Episode 20 -NFL Playoffs and Best Comics of 2012

Andrew and Travis were joined by Earth-2 comics podcasts hosts Jon and Bobgar for a breakdown of the NFL playoffs (all the way to the Superbowl) and comic book post-season to name the best book of the year between Batman, Mind MGMT, Wonder Woman, 2000 AD, Rebel Blood, Fury MAX, Revival and Saga.

Listen for talk of the Packers, Broncos, Pats, Ravens, Niners, Seahawks, and more! Plus, industry talk, a smidgen of basketball, hockey and more!

The Cheese Head Rises

The holiday season is upon us, and what’s better this time of year than wrapping yourself up in all things familiar and cozy? At Sports Fan Boys, familiar and cozy means comparing the Green Bay Packers to Batman. We’re sick like that. So in the spirit of the holidays, I give you, The Green Bay Packers’ Rogue’s Gallery!

As we round the corner into the NFL post-season, match-ups take on a critical fascination. One-game showdowns cause a fan to take serious stock of the team they love and ask the hard questions about what they’re made of. Just like when Batman takes on his myriad of foes, different opponents present different physical and psychological challenges. Today, we run those down, pairing off potential playoff opponents with Batman baddies!

The Chicago Bears / The Joker – Don’t tell me they’re not in the playoffs! Don’t tell me they’ve been dispatched! How many times has the Dark Knight witnessed a toy factory or abandoned circus explode, and thought, “Maybe that maniac is finally gone”.Well it’s like that with the Bears. You think you’ve beat them down, you think they’re gone for good, and then that pale hand of death comes rising up out of the toxic sludge. The Bears, with some help from the Packers, are still a threat of taking the 6th-seed. I don’t think the Bears are a Superbowl contender this year, and I actually think they’re likely to miss the playoffs, but it’s never easy when it comes to those clowns. Biggest difference between the Joker and the Bears? The Joker always smiles. Jay Cutler? Not so much.

The San Franciso 49ers / Bane – Although not his oldest villain, no one defeated Batman as soundly as the mysterious masked man known as Bane! Whether in Knightfall or in this summer’s Dark Knight Rises, Bane thrashed the Caped Crusader like no other. Recall week 1 of the season, where Alex Smith and the ‘Niners laid a licking on the Pack, and crushed their spirit with a first-half ending 63-yard field goal. Now Alex Smith is gone, and Colin Kaepernick seems even stronger than the original! Bane on his super-steroid venom! But here’s the thing about Bane, in the comics or in the movies – he never seems quite as tough the second-go round. Sure, Batman had to go lick his wounds, but always comes back smarter, tougher and better prepared to handle the monster. Let’s see if the Packers can follow suit. 

The New York Giants / Two-Face - Homicidal fiend or valiant District Attorney? For Harvey Dent the choice between the two depends on the flip of a coin. For the New York Giants, the decision is between being a Superbowl contender or being mistaken for the Jets. Much like Batman has seen more than his fair share of Harvey’s vicious side, the Packers were treated to the full force of Eli and Co.’s potent offence and dominant defensive line in a 38-10 drubbing at MetLife Stadium.

Before the attack that scarred his face, Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne were close friends and allies. That’s just made the battles between them more personal for Bruce. History is equally storied between the Pack and Giants, with two bitter playoff loses for Cheeseheads to reconcile. The Giants inconsistent bumbling has put the defending champs in a tight spot to qualify for the tournament, but this team has a way of coming back. Despite their duplicitous nature, how would the coin land in a re-match at Lambeau?

The Seattle Seahawks / The Penguin – How do you take him seriously - that squat, ugly little putz with his trick umbrellas and bird cages? How could he possibly compare to the impressive man-mountain that is the Dark Knight? And yet, he gets his licks in. Despite appearances, he’s a vicious, sadistic and (most importantly) intelligent menace that keeps Batman on his toes.

How does anyone take the Seattle Seahawks seriously? That neon green makes them look like a Div. 2 college team. Couple that with the vaudevillian antics of Pete Carroll on the sidelines, and the fact that they likely won’t be able to rely on their epic home field advantage in the playoffs, and it all adds up to a team that’s easy to dismiss heading into the post-season. But look at the way they savaged the Cardinals, Bills and 49ers this month, and they’ll get your attention. While everyone in a Seahawks/Packers re-match would dwell on the travesty of the Golden Tate game-winning non-interception, we can’t forget how tight that oversized defence played against the Pack, how thoroughly they dominated GB’s offensive line, and how their beefy defensive backfield smothered the wiry little Wisconsin receiving corps. The Seahawks, like the Penguin, demand to be taken seriously.

The Minnesota Vikings / Killer Croc – He’s not the smartest. He doesn’t plan the best crimes. He doesn’t strike at the heart and soul of the Dark Knight the way the Joker or Two-Face does. He’s a one-dimensional villain. But when the reptilian Waylon Jones relies on his sheer brute force and animal savagery, Killer Croc is no easy out for Gotham’s protector. Enter the Minnesota Vikings. Otherwise mediocre on both sides of the ball, when probable league MVP Adrian Peterson gets going, no one’s been able to stop him. Looking to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record against the Pack on Sunday, Peterson proves that sometimes one-dimension is all you need, as he has brought his Vikings into playoff contention by sheer will. The Pack are staring down a possible back-to-back against the best running-back on the planet, in both week-17 and possibly in the first round of the playoffs. Looking to make history, the Pack will face a determined Adrian Peterson and friends.

