Archive for December, 2010

Holiday Gift Bag: Nextwave!

More gift recommendations for the holidays? Wow, you guys sure are demanding. Okay, fine, here’s another one, just for you: Nextwave by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen!

I love this comic book so very, very much. It was originally published by Marvel in a 12-issue miniseries in 2006-07, and is now available in two trade paperbacks or a much more awesome Ultimate Collection.

The backstory: Nextwave is a team of superheroes working for H.A.T.E. (Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort) and charged with battling a number of Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction, like Fin Fang Foom, the Mindless Ones, and the Ultra Samurai Battle Drone. But H.A.T.E. isn’t really what it seems to be — in fact, H.A.T.E. is actually funded by the Beyond Corporation, which used to be known as S.I.L.E.N.T., a large terrorist group, and the entire purpose of H.A.T.E. is to create more Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction. Nextwave isn’t real happy about this, so they steal a flying machine called the Shockwave Rider and go on the run, pursued by the frequently suicidal Dirk Anger, Director of H.A.T.E, and his hordes of minions, like the broccoli men, the attack koalas, the Homicide Crabs, and Forbush Man.

If this sounds completely insane, you catch on quick.

The members of Nextwave include:

  • Monica Rambeau: Formerly known as Captain Marvel, Photon, and Pulsar. Former Avenger. Straight-arrow leader of the team. Can convert her body into any form of electromagnetic energy.
  • Aaron Stack: Formerly known as Machine Man. Has extendo-limbs and all kinds of entertainingly pointy weapons he can extend from his body. Hates the fleshy ones. His robot brain needs beer.
  • Elsa Bloodstone: Formerly known as Elsa Bloodstone. Monster hunter. Handy with a gun. Handy with pretty much any weapon, really. Vehemently British. Has high-heeled boots and very important hair.
  • Tabitha Smith: Formerly known as Time Bomb, Boomer, Boom Boom, and Meltdown. Former member of X-Force. Possesses the mutant powers of blowing things up and stealing all your stuff. Not the smartest cookie in the cookie jar.
  • The Captain: Formerly known as Captain Power, Captain Ron, Captain L. Ron, Captain Universe, Captain Ultra, Captain Avenger, Captain Avalon, Captain Marvel, Captain Kerosene, and Captain @#*!, a name so foul that it caused Captain America himself to beat him up, jam a bar of soap in his mouth, and throw him in a dumpster. Totally generic superstrength-and-flight powers. Really kinda sucks at superhero stuff.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most awesome comic in history. Yes, I know I’ve said that a lot and will probably say it again, but I mean it this time. This is the most awesome comic in history.

This is not just because of all the explosions. This is not just because of Dirk Anger and his mad rants. This is not just because of Dread Rorkannu, Lord of the Dank Dimension, who likes cash and the SuicideGirls. This is not just because the team beats up a cop. This is a series that includes everything from naked ninjas to Wolverine monkeys to dancing Mindless Ones to the funniest guest appearance from Fin Fang Foom ever.

It has fight scenes like this:

Yes, those really are Elvis MODOKs. Yes, they really are shooting cheeseburgers at superheroes. Yes, Warren Ellis is a mad genius.

The Ultimate Collection will run you about $35. That’s a bit high, maybe, but anyone who loves awesome comics will definitely thank you for shelling out the extra bucks.

Nextwave by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen. Go pick it up.

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Mysteries Solved

Mystery Society #5

Nick Hammond has been remanded to the custody of the civilian authorities, much to the chagrin of the military brat who harbors a colossal grudge against him. Meanwhile, his wife, Anastasia, and the rest of the Mystery Society — the Secret Skull, the disembodied brain of Jules Verne in the body of a clockwork robot, and the twin super-psychics Nina and Sally — are heading for the Pentagon where they hope a secret video file will allow them to clear Nick’s name. Will they be able to get into the Pentagon without being shot? And will any evidence keep Nick from being assassinated by his enemies?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This miniseries has been a blast from beginning to end. Steve Niles and Fiona Staples really did a great job here, and I hope IDW will okay a new followup series.

