Archive for December, 2013

Best of 2013


Oh, I can never keep a hiatus going as long as I say I’m gonna, can I?

It’s the end of the year, and this time, I don’t feel much like enumerating the best comics of 2013. Too many of the best comics are getting cancelled, or they’re published by a certain comics company that I prefer not to read anymore. So instead, let’s talk about how awesome I am. I know, I mostly do reviews, and they’re mostly pretty boring, but sometimes, I do get to do some blog posts I’m pretty happy with. Here are my favorites from 2013.

Hmph, just nine posts in 12 months? I’m slacking off, ain’t I?

Here’s to a better 2014, no matter how unlikely that may be…

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Christmas Capers

Hey, it’s Christmas! Merry Christmas, you guys! Let’s celebrate with random comic covers!













On that note, I’m going to take a little time away from the blog ’til early January. Oh, I know, it’s forever, isn’t it! But there aren’t a lot of comics coming out over the next week or two, so this is a great time to rest and recharge. See y’all in 2014!

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Holiday Gift Bag: Hyperbole and a Half

It’s Christmas Eve, but I think we have time for one final dip into our Holiday Gift Bag. Today, let’s look at Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half.


A lot of y’all probably read Brosh’s amazing website already — she specializes in pants-wettingly funny essays, accompanied by her equally hilarious semi-primitive artwork — and the occasional extremely sad story, which often ends up being fairly funny, too. Yeah, she’s got a great grasp of the way comedy can be found in tragedy.

But now she’s written a book, some of it taken from her website, and some of it all new material. There are a few old favorites, like “The God of Cake” and “The Party,” and there are quite a few that are completely new — the full story of her hopelessly crazy Helper Dog, Allie’s letters from (and to) her 10-year-old self, getting lost in the woods with her mom and sister, and plenty more.

It’s not all silly stuff, though. The book also includes her lengthy essay on what it’s like to be depressed, as well as her thoughts on perception and identity — and the nature of thought itself. But even then, Allie has a strong sense of the way life’s most serious moments still end up being surreal and unexpected — so they’re still pretty silly. This is in no way a bad thing.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The Internet loves Allie Brosh, which is just proof that the Internet is really, really smart.

Let’s talk about the art first. It looks really goofy and crude, doesn’t it? No human looks like that, with the stick arms and cone hair. But it ain’t crude at all. Yeah, it’s designed to look like it was done in MSPaint — but Brosh spends a lot of time tweaking the art to make sure it looks right. And it’s got a lot of sophistication hidden behind the primitive exterior — there’s a lot of emotion and unexpected detail. If she’s making the art in MSPaint — well, she’s really good at making art in MSPaint, ain’t she?

The book is very funny. You will find stories in here that will make you laugh ’til you need new underwear. But her essays on depression are some of the most heart-breaking things you’ll ever read — and also the most insightful and educational. I’ve been depressed before, but after reading Brosh’s essays, it’s very, very clear that I’ve never been clinically depressed. And I also feel like I have a much greater understanding of what an absolute hell it must be to go through that, and I know now not to say a lot of the things I used to say. Her “dead fish” analogy should be required reading for anyone who has friends or family who are depressed.

If you know someone who loves Allie Brosh’s website, you should get ’em this book. If you know someone who loves really amazing humor and goofball cartoons, you should get ’em this book. If you know someone who likes a little seriousness with their comedy, you should get ’em this book. And hey, it may be Christmas Eve, but this one’s a fairly new release, so you may even be able to find it at your local bookstore. So go pick it up!

Oh, and if you want even more gift ideas, check out my previous Holiday Gift Bag posts. You might find some other ideas under my posts about graphic novels, superhero prose fiction, and even the fabled Not a Comic Book tag. Happy last-minute shopping, everyone!

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Holiday Gift Bag: Cursed Pirate Girl

Is it time for another Holiday Gift Bag? Yes, it is. It’s time for more Holiday Gift Bag. Today, we’re talking about Cursed Pirate Girl by Jeremy A. Bastian.


Our lead character is… THE CURSED PIRATE GIRL! Not that she has a pirate ship, at least not initially. She doesn’t seem particularly cursed either. She might be cursed with madness, but she’s no different from any other character we encounter here — everyone’s a nut.