Good thing Aaron Rodgers can dominate indoors.    

Conclusion – In the comics, the films, the cartoons and more, Batman always bests these blatant baddies. But the mean streets of the NFL can be a tougher place than Gotham sometimes. Let’s hope the Packers, who had a rough start to this year, can follow the Dark Knight’s example – The Cheese Head Rises!

31 of 31 – 18 to 31

Here it is, the final third of my quest to get through 31 graphic novels in 31 days. I’m happy to report it was successful – 31 in 31, with 5,315 pages read. When I look back to the first handful of books, it feels like a lifetime ago that I read those. An interesting gamut to run through. Some of them bogged me down, some of the inspired me, some of them are going to cost me a lot of money because I’m going to have finish series and pick up sequels. Some, I’ll admit I had to rush through. Towards the end, I had to read 12 in 8 days. What follows is the list of those books, what I thought of the books, and where I was in my journey. The brackets behind each title indicate (# of pages in book / # of pages read in total)

Caution – it’s spoiler-heavy!

18) The Arctic Marauder (63 / 3056) – Jacques Tardii back again in this steampunk story of an ocean fortress disguised as an iceberg, wrecking a terrible revenge against an unsuspecting world. Complete with the gorgeous precision of his black-and-white figures that render the volume and texture of pencil with his laser-tipped ink brush, this story employs a grand scope and a dream-like logic. One element stays with you longer than the fantasy, the terrific pacing, and the immensity of the ideas. That element is the 180° reversal taken by the protagonist. You keep expecting him to revert to the kind-hearted young man searching for his uncle, and the real suspense of the book is reading to the last page and finding out he doesn’t.

19) Blacksad: A Silent Hell (108 / 3164) – Blacksad was featured in a collection I had called Best Comics and Manga of 2006. The illustrations were incredible, I was hooked and  immediately sought it out, only to be disappointed that there was no English language collected edition. When that edition finally come out a few years ago, I pounced and devoured it. To my disappointment the book was crippled by the translated dialogue that was hokey, one-note and completely below the gravity established by the art. Then, as the collection progressed, the story began to sag, getting increasingly outside its wheelhouse.

Silent Hell brings it all back again.

First off, the translation hugely improved, or the writing did, I can’t be sure which, but this story read as more sophisticated than any of the three stories in the first collection. The art continues to impress. It’s such a rich experience to see the animated figures presented in the lushness of the fully painted pages, like a beautiful complication filling in simplistic drawings so lavishly. When you put yourself on a ridiculous deadline, like reading 31 in 31, I couldn’t always stop to linger on pages, but I had to with Blacksad. I just stared and stared.

20) Criminal: Coward (128 / 3292)

I like crime novels, I like Brubaker, I like Sean Phillips, I like everything about this book, but somehow slept on this collection for years before taking a gander. It’s funny, how we like what we like in comics. I would, and have, complained about writers for doing the same thing every time in their books. Every hero is put on the same journey, suffers the same tragedies in their past and overcomes them to the same beats. Think Geoff Johns or Rick Remender. And while I’m quick to criticize there, when Brubaker tells a crime story about the same kind criminals he’s told us stories about before, in the same way, and with the same downer endings, I just can’t get enough. Brubaker and Phillips are magic, I’ll follow them down whatever dark alley they lead.

21) The Incredible Herc: Dark Reign (160 / 3452)

Dark Reign was kinda stupid and overdone. Even the greatness that is The Incredible Herc couldn’t outshine the stupor that was Dark Reign. Every time with the Norman Osborn stuff!


22) 20th Century Boys: Vol. 9 (210 / 3620)

Was really into this series in the first couple volumes, then they leaped into the future, and I’ve been trying to care ever since. This volume was a fun read, as the future stuff begins to heat up, but I may have to go re-read the first 8 volumes before moving on to Vol. 10 – I feel like I’m not fully appreciating everything. Great art, great pacing, great storytelling. Urasawa really is a master, but holy rusty metal, Batman, these Manga series stretch out!

23) Unwritten Vol. 2: Inside Man (168 / 3830)

Ever spend an hour eating a really good steak? Or splurge and get yourself a $15 ounce of 20 year-old scotch and just nurse it for the night? Unwritten is like that for me. I read Vol. 1 four times before going on to 2. I’m not sure why exactly. I love it, and its hugely entertaining and very accessible stuff. But some force nestled between intimidation and a trepidation compelled me to really take my time with this series. The writing of the series lends itself to the same. Reminiscent of Breaking Bad in its pacing, every story arc takes the time to explore each and every facet of the world Mike Carey and Peter Gross create. What other storytellers would treat as a “means to the end” kind of plot advancement, these gentlemen devote an issue to exploring. What is seemingly unimportant rises to grand significance, in the most subtle and satisfying ways. Take for instance, the Prison warden – introduced at first, he is the man in charge of caring for Tom Taylor while in custody. At second glance, he is a man striving to maintain his children’s innocent perceptions of Tommy Taylor, a good father who sacrifices so much to keep a little magic in his children’s lives. A third look, he is a general, fighting against forces he doesn’t fully understand to uphold the duties he undertook. Lastly, a grieving, tragic figure transformed into a fearsome, primary antagonist for the volumes yet to come. The elegant characterization of the warden’s arc is not just unique to comic books, where subtly often takes a back seat, but to popular storytelling at large. Special stuff and worth savouring.

24) Rasl Vol. 3: Romance at the Speed of Light (125 / 3955)

I find Jeff Smith an interesting study in genres. Technically, this book is science fiction, and thematically, a departure from his earlier stuff, like say, Bone. But every time I read a volume of Rasl, volume 3 being no exception, I’m always struck by how much it reads like fantasy. I’m not the right person to discuss the differences between the two. From the outset those differences are superficial – just replace swords and spells for laser guns and robots. But I think there are deeper differences there, science fiction is more active –a hero is able to affect change through amoral intelligence and a measured, codified system that will lead them into a brighter age.  Fantasy always seems to be in the ruins of something – the past was a greater age when the magic that we barely understand was more omnipresent and predictable. Rasl’s devotion to Tesla is almost like an apprentice to a wizard. The book so clearly and thoroughly positioned to face backward.

Anyway, there’s not enough space here to devote to a discussion of genre, but Jeff Smith’s books are always a master class. Like Kirby, John Romita Jr., Darwyn Cooke and others, Smith  dazzles you with how effortlessly he makes the right visual storytelling choices again and again and again. A great case for the beauty of simplicity – more so in comics than anywhere else.  

25) League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 2009 (80 / 4035)

Are we free of this now? Now that lightning has shot out of Harry Potter’s dick and fried Alan Quartermain to a crisp – are we done with it? Now that Alan Moore himself flew out of the sky to set all of literature right, has the story been told?

Diminishing returns on these books, I’m afraid. I don’t think they’ve been quite their sterling selves since Black Dossier.

26) Rex Mundi: The River Underground (176 / 4211)

Timing is everything. Had Avrid Nelson and Juan Ferreyra’s alternate history/Holy Grail/Knights Templar story existed in a world without The Da Vinci Code, who knows how far this well-researched and inventive world could have gone? These are always fun to slip in to.

27) Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (128 / 4339)

Oh, Alan Moore of the 1980’s – when life was scary and he had the Midas’ touch! This collection featured the dark imagining of Superman’s last stand at the Fortress of Solitude, where his friends and foes converge for one final showdown. Although steeped in the conventions of Silver Age storytelling, with terrific art of Superman fan-favourite Curt Swan, Moore packs in every major player in the Superman mythos, and brings a lot of meaningful conclusion to bear, even if it is just an imaginary story. In these scant few pages, Moore packs the same emotional wallop that Morrison did in All-Star Superman’s 12-issues. There’s something incredibly poignant about Superman’s last days stories – even if the 1993 Death of Superman seemed to miss that point with its undignified hyper-violence.  Seeing this pillar of strength just wear down and sputter out is more impactful then any bruising monster.

Also included in this collection was the story from Superman Annual #11, “For the Man Who Has Everything”, where Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman travel to the Fortress of Solitude for Superman’s birthday, only to find him succumb to Mongul’s parasitic plant that leaves him trapped in the warm embrace of his fondest fantasy – where Kal is a husband and father back on Krypton. The Justice League Unlimited cartoon adapted this story to great success, and the comic is a must read for anyone who enjoyed that episode. Plus, it has some great Jason Todd as Robin moments! Those are rare.

28) 100 Bullets: Vol. 9 – Strychnine Lives (224 / 4563)

I really need to finish 100 Bullets. I’m too embarrassed to admit that I haven’t finished this masterpiece yet, so I won’t go into huge details here. It was great. It’s always great. I’m going to finish it. Promise.

29) Safe Area Gorazde (240 / 4715) – A first and only on the list, a non-fiction comic, or comic’s journalism, as Joe Sacco puts it. This collection details Sacco’s time as a journalist in Bosnia during the Balkan conflict. Gorazde was declared a “safe area” by the United Nations, with the hopes of spurring a peace accord. Delving into the realities and day-to-day horrors of a war that pitted childhood friends against each other, Sacco presents vignettes from different times throughout the conflict, with the people he met when he was on the ground there. Drawn in a muted R. Crumb style, Sacco shows that for the youth of Gorazde, winning the war didn’t mean military victories, territories or peace accords, it just meant getting back to normal. Terrific book! 

30) Godland: Celestial Edition Vol. 1 (360 / 4955)

I read this book with four days to go. I knew, it being an omnibus and all, that it would take some time, but flipping through the pages and seeing the broad, Kirby-esque style of Tom Scioli, I thought it would be a quick read. I don’t know if it was the book, or the deadline, or me hitting a saturation of comic books, but this thing was a frigging slog. For me, the book failed for the same reason others laud its success– it was a pitch-perfect reproduction of Kirby comics. Kirby was king, no doubt, but his work has a place in history, and it’s not unkind to say that the man had certain limitations as a writer, specifically when it came to dialogue. Aping that style too sincerely, Joe Casey – a tremendous writer – limits himself and his abilities to tell a meaningful story to a modern audience. This isn’t “what would Kirby be up to if he were still around?”, this is “look how close we can reproduce a Kirby comic!”In that way, it becomes an artefact. It may be fun to 12 year-old Joe Casey and Tom Scioli, and their many fans, but as a modern reader, it was below my expectations.

