Archive for the 'comic books' Category

h1

“Diversity Marketing”

July 28th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

The other week I lost my temper and said some stuff about Marvel’s announcements of Captain America and Thor, who are replacing White Captain America and Dude Thor. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, mulling it over, because it’s been pretty inescapable.

I like Marvel’s characters. I think that much is obvious. I like the creators, too. I might quibble with some story details, but big whoop. That’s the smallest thing ever, “I don’t like this specific aspect of a comic that isn’t being written for me.” No me importa, basically. But it’s the marketing that’s killing me, and I think I figured out why.

Marvel’s making moves to increase the character diversity in their books, and drawing ire from the usual gang of idiots. Which I’m all for, even though I’m way more for creator diversity, and believe is a good thing. But the thing that’s grating is that instead of putting the work out on its own merits and marketing it about how great it is, a lot of the conversation around it has been about the basics that hate it.

I’ve been seeing Marvel folks, mostly white dudes but not entirely, retweet or address or bring up racists and scumbags and sexists while pushing their books, positioning themselves as taking a stand against these people talking trash.

They’re hijacking hate to a certain extent, in the Situationist sense, and are using it to market their comics. The new black Captain America, the new lady Thor, both of these announcements were followed, within minutes, by people talking about the people who are hating on the project. “Big ups to all my haters!” is such a soft position, because it positions you as good because these other people are worse.

On top of that, it also colors the reaction to the announcement. If you disagree with whatever for genuine reasons, but you phrase it as “I don’t like that the Falcon is Captain America,” the reaction to that is now tilted heavily toward “Oh, what’re you, racist?” instead of it being something more reasonable. By putting those people front and center, by tweeting about them and giving interviews about how you won’t change the project no matter the response because you believe in your stuff, you’re…it’s not ham-stringing criticism, but it’s definitely preempting it, in a way.

And I think that’s the gross part. I spend a lot of time consciously pushing back against the messages society tells me about being black. The unworthiness, the laziness, the dumbness…all of it’s fake. But I have to stay on the ball, I have to keep Black Is Beautiful in the front of my mind, because black IS beautiful, and it always has been, and it always will be.

But I remember being in kindergarten and getting called nigger on the playground. I remember fachas screwing with me and my friends in Spain. I remember getting followed around stores, people looking at me like I don’t belong, and getting ignored when trying to do my job because there’s a white dude next to me who people assume is the boss of me. This weekend I got confused for a few other black dudes in comics who I don’t even resemble, and it stings every time.

And I think it’s messed up to see somebody who doesn’t know that pain harness it to sell some comics. That’s what’s been grossing me out, that’s what I haven’t been able to properly articulate. It’s the corporate version of dudes crowing about how feminist they are, like being a decent human being means they deserve groupies. “One episode of The Wire, what you know about dope?” right? And I feel like Marvel gets it on a certain level, and they certainly employ people who get it, but they don’t get it yet.

Somebody calling you a nigger ain’t a badge of honor. You don’t show off your gunshot wounds. You don’t crow about how people hate you in the name of making yourself look good. You let the dead bury the dead and leave the garbage men in the rear view or in the ground. They should not matter to you or me not nary an inch.

That’s why it feels like diversity-as-marketing to me. The creative teams are killer, and I like that Marvel is putting the full weight of their machine behind these books. I respect the people creating the comics. But I can’t take seeing people be proud of getting hated on in a way that doesn’t hurt them but forces me to think about how crap and dangerous it is to be black (or anything else) and alive in America in 2014.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

h1

The 10 Most Awesomely Terrible Art Moments from WWE Superstars #6

July 21st, 2014 Posted by Gavok

The nice thing about being a blogger is that it’s like a tax write-off on buying terrible shit. It’s great when you read a great comic, see an awesome movie, or something like that, but if you pay for something lame, you can always twist it into an article. It’s really one of the best perks.

I can’t not read WWE comics and I’ve filled up big chunks of this site proving that. The latest attempt at a WWE series is WWE Superstars by Papercutz. It’s been written by wrestling legend Mick Foley and Shane Riches. I imagine Shane Riches wrote most of it. Anyway, the first four issues were just released in a trade under the name Money in the Bank. I reviewed it here. The arc was about reimagining WWE wrestlers as characters in an overly-casted crime noir story. A cool idea that wore out its welcome.

The art was mostly done by Alitha Martinez, who did an all right job. Most of the time, wrestlers looked like who they were supposed to and some pieces looked really nice. Other times, the pencils were rushed, as was the need to get through the story, meaning fight scenes all had an unnatural flow to them. Then in the fourth issue, Martinez was replaced for four pages by an artist named Puste and oh boy was it noticeable. Lifeless, awkward, incoherent and ripe with inconsistency, it was a complete trip.

