Posts Tagged ‘IDW Publishing’

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I have a feeling that Donald Trump supporters — at least those still capable of being honest with themselves — harbor at least one of the same worries that those of us who oppose him do, namely : that one day his big, fat, stupid, disgusting mouth with write a check that his big, fat, stupid, disgusting ass can’t can’t cash.

Okay, yeah, they might quibble with the colorful (but, I would submit, accurate) adjectives I just used in describing the various anatomical “attributes” of their chosen God Emperor, but still, come on — everybody knows this guy is liable to say something irrevocably stupid at any given time. And while he’s had nothing but praise for the likes of Putin, Assad, Dutarte, and other cheap, pathetic despots, the fact that he’s singled out Congressman John Lewis — a genuine icon of the Civil Rights era and inarguably one of the greatest living Americans — for criticism merely for saying what a good half or more of the country feels about this petulant, inarticulate, brain-dead man-child’s beyond-shady rise to power should give all people of conscience, regardless of their political affiliation, at least some pause. Hell, if anything, Lewis hedged his statements and didn’t go as far as many would. He didn’t, for instance, call Trump a Russian stooge, or a potential spy, even though he looks to be either one, the other, or both. He didn’t call him a racist, even though he clearly is. He didn’t call him a dangerously incompetent buffoon, even though he’s obviously that, as well. All he said was he didn’t consider Trump’s election “victory” to  be legitimate — and considering that the final certified national vote total showed the guy getting over 2.8 million votes less than his opponent, is that such a far-fetched claim?

It was too much for Mr. Big, Orange, and Stupid to handle, though, and so he went on yet another of his juvenile Twitter tirades, saying that Lewis was “all talk and no action,” that his Georgia congressional district was a “disaster,” and that instead of criticizing him, Lewis should “help” him with his still-mythical “urban renewal” projects that will no doubt line the pockets of both himself and his real estate-developer buddies. Imagine the nerve, if you will : while Lewis was being beaten half to death for marching for the equal rights our Constitution already supposedly guaranteed him, Trump was kicking black people out of his rental properties and getting the first tinkling — sorry, inkling — that he got off on watching girls pee, yet he’s got the gall to claim that Lewis is “all talk, no action.” Fuck that — and while we’re at it, Trump, fuck you, too.

And ya know what? That’s not “all talk” on my part, because I think it’s high time that people took some action, too. Fortunately for us all, there’s a simple and stress-free way for people to register their disgust with Trump’s attacks on a towering and heroic figure of American history — all you’ve gotta do is head down to your nearest book or comic store and buy March, the superb three-volume autobiographical graphic novel series from Top Shelf Productions/IDW Publishing chronicling Lewis’ life and struggles that he produced in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin  and artist Nate Powell. These books are available individually in both hardback and softcover, or in a handsome slipcase set that collects all three. An over-sized deluxe hardcover of volume one was released last year, and similar editions of volumes two and three will be out later in 2017, but whatever format you choose know this : you’re in for a read that will move you in a very fundamental, perhaps even life-altering, way. And if we can get this thing to number one on the New York Times graphic novel list or the Diamond sales charts? Well, that might just send Trump a message. Not that I expect him to listen.

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To say that this is one of the most ambitious and ground-breaking endeavors in the history of the graphic story medium is probably to sell it too short, even if it’s true — it’s also a National Book Award winner, a previous #1 best-seller on both the NYT and WaPo lists, a staple in many high school and college classrooms, and a Coretta Scott King Honor Book. Among other things. It’s also a living historical document. Volume one chronicles Lewis’ formative years in rural Alabama, his crucial early-life meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, the rise of the non-violent lunch-counter sit-ins that would become a staple of the era, and culminates in a stunning climax on the steps of Nashville City Hall that will leave you breathless. Volume two sees Lewis and his fellow Freedom Riders venture into the deep south and raises the stakes as the “powers that be” committed to enforcing Jim Crow resort to violence, arson, imprisonment, and even murder to keep systemic racism the law of the land in the buckle of the so-called “Bible Belt.”Allies from Dr. King to then-attorney general Robert F. Kennedy emerge, as well, but will they be enough to help Lewis as he rises, at age 23, to head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and finds himself one of the “Big Six” leaders of the movement itself as they plan the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom? As volume three chronicles, however, other events such as the Freedom Vote and Mississippi Freedom Summer helped to pave the way for the titular “March” that would change the world forever — and fundamentally alter the trajectory of both American society and Lewis’ own life. You may have heard about this one. It happened in a town called Selma.

Rest assured, March is no hagiography or wistful reminiscence of days gone by : divisions within the movement often come to the fore, points of disagreement are laid out in a “warts and all” manner, and not all the people and personalities involved come up smelling like roses. Talk about an invaluable “insider’s look” that almost no one else who is still alive can provide — and as you see how truly hard-fought all the gains Lewis and his compatriots and colleagues made were, you’ll walk away with an even deeper understanding of why any and all attempts to roll them back must be met with the utmost resistance. We owe Lewis and everyone who marched alongside him no less. The rights that people died for are literally under assault in the new Trump era, with racist attorney-general-to-be Jeff Sessions leading the roll-back efforts — is it any wonder, then, that Lewis would consider this pathetic, morally and intellectually bankrupt, fundamentally flawed and compromised president-elect to be less than “legitimate”? Is there one “legitimate” reason he should be expected to attend the disgusting spectacle of his inauguration?

