Archive for the 'Read Good Comics' Category

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Dustin Harbin’s “Boxes” Is Real Talk

September 11th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Last December, I started a draft for a post. The working title was “guts,” with the loose idea being that I would talk about or around a few different scenes that rip your guts out, emotionally. I went back and forth over it a few times and never came up with anything that I thought particularly worked or had the effect I wanted. But it stayed in the back of my head and I wanted to make it work.

I think I was inspired to do it by Frank Ocean’s “There Will Be Tears,” particularly the first verse:

My grandaddy was a player
Pretty boy in a pair of gators
See I met him later on
Think it was 1991
The only dad I’d ever know
But pretty soon he’d be gone too
Hide my face, hide my face
Can’t let ‘em see me crying
‘Cause these boys didn’t have no fathers neither
And they weren’t crying
My friend said, “It wasn’t so bad
You can’t miss what you ain’t had”
Well I can

Which is maybe the roughest moment, emotionally, on Ocean’s Nostalgia,ULTRA.. The album’s full of these little moments of sharp, burning resonance. Some of them are warm, like when Ocean explores what guys do to trick girls into liking them on “Songs for Women.” Others are darker, and the darker ones stand out for me a little more. But they’re harder to describe, to explain why you like them, because that involves talking just a little bit more about yourself than I’d like.


I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know comics artist Dustin Harbin via Twitter over the past… year? Six months? I don’t know. Some amount of time that is shorter than five years and longer than two weeks. He’s a cool and funny dude, so it feels like I’ve known him longer. He’s been doing a strip called Boxes since June, beginning here, and I’ve greatly enjoyed it. Boxes is a lot of things, but the simplest way to put it is that it’s about how we perceive the passage of time — long, drawn out periods of time suddenly flashing to their end point, moments that stretch into infinity — and how we perform our personalities.

(It’s a pretty book, too, of course. Harbin sticks to a neat four-panel grid, two by two, and when he breaks the grid, it’s to great effect. He’s using watercolors on the background, I believe, which gives the comic a cool soft appearance. Harbin’s self-caricature is great, all ears and beard, and while it takes some of the sting out of the emotional content Harbin is writing about, it doesn’t decrease the power of the points he makes at all. It turns his comics musings into a scalpel, instead of a knife. [Maybe that only makes sense in my head, but I sure do mean it.])

Boxes is good. It’s harrowing. He talks about asking questions, instead of volunteering information, and how that’s a sign of (his, but really “our”) introversion and nervousness. He talks about feeling stagnant while his friends proceed apace. He talks about when life makes sense and when it stops making sense, and what we do to cope. He manages to do all of this while tying in physics (astrophysics? I am not a Scientist), Albert Einstein, and what it feels like to be a part of the comics industry.

I read Boxes and I get that weird bad/good feeling that you get from watching movies or reading books that make you cry. It’s sort of like the feeling I associate with horror movies, a “Bad things are about to happen” type of foreboding, but with the benefit of knowing there’s an answer at the end, or if it not an answer, confirmation that you aren’t alone. A creeping/comfortable feeling, maybe, or brutalized/validated.

The bad feelings that you get from the work, the lumps in your throat and identification you feel, hurt, but they also confirm that someone else is feeling what you feel.


Do you remember this bit from Casanova: Avaritia, by Gabriel Ba, Matt Fraction, Cris Peter, and Dustin Harbin? This is what I mean.


I can’t do this stuff. I’ve tried. I recently wrote a piece about not grieving over on my pal David Wolkin’s objects & history & feelings blog. It took a lot out of me, and a different kind of “a lot” than writing about race, which is something else that’s hard to do sometimes. The level of introspection required to not just identify your feelings, but track why you feel that way, come to an answer that doesn’t totally destroy you, and then put all of that in front of other people… that’s tough.

It’s tough because you essentially have to look at yourself and, instead of hiding it like we all do, put exactly what’s wrong with you on display for yourself and others. And that’s terrifying. I always feel like I’m held together with duct tape and spiteful stubbornness, and doing anything that would upset that balance would inevitably lead to my ruin. Isn’t that stupid? But it’s true.