If an art student reproduces, flawlessly, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa”, we say, “congratulations on your flawless reproduction”, but we wouldn’t call it original art. So to Casey and Scioli, ‘congratulations on your flawless reproduction’. 

31) Tale of Sand (152 / 5315)

The last one. Exhausted by slogging through Godland, I probably wasn’t in the right frame of mind, but it had to get read. My Henson knowledge is pretty much limited to the Muppets, although I know he did some stranger fantasy stuff later in his career. This edition is based on a very ambitious unprocessed screenplay that Henson co-wrote with Jeery Juhl and was adapted here by  Ramon Perez. Pretty to look out, but perhaps too sparse for my tired, comic-soaked brain. The sponge can only absorb so much. My goal was reached, but I just didn’t see what everyone else was seeing with this book. It was sparse, beautiful, colorful and sensory, but it never grew to more than that. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt, table it, and hopefully come back to it when I’m in a better position to enjoy it.


So that’s my journey through too many comics! 31 in 31! The lessons I’m taking from it

1) Buy less comics – It’s insane that I read 31 trades and barely dented the unread stacks I’ve been hoarding.

2) Stop Reading Superhero stuff – I read my fair share of superhero comics in this period, very few of rose to the level of the independent stuff. Comics is such a big, crazy wad of awesome, no reason to limit it to tights and flights.

3) Do it again next year! Like I said, that pile is still huge. If I’m really feeling crazy, I would attack my stupid-huge collection of Essential Editions and Showcases. 10 of those in a month? That’s another 5,000 pages.

Thanks for following along!

5 – 17of 31 – The Adventure Continues!

My quest to read 31 graphic novels in the 31 days of October had continued unreported! Despite a lack of word on the blog, the battle raged offline I polished off another 13 volumes since I last updated. That’s a total of 17, with close to 3000 pages of comics read so far! Around the 12th of the month, I was starting to wonder if this was still going to get done. I have a missed a couple of days and work was piling up again. With a quick pep talk and a couple of marathon sessions, I’m back in business and on-track to finish! I should only be two volumes off my pace by the end of the 21st, and have a big weekend of comic reading ahead. Still to come, I have Godland, Rasl, 100 Bullets, Blacksad and more.

Comics really are pretty awesome :)

5 and 6 of 31

Ok, so a little behind, but that’s work. Numbers 5 and 6 were connected, so I’ll handle the blog entry as one. Batman: Blink and Batman: Don’t Blink are two stories that appeared in the late, (sometimes) great Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight series that debuted after the ’89 Burton film. Telling offbeat stories that walked between the raindrops of Batman continuity, these issues showcased some great throw-back and orphaned Batman stories.

It was good to read these two after having read BPRD for my 4th book. Mignola’s stuff is so rarefied because he has his finger in all of it. With his directing mind hovering over every project, each Hellboy and BPRD story feels special and adds something to the on-going mythos. With Batman, a character that’s been around so long and fallen in to so many different hands and interpretations, it’s always nice to discover something you’ve never seen before, to find some great story outside the mainstage continuity. I remember in 2004 discover the Mike Barr story where Batman and Talia get it on and the character that would become Damian Wayne was conceived (although Batman and Robin #0 in the DCnu may have obliterated that bit of Batman lore… I can’t tell). To stumble across that original story from the 80’s- which was collected in an oversize pre-trade paperback collection that I picked up for $2 from a local bookstore – was a great accidental discovery.

I can’t say that Blink and Don’t Blink are overlooked classics. Written by Dwayne McDuffie with art by Val Semeiks, they tell the story of Lee Hyland, a man born without eyes but possessing the uncanny ability to see through the eyes of whomever he touches. So if he brushes up against you in a crowd, he now sees the world from your perspective, including your credit card number, bank account pin, the combination to your safe, etc. Profiting off this petty crime for years, one day Lee brushes up against the wrong person – a snuff film making serial killer. This leads him to Batman, and Batman lead to adventure. Don’t Blink, is a sequel to the original, where the government discovers Lee’s power after his having worked with Batman, and imprison him for national security purposes.

Not exactly barnburners, but they grew on me. McDuffie was of course the great story editor on the animated Justice League cartoons, and that Timm/Dini sensibility is evident here as well. This is very much the animated Batman (which is my favorite rendition of Batman ever). This isn’t super-ninja-master Batman – this is Sherlock Holmes in a cape and cowl, he needs to do detective work, he is in real danger, and he really struggles to take out two thugs at once. More of the pulp sensibilities. McDuffie never wrote for Batman:TAS, so this may be as close as we come. Not Eisner-worthy, perhaps, but two nice warm reminders of my favorite kind of Batman stories.

7 of 31

The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: Companion

I’ve never read the Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, mostly because it’s gone out of print from BOOM!, and second-hand copies of the collection sell for upwards of $200.00. I hate that I slept on these original volumes as they came out, but hopefully Disney will re-release them through Marvel (or in Disney style, maybe they’ll ‘bring them out of the vault’). If this collection of B-sides and rarities is any indication, those stories must be knockouts.