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Powell’s expressive and deeply human art does a great job driving home the emotion in every panel of Lewis and Aydin’s magnificently authentic script, and the overall reading experience provided by March is by turns informative, moving, personal, enraging, and hopeful — often all on the same page. These books are the closest most of us will ever come to “being there,” and, as such, deserve to be celebrated as the triumph of autobiographical narrative that they are. Comics, as a medium, is lucky that one of the most important living historical figures chose this form to tell his life’s story, and now — more than ever — comics readers should show our thanks and support by picking these up. If you have ’em already, buy extra copies and give ’em to a friend. Buy ’em digitally so you can read ’em on the go. Do whatever — just stand with John Lewis while he’s still with us and while you still can. It’s never been easier to do the right thing, so — do it!

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Congressman Lewis deserves so much better from his later years than to see our first African-American president — a man who awarded him the Medal of Freedom, no less — replaced with the most openly racist son-of-a-bitch to hold the office in decades, if not a century. But you know what? He’s been through worse, and come out a stronger and more indomitable man for it, and I have a feeling the same will be true here. When the epic and transformative life of John Lewis comes to an end, flags will fly at half-mast and solemn, sincere, and heartfelt memorials will flood in from across the globe.  By contrast, when Trump finally does us all a favor and shuffles off this mortal coil, I’ll personally start a gofundme to hire a couple of Russian hookers to go and piss on his grave.

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Has it really been three years already?

Yup,  guess it has been that long since Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez locked (sorry) the doors of Keyhouse and concluded their modern long-form horror masterpiece, Locke & Key, and while the time has certainly flown by in many respects, now that we’ve been granted entry into the most mysterious home in Lovecraft, Massachusetts one more time, the truth is that it also feels like it’s been a lot longer than that.  Maybe that’s why it’s good to know, especially right before Christmas, that you (or, in this case, we) actually can go home again.

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Okay, sure, Locke & Key : Small World #1 may be a good, old-fashioned “one-shot” — and it may be set in the past (specifically the early part of the 20th century) and feature a different cast of characters than the one we came to know in the series proper — but that doesn’t mean it’s not a seamless addition to Hill and Rodriguez’ mythos or that it’s anything less than an absolute delight. In fact, for long-time fans of this world, reading this book is almost certain to make you feel like — dare I say it — a kid at Christmas.

The perpetually cynical (a group to which many insist I belong myself) have always said that “familiarity breeds contempt,” of course, but based on the evidence offered here, I humbly beg to differ. Small World serves up nothing you can’t and/or won’t see coming from a mile away — the “surprise” ending, for instance, is nothing of the sort — but for all its predictability and simplicity, it’s much more undeniably charming than it is the product of rote and clinical calculation. An old favorite pair of slippers doesn’t represent anything unexpected or challenging or different, either, but is there anything better to slide your feet into after being out on a cold winter’s day? Tried and true things in life are great comforts, my friends, and in this suddenly-much-more-uncertain world we find ourselves in these days, we need ’em more than ever.

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If you’re getting the distinct impression that there’s nothing precisely essential about Locke & Key : Small World, well, shit — I can’t deny that’s absolutely true. Nothing in these pages will enrich your appreciation of the original series or shift your understanding of it in any way. There are no new perspectives to be had or secrets to ponder. But between Hill’s meticulously-crafted script, Rodriguez’ absolutely breathtaking richly-detailed art, and Jay Fotos’ amazingly well-chosen colors, what we have here is a near-perfect representation in microcosm of what made this series such a runaway sensation in the first place. It’s almost impossible to imagine somebody not being utterly transfixed by this gem of a comic, to the point where I can easily imagine one who may be new to this world feeling downright compelled to track down everything that’s come before once they’re read it. “Newbies” are hardly the so-called “target audience” for this book, it’s true — and I can’t see anyone unfamiliar with the franchise being willing to plunk down the $4.99 cover price that IDW is asking for a standard-length, single-issue publication (okay, that’s a bit of a lump of coal in our collective stocking, I suppose) — but there are bound to be some out there, and my money is on them becoming instantly hooked. Every aspect of this comic is expertly executed. Every single one. And whether you’re falling in love with Keyhouse and its denizens for the first time or all over again, it doesn’t matter — “love is love,” after all, as the title of another IDW special that hit LCS shelves this week reminds us.

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As I mentioned already — probably more than once — the comforts of beautifully-established “known quantities” are at a premium these days. I love comics that push my thinking in new directions and upset the apple cart of my preconceptions, but there’s always a place on my pull list for books that counteract life’s uncertainties and give me exactly what I’m hoping for. Locke & Key : Small World is the best example of this type of storytelling that it’s been my pleasure to encounter in an awfully long time, and for half an hour it let me pretend that all was right with the world, so ya know what? For all my bitching about the fact that this thing cost five bucks, who are we kidding? That feeling is absolutely priceless.

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Horror fans everywhere were reasonably enthusiastic at the prospect, first announced a few years ago now, of a newly-“reimagined” version of the classic TV series Tales From The Darkside being developed for the CW network under the creative guidance of up-and-coming author Joe Hill,  and why not? Hill comes from about as distinguished a genre pedigree as one can imagine, after all (in case you didn’t know his full name is Joseph Hillman King), and has some best-selling and critically-acclaimed novels of his own under his belt (one of which, Horns, was adapted by Alexandre Aja into a darn fine feature film), as well as a little comic-book series you just may have heard of called Locke & Key. Surely this would be a pretty good little show whenever it finally hit our screens, right?

Except, of course, it never did. Somewhere along the twisting, winding, perilous length that is Hollywood’s pre-production pipeline, things god scuttled, and CW “suits” pulled the plug on the project for reasons known only to them before any of us ever got to see what was being cooked up. But in today’s multi-media marketplace, nothing is ever truly dead, and the wise folks at IDW Publishing decided to get in touch with Hill, see if they might be able to make something of his unused scripts, and maybe even get his Locke & Key co-creator, Garbriel Rodriguez, involved on the artistic side. The end result? It’s at your LCS now in the form of the new Tales From The Darkside four-issue mini-series.

