June comics

In the tfaw box this month:

Single issues:

Shorter takes:

  • Angel Yearbook (IDW). I am still planning on writing a separate post about the IDW Anglverse.
  • Birds of Prey #12 (DC). Well, just playing out the string now.
  • B.P.R.D.: The Dead Remembered #3 (Dark Horse). Liz is forced to feel the full potential of her power, but also gets to be a kid. A nice story from Mike Mignola et al, and I see that more Liz is on the way.
  • Carbon Grey #3 (Image). Lots of atmospherics and deep mythology, which, I guess is enough, because I will be looking for the next mini.
  • Generation Hope #7 (Marvel). An affirming ending. I also like Kieron Gillen’s use of Kitty in these last few issues.
  • Hellboy: Being Human & Hellboy: The Fury #1 (Dark Horse). A creepy Southern gothic one-shot and the start of a new major arc in the Hellboy saga. A good month from Dark Horse.
  • iZombie #14 (DC/Vertigo). Finally picking up on the change in title formatting. I can see the different threads coming together in the narrative here, including the Dead Presidents.
  • The Li’l Depressed Boy #4 (Image). A revelation that suggests Jazz is not a Manic Pixie Dream Girl for sure. Now, the key will be how does LDB handle this news.
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 (Marvel). I am a little confused by the numbering here, but am happy for the contuation of the epic craziness that is this book.
  • Silver Surfer #4 (Marvel). More on this next month when the series wraps.
  • Spider-Girl #7 (Marvel). Penultimate issue. More next month.
  • Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #5 (Dark Horse). Part of the good month from Dark Horse, and I guess the were buffalo was real. Don’t have as much to write about this as I thought I would, but I look forward to more Edward Grey books. These stories help to expand the historical range of the Hellboy universe.
  • X-23 # 10 and #11 (Marvel). Happy/sad that these issues did not convince me to keep pulling the title. Happy because I need to economize on comics, sad because I would like to get behind the book.
  • Uncanny X-Force #10 and #11 (Marvel). New storyline focused on Warren, alternate realities, and Dark Beast. This title remains very cool.
  • Uncanny X-Men #537 (Marvel). Kruun’s revenge continues. Lots of action. More well plotted and paced work from Kieron Gillen.
  • X-Men: Prelude to Schism #2 (Marvel). Talky.

Longer take:

Avengers Academy #14 and #14.1 (Marvel). As I remark most months, this is A’s book, but I enjoy it, too. I’m always happy to see a stable creative team on a title, and this one has clearly benefitted as Sean Chen, Scott Hanna, and Jeromy Cox have been given time to create distinct identities for the characters, and Christos Gage has been allowed to explore a set of themes related to heroism and celebrity that I don’t think would have registered as clearly as they have without a coherent vision for the book. What started as a pull for my kid, has turned into one of my more consistent reads. Nice work.

TPBs:

Approximate Continuum Comics (Fantagraphics).

Forthcoming.

Batgirl: The Flood (DC).

Forthcoming.

Clonk Volume 1 (Kettledrummer Books).

Forthcoming.

DV8: Gods and Monsters (DC). Brian Wood uses these characters to ask questions about “powers” and how people see themselves and are seen by others and how that dynamic shapes identity. I especially like the subtle variations in how the central cast respond to the situation that they are put in by the Powers that Be. Gorgeous, powerful art by Rebekah Isaacs.

Even the Giants (AdHouse).

Forthcoming.

Hellblazer: City of Demons (DC/Vertigo).

Forthcoming.

Mystique by Brian K. Vaughn Ultimate Collection (Marvel).

Forthcoming.

Osborn: Evil Incarnated (Marvel).

Forthcoming.

X-Men: Age of Apocalypse Prelude (Marvel).

Some horrendous art in the first half of the book, bizzare, plastic-y anatomy on the women. Gets better. One of those collections that helps me to fill in some of my missing history.

Yeah! (Fanatagraphics).

It is probably due to the infectious power of Gilbert Hernandez’s art that this book feels a lot like a lost “Love & Rockets” chapter. The fact that I only having a passing familiarity with Peter Bagge’s work undoubtedly contributes to that feeling, too. There’s so much going on in the faces of the characters here, including in the background, tongues sticking out, eyes dilating, mouths agape – lots of fun. Strangely, I still found reading the book kind of exhausting, lots of chatter and narration to read, full of crazy asides and whacked out science fiction fantasy, but thick. Many of the ideas about, for example, space limos and odd planets, also seems very Los Bros Hernandez, and suggests that maybe(?) more of a joint authorship than the credits imply. Then again, I haven’t read much Bagge.