Now we all know Scrooge McDuck, be it from the comics, the DuckTales cartoon and film, or the ever-popular Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Instead of the crotchety old miser and his nephews, these stories deal with Scrooge McDuck’s younger years in the wildwest, Klondike, Australian outback and jungles of Panama. Don Rosa (the other quintessential McDuck artist) loves to insert characters from history, like Wyatt Earp, Teddy Roosevelt, Jack London and more.

The Klondike stories really stand out for me, as McDuck struggles with the love of his life, Glittering Goldie. This unrequited love/hate relationship brings a tragic element you wouldn’t expect from a book about talking Ducks without pants, and draws the disparate threads of the stories together.  I think everyone has a Glittering Goldie in their life.

I called Don Rosa the other Duck artist, coupled with Carl Barks, the creator of Scrooge McDuck whose stories pre-date these. I love the Bark’s tales too, and admit that I’m criminally under-read in that canon. Barks brought the high-adventure sensibility and a dense storytelling style that packed more concepts into a book then most 6-issue collections have now. But I have to say, and this might be Scrooge McDuck blasphemy, but I think I prefer the Rosa stuff to the Barks. Barks used the simple line, the high-adventure stuff, the implausible science. Rosa’s style, both in art and story, bring a warmth and depth. I appreciate that this is largely because Rosa grew up such a huge devotee of Barks and his simply extending the boundaries of the tradition, but even as something as simple as crosshatching on Scrooge feels like a giant leap in sophistication.

On the podcast I’ve previously discussed the Uncle Scrooge story that predicts the Christopher Nolan film Inception. That story, titled Dream of a Lifetime, is included as a capper to this collection. So I thought that was Don Rosa being all genius sauce, and it is, but also apologies, as the story was suggested from an unnamed reader from Paris, France. All the falling in a dream to wake up – that was all from Rosa though.

Uncle Scrooge stories are such a pinnacle of cartooning. It’s rare that a superhero comic satisfies and charms me the way a DuckTales story does every single time.

8 and 9 of 31

Hulk Visionaries : Peter David, Volumes 1 and 2.

How do you begin a kickass review about the Hulk? Start with X-Factor. In 2005, bored and killing time before a night class during my first year of University, I stumbled into the comic shop on campus, having already been to pick up my comics for the week the day before. Now, I was just looking for any distraction to fill my time instead of doing the reading I had actually been assigned. Scrambling around, I picked up two comics that I normally would have ignored – the first was Ed Brubaker’s Captain America #1, where the Red Skull is assassinated at the end of the issue. The second was X-Factor number one, recently re-launched with Peter David back at the helm. Of all the number ones so often re-launched, those two had some staying power. Brubaker only recently left the Cap family, cementing his legacy as the single largest creative influence on the character in twenty years (his Winter Soldier story from early in that Cap run will be the topic of the film sequel). As for X-Factor, we’re still waiting to see where that one ends. David has endured since my first days of undergrad, right through my second degree, persisting now to my having entered the working world.  A survivor of event-fatigue, roster shifts dictated from above, and an ever-present risk of cancellation, David has crafted, to my mind, the most real, heartfelt and believable characters in the Marvel Universe. He’s been original, progressive and dynamic.

But this isn’t about comics I’ve loved for the last decade, this is about stuff I haven’t read before.

In casual comic shop conversation, when I tell people about how much I enjoy Peter David’s current run on X-Factor, I invariably get asked if I’ve read his first classic run on a title that exceeded 100 issues – the Incredible Hulk. And I always have to tell them no, and then they figure out what a fair-weather fan I truly am. But I’m rectifying that this month, having just polished off two of the eight volumes that collect his 100 issue span on this book.  Much like X-Factor, David makes you care about people you shouldn’t really care about. He’s not afraid to have characters progress and develop as people. Clay Quartermain goes from a heartless would-be assassin to a reformed secret-agent as he joins Banner, Rick Jones and Betty in the back of Battle van as fugitives on the run. The Grey Hulk, a recent development in these pages, goes from being  the living embodiment of all Banner’s vices (a veritable Mr. Hyde) to a sympathetic creature who slowly atones for his guilt and eases his constant agitation.

Beyond the pages, no one progresses through the course of these stories than the artist, someone you may have heard of, millionaire-to-be Todd MacFarlane. Back in these days though he was just starting out, and that’s pretty clear from some rough-around-the-edges early issues. With a simplier, cleaner style than what he would one day be famous for on Spiderman and later, Spawn, you can see and feel Todd work out his craft on the pages. In the span of 12 issues, the artist is a completely different animal. The line work takes on sophistication, the shading and cross-hatching gets beefed up, the storytelling improves. Although it sounds like the relationship between writer and artist was rocky at times (not quite John Byrne level), the experience seems to have been quite formative for Todd.

Despite the complexity of art and character, one aspect of the series was gloriously unsophisticated super-villainy awesomeness of The Leader! Unrepentant, 1960’s-style moustache twirling, evil gadgetry, abusing his foolish minions, monologuing into his recording devices and overall being diabolical.

It does a comic fan good.

