Thursday, May 26, 2011

Chronic Review: The Tattered Man!

I got the Amanda Connor cover, of course!

The Tattered Man
Image Comics
Script:     Justin Gray/Jimmy Palmiotti
Pencils:   Norberto Fernandez
34 pages of story + another dozen of extras for $4.99

So, The Tattered Man.  I'm going to do this one really loose, so bear with me.

If asked to describe Tattered Man as a project, I would choose these words: strong, direct, visceral, satisfying.

The hook is blood simple - once upon a time a child named Isen escaped from a Nazi concentration camp with the help of a supernatural entity charged by the suffering of Jewish victims.  Isen kept the remaining rags locked safely away into his old age, discovered only when a trio of junkies robs his house looking to score.  The wheels come off the robbery, hijinx ensue, and the rags claim one of the robbers as their own, forcing him down a dark but potentially redemptive path as the vengeance seeking Tattered Man.

Gimmler:  creepy. evil. Nazi.
The comic looks fantastic, the visuals do not hold back.  There's a panel of Herr Gimmler in this comic that stopped me dead in my reading tracks.  It's hard to quantify just how astounding that is.  I read a lot of comics, my predilection is for text over the visuals, (yes, I know how stupid that sounds) and I've seen enough artwork at this point where it's difficult to phase me.  I saw that face and just stared at it for a few moments and just let the wow settle in for a bit.  Nailed it, Norberto Fernandez.  Nailed it.

The Tattered Man is a complex menagerie of lethal rags, and if this comic were a film, it would certainly earn an "R" rating, which suits me just fine.  I find no punch pulling, nor would I expect any from a script by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, the AC/DC of comics.  Yes, the tracks and albums do tend to sound familiar, but the riffs are raw, and powerful, and they do rock.

I mean, on the one hand, it really seems like this crew just visited the Nazis in Time Bomb.  That bogeyman has been done, by them, more than once.  On the other hand, the Nazis get visited because that symbol communicates.  This is really just a hybrid of Ghost Rider and Ragman, but at least it's Ghost Rider/Ragman done in a way that punches you in the throat.

I think sometimes Gray and Palmiotti are guilty of pruning their narrative bushes with chainsaws, but it works because it feels authentic, particularly in this story.  You understand how a pain like that could charge a vengeance creature, and the story shows you innocent blood that does feel like it needs to be avenged.  It just works.

The Tattered Man
And I don't mean to be too reductive, because I find some depth as well.  Isen asks the question that everyone should ask of vengeance - where were you before all this shit went down?  Vengeance is inferior because it is by definition late.   A better world would spend that energy stopping the bad things from happening, instead of compounding the problem with more pain.  Sometimes hurting back is all we've got, though.

Tattered Man also separates itself with a redemptive twist.  Dave, the man forced to wear the rags now, is the most sympathetic of the robbers.  Yet he's the one forced to bear the burden of righting the scales.  Mostly this means tearing into people in the most gruesome manner possible, but sometimes it means demanding that a woman make good by an orphan she helped create.  And there seems to be a way out for Dave if he can undo enough damage with the rags, providing hope and a driving motivation for the both the character and the book.  It works, man.

This is a prestige format type of package, basically a double-sized issue with a thicker and glossier cardstock cover for the price of just about two comics.  Is it a value?  It's on the border, I think.  Thirty four pages of story is really more like 1.5 comics, I guess.  I think the attribute that tips the scales toward the positive for me is that this comic represents a complete, satisfying story.

As your attorney, I advise you to go out and buy a copy of the Tattered Man if you have any interest in horror at all, because I would like to read more of these.

- Ryan

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Chronic Review: Alpha Flight 0.1!

Not just bad - passive agressive

Alpha Flight .1
Marvel Comics
Script:      Greg Pak/Fred Van Lente
Pencils:    Ben Oliver/Dan Green
20 pages for $2.99

So can we all just stop pretending that Marvel's "Point One" program is anything other than a spin-heavy excuse to double-ship?  That's all it is, that's all it ever was, and it needs to stop.

