Sunday, May 26, 2013

Avengers vs. X-Men

Title: Avengers vs. X-Men

ISBN: 9780785165859
Price: $75.00
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2012
Artist: Ed McGuinness, Frank Cho, John Romita, Jr., Oliver Coipel, Adam Kubert, Stuart Immonen, Steve McNiven, Salvador Larroca, Terry Dodson, Brandon Peterson, Kaare Andrews, Leinil Francis Yu, Tom Raney, Jim Cheung, Jim Mahfood, Mike Deodato, Jacob Chabot, Art Adams, Ramón Pérez, Katie Cook, Carlo Barberi, Reilly Brown
Writer: Jeph Loeb, Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction, Kathryn Immonen, Steve McNiven, Kieron Gillen, Christopher Yost, Rick Remender, Mike Deodato, Dan Slott
Collects: Avengers Vs. X-Men #0-12, AvX Versus #1-6, Avengers Vs. X-Men Infinite #1, 6, 10

Rating: 4/5

The way I figure it, there are two core groups of people that are entertaining the notion of buying this expensive $75 hardcover collection of Marvel’s latest event comic: those waiting to read it in collected format and those that liked the series enough in single issues to double dip and buy the collected version. While the hardcover Marvel has put together is certainly attractive-looking on a bookshelf, I’m not sure the price can be justified for either party.

Worse, many of the interesting character beats that resulted from the events in AvX wound up being handled in tie-in issues of Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine and the X-Men or other various ongoing titles, which aren’t included in this collection. This means that if you’re reading this collection on its own for the first time, there are a lot of threads introduced that have little-to-no payoff within the book that you’re reading.

It’s not a matter of “getting more” of the story in the tie-ins either; there are some plot points introduced that simply have no bearing on any other events within the series, taking time and space away from elements that could’ve been more fully developed. And with the AvX: VS issues being very much what Marvel promised – a “fight book” – looking for further insight there would be a mistake. That said, there are moments to enjoy here – Spider-Man’s brief moment in the sun in issue #9 or the conclusion of Act One spring to mind.

The best part of this hardcover across the board is in the artwork. From John Romita Jr. to Olivier Coipel to Adam Kubert in the main series to Steve McNiven, Terry Dodson, Stuart Immonen, Jim Mahfood, and so many more in the AvX: VS installments, there is a boatload of stellar art to enjoy here. There are some missteps along the way with JRJR’s missing backgrounds or trouble with group shots and Coipel’s construction of action scenes, but as a whole, this is a pretty collection and basically a who’s who of current Marvel artists. You will run into some problems with artwork being lost in the binding, however, as shown below. That said, this problem occurs far less with word balloons and captions.

The book itself collects AvX #0-12, AvX: VS #1-6, AvX Infinite Comics #1, #6, and #10, as well as the brief Nova portion of Point One #1. None of these are collected in order of occurrence (save for the Nova bit being at the front of the book), so if you want to read, say, AvX #2 and then dive further into those battles in AvX: VS #1, you’ll be flipping between different parts of the hardcover. The covers for each issue are placed in front of their respective content, however.

One extremely notable quirk is the reprinting of the Infinite Comics. If you don’t know, Marvel’s Infinite Comics are built specifically for the digital canvas, using techniques and storytelling methods that are unique to the infinite nature of digital comics. As such, the effect is significantly diminished on the page. Instead of fluid, impactful stories, they become wordy, bland affairs. The punchiness of Mark Waid’s words are still there, but the flow of the story is lost and the imagery loses the kinetic nature it enjoys digitally, instead just becoming obligatory pictures to accompany the words.

The good news is that since the hardcover includes one of Marvel’s free digital copy codes for the Marvel Comics App, you can still read the Infinite Comics the way they were meant to be enjoyed. To their credit, Marvel does make a note of this before the Infinite portion of the hardcover, urging readers to read the digital versions “for the full effect.” And yes, all of the AR stuff is present here as well.

The supplemental content of the hardcover is mostly basic fare with a few standouts. One is the introduction from WWE Superstar CM Punk, who is a noted comic book fan and offers an interesting perspective on the heroes vs. heroes nature of the story. And, as a wrestling fan, I couldn’t help but chuckle that he’s credited by his real named (Phil Brooks) over his ring name. Marvel, breaking kayfabe!

The real prizewinner of bonus content is the artist’s section in the back, in which Romita, Coipel, and Kubert offer detailed accounts of their approach to this project with plenty of sketches and unused panels to go with their insightful commentary. This is above and beyond the usual type of “sketchbook” stuff that typically accompanies collections like this, so I was pleasantly surprised. Other than that, there’s a hasty variant cover gallery and a goofy “score card” of who won what battle throughout the series.

In the end, it’s hard to justify buying this for $75. Sure, you can get it cheaper on Amazon or at a convention, but it’s still a hard pill to swallow considering the overall quality of the series and its lack of self-contained storytelling. Give me an omnibus that includes things like AvX: Consequences and the Uncanny X-Men tie-in issues, and then we can talk.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did purchase 2 copies for the price of one at my LCS during their Christmas sale. I now have both covers and I was interested in the Marvel AR aspect of this trade. Unfortunately, when I tried to download the Marvel AR app, I found that my “smartphone” was not compatible to use it. A huge letdown, but as I’m an avid completest for my collection and appreciate helping my LCS in any way I can, it was worth it to me.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Johnny the Homicidal Maniac: The Director's Cut

Title: Johnny the Homicidal Maniac: The Director's Cut

ISBN: 0943151163
Price: $19.95
Publisher/Year: Slave Labor Graphics, 1997
Artist: Jhonen Vasquez
Writer: Jhonen Vasquez
Collects: Johnny the Homicidal Maniac #1-7, Carpe Noctem (various)

Rating: 3/5

Let's talk about preconceived notions.

I have them. You have them. We all have them to varying degrees, and one of mine has always been that I don't like "goth comics." I'm not a big fan of the dark, overly angular art style, with the brooding, all black costumes filled with anhks, piercings, cloaks and knee high boots, or the overly cynical, nihilistic themes. Or, at least, that was my impression without ever having read an actual goth comic.

Now, for years my brother has been trying to turn me on to Jhonen Vasquez. An aspiring standup comedian, he swears that JTHM is one of the funniest books ever written. I know it has that cult status (a quick Google search confirmed this), so a couple of years ago I actually gave this book a pretty serious look at the comic shop, but I couldn't get over my preconceived notions enough to bring myself to actually buy it.

Finally, not satisfied with my uninformed dismissal, my brother forced my hand. He bought me the book (JTHM: The Director's Cut) for my birthday. This was back in January where it sat, unread, slowly descending to the very bottom of my reading pile. That is, until this weekend. Since Rachel and I will be visiting our families in the Midwest next week, and since my brother will actually be there to question me on whether I read it or not, I decided to finally give it a read. Admittedly this was a courtesy read, more to simply seem grateful for the gift than because I was actually interested, but nevertheless, I decided to read the entire book cover to cover with as open a mind as possible.

What I found surprised me, not only because I liked the book quite a bit more than I expected, but because it's nothing like what I imagined.

JTHM: The Director's Cut collects the entire seven issue run of the series, and pads it out with lots of extras like sketches, early strips, pinups, character profiles, etc. The first couple of issues are pretty much what I expected, lots of killing, maiming, decapitating, goring, torturing, disemboweling, and generally over-the-top violence mixed with a healthy serving of South Park-style toilet humor. I admit to laughing a few times, but overall I really wasn't too impressed. The art style also repelled me at first, with its skinny, stick-figure characters with huge beaming eyes and the endless chaotic backgrounds filled with knives, weapons, tentacles and, of course, lots of blood spatters.

But then, around the beginning of the fourth issue, something clicked for me. Were my preconceived notions melting away or was the book really getting better? For one thing, an actual storyline seemed to be emerging. Johnny, or Nny as he liked to be called, was actually becoming a sympathetic character, hard as that is to believe. Not satisfied to simply continue killing, Nny began to question himself, exploring his compulsion toward violence, and while this is far from a realistic, therapeutic, human exploration (Nny goes to heaven and meets God, for example), it nonetheless added a considerable degree of intelligence and insight into the book which, frankly, surprised me.

But that wasn't all. The art also started to win me over. The harsh angles, which defy all laws of perspective, became more polished, with more varying panel compositions and imaginative backgrounds, and I started to really appreciate what a mad, artistic genius Vasquez actually is. His skill at creating depth in panels, and exaggerating physical body movements is impressive, as is his use of other cartooning tools such as page layouts, lighting, sound effects and pacing. He even works in some pretty clever experimentation, most notably in his page borders which contain hidden messages, but also in the text passages squeezed into margins, his varying art style to denote Johnny's mental state when creating his comic strip, Happy Noodle Boy (see panel below), and his incredibly well-designed logos, which kickoff each 4-5 page strip vignette.

I should also point out that the book IS funny, though not as laugh-out-loud funny as my brother led me to believe. Maybe I'm just getting old, but I did find some chuckles, especially at Vasquez's ever-present, self-deprecating wit, which often takes the form of little notes and sidebars to the reader ("Attention Morons: Plot Development!").

What's fascinating is that despite all the violence, JTHM is actually a rich social commentary, and, though perhaps this is stretching it a bit, it's also a love story. In that sense it shares more in common with Edward Scissorhands (who Nny resembles), than South Park. It's the kind of book that is worth another look, particularly if, like I did, you dismissed it without giving it a fair shot. There's a lot here to satisfy even the die-hard alternative comics fan, and while it may not be the greatest thing ever written, it's unique and unforgettable.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Comic Book Shop vs. Game Store

Due to some events that have happened in my local area recently, I was inspired to write this and the corresponding post on my RPG4EVR blog.

A few month's ago, I was doing some random Google search's, when I cam across the Google reviews for my LCS; Tony's Kingdom of Comics. Here is the review that caught my attention:

I decided to stop in by recommendation of a friend as I am new to the area however when I entered this establishment I wasn't greeted. I figured maybe the help was busy assisting other customers but after about 10 minutes I finally approached the counter to inquire about trades on magic cards. I was very quickly shot down with the response of "It's a waste of our time" in a very short and matter of fact sense. I can see this place being good for regular comic book readers and collectible customers however it was made very clear I wouldn't want to waste their time with collectable card games and to take my business to Borderlands in downtown Salem.
I would like to reference that I have almost 20 years of customer service experience, and am familiar with how things normally run at Tony's. Though I can't speak to the many possibilities of why this person wasn't initially greeted when they entered the store, I feel that I can speak to the facts around them not wanting to deal with trading CCG cards.

Tony's has a large selection of just about everything a pop culture enthusiast would want. They are also billed as a "comic" store. Yes, they do sell games like Magic: The Gathering... but I don't feel it is right to expect them to also deal in the secondary market. Yes, this may or may not bring in additional revenue, but (speaking from experience) these transactions take a lot of time and space that Tony does not have to offer. Expecting a comic book store to cater in trading CCG cards is similar to expecting to be able to pet the tigers at the zoo. Sure, it may be offered in some areas, but it is not typically the norm.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Death #1: At Death’s Door

Title: Death #1: At Death’s Door

ISBN: 1563899388
Price: $9.95
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2003
Artist: Jill Thompson
Writer: Jill Thompson

Rating: 3.5/5

For those who have not already heard of it, it's a story of Gaiman's Death, telling events at the same time as Sandman: Season of Mists from Death's perspective (and Despair and Delirium). It's entirely in black and white and is drawn in a very manga style (complete with SD — severely distorted — versions of the Endless). 

Overall... well, a substantial portion of the book is a retelling of Sandman: Season of Mists. Some of it is from a different perspective, but actually quite a lot of it, substantial chunks of it, are just taken straight from the original but redrawn in manga style. This is one of my favorite Sandman stories, so I certainly didn't mind reading it again, but I was expecting a bit more original content. 

In the new content, though, there are definitely some great moments, and Death is really about as well-written as she is in Gaiman's own work. Delirium has lots of typical Delirium moments (although she doesn't seem to reach her trademark level of giddy profundity nearly as often here), and the other Endless are all well-handled. Well, with the possible exception of Despair... I can't really point at anything exactly wrong, but she doesn't feel quite right. Mostly, I think she's just not quite dark enough. 

The art style, which is really the main attraction here, is going to be a definite matter of taste. People who like the manga style and SD characters (severely distorted, usually meaning characters drawn child-like with utterly exaggerated expressions) will love this. Personally, I really prefer the standard US comic style, and absolutely loved the artwork in Sandman: Season of Mists, but this was amusing and different as a change. In small quantities at least. I think I've now had my fill of it for a while. I doubt I'm ever going to be a huge fan of manga in this style; my artistic preferences have always run towards realistic or at least more traditionally artistic, like the standard Sandman art. 

Don't expect exceptional brilliance at the level of Sandman or the other two Death miniseries, but recommended for fans of the series. Particularly recommended if the idea of cute little Endless screaming at each other with giant sweat drops and hitting each other with things sounds hilarious.

Yes, I know that this isn’t actually a trade or graphic novel, but since I have written reviews of the rest of the Sandman and Death series, I thought I would add this into the mix. Well worth adding to your collection.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Future of Lady Death

Today, I read the following post on the "Lady Death- Boundless Comics" Facebook page:
Concerning LADY DEATH being missing from store shelves for the last 4 months and how that looks like cancellation, Shawn Wick posts: "Why does it have to be automatically obvious it's been cancelled? Why on Earth would they not print all the issues? Why would the series not just start up again in January? Were there any other issues beyond #30 that were being done? Could there end up being a final issue to wrap everything up at least? If all this is true then you have got to be kidding me. One of my ultimate favorite characters and they solicit issues and then just never print them? This is a disgrace! It's unacceptable, plain and simple. Man, this really makes my blood boil with rage, I gotta say. I cannot even begin to comprehend or accept this in any way."

Considering your obvious passion for the series, your outrage is understandable, Shawn. I'm not happy either, having heavily invested myself in the writing and promotion of the series for the last 3 years. I completed the scripts for the first 6-issue arc (#25-30) featuring LD's new look and powers, and the full color art was also completed for those issues by Marc Borstel. The "Death's Reaper" LD arc would have run a total of 18 issues, spanning #25-42. With no explanation from Boundless, all we can do is speculate, but at this point it looks like those books might never be printed or shipped for a number of reasons. My hands are tied in the matter, and although I'm aware of why this has happened, I'm still not in a position to speak about it publicly, and I'm waiting for an official company statement from the publisher just as you are.

I put everything I had into the series, expanding on established characters and creating a large number of new allies and enemies for LD, and fell in love with each and every one of them, so it's frustrating to not see them bloom from the seeds I planted.

My major concern is that without a responsible statement from Boundless to all of their loyal fanbase, they will be creating resentment for the company and taint fan acceptance of future releases, whether those books are LADY DEATH or other properties. Please be aware: There are issues specific only to LADY DEATH which is preventing its publication, and I would hate to see a stigma attached to other 2014 Boundless releases, because I'm probably going to have my name attached to at least one of those.

Maybe things will turn around, problems will be solved and a resolution will come that will see the relaunch of the series. As I've said, as soon as I know something concrete and a public statement has been released, I'll let you guys know.
My thoughts...
  • I've been a fan of Lady Death and Brian Pulido since the beginning. I hope that when the official public statement sheds some light on what's going on.
  • As a long-time fan of Lady Death, I'm use to having the series being stopped. I'm not saying that I'm happy about it, just that I'm familiar with the feeling.
  • Lady Death is the only series that I collect from Avatar Press/Boundless Comics. If Lady Death is cancelled, I don't think I'll actively try to find additional titles from Avatar to add to my collection.
  • My hope is that the public statement is more a "We're on a break" rather than a cancellation.
  • When the new Lady Death series was originally released, it encouraged me to re-collect the old Chaos! books. (Those who have been with me from the start of Zanziber's PoV know that I've collected and sold my prior collection.)
We'll see what happens. If the series is cancelled, I guess I'll be able to devote extra resources to re-collecting the Chaos! books.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Guild Volume 2: Knights of Good

Title: The Guild Volume 2: Knights of Good

ISBN: 9781595829009
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 2012
Artist: Darick Robertson, Richard P. Clark, Kristian Donaldson, Evan Bryce, Andrew Currie, Ron Chan, Becky Cloonan, Dave Stewart, Michelle Madsen, Jeremy Bastian, Wellinton Alves, Jason Gorder, Tim Seeley, Adam Warren, Emily Warren
Writer: Felicia Day, Jeff Lewis, Sean Becker, Kim Evey, Sandeep Parikh
Collects: The Guild: Vork, The Guild: Tink, The Guild: Bladezz, The Guild: Clara, The Guild: Zaboo

Rating: 4/5

Fans of The Guild! You can’t miss this volume of backstories of our heroes that before now, was only alluded to in episodes of the series or not revealed at all. While it doesn’t further the current season storylines as we know them, it does give us important (and fun!) information on Tink, Bladezz, Vork, Clara, and Zaboo – all leading up to the pilot episode in season 1.

Any sci-fi/fantasy fan can tell you one thing when you’re building your characters within your world/story: backstory is important. While this volume didn’t blow me away as much as the first, it’s still a wonderful look into the lives of the other members of the Guild, and how they got to where they are. Day does a wonderful job with this collection of one-shots that are totally within I think my favorite out of these one-shots has to be a tie between Tink, Clara, and Vork – we see how Tink always lies (but the truth of how she lives at the end), how Vork became such a control freak, and Clara…oh Clara. No words for how hilarious (and oh-so-fitting) her story was. It was a genuine pleasure to see how these characters came to be, and how they continue to evolve through the seasons of the show. It also has a lot of little things that, when watching them, didn’t always entirely make sense at the time make a ton more sense now.

I think a rewatch of all five seasons so far is in order.

The only thing that I wish had been in this TPB? Fawkes’ backstory. Then it REALLY would have been a party. Hence the not quite five stars. But still, this is a really awesome installment in the “Guild” saga, and a definite must-read for fans. If anything, for those just getting into the series, I’d recommend reading this book first, as it kind of lays everything out really neatly and nicely, making it smooth sailing for the viewer from there.

Needless to say, I’m really happy with what I got here, and I can’t wait for the next TPB. “The Guild: Knights of Good” is out now from Dark Horse in North America, so be sure to check it out when you can! Seriously, you can’t miss these origin stories of these awesome characters. Highly recommended!