Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chronic: Week in Reviews

Coffee, tea......or me? Well, that's me. With tea. Twinnings Irish breakfast tea, actually. Thanks to Cian for putting me onto that little delight, and thank you Ireland for being populated entirely by hilarious and angry people.

I was going to sit down and start hammering out another lengthy, dull review for nobody to read. I've decided that I would very much like to spend my evening watching episodes of Fringe while drinking more of this tea, so instead prepare yourself for a slew of items touched upon quite briefly.

The first thing I need to get to is Fantastic Four # 578, which was extraordinary as per usual. My love affair with this book is now well documented, so I should probably just shut up about it. Nah.

Eaglesham paints a scene in this issue when Johnny brings a bimbo home that is so deliciously just have to see it. And by the way, that little bimbo was part of yet another layer that Hickman is layering onto this cake, which is already about 70 layers deep. This is the must read book in Marvel comics right now.

And remember those "home page" epilogues at the end of the last several issues, that read almost like a historian's recap of connected events? Turns out that our little Valeria has been creating those notes. It's also implied that she's worked out the "four cities" on her own, and I'm not convinced that her father has pieced that together yet. Clever girl, clever girl. I repeat: this is the must read book in Marvel comics right now.

Not far behind is Matty Fraction's Invincible Iron Man # 25. Or as I like to call it these days - Iron Man: Undouched! Tony Stark's recently uploaded mind doesn't contain any of the completely absurd crap that Mark Millar made him do, and voila! It's a brand new day, only without the Mephisto fisting.

Incidentally, Fraction is self-effacing enough to admit inside the book how silly it would be for Tony Stark to leave himself with an incomplete memory when he could have very easily had it refresh itself daily. I like that, actually.

That issue also contains a new foil in the form of Detroit Steel, some Machiavellian hijinx from the Hammer girls, and a cannot miss conversation between Tony Stark and Thor. This is mainstream superhero comics done correctly. Why this won't be offered at movie theaters across the nation on May 7 is beyond me.

Siege: Secret Warriors is kinda fun. This is about as good as you can hope for with these obligatory event tie-ins. There is a scene in here with Cap and Nick Fury that is so over the either love it or you hate it. Maybe it's just my man crush on Jonathan Hickman, but I choose to love it.

This was my first exposure to Phobos, being that I don't read Secret Warriors regularly. I just picked this up for friend of the show Nick, and the tax he paid for me buying this was me reading it. At any rate, the Phobos stuff was directly related to the events of Siege # 3, and an interesting avenue to take, and executed with some care. I particularly liked the letter to the President at the end. Hall of fame? No. But these things are so often a crime against God and Man, so anything better than blind rage is probably a huge win.

I finally did score a copy of X-Factor # 204 at the Source. Bleeding Cool is feeling some market heat on this one with the unadvertised first appearance of the New New Avengers. I guess I can see that, although I'm not convinced that's why I had such a damnable time finding one of these. I honestly can't explain it.

Incidentally, X-Factor continues to kick seven shades of ass. The cliffhanger ending in this one can't possibly be true, and that's fine. The hook is finding out how Mr. David button-hooked us next month. This isn't pathetic false emotional gravitas a la X-Factor # 26. This is a showman at the top of his game having fun.

I like Peter David a lot. I just bought the Soulsearchers and Co. trades - that's how much I like Peter David.

I've recently decided that I need less money and have started collecting comic shop promotional posters! My first purchase was this Miracleman ad from 1985. It's got a DNAgents advert on the other half of it. I'm going to display mine with just Miracleman showing.

Why would I do this to myself? I don't know. I guess because I don't have the funds to collect original art, and something feels special about certain items. I look at this thing and say to myself "This could have been on the walls at Shinders 25 years ago, and nobody would have known how much trouble this little no-name UK character would cause for everyone." I would imagine Miracle Keith would be super jealous that I have this, except for the fact that he probably has three of them. Signed by Alan Moore. In the blood of Glycon.

I'm sure there's nobody in this boat, but for those of you whose first exposure to Hack/Slash was issue #'s not always like this. Wow. I'm not mad or anything, because Seeley is on his way out of DDP and needed to get these things on the rack so he could move on to Image.

This comic doesn't really contain any pencils, we're pretty much left with the breakdowns. Seeley's cover looks like it was created by his 13 year-old self in about 15 minutes. It's kinda sad in that way. The silver lining is that everybody got paid, and this little gem can shine again at Image very soon. Good news!

I forgot to give Mike my copy of DV8: Gods & Monsters # 1 so he could read it. This is Brian Wood rebooting the concept, which was basically Gen 13 kids only really, really naughty. The concept is actually quite good. The team is dropped onto God knows what planet and left to their own devices in what looks like some kind of a "Trading Places" dollar bet about what would happen to the poor natives.

The concept is indeed good, the execution to this point has been lackluster. It's a set up issue, so I'll give benefit of the doubt on that. I'd really rather wait for the trade on this...but we'll see. I think part of the problem is that I have no prior love for any of these characters, so there's no juice for me in seeing how they've grown/twisted since I last saw them.

We just recorded the first real edition of "Nerds of the Round Table", and idea born from Mike and Mike mostly in which a rotating cast of podcast stalwarts tackle varying subjects as time and interest permit. We decided to tackle Iron Man 2, which is coming out in about a week, and the show went pretty well.

For some reason the blog won't create a clickable link for the podcast, so here's the gobbledygook:

For the record, I'm predicting disappointment for the film. I have great faith in the director and the cast. I have zero confidence in Justin Theroux, and the reports I'm hearing about the rushed, shifted on the fly, clusterfucked nature of this production leave me more than a little concerned. They went in with essentially no script, and their non-script got wholesale re-worked right up to about.....five minutes ago.