Jumping on point?  Whatever.  Since this is the first issue of the 97th Alpha Flight reboot, (or is it the 0th issue, or is it the 0.1th issue?) I think everybody not mentally crippled gets that it's a decent place to start reading.  Kay?

It's an excuse to double ship.  Fine.  You're really clever, OK guys?  Congratulations and all, but stop talking to me about how this is a public service.  It's ludicrous.  The only thing .1 connotes to a human with an ounce of sense is a revision, or an update.  It does not connote "good place to start".  The only thing .1 did was prove once and for all that David Gabriel and the Marvel sales & marketing team are Ass Hats that smell strongly of Massengil.  That's it.

The world does not want, need, or clamor for another Alpha Flight book, by the way.  What was the impetus for that?  Was it the shockingly poor sales on the Omega Flight book that not even Civil War buzz could keep afloat?  Maybe it was the stupefyingly low numbers that Alpha Flight generated during that Chaos War travesty.  I'm not sure which of those two catastrophic failures made Marvel decide to throw yet another turd at the already excrement-packed wall to see if it would stick again.  But they did.  Yeeeee haw!

What's holding y'all up?
In this rendition, fans will be treated to the most incredibly stupid thing I've ever seen in thirty years of comics reading.  No, I'm not kidding.  Of all the aggressively moronic things I've witnessed in my career as a comics reader, this is the worst.  And I was around for Punisher the angel, OK?

So the big threat in the issue is Kara Kilgrave, the Purple Girl.  Like her father she has the ability to make anybody within in range of her pheromone field do whatever she tells them.  Fine.

So she tells a group of Canadian citizens to "be as one", (just to pound the already over-pounded "unity" theme over your head one more time) and so they all start playing grab-ass with each other until they form a giant anthropomorphic creature to stomp around the city.

If you paid for this...I'm sorry.

And listen, I understand that this is a comic book.  Yes, I understand that people bitten by radioactive spiders get infections, not super powers.  I get it.  But inside the fantasy, there must still be internally consistent rules or the reader's ability to invest in the story falls apart.

I can even recognize the story potential of Purple Girl telling people to do impossible things.  If she's in Canada, and tells some guy to run to Texas, that's actually a potentially interesting way to maim or even kill a character, because they simply can't do it.

But you can't make an anthropomorphic creature out of grab-assy Canadians simply by telling them to do it.  They might want to do it, but clumping together just makes for a lot of harassment lawsuits, not a functional giant.  There's no central nervous system to command or synchronize the parts.  Clumped people do not make a functional musculature, and the parts wouldn't be strong enough to hold together any way.

It's beyond stupid, and into passive aggressive abuse.  If Purple Girl could do that, why not tell some guy to shit gold bricks for her, or better yet have him poop out some unseen further episodes of Milch's Deadwood so we could get a proper ending to a truly great series instead of inscrutable John From Cincinnati shows?  That's what I would do. As long as we're going to do the impossible.

As much as I enjoy gay sex in my comics, (and there's plenty of gay action in this one) I just can't endorse something this malicious.  Alpha Flight 0.1 is just a giant middle finger, daring you to call it out, knowing that a good chunk will just buy the next issue for $3.99 next week.  If you want gay sex, as your attorney I advise to go read Daken.

As for me, I'm going to pee on this book.  Big time.

- Ryan

Friday, May 13, 2011

Chronic Review: Nether World # 1!

Nether World # 1
Image Comics
Script:    Bryan Edward Hill/Rob Levin
Art:        Tony Shasteen

Image is a bit unstoppable right now.  Lots of energy over there.  They're a bit more hit-and-miss than Vertigo if you look at the track record.  But if you were to ask me right now, as I type this:

"Who's got the most juice in comics?"

The answer is Image.  Enter Nether World, the latest in what seems to be an endless supply of fresh ideas.  The elevator pitch goes like this - Ray Parker is a classic noir dick hired by two different clients to find the same troubled dame in a city of lost souls.