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth – New World #5

Ben Daimio barely figures out how to stop a giant monster while it’s trying to possess him — he has to kill the mostly innocent woman who is its anchor in the world. (It actually makes perfect sense in the comic, but my powers of description have failed me, frankly.) Ben warns Abe Sapien that really bad times are probably on the way for humanity. Once Abe gets back to B.P.R.D. headquarters, he has to deal with Andrew Devon’s increasingly paranoid suspicions, and he starts planning for the day when he may have to strike out on his own without the Bureau for support.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A bit dreary, as Abe’s world is slowly falling apart around him, and very creepy in places. All in all, definitely a good read and a nice ending for this storyarc.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Supergirl’s Cosmic Adventures

Man, I still got stuff I want to recommend for your gift list, and time’s starting to get short. So today, let’s look at the infinite awesome that is Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade by Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones.

You may remember I reviewed the individual issues of this series when it originally came out in 2008-09. I loved it then, and if you didn’t get a chance to read it then, it’s definitely worth the bucks to pick up the trade paperback.

What we’ve got here is an all-ages comic starring the best version of Supergirl ever. She’s still Superman’s cousin (this time from a part of Krypton that got zapped into another dimension when the planet exploded), but this time she’s a gangly, awkward pre-teen with a lot of enthusiasm and imagination, almost as much self-doubt, a poor grasp of her powers, and an even-worse grasp of life on Planet Earth.

Superman doesn’t really know what to do with her, so he gives her a secret identity and enrolls her in junior high. And she, like almost all junior high students, doesn’t like junior high at all. It doesn’t help that she’s the class freak — always asking weird questions about everyday life based on what she knows from futuristic Krypton — but she soon acquires a rival who’s really her much more popular imperfect clone, as well as a best friend who could turn out to be her worst enemy.

Author Landry Q. Walker and artist Eric Jones really turned out a brilliant comic book with this one. The art is whimsical, emotional, and frequently madcap — the writing matches it, maybe even goes beyond. Supergirl’s character is just plain fantastic — charismatic, goofy, awkward in that way that only teenagers can be — and when things get tough, she’s as likely to turn to her wildly creative imagination — often to her daydreams of herself as the hyper-competent and beloved “Moon Supergirl” — as she is to use her superpowers.

I think this would make a great gift for younger readers, both male and female — but it’d be especially appreciated by girls. Supergirl is a lot of fun — she’s frustrated by all the pointless junior high nonsense she has to put up with, but she also wants to be loved and adored by everyone — she reminds me of several girls I knew when I was close to that age. She’s got tons of moxie (Do the kids today still say “moxie”? Actually, did any kids every say “moxie”?) and charisma, and for all her clumsiness, she makes a great role model.

And the great thing about a lot of all-ages comics nowadays is that they’re often very accessible to adult readers, too. This comic is no exception — the dialogue is smart, the characterizations are excellent, the humor is entirely wonderful.

The book is available for about $13, and I’d recommend it for kids and adults — tons of humor, tons of excellent stories, tons of Kryptonite-powered awesomeness.

Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade by Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones. Go pick it up.

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Yuh-oh.

Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes #9

Man, I love the cover art for this one. Great work, cover artist Ronan Cliquet!

This issue’s story is fairly simple: Nova has learned that there is an impostor hiding out in the Avengers, so while the rest of the team fight giant monsters, he and the Vision (and the Vision’s girlfriend) investigate everyone by sneaking into their rooms and digging around in their sock drawers. Superheroes are kinky.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Seriously, it was a nicely tense story, even if I question some of the reasoning here — why would Nova pick the Vision as his investigating partner instead of Thor, who also knows about the impostor? Still, good fun, nice dialogue, another well-done issue.

Tiny Titans/Little Archie #3

Raven and Sabrina hang out at Pop’s Chocklit Shoppe, Veronica drags Robin along to meet her dad, Archie gets to spend the day playing in the Batcave, and Jughead and Cyborg compete in a hamburger-eating contest.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lots of fun. Fave moments: Archie running wild in the Batcave, with all the bats and penguins and rabbits; Mr. Lodge’s utter contempt for anyone his daughter brings home; and Batman calling the Joker to ask if he knows of any supervillains who have kids with orange hair.

