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Jumping on Empowered and Jonah Hex

December 7th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Two releases last week ended up being great jumping on points for titles that actually deserve it. Rather than being a back to basics issue (which tend to be pretty bland) or exposition hour, these two just present their series as-is, and let you come to your own conclusions about it.

Jonah Hex is written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, and is fifty issues deep. On the art side, it’s been blessed with issues by Luke Ross, Tony DeZuniga, Phil Noto, Paul Gulacy, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Art Thibert, Phil Noto, JH Williams III, Val Semeik, and Darwyn Cooke, but most of all, Jordi Bernet is the regular artist. The only DC Comics that looks better than Hex month in, month out, is Greg Rucka and JH Williams III’s Detective Comics.

Hex #50 is a one-shot tale, like almost the entirety of the series. The artist this time around is Darwyn Cooke, who you should already be familiar with. It features Jonah Hex, of course, his on-again, off-again lady friend Tallulah Black (a great name made greater by the fact that I used to live on Tallulah Trail years and years ago), and a whole mess of bad guys that need killing. It hits almost all of Hex‘s main points: brutal killing, Hex being a bastard, a little bit of black humor, and incredible art.

Hex is a series that I purchase mainly in trades. I know that it is going to deliver a good experience each time I drop ten bucks on a trade, but I went ahead and picked up this issue because of the anniversary and its extra size. I wasn’t disappointed at all. It was a great issue among good issues and definitely worthy of the expanded size.

Adam Warren‘s Empowered is another series I enjoy a lot, and Empowered: The Wench with a Million Sighs is a great introduction to the series. The story is an examination of the various sighs that Empowered employs in her life, be they out of frustration or of a baser nature. It’s laugh out loud funny, with a mix of both raunchy jokes and clever gags.

The Wench with a Million Sighs feels like a single chapter out of one of the larger Empowered volumes, which is definitely a good thing. As far as getting to know the book goes, this has everything. The humor, action, and personality that make Empowered great are in full effect. Emp spends the book fighting Irresistimovable while her boyfriend, best friend, and caged arch-enemy talk about her sighs and compare notes.

It’s a little self-aware, a little willing to poke fun at itself, and a lot of fun. Doing a one-shot special is a good play to gain attention in the Direct Market, and Warren’s approach to the special makes it easy to hop right into Empowered Volume 1. It’s a good series, and I hope that this works to get more readers for Empowered.

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I Know Blog People Linkblogging

August 27th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

-Over at the Factual, I make jokes about interracial dating and Nina Stone delivers the best review of Batgirl #1 thus far. Nina’s POV is great, and she wrote up a pretty funny review, too.

-IDW Publishing is releasing Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of Parker: The Hunter on iTunes. Five chapters, first hit’s free. Haven’t seen this news anywhere? You should watch more iFanboy. Ron Richards interviews him and he drops the bomb like it was nothing. Here’s the embed, as the interview is hilarious and full of true facts.

They’ve got a good (but quick) interview with Adam Warren, too.

-If you don’t think digital comics are the future… well, have fun with your phonograms, horse & carriages, and that dying from tuberculosis thing. Print will undoubtedly stick around, but all the smart money is on digital comics that aren’t based around tights and fights. I like superheroes as much as the next man, but it’s time for some diversification, and I’m not talking about putting some chocolate sprinkles on your vanilla ice cream or a wise latina on the Supreme Court. I’m talking about comics about vampires, nurses, fast food, slice of life, lies, World War II, science fiction, detectives, and everything else that’s not, or poorly, represented by the Direct Market-focused comics industry.

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Wolverine Contest, Adam Warren Interview

July 27th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I’m back from the con, barely, and I’ve got some reminders.

-The Wolverine Contest is still on. Go, enter, and win a free book or two. It ends tomorrow, so go ahead and get your entries in.
-I interviewed Adam Warren after discussing his Dirty Pair and Gen 13/Livewires work. It’s a good read. He went above and beyond in answering all those questions.
-Podcast is due to return in the middle of this week. We’ve got a couple of special guest stars this time around, and it required a little more time than usual.
-Lone Wolf & Cub has been on unannounced hiatus for the past couple weeks. I hope to get back to it this coming Sunday, but at worst, it’ll begin again on August 9th. San Diego Con and a few other things bearing down on me meant that something had to give, and LW&C ended up being the victim.
-I totally screwed up my back at the con. Yow.

