Comics Worth Reading Independent Opinions on Comics of All Kinds Fri, 06 Mar 2015 13:36:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 El Deafo Fri, 06 Mar 2015 13:36:47 +0000 The important question when growing comic readers is “what do I read next?” Back in the mid-1980s, in the first graphic novel boom, the appeal of comic-format books faltered because, after Maus, there was little else with the same literary goals and high quality and diverse storytelling. People who loved it had nothing else to go on with, nothing else to build that habit of thinking of comics as a medium instead of just the superhero genre.

Nowadays, there are award-winning graphic novels everywhere, a glorious thing, particularly when it comes to kids’ books. El Deafo, for example, would be a wonderful next choice for someone who loved the graphic memoir Smile. Both are simply (but cleverly) illustrated stories of the struggles of a girl in middle school, looking to make friends and find her place while dealing with a visual difference from the others.

El Deafo is Cece Bell’s autobiographical story of being hearing impaired after a childhood bout with meningitis. She goes to school with a receiver hung around her neck, wires connecting it to the pieces in her ears, and a microphone to give to her teacher, so she can directly hear what the instructor is saying. This “phonic ear” makes it possible for her to interact with others, but she’s embarrassed about what the kids will think of her with this gear.

She frequently fantasizes about her difference making her better, with superhero interludes that demonstrate how powerful that metaphor can be in accepting and valuing what makes her unique. The phonic ear means she can actually hear things others can’t, as the teachers don’t take off the microphone when they leave the classroom. As she thinks, “superheroes might be awesome, but they are also different”, with an image of a lonely Batman, back turned to us. It’s a multi-layered comparison that gives her comfort and symbolizes her feelings.

Bell’s characters are all rabbits, an intelligent choice. The way the ears come out the top of the head foregrounds her concern about how visible the wires to her hearing aids are, while making the characters more universal (and cute). For a story about the function of ears, it’s a good idea to have characters with prominent ones.

Bell walks the reader through the process of becoming acclimated to her new challenges. The character Cece is fitted for hearing aids, worries about what her friends will think, struggles with comprehension, learns to lip-read, moves to a new neighborhood, and tries to make friends. These other girls — and one guy crush — treat her in different ways, each giving more insight into how Cece works through her relationships. While her mom tries to tell her that “special” is good, Cece worries that “special” means “weird”. Beyond her impairment, any kid can identify with that feeling.

Along the way we get clever visual indicators of how the world sounds to her now, with phonetic spellings giving the reader more sympathy for the experience and blank word balloons indicating her inability to hear. It’s a simple device, but a potent one, and a bit scary. There’s a significant sequence where she explains the steps of figuring out what people are saying with lip-reading that provides an important lesson in how to interact with deaf people to the reader.

Much of her storytelling is conventionally straightforward, showing Cece at home, in the neighborhood, and at school, but her occasional use of metaphorical panels really opens up the book, as when she, in a class of other young deaf students, strides across the cosmos as she narrates how “we are lost, drifting along on our own planets. But we are together in the same universe, at least!”

It is no surprise to me that this won the John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature. It’s a comfortable book, providing insight into an experience many haven’t thought about in a way that creates empathy and understanding. It can easily be underestimated, seeming to have been simple to create but with real depth in the choices made and the techniques used.

]]> 0
KC’s Previews for May 2015 Thu, 05 Mar 2015 14:25:19 +0000 Ant-Man: Second Chance Man
Ant-Man: Second-Chance Man

KC recommends items you’ll want to be aware of in the March Previews catalog, for items shipping in May or later, in two Westfield columns. Part One tackles classic comic runs and the latest omnibus editions, while Part Two looks at books about comics, artist editions, and provides a special spotlight on all the Ant-Man movie-related releases. (Apparently, I need to read the new Ant-Man comic, because it’s funny.)

]]> 0
David Tennant Makes First Wizard World Appearance Thu, 05 Mar 2015 14:12:03 +0000 David Tennant

Another one of this year’s Wizard World debut shows, Wizard World Comic Con Raleigh, launches next week, March 13-15. And they’ve got quite the headliner: David Tennant, the tenth Doctor Who, will be making his first Wizard World appearance.

However, there is one huge catch: although he’s scheduled for two Q&A panels, you have to pay extra to attend them. Only purchasers of the “David Tennant VIP ticket package” can get in, and those tickets are over $400 (including fees). You also get one signature and one photo op with him as part of the package.

This is a convention trend that’s not surprising, but still disheartening. And excessive — one-day tickets to Walt Disney World are only $100 or so. I’ve often compared the two experiences, since they’re both about waiting in lines in order to gawk at unusual sights. Wizard may be charging what the traffic will bear, and it’s hard to understand the economics without knowing how much the stars are asking in guaranteed fees.

I suppose it’s an effective way to control crowds, too. Other big names appearing in Raleigh include the expected William Shatner, Ian Somerhalder, and some people from The Walking Dead. Lou Ferrigno unfortunately had to cancel.