Starting next month I think I will be selecting a few comics to write about more extensively for these posts rather than doing the laundry list approach.

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March comics

From tfaw:

Single issues:

Quick takes:

  • Angel #42 (IDW). Elena Casagrande (with an “assist” from Emanuel Simeoni) is back on pencils and inks, giving the issue a kind of familiarity. Most interesting aspect of this month is the reintroduction of Illyria, post-transformation (see below).
  • Annihilators #1 (Marvel). This looked like it might be fun, so I pulled it. Main story is a looong prologue, but Dan Abnet and Tan Eng Huat (with Victor Olazaba and June Chung) keep things interesting by structuring the narrative around hand-to-hand combat. The backup with Rocket Raccoon is fastpaced and well set-up by Abnet and Andy Lanning.
  • Atomic Robo: Deadly Art of Science #4 (Red 5). The plot with Edison thickens. Wry and funny rematch with the giant robot.
  • Avengers Academy #9 and #10 (Marvel). A looks forward to this title every month, so the double issues in the box for March was a nice bonus for her. Christos Gage continues to show strong storytelling weaving together plotlines inolving both teachers and students.
  • B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth: Gods #3. The last of Guy Davis’ big, weird beasts in the ongoing story. I hope to write more about Davis later.
  • Generation Hope #4 (Marvel). The new mutants catch a breather on Utopia. Kieron Gillen clearly has something big in mind with Kenji, and introduces some romance to the story. Still happy to be pulling this book.
  • Marvel Girl #1 (One-Shot) (Marvel). Part of a series of kind of strange tie-ins with the upcoming First Class movie; strange in the sense of involving characters who are not necessarily in the film. Not much new or interesting here.
  • The New York Five #2 (DC/Vertigo). After reading this, I find it hard to believe that four issues are going to provide any kind of resolution to the lives of the main characters. Brian Wood is hitting some interesting notes in Lona’s story and how some students react to being challenged in college.
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. #6 (Marvel). Remains fascinating to read and look at. The introduction of Michelangelo seems to bring the first chapter to a close.
  • Silver Surfer #1 (Marvel). One of my favorite characters from the Marvel Universe. Greg Pak writes an efficient introduction to the Surfer’s history, while also getting his voice right. Interesting premise.
  • Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #2 (Dark Horse). Okay, so not a were-Buffalo, but still looking to be a wicked Victorian Western. Mike Mignola and John Arcudi include some nice meta-commentary on pulps, and John Severin and Dave Stewart effectively evoke a sparsely populated, but strange and dangerous Frontier.
  • Spider-Girl #4 (Marvel). Not sure about the latest plot twist, but I like how Paul Tobin is using the title to deal with superheroism on a day-to-day kind of basis. I like Matthew Southworth (Stumptown) as an artist, but many of the characters here end up looking older than they should.
  • Spike #5 (IDW). Brian Lynch writes a really weird dynamic between Spike and Willow, way too familiar with each other.
  • Uncanny X-Force #5 (Marvel). Rick Remender starts a new story line. I read the beginning twice to make sure I got the set up. Despite the change in art team, character design continues to be a strength of for the title. Probably helps that regular cover artist, Esad Ribic, is on pencils now.
  • Uncanny X-Men #533 (Marvel). Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen find a new way to keep their main story interesting. Tired of complaining about Greg Land.
  • Wolverine & Jubilee #2 (Marvel). For me, stronger than the first issue, mostly because the story promised by the title begins to take off. Kathryn Immonen’s writing is sharp and poignant. Phil Noto’s character designs and artwork are gorgeous and real.

Longer takes:

