Monday, 31 December 2012

Variety Is The Spice of Comics Pt. 1: Pony Up

Or how variety in comics is amazing and generally a good idea.

My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic #1 sold very well. Apparently top twenty comics for the month well. 

I think this is interesting.

Frankly, it's interesting in a lot of ways. It is interesting that yet another book that directly ties in with a successful television program does well (a la Walking Dead). It is worth noting that this book was targeted at children and did very well in a market dominated by adults. Bronies, as a phenomenon, are endlessly fascinating. But I'm most interested in how the high sales of My Little Pony tell us about audiences.

Okay, now this entire argument is goin to hinge on two generalized assumptions, and I'd like to throw out some caveats before we get going so I sound a little less stupid.
  1. Generalizations are imperfect, they never capture the fractal detail of real life. So, you know, bear that in mind.
  2. People gonna like what they like. Which is to say that things made for children can also interest adults or that girls can like things made for boys (or vice versa). Whatever you like is completely legitimate and should be celebrated. (Unless it's murder or something.)
  3. I think creators set out to make the best things they can and that appeal to the widest possible audience. I think it is the business/editorial side that is more concerned about specific audience demographics. I also think that since publishing is ultimately a business these demographic concerns affect which comics actually get made. Which is an unnecessarily complicated way of saying comics are made with an audience in mind.
  4. The notion of media "for girls" and "for boys" is problematic. Gender binaries are just about the biggest generalization in the world, and to assume everyone with the same set of genitals thinks the same way or likes the same things is dumb (see caveats 1&2). Getting into why all of this is problematic or the root causes of this is way beyond the scope of this, and honestly should be written by someone way more qualified. I just want to make a small point about Magical Friendship Pony comics.

(Is anyone still reading this?)

Okay: without further waffling these are the assumptions I'm making:

  1. The majority of superhero comics, whether actively or passively, are being made to satisfy an existent market of adults already purchasing superhero comics.
  2. My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic was made primarily for an audience of female children who are not well represented or catered to in the current superhero heavy comic market.
 Alright, so this is the complete list of the 25 top sellers by Diamond Distributers in November (1):
  1. All New X-Men #1
  2. Batman #14
  3. Captain America #1
  4. Deadpool #1
  5. Indestructible Hulk #1
  6. Iron Man #1
  7. Fantastic Four #1
  8. Uncanny Avengers #2
  9. Justice League #14
  10. Thor God of Thunder #1
  11. All New X-Men #2
  12. X-Men Legacy #1
  13. Amazing Spider-Man #698
  14. FF #1
  15. My Little Pony Friendship is Magic #1
  16. Green Lantern #14
  17. Batgirl #14
  18. Batman and Robin #14
  19. Detective Comics #14
  20. Iron Man #2
  21. Deadpool #2
  22. Thor God of Thunder #2
  23. A+X #2
  24. Action Comics #14
  25. Masks #1
If we graph this list by genre we get:

And if we graph them by audience we get:

Is it really a surprise that My Little Pony Friendship is Magic has found an audience?

Look, I think the world, well, north America, often forgets that comics are a medium and not a genre. Which is to say you can tell any kind of story and not just superheroes. And while clearly Superhero comics are popular, books that target other audiences can eche out success.

Which I think speaks to a bigger and maybe overlooked issue: everyone who wants to read superhero comics already is. They are also already spending all of the money they are willing to on Superhero comics. By making a comic that is not a Superhero comic you potentially target a different audience with money to spend, or the same audience in a different enough way that they may justify spending additional money. (See eventually upcoming pt. 2 for more on this idea).

And at the end of the day, I think the value of genre diversity is the lesson of the success of My Little Pony Friendship is Magic #1.

(1): List is from here.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Atoll Comics Round 6: CAGE MATCH!!

Or Changes to My Top-Ten Comics

Due to poverty and an urge to buy better comics, I have decided to be super-selective about which superhero comics I read. Harnessing the Awesome Power of Maths, I have determined that I can afford to read 10 ongoing titles. So I get to read 10, and only 10, titles published by either Marvel or DC as well as one trade paperback a week of my choosing.