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Adam Warren Week: The Interview

July 23rd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

gen13_numero_70_cover_by_adamwarrenAdam Warren was kind of enough to consent to an email interview, so of course I immediately bombarded him with way too many questions. As a result, we’ve got a long, and wide-ranging, interview that I think is pretty interesting. We cover a lot of ground, and Warren does it with good humor. And I do mean a lot of ground– this thing weighs in at over 5800 words. I went through and added in links for context or reference, in case you’re curious about a few of the topics that come up.

Thanks to Ken Kneisel for supplying me with the majority of Warren’s run on Dirty Pair, Jacq Cohen at Dark Horse for turning an offhanded Facebook comment into a fun interview, and finally, Adam Warren for answering a million questions.

After you finish reading, you should buy some Empowered (One, Two, Three, Four, Five), Dirty Pair, Iron Man: Hypervelocity, and Livewires. While you’re waiting for those to arrive, visit his DeviantArt to look at some art.

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Let’s get it in.

(and yes, adam warren week is just three days long. shut your face.)

At the time that I’m writing this, Empowered has been out for a couple of weeks. What’s your workday like now that it’s on shelves? Do you take a vacation between books or get right into working on the next volume? What do you do to relax?

Right now, I’m working on an Empowered one-shot (in conventional comics format, for once!) and frantically trying to wrap up a few other miscellaneous art jobs before I head off to the San Diego Comic-Con this week (ouch). This is more or less par for the course, as I usually try to work up other pitches or grind away at brief stints of better-paying work before I go back to full-time work on the next Empowered volume; in a way, though, this almost is a vacation, compared to the crazily long hours I often have to work as a volume’s deadline looms ever nearer.

As for relaxing, well, once the workday’s over, I might read some books, watch a DVD (starting over with The Wire season 1, at present), or crack a Sam Adams or two and catch some Craig Ferguson in the wee hours… (Though the latter’s not an option, of late. Since the spectacular onset of the digital TV revolution, my remote neck of the woods went from receiving about eight different TV stations’ signals to receiving a grand total of none whatsoever; yay, DTV! So, no Craig Ferguson for me, nowadays.) Ah, the manifold joys of the rural-dwelling freelancer’s off-work lifestyle…

How fast are you, art-wise? Do you do any digital work, or are you strictly lo-tech? What do you listen to while you draw?

I certainly wouldn’t claim that I’m an especially speedy artist in general… but, when working in the straight-to-pencil format used for Empowered, I can usually turn around at least two pages per full workday, which isn’t too shabby a production rate.

That’s the whole point of the format, really: to move on to the finished page as quickly as possible, leaving out all the intervening stages that used to slow me down as an artist. As in, my technique used to progress from scrawled roughs to very tight but undersized layouts to even more tightly penciled, full-size pages to final inks that were even tighter still; on Empowered, I jump from the thumbnail/rough stage straight to final, penciled pages (at the wee 8.5” X 11” size, BTW), a considerably more streamlined process.

gen13cov69While the technique I use on Empowered is indeed extremely “lo-tech”—nothing but graphite on letter-size copy paper, without resorting to such high-tech, cutting-edge, space-age innovations such as bristol board or inks or a separate lettering stage—I  can’t say that it’s strictly lo-tech, as the pages still wind up getting scanned into Photoshop, then tweaked and cleaned up (and lettering-corrected, as necessary) at Dark Horse. Contradictorily enough, only modern scanning and printing technologies make Empowered’s primitive process viable in the first place…

Nowadays, I listen to a helluva lot of talk radio when I’m working, mostly of the sports-related variety (I am a New England native, so Pats/ Sox/ Celts interest comes naturally to me), occasionally mixing in some books on CD for variety… I do, however, switch over to music from the ol’ iPod when working on scripts, due to the sad fact that talk radio’s babble frequently derails my train of dialog-related thought. (Unless I actually want to mix references to KG and Jonathan Papelbon and Randy Moss into my scripting, which is rarely the case.)   

While doing research for this interview, I realized that you don’t sell your original art. I don’t think that you travel to many cons, either, so genuine Adam Warren Sketches(TM) are pretty rare. Do you prefer to keep your art within the confines of published books, rather than sketches and such?

It’s not that I’m particularly opposed to selling my artwork; it’s just that I’ve never clawed out enough free time to set up some means of actually selling the stuff. (Plus, I am a tad paranoid that some Empowered material might need to be rescanned at some point; such are the problems inherent to working in the ever-tricky medium of grayscale.)

I should say that, back when I used to attend considerably more conventions than I do now (the invites dried up a long time ago, for better or for worse), I did crank out a goodly number of commissioned sketches every year… Empowered is descended from the last major clump of such commissions (mainly of the “damsel-in-distress” variety) I took on, after all. Now, though, I no longer have the time to deal with many (or any) more such requests along those lines.

Side note: Come to think of it, my attendance at San Diego this year will mark my first convention appearance during the entire time that Empowered has been coming out… Alert the media! Well, perhaps not.

In general, I suppose that I do prefer to keep my artwork within the confines of a published book, or at least within the confines of a story… Drawing as such doesn’t interest me all that much, save for as a means of conveying a narrative. I’ve never filled a sketchbook, I don’t draw people in the subway (er, that is, assuming I moved to a location that had a subway), I don’t hang around sketching with fellow artists after conventions (though the first part of the social “Drink & Draw” experience does appeal); in short, I don’t do the things that a real artist, someone who’s Crazy In Love With Drawing, should do. Luckily, this isn’t a major, psyche-twisting source of angst for me, as I pretty much see myself as a writer who happens to be able to draw.
Read the rest of this entry �

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Adam Warren Week: Gen13 & Livewires, yo!

July 22nd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I think Gen13 may have been my introduction to Adam Warren. I kinda sorta remember picking up it up when I was super high off Wildcats 3.0. Later, I picked up Livewires, a Marvel miniseries that Warren wrote and Rick Mays drew in 2005. I can’t help but associate one series with the other, even beyond the Adam Warren connection, because they both take the idea of a “comic book universe” head-on and treat it with a certain measure of, if not respect, realism.

Most comics tend toward real life in terms of technology and style. Reed Richards is a crazy supergenius, Superman’s an alien, and lasers exist, but real life is more or less the same as it is in our world. Gen13 and Livewires, though, take the opposite tack. Superheroes run rampant in Gen13, by way of a not-so-underground youth sub-culture based around being posthuman. There are gimmick groups, really professional teams, people who just abuse their mental powers to get themselves off, and others who are ironic superteams. Livewires exists in the black ops area of the Marvel Universe, performing cleanup jobs on rogue technology and getting into high tech gun battles.

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The two books also places young people, or at least reasonable facsimiles thereof, right in the spotlight. The members of Gen13 are hormonal, angsty, and focused on how other people perceive them. Roxy struggles with her body, Caitlin tries to be the mother of the gang, and the others all have their own problems. Livewires stars androids are like next-gen ’80s John Hughes movie stereotypes– the goth, the cool guy, the popular one, the jock, and the newbie. Their stereotypes help create their personality and provide a few fascinating inversions of the stereotypes over the course of the story.

Warren, particularly in Gen13, throws the characters up against the wall over and over again, and we end up seeing what makes them work. There’s an issue of Gen13 that centers around Sarah Rainmaker, her powers, and her relationship with her uncle. It’s one of those things where a character has a heart to heart or a vulnerable moment while doing something athletic or using their powers, but it provides great insight into Rainmaker’s mind. It shows how she was built as a person, and then it shows exactly what she’s capable of. Not to mention that it’s mildly funny at the same time. Not to mention the end of his run on Gen13, which is up there with Hitman and New X-Men for my favorite endings of all time.

In a similar vein, Livewires is about identity. The main character, Stem Cell, doesn’t believe she’s a robot (pardon the r-word, my mecha, i’ll do better) until she’s forced to face reality. The disbelief is designed to make it easier to activate her and get her used to real life, but it also brought a few questions to mind as I read over the book.

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Why should the mecha be treated as less than human? Their personalities may be programmed, but their AI is as good as any human’s. They perform a lot of the same jobs, often with greater accuracy. As in Pluto, what does it mean to be human?

It’s the fact that the books focus on younger people that makes them work for me. Teen Titans, X-Men, and pretty much everything but Runaways have devolved into generic superhero tales, all full of sound and fury and continuity. They’re no longer about teenagers doing teenaged things, like Warren’s Gen13 run was. When’s the last time Robin and the gang went out to a party of teen heroes? Gen13 did it, and they found a bunch of friends in the form of the Mongolian Barbecue Horde (amongst other names). They’d hang around the house, play DDR, talk about girls or boys, and do teenaged things. It wasn’t just wham, bam, another friend is dead, time for a funeral.

This is a big part of what I like about Adam Warren. He manages to latch onto something that you either hadn’t thought of, or wished would happen, and spins it into something fresh. Writing teenagers isn’t as simple as mentioning Xbox or iPods or PlayStation. That kind of Mad Libs writing always comes off lame. Actually knowing what you’re talking about, taking into account how teenagers act, and being willing to experiment makes for a good time.

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Case in point– Adam Warren’s Galacta, daughter of Galactus, has been greenlit for a series of stories on Marvel’s webcomic service. He wrote a tale about Gali and her issues with eating, and bam, people dug it. It was something fresh, and it worked. I’m pretty pleased, and look forward to seeing it when it drops. I know that with Adam Warren, I’m getting something that’s going to be interesting.

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Adam Warren Week: A Dirty Pair of Lovely Angels

July 21st, 2009 Posted by david brothers

dirtypair1I’m just young enough that I can’t really remember a time without anime or manga. I had an early introduction to Akira via my uncle and discovered both Saturday Anime on the SciFi Channel and the burgeoning anime section at my local video store. By that point, it was over for me. 8-Man After All, Dominion Tank Police, Bubblegum Crisis, Robot Carnival, Demon City Shinjuku, A-Ko, Vampire Hunter D (the first one), Galaxy Express, and Fist of the North Star were huge to me. I mean, I used to watch (and own) Tenchi Muyo. You could say that I was spoiled. I got the best of Japan (well…), the best of America (well…), and it was all normal to me. I managed to catch that wave just in time. (Do you guys remember Burn Up?)

Before that, though, Japanese animation and manga weren’t quite the powerhouses they are now. There were a few early adopters, of course. Frank Miller was a Lone Wolf & Cub fan, and Ronin is chock full of Japanese influence. Another was Adam Warren, who, if not the first guy to do “original english language” manga, was definitely one of the first.

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I came to Warren’s Dirty Pair late, particularly in comparison to the time when I first discovered the Lovely Angels (that lovely time known as “puberty”). In the late ’80s, Warren and Studio Proteus acquired the rights to Takachiho Haruka’s Dirty Pair, a tale of two girls (a boisterous redhead and a demure brunette) who work for the 3WA as “Trouble Consultants.” However, people call them “the Dirty Pair” on account of the fact that if they’re involved, collateral damage goes through the roof.
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I knew Adam Warren’s Dirty Pair existed, but never managed to pick any up until earlier this year. Ken Kneisel, murderer of Flex Mentallo, savior of Emma Frost, and pretty much the nicest guy I know, hooked me up with just about the whole set. I tore through the books as I got them, with an eye toward writing about them later in the year.

What’s really interesting about these books is that Kei and Yuri, the titular Dirty Pair (though they prefer Lovely Angels) could easily be written as The Assertive One and The Doormat, respectively. Rather than fall into that trap, Warren twists their dynamic a little. Kei is a hard-drinkin’, hard-fightin’, hard-shootin’, loud tomboy with a foul mouth. Yuri’s more reserved, sure, but she’s far from a wilting flower. Both of them are capable, funny, hate each other’s guts in that way that only best friends for life can.

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They get along and complement each other very well, despite being nominally different. Warren even gets to play with their relationship a bit, when a clone of Yuri is tricked into thinking she’s on a VR training exercise and able to do whatever she wants. So, we get a more Kei version of Yuri than we’ve ever seen before. All of her insecurities, as well as all of her strengths, are put on display while she runs around a planet causing mayhem.

The action in DP tends toward the huge and explosive. Suns go supernova, characters are infected with wardrugs that make them into violent beasts, bio-organic monsters run rampant, and sometimes people get shot right in the face with lasers. It’s a very action movie kind of violence, the kind of thing where the heroines can come across dead bodies and go “Yuck!” rather than vomiting.

And, you know what? It works. Adam Warren’s Dirty Pair feels like the kind of story you’d see in a Die Hard or Lethal Weapon. The action keeps you riveted, but the relationship bits in between keep you going. Kei and Yuri have a great dynamic, and they get into funny and exciting situations. It’s definitely a product of its time, a period where high heels and laser beams go hand in hand, but that was a fun time. I hesitate to call it dated, if only because the science fiction still feels fresh in its approach. The hair styles can be a little ’80s anime-style, but I never really felt like I was reading a specifically ’80s comic, like you tend to with so much of Marvel and DC’s output from the same time period.

Dirty Pair still feels fresh, or is interesting enough to eliminate any of those feelings of the awful ’80s. Kei and Yuri are great heroines, almost like a sci-fi version of Riggs and Murtagh. It’s funny, exciting, and a blazingly fast read. Good stuff.

(all images yapped from ComicArtCommunity)

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Black History Month ’09 #22: Shake This

February 22nd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I really like Adam Warren’s Empowered. I’ve been a fan of his since Gen13, and Empowered, though pretty pervy, is one of the best superhero comics out. I can’t get enough of it. Though the art would make you think that it’s a T&A-focused title, and that isn’t necessarily untrue, the book has the kind of character work and evolution you don’t usually see in mainstream books. There’s no chance of a character suddenly reverting to a personality from decades ago because it’s Warren’s own work. You end up with well-rounded characters who can go through surprising changes.

