PopMatters round-up for the end of 2014

Here are my recent publications on PopMatters since my last update:

In Worlds in Panels:

  • From October, a critical examination of Warren Ellis’ and Jason Howard’s Trees (Image).
  • From November, a reflection on GeekGirlCon 2014.
  • And from this month, a look at how digital comics has affected my relationship to print.

In October, I also had a feature on narrative themes in Buffy, Angel and Grimm.

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.

November comics

I’ve decided to start these posts after I get my single issues read each month, which still puts me about a week late, but this way I will have some actual content when I provide the lists.

From tfaw in November:

Monthly comics:

Action Comics #894 (DC).

I am not a regular reader of this title, and I almost did not order this issue, but once it registered that Paul Cornell was the writer, I thought it would be worth checking out. For most of the story, Cornell makes it seem like Lex Luthor has been dropped into The Sandman universe, and I found that part of the narrative to be compelling. The final few pages, where it reads more like Death being brought into the mainstream DCU, I found less compelling because I only vaguely understand what Luthor is talking about. I am also left feeling unsure about the resolution in terms of Death paying a visit to someone who isn’t dead, or even near death. That seems like a big liberty to be taking with the character.

Pete Woods’s and Brad Anderson’s version of death is also mixed for me. In close-up the art is often quite lovely, but when drawn from wider angles, her body goes through some weird changes in shape and proportion. I do think that the wide belt is a nice touch for updating the character, but without changing anything fundamental about her look.

The backup with Jimmy Olsen … all I can say about that is aliens who get drunk on oxygen seem entirely like something Nick Spencer would write. The retro futuristic look and feel of the art by RB Silva et al is fun, too, but I did not understand much of the context for this story.

Angel #38 and #39 (IDW)

Elena Casagrande appears to be the leading house artist, and that’s a good thing. Other than that, some wrapping up and a new start. Really just playing out the string with this book.

Angel: Illyria: Haunted #1 (IDW)

Scott Tipton and Mariah Huehner use the first issue of this mini to review Illyria’s biography and set up the story. Most importantly, they get her voice right, which isn’t easy. Few writers in these Angelverse comics have been able to get her cadence, and off kilter thinking, just right, but I think this issue is pretty close. More Elena Casagrande pencils, and I appreciate her ability, and inker Walter Trono’s ability, to render the characters in ways that look like the live action referents, but still making figures that look like comic art, and not bad photographs or something.

Atomic Robo: Deadly Art of Science #1 (Red 5)

All I will say this month is, “Atomic Robo, yaye!”, and that I am looking forward to the book getting back to a longer story arc.

Avengers Academy #6 (Marvel)

Again, I get this for A, but enjoy reading, too. That being said, weakest issue of the series so far for me. Probably because he is the ‘nice guy’ on the team, Reptil does not come across as the most interesting character.

Birds of Prey #6 (DC)

Also a weak outing. I was looking forward to a Huntress-centered issue, but Helena’s voice seems off (“Drippypants”, really?). While the art seems more setlled than it has in other post-Ed Benes issues, I am not liking the blow up doll lips on everyone, and some of the posing is overly softcore. On the other hand, Gail Simone’s reintroduction of Shiva, which I think most readers knew was coming at some point, is spot on.

Black Widow #7 (Marvel)

Most of what’s wrong with this title right now is summed up by the bottom panel in page 3. I also don’t understand why the basic plotline of the the first arc is being recycled here. Is the whole series going to be about Natasha being framed? I don’t doubt this is a problem for her, but still, there has to be more. The uncredited cover is pretty cool, though.

B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth: New World #4 (Dark Horse)

I feel the need to hold off on writing too much about this issue, as it is the penultimate in the kick off for the reconstituted B.P.R.D. title, but the way the Wendigo reappeared in full view of Abe is worth noting and very interesting.

Bruce Wayne: The Road Home: Oracle (one-shot) (DC)

Ironically, of the two single issue ‘event comics’ I got in this shipment, the one that was easiest for me to follow is the one in the ongoing series. As much as I realize that ‘one-shot’ only promises to resolve a particular story, something in the way these were marketed, led me to think it would be easy enough to read despite not really following the main Bat books. I was wrong. In any event, I took chance because Oracle + Marc Andreyko seemed promising, not because I am interested in the Bruce Wayne storyline. My mistake.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #38 (Last Gleaming Part Three)

Angel embraces the Twilight thing and starts punching people. Yeah, I know what happens next.

Fringe: Tales from the Fringe #5 (Wildstorm)

This issue might put the telling good stories about minor characters device a little too far, but still recommend the series to fans of the show.

Generation Hope #1 (Marvel)

Start of a new series, new mutants. Interesting enough kick off, and a nice prelude in the back.

Ghost Projekt #5 (Oni Press)

I started this subscription because I have become very interested in how the Cold War is being reassessed in pop culture, but I’m not sure that there is much unique or especially deep here, although I do appreciate that Joe Harris and Steve Rolston make the reader work to understand how the story ends. Probably need to go back through all five issues together for a real evaulation.

Hellboy/Beasts of Burden (one-shot) (Dark Horse)

Lovely. Sad. Maybe the best book I read this month. I only wish I knew more about the Beasts of Burden. Waiting for trade to come out for that series.

Hot Wire: Deep Cut #2 (Radical Comics)

This comic is the only reason I hesitated on whether the above is the best thing I read this month or not. Cracklingly fun. Full of smarts and action. I don’t know what the actual working relationship between Steve Pugh and Warren Ellis is on this title, but it has some of Ellis’s signatures, especially a fascination with science and the culture of scientists. Love it.

I, Zombie #7 (DC/Vertigo)

A new story arc starts. Lots of characters with their own threads. Starting to feel like more of an ensemble book right now. A and I continue to enjoy together. Thanks, Chris Roberson and Michael Allred for creating book I can read with my twelve year-old, even on Vertigo.

Mystery Society #4 (IDW)

I am beginning to feel as if the narrative is starting to spin its wheels without going anywhere. The Poe skull seems like a throwaway right now, but we’ll see. Would still buy just for Fiona Staples’s art.

Scarlet #3 (Marvel Icon)

The issue I am having with this series right now is the kind of corruption that Bendis and Maleev are exploring here does not seem to fit the setting. Portland has problems with police use of force, and racial tensions, but the drug money, dirty cops kind of corruption that Scarlet is fighting back against, not so much. This is weird because Bendis otherwise seems to get his adopted city pretty well in other respects.

Spider-Girl #1 (Marvel)

Very strong debut for this series. I am not entirely what the significance of Red Hulk is supposed to be at the end, but up to that point, I thought that Paul Tobin paced the story well and introduced the character in an effective way through a variety of settings and relationships. Clayton Henry draws Anya as a sensible and athletic teen girl. A nice change from some of the other art this month.

Spike #3 (IDW)

Still more fun and sharper than Angel right now. Still setting itself up, fwtw.

Uncanny X-Men #529 (Marvel)

Moving along the Emma, Shaw, Kitty story, pushing Hope forward. If I were more ambitious, I would go back to the previous issues and see if inks and colors were done by new people because Whilce Portacio’s pencils seem somewhat less irritating, better differentiation between characters, Emma less hag-y.

X-23 #3 (Marvel)

Well, I am entirely confused about the direction this title is going in. Write now the narratives are changing on a dime. This does not seem like Marjorie Liu’s fault, but is rather a result of editorial decisions requiring the book to service crossover stories. Making me wish she (and Daniel Acuna) were still on Black Widow.

TPBs:

CBGB (BOOM!)

Fun, works very hard to get the spirit of the subject right. Even though it took the most oblique approach to the club, on first reading, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s and Chuck BB’s quiet story stood out for me, but I also think the opening stories by Kieron Gillen and Marc Ellerby and Sam Humphries and Rob G set the tone of the collection well. I am thinking of devoting a future “Worlds in Panels” to this book.

Daredevil Bendis & Maleev Ultimate Collection Book 3 (Marvel)

The middle book of these giant collections took a more conventional turn, but here Bendis and Maleev are back to deconstructing their subject, attempting to explore what it would mean for someone to be superpowered and to take the law in their own hands, how different people might react to those individuals. The fact that Bendis is willing to be so open about this, the Hell’s Kitchen support group, to work into the narrative makes this even better reading. The opening arc that mixes art styles is lovely work by Maleev and Dave Stewart. I even found myself compelled by the “Ultimate” backups.

Duncan the Wonder Dog Vol. 1 (AdHouse)

See my Favorite Comics of 2010 for my thoughts on this title.

Kill Shakespeare Vol. 1 (IDW)

This book did not take off for me until Hamlet falls in with Falstaff and Juliette. I am glad that writers Conor McCreery, Athony McCall and penciler/inker Andy Belanger made Juliette as a counterpoint to Lady McBeth. While the latter is certainly made in the spirit of the original text, she also is a familiar female villain (dark, red, sexy, evil). Juliette, in the position of rebel leader, is not only less familiar, but has been given a very interesting story arc post-Romeo.

Koko Be Good (First Second)

Jen Wang writes and draws an engaging story about two very different people who nonetheless build a friendship. Koko is especially well rendered in a dynamic way, almost liquid, in how she moves and changes facial expressions. Jon, appropriately, is more grounded and staid. The open expressiveness of her characters is another admirable quality of the book.

Red Mass for Mars Vol. 1 (Image)

Yeah – still need to think about this one.

Saga of Rex (Image)

Wow. So delightful. I only have three of the Flight books, so this collection of Michel Gagne’s creation is wonderful to have. Gagne’s universe is beautiful and complex, but what really makes the story work is the expressiveness of his characters, vitally important to a book with no dialogue, and only ocassional narration.

X-Men: Nation X (Marvel)

I got this to fill in some of the gaps in my reading of X-Men: Legacy and Uncanny X-Men, but the real pleasure in the collection is the collected Nation X issues written and drawn by a variety of independent creators, Mike Allred, Becky Cloonan, and Marvel regulars who tend to work the margins of the publisher’s universe, like Christopher Yost. What makes these stories so refreshing is how free they are, free to explore characters without having to worry so much about servicing the larger narrative and selling issues of the adjacent X-title. I will also say that I find Greg Land’s style to be offputting. In all of the Uncanny X-Men issues featuring his pencils, the characters look like airbrushed models and actors. Who really wants that, especially when dealing with this cast of characters?