Archive for the 'Read Good Comics' Category


Jormungand 3: “To promote world peace.”

June 25th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I’m going to be completely honest for a minute here. My favorite genre isn’t crime. It’s “violence.” I like my violence stylish and casual. You can’t work that hard at it, unless you’re John McClane, and even he makes it look effortless. I’m talking about single bullet in the head, hard jerk, splash of blood on the sunglasses violence. We gotta kill every rat-bastard one of them violence. No-look pass violence, where the hand that holds the knife moves so quickly and smoothly it’s almost independent of the body. Fade to black, the tip of a cigarette goes bright orange, one gunshot, and that’s all she wrote violence. I’m talking about the fact that bullets cost about twenty cents a piece, so your life is much, much cheaper than you think it is.

My most recent fix for that is Keitaro Takahashi’s Jormungand. I’ve written about it before, but I think I spent a lot of time introducing it, rather than actually talking about it. Its premise is fairly simple, which is the weird part about the lengthy introduction I wrote. A child soldier who hates weapons joins an arms dealer and people die. That’s it. There’s subplots involving vain crushes and revenge and all, but that’s flavor.

The second volume ended with Jonah, the child soldier and theoretical focus of the series, going into a suicidal rage and attacking a man named Kasper, brother of his boss, Koko Hekmatyar. The first chapter of Jormungand volume 3 reveals why he hates him. Three months ago, in an unnamed country in West Asia, most likely Afghanistan, Jonah was sent to support a military unit. Present in the camp are a group of local orphans. Jonah befriends them and protects them. Halfway through that first chapter, a vile arms dealer takes two of the orphans and goes out looking for the US military ordnance that he was planning to turn into profit. When he accidentally triggers a landmine, he uses the body of Malka, a young girl, to shield himself. She dies. He doesn’t. Jonah has a very reasonable reaction.

“I can’t accept that Malka died and not that bastard. I’ll personally send him to hell.”

By the end of the chapter, every soldier in the base is dead and the the arms dealer has four new holes in his face.

Jormungand is primarily an action manga. Its primary focus is strictly on entertainment. Bullets are expended by the dozen, each member of the cast has their specialty (sniping, tech, knife fighting, alertness, a willingness to murder), there’s a hopeless romance, fanservice, goofy comedy, and a quirky/wacky character. With that said, it isn’t completely empty of meaningful content. Jormungand is about violence. It’s about the application of violence, its beauty, its ugliness, the way it twists and distorts people with its pressure. It’s about the necessity of violence.

After his… temper tantrum, Jonah becomes a bodyguard for Koko. He hates weapons, and the people who make and use them, due to the fact that his family was killed as a direct result of arms dealers prizing profit over basic human decency. Due to his situation, and his history, Jonah is sullen and withdrawn, and not at all eager to open up and soften his facade. Which, of course, means that people are eager to talk to him and they talk at him. The cast discusses weapons and violence with him a couple times in each volume. In volume two, Koko discusses the UN’s Millenium Development Goals with Jonah. She tells him that nearly two hundred countries pledged to raise twenty-two billion dollars to genuinely improve the world. She says, “But that figure was recently surpassed by the average annual amount of money spent on weapons in regional conflicts across the globe. Can you believe that? Clearly the world likes war a lot more than it likes little kids!”

She goes on to ask him who owns most of the guns in the world. Military? Police? Private militias? Terrorists? No. Civilians own sixty percent of all the guns in the world. Less than one percent are owned by radical militias. This PDF link to “Transition to Peace: Guns in Civilian Hands” suggests that her figures are accurate. Finally, Koko says, “It’s a world where it’s easier to find a gun… than to find kindness for a stranger.”

You know what I like in my action comics? Actual facts that are more depressing than anything in the world.

Violence and weapons, they’re like a genie that’s come out of its bottle. They are not going to go away. The best you can hope for is to minimize the damage. One thing that comes up again and again in Jormungand is what it takes to defend something. Koko is of the opinion that the guns, in and of themselves, hold no values. What matters is why you use them and what you believe in. Jonah is disgusted by weapons, period. They exist only to hurt and to kill. They took his family from him.