The boxes that Harbin is talking about are what we hide behind. At one point, he says that he’s “trying to be real, to be actual, to be present and engaged… to populate my world with real input, rather than endless projections, status updates, possible tweets, and bullshit.”

And that is true. There are definitely several types of David, from pseudo-scholar 4thletter! to glib and annoying twitter David to whatever personality it is I put forth on tumblr David. They’re all a pose, to an extent. They’re all true, obviously, but they aren’t the True David, right? They’re what I choose to show you, in an attempt to make you like me and feel good about myself.

Boxes is good because Harbin is cutting through all that stuff and trying to be real on the page, as in his real life. So he’s frank and honest about himself and his emotions, and that scares me a little, but it also drew me in. I can relate to what Harbin’s going through and trying to work out. He’s able to do it in a much more public and compact way than I ever could, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a tiny bit jealous of that fact.


You should read Boxes. Harbin nails an ending that’s actually usually pretty tough for me to buy, which is awesome. If you can afford it, you should definitely pre-order Diary Comics 4, which includes Boxes and fifty more pages of comics. Diary Comics 4 is debuting at SPX this weekend, and he’ll be shipping out print copies after that.

Pick it up if you’re at the con, if you like comics like the ones I like.

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Sharknife Power Level: Tight!

March 28th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I was heavy into Warren Ellis in 2005. I was on the Bad Signal mailing list, even, and I remember him hyping a lot of comics. I feel like there were three comics that were Big Deals in 2005. One was Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim. The other was Brian Maruca and Jim Rugg’s Street Angel. And the third was Corey Lewis’s Sharknife. All of these comics were examples of what I think was being called the New Mainstream at the time. The New Mainstream was an alternative to the old mainstream, which was corporate cape comics. The New Mainstream was mostly creator-owned adventure comics, some of them with goofy high concepts, but these three were pretty much golden. I’m sure you’ve seen the Scott Pilgrim flick by this point, which is about as good of an adaptation of that comic as you’ll ever see. If you haven’t read Street Angel, you should. (I’m still waiting for a chance to see that Street Angel indie film that those Australians did years ago.) It’s very good. Lewis’s Sharknife was good, too.

In fact, Sharknife is a pleasantly weird comic. It feels like one of those comics where the creator just empties out his brain on the page. Whatever he’s into, from music to video games to tv to whatever, ends up there in black and white. I don’t know Sharknife‘s secret recipe. I catch a lot of what Lewis is throwing — Street Fighter, kung fu, Power Rangers, manga (my guess is Akira Toriyama) — and that’s always cool. We’re probably around the same age, judging by the stuff he’s into.

But all of that stuff is secondary to what makes Sharknife so good. Sharknife works because Lewis gets that style is substance. How you say something is as important as what you’re saying. Something like a Lil Jon single isn’t gonna be that complicated. But Jon knows how to say things in a way that’ll get you hyped up and throwing elbows. It’s a combination of lyrics and music in the case of rap, but for comics, it’s a combination of ideas and art. The words matter, sure, but “He headlocked a bear” is .0001 as effective as a drawing showing the same thing.

Sharknife has style. You can see it in the logo and lettering, for one thing. Lewis’s sfx, with its filled-in letters and irregular forms, are idiosyncratic and perfect for the series. They look like they should bounce over the page rather than just sit on top of the art. Have you seen what happens when lettering shows up in a cartoon? His sound effects are like that. His art sits comfortably in that “manga-inspired” lane, for lack of a better descriptor. He does super deformed characters, he does super detailed characters, and his sense of design leans toward videogame flourishes. Everybody gets a cool touch to their wardrobe or costume. People have names like Ombra Ravenga and Caesar Hallelujah.