  • X-Men: Legacy #245 (“Age of X” Chapter 1) and New Mutants #22 (“Age of X” Chapter 2) (Marvel). Mike Carey gets into the real story with this crossover, and I love the recasting of Rogue as “Legacy/The Reaper”. I also like what gets revealed about who Magneto has stashed away in high security prison. A very promising start, although like Kelly Thompson and Chad Nevett at CBR I am not sure that starting with last month’s Age of X Alpha issue was necessary or smart. Narratively, that installment does not provide much illumination; if anything it obscures certain aspects of the story that seems to be emerging. One thing I don’t understand about the character design for this world is how many of the characters are lacking for clothing (while at the same time looking far less porn star-y than anyone in Uncanny X-Men right now). A sign of deprivation or degradation maybe?
  • Angel: Illyria: Haunted #4 (IDW). This brings the mini to a close. Scott Tipton and Mariah Huehner wrote an interesting story that became my favorite Angel book, not just because the other titles are floundering in one way or another, but because they did something interesting with the character. How the changes they introduce play out in the main title is one thing I am looking forward to now. Elena Casagrande and Illaria Traversi draw some wonderfully cool and beautiful panels to show the new Illyria in all her glory. I should also add that Jenny Frisson’s covers have been gorgeous, and this month’s is the best.
  • Birds of Prey #10 (DC). Oracle dies so Barbara Gordon can live. In terms of the DCU this seems to mean that Barbara is recasting herself to work with a narrow circle of the Bat Family on the premise that Oracle got to be too much of a known actor to be effective. That wider work will be taken over by Proxy (a character I don’t know that well). This resolution opens a host of questions, such as, for starters, what happens when Proxy is in Oracle’s position? Won’t she also become a liability to herself in the same way? Or is she not as good at the job? And if that’s true, is it, in fact, better to “kill” Oracle? Best part of the issue: Black Canary and Huntress’ meet-up with Catwoman. Moments like that are why I pull this title.
  • Carbon Grey (Image). I picked this up on the basis of interesting-looking preview pages. The first issue is mostly set-up and prologue, some of which coheres and some of which does not. My fear is that the work will be more mythology than story. There is an amazing list of creators attached to this title in terms of numbers, a collective of five total, and whether that will prove to be a strength or not will only be seen in the coming installements, now that the set-up is done. The art, credited to Khari Evans, Kinsun Loh, and Hoang Nguyen, is gorgeous, and even playful in certain panels, but I wonder about the pastiche of influences in the design of the storyworld. I am most leery of what it will mean that WW I Germany seems to be a primary source of inspiration. Of course, that all depends on what our heroes are all about, and I’m not sure of that yet.
  • I, Zombie #11 (DC/Vertigo). The final page makes this out to be a chapter ender, and at an interesting moment, with a lot of stories and characters in flux. There’s a love for Eugene that is coming through in Michael and Laura Allred’s art that is becoming more and more important to the story as the title progresses. Chris Roberson and Michael Allred have also quickly morphed the book into an ensemble work, anchored by Gwen, but developing the other characters in their own ways, and not just in relationship to everyone’s favorite zombie gravedigger. I am happy that A and I read this together.
  • X-23 #6 and #7 (Marvel). Obviously, Mr. Sinister in female form will be resurfacing, and I don’t know what I think about that, but #7 is a good read. I think that titles like X-23, which attempt to develop a single character with more of a cult than a mass following, should have more issues like this, where there are connections into the larger story universe, but that are more about the main character than anything else. I also think that Sana Takeda’s art is a nice diversion, though too precious for more than an issue or two. The main theme for Marjorie Liu is Laura’s evolving sense of ethics. That also comes through strongly in both the interim conclusion to the Sinister narrative and the pirate story.

TPBs:

Astonishing X-Men Volume 6: Exogenetic (Marvel).

Given his interest in science and scientists, Warren Ellis is a natural match for an X-book, and thankfully it is one of the “boutique” titles rather than one caught in the mainstream of continuity. Love seeing Abigail Brand being put to good use, with only passing references to her romantic relationship with Hank. The payoff to this volume is somehow simultaneously interesting and underwhelming, which, to be fair, seems to be the characters’ reaction, too.

DMZ Volume 9: MIA (DC/Vertigo).

I always like seeing anthology stories in this series. Bringing in new artists and taking a moment to check-in on different characters and parts of the city helps to draw out the storyworld. But I am also interested to see how Brian Wood is showing Matty Roth’s maturity, and in the idea of someone deciding to personally hold themselves accountable for the mess that is New York (the fact that he is deferring that moment is important, I think, in terms of making him remain a fully developed and developing character).

Finder: Voice (Dark Horse).

My first venture into Carla Speed McNeil’s world, and I am looking forward to backing up and reading the earlier stories. The art is charming and vibrant, reminding me of the Hernandez Brothers in that way. The social dynamics of Anvard are complicated, and clearly draw on “our” world, but are deftly presented and part of a universe all their own at the same time. Rachel neatly encapsulates the tensions of contradictions of the story.

Freeway (Fantagraphics Books).

First off, I’m not sure that the back cover description does this book justice, at least in the sense that it seems to assume some clarity to the levels of reality represented that I’m not is definitive. Reading this book keeps you constantly off balance, in a way that is both frustrating and exciting at the same time, likely mimicking how Alex feels stuck in traffic. Mark Kalesniko experiments with a number of cinematic and comics conventions to transition between and connect levels of the narrative, and that also kept me reading forward, often past when I was ready to turn out the light and sleep. Puzzling over the nature of the different realities is one thing I am left with at the end of the book. Wondering why Alex is a dog is another.

Gotham Central Book 1: In the Line of Duty (DC).

My expectations were pretty high for this collection, which is probably why it took me awhile to warm up to it. The series takes off for me when the focus is placed clearly on Renee Montoya, and when I started to notice the Homicide homages. That latter insight is important not just for the cool, but also for how I reframed the book in my head as more of a police procedural and less of a badges and capes text.

Morning Glories Volume 1: For a Better Future (Image).

Forthcoming.

X-Men Forever 2 Volume 2: Scream a Little Scream (Marvel).

With this series ending this volume is a reminder of what I will miss most: Chris Claremont’s weird, but compelling efforts at sharpening and giving Kitty’s character a darker aspect. I also think it would have been interesting to see how the triangle of Mystique, Rogue, and Nightcrawler worked itself out. That being written the trade that follows this one is not a bad way to close.

Recommended daily reading – 15 March (got links edition)

End of the term, so the link compiling has been slow, but here are some good pointers:

On her Reassigned Time 2.0 blog, Dr, Crazy has an entry on what it means to teach a 4/4 load. She notes that most graduate school experiences prepare people for the R1 research track, and its corresponding 2/2 or lighter teaching. From that perspective, teaching 4/4 seems like an impossible burden on “one’s own” work. Crazy argues that this is a particularly blinkered way of seeing the kind of work that most PhDs are likely to find themselves doing, and lists a number of teaching and research strategies she has developed to be satisfied in her position, however far removed it might be from the grad school ideal.

In my comment to her post, I note that Western is on quarters, which turns 4/4 into 3/3/3, but in either case, I think her reflection is valuable for what it says about what working at a small, undergraduate teaching focused public university is not, and keeping the relationship between teaching and research in perspective. (I should note that her post is in response to this short piece by Notorious PhD).

Two entries on Guy Davis leaving as the regular artist on B.P.R.D. One, by Sean Collins on Robot 6, looks at seven of the best moments from Davis’ work on the title (the choice of seven is explained in the post, but should be easy to figure out if you read Hellboy and B.P.R.D.). The other is by Andy Khouri at ComicsAlliance and looks ahead to new artist Tyler Crook, about whom I know little.

From The Mary Sue, two items about art created by young girls. Jamie Frevele points to a hand drawn “video game”, and includes a link to an audio file where the kid explains her design. And, also from Frevele, is a series of photos showing some neat little hand painted rocks inspired by Exit through the Gift Shop.

Via Inside Higher Ed is this short item quoting Steve Jobs on Apple and the integration of technology with the liberal arts and humanities. No comment, just find this thought interesting.

Finally, I have been looking at the work at Moviebarcode for a couple of weeks now, and I am still not sure what to make of this art. This piece, which is Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love, one of the three films I will cite as my favorite, is what moved me to post about the project.

On the one hand, I can see where these images could make lovely prints, blown up and framed. On the other hand, they are given the same title as the films they concentrate. What of In the Mood for Love is in the image? Would I know that this is that film without being told? Sometimes when I look at it, I see colors and partial figures that evoke the movie. At other times, I see little connection, leading me to think that this is an interesting formal exercise, but it is, fundamentally, separate from cinema.

February comics

From tfaw last month:

Single issues:

Quick takes (trying a different format here):

  • Age of X Alpha (Marvel). Prologue. I like the anthology format for this character-based beginning to the cross-over (which, yes, I am going to follow).
  • Angel #41 (IDW). Another change in the art team. Sigh.
  • Atomic Robo: Deadly Art of Science #3 (Red 5). Turning into a coming of age story for Robo. Interesting, and Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener capture the weirdness and awkwardness of the idea well.
  • Avengers Academy #8 (Marvel). I like how Christos Gage is bringing focus on the teachers as well as a the students. Adds narrative depth and texture. I do find the final page to be confusing as to who Tigra is wanting to kick out of the Academy, though.
  • Birds of Prey #9 (DC). Another month with a single group of artists. I like how Gail Simone allows Dinah to throw off her emotional paralysis by force of will. Consistent with how she writes that character.
  • B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth: Gods #2 (Dark Horse). Rewinds to what led to the reveal at the end the first issue of this arc. And now I know that this is Guy Davis’s next to last B.P.R.D. More on that after this mini finishes.
  • Casanova: Gula #2 (Marvel Icon). Zephyr is looking to be the big bad, or primary protagonist. Family drama on a cosmic scale.
  • I, Zombie #10 (DC/Vertigo). Nice art of the UO campus.
  • Scarlet #4 (Marvel Icon). Unfolding as a big morality tale, and right now in kind of a holding pattern story-wise. Great cover by Alex Maleev.
  • Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost & Gone Forever #1 (Dark Horse). Were-buffalo!
  • Spider-Girl #3 (Marvel). Setting up a mystery for Anya to work on. I like the conceit with Sue Richards. Not liking the way the art is unsettled.
  • Uncanny X-Men #532 (Marvel). Greg Land manages to make Emma Frost look like a third-rate Bond girl from the Roger Moore-era on the cover. Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen’s story remains interesting.
  • X-23 #5 (Marvel). Marjorie Liu does appear to be getting to tell a story about Laura, while also finding reasons for Gambit to be hanging around. Not crazy about Ms. Sinister strutting around in stripper-wear.
  • Wolverine and Jubilee #1 (Marvel). I did not follow the vampire story leading up to this mini, but I’ll give anything Kathryn Immonen writes a try. Good use of Jubilee here as someone caught between different desires and influences.

Longer takes:

  • Angel: Illyria: Haunted #3 (IDW). Scott Tipton and Mariah Huehner regain hold of Illyria’s voice, and I continue to like how this series is exploring both the character and important pieces of the Angelverse left by the cancelation of the show. In this case, the mythology of the Deeper Well as well as of Illyria herself. Elena Casagrande (pencils & inks) and Ilaria Traversi (colors) are effective at rendering characters that walk the line between photo realism and more classic comic art. Best Angel book going right now.
  • Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead #2 (Dark Horse). Not destined to be a classic Hellboy tale, I think, but the conclusion does not disappoint in terms of becoming more than the set up implies. If Scott Hampton were to do more art for the series, that would take some getting used to. His work is slick and clean in a way that the series usually is not. In particular, the figures often appear to be static, less fluid. This works well for the B.P.R.D. guys telling tales at the pub, but less well when the action is unfolding. Dave Stewart shows his versatility in working in a more literal mode than is normal for Hellboy.
  • Hotwire: Deep Cut #3 (Radical Comics). Steve Pugh and Warren Ellis bring the second mini to a satisfying close with lots of action and witty commentary from Alice, who ends up outsmarting everyone. This is exactly what you would expect, but how the story gets to that point follows a jagged path, not a straight line. Best line of the issue: “So everyone gets a medal, and I’m finally getting my own private army. First we take out the astrologists, then I’m coming for the homeo-paths”.
  • Uncanny X-Force #4 (Marvel). Rick Remender and Jerome Opena bring the first arc of the series to a taught, smart close. What makes this issue particularly intelligent is how it uses the characters, and their damaged psyches, to such good effect, legitimately creating doubt about whether the original mandate for the Force would be fulfilled or not. I also think that this series is a good argument for putting together consistent creative teams, at least for the run of individual arcs (and here that includes Esad Ribic and the awesome cover art). Not just the best X-book I read. One of the best series I am pulling right now period.
  • The New York Five #1 (DC/Vertigo). Ryan Kelly draws New York beautifully. Amazing detail, but still clearly drawn by someone, making his work distinctly different from Greg Land or Scott Hampton, while still being “realistic”. Scott Pilgrim-like reintroduction of the characters is clever, and one suspects deliberate on Brian Wood’s part, as his cast is in similar positions to that of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series (a nod to Maddy from When Fangirls Attack and 3 Chicks Review Comics for highlighting this connection on the podcast).

Lastly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight concluded for me last month. Read more about that here.

TPBs:

Cowboy Ninja Viking Volume Two (Image).

This second volume was not the same “can’t put it down” fun of the first. The wry asides and visual play with the multiple personalities are still there, but the story gets bogged down in too much of Grear and Nix fighting over Duncan, which is boring and sadly unimaginative. Women do think of things other than men, dudes.

Hawkeye & Mockingbird: Ghosts (Marvel).

Forthcoming.

Iron Man Noir (Marvel).

Forthcoming.

Secret Six: Cats in the Cradle (DC).

It has been clear from the beginning that Gail Simone sees Cat Man as the moral center for the team, and this collection would seem to indicate that I am not particularly invested in that idea. Thomas Blake’s “crossing of the line” only hit me to the extent that the accompanying art by J. Calafiore and Jason Wright made my stomach turn. On the other hand, the Black Alice and Ragdoll dynamic is funny and touching. John Ostrander’s “most dangerous game” take is so slight, and so broadly drawn that I’m not sure what it adds to the Six’s story. However, the collection ends with Simone’s dark, weird, and engmatic western, which elevates this trade to pretty well worth it.

The Sixth Gun Volume 1 (Oni Press).

I can see why this series is popular. Cullen Bunn’s story starts out conventionally, holder of a mystical artifact dies and it passes to an unsuspecting “innocent” who now must face her new fate. As the volume progresses, and the characters are developed, everything becomes more complicated than how it started. Brian Hurtt populates the Frontier with a host of fearsome-looking supernatural characters, but who are nonetheless recognizaeable within the framework of the Western.

On finishing BUFFY SEASON EIGHT

I had been thinking about what I might want to write about Buffy Season Eight even before reading issue number forty and Joss Whedon’s letter at the end of the “episode”, as well his EW interview, which I had stored away in my “read later” section on Pinboard.

And what I had been thinking about runs parallel to Whedon’s remarks on the end of this first comics season for Buffy. In particular, I think that these comments from the EW interview, and also represented in the letter, identify what made Season Eight both exciting and frustrating:

I got very excited when I had a comic book with the idea that I could do absolutely anything. We hit a lot of beautiful notes and I’ve got a lot of great writers working [on the comics], and I’m very proud of it. But at the same time, it’s like, yeah, “You can do anything” is not really the Buffy mission statement. The Buffy mission statement is, “What does this feel like?”

With the comic, we just sort of said, “Wheee!” Ultimately, “Wheee!” caught up with us in a cavalcade of mythology. It became clear, as it did with the show, that people really liked when Buffy’s adventures reflect what she’s going through in her life [and] what we’re going through in our lives at that age. That was the thing in season 8 that we didn’t tap into as much as I think we ultimately should have.

As I remarked in this column on PopMatters, the scale and scope of the storytelling in Season Eight is much greater than it ever was, or could be, on television. While this undoubtedly took advantage of the new medium, sometimes bigger is just bigger, not better. That the creative team recognizes this is not only apparent in paratexts like the letter and the interview, but also in the text of issue number forty.

One of the strengths of Buffy on TV is how consistently the series deals with the consequences of big events and character choices. And that’s what the final issue of Season Eight is about – the aftermath of what Buffy did to conclude “Last Gleaming” (#36-#39). While destroying the seed of magic creates a break in the storyworld it also constitutes a beginning, one where the effects of Buffy’s action have to be dealt with, both on a personal level for the characters and also in terms of how the universe works. This is strong storytelling, and looks to be the jumping off point for Season Nine, for which Whedon seems to be promising less grand theatrics and more character-driven narratives.

For me, I think the apex of the “wheee” thinking is in the Brad Meltzer written “Twilight” issues (#32-#35), where Buffy and Angel have explicit, epic, universe creating sex. For one constraint or another – censors, budgets – this storyline would have been impossible to work into the TV series, and likely so even if it had not been on a broadcast network.

And I’m still not sure what I think about this particular piece of the Season Eight story, or what it added to the mythology of the Buffyverse, or to our understanding of Buffy’s relationship with Angel. It still feels to me as if it was done more because it could be done, and not as much because it was an entirely good or compelling idea.

A more minor “we did it because we could” moment in Season Eight is the reappearance of Warren. In terms of technique, aesthetics, and budgets, a drawn character who has no skin is a much better proposition than a live action version, but the narrative reasons for bringing Warren back, really skin or no, still elude me. There is also the question of what his appearance in the comics implies for season seven and how the First Evil works. I’ve done some research, and know that a rationale has been given (wanked) for how Warren could both be used by the First Evil and come back in uncovered flesh and blood for Season Eight, but I don’t find the explanation compelling in light of the limited pay off for needing to rationalize the choice at all.

To be honest, I’m not sure Amy needed to be brought into the new comics either, but with her there might be future uses that could still result in something interesting. More importantly, her introduction into Season Eight did not create meta-narrative level problems requiring readers to either forget what they had been told previously and/or some kind of patch for the mythology to remain consistent at a pretty fundamental level.

On the other hand, I agree with Whedon that Giant Dawn is maybe the best example of how the writers and artists took advantage of the medium in Season Eight. All of Dawn’s transmogrifications worked for both humor and character development, giving Dawn adversity to overcome, and helping her to mature as her feelings of being different take on literal form.

“Wolves at the Gate” (#12-#15) stands as one of my favorite mini-arcs of the season. Giant Dawn, of course, plays a major role in that story, but I also like how Drew Goddard writes Dracula as both a powerful and a vulnerable character, and the shift of the action to Tokyo is another good example of using comics to good effect (I did not particularly care for the killing off of Renee, but was not surprised by it either).

“No Future for You” (#6-#9) and “Time of Your Life” (#16-#19) are my two other favorite series within the series. The latter, like “Wolves at the Gate”, takes Buffy into a high concept world that would have been impossible to render in an effective way on TV, but also gave fans a much anticipated crossover with Fray, drew out some very long term implications of the present-day story, and brought Karl Moline back to the Buffyverse. I think that Whedon’s rendering of an even thicker version of future slang for this mini is a good use of bringing Buffy into Fray’s New York, giving readers what they don’t have in Fray, which is someone in the story who has to navigate that time and place from an unfamiliar position.

The Drew Goddard written “No Future for You” knows its core characters well, and provides a superb reintroduction of Faith, but is also the first point in the series where Georges Jeanty and Andy Owens showed me a real weakness in their art. For the most part, the comics versions of the characters took on effective lives of their own, different from, but related to, their live action counterparts, but the early attempts at drawing Faith did not work well for me at all, making her seem, of all things, dumpy. By the end of the whole series, she starts looking sharper and more Faith-like, but initially, not a high point for the art in Season Eight.

Looking back on the single issue stories from Season Eight:

  • In “The Chain” (#5), Joss Whedon writes a story that ably explores the tougher side of running a Slayer army.
  • Also written by Whedon and appearing in succession are “Anywhere But Here” (#10) and “A Beautiful Sunset” (#11). The former is notable to me for Cliff Richards’s art, which, as always, provides effective comic book likenesses of the characters. The latter reveals Satsu’s love for Buffy and also brings the series around to questions of love and sexuality that it kind of punted with Willow by making her a fully committed Lesbian. Anne-Marie and I have always talked about how it would be more interesting if Willow simply loved who she loved, male or female, than it is for her to have not only discovered an attraction to women, but also that she is, in some sense, exclusive in her attractions. Buffy’s sexuality seems to have become more fluid with time, and that is interesting, and well worth the static this revelation earned the creators on the letters page.
  • “After these Message … We’ll be Right Back!” (#20), by Jeph Loeb, “Harmonic Divergence” (#21), by Jane Espenson, and “Swell” (#22), by Steven S. DeKnight all provided fun diversions from the main story, playing with cultural trends and keeping the series grounded in everyday life.
  • Whedon’s “Turbulence” (#31) is strong bridge between “Retreat” (#26-#30) and “Twilight”, and introduces one of the most interesting aspects of Season Eight for me: Buffy’s superpowers, a development made even more intriguing given their source. This story poses interesting issues about power and the costs of using it that are well within the scope of both the series itself and superhero comics in general. Granting Buffy new powers, even for a few moments, serves to ground her in that larger tradition, but in a way that seems very organic, and not forced.

In considering my review, clearly I have more doubts about the latter third of the series than the remainder, but there are, of course, moments I liked. Spike leading a pack of spacefaring bugs, for example, is crazy fun, and the character wears that kind of thing well. I also am impressed that, in issue forty, Whedon manages to make Kennedy interesting, albeit at Willow’s expense.

However, I do not know what to write about Giles’s death at the hands of Angel. On the one hand, this death is less cheap than Anya’s is in season seven. On the other hand, I am not sure what to make of the how it happened, or whether this is, in fact, the time to actually take Giles out of the storyworld (the previous time this happened did not work out so well, but everyone was younger then, too). I hope that this a thread that gets woven into Season Nine and/or the new Angel books from Dark Horse.

Mostly, I am interested to see if the new series does, in fact, follow the lines outlined by Whedon so far. If it does, that will be for the better, and will also, I think, keep giving Buffy (and Buffy) a meaningful life in comics. What I hope does not change is Jo Chen as the primary cover artist. Virually every cover she made for Season Eight is a frameable work of art. Still, I am open to change and surprise even here.

