Sunday, March 10, 2013

Remembering the Wizard Years

To commemorate the 4th anniversary of the PanelsOnPages web site--which sprang from the ashes of the Wizard message board--Jason Knize put together a piece chatting with some Wizard alumni, including myself, talking about our time there and where we are now.

Really enjoyed participating in this with my long and rambling answers and even more dug reading the answers from my colleagues and friends. We talk about our favorite work and moments, plus it's a nice chance at least for me to say thanks to some of the people who got me where I am.

If you want some more insight into Wizard and the folks there, whether you're an old fan or somebody who's always been curious, highly recommend this one.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Emerald City Comic Con 2013: What I Got

Real talk: Emerald City Comic Con was an amazingly fun show. I feel like every time I go to a show I really love, I end up saying "This was the best show I've been to in ages," but this really was the best show I've been to in ages. I already went on a Twitter rampage talking about all the amazing people I got to catch up with, but I'd also be remiss if I didn't run down all the amazing comics I picked up.

Unlike so many media-focused cons that exist these days on the scene, there were no annoying people hocking mashmallow guns or Ugly Dollz or wrestler's autographs on the floor at ECCC. There were just rows and rows and rows of comic publishers, retailers and artists plying their wares. Since I'm contractually obligated by Uncle Money Bags to spend most of my time in panel rooms typing quotes, I didn't get to spend nearly as much time on the floor buying from people (artist's in particular) as I would have liked, but I did get some primo stuff from retailers that I'm excited to show off.

 The Steranko History of Comics, Vol. 1
With absolutely no embellishment, I can say that I've been looking to buy this book for a decade. Probably more than that. Jim Steranko's self-published history of the medium never got past two issues on its proposed six-issue run, but the volumes he did complete loom large amongst comic history nerds like myself.

I spotted this gem sticking up in a gathering of mid-70s Marvel treasury magazines, and immediately asked the vendor how much he wanted for it. It was a steal at $10, but I almost didn't get away with the book because when I handed duder the money, he stopped for a moment, looked at the cover with mournful eyes and went, "Can I just flip through it one more time?"

The guy proceeded to pour over page-after-page for about ten minutes, pointing out to me which Golden Age splash pages and Jack Kirby pencil recreations he scanned to make t-shirts with when he was younger. I can't laugh at him for this reaction. I'll likely be doing the same with some young turk in 2053.

 Palooka-Ville #s 10, 11 & 12

For years when I was a teenager, Seth's iconic series was one of my perpetual holy grail purchases at any con I attended, and I'd often only find a scattershot issue here or there. I think it took me two years to assemble the entire Kalo saga (he'd probably balk at my calling it that) in one place.

Today, I own all the material in these tree issue as reprinted in the Clyde Fans Vol. 1 collection, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to snap these bad boys up for a quarter a piece!

Helheim #1, Fatherhood #1 & The Sands #1
Considering my job, I should probably come home from cons with a lot more new releases from publishers and creators alike, but as it stands, most of my purchasing of new books happens at Challengers. Still, I was very excited to pick up a copy of Cullen Bunn and Joelle Jones' new Oni series Helheim as I feel both creators have done their strongest work at the publisher. And Fatherhood was an ECCC print debut from writer Ryan K. Lindsay who I've gotten to know online as an infrequent CBR contributor (fun fact: I had no idea he was Australian until I heard him speak!). Thinking picking up books like these will be my #1 goal come WonderCon.

Meanwhile, I'm ashamed to admit that I'm just getting to know Tom Hart's work after picking up the amazing Daddy Lightning last year from Box Brown, so I was very happy to find some of Tom's early work at a steal.

Darkstars #s 4, 7 & 8
All Travis Charest art is worth owning, even early "Jim Lee clone" era Charest work. In fact, I'ma go ahead and call early Charest the greatest Jim Lee clone that ever lived. Thank God he outgrew that, but I still have a soft spot for this series in my heart after seeing its covers in DC house ads when I was young, being blown away by them and then never being able to find the book in my LCS.

Critters #s 2, 4, 6, 7 & 37 and A*K*Q*J #1
I've always been curious about the early funny animal comics put together by Fantagraphics' Kim Thompson (who we just learned has lung cancer. All thoughts and prayers for a strong recover, Kim. We need you), so it was great to find so many issues of Critters and related books in a quarter bin. Not only does the series feature some of Stan Sakai's earliest Usagi Yojimbo material, it also has some dynamite cartooning from the likes of Sam Kieth and people heretofore unknown to me like Mike Kazaleh. But maybe the artist I'm most excited to get to know better is Danish cartoonist Freddy Milton, whose Thompson-translated strips channel Carl Barks without being part of Disney's universe/corporate control. Why in God's name don't more people do stuff like that?