]]> 2
CONtv Digital Network Now Available Thu, 05 Mar 2015 13:48:34 +0000 CONtv, the digital network for fans created by Wizard World and Cinedigm, is now live for US viewers. (It’s formally described as an “over-the-top multi-platform service” — TV terminology is pretty complicated these days.)

CONtv logo

It’s free to watch online with ads, or $6.99/month to get the full experience. Some of the programming (such as Farscape) is only available to subscribers, although that’s not obvious from the Browse pages. It’s only when you try to access it you’re told you have to log in. They are “striving hard” to “only deliver ads that are relevant to our community.” (The first ad I saw was for Nexium; they also run car insurance ads.)

The subscription fee will also include “early access to Wizard World conventions, reserved seating at panels, [and show] discounts”, combining real-world and online benefits. The service can be accessed on iPads, Android tablets, and Roku, with Xbox and PlayStation planned (although you may not be able to watch without creating a free account on some of those services — the web plays without any sign-in required).

They’re planning on updating the content weekly, and they seem to eagerly seek feedback, with lots of mentions of how to provide input on their FAQ page. In their press release, they promise, “The programming will evolve to meet viewer demands and the service will continue to grow as viewership data sheds light on fan preferences.”

None of the original shows are available yet, but Bruce Campbell’s pop culture trivia game show Last Fan Standing will be available March 9, and Fight of the Living Dead, a YouTube celebrity/zombie reality show, will debut March 22. Overall, I didn’t find any of the content a must-see (these days, I’m looking to cut back on viewing, not add another source), but for a number of people, the sheer variety (including fan-made movies) will make for a lot of fun exploration. Whoever is curating the content seems to have a great handle on a particular type of viewer.

]]> 0
Prophecy Book 2 Mon, 02 Mar 2015 14:23:22 +0000 Clearly, Prophecy is not a series you can dip in and out of. I hadn’t paid enough attention to the specifics of some of the disaffected men introduced in Book 1, so I found myself wanting to reread both books as soon as I finished this new volume.

However, there’s also a change in focus that means that much of Book 2 deals with different situations and characters than the first book did. The first scene, for example, effectively portrays the torment and despair of the terminally shy, as author Tetsuya Tsutsui contrasts the man’s thoughts with his inability to actually say anything to the waitress he finds cute. That’s just a prelude, though, to the main showdown between the hackers and the detective chasing them.

I didn’t find the primary conflict this issue that compelling. The Paperboy hackers decide to attack a Greenpeace-like environmental group because the group used the occasion of the Japanese tsunami to attack Japan’s whaling practices instead of demonstrating sympathy for the people surviving the disaster. The group’s leader is a media-hungry womanizer more concerned with his own fame than really helping the environment.

Everybody, including the police trying to protect him, hates him. Which is no wonder, since he’s a two-dimensional caricature, loaded with reasons to feel sympathetic to the attempts to humiliate him. When thwarted, he even resorts to media manipulation to take his own revenge. I like this series better when it’s more nuanced, less resorting to short-cut stereotypes.

For example, the cops’ dragnet fails because one of the employees they’re relying on to report suspicious activity has more sympathy for the hunted than the government. That aspect, exploring the nature of public support and how it can be swayed, is one of the title’s strengths.

We also learn more about the female detective leading the investigation, but it’s a shame that she’s the only significant woman in the series. Much is made of her good looks, which distract those around her, a quality she uses to her advantage. Again, this characterization isn’t as nuanced as I’d hope for. I don’t have an idea of her inner motivations, but perhaps that is intentional, to keep her at the same level as those she’s chasing. Much speculation happens throughout the book as to why people make particular choices, but some things we can never know, which appears to be something the author is reinforcing.

I found this volume slightly disappointing, perhaps because my expectations were incorrect. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that parts of it were more significant than I thought after reading the next, final book. Based on the situation set up here — a politician is faking support for his proposal to prevent anonymous internet use, only to be threatened with death by Paperboy — things will become even more dramatic in the next book. Particularly since the hacker coalition may be falling apart, due to a small act of kindness.

]]> 0
They’re Not Like Us #1-3 Mon, 02 Mar 2015 03:01:13 +0000 I don’t like They’re Not Like Us. It’s aggressive and sometimes violent and mean and selfish. But I’m amazed by how Eric Stephenson and Simon Gane have found a truly new thing to do with superpowered young people.

They're Not Like Us #1 cover

The first issue opens with Syd thinking about committing suicide by jumping from a building. She’s tired of the voices in her head and doesn’t know any other way to quiet them. You’re a superhero comic reader, you’ve seen this before, right? She’s a telepath, and she needs a helpful mentor.

Instead, she gets a smoking asshole in a nice suit who tells her in not so many words she’s lying to herself. So she jumps. Surprise #1. Someone’s supposed to save her, to show her how life is worthwhile, but that’s not what happens here.

She doesn’t die, though. Instead, she’s kidnapped by suit guy, who’s called the Voice, to a wonderful house full of other young people who can do the kinds of things she can. Who are all living under pseudonyms to protect them from their old lives. Surprise #2.