Great books and I can’t wait to track down the other 6 volumes!

10 of 31

Woohoo for double digits! As I fell a little behind in my quest to get 31 books read in the31 days of October, the one thing I regret is that I find myself rushing through content more than I would hope to. But when it came to number 10, Moving Pictures by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen, I found myself slowing down and soaking up the art like the paper soaked up Stuart’s heavy inks. Moving Pictures tells the story of Ila, a Canadian ex-pat wiling away the days of German Occupation in WWII Paris while working at museum cataloguing and hiding France’s cultural capital from Nazi hands. As the toll of the occupation realizes itself, Ila becomes increasingly segregated from the people around and delves deeper into the world of the art and the deception of her smuggling. In a world where your local baker can disappear without explanation or where failing to make eye-contact with a German soldier in the street can get you hauled in for interrogation, Ila numbs to personal connection. That is until she meets Rolf, a German soldier looking for an obscure piece or art, with unforeseen consequences attached.

Prepared by Canada’s preeminent comic book couple, this book has the feel of a solo creator’s touch. Immonen’s chameleon style settles on something akin to David Mazzucchelli guileless precision. The book is done in black and white, heavy especially large swathes of black ink. Beautiful stuff to see.

I bought this book from the Immonen’s themselves at a con in my hometown. They were especially lovely people. When you buy the book from them, Stuart opens up to the first page and hammers out a pitch-perfect headsketch of Rolf. Then he hands the book to Kathryn and she goes to work with her pen. If you’re simple (like me) you think that she’s just signing her name, but then you think, “wait a minute, this is taking too long for her to just be signing her name” and you I see that she’s lettering, in perfect form, the words, “it’s nothing to do with me.” If you were to glance at this, you think it was typed in, or if done by hand, the kind of calligraphy that would be painstakingly slow to accomplish. Instead, she knocked this out in 10 seconds. While it’s always awe-inspiring to see artists do their thing, there’s no denying the talent of the letters out there.

A simply-told tale of complex ideas and an existential meditation on the uneasy calm hovering at the boundaries of war, Moving Pictures delivers.

11 Through 16 of the 31

So the Blog entries got a little off track, and there was less to talk about, and to be honest, it’s hard to keep pace with the 31 for 31 if you stop and naval-gaze after each one. To make up for it, a couple of quick hitters.

11- The Authority Vol. 1: Relentless – Another classic I’m coming to for the first time. Warren Ellis writes big concept, modern-feel superheroes. You know how we can look at the art of a book and say – that’s Bronze Age, that’s so 90’s, that’s got a Silver age charm. The art here is the same way – you see it and immediately now this was made late 90s, early 2000s. It’s that blend of streamlined Image-90’s stuff polished with the sophistication of the computer-generated coloring. It’s a moment in time.  Strong writing and concepts, and I know this was just the introduction to the larger, more political stuff. Bruce Timm said this series was their inspiration for the Justice Lords in the Justice League cartoon. For no other reason I’ll read on, but probably only borrow rather than buy.

12 – BPRD Vol. 2: The Soul of Venice and Others – Having read volume 1 earlier in the month, I didn’t understand why people are generally so down on the first two BPRD volumes. Then I read this one. It was fun to see the Johns/Kollins story, and the title story is solid Mignola-fun, but otherwise these stories generally fall below the subtle wonder of the franchise. Now that said…

13 – BPRD Vol. 3: Plague of Frogs – This stuff rocked! The first five-issue story involving the team is a great extension of the Hellboy stuff, but it really starts to round into its own thing, without just being Hellboy-lite. As we pour into the backstory of Abe, the problems with Liz and the complexities of Roger, these characters start to soar. In the coming months, I’m going to get serious about catching up on these stories. Awesome stuff.

14 – Hellboy Vol 11. – Bride of Hell and Others: What a great collection. I started to read Hellboy in singles around this time, so some of these stories I recall from my collection, but they’re even better on the re-read. Hellboy in Mexico and Bride of Hell are both great. Mignola follows up the Wild Hunt by continuing to firmly fix the Hellboy mythos in Arthurian lore and real(ish) British history. Kinda sad that this collection might be the last of the “monster-of-the-week” style Hellboy adventures we get for a while. And why’s that? Just look to…

15 – Hellboy Vol. 12: The Storm and the Fury – The main threads of the Hellboy universe collide in these pages, culminating with one of the most impactful comic book moments of the decade. The incredible Duncan Fregredo kills it on every page.  The series could end here and be praised as one of the greatest comic book inventions of all time. Luckily, there’s still more to come.

16 – American Vampire Vol. 1 – My Bat-doration of Scott Snyder had yet to spill out into the book he (pardon the pun) cut his teeth on. With back-ups scripted by Steven King, and art by the genius that is Rafael Albuquerque this book takes one of my least favorite tropes (vampires) and places it in one of my favorite locales (old Hollywood). The hook that there is a new breed of “American” vampire colliding with the old-world European vampire we know so well, is an inspired twist. Snyder gives himself so much room to grow. In a weird way, this book reminded me of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, in the way the same characters have the entirety of the American 20th century as their backdrop. That’s an epic scope, and I’m fully on board now.

