Archive for the ‘comics’ Category

Well, whaddya know — sometimes those three-and four-page previews they run in the back of comics actually work.

Case in point : the new Aftershock Comics series The Normals is probably not something I would have picked up from my LCS shelves armed with little to no foreknowledge about it. Its writer and creator, Adam Glass, is not somebody I’m terribly familiar with beyond some vague awareness of the fact that he’s a “Hollywood guy” (specifically he’s currently employed as an executive producer on one of the numerous Criminal Minds shows) and that he’s the brains behind the Rough Riders series (and its recently-published sequel) which, rightly or wrongly, strikes me as being more or less a League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen rip-off featuring historical, rather than literary, personages; artist Dennis Calero is a name I vaguely recall seeing credited elsewhere from time to time but I couldn’t tell you specifically where; and colorist Adriano Augusto? Gotta confess, I’ve never even heard of him before. But hey, one of those aforementioned previews was included in some other Aftershock titles a couple of months back, I read it, and I thought to myself “hey, this seems pretty good, I think I’ll give at least the first issue a go.”

That being said, somewhere along the way I think I forgot all about it again, but when I saw the striking cover by Juan Doe (who’s getting a lot of work at Aftershock these days, which is reason enough to follow this publisher’s output) staring back at me from the new release racks last Wednesday, I was like “oh yeah —,” and took the plunge. Turns out that was a pretty good move.

Glass relates the story of the hopelessly, well, normal Jack and Mary Normal via means of wildly effective and at times even disarmingly charming first-person narration, and does so in broad- and appealing- enough strokes to rope you in more or less immediately with a minimum of fuss or muss. In fairly short order, a standard-issue (no surprise there) household accident reveals something quite disturbing about their son, and soon the three of them, plus their typically (of course) quasi-rebellious teenage daughter are packing into the family sedan (what else?) and heading for their former hometown looking for answers about just what the heck is going on — but “what’s happening to us?” is a pretty basic and easy question compared to “who are we, anyway?,” and by the time this first chapter ends, that’s exactly what our protagonists are wondering.

really like Dennis Calero’s art on this book — it’s as pedestrian as it needs to be, but just sketchy and ill-defined enough in places to drive home a sense of false complacency and equally false reality. Everything looks like it should, sure, but it’s incomplete. It’s sketchy. It’s not all there — and Adriano Augusto, for his part, amplifies this low-key sense of unease with bold and gutsy coloring choices that completely “blank out” faces with rich, dark shadow at just the right points and juxtapose these mysterious images with plenty of brightly-lit, everyday suburban sunshine when the script and line art call for that, as well. I said earlier I’d never heard of this guy —well, now his is a name that I’ll be following for sure.

One knock I feel obligated to draw attention to, though, is the cliffhanger — once you get a reasonably solid handle on what’s going on you’ll see that there are only a couple of places the story can really go, and it definitely goes in one of them, but even though he leaves things on an obviously surprising (there’s any oxymoron for you, I know) note, I don’t think Glass has shown us all his cards yet by any stretch. Besides — even if The Normals turns out to have a bit of a “been there, done that” vibe to its “mind-fuck” premise, it’s well-enough executed on every level to keep readers intrigued. If it turns out that we’ve seen this all before, fair enough — but we don’t usually see it done this well, and as long as future installments maintain the same standard of quality on display in this one, I’ll be sticking around for more.




Another new one for Graphic Policy website —

Graphic Policy

A couple of years back, the cartoonist formerly known as Al Frank, new moniker of Casanova Frankenstein in tow, burst back onto the alternative/independent/underground scene with the sixth issue of his long-dormant (how long? Try two decades) series The Adventures Of Tad Martin, and my mind was flat-out blown. A harrowing, brutally honest, emotionally naked, scream-from-the-gut autobiographical tale of the hellishly bad marriage, drug addiction, health problems, and psychological issues that had consumed his life in then-recent years, drawn with anything that was handy on anything that was handy (mostly composition book pages, but restaurant guest checks, napkins, and even the back of prescription labels would do in a pinch), it did considerably more than scratch the itch many of us had been suffering from for years with the absence of new autobio material from masters of the form such as Chester BrownJoe Matt

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Review : “Luke Cage” #1

Posted: May 21, 2017 in comics

My latest review for Graphic Policy website —

Graphic Policy

Like a good number of folks, I was sorely disappointed when Marvel Comics decided to pull the plug on David F. Walker and Sanford Greene‘s superb Power Man And Iron Fist series after an all-too-brief run, but at today’s “Hollywood First, Comics Second” iteration of the so-called “House Of Ideas,” I guess it was too be expected — after all, Luke and Danny both have “stand-alone” series going on at Netflix, and are apparently only “allowed” to team up as part of the forthcoming The Defenders, so it only stands to reason that the same set-up would would be making its way over to the printed page. On the plus side, Walker is still writing the new solo Luke Cage book, but still — you knew damn well going in that the light-hearted, comedic tone of PMIF would probably go by the wayside in favor of a more…

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My latest review for Graphic Policy website —

