Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Weekly Pull - June 1st

Another week, another wad of cash that I'll have to drop to pick up all the comics I'm wanting to read.  I'm definitely going to have to remain conscious of my efforts towards fiscal restraint, because this summer looks like it could bankrupt me if I picked up every book I had a passing interest in.

Fortunately, I feel like I'm making a good start at it.  You'll notice that I only have ten books this week, which is pretty good considering everything that is dropping this week.  DC is releasing a million Flashpoint tie-ins, so I've had to be choosy when it comes to deciding which ones I'll buy versus which ones will be left on the shelf.  There are five releasing this week, and I'm only getting two (one of which is the main title), so that's not too bad.  Things are also right again in the world, because I'm back to buying more DC than Marvel books (mostly because Heroes for Hire and Amazing Spider-Man are the only two books with major Spider-Man appearances this week - apparently I cannot resist his exciting exploits).

There have been some rumblings from Marvel about how they might change the prices / page counts on their books, which I will hopefully have a chance to talk about in another post.  Either way, it looks like that will further impact my comic buying habits.  For now, I'm happy to pick up the following:



Other Companies
50 GIRLS 50 #1 (OF 4)

All told, I'll have three event-related titles (if Amazing Spider-Man counts as an early Spider-Island book) and five books from outside the main publishing branches of the Big Two (Sweet Tooth is a Vertigo book).

Of the ten titles, I am the most excited for Secret Six and Sweet Tooth.

Secret Six is among my top three favourite series going right now, so I cannot wait to get my hands on this week's book, which will focus on Bane's attempt to come to terms with realizing that, despite believing his lifestyle to be noble, he is damned to hell.  An exciting concept on its own, I know that Gail Simone will manage to kick it up to 11.

Sweet Tooth is another great title, written and drawn by Canada's own Jeff Lemire.  It is a post-apocalyptic tale, where most of the world's population died from some unidentified contagion.  Since that time, few children have been born, but every single one is a mutant-hybrid, being part human and part animal.  The story follows the continuing adventures of Gus, a half-deer / half-boy hybrid, Jeperd, a hulking drifter, and their band of fellow travelers.  Despite the somewhat complex explanation, the book tells some incredibly poignant and grounded stories.  Worth the price of admission every single issue.

What are you excited for this week?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sharing Some News

Back in January of this year, I happened to find my way over to a little site called thought balloons.  It's a wonderful little endeavour where people write a one page comic book script on a weekly basis.  The fun part is that the writers change characters every time, so every week brings a new character to the party, along with their own unique challenges and opportunities.  Once the posts go up, people offer their thoughts on what parts of a script worked, what could use some work, and what was out of this world.

As you might imagine, a place that combines comics, writing, and constructive feedback was pretty appealing to me.  And the best part is that the site encourages readers to "play at home", writing their own scripts for the weekly choices.  I jumped at the opportunity, doing my best to write up scripts every single week.

Of course, real life got in the way sometimes, so there were occasions where I wasn't able to post something in a timely matter - or at all in some cases - but I did my best.  Over the four or five months I've been frequenting the site, I think I've made a pretty good showing for myself.

Fortunately, the regular thought balloons seem to feel the same way, kindly inviting myself and one of the other play-at-homers to join the group, officially becoming fellow "tenured writers" (as they like to call it) this week! You can read the post introducing us right here, if you are so inclined.

My first official script is going up later this week (this week's choice is Zatanna, which I am quite excited for), but I thought I would re-post one of my favourite past scripts to celebrate the occasion.  I've produced a lot of different pieces focusing on a number of different characters, but my favourite one is actually the first post I made.

When I originally discovered the site, they were in the midst of a week focusing on Lois Lane.  Initially, I didn't have much of an idea of what I would do with Superman's gal pal.  It was slow going at first, but with some brainstorming, I decided that focusing on Lois and Clark's home life could be a lot of fun.  That kind of thinking ended up becoming the script you see below.

I hope you enjoy this one.  It may be an oldie, but I firmly believe it to still be a goodie.

A quiet moment between Lois and Clark, discussing bathroom redecoration options.

1 – Lois and Clark are sitting on a couch in their apartment, going through color swatches together. Clark seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself, Lois is less impressed.

LOIS: Burly Wood?

LOIS (2):Electric Pink?

LOIS (3): Peachy Keen?

LOIS (4): Marvellous Maroon?