A complication of this is that I am forced to drop an on-going title if I want to try reading a new on-going title, an act of very tough love. Being financially responsible is the worst.

I will be dropping Batwoman and adding... I'm not completely sure! There are two comics: FF and The Indestructible Hulk that I would very much like to read. But unfortunately I only have one opening for a new comic book in my ten and only ten superhero comics. So I propose to have a kind of tie breaker where the two books go head-to-head and fight for that slot in my reading list.

Why not Batwoman?: I love the idea of this book: a queer woman superhero motivated by her tragic past and collisions with prejudice and adversity to take up the mantle of a Bat-person. When it was written by Greg Rucka and drawn by JH Williams III it was one of the best looking books on the stands, but also one of the best written. Rucka brought so much complexity, empathy, and intelligence to Batwoman. Without him, the book just hasn't been the same. It's still a pretty book by any reasonable metric, but Batwoman is also kind of a mess plot wise. I mean, I'm still not sure exactly what is going on in this book and worse, I'm not sure why I should care that I don't. The reality is that Batwoman is never going to be as good as it was when Rucka was writing it and that there are too many better books on the stands. 

(I guess writing trumps art and creators are more important than characters?)


Potentially why FF?: Matt Fraction AND Mike Allred. This should be a complete no brainer: one of my favourite writers with an industry legend on art. By any conventional metric this should be an amazing comic book. And from what I read it is. The trouble here is that Hickman's Fantastic Four and FF had such a distinct vision, which I profoundly enjoyed, that I'm not yet sure that FF, despite the amazing creators, will live up to these lofty expectations. (Of course, it's hard to tell because the two issues thus far have been very set-up-y).

Potentially why The Indestructible Hulk?: I have never enjoyed a Hulk comic. I think the Hulk is a great character (brilliant scientist that turns into a giant green rage monster) in an ensemble. On a team he's both an asset and dangerous liability, and that is inherently interesting. Solo Hulk tends to be one note (leave me alone), questing on another planet, or involved in a needlessly crazy story. His books tend not to work for me. But Mark Waid seems to be an expert at taking a basic premise and making it work in fresh ways. And his premise in these first issues seems to be about celebrating both Banner and the Hulk in a way that feels new and very true to the character. Add in Lenil Francis Yu, an artist whose rough and sketchy style seems perfectly suited to a Hulk book and I've liked what I've seen. It'll be interesting to see if they can make a Hulk book I actually enjoy.

So for the first five issues these two books will go head to head to determine which is the book that will make my vaunted top ten.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

So I Read Underground

A 250 word (or less) review of the Underground graphic novel
by Jeff Parker, Steve Lieber, and Ron Chan.

I have a tendency to enjoy complicated comics with elaborate plots or with grand thematic discourses. Underground is kind of the opposite in that it avoids pretense and focuses on telling a damn good story. This isn't to imply that Underground is somehow less than other comics: it's technically an amazing comic with a very well written straight forward story that is brilliantly rendered. The book is like
good design: it's exactly what it needs to be to be perfect at what it does. Underground is a story about the Stillwater Cave and what to do with it. Local wealthy businessman Mister Barefoot, wants to open up the cave and turn it into a tourist attraction. Opposing this idea is park ranger and avid caver Wesley Fischer who wants to preserve the cave in its pristine state. Mister Barefoot, in an effort to speed up the process, sends his boys down to the cave to start a-blasting. This attracts Wesley and Seth, a fellow park ranger and love interest, who investigate the sounds leading to misunderstanding, violence, and an underground thriller comic. Parker's script is tense, fun, and surprisingly informative about spelunking and the artwork by Lieber and Chan really sells the claustrophobia, danger, and wonder of caves. Underground reminds me of 80s movies: the story has a cool salt-of-the-earth concept, a sense of humour, a charming cast, and a snobs-vs-slobs conflict. It’s great. Underground also possesses the quality and accessibility good for new or youngerish readers. Check it out.

Word count: 250

Monday, 24 December 2012

Eye On Hawkeye #6 pt. 2

Or my apparently regular feature gushing about Matt Fraction and David Aja's Hawkeye because this book is perfect.

Wherein I continue my wonky analysis of how great Hawkeye is and say nice things about the creators. This is my second post for number six because this is an amazing comic book. To read me gush about David Aja read the last one, and to hear me say very nice things about Matt Fraction read on.