It's one thing to allow yourself the flexibility to let better ideas creep in and the talent to shine in unexpected ways. It's another thing to go in without much a plan and make crap up as you go along. That's a good way to run an episode of Chronic Insomnia. It's a really dicey way to produce Iron Man 2. Don't get me wrong...I'm anticipating this film more than anything else in 2010, and I'm going to go see it in the theater. I'm scared, though.

Good night y'all! I'm off to watch the adventures of Olivia Dunham and Walter Bishop....


Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Friday, April 23, 2010

Chronic Review: Crossed Family Values # 1

Crossed: Family Values # 1
Avatar Comics

Script: David Lapham
Pencils: Javier Barreno
22 brutal pages for $3.99

It's possible to consider Crossed: Family Values and come to the conclusion that this is the easiest turn-key property in the world to take over. You grab a couple of stock victims, add copious amounts of infected Crossed, then serve with rape and murder. Easy, right?

Incorrect. If that's all you got out of Garth Ennis' volume one of Crossed, you missed a bunch of stuff, actually. What you most sorely missed was the blurring between these infected "monsters" and Joe from the block. They really aren't that different, given the right environment. That's the scary truth of series one.

If you want to do a Crossed book correctly, it isn't enough to shock. You must shock, of course, but there has to be something deeper to cling to. Eventually any stimulus loses its potency if you go to the well too often, even depravity. The other potential pitfall for a book like Crossed is that if you don't layer it with something humane or elevated, you start to endorse or celebrate the filth inside. It's supposed to make you want to throw up, folks.

My point is that David Lapham had a more difficult tight wire to walk than you might imagine. Water it down, and your core audience wants to know where the anal rape with a wire brush went. Succumb to base shock value only, and you're writing an advert for torture porn. Neither really works.

I'm very pleased but not surprised to inform you that Lapham took the torch from Ennis without a hitch and done us all proud. This is filthy, aggressive, difficult to get through in spots horror book with a worthy theme. In the first volume, Garth Ennis showed us the depths of human evil and told us a story about what it takes to survive it. In Crossed: Family Values, David Lapham appears to be showing us the costs of defying that evil.

It isn't easy to do, of course. Edmund Burke taught us that all evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Then Stanley Milgram taught us that nothing is exactly what good men do in the face of evil. Of his original 40 test subjects, only one refused to hand out dangerous/lethal electrical shocks to their memory test partner. Scary, huh?

There are the Crossed in this issue, to be sure, coming in waves and as disgusting as ever. But the real evil in this six issue mini appears to be the father of the Pratt family. He's been doling out all flavors of abuse to his family for years, and just as those sins appear to be coming home to roost...the Crossed show up.

Pratt's daughter Addy is the gateway character. We're getting to know her and the Pratt family better than we did Stan and the rest of the gang from volume one. One of the departures Lapham is making from Ennis is more emotional investment in the characters, which should pay off handsomely when the inevitable and the unthinkable does happen to these people. This is not a hodge-podge collection of strangers, either. We're now dealing with a church-going family of horse ranchers from sleepy North Carolina.

Addy has an awful choice to make. It's difficult enough to break out of traditional roles and challenge an abusive father. The family is now in a position where this regular monster is about the only thing standing between them and a horde of Crossed monsters. Do you choose the devil you know? Can you take the stand when you "need" your abuser?

These are difficult subjects to broach, and I suspect Lapham will continue to handle them with courage and intelligence. I considered Crossed volume one to be one of the most important books of 2009 because of its unflinching look into human nature. Family Values may be even more important, and a worthy successor to the original.

Please do not misunderstand me. This is not a Lifetime movie of the week. Crossed has been, and still remains that most brutal horror book I've ever picked up. I have a high tolerance for gore and all things taboo. This book gets to me. Once infected, the Crossed become distilled evil, and their entire existence becomes fully dedicated to hurting those around them. Any contact with blood, saliva, or any other bodily juices gets you into the club right quick. After that, it isn't enough to kill and dismember, although trust me, they'll get to that. First, they're going to try and make you feel as much psychological pain as possible.

Crossed is unique, high caliber horror. If you're a fan of that genre, Family Values is an absolute must read. Dave Lapham is proving to be a perfect fit for the concept, and the only place I can complain at all is on price point, as usual.

- Ryan

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Chronic Review: Green Arrow # 32

Green Arrow # 32
DC Comics

Script: JT Krul
Pencils: Federico Dallocchio
22 pages for $2.99

Boy, was I excited about Green Arrow # 32. You may recall I read the last issue and was pleasantly surprised. Krul was writing the story of a man gone too far with real emotional gravitas. There was blood on Ollie's hands, he was irritating everyone around him, and he was clearly not done with his vendetta.

The promise was for months and months of bridge-burning, moral choices, and a fresh ballsy take on a character I had previously been uninterested in. Green Arrow # 31 set quite a banquet. Green Arrow # 32 pulled everything off the table and then whizzed in my mouth.

I have never seen any book kill so much positive momentum so quickly. This was a runaway sports car that inexplicably hit the emergency brake and spit its smoking transmission out onto the pavement.

I don't want to give too many of the spoilery plot points out. To be clear, there are "happenings" in this book. It isn't that it lays still. Far worse than that, it reverses everything it was headed toward just 30 days ago in such an abrupt and unfulfilling manner that I half feel like filing a complaint for emotional abuse.

Ollie's quest for vengeance takes a left at Albuquerque.....hard. I won't say that his decision made no sense. In many ways, it made perfect sense, and sort of salvaged him as a heroic figure. But then why go through the sham of being interesting in the first place?

Ollie Queen went from a compelling man on fire to mopey-ass wet fish before you could turn the page. Gone was all the rage, all the intriguing possibilities, all the months of drama that could have been milked. Instead we get self-esteem problems and apathy. How wonderful.