The feel of Sharknife is kinda like how people describe action or kung fu movies to their friends. The Killer is a deadly serious movie, but nobody is dour when explaining it. They’re psyched, they’re excited to even be talking about it. Words spill out of their mouths and they get ahead of themselves, but it’s always fun. That’s what Sharknife is like. There’s this bit where Sharknife is fighting in his restaurant and a table full of patrons freaks out and worries that they’re gonna die. Sharknife turns, says, “It’s cool!!!!”, and then slams the table through a wall while the patrons scream “Thanks Sharkniiiife!”

Sharknife is full of stuff like that. Those little flourishes and embellishments make the comic. The story is goofy, but simple. Busboy by day, superhero by slightly later in the day, Sharknife fights evil and protects the chinese food restaurant The Guangdong Factory! But the cast is filled with Megaman-style villains (i.e., ones with real specific gimmicks) and weirdos.

All of this takes place in a heightened version of reality, or maybe just a Saturday morning cartoon. Or a Saturday morning cartoon version of a really good video game. Something like that, but anyway, the point is, physics and realism don’t matter. Sharknife is go with the flow comics. It’s id comics. You just want to let it seep into your brain and see what switches it flips. And Sharknife is a good comic, too. That’s what’s most important. All of the style and video game-y stuff coalesce into a really solid form and make for a supremely entertaining comic.

I haven’t read Sharknife ZZ yet. I expect to like it as much as I like the first one. There’s a lengthy preview below, and you can and should buy both Sharknifes on Amazon (Volume 1 and Volume 2), at your local comic shop, or digitally (volume 1 and volume 2). When taken together, you’re looking at what, 400 pages of good comics? More than worth it.

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Villains Reborn Part 1: Masters of Deception

December 29th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

In the prologue, I discussed the initial appearances of the Thunderbolts and the big hook of the series: a bunch of villains are pretending to be heroes in an attempt to exploit the world’s trust for personal gain. Months ago, I tried to get a friend of mine to read the series, but he’s a DC guy and was reluctant because he didn’t know any of the characters. Hell, I didn’t know any of the characters either! I mean, sure, I had heard of the Beetle before, but I only knew these characters as “those guys who became Thunderbolts.” Regardless, I figure now would be a good time to briefly go over our starting six main characters.

BARON ZEMO/CITIZEN V
Helmut Zemo

Helmut is the son of Heinrich, the Nazi supervillain who got the credit for Bucky Barnes’ death back in World War II. The news of Captain America returning, as well as the death of his father caused Helmut to seek revenge. At first he went with his own gimmick, calling himself the Phoenix. Cap handed him his ass and knocked him in a vat of Adhesive X, which scarred up his face something fierce. He’s since returned again and again as Baron Zemo, always aligning himself with fellow villains in hope of sticking it to Captain America. His claim to fame is the time he led the Masters of Evil into overtaking Avengers Mansion, where he had Jarvis tortured and messed with Cap by destroying his old pre-freeze belongings.

Zemo has no powers, but is an expert swordman and something of a scientific and tactical genius.

Baron Zemo is driven by his thirst for world domination and the belief that he is superior due to being a Zemo. Different writers seem to have different takes on how much he takes after his father. Can he be described as a Nazi or just the son of a Nazi? Does he feel that he’s superior because he’s Aryan or strictly because of his bloodline? Even a recent issue of Thunderbolts delves into this with Jeff Parker suggesting the latter. Personally, I like to just think of him as being a straight-up Nazi who likes to use people who he feels are inferior. It adds more emphasis to a lot of his later moments, from the subtle (the end of Thunderbolts #100) to the not-so-subtle (the last issue of Zemo: Born Better). I’ll get to those far down the line.

MOONSTONE/METEORITE
Karla Sofen

Karla was the daughter of a butler who worked for a rich family. While living at the mansion, she became best friends with the family’s daughter, exploiting her for her wealth. After her father’s death, she was removed from the cushy mansion life and her mother worked to the bone to keep them afloat. Karla was disgusted by her mother’s behavior and swore never to slave for the good of someone else. She became a talented psychiatrist and moonlighted with some bad people, ultimately leading her to convince the supervillain Moonstone to hand over the Kree artifact (the Moonstone) that gave him his powers. As the new Moonstone, Karla antagonized the likes of the Hulk and the Avengers.

Oh, and going by Brian Reed’s run of Ms. Marvel, she murdered her mother and convinced some of her patients to kill themselves. A little overboard for her depiction? Possibly, though Busiek has her doing some shady actions that land near that level.

As Moonstone, Karla is able to fly, has super-strength and can phase through walls. When using her Meteorite guise, she uses that last power at a minimum so as not allow anyone to figure out her identity. Her manipulation skills are so top tier that even Loki’s like, “DAMN!”

Moonstone is driven by selfish comfort. She’s the kind of person who would pretend to be lifting her corner of the couch while you end up putting in the brunt of the effort.

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“number five said it ain’t worth being alive” [casanova: avaritia]

September 21st, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Y’all read Casanova: Avaritia 1 yet? Two bucks online, get on that. Matt Fraction, Gabriel Bá, Cris Peter, Dustin Harbin.

People (meaning people I follow on Twitter, really) thought that this page was real clever and mind-blowing:

(i forget who said that actually, but it was several people and I love all of you)

And it’s cool–the art is fantastic, obviously–but it’s pretty Jim Starlin-y and a little too “Ha ha here’s a cowboy monkey ninja ape kicksplode whoaaaa” for me. It works in context, but it didn’t knock my socks off. You know what did?

We’ll get there. First:

Remember when Bendis said this?

“So, on top of having a cool team and some cool stories to tell, I thought, ‘If I’m going to be the writer of both books, they both should feel very different.’ They shouldn’t just be the bi-weekly Avengers titles. It should be two unique writing styles and the one I’m using for ‘Mighty Avengers’ has new usage of thought balloons and narrative. It has first person and omniscient first person narrative, which I never do. I want to make sure that each character has a unique voice and point of view that gets across to the reader as well as their actions in the story. I’m not using these techniques to be retro or cheeky. I want to try new stuff with more modern [storytelling] techniques.”

CBR, 2006

The result was this (no context, sorry, but drawn by Mark Bagley):

They weren’t thoughts so much as interjections, insults, brief comments, half-thoughts, and things like that. They’re nowhere near as purple as Claremont’s balloons during his heyday, which is my main benchmark for balloons, but they don’t work for me at all. They aren’t thoughts. They’re internal monologues, caption boxes transferred to fuzzy balloons. No one thinks like that. I get what Bendis was trying to do, which was approach real life a little closer, but he got a bit too close and his wings melted. Or something. The point of that metaphor is that it didn’t work, and also Bendis is Kid Icarus.


Okay, this isn’t the part in Casanova that knocked my socks off, but I liked it a lot:

The balloons coming out of their mouths are great, and super creepy, as if the words (which we can’t see because Cass isn’t paying attention) are parasites. It looks evil, yeah? Like something you cough up. But that’s not it, either. It’s panel four, where Cass is looking at Sasa Lisi’s domino mask. In the scene before this one, Sasa tells him that his father is dying of cancer. He rejects her verbal reassurances (I think she was going to say “Cass, it’s going to be okay” and he stops her, saying, “Don’t. …just don’t.”) and they hug.

But here, though, he’s zoned out, he’s gone, and he’s looking down at her mask and the mask is thinking what she represents. “you’re not alone” is heavy, and I like that an inanimate object is what’s thinking it. It feels like when you look at something with a lot of personal history and you sort of flash over what it has been over the years. “I got this from Sarah, the day after she told me she loved me for the first time, and she’s gone now, but I held onto this thing.” Does that make sense? The domino mask isn’t thinking at Cass. He’s thinking about it, and we’re seeing the result.

“you’re not alone”

It’s not enough though. It never is.


It’s stupid to talk about Casanova as if it were “Matt Fraction’s Casanova.” That’s woefully incomplete. It’s Matt Fraction, Gabriel Bá and/or Fabio Moon, Cris Peter, and Dustin Harbin’s Casanova. The whole team goes in. They’re animals, man. Collaborative savages. Look at these pages. Harbin’s letters are especially great in an industry that often seems to under-sell the importance of lettering, but Peