Adapting B.P.R.D. to film, or for television?

At the end of last month, MTV’s Splash Page posted highlights from an interview with Dark Horse Comics and Entertainment president, Mike Richardson, in which Richardson broadly hints that the next movie out of the Hellboy-universe might not be a third Hellboy, but a BPRD adaptation (the article is vague as to whether this project is being looked at or worked on by Guillermo del Toro or not).

I would be happy to see either a Hellboy III or a BPRD movie, so long as it is made with the same care and affection for the characters that mark the first two Hellboys, and I can see the logic in shifting the franchise to BPRD, but, as I have noted previously, what I would really like to see is for the team title to be made into a TV series.

Making the next movie about the Bureau instead of Hellboy would follow logically from the end of Golden Army, where Hellboy quits the organization, much as he does at the end Seed of Destruction in the comics. Moving Hellboy along would do for the movies what it has done for the books, which is to give the other characters more room for growth and development and for extending the storyworld beyond the horizons of a single, titanic figure.

One crucial difference between the comics and the movies, though, is that in the former, Hellboy quits on his own, while in the latter, Abe and Liz also quit. I think that any BPRD movie would need to reintegrate at least one of those characters to be viable. In terms of their cultural resonance, Hellboy isn’t Batman and the BPRD is not the X-Men, which means that the next film, whatever it is, and if it is, can hardly afford to lose all of the characters that have anchored the movies to this point.

It is easy to think of ways to bring Abe back into the fold, but, due to her pregnancy, it is difficult to see how Liz could be part of a BPRD movie without also including Hellboy. You could write a big break-up between the two, or have Liz’s power threatening to leave her control again, maybe leaving Hellboy as a single dad (wouldn’t that be interesting), but that seems a strange turn to take once you’ve decided to essentially marry Liz and Hellboy and give them a child. Can Abe provide enough continuity to make the average moviegoer or comics fan excited about seeing the film? Probably no way to answer that question in advance.

One way to short circuit this problem is to look at a BPRD movie as a reboot, but I’m not sure what that would look like, or if it would be smart given that much of the potential audience will only have the Hellboy movies for reference. Most importantly, Hellboy needs to be part of the background for the Bureau and if you don’t pick up where Golden Army leaves off, how do you effectively do that while also making a BPRD adaptation and not another Hellboy? Clearly you need to be more clever than me to figure these questions out.

This is one place where I think adapting the series for television makes more sense than a film. I think that a change in medium would offer more of an opportunity to restructure the storyworld in the adaptation process, if for no other reason than you don’t have to deal with the legacy of prior works on TV. I can easily see how a BPRD television series could be made without Hellboy as a primary character, as a recurring character, maybe popping up in flashback, or as someone who crosses paths with the Bureau on occasion, but I think you can make his presence felt without needing to build the show around him, given that you would be starting from a unique beginning on TV.

However, in a more general sense, I think that BPRD is simply better material for television than it is for film.

Movies adapted from serialized fiction, especially genres like science fiction, fantasy, or superhero, are a chance to see the spectacular aspects of stories rendered in a spectacular way, but inevitably, this comes at the expense of character and narrative development.

Yes, BPRD has its epic qualities, but you also have years of complex character interactions and stories that have been unfolding through multiple-interlocking layers of narrative for essentially the entire run of the series, and even back to Hellboy. BPRD, to me, suggests The Wire or Lost more than it does Lawrence of Arabia or Star Wars.

Hellboy, by contrast, is, on his own, a bigger than life character and, maybe for that reason, in the comics, is used for more episodic storytelling than is the whole, evolving crew at the BPRD. Generally, I think that it is probably easier to take a single character and use him or her in different contexts because you have less to manage in terms of relationships and character development than you do when trying to focus on a group of people. In short, I think that movies play well to the strengths and qualities of Hellboy, both book and character, and in the same way, I think that television is a better medium for adapting BPRD.

Where would such a series find a home? That’s a hard question to answer, but I am thinking more SyFy or AMC than Fox or NBC.  Done right, this would clearly be a cult-y niche show, and a channel or network that has a business model that works with showcasing interesting, alternative type programming without requiring some sort of buy-in from a wider audience would be best. I also think that it would be helpful for the series to be programmed on a more intensive basis, ten or twelve episodes a season instead of twenty-two or twenty-four, and, with scripted programs at least, that is still more common with off network shows than it is for those on the big four.

Of course, all of this is from a fan’s perspective and what I’d like to see happen. Richardson may have been cagey in the MTV interview because nothing may get made. And that would be ok, too, at least so long as the books are still going strong.

December comics

From tfaw:

Single issues:

Angel #40 (IDW)

Elena Casagrande is replaced by Jason Armstrong, who, with Brian Miller on colors, gives the book a Saturday morning cartoon makeover, which I kind of like? A radical change like this, however admirable in the abstract, in practice, takes some time to get used. I found myself constantly pausing to remind myself who the characters are, none more than Kate, who looks nothing like her previous selves (brown hair and pearls?).

The storytelling is fine, but David Tischman and Mariah Huehner are forcing the dialogue, especially trying to make Angel quick-witted and Gunn sound “street”.

Atomic Robo #2 (Red 5)

More period fun as Robo tries to lead a double life, doing science and fighting crime. An exceptionally cool set of pin-ups is included in this issue, too.

Avengers Academy #7 (Marvel)

Christos Gage turns his attention to the teachers, especially Hank Pym. Continues to be a strong book.

Batwoman #0 (DC)

Bruce Wayne stops by to surveil Kate Kane and Batwoman. I agree with the discussion on 3 Chicks Review Comics that it might have been better to include this as part of the “Road Home” comics rather than billing it as a Batwoman prelude. For readers who did not read the Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III Detective Comics run, this issue is probably useful as an orientation to Kate and Batwoman, but for anyone who had been looking forward to the start of the new ongoing series, it is probably a letdown, at least narratively, artistically, the back-and-forth between Williams and Amy Reeder works well.

Birds of Prey #7 (DC)

A new story arc begins with Oracle deciding she needs to fake her death because too many people know that she is Barbara Gordon (or vice versa, I guess). There’s one artistic team on this issue, Ardian Syaf (pencils), Vincente Cifuentes (inks), and Nei Ruffino (colors), which is good, and I am optimistic about what Gail Simone has started in this issue.