Green Arrow turns himself in and heads to trial. That's where the only interesting item in the issue occurs - what Ollie does to Superman during court is actually entertaining. But this is also where the story gets disingenuous. If you're going to pull the rug out from your readers, at least make it sensible.

Queen is declared "not guilty" for the murder of Prometheus by a jury of his peers, and now insufferably self-pitying Green Arrow chastises the jury in his inner monologue. But waitaminute.....if Oliver so desperately wants to be punished for his sins, why didn't he...oh, I don't know....plead guilty??? If that's how he really felt about it, it makes no sense to put it in the hands of a jury. The decision is bullshit, patently transparent bullshit that serves preserving the status quo instead of the story.

I would have preferred one of two things. Either:

A) Go forward with where things were headed, and let Green Arrow's path of vengeance churn out months and months of potentially relevant and certainly entertaining stories about a hero gone bad.

B) Go forward with the new and not so improved Depressive Arrow, plead guilty, and run wild with a comic book preview of that "Supermax" Green Arrow prison movie they've been whispering about for years. You want action? You want redemption? Throw that dude in the clink and let him duke it out with the riff-raff. Sure, Brubaker just did it with Daredevil. You try to top him, out do him. I would respect that.

What we get is a judge who reads the "not guilty" verdict and somehow decides to gulag the man from Star City. Correct me if I'm wrong, here, but "not guilty" means "free to go". You can't just disagree with a jury and make up your own punishment if you don't like it. I know this is comics, but how am I supposed to buy into ANY of this?

This wasn't a story. This was a complete demolition of a story in the name of creating a fresh new re-booted # 1 issue. Fuck that. Fuck that in the face. This could have been special, folks. But we'll never know how special, because a whole year's worth of good comics were absolutely GOAT-ASSED inside of 22 pages. I'm guessing it's an editorial edict. Maybe Krul just lost his balls and bailed. Whatever it is, it sucks.

The sad thing is, this is probably a decision built on dollars. "We can't make this beloved character legitimately human and edgy, what will people think?" Well, they might actually buy your books. There's a novel concept. It's so weak, and right now I'm embarrassed for DC over their ridiculous bait and switch, and I'm embarrassed for myself for still buying into it.

Green Arrow just hit the chopping block.....NEXT!

- Ryan

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Chronic Review: Pantheon # 1

Pantheon # 1
IDW Comics

Script: Mark Andreyko

Pencils: Stephen Molnar

22 pages for $3.99

I don't know why every washed up actor or rock star believes they need a comic book. But apparently, they do. Me, I'm willing to give anybody a shot. Show me you got the chops, I'll acknowledge it. And every once in awhile, some dude from My Chemical Romance will pop out of the woodwork and produce the Umbrella Academy. So it isn't out of the question for some pseudo star to produce viable work. I think the difference is that Umbrella Academy isn't some schlep with a marketing gimmick trying to boost album sales or trying to save us lowly comics folks from ourselves with his glorious presence. (Tyrese Gibson, I'm looking at you, kid) When a Gerard Way or a Jonathan Ross shows up with a child-like glee, good things can happen.

But it's rare. For every Umbrella Academy, I can think of a host of ridiculous failures: Dominatrix, Mayhem, Incarnate, Voodoo Child, Shadowhunter, Berserker...we could do this all day.

And truth in advertising - Michael Chiklis is claiming nothing more than a co-creator credit. So whether it's good or bad, we can't hang much of it on Vic Mackey. So with that out of the way, what's Pantheon all about, and how does it shake out compared to the other "star" creations?

Pantheon is a bit of a mess, but it appears to focus mainly on Hamilton Finch, who likes old stuff. Apparently, he's just a regular dude who got himself aboard a pirate vessel so he could squirrel away a few items for himself, so they weren't scratched or damaged or something. Think of him as Indiana Jones, only without being interesting or competent.

Somehow this whole pirate raid on "Old Miami" has something to do with a terrorist attack on Greece, which has mysteriously come up with a previously unknown oil patch. Because you know, Exxon didn't really put many resources into that sort of thing, so these babies are hiding everywhere.

Somewhere at the bottom of the Grecian blast a rescue worker opens Pandora's box, which launches sparks across the globe, and a piece of that hits Old Miami just as good old Ham is being eaten by a shark, which was the closest thing to entertainment this comic provided! Get that annoying little shit, Jaws!!!

As it turns out, the site the pirates were about to raid before it was bombarded with Pandora Particles features....Zeus! Dun! Dun! DUNNNN! Zeus looks remarkably like Michael Chiklis. Only with a beard. Very weird. The word "hubris" comes to mind...but I'm not sure it's big enough.

At any rate, Zeus saves Mr. Finch from entering the belly of the beast (doh!) and brings him into his house. Presumably because they share a fancy for antiques.

Listen, this is childish paycheck comics at its worst. Marc Andreyko can write, too, folks. Go check out Manhunter and you'll see what I mean. Pantheon is a "mystery" comic, and its the bastion of a lot of really, really, really weak writing. Go check out Spawn: Endgame and you'll see what I mean.

When an author can't make something interesting, they'll either make it gratuitous (via sex or violence) or they will shroud the story in "secrets". As though confusion or ignorance is any kind of substitute for quality. Ooooh, what's that spark that came out of the box? Who is responsible for that terrorist attack that happened to nobody we care about in a country we don't care about? Why is Zeus sitting in Miami?

We don't care. If Zeus said or did anything entertaining, we might care. If the "high gas price" world Andreyko created was in any way fresh or novel, we might care. If Hamilton ever broke out of a cliche or said something witty, maybe we might give a shit. Jane Goodall jokes? Five more minutes, mom? No. Thanks for playing, but no. Your "mystery" lays dead, because the audience requires some investment to wonder about the principals. We don't care.