For some reason, Papercutz decided to have Puste be the main artist on the current arc, which has the wrestlers actually being wrestlers. It’s a weird storyline called Haze of Glory that features Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Rey Mysterio and Hornswoggle with a wicked hangover due to some spiked punch. The backstage area is in ruins, everyone blames them and they don’t know what in the hell happened. All they know is that they’ve been set up.

And yes, CM Punk is still a main character despite having been gone from the company since January.

I really can’t judge the wacky story on its own merits because the art is so distracting. Issue #6 alone has so many moments that make me shake my head that I’m able to make an actual top ten list out of it.

Let’s get started!

10) THE ATTEMPTED F5

Well. Lot of stuff going on here. Brock Lesnar is trying to F5 CM Punk and Goldust saves Punk with a kick to the nuts. Looks awkward, but okay.

Hornswoggle is bald here and that might make sense at first glance. After all, he recently lost a mask vs. hair match and for the past couple months he’s been bald in real life. Except in every single other panel he shows up in, he’s got a full head of hair. Remember, this comic is out of date enough that Jack Swagger calls Cesaro “Antonio” and CM Punk is there.

Puste seems to have a thing against drawing backgrounds most of the time, so for some reason the 4th of July is going off behind them. I don’t know.

9) CM PUNK CHOKES OUT MARK HENRY

A zombie CM Punk goes for Mark Henry’s brains and Henry seems almost happy about it.

He took out Cena too! You’ll… You’ll just have to take his word for it, okay? Punk certainly applies the sleeper an awful lot like the Anaconda Vise. Hm.

Read the rest of this entry �

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

h1

Beyond Outrage

July 14th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Kanye West is a passionate dude.

The passion is what makes his art work. People connected to him because they can feel that passion. It’s visible through his work, whether it’s a banging beat or some deft observation about life. He has a habit of doing scheduled interludes at his concerts, where he talks about whatever’s on his mind. It’s the most direct way to view his passion, I think, because it feels relatively unfiltered—it isn’t, we know that, but it feels more raw than a song—and it’s not hidden behind layers of cleverness.

He’s talked about his struggle to gain traction in the fashion industry, despite his success with Nike. He’s talked about what he wants to be to society, who he respects, what he hates, and what he loves. It’s wide-ranging, but that makes sense, because West is self-admittedly a guy who is interested in a lot of things, from Margiela to Akira.

These interludes are almost always called “rants” by music journalists. Despite being planned, despite being a regular feature, they are “rants” because…Kanye West is a passionate dude, and sometimes he gets emotional when talking about things. You can see it when he goes in on Sway on Shade45 or when he got at George W Bush over Katrina.

By calling these interludes “rants,” the media is painting West with a very specific brush. The word rant implies that the thoughts are off-the-cuff, overly emotional, and therefore invalid. It’s “Look what this kooky guy said now!” instead of engaging with any of his points.

It happens to all of us, of course. We all have triggers that make us get weepy or excited in conversation, I know I have a lot of dumb ones, but that doesn’t make them invalid or malformed. It just means you care, right? And that your level of care exceeds your calm nature for a moment. The opinions you’re expressing aren’t invalid because you stumble over your words or have to pause to collect yourself.

Passion isn’t perfect. I think that’s pretty obvious. West isn’t 100% right about everything, but he has been 100% right about specific things. The presence of passion doesn’t mean that you have to believe everything someone says. It’s just a factor that will, or should, help you judge what they’re saying and where they’re coming from. By recognizing West’s passion, I can tell that he genuinely cares about the stuff he’s talking about, and that helps me evaluate how I feel about what he said and where he’s coming from.

But he’s not ranting. He’s speaking his mind.


Comics has an outrage problem.

I don’t mean people getting up in arms over things, either. That’s an issue unto itself, and like anything else, it could be better than it currently is in several different ways, but that’s not today’s conversation.

What I’m talking about is how we—the comics community—describe, talk about, and address the concerns of people who are upset about one thing or another. The way we talk about outrage fatigue, outrage-of-the-week, faux outrage, outrage-o-matic, misplaced outrage, another outrage, this outrage, that outrage, and why it’s gross and short-sighted. How we use “tumblr” as a pejorative but ignore the poison in our own forums and followers.

The way we use the word outrage suggests that the outrage in question is fake and irrational, on account of being poorly thought-out and overly emotional. It happens every time someone brings up a point to do with equality, sexism, racism, or justice. It’s the same tactic the music media uses to devalue Kanye’s rants. They’re invalid, an inconvenience, annoying, or fake because you can see the emotions driving it, and emotional reactions aren’t valid.