Okay, so many *SPOILERS* to follow.

Again, I'd like to point out that Hawkeye is a highly collaborative comic where there isn't the clearest distinction between writer and artist. I'm going to be a hack and give all the writing credit to Matt Fraction, but you should be aware that David Aja probably also deserves some of the credit.

So I think it's obvious by now that I really, really like Hawkeye. So far most of my love has been poured on the art (which is phenomenal). This might create the impression that I think the art in the comic is better or more important than the writing, but that's not it at all: I love the writing in Hawkeye.

No, the reason I haven't written a half dozen essays about how terrific a job Matt Fraction is doing with this book is that I can't find an angle.

I mean, I guess I could have written about how Hawkeye #6 made me laugh aloud more times than any other comic I can remember. Or maybe I could have pointed out the clever ways Fraction often builds his stories around guy problems (shitty landlords, trouble setting up an entertainment system). I could have discussed Fraction's judicious and awesome use of recurring gimmicks like filling word balloons with "obscene gerrund" or "Spanish sounding words" instead of the actual dialogue and then compared that with the awesome martial-art-move-names from The Immortal Ironfist (actually, that's not a bad idea...). Or maybe even something about the number of times he has used the word "bro". But none of those are particularly insightful or original.

No my problem is that I can't find that unique, technical thing to say about the writing in Hawkeye. I think just saying something is good or that I like it is boring. So for these Eye On Hawkeye posts I've been trying to point out the interesting and innovative things the creators do that elevate this book and make it one of the very best superhero comics I've ever read. The trouble is that Fraction's writing on this book is so good that it's largely invisible.

Okay, let me explain. All fiction is artifice: at its inception it's created from its makers' imaginations, inspirations, and hard work. From there it is constructed, hammered into form with words and pencil strokes and even more hard work. And eventually the audience gets to experience this constructed thing, this artficial world we get to briefly live in. It's magic made by creative people and I am constantly amazed by it.

With most fiction the fact you are looking at an artificial thing is obvious. In some cases it is poorly made fiction with crude seams of logical inconsistency, distracting authorial ticks, or grammatical sins. In other cases, like seminal classic Watchmen and Fraction's own experimental Casanova (a comic so good it makes me ache), great fictions display their artificial nature through their engagement with deliberate themes or through their unorthodox approaches to storytelling. These well made fictions use their crafted nature in a way that elevates the reading experience kind of like a garment enhanced by artfully designed seams. I guess what I'm trying to say is most fiction shows the evidence of an author.

With Hawkeye, Fraction creates such a consistency of tone, character, and world vision that it doesn't feel created. It feels natural and effortless: the seams of the comic are hidden. It's kind of perfection.

(It also makes finding an angle to write about the writing in Hawkeye difficult.)

I mean this as the highest compliment: to write something so complete that it feels true and effortless has to be about the hardest thing to do. The fact I can only think of a couple of other comics that have that same magic (Jaime Hernandez's Love and Rockets and to a lesser extent Brian K Vaughan's Saga and Y the Last Man) is probably evidence of how hard it is to pull the trick off.

So, yeah, the writing in Hawkeye is really, really great and Matt Fraction is absolutely killing it. Here's hoping we're all very lucky and Hawkeye isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Eye On Hawkeye #6 pt. 1
Eye On Hawkeye #3
Eye On Hawkeye #2

Friday, 21 December 2012

Eye on hawkeye #6 pt. 1

Or my apparently regular feature gushing about Matt Fraction and David Aja's Hawkeye because this book is perfect.

Wherein I continue my wonky analysis of how great Hawkeye is and say nice things about the creators. Actually my analysis for number six is going to be two entries because this comic in general, and number six in particular, is just such a... brain meltingly amazingly crafted comic.

Okay, so many *SPOILERS* to follow.

So, in this post I'm going to gush about the art. Now this comic is super collaborative so making distinctions between artist and writer is probably not fair. For simplicity sake I'm going to just write about it like David Aja made all the art descisions, but bear in mind Matt fraction probably deserves some of the credit too.