You want to know how to do a mystery book? Go find Y the Last Man. Every male animal in the world drops stone dead except two? Yeah, now I'm interested. Yorick and Agent 355 were fully developed characters who behaved in a manner that caught the attention, surprised, made one laugh, and developed. THAT'S how you write a mystery book.

This is nonsense. The "Gods on Earth" schtick is fine, but it's been done, so you better bring some zest with you if you're going to do it. This is cliche soup with a "B" actor's name attached to it. For $4 a pop. I'll pass, thank you.

- Ryan

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Chronic News: Nosferatu!

If you listened to the last episode, you heard me talk about my encounter with a vampire on Monday. And you probably thought to yourself:

"What a dumb ass. That's not even funny."

You're isn't funny. It goddamn happened to me. I live and work in a city featuring the Undead Denizens of Hell. There are goddamned Nosferatu running around my city, and it is frightening.

You know in some pieces of the vampire mythos, you cannot photograph a vampire. This clearly puts that to rest. And in another part of the vampire mythos, this person is not that interested in sucking blood, but mainly wants you to believe that you're a chicken. It's possible that my broadcast partner is the only person on planet earth keeping that tradition alive, which is fine.

At least he isn't sparkling and pissing me off with his bed head Gothitude. I like my vampires bald, ugly, and ready to rip some throats out without any psychological baggage about it. Jesus, we're food, vampires have to eat, too. No reason to visit the therapist about it, really.

So that's my story. Some of you are floating out there comforted by the fact that horror movies are just fantasy. Fuck you. The creatures of the night are living among us, trying on Lee jeans, and leaving them neatly folded in retail fitting room stalls near you. Sleep tight, America!

- Ryan

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Chronic Review: Ultimate X # 2

Ultimate X # 2
Marvel Comics

Script: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: Art Adams
23 pages for $3.99

OK, this is my new guilty pleasure. The goddamn thing costs $4 and there's no reason why I should subject myself to that level of abuse. The thing is, I had such an unexpected visceral response to the first issue that I had to check in with the second issue to see if Loeb had caught lightning in a bottle or if there was really something to the series.

There's really something to it.

Issue two is the story of Jean Grey, although she's traded in her old identity and has become a raven-haired beauty by the name of Karen Page. The problem with trying to remain incognito in the 21st century is that everything is instantaneously public. An innocent Facebook photo posted by a starry-eyed boyfriend ruins Ms. Page's anonymity, and then all hell breaks loose. Jean mindwipes as many witnesses as she can and resolves to start over, and then Jimmy Hudson bumps into her at the end.

It isn't the plot that gets me, although it isn't bad, either. There is something about Ultimate X that completely replicates the feeling I used to get reading comics back in the day. It doesn't mimic the dialogue/format/pacing exactly, at least I don't believe it does.

What it does is tap into some hyper-cool mixed with a splash of psychological visibility. In the 1980s, comics "got me" in a way that other media did not. What I mean to say is that when I finished reading, say...X-Men, or Dreadstar, or Power Man & Iron Fist, it was wide-open action combined with melodrama, and that was what spoke to me. I'd say it still speaks to me.

Comics were the best of movies and television times ten. Technology has allowed them to catch up a little bit. Now comics are the best of movies and television times three. And there were a lot of stories revolving around misunderstood, under appreciated, persecuted loners. That's how everybody sees themselves, I suppose, but nothing could be more pertinent to the Teenage Manatee.

I think that's what comics have forgotten lately. The juice isn't which character will "die" this month, or whether the Hope baby can actually save the day, or who the members of the All New Super Ultra Double Ultimate Avengers lineup will be. That's all marketing bullshit. That's like buying your candy bar for the wrapper. It aint about plot, folks.

The juice is recognizing that it's part of the human condition to feel special, or at least attempt to be special, and find that the world tends to take a dump on your face regardless. That's where the X-Men's power has always come from. You may be gifted, but there are a lot more of "them" than there are of "you", and it hurts like hell to feel unloved. It's inspiring to see characters a bit in your boat, so you can see them feel your pain and try to rise above it. I suppose it will sound strange and slightly psychotic....but I rose above a lot of my pain because Scott Summers and Matt Murdock and John Constantine taught me how to do it.

This is the magic of Ultimate X, and quite frankly, it's high magic. I don't mean to suggest that it's sophisticated, or groundbreaking. Jeph Loeb did not re-invent the wheel - he was wise enough to pull a really good old one off the wall. No, it isn't Sandman. But not everything has to be. It's like criticizing Van Halen's 1984 for not measuring up to Vivaldi. They're not the same thing, there's room for both in your Ipod, and sometimes you just want to listen to "Hot For Teacher". There's nothing wrong with that.

Ultimate X is a superhero soap opera of the highest caliber, and I'm way into it now. The problem from here on out is that most stubborn of hobgoblins, the goddamn price point. I will not abide paying $4 for a regular sized book. I just won't.

So I'm now done with the monthlies unless they drop the price. If I can get the trades for a reasonable price, I look forward to that with great anticipation. It's a shame, though, that we're being held hostage by the price whores on this one.

- Ryan

Friday, April 9, 2010

Chronic Review: S.H.I.E.L.D. # 1

S.H.I.E.L.D. # 1
Marvel Comics

Script: Jonathan Hickman
Pencils: Dustin Weaver
34 pages for $3.99

"And tomorrow is nothing but the promise of possibility."
- Leonid, S.H.I.E.L.D. # 1

This is a difficult comic to review. On the one hand, this book is a joy to read and fairly crackles with energy, and you find yourself eager to turn the pages to see the next incredible surprise buried in earth's previously untold Marvel history.

Hickman turns S.H.I.E.L.D from a formidable but geographically/chronologically limited government agency to an immortal, history-spanning global defense cabal. Imhotep prevents a Brood invasion, Zhang Heng battles a Celestial, and Galileo takes on Galactus. Are you kidding me??? Awesome. This issue contains more good ideas than most books carry in a year. On that hand, this is a superb comic book.

On the other hand, when I got done with S.H.I.E.L.D. # 1, it occurred to me that most of what I'd read was conceptually fantastic, but thin on visceral details. This is a promise, a literary check that hasn't been cashed yet. Granted, the check is written in a deliciously large amount. If this thing pays off, it's going to pay off on a Planetary/Preacher/Sandman type scale.

But to be clear again, it hasn't paid off yet. The idea of Galileo somehow preventing Galactus from turning our planet into lunch is no doubt interesting. And somehow, he got it done. But we have no idea how....the truly interesting bits are missing. In each case the concepts Hickman introduces demand interest, but the details are sketchy or non-existent.

Our gateway into this world is a character named Leonid. We meet this character in the 1950s, and he shares the same sense of overwhelming awe the readers are supposed to as the High Council of S.H.I.E.L.D. reveal some of the hidden layers of earth's history.

Leonid is also shrouded in mystery. He's clearly got some kind of super powers, even if their just sensory. His father is really an odd duck who goes by the handle "Night Machine", and looks like he orders his clothing from Rob Halford's closet. Again, it's all abstractly compelling, but there isn't anything to grab hold of yet emotionally.

Before I go on, let me be clear about something. I'm not complaining. This is a first issue, and so it's completely appropriate to set the table before the steak arrives. I get that. If the idea of a first issue is to introduce the principal players and elements in a manner that whets the readers appetite, well, Mr. Hickman just scored an A+ and then some.

What I'm saying is this: before I'm willing to call this a great issue or a great comic, I'm waiting to see if the check bounces. Me, I'm betting that Hickman has the funds in his account. He's going to flesh this out and show us how the High Council does business. Hell, it looks like we're going to find out how the world ends and mankind's true purpose in the universal scheme of things. Now that's entertainment!

I would consider this a can't-miss series based on the promise alone. Where did these immortals come from - are they even human? When the SHIELD agents pick up Leonid, why do they say "we know what you are" instead of something more appropriate like "we know who you are"? Agents Stark and Richards in 1956? Hmmmm. There's like....64 metric tons of fun stuff that Hickman could unpack out of this issue. Hickman revealed on Where Monsters Dwell that the series will take roughly 16 issues to complete. It feels like there's at least 100 issues worth of material to mine here. Like I said....I'd wager on Hickman to make it pay off.

I'm never that crazy about paying $3.99 for my books, but we got 34 pages plus a tiny little 2-page addendum, and that's a good value comparatively. If the series continues to be priced at $4 for 22 pages....I'm not sure what to do. I don't like rewarding gouging, but I don't know how I can avoid buying this story.

- Ryan

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Chronic Review: Turf # 1

Turf # 1
Image Comics

Script: Jonathan Ross
Pencils: Tommy Lee Edwards
26 pages (+1 page of Millar-spiel)for $2.99

I just don't have the mental reserves to attempt a re-creation at the first review I did of this book. So I've decided to mix things up a bit and run this as a Q&A and see what happens.

Q: So what's all this hullaballo regarding Turf - why is this a "Buzz Book"?

A: In the states, this is just another Image book nobody will read. But over in Jolly Olde, Jonathan Ross is a pretty big deal. In England they call television hosts "presenters", and Ross is about as popular as they get. He's got a standard talk show and also does movie reviews.

So over here, nobody gives a rat's ass. But in the UK, this would be the equivalent of Jay Leno or David Letterman starting his own comic. Forbidden Planet in London ordered more copies of this book than they've ever ordered anything ever. That's the level of interest we're talking about.

Q: OK, so what's the book about, then?

A: Turf was solicited as a gang war book populated with goons, vampires, and aliens set in prohibition era New York. That's exactly what it is.

Q: Sounds pretty wild.

A: That's not a question, but I'll run with it. It is pretty wild. I will sometimes talk nebulously about books that radiate "energy", and this is one of those comics. It doesn't just lay there dead, and this is not a guy slogging through his prose earning a paycheck. This is a ridiculous, over-the-top science fiction horror extravaganza.

To his credit, Ross plays it pretty straight. There are moments, particularly when the vampires start talking, that Turf comes dangerously close to being just silly. For the most part, the story plays out in mostly realistic and often brutal fashion.

Q: What does a bloody Limey know about 1920s New York?

A: Enough, I guess. Like I said, sometimes the vampire speech gets a bit over-the-top. But as far as the gangster/period talk goes, that never bothered me or pulled me out of the story. I'm not a linguist or a historian, so for all I know, he completely botched it. It all sounded reasonably authentic to me. There was nothing problematic about the period stuff. At least not for me.

Q: But there were some problematic items?

A: Well, sure, nothing is perfect except Kate Beckinsale. Ross is a television presenter by trade, not a comic book writer. Being new to the medium, he's written enough dialogue and exposition to choke a hippo. It gets so bad in places that the panels look absolutely absurd, because the word balloons have completely covered up Tommy Lee Edwards' art.

I'm not an art critic or a cinematography guy. So when Ryan notices that's pretty bad. But listen, I don't consider it a deal breaker. Bottom line is that all of those words add an extraordinary value to the book. It took me almost 20 minutes to read this thing. I think I can read the entire "Old Man Logan" arc in that time.

I would be concerned if all of those words were dull and lifeless. They are not. I actually like the character of Eddie Falco, and there's a kind of infectious madness about the thing. Jonathan Ross is not an idiot. He will look at issue 1, recognize the issue, and iron it out. In the meantime, you're getting 6 times the story you normally do. Darn.

Q: So Jonathan Ross actually has some chops?