She’s definitely trying to find her father, though — he’s one of the great Pirate Captains who sailed the legendary Omerta Seas, and she desperately wants to find him and join his crew. But she’s offended the governor, who orders one of his thugs to kill her. He fails, luckily, and she gains her first ally — Pepper Dice, a parrot who crawls into a fish (Yes, the whole story’s a bit loopy) so he can lead her to the secret entrance of the Omerta Seas. She also meets Sir Haffu and Sir Halek, a couple of quarreling swordfish knights.

But there are lots of deadly foes on the Omerta Seas — specifically, rival pirates like Captain Holly and his grotesque crew of scallywags! Can the Cursed Pirate Girl win out over them all? Will she ever manage to find her father? Will she eat better than any other pirate? How did she get that awesome eyepatch? How much does she love laughing?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a deeply weird and surreal and hilarious book. Just about everyone is deformed and grotesque, both physically and mentally. The world is full of freaks and monsters of all types — and usually, they’re not there to menace our heroine — they’re just background color. They’re just there to remind you how spectacularly weird this little world is.

And holy quackers, you’re gonna have to check out the art on this one. Y’all know I’m not an artist and don’t know a whole heck of a lot about art history, so it’s tough for me to pin down just which artists Bastian reminds me of. It’s a bit like Windsor McKay’s work on “Little Nemo in Slumberland,” a bit like Richard F. Outcault’s Yellow Kid comic strip, a bit like Thomas Nast’s editorial cartoons, a bit like Gustave Dore. It’s weird and intricate and beautiful, and you can sit there and look at a whole page over and over and always find something you’d missed the first time.

You can’t say this about every graphic novel out there, but the physical presentation of this is a definite selling point. You gotta get the hardcover with the rough-cut pages. I got some serious happiness just from the tactile sensations of holding the book and turning the pages — it makes you feel like you’re really reading something special.

Get this for anyone — kids or grownups — with a taste for surreal, swashbuckling adventure, or for someone who really appreciates weird humor or gorgeous artwork. I bet someone on your Christmas list is going to love this, so go pick it up.

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Friday Night Fights: Snowball Fight!

Whether you made it onto Santa’s Naughty List or the Nice List, I suspect we’ve all just about had it with Christmas this year. The stores are packed, our fellow shoppers are unpleasant, every store is playing the worst possible Christmas carols over the loudspeakers, and Fox News is waging its own special War on Christmas by trying to make the holiday synonymous with douchebaggery. Peace on Earth and Goodwill toward Men? Not if Santa’s black, dammit!

It’s the last Friday before Christmas, and that means it’s time for holiday-themed mayhem and… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Today’s truly epic battle comes from the DC Comics holiday card from (mumble mumble) a few years ago by Travis and Jordan Kotzebue.


Pshaw, that’s not violent at all! But I’ll allow it anyway, mostly because I couldn’t find any comics that featured Black Santa kicking Megyn Kelly’s racist butt.

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So Very Many Comics…

I’m still trying to clear space for more holiday gift recommendations, so I’m gonna see if I can clear all my regular comics reviews all at once. Strap on your seat belt, kids — we’re gonna do a review marathon…


FF #15

The Future Foundation has everything planned out, and they’re ready to take down Doctor Doom. They send in a bunch of robots controlled by the kids to distract Doom and his robots and to wreck up his Latverian castle, while the grownups and their allies infiltrate and sabotage Doom behind the scenes before finally moving in for the final confrontation. But will all their preparation allow them to succeed against Doom the Annihilating Conqueror?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great action, great humor, intrigue, drama — and thanks to co-writer and scripter Lee Allred, the story is jam-packed with in-jokes geared directly to fans of the late, lamented City of Heroes, the best dang superhero MMO ever. I loved it, and I want a lot more of it, so I’m crossing my fingers that the series will continue, despite its predicted demise.


Red Sonja #6

Sonja was prepared to duel Dark Annisia to the death, but they’ve both been surprised by the re-emergence of the genocidal tyrant Bazrat, who reveals that the plague that afflicted Sonja and the kingdom wasn’t actually a plague at all — it was all poison administered secretly to the populace. Can Sonja and Annisia stop fighting long enough to stop the madman?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Excellent action, drama, and art, and a genuinely smart story, all wrapped up in a nice chainmail bow.


Itty Bitty Hellboy #5

Abe’s little sister Eve is having a birthday, and everyone is invited to the party! Hellboy, Liz, the Rogers, Baba (and her chicken-leg hut), Hecate, Lobster Johnson, Johann Kraus, and many more all show up. Presents are opened, seaweed cake is devoured, hot sauce is splashed on people, and Hellboy gets turned into a chicken. Just like every other day then, right?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Very funny, very cute — it’s too bad this is the final issue, because Art Baltazar and Franco did a great job making Hellboy and his supporting cast look so adorable.