Listen, the book has flaws.  The material has been done before, as the script itself alludes to midway through.  We've seen the Tough Guy With A Checkered Past, oh, sixty bajillion times at this point.  No noir tale is complete without a femme fatale bringing the detective (he's actually more of a skip tracer, but you say tomato...) a poisoned case, and so we've got that, too.  There's a lot of rough talk, and foul play, and nothing is as it seems, which is exactly how these things seem to go about business.  Whatever.

Here's the thing, and as things go, it's pretty important.  Nether World has more style in its vest pocket than most titles have in their whole wardrobe, and that's a scientific fact.  Style is not everything, but in a comics landscape that feels awfully rote, pre-ordained, and pointless - Nether World pops on every page, and that counts for a lot.

Once upon a time I used to watch Oksana Baiul skate, any chance I got.*  This was before she started drinking vodka like Warren Sapp would drink gatorade, back when she was crafting better twizzles instead of practicing one car accidents.  I don't know a damn thing about skating, but I don't think Oksana Baiul was a technical prodigy.  I do know that she had grace heads above any other girl on the ice, and even an idiot like myself could spot it from leagues away.  Nether World is sort of the Oksana Baiul of comics, except it's jamming you with punchy dialogue instead of mesmerizing you with Napolean Dynamite arm flutters.

So.  The art.  I'm still not qualified to judge these things.  From my caveman perspective, it's hit and miss.  Some of the action looks really dynamic to me, but sometimes the figures look awkwardly and obviously posed.  I don't think that Alexis looks like the same character from panel to panel, but she'll say stuff about leaving Parker the bottle, and who says stuff like that anymore?  And then I don't care that she doesn't really look like that in the next panel, because she still looks pretty hot, and I just want her to keep saying stuff.  And then she does.

The script is credited to Bryan Edward Hill and Rob Levin.  Not sure how the duties are distributed.  Maybe they both whip up a plot and one scripts?  Whoever is doing the dialogue is my hero.  The plot isn't bad, mind you.  I've every confidence that it's going to be fine, but it's early to tell if the plot is going to pay off yet or not.  Ray Parker (who you gonna call?) is in over his head on this case with the mysterious girl, it's all going end in tears, as these things inevitably do.

There's a twist at the end of the issue that takes the mystery of the thing and kicks it up a notch or three, and it legitimately took me by surprise.  But even that particular turn has been made many times before, and recently.  And that twist, good as it is, is not the primary draw for me.  It's not the beast per se, the magic is watching the way the beast moves. Every time somebody opens their mouth in this book, something exceptionally cool I wish I had thought of comes out.

The key to this book isn't reinventing the wheel, but putting an indelible shine on some really stylish rims.  And as long as Hill and Levin are at the wheel, I think I'm along for the ride.

- Ryan

*Yes, I watch women's figure skating.  The usual ridiculous criticism I endure over this fact is that it makes me a Giant Fag.  My response to this critique is two fold.  Firstly, I should be so lucky as to someday be cool enough to be a Giant Fag.  Secondly, I point out the irony of the attack, since it generally comes from supposedly heterosexual males who think my time would be better spent watching men in tight pants tackle and roll around the ground with other men in tight pants, rather than watch nubile young women in very short skirts bend into impossible positions in the most provocative manner possible.  But that's America, folks, land of irony.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Market Spotlight: Rare RRP Editions!

As I mentioned on the latest episode of Chronic Insomnia, the FCBD Overstreet comic got me thinking about The Game again, what it means, the true scope of it, the future.  I was fascinated by the page listing the values of certain key issues when the first Overstreet Guide appeared in 1970.  Action Comics # 1 for $300, Detective Comics # 27 for $275, and Amazing Fantasy # 15 for the absurdly paltry sum of $16!

I'm sure back then if you'd paid $300 for a comic book, for ANY comic book, the neighbors would look at you sideways a bit.  It would seem a little extravagant, a little crazy to spend that much on a funnybook.  Of course if you could get in a time machine, you'd be more than happy to do so now.  The market matured.

So I sit back now and recognize that the TPB game is here, it's real, and I think in a similar state of development.  I think trades in 2011 are very much like comics in 1970.  People are just starting to wake up to the idea, and big leaps are in store for collected editions.