17 of 31

Beanworld Vol. 2: A Gift Comes

Beanworld tells the story of little bean-shaped critters called, well, Beans. They live in a Beanworld composed on a life-giving tree, an island surrounded by layers of materials (mostly symbols) that have certain properties. Far below the surface dwell the Hoi-polloi, ghoulish faces that bet and haggle over Chow, small little black beads. These beads offer life-giving nutrients to the Beans, so the Beans, led by their hero Mr. Spook dive down below and bully the Hoi into giving up the Chow, and in exchange they leave behind a Sprout-Butt (given from the tree, the Gran’Ma’Pa) which the Hoi are able to turn into more Chow. Beyond this simply hunter/gatherer world, some of the Beans get to be special, like the smartest Bean of all, Professor Garbanzo, and the artist, Beanish, who is able to have special conversations with the sun (or something like the sun), a lovely face in the sky called Dreamishness.

I read volume 1 of Beanworld a year or so ago and found myself in a quandary. I could tell it was good. I could tell it was lovingly crafted, poignant and purposeful. I have heard from other readers that I greatly respect that this book was a work of genius, that Larry Marder’s sweet, goofy, petri dish universe was telling a tale of life and how it is to be lived.

I didn’t get that at all.

What I got was simplistic and vague. I got plots that went nowhere, stories without conflict, and arbitrary rules with mock-importance. I had no real timeline for starting the second book, and wasn’t sure I would (although I made the classic meathead collector mistake of being all three volumes in one fell swoop).

So in the interest of broadening my horizons through my month-long comic odyssey, I decided to trudge up Beanworld for another go ‘round, and  I’m happy to report my outlook has changed. With the benefit of my confusion from the first volume, the realities of Beanworld seem less arbitrary now. I’m more familiar with the world and the concepts, and when the reader isn’t fighting those so much, the artistry comes to the surface. A helpful device in this volume is that Beanworld has been blessed with a gift – a whole tub full of little baby beans who the Professor and Mr. Spook have to educate with the history of Beanworld (which is news to reader as well).

This volume charmed me. By using the very simple to explain the highly complicated, Marder lays out a treatise on life, on an individual’s place in society,  the cycles of adulthood and more. Do I totally get it? No. But I’m closer, and more willing and more open. Reading Beanworld is a zen-like exercise. It is demanding in its refusal to cater to expectations, and unlike other fiction, it doesn’t follow a narrative arc invented to amaze us, instead it follows the narrative arc inherited from a life well-lived according to a natural order. Reading it was like hitting the reset button. It provided a gentle reality check about what’s actually important.

Beanworld also provides an interesting look at what comics can be. Like the real great works of the medium, this story could not have been told as effectively if either a novel or film (although, an animated Beanworld would be pretty sweet…). This is a semiotics workshop, reminding us that the value of art stems from the viewer, not the artist. Art is a reminder, a prod to bring forward the big ideas and powerful emotions that lurk in all of us. I failed to get that Volume 1 because I wasn’t taking the material to heart. I was imposing my expectations upon it and failing to meet the art halfway.

If you’re a fan of comics, do yourself the favor of Beanworld. It has the potential be something very special to you.

Episode 19 – Riley Rossmo

Artist of Proof, Cowboy Ninja Viking, Bedlam and much more joins the Boys to talk Image, projects new and old, nude models, passion for the business, the comics market and much more.

4 of 31 – BPRD Vol. 1: Hollow Earth and Other Stories

Remember what I said about embarrassing confessions of the great books I’ve never read? Well here’s another. Although on a similar comic binge a few years ago I ploughed through the majority of the Hellboy series in a single week, I never made my way to the companion BPRD stuff. This first volume comprises work from Mignola, of course, but also Christopher Golden, Tom Sniegoski, Ryan Sook, Derek Thompson and the great Dave Stewart.

As promised, this is Hellboy without Hellboy. Well that mode is well-established now, you can feel the creators’ trepidation throughout these early stories. Hellboy is nowhere seen but everywhere felt. Whether as a flashback or a topic of conversation, Big Red doesn’t stray far from mind. I understand this will change as the series progresses, which is positive. Johann and Liz are well-defined, but Abe and Roger start off in Hollow Earth as Hellboy-lite, with the same sullen and muted approach to everything. As we go Roger becomes more clearly defined and his childlike outlook is pushed farther forward. Best line in the book is Roger cradling a sheep like a teddy bear and wondering aloud if Kate will let him keep it. I might be missing something with Abe… I’ll re-asses in Vol. 2.

As for the creators – Mignola and Golden have this innate mastery of the gothic and sublime. This is echoed in the art, especially Ryan Sook’s work that infuses the same powerful silence and lingering effects Mignola established. Whereas Hellboy artists are always recruited for their similarities to Mignola, I enjoyed Derek Thompson’s work in ‘Drums of Death’ for bringing a  different interpretation. If Mignola evolved from Kirby DNA, Thompson sprung from the loins of Jack Davis. Mignola and Sook’s art simmers on the page, slipping into the blots of ink behind them. Thompson’s art vibrates off the page, popping out from clean bright backgrounds. As always with Mignola’s brand, it’s quality throughout.

I’m told BPRD really starts to sing come Vol. 3. So far so good. I’m glad I’ve got so much more of this world to explore this month.