Young Avengers #14

Evil has been vanquished, and it’s time for the after party. A wide selection of artists are on hand to help document the first half of the Young Avengers’ last big party, along with most of the other young superheroes in the Marvel Universe. Wiccan and Hulkling reconcile for good, we learn more of Miss America’s origin and about her secret connection to Wiccan, and Kate Bishop decides where she stands with Noh-Varr.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A bunch of excellently crafted stories about relationships — both romantic and familial — all backed up by a bunch of cool artists. I’m gonna miss this series, but it’s nice to see they’re going out pushing the envelope.


A Voice in the Dark #2

Zoey is worried that her urges to commit murder are going to get the better of her, so she starts up a campus talk-radio show, hoping she’ll be able to quell her homicidal desires by basking in other people’s darkness. And her very first caller is someone who’s contemplating suicide. Can Zoey keep her from killing herself? Can her uncle and his fellow police officers find the girl in time?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Fantastic art and a great story that does not go where we expect it to go. Is there anything Zoey can do to keep from getting completely washed over in blood? Maybe not — and it’ll be fun seeing how it all turns out for her…


Daredevil #34

Matt Murdock wants to strike a serious blow against the racist Sons of the Serpent — and he particularly wants to take their ally, the Jester, out of circulation. He’s managed to obtain the Darkhold, an ancient mystical book that the Sons consider their Bible, and he’s also gotten hold of a device that will allow him to broadcast to every TV, radio, and web browser in New York City. He enlists the aid of Kirsten McDuffie and then makes his broadcast, warning New Yorkers about the Sons and threatening to destroy the Darkhold if they don’t turn over the Jester. Can the gamble pay off? Or will the Sons kill McDuffie as revenge?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s an excellent story, with some real shining moments for McDuffie. The action is quite nice, and as always, Javier Rodriguez’s artwork is phenomenally beautiful.


Revival #16

The authorities are now exterminating the local livestock, which has gotten a serious dose of whatever is causing the revivals, and Ramin and Sheriff Cypress are the targets of a low-level terrorist attack. Dana Cypress enlists her ex-husband Derrick and her sister Em — a secret Reviver — to help investigate whoever murdered Em. And Derrick runs into a mysteriously deformed arsonist. What the heck’s going on?

Verdict: Thumbs up. The series is definitely trending away from horror right now and back toward noir. Not a bad thing at all — great characterization and art, and I’m still loving the story.


Pretty Deadly #3

Ya know, I’m not sure I could tell you the plot in a way that’ll really make sense. But we learn more about Ginny and Fox and Death, how they got the way they are, and what may be coming up for them eventually.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I liked this issue a lot more. It made a lot more sense, I could keep track of who the characters were, and there were multiple really good, really powerful scenes. I hope they can keep the quality high on this one.

Today’s Cool Links:

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Holiday Gift Bag: Delilah Dirk

Already? Another visit to the Holiday Gift Bag? Well, we didn’t get new comics here yesterday because of a slowdown in shipping from last week’s ice storm, so I gotta have something to write about. So let’s talk about Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff.


You like swashbuckling adventure, don’t you? Nod your head — of course you love swashbuckling adventure. This story stars Delilah Dirk, an expert swordswoman, archer, and acrobat who travels the world stirring up trouble, and Erdemoglu Selim, a mild-mannered lieutenant in the Turkish Janissary Corps, whose greatest pleasures involve resting quietly and brewing excellent tea. Due to a misunderstanding — Delilah was robbing his employer, and Selim’s employer was an idiot — they end up on the run together, trying to avoid capture and execution while absconding with wonderful treasures.

Selim would really prefer to settle down alone in a quiet town, but he sticks with Delilah, partly out of duty and partly because everyone seems to want both of them dead. Actually, Selim might not quite admit it, but there are other benefits — adventure, flying boats, hair’s-breadth escapes, gold, tea, a beautiful woman who only almost gets him killed every few days… But will their amazing adventures end with them living lives of endless wealth or getting the pointy end of the headsman’s axe?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s an utterly beautiful comic. It’s a bit cartoony at times — and I know we’ve talked about how that ain’t a bad thing — but sometimes you turn the page and hit this astonishingly gorgeous landscape shot that completely transports you into the story.