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The original syndicated TFTDS TV show was a late-night series comprised of 30-minute “one and done” episodes that told fairly basic horror stories with no real connecting theme or thread to unite to unite them, but Hill’s revamp apparently revolved around the semi-random appearance of something called “darkside events” — metaphysical incursions from the great void beyond designed to dish out either cosmic reward or retribution to folks who have recently done something really good or really bad. It’s a simple but effective conceit that’s employed to good effect in this debut issue, titled “Sleepwalker,” about a spoiled rich kid who takes a summer lifeguarding job and has a woman die on his watch because he was hung over and fell asleep behind his sunglasses, and I have no doubt that in the three installments remaining these “events” will function basically as portals into — well, The Darkside Zone, for lack of a better way of putting it. Our protagonist this time out could certainly be forgiven for thinking he had stumbled through Rod Serling’s dimensional doorway as every single person he encounters ends up giving him a taste of his own medicine after his mother’s high-priced lawyers manage to procure his very own “Get Out Of Jail, Free” card for him — which is probably all you really need to know in order to get a general gist of what’s on offer in the pages of this comic.

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Hill’s TV scripts are being adapted for the printed page by Michael Benedetto, but I think it’s fair to assume that the essence of them is surviving intact, and while the breadth and scope of Locke & Key can’t in any way be expected to be duplicated in a four-issue anthology series, it’s refreshing to see the talents of these individuals at work in a more “self-contained” and “scaled-back” format. We knew that Hill and Rodriguez could tackle sprawling epics, sure, but one installment in with Tales From The Darkside and it’s already crystal clear that simple-but-effective macabre morality plays are well within their wheelhouse, as well, and while it would or could be tempting to assume that our creators might try to get away with “mailing it in” on a project like this, at least if you’re a hardened cynic like I am, the simple truth is that, as Rodriguez’s superbly fluid double-splash image reproduced below shows, no one’s doing anything of the sort here. There’s going to be a lot of attention being paid to this new take on Tales From The Darkside, and who knows? Maybe the studio execs will take notice and decide that this idea has some life in it yet.

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One brief final note : the one member of the Locke & Key team conspicuous by his absence here is colorist extraordinaire Jay Fotos, and while there’s nothing wrong with Ryan Hill’s hues in the least, fans will no doubt be very  pleased to see that the entire gang is getting back together later this year for a very special project teased in a “house ad” at the back of this comic. Even if the rest of the book sucked — which it absolutely doesn’t — I would feel that my $3.99 was well-spent just for this fucking promo page.

Yeah — that’s how big it the news is. And even if Tales From The Darkside doesn’t prove to be your cup of tea, you’ll still be over the moon about what these creators have coming up next. Trust me.

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Last month, a celebrated writer from outside the world of comics landed in our little four-color ghetto with a thud when Ta-Nehisi Coates debuted his much-ballyhooed new Black Panther series over at Marvel — first issue sales were strong, but the comic itself sucked (to put it mildly), and if the shelves at my LCS are any indication, there are going to be a lot of copies of issue 2 available in the bargain boxes sooner rather than later. It’s too bad, of course, because Coates is both an interesting and important literary figure — as well as one with an apparently long-standing love for this much-maligned medium — but when the history of comic books in the 21st century is written, Black Panther circa 2016 looks likely to go down as yet another missed opportunity to bring new readers into the fold.

Still, there’s gotta be hope, right? I mean, there has to be a successful novelist out there somewhere, with a strong fan base of his or her own, who both wants to work in comics (for whatever reason) and knows what they’re doing, doesn’t there? Enter William Gibson.

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If you’re a fan of speculative science fiction, Gibson’s name is one that needs no introduction — and truth be told it may not even if sci-fi isn’t  your cup of tea, simply because he hasn’t just “reached the mountaintop” of that genre, he is the mountaintop, and has been for a couple of decades now. How his latest project, the five-issue comics series Archangel, landed at the doorstep of IDW Publishing is anyone’s guess (although he alludes to its origins a bit in this first issue’s extensive backmatter), but I’m sure Ted Adams and company are very glad it did, because the first printing of issue one sold out nationwide in just a couple of days and they’re already headed back to press with it. So, hey, happy faces all around there — but will all those Gibson fans be back for more next month?

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If the debut installment of Archangel is anything to go by, I’d have to say the answer to that would be an unqualified “yes.” This opening salvo may not be anything like an “instant classic” by any means, but it does everything a good first issue needs to do by offering readers an intriguing premise (2016 Earth is an irradiated post-apocalyptic wasteland ruled by a father-son team of major-league assholes who have now perfected time travel and are seeking to re-write history to their specifications by going back in time and impersonating their ancestors), immediately-identifiable (if broadly-drawn) characters, stylish artwork, and plenty of engaging mysteries — particularly if you’re into Foo Fighters (not the band), Fireballs, and all that other “exotic” aerial weaponry the Nazis purportedly threw up into the sky at the tail end of WWII. In short, it’s a fun, interesting, well-paced, intelligent read.

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And my oh my is it ever a joy to look at! The art team of penciller Butch Guice and inker Tom Palmer would have been considered an “A-list” pairing in, say, 1986, but the illustrations in Archangel #1 show that not only have these two consummate pros not “lost a step,” they’re actually gotten better while no one was looking. Add in the superb color work of Diego Rodriguez and put all this gorgeousness under a breathtaking Tula Lotay cover and what you’ve got is a comic that combines the best of both the “old-school” and “new-school” artists in service of a script that plays to the strengths of everyone involved.