I think a good place to start is that this comic looks amazing. The characters are expressive, kinetic and complex. The backgrounds are incredibly detailed, well designed, and filled  with a hundred little amazing tidbits (the neglected Christmas tree, Charlie brown shirt, etc) that make it a real place. And the use of high panel count grids just makes for such a textured (I guess?) read. Such clear story telling and so much style. All you really need to know is that David Aja Is an incredibly talented artist.

But if you want to see me wonk out some of his brilliant use of panel patterning and layout: read on.

So for most of the book, the pages have an entirely, or mostly, high panel count grid, generally split into three sections (above). This allows for a lot of evets/disussion etc to built into each page and makes for an easy to follow progression of events (below). This, for the reader, becomes the default pace of the story which makes violations of this pattern interesting and informative.

(Also, how simple and beautiful are these four panels? Amazing.)

The simplest violation is this little bit here where Hawkeye blacks out. The panels horizontally narrow and blacken and simulate the tunnel vision of losing consciousness. It clearly conveys in a visual language that Hawkeye got his ass knocked out. It's a pretty common technique, but it's a great example of the kind of thing
I want to talk about.

The next violation of grid comes right after Clint comes to. See how the panels are staggered (not vertically aligned) with the first panel in the sequence lower than the second? This is both breaking of the grid pattern and a violation of the sequential art left-to-right, top-to-bottom convention. This momentarily throws things askance, and makes the reader experience Clint's dizziness in a visual way. All from layout. Simple and so, so smart.

Okay, in this one we have our heroes on the roof of their apartment building running to the edge and looking down at some tracksuit Dracula thugs. Here, the right most panel in the top sequence extends down past the following panels. The first thing this does is make the reader look down, which is the same thing our heroes on the roof are doing, which is fun and clever. The second, more practical storytelling thing it does is that it gives everything a sense of place: the heroes are on the roof looking at the thugs below them on the street. It also does a third thing: by overlapping with the following thug panels with this tall panel it suggests that the tall panel both proceeds and follows the thug panels. This suggests that our rooftop heroes remain looking over the side throughout this whole exchange, which adds a time/temporal factor to this scene. Again, so simple but so smart.

This one is a little more visually complicated. In the top panel the arrow hits the bat. It's double width accommodates the width the arrow but also imparts lateral movement: the width of the panel (compared to the skinnier panels in the grid) means our eyes physically move along it. The next panel of the thug dropping the bat is cut from the top panel to imply time: the arrow strikes the bat a moment before the thug drops it. It's a great little beat that imparts both motion and time through the use of layout. 

Okay this panel transition here is just too much fun not to include. The clock, as a recurrent device to pace the story (which takes place over six days), leading into a fish eye door lens that uses the same border is just great. (There may have been slow clapping).

Okay, this isn't a wonky analysis thing, but that's John goodman right? It sure looks like him, and is written like him, and as a result sounds like him in my head... I mean it's totally him.

Someone needs to use coercion, bribery, or threats to make John Goodman say "Hawkguy" on tape. Because it would be amazing.

Alright, so there you have it: more evidence that David Aja and company are genius.

Join me next time for a post about how great the writing of Matt Fraction is in Hawkeye.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

So I Read Chew Volumes 1-5

A 250 word (or less) review of Chew trade paperbacks 1-5
By John Layman and Rob Guillory, Image Comics

Delightfully demented, wonderfully weird and alliteratively awesome. Chew is a book about detective turned FDA agent Tony Chu who is cibopathic. A cibopath is a person who receives the psychic impressions and from whatever he eats: from plants a sense of pesticides, from meat the manner of their slaughter and from people, or their corpses, their skills and memories. From beets: nothing, they are inscrutable. Chu's adventures take place in a world where, due to an apparent outbreak of avian flu, poultry is illegal and illegal fried chicken is big business which the FDA is tasked with cracking down. The overall plot of Chew is built around exploring Chu’s cibopathy by constructing increasingly elaborate and ridiculous situations for his talent/curse to be useful. Oh, and there is an overarching plot about a possible conspiracy concerning the chicken ban. The resulting script, coupled with Guillory’s vividly cartoony artwork, is this offbeat and clever book that is also incredibly weird. I mean, it's a story about a psychic cannibal detective whose adventures pit him against chicken smugglers, an alien fruit that tastes just like chicken, mutant chicken-frogs, space writing, a vampire, and Poyo the greatest fighting rooster of all. It’s also hilarious, filled with a brilliant array of absurdity and jokes that are genuinely funny instead of the usual quippy. If you’re looking for a
fiercely original book with some solid laughs, Chew is definitely worth checking out.