We use the presence of passion to first diminish and then dismiss arguments. The offended must play by the rules of the unoffended, or even worse, the offenders, in order to be heard. You have to tamp down that pain if you want to get help or fix it. You can see it when people say things like “Thank you for being civil” when arguing something heated with someone they disagree with. Civility is great, sure, but we’re forcing people who feel like they’re under attack to meet us on our own terms. In reality, passion shouldn’t be dismissed. Passion has a purpose.

The way we treat passionate reactions is unbalanced, too. We eat up gleeful reviews or tweets like they’re pudding and retweet them by the dozen. There are sites out there that have used the word “masterpiece” over ten thousand times. We promote fawning interviews and king-making, but never once question passionate praise the way we do passionate criticism.

Comics as a community tends to react to every new outrage with disbelief and scorn, lumping them in with “the crazy ones” or “tumblr” instead of looking at what they’re actually saying and figuring out what it means. Every once and a while we’ll band together like “Yeah! That IS bad!” when something is particularly egregious and “safe” to comment on, but a month later? We’re back to blindly propping up garbage men and ignoring people’s pain. The arc of the argument is the same, whether we’re talking sexual harassment or creators’ rights.

No matter how you feel about whichever issue is at hand, whether you agree or disagree or loathe both sides, you should think real hard before responding to anything. Think about what the person is saying and where they’re coming from. Think about why they’re saying it. Think about your position in society, our culture, or our dumb little hobby and think about the position of the person you’re about to put on blast. Think about what you’re about to bring to the conversation. Think about how your words will be received, even if—especially if—the originator didn’t.

That’s a bitter pill to swallow, the idea that you should take your lumps and do the work you think somebody else didn’t do. But life sucks, y’all, and if I have to choose between someone who doesn’t like somebody else’s tone or someone who doesn’t really know how to argue but has fascinating points about our culture, I’m going for the latter, even when I’m the one under the gun. One of those people has a lot to lose. The other is inconvenienced.

That power differential is important to keep in mind. Despite the petitions, despite the so-called outrage, fans have very little real control over the comics industry. As professionals, as journalists or creators or promoters or whoever we are, our voice generally has a much, much broader reach than the offended. The weight of our reactions when criticized often goes much, much farther. We have less to lose by virtue of being in a position of power by default, and that makes it exceedingly important to check yourself and your reactions.


A lot of people don’t feel welcome in the greater comics community. We created and create this environment with our words and actions. If it’s not people hassling you over taste or creeping on you at cons or making “funny” jokes about things you care about, it’s seeing how people respond to outrage. When you see a community consistently dis and dismiss people expressing their pain, you’re less likely to share your own pain when the time comes, because odds are good you’re gonna feel a lot worse when the usual suspects get ahold of your words and the blowback starts coming in.

The way we talk about outrage-in-the-abstract has a way of building further outrage in addition to diminishing other types. Where some people will shy away out of self-preservation, others will go even harder because they know you won’t listen. They know their words will be skimmed and stripped of context before being ignored and insulted. To have a point you care deeply about and then to be told that point is irrelevant and invalid—that warrants anger, doesn’t it?

I have friends who simply don’t talk about things or hold back because they know their words will fall on deaf ears or worse. My friends have been screwed with on a level that’s incredibly frustrating and continually disappointing. In watching how they’re treated and talking to them about it, in watching what happens to the men and women who would rather send out tough guy threats and harassment, I’ve learned that a lot of things don’t get said because the offended doesn’t have any real power but their words, and others with more power will eagerly leverage their power to crush the dissent in the name of “keeping the peace.”

But we talk and we share and we know who is receptive to our stories, who will pretend like they are to gain brownie points or satisfy their ego, and who’ll smile and nod and move along at their earliest convenience because they just don’t care. We pay attention to the reaction to the outrage because the odds are good we’ll be in those shoes one day, should we decide our stories are worth the cost of the telling.

We’re in a complex place right now, in terms of our culture and people who speak on it. Suddenly a lot of people who were limited by the hateful whims of our culture in the past—non-whites, women, trans persons, gay people, and more—are able to sign up for a platform to express their views and speak their truth in a way that the mainstream has largely never seen before and often doesn’t know how to react to.

As a result, we’re realizing the way we enable -isms and hate by simply going about our daily lives the way we always have. We’re seeing the anger and sadness and passion that has been tamped down and ignored for years bubble up, and the conversations are often fraught with tension thanks to both sides and every participant coming from different places and contexts. There are more moving parts in these conversations than in two Space Shuttles.

Case in point: I realized I had to put subtle disclaimers in this piece just so someone wouldn’t get at me on some “Well, I don’t think all outrage is valid like you do, and here’s why you’re dumb for thinking that.” I know for a fact that’ll happen if I don’t try to beat it, even though other adults are clearly capable of understanding that talking about a thing isn’t necessarily complete unquestioning support of that thing.

That’s what I mean about the reaction to outrage being enlightening. I know the countermoves, the derailing moves, and I have to spin my wheels trying to head off the “Why don’t you get mad about real things?” or “You’re just angry all the time” or “Oh great, more faux outrage” goons on an essay that is fundamentally about how everyone should think more, jeer less, and process things a little bit longer before they react.

It sucks right now. I get that, and I empathize, whether you’re talking about the hate for the social justice conversation or the deluge of complaints that you can’t control and wish would stop. But it’s not gonna get better by going out of your way to talk about outrage and the outraged as if they were basic children, full of fury and lacking in thought. It’s not gonna get better when we have more editorials decrying “outrage” in general than we do editorials actively discussing and dissecting the outrage itself.

It’s not gonna get better if we choose ego instead of empathy every single time we’re up at bat. It’s not gonna get better if we aren’t willing to at least appear to listen. It’s not gonna get better if we paint every passionate criticism as “outrage” and stick our tongues out at it. It won’t get better if we pre-reject what people have to say.

If we paint every outrage with scare quotes and pithy jokes about the internet churning up outrage for no good reason, regardless of the outrage in question, we’re blocking progress. We’re telling some people not to share their thoughts, and we’re telling others that we don’t deserve their respect and honesty. Both are embarrassing, frankly, and abhorrent.

We need to be more kind, and this brand of kindness takes conscious effort.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

h1

Genius: Renegades, Never Slaves

July 11th, 2014 Posted by david brothers



Way back in the bad old days of 2008, I read a comic called Genius. It was part of Top Cow’s Pilot Season program, an initiative meant to bring new blood into the industry and to the company, and it was created by Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman, and Afua Richardson. Now, it’s 2014, I work at Image Comics, and Genius is on the way back this August as a weekly miniseries.

The concept of Genius struck me first. There have been several incredible military leaders throughout the years, and the latest is Destiny Ajaye, a young woman from South Central. Rather than becoming a kingpin or joining the military, she takes another route: armed insurrection. She unites the gangs and goes to war against the LAPD.

I’m an ’80s baby whose life was changed by Spike Lee’s Malcolm X and has spent a lot of time writing about the intersection of black culture and comics. The concept alone spoke to me, it reminded me of conversations and boasts that felt familiar and real. Bernardin and Freeman’s dialogue was on point and natural, authentically “black” without tipping over into parody or offensiveness. Richardson’s art was the bomb, inventive and kinetic and off-beat in all the right ways.

Genius hit me in my heart. There aren’t a lot of comics coming out of mainstream houses aimed at people like me, much less specifically me, but this one? It’s a comic that’s tailor-made for me, it feels like. The concept, the art, the focus on a majority-black and brown cast…there is something about Genius that other mainstream comics are lacking. It’s something different, something outside of the usual Direct Market experience.

It’s a familiar story, a Hero versus the enemy with an army at her back, but the twist is in the character work and the artwork. The characters feel familiar and honest, and Richardson’s artwork ranges from staging natural moments in a surreal manner to perfectly-emotive conversations. The creative team clicks for me.

A side effect of my job at Image is that I got issues 1-4 early as part of the production process. It’s work, but I read them while I was on vacation instead of waiting until I got back. I read them because I believe in Genius and Bernardin and Richardson and Freeman and I’m excited for this comic.

Final Order Cut-off for the comic is Monday. It’s shipping weekly in August, with two issues hitting on the last Wednesday of the month. If you shop at comic shops, tell them you want it. The Diamond Code for #1 is JUN140478, if you need it. Pre-ordering helps comics a lot, and for a book like this that’s sitting left-of-center with what’s prevalent, you’re going to need a little extra legwork to get what you need. You don’t have to pre-order it, it’ll presumably be available in a digital edition, but if you’re the pre-ordering type and you trust my taste, please call your shop and hook it up. I’m a fan, and I hope you will be, too.

I wrote about Afua Richardson for Black History Month 2011 and about Genius for ComicsAlliance in 2010.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

h1

Tumblr Mailbag: Quitting the Big Two

June 5th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Someone on tumblr asked me what it was like to quit reading Marvel and DC. I’d been trying to type about it for a while, but something about the phrasing let me hit on an approach I felt was worthwhile, instead of pointless. It felt strong enough to turn into a real piece, and here we are. The answer is that quitting Marvel and DC comics managed to be simultaneously easy and difficult. Nowadays, it’s astronomically easier to abstain than it is difficult.