They're Not Like Us #2 cover

Surprise #3 is that they’ve stolen everything around them, because they do whatever they want because they can. And that is the biggest change in direction in this comic. It’s also what makes it very modern and timely, exploring the end results of the individual-focused, “what’s in it for me” culture that we have. They’re “better than everyone else”, so why not live like it? Only in secrecy, to avoid it being taken away.

They live by a set of rules, but they’re not strongly behavior-based, but appearance-focused. They dress well because that way they avoid suspicion. They don’t have tattoos or piercings to avoid attracting attention, and they don’t use smartphones to avoid tracking. (That last is the part I have the most trouble believing — these self-centered kids would have real trouble with that, I think, but it does simplify things for writers.)

To mention the biggest surprise would ruin the first issue cliffhanger, so I won’t. It’s a logical conclusion to this self focus, however, and nicely mythic.

They're Not Like Us #3 cover

As the writing contrasts with so many other comics out there, Gane’s art nicely avoids the perfect, polished sheen typical of superheroics. His characters have a gritty air of emotion about them, whether anger or despair.

Issue #2 brings home that these characters are new-style vigilantes. Instead of Superman protecting someone weaker, this gang beats up others for vengeance, or because they foresee negative possibilities.

Superheroes traditionally are wish-fulfillment figures, where the downtrodden (or those who feel they are, like adolescents) can imagine a world with more justice in it. I’m not sure how much that applies to this group of spoiled misfits, but my choice of that word indicates I clearly don’t identify with them. Other readers might better enjoy fantasies of young people secretly on top of the power pyramid, a group who protect each other and say “screw everyone else”. Underlying it all is a preference for emotion over decision.

Issue #3, though, shakes things up by taking revenge on a guy who’s definitely a villain, showing that this series aims to keep the reader guessing. I haven’t felt a superpower book was this fresh since Planetary. I hope They’re Not Like Us is able to continue as strongly, bringing these various threads together tightly.

]]> 0
Abigail and the Snowman #1-3 Sun, 01 Mar 2015 22:36:52 +0000 Abigail and the Snowman #1 cover

Abigail and the Snowman is exactly what it says on the tin — a charming all-ages adventure between a girl and her fantastic friend.

Abigail and her dad are new in the neighborhood. Dad’s a good-humored electrician who’s just gotten fired from his new job, so while he applies to find work, Abigail works at fitting in to her new environment. Joining a new school is tough, so when no one wants to play with her, she shrugs and pets Claude, her “invisible dog”.

It’s not a focus of the book, but I really enjoy Abigail and her father’s relationship. He encourages her imagination and clearly deeply cares for her. He believes in her and keeps a good attitude while still being honest with her. He’s a dream parent, but still realistic. It’s refreshing to see, and it’s a wonderful basis for the sense of humor throughout the book.

Abigail and the Snowman #2 cover

Similarly, it’s not clear whether Abigail really believes in Claude, or whether she’s entertaining herself instead of settling for being bored, or whether she’s just nicely imaginative. That’s not a complaint; it’s recognition that it might be all of these things, and a compliment as to the complexity Langridge is putting into a “kids’ book”. Regardless, it prepares her for meeting a yeti, whom she also names Claude.

He’s able to make himself invisible to adults, but the kids can see him. And, suited to Langridge’s approach to comedy, he’s wearing a jacket and tie and smoking a pipe. He’s like your dream uncle from the 1950s. He’s escaped from government captivity, which provides the conflict, since two bumbling men-in-black are pursuing him.

Ladgridge’s cartooning is, as always, astoundingly good. The characters are animated, with strong senses of personality and movement. He builds rich environments quickly with just the right images. The characters show themselves through visuals, both in design and action.

Abigail and the Snowman #3 cover

Issue #1 sets up the meeting between the two title characters. In issue #2, Claude (the yeti) comes home with her before she takes him to school, making for some lovely, funny sequences. This installment is setting up the coming showdowns, giving us emotional background to care about what happens.

Issue #3 ramps up the action, as the big bad guy is revealed, and we see how the pair decide to proceed. Skilled wordless sequences demonstrate both Abigail and Claude’s friendship and his history. I’m also touched by the back-and-forth between Abigail and her dad. He’s protective, but he’s also willing to let her make decisions and take action. It’s the most surprising (and pleasing) part of the book for me.

This month’s issue #4 will conclude the short series. I’m eager to see how Langridge next astonishes me. Also, read his commentary on issue #1 to learn even more about how beautifully he assembles a page.

]]> 0
Dark Horse Moves Selected Titles From Print to Digital Serialization Mon, 23 Feb 2015 22:16:51 +0000 Dark Horse Comics has announced the launch of Dark Horse Digital Exclusives, a set of titles that will be serialized digitally followed by “expedited print collections”. The affected titles are The Ghost Fleet, Resurrectionists, and Sundowners. Said Dark Horse president and publisher Mike Richardson,

“We are confident in the quality of these stories and want to ensure that readers have the opportunity to fully experience them. Dark Horse is throwing its support behind these creators and their innovative titles, and we are choosing to continue them in a series of original graphic novels. These stories deserve to be told, and to continue in a reader-friendly and accessible format. In the meantime, for those who would like to continue reading the series, we will also offer new issues of each title on our Dark Horse Digital platform.”

Dark Horse Digital Exclusives

This is putting a positive spin on some bad news. Apparently, sales on these titles have dropped enough to make print issues unfeasible, but I’m glad that readers of the series will be able to finish them out, as Sundowners writer Tim Seeley points out: “I’m not sure why some books succeed while others don’t, especially when I know Dark Horse has been making some super-cool, all-new, creator-owned material that I was proud to be part of. But I’m glad they’ve got the dedication and respect to ensure readers and creators get to bring their stories to a logical conclusion.”

Unfortunately, some fans won’t like the format change, as seen in a comment thread at Robot 6. Resurrectionists readers who want print are grumbling about having to rebuy issues they already have in the collection, while others are dropping series because they don’t want to split formats. As someone points out, though, this is more likely to happen more in future, as so much competition makes it tricky for new, creator-owned comics to find shelf space and customers.

Resurrectionists: Near-Death Experienced, collecting the entire series, will now be available August 19 for $19.99. Sundowners Volume 2 will be available August 26 for $19.99, and The Ghost Fleet Volume 2: Hammer Down will be released October 7 for $14.99.

What will be interesting to note in future is whether Dark Horse moves other titles in this direction, or even launches new projects with this digital-to-print format.

]]> 0
KC Recommends the Deluxe DC: The New Frontier Mon, 23 Feb 2015 21:54:51 +0000 DC: The New Frontier: The Deluxe Edition
DC: The New Frontier: The Deluxe Edition

In his latest Westfield Comics column, KC recommends the new release of DC: The New Frontier: The Deluxe Edition, with a rundown of its contents (particularly in comparison to the out-of-print Absolute Edition) and why it’s such a great read.

]]> 0
They Wrote a Press Release Just for Me! Retailers Order Giant Days Today Mon, 23 Feb 2015 21:53:28 +0000 Giant Days #1 cover

Today’s the comic shop retailer deadline for orders for comics from the January Previews catalog. One of those items is a new miniseries from Boom! Box, Giant Days by John Allison and Lissa Treiman. I don’t know much about it, and I haven’t seen any sneak peeks, but I am in love with the way the publisher is describing it:

Going off to university is always a time of change and growth, but for Esther, Susan, and Daisy, things are about to get a little weird. Combining the humor of Lumberjanes, the sharp wit of Scott Pilgrim, and the positive power of relationships present in Faith Erin Hicks’ Friends With Boys, Giant Days is a quirky coming-of-age adventure.

A good college-set comic series would be welcome, and I have enjoyed reading all three of those comparison books. Giant Days #1 will be available on March 18 for $3.99. The preorder code is JAN15 1155 for the cover shown above, by series artist Lissa Treiman. There’s also a “retailer incentive” by Meredith Gran, shown below:

Giant Days #1 variant cover by Meredith Gran

]]> 0
Possessions Volume 4: The Final Tantrum Mon, 23 Feb 2015 03:59:27 +0000 It’s been three years since the previous book (author Ray Fawkes was putting out two graphic novels for adults as well as working on several titles for DC in the meantime), but we finally get to find out what the pit demon Gurgazon will do now that she’s broken free of zoo-like captivity. Don’t be misled by the title, though — the series doesn’t end here.

Gurgazon first appeared in Possessions: Unclean Getaway, where she became part of a collection of ghostly curiosities. In book two, The Ghost Table, and book three, The Better House Trap, Gurgazon plotted and schemed to escape her new, ensorcelled home while she (and we) got to know more about her fellow inhabitants.

Each book starts with an origin for one of those other ghosts — in book two, it’s the Ice Field Lights, a presence from the frozen north; in book three, the headless Pale Lady; here, my favorite, the Duke, a possessed jukebox who speaks in song lyrics. Each book also has a signature monochrome color; here, it’s a surprisingly effective orange.

Gurgazon has become gigantic, the better to destroy the houses of the women who collect and restrict the spirits. That’s only a preliminary to summoning the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to destroy the world, as she’s been promising to do for years. Only no one seems to have taken her seriously, the more fools they. We also get some darkly funny flashbacks to Gurgazon’s creation and purpose way back when.

As we learn more about the other cast members, the big mystery that remains is exactly what’s up with the butler, Mr. Thorne, and his near-omniscient abilities to foil the spirits’ escape plans, as well as his astounding survival skills. He tries to rally the other freed ghosts to work together against the massive threats they face, but the question I’m eagerly waiting to see answered is his origin. That’s only one of several open items left at the end of this book, as we see only part of what happens to Gurgazon’s plans and struggles.

Possessions is a fun, different action romp with a horror overlay. Kids, particularly, will revel in the Godzilla-like destruction Gurgazon
indulges in. The fifth volume is planned for 2016. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

]]> 0
Win a Copy of The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness Sun, 22 Feb 2015 23:35:07 +0000 The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness cover

Thanks to the studio, I have two copies of The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, the documentary about Studio Ghibli, to give away in a new contest.

To enter to win, post a comment below telling me your favorite Studio Ghibli film and why. A winner will be picked randomly from all entries on Friday, February 27.

(U.S. addresses only, please. Winners will be emailed to confirm address. If email is not answered within 24 hours or a valid email address is not provided, a replacement winner will be selected. Your email won’t be used for any other purpose.)

]]> 8
She Makes Comics – A Documentary on Women in Comics Sun, 22 Feb 2015 22:29:17 +0000 I got a chance to watch the Sequart documentary She Makes Comics, which covers “the history of women in comics as creators, fans, and everything in between.” The movie is available from that link as a DVD or digital download.

She Makes Comics cover

From the start, it’s a jolt, a shot in the arm full of passion and enthusiasm as women talk about why they love and make comics. Simply seeing so many women puts the lie to comics being a male-oriented medium, but the content goes on to point out key names and accomplishments in history, accompanied by archival footage and images.

As directed by Marisa Stotter, the film kept my attention with well-paced editing, well-identified commentators, and well-chosen visuals. Key contributors include all the expected names:

  • Trina Robbins
  • Ramona Fradon
  • Wendy Pini
  • Colleen Doran
  • Jackie Estrada
  • Jenette Kahn
  • Michelle Nolan
  • Karen Green
  • Ann Nocenti
  • Louise Simonson
  • Jill Thompson
  • Kelly Sue DeConnick
  • Gail Simone
  • G. Willow Wilson
  • Heidi MacDonald
  • Janelle Asselin
  • Karen Berger
  • Shelly Bond
  • Raina Telgemeier

and many others, including many young creators, as well as a few men, including Paul Levitz and Chris Claremont. Key moments explored are the original diversity of comic genres, the rise of underground comics, convention cosplay, the founding of Friends of Lulu, internet fan culture, the importance of key titles like Elfquest, X-Men, Sandman, and Captain Marvel, and the rise of indy and webcomics supporting diversity. Levitz makes the essential point that simply having Kahn in a leadership position brought in more women, since they saw that there was a space for them. That’s an idea DeConnick returns to, the importance of providing visibility of achievement to the next generation.

I would have liked to have seen more explicit exploration of the conflict between saying that women like more than just superheroes and yet that women aren’t considered successes until they work at DC or Marvel and that much female comic culture revolves around superhero cosplay and fandom. Other than that, She Makes Comics, at an hour and ten minutes, was everything I hoped for and more. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

]]> 0
Catching up With The Double Life of Miranda Turner Sun, 22 Feb 2015 18:58:45 +0000 Last year, I told you about The Double Life of Miranda Turner, a digital comic by Jamie S. Rich and George Kambadais about a young superhero mentored by her dead sister who formerly had the role. Although the premise sounds angsty, it mostly ignores that in favor of a good amount of comedy and action, driven by creative ideas for villains for Miranda, as the Cat, to battle.

The Double Life of Miranda Turner #4 cover

Two issues, #4 and #5, came out this past winter, with #6 due out March 4. (It’s available to pre-order now.)

For those interested in more about the background of the two young women, issue #4 is for you. It’s a flashback to what happened to Lindy just before her death, as a way to further explore who might have been responsible.

The dialogue is packed with both information and entertainment, as we see the sisters depend on each other through revisiting a traumatic event. Kambadais’s art is capable of wide-ranging images, from hand-to-hand combat to celebrity fundraisers to fantastic superpowers. I was surprised at how mediocre Lindy’s death turned out to be, an ambush instead of taking place in a classic battle with a villain, but that’s a great example of the down-to-earth feel that makes the series appealing.

The Double Life of Miranda Turner #5 cover

Issue #5 continues exploring Lindy’s history, as we meet her friend and former co-worker, Portal, another member of the Alphabet Guild coterie of superheroes, as the creators expand their universe. That’s her on the cover, with an impressively visual (and powerful) ability.

The forthcoming issue #6, out next month, goes even further into history, as Portal shares news of her grandfather, also a hero, and how he fought in Vietnam, before they head out to battle the former Cat’s nemesis. This sets up for a grand showdown — but that’s coming in issue #7.

Since the series follows the Monkeybrain Comics model of 16 pages or so for 99 cents, it’s admirable how much Rich and Kambadais pack into each issue. The first arc is planned to be nine issues, so we’re in the last stretch, where everything starts coming together. (The creator provided review copies.)

]]> 0
From the Earth to Babylon: Gerald Bull and the Supergun Sun, 22 Feb 2015 16:10:34 +0000 Now that convention season planning is upon us, it’s time for me to go through the stacks of items I picked up at previous shows and madly attempt to catch up. Exhibit A: This limited edition historical graphic novel by Diana Tamblyn she was kind enough to give me at last year’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival, I think it was.