Graphic Policy

Near as I can tell, Marvel is doing precisely fuck-all to commemorate the 100th birthday of the man who created pretty much their entire corporate universe, but DC , to their credit (not a phrase you’ll hear coming from my mouth very often) seems to think that a century of Jack Kirby is very much worth celebrating indeed : we’re four issues into the year-long Kamandi Challenge as we speak, the superstar creative team of Tom King and Mitch Gerads has just been announced as helming a forthcoming Mister Miracle revival, and Gerard Way‘s still-nascent (and, to date, uniformly interesting) Young Animal line has now gotten in on the act, as well, with the release of the first issue of the six-part Bug!  : The Adventures Of Forager. Chances are there will be even more to come as the year proceeds, but as far as company-wide love letters…

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If there’s a tough character to write in comics, it’s Black Bolt. The king — or, at least as of this writing, former king — of the Inhumans is, of course, famously silent, not because he’s mute, but because the mere sound of his voice is powerful enough to level cities. It was a great gimmick when Jack Kirby came up with it way back when, but it’s been a tricky conceit for subsequent creators to build upon. Paul Jenkins gave it a pretty good effort in his fine Marvel Knights Inhumans series done in collaboration with artist Jae Lee, but since then, no one’s really seemed to know what to do with this guy.

Apart from Marvel’s “suits,” of course, who had Black Bolt set off the so-called “Gene Bomb” a few years back that’s been utilized as the company’s preferred method for writing Mutants out of their corporate universe and Inhumans in. The boys in accounting aren’t so hot on Mutants these days, you see, given that Fox holds the cinematic rights to to the lot of ’em, and so the Inhumans have been conscripted as their de facto replacements, a scenario that’s been met with a healthy amount of skepticism, if not outright disdain, from many fans, and doesn’t seem to have set Hollywood ablaze with excitement, either, given that the once-inevitable blockbuster Inhumans movie has recently been “reimagined” on the fly as a low-budget TV series. So, ya know, maybe it’s all been for nothing.

Tell you what, though — don’t tell that to Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward, because they might just have one heck of a story to tell before all is said and done.

Ahmed is Marvel’s latest big “get” from outset the world of comics, with a heavy-duty CV that features everything from fantasy novels to essays to poetry, and Ward is best known these days as the mind-bendingly cosmic artistic visionary on Image’s Matt Fraction-scribed ODY-C, so to call this a true “A-List” team is probably something of an understatement, but hey — we’ve seen fine creators fall short of the mark before, so it’s not like I went into their just-released Black Bolt #1 necessarily expecting greatness, even if most signs seemed to point in that direction. Best to err on the side of caution just as a general rule anyway, am I right? Especially when four bucks are on the line with every installment.

Still, while our sample size so far is an admittedly small one, my guarded optimism looks, at this early juncture, to have been very well-placed indeed. Saladin does most of his storytelling by means of effectively clinical and distant third-person narration (after all, his protagonist is not only stone silent as ever, but muzzled, to boot!), and while on paper one could make a convincing case that not much actually happens in this issue — Black Bolt is imprisoned, presumably by his traitorous brother Maximus, but manages to break free of his bonds only to get in, and subsequently lose, a fight, thus ultimately ending up in chains all over again — it still feels like a more robust and substantive read than most other “decompressed” comics out there these days, especially since there’s a strong sense given that all is most definitely not as it seems here.

By the time we get to the cliffhanger that inference turns out to be exactly right, but even though our narrative journey from Point A back to Point A is a short one — this is about a five-minute read, tops, from cover to cover — it’s a fascinating little loop loaded with beautiful imagery including an M.C. Escher-esque splash page charting Black Bolt’s descent through his cosmic prison, dynamically free-flowing sequences of violent action, and intense non-verbal cues that “say” more than words ever could. Ward’s art is comparatively more restrained here than it is in the pages of the at-this-point-only-occasionally-released (to put it kindly) ODY-C, but the key word there is probably “comparatively” — for a “Big Two” superhero book this is vibrant and wonderfully experimental stuff indeed, and his (self-done) colors positively “pop” off the page and put one hell of an exclamation point on work that is frankly already all kinds of exciting.

Is it fair, then, to say that the art is the star of the show here? Well, okay, yeah, but it’s also indicative of an admirable lack of ego on a writer’s part to be more than willing to deliver a script that plays to your artist’s (numerous) strengths and to then stand back and let him assume the bulk of the narrative duties. In other words, for a couple dudes who only just started working together and have probably never communicated by anything other than electronic means, they sure seem pretty simpatico to this reader.

There’s a long way to go here before any sort of final judgment can be rendered (my best guess? 11 more issues), of course, and if subsequent chapters prove to be as economically-written as this one is then I can’t say I’d necessarily hold it against someone from “trade-waiting” this series, but all in all if we’re looking for one word to best describe Black Bolt #1, the one I’d go for is impressive.