It wasn’t a difficult decision to make because I knew I could find something to replace the hole leaving those comics behind would leave. I was at a point where I was more interested in seeking out creator-owned works from creators than their new cape projects already, so I was halfway there. I didn’t/couldn’t do a 1:1 replacement, in part because that’s a silly idea, but I knew I could get things from people I liked elsewhere, and I hoped the others would branch out to non-cape stuff, too. (Zeb Wells and Marjorie Liu are—shhh, lean in real quick, streets is talking—two of the best writers to grace a Marvel comic. No fooling. Get familiar!)

When I quit, I didn’t make a plan or even think about it beyond “I should do thi—WHOOPS did it.” I still don’t know if Vertigo “counts” as DC for instance, or Icon for Marvel, since they’re both more-or-less creator-owned imprints. I didn’t even bother figuring out where comp copies (as a journalist) or freebies (as a guy who is blessed to have friends) factored in to the embargo. I eventually just decided that nobody has to follow my dumb personal rules, so if somebody gives or lends me something, I’d take it instead of throwing it back in their face with a lecture like a stereotype of a Berkeley progressive. “Why be a jerk?” was my motto, I guess. Better that than “Have you even HEARD of that time Stan Lee attempted to collude with DC Comics to keep rates for artists low?!”

At the same time, it was difficult because I’ve read and enjoyed Marvels, and to a much lesser extent DCs, since around the time I learned how to read. I was twenty-eight when I consciously decided to quit. That’s about twenny three years of inertia, interest, and love to overcome. I didn’t magically stop liking their comics or the characters or the creators (I’ve probably written more about Jim Lee-era X-Men post-quitting than anybody who’s still reading cape comics) and my curiosity is on par with my guilty conscience in terms of having a continually debilitating effect on my life.

For example: I don’t eat pork. I quit swine in ‘99. I could tear up some porkchops and bacon as a kid, but it wasn’t a struggle to quit pork. I didn’t waffle over it. I just did it, and that was a wrap. I don’t look back on porkchops fondly or reminisce about those days. “Mannnn, remember how good that porkchop was back in ‘97, second week a May? Hooo whee!” That’s absurd.

But with comics, it’s different. I do that with Spider-Man constantly and in great detail—Return of the Goblin, his first meeting with Luke Cage, that time Betty Brant said something nice about him and he was like “Dang, I never noticed her before, but she’s cute AND she’s on my side” like a doggone teenaged idiot, Mary Jane going Sibyl to get a soap opera job and dodging stalkers…I can recite it chapter and verse. It’s a part of me.

While I can and did change my habits, the problem was changing my thinking, the stuff I was taking in outside of the comics, too. I had to ask what was up with this, that, and the third much, much less. I had to stop reading essays, interviews, and promo for things I had no interest in experiencing. It was silly. “I don’t care about this so much!!!”

Changing those habits takes effort, which leads me directly to why it isn’t difficult to stay away from the Big Two these days: I succeeded at changing my thinking. Wednesdays aren’t new comics days any more. I don’t read comics news sites when I can help it. I discover new comics via word of mouth or Tumblr. I unplugged in a way that let me maintain my decision instead of waffling and crumbling.

I read other comics now, and the further I get from the Big Two, the easier it is to stay away. The less I indulge, the less I want it. The guilt and frustration that led to me giving up have given way to something akin to apathy (and occasionally disappointment). I hear summaries of recent events in comics I once loved and it’s like I woke up in Ancient Sumeria for all the sense it makes to me.

But that’s okay, because I don’t care. I don’t mean that in the dismissive sense, a “who cares?” type of way. I mean it very literally: I’m no longer invested in what happens to Spider-Man. I’m still curious about a few things (the black characters, pretty much, and I like when the creators I enjoy get a cool-sounding project), but in terms of keeping up, keeping track, paying attention, entertaining the idea of going back, checking out what I’ve missed: nah, son, I’m good. I grew past it and it’s not for me any more. It’s for somebody else. And that’s cool. Win/win.

I feel good about my decision. But I started buying vinyl and various types of bottled root beers and sodas in the interim, so I couldn’t afford to go back if I wanted to.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

h1

Tsutomu Nihei’s Knights of Sidonia: death

May 20th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Knights of Sidonia, created by Tsutomu Nihei, translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian, published by Vertical. This is volume 2, there are several others, including ebooks on your preferred digital platform.