Now, as far as the script goes — actor/writer Michael St. John Smith is credited on the inside cover for “editing and story structure” (I know what the first means, but I’m a little less clear on the second), but in this issue’s already-referenced backmatter (which, in fairness, takes up half the book and its inclusion is a big reason, I’m sure, for the higher $4.99 cover price here — still, for a “process junkie” like me, I’m not complaining because I love seeing all the stages of a given page come to life in front of my eyes) Gibson refers to him as a full collaborator, and the two of them share the copyright on the material, so — I dunno, it could just be a case where one guy’s getting short shrift because the other guy’s name (which is in big bold letters right above the logo on the cover) sells copies, but I’ll say this much : they both deserve a ton of credit, apportioned in whatever percentage is most agreeable to both, for delivering a crackerjack story that doubles, frankly, as a fucking clinic on how to structure a first issue/episode/chapter/you name it. If subsequent installments are anywhere near this strong, we’re in for a very memorable ride indeed.

 

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It’s been awhile since the artistic collective known as 44Flood put out a new comic via their publishing deal with IDW, and while I admit that the last effort to go out under their label, Ben Templesmith’s dystopian sci-fi nightmare The Squidder is certainly a tough act to follow, if the first issue of the new four-parter Victorie City is anything to go by, it should be more than up to the task — even though I’ll be the first to admit that, perhaps more than any other comic out there on the stands right now, this one’s going to divide people on a purely aesthetic level almost instantly.

First, though, a few words about the story — writer Keith Carmack appears to be constructing a deceptively standard-issue hard-boiled noir here, with our ostensible “hero,” police detective Hektor Ness, playing the role of one good cop in a city full of crooked ones. He’s finally decided that he’s had enough of the corruption and sleaze his co-workers (particularly his partner) engage in as a matter of course, so he’s taken it upon himself to clean up the force single-handedly, one dirty cop at a time. Needless to say, his superiors are less than thrilled about his little endeavor and soon enough he finds that he’s the one in hot water rather than everybody else. Honestly, though, that’s probably the least of his problems, because a violently psychotic (and as yet unnamed) serial killer has just hit town, and he’s leaving a trail of bodies in his wake that would make a third-world military dictator blush. He really seems to relish his “work,” as well, given the blood-curdling dialogue that literally oozes from his mouth and the clinical calculation with which he goes about wreaking havoc.  These two principal characters are on a collision course from the outset, then — even if they don’t know it until the end of this issue, which closes with a striking and memorable double-page splash of them facing each other down.

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Hmmm — what could possibly be so “divisive” about all this, then, you ask? Well, I’m tempted to give an easy answer here and simply say “the art,” but truth be told, Vincent Nappi’s scratchy, rapid-fire, visceral illustrations, combined with the pared-down color palette he employs, are only a part of the overall “DIY” ethos of Victorie City. Jessi Adrignola’s lettering is likewise about as far-removed from the industry standard as you can imagine, and when you put all this under either of the book’s visually-arresting-but-highly-unconventional covers (Ben Templesmith’s wrap being at the top of this review and Nappi’s “B” cover being shown directly above), the result is something that wouldn’t look or feel out of place on the ‘zine rack of your local punk record store 15 or 20 years ago. The fact that it’s happening in the here and now is certainly worth getting excited about if you’re an old-school indie publication fan like me, but if you’re used to a more professionally-executed look to your reading material and frankly can’t abide anything else, well — this just ain’t gonna be the book for you.

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To which I say “tough shit — your loss,” even though I know it’ll make me sound like an asshole (or maybe that should be even more of an asshole). Honestly, whether the look of Victorie City is something you’re wholeheartedly on board with, or something you need to “get past,” the simple fact of the matter is that the story here doesn’t just “grab you,” it straight-up punches you in the nuts right from the opening page, and it doesn’t let you up once you’re writhing on the ground. You say it “looks ugly”? Well, that’s kinda the point, because the world it’s showing you is ugly in the extreme, as are most of the people in it. Go find your dose of “feel-good” someplace else, friends, because it’s not happening here.

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And so, now that we’ve sent everyone else scurrying back to their Marvel and DC four-color capes-n’-tights “reassurance therapy” sessions, I can safely tell you few misanthropic troglodytes who remain that Victorie City is almost certainly the comic for you. It’s as subtle as a sledgehammer to the skull and as welcoming as a brass-knuckle sandwich. It’s the kind of book that waves its hand at you and says “howdy neighbor!” with an evil-ass grin while it’s standing on its side of the fence and pissing on your lawn. If a comic book could walk right up to you and tell you “hey, that teenage daughter of yours gets prettier and prettier every day when I see her walking home from her school at 3:30 in the afternoon to your house at 1432 Elmwood Lane, I might just have to introduce myself to her one of these days” — it would be this one. No prisoners are taken here and no fucks are given about it.

Am I “all in” for the next three issues? You’d better believe it.

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Any long-time comic book reader knows the feeling — “I’m probably not gonna like this, but I’m buying it anyway.” And by all accounts I really probably shouldn’t like Gutter Magic, the brainchild of creator/writer Rich Douek, who hails from an advertising background, artist Brett Barkley, and colorist Jules Rivera. For one thing, it’s an “urban fantasy,” a YA-ish subgenre of sword-and-sorcery that I like even less than sword-and-sorcery. For another, the title character has the fingernails-on-a-blackboard name of, I shit you not, Cinder Byrnes. And finally, Byrnes is —yawn! stretch! — a “lovable rouge,” and if there’s one thing I’m bored to the fucking eyeteeth with, in both fiction and reality, it’s “lovable rouges.”

