness in embracing vulgarity and antithesis of the happy ending at most turns.

That’s not to say it’s not really good stuff, because it is.

To be honest, the very first story in the collection, “Dummies,” almost lost me. Despite knowing what I was in for, the darker elements definitely caught me off-guard, but Langridge infuses enough quirkiness in that even if the humor skews a little gallows for your personal taste, I think you’ll still find some appeal. What proved a challenge for me was that “Dummies” is a silent strip, most definitely not up my alley as while I can appreciate great art, I’ll always be a writing guy at my core and have trouble keeping focused on stories that don’t lead me with words. However, Langridge’s cartooning is so strong and adept that I still found enough to like not to bail out.

I’m glad I didn’t ditch after the first effort, because the enjoyment curve for me went sharply up. Langridge does a complete 180 with “Fred The Clown: An Illustrated History,” a text piece broken up by several short strips aping various classic cartooning styles over history and inserting the fictional evolution of Fred into the real life history of comic strips. It’s an absolutely brilliant piece of work that makes you wonder “is this real?” one sentence and the chuckle at the absurdity of it all the next. Langridge weaves a bizarre tapestry of Fred’s imagined creators and stewards, infusing sexual deviance, bizarre murder-suicide and illegitimate children into a piece that still packs in the humor and comments pretty incisively on the landmark movements in cartooning; it’s definitely Langridge at his best and showed a level of skill truly demonstrative of a great creator unfettered by restrictions.

“Illustrated History” sets the tone for the rest of the volume, as Langridge is wildly and boldly experimental, switching up formats by the page and proving up for anything; it’s a mix of hits and misses, but more of the first.

Stuff like “The Wretch,” a multi-page faux newspaper complete with articles, ads and miscellany, shows off the level of work Langridge is willing to put in. “Alphabent,” in which a Fred tale unfolds over a series of strips each hinging around a letter of the alphabet in the title, also demonstrates the creator’s ability to use clever formatting to improve upon an already-solid story. Also worth noting is something I already knew from Muppets but saw in spades here, and that’s Langridge’s proficient poetic ability and knack for creating sing-song rhymes that make you laugh with seemingly effortless skill.

There are some more “silent” bits and short stories that fell flat for me, but as I became ingratiated to Fred and what Langridge was doing in the stuff I did dig, I found myself discovering more redeeming qualities to just about every story and feeling genuine empathy for the poor clown in his professional and romantic misadventures.

Fred The Clown to me is a demonstration of the commendable imagination and impressive skill set of Roger Langridge, a man of capable of heartfelt drama, fun family fare, super hero work with a broad appeal and humor with a dark edge. I enjoyed seeing another side of his oeuvre and am anxious to see where else he can take me.

You can purchase Fred The Clown here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Art Attack: February 2011's Coolest Covers

Notes on the front end...

-I love Patrick Gleason's Damian.

-Fun fact: Once upon a time I almost got the scales of justice, as depicted on February's Captain America issue (albeit minus Cap and the Winter Soldier), tattooed on my shoulder. But it didn't happen.

-Cinderella has never looked so hot, I daresay. What a sentence to write...

-If he ever gets sick of Dorothy and friends, Skottie Young could draw one heckuva Uatu ongoing series.

-Iron Fist's new white variant costume is really growing on me. It suits him.

-Illuminati mini drawn by Juan Doe, anybody?

-Dustin Nguyen continues to blow my mind. As of February it would seem dude is taking on not one but two ongoing books in addition to continuing to crank out some of the best covers in the business.

-There aren't many characters I feel like Darick Robertson can't rock, but boy does Conan seem right up his alley.

-Holy crap there are Deathlok'ed super heroes in Uncanny X-Force! And Esad Ribic is doing interiors as well as the cover! I didn't realize how much my life was missing a Thing Deathlok until this week!

THE ALL-NEW BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #4 by Rick BurchettAMAZING SPIDER-MAN #655 by Marcos MartinBATMAN AND ROBIN #20 by Patrick GleasonBATWOMAN #1 by J.H. Williams IIICAPTAIN AMERICA #615 by Marko DjurdjevicCINDERELLA: FABLES ARE FOREVER #1 by Chrissie ZulloDEADPOOL #33 by Dave JohnsonDEADPOOL TEAM-UP #884 by Skottie YoungDETECTIVE COMICS #874 by Francesco FrancavillaFREEDOM FIGHTERS #6 by Dave JohnsonHAWKEYE: BLIND SPOT #1 by Mike PerkinsHELLBOY: THE SLEEPING AND THE DEAD #2 by Mike MignolaHEROES FOR HIRE #3 by Doug BraithwaiteIRON MAN 2.0 #2 variant by Marko DjurdjevicIRON MAN LEGACY #11 by Juan DoeJUSTICE LEAGUE: GENERATION LOST #19 by Dustin NguyenKING CONAN: THE SCARLET CITADEL #1 by Darick RobertsonS.H.I.E.L.D. #6 by Gerard ParelSPIDER-GIRL #4 by Jelena Kevic-DjurdjevicSUPERMAN 80-PAGE GIANT by Dustin NguyenTHUNDERBOLTS #153 by Greg LandULTIMATE COMICS CAPTAIN AMERICA #2 by Ron GarneyUNCANNY X-FORCE #5 by Esad RibicX-MEN LEGACY #245 by Leinil Francis YuZATANNA #10 by Stephane Roux