3 of 31 – New X-men Vol. 2: Imperial

Igor Kordey, where have you been all my life?

This arc features more art from Quietly, but I’ve said my piece on Frank last time (with the exception of the observation that the Scotsman draws Cyclops to look like Egon Spengler from The Real Ghostbusters cartoon ((as an aside within an aside, when I was kid, I used to think that the Ghostbuster films were based on the cartoon(((I was a stupid kid ((((this sentence in turning into Inception)))))))))).

But back to the point, Kordey’s storytelling is hardcore. How, you ask? Well here’s a long winded way of explaining it – My collection features backmatter showing a page that Ethan Van Scriver penciled, but was never used. Instead they went with a page from Kordey. Now, Van Scriver was one of the many fill-in artists on this book, as Quietly worked as slowly in 2002 as he does in 2012, and the art duties gave way to numerous pinch hitters. This collection features New X-men #118, the infamous ‘sex’ issue, where Van Scriver hid the word ‘sex’ in the art on every page of the book without editorial, or Grant Morrison, knowing. I have that issue, and got Van Scriver to sign it at a show once. I asked him about it and he’s was very forthcoming in his response. I won’t go in to it here, because I probably only got one side of the story, and I don’t want to propagate something I can’t verify. If you ever get the chance to meet Van Scriver, he was very friendly and he tells the story with a lot of flourish, so try to get it out him. What I am comfortable saying, as I think is evidenced by the fact that two artists were paid to draw the same page, is that there were some obvious editorial difficulties on this book. Imagine a desperate Marvel comics recovering from their recent bankruptcy scare and they turn their hottest property over to the hands of the bald spectre of Glasgow. What does he do with it? Reduce the cast to a skeleton crew, take away the Jim Lee era favorites, replace those favorites with new characters that nobody knows which he just happened to make purposefully hideously ugly (Beak and Angel aren’t exactly Gambit and Rogue), pretend to kill off the X-men’s greatest villain, and moreover, drastically alter the book’s decade-long aesthetic. It’s not hard to predict editorial blowback.

But I didn’t want to talk about editors, I wanted to talk about Kordey, I just keep getting sidetracked. Here’s the thing, because the editors were having issues, two artists pencilled the same page, and that’s a rare opportunity as a comic fan to compare and contrast.

The scene is this, Wolverine busts into a makeshift ambulance where the Umen have young Angel strapped to an operating table, preparing to vivisect her. The first panel has the three Umen facing Wolverine, guns a-blazing. Panel two is a midshot of Wolverine, standing stoically as his torso is filled like a pin-cushion full of scalpels. Panel three is the exact same as panel two, but Wolverine brings a cigar to his lips. Panel four, a close-up of Wolvie, cigar clenched in teeth, nonchalant, as he delivers his zinger of a one-liner.

So Van Scriver brings polish. He splits his page into thirds running vertically down.  His first panel occupies the upper-third, and is filled with detail and dynamite. The full scope of the ambulance with carefully rendered equipment overhead and loving detail on the spacesuited henchmen. Panel’s two and three sit side-by-side in the middle third, the midshot of Wolverine, stoic throughout, the only difference is his arm moving to his lips. The fourth panel rests on the bottom. Wolvie looks like he was drawn by Neal Adams, if Adams were swiping John Byrne. The cigar in his mouth, the exaggerated canine teeth, Wolvie incredulous.

Kordoy takes a different tact. His page is split into quarters, descending vertically. The first panel is almost identical, but he draws no background – the ambulance’s insides are established earlier in the story and the non-essential has been withheld from this panel. The second panel is Wolverine, a grimace as his body accepts the scalpels, his old friend pain arrives as suddenly as ever. The third panel,  the camera creeps closer, Wolvies eye’s open, his head flicks upwards. The fourth panel, the kicker, the camera pulls closer still, arriving at the close-up organically, in a progression. He delivers his zinger, the cigar in mouth. Kordey’s Logan is more Frank Miller than Neal Adams. His face looks like hamburger. He’s covered in a fine film of fur. He isn’t handsome. This isn’t Hugh Jackman. This is the monster we know him to be.

So there you go on Kordey – feel and narrative, that sets him apart. Where has this guy gone?

As for the writing, Vol.2 takes a turn towards the Morrison. Whereas Vol. 1 remind me of ‘good’ Morrison – the Batman Inc., All-star Superman Morrison, Vol.2 recalled Final Crisis. The in media res beginnings became increasingly more complicated and jarring, the space opera and aliens and high-concept star-brains and people-bombs just caused my eyes to glaze.

I think today I learned that I don’t like Morrison in space.

On the ground, things were great again. A completely silent issue, Jean’s slow burn (pardon the pun) to revealing the Phoenix again, Wolverine mentoring a new young girl, and the first of many great moments between Emma and her Cuckoos, made everything happening at the mansion a world I wanted to immerse myself in. Whether it’s because I don’t like space stuff, or Morrison likes it too much, I got lost there, and my attention faded.

Probably set to take a break from the X-men stuff, mostly because with Morrison you need to let your brain settle and sleep on it before the genius reveals itself. Tomorrow might head to Mignola town. Something a little less wordy, a little less demanding. Only three days in, but making the time is a grind.

What will four be?