Black Widow #8 (Marvel)

Duane Swierczynski’s storytelling gains depth in this issue, mining the Cold War in more personal ways for Natasha/Natalia, and reintroducing Fatale as an ally. However, even if I were so inclined to go out buy Widowmaker, I’m not sure that this storyline is one I would choose to follow, or would feel that I could not afford to categorize as trade/wait. The art, from Manuel Garcia (pencils), Lorenzo Ruggiero (inks), and Jim Charlampidis (colors), is still pushing the soft core too much, but they avoid the worst excesses of the preceding issues.

B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth: New World #5 (Dark Horse)

The first arc of the new series comes to a close and it comes around to Abe and Ben, and some further clues about what’s to come. A lot to look forward to from B.P.R.D. and Hellboy in 2011.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #40 (Dark Horse)

The penultimate issue, and Angel kills Giles (also the Master), Buffy destroys the Seed of the World and seems to go catatonic. A lot to address in the next chapter.

Fringe: Tales from the Fringe #6 (Wildstorm)

A second mini-series comes to an end with a story about alternate Olivia, which is a nice touch. I assume that DC will continue to put these books out post-Wildstorm. No, they aren’t the best that comics has to offer, but for fans of the show, they are effective uses of the medium as an adjunct to TV, and the artistic standards are pretty high, higher than some ongoing series I read.

Generation Hope #2 (Marvel)

Kieron Gillen keeps the action in Tokyo, and Rogue takes center stage. I like Salvador Espin’s style, and Jim Charlampidis brings the same earth-y tones he does to Black Widow, but why does Rogue have to be drawn so that she is practically falling out of her top?

Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil (Dark Horse)

Richard Corben and Mike Mignola collaborate on a couple of classic horror stories. Not the strongest of their work together on this title, but I’m not sure that there is an ongoing series that does one-shots like this better than Mignola and his partners. I think any fan of horror and gothic literature could read this issue and enjoy it, not just Hellboy regulars.

I, Zombie #8 (DC/Vertigo)

Chris Roberson and Michael Allred continue to broaden this title into an ensemble piece, but without losing Gwen as its core. Fun sequence with the revived vampire in a UO hoodie. Nice to see when Eugene emerges in the story, rather than just being in the background.

Lady Mechanika #1 (Aspen)

So Joe Benitez’s series gets underway proper, and the writing is not as strong here as in the #0 preview. The Victoriana is more forced, but Mechanika herself remains well drawn and conceived, with a clear voice of her own. As well as she is handled, I wish that Benitez could have resisted introducing the female Commander now chasing Mechanika with such an overtly sexualized pose.

Murderland #3 (Image)

David Hahn draws a bunch of cool looking people doing … I’m not really sure, but they are really intent on it. I cannot follow the story here, and am even more confused by looking at the inside cover and seeing that somehow there are two stories going in this issue. Not sure what Stephen Scott has in mind here except riffing on cultural references to Baltimore.

Mystery Society #5 (IDW)

So the first (only?) story comes to a close. This title settled down into a genial mode, fun, but not over the top. The cast is a little large to be contained by a short run like this. I would like to see more for Fiona Staples’s art if nothing else.

Spike: What happens in Vegas, Slays in Vegas #3 (IDW)

Brian Lynch brings Drusilla into the story, and we get some confirmation that Beck has romantic feelings for Spike. The use and introduction of Dru shows how well Lynch gets these characters. More ambivalent about the way that Nicola Zanni draws the characters. Dru is too voluptuous, head to toe, than she should be. Looking at Franco Urru’s cover makes me wish he was drawing the inside, too.

Uncanny X-Force #2 & #3 (Marvel)

I am liking this title very much. Rick Remender is writing a story that taps into X-Men history, but not one that requires a PhD in the subject to grasp. The cast of characters is suitably dark and damaged, and Jerome Opena draws everyone as long, lean, and athletic looking, a nice change from the usual steroidal and pneumatic art you find in so many Marvel books (the one exception is Wolverine, who is short and stocky as he should be). Dean White’s colors tend to the gray, which fits the cast and the story. Now, if they could only get permission to get Betsy out of that bathing suit.

Uncanny X-Men #530 (Marvel)

Greg Land is back on pencils and so everyone looks like a model or porn star. Emma may wear this well, but for others, it is ridiculous (does anyone really imagine Scott Summers as looking like he just walked off of a photo shoot for men’s cologne?) Mostly, I find the uniformity of the characters to be boring, or even depressing in the case of the X-Men. These are supposed to be outcasts. If every mutant looked as plastic-y beautiful as they do here, wouldn’t more people want to be mutants, instead of rejecting them? On the other hand, Matt Fraction has a tight story this month.

TPBs:

Orc Stain Volume 1 (Image)

I enjoyed James Stokoe’s Wonton Soup books, and considered pulling this series monthly, but decided to wait for the trade instead. I’m not sure how this would read issue-to-issue, the pace is kind of laconic, even as the book does not lack for action, but Stokoe likes slacker dood characters, and his stories tend to move like they do.

The attraction here, as with the earlier series, is the world building, and Stokoe’s imagination seems to run riot with wild ideas for universes made almost entirely from organic material, making everything seem like it could either be food or something that eats. The color work here makes already jam-packed panels seem busy, but I suspect I just need to take a second look without having to follow the narrative as closely.

Despite the self-conscious masculinity of the story and the characters, the one notable woman in the book, Bowie Enocraz Yaramund, the “Poison Thrower”, is self-possessed and powerful in her own right (she even offers direct and indirect comment on the “love nymphs” who make up the remaining women you see). This is perhaps just a good illustration of what happens when an author sets out to write about men being men in a conscious and critical way, instead of presumptively.

Two Step (Wildstorm)

Forthcoming.

TPBs from Powell’s (Burnside store):

Black Orchid (DC/Vertigo).

Glad I got this. Another good example of what Neil Gaiman does well: asking questions about what characters like this and the stories we tell with them mean. I like how Lex Luthor is used as an organized crime figure more than as a super genius here. Dave McKean’s use of color and collage-like art helps to create different tones for different parts of the narrative. That being said, I’m not entirely sure what the thing means on the whole. Will reward on subsequent readings I suspect.

Global Frequency: Detonation Radio Volume 2 (Wildstorm)

Fast moving action and violence. Warren Ellis uses this volume to show more of Miranda Zero, who I remember as more of a shadowy figure from the first volume. Might work better as a movie franchise or TV series than as a comics series, more time on process, and less on the bloody finishes. Cool covers by Brian Wood.

The New X-Men: New Worlds Volume 3 (Marvel).

I am glad that I started picking these up. Having Emma and Jean together is interesting. Grant Morrison also does good work with the political and cultural themes of difference and acceptance, focusing both on non-mutants on how mutants perceive themselves and their place in the world.

The Perhapanauts Volume 1 (Image)

Not as much pure fun as Volume 0, but still an enjoyable team of misfits book. Todd Dezago and Craig Rosseau work their genres with skill, but there is a predictability to how characters develop and how stories unfold, albeit in a comfortable way.

Nyx: Wannabe (Marvel)

I read the Marjorie Liu written mini before coming to the original and I have mixed feelings about this collection.

I like the art, especially Nelson and Chris Sotomayor’s colors; light pastels are an interesting and unexpected choice for a book working so hard to be gritty and urban. I also like seeing a sustained story about mutants outside the scope of the X-Men (something I liked about the follow-up, too). It makes sense that not all young mutants coming into their powers would have the necessary adult support to keep them safe or to find their way to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

On the other hand, Joe Quesada’s writing verges on exploitation fiction, especially in the Zebra Daddy character with his “street” slang, coke sniffing, sharp dressing, misogyny, and pimping. I think that Liu does a better job of getting into the lives of these young, virtually homeless mutants.

Wasteland Book 2: Shades of God & Wasteland Book 3: Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos (Oni Press)

It took me a few pages to get back into this series, to reorient myself to the characters and situations, but once I did, I had no doubts about immediately moving from Book 2 to Book 3. I like Christopher Mitten’s grey scale art, the sketchiness seems perfect for a story about a rebuilding world, and the flashback effect is subtle. Sometimes I find it difficult to distinguish between figures and faces, but by the end of both books, I could readily make out the principal characters. I think that Anthony Johnston does an excellent job of writing the narrative and dialogue that makes the world of Wasteland familiar and yet not at the same time.

Favorite comics of 2010

I’ve already covered this ground at PopMatters, and will again at some point later this month, but as I suggest in my December column, those selections are more about the themes I address in “Worlds in Panels” than about what I really enjoyed this year.

And that’s what I turn to here. As with my TV selections, these reflect my own idiosyncracies, which is to say, I read what I like, or think I’ll like, and don’t read what doesn’t interest me.

My list is divided into long form works and/or series I’m reading in trade, and books that I read monthly or as uncollected serials. I narrowed my favorites to five for each format, but also have generous additions of ‘honorable mention’ and ‘special mention’ titles.

Long form/trade collections (in no particular order).

Duncan the Wonder Dog Show One by Adam Hines (AdHouse). It is beyond the scope of this blog post to unpack the imagery of this visually complicated, mixed media book, but what has resonated strongly with me on initial reading is Hines’s brilliant effort at imagining what animals would say if they could speak like humans. Most importantly, he differentiates between animals, giving birds different voices than monkeys, companion animals different voices than wild, etc., while clearly individuating between the animals as well. What is at issue in these differentiated voices is not so much how different species, and individuals speak, but how they think, and what they might value. Most affecting for me are the voices of the companion animals, especially the dogs. In Hines’s world, humans and dogs remain fully co-evolved, and co-dependent. The only difference is that we can have actual conversations, and not just imaginary ones. The story of Bundle struck so many chords with me that it made me cry for lost friends, and wonder more deeply about the thoughts and emotions of those still living with us.

The Saga of Rex by Michel Gagne (Image). My initial thoughts on this book can be found here, but as I continue to think about it, one of the additional points of interest is how effectively Gagne uses pages as panels. Maybe this makes Rex veer on the edge of ‘picture book’, but it is also appropriate to convey the scale of the story that the hero finds himself in. Saga indeed.

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld (Pantheon). I made this selection largely for the reasons given in the PopMatters column linked above, but also want to mention that I would not have thought that this book would be on this list after I first read it. But the fact remains that I think about the book a lot. Neufeld’s compositions and colors come to mind, often unbidden, leading me to recall the humanity of his art and his narrative. Maybe there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done by people like Joe Sacco already, but it is still done very well.

Batgirl volume 1: Batgirl Rising, written by Bryan Q. Miller, with pencils by Tim Levins, Trevor Scott & Lee Garbett, inks by Trevor Scott, Dan Davis, Aaron Sowd, Sandra Hope & Oliver Nome, colors by Guy Major, and letters by John J. Hill (DC).

Fun, fast-paced with an essentially likeable protagonist, this series offers much of what I read superhero comics for. I don’t have any baggage when it comes to Stephanie Brown vs. Cass Cain, and that undoubtedly helped me to approach this series with an open mind, and while I am not deeply invested in the Batverse, I do read Birds of Prey and followed the final (?) Manhunter story set in Gotham. This book makes good use of Oracle and helps to place the new Batgirl in context. I am looking forward to the next collection.

Fallen Angel Omnibus Volume 0, written by Peter David with art by David Lopez (IDW).

I have been interested in this series, and took this new collection as a perfect entry point. I loved every page. Liandra is a fantastically complicated lead character, and one whose femininity and sexuality are used mostly for good narrative purposes and not treated as liabilities or for spectacle. Even pregnancy, normally a way to place limits on a female character in this kind of context, is used in a constructive way, furthering both the story and the development of Liandra’s character in meaningful ways. I don’t know much about where the series heads after this, but if the Reborn mini featuring Illyria is any indication, I am hopeful that it remained worthwhile.

Honorable and special mentions:

In my most recent column for PopMatters, I cite DMZ Volume 8: Hearts and Minds (Vertigo) and Phonogram Volume 2: The Singles Club (DC) as among the “best” of 2010 and I want to mention them again here for more or less the same reasons as I give in the other piece. I also mention Scott Pilgrim Volume 6: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour (Oni Press) in the column, but want to elaborate on that choice here.

What stands out for me about that series is how Bryan Lee O’Malley skillfully uses Scott’s circle of friends to make the guy seem worth rooting for. On his own, Scott is a pretty self-involved jerk, but the fact that all these other cool people want the best for him, want him to grow up, persuaded me to want that for him, too. I like the fact that the finale makes this part of the narrative clear, in that Scott needs to find a way to reward everyone’s trust in him, and also that it becomes a story about both Scott and Ramona getting over their pasts and trying to move forward together. Whether they stay together or not seems beside the point, another strength of the book. I do think that the final story could have been edited more judiciously for sharpness and length, and while Gideon’s ‘ghost in the machine’ trick provides a reason for why Scott and Ramona made the choices they made during the run of the narrative, it is also, at the end of the day, still a ghost in the machine.

I am also citing Marvel’s Strange Tales collection, and for more on that, read this. In addition, Kieron Gillen’s X-Men: S.W.O.R.D. – No Time to Breath (Marvel) collection was right there with Batgirl for the best superhero trade I read this year. Abigail Brand is a great character that, sadly, is now adrift given the cancellation of the series. Neil Gaiman’s Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? (DC) story is a nicely turned work of meta-fiction, and Andy Kubert’s and Scott Williams’s art is appropriately classic for a reflection on what Batman means. Marvel has been releasing Brian Michael Bendis’s and Alex Maleev’s Daredevil run in big Ultimate Collections, and I mention Book 1 here mostly for Bendis’s early collaboration with David Mack, which is a smart and beautiful meditation and deconstruction of comics and superheroes.

Finally, I have two special mentions of books from 2007 that I read for the first time this year: Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (Mariner Books) and Adam Warren’s Empowered Volume 1 (Dark Horse), both of which have legions of fans and critical commentaries already available elsewhere, so I won’t go on about them here.

Monthly comics & uncollected serials (in no particular order).

Hellboy (Dark Horse). The mainline of the series, written by Mike Mignola with art by Duncan Fegredo and colors by Dave Stewart, continued the story began in “The Wild Hunt” with “The Storm”. This arc shows the series at its best, adapting folk tales and old mythologies to original characters and purposes, and featuring beautifully drawn figures and landscapes. Stewart’s color palette gives the art an other worldly, mythic feel, especially with how both vibrant and muted the choices are.

Aside from the major stories, in 2010 the title also featured two fabulous one-shots, “Hellboy in Mexico”, a collaboration with Richard Corben, and the crossover with Jill Thompson’s and Evan Dworkin’s Beasts of Burden, “Sacrifice”, both of which are funny, poignant, and beautifully rendered, and I read both more than once the first week I picked them up.

One thing I appreciate about Hellboy is how accessible I imagine it to be. I can pass the one-shots onto A knowing that she will understand the stories, and I suspect that you could pick up collections of the main arcs, read them, and enjoy the narratives without having the advantage of having read the rest of the series. The way that Mignola builds from established myths and legends is what makes this possible, I think.

B.P.R.D./B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth (Dark Horse).

While this selection maybe predictable given the one above, even though Hellboy and B.P.R.D. come from the same root, they are very different books. Where I think that Hellboy is accessible, B.P.R.D. is far more comic book-y in the depth of its original storytelling, and rewards close reading more than casual. While the change in title this year to B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth was initially puzzling, I also think that it highlights another difference between it and Hellboy: B.P.R.D. has always been more of the mundane world, while Hellboy seems to live in more of a mythic space. The title change signals an even tighter embedding of the B.P.R.D. with ‘real life’ (and, likewise, Dave Stewart’s colors are different in this title, more immediate feeling than in Hellboy, and Guy Davis draws the team on a much more human scale than is Hellboy).

What B.P.R.D. does share with Hellboy is an open narrative architecture, and this year that was shown in the Abe Sapien mini, “The Abyssal Plain”, another fascinating Cold War-era story from this universe.

Hotwire: Deep Cut (Radical Comics).

There’s one more issue to go in this mini-series, but as I mention here, this second outing for Warren Ellis’s and Steve Pugh’s Alice Hotwire, detective exorcist, has been fantastic, featuring sharp dialogue, quick action, and pointed cultural commentary about science and the state. The painted art style that Radical specializes in is not my favorite, but Pugh manages to make his figures appear more fluid or at least less stiff than is often the case with this form of the art. That and Alice looks so very much like the English chippy that some in the book mistake her for.

Fringe: Tales from the Fringe (Wildstorm).

I have the last issue in this mini-series waiting to be read, but I enjoyed the stories leading up to the final installment probably more than I should. As I write in my upcoming “Worlds in Panels”, these Fringe comics are exemplars of how licensed comics can be good, and mostly what makes these work is their commitment to telling stories that I imagine only fans of the show can really appreciate.

DEMO – VOLUME II (Vertigo).

The second outing in Brian Wood’s and Becky Cloonan’s series continues to stretch the idea of having ‘powers’ into the realm of everyday life, exploring both the idea of exceptional abilities in the context of ‘normal’ problems and dilemmas, #5, “Stranded”, for example, and also thinking about smaller scale quirks, #3, “Volume One Love Story”, for example, as ‘powers’. Cloonan and Wood work well together to tell their stories as much in images as words. Beautiful, thoughtful work.

Honorable and special mentions:

For reasons I spell out in the aforementioned and forthcoming column, I want to mention Gabriel Ba’s and Fabio Moon’s Daytripper (Vertigo), an excellent example of comics as a medium for short stories, but also one where I am still puzzling over the conclusion.

Michael Allred’s and Chris Roberson’s I, Zombie gets mention because it’s the best comic I share reading with A, and for the fun and stylish art. I’m citing the re-release of Matt Fraction’s and Gabriel Ba’s first Casanova (Marvel Icon) series for its frenetic style and self-conscious comic bookness that never tips over into preciousness. The first five issues of Black Widow (Marvel), written by Marjorie Liu and featuring art by Daniel Acuna, is stylish and densely plotted, and both of those creators are sorely missed now. G. Willow Wilson’s and M.K. Perker’s Air (Vertigo) ended this year, and will be missed for its sense of imagination and for Blythe’s unique character. I’m not sure I understand everything in Jonathan Hickman’s and Dustin Weaver’s S.H.I.E.LD. (Marvel) series, but every issue so far as featured gorgeous art and bizarre, inventive twists on history and historical figures. Greg Rucka’s and Matthew Southworth’s Stumptown (Oni Press) took a long time to get through four issues, but the storytelling was strong enough to withstand the waits, and I loved seeing Southworth’s Portland. As I discuss here, the Girl Comics (Marvel) anthology series has much to recommend it, even as it raises questions about what room the major publishers make for women and girls in their sandboxes.

Finally, Marvel produced a pair of one-shots that I was happy to have pulled, Sean McKeever’s and Emma Rios’s Firestar story, and Marjorie Liu’s collaboration with Filipe Andrade, Nuno Alves, and Jay Leisten on an X-23 story that delved deeper into the character, and in more imaginative ways, than has the start of the ongoing series led by Laura. More on Firestar at PopMatters later this month.

All of the graphic novels and trade paperbacks I read in 2010.

All of the monthly comics I read in 2010.

Recommended daily reading – 27 December (Christmas clearance edition)

A few items from before and after the holiday:

Via freepress on Twitter is a link to this Visual Guide to the Open Internet. Helps to clarify the issues at stake in the net neutrality conversation.

On the same topic, via David Brothers and Ragnell on Twitter, is a link to this piece on copyright and piracy and the Atomic Robo blog by Brian Clevinger. Clevinger makes an argument about the importance of goodwill between creators and fans/users, and the  desire to both access content and support those who make it.

Finally, is this post at Panels on Pages asking after the best comics to be turned into TV shows after the success of The Walking Dead. I would like to see more comics to television projects, TV and comic books have more in common as storytelling media than do comics and film in many ways, and I have often thought that B.P.R.D. would be a great foundation for a television series. So, I second that suggestion.

October comics

Posting this a little late, but here is my October shipment from tfaw:

Monthlies:

Angel #37 (IDW)

I think all anyone needs to know about the current state of this title is that the writing credits are all over the place – three people (four counting the Eddie Hope backup) – with parsing between “plotting” and “writing”. At least the art is fairly settled, fwtw.

Avengers Academy #5 (Marvel)

As always, I read this more carefully than I mean to. This month, Christos Gage offers a typically Marvel take on superheroism and celebrity, with the added background that the kids at the Academy are not, natively, the most upstanding citizens. Add at least one nice visual gag, and you have a pretty good read.

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth – New World #3 (Dark Horse)

The crossover with Hellboy is coming! I’ll just stipulate now that there will be very few months when B.P.R.D. and/or Hellboy comes in my shipment and they won’t be the best comics I get.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #37 (Last Gleaming Part Two) (Dark Horse)

The end game for this series progresses. Very much a moving things forward issue. Little new here, but I do think that Joss Whedon’s active involvement in writing continues to bring clarity to the “season”.

Casanova #3 and #4 (Marvel Icon)

These are dense reads, and a close second to the Hellboy titles for best things I get in my box. In these issues, the meta, which I like, seems a little less arch than in the previous two, or, at least, looser (check out the asides and the “I love comics” panel in #4). I love the curves and fluidity in Ba’s artwork.

I, Zombie #6 (DC/Vertigo)

A not altogether successful diversion about Scott. Still, a title that A and I are reading together. Fun.

Lady Mechanika #0 (Aspen)

Intriguing teaser, pretty much what I hoped for, though I wish Aspen were less soft core-y. Mechanika herself is nothing you won’t find elsewhere, but the ads for the other titles … do people really need comics for this kind of material these days?

S.H.I.E.L.D. #4 (Marvel)

More weirdness involving scientists and prophets. Trying to ponder what it means that Newton is the heavy, or how this deep backstory is going to be connected to the S.H.I.E.L.D. that readers already know.

Spike #1 (IDW)

Decidedly better than Angel this month. Of course, Brian Lynch and Franco Urru have these characters down. I like the idea of moving Spike to Las Vegas. The loss of this series might be the one thing the move to Dark Horse might not improve for this side of the Buffyverse.

Uncanny X-Force #1 (Marvel)

Sets up the first arc of the series. Jerome Opena’s art has a strong sense of movement and an appropriately cool color palette. Decidedly better than some of the more photoreal work in X-Force. I also like Dean White’s Gotham-y cover. I started this subscription because of Rick Remender, and whether that pans out, remains to be seen.

X-23 #2 (Marvel)

Well, this is a disappointment. I thought the first issue set up an interesting story, but that turns out to just be a pretext for plunking Laura into a Wolverine crossover event. Blah.

TPBs:

Black Widow: Deadly Origin (Marvel)

Paul Cornell walks that fine line between critiquing sexism, and male desire and fantasy, and participating in it with this series. What tips it on the side of critique is Natalia/Natasha’s refusal to accept how others, especially Ivan, see her. Tom Raney, Scott Hanna, and Matt Milla’s artwork does not help here, counterposing interesting looking and beautiful flashback sequences with a more polished, and soft core look for the present. Unlike on the covers, though, they do keep Natalia zipped up, for the most part.

Dr. Horrible And Other Horrible Stories (Dark Horse)

This book is pretty much what you would hope for: a fun, witty elaboration on the characters and storyworld for the web serial. This success is no doubt due in no small measure to having a single writer, Zack Whedon, who is also a co-creator of the original show. The artwork is supplied by a variety of interesting people, including Joelle Jones and Farel Dalrymple. My favorite story, artistically, is Penny’s, which features excellent, emotionally resonant work from Jim Rugg, but narratively, the Evil League of Evil chapter made me laugh the most. Despite its charms, I doubt a casual reader would get much from this book.

Her-oes (Marvel)

Like many of the books I get for A, I ended up enjoying this one myself, but I am left unsatisfied by an ending that promises more, more that I doubt very much we will ever see.

Hopeless Savages: Greatest Hits 2000-2010 (Oni Press)

I have wanted to dip into this series, and this collection was a perfect way to do that. I prefer the shorter, slice of life stories in the back of the book, to the higher concept adventures that make up the main chapters, but the Hopeless-Savages grew on me as I made my way through the book. I love the idea of the kids as comics geeks, and think that the creators did well to focus on Zero and Arsenal, each of whom, I think, are more unqiue characters than the other members of the family, although I enjoyed the storylines with Twitch, too. I was happy to see the overt tribute to Love & Rockets, an obvious inspiration for the book.

Perhapanauts Vol. 0 (Image)

I pick up these books every time I get to a Powells and when this “0” volume showed up in iCos, I decided to jump in. Reading this book, my attraction to stories about teams of misfits started to come into focus. That may, in fact, be driving my return to reading comics on a regular basis. Might need a whole blog post on that subject.

Secret Six: Danse Macabre (DC)

Many’s the time I’ve picked up a trade collection and said to myself, “I like this series, but what would make it awesome is if it had undead characters randomly showing up, prancing around and babbling incessantly about things like ‘fear’ and ‘death’ and who they want to kill. Because that’s, you know, soooo scary”. And now with this book, my wish has been fulfilled! Perhaps I have been ruined for  all other comics.

In actuality, Gail Simone and John Ostrander make a fair game of adapting “Blackest Night” (I assume) to Secret Six, but even there the, “didn’t I/he/she kill you?”-type jokes only go so far. In the end, I just don’t care, and don’t buy books like this to find out how they fit into the latest ‘universe shaking’ crossover. I wish that DC and Marvel could, every now and again, leave well enough alone and let readers like me hold onto the weird and marginal titles we like, instead of pulling them into storylines devised to make people buy books they don’t normally pay attention to.

Wonder Woman: Contagion (DC)

Gail Simone gives a sweet and heartfelt farewell to Wonder Woman in this collection. The stories themselves are a mix of big fights, and while I prefer the previous collections, which were more tightly drawn together, I appreciate that Simone remained committed to Diana as an epic figure throughout her run on the title. That’s when the character is at her best, I think.

X-Men Forever Vol. 5 (Marvel)

Like a lot of comics readers in my same age group, Chris Claremont pretty much defined the X-Men for me, which is no doubt a major reason why X-Men Forever exists; many of us have disposable income, and pop culture isn’t something you ‘grow out of’ anymore. I like the loopiness of this series, this volume most of that is focused on Kitty, and Claremont certainly knows how to write the soap opera and how to treat the X-Men as one big, complicated family without getting ironic or maudlin. I read this right after having watched X-Men: The Last Stand, and, of the two, the comic comes out much, much better. I also appreciate the series for being in its own little bubble. Indeed, sometimes I wish I had started pulling it monthly.

See last month’s comics.

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End of September comics

From tfaw this month:

Monthlies:

Avengers Academy #4 (Marvel)

This is A’s subscription. My plan is always to skim, but I end up reading them more intently than that. That probably says something good about Christos Gage’s writing in particular.

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth – New World #2 (Dark Horse)

Two major storylines this issue. In one, at B.P.R.D. headquarters, Kate is cracking under the bureaucratic responsibilities imposed by the UN, while Panya is causing mischief, raising questions about her agendas and what she’s contributing to the work of the Bureau.

Meanwhile, in the woods of British Columbia Abe finds Benjamin Daimio hiding out, ashamed of how he left the B.P.R.D. The Wendigo is seen lurking in the forest. Daimio fills Abe in on news of a deep lake in the area where something terrible rests. The issue ends with Abe diving in.

The two major storylines are bridged by a series of panels featuring two unknown men living with an unidentified “she” who shouldn’t be disturbed. The transition from B.P.R.D. hq to the BC woods is handled through a TV talk show where commentators argue over what the horrible events of the last few months mean. We see Johann watching the show, and then are taken to the set, and then to the house in the woods where one of the unidentified men is watching the debate.

As always, reading B.P.R.D. has rewards on multiple levels.

Batman: Streets of Gotham #16 (DC)

I canceled this subscription a few months ao when the Manhunter backups stopped running. So, this is just a burn off.

Birds of Prey #5 (DC)

This issue highlights what I’m enjoying about the new BoP and what worries about the series. First, I appreciate how Gail Simone is able to keep things moving in interesting ways. Even though this issue is mostly about the aftermath of last month’s big fight, and set up for the issue to follow, a lot happens in-between mop up and the shift to Bangkok. The fact that it mostly involves Lady Blackhawk and Huntress, thereby bringing them back into the main action, is even better.

And on that, I also am enjoying seeing Helena with her edge back. After Black Canary left the group the first time, Helena got turned into the field leader/den mother than Dinah used to be, and, in the process, became a softer character. For me, though, she is at her most interesting when you aren’t quite sure what she’ll do. Here I believed that she would kill The Penguin given the chance, despite the fact that I know that is probably forbidden by the Powers that Be at DC.

On the other hand, I am concerned that this reset is beginning with everyone in grim peril, and, now, the team fraying at the seams. I think that Simone loves these characters too much to sell them out for cheap dramatics, so I trust that there will be a settling down at some point, but when you start with so much dire, it’s hard to know where things might go next.

That concern is minor next to my wish for more from the art. I was glad enough to see that Ed Benes is able to moderate his impulse to fetishize certain parts of the Birds’ bodies, but I can still think of a number of artists I’d rather have on the title. I understand from reading Gail Simone on Twitter that Benes had to quit working for health reasons. I would not wish that kind of illness on anyone, but I do hope that his absence creates an opportunity for someone else. Nicola Scott or Georges Jeanty come immediately to mind, or, even though she hasn’t worked with DC before, I would love to see Emma Rios on this book. Right now, predictably, I guess, the art-side is a mess.

Black Widow #6 (Marvel)

A new creative team takes over and gets off to a ho hum start. I appreciate Duane Swierczynski’s effort to write a story that, at the outset at least, is easy to get into without a lot of background, but beginning with the same premise as Marjorie Liu used to launch the series, Natalia/Natasha being framed for crimes she did not commit, is not confidence inspiring.

The art is also missing the uniqueness and flare of Daniel Acuna’s work. Manuel Garcia, in particular, draws all of the women in a disappointingly conventional way (flowing hair, big breasts, long legs).

Still, it is just a start.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #36 (Last Gleaming, part I) (Dark Horse)

Here Joss Whedon scripts and it shows in the mix of wit and drama, including a few nice visual jokes. I also found the issue to be helpful in recapping the Twilight reveal and its implications. In addition to starting the end of Season Eight, the issue reads as if it might be setting up Angel and Spike’s return to Dark Horse (see the Spike: The Devil You Know below).

Daytripper #10 (DC/Vertigo)

Final issue, and the gentlest of the series. Moon & Ba use a device here that I am not fond of, the dispensing of parental wisdom, but in a series about writers and the writing life, I grant them some latitude.

I am also still working through what I think about this last installment ending in a markedly different way than the previous issues – until the end, in fact, I had been wondering if this series really needed to be read in a strictly linear way – but I also think that this book should end up high on the “titles to recommend to adults who want to get into comics” list. Not only is the story entirely against the grain of what Americans assume comics are for, but the art is at a high standard. Ba & Moon clearly love people, and the details of daily life. Both of these are beautifully reflected here.

Fringe: Tales from the Fringe #4 (Wildstorm)

I am enjoying this second Fringe mini. I think that using comics to tell small side stories about characters from a TV show are a good use of these kinds of licensed comics.

Of course, the fact that the stories wouldn’t really carry a television episode sometimes shows. This issue the main story about Nina Sharp lacks a certain amount of imagination (let’s see; we have an older woman in a position of power, childless, no partner, what shall we write about?), but the art is lovely. Subtly styled, Julius Gopez also draws charmingly credible versions of the younger Nina and William Bell. Carrie Strachan’s colors are bright, and I especially like how Nina’s red hair ‘pops’.

The secondary story is also cliched, but Fiona Staples’ typically expressive artwork elevates the narrative beyond its limitations.

Hellboy: The Storm #3 (Dark Horse)

By the end of this mini, it is revealed that ‘the storm’ is the summoning, again, of Ogdru Jahad, a revelation that probably explains why Hellboy begins to feel as if doing what everyone wants him to do, lead an army of the dead against Nimue’s host, is exactly what he should not do. As it turns out, Nimue is, herself, simply a tool in the bringing of the Ogdru Jahad (isn’t that always the way).

Before setting out to face the witch queen, Hellboy appears to express his love for Alice and an intention to return to America and to the B.P.R.D. (following up on last issue’s hint at a crossover). On the road, he sees Gruagach/Grom strung up on a tree, begging for death and expressing regret for where his thirst for revenge has led the world. Hellboy tries to accomodate him, but to no avail. Gruagach seems destined to suffer for all time, which is sad even for a creature so epically small-minded.

More of interest happens in this comic than in a whole year’s worth of other titles.

I, Zombie #5 (DC/Vertigo)

Gwen confronts a moral dilemma and possibly an uncomfortable truth about herself in this issue. Chris Roberson and Michael Allred do an excellent job showing Gwen’s distress as much as telling it to readers. Most keenly for me, A continues to look forward to this book and I continue to feel ok about letting her read it.

Murderland #2 (Image)

After two issues, I am still trying to make up my mind about this book. I had it pulled because the previews promised something that inspired by Homicide and The Wire, and issue two certainly exhibits more of that promise than number one. However, I’m still not sure what’s going on. Narrative strands are being drawn out but not brought together yet. I was thankful for the short ‘FlipSide’ backup for its clearer and sharper story.

Still, David Hahn’s art is eye catching, with a good assist from Jose Villarubia on “Jiggity-Jig, part one” and Guillem Mari on the main story.

Mystery Society #3 (IDW)

This book continues to be fun. Not a lot new happens in this issue, but our heroes continue to outwit their pursuers, at least until the cliffhanger ending. And it would be hard not to at least enjoy looking at Fiona Staples art.

Scarlet #2 (Marvel Icon)

This book seems designed to polarize people and to provoke questions about the medium. What does it mean when a comic book character breaks the fourth wall? Is that even the right language? At what point does it make sense to look at Alex Maleev’s art in terms of photography rather than comics? How does doing that change how you understand his work?

I thought that having Scarlet address the reader was an effective way to set up the story and introduce the character. In issue two it becomes … ponderous. She seems to be rehearsing her justifications for doing what she does. Maybe there’s something to that in terms of character – the ex-cop bartender does the same thing after all – but does it make for a good comic? Not sure.

One quality I like about Maleev’s approach to the art is that the city of Portland becomes a real and compelling part of the story, but whether that works for readers who don’t already know the city, I couldn’t say.

There are certainly people doing what Maleev does here, but badly and on the cheap. I don’t think he should bear the burden of what other artists do. I doubt that a hack would have the vision to move from the dominant photorealism of this book to the panels of pure abstraction at the bottom of the next to last page of this issue like Maleev does.

Spike: The Devil You Know #3 & #4 (IDW)

And so concludes this somewhat undistinguished mini-series, at least as compared to Brian Lynch’s & Franco Urru’s previous series, Spike: Asylum and Spike: Shadow Puppets.

On the whole, I think that Buffy Season Eight is a stronger series than the Angel monthly, and unlike the majority of the earlier books featuring Spike, this mini is of a piece with Angel. What I do appreciate about IDW’s Angel series is the willingness to introduce and experiment with new characters, but I am not quite understanding what readers are supposed to be finding so interesting about Eddie Hope, who co-stars here and in backups to Angel.

I suspect that The Devil You Know was meant to be set up for the forthcoming Spike monthly, and we would have found out more about Eddie and Tansy (no other reason to keep her alive at the end of all of this). But that’s all pretty well water under the bridge now.

Stumptown #4 (Oni Press)

And so the first story arc comes to a close. Finally. The issue is worth it for Matthew Southworth’s soul bearing letter to readers if nothing else, but the fact that I felt like I knew what was going on despite the time between number three and number four (and number two and number three) suggests something about the quality of the story. It would be easy to write Dex off as one of Greg Rucka’s well-rehearsed “tough women”, but I think there is something unique in her just getting by, knock-about quality; male P.I.s get to be this underdog-y as a matter of routine, female detective, not so much. Rucka gives this classic persona to Dex without masculinizing her or turning the book into one about her getting beaten down all the time. In the end, she’s smarter and more resourceful than the people she has to contend with, and that’s cool. Looking forward to more, even if it takes awhile.

Uncanny X-Men #528 (Marvel)

A tightly structured, keep things moving issue. Just fine, and I’m glad that we are well-past Matt Fraction needing to service some big cross-over with the title, but am unsure about Whilce Portacio’s pencils. He has some serious problems with Emma Frost, especially. She’s far too pinched looking, and, while you have to make certain allowances for her dress, she comes across as vulgar more than strongly sexy here.