The Flash #347
For the past five years or so, I've been absentmindedly picking up issues of "The Trial" – the epic/lamented/seminal Flash story that brought Barry Allen's original run towards its final days. I can't honestly tell what most people think about the quality of this story overall, but I'm looking forward to chewing on my own opinions of it now that I've got this final chapter in hand. I do know for sure that I LOVE me some later Carmine Infantino work. The thin geometric lines he uses on everything including people's hair just does it for me, man.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Art Attack: May 2013's Coolest Covers

-Colleen Doran is an artist whose work I've enjoyed whenever it's randomly popped up into a back issue of something I read, but I don't have that much exposure to her because, y'know, I mostly read super hero comics and she hasn't done many of those (at least not that I know of or in awhile). She was also really nice the one time I met her at a con. I'd like to see her art more. Would I like A Distant Soil? I honestly don't even know what it's about, but I feel like I might.

-Alpha: Big Time #4 has been the wallpaper on my computer at work for a little while now. Great concept, and also a great background that doesn't obscure your desktop icons.

-I'm rooting for Nic Klein. Guy's stuff on Winter Soldier is really visually bold and takes chances; it sets the mood and conveys the action perfectly. His Avengers Assemble cover here stretches him a bit out of the spy genre, but it's still dark stuff, being an Age of Ultron cover. I'd love to see his take on the classic Avengers, X-Men, etc.

-Alex Maleev makes the list twice this month. When he's on--and he's always on--his covers are just gorgeous. Both on Batman and Daredevil I dig the smoothness of color; it's a contrast to some of his more recent work on stuff like Moon Knight, which was still beautiful, but with a much rougher overall texture.

-The cover to B.P.R.D.: Vampire makes me miss Daytripper and wish it were an ongoing series.

-Is Mark Brooks the most clever cover artist working at the moment? Possibly. He knows how to have fun.

-Guardians of the Galaxy #3 was my desktop background for a bit, but as much as I loved having a raccoon staring at me while I worked (I'm, not being sarcastic), the aforementioned icons got lost. Also a great homage!

-Here's something about me: I love skeletons on fire in my comics, so it was a given I was going to like Jason Pearson's Suicide Squad cover.

-The other contender to Mark Brooks' reference a couple grafs back throne: Mike Del Mundo. Where does he get these ideas? Surely Daniel Ketchum has nothing to do with it...

-Jamie McKelvie wears a crown all his own as the king of using negative space better than a lot of artists use positive space (is "positive space" a thing?).

A DISTANT SOIL #30 by Colleen Doran

ALPHA: BIG TIME #4 by Humberto Ramos

AVENGERS #11 by Dustin Weaver



B.P.R.D.: VAMPIRE #3 by Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba

DAREDEVIL: END OF DAYS #8 by Alex Maleev

DIAL H #12 by Brian Bolland




SUICIDE SQUAD #20 by Jason Pearson

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #9 by Marcos Martin

UNCANNY X-MEN #6 by Frazer Irving

X #1 by Paolo Rivera

X-MEN #2 by Amanda Conner

X-MEN LEGACY #10 by Mike Del Mundo

YOUNG AVENGERS #5 by Jamie McKelvie

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The History of the X-Men in February

A couple days late, but here goes…

UNCANNY X-MEN #493 (2008)
We’re knee deep in the Messiah CompleX crossover here, and I’m also a few months into my tenure as a freshly minted Marvel employee, so this is a book I actually worked to promote. The plans for what was going on in X-Men were already pretty pat at this point (I knew the next year or so of stories even when I was back at Wizard) and I was still getting my sea legs as far as, so we didn’t do a whole lot on this—instead getting g ready for what was coming after, working a few months out—but it was cool to be involved. I was particularly enjoying this storyline both as a fan and somebody on the inside because it reminded me a lot of X-Cutioner’s Song and big crossovers of that ilk, where all the teams were involved, various masterminds were working at cross purposes—some villainous, some more shades of gray—and heavy emotional stuff was broken up by big fights, like the one in this issue where the Sentinels placed at the Xavier Institute by the government go haywire. Even though I don’t think any of the writers involved in Messiah CompleX were big X-Cutioner’s Song fans—I believe at the least Ed Brubaker and Mike Carey weren’t that familiar; I could see Chris Yost and Craig Kyle digging it; and of course Peter David actually worked on both stories—editors Nick Lowe and Will Panzo were (and are) big time. I really love David Finch’s cover here and also was a big fan of the New X-Men “kids” like Gentle getting a chance to shine against the Sentinels, as that was another thing I always liked about X-Men crossovers: the characters you didn’t expect to getting their moments.

UNCANNY X-MEN #416 (2003)
Another relatively standalone issue near the beginning of Chuck Austen’s run as Uncanny X-Men writer, and while I really dug both his opening arc and the Northstar story I discussed last time, I think this was the first time he overdosed a little on the soap opera (and this is coming from the world’s biggest Melrose Place fan). One piece of drama that seemed a bit forced was Nightcrawler asking Iceman if he wanted to go to the brothel Stacy X used to work at to help retrieve her belongings and then Bobby going off on Kurt kinda out of nowhere about how the original five X-Men were the only “real” X-Men, despite the fact I’m pretty sure Nightcrawler had logged as much if not more time than him on the various teams at that point. There are also several scenes in the school infirmary focusing on new character Annie, a nurse who has fallen in love with the comatose Havok, having gossipy conversations with Stacy, Northstar and others that come off as belonging somewhere else. There’s a nice subplot with Juggernaut and Sammy the Squid Boy where they bond over how crappy their childhoods were or something, but it wasn’t particularly memorable. I appreciated what Austen was trying to do, as he kind of had a lot of the same melodrama sensibilities I do, but it sometimes felt like he was trying to fit a lot of square pegs into round holes with his subplots and abrupt changes in characters’ personalities. Probably more interesting is seeing Manga artist Kia Asamiya’s take on the team, which was really unique and cool; I dug it even more when he got to open up with more action in the months to come.

UNCANNY X-MEN #352 (1998)
I picked this issue up on eBay sometime around 2004 when I was trying to fill in the holes in my collection, particularly the mid-90’s stuff. I love that it boasts right front and center on the cover “Featuring possibly the most artists ever on one title!” It’s a crazy awesome array of artists who would become big a couple years later like John Cassaday and Tommy Lee Edwards plus folks on the cusp like Terry Dodson and J.H. Williams III rounded out by the likes of Darryl Banks and Cully Hamner. The story is a bit of a throwaway, with Cyclops and Phoenix, who recently left the X-Men, flying back to Alaska and foiling a weird A.I.M. plot; meanwhile, back in Westchester, Archangel gets yelled at for not being around much and Cannonball gets a letter from Meltdown as he’s being budged off the team back to X-Force.

UNCANNY X-MEN #297 (1993)
One of my very favorite issues from when I was a kid that I think still holds up today as this is the epilogue to X-Cutioner’s Song—one of them at least—by Scott Lobdell and a young Brandon Peterson following three stories involving pairs of X-Men in the fallout of all the chaos. First up, Beast and Archangel fix the damages done by Caliban to Harry’s Hideaway, the local bar and restaurant the X-Men are always going to, and reminisce about their formative years at Xavier’s School, including a great bit where Warren remembers how he paid Hank to write one of his papers for him and got screwed when Professor X asked them to deliver the reports telepathically, then Hank admitting he tipped off Xavier—after he cashed the check—leading a stoic Warren to spray him with wood varnish. It’s a nice sentimental bit, and especially neat to see the at-this-time ansgty as all hell Archangel get razzed by his old buddy and smile a bit (they also get caught roughhousing by a cop and use their image inducers to pose as normal construction workers). Second there’s a short but sweet and crucial interlude with Rogue and Gambit where, for the first time, their flirting of the past couple years goes to the next level as she calls him out on the fact that he always teases her knowing they can’t touch, he walks away, then returns with a blanket to keep her warm and they share a tender moment. Last but not least, Jubilee encounters Professor X, who has regained his ability to walk temporarily, and convinces him he should try rollerblading, only to pull off a pier in a playful way (not a “trying to kill him”) way. They have a conversation about how he normally intimidates her but she’s seeing he’s actually pretty normal, which he takes as a compliment. At the end, he starts walking back toward his wheelchair, the lingering effects of the Techno-Organic virus cure wearing off, and when he starts to stumble, after initial reluctance, she helps him in the silent final panels. Since Jubilee came onboard during the period Professor X was away and never really had much of a bond with him, this was a neat idea. This issue was truly Lobdell at his best.

UNCANNY X-MEN #226 (1988)
The penultimate chapter to Fall of the Mutants; I picked it up during that same eBay X-Men run, but it’s back in Boston and just looking at the cover, I honestly can’t recall much about it. I remember more about the actual finale, where Forge screws everything up as usual and the X-Men fly up to where the Adversary is by using a combination of Storm’s winds with Longshot’s hollow bones and good luck powers (Longshot would end up being the big hero at the end of Inferno as well, so I guess Chris Claremont really liked him). Honestly, the thing that stands out most to me about this was that for some reason this issue was double-sized and the last chapter was not; I also liked the subplot with the reporters going into the war zone with the X-Men because they wanted to show the world mutants were ok.

UNCANNY X-MEN #166 (1983)
Another extra-sized issue that was technically only the second to last chapter of a big story, although #167 was really more epilogue anyway. This was the finish proper to the awesome first real Brood epic by Claremont where Paul Smith has taken over on art at this point and is doing a stellar job (just look at that cover). Cyclops gets taken over by the Brood egg inside him, screwing the X-Men big time (and leading to a great Cyclops/Wolverine fight), but ultimately gains control long enough to help turn the tide along with the newly-repowered Binary and Storm riding a big ol’ space whale. Lockheed also makes his debut (I think) here, saving Kitty Pryde and helping her head back into battle. Overall it’s just a satisfying story to read, as Claremont had done a great job really making me hate the Brood because of the gross and horribly invasive way they had gone after the X-Men and because our heroes had been through so much over the past several issues, so their win feels earned and good. It’s also a story with consequences, as Kitty in particular does not feel like the same character who came in, very much scarred and battle hardened by the experience, but struggling to hang on to her innocence. Finally, there’s a great cliffhanger, as the X-Men realize that there’s one Brood egg left, and it’s incubating in Professor X back on Earth…

X-MEN #109 (1978)
The X-Men are freshly back from their first real space adventure with the Shi’ar, and while Jean Grey tells her parents about becoming Phoenix, Wolverine along with Storm, Colossus, Banshee and Moira MacTaggert get ambushed on a picnic by Weapon Alpha, aka James Hudson, Wolvie’s old boss in what would become Alpha Flight as well as the future Guardians of that same team’s fame. It’s the first real hints of Wolverine’s past beyond the scene where Xavier recruited him from Canadian intelligence back in Giant-Size X-Men #1, and also the doorway to a bunch of great characters, as Mac would return not long after with Northstar, Sasquatch, et al. in tow. To this day, Dave Cockrum’s design for Weapon Alpha/Guardians stands out as a really slick one that you don’t need to be Canadian to appreciate, I don’t think. This issue was more or less faithfully adapted by the 90’s animated series in the “Repo Man” episode (they probably had Rogue and Gambit doing all the Colossus and Banshee stuff, I don’t recall).

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Paragraph Movie Reviews: Searching for Sugar Man

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

This documentary about Rodriguez, a relatively unknown would-be 70's rock star from Detroit, kicks off with a South African man talking about how this cipher is one of the best-selling and most influential musicians of all time in his homeland, but remains shrouded in mystery aside from rumors about how his career ended: with the artist lighting himself on fire and perishing during a live performance. With a hook like that, it's impossible not to immediately want to know more, and writer/director/producer Malik Bendjelloul does a great job peppering his work with cliffhangers and payoffs to keep the viewer riveted. The story of Rodriguez is a unique and incredible one, and, trying not to give too much away (though that's going to be tough) ends up being far more uplifting than the open would suggest. I will say that Watching for Sugar Man simply as a standalone piece I enjoyed it without much question, but after it won the Academy Award and was proclaimed the best documentary of the year, I did question a bit more about how good a job Bendjelloul and his collaborators really did and how much was just them getting compelling subject matter that did a lot of the work itself. The interviews Bendjelloul conducts are well-done and don't pull punches, but also seem to suggest that a lot of the leg work for the piece was done a decade earlier by South African fans and journalists, it's just being brought to light now; I certainly don't fault a filmmaker for happening upon great discoveries like that, but again, the success of the finished product opens it up to greater scrutiny. The graphics used for transitions and scene setting are a mixed bag, as some really caught my eye and stood out more than usual on a documentary, but on the flip side, others were distracting. If I find particular fault with anybody, I guess it would be cinematographer Camilla Skagerstrom, whose love for lengthy tracking shots of Detroit streets I don't share. I do think the whole thing was well-paced and, as I noted above, knows when to place the next hook, even if the focus can scatter. Also, it goes without saying that the soundtrack, taken completely from Rodriguez's catalog, is outstanding; the guy really was great. Even after applying the "did it deserve to be the best?" filter, I find I still really enjoyed Searching for Sugar Man; it's one thing to happen upon a great documentary subject, it's another to keep it compelling for even 86 minutes.