One of the more interesting characters in the book is Sistah Spooky. She’s a black member of the Superhomeys, which is basically the premier super-team of the Empowered universe. Empowered is her rival, for lack of a better word. Here’s a few pages that basically explain their relationship. Scans mildly NSFW.

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This thing that’s afflicting Spooky is something that I think affects all black people on a certain level. For years, though things have changed to an extent now, white was the default race in pop culture. Cartoons starred almost exclusively white people, and what black people existed were either sidekicks or garbage (Black Vulcan). TV and movies showed white people as the main characters, even if they lived in the middle of New York City. You never see anyone like you in a position of positivity.

This sets up a series of domino effects. If all you see are white heroes, white women presented as beautiful, white people as upstanding members of society, and very few black people of substance, it associates the idea of “white is right” in your head. This ties into the trend of black guys getting rich and going for white girls, black girls who hate their hair and their skin, and bias against people lighter or darker than you are. I’m always surprised when non-blacks tell me they didn’t know about intra-race racism. The darker you are, the further from white you are, the less good you are.

I find this video fascinating, and it helps illustrate my point very well:

If you want to see the full video (yes, you do, even if you think you don’t want to) you need to click this link and spend 7:15 on Youtube 4:50 is heartbreaking.

And I mean, that’s the long and short of it. It isn’t anything malicious. There aren’t evil marketers out there wearing Klan robes and planning on turning a little black girl into a roiling ball of self-hatred and no self-esteem. It’s how things have shaken out. It’s the saddest thing in the world. It’s that first couple verses of Saul Williams’s Black Stacey.

I remember being a kid (and this is something that I’m ashamed of and disappointed in myself for now) and being very uncomfortable in my own skin. I’d go to sleep daydreaming about having hair like Zach Morris or the other white guys on TV or in comics. When they’d jump or flip their hair would bounce. My hair didn’t even do that after I got dreads. It was too nappy, too thick, and too black. Even trying to dye my hair is an ordeal.

Ever heard of somebody who “got that good hair?”

Nowadays, I hate that I felt that way. It’s so stupid and ignorant and juvenile, but I didn’t know any better. I just knew what was cool and handsome and wanted to be like that. I realize now that I’d bought into something I shouldn’t have. It was self-hate, and it’s disgusting, but I was a child. Children learn quickly and absorb knowledge like sponges. I didn’t know why I had those feelings, but I knew that I had them. It burned.

If I had to pin a name on it, it’s an implanted inferiority complex. These implications are never stated outright, but they build up inside your brain like cholesterol. This kind of thing can ruin a person without them even realizing it. Even recognizing it can, rather than opening your eyes, smother you in bitterness. It’s really an amazing trap. Not recognizing it can destroy what you could have been, and recognizing it can do the exact same thing.

It’s what Sistah Spooky fell prey to above.

Cheryl Lynn of Digital Femme is a big fan of Empowered. When I mentioned that I was writing about Spooky, she hit me with a few comments that I wanted to address here.

But what’s so sad about [Sistah Spooky] is that she never had to make a deal with the devil. She would have been hot anyway. When she loses her powers and reverts in the last Empowered volume, none of the bystanders make any mention of ugliness, they only mention how young she is. She would have likely grown up to be that same beauty, she just couldn’t see her own potential, which is a running theme in the book, actually.

Cheryl says it better than I can. Sistah Spooky, and everyone else who has fallen prey to this kind of self-hatred, had no idea of her own potential. But, because she’d lived a lifetime of seeing bottle blondes held up as the only standard of beauty, that idea had set inside her mind. She was blind.

And that’s what makes this self-hatred thing so terrible. It makes you blind to your own worth and potential. How are you supposed to even suspect that you’re beautiful when every standard of beauty around you says the opposite? You don’t even get a chance.

Again from Cheryl:

What’s really interesting is that SS could have easily made herself white and blonde. She could have taken the Lil’ Kim route and didn’t. Why not?

I have an idea, though it’s half-conjecture and half-wish fulfillment. I figure that going the full Lil’ Kim route is giving up completely. It’s taking what Spooky was and could have been and throwing it into the trash. By keeping herself black, Spooky was making a statement. If the world were fair and everyone was on an even keel, she could be just as pretty as the rest. While taking the deal, she’s giving in, but she isn’t giving up, if that makes any sense at all. She made a concession, but she drew a line in the sand and said “no further.”

I’d like to think that it was her subconscious telling her that to go further than she did would be committing a great sin against herself. Like I said… conjecture.

This sort of implanted self-hate is one of the reasons why I care so much about seeing black faces in comics. How are you supposed to shake this off you if you never know about an alternative?

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