X-23 #1 (Marvel)

I think this is a good start for the series. I am interested in the idea of helping X-23/Laura learn about helping people by putting her in a situation where she can’t rely on her mutant abilities, and also by the theme of the responsible adults in her life needing to, well, act responsibly. I also like seeing some variation in body-type between the characters, especially the women. Some are more voluptuous, while others are lean and wiry. A good beginning for Liu and Conrad.

Other purchases:
Digital comics:

  • X-23: Innocence Lost #1 (Marvel)
  • X-23: Innocence Lost #2 (Marvel)
  • X-23 Innocence Lost #3 (Marvel)
  • X-23 Innocence Lost #4 (Marvel)
  • X-23 Innocence Lost #5 (Marvel)
  • X-23 Innocence Lost #6 (Marvel)

TPBs:

Captain America Reborn (Marvel)

Looking back through the comics that survived my youth, there’s a fair number of Captain Americas, but I haven’t really been that interested in reconnecting with the character as an adult. Whatever resonated with me as an adolescent is gone. Still, I know that Ed Brubaker’s run on the title is one of the better regarded works by a writer at Marvel and so I’ve been selectively checking those out, and this is the second collection I’ve read, after Winter Soldier.

What I like most about Brubaker’s writing is that he approaches the material completely straight, no irony, no meta-commentary on the superhero. There’s room for that stance, too, of course, but I never like seeing a form taken over by one way of doing things. So, here, even when you have a giant Red Skull rampaging on the National Mall, there are witty bon mots from the heroes, but nothing that takes you out of the moments. This manages to capture some of the pure fun of reading comics as a kid.

Daredevil Bendis & Maleev Ultimate Collection Book 2 (Marvel)

I am glad that Marvel is putting out these collections. Brian Bendis’ run on Daredevil fell into the period when I wasn’t actively reading comics (and the title was never a favorite). For me, the best part of this run is the opening collaboration with David Mack, but consistently entertaining, while also posing interesting questions about superheroism.

Supergirl: Death and The Family (DC)

One of the frustrations with this title, in trade at least, is that it sometimes seems as it deals with characters other than, well, Supergirl. This is one of those collections. It certainly seems as if this collection could just as easily be titled Superwoman, as Lucy Lane gets much more interesting treatment than does Kara.

I also found myself discomfited by the chapters penciled by Jamal Igle. In much the same way as other artists need to devise tricks to keep the skirt from flying up in revealing ways, Igle appears to be looking for ways to feature the compression shorts. Perhaps he is pushing the point about the character design – there’s just no way to make this work – but the showcasing of the shorts can also be read as just a new fetish.

I did find the Helen Slater and Jake Black and Cliff Chiang collaboration that closes the book to be fun, and, most importantly, about Supergirl.

Tiny Titans vol. 4: The First Rule of Pet Club (DC)

Good natured fun as always. I especially loved the bats, and the Stretchy Guys.

Left over in the to-read ‘box’:

TPBs:

A.D.: New Orleans after the Deluge (Pantheon)

Affecting, if not groundbreaking, work of comics reportage. Neufeld has an eye for detail that serves him well in developing the individual stories he chooses for the book. He draws each of his characters in a way that gives them distinct personalities, and all grow on you over time, even if if there is some imbalance in the time devoted to different subjects.

Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love (DC/Vertigo)

For some reason, I had really high expectations for this book. Maybe it’s because Chris Roberson also writes the fine I, Zombie, or because of Chrissie Zullo’s delightful covers, but I was pretty ready for this to be cool.

And it approaches it – the backstory with the Fairy Godmother is a good example of how the The Fables conceit works well – but also falls short. The shoe store story with Crispin Cordwainer felt like filler, and I was waiting for more to come from Cindy’s flashbacks. I’d love to see a series about her and Bigby. And, in the end, being left wanting more would seem to me good things about a book.

Ex Machina vol. 1: The First Hundred Days (Wildstorm)

A God Somewhere (Wildstorm)

This is a curious title. For starters, John Arcudi and Peter Snejbjerg do some interesting things with the superhero genre. Rarely do you get to see a book like this where there is truly only one superpowered, superheroic figure. Arcudi seems interested in exploring what that might be like. What makes the story even more interesting is the focus on the superperson’s best friend, and how he is affected in ways both positive and negative by the acquisition of powers. The fact that Sam is a flawed and not entirely likeable guy adds another important layer to the story. Similarly, the fact that Eric, and brother Hugh, are kind of ‘heroic’ before Eric gets his powers, which actually twist him into something else, also adds a significant layer of meaning to the story.

And yet, the story is too compressed. I think that Hugh suffers the most from this in terms of his development as a character. There is also very little time for Eric to lose his mind. I would have liked to see more about religion and more of a time period where Eric uses his powers in a ‘good’ way, while slowly going crazy from the alienation and sense of superiority to others. And, really, Sam could use more time for readers to see his underlying talents.

Upon finishing I wasn’t sure how much I liked the book, but it definitely improves upon reflection. I just wish that it had been longer or been written as a mini-series.

Heartbreakers: Bust Out (Image)

Women of Marvel: Celebrating Seven Decades (Marvel)

X-Men: First Class – Tomorrow’s Brightest (Digest) (Marvel)

Light and fun. Glad I finally read it. Jeff Parker does an especially nice job of writing stories that are gentle and accessible without being squishy or boring. Also nice to see an contemporary X-Men title that is kind to new readers.

Digital comics:

Moon Girl #4, #5, #6, & #7 (comiXology)

I finished this series over breakfast this morning (Sat, 10/2), and then went back to the beginning to see if I could piece it all together. The historical back-and-forth is hard to track, but this is what I gather about the arc of the story.

The final issues flashback to Clare/Moon Girl’s history with Santana and to Clare’s personal history as some kind of European aristocracy. Santana trained Clare to be ‘the embodiment of the people’, a task that she was, and remains, skeptical about, but Clare’s parents were killed during a ‘Bolshevik’ revolution, and she emigrated to the U.S. hoping to start a new life as a ‘normal’ person. The first three issues show readers how that worked out for her.

This was the first comic I purchased that was meant for digital distribution and you could tell in how easy it is to ‘flow’ through the pages and panels on my iPhone. I also think that this is my favorite ‘painted’ comic; somehow in digital form, the images seem less stiff than this style usually is on the page. The bright colors and clear details also rendered well on the screen.

If you enjoy twentieth century political theory, and pulpy characters, Moon Girl is a good read.

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