Still, this whole Comics Experience/IDW co-publishing venture is something I really do want to support with my dollars. Comics Experience is doing great work helping aspiring creators “workshop” their ideas into shape and then offering publishing deals for the best of these efforts. It’s one of the most pro-active programs for getting first-time writers and artists into print that I’ve ever seen, and IDW, a publisher that I’ve had some problems with due to their continued involvement with ethically dubious public domain raiders such as Craig Yoe, is to be commended for hooking up with CE on this effort and getting these no-name-recognition books onto our shelves. Most of these titles will invariably prove to be a tough sell in an already-tough market, and the fact that they’re willing to take a gamble on untested creators telling stories that said creators are even allowed to keep copyright ownership of? Well, that deserves both a round of applause and my four dollars.

So far their track record’s been pretty good, too : Drones was an interesting little yarn with some socio-political relevance, and Tet was flat-out fantastic — one of the very best war comics in years and a shoe-in for my top ten comics of 2015 list (where it clocked in at number eight). And so, despite my reservations about it, I knew from the outset that I was going to give the third Comics Excperience/IDW title a shot — and all I can say now is “holy shit, am I ever glad I did.”

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Gutter Magic #1 is something of a curious beast in that I both can and can’t put my finger on exactly why I like it so darn much. I can, of course, point to Barkley’s outstanding, evocative, highly-detailed art that brings this off-kilter world to lushly-realized life, and to Rivera’s beautifully-chosen color palette, but for the life of me I still can’t understand why Douek’s script hit home for me — I only know that it did.

The premise is certainly intriguing in that we’re apparently being thrust into a world where magic, not weapons, won WWII, and where the wizards who emerged victorious have rebuilt New York City (and, one presumes, the world) in their image, with an elite “magical class” ensconced in majestic towers while the rabble are forced to eke out some kind of subsistence living on the streets far below, hoping to pick up scraps of discarded (and titular) “gutter magic” tossed aside like table scraps from their “masters” on high. Given these conditions, you’ve honestly gotta wonder how much worse things would be if Hitler had won — until you remember about, ya know, the concentration camps, ethnic cleansing and all that. So, yeah, I guess the “good guys” still emerged victorious — even if they’re not all that good themselves.

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Enter our “lovable rouge” who actually is likable, Cinder Byrnes, who has the family pedigree to be living among the elite, but whose “connection to magic” has somehow been mysteriously broken. As our story opens, he’s in the midst of stealing a spell that will put all this to rights and allow him to assume his “proper” place in the draconian social order, but first he’s got to both a) get the spell to actually work, and b) survive long enough to see that happen, which won’t be easy given that the spell’s “owners” have sicced a ruthless mercenary band on his tail.

By and large “world building” is the order of the day in this debut installment, and Douek and Barkley (who didn’t illustrate Douek’s earlier, formative,  digitally-published issues of this series but was brought into the fold thanks to his CE involvement and is so far proving to be a positively revelatory discovery) sink their teeth into that effort with gusto, giving us streets, markets, buildings, and characters that all feel reasonably authentic given their admittedly extraordinary circumstances. There’s a two-page spread of a chase through the “Goblin Market,” for instance, that simply must be seen to be believed, but truth be told every panel of every page here is rich in both detail and dialogue that is both evocative and memorable.

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Throw in some tantalizing hints that the grandest magician of all may have been H-bomb inventor Robert Oppenheimer, and the idea that there’s much more going on here than meets the eye really kicks into another gear. There’s a lot of  gleefully-surplus-to-requirements intrigue and mystery being layered on top of what at first appears to be standard-issue “Dungeons And Dragons With A Steampunk Twist” storytelling, and while some may say that the devil is usually to be found in all those extra details, in Gutter Magic they’re absolutely transformative, as Douek, Barkley, and Rivera seem to have found a spell that allows them to turn the seemingly mundane into the instantly impressive.Bring on the next three issues, then, since this is — I’m sorry — magical stuff indeed.

 

 

Okay, so normally I pretty much avoid “top 10” lists because I’m sure they’ll make me cringe later — and when it comes to movies there’s probably a few (at least) deserving entries that would flat-out slip my increasingly calcified and deteriorating mind — but ya know, as far as comics go, this year I think I can do it. One caveat, though : since we’re big believers in monthly (or less-than-monthly, as the case may be) “singles” around these parts, the following list is specifically for comic book series, be they of the ongoing or limited-duration variety,  and therefore you will find no graphic novels, digital comics, or anything of the like here, although I should stress that there were any number of absolutely excellent comics that came out last year in those formats — I just wanted my list to reflect my preference for “floppy” books that are serialized in the good, old-fashioned, printed single-issue format. So without any further ado —

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10. Southern Bastards (Jason Aaron/Jason Latour – Image)

The pacing of this series is certainly unique, with the Jasons (Aaron and Latour) going from extended stage-setting in the first arc to a multi-part “origin” of the series’ chief villain in the second to side-steps focusing on supporting characters in the third, but they definitely seem to be building up to something big and memorable in an unconventional, but certainly appealing, way.

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9. The Twilight Children (Gilbert Hernandez/Darwyn Cooke – DC/Vertigo)

Classic Hernandez “location-centric” storytelling peppered with broadly-drawn, memorable characters orbiting around a truly fascinating mystery/supernatural thriller. Cooke’s illustration is, of course, superb.