Word count: 236

Monday, 17 December 2012

Red Country Is A Good Book

Or why you should read Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Red country is an Epic Fantasy novel that is also a Western. Actually that summation doesn't really give the novel credit: while it is built around this concept, Red Country manages to fuse its constitutive genres into a complete thing that is all its own. Like literary Thai food. But with black comedy and brutal murders.

Red country is the sixth novel set in Joe Abercrombie's First Law universe and follows Shy South, a hard nosed settler with a bloody past, and her stepfather Lamb, an old, cowardly, nine-fingered Northman as they hunt for their kidnapped family members. To find these stolen children the pair must brave the lawless frontier filled with savage Ghosts, bandits, desperate prospectors, mercenaries, and their own bloody pasts. It's a riveting tale of the wilderness, men's courage and greed, family, and sharpened blades.

It's also, like all of Abercrombie's books, exceptionally well written. The prose is rich with ridiculously vivid characters that climb, hacking and bleeding, off the page. The story is morally complex, makes brilliant use of recurring characters and further builds upon the world Abercrombie is creating. Abercrombie's humor is as dark and funny as ever. While Red Country is clearly a little different from previous Abercrombie books and a stand alone effort, fans of his work will vastly enjoy this book.

I'd also like to point out jut how great a combination Western and Epic Fantasy literature make. It's hard to discuss it overmuch without spoiling the book: but seriously guys, Thai food.

Red country is a novel I can recommend to anyone. Seriously, go read it. Now.


Joe Abercrombie’s Fantasy Novels are Good Books.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Thank You Gail Simone

Or some things I'm thankful to Gail Simone for.

The strange news of the lately is that Gail Simone has, for some perplexing reason, been let go from writing Batgirl. (EDIT: Apparently Gail Simone has been replaced by Gail Simone so... yeah.) Which you know, doesn't make much sense to me given how talented a writer she is and how critically and financially successful Batgirl is. It got me thinking about Gail Simone, and basically how great she is. It got me thinking that it would be remiss of me not to write some nice things about Gail Simone and to say thank you for all the great things she has unwittingly done for me as a comics reader.

For one thing I owe Gail simone for reading comics in the first place. While there were many little events that contributed to my interest in comics, the thing that finally got me into a store was a bootleg disk of Deadpool issues (Sorry!). It was mostly the hilarious, twisted, and expertly crafted plots of Joe Kelly and Gail Simone that made me realize how mature and fun comics could be. Frankly, it was these authors that convinced me that comics could be genuinely enjoyed as an adult for their own merits. So for helping convince me to buy my first print comic as an adult, thank you Gail Simone.

(Agent X, also amazing and formative.)

I am for the most part not the biggest DC fan. While I have a nostalgic love for The Batman, I have a hard time getting invested in the company's other characters. Most of the non-Batman DC books I've ended up reading over the years were Simone penned: Birds of Prey and Secret Six mainly. Secret Six when it was coming out was far and away my favourite book: an incredible mix of the most perverse shit in comics coupled with, oddly, the most empathy and heart. It's more than a year after this book was cancelled and I still miss it every month. For writing such an amazing book, thank you Gail Simone.

I didn't end up picking up Batgirl: it started at a time when I was doing some serious belt tightening and when most of my favourite books were in the midst of years long story arches. Sadly it was one of the books that I sacrificed on the altar of financial solvency. (I was also mourning the loss of Oracle a bit, and maybe didn't give it the fairest shake.) But I heard that it was doing well and that it was a great comic. Better yet, it was a comic that was appealing to a group of readers who are not typically catered to, which is awesome because growing the audience is how comics get better. So for writing a comic that brought new readers to comics, thank you Gail Simone.