A: Damn straight. This is not Mayhem, for fuck's sake. He may not have a history writing comics, but he's still a writer, and it shows. Turf is a little bit odd, but you know what? That's a good thing. I used to bitch about Roger Ebert a lot, because his reviews seemed to favor anything that different, regardless of what I considered to be quality.

And now I get it. You watch enough of the same old movies, you read enough of the same old comics, you get sick of it. Give me something different, please. Turf is different. This will be the only comic you read this month featuring a guy putting his cigarrette out on a dead hooker's ass. That's a good thing.

My assessment is that Turf has some warts, but the beast is healthy and shows promise. I like books where the writer's passion bleeds out of the pages, and this is one of those. Jonathan Ross does not need to be doing comic books, folks. This is a labor of love, and it's actually a comparatively cost-efficient bit of fun.

- Ryan

PS: As mentioned on Market Spotlight, it may not be a bad idea to have a copy of Walking Dead # 70, featuring the first appearance of Turf in preview form. When Chew hit hard, the Kirkman preview instantly spiked to around $20. It wouldn't be out of the question to see a similar result here if interest peaks on this title.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Chronic Review: Fantastic Four # 577

Fantastic Four # 577
Marvel Comics

Script: Jonathan Hickman
Pencils: Dale Eaglesham

Friends of the show are very familiar with the fact that I fell in love with this title around issue 572, got engaged to it, and have scheduled the wedding for June. And now Jonathan Hickman knows, too!

I got to speak with Hickman live last Wednesday on Where Monsters Dwell, and he rolled with the whole thing and even "gave away the bride" and everything. "She's clearly pregnant." Awesome. So I now have the father's blessing, and all is well in Chronic Town.

If you want to know why I fell so hard for the book, look no further than Fantastic Four # 577. Eaglesham is back on pencils, and they look phenomenal as usual. Also as usual, the issue is a mix of telling character moments, galactic scale ideas, and now a re-shaping of the FF mythos.

Reed gets satellite photos of an odd craft/structure on the moon and calls a family meeting. The team scrambles to the moon, and are met by an inhuman liaison named Dal Damoc, who invites them into the structure, and calmly re-writes everything they know about the origins of the Inhumans.

As it turns out the Centurions, Badoon, Kymelians, Dire Wraiths, and Earth Inhumans were five successes in a grand feat of Kree evolutionary engineering. The goal? Each of these races is programmed genetically toward creating one king uniting four queens in a manifest destiny; the taking of the "holy land" New Hala.

And where exactly is New Hala? Two hints. It's a planet.... and you're living on it. For now. WOW.

It's implied that Black Bolt is the one king. He's off running errands right now, (kicking the crap out of the Kree, it sounds like) but he'll be back for us soon. So Dal Damoc reveals the plan and then invites the Fantastic Four to run along now and let everybody know that the King is coming. It's all very calm and creepy.

Pretty heady stuff. None of this comes with an event banner, by the way. Doesn't need it. This is how things are done in the regular Fantastic Four now. No fanfare, trumpets, or 17 spin-off books are necessary. This is now where big shit happens, so get used to it. I love that.

In the midst of the big shit is the character development, always. Johnny is first into the Moon compound, of course. While Reed needs his version of a tricorder to read energy signatures inside the mystery ship, Johnny can sense them and confirm with his powers.

Dal Damoc is using a "perpetual motion planar construct" to hover in the air. Sue can sense this innately and call him on it. She's not just eye candy in the Hickman run, that's for sure.

Hickman obviously has been given the keys to the kingdom, and that was a good idea for Marvel. This is fun.

The thing that most impressed me most was the sense of inevitable matter-of-factness that the Inhumans displayed in the story. There was no moustache twirling, no chest-thumping, no maniacal laughing. The Inhumans were making simple, religious declarations. "This is what we know, this is the way it's going to be, so get ready!"

The real world parallels are pretty obvious, and pretty disturbing. This is exactly how radical Islam works, and this is exactly how the American "freedom machine" operates as well. There is no "threat" to invade your home. It's God's Plan. It's the way things are, and they're ultimately for the good, don't you know?

This kind of allegory is not unprecedented, of course. Jurgens run on Thor a few years back did similar things quite deftly. But I'm very interested to see where Hickman is going with this now. The bottom line is that Fantastic Four is now a must read if you're interested in the Marvel universe at all. Or good stories. And if you don't like good stories or Marvel....there's always Fade to Black. Good luck with that....

- Ryan

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Chronic Reviews: An Assload

I have a whole pile of books I've collected over the past few weeks just itching to get talked about. I can't go in depth with the whole lot, it would take too long. I'm not Ethan Van Sciver here, folks. I can't pull out four whole pages of material in a week. Sorry.

Instead I present you with a veritable assload of teeny tiny reviews which shall serve no purpose other than to give me an excuse to say mean things about people who are simply trying to entertain me. So let's do it....hut! hut! hut!

Cloak & Dagger (one shot)
Marvel Comics
(W)Stuart Moore/(P)Mark Brooks

These characters continue to languish in re-boot hell. They've tried mini-series, multiple ongoings, and there seems to be something that behaves like an engram with these two, because now matter how much the books SUCK, they continue to tantalize.

There is nothing in this one-shot that begs for the story to continue, that's for sure. This is baseline "woe is me, I'm different" nonsense with a trace of "jungle fever" thrown in for good measure.

Here's what needs to happen. These characters are more than 20 years old now - they can grow up a little bit. Give them a province or a mission, and make them viable adults proficient at what they do. Forget the muddied origin story. (which they backtracked on again in this issue) Make them strong people with something interesting to do.

My take? Cloak at his best dips into the darkforce dimension and just knows shit that other people don't. Give them an invasion force that only Cloak can detect, kind of like "They Live". Hickman just brought the Dire Wraiths back in FF # 577, why not them? Now Cloak & Dagger can be fugitive heroes running around whacking important people in the community who are actually wraiths in disguise.