I like non-fiction comics and graphic memoir. I find them, when done well, wonderful ways to learn about people I wouldn’t otherwise know about. However, this volume — perhaps because it’s labeled Part One — left me feeling confused most of the time.

Gerald Bull and the Supergun cover

I got the impression throughout that I was already supposed to know who Gerald Bell was, and what he was famous for. Perhaps that’s true if you’re a Canadian reader, since he was a scientist there, but I’d never heard of him before, and the book doesn’t lay sufficient groundwork to overcome this feeling of uncertainty. Apparently, based on the book’s web page, a large part of his significance relates to his mysterious death by assassination, but that segment of his life, although casually referred to, doesn’t appear here.

The “supergun” similarly isn’t explained to a novice reader. The most coherent part of the book in regards to that subject is an introductory chapter about the Nazis shelling Paris, an event that isn’t connected well to the rest of the content. It’s a neat read on its own, though. The other events don’t come together well in the bigger picture; perhaps if I was more aware coming in of what we were leading up to, of Bell’s life overall, their selection would have made more sense.

Visually, the content resembles illustrated text, with lots of narration and talking heads. I wish there were more panels that were graphically interesting in content or technique.

The key moments, as far as I can tell, of Bull’s life are included, but I never got a sense of him as a person. We’re told of his schooling (at a young age due to advanced intellect) and his accomplishments, but I never got any idea or suggestion of how he might have felt about all this. Many of the significant personal events in his life, such as his marriage, are glossed over in a narrated panel or two in favor of many sequences on what was being built and how much it cost. Perhaps that’s just a distinction between what the author wants to write and draw and what I would rather read about.

I’d also rather have seen more exploration of different perceptions of the man, particularly near the end, when he turns into an international arms dealer after converting university research into his own company. Tamblyn paints this in a “he had to go out on his own because the government didn’t see how important this research was” light, but I suspect her perspective may be shadowed by her relationship with her grandaunt, who was Bell’s personal secretary during the 1950s. She discusses this in her afterword, where she also talks about working with Bell’s family on this project. That will certainly give the storytelling a particular slant.

Tamblyn mentions that this take on his character differs from the “many books and documentaries made about Bell”, so as a reaction, of course this will read differently to someone who’s seen all those and one who hasn’t. Someone already familiar with him may find this a refreshing corrective; the many who aren’t, though, like me, may be confused by the approach or feel left out. This area may also be explored in more depth in the forthcoming Book Two. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

]]> 1
Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor #1 Sat, 21 Feb 2015 22:33:43 +0000 I was curious to try the launch of the Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor comic series, because I lost interest in the show in the second half of the Eleventh Doctor’s TV run. As a result, I haven’t seen any of the Peter Capaldi Doctor Who episodes. I thought the first issue might give me a good idea whether I should bother catching up.

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor #1 cover by Alice X. Zhang

Cover by Alice X. Zhang

If driving interest in the master property is a valid measure of success, the comic worked. I’m curious enough — in large part due to the companion Clara and the lead’s attitude — to watch the show again. In the opening scene with the two of them, he’s willing to take Clara to another planet for skiing, but he refuses to join her, preferring to stay warm in the TARDIS. That kind of practical lack of emotionalism strikes me as a welcome change from some of the other recent versions of the character. He’s almost too much ahead of everyone else in this story, and I’m curious to see how long that can last. On the other hand, I can’t speak at all to whether this is an accurate translation of the characters to the page.

There’s a lot that’s familiar, from the plot that starts with the Doctor promising a planet with certain characteristics, only to find that it’s now become the opposite, to the throwaway references to goofy, vaguely SF-sounding concepts (ice sharks?). Instead of snowy slopes, the two wind up in a bio-engineered tropical jungle. There’s an evil businessman, ignoring warnings of coming disaster for his own selfish purposes; the companion in danger, to be rescued by a gadget from the Doctor; anti-corporate moralizing; and an ignored warning from the Doctor of impending doom.

All of these elements I’ve seen in previous Doctor Who stories, but it’s how they’re recombined that shows promise. And the images associated with them are of the type and scale that couldn’t easily be done on TV, playing to the strengths of the comic format, from the odd creatures to the giant alien threat. There are a number of throwaway wisecracks, too, which were hit-or-miss with me — I loved hearing once again about Venusian karate, and the wall-breaking sofa reference was cute, but I thought having yet someone else say “Doctor Who?” wasn’t necessary. The Doctor’s voice feels right to me, though, which is the important thing.

I knew Titan Comics wanted to trade on its previous series adaptation successes, but I was a bit shocked at the sheer number of variant covers of this issue. Based on the list at the end of the issue, there were 32! Most are retailer-specific, rewarding those who heavily supported the new book launch. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

]]> 3
Doctor Who Photo Covers Create New Companions Sat, 21 Feb 2015 18:07:36 +0000 The Doctor Who comics, like so many these days, are available with multiple covers. There’s usually a main art cover, possibly a painted variant, but there’s also been a lot of photo covers. These are easy enough to make with clip art, since there are likely tons of images of the previous Doctors in costume, striking poses, but what I’ve found particularly interesting is when they do photo covers with the new companions.

The Eleventh Doctor, for example, doesn’t travel with Amy and Rory in the comics, since that story has long ended. Instead, he’s palling around with a new character, Alice Obiefune, a librarian coping with the recent death of her mother, in the comics written by Al Ewing and Rob Williams and drawn by Simon Fraser. I like her a lot, since she’s got a good, down-to-earth mien that reminds me of Martha Jones. She’s clever and determined, and the doctor provides a kind of grief treatment. She’s appeared on photo covers for Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor issue #5 and issue #7, as shown here:

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #5 photo coverDoctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #7 photo cover

So I suppose Titan and/or the BBC hired a model to do a few shots to use to play a character that’s never appeared on screen or in person before? I’m not entirely certain that they’re using the same person every time, though.

The same applies to Gabriella “Gabby” Gonzalez, who’s now hanging out with the Tenth Doctor. As written by Nick Abadzis and drawn by Elena Casagrande, she’s an aspiring art student struggling with family expectations. She’s appeared on photo covers for Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor issue #3 and the upcoming issue #14 (due out June 8), as shown here:

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #3 photo coverDoctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #14 photo cover

]]> 3
Marvel: The Avengers Vault Wed, 18 Feb 2015 14:44:42 +0000 Review by KC Carlson

Between the years of 2007 and 2011, a publisher named Running Press issued a series of beautifully written and produced Vault books on the histories of comics’ biggest companies (Marvel and DC Comics — both previously reviewed by me, here at CWR) and their top characters (Batman and Spider-Man).

Despite the similar title, this new 2015 Avengers Vault book, from a different publisher, is not like those books. In fact, I think the best thing I can say about it is that it’s one of the most generic “history” books about comics ever produced. It’s not a decent coffee table book — it’s more like an “end table” book.

Most of its problems are evident in its production. The book’s spine feels loose, although it may be intended as a stay-flat binding. Either way, it creaks and groans with every page turn; it disturbs me when books make noise while you’re reading them. It’s also not very visually appealing. The original vault books were quite impressive with their oversized (10.7” x 13”) horizontal format, unique spiral binding, and bound-in plastic sheets, allowing for both attractive display and the easy removal of the book’s actual artifacts. This new book is a standard 12” x 8.7” format, portrait instead of landscape orientation. The artifacts are dealt with much differently in this new book.

Artifacts — or Arti-fiction?

Unlike previous Vault books, where the artifacts were (mostly) presented within the book’s text, and in clear plastic enabling you to instantly see them, the artifacts in this book all come in book-sized, flimsy cardstock envelopes bound in at chapter breaks. Because of the difficulty of trying to get these things out of the envelopes (hint: turn the book upside-down to safely get them out, without tearing the envelope or its stupid flap — which you know will be torn off eventually), the artifacts are most likely destined to be looked at once and then forgotten — which is one of the definitions of “generic”, I believe. WARNING: If you do decide to buy this book at a bookstore, take a minute to flip through the book before going to the check-out to make sure the envelopes haven’t already been destroyed (or the artifacts stolen) by previous browsers. Both can be accomplished fairly easily.

The coolest artifact here is probably the reproduction of Ralph Long’s (whoever he is) actual Captain America Sentinels of Liberty membership card from 1941, although it’s easy to miss because of its size. Unless you have hands like Dooneese (the tiny-handed character played by Kristen Wiig on Saturday Night Live), you need to shake the tiny membership card out of the book, or you will tear the envelope trying trying to fish for it. Runners up for “neat reproduction” would have to be Walter Simonson’s mini Thor-frog promotional poster and the multipage “All About Iron Man” featurette with artwork by Don Heck.

Avengers ID card

The one artifact that really should have been here (and isn’t) was the promotional Avengers membership cards that were originally issued by Marvel in the late 1980s. These were brilliant because they were partially blank, allowing fans to sign them and attach a photograph or drawing of themselves. Who wouldn’t want to be an Avenger?! Or at least have their super-cool membership card! It was signed by then-President Ronald Reagan and (fictional) National Security Council Director Raymond Sikorski. They were a huge hit with fans, and I know folks who still carry theirs in their wallets.

Battling Technology

One of the biggest problems with the book is the horrible typesetting. The entire book is double-spaced, which gives the impression of cheaping out by limiting the word count, and then spreading the text out to make it look impressive. (You know, like you did in your book reports when you were eight years old and didn’t know any better.) Further, much of the book’s text is not properly kerned (adjusting the typesetting — sometimes manually — for a more pleasing reading experience). Whenever the text has to wrap around a graphic larger than the book’s columns, there are unsightly and frequently huge gaps of space between words in the text. Further, the book designer has placed a number of huge graphics in the upper left corner of the left-hand pages. Due to their large size, I frequently missed the three or four lines of text in the left column, since natural eye-flow takes the reader from the large graphic directly to the right column of text. The book is literally an unpleasant chore to read — or at least it was for me.