Set in a far-flung future after the destruction of Earth, Knights of Sidonia takes place in and around a spacecraft that contains the entirety—maybe so, maybe no—of humanity. They’re being hunted by powerful and utterly alien beings. One day, things go wrong and the ship must change course. Imagine being in a car taking a turn at 60mph. Now multiply it by several thousand orders of magnitude.

This happens:

Knights of Sidonia - death - 01

None of these people are named. They aren’t characters, just bodies that transition from human to smears. They’re indicators of scale and trauma instead of people. Imagine you, your best friend, and your circle. Now imagine what happens when they hit God’s windshield at eighty thousand miles an hour.

This follows:

Knights of Sidonia - death - 02

Nihei’s got a killer sense of scale and perspective. It made Blame! claustrophobic despite being full of open spaces and it made Biomega creepier than sin. Here, he goes from a long-distance shot to a close-up one, adding the remnants of human remains to the smears.

I keyed on the couple the first time I read this. They might not even be a couple—they might be two people caught by surprise in the moment. But under Nihei’s pen, they’re here and then they’re gone and that is the entirety of their existence.

The impersonal nature of these deaths, and this scene as a whole, struck me. These deaths happen because someone makes a decision to save the many at the expense of the…well, not few, as you can see. At the expense of those unfortunate enough to be away from safe areas at that specific moment in time.

Despite these deaths being utterly impersonal, they’re far from bloodless. Something about the way Nihei draws the splatters, the choice of sound effect, and the sheer number of them make the scene feel like one final upset and insult before the victims are sent on their way. It feels like a chill, an Act of God.

There was a person here. There’s not now.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

h1

How Captain America Saved Agents of SHIELD

May 4th, 2014 Posted by Gavok

When it comes to comics, a major event story can completely ruin a less-important comic series. It can be derailed and refuse to ever rebuild itself, driving away readers and getting cancelled. When it comes to Agents of SHIELD, it’s kind of the opposite.

I was interested in Agents of SHIELD when it was announced. The Marvel Avengersverse has always impressed me. The synergy and the quality have been great almost across the board. The movies have ranged from awesome to kind of bad but not unwatchable (Iron Man 2). These days it’s rather funny to watch Warner Bros. try to play catch up with the feeling that they’re going to trip over their own feet like a cinematic Goofus compared to Marvel’s Gallant. Meanwhile, Marvel has Netflix shows on the horizon for Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Movies coming up about talking space raccoons and Ultron. There’s a lot to be excited about as a comic fan.

Agents of SHIELD started pretty lukewarm and led to the overwhelming response of, “That was okay, I guess. I’ll give it another episode or two.” The characters were pretty flat, but at least we had Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson. Not only did he add plenty of personality, but it brought in an interesting mystery of how he was back after being impaled to death by Loki back in Avengers. One thing the show did fantastically was troll the fans by shoving in as many hints as possible to play with everyone’s prediction that he was a Life Model Decoy while never intending it to be anything more than a red herring.

While there was the occasional good episode (the one where Simmons is infected with an electric virus), but the show lacked anything genuinely gripping. As it slogged on, the only thing it really had going for it was Bill Paxton joining the cast and the mystery of Coulson’s resurrection. Even that one started to lose its steam as it kept stretching out more and more.

People involved with the show would sidestep those criticisms and say that people didn’t like it because it wasn’t constantly dealing with Marvel movie stuff. To be fair, it did get annoying when the best way they could figure to do that was by having the characters say stuff like, “Blah blah blah gamma radiation blah blah blah Chitauri blah blah Extremis blah blah Super Soldiers.” It didn’t help when they hyped up one episode as being about the aftermath of Thor: The Dark World and all we got was a couple minutes of them literally cleaning up a mess before an Asgard-related plot that had nothing to do with the movie kicked in. It felt cheap.

I stopped watching right when they teased Lorelei for the following episode. I got tired of seeing them build on a wild goose chase of a plot that was in no way engaging. Who is the Clairvoyant?! I don’t really know, but I’m getting tired of caring. The show was spinning its wheels and there were only two reasons why I intended to come back to it later: Patton Oswalt was going to show up and to see the aftermath of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

I say that before even seeing Winter Soldier. While the trailers did a good job not explaining exactly what was going on, at least we knew that it was going to be Captain America vs. SHIELD and there was likely going to be some kind of major aftermath. Then the movie came out and made Agents of SHIELD must-watch for at least one episode because what the hell? The reemergence of Hydra was one thing, but the movie outright ended with SHIELD completely done away with. How can you do a show about SHIELD when a movie with a higher pay grade just told you that there is no SHIELD to do a show about?

And that’s the funny thing about the synergy here. Apparently Agents of SHIELD was spinning its wheels for months because they really were waiting for Winter Soldier to come out and let Hydra out of the bag. It’s like the movie was the go-ahead to move the plot forward and let the show be a good show. It wasn’t just a minor callback like the Thor episode. It completely changed the show and for the better. Bill Paxton’s John Garrett was revealed as an agent of Hydra. Nearly every lingering plot from the show, from the Clairvoyant to Centipede to Deathlok to Graviton, is really a Hydra plot. Which is pretty awesome in the sense that in the first episode, they did hint at it with a line about cutting off Centipede’s head and having another one sprout up.

Most importantly, Grant Ward – Bland McActionHero himself – is also an agent of Hydra and has been from the beginning. This whole time, he’s been playing a role, trying to build trust so he can turn on them out of loyalty to Garrett, doing stuff that can’t be redeemed, such as shooting cops and agents directly in the face. Since then, there have been some serious stakes, most notably when Skye figures it out and has to pretend she doesn’t know while being led around by a man who will likely have her killed when she’s no longer useful.

This all leads to a wonderful scene where Skye and Ward are at a diner and she angrily rants about Garrett betraying Ward while making it increasingly apparent that she’s aware that Ward is Hydra.

“It’s got to be so hard, living a double life like that. Getting close to people only to turn on them. I don’t know how Garrett did it.”

“Garrett?”

“What about all that time he spent as your S.O.? Getting to know you? Being your mentor? Only to lie to your face. Betray you like that.”

“It was, um… difficult to accept. But thankfully that’s over.”

“Because you took care of him.”

“Can we not discuss this right now?”

“If you could have had one more moment before you shot him in the back of the head – so heroically – if he was sitting right here and you could say anything you want, what would you say?”

“Skye?”

“Would you say he’s disgusting? Would you tell him he’s a disgusting, back-stabbing traitor? Or to rot in Hell?”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m just trying to have an honest conversation for once.”

Yeah, that rules. Also later, when she calls him out on being a Nazi serial killer.

While it doesn’t make up for most of the season being just kind of there, it does at least fix one moment from earlier that always irked me. In the first episode, Coulson injected Ward with a truth serum so that Skye could interview him and there’d be nothing to hide. It was one of the premiere’s highlights. A few episodes later, she teased Ward about it and he told her that the serum was fake. They were just playing her. When she asked Coulson about Ward’s claims, he just gave her a smirk and said that that was very interesting. At first I hated that because it rubbed away that clever scene from the first episode. Now I see it as playing into the plot because if it really was truth serum, Ward might have been made a lot earlier.

There are still two episodes left to go and who knows if we’re going to get a second season. I hope they do get it because once the editorial curtain was pulled away, Agents of SHIELD has become consistently good. That is one of Captain America’s greatest acts of superheroism. His own movie somehow made a mediocre show watchable.

By the way, I knew something was up with Ward when he threw away Fitz’s delicious sandwich that one time. Ruining sandwiches is something only a monster would do.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

h1

Space Brothers: Maybe Next Time

April 17th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

chuya koyama - space bros - nope

Created by Chuya Koyama, translated by William Flanagan, serialized on Crunchyroll. Space Brothers.

Not even humans can defeat the weather.

I like Space Brothers a lot. I’m ninety-some chapters in at this point and it’s managed to be funny, thrilling, sad, poignant, and good without really being anything but a low stakes slow motion kind of comic. There may be death or failure or tragedy, but it’s not really a comic that trades on those. Koyama is telling a story about triumph more than tragedy, so any setback is put into a greater context that ameliorates it some.

Space Bros is good because its two lead characters are a remarkably motivated and successful astronaut and his unlucky older brother, who is attempting to become an astronaut. He’s a dummy, but he’s not dumb, like an adult version of a shonen protagonist, so the series is constantly walking this line between comedy, motivational speaking, and amazing and meaningful coincidences from the past reflecting in the present day. It’s all very unbelievable, but it makes me feel good/sad/good, so I’m into it.

It’s facile, but it reminds me a lot of Twin Spica, one of my favorite comics from a few years back. Twin Spica had a cast of mostly underdogs knocking down obstacles left and right on their way to the top. It was sweet, it was earnest, it was very good. Space Brothers is very similar, though with sibling rivalry and friendship at its core instead of cute stubbornness. Space Brothers is astronomically less melancholy than Twin Spica, but they both share a certain amount of bittersweet sentiment, which in turns makes the triumphs better.

