Sunday, July 31, 2011

You Could Say

          You could say he came in too fast. You could say there wasn't enough room. You could say the field was slick. There's a lot of things you could say.
          The fact of the matter is that he came in recklessly.
          It's a competitive game. There was a race to win the ball. Completely understandable.
          The problem is that he gave no thought to the other player in that race. Who gets to the ball first is completely irrelevant when the play is whistled dead because someone went down with a concussion.
          You could say he deserved that red card.

Here we have yet another short piece based on one of my lived experiences.  Don't worry though, it wasn't nearly as bad as it is above.  I don't have a concussion, for one thing.  It was also a friendly game, for another.

Joking bitterness aside, I'm not entirely satisfied with this piece.  My initial goal with it was to focus on the  impact between the two players, but that ended up only being referred to implicitly.

Might have to give another try at this particular idea on the morrow.  We shall see.

My Weekly Pull - July 27th

So this post is purely for my own interests, to give me on online record of what I picked up last week.  Hope that's cool with you guys.  Not that you have much choice in the matter.

FF #7

DC Comics

Other Companies

You can see my thoughts on a few of these comics over at The Weekly Crisis (if you happen to be one of what I imagine to be the incredibly few people who read this blog but not my work over there).

For the comics not covered in that link, let me say that Detective Comics #880 and Criminal: Last of the Innocent #2 were both phenomenal.  Everyone working on those books are at their absolute best.  If you missed out on either title, you are missing out on quality comic books.

My Image books (Butcher Baker, Intrepids, and Skullkickers) continue to treat me well.  I'm a little on the fence for Butcher Baker and the Intrepids, but I'll stick with them for at least a little longer.  I have no such qualms for Skullkickers.  I love that book without reservations.  Every issue is good comics.  Not necessarily classic comics, but it's damn fun, which is just as good in my opinion.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is getting more and more introverted as it goes along.  What started out as a neat idea of "what if fictional characters from the Victorian era were real?" has slowly evolved into "what if all fictional characters ever were real?  And what if they replaced some historical figures entirely?".  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but the books are becoming so withdrawn into themselves that they are becoming a chore to read.

I've read a few comments calling Century "Family Guy for smart people", and I can't really contest the claim.  It used to be that these allusions served the plot, but that seems far less important than it used to be.  At this point, these references distract from the story just as often they add to it.  I'm still enjoying my time with the series, but it's not nearly as fun as it was all the way back in Volume 1.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Weekly Pull - July 20th

A bit of an odd week for me.  After what seems like forever of buying way too many books, I'm actually getting relatively few this time around.  Of course, despite the small number of comics, because one of them is a graphic novel, this will still wind up costing me somewhere in the 50 or 60 dollar range.  But that's what I get for pursuing an interest that releases on a weekly basis.

Without further ado, here are the titles I'll be working my way through this week.


DC Comics

Other Compaines

As you can see, I'm picking up 8 floppies and 1 hardcover.  I don't know much about One Soul aside from the fact that it is apparently 18 different narratives that take place in parallel throughout the 170 plus pages of the graphic novel.  I couldn't really imagine what that would look like, so I had to pick up the book to figure it out.  I'll be sure to tell you how it goes.

On the single issue front, only the DC books are ones that I pick up regularly.  And as much as I love my Batman, Flashpoint, Power Girl, and THUNDER Agents action, 4 books just isn't enough for a weekly pull in my mind.  Consequently, I decided to take a chance on 4 other books that I knew little to nothing about.

T-that plan made more sense in my head.

Either way, that happened, and I am cautiously excited for Daredevil #1.  I've never really been a Daredevil man, myself, but Ryan Lindsay has been hyping up the character for ages, so I figured the least I could do is give the new series a chance.  The only downside is, if I really like it, that means I'll have a new book I have to pick up every month, only adding to the ever-growing number of comic books that I own.

I don't know much about the Spider-Island Spotlight, but I figured that if I've been following the rest of the Spidey titles thus far, I might as well go all the way and pick that one up too.  We'll see how that one works out.

As for Duke Nukem and Misadventures of Adam West, I do not have terribly high hopes for either of these books.  I definitely added these to the list on a whim, thinking that they might make for some good popcorn reading.  However, I think it is just as likely that they will be completely unreadable.  I'll try to go into them with an open mind, but who knows what will lie within?

So those are the books that I'm picking up this week.  What about you?  Any titles that you've been eagerly anticipating?  Or, like myself, have you gone out on a limb on any issues, hoping to find a gem in the rough?  Let me know!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Review - Alpha Flight #2

I've somehow managed to get myself yet another terribly busy week, so my thoughts on last week's comic books are rather delayed yet again.  Fortunately, I don't believe that this should be happening too often in the near future, but that's neither here nor there.  As it stands, hit the jump to go directly to my thoughts on Alpha Flight #2.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sleep Tight

          Another night, another nightmare.
          I don't know when they started. It seems like they've always been with me. But that can't be right. I can remember restful nights. Can't I?
          It's becoming hard to say. I can't stand what I see when I close my eyes, but lately those sights have been plaguing my waking hours, too. Wherever I go, wherever I look, ancient dreads lurk in the shadows. But I think they're getting bolder.
          No longer satisfied with skulking in the dark, they now stand in the open. Staring. Waiting.
          What happens when they grow tired of even that?

I don't know what to tell you.

Coming to the end of a long day, I felt like I should get some type of writing done.  Sitting down to a blank screen, this is what came out.  Maybe tomorrow's entry will be a bit less dour.

No guarantees.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My Weekly Pull - July 13th

Well, it's going up a little later than it usually does, but below you will find the list of comics I bought this week.  I actually picked them up this morning, but have yet to make my way through a single one.  I will probably be doing that shortly after posting this little update for whoever cares to peruse it.

FF #6

DC Comics

Other Companies

No new series this week, which means I have another batch of comics that I believe will all be varying degrees of amazing.  Not going to lie, pretty excited about that.  Of all those books you see up there, I might be the most pumped to work my way through Godzilla: Gangsters & Goliaths #2.  I've never really been a huge Godzilla fan, but John Layman's first issue was picture perfect, and left me wanting more.  Now more has come and I can't wait.

That being said, I expect great things from virtually every issue in this list, so I probably shouldn't delay too much longer.  I'm off to sink my teeth into these books.  Until next time.

Monday, July 11, 2011

EXPRESSions - Week of July 6th

So after a busy weekend involving a bike accident (among other things), I finally found me some time to write out some thoughts about a few more of the comics that came across my reading chair this week.  Some real gems here, along with a few lesser books.  On the whole though, yet another solid week of comicdom on my end.  Let's hit those reviews.

CHEW #19
Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

For those not in the know, Chew is one of the best new series from last year and remains one of the best ongoing series today.  Published by Image Comics, Chew stars Tony Chew, a policeman who lives in a world where chicken has been banned after a deadly outbreak of bird flu killed in the United States killed over 23 million people.  Following this event, the FDA has gained an enormous amount of power, doing most of the legwork in enforcing the chicken ban and acting as an organization on par with the FBI.  The crazy part is that Tony Chew is a cibopath, which means he gets psychic impressions from what he eats.

If this all sounds a little strange, it's because it is.  However, Layman and Guillory have somehow managed to put all these separate pieces together (along with many others) to create a comic where it all works.  The world and the people that Tony meets throughout his off-the-wall adventures are all believable, in their own way.  Guillory's exaggerated art style goes a long way to selling the whole concept, as does Layman's excellent writing that melds both the humourous and the serious into one neat package.

This issue continues the "FlambĂ©" storyline, presenting part 4 or 5.  Of late, things have gotten even crazier, with weird alien writing appearing in space and space research stations exploding, among other things.  This issue in particular focuses on Tony and his twin sister Toni (who works for NASA) going on a secret mission to Area 51.  The series is often fast-paced with a razor sharp whip, and this issue is no exception.

As many issues of Chew do, the issue opens with a prologue that relates in some way to the story that comes afterwards.  These moments are always fun and Chew #19 does things a little differently by spending the entire 3 page prologue explaining that the violent events the reader is witnessing never happened.  It's a nice little change of pace that still manages to set up what's to come, because the scenes that didn't occur are what Tony and Toni end up working to stop.

Throughout the rest of the issue, there are tons of great moments, with lots of time given to the seemingly continually expanding cast of characters.  Tony, his boss, his partner, his girlfriend, and his sister all have plenty of moments to shine throughout the pages of the book, and the pacing is spot on.  Every scene feels like it gets just enough time and has just enough explanation to let the reader know what's going on and why it matters.  Nothing feels like a waste of time or space, which is always a plus.

With the slight delays Chew has been facing of late, it's nice to finally have another copy in my hands.  Fortunately, it was well worth the wait, as Layman and Guillory offer up yet another great issue featuring everyone's favourite cibopath.

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Andy Kubert

I still don't know how to feel about this series.  Things continue to happen, and they continue to be kind of interesting, but it's still not clear why any of this is going on.  I don't know why, but this book doesn't seem terribly concerned with explaining why its characters act the way they do.  It seems as if Flashpoint has been more concerned with showing all the different ways that the Flashpoint Universe is different than the regular DC Universe, and while Flashpoint #3 does offer some plot movement, it falls into this same habit as well.  There are a lot of scenes that feel like they were written for the "oh look who that is!" or "look how things are different!" instead of for actual storytelling reasons.  That is not the best feeling to have while reading a comic.

The last issue saw Barry Allen getting severely burned after being struck by lightning in an attempt to regain his powers.  Flashpoint #3 opens with Barry lying in the Batcave saying that his memories from the regular DC Universe are being overwritten by events from the Flashpoint Universe.  He insists that they have to try the experiment again, so that he can get his powers back so that he can not forget.  Of course, as the cover shows, the second try is a success and he quickly regains his powers.  That done, he and Batman do some research on the world of Flashpoint to try to from the Justice League to battle the Reverse Flash.  The whole process comes off as kind of forced.  Barry rebecomes the Flash because the story needs a Flash.  They want to reform the Justice League because the story needs a Justice League.  Throwaway lines are offered to rationalize these choices, but they aren't terribly convincing.

In the midst of this sequence, Cyborg is relieved of his duties as an agent of the US government and two pages are dedicated to showing that Lois Lane is an undercover agent in New Themyscria (the Amazonian-occupied United Kingdom) and that she has found the Resistance (led by Grifter, who gets a full splash page so that DC can show that a Wildstorm character has entered the story).  These moments also come off as disingenuous.  They clearly only exist to serve story purposes later on.  Admittedly, that's what most moments in a story will often do, but the scenes should be more than moving pieces around or revealing information so that the reader understands how a character got to a particular location or why a character made a particular choice.  These moments should be believable and interesting, and these scenes don't quite cut it.

The rest of the issue continues in mostly the same manner, with the recently fired Cyborg agreeing to infiltrate the government he so-recently worked for because that's the only way that Batman will help him fight the Atlantean-Amazonian war.  Again, not super convincing.  Regardless, this results in Superman's first appearance in the book (again, as the cover shows).  The different between Flashpoint Superman and regular Superman is that this one was found by the government and has never seen the sun and is consequently gaunt and emaciated instead of the strongest man around.  It's kind of an interesting interpretation, but the book doesn't do anything with it.  It's just of there, at this point seeming to exist simply so that readers can recognize the difference between the two versions of the character and leave it at that.

The book ends with government troops surrounding Cyborg, Flash, Batman, and Superman.  Because Superman has never been outside before, he flies off, leaving the heroes surrounded by armed troops, but this isn't really that effective of a cliffhanger.  There are numerous ways that the heroes could get out of the situation without any difficulty, including the Flash's superspeed, Cyborg's many powers, or Batman's genius.  The image might appear intimidating, but there's no real danger behind it.