It's perfect! I just made you $300,000 between the kick-ass ongoing series and the hit Cloak & Dagger movie it would spawn. You're welcome, Marvel. All I ask in return is that you only charge me $2.99 per issue, and you get Paul Jenkins to write it. Next!

Blackest Night # 8
DC Comics
(W)Geoff Johns/(P) Ivan Reiss

I've been back and forth on this whole thing way too many times. At first I was very much in love, sometimes I think the whole spectrum thing got too complex and too silly, then we'd get some really nice character moments in the midst of the chaos and I was back in.

A few notes on this issue. Like every "event" book these days, so many of the beats are just boiler-plate, obligatory, and BORING. Did I sort of enjoy the little Hawkman/Shiera moment that you could see coming from Tucson? Yeah, I guess I did.

Did I feel anything for the Martian Manhunter or Aquaman coming back? Nah. Did I feel inspired by the mandatory super splash pages of DCs biggest hitters in white costumes fightin' together for truth, justice, and LIFE ITSELF?? (Dun! Dun! DUUNNNN!) No, not really.

Maybe I'm just jaded at this point. Maybe there's some kid out there who hasn't read every event book since they began with Secret Wars (sorry Contest of Champions, you don't count) and thinks this is the feline's sleepwear. I aint that kid, and this sort of wrap-up with all these neat moments reads dangerously close to fan fiction. When I got done with this, it didn't even feel like the completion of a story. It felt like the launch of 13 new spin-offs and ongoings. I want a story, not a marketing ploy.

I don't want to give you the impression that I hated the book or the series, because I did not. I'm sticking with the regular Green Lantern title, which frankly had better moments than Blackest Night proper. But something felt a little empty inside the kaboom on this finale.

Hack/Slash # 30
Devil's Due Comics (for now)

(W)Tim Seeley/(P) Daniel Leister

One of the things I like about this book now is that it has enough history to reference itself and develop things and add depth. It would be off base to say that Hack/Slash takes itself seriously, because it treats nothing reverently, which is a good thing. What I'm saying is that this is not just a series of one-offs poking fun at the next beloved B-Movie on the list. Seeley has enough plot points in the bank where Cassie and Vlad live in their own created universe, and that's kinda neat, actually.

This is not the greatest issue of the series. I like Samhain, and I like the Black Lamp conspiracy, but this is not super juicy to me. One page made this more than worthwhile for me. The book shines in the quiet moments when Vlad and Cassie get to actually share their friendship. This issue featured Vlad sharing an anthropological experiment he's conducting, and a little window artwork. That was worth the $3.50 right there, and there are always laugh out loud moments in this book.

X-Factor # 203
Marvel Comics
(W)Peter David/(P)Valentine De Landro

Before I get to the story, let me bitch about the art very quickly. I'm not going to complain about Valentine De Landro, I like him just fine, and he's the closest thing we've had to a regular penciller. But that's just it - there never has been a regular penciller on X-Factor, and I don't get it. Does nobody want to work with Peter David? Doesn't sound right. Are people unwilling to draw X-Books? That really doesn't sound right. The closest thing we've had to a "name brand" was Ryan Sook as well. What's up with that? But I digest.

We used to rant and hoot and holler about X-Factor once a week on Chronic, and don't talk about it much any more. Don't be fooled for a moment into thinking the book is any less good, though. Right now I have three ongoings that I eagerly anticipate and can't wait to get home and crack: Hickman's Fantastic Four, Simone's Secret Six, and yes, David's X-Factor.

The results are in and Peter David has "failed". Sales did not double, this is not a top 10 selling title. The fault does not lie at the feet of Mr. David, however. He kicked seven shades of ass and we're so buried in glop that nobody notices quality any more. This is another reason why we need to engage in "winnowing", so that we have less noise to distract from the quality that does abound if you're diligent or lucky enough to stumble upon it. But I digest. Again.

This is sort of a Guido issue, and I'm fine with that, because the guy is hilarious. Always. It also features Monet in a more vulnerable spot than we're used to. Plus, it looks like we may get to see Guido and Monet together in ways that we're not used to. Ways that should be really goddamn entertaining to watch, which is pretty much how X-Factor works. If you're missing this title, you're missing a lot. Truth in advertising? You will need the backstory in order to be in on everything. Go back to the beginning of this iteration and you'll be fine, trust me.

American Vampire # 1
DC/Vertigo Comics

(W)Scott Snyder & Stephen King/(P) Rafael Albuquerque

I was anticipating this one quite a bit, mostly for the original King material. You can hardly go wrong with Vertigo, though, which is a testament to the very much underrated Karen Berger.

This is an anthology series; Snyder gets the first half and focuses on a couple of would-be starlets who are visited by a mysterious stranger and may be biting off more than they can chew with their potential big break. King gets the second half and relates the tale of a dangerous criminal being transported by Pinkertons. Yes, there are vampires involved in both stories; both are interested in making you guess about who might be fangified or not.

These are both cute little vignettes, and in fact the thing that surprised me the most is that I might like Snyder's better. Nothing wrong with either end of the book, but neither am I super inspired to continue with it, either. Certainly not if they continue with the $3.99 price point. Stephen King fans and vampire fans, come on board! Unless you really can't stand period pieces, since both stories take place in the 1920s. (and seem like they might even dovetail together down the line)

Siege # 3
Marvel Comics

(W)Brian Bendis/(P) Olivier Coipel

I've been very public and very vocal about how much I despise Siege, and I was pretty much done with it after the second issue. But then I got to talking with Remy over at Where Monsters Dwell about this third issue, and he basically lost his ever-lovin' mind over the damn thing.

And then when I went to go find it at two of my local comic shops, there were no copies available. Hmmmm. Now I simply HAD to have it. So I ordered it from Lone Star and went for a third dose of Event Cancer.

Look, I'm not going to say I really like Siege. I just don't. It still has all the symptoms of Eventitis, in which it reads not as a story, per se, but as a very transparent marketing ploy that says all the same things we've been hearing in every other event book that has been pounded into us incessantly for the past...what...four years now? Big doings. Never the same. Everything changes here. BOOOOOOOM!

I'll say two nice things about Siege. 1) It isn't just marking time. This is an efficient title. Four issues, not seven or eight. There is a point, and Bendis is getting to it. Bravo.

2) You are definitely getting your fill of "big moments". If for some reason you are stupid enough to actually believe that any of this matters now, or that any of it will have ripples we'll feel even six months from now, than by all means enjoy your Epic Happenings, because they abound in Siege. Norman Osborne is gettin' his. He's wigging out. The Sentry is flexing his 1,000 sun explodey-type muscles. Entire kingdoms are looking like they're headed for the scratch-n-dent clearance bin.

It's all happening. Sort of. It's just, the other crap is too fresh in my mind. Remember Spider-Man: The Other? Yeah. Ever see anything that would lead you to believe that ever happened? Nah, me either. How about Civil War? Ever see folks hunting down fugitive heroes, or training to become certified, or putting people in the Negative Zone? You neither? Huh. That's weird.

Listen, if you're enjoying this, God bless you, ya little buggers. I'm glad you aren't jaded like the former Manatee. None of these explosions mean anything to me. The reader's investment is entirely predicated on their investment in the shared cohesive universe and the ramifications of mucking with that. There will be none. If you're stupid enough to believe there will be, you deserve your fate.

There will be a new "event" when this one dies that will not care one whit about Siege, and when sales on the ongoing books inevitably matriculate down a notch - guess what? It's reboot time!!!! Get ready to forget everything you ever knew about (insert name here) because now it's changing forever! And this time we mean it! Yawn.

Supergod # 3
Avatar Comics

(W)Warren Ellis/(P)Garrie Gastonny

Maybe I just don't have my thumb on the pulse...but my sense is that Warren's star has fallen a little bit. I remember when Mike & I first started recording Chronic in the summer of 2007, it was quite literally "The Summer of Ellis". He was everywhere, scowling, demanding attention. He had a novel come out, he was as big a name as comics had, and he was bigger than comics.

And that seems not to be the case any more. Nobody talks about that novel. Black Summer came and went, and I can't remember the last time we saw an issue of Doktor Sleepless. The Thunderbolts thing had some initial buzz, but that's over with. "Do Anything" is not a must-read column, I don't think.

The thing of it is, Warren is still Warren. Is that maybe the problem? Is his style and voice so distinctive at this point that we've already read all we need to? I sometimes wonder if the last vestige of us die-hard comic fans feel that way.

We're probably wrong about that, by the way, and the proof is in Supergod. Listen folks, Warren is still here, one half wide-eyed wondering child, one half sneering but wicked smart bastard.

Supergod is packed with wild epic ideas about real power, how governments feel about power, and of course there's some theology involved as well. Our narrator gets lectured by fungus god Morrigan Lugus in an absolute must-read bit. Is it soap box pontificating? Of course it is. This is what we pay (way too much) for when we buy a Warren Ellis comic book.

He's thought out the politics, the technology, and the social ramifications of a Supergod arms race. It's fun, it's intriguing, and you just can't get this anywhere else. Yes, our narrator sounds an awful lot like every other Warren Ellis character you've ever read in your life. Fuck that, who cares? It's a really good character, isn't it? The guy has a conversation with a Supergod twenty years in the past! You have to read it like three times to figure out what the hell is going on, because the idea is so fresh (at least it was to me) that you can't process it at first.

I do wish the goddamn thing didn't cost $3.99, but if I'm going to spend it...I'm spending it on stuff like this. "Morrigan Lugus was quite pleased, too. I should have been more worried about that." Are you kidding me? Long live Warren!

Brave & The Bold # 32
DC Comics
(W) JM Straczynski/(P)Jesus Saiz

JMS claims he's going to turn the world upside down and make it a top 10 book later in the year, and until then I'm just going to enjoy this book while it's good. Ideally books like this and Marvel's "What If" should be the height of entertainment. They're not bound particularly by continuity, you can mix-and-match anything you want, the sky is the limit! Of course ordinarily these things are yawners of the highest order, or hit-and-miss at best. JMS seems to be bringing it every month.

This month the pairing is Aquaman and The Demon, very odd to be sure. It fits with the premise though, which is very Lovecraftian and epic. If there's a weakness in the story, it's the constant transparent reminders about what a bad ass Aquaman is. OK, OK, we get it. We don't appreciate the guy enough! Jeez.

Outside of that, this is pretty entertaining. When you get done with this issue, you feel like you've been let in on a secret, something behind-the-scenes, and that's an element that a book like B&B should be using. Hey, go crazy, man!

I'm almost afraid now to get to the end of the year and have this little party ruined by the "bid doings". I'm so tired of that I could spew. Why can't we be satisfied with things that are actually interesting? I guess the answer is that 100,000 people will read whatever nonsense is thrown out there with an event banner on the cover, and only me and 14 other people read this issue.

Is it DCs fault? The retailers? I know DC doesn't really promote the title, even though they have a heavy hitter at the reins. I don't know about you, but I've never been directed to quality books at my LCS, other than little cards with so-and-sos "pick of the week". Of course not knowing how many times so-and-so has been in rehab or dropped as a child, it's difficult to know how much stock to put in such recommendations.

Bottom line, this is a really good title that nobody will ever know about until JMS starts throwing it into heavy continuity and probably ruins it. Awesome!