Or the jokes, like this one, where the dummy older brother gets ready to train to become an astronaut, sees the weather, and thinks twice.

(Vertical’s begun releasing Twin Spica in ebook format. You should read it. I wrote about it a little.)

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

h1

Three Comics Kickstarters

April 16th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Some people I like a lot are doing Kickstarters that make me feel good about where comics as an industry are going. Check it out:

-Smut Peddler 2014: LADYPORN CONQUERS EARTH is masterminded by Spike Trotman. I interviewed Spike back in February as part of Inkstuds Spotlight. Spike’s a great interview, funny, free, and most importantly, she knows how to talk about biz in a way that makes it easy for newbies like me to understand. I came away even more impressed and entertained than I already was, and it’s a delight to see Smut Peddler 2014, a sequel to the porn anthology she Kickstartered years ago, to blow up so huge. She asked for twenty grand, so far she’s up to one hundred five with eighteen days to go, and that means that all of the wonderful pornographers involved in this project are getting a fat stack of extra money on top of their page rate.

It’s 1) an anthology project 2) focused on lady-friendly pornography 3) with a page rate for the creative teams and 4) bonus cash for the creative teams, scaled according to how much money the project earns. Any one of these four things is a pretty wild idea according to common comics sense, but here are all four and it’s already a raging success. I think that speaks to something about comics as we know it right now, that there is an audience for this stuff that is not just being underserved, but not served at all.

But more than that, on a basic “Comics Needs To Be Better” front: artists are getting paid. And as the money coming in rises, they’re getting paid more. This is good. This is what comics shoulda been doing all along. Pay attention to Spike and her gang. Learn something.

-I’ve known Jason McNamara and Greg Hinkle pretty much since I moved out west, and I was glad to see them put up THE RATTLER a 96-page graphic novel thriller. Greg’s an artist that people are gonna dig once he breaks out, and Jason’s a mean writer in the best sense of the word, a real blood-in-the-unrepentant-grin kinda guy. They’ve been cranking away at this book for ages, and the Kickstarter is to publish it, rather than complete it. The book is done, so this is more like a pre-order than anything else. I’m stoked, personally, both because it’s great to see these guys succeed, but also because it’s sorta representative of what I think Kickstarter can be great at, which is connecting creators and readers without a middleman or marketing team getting in the way. “Here is my book. If you like it, buy it?” It’s basic, but Kickstarter can enable a lot of people who had exceedingly limited options beforehand, and I think The Rattler is a good example.

-There are a ton of comics out there that aren’t Marvel & DC, and I’ve been slowly figuring that out and dipping my toe into those waters over the past however many years. It’s tough to know where to start, but I’m glad Zack Soto and crew put Study Group Comic Books out there. It’s a webcomics site with a bunch of indie comics from a wide variety of creators, with a few print books on the side. Study Group Comics: 2014 Spring Pre-Order Fest is the Kickstarter for Study Group’s books this year, including new Farel Dalrymple and Sam Alden. A big part of figuring out this side of comics for me has been being able to check out Study Group and following the breadcrumbs. Sometimes finding new dope stuff is as easy as clicking on whatever looks cool.

I like all three of these projects and the folks involved. On top of that, all of them have a digital-only tier with PDFs. That’s my favorite kind of Kickstarter. DRM-free is the way to go, and if you’re looking for a few new books, any of these should be enough. They all have about ten days left and they’ve all met their goals, but it’s still worth backing any or all of ‘em.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

h1

Nisekoi: Love Hurts

April 14th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

nisekoi - jokes 01

nisekoi - jokes 02
Written and drawn by Naoshi Komi, translated by Camellia Nieh, edited by John Bae. Nisekoi: False Love, 2014.

On the one hand, Naoshi Komi’s Nisekoi: False Love, currently being serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump is not my type of comic. It stars a Polite Loser who has girls of various types of specific fetishes chasing after him or aggressively ignoring him, depending on the lady. He’s pretty clueless and he secretly likes someone, but he’s in a fake relationship with another girl to bring peace to their respective Yakuza/mafia clans, so soap opera hijinks result…blah blah blah. It’s a hijinks romcom manga, not a crime manga, which is basically my entire problem. “This comic isn’t like an entirely different comic.” There’s a lot to like about it, anyway, though.

Nisekoi is drawn pretty well, despite not being my bag, so I like to flip through it when Jump comes out to see if anything catches my eye. While it isn’t entirely my type of comics, the joke in the middle tier of the first image and the entirety of the (nonconsecutive) second page have a sense of humor that are definitely my type of humor. I didn’t know comedy suplexes were a thing until I read GTO, and now I get a kick out of it every single time.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon