Fourcast! 18: Read These Books

September 28th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

After 6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental, we break down eight books that are worth reading. Esther’s got Dan Jurgen’s Booster Gold, Gail Simone and Nicola Scott’s Secret Six, Franco and Baltazar’s Tiny Titans, Batman Confidential, and Superman/Batman. I’ve got Amazing Spider-Man, Criminal, Yotsuba&!, and Pluto. We share some jokes, a couple anecdotes, and realize that though we approach comics in different ways, we generally want the same thing: good stories.

Visual aides:



And a bonus shot, since Esther got a whole extra book!


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This Week in Panels: Week 1

September 27th, 2009 Posted by Gavok

This is a new idea I decided to play around with. Rather than write up reviews of every little thing we read every week, we would simply try to get our point across via This Week in Panels. Each week, the collective of 4th Letter would post panels from various comics that have come out that we’ve read. Good or bad, we’ll try to portray them through one panel and let you draw your own conclusions. No gigantic spoilers or anything like that. Just an attempt to show you the essence of what the comic is all about.

Hopefully Esther starts responding to my emails so we can have more DC representation.

Amazing Spider-Man #606
Joe Kelly and Mike McKone

Blackest Night: Superman #2
James Robinson and Eddy Barrows

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Reporting live from the scene…

September 19th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Esther Inglis-Arkell is on the ground with io9.com with an article about unexplored rapes in comics. You should go give it a read and then digg it in when you’re done, I think!

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Brand New Funk 2009 feat. Logan.mp3

June 4th, 2009 Posted by Gavok

The other day, Thomas Wilde — former writer on this site and all around good guy — emailed me with a couple pages from last week’s Amazing Spider-Man. Notably, the part with the Spider-Man/Wolverine fist-bump. He wanted me to do something with it in terms of a battle rap.

This is what became of the challenge.

With apologies to hermanos. I promise no battle raps in the next Ultimatum Edit.

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4thletter! vs Savage Critic(s), Round 1: The Old (Red and) Blues

November 3rd, 2008 Posted by david brothers

Add “Chasing the Dragon” into that super-long title, too.

I was talking to Graeme (Savage Critic(s)/io9) McMillan over email a few weeks back and he mentioned how he wasn’t sure that being a fan and being nostalgiac were two different things. It ties into the first shock of experiencing certain things. To paraphrase and extrapolate on his point a bit, you end up chasing the dragon.

My response was in the negative– nostalgia is obviously something that old people have for old boring comics. It’s new comics being written like old comics because that’s the way it used to be. It’s Hal Jordan being Green Lantern again, Superman’s dad dying, and all that continuity cop crap. It’s strip-mining the past to tell stories today. I’m the kind of fan that likes the new hotness, not that old and busted crap that somebody’s grandpa wrote.

The long and short of it is that I’m a liar and Graeme McMillan is right.

I had this realization a few days ago. Despite working with video games all day, I’ll throw on a game I like and fool around for an hour or so to relax and chill out. One of the games I’ve been screwing around with for the past week or two is Spider-Man: Web of Shadows on Xbox 360.

Now, I’m a huge Spider-Man fan. He’s my favorite hero, even beating out the Flash, and I’ll generally try anything he’s in. Spider-Man 2 was an excellent Xbox title and easily the best movie tie-in, but the franchise has suffered since then. Ultimate Spider-Man had a great style, but the chase scenes were a lot like being forced to pull splinters– necessary and amazingly annoying. Spider-Man 3 was better than the movie, but still featured gameplay that was kind of like waking up to find Jabba the Hutt’s butt in your face.

So, for some reason, I was a little interested in Web of Shadows. It had Spidey, Venom, an interesting story, and more than a few cameos. Luke Cage, Black Widow, Wolverine, and Moon Knight all show up. I figured that I’d at least give the game a go, since they’re marketing it directly at me and all.

Turns out that I can only stand to play the game for 15-30 minutes at a time. It’s buggy, the characters are annoying, the missions are repetitive, and the tutorials are terrible. The lock-on system varies between being too sensitive (“Hey awesome I locked on a dude two blocks behind me, screwing up the camera and my current fight”) and terrible (“oh what’s this i can’t lock onto a guy directly in front of me?”). The auto-upgrade system doesn’t tell you what it upgrades or when, and the manual upgrades have clunky menus, making it a pain to get new skills. The new skills you just bought? Generic thugs will block them all day like they were some kind of kung fu master, making your brand new Maximum Spider attack or Ultimate Web Throw completely useless.

Playing it for more than around half an hour brings all of these screaming to the forefront of my brain, but I kept going back to the game this week. The animation on Spider-Man is great, and the web slinging is sublime. It’s the best it’s ever been, and I sometimes spend ten out of those fifteen-to-thirty minutes just swinging around the fake New York.

I was airing these grievances to a few of my FBB4l brethren and Pedro, always trying to one-up a Brothers, told me “Why are you playing a garbage game?” Every time Pedro reads a bad comic and complains about it, I ask him the same thing. It was a fair point, and one that made me rethink my position on the game.

Basically, WoS adds in one good gameplay mechanic (web swinging) and then layers on cameo after cameo in an attempt to keep me interested. These cameos lead to boring tutorials (“hey go beat up 15 of these guys”) which lead to boring missions (“all right go beat 20 of these same guys”) which lead to worse boss fights (“do this three minute sequence six times in a row while you fight wolverine”) which lead to the next cameo. It’s garbage. The game is weak and not even remotely worth the sixty bucks. I’d rather they just put the city and web slinging on Xbox Live Arcade and charge ten bucks for that.

On the other hand, post-One More Day Spider-Man is exactly what I want out of Spider-Man comics. It isn’t perfect, but it’s easily the best Spider-Man has been since Kraven’s Last Hunt, which was back when Peter and MJ first got married. Mephisto getting rid of the marriage is a sticking point, I guess, but it’s been blown out of proportion. I think that if the stories are going to be this good, then losing a marriage that had stagnated? Net gain.

Moving all of that to the side– the stories are much better than they have been before now. I wasn’t a Dan Slott fan before his run on Amazing Spider-Man. His first go at She-Hulk was okay, until he got bogged down in continuity cop and fanboyisms. But Spider-Man? For some reason, Dan Slott’s Spider-Man is a lot of fun.

That’s a theme that’s run throughout Brand New Day and onward. “Spider-Man is fun.” He’s young, he makes mistakes, and he’s down to earth. He’s clearly experienced enough to hold his own, he’s smart enough to improvise solutions to weird problems, and he enjoys his life, despite the Parker Luck. He’s comfortable in his own skin.

He’s got a strong supporting cast again, including Harry Osborn, the best character who isn’t named J Jonah Jameson. Peter’s got a best friend again, which gives him something to bounce off of, and he’s got girl trouble. We’ve got more than just Aunt May and MJ, though both of them are present in one way or another.

The art is amazing. I don’t think I have to say more. If you don’t like John Romita Jr, Marcos Martin, Chris Bachalo, Barry Kitson, or the other cats who have put pen to paper (or stylus to Wacom), something is wrong with your brain.

Finally, the pace is excellent. Shipping three times a month gives the book an entirely different feel. Story lines pop up and end within a month. Subplots percolate in the background, old school style, and there are a lot of them. Despite all of this, the book is very manageable. You won’t miss out on a reference because you missed an issue six months ago. It keeps you in the information you need.

The first few months were dedicated to creating new villains, rather than reusing old ones over and over again. This resulted in both having an interesting new series of characters for Spidey to interact with, but also making the return of the old villains in New Ways to Die a blockbuster occasion.

After the latest issue, where we get this scene:

Amazing Spider-Man is pretty much everything I want out of a Spider-Man comic. It’s a great mix of funny, fun, and action. Spider-Man looks amazing. We get expressive eye lenses and half spidey masks, a couple of personal favorites, Ben Urich, an Aunt May who isn’t just an old lady, and by the way, did I mention the amazing art?

You want to know the difference between why I pushed and played Web of Shadows long after I was tired of it (two hours, for the record) and why I love reading Amazing Spider-Man these days?

Nothing. I’m a fan of Spider-Man, and it makes me happy to see that this character who introduced me to comics is once again receiving the quality I think he deserves. It’s nostalgia. It’s being a fan. I am a fan of Spider-Man because I was once a fan of Spider-Man.

That has waxed and waned over the years. I quit JMS’s run after JRjr left, which turned out to be a great idea, since the next two years were pretty much crap. The Clone Saga helped chase me away from comics when it was getting going. For a while, I liked X-Men more than Spidey, but quickly came back around when the art got better. Save for Paul Jenkins and early JMS, the majority of Spider-Man books printed between say, 1994 and 2008 are not worth your time. There are a few exceptions– Todd Dezago and Mike Wieringo had a fun run, for example. However, you aren’t missing much if you don’t buy that Spider-Man trade collecting, say, Maximum Carnage or anything Howard Mackie ever had a hand in.

Now, though, it’s back in full force. I look forward to picking up Amazing Spider-Man three weeks out of the month. I know I’l get a treat that pleases me and the me from however long ago I started reading comics.

What’s kinda funny is that Tucker Stone wrote about this same thing on Wednesday, though I found it on Sunday morning.

The moral of the story is that Graeme McMillan and Joe Quesada are both right.

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We Care a Lot Part 1: Brand New Leaf

October 29th, 2008 Posted by Gavok

In the prologue, I discussed Venom: Deathtrap: The Vault, which reader Mark Cook was quick to point out was just an Avengers graphic novel that Marvel re-released with Venom’s name stamped on it. I forgot to bring up one panel that always stuck out at me featuring Iron Man. He seemed to resemble a certain cartoon talkshow host.

“Look, listen everybody… please? Listen to me. I have a hit song about a knife and, yes, I am the head of an international peacekeeping organization.”

Venom had spent several years terrorizing Spider-Man whenever he could, but Marvel deemed him popular enough to get his own series. That would be all well and good, but he’s driven by his insatiable hunger for Spider-Man’s brains. How do you cut away from that?

The answer is to get character creator David Michelinie together with Mark Bagley and write two issues of Amazing Spider-Man. Of course, Michelinie is the creator in theory. There’s a lot of debate over who truly created the concept, but at the very least, Michelinie came up with who he was as a character. Between this story and the one following, he’d lay down the groundwork for the other writers intent on writing Venom.

It takes place in Amazing Spider-Man #374 and #375. Look at that cover. People talk about how great MacFarlane’s Venom is, but I personally consider Bagley’s take to be the definitive version.

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The Amazing Spider-Man: I Wanna Be Like Pete

October 29th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

I was raised in a black, church-going, military family. My grandfather did 30 years in the Air Force, my mom did a few, my dad was in Gulf War I, I’ve had various relative enlist, and it seems like everybody I knew from high school is either married or joined some branch of the military. I guess all of this is just to say that I’m not coming at Amazing Spider-Man #574 from the position of a total neophyte or someone who doesn’t know nothing about nothing. I tend to pay attention to those things, if only because all three things are so close to my heart.

The crux of ASM #574 is that Flash Thompson was sent to Iraq, with the surprise revelation that he lost his legs rescuing a fellow soldier. The issue tells the story of Flash’s motivations during the story, even while massaging continuity (Vietnam quietly replaced with an unnamed jungle) and bringing the character up to date.

Overall, I really enjoyed the issue. Other than one hollow note (the origin of the name Flash comes from a high school date), this is probably Guggenheim’s strongest piece of writing to date. Careful attention is paid to the reality and treatment of the military in the book, including a desk-driving general and slang. These aren’t your cardboard cut-out soldiers. We don’t get the guy with the kid at home, or the crazy war-thirsty jerkoff. The little attention given to them paints them as just regular people.

It’s Flash’s story, though, and the issue is mostly told in the first person, as Flash tells his story to the general who is reviewing him for a Medal of Honor. It’s in an issue of Spider-Man because Flash is Spidey’s number one fan, and the text shows how Spider-Man has influenced Flash’s life over the years. When Flash needed a hero, his abusive father was found lacking. Instead, he looked to Spider-Man, resulting in iconic shots of Spider-Man versus the Sinister Six, or lifting a heavy thing, or fighting the Kingpin head-on, and so on, when Flash needed that extra motivation.

It isn’t clear in the text whether Spidey was on his mind during the action itself, or simply making parallels in the retelling, but both work thematically. Guggenheim is walking a fine line here, and could easily tip over into equating the exploits of Spider-Man, a fictional character, with the very real soldiers over in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Instead, I found that it was just a story about where heroism comes from.

Everyone has someone or something that they look up to. It’s that person in the back of your mind who inspires you, or whose memory you want to live up to, whether it’s What Would Jesus Do or I Wanna Be Like Mike. It’s a very human thing to look outside yourself for strength, and I think that this book does a good job of doing that. Flash’s father was abusive, so he was right out as far as heroes go. Spider-Man, however, was young, capable, and an easy target for a young guy who needed help. Flash latched on and became a huge fanboy. When he needed to push, he could look to Spidey.

I can see how this could ruffle some feathers, but I thought it was done perfectly respectfully. Nowhere is anyone but Flash’s motivations attributed to Spider-Man, and it’s always in an inspirational manner. It isn’t about how awesome Spider-Man is, but rather about how important heroes are to people, albeit illustrated on a very small scale.

This issue prompted me to put some real thought as to whether or not it was appropriate for comics, and superhero comics in particular, to address real world issues. One man’s “respectfully handled” is another man’s “complete travesty.” Why can we do World War II comics by the boatload, but more modern issues are taboo? Is it the time and distance that separates us and makes it seem less real? Is the War on Terror, or Insert Cause/Injustice/Action of Your Choice Here, somehow more real and troubling than the Big One?

I don’t think so, and I think this issue is a good reason why. If you can do your best to treat an issue respectfully, do the research (we can call it “due diligence” so we can pretend to be adults), and generally just put your best foot forward, I don’t think that any subject is taboo.

I believe that fiction is important. As much as I hate to quote a Superman comic to support a point, I have to say that one of my favorite Superman moments is in Action Comics #775, where Superman defeats the hot cynical superteam of the moment and says, “Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us.”

The fictional nature of something does not decrease its importance any more than relating something fictional to something real insults the real thing. Sometimes you have to push toward that fictional ideal to get the job done. Sometimes it’s your father, sometimes it’s Spider-Man. There is little difference between the two, and both serve different purposes for different people. Sometimes, dreams are just what you need.

I’ve personally known people who were big on the Punisher, Sgt Rock, or (X character) who spent some time in Iraq. We didn’t spend a lot, or really any, time talking about how the adventures of Clint Barton helped them in the field, but people generally have pet heroes, or tattoos of heroes, for specific reasons. One guy in Iraq using Spider-Man as inspiration? I can buy that.

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Skottie Young Making Dollars

September 26th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

SkottieYoung.com: Business Isn’t the Same

I hate to admit that in some ways, I’ve become the guy who talks about the music of his youth is so much better than what the “kids” today listen to. But dammit, I’m right!!!!

I can remember running home after school to try and catch the 1 hour of hip hop they would play on tv. I loved it. It was so new and different that everything else and I craved it before I knew what a craving was. I’m not going to pretend that I know why it spoke to me so much or say I was ahead of the curve on anything. I just loved it. KRS-One, Public Enemy, Nice & Smooth, Special Ed, Eric B & Rakim, 3rd Bass, Big Daddy Kane… I could keep listing names all day. It just felt fun, and energizing. One of my favorites of those days was Eric and Parish…EPMD. Get the BoZack. You got to Chill, Crossover, Headbanger, on and on and on and on. I remember being heart broken when they broke up but got my smile back in ’97 when they brought it back. They really frame the sound that I remember as a kid growing up.

Skottie Young is one of my favorite artists. That New Warriors miniseries he did with Zeb Wells was definitive, and Marvel really needs to give him an Amazing Spidey arc. Click through to check out his blog.

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Authentic Street Lingo?

September 17th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

Batman’s Comedy of Eros, by Dennis O’Neil – ComicMix news

Comics have come a considerable distance in the few years since I left editing. Hell and damn, once verboten seem okay both in comics and on TV, and a few gamier locutions are beginning to pop up. But I don’t believe the medium – comics – has evolved to the point where authentic street lingo is expected.

This is about the All-Star Batman thingaling. I guess what he’s meaning by “authentic street lingo” is curse words, but I don’t exactly see why comics have not, or would not have, evolved to the point where it is expected.

“Motherloving” is a terrible, terrible word. It was bad in Ennis’s Punisher, it was bad in Priest’s Panther (or was it Deadpool?), and it was bad in last week’s issue of Amazing Spidey. “Butthat” is pretty bad, too. “*@#($&” is annoying, but not as annoying as the fake Legion grife and sprock and frak and whatever.

I saw The Incredible Hulk with Ron from iFanboy and James and Kirsten from Isotope. There is a bit in the movie where the old school Hulk theme plays. We were talking about the movie afterwards, and Kirsten remarked that playing the Hulk theme was a bad move. It was something that pulled you out of the movie and just reminded that you that you were a dumb comics fan who was seeing a dumb movie about a dumb guy who turns into a big dumber guy.

That’s what the fake censoring does. No one is doing it for the “Hee hee it was almost a cuss word” thing. People do it because the other ways look stupid. The other ways just serve to remind you that, HEY, this is a comic book, buddy! They jerk you out of the story. They look stupid.

The black bars are actually pretty elegant. I think the first place I saw them, and really noticed them, was in Adam Warren’s work, though Milestone used a variant of it. It’s reminiscient of the TV beep or music video cut. It takes away the word while still allowing it to remain present for dialogue flow or character purposes. A lot of all-ages titles get this right. They don’t use fake curse words. If they have a situation that needs them, they don’t replace it with “motherlover.”

Some people don’t like to be reminded that they are reading a comic while they’re reading. It isn’t a comics hate or self-hate thing. It’s no different than being pulled out of a movie or novel. It’s distracting. It hurts your enjoyment of the book.

So, yeah. Put me down with the people who expect authentic street lingo out of comics, be it superhero or otherwise. I can’t think of a single reason why not. If it isn’t a book that that is mature readers (and that is an essay to come, as Frank Miller had a really interesting discussion about it in some Sin City lettercols years ago) and you are worried about backlash, bleep the words.

David U from FBB has some more thoughts on the immaturity thing here.

More to come. I’ve been at work all day yesterday, all night last night, and possibly all day today again. I want to talk about this stupid streak of self-loathing comics fans have, or at least loathing toward other comics fans, and more on censorship and labeling.

I guess the long and short of it, though, is that labeling isn’t something I’m down with and self-loathing is for idiots.

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Weekly reviews – 02/14/08

February 14th, 2008 Posted by Hoatzin

I read some comics and I review them here. Just click “Read the rest of this entry” to see them. I know you’re all very excited. Happy Valentines Day!

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