At the same time, the necessity of them drives a lot of his actions. He is in danger simply by existing, and especially due to who he associates with. He’s a bodyguard, and you can’t defend someone with pacifism. For Jonah, weapons are a necessary evil. He can’t escape them. He knows that he needs weapons to get the job done. Early in the first volume, Jonah and Koko have a one-sided conversation about killing arms dealers. “Can you really give up the gun?” Koko asks him. She answers for him, saying, “No, you can’t. You’ll never be able to walk away from weapons. You may hate them more than anyone… but you know better than most how powerful you are with a weapon in your hand.” Simply put: you can’t bring a knife to a gun fight, and every fight is a gun fight.

Lehm, the old thrill-seeking mercenary of the group, emphasizes the importance of a cool head. He tells Jonah that the violence they engage in is just business and that they do not get into feuds. Control is what separates the men from the boys. One kind of violence destroys both sides. With control, only one side goes down. When another man describes a gunfight as “symphony,” Lehm tells him that he’s wrong. A gunfight is “a farting contest. Something awful, ugly, messy, and most of all, shameful!” Lehm thinks that a gunfight should make you apologize, and, after killing a young woman, he does exactly that to a teammate. It was necessary to kill her to protect someone’s life, but Lehm regrets it regardless.

Valmet, the eyepatch-wearing knife-wielder, prizes efficiency and emotion over all else. She believes in doing just enough, and doing it for a good reason. She has a cartoonish crush on Koko, the kind that’s obvious to everyone but Koko, but it also means that she’s fiercely loyal. While she has a certain amount of flair, since this is an action comic after all, she’s very straightforward. No flourish, no tricks, just doing what needs to be done.

Mildo, a member of a rival group, considers Valmet the big man on campus and wants to make her rep by beating her. She provides a nice contrast to Valmet. She fights because, after a while, all of the violence and death makes you empty on the inside. You take up a gun to protect your family or fight for your country, but after a while, all of that just becomes a rationalization. Mildo does it because she wants to be the best.

I find Jormungand so interesting because there are all of these questions and motivations swirling around. Every character, including Jonah, acknowledges the fact that, at a certain point, violence is a necessary evil. Jonah knows that he can’t get justice without weapons. Koko has used her position as an arms dealer to gain a greater appreciation of the way the world works. Lehm is a mercenary because it’s exciting, but he knows how to control the more unpleasant aspects of it.

I don’t know if this is making any sense. I have this theory that the stuff people describe as mindless entertainment, or popcorn movies, or whatever–none of that is worthwhile. It’s the entertainment equivalent of treading water or ten cent ramen noodles. It’ll kill some time, and you won’t come out of it angry or anything, but it won’t make an impression, either. The stuff that people remember and talk about and genuinely enjoy tends to have something beyond lasers and cool fights. It’s got to have something for you to latch on to. Jormungand is an action comic with something to say. There’s a lot of action and several exciting gun battles, but between all of that are the conversations and arguments that give context to all of the violence. It’s kind of like having your cake and eating it, too.

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Atlas #1: “My three-dimensional fade is clean cut”

May 21st, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I like a lot of crappy characters. It comes with the territory, I think. Everybody has those weird little crap characters they like. More specifically, though, I’ve got a perverse fascination with crappy black characters, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has read more than ten words of this site before. I mean, I’m just saying that I [slang term], [rap reference], [animated gif of someone shaking their head], y’know?

But there’s something I love about all these characters that were just dashed off back in the day. Moses Magnum has the greatest name in comics, the kind of name you just steal outright if you ever get a chance. Hypno-Hustler has a great name and backup singers. Shades & Comanche are the down-on-their-luck scrubs that litter every story about the hood. I don’t even have to defend my love of these characters, either. There are people out there who want to read about people whose only power is “I shrink.”

One crappy black character I never liked, though, was Triathlon. Delroy Garrett was introduced in Kurt Busiek and George Perez’s Avengers, in a story with Moses Magnum no less, but I never took to him. He was boring. He had some weird Fake Scientologist entanglement, his costume was ehhh, and his powers were lame. Oh, you are as strong as three guys? Congrats, I’m happy for you. Learn to shoot lasers or use a sword.

Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman, though. Those guys looked to be featuring Delroy Garrett in his new role as the 3-D Man in Atlas. I couldn’t even really say that I was skeptical. I think I knew he was going to be in the book going in, but Parker has rarely done me wrong. I liked his Agents of Atlas work both times around. They were pretty clever and deftly written little books, weaving into and out of Marvel history without feeling like a Crisis or a history lesson.

This week’s Atlas #1 is the grand return of the Agents of Atlas. The first series (which had fantastic covers) was an introduction and establishment of a status quo for the Agents. The second series placed them squarely within Marvel’s Dark Reign status quo, kind of like how the second Runaways series tied in a little closer to the greater Marvel Universe.

This third one, though, feels like something different. It also stars Delroy Garrett as a has-been hero. He made some hard decisions during the Skrull invasion, and the aftermath of those decisions is that he has been completely ostracized by his peers. He’s looking around for a new career in Los Angeles with his actress girlfriend when he runs into trouble. Garrett ends up being accused of murdering one of his mentors, on the run from the police, hunted by some mysterious entity, and suffering from vivid nightmares. The nightmares point directly toward Atlas.

The tone of Atlas is something like ’50s paranoia, like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There’s a creeping feeling of mystery and danger that runs through the issue. Everything Delroy trusts is either wrong or broken, and his one lifeline is a comatose old man. He’s one man against the world, with no friends and no allies to speak of.

As befitting the tone of the book, the agents haunt Delroy. They appear in nightmares, news reports, and as silent characters up until the end of the first story. They infest his dreams and while they don’t come across as villains, exactly, it is clear that Atlas isn’t your same old super-team.

This book was excellent. Hardman and Elizabeth Breitweiser’s art was appropriately moody and subdued, Parker’s dialogue and pacing were on point, and (pregnant pause) it made me a fan of the 3-D Man. His new status quo works for me in a way that Triathlon never did. I never thought that would happen, but what can you do? I picked up the first issue on a whim, rather than waiting for the trade like I usually do, and it paid off huge. Huge enough that I’m buying it monthly from here on out. Check out the preview at CBR and go pick it up.

Looks like next week is going to feature another Jeff Parker bullet to the dome, too. Good show.

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The children are the future, and King City is for the babies

May 12th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I wrote about Brandon Graham’s King City for Comics Alliance.

It’s dumb, but I’ve been trying to write about King City for ages. The last time I tried was around issue 4. I think the final text on CA is a mixture of ideas and sentences from three different drafts from several months worth of starts and stops. I finally got focused and put some elbow grease into it, using issue four as the lynchpin, and I think it turned out pretty okay.

The thing is, King City may well be my favorite ongoing comic right now. It’s a book I save to read until several days after new comics day, in part because I know it is going to be fantastic and in part because it makes everyone else making comics look lazy. It’s that serious. Graham is filling each page with amazing ideas and the briefest of thoughts and it all works. It hangs together. Reading King City is like playing Jenga with ideas and concepts, but it never tips over. It stays upright. The oversized floppy format, the black and white art, the page count, the backups, the back cover, the whole book works. It’s cluttered and messy and it all works.

(I haven’t been able to get “Sometimes her cigarette smoke smells like flowers” out of my head since I read it.)

I didn’t want to screw it up when I wrote about it. This is the book that everyone should be reading. It’s your stepping stone to a world of great comics. And like, writing it up and doing a halfway job on it? That’d just be sloppy. I wouldn’t do it justice. I think the CA piece comes as close as I can right now. I may write about it more later on, as the series lumbers toward its conclusion.

One more thing.

I love this comic, man. Y’all should be reading it.

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Red Robin Turnaround

May 10th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

In Red Robin #12, Tim is a nice guy, surrounded by friends, who makes logical decisions, and narrates his actions using personal pronouns.  He’s considerate, grateful, and relaxed about relying on others.

The difference between this and the Tim we saw a year ago is so staggering that is almost produces vertigo.  What it does produce is an actual desire to read the book.  Hey look!  A hero who is dedicated, sincere and considers others!  And also flies around having adventures and fighting villains.  It is what I want to read in a comic book.  Who’da thunk?

I do wonder what it is that happened that makes everyone suddenly want to get into Tim Drake’s pants.  Did he have a birthday sometime during the run, because having a teaser for a storyline entirely devoted to getting the hero to impregnate Ras Al Ghul’s daughter doesn’t seem like something DC would do pre-eighteen.

I have to admit, I hope that they follow that storyline up, though.  And I hope they play it for laughs.

Oh, Ras, and you thought Bruce Wayne was a – well, yes, a tough nut to crack.  Just wait until you try enticing Tim Drake.  This is a guy whose last voluntary kiss was in a dank cave, surrounded by the corpses of clones of his murdered best friend.  You will have an easier time getting pandas to mate.

(Anyone know why Ras has given up on having a son himself?  He’s a good-looking, no-shirt-wearing millionaire.  It can’t be hard for him to find a woman.  And he has a lot of time.  If he spent as much time on dating sites as he did on trying to get Bruce to have sex with his daughter, he’d have an army of sons by now.)

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The Life and Times

May 5th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

True story: Don Rosa’s The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck is one of my favorite comics. It’s a great story, with fantastic art, and I’ve loved it ever since I first read it (which was as an adult). I like it so much that Boom! Studios’ rerelease of the series in a couple hardcovers has been tempting me, even though I own an older Gemstone edition.

It’s the story of how Scrooge McDuck went from pauper to super rich fat cat. There are tons of real-life guest stars, all done up ducks-style, and it’s just a rocking good story. Boom! posted a few pages of the book on their press site and said that we can post them around. So, y’know, enjoy. I have fantastic taste, and believe me when I say that this is a classic book.

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Death to Canon

April 28th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

A large part of the appeal of superheroes is the ongoing narrative. Like soap operas, wrestling, and movie franchises, people like to drop in and see what’s going on with a character. While there are Elseworlds, What Ifs, dreams, alternate universes, and house shows, there’s a clear series of stories that are “real.” You can trace the biography of Clark Kent from 1938 to 2010, and buy books that tell that story from the beginning. Regular reinventions re-tell his origin, but with rotary phones replaced with touchtone phones, and then newspapers replaced by the internet, and then the internet replaced by newspapers again.

This has expanded from a biography into a mythology. It’s not enough to have Clark Kent from ’39 to ’10. You need to know Clark Kent’s place in the DC Universe, and how he relates to thousands of other characters. There is a narrative, whether on a small scale or a macro scale, that you can follow from A-Z. Superman died [mumble] years ago and this is how it affected Blue Beetle. Peter Parker fought Norman Osborn in college, and here is how that affects the Marvel Universe. Stories that do not fit into that narrative are either handwaved away in favor of the new interpretation of the character or deprecated and consigned to the realm of “imaginary stories.”

The idea of “real” stories is one that Marvel and DC both have wholly embraced. It is the stuff that runs in the veins of big events, and the reason why comics fans claim that they hate events but buy them anyway. “I want to know what happens! This matters!” You want that next chapter in the ongoing story, you need to know what happens to Peter Parker in Civil War, and you want to know the effects of Secret Invasion on the greater Marvel Universe. You’re invested in the narrative.

That investment leads to the immediacy that drives the direct market. You can go to the comic shop every week and get an update on whichever universe you prefer. If you don’t have that immediacy, that lust for the periodical, you have no reason to hit a comic shop and can just order the completed stories a few months down the line and read them at your leisure. DC’s recently stated wish to push back against trade waiters and emphasize the monthly comics (a move I find, frankly, idiotic and backwards) is their latest attempt to maintain their stranglehold on that market. These are the lifers, the ones who go in, buy their comics, complain, and buy them again the next month.

Series that don’t tie into the narrative sink like rocks. Barring aberrations like Deadpool’s current status, who ride a bubble of interest until it fizzles out, anecdotal knowledge says that niche books don’t sell. Recent casualties: Blade, Blue Beetle, Captain Britain & MI-13, SWORD, and Brother Voodoo. Books like Runaways and Agents of Atlas are repeatedly relaunched, repositioned, and revamped in an attempt to keep readers. Runaways in particular was changed to tie directly into the greater Marvel Universe for its second volume.

Those books get cancelled because retailers know that readers want important stories, so they order accordingly. Who cares what happened in Runaways? Is Spider-Man even in that? And The Mighty? Who is that? Is Green Lantern ever gonna guest star? “Save ______” campaigns, barring the amazing dedication of Spider-Girl fans, rarely work. The books get resurrected, retailers order a couple extra copies at best, since the last series failed, and then we’re left right back where we started: “Save ______.”

Simple question: why? Why are the books that are “real” considered more “real” than the others? In the end, the only thing you get out of reading a “real” story is a different set of fake information about a fake character. Both results are equally fake. You think somebody who only ever watched The Dark Knight cares that Batman once fought a dude with eyeballs where his fingertips go? Or that Spider-Man getting married matters more than that time Venom drove a truck in the Spider-Man cartoon? No, because here is the truth: all stories are fake stories. Granted, there is a certain amount of pleasure in following a character’s ongoing adventures, but let’s be real: all stories are fake stories. Being part of a string of fake stories doesn’t make it any more real than the other fake story.

So, why is Amazing Spider-Man more real than Spider-Man Noir? Easy: Marvel says so. Or DC says so. Or whoever. They have a vested interest in keeping their captive audience, for lack of a better phrase, so they maintain something approaching a canon, a group of stories that are “real.” Those other stories, Elseworlds and What Ifs and whatever, are fake, and you don’t need them to know what’s going on. If you buy them, that’s great, but look–Siege is what you need. Buy Green Lantern because it’s important.

My least favorite question in comics is “Is this in continuity?” That’s a frustrating question, especially when recommending a book to someone. There is the implication that stories that are in continuity matter more than ones that don’t, when that is undeniably false. I read Spider-Man comics for a few years without ever picking up Amazing Spider-Man.

Nowadays, I think the thrice-weekly Amazing Spider-Man is a great book, one of the most consistently good cape books on the stands. It has had its low points, its dips in quality, but the overall package is good. Last January, it was moving about sixty thousand units.

Spider-Man Noir is honestly one of my favorite Spider-Man stories. The writing was on point, the art was excellent, and it all came together very well. As far as Spidey stories go, it hits all the notes to make it a classic. It shipped thirty-one thousand copies.

Why the discrepancy? One is real, the other is not.

The problem with this system is that quality does not matter. Avengers Disassembled and Ultimatum were deck-clearing exercises. Everyone hated Spider-Man: One More Day, but it sold 150k. Identity Crisis was a terrible mystery and Blackest Night ended when a ghost popped up in the last issue and told everyone how to beat the bad guy. But, since these books are important, they sold gangbusters. Add a logo or a banner to a low-selling comic, script a tie-in to the important event, and watch the sales jump while people see what’s going on with the greater continuity. And then watch them fall once the continuity cop stuff is over.

Death to canon.

I hate the way it’s used in comics. Rather than having stories that matter, treat every story like it matters, Elseworlds or no. You can still do the ground-shaking status quo events, you can do sequels, and you can do long-running series. In fact, the way Marvel collects its events already does this. If you go to the store to buy Annihilation, you have Annihilation Book One, Annihilation Book Two, and Annihilation Book Three. They contain several stories from a variety of writers, but all tell the story of the Annihilation Wave. House of M has been collected into several softcovers. And in the bookstore, these books do not have any primacy over Spider-Man Noir or Agents of Atlas.

What’s important is the story and the creators. Not the canon, not the format, not the wrapper, not the company that made it. The story and the people who created it are the only ones that matter in this equation. By removing that fixation on the canon from the situation, comics fans can find themselves dozens of new books that are just as good, and sometimes better, than the canon-centric titles they buy in droves and talk about online.

We get the comics industry we deserve. By focusing only on the Universes, you miss the good stuff. I shifted my perception and found a wealth of books I would’ve otherwise ignored that rocked my socks off. I’m a firm believer in liking what you like, but at the same time, if I ruled the world? Comics would be a whole lot different than they are now. Fake stories are fake stories, no matter what anyone says. Once I started treating them like that, I started liking comics a whole lot more than I did already.

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One Piece: “Luffy… help.”

April 25th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I talked about the shared storytelling techniques in Unforgiven and Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece last month. I was kinda bummed out, because the animated version of that chapter wasn’t online at the time, but Hulu recently put a whole bunch of episodes online, dubbed and subbed. So, re-read that essay and then come back here and watch this fantastic episode of One Piece.

I’d say that this is the main turning point in One Piece, the moment when you know whether or not you’ll like the series. I was interested way before, probably during the brief arc that introduced Zolo, but this here is where Oda’s style and planning start to pay off. Like every shonen manga ever, OP is about friendship and trying your hardest and being the best, but Oda’s use of screwball humor, clever pacing, and willingness to just let loose with the wackiest concepts and characters he can think of puts it a step above Dragon Ball Z or Naruto.

I do think that OP owes a lot to Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball, at least in terms of humor. Dragon Ball Z wasn’t a super serious affair, but it was several orders of magnitude more serious than its frankly ridiculous predecessor. Oda took the nigh-constant humor of Dragon Ball and spruced it up a little, resulting in a series that is a mix of genuinely funny jokes (Luffy’s “Oh, a mystery _____” when confronted with fairly simple ideas never fails to slay me, as does Chopper’s child-like terror on Skypiea), emotional confrontations that aren’t overbearingly emotionally manipulative, and seriously rocking fights.

One Piece is hands-down the best adventure comic.

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Annihilate Your Type If You Violate

April 22nd, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I quit the Avengers books. Bendis’s plotting was dragging, Dark Reign was bugging me, and I was honestly bored since some point around the middle of Secret Invasion. Billy Tan on art didn’t help. I also quit pretty much every DC comic. I love Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Amanda Conner’s Power Girl, and I check in on Batman & Robin once in a while (when Quitely and Stewart are on art, mainly), but that’s where it stops.

I didn’t quit Marvel’s cosmic books.

Over the past four years, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, with a strong assist from Keith Giffen, have quietly carved a stale and stagnant corner of the Marvel universe into a vibrant and fascinating sub-franchise. I’m not particularly a sci-fi guy, but DnA have written some frighteningly consistent books over the past four years, ones of such great quality that when you get an issue that’s merely “good,” you feel a little disappointed.

Ed Brubaker’s Captain America is a consistently good comic. Good, but a little too much of the same thing, month-in, month-out. You run out of things to talk about. Not so for this cosmic stuff. DnA plugged several shake-ups into their plotting, keeping their heroes rocking from status quo to status quo without feeling jarring. It fits together almost like a series of movies. You can hop in wherever you like, though some points are obviously better than others. But that’s okay. I’m here for you. Let’s talk about lame characters gone good, terrible concepts turned interesting, and nobodies turned heroes.

Let’s talk about outer space.


It began with Annihilation. An army of bug monsters from space, the Annihilation Wave, set about the destruction of all that is not them. The story is one thing. What’s important here are the characters.

There is Thanos. He was born on Titan, Saturn’s moon, to a race of godlike beings. He was born twisted and deviant, and lusts after the personification of Death. He’s committed genocide and attempted omnicide to gain Death’s favor, to no avail. When Death senses the Annihilation Wave coming, she describes it as “something wonderful.” Thanos allies himself with Annihilus so that he can partake and impress his love.

Drax the Destroyer used to be strong and dumb, an outer space version of the Hulk. Then, he died. When he came back, he was lean, smarter, and less strong, but doubly lethal. Drax was created for one reason, and one reason only: to destroy Thanos. The need to wipe Thanos off the face of the universe is in his genes. That is his goal, and when faced with his target, he can’t help but pull the trigger, and damn the consequences.

Before Drax was Drax, he was Arthur Douglas, father to Heather Douglas. On a trip through the desert, the Douglases witnessed Thanos landing in a spacecraft. Deciding to preserve his secrecy, the Mad Titan blasted their car. The blast instantly killed Heather’s parents and accidentally threw her clear. Thanos’s father took Heather to his homeworld and trained her to be one of them. Now she is Moondragon, a master martial artist, telepath, and scientist.

Imagine being the child of the greatest hero in space. Now, imagine being the genetically-grown kid sister of the heir to that legacy. And then, imagine that heir dying, and being the only one left alive to continue the family business. Phyla-Vell of the Kree, daughter of Mar-Vell, better known as Captain Marvel, knows exactly how that feels. Her father was a hero. She is nowhere near as popular. When Moondragon, her girlfriend, is kidnapped by Thanos, she’s forced into the spotlight.

The Silver Surfer, Norrin Radd, is a former herald of Galactus, the world-eater. He has little interest in seeking out worlds for his former master to find, but once Annihilus’s forces begin attacking Galactus’s heralds in an attempt to secure and weaponize Galactus himself… well, the Surfer is forced to make a decision.

Ronan the Accuser is a Kree warlord with a giant hammer. Desperately loyal to his people, even when placed on trial for treason, Ronan is forced to battle his own government to prove his innocence and expose the rot inside the Kree empire. When you are accused of a crime by Ronan, it is best to simply take what’s coming to you.

Unless you are Gamora, the most dangerous woman in the universe. She is Thanos’s adopted daughter, and part of a race with the unlikely name of “Zen Whoberi.” Thanos raised her to eliminate the Magus, the evil aspect of Adam Warlock. She worked with and for Thanos for years, and betrayed him when he revealed himself to be a threat. Lately, she’s been mind-controlled and her reputation has diminished. With the aid of Godslayer, her newfound sword, she wants to get back out there and make people fear her name once again.

Adam Warlock is the messiah. No, really. He’s here to save us all. The problem is that at some point in the future, he becomes the Magus, a religious demagogue, and works to enslave the universe. His loyalties shift and blur because of this, making him particularly untrustworthy. Messiah or doom–which is it?

Imagine Peter Parker joining the Green Lantern Corps and you have the basic building blocks of Richard Rider, better known as Nova, the Human Rocket. He has more or less the same origin as Hal Jordan, but at the point Annihilation begins, he’s just a foot soldier. He’s five years in to being a Nova Centurion, one of thousands, but forty-eight pages later, he’s the only one left. And since the Nova power is shared amongst the entire Nova Corps, what happens when Rich is forced to contain all of it? What happens when you send a man to war?

That’s all you need to know to get started. The story begins in Annihilation, which is composed of three volumes (Book 1, Book 2, and Book 3). Annihilation tells the complete tale of the Annihilation Wave, as well as laying the foundation for the revamping of Marvel’s cosmic universe. Later was Annihilation Conquest, which told of an opportunistic invasion by a crappy X-Men villain turned fearsome. This was collected in two volumes (Book 1 and Book 2), and told the story of a race that was bent on turning sentient beings into slaves. Annihilation Conquest set up two series. Guardians of the Galaxy was about a group of heroes who banded together to protect the universe from an oncoming threat. The galaxy had been rocked by two incredible threats, back to back, and enough was enough. Someone had to put a stop to it. In Nova, Rich Rider is faced with the daunting task of rebuilding the Nova Corps from scratch and policing a galaxy on his own.

While all this was going on, a mad earthling assumed control of the Shi’ar empire, a race of bird people. Others did not take kindly to this, which led to the War of Kings. The aftermath of the war, called Realm of Kings, left a hole in space, and that hole leads to something akin to hell. In another universe, life has completely defeated death. Lovecraftian elder gods and infected versions of heroes we know lurk in the darkness, waiting for their chance to push through.

At this point, DnA are dragging the cosmic heroes into another catastrophe. Their solo series are on hold for The Thanos Imperative. The Mad Titan is back, pissed, and stronger than ever before. Complicating matters is the incursion of the Lovecraftian monsters from the other universe, but when you pit the ultimate manifestation of life gone wild against a god who worships Death herself… well. We’ll see.

I can’t stress how solid DnA’s cosmic work has been. They’ve taken perennial z-listers like Star-Lord and Nova and turned them into multifaceted, interesting characters. They’ve taken goofy concepts like Annihilus and the Phalanx and made them into believable threats. And they have done it month-in, month-out, since 2006.

That kind of dependable quality isn’t anywhere else in comics right now, save for Mike Mignola and John Arcudi’s BPRD. This cosmic stuff where the great stuff is hiding out at Marvel right now. There have been a few mis-steps. CB Cebulski’s two-issue Darkhawk miniseries was perfect deleted scene material and entirely missable. Some of the art has been questionable, but never for too long. But, if you don’t read Marvel, or you don’t read this part of Marvel, you’re missing that good stuff. Get familiar.

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Can’t Afford an iPad? Buy Afrodisiac!

January 27th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

The Apple iPad is out, as you can see on this post here from Engadget. It’s five hundred bucks for the lower end version, which has 16 gigs of space and supports only WiFi. It looks a lot like a giant, novelty iPhone, but hey- it’s new. Check out if you want to order one- the WiFi revs ship in late March, 3G in April.

On the other hand, if you’ve got the money laying around for an iPad… you should be copping Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca’s Afrodisiac. You can read my review on it here, if you’re unfamiliar with the work. The official site has an extended PDF preview and trailer, too.

It hits comics stores today. If your local shop doesn’t have it (we’re going to assume that you go to one of those shops who orders good books like this, and that they simply ran out before you made it in), you can order Afrodisiac from Amazon, where it’ll run you about ten bucks. Amazon’s site says that it’ll be in stock on 02/01, but there’s probably a chance it’ll ship late this week.

Really, get this book.

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Ganges #2: Unexpected and Good

January 13th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I picked up Ganges #2, my introduction to Kevin Huizenga, on Tucker Stone‘s recommendation, so it’s only fitting that I bite Nina’s Virgin Read gimmick, right?

