Sunday, April 26, 2009

Chronic Review: Amazing Spider-Man # 592

Script: Mark Waid
Pencils: Mike McKone
Cover: Joe Quesada

I'm going to tell you something, and you won't believe it. So just take a deep breath and please try to hear me when I tell you that Amazing Spider-Man has an awful lot going for it right now. Whew. There, I said it.

It's appropriate to loathe the way this series got to where it's at. I don't like The Deal With The Devil any more than you do. But at some point, a rational person must stop fixating on how a title got to a certain point and just focus on reality: where it's at. And after reading ASM # 592, I have concluded that this is exactly where an action superhero comic should be at.

The beauty of Spider-Man is in its blood simplicity. I can perfectly sum up the current hook as follows:

New NYC mayor J. Jonah Jameson doesn't like Spider-Man and sets a city task force toward hounding him 24/7. Spider-Man gets his hand-shake truce offer rejected and dedicates his life to riling up JJJ in the press 24/7. Let the hijinx ensue.

Do you see how simple that is? See how it makes perfect logical and emotional sense? Do you see how that could drive a whole boatload of highly entertaining stories? I wish more comics would quit trying to re-invent the "event" wheel and take notes from Mark Waid here.

Mark Waid is a guy with a bruised ego right now. Sure, you probably think of him (if you think of him at all) as the Grand Poobah at Boom! Studios. You say "Oh, he's the guy who's getting all those licenses for Boom!, training up their writing staff and making that company nearly relevant." And that's nice.

I don't think Waid sees himself that way at all. He's still nursing the wounds from his last Flash run. The one he poured his heart and soul into and watched as the world took a giant crap on it.

He's wounded. And he really wants to show evryone that he's still got it. I see him as a man on mission to prove that there are a few really great stories left in him, and it's showing through with some virtuoso work and great passion on this 24/7 Spider-Man arc. And that's a good thing. For everybody.

Aside from the driving action in this issue, which is fantastic, you've got character moments and sup-plots delicately planted as well. You've got Spidey in the window with popcorn as the Jameson's argue over the value of Spider-Man. You've got a mystery vigilante introduced. You've got a rescued child telling Spider-Man he reeks. And you've got one hell of a cliff-hanger at the end of the book as well.

Listen, I understand the natural inclination to resist this book. It's too obvious. It's got the stink of Mephisto still feintly on it. And with a rotating cast of writers, can it always be this good? I don't know. Do we really want to invest three times a month when everything else only asks just once? I don't know.

What I can say with certainty right now is that if you're interested in bang-for-your-three-bucks action superhero storytelling, Amazing Spider-Man is really good fit for you.

- Ryan

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Chronic Review: Viking # 1

Script: Ivan Brandon
Pencils: Nic Klein
Image Comics

I called my shot in Chronic Insomnia episode # 89, calling Viking the runaway hit of 2009. I called it without seeing a page, I'm that good. So after reading issue # 1, will the Manatee be backing off that prediction?

No way.

Listen, Viking is damn good. It's damn good, and it pops when you see it on the rack, and it feels comfortably sturdy when you hold it in your hand, and it reads fresh when you turn the pages. It costs $2.99 - are you kidding me? This is a godsend, and it will do very well by whatever means you care to measure it.

The first thing you notice when you look at it is its size. It's big. And it's about rough and tumble Nordic warriors, so it damn well should be. You may want to cry because it won't fit in your modern size mylar bag. Go fuck yourself.

Find a golden age bag and board, or better yet just throw it in the long box. The card stock cover is sturdy, it'll take it.

I've said many times that I am unfit to comment on the art inside any given comic. Even I know that this book looks different and looks gorgeous. It has a certain painted quality, and sometimes looks exceptionally life-like. It doesn't look like anything else I'm reading right now. I doubt it looks like anything else on the stands.

My priority is storytelling and characterization, and Ivan Brandon surely does not disapoint there. This is a tale with a goer of a plot: it centers mainly upon Finn and Egil. They are Viking raiders bent on making something of themselves in the crime game.

Those goals naturally lend themselves to violence, which Brandon and Klein depict with unflinching brutality. These are not nice people, and they are dealing almost entirely with not nice people.

Juxtaposed against these "social climbers" are king Bram and his daughter Annikki. Anni in particular seems like she'll be used as a counter-balance to the "get them before they get you" mentality that permeates Finn and Egil's world. The book needs that.

We might enjoy the occasional heartless bloodletting, but it's difficult (for healthy people) to continuously connect with that. We need someone humane to escape into, and Anni should provide that.

This book dodged several traps quite nicely. No flashbacks or fancy footwork with the storytelling. THANK YOU. Confusing the reader does not make your book smart. I wish more indie writers were taking notes on that.

Brandon's characters speak in a unique style and meter. Is it authentic? I don't know and frankly don't care. What I do know is that the words are clever, seem to fit the world perfectly, and make you want to read more of them. Amen.

I think the thing that most impressed me about Viking was the fact that it does not apologize for or glorify its violence. This is an often ugly world Brandon and Klein are exploring, and they do not shy from it. But there are consequences for that ugliness. Finn and Egil are already learning that lesson painfully by the end of issue # 1.

And that's another trap dodged - the Spinning Wheels Syndrome. Mr. McFarlane, are you out there? This is how you move an action story forward. It's called energy and a running pace.

Hey, Viking came into my mitts with a metric ton of hype and didn't dissapoint. It's the Buzz Book of 2009, it's coming at a refreshing price point and it deserves to be in your collection and pull list, period.

- Ryan

Friday, April 10, 2009

Market Spotlight: Blog Edition

Five Fists of Science

Scripts: Matt Fraction
Pencils: Steven Sanders

By: Image Comics, 2006

Remember this little gem from a couple years back? Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla square off against JP Morgan and Thomas Edison with the fate of the world at stake! Fraction does his homework as usual and spins an incredible tale of super science with more fact than fiction.

Well, our little Matty Fraction is all grown up now. Hits like Immortal Iron Fist, Invincible Iron Man, and Uncanny X-Men have really put him on the map.

Folks must be going back looking for earlier Fraction material, because Five Fists of Science is commanding more than $50 a pop on Amazon. Suggested retail was $12.95, so it's possible this book is collecting dust in your local comic shop for a "Fraction" of the cost. Wow, am I clever!

Be looking for Five Fists next time you hit the shop on Wednesday. Any other potential plays? It hasn't hit yet, but I don't think it's out of the question to see Casanova material spike as well.

Tim Callahan calls it one of the most important books being published, and looks to be regarded as Fraction's masterpiece. And print runs are tiny on that one. That means a little interest make prices go boom.

- Ryan

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The New King of D.C. Comics???

In his latest Permanent Damage column, Steven Grant is reporting that ultra-conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch is purchasing DC comics!

It's quite a tale, actually. Grant has been supplementing his income as a Hollywood consultant. One of his producer contacts pumped him for information about what he'd do with DC comics if he were running the company and what it would take to purchase the comics publisher.

Seems Murdoch is interested in DCs intellectual property so he can create a synergistic multi-platform entertainment factory. And now Grant is reporting that this fantasy has become a reality - that former Fox exec just called him as a representative of a new Murdoch firm: publisher of DC comics!

The broad strokes are that Murdoch would own the lion's share of DCs characters, but would kick a portion of new licensing deals to Warner Brothers. Warner would also retain the rights to Batman and the Vertigo imprint under the proposed deal.

According to Grant, this thing is all but in the bag, although no major news source has picked up on it, and neither has comics top beat reporter, Rich Johnston. Grant's source apparently told him to keep the entire thing under wraps - unless he put it in his April 1 column so that everybody would interpret the news as a hoax! And that's exactly what he did.

I don't know if this is a joke or not. But if this is true, my guess is that this is going to have major ramification for comics.

Because he'll run DC into the ground? Nah. Whatever you might think of Murdoch's politics, he seems to be plenty astute as a businessman. I suppose the big concern would be creative interference. But then again, this is the entity that brings us Family Guy. I don't see Murdoch censoring or squashing creative energies.

And didn't we predict doom and gloom for that bastion of liberality: The New York Times? Seems to be humming along to the left just fine. No, I think comics as stories continues relatively untouched by the move.

But remember that fine print where DC has the option to buy out monopolistic distributor Diamond? DC has never followed through on that, but it makes a lot of cut-throat sense to eliminate the middle man and distribute your own books while crushing your competition with unfavorable rates.

Think about it - why wouldn't you own your distribution chain and raise the rates on Marvel? I don't know if that's good for comics, but it sure is good for DC. Plus, Diamond owner Steve Geppi is really hurting for cash and probably can't wait to draw up the paperwork.

At that point Marvel and the rest would either have to create or develop an alternative distributor (probably good in the long term, probably quite painful in the short term) or let DC dictate terms. Ouchie.

The point is that I don't see Murdoch letting that loophole slide. If this is for real, I'd look for DC to take over Diamond very, very soon. Buckle up, kids, it should be a hell of a ride!

- Ryan