With all the things that are happening, I'm still coming away from Flashpoint #3 wondering what the point is.  The series is past its halfway point and hasn't really spent any time explaining what's going on.  It's abundantly clear the the world of Flashpoint is different from that of the DC Universe (if this issue wasn't enough, the millions of tie-in comics should be), but no one has made any effort to explain why this has happened.  As it stands, it just comes off as a convenient excuse to explain the reboot / relaunch DC is doing in the Fall.  Flashpoint #4 might turn things around, but after three mediocre issues, I'm not holding my breath.

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

While the main Flashpoint series isn't doing all that hot, Knight of Vengeance continues to impress.  This series manages to properly balance showing the differences in the world while using those differences to push forward the plot of the comic.  This issue sees Jim Gordon starting to doubt his place in Batman's empire after a line Thomas said last issue that was prompted by the main Flashpoint book.  This subtle nod to the main series is a driving force of this issue, causing Gordon to try to prove himself to tragic results.

In his quest to ensure his place in Thomas Wayne's "good books", Jim meets with this world's version of The Oracle, who is a quadriplegic Selina Kyle.  Risso's layouts and details really make this moment, giving just enough of a hint to the reader before the reveal on the following page.  The scene itself is also incredibly poignant, pointing to how damaging the Joker's actions continue to be in every iteration of Gotham.

From there, Gordon continues to keep Batman out of the loop, heading directly to where the Joker is holding the Dent twins hostage.  As he does so, Batman starts to catch on to the deception and his race to stop Jim is quite moving.  As Oswald Cobblepot states at the beginning of the issue, Jim is Thomas' best friend, and despite Jim's fears, Thomas acts out of worry for his friend's safety, moving as fast as he can to save him from the dangers of the Joker.  Azzarello's writing does a good job of implying this, but Risso's art once again does the heavy lifting, showing Batman's look of dread once he realizes what Gordon is doing.

Unfortunately, Batman can't get there fast enough and Gordon attacks the Joker on his own.  The entire sequence occurs almost without dialogue, and the execution is dead on.  Gordon's attack on the Joker is tense and the eventual outcome is unclear until the very last moment.  Although it's been discussed at length around the internet, I will remain a tad vague as to the particulars.  Let me just say that this Joker is as deranged and perverted as any other I've read, and it works perfectly.

The final reveal at the end of the issue that the Joker is actually Martha Wayne, driven insane by the murder of Bruce all those years ago is terribly appropriate.  In a world where Batman kills, this is the only way that the Joker could possibly continue to go on murderous rampages.  It adds yet another element of tragedy to the equation, because the Joker's actions are even more directly the fault of Batman in such a situation.  It is clear that Thomas takes personal responsibility for her actions, and it works incredibly well.

This series continues to be the best part of the entire Flashpoint event.  I can't wait to see what happens in the final issue next month.  If you aren't reading this series, I don't know what else to tell you.  This is one of the best Batman stories I've ever come across and deserves to be recognized as such.

After these lengthier reviews, let's do a couple of quick ones, shall we?

Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by Kyle Hotz

I'm feeling like a broken record, but I really didn't like this Fear Itself tie-in.  It seems as if every single Marvel book impacted by this title suddenly becomes the least interesting comic I can imagine.  I'm not a huge follower of the Marvel Universe, only dabbling in a few books here and there, and this story about hammers unleashing super terrible evil powers in the wielders falls flat in my eyes.  I don't care about it at all.

So opening my issue of Heroes for Hire #9 and finding that it was concerned exclusively with that was a bit of a disappointment.  It definitely didn't help that a large portion of the comic involved the Raft from Thunderbolts, which is the other book I dropped due to unwanted event tie-ins.  I came into this series with high hopes, but Abnett and Lanning haven't captured my interest the way they did with Guardians of the Galaxy (as I said in my thoughts on their Flashpoint books) and with an underwhelming effort in issue 9, I'm done with this series for now.

Written by Shane Houghton
Art Chris Houghton

I had heard a bit about this series a few months back.  All I really knew is that it was an All-Ages title being published by Image Comics that starred a cowboy that rides a bear.  And that's all I needed to know, because that obviously sounds amazing.  Unfortunately, the first issue somehow managed to come out without me realizing it, so when I saw the second issue was dropping this week, I made sure to get myself a copy.  And I was pleased with the finished product.

It was a done-in-one story, featuring some mystical cave dwelling monsters and some bad people trying to find gold in their cave.  I'm personally a big fan of kid's comics, and this is a really good one.  It's nothing super fancy, but it tells a good story, has some exciting moments, and is lots of fun.  I was also really glad that the reader didn't need any background information going in.  Everything you needed to enjoy the story was in the comic itself, which is great.  Best of all, this comic had no ads and was 32 pages long.  And it only cost $2.99.  Wouldn't it be great if every comic could give you so much bang for your buck, eh?  Regardless, I'll definitely come back for more bear-riding cowboy goodness.

That's all I have time for this week, so I'll bid you good night and will see you around next time.

Do Unto Others

          The other cyclist was passing me on the outside. As she moved ahead of me, she took a hard right without warning, turning directly into my path. With no time to react, I slammed on my brakes to avoid hitting her. Although I managed that, I had only pressed down on the front brake. Before I even knew what was happening, the rest of my bike kicked up and sent me flying over my handlebars. I flew through the air and slammed into the pavement with a dull thud.
          Lying on the ground in pain, I heard her bike away.

This one is partially based on an unfortunate accident I had Friday night.  Fortunately, I wasn't hurt that badly and the other cyclist in question didn't bike away casually.

I was biking home after a tiring game of soccer when I passed by some road work.  Coming out on the other side of the construction, I noticed two children on a side street biking quickly in my direction.  One of them turned speedily in front of me, causing me to swerve a bit to avoid her sudden entrance onto the main road.  I was taken aback by her reckless biking and, seeing that we were biking at about the same speed, I tried to quickly explain some of the finer points of cycling safety, including why what she had just done was dangerous.

Considering that I was just some stranger on a bike and she was "racing" as she so candidly told me, it's not terribly surprising that she didn't really pay attention to my advice.  Nodding absently, she told me that she was going to pass me.  I figured she meant that she was done listening and was going to bike on ahead of me.