2 – Lois throws the color swatches away in frustration. Clark is surprised by her sudden outburst.

LOIS: Ugh!

LOIS (2): Who comes up with these names? And who thinks these colours would look good in a bathroom?

3 – Clark is on his hands and knees, picking up the dropped swatches. Lois is standing in the background, hands on her hips, a look of mild frustration on her face.

CLARK: I know you aren't quite as excited at the prospect of redoing the bathroom, Lois. If you prefer, I could pick out the colors.

CLARK (2) (quietly, partly to himself): -heh- Haven't done anything like this since I helped Ma design my costume...

4 – Clark looks up, smiling his big, friendly smile. Three swatches are visible in his hands: red, blue, and yellow.

CLARK: What do you say, honey?

5 – Silent panel showing Lois's upper-body. Her hands remain on her hips, but her frustration is tempered by the kind offer of her husband. Weighing the merits of his proposal, she wears something between a smirk and a grin.

6 – Repeat panel.

LOIS: Let me see Peachy Keen again...

I hope you liked it and I hope to see you over at thought balloons.  We're always happy to have more writers...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

EXPRESSions - Week of May 25th

So with the sheer number of comics I purchased this week, it took me a tad longer than expected to work my way through them all.  Fortunately, the additional reading time gave me the opportunity to think of a more suitable name for my ponderings on the comics I read every week.

As you may have gathered from the post title, I've renamed Quik Thots to EXPRESSions.  I think it does a slightly better job of sounding somewhat respectable while also pointing towards what I hope to do in these types of posts: namely, express my thoughts on comic books in a succinct, express manner.  I'm pretty pleased with the name and I hope you feel the same way.

But, in an attempt to keep to that overall idea of brevity, let's move on to my weekly thinkings.  (as always, the titles are hyperlinked to more information on the individual comics, should you be so inclined)

Action Comics #901
Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Kenneth Rocafort and Jesus Merino

I've been happily following Action Comics since Paul Cornell took over with his fantastic run focusing on Lex Luthor all the way back in issue #890 (it really seems like it was longer ago than eleven issues, but I digress...).  It seemed strange at the time to focus one of Superman's main books on the Man of Steel's nemesis, but the story Cornell told, combined with his characterization of Luthor, won me over completely.  I was a little concerned when I heard that Superman was coming back with issue #900, since the Luthor-centred story was going so well, but I figured Cornell had earned my trust with the earlier issues.

After reading #900 and now #901, I'm not so sure.

I don't know what happened, but almost everything I loved about the Lex Luthor run is gone.  The clever characterization, crisp dialogue, interesting plot, and even the consistent art are all lacking.  Part of the problem is that Action Comics is now part of the Reign of the Doomsdays storyline, which I have no interest in and have not followed at all.  This was apparently a mistake on my part, because the comic didn't really spend any time explaining what was going on or how everyone ended up where they are, apparently assuming the reader already has this information.  Unfortunately, it made for a somewhat confusing and surprisingly uninteresting read, which is too bad.

I don't mean to be overly harsh, but this all adds up to me taking Action Comics off of my pull list for the foreseeable future.  It's surprising to me that the issue could change in quality so quickly while maintaining the same writing, but I'm not going to be buying Actions Comics until the Reign of the Doomsdays is over or until I see consistent positive reviews elsewhere online.  If you're itching for some Superman-family action, I'd recommend hunting down the single issues or the trades of Paul Cornell's Lex Luthor run, because those were all quality books, while this current direction cannot hold my interest.

Amazing Spider-Man #662
Written by Christos Gage
Art by Reilly Brown

As I said last week, I really like Amazing Spider-Man under the direction of Dan Slott.  Unfortunately, like last week, this issue is not written by him, instead featuring Christos Gage finishing up his two part storyline that he started in last issue.  Unfortunately, one of the best things I can say about this is that releasing the second issue so quickly means that the fill-in duties can hopefully end sooner.

Like last time, the issue just feels "off".  Sure, it features funny quips from Spider-Man, some neat fights between heroes and villains, and some lessons learned by all, but everything seems to fall a little flat.  The issues seems to be a little overwritten, repeating characters' thoughts and the lessons they've learned over and over, just in case the reader couldn't figure things out the first time they were said.  It all adds up to make the comic heavy-handed and condescending, as if it is talking down to its readership.  Not a good feeling to be coming away with.

On the plus side, there are once some solid back up stories to support the lackluster main story.  Dan Slott has a great two page story that hints at what's to come in the summer's Spider Island storyline.  It has some great art by Emma Rios and a nice twist at the end that really makes it stand out.  Meanwhile, there is a second story by written by Frank Tieri and drawn by Javier Rodriguez that features the trials and tribulations of a minor Spidey villain (the Magnetic Man) who has recently been released from prison.  Unable to find any steady work due to being an ex-con, he considers returning to a life of crime.  It's a nice little piece that does what it does well.

Sorry to sound like a broken record, but I continue to be disinterested in Gage's depiction of Spider-Man.  I will continue to pick up this book, but it is because I know that Slott is coming back and I'm eager to have him return with his wonderful vision of our friendly neighbourhood web slinger.

American Vampire #15
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

I raved last week about the greatness that is Scott Snyder, and this is the title where I first discovered how amazing his work can be.  American Vampire, as the name suggests, focuses on the seemingly culturally omnipresent vampyr, but unlike almost every other work coming out nowadays, this one is actually interesting and brings something new to the concept.  Basically, American Vampire features the idea that there are more than one type of vampire.  There are the ones that most people think of when considering the creature, which are weakened by sunlight, can be killed by wooden stakes, and so forth, but there are also the more recent American vampires, which can walk outside during the daytime and can only be killed by gold, among other qualities.

Suffice it to say, this series has been incredibly interesting, and the manner in which Snyder has slowly told his story and revealed more about the world he's created has been fascinating.  The story began with dual narratives taking place in the 1920s and the Old West, moved into the 1930s, and is now in the middle of World War 2.  The Pacific War, to be precise.  We're in the middle of the storyline and things are heating up.

Without going into too many details, a group of vampire hunters are trying to eliminate a vampire nest on one of the Pacific islands before US forces arrive.  Of course, there's a lot more to it than that, and their task becomes far more difficult than they could have ever imagined.  Snyder manages to move the story along at a fast clip, presenting challenges, surprises, and twists throughout the issue that keep the reader wanting more.  The last page is worth the price of admission alone.

I would be remiss if I didn't spent part of this focusing on Rafael Albuqerque's fantastic art.  He's been drawing the series since issue 1 and I've loved every single page he's done.  His style has changed to match the tone of every single era and story arc featured in the book thus far and I cannot praise him enough.  I eagerly look forward to his future work in the industry, because he is going to go places.

My only complaint is that DC stuck a stupid advertisement comic for Super 8 in the middle of the book, which momentarily took me out of the story, but that isn't American Vampire's fault - this stupid idea was in a bunch of DC's books this week, and it really bothered me.  I'm not against putting ads in the comics, I recognize that it is an important source of revenue, but don't shove it into the middle of the story I paid to read.  That's really frustrating and I hope DC doesn't make a habit of this ridiculous exercise (end rant).

So yeah, in case you haven't figured it out, you should be buying this book.  If you aren't buying this book, go out and find yourself the trades (two volumes thus far) and start buying the series in individual issues, because it is more than worth it.

FF #4
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Barry Kitson

I actually only started picking up this book because Spider-Man is now a member of the FF, so I don't really have a complete handle on everything the Fantastic Four has been up to under Hickman's watchful eye, but I can tell you that FF is a quality title.  It has been very approachable for a new reader like myself and it has been building up an incredibly intricate and interesting story.

Simple version of the story thus far: the Future Foundation is currently trying to figure out how to find and defeat four rogue Reed Richards from different universes / dimensions / whatever, so they have called a council of all of their greatest opponents to discuss possible courses of action.  It's a neat premise, and though it is far more civil than one might expect, it makes for an incredibly fun read.  The way Hickman manages to insert humour and other character moments into the otherwise serious issue is also quite impressive.  Of course, it wouldn't be much of a superhero comic if there wasn't some action, and the book doesn't disappoint, revealing towards the end that the aforementioned "Council of Doom" isn't necessarily the only team-up going on...

As long as Hickman keeps up this kind of storytelling, I'll be there month and month out to continue following the adventures of the Future Foundation.  Frankly, I might have to look into getting my hands on his earlier run on Fantastic Four.  We'll see.

Iron Man 2.0 #5 (Fear Itself tie-in)
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Ariel Olivetti

As I mentioned last week in my T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents review, I really like Nick Spencer's work.  In fact, I've picked up almost every title he's released since I first heard of him.  Iron Man 2.0 is one of those titles, and while it has shown moments of Spencer's usual brilliance, it has been inconsistent, at best.  Unlike most Iron Man titles, this series focuses on James Rhodes, otherwise known as War Machine, and so the book spent the first bit setting him up as the protagonist.  Among that development has been the interesting idea that some possible-terrorist has been committing crimes from beyond the grave.

It's an interesting concept, certainly worth Spencer's usual output, but the build-up has been at a seeming glacier-pace.  To make matter worse, as mentioned at the title, this issue (and seemingly the next few, as it is part 1) is a Fear Itself tie-in.  Like The Reign of Doomsdays, I don't care about Fear Itself at all.  I haven't been following it and I don't have any interest to do so.  Again like Action Comics #901, the fact that the issue is a tie-in throws everything off course.  The first half of the book focuses on a character that has never appeared or been mentioned before, and once we get to War Machine, he literally says that the postmortem villain problem will have to wait and proceeds to fight some chaos in Washington D.C.  It's kind of underwhelming.

I've been on the fence for this book since issue 1 and this issue has finally helped clarify my position on the series.  Unfortunately, that means I'm not going to be buying this book anymore.  The Fear Itself tie-in was really poorly done and killed any enthusiasm for the series that I might have had.

Venom #3
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Tom Fowler

Counting FF, this is the third Spidey-family book that I'm looking at in this post, and along with Spider-Girl #7, brings my Spider-Man book total up to four for the week.  As you may have gathered, I kind of like the Web Head.  Since the 90s animated series, Spider-Man has held a fond place in my heart, but I haven't followed him into the pages of sequential narrative until the later part of last years The Gauntlet storyline and Dan Slott's recent run.  However, I've apparently been grabbed hook, line, and sinker, because I'm buying every book that's even remotely related to Spider-Man at this point.  Fortunately, many of them, including Venom, are quite good.

This book has been quite the gem, featuring former Peter Parker bully Flash Thompson as the protagonist.  Flash is offered the chance to walk again (he lost his legs while serving in the army) by bonding with the self-aware Venom symbiote to complete top-secret missions for the United States Army.  The premise has been quite interesting and made for some great story moments already, and this record continues throughout this issue.

While trying to complete his current mission, Flash has been waylaid for many days and is in the process of losing control of the symbiote.  To make matters worse, his girlfriend, Betty Brant, is kidnapped by the bad guys and he is forced to help them instead of stopping them, as his mission dictates.  Along the way, there's some sweet fights scenes, some serious misunderstandings, and some potentially fatal consequences.  If that isn't enough to pique your interest, I don't know what is.

I'm really digging this book.  It's brimming with style and substance that is sometimes absent from other comics coming out today.  I can't get enough of the art, which is top-notch, and Remender is knocking it out of the park on writing duties.  The creative villains Flash fights (including Jack-o-Lantern and The Henchman - they're cooler than they sound) are worth the price of admission alone.

And with that, we find ourselves at the end of the first round of EXPRESSions.  I hope you've enjoyed it.  Maybe you'll even give a book or two a chance that you wouldn't have otherwise.  Anything's possible, I suppose.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Weekly Pull - May 25th

To give you, my gentle readers, a better understanding of what I mean when I say that I buy way too many comics, I figured I would offer a glimpse into my pull list for the week.

As you can see below, I am buying fifteen comic books this week. And that is far closer to the rule then it is the exception. I certainly enjoy the comics I buy every week, but it is starting to add up, both fiscally and physically. I can't really afford to keep buying so many comics this summer, and I will run out of space, if I don't change my spending habits.

It's kind of a problem. One that I haven't had much luck combating thus far. If we're lucky, this exercise of showing to the world what I buy every week will help me exercise some restraint. If not, you'll at least know how many comics I'm skipping over when I post reviews or thoughts on what I've read for the week.

So there is that, at the very least.

So yeah, here's the list. Read it and (I'll) weep.

FF #4


Other Companies

The most interesting thing about this list for me is that I'm actually buying more Marvel books than DC.  This is perhaps the first time I've ever done this, because I used to buy zero Marvel books.  Every now and then I would pick up the occasional issue or limited series, but I was a DC man.  However, earlier this year, DC decided to Draw the Line at $2.99, which changed everything.

For the uninitiated, there has been an a bit of an ongoing question of whether comics should be $2.99 or $3.99.  These aren't the only price options, but most DC or Marvel books were one or the other.  DC decided to price every single book they publish at $2.99, which sounds great.  But there was a serious consequence, in that the page count of their comic books was lowered from 22 to 20.

This might not seem like a lot, but it really affects the flow of a story, and creators continue to struggle with the change.  Consequently, though I have continued to buy DC books, I now buy less, and I actually started to routinely pick up Marvel books.  So while DC changed their prices to get more readers, it's actually caused me to start dabbling in the work of their competition.

I don't know if my experience has been shared by others, but suffice it to say that I'm not pleased with having less pages in my story.  I could go on, but I will leave it at that.

For now.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Quik Thots - Comics for the Week of May 18th

So if you know me in real-life (as I assume most of my readers do at this point), you know that I buy a lot of comics every week.  Way too many, to be honest, but every time I cut a title out, another one catches my eye.  It's a vicious cycle.

Anyways, the reason this is relevant to you, the reader, is that I've been meaning to start doing reviews of said comics for quite a while.  However, as yesterday's attempt illustrated, my turnaround on reviews is not terribly speedy at this point in time.  Thinking of ways to get around this problem, I decided to also write up short musings on the comics I read every week that I don't have time to review in full.  As the title suggests, I've decided to call these Quik Thots.

Get it?  Because they're simply short reflections on what I've read?  And they're so fast that I don't have time for proper spelling?


I'll work on the title.  I promise.

Anyways, this week was relatively light for me, meaning that there will be plenty for you to read through, should you be so inclined.  I mostly buy single issues, meaning the comic is somewhere between twenty and thirty-odd pages, and they are often part of a larger story.  These are what most people think of when they hear "comic books".  Though I am also in the habit of buying graphic novels, I won't be looking at any of those this time around, so it will only be individual issues today.

Should you want more information on any of the comics in question, I'm hyperlinking their titles to their listings online.

If you've read the comic in question, maybe it will help your own thoughts on the matter.  If you haven't, maybe it'll spur you to take a look at a comic you haven't gone through yet.  If you don't read comics at all, you should consider it, and I thank you for continuing to humour my writings on the topic.  I'll put up some other stuff at some point.


Without further ado, let's move on to those Quik Thots!

Alpha Flight #0.1
Written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente
Art by Ben Oliver

This comic actually took me a while to find, as I had to go to a different shop from my regular to find a copy.  Part of the reason for this is that it is the introduction issue to a new series about the eponymous Alpha Flight, which is unique for being one of the few superhero teams based in Canada and made up of Canadian characters.  So perhaps not too surprising that it was a challenge to locate at first.

Going in, I didn't know a whole lot about the characters, but the issue does a great job introducing everyone and the kind of challenges they encounter.  It was a done-in-one, or self-contained, issue, so the story points were introduced and resolved before the comic's end.

I was pleasantly surprised by this comic.  It was both a good superhero story and an undeniably Canadian story.  The story was taking place during the election (though the parties / people had different names, the wrong party still won the election), there was a lot of political unrest / action (the main villain was a terrorist protesting the current state of politics within the country), and there were a lot of smaller details throughout that really added to the narrative.  Of course, there was a lot more to the issue than mild political commentary, but it felt like a good equivalent of Canada for the Marvel Universe.

If you're interested in superheroes and you like Canada, I'd recommend giving the series a chance. As I said, this was only an introduction to the series.  The first issue actually comes out June 8th (comics are kind of weird sometimes), so you could get started with that one, if you'd like.

Amazing Spider-Man #661
Written by Christos Gage
Art by Reilly Brown

I've been following Amazing Spider-Man since Dan Slott took over writing duties earlier this year.  His run has been literally been amazing and I look forward to every issue.  The problem with this one, is that Dan Slott didn't write it.  Instead, Marvel picked Christos Gage to act as the fill-in during Slott's absence.  Gage is a fine writer, doing some good things over in his title, Avengers Academy, and he brings his series into the story, having Spider-Man act as a substitute teacher to the students of Avengers Academy.  It makes sense and makes for a decent tale, but the problem is that it is becomes Avengers Academy tale in an Amazing Spider-Man comic, which isn't what I had signed up for.

On the plus side, there was a great back-up story in this comic, depicting a "day in the life" of Peter Parker / Spider-Man.  It was quite clever, as there was no dialogue for the entire story.  Instead, Spider-Man had a "To Do" list written in his notebook, which helped tell the story of what was going on.  This device was quite effective and used to great comedic effect.  The story won't change your world, but it was a really fun comic that partially made up for having a fill-in writer.

It wasn't a bad issue, but it wasn't the issue I was hoping for.  Not having Dan Slott writing was a pretty big let down for me, though the disappointment was tempered by the great back-up story.  I'll be back, but only because I know Dan Slott will be back too.

Batman: Gates of Gotham #1
Written by Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins
Art by Trevor McCarthy

This was another issue hurt be expectations.  I've been following Scott Snyder through his runs on American Vampire (his own creator-owned work) and Detective Comics (one of DC's main Batman books), and both of those books have been phenomenal.  Seriously, every single issue is a home run and you should be reading both of them.  Seeing as this was more Batman, I figured that it, too, would be a foregone conclusion.

While Snyder and Higgins turn in a solid issue, it isn't as spectacular as the other work Snyder has done on his own.  They present an interesting look at Gotham City, along with a new villain who is targeting the families who built Gotham.  There's a lot of cool stuff at play, but the pieces don't quite come together in a way that really grabs my attention.

I know this is all going somewhere, so I'll be back, but my return is based more on my experience with Snyder's previous work than it is on this book in particular.

Heroes for Hire #7
Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by Tim Seely

I first encountered Abnett and Lanning's collaborations through their cosmic work for Marvel and was mighty impressed with what they did with a handful of characters that I had never heard of before.  When I heard that they were doing some street level heroes with characters I am more familiar with, I was quite excited.  Throughout the early run of Heroes for Hire, I have not been disappointed.  This issue extends that streak, continuing a team-up between Spider-Man and Paladin from last issue.

The two heroes are following some leads that have been building up throughout the series, and the book manages to skirt the line between serious and levity with great skill.  Spider-Man's dialogue is spot on, as he delivers a number of wonderful quips while battling the bad guys.  Meanwhile, Paladin has some light moments of his own, forced to take a taxi to get to where Spider-Man is busting the ne'er do wells.  It's a most excellent issue and I eagerly await conclusion to this storyline.

Power Girl 24
Written by Judd Winick
Art by Hendry Prasetya

I absolutely loved the first twelve issues of this series, but the creative team changed with issue thirteen.  That's when Judd Winick first became writer, and I did not enjoy the direction he took the story in at first.  I actually stopped buying Power Girl all together, but was eventually won back due to positive reviews I saw online.  I'm so glad I did come back, because Winick has settled into a direction that I really dig and I'm back to loving every issue.  This issue is an excellent example of that, featuring Power Girl teaming up with Batman to fight a brand-new, misunderstood villain.  It's some good stuff.

Winick's work on Power Girl is similar to what he did with the 26-issue JLA: Generation Lost: it's solid, fun storytelling that tells a complete story.  It's great stuff.  Winick's star has really risen in my mind this past year. He's upped his game to the point where I'll give a title a try based on his name alone.  Seeing how this issue is part 1 of 2, I am definitely going to be back next month for the finish.

And there we have it!  Some of my thoughts about five other comics I bought this week.  I hope you've enjoyed this installment of Quik Thots.  Assuming I continue a ridiculous number of comics every week (which seems quite likely), there will be more of these to come.

If we're lucky, I'll have figured out a better name by then.

Friday, May 20, 2011

An Initial Attempt at a Comic Book Review - T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7

So, mildly embarrassing, but I initially intended to write some reviews for a few of the comics I read this week, but I realized I have no idea how to write a comic book review. My first attempt with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7 actually ended up being a close reading of the text, which while super interesting in my mind, doesn't really amount to the same thing.

Therefore, in the interest of getting some type of thoughts on these comics up this week, I've decided to try for a less formal approach this time around, instead writing some short words on what I thought about a smattering of the comics I read this week. We'll see how that goes.

Let's start with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7. To anyone who isn't reading this, you probably should be. To everyone who is, well done on your discerning taste.

Written by: Nick Spencer
Art by: Mike Grell, CAFU, and Nick Dragotta

In case you aren't familiar with what T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is all about, it was originally a comic book in the 1960s that didn't run all that long, featuring a United Nations superhero team whose heroes were everyday people who just happened to be superheroes for their day job. Nick Spencer was put in charge of DC's relaunch of the property last year, and it's been pretty phenomenal. Long story short, the UN is relaunching the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent program, recruiting new people to take over the old positions. However, the catch is that whenever a hero uses their power, it drains a part of their life force, literally shortening their lifespan. And because that isn't complicated enough, things are not what they seem to be within the organization itself.

Unsurprisingly, it has been pretty evident from the first issue that Spencer has a clear story that he wants to tell, and every single issue has provided another part of that overall narrative. This is what what I love most about Spencer's work on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents: every issue feels like a puzzle piece and the more pieces we get, the better our understanding of the big picture. This series feels like a complete story that is being told in smaller parts, instead of a complete story that has been broken down into smaller parts (like many comics being released nowadays). There is an important difference between the two.

Issue 7 continues to impress, taking full advantage of Spencer's penchant for flashbacks. In fact, the issue takes it to the nth degree, spending only two of twenty pages in the present, while the other eighteen are split between the 1980s and the 1960s. It may sound a little confusing, but it works quite well, because the events that take place in the past are actually divided into to separate, yet related, stories. The main story takes place primarily in the 1980s, with those two present-day pages acting as a frame narrative, and the second story takes place entirely within the 1960s.

The main story builds on the implied revelation from last issue that Colleen is the daughter of longtime T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent villainess, The Iron Maiden. Perhaps “builds” is not a strong enough descriptor, for the main story is a virtual origin story for the two, explaining aspects of their relationship while also expanding on the Iron Maiden's relationship with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and its Agents. For the sake of trying to avoid spoilers this time around, I will leave it at that, but suffice it to say, it's kind of amazing.

The back-up story is a short, five-pager presenting an encounter between The Iron Maiden and the original T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents (thus why it is set in the 1960s). It's deceptively simple, and manages to say a lot in those few pages. In fact, it is an excellent example of the series' motif of looking at the past as a way to explain, and better understand, the present. That is exactly what this story does, as the reader's understanding of the main story, both the 1980s and the present, is directly impacted by the events depicted in the back-up.

Now that I've rambled on for a few paragraphs, let me take a moment to explicitly state that the writing is once again top-notch in this issue. It's worth noting that his writing style changed from era to era, melding aspects of the respective time period with present day sensibilities. In all cases, the characters, events, and settings all come across as well-developed and complete, so kudos to Mr. Spencer for that.

Of course, a huge part of the issue's success is owed to the trio of artists who worked on it. Just as Mr. Spencer changed writing styles for different time periods, it's only fair that a different artist handles each chronological leap as well. CAFU was on present duty, Mike Grell did most of the heavy lifting with the 1980s, and Nick Dragotta showed his stuff back in the 1960s. Each artist does a spectacular job in their respective era. CAFU's body language and facial expressions perfectly express Colleen's thoughts and feelings, without the need of dialogue (which also helps). Mike Grell really captures a style of the 1980s, using a lot of bright and faded colours that are not terribly common today, while staying true to the spirit of the book. The same is true of Nick Dragotta's dalliance back to the 1960s. The style and palette is once again completely different, while still being totally appropriate. Love it.

Verdict – In case it isn't already clear from what I wrote above, I think this is an incredibly solid book and it would make a great addition to anyone's pull list. It's also a decent jumping on point for anyone who hasn't been following T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, because there is no prior knowledge needed – everything is explained through the dual narratives. You should totally give it a chance!

Alright, so that ended up being a little longer than I had originally anticipated. Also, I only talked about one of the comic books I read this week. On the plus side, it was probably the best comic I read, so there is that.

Again, I am still trying to figure out what to do with this space, so this is a good start, at the very least. Hopefully you found this to be of some use, or at least, of some interest. Next time, I'll hopefully talk about more than one book. And if we're lucky, I'll do it a little earlier in the week.

Fingers crossed.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Greetings all and sundry!

Why, hello there.

I wasn't really expecting visitors at this early juncture, so I hope that you can forgive the sparse layout for the moment.  We'll see if I can't spruce things up a bit, given some time.

But since you have found your way over to my corner of the internet, you're probably lost - or you're a close personal friend of mine.  Either way, I hope you'll consider sticking around to see how things develop.

As the blog's title suggests, this endeavour shall be a place for me to gather up my various thoughts and writings in a (hopefully) presentable manner for others to peruse.  At this point in time, that will probably mean short writings, comic book reviews, semi-random musings, and whatever else I might get into my head.  It's still pretty early, so I don't want to pigeonhole myself too soon.

Let's wait a while before I do that, shall we?