I'm a straight-white-male who is privileged in a long list of other ways. The fact that whiteness, straightness, and maleness are privileges was not immediately apparent to me growing up. It's easy to spot shitty treatment ad egregious prejudice, but the slightly less obvious ways society is biased for and against certain groups of people wasn't immediately obvious to me, since you know, it was biased in my favour. (This might indicate that I am a terrible, unempathetic person, but it's true to my experience. Also teenage me was kind of a dick). It wasn't until I spent a lot of time around my best friend, a queer feminist, and was confronted with the shitty that I really became aware of some of these issues of privilege and gender and race and orientation. (I'm still far from perfect on these issues, but I'm trying to be better.) My point is that it takes agitation to combat ignorance and complacency. Gail Simone is a champion for marginalized people in comics. She is working to make comics more inclusive by writing comics featuring all kinds of people, by loudly and publicly pointing out prejudiced nonsense in comics, and by fostering an online community where a discourse on these topics can happen. This is great because comics needs to be much better about representing and treating people who are not straight, white, and male. So for agitating for a more inclusive comics, thank you Gail Simone.

Gail Simone recently kickstarted a book with artist Jim Calafiore called Leaving Megalopolis. I contributed because im trying to support a larger proportion of creator owned comics and because GAILSIMONEANDJIMCALAFIORE!! Prior to this I found Kickstarter a fairly dubious service and hadn't considered participating in crowd sourcing. Now, I at least think about it when confronted with an interesting project and have kickstarted a couple really cool looking things including a book by Larime Taylor, a super talented artist/writer who is forced by a disability to draw with his mouth (who is exactly the kind of person Kickstarter exists to support). So for turning me onto crowdsourcing, and  because I know Leaving Megalopolis is going to rock, thank you Gail Simone.

And you know what: thank you Gail Simone for whatever comes next.

Because I know it's going to be great.

And I can't wait to see it.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

So I Read A Red Mass For Mars

A 250 word (or less) review of A Red Mass For Mars graphic novel
By Jonathan Hickman and Ryan Bodenheim, Image Comics

A Red Mass For Mars is a very dense comic book. The basic premise is pretty simple: a massive alien invasion is coming to Earth and it's up to the superheroes of the world to stop it. The heroes of Earth are horribly outmatched and humanity's only potential hope is Mars, a kind of deified ersatz-Superman, who unfortunately wants no part in saving the planet. The real story of the book is about Mars since the plot hinges on his intervention and focuses on intercessions to him as well as his origins and backstory. A Red Mass For Mars is further complicated by the thematic discussions going on. The narration and story structure of the book is very epic and lyrical which seems to delve into the comics-as-myth discussion. I also get the impression, based on the deification of Mars and his relationship to his son, that there is a broader religious discourse happening as well. The comic also has a conversation about human social evolution occurring, with chapters describing transitional steps toward a kind of Utopia. My take on it is that there is a thematic discussion about how social progress relates to religious belief.  Hickman really packs a lot of complicated ideas into this book. Visually, the comic is spectacular: Bodenheim’s drawings are suitably epic and mate beautifully with Hickman’s distinctive
colouring and design. Overall, I'd recommend A Red Mass For Mars, just know that it is a challenging book that requires you to invest in it.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Atoll Comics Round 5

Or Changes to My Top-Ten Comics

Due to poverty and an urge to buy better comics, I have decided to be super-selective about which superhero comics I read. Harnessing the Awesome Power of Maths, I have determined that I can afford to read 10 ongoing titles. So I get to read 10, and only 10, titles published by either Marvel or DC as well as one trade paperback a week of my choosing.

A complication of this is that I am forced to drop an on-going title if I want to try reading a new on-going title, an act of very tough love. Being financially responsible is the worst.

I will be adding Avengers to my ten comic list and dropping The Fantastic Four/FF.

Why Avengers?

The Avengers, when it's at its best, is the engine of the Marvel universe. It's where the big, bold events happen and where a collection of the most interesting and powerful of Marvel's heroes combat the very worst of their villains. It's Marvel's showcase book for the company's serious fans (while Uncanny Avengers and Avengers Assemble would be more casual, approachable showcases). What I'm getting at is that it's supposed to be BIG. And while it has often been a high stakes book over the last few years, the title has maybe lacked some gravitas and thoughtfulness (in my humble opinion). If there is one guy who can infuse Avengers with some weight and an insane degree of planning and thought it's Jonathan Hickman. The man is an expert at creating new, giant ideas and building exciting stories around PLOT while still maintaining all important characterization and dialogue. Couple him with some great artists, like series opener Jerome Opena, and Avengers looks to be a thinky, epic comic about which the Marvel Universe can spin. And yeah, I want in on that.

(Really though, I could've just said I want some Jonathan Hickman in my life, and this book looks like the best of the current lot.)

Why not The Fantastic Four/FF?

The Fantastic Four really saw a resurgence under Hickman. The Fantastic Four previous to his run had become essentially about a super powered family who had superhero adventures. Under Hickman the book, and its offspring title FF, became Science Fiction comics where a super powered family explored, studied, and fought epic battles against simply incredible things. No comic being made by Marvel or DC managed to stimulate my wonder glands in the same way as Hickman's Fantastic Four and FF. All the more impressively Hickman managed to tell his epic Sci-fi parables and super heroic conflicts without ever losing focus of the family and love which are the heart and soul of the Fantastic Four. For me the book was this perfect balance of Sci-fi and heart. (Hickman also writes one hell of a Reed Richards.) Hickman has moved on to other projects and The Fanatastic Four seems to want to become a really good book about a super powered family again instead of a wonder inducing book about an astronaut/scientist/explorer/superheroic family who have mind-expanding Science Fiction adventures. And as good as the former is, all I really want to read is the latter.

(Although, if you are looking to read more comics Matt Fraction and Mark Bagely's Fantastic Four is pretty good.)

Friday, 7 December 2012

Going Rogue

Or how Rick Remender may have jut solved one of the most perplexing continuity problems in comics.

Alright, Rogue's sex life has always bothered me because it makes no sense.

Let me explain...

Actually, before I get going, for those of you unfamiliar with rogue of the X-men (why are reading this?) here is her deal. She was a mutant terrorist with the power to temporarily borrow another mutant or superheroes powers by initiating skin-to-skin contact. This has the added effect (or at least classically had) of stealing their life force. A little touch renders people unconscious and prolonged contact can put someone in a coma or even kill them. This Rogue's power is also her curse and the realm of physical intimacy has been something she could never have.

(In fact, her power first manifested when she kissed her high school sweetheart which put him in a coma.)

All of this is a great metaphor about puberty... but it also makes zero sense.

Like most kids of the Internet generation I'm aware that there is a wide spectrum of glorious perversions and alternate approaches to physical intimacy. Not being able to engage in skin-to-skin contact is, at least by the standards of today, a pretty easy problem to solve. It's well established that Rogue, in her soul-stealing-sucubus days, could safely touch someone while wearing gloves, which means that she simply needs a way to prevent skin to skin contact to allow intimacy. Today there are dozens of companies that leverage cutting edge material science to produce skintight, pliable, touch sensitive full body garments for people with certain sets of sexual interests. Pair one of these bodysuits with judicious use of male and female prophylactics and Rogue could easily and safely have a sex life. She'd jut need to be a bit creative and kinky.

And really, it's the only situation that's believable.

Now, in uncanny avengers #2 this happens:

This would seem to indicate that at the very least Rogue and Gambit, during one of their on again, off again romances had gotten into bondage. While this doesn't speak directly to rubber or latex fetishes, I don't think it's too muh of a stretch to assign that link to them as well. And now thanks to Rick Remender it's very nearly canon.

Which I appreciate.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

So I Read The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite

A 250 word (or less) review of the first volume of The Umbrella Academy
By Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba, Dark Horse Books.