January comics

From tfaw:

Monthly comics:

Angel: Illyria: Haunted #2 (IDW)

Scott Tipton and Mariah Huehner have a good idea for a story started. Given how few episodes Illyria appeared in, I imagine that she is a good character to write. Getting the voice right remains hard.

Birds of Prey #8 (DC)

“The Death of Oracle” story continues and the title seems to have found some stability in the art. Gail Simone writes strong stories about the human/meta-human divide and this looks to be one of those, at least in part.

B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth: Gods #1 (Dark Horse)

The new story starts fast with a cast of unfamiliar characters, but ends with an awesomely rendered final page. Guy Davis also designs a great-looking, though enigmatic, cover.

Casanova: Gula #1 (Marvel Icon)

Another new story starts. Lots going on, people intersecting from different timelines, and Casanova missing in one of them. Full of the kind of action and geekry I have come to expect from this title.

Generation Hope #3 (Marvel)

I am wondering where this title goes after all of the new mutants have been found and pacified by Hope. I suppose this issue is an indication, with them coming together as a team somehow, but that Kieron Gillen’s next story arc should be even more of an indication of this.

Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead #1 (Dark Horse)

Scott Hampton’s style is slicker than I am used to seeing on this title, but Mike Mignola’s story seems like creepy fun. Short mini.

I, Zombie #9 (DC/Vertigo)

Gwen and Horatio finally have a date, while the vampires scheme, Ellie gets jealous, and maybe rash, and Scott deals with his life. This is turning into quite the ensemble title.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #5 (Marvel)

Settles into kind of a conventional action thriller mode, unless you count all of the zipping around in time and space. This title is so strange, that I wonder that Marvel allows Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver make it at all, especially since they are radically shaping the history of one of the Marvel Universe’s key institutions. And, yet, here it is.

Spider-Girl #2 (Marvel)

Quick, dramatic, and maybe not so positive turn in the story. I am guessing it will take a few issues to work through the implication sof what happens to Anya here. Less encouraging is the splitting of the art.

Spike #4 (IDW)

The point of this issue is pretty well revealed at the end. Drusilla remains a work in progress. I think that Nicola Zanni’s Dru can grown on me, but there is a lot of variation in how she looks here, with face and body not quite settled yet.

Uncanny X-Men #531 (Marvel)

I will say this about this title right now: as per my prior comments, I do not like Greg Land’s style. But it does work for Lobe’s alternate X-Men. The panel where they gather to go be heroes is well drawn, and the plastic-y, beautiful look works well for these wannabes. It still remains a problem for many in the main cast; I even think he manages to make Emma boring, despite the fact that she is a character who can also wear his style well.

X-23 #4 (Marvel)

So, Laura gets her own story after all. Maybe Marjorie Liu is finally getting some ownership now that “Wolverine Goes to Hell” is behind her. One thing I have noticed about this title is that covers are often oddly inappropriate. This month, we see X-23 in X-Force mode, but most of the time she is drawn as some kind of sexy fashion plate. None of these looks has had much to do with the stories.

TPBs:

Batman: Joker’s Asylum Volume 2 (DC)

Ordered this to scree for A, who loves Harley Quinn and likes the Batverse. On the whole, a reminder of how depraved Gotham is, but I also found Mike Raicht’s (writer), David Yardin’s & Cliff Richards’ (art) and Jose Villarrubia (colors) Killer Croc story to be strangely affecting, especially the by the time the next to last panel shows.

Marvel Masterworks: Uncanny X-Men Volume 3 (Marvel)

Forthcoming.

X-Men Forever 2 Volume 1: Back in Action (Marvel)

Fun-ish sideshow with Rogue and Spider-Man, and the reemergence of the Morlocks. Mystique. High soap opera. Pretty much what you expect from this series.

Digital comics (from comiXology):

Suburban Glamour #1-4 (Image)

Probably the best thing I read this month. Beautiful, pop-y art from Jamie McKelvie and a story that nicely intertwines classic genre elements and fantasy with contemporary suburban ennui. Maybe moves too quick and crams too much in, and points towards sequels a little too broadly, especially if they never happen. What I like most about McKelvie’s art is how real it looks despite the simplicity. Renders well on my iPhone, except for the letters pages, which are next to impossible to read that way.

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.