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8. Tet (Paul Tucker/Paul Allor – IDW/Comics Experience)

The second series produced under the auspices of Comics Experience’s publishing partnership with IDW, Paul Tucker and Paul Allor’s four-parter is the most harrowing and effective meditation on the human cost of war to appear on the comics page in literally a couple of decades. Now available in trade, go out and grab it immediately.

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7. Deadly Class (Rick Rememder/Wes Craig – Image)

Things seem to be heading into Battle Royale territory here, with the exploits of Marcus and his increasingly-fractured circle of former “friends” taking a number of gut-wrenching twists and turns over the course of 2015. Wes Craig’s art gets stronger and more confident with each issue.

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6. Annihilator (Grant Morrison/Frazer Irving – Legendary)

Morrison’s Philip K. Dick-esque mind-fuck script is brought to grand, cosmic life by Irving’s absolutely spectacular art to create a story of personal tragedy played out on a universe-shaking scale. Now out in trade and definitely worth a purchase.

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5. Big Man Plans (Eric Powell/Tim Wiesch – Image)

The most gleefully anti-social and misanthropic book of 2015, this Powell/Wiesch four-part series embraces the most extreme aspects of the grindhouse without remorse or even apology. A visceral wallop to the face that leaves you reeling — and loving every minute of it. The trade’s available now, so do yourself a favor.

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4. Effigy (Tim Seeley/Marley Zarcone – DC/Vertigo)

Seven amazing issues of “reality”TV/celebrity “culture” deconstruction wrapped around a trans-dimensional mystery story that’s been on a “hiatus” since September that I’m increasingly worried may be permanent. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, because Seeley and Zarcone have barely begun to scratch the surface here.

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3. Crossed + One Hundred (Alan Moore/Simon Spurrier/Gabriel Andrade/Fernando Heinz/Rafa Ortiz – Avatar Press)

Moore and Andrade’s initial six-issue story arc was absolutely epic and arguably the best “zombie comic” of all time, and while it took a little while for Simon Spurrier to find his footing as The Bearded One’s successor, he seems to have finally discovered his own voice while remaining true to his predecessor’s “blueprint” of strong “world building” littered with knowing winks in the direction of various genre fiction classics.

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2. Hip Hop Family Tree (Ed Piskor – Fantagraphics Books)

Piskor has “re-purposed” his oversized hardcover cultural history as a monthly series on cheap paper with intentionally-shoddy production values and the end result is a revelation. Yeah, the gigantic volumes are great, but dammit, this is how the series should have been presented all along. A wealth of new material, including “director’s commentary” pages, definitely helps, as well. Worth the “double dip,” without question.

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1.  Providence (Alan Moore/Jacen Burrows – Avatar Press)

No surprise at all for regular readers of my shit, the latest and greatest entry in the Moore/Burrows “Lovecraft Cycle,” now at its halfway point, is shaping up to be the most literate, multi-layered, immersive comics reading experience of the decade, as well as one of the best pure horror comics, well, ever. I’ve written somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 words on the series already, and it’s nowhere near enough, so expect plenty more single-issue reviews for the now-apparently-bimonthly series as 2016 rolls along. If I only had five bucks to my name and the latest issue was coming out, I’d buy Providence and go hungry — it’s just. That. Fucking. Good.

A few final points — while Image certainly dominated the list this year, their two most popular and acclaimed titles, Saga and Sex Criminals, are nowhere to be found here. I felt that both had “off years” and that their currently-running story arcs are definitely not up to previous standards. Saga will most likely rebound, but Sex Criminals is just getting swallowed further and further down into its own self-created rabbit hole and may very well have, pun absolutely intended, shot its wad by this point.

And while we’re on the subject of list domination, I’d be surprised if Image pulls a “repeat” in 2016, to be honest. Not because their line is getting worse, mind you, but because Vertigo is just getting that much better. They came on strong at the tail end of 2015 with their re-launch, but a one-or two-issue sample size just isn’t enough to earn most of these superb new series, like Slash & BurnRed ThornThe Sheriff Of BabylonUnfollowLast Gang In Town, or the latest iteration of Lucifer spots in this year’s top 10. Next year, however, is another matter entirely, and unless these books go to pot, I fully expect Veritgo to be the publisher to beat in 2016.

So — that’s our (alright, my) 2015 list. I’m a little bummed that female creators aren’t better-represented herein, to be sure (Marley Zarcone’s the only one), but hopefully the increased presence of women in the freelancer ranks will continue apace and my list next year — assuming I do one — will be far more gender-balanced. Kelly Sue DeConnick is certainly blazing a heck of a trail with Bitch Planet, and Gail Simone is in top creative form so far on Clean Room, but both of those books fell just outside my rankings this time around. Still, I’m as unpleasantly surprised as anyone that the comics industry is still as depressingly male-dominated as it is.

As far as more pleasant  surprises go, I never thought I’d be putting together a Top 10 list in 2015 that featured Alan Moore twice. If I was doing this in 30 years ago, sure, but apparently Moore is every bit the creative dynamo at age 63 as he was at 33, and so if I had to single out one “creator of the year,” he’d be it. In fact, he’d earn the nod by a country mile. I only wish that more people were actually, ya know, buying his stuff. Providence is selling great for an Avatar book, but it’s still routinely bested on the Diamond charts by even the most tepid and uninspired “Big Two” fare, so if there’s one thing we know about comics heading into 2016, it’s that the overwhelming majority of stuff coming out will still, sorry to say it, suck.

Okay, that’s it for this time around — here’s to happy reading in the year ahead!