Once upon a time, the “single-creator anthology” was an actual going concern in comics, and let me tell you, those were some very good days indeed. Cartoonists like Chester Brown, Daniel Clowes, Peter Bagge, Chris Ware, and others had books they could call their own, where anything and everything went : long-form stories that ran for several issues ran alongside shorter “one-off” strips of varying lengths, the subject matter was eclectic and well and truly ran the gamut — these folks were just going wherever their individual muses took them, and their publishers had faith in them to come up with good stuff, which they invariably did.

In these beleaguered times, however, you don’t see publications of that sort on your LCS shelves too often. So thank goodness for Eric Kostiuk Williams.

I admit, his is not a name with which I was previously familiar (although apparently he self-published a small collection of autobio comics called Hungry Bottom in 2015 that I absolutely need to track down), but I love what the two-headed monster of Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics are doing with their monthly co-publishing venture, and whatever they release, I’m game to give it a shot. Better-known cartoonists such as Anya Davidson and James Kochalka have been showcased under the auspices of this ongoing “series,” but it’s the chance for largely “unknown” creators to have their work seen by a wider audience that really excites me most about the whole thing. Some of these emerging/developing talents are still a bit rough around the edges, to be sure (not to say that can’t be exciting stuff to read, as well), but once in awhile somebody you haven’t heard of gets a spot in the rotation and delivers a work that just plain blows you away. This, my friends, is precisely such an occasion.

Babybel Wax Bodysuit showcases the breathtaking scope of Williams’ talents in that “single-creator anthology” format I was just pathetically reminiscing about, and over the space of 20 pages he announces himself as a major talent to watch —which I hope “big-time” publishers like Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly are doing, because this guy needs to be inked to a deal immediately. From a surrealistic introductory three-pager to a moving autobiographical strip about his early days on comic-book message boards and forums to a short but amazingly effective historical piece on New York’s East Village gay community to a tripped-out splash page to an even-more-tripped-out piece on a Britney Spears clone in the year 2116, this book has it all, and it’s all delivered with the kind of psychedelic aplomb and rich, cartoony detail that make every panel one worth spending the time it takes to well and truly savor.

To be sure, certain themes reoccur throughout — fetish (as the title would imply), longing for interpersonal connection, the hard road of self-discovery, the absurdity of everyday life — but it’s all delivered without a hint of angst or self-importance, and frankly never even takes itself too terribly seriously even when tackling somewhat weighty subjects. The end result is a comic that’s an absolute joy to both read as well as look at, and one that you’ll no doubt re-visit again and again over the years.

The bright, vibrant colors that Williams’ pages are awash with very nearly divert your attention away from the wonderfully intricate quality of his illustrations, but his staggeringly inventive and free-flowing panel layouts guide your eyes from one image to the next so seamlessly that you can’t help but absorb the depth and richness of everything you’re seeing and intuit the artist’s very specific intent as you go. There are bits and pieces of influences ranging from (most obviously) Kim Deitch to Mark Beyer to Tom of Finland to effing Picasso himself for careful readers/viewers to pick up on interspersed all over the place, but don’t kid yourself — this is far from “derivative” stuff. Williams takes a blank page and makes it his own in a way that many people who have been cartooning for years could only hope to, and when you consider that his career — whatever that may turn out to be — is only in its formative stages, the prospects for the future seem very exciting indeed.

Okay, yeah, less open-minded readers may simply categorize this as a “gay comic,” and call it a day (I guess they can move on to “not-gay” stuff like Batman and The Punisher — errrrm, wait a second—), but even someone as removed from the realities of what gay “20-something” life is like as I am (being a straight “40-something”) can recognize the many universal elements of the human experience communicated by means of this decidedly fantastic (a word I use in its strictest sense) series of masterfully-constructed vignettes. To anyone who claims the short strip is dead as a medium for honest artistic expression, all I can say is : open this book to any given page, follow along for five or ten minutes, and then get back to me.

So, yeah. Babybel Wax Bodysuit is a comic you most definitely need in your life, and right away. It’ll run you all of six bucks (money well spent as it’s printed in a nice over-sized format on high-quality paper with heavy cardstock covers), and those will be six of the very best bucks you spend all year. I’d close by saying something trite-but-true like “highest possible recommendation,” but honestly, I don’t know if that’s high enough. Just get the damn thing and enjoy the living hell out of it.

My latest review for Graphic Policy website —

Graphic Policy

Do the books themselves even matter anymore — or is the announcement of their forthcoming arrival enough?

I ask that question in all seriousness because it gets to the heart of one the major problems (among many worthy contenders) in Nick SpencerDaniel Acuna, and Rod Reis’ Secret Empire #0, the first chapter (or maybe that should be pre– first chapter) of Marvel Comics‘ latest sure-to-disappoint-most “crossover event” series. Within these pages you’ll find, for instance, a team calling itself “The Defenders” that hasn’t made its “official” debut yet, and  you’ll see Tony Stark back as Iron Man even though, according to “present” continuity, he’s still in a coma. But Marvel knows that you’re already aware of these “future” events because, hey, they’ve all been announced.

Likewise, they know damn well that pretty much everyone reading this book — even those who haven’t been keeping…

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