I’d heard of Huizenga before, of course. He made several Best Of 2008 lists, but I’d never really bothered to check him out. I dunno what it was–maybe being a little wary of trying new things, hopping onto a book I knew next to nothing about, maybe just being a little dumb–but I didn’t get around to it until I ended up at APE ’09 with a list of books from Tucker to keep an eye out for. I was short on money, long on time, so all I got was Ganges #2. I mean, I didn’t even know that it was about a guy who can’t sleep. I found that out weeks later. I came into this colder than cold.

My first reaction when I started reading Ganges was a mixture of confusion and surprise. The first panel is clearly a menu from a video game, and the next few panels hit all of the video game staples. I saw a select screen, some platforming, some exciting zooms, and a little fighting before it all went weird. The next ten pages are a blur of bizarre shapes and experiments in symmetry, all filtered through the language of fighting games. There are health bars and charge meters, and there’s even a bit where the black figure (player one) checks his upgrades and moves in a pause menu.

Huizenga uses the large-sized page to great effect here, as he moves from relatively normal-sized panels to one- and two-page spreads. The level of detail and complexity of the figures in the image expands drastically as they warp from form to form. There are no words, save a few text boxes in Japanese, so the art stands on its own.

It’s weird and it’s different and it immediately showed me that Ganges #2 is not what I thought it was. I was expecting mopey autobio, a distant cousin of Blankets with better artwork, and instead got something that was well worth the hype.

The game is something that Glenn Ganges is playing while his wife sleeps in bed. After a sequence where he restarts the game and gets back to it, a caption informs us that Glenn used to play a game called Pulverize when he worked for an internet startup. From that point on, I was instantly hooked. I got my first job when I was 14, doing web design (I think in Front Page and Notepad.exe) for a local non-profit. We left work at around 630. The boss left an hour earlier. Someone on staff had a copy of Quake II, and soon that last 45 minutes of work (just in case the boss came back) was game time. We had custom skins and everything.

Ganges #2 is about how people come together. While everyone in the book has their own problems and worries, Pulverize becomes an equalizer. In the game, they’re their avatars. Nothing more, nothing less. Playing together gives them a common ground to stand on, strengthening bonds and turning people from coworkers into something akin to friends. But not exactly- at the end of the day, the camaraderie is fleeting. Pulverize brought them together, but in a very specific way. The friendship was like watching a movie through a piece of glass, a little foggy, a little distant, and not quite real.

But even still, Huizenga shows how these kinds of relationships can be important. When layoffs begin at Ganges’s company, they send off one employee in grand fashion. Their bond may not be the thickest there is, but it is a bond, nonetheless, and valuable simply because it brings people together. The connection existing in that moment is what counts, not how long-lasting it is.

By the end of the book, the story is nothing more than an anecdote, something you could tell in ten minutes over drinks. In the book, it’s framed as just that. We see Ganges playing the game, the caption tells us about the time he was really into another game, and then the story ends.

Despite that, Ganges #2 is never boring. The video game that serves as the glue for the story is interesting, basically GeneriQuake, but what’s important is that the game puts the people on a level playing ground, allowing Huizenga to illustrate differences of personality by how they approach the game. It’s an obsession for Glenn, and something he hides from his wife, behaving a lot like a cheating husband when he works late and lies about it. His boss plays it because he thinks it’d be good to bond with the team, but soon quits. It’s a calculated decision, not one he did for fun, and as authentic as his relaxed posture when asking his employees about whatever small detail he’s latched onto as being the best way to relate to them. He’s fake.

Ganges isn’t at all what i expected. Taken on its own, #2 is a comic about nothing. A guy plays a game, we read a brief story about his past, then he gets some water from the sink and plays again. That’s it. But, the story is deeper and more entertaining than that summary suggests. It’s a comic about people and how they interact, held high by shockingly good art. The first ten pages show that Huizenga can do some amazing things with storytelling and the rest of the book shows his strong grasp of body language and how to make talking heads interesting.

I’m going to try to pick up the rest of Ganges (numbers one and two, which are in stock at and do another review, this time knowing exactly what it’s about going in. I think it’ll be interesting to see how my assessment of the series and Huizenga’s work changes. Based off Ganges #2, though, I expect to enjoy both.

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