The Umbrella Academy starts with a pro wrestler delivering an atomic flying elbow to a giant space-squid which caused the spontaneous birth of 43 children with amazing powers. Seven of these children are collected by The Monocle, Sir Reginald Hargreeves, an adventurer, inventor, and secret space alien who raises the seven in his mansion/school The Umbrella Academy. And this is pretty representative of the in-the-past part of the comic: it’s a big goofy, superhero romp, with kind of a Victorian-orphan-fiction vibe that captures the childlike wonder of comics. The other half of Apocalypse Suite, set years later, starts with the death of The Monocle and the reunion of the grown up Umbrella Academy
seven. This half of the story, while still campy and comicky is much more adult, rife with violence and death and stakes which makes it feel designed for a more mature audience. The way the two halves of the story play off one another makes me think that The Umbrella Academy is really trying to contrast the different ways children and adults experience comics. The Umbrella Academy is written by Gerard Way, who is apparently the lead singer of My Chemical Romance, which doesn't really matter since the writing is quite clever and exciting and well paced. The artwork by Gabriel Ba is amazing and really elevates the good script and makes The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite a pretty great book. I'd recommend The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite as a nice alternative fix for a superhero comic.

Monday, 3 December 2012


Or why Amazon is kicking the ass of bookstores

I think it's pretty obvious that I really enjoy reading both comics and novels. Specifically, that I enjoy reading print comics and books (too much screen time makes my eyes literally bleed). As a lover of print prose writing and sequential art I have a vested interest in supporting local bookstores and comic shops.

The trouble is, I'm finding myself buying more and more things from Amazon.

As a consumer of genre fiction and comic books, brick and mortar stores kind of suck. Let me explain: when I go book or graphic novel shopping I generally know exactly what I want so I go into a store with an objective. The goal therefore is: how quickly can I find the book/comic I want and where can I find it cheapest.

When I have the time I might stop by the great independent bookstore on my way from work to find that specific thing I am looking for. Typically, while the bookstore will have a lot of great books to choose from, they won't have what I want, particularly if it's new. So, generally speaking independent bookstores just leave me disappointed.

So then I might try the Canadian big chain bookstore where the odds of finding a book I want are often worse. Due to a limited amount of shelving space and an increasing emphasis on "lifestyle" items (at the expense of yet more shelving space) chain bookstores focus on best selling books and recently released fiction. Sadly much of the genre fiction I'm hunting for is not in this category and therefore not in stock. Even new higher profile Sci-fi/Fantasy/Crime/Mystery novels often do not show up in stores until well after their release date. In my experience looking for specific novels at bookstores is a waste of time (time spent getting to the store, time spent futilely browsing the store, time spent travelling to the next store... repeat) and all very disappointing.

Now both the independent and chain book retailer are plenty happy to bring in books that are out of stock. It will just take two or three weeks, involve an additional trip to the store, and cost full price.

Contrast this to Amazon which has about as vast a collection of books as is realistically possible, will ship the books to you (or your workplace shipping department) for free if you bundle a few orders, can get the books to you in days for a fee or in about a week for free, and they sell their books at a discount. Strangely, even their customer service is excellent: the few times I've had to invoke their aid my problems have been dealt with super quickly amd curteously. To put it bluntly: Amazon manages to be both cheaper and more convenient than retail stores. As a consumer it really is the better book buying experience.

(Hell, with the Internet providing an endlessly supply of information and opinions (often disguised as information) the main strength of a well curated bookstore, helping readers discover new books, is rendered somewhat moot.)

Now, amazon's ability to do this is in a long game way a bad thing for consumers. Their ability to accept razor thin profit margins on books, comics, and other media is offset by their ability to sell non-discounted other things. This allows them to essentially undercut conventional stores and to place increased economic pressure on already struggling bookstores and comic shops. This economic pressure will drive some shops out of business and, if we are willing to entertain some wild extrapolation, grant Amazon a near-monopoly level of market share. And a monopoly is shit for consumers since it can charge what it wants and provide crumby customer service without serious consequences.

In the long run it is also shit for publishers and creators. As more book sellers close, particularly smaller more independenty ones, the more power over the industry the few remaining large retailers accrue. If Amazon were to become the only bookseller, a monopsony, it could dictate prices, what percent of the sales goes to the publisher (and therefore author), and and can basically drive publishers out of business on a whim. This aspect of their growin power is just as destructive to the book publishing industry as its affects on the retail industry.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that what's good for us as consumers now, is probably not great for the future, and as a result I feel a bit guilty about buying things from Amazon even though it is clearly the best consumer experience.

Why is it that ethical purchasing (choosing local, sustainable, or creator-centric things) always comes with a premium in price and time investment?