Marvel Super Hero Squad #12

Yay, Christmas issue! Santa’s sleigh crashes into the heli-carrier, forcing the Super Hero Squad to dress up in Santa costumes and run around the city delivering presents. Possibly even better is the backup story, where the X-Men reveal that Rudolf is the most famous mutant of all, before they embark on an insane toboggan race.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lots of funny stuff here, cute dialogue, and a nicely seasonal dose of mayhem. The bit with Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer as a mutant is really pretty epic.

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Friday Night Fights: Pliable Pummeling!

Awright, people, you’ve suffered through a long week, and it’s time for your traditional reward — the weekend, long may it reign! And what’s the best way to kick off our weekends? That’s right — with FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes from October 1943′s Police Comics #23 by the great Jack Cole, as the best superhero ever, Plastic Man, tries to unmask a disguised criminal:

Any fight that ends with the bad guy apparently exploding is a fight worth its weight in gold.

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Late-Breaking News plus Reviews

First things first: There’s going to be another meeting of people interested in getting some more comic conventions in Lubbock! It’s happening today at 6:30 p.m. at Awesome Books, 3009 34th Street.

The focus of this meeting is going to be dividing up some of the promotional work and sharing what’s been confirmed so far. If you’d like to assist with a comic convention — and take it from me, I had more fun volunteering at the previous conventions than I did when I was only an attendant — then you will certainly want to be at that meeting.

Now listen — the Miracle on 34th Street event will be going on around that time, which means a parade and a heck of a lot more traffic, so you might want to park on 33rd or 35th or in one of the larger parking lots and walk. So allow yourself some extra time to get to the meeting, awright?

Remember: today, 6:30 p.m., Awesome Books, 3009 34th Street!

And now: Reviews!

Knight and Squire #3

Genetic researchers have perfected cloning — and they’re able to re-create an actual historical personage, complete with his full genetic memory! Who do they pick for this great honor? Richard III. Wait, Richard III? The villain of Shakespeare’s play of the same name? A guy who’s thought to have killed his young nephews to keep himself on the throne? That doesn’t sound like a smart move, does it? The Knight and Squire are suspicious, but there’s some belief that Richard got a raw deal from history and Shakespeare, so maybe this guy’s okay, right?

Well, no, not really. He demands to be placed back on the throne, and when that isn’t so successful, he clones a bunch of England’s most rotten monarchs, gives them superpowers and their own armies, and turns ‘em loose on everyone. Can the Knight, the Squire, and the British Isles’ other superheroes stop the royal renegades before they take over the country?

Verdict: Thumbs up. So very many things to love about this issue. There’s the Knight dating one of the Muses. Like an actual Muse, goddess of literature and the arts, from ancient myth. That’s so random, it’s awesome. There’s the final battle, fought partly through Twitter. There’s the way Richard’s lines are all in iambic pentameter. It’s a great issue in a great series, so go get it already.

Batgirl #16

Steph’s being chased by the cops, who think Batgirl killed a college student. After she evades the Gotham PD, she meets up with Detective Gage, who reveals that he knows she she’s been framed. Back at the university, Steph has to deal with her classmates demonizing Batgirl, mostly so they can get out of having to take tests, and Wendy Harris does a little off-the-clock investigating. Eventually, they’re able to track the real killers to an abandoned warehouse contaminated with an unusual form of radiation. But will getting her good name cleared and the gang rounded up be enough to solve the case when it turns out the bad guys have superpowered help of their own?

Verdict: As ever, very funny and exciting stuff. I don’t know if this is the best of the Bat-books, but it’s certainly the most fun.

Today’s Cool Links:

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Holiday Gift Bag: The Sandman

It’s always a little tempting to limit my gift recommendations here to books that will appeal to current comics fans. But it’s also good to point out some comics that lots of comics readers already have, but new readers might not — after all, the best way to improve the health of the comics industry is to bring in a few new readers, right? So if you’ve got a new comics reader on your gift list, you might consider introducing them to The Sandman.

Sandman is the comics masterwork of Neil Gaiman. He started it back in 1989, with a revolving stable of artists, plus Dave McKean taking care of, as far as I can recall, every single one of the covers. It started off as a horror series and quickly drifted into fantasy.

Our main character (though he wasn’t present in every issue and was sometimes present only as a minor side character) was the Sandman — also known as Morpheus, the King of Stories, or Dream. He’s a pale, grim, morose, mostly unemotional guy with a very big job — he is, for lack of a better term, the god of story-telling and the ruler of the dreamworld. Many of the stories are set in modern times, but there are many flashbacks to other periods in history and even a few flash-sideways to other, stranger worlds.

Morpheus is part of a small family called the Endless — cosmically powerful, they far surpass your average god, but they’re even more dysfunctional than any mundane family. His siblings include devious Desire, pitiful Despair, loopy Delirium, somber Destiny, the absent Destruction, and sensible, loveable Death. Morpheus meets more than his fair share of guest stars during the series, including William Shakespeare, Emperor Norton, Marco Polo, Augustus Caesar, Cain and Abel, and even a few superheroes.

There are comics out there that are more highly regarded — “Watchmen,” “The Dark Knight Returns,” and others — but this is a series I go back and re-read much more often than those. The richness of the storytelling, the emotional pull of the plotlines, the feverish glow of pure, glorious imagination — all make the Sandman stories something amazing and unique.

These are also very definitely comics for grownups. There’s some nudity, some cussin’, some sex, plenty of violence, and, as they say, adult themes a-plenty. There may be kids out there that can handle this stuff just fine — and at the same time, there may be adults out there who’ll completely freak out about it. I’ll expect y’all to know the difference when you’re handing out these gifts, okay? But I know for a fact that lots and lots of readers think this series is transcendently awesome.

I spent years aware of Sandman, but unwilling to shell out the dough to read ‘em. I finally figured, what the hey, I’ll grab the first volume and see how I like it. And I liked it a lot. I think I ended up getting all the rest of the ten volumes after just two or three months. That ended up being pretty expensive, but I’ve never once regretted buying them and reading them.

Like I said, this is available in trade paperbacks in ten different volumes — getting the whole series can get a bit pricey, so you may want to start out with the first collection, “Preludes and Nocturnes.” It’s a great beginning to one of the greatest comic book series ever.

The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. Go pick it up.

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Have a Bite

iZombie #8

Gwen’s latest brain dinner was from the mother of one of her childhood friends, and the dead woman’s only wish is that Gwen tell her estranged daughter that she loves her. Of course, that would leave Gwen’s secret unlife as a zombie in jeopardy, since her friend knows that she’s dead. Meanwhile, Horatio and Diogenes fight off the vampire babes from the paintgun park, and Amon remembers his entanglements with Galatea, a beautiful mad scientist and Frankensteinesque reanimated corpse. Speaking of Galatea, she’s also in town, having just resurrected one of the vampires to use as a servant. And Scott the wereterrier has to deal with his late grandfather, now reborn into the body of a deeply resentful chimpanzee.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Looks like we’re still in a position of ramping up new storylines, but good grief, there’s a lot of cool stuff in this issue. Galatea is beyond awesome, and I’m loving the way Gwen gets nagged by her newest brain tenant.

Strange Science Fantasy #6

The final issue of Scott Morse‘s outstanding series focuses on two men exploring a forgotten jungle valley in the 1930s. They discover dinosaurs and other wonders, apparently all fueled by the power of human imagination. How is this possible? The explorers soon meet a tribe that reveals the jungle’s secret — an ancient city hidden beneath an inland sea — the “Manga-Ka,” the birthplace of all stories! But will destruction and betrayal doom mankind’s birthright of imagination?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Love the way the previous issues in this series are referenced within the stories told in Manga-Ka. And as always, this is really great, audacious pulp storytelling. If you haven’t read this series yet — well, pity upon you, folks, but at least keep your eyes open for the eventual trade paperback.

American Vampire #9

Chief McCogan is still pretty gobsmacked that his own adopted father turned out to be a vampire — Agents Straw and Book from the Vassals of the Morning Star tell him that his father’s species of vampire was thought wiped out centuries ago by other vampires — they needed little blood and specialized in shapeshifting, but they just couldn’t hold out against the more prolific Carpathian vampires. McCogan demands that they let him speak to his father one last time before they kill him. But the Carpathians come looking for them — can Skinner Sweet help even the odds? And even if he can, can anyone keep him from betraying everyone?

