Critical notations on the new GODZILLA

I went to see the Godzilla reboot yesterday with Anne-Marie and A, and we all enjoyed ourselves, especially A, but I do have a few critical thoughts and feelings to share.

  1. Director Gareth Edwards and writers Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham, and their collaborators in special effects, get right one of the essential points from the original kaiju movies, which is that many of these “monsters” are sympathetic characters. Most of what they do, they do not out of malevolence, but simply as a result of their natures: they mate and breed, hunt and feed, and fight other animals that they see as threats or rivals. People are largely irrelevant, which may be what also makes them terrifying even as you can also sympathize with these creatures simply trying to survive and reproduce.
  2. I also appreciate how the new design for Godzilla references the classic “person in a suit” while also updating the character for contemporary aesthetics and expectations. There is one shot of Godzilla where he takes in a big breath and exhales that prompted A to remark that he looked like a person, which to me, was just perfect. The “humanity” of Godzilla is important to acceptance of him as something other than just a “monster.”
  3. Like others, I thought about Pacific Rim (2013) a number of times during this film, and, on the whole I enjoyed last year’s movie more. I found the creature designs to be more interesting, and, I suppose, I also liked the spectacle of having the giant robots as well as the giant monsters (although as A pointed out to me, the kaiju in Pacific Rim are alien while the ones in Godzilla are terrestrial). Mostly, I think that my reaction here has to with the difference between remaking an existing work and creating something new from familiar material. Guillermo del Toro made something new and the larger universe of his film is richer and more interesting than that of the new Godzilla.
  4. Another important difference for me was the fact that Pacific Rim featured two people of color (Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost and Rinko Kinkuchi’s Mako Mori) in the principal cast, while Godzilla defaults to the far more common young white male and his white family for the primary human characters. Indeed, even though the story starts in Asia and Japan is given a central location in the narrative in a nod to the source material, somehow a white American (or EuroAmerica) family has narrative prominence in Godzilla. Anne-Marie also made the good point that the primary family relationship, and loss, for the white guy protagonist in Pacific Rim (Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh Becket) is a brother, not a wife and kid or even a parent. This is a less common dynamic for these kinds of films.
  5. For me, the most interesting, and underused characters in Godzilla are Ken Watanbe’s Dr. Ichiro Serizawa and Sally Hawkins’ Vivienne Graham. The story of Serizawa’s decades long pursuit of Godzilla seems more interesting to me than the monster/disaster movie spectacle we get at the end of his pursuit. As far has Hawkins goes, I’m not sure that her name is mentioned once in the film or that we are told that she is also a scientist. But she seems to be Serizawa’s partner in the search and I want to know more about that (I gather that this is the focus of the prequel comic). Both Watanabe and Hawkins are charismatic actors who draw your attention when on screen, and I was more compelled by them than I was by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Elizabeth Olsen did not have much to do, but I am interested to see her as the Scarlet Witch now).
  6. Obsession with Godzilla is also a narrative through line for James Stokoe’s “The Half Century War” mini, and, honestly, as far as contemporary re-imaginings of this story goes, it is hard to do better than what Stokoe did with that book (I wrote about the way that Stokoe adapted Godzilla for comics, particularly his roar, for PopMatters).
  7. I left the theater with an uneasiness over the reworking of the origin story which removes American culpability for creating the kaiju as a result of the testing of nuclear bombs in the south Pacific. The original Godzilla (1954) picked up threads of anger and resentment among many Japanese for the American use of nuclear weapons in World War II and the subsequent occupation. This is also an important reason for Godzilla being a sympathetic, even, ultimately, a heroic, character: he, too, is a victim of the American bomb. There is a brief acknowledgment of Hiroshima in the new film between Serizawa and Admiral William Stenz (David Strathairn), but that only served to remind me of what has been lost in the new telling in terms of being a critique of American militarism and nuclear weaponry. Now, at worst, the American deployment of military and nuclear force just seems stupid or ineffectual rather than existentially threatening to ilife as we know it (I am drawing on Anne Allison’s Millennial Monsters, University of California Press, 2006, for the gist of this interpretation of the original Godzilla).

Latest Worlds in Panels: James Stokoe’s Godzilla

My newest column posted yesterday on PopMatters. I take a critical look at James Stokoe’s Godzilla mini for IDW with a particular focus on how the artist has adapted the monster for the page:

The need for an adequate approach to the Godzilla sound is indicative of the particular challenges to making comics from licensed properties. In an interview with Josh Bell at Comic Book Resources, Stokoe sees his task in this way, “A licensed property like this, I feel like you need to really think about it and try to take more care,”, adding further, “There’s been precedent established, so you can’t just wing it like it was your own. You need a respect for the material, and a desire to try and dissect what it is you like about it” (see, “James Stokoe Tackles Giant Monsters in ‘Godzilla: The Half-Century War’”, 22 June 2012).

Read the full column.

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.

April comics

From tfaw last month:

Single issues:

Quick takes:

  • Angel #43 (IDW). The penultimate issue at IDW. Wait until next month for more.
  • Annihilators #2 (Marvel). Well worth pulling for the bombastic storytelling and the comedy-adventure with Rocket Raccoon.
  • Avengers Academy #11 (Marvel). Christos Gage continues to do nice work in interweaving stories about the students with stories about the adults. However, for some reason A showed less interest this month.
  • Casanova: Gula #3 (Marvel Icon). Big craziness as the protagonists and antagonists switch roles and try to out clever each other.
  • Dollhouse: Epitaphs (Dark Horse). Interesting one-shot. Fills in some gaps left from the TV series. Interested to see where they take the upcoming series. Cliff Richards and Michelle Madsen do a nice job of clearly evoking a cast of minor characters from television.
  • Generation Hope #5 (Marvel). Setting the stage for the next part of story: what to do now that the new mutants have been gathered?
  • Iceman and Angel #1 (one-shot) (Marvel). Good natured fun scripted by Brian Clevinger (Atomic Robo). Some great exchanges between Bobby and Warren.
  • I, Zombie #12 (DC/Vertigo). Nice break in the regular action with Gilbert Hernandez as guest artist.
  • Li’l Depressed Boy (Image). See below.
  • The New York Five #3 (DC/Vertigo). Still hard to believe that this series will end in one more issue.
  • Scarlet #5 (Marvel Icon). Thus ends Book One. Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev continue to get a lot right about the present cultural moment in Portland, but the series still feels like prologue.
  • Silver Surfer #2 (Marvel). Liking the story from Greg Pak.
  • Spider-Girl #5 (Marvel). I read that the series will be coming to an end in June. Too bad. On the other hand, I was considering letting go because A, for some reason, refuses to read this title.
  • Spike #6 (IDW). Ummm. Some stuff happens, and Lilah shows up at the end.
  • Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #3 (Dark Horse). Big confrontation with Grey’s friend, and some spooky visitations. Nice Victorian Western from Mike Mignola et al.
  • Uncanny X-Force #5.1 and #6 (Marvel). Not sure why the “point one” issue is a supposed to be such a friendly entry into the series, but, in other news, I got to chat with Rick Remender at the Stumptown Comics Fest. Always nice to tell creators how much you like their work.
  • Uncanny X-Men #534 and #534.1 and Annual #3 (Marvel). Matt Fraction’s (current) run on the title ends with some smart and clever plotting. Kieron Gillen’s “point one” issue makes more sense to me as an entry point for at least people who know the central X characters than does the Uncanny X-Force issue. The Annual, whatever its merits, sets up a story that I do not intend to follow through the other issues.
  • Wolverine and Jubilee #3 (Marvel). Story gets kind of trippy, but then what did I expect with Kathryn Immonen on writing.
  • X-Men: Legacy #246 (Age of X Chapter 3), New Mutants #23 (Age of X Chapter 4), and Age of X Universe #1 (Marvel). The tension continues to build nicely in the main story. The “universe” installment is brutally cold.

Longer takes:

  • B.P.R.D.: The Dead Remembered #1 (Dark Horse). Mike Mignola and Scott Allie script a story about Liz Sherman as a teenager and ward of the B.P.R.D. Liz is alienated, angry, and jaded, which might be cliché, except that we know her as an adult and can see who this kid becomes. Despite her superficial similarities to other female firestarters, like Jean Grey, Liz has always been a more self-possessed character than most women featured in super hero, or super hero-esque, books. Stylish art, as expected, from Karl Moline, Andy Owens, and Dave Stewart. (And, yes, Dark Horse suckered me into buying two copies of the first issue with the alternate covers by Jo Chen and Moline).
  • X-23 #8 (Marvel). I regret to say that with this issue I have decided to end my subscription. There have been brief moments where Marjorie Liu has used this book to tell a story about Laura/X-23, but for the most part she has seemed more like a supporting player in her own book. I think that Liu has some interesting ideas about Laura and her sense of ethics, her desire for humanity, for working through her past, but too much time is directed to servicing “events”. Making this book be the next place for Jubilee is almost interesting enough to keep pulling it, but also underscores the problem I am citing as my reason to quit. I’ll keep my eye out for trades, though.

TPBs:

Batman and Robin Reborn (DC).

Yeah, this is fun. I get why people like this series. Surprisingly compelling reboot of characters you would think were well worn, especially as a pair. But Grant Morrison and his artistic collaborators make them seem new, in part, of course by giving them new secret identities and forcing the new dynamic duo to prove themselves. I am reminded, however, as to why I don’t read that many Bat-books: Gotham is depressingly depraved.

Finder Library Volume 1 (Dark Horse).

Forthcoming.

Widowmaker (Marvel).

Forthcoming.

Hellblazer Volume 1: Original Sins (DC/Vertigo).

Another series that I am happy to see reissued as it makes it easier for me to find an entry point. Want to live with the character a little longer before writing more.

Possessions Volume 2: Ghost Table (Oni Press).

Ray Fawkes’ second installment in this series is as funny as the first. Gurgazon is still the most charming/disgusting little demon in the universe. A true all ages book for anyone who likes stories about the supernatural.

X-Men First Class Volume 2 (Marvel).

These collections are fun. Jeff Parker goes for a bright and mildly troubled view of super-powered teenager-ness, and succeeds splendidly. The artwork, by Roger Cruz, principally, in pencils and inks gets the gawkiness of the age right, but, particularly with Jean, and out of costume, can veer into figures that, like actors, look about a decade or so too old for the character’s age. Not so much an issue with the charming backups with Colleen Coover. The Marvel Girl and Scarlet Witch stories are especially enjoyable.

X-Men Forever 2 Volume 3: Perfect World (Marvel).

And with that Chris Claremont’s experiment comes to an end, I gather. As I’ve written before, I liked the loopiness of the series, but did find some elements, the willingness to kill off big characters, for example, a little tiring. I did like the resolution of the Storm/Ro/Ororo story, especially the reappearance of the mohawk.

From Bridge City Comics:

Takio (Marvel Icon).

Forthcoming.

Li’l Depressed Boy #1 and #2 (Image). Glossed over this in my news feeds, but after taking a second look, decided I would like to try it out, especially because I think A will like it (now, to get her to read it). In the opening issues S. Steven Struble and Sina Grace walk a fine line with the characters. LD does not show any of the entitlement of a Nice Guy, yet, and Jazmin is too prickly to be a full on Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but both could turn into those stereotypes.

From the Corvallis Book Bin:

Gear School (Dark Horse).

Picked this one up for A. Adam Gallardo (writer) and Nuria Peris & Sergi Sandoval (art) pack a lot of worldbuilding into a short book. Gallardo’s script is open-ended without sacrificing fulfillment of the immediate story. My primary problem with the book is that Peris and Sandoval draw the girls too old in the way that most actors who play high schoolers are actually in their 20s (or even 30s). It would have been interesting if Teresa had looked more her age instead of like a young adult. The meaning of story is confused by this artistic choice.

The Goon Volume 1: Nothin’ But Misery (Dark Horse).

Forthcoming.

Monkey vs. Robot (Top Shelf Productions).

More all ages fun. James Kolchaka writes and draws a story that can be read either as a “Spy vs. Spy” type battle and/or as an ecological fable about technology and progress. Most notably, it is easy to feel for both of the main characters at the end.

I will make a separate post of my purchases from Stumptown.

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.

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.

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.