 

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Once upon a time — when comics copied movies rather than vice-versa — there was a little bit of a “Vietnam boom” in the funnybook pages. Hot on the heels of the success of flicks like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket at the box office, Marvel and DC looked to America’s (then, at any rate) most divisive military entanglement as the source of inspiration for a handful of well-regarded late ’80s series, and while it’s certainly been a healthy spell since I dug out my old back issues of The ‘Nam or Cinder And Ashe, I remember being as thoroughly impressed with them as anyone and everyone else was back when they were a going concern.

Then, of course, the ’90s hit, and when the Image books of that woe-begotten decade’s early years ushered in the era of the genuinely brain-dead superhero story packaged inside a foil-wrapped holographic cover, most books that had anything to do with reality quickly and quietly disappeared. As a result,  it’s been quite awhile since we had a good Vietnam comic. The astute among you may take exception to this truncated timeline I’ve provided and say “hey, wait a minute, a pretty good chunk of Before Watchmen : Comedian took place ‘in country,'” but that just serves to reinforce my point — it’s been quite awhile since we had a good Vietnam comic.

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All that changed last Wednesday, though, when writer/letterer Paul Allor and artist/colorist Paul Tucker’s Tet #1 hit the stands courtesy of Comics Experience’s semi-new joint distribution venture with IDW Publishing. How much did I enjoy this first issue? Let me just put it this way — in a week crowded with good comics, including new issues of Deadly ClassThe Wicked + The Divine, Phonogram : The Immaterial GirlStarveHarrow CountyRebelsCrossed + One Hundred, and Bitch Planet (to name just a handful of standout titles that hit the shelves in one of the most awesome — and expensive — Wednesdays in recent memory), this was undoubtedly my pick of the week. So, yeah, I liked it a lot.

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I couldn’t say for certain whether or not Allor and/or Tucker served in Vietnam themselves, mind you (they were probably both too young), but Tet certainly feels authentic, and who can ask for more than that? Right off the bat we get a pretty good picture of the sort of man that our protagonist, one Lt. Eugene Smith, both was in 1968 (specifically around the time — as if you hadn’t already pieced it together — of the Tet Offensive) and is in the present day. Back then he was fresh off barely making it out of a My Lai-style massacre in the jungle and newly assigned to working a desk as translator/liaison in Hue City, where he’s met a young lady named Ha that he plans to marry and bring back with him to the US. Nowadays, though — well, let’s just say it’s pretty obvious none of that worked out.

What exactly happened? I guess that’s what this four-issue mini-series is going to tell us, but so far it seems a pretty safe bet that the murder of Lt. Smith’s buddy, Chip, and his subsequent assignment to help “crack” the case with a local detective named Bao, probably had something to do with how and why his life went irrevocably off the rails. Oh, and the less-than-subtle hint that Ha herself may have been a spy for the other side most likely didn’t help matters much, either.

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Suffice to say, there’s a lot of set-up in this opening installment, but Allor’s naturalistic scripting style and engaging dialogue makes a dense-with-information read flow very gracefully, and the nuanced, multi-layered nature of the story certainly rewards careful re-reading, as a number of seemingly “throwaway” lines are actually, of course, dripping with import. The author has referred to this book as being a “war/crime/romance” story, and all three of those seemingly incongruous factors actually play off and complement each other in a very deft manner here, with each being given enough “breathing room” to establish itself as a driving force within the overall narrative without overpowering the other aspects of the trifecta. It’s a definite tight-rope walk to balance them all, but somehow Tet #1 makes it all look pretty easy (even though I’m sure it was anything but).

As for the artistic side of the ledger, well, what more needs to be said ? As the pages reproduced above ably demonstrate, Tucker takes to the period and setting of this tale like a fish to water, and his gritty-yet-cinematic style is flat-out perfect for the book. In some ways this is “throwback” art that conveys a lot of the same mood and energy of late-’80s comics, but there’s nothing wrong with that in my book since those years were, as we’ve already discussed, home to the “mini-golden-age” of Vietnam comics . It’s not entirely fair to say the book has a completely “retro” look to it, though, as the covers and many of the interior panels certainly betray a thoroughly modern design sensibility. Let’s call the art in this series a pleasing blend of old and new alike, then, since that seems a pretty fair summation of things to this point.

My only concern with Tet going forward — and it’s a small once — is a nagging back-of-the-mind fear that four issues just won’t be enough to tell a story this complex, yet unmistakably human, and do everyone involved justice. If the first chapter is any indication, though, that’s a baseless worry, since Allor and Tucker have managed to do more in one issue so far than any number of comics can pull off in five or six. I think we’re in very good hands, then, and while the ride ahead will almost certainly be fraught with a heck of a lot of  drama, peril, betrayal, and heartbreak, it also promises to be an instantly memorable one. Jump on Tet now  — it may not be the most-talked-about comic on the racks, but it will be among the small-yet-discerning audience that’s reading it.

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Warning! If questions about who owns what and how and why they claim to own it put you in the frame of mind Steve Ditko is shown to be — uhhhhmmm — “enjoying” in the legendary self-portrait shown above, you might want to bug out on this whole “Just Pay Ditko!” series right now, because things are going to be taking a turn for the either detailed or pedantic (depending on your point of view) over the course of the next few entries in this series.

Yeah, that’s right — just when you thought it was safe to pay attention to things here at Geeky Universe again, I’m back after about a week away and talking about my “next few entries in this series” when at first I had promised this was “only” going to be a ten-part affair. What can I say? The mystery has deepened and taken a few unexpected turns in the time I’ve taken a break from writing about this stuff to concentrate more completely on researching it. As things now stand, we’re looking at probably going 15 or 16 installments before this is all over — and I use the term “over” very loosely, trust me, because it’s becoming more and more clear to me that, well — there just ain’t no clarity to be found on some of these matters. It sometimes feels like I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole and, rather than clawing my way back up towards the surface as any reasonable, right-thinking person would do, I’ve decided to dig down even deeper to see if maybe I can, I dunno, tunnel my way to China or something. If I never see daylight again, I suppose I’ll probably regret that, but for now —

First question : why, exactly, is much of what we assume to be “public domain” material — stuff which is therefore freely available to reprint for anybody who wants to do it — actually considered as such? If you’ve been kicking around the comic scene for a long time, you’ve probably thought, much like I did until quite recently, that when it comes to most of the older Charlton Comics material — you know, the kind of thing being put out by Fantagraphics Books, Yoe Books, and others in their recent Steve Ditko hardcover collections — that it’s a pretty open-and-shut matter. In much the same way that George Romero’s omission of a proper copyright blurb on the very first print of Night Of The Living Dead has resulted in anybody who feels like it putting that legendary film out on DVD, the story goes that Charlton’s copyright indicias on their various publications were so sloppily-assembled that they just doesn’t hold any legal water any more and, in fact, probably never did.

That could be true, But what if it isn’t?

Let’s be honest here for a minute — DC paid a tidy sum for the rights to former Charlton characters like Blue Beetle, The Question, Peacemaker, Captain Atom, etc. Why would they do that if there was no need to?

Similarly, why would they have such a confusing stance at present vis a vis Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt — another Charlton property they once claimed ownership of? They never did much with the character, to be sure — Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons changing his name to Ozymandias and having him hatch a plot to save the world by destroying most of it notwithstanding — and in 1995 either sold or allowed it to lapse back into the hands of (depending on which version of events you read online and subsequently believe) its creator, Pete Morisi, but even though we’ve already established that there are multiple takes on this single transaction, it’s still not so simple : DC not only retains the rights to the short-lived Peter Cannon series they took out for a test run on the early ’90s, they also still claim exclusive reprint rights to the character’s 1960s Charlton-published stories. It’s only new Cannon material, apparently, that Morisi is allowed to pursue with the deal he has in place.

Again, if the Charlton rights are such a mess, why would DC even be in a position to strike such a convoluted agreement with the character’s creator? Why couldn’t they both publish all the Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt shit they wanted — and why couldn’t anyone and everyone else, for that matter?

One way or another, 1960 seems to be a turning point for what is and isn’t PD as far as Charlton publications go, and again, I can’t really begin to fathom why that is. If you look at some of the sites that allow uploading of old public domain comics, like http://digitalcomicsmuseum.com , or have a gander at Bob Heer’s excellent Ditko blog http://www.ditko.blogspot,com , you’ll notice that there are plenty of 1950s Charlton stories presented in their entirety, but nothing after 1960. Yet it’s widely considered by fans that the ’60s Charlton stuff is, legally speaking, the most “freely available” of the bunch because that’s when the “fine print” in their comics became really half-assed and indecipherable.

And yet — many of the post-1960 stories that have been reprinted in the oversized hardcover collections The Art Of Ditko and The Creativity Of Ditko were also presented in various black-and-white publications put out by Steve Ditko and Robin Snyder many years back, where they ran with copyright notices attached even though no such notices appear in the newer, more expensive (and yeah, much nicer) volumes.

So what’s going on? I honestly don’t know. As I mentioned in my previous piece here about the Konga material specifically, I don’t think anyone at Yoe Books or IDW Publishing is a legal idiot. They must feel that they have some fairly solid ground to base their belief that they are only reprinting PD stuff on. But I’d be very curious to know what that ground is, and why others have chosen to either shy away from this material or reprint it with proper copyright notices attached. And it’s also worth pointing out that, at least so far, all of the material presented in Fantagraphics’ Steve Ditko Archives series has been, you guessed it — pre-1960 stuff. I’m wondering, naturally enough at this point,  if Gary Groth and Blake Bell plan to continue these books once they reach that (apparent, at any rate) “watershed” year.

I know what you’re probably thinking right now — “come on, Ryan, nobody would be stupid enough to reprint comics work that’s actually owned by somebody else,” but hey — it’s happened before, and given that Charlton isn’t around to provide the best paper trail of who that “somebody else” might be, would it really be all that shocking to find out material was being published with the attitude of “hey, we’re pretty certain this is PD stuff, and even if it’s not, I doubt anyone will say anything about it?” I don’t think this is very likely to be the case, but I can’t rule it out as at least a  small possibility in my mind until I’m able to get some more definitive answers.

Which is where you, dear reader (whoever you might be) come in. I’m hoping somebody who’s better versed in these matters than I am can either comment here or over on Rob Imes’ “Ditkomania” facebook page and really break down how and why some folks feel safe in categorizing all post-1960 Charlton work as public domain while others don’t. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Is there any way to even know for certain?

There are other, perhaps even bigger, questions at play here, as well — questions like why this stuff would ever be considered to be PD in the first place if it’s never even been conclusively proven to have been “work for hire” material, why retroactively adjudicating  and/or assuming that it is “work for hire” ensures that the writers and artists who produced it are just going to screwed over yet again, etc. — and don’t even get me started on the trail of “ownership” of the Warren material that Dark Horse/New Comic Company is currently reprinting (you know, in books like the Creepy Presents Steve Ditko volume that got me started on this whole thing in the first place). Sometimes it all feels like it’s just too damn much to come to grips with. But I’m trying — and if you’re still along for the ride, then your patience, as well as any expertise you might be able to bring to the table, are very much appreciated.

All of which is my way of saying that even though I dug this hole of my own volition, I’m not sure that I can get back out of it without some help.