It's not perfectly identical, of course.  For one thing, there is no Overstreet for trades yet.  I know, I know, technically Overstreet does list collections in the catalog.  But it doesn't understand them or believe in them yet.  If you're in The Game, that's a good thing and a bad thing.  When somebody with an ounce of vision does finally produce a guide, it's going to explode the whole system, and the system is going to get big.  But when that happens, your ability to pick up the equivalent of Action # 1 for $300 will be officially over.

So where are these opportunities now?  Well, it's not as cut and dried as you might believe.  I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about these things, and I don't believe I have a perfect handle on it.  It's tougher because we're dealing with reprints, not original material, and we're dealing with material that is liable to go back to press at any moment.  That changes things.

It's not as simple as looking at a legend like Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man and figuring out where they first appeared.  Pretty much by definition, no TPB is ever going to be the first of anything, it's going to be a collected reprint of something else.  There are OGNs, of course, but they aren't prevalent at this point, and they're never used to debut anything.  Debuts tend to be the collectible thing, whether it's the first appearance of a character, a team, a creator.  Firsts matter.

The other major element, though, tends to be scarcity.  And in terms of scarcity, there are some trades and hardcovers that stand out.  This edition of Market Spotlight focuses on a few gems that ought to have some lasting impact and astonishing future value.  Because of the scarcity involved, your investment cost (and therefore risk) will be higher.  But ask yourself: if you could go back to 1970 and buy that Action Comics # 1 for $300, would you do it?  Oh yeah.

Man Of Steel - Raffle Edition
DC Comics (1987)

To my knowledge, this is the first of the truly scarce TPBs, and really, one of the earlier trades period.  John Byrne had just re-booted Superman for a new generation in the 1986 Man of Steel mini-series, and DC offered these collections as prizes in 1987.

It's interesting for a lot of reasons.  Generally publishers take the original art (or scans of same) and produce collections from that onto new paper and permanently bind it.  In this case, DC took actual Man of Steel comics, covers and all, and glued them onto a permanent binding.

Some editions still have their award letters intact, some do not.  Obviously, if you're a collector, you want the one with the letter.  I'm not saying that a letter-less book doesn't have value or shouldn't be invested in.  I'm just stating the obvious fact that if you're paying top dollar, it's something you need to be aware of.

There is some debate about the actual scarcity of these books, and I've got no reliable data on a print run.  Judging on the number of copies floating about, I find it difficult to believe that the supply is solely raffle winners.  It's rare, though.  Your average collector does not know it exists - hell, your average LCS owner will be clueless.

How do you know when you've got a real raffle edition?  Well, the award letter is a clue.  The raffle edition will have the actual comics bound with the covers, and there will be no forward by Ray Bradbury.  Given the fact that this is an iconic character, that Man of Steel is an important turning point in that character's life, the fact that it's an early TPB, and the genuine scarcity of the item, I find this book to be a blue chip investment item of the highest order.

Batman: Blind Justice - Diamond Retailer Exclusive
DC Comics (1992) 

In 1992, Diamond held a retailer's summit and handed out this collection as one of the first "Retailer Response Program" variants.  They also gave away RRP editions of Todd McFarlane's "Torment" with its distinctive red cover at the same conference.

DC again decided to collect actual comics with covers and ads included, in this case Detective Comics # 598-600.  The cover is easily identifiable as the RRP edition, sharing no characteristics with future printed editions.  No data on a print run, but also no evidence that this book was available anywhere but the Diamond retailer summit, and it is legitimately scarce.

This trade is particularly powerful because the deeper I get into The Game, the more I recognize that Batman is a singular phenomenon for book collectors.  Batman material trades higher than other characters, and is noticeably easier product to move.  That could change, of course.  But because this collection represents the beginning of Diamond's RRP product, and also one of if not the most scarce Batman TPB, it presents an incredibly strong investment opportunity.

Spawn - Capital Exclusive
Image (1993)

Remember when there used to be more than one distributor?  Not content to let Diamond hog all the exclusive fun, Capital City offered this Spawn collection as a retailer incentive in 1993.