Which is something that really shouldn’t ever be said about Peter David’s writing, which here is mostly up to his usual high standards. There are a number of great behind-the-scenes stories about comic history — and even a debunking of some previously accepted comic book lore, notably about the real-life origins of The Avengers comic book. It’s a well-written history, but (and here’s that word again) somewhat generic, possibly because of restrictions in word count. Also, one gets the sense that the manuscript may have been sitting around for a while (and not updated), considering that there is no mention of the somewhat controversial changes in the current Avengers publications. Current writers Jonathan Hickman and Rick Remender have really changed the structure and storytelling over the last couple of years — not to mention radically expanding the membership.

Unfortunately, this omission has pretty much rendered the book’s Appendix: Complete Avengers Roster incomplete and out-of-date before it was even published. Since this book is clearly intended to ride the coattails of the upcoming movie, that may not make much difference to the likely reader. The one nod to current publishing history is the inclusion of last year’s promotion of the Falcon to be the current Captain America, although there is no mention of why this happened, and it seems somewhat shoehorned in.

The best chapter here is the one devoted to the Incredible Hulk — not surprising, since Peter David is the author of an astounding (and award-winning) twelve-year run on the character and the comic book series.


Granted that some very silly comic book stories and plotlines from the less sophisticated, early eras of comics are recounted here, there is some unfortunate snarkiness that creeps into the text. Now, I enjoy snark as much as anybody, but I have also become aware over the years that there are a lot of fans who don’t appreciate their favorite characters (or plotlines) being made fun of. So if that bothers you, caveat emptor applies here.

On the other hand, there are some beloved characters and weirdly constructed Marvel stories (including many of the “continuity implant” variety), where nothing but snark will do while attempting to summarize them. Seriously.

Another depressing note: I didn’t immediately recognize the cover artist. The image is a fairly generic shot of the movie Avengers (plus the Falcon). I was briefly impressed when I saw that there was a page of actual Image Credits listed in the Table of Contents. Turning to it, I was dismayed to find that most of the “credits” said “courtesy Heritage Auctions”. Fortunately, most of the interior art that comes directly from the comics is attributed to actual artists. I still don’t know who drew the cover. For all I know, it may just be clip art, which — warning — is also used in this book.

Final thought: Avengers fans who only know them from the blockbuster movies may find The Avengers Vault helpful, but not in any way complete. Longtime comic fans may find this so disappointing that they actually appreciate the snark. Both groups may wish for a bit more content for the price. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

]]> 0
KC’s Previews for April 2015 Wed, 18 Feb 2015 14:08:07 +0000 The Bronze Age of DC Comics cover

KC recommends items you’ll want to be aware of in the February Previews catalog, for items shipping in April or later in his Westfield columns. Part One looks at comic book collections, plus a bunch of Marvel Cinematic Universe art books. You’ll also find out why so few DC books show up on these lists. Part Two switches to collections of comic strips and the super-sized omnibus editions, as well as key books about comics you’ll want to read. One of those I’m excited about is the long-awaited Taschen The Bronze Age of DC Comics, as shown above and now due in August.

]]> 0
Win a Copy of Stan Lee’s New Book, The Zodiac Legacy Wed, 18 Feb 2015 03:45:02 +0000 The Zodiac Legacy cover
The Zodiac Legacy

Stan Lee has leant his name to a new series project. This time it’s prose, co-written with (former Helix editor) Stuart Moore. The Zodiac Legacy is a new young adult novel, intended to start a series, about Steven Lee, a young man who stumbles into a mystical ceremony. A powerful man, full of hubris, is trying to take all the powers of the Chinese Zodiac into himself, but Steven winds up with the Tiger power, based on his birth sign. Of course, there’s a group working together to try and stop the greedy villain, and plenty of action.

Book one, Convergence, launched last month with illustrations by Andie Tong (Spectacular Spider-Man UK, The Batman Strikes!). Here are some samples:

Zodiac Legacy art by Andie Tong

Zodiac Legacy art by Andie Tong

And Stan Lee narrates this book trailer, explaining the premise:

Based on the chapters I’ve read so far, the series emphasizes world-spanning adventure familiar to superhero fans over deep characterization, but that makes for an adrenaline-driven read.

If you’d like to see the book for yourself, Disney Enterprises has made it possible for me to give away a prize pack consisting of the book and a sheet of custom Zodiac Legacy temporary tattoos, as shown here:

Zodiac Legacy prize pack

To enter the contest, leave a comment below telling me your zodiac sign and how you feel about it. For example, I’m a Rooster, which used to be the Cock, which never made me happy.

If you need to figure out your sign, and you don’t have a Chinese restaurant placement handy, you can visit the book’s website or have Stan Lee tell you about it here:

A winner will be picked randomly from all entries on Friday, February 20. (U.S. or Canada addresses only, please. Winners will be emailed to confirm address. If email is not answered within 24 hours or a valid email address is not provided, a replacement winner will be selected. Your email won’t be used for any other purpose.)

]]> 11