Verdict: Thumbs up. The story flips from heartwarming to brutal, and it’s all pretty good.

Secret Six #28

Two different teams of the Secret Six are hanging out in the fantasy world of Skartaris, fighting a war against each other and the people who live there. Black Alice is feeling useless, since she can’t access any magic powers here. Deadshot has run out of bullets, and the rest of them are fairly gleefully slicing other people up with swords. But then Skartaris’ current leaders gets possessed by the spirit of a demon called Deimos, turns into a snake-dragon, and starts whuppin’ up on everyone. How will they manage to defeat the monster and extract themselves from Skartaris? Once they’ve returned home, Amanda Waller offers them a deal — work for her as a new Task Force X — though some choose to leave the group willingly (or in the case of one, very unwillingly and painfully).

Verdict: Thumbs up. I can’t believe King Shark was so much fun in this series. I do hope they’re going to keep him around. We get a nice closer for Black Alice’s story, and Dwarfstar gets exactly the ending he deserved.

Today’s Cool Links:

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Friday Night Fights: Slice and Dice!

It’s already time to kick off another 12 rounds of Friday Night Fights! Let’s get things started with August 2001′s New X-Men #115 by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Tim Townsend, and Mark Morales, as Wolverine takes on a gaggle of “Wild Sentinels.”

Short, sweet, and to the point. Or rather, to the six adamantium points. The ones on Wolverine’s claws. Um.

Anyway, have a great weekend.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Jay Stephens art books

I’ve got some more gift recommendations for you. Not quite a comics recommendation this time — you may remember a few weeks back when I pointed out Ed Emberley’s drawing books for younger artists-to-be? Well, think of this as some art books for slightly older kids — Jay Stephens’ drawing books.

Stephens put these out a few years back — titled Heroes!, Monsters!, and Robots! Each one is exactly what it sounds like — instructions and inspirations for drawing superheroes, monsters, and robots in Jay Stephens’ signature style.

So who’s Jay Stephens anyway? If y’all are at all familiar with Cartoon Network, you may have seen a show he did there called “The Secret Saturdays,” with a strong retro-heroic feel to it and a very obvious influence from the classic “Jonny Quest” cartoons. The art here has a lot of that same style to it. It’s not especially realistic art, but it’s a lot of fun to look at.

There are a few step-by-step guides to drawing some specific characters, but the most of these books are devoted to showing young artists how to draw the elements of their characters — a page focusing on how to draw a head, then how to draw different kinds of eyes, noses, mouths, ears, how to draw legs and arms, etc.

And throughout all this, Stephens keeps asking his young readers “What kind of nose will your hero have?”  “How will your robot get around?”  “Will your monster have fingers or claws or tentacles or something else?” In other words, he gets kids to use their imaginations, and to try to think of ways to create their own characters, not just copy the ones in the books.

When it comes down to specifics, Stephens demonstrates how he draws individual characters, always describing what he’s doing with simple shapes — a fist made of rectangles, hair made of zigzags, chainmail armor made of dozens of tiny circles. It’s a nice method to encourage budding artists — it shows them that drawing may look complicated, but it can be boiled down to making simple shapes that fit together in interesting ways.

Having said that, it may not be a good book for complete beginners — Stephens draws with the expectation that the kids reading along have at least a basic understanding of things like perspective, shading, coloring, and general anatomy. That can be pretty difficult for amateurs and even some intermediate artists, but this book does give them many of the tools they may need — as long as they’ve got some other art books to flesh out those concepts and techniques.

Got a kid on your shopping list who enjoys art, superheroes, monsters, and robots? I know, I know, what kid doesn’t, right? Well, get these books for them — it’ll give ‘em a few drawing tips and give ‘em a lot of exercise of their imaginations. Robots! is only available in hardcover and runs about $12 or less. Heroes! and Monsters! are both in softcover, and they’ve got a price tag of only six bucks.

Heroes!, Monsters!, and Robots! by Jay Stephens. Go pick ‘em up.

EDIT: Wanna see more of Stephens’ work? Check out “Oh, Brother!“, the comic he does with Bob Weber, Jr. It’s full of more great examples of Stephens’ art in a traditional gag comic strip. Great stuff…

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