I was only half right.

She was definitely done listening (if she had ever started), but she wasn't biking on ahead.  Instead, like the character in the above story, she turned directly in front of me.  I don't possess quite as much class as my fictitious protagonist, so I let loose some loud curses and tried to stop.  However, my protagonist and I are not completely dissimilar, because I stupidly only used the front brakes.  Like him, I went sailing over my handlebars and hit the ground.  Fortunately, I managed to roll into the fall, coming out of it with nothing more than some bruises.  Certainly some painful ones, but nothing broken, so there is that.

The little girl actually stopped her racing and came back to see if I was okay.  Ignoring her at first, I let out a few more curse words that I imagine she hadn't heard before.  As more people came to see if I was alright, I sheepishly got to my feet and said that I would live.  Turning to the girl, I tried to make the experience into a teachable moment, explaining that this kind of thing is exactly what I was talking about before she'd cut me off.  Judging by the terror in her eyes, I imagine that she didn't hear many of my words the second time around either.  But she probably did learn a lesson.

Anyways, all this to say that I wanted to try to capture what the experience of getting thrown over one's handlebars was like.  I think this effort is a little too rushed, focusing too much on the entire sequence and not enough on the handlebar portion.  Might have to give this a second go around...

Friday, July 8, 2011

Review - Secret Six #35

Secret Six #35
Written by: Gail Simone
Art by: J. Calafiore

I'm going to miss this book so much.  I've raved about how amazing Secret Six is for years, telling anyone who would give me even a moment of their time that this book is something special.  And every month Gail Simone and J. Calafiore prove the truth of that statement by putting out one of the best and most unique comics out there.  What's more impressive is that Simone and Calafiore continue to raise their game, month in and month out.  After reading every issue, I declare it to be the best thing they've done, only to go back on my word when it comes to the following issue.  Well, they've done it again.  Secret Six #35 is the best issue of Secret Six I have ever read.  Frankly, it's one of the best comics I have ever read.

To be honest, I don't even know where to begin in praising this book.  Everything that happens works.  The writing, the pacing, the art, the panel layout, everything.  It all serves the story and works together like a well-oiled machine.

The book opens with a conversation / confrontation between Bane and Catman, where Bane explains his thoughts on the fact that he, and the rest of the team, are destined to eternal damnation (as shown in Secret Six #33).  Simone's depiction of Bane as a man who lives by a code - albeit a strange, warped code - rings true here, for Bane reveals that he has determined the only sane response is to live a complete life before dying.  Of course, this being a Secret Six book, in Bane's mind, living a complete life means finishing the moment he's best known for and destroying Batman.  The conversation plays out beautifully, taking place over the course of skirmish between Catman and Bane whose earnestness is never clear.

Simone interrupts this talk, which lasts a total of seven pages, to dedicate two pages to character moments for other character in the book.  The first is a page featuring Deadshot and Jeannette after a particularly intense round of loving making in the kitchen.  It hits incredibly serious and incredibly lighthearted moments, providing further foreshadowing, with Jeannette continuing to talk about the death that surrounds everything, and featuring a hilarious King Shark moment where he walks in with his eyes covered, due to the couple's nakedness, hoping to get a bite to eat.  The second is a page featuring Scandal Savage and Knockout that shows how traumatizing and damaging Knockout's time in Hell truly was (read: incredibly).

From here, the book moves at a break neck pace, with the team agreeing to help Bane destroy Batman and his family, planning the mission, and going to get some intelligence to ensure the plan's success.  The search for intelligence takes them to an assault on the hideout of someone who can help them, and this entire sequence is fantastic.  Somehow, while infiltrating to all-out-attacking the minions of the building in question, Simone and Calafiore manage to provide numerous, incredibly strong character moments to almost every single character featured in this book.  King Shark perhaps gets the most face time, but Scandal Savage, Knockout, Jeannette, Deadshot, Catman, and Bane all have moments that are both super cool and are meaningful for the individual character.  Simone is at the top of her game in this issue, packing every moment of the issue with something important and relevant to the series without making it feel overwhelming.  Even the reveal towards the end of the issue of whose hideout the Secret Six are attacking follows this philosophy, as Simone picks a character that both has a history with the group and can help them with their attack against Gotham's protector.

It goes without saying, but Calafiore's through this entire issue is brilliant.  His panel layout is some of the most exciting I see in comics today, always managing to perfectly communicate the actions of every page.  Even if the word balloons and captions boxes were absent, it would be crystal clear what is happening throughout the story.  I was sad when Nicola Scott left Secret Six all those months ago, but J. Calafiore has stepped in and filled those shoes with ease.  At this point, I can't imagine this book without Calafiore's art, and the fact that he doesn't have any work in the September relaunch is criminal.

Final Thoughts - Gail Simone and J. Calafiore are doing some of the best work of their careers here and that makes for absolutely phenomenal comics.  There is nothing else like this on the stands and the world will be poorer for Secret Six's cancellation come September.  That being said, the book is going out on one hell of a high note.  Not only is this a fantastic issue, the premise of trying to kill the entire Batfamily come next issue is something I cannot wait to see.  Logic dictates that they can't succeed, but whatever does end up happening is going to be awesome (in both the classic and the modern sense of the word).

You need to be reading this book.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


          Listening to the screams and chaos, Brett's ears told him something was missing. Looking around, he saw a sports car parked beside the sidewalk, undisturbed by the pandemonium.
          Brett loved the violence around him and couldn't stand to see any piece of serenity exist within the raging storm of people. He yelled for help, but his voice was lost among the cries of the agitated masses.
          Seeing what he had to do, he picked up an overturned garbage can and slammed it against the car's windshield.  Again and again. And again.
          His knuckles bled, but he'd found the missing sound.

Sometimes I want to destroy something beautiful.

More often than not, I just want to quote Fight Club.  This piece is a combination of me trying to get in the right frame of mind for a short story I'm working on and a delayed response to the post-Stanley Cup Finals riots.  Take from it what you will.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My Weekly Pull - July 6th

It's starting to look more and more like, when it comes to my comic book buying habits, June was the exception and not the rule.  I thought I was finally managing some restraint when it comes to opening my wallet on a weekly basis to satisfy my sequential storytelling fix, but these last two weeks seem to be proving the folly of that thought process.  Not only am I buying a relatively high number of books (12), a number of them are larger one-shots costing 5 or 6 dollars, if not complete trade collections running a little higher than that.  You can see the list for yourself below.


DC Comics

Other Companies
CHEW #19

Once again, it's hard to say what I'm most excited for. I'm awfully tempted to go with Secret Six #35, since it remains the best series DC is publishing at present, even if there are only two more issues (including this one). Of course, the release of the second Gotham Central trade is also means for celebration. This is one of the best series DC has ever published, in my opinion, and I'm glad to see that it's getting a re-release so that I can finally own every single issue. That being said, more Sweet Tooth and more Chew is always a good thing, so those should be some good reads, as well.

There's a couple of books on this list that I'm trying out based on very little information, which is always an exciting thing. With no expectations, a book can really blow you away or really let you down. We'll see how that plays out for Cap and Thor: Avengers #1, Reed Gunther #2, and Trailblazer. I'm picking up Cap and Thor based solely on the fact that Fred Van Lente wrote it. His Taskmaster series from this year was pure brilliance, and I've been trying out most any title he's involved with to see that magic recaptured. It hasn't quite worked out thus far, but you never know. All I know about Reed Gunther is that it's an all-ages books, I missed the first issue, and the protagonist is a cowboy who rides a bear. If that last part doesn't get you the least bit excited, I don't know what will. Trailblazer came to my attention purely by accident, but it's a modern western science fiction penned by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, the two gents who have been writing Jonnah Hex for pretty much ever. Although I haven't read much of their work in that particular book, I loved what they did with Power Girl, and I'm willing to experiment a little - especially when the entire story will be told in this one-shot.

Those are my books for the week. Anything you're really looking forward to this week? Alternatively, depending on when you're reading this, anything you've already eagerly read through?

EXPRESSions - Week of June 29th

I'd like to welcome you to a very special and a very late edition of EXPRESSions.  Somehow the entire week has managed to fly by with me only taking the time to talk about the Flashpoint titles that I read, and while that's great and all, I would like to spend at least a little bit of time talking about all the other comics that I got my paws on this past week.  To do so in relatively timely fashion, I've decided to try to be as concise as possible for this post.  Therefore, I'm going to try to express some thoughts about most every comic I read, but I'm only going to spend one paragraph on each book.  It's not exactly a hard and fast rule and it might make for some lengthy paragraphs, but we'll see how it plays out.

Amazing Spider-Man #664
Written by: Dan Slott and Christos Gage
Art by: Giuseppe Camuncoli

After a few rough patches, including Gage's two fill-in issues and an exposition heavy issue by Slott last time around, Amazing Spider-Man feels like it is back on track.  The issue focuses on the Anti-Venom and Mr. Negative storyline that was introduced / brought back last issue, but with all the necessary explanations for newer readers (like myself) out of the way, things move at a quick pace.  The back and forth between Anti-Venom and Spider-Man in this issue is worth the cover price alone, but the creative team is also kind enough to provide some excellent action pieces, character development, and moments of levity to complete the whole package.  The three page "Infested" back-up story is also great, including a sparring match between Spider-Man and Shang-Chi that is beautifully rendered over a two-page splash.  Things are definitely right again for the Friendly Neighbourhood Wall Crawler.

American Vampire #16
Written by: Scott Snyder
Art by: Rafael Albuquerque

Wow.  This series seems to get better with every issue, and this one is no exception.  Continuing the "Ghost War" storyline, the book provides a bit more information on the new breed of vampire that has recently appeared and has a nice scene dedicated to Pearl, but really focuses its attention on Henry Preston and the remaining members of the team that infiltrated the island (including Skinner Sweet).  There's a lot of introspection on Henry's part that is handled beautifully by Snyder and plays directly into helping to rationalize his actions in a key moment later on in the issue.  Snyder is really knocking this book right out of the park.  Fortunately, he isn't alone, because Albuquerque also seems to be getting better with every single issue.  His style has been evolving and changing over the course of the series, adapting to fit the needs of each story arc, and his choice for "Ghost War" fits like a glove.  His mix of realism and horror is so perfect that I can't imagine the book looking any other way.  The more Snyder and Albuquerque work together, the better they get.  I can't wait to see what comes next.

Batman - Detective Comics #878
Written by: Scott Snyder
Art by: Jock

Speaking of getting better with time, Snyder's run on Detective Comics fits right into that.  He has gotten better every single issue, and the art, whether its Jock or Francesco Francavilla, is doing the very same.  This issue represents part 3 of "Hungry City", and it is a pretty good conclusion.  I must admit to being a little underwhelmed by Tiger Shark, the new villain that the reader meets for the first time in this issue.  It simply strikes me as kind of a stupid name, and Tiger Shark's habit of talking through his minions (at least for the first little bit) doesn't really work for me.  However, everything else in this issue works gloriously.  Snyder has long been the only writer (outside of Grant Morrison) who has been able to successfully write Dick Grayson as Batman, and this is perhaps the best issue of that.  He has a lot of similarities to Bruce, but they are also completely different people, something that Snyder manages to capture perfectly here in Detective Comics #878.  I was also really happy to see some more time spent with the James Gordon Jr. sub-plot.  Since his re-appearance in this book, it's been unclear what's going on with James, and even after Snyder's reveal in this issue, I still have no idea what his deal is.  A great issue that wraps up all the loose ends introduced over this three-issue arc, while also setting up some story moments for the remaining issues.  Love it.

Batman Inc. #7
Written by: Grant Morrison
Art by: Chris Burnham

I was disappointed this week because my comic book shop did not have any copies of Scalped #50.  Fortunately, Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham had my back, because they wrote a great issue of Scalped with a special guest appearance by the Bat-family.  Okay, that might be pushing it a bit far, but I certainly saw a lot of similarities between Man-of-Bats and Raven trying to do the right thing on their Lakota reservation and Dashiell Bad Horse doing what he does on his.  And that's not a bad thing.  As it stands, this is a great done-in-one story that examines the challenges of trying to fix the many problems of reservation living through vigilantism   There are some successes (as shown on the wonderful opening page that tells an entire story in its own right) and some failures (as shown by Man-of-Bats having to defend his actions to his boss as the hospital or being arrested for his vigilante acts).  While doing all that, this issue also manages to move forward the wider Batman Inc. storyline, showing the evolution of Leviathan.  There are many reasons why this issue represents storytelling at its best.  The one I'll point out is that everything that happens in this issue is important to the story.  It isn't always clear at first why something occurs, but it is by issue's end.

FF #5
Written by: Jonathan Hickman
Art by: Barry Kitson

As I've said before, I'm new to the Fantastic Four universe of stories, initially picking up this series only because Spider-Man was part of the team.  While I wasn't around to witness all the work Hickman did to build towards the current storyline, I'm glad to be here to see the payoff.  This issue continues to explore the enormous problem of having four evil Reed Richards running around the world, with Sue encountering one of them for the first time.  This encounter is the main action sequence for the issue, and it's a doozy.  Kitson does a great job juggling lots of different characters performing many different actions without things ever getting confusing, so kudos for that.  It's also a great sequence, because it leads directly into a solid confrontation between Sue and Reed, because apparently he didn't bother to mention his four doppelgangers to his wife.  That confrontation would be the highlight of the issue if not for Benjamin Grimm and Alicia Masters' two pages of working through Ben's issues of Johnny's death and the strain that's been putting on their relationship.    It's only two pages, but it is expertly done.  This series continues to blow me away, whether or not is has 22 pages (FF has been cut down to 20 for the last few issues and will probably continue at that length, but it hasn't slowed the series down at all).

The Goon 34
Written by: Eric Powell
Drawn by: Eric Powell

This comic is slightly disingenuous, as it promised an entire issue of the Goon beating up sparkly vampires, but we only get five pages worth.  Fortunately, it's an excellent five pages, and as the Goon explains (while breaking the fourth wall) "pastin' these sissies in the chops is a waste of my frickin' time".  With this revelation out of the way, the issue can focus on the real problem, the fact that "evil like this wouldn't exist if it wasn't for one thing... Tween Girls".  That's right, the issue becomes a comic about the Goon beating up little girls!  Well, that's slightly disingenuous on my part.  The Goon only beats up one little girl.  And she is totally evil.  It also makes for an incredibly funny comic.  This issue wasn't what I was expecting, but it's what every The Goon issue should be: fighting, cussing, and slightly inappropriate joking.  I'm glad it's back.

The Incredible Hulks Annual #1
Written by: John Layman
Art by: Al Barrionuevo

This issue represents part three in John Layman's three annual spanning "Identity Wars" story, whereupon the Hulk, Spider-Man, and Deadpool were all transported to an alternate dimension that was similar to the regular Marvel Universe, but had small differences throughout (most of which were pretty funny).  I didn't really know what to expect coming into this series, only showing up because of Layman's continuing work on Chew, but I'm glad I came for the ride.  He demonstrates a solid handle of all three characters' unique voices, and all the insane craziness that went on throughout makes a certain amount of sense.  A lot goes on in this final issue, with some final challenges and solutions being introduced over the course of these pages, but it ultimately works.  Of course, once everything is said and done, things go right back to the status quo that we had at the beginning of the three issues, but that doesn't mean the ride to get there wasn't fun.  Because it was.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #8
Written by: Nick Spencer
Art by: Dan Panosian, Mike Grell, Nick Dragotta

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7 was the first book I reviewed on this blog, so I would be remiss if I didn't spend a few words talking about the next book in the series.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the book continues its past excellence throughout issue #8.  The present day, 80s, and 60s sequences from last issue are back for another go-around, and they are just as exciting and interesting as before.  Colleen is getting ever closer to her mother, and as she does, the reader gets more and more the Iron Maiden's backstory through those flashback sequences.  I really enjoy how they add to the story, but what they add is sometimes left to the reader to determine.  My main complaint is that, though Mike Greel and Nick Gragotta are back for their respective sequences, CAFU is noticeably absent this issue.  There's nothing wrong with Dan Panosian's art, but it is a radical departure from CAFU's style, and so I found myself really distracted when it came to the present day sequences (of which there were many in this issue).  I don't know if CAFU was busy working on his title for the relaunch come September or what, but I hope he isn't off the book for good.  His art added a lot to the title.  That aside, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents continues to be one of the best titles DC is publishing, and I am glad that it will be back in October after taking a month off for the September relaunch.  If things continue like this - and I don't see why they wouldn't - I'll be there to welcome the series back with open arms.

So there we have it.  Eight paragraphs (some longer than others) to talk a little bit about eight books that I read last week.  And even with this plethora of pontificating, I still had to skip over a few of the titles I picked up last week.  Short version: Venom #4 and Skullkickers #8 were great.  Go buy them.  I hope you've enjoyed reading through this edition of EXPRESSions, because I certainly enjoyed writing it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


          “I hope you're happy, Slim,” Rocky crackled over the radio.
          He wasn't. Although he had complained incessantly of boredom throughout the escort mission, he hadn't been looking for a dogfight to break up the monotony. Unfortunately, that's exactly what he was getting, and while Slim didn't recognize the air pirates' colours, they were clearly experienced raiders. Flying in with the sun at their backs, they'd opened fire on the Zeppelin before anyone knew what was happening. He and Rocky were the only Rangers who had managed to get airborne.
          The way things were going, they weren't going to last long.

I've always loved the Crimson Skies series.  Well, more accurately, I've always loved the idea of the Crimson Skies series.  The concept of a 1930s United States where airplanes, and not automobiles, had become the de facto means of transportation seems like a super cool idea in my mind.  The fact that there's an entire alternate history involved where the USA falls apart and a number of small, independent nations emerge from the remains of the former country certainly does hurt either, but in this case, I'm mostly focused on the airplane aspect at the moment.

Despite how exciting I think aerial dogfights are, I don't know if I've ever actually read a prose depiction of such an event, fiction or non.  If I have, it clearly hasn't stuck with me, I suppose.  All this to say that, when I sat down to write a One Character One Hundred Words today, I came up with Slim and Rocky of the Air Rangers valiantly trying to fend off a surprise air pirate attack.  Due to my self-imposed restrictions, I didn't get too far into the skirmish, but maybe we'll get to see how the two brave pilots fare another day...

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Train

          A few years ago, City Hall had announced an ambitious plan to revitalize and rejuvenate the city's subway system. Many promises were made, ranging from cleaning up and expanding stations to replacing worn track and laying new pieces for additional lines and routes. Most of all, there was a strong push to replace the ageing subway trains with the latest and most advanced m. With time, these newer models replaced every single one of the old clunkers.
          Every single clunker except for this one, that is. Somehow it had avoided the entire initiative, although that wasn't necessarily a good thing.

I'm working on rewriting on old short story of mine that takes place on a subway train.  Among the changes I'm hoping to make, I would like to increase the car's presence in the narrative.  This is only a small example of how that goal could be achieved, but I thought I would share it nonetheless.

Flashpoint EXPRESSions - Week of June 29th

So the last week has been a busy one for me, taken up mostly by Canada Day on July 1st and friends visiting from out of town.  Therefore, I've been a tad remiss in my writing duties, but I hope to get back into the swing of things with this another Flashpoint-themed edition of EXPRESSions.  Once again, I picked up all four Flashpoint tie-ins for the week, being Green Arrow Industries #1, Hal Jordan #1, Project Superman #1, and The Canterbury Cricket #1.  And once again, the quality varied from title to title.  Despite the number scheme, only two of the books are three-issue limited series, while the other two books are one-shots.  Check out my thoughts below to see if DC made the right choice as to which titles should get more issues.

Flashpoint - Green Arrow Industries #1
Written by: Pornsak Pichetshote
Art by: Marco Castiello and Ig Guara

This title really surprised me.  To be fair, I came into this book with virtually no expectations, but the creative team did a much better job taking advantage of the fun storytelling opportunities presented by looking at characters through the lens of an alternate reality.  This is perhaps most evident from the opening panel of the book.  The reader sees a panel focusing on the logo for Green Arrow Industries and a caption that reads, "We wanted Green Arrow to be different."  It's a subtle wink to the reader that flirts with the fourth wall, but it is also a strong statement of purpose.  This is Green Arrow is different from the one that the reader knows.  And unlike a number of other Flashpoint titles that have gone too far in the differences between the regular DC Universe and the Flashpoint Universe, or the many more that have not gone nearly far enough, I feel like Green Arrow Industries #1 manages to strike a balance between those two extremes in a way that many other Flashpoint books have failed to do.

Though never explicitly explained, it seems that the main difference for this world's Oliver Queen is that he never received that push to convince him to take up coloured tights to fight against the forces of evil and injustice.  Instead, he has remained a playboy billionaire who spends most of his time figuring out how his company can make more powerful weapons (so a mixture between Oliver Queen and Tony Stark, I suppose).  The comic does a really good job of setting up this status quo in a small amount of time and moving right into the action of the issue, which focuses on a group of unknown assailants attacking Green Arrow Industries' production facility with Oliver Queen in the middle of it.

The attack is handled pretty well and is used to really bring out Oliver Queen's character.  Throughout the issue, as he attempts to defend his company, Oliver insists that Green Arrow Industries does work that benefits the world - or at the very least, work that isn't necessarily a detriment to the world.  While his claims don't seem to have a lot of truth behind them, it does a great job of showing that this world's Oliver still wants to do good, even if he doesn't quite know how to do it.  Even the fact that his weapons company shares the same name as his superhero identity points towards his yearning to do right.  There is a surprising amount of thought that went into the writing of this issue - and that has sometimes seemed absent from other tie-ins - which I really appreciated.

I also really enjoyed the art on this issue.  There was a lot of action throughout and Guara (who drew most of the issue) does a great job on those pages.  The action is fast-paced and frenetic, and Guara really succeeds in getting that feeling across to the reader.  A lot of this comes from some excellent figure drawing and convincing depictions of fighting, but I was also really impressed with the panel layout.  It changes from page to page, keeping the reader on their toes, and there's also a lot of bleeding from one panel to the next.  Images can't stay contained to one panel because too much is going on.  It's a little difficult to describe, but these small details add a lot to the reading experience.

I didn't really know what I was getting into when I picked up this book, but I ended up with a pretty solid story about who Oliver Queen could have become had he never become the Green Arrow.  It wasn't the best comic book I've ever read, but it did make better use of the storytelling opportunities provided by Flashpoint than most other tie-ins have thus far.  Part of me is sad that this is only a one-shot, but another part is glad to have read a compelling and interesting story that managed to say everything it needed to over the course of a single issue, something that is increasingly rare these days.

Flashpoint - Hal Jordan #1
Written by: Adam Schlagman
Art by: Ben Oliver

This is the worst Flashpoint comic I've read thus far.  It has some pretty decent writing and some really nice art, but there are virtually no difference between the Hal Jordan seen in this comic and the one that appears in Green Lantern every month.  Hal is still impulsive, reckless, and an ace pilot.  His father still died in a plane accident when Hal was young.  He's still in love with Carol Ferris and works for her company.  The only difference is that Hal doesn't have a Green Lantern ring.  That's it.  If not for the fact that the book  mentions the Amazonian-Atlantean conflict that has been seen throughout all the Flashpoint titles, this could actually be an issue of Green Lantern that takes place before Hal joins the Corps.

It's really a shame, because apart from that glaring oversight, this is a good comic book.  The dialogue is crisp and knows when it is - and when it isn't - needed.  The actual plot of the comic is kind of interesting and rings true for the character.  Unfortunately, it rings way too true.  Indeed, the issue actually ends with Hal Jordan finding Abin Sur who asks Hal to help him save the universe.  While I imagine that the "big difference" will be revealed that Abin Sur isn't actually dead so Hal won't get a Green Lantern, the fact remains that Hal is doing everything that he normally does in comic books.  The title doesn't offer anything new or different or exciting.

The biggest victim of this lack of creativity on Schlagman's part is the artist, Ben Oliver.  Oliver has a wonderful, almost painterly style, that is completely overshadowed by the pedestrian script that Schlagman offers.  Every panel has a sense of movement to it and is beautifully rendered, but that isn't enough to make up for the fact that this comic fails to really participate in the Flashpoint experience.

On the plus side, I absolutely adore the work done by Ben Oliver here, so I will definitely pay close attention to what he does next.  Unfortunately, I don't care what might come after this issue, because Hal Jordan #1 is a rehashing of everything that's already been established in Hal Jordan's life.  I don't really understand the motivation behind this, because the people most likely to pick up this comic are readers who are already familiar with Hal.  Leaving him unchanged gives absolutely no reason for a reader to come back and see what happens next.  I know I won't be coming back.

Flashpoint - Project Superman #1
Plotted by: Scott Snyder and Lowell Francis
Written by: Lowell Francis
Art by: Gene Ha

I'm really warming to the habit DC has been getting into of having an established writer plot a comic along with one of their newer  writers and then having that new writer write the actual comic.  Thus far, it has meant that, at the very least, interesting things will happen in the comic books in question, regardless of whether or not they are well written.  Happily, in this case we get the best of both worlds.  The events depicted in this particular comic are really interesting and different, and the writing used to present them is also pretty solid.

The gist of the book is that, shortly after World War 2, the US is trying to create their own metahuman agents to be prepared to fight for them in future conflicts (thus the Superman Project).  Certainly a government created and owned superhero is something that has been done, but this version of that story brings some new elements to the equation.  The comic focuses on the development of Lieutenant Sinclair into the superman he is to become, showing how the process doesn't quite yield the results the government was hoping for and how some of the consequences of their actions are beyond their understanding.  It is a slow buildup, but the pace feels right, taking the time to establish the world and the characters who inhabit it.  The comic spends a lot of time developing Sinclair, letting the reader understand his motivations and the reasons behind his actions.  It's some wonderfully done character work.

A big help to this slow pace is the art by Gene Ha.  With so little action (for the most part of the book), a big part of the storytelling revolves around the characters' emotions and expression, and Ha does a fine job of demonstrating a range of facial and body language.  Of course, he also does a fine job on the action sequences, managing to easily express the power and violence behind Sinclair's actions.  Along with his ability to work in a variety of situations, he also does a great job of keeping the page layouts interesting without making them confusing.  Finally, there were a number of moments where Sinclair was looking onto other scenes with his x-ray vision, and Ha does a great job of creating convincing representations of this.

This is a strong comic.  The story it tells isn't necessarily the most original, but the creative team offers enough difference to make it feel new and exciting.  And that is something that is really important to making a book feel fresh and worth picking up.  After the slow build seen throughout the issue, there is a great reveal towards the end that has grabbed my attention without feeling cheap or clichĂ©.  I will most certainly be coming back next month to see what comes next.

Flashpoint - The Canterbury Cricket #1
Written by: Mike Carlin
Art by: Rags Morales

This is the other one-shot that came out this week, and I must say that The Canterbury Cricket is a bad comic book.  There is no real sense of direction or focus to be found anywhere in the book.  Instead, there are simply a series of events that happen one after another with little offered in the way of reason or explanation.  This book doesn't know what it's trying to accomplish and it shows.

The comic opens with some of the members of the English resistance that were hinted at in Lois Lane and the Resistance #1 fighting some Amazons.  Just when it looks like the rebels will be quashed by the Amazonian attackers, the Canterbury Cricket appears from nowhere to save the day.  And then, for no reason, he joins the resistance fighters in their retreat.  They end up in the middle of a forest sitting around a fire and the Cricket awkwardly suggests they tell stories to pass the time.  It's awkward in that, like most everything in this book, it is poorly presented.  It's clear that the comic is trying to build on The Canterbury Tales, but the book doesn't take the time to explain why this is worth doing.  Instead there a few caption boxes that quote Chaucer and a character who is also named Canterbury.  It just doesn't add up.

However, regardless of the lack of logic, the issue then becomes what I imagine Canterbury Cricket: Year One would read like, as the Cricket tells the story of his origin and his early adventures to protect England.  Again, there's no effort used to explore the motivations behind the character.  Things just seem to happen, with the "why" of it ignored in favour of more things happening.  It makes for a rather disjointed issue.  Everything that happens makes a certain amount of sense, but the comic spends absolutely no time explaining what that sense might be.  Instead it leaves the reader to figure out what the relation is between different events.  It's pretty frustrating and there's no real reward for that kind of effort on the reader's part.

Even more frustrating is that the comic's belaboured Canterbury Tales metaphor is thrown out the window with the completion of the Cricket's story, because there is no time for anyone else to share a tale.  Instead, the comic ends abruptly with the group being attacked once again.  Nothing in the way of closure is offered.  In place of that, the comic tells the reader to follow the adventures of the resistance in Lois Lane & the Resistance.  Even though no character from this comic have appeared in that series as of yet.

This issue was a mess.  The story was all over the place, spending no time to explain why anything was happening or why any of it mattered.  I feel like the story would have been better served if the events of this issue had been combined with Lois Lane & the Resistance #1, with these characters actually appearing in that first issue.  It would have provided some action and another means of exposition in what was an exposition-heavy comic.  As it stands, The Canterbury Cricket #1 is a comic that has a lot of things going on without anything of meaning every happening.

So there you have it.  Another week, another batch of Flashpoint comics of wildly differing quality.  I'll definitely stick around for Project Superman, and if I could, I would buy more of Green Arrow Industries.  However, Hal Jordan didn't bring anything new to the table and The Canterbury Cricket didn't bring any clear sense of direction.  So although I spent my hard earned money on almost every Flashpoint book that came out this month, I'll be able to show at least a little restraint in the next two.