Cliff is a fantastic storyteller — dialogue, characterization, body language are all hugely entertaining. Delilah and Selim are extremely appealing and charismatic people, and it’s a real pleasure to read about them, whether they’re gambling their lives against impossible odds or just sitting around their flying boat chit-chatting.

The action is just plain jaw-dropping. Bridges get blown up. Towers get holes punched in them. Bad guys get with swords and chairs, and thrown through windows, and clobbered with buckets and fists and feet and everything else they could get clobbered with. And there’s a flying boat. Did I mention that? A genuine flying boat. The action, again, is just plain jaw-dropping.

You’re going to want this for anyone who loves truly breathtaking swashbuckling adventure, for anyone who loves great comic book art, for anyone who loves fantastic female heroines and reluctant male heroes. Go pick it up, people, and do not delay.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Slayground

I still have plenty of gift recommendations to get through before Christmas. Today, let’s look at Richard Stark’s Parker: Slayground, adapted and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke.


By now, I expect you know the general idea behind this series. Richard Stark was actually a mystery writer named Donald Westlake, and his series of hard-boiled crime novels about a heist artist named Parker has been quite popular for decades. Darwyn Cooke, who creates great retro-pulp comics like “DC: The New Frontier” and the “Spirit” revival from a few years ago, has done several graphic novel adaptations of the Parker novels. And this one is the latest one.

In “Slayground,” Parker’s latest heist has gone sour. He’s made his escape into Fun Island, an amusement park in Buffalo, New York, that’s been closed for the winter. Parker knows some cops saw him climb into the park — but they aren’t coming after him. He quickly deduces that the cops are crooked, and they and a bunch of mafia goons are planning on coming after him, stealing the loot, and killing him to cover up their own crimes.

But it’s a big park. And the longer they wait before they move in after him, the more time they give him to hide and to turn the rides and attractions into deathtraps under his control.

Verdict: Thumbs up. What’s not to love? It’s “Home Alone” with a sociopath in place of Macauley Culkin!

Seriously, I’m gonna go ahead and keep this fairly short. Y’all must know by now how much I love Cooke’s Parker graphic novels. The big difference between this and the previous three is that there’s a lot less heisting, a lot more action, and no gorgeous bombshells getting in Parker’s way.

What’s it got? It’s got fantastic art, a thrilling story, great characters, and the distinct brand of awesomeness we’ve come to expect from the Parker books.

You want more in-depth analysis? Read my previous reviews of the Parker comics. You want it short and simple? This will be a great gift for anyone who loves crime comics, cool, retro artwork, and noir storytelling. Go pick it up.

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Chained Coffin


Coffin Hill #3

Something dark and dreadful is in the woods near where Eve Coffin grew up. Seeking answers, she goes home and confronts her mother, who, like Eve, is a powerful witch. Eve also visits the local insane asylum to visit an old friend who got driven mad by Eve’s black magic. And it turns out the doctor running the asylum may not be entirely stable himself. Is Eve ever going to get to the bottom of this case — or just to the bottom of a shallow grave?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s spooky and weird and occasionally actually unnerving. I’m still having fun with it. And Eve’s weird cracked blackened eye may be a big part of the fun…


Manifest Destiny #2

The Lewis and Clark expedition has run into a serious snag — they’ve managed to kill a gigantic bison centaur that attacked them, and the crew is understandably freaked out about that — especially when the autopsy reveals that it’s a juvenile. And things get weirder when they see a woman throw herself off a cliff — and then her body disappears. And then a herd of the bison centaurs attacks. Most of the crew manage to get safely into a nearby fort — which is mysteriously deserted. It is deserted, isn’t it? Mmmmaybe not…

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s very weird, yes, but what really drives the story forward is a huge amount of paranoid tension. The expedition is in an untamed wilderness, possibly surrounded on all sides by hostile monsters — and even when they make it to safety, we still expect something horrible to spring out and attack. So far, it’s wonderful daylight horror.


Lazarus #5

We get a quick look at Forever Carlyle’s less-than-ideal childhood, mostly devoid of love or affection and devoted to combat training. Back in the present, Forever tries to track her renegade brother, runs into some nogoodniks on the border of the family’s territory, and gets shot in the back by the nogoodniks. Of course, Forever is extremely hard to kill, and she manages to throw enough fear into the nogoodniks to get them to execute the guy who shot her. But a lot of the drama in this issue focuses on a small family of Waste — the bulk of the population with few resources and no benefits from contact with or service to the Family. The Barretts live in Montana and are facing a catastrophic flood. Can they get the Family to provide them any assistance or are they, like the rest of the Waste, just hopelessly out of luck?