The book collects Spawn # 1-3, was limited to 1,200 copies, and includes a Todd McFarlane signature on the first page.  That's a really nice package!

However one might feel about Spawn, he's certainly stood the test of time, and an autographed item that scarce from a beloved creator should fetch a kingly sum down the road.

Incidentally, there are lots of other extremely scarce retailer exclusive TPBs, maybe the most famous of which is the old Unity trade from Valiant.  This list is not even close to comprehensive, but I think these are the cream of the crop.

This is more obvious stuff, but remember that condition is vitally important.  I think these particular items are valuable in almost any condition, but there is a wide chasm between the value of a Detective Comics # 27 graded CGC 9.0 and graded 6.0.  That chasm is tens of thousands of dollars.  I can't pretend to know what a good price is for any of these books.  I do know that personally, I would be very comfortable spending over $100 for any of these books in true NM.

- Ryan

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Random Comic Thoughts!

These are not going to be proper reviews, but just idle thoughts that came to me as I sat down with my mountainous DCB Service shipment.  As usual, I will probably spoil the excrement out of them, even while failing to actually review them.  So buckle up for that.

Detective Comics # 876

Yup, I'm officially in love.  Scott Snyder's Detective Comics is everything you imagined this book should have been, but probably never was.  It's smart, deftly written crime stories where Batman does actual detective work, and Gotham City acts as a kind of dark supporting character.

Virginia Woolf once said that Jane Austen was the most difficult of the great writers to catch in the act of greatness.  That's how I feel about Snyder's work on Detective.  There are no A-HA! moments that slap you in the face with their grandiosity, no mind-bending plot twists, no can't-believe-they-just-said-that-one-liners to dazzle you into crowning Snyder writing royalty.  

Which is not to say that I think he's incapable of these things.  What I'm saying is that what he's accomplished is probably more rare - he builds his stories in such a pitch perfect manner that you have no choice but to enter a state of deep and quiet satisfaction, and you have no idea how the hell he did it unless you're a freak like me and you backtrack and start looking at the nuts and bolts.

I think the key to it is that Snyder simply has a plan.  I think he sat down, looked at the pieces and said "I'm going to tell grounded human stories, and this is Gotham, so they're going to be dark."  Then he did it.

I think he looked at his main character and recognized that this is Dick, not Bruce.  Excellent observation!  What can we do with Dick that we can't do with Bruce?  Well, in this issue the case involves a relative of Anthony "Fats" Zucco, the man who killed Dick's parents.  That goes to character and tone.  It's a part of this particular protagonists history, and it serves the idea that Gotham tends to haunt.

Snyder also has Commissioner Gordon ask Dick to assess his son, who is pretty obviously bent and criminally creepy.  That serves to propel a thread from last issue forward, and it adds depth to both characters.

Would Gordon take something like that to Bruce?  I suppose it's a matter of opinion, but I think not.  I think Gordon would assume Bruce had a handle on it without him asking, and I also think Gordon would lose face bringing that to Bruce.  It would make him part of the problem.  But this is a new Batman, and that brings a new dynamic to this relationship.  And Snyder was able to build with that in a manner that makes the story more interesting, and doesn't smash you over the head with it like a hammer.

Detective isn't perfect.  I think the little speech about Batman refusing to fly overhead because you'll be blind-sided by the city if you don't stay on top of it was a little over-written.  When Batman falls in the death trap at the end of the issue, it's not entirely clear how that happened.  You can nitpick flaws if you put your mind to it.

More important is the fact that there was a killer whale sitting in a bank with a dead body in it, and that the body spilled out just as Gordon was finishing up talking about his creepy-ass son. It's more important that Batman was solving the case while perhaps being emotionally compromised by the Zucco elements.  It's more important that the tone is correct, and that all the moving parts of the story structure flow in such a manner that you never notice them except to wonder at the end why all comics can't read so smoothly.

I don't think he's lucking into any of this, folks.  It's all by design, and we can expect a lot of really good comics from Scott Snyder.

Actually, that might have been a review of Detective # 876, which just means that I'm a liar, which most of you are already comfortable with.