Verdict: Thumbs up. The whole thing has a really strong focus on just how crappy this world is for everyone in it. Forever is loved by no one, the nogoodniks can’t even rely on each other, and while the Barretts may be better off than some of the Waste, they ultimately have no support and no defense against tragedy. It’s a thoroughly brutal comic, and I reckon it deserves to win all kinds of awards.


Day Men #2

Five months between Issue #1 and Issue #2? Bad form, Matt Gagnon, Michael Alan Nelson, and Brian Stelfreeze.

David Reid is a normal human who works for the Virgos, a family of vampire mobsters, taking care of the tasks that need to be done during the day. The Virgos are at war with the rival vampire clan called the Ramses. David is very good at his job, but the Ramses are uncommonly ruthless, and their day man, Jacob the Burner, is the best in the business. Can David save a member of the Virgo clan when the Burner sets his fiery sights on her?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Nice story, great art, excellent drama and action. But the next issues better show up in a much more timely fashion, or people are gonna start to lose interest.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Wearing the Cape

Still so many great gifts I wanna recommend, and I really don’t think I’ll have time to review them all. But for today, let’s talk about Wearing the Cape: Young Sentinels by Marion G. Harmon.


I love all the “Wearing the Cape” books. I get enjoyment outta them that I don’t get from any other superhero novels — and from only very few comic books. So I always look forward to a new one.

In the latest novel, Hope “Astra” Corrigan is settling down into her role as one of the leading heroes of the Chicago Sentinels. There are a lot of familiar faces — Blackstone, Watchman, Harlequin, Chakra, Seven, and Astra’s best friend, Shelley, whose completely digital status allows her to upload herself into the robot body of Galatea.

There are a lot of new crises — a new villain called the Green Man periodically tries to destroy the city with out-of-control plant life, and a new villain group called the Wreckers are targeting anti-metahuman organizations. And there are lots of changes in store for Astra, too — chiefly, she’s being put in charge of a new junior branch of the Sentinels.

And that means we get to meet a bunch of new young superheroes, including angsty exploding kid Megaton, shapeshifting teen monster Grendel, arrogant aerokinetic Tsuris, and Ozma, a magic user who claims to be the actual Empress of Oz. Can she mold them into a serious team, especially with the colossal personal changes going on in her life?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I love the stuffing out of this series.

The characterization and dialogue are first-rate. The personalities of almost every character are incredibly strong and distinctive, and most of them are charismatic enough that you want to read more about them. When things are going well for them, you want to celebrate — when things are not going well, you wanna commisserate with them. When they’re in danger, you get worried about ’em, because they all feel like real people.

The action is fantastic, too — it always feels desperate, painful, panicked, and exciting, and that’s really perfect for this series. Superhero action should be above and beyond anything in any other genre, and the action in the “Wearing the Cape” series is breathtakingly great. And it’s not just the superheroic crises and disasters — the personal crises that come up genuinely feel like crises, too. When an injury to a sibling feels just as terrifying as a wave of killer vegetation preparing to destroy Chicago O’Hare International Airport, you’ve definitely got the Superhero Angst-and-Crisis Meter pegged in the right direction.

Maybe my favorite thing about this series is that it’s realistic without being boring or depressing. There are a lot of superhero stories that opt for realism that kills the superheroic mood and turns into gritty military sci-fi, but Harmon realizes that you can have realism in superhero fiction as long as you give your story permission to ignore realism and just let superheroes testify in court while wearing masks, let superheroes get into super-fights without killing everyone, let fictional magic items from Oz show up and work just like they did in Baum’s novels. These books are realistic and fun, and we need more of those, in every possible genre.

My lone quibble with this novel — I wasn’t a big fan of the alternate narrators. The previous novels have been entirely narrated by Astra, so it took a little time to catch on that she wasn’t going to be the sole focal character this time out. And while I liked Megaton and Grendel just fine — and while I kinda wanted to see some of this story from Ozma’s viewpoint — I still wished we could have more Astra.

But that’s a very minor quibble, because this is a seriously fantastic novel. If you haven’t read it — or if you want to get it for a friend who enjoys superhero novels — you should definitely pick it up. And if you haven’t read any of the “Wearing the Cape” books — well, you should probably read all of ’em.

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