Iron Man 2.0 # 4

My great affection for Nick Spencer is well documented at this point, but I have to say that Iron Man 2.0 # 4 is a tutorial on how not to write a comic book.  It's not dull, or overly confusing, or anything like that.  It's a kind of backstory character study on the book's first villain, and it's not a bad idea.  It just doesn't make for a good comic book.

Here's what this issue amounts to:

Rhodes sends Kayleigh Harrison into the Dept. of Defense to look at Palmer Addley's secret files. She trades a couple of Spencerian verbal jabs with a cranky archive caretaker.  Then we get a bunch of four panel facial expressions as various subjects orbiting Addley comment about his state of mind.  These interview chunks are laced with no less than four double splashes depicting various scenes painted by the interviews.  Then Harrison walks out of the archives, I would guess convinced that Addley is a damaged nut job that probably should have been diagnosed and dealt with a long time ago.  The end.

The only point we ever see Jim Rhodes or the War Machine is on the cover.  Matter of fact, Tony Stark gets more overt attention in this book than Rhodes.  To me, this is just a textbook case of trying too hard. Nobody knows the terrible burden of being clever more than I, but this is just too much.

Comic books were not born to let talking heads run their yap and mug for Olivetti's camera for four panels a  page.  And double splash pages should be reserved for when Galactus is cracking the planet in half, not to show a sad guy sitting in empty bleachers. I think a novel could handle those interviews rather nicely.  You could add Harrison's interior responses to each session, and I think that could hold interest.  As a comic, Iron Man 2.0 # 4 just sort of sits there and slaps you in the face with how avant garde it's attempting to be.

I guess maybe a gambit like this could work if it were to cast novel new light on a really established character.  I could see that.  But to have these bit players mug for Olivetti's camera about a villain we don't really care about yet...I consider this issue to be a little self indulgent, and a serious momentum killer.  You get twelve shots a year, at best.  There's just no time for showing off unless it really pays off.

It did not pay off for me, and I would say that I am done with this book.  I'm never leaving Morning Glories or Thunder Agents, although I suspect Thunder Agents is going to leave me.  But I think this one is me bidding Iron Man 2.0 adieu.

Avengers Academy # 12

The gist of this story is that The Collector's daughter somehow pulls future, adult versions of the Academy back to this particular past to deal with Korvac, who as usual, is trying to ruin literally everything.

So the kids minds are loaded into these adult alternate bodies chosen for their peak attributes.  This is the kind of stuff that happens in superhero comics, so it's best that you not roll your eyes but instead just roll with it.  Or go read Blankets or Driven By Lemons or something, you always have that option.

There are some cheap ramifications at the end.  At least half of Veil's problems are solved, which probably makes her half as interesting.  I guess we'll have to wait and see.  Maybe this spurs her to come out of her shell a bit and she gets more interesting.  Reptil manages to maintain his adult form, and he's the only one.  It will be interesting to see how the others treat him now that he's the "one of these things not like the others" now.

But without question, the best thing that came out of that aftermath was a quiet moment between Mettle and Hazmat to close the issue.  The other kids are much more able to pose as "normal".  Mettle is stuck in that horrifying exoskeleton, and Hazmat has to remain in her suit or risk killing anyone she comes in contact with.  Veil used to be in that club to a large extent, because she wasn't terribly corporeal.  But her contact with Korvac largely fixed that, and so now the Big Losers club is down to two.

And even though Hazmat has continuously spurned any attempts to bond with other people, Mettle has a heart so big that he just can't help but continue to try.  And so you have this scene on the couch where he offers Hazmat a seat next to him on the couch without her helmet on, because he's really the only person who can survive it:

And that's why I love comics.  Mettle ends the issue by saying "Me, too", which is just..perfect.  You could try and make a case that this is just melodrama, but I disagree.  Or if it is melodrama, then give me more of that.  That moment is so absolutely organic given what happened in the issue, and we've gotten to know these characters well enough in the prior eleven installments that I think Gage earned every penny of that moment.

In case you hadn't noticed, Avengers Academy is the best of the Avengers books.  And it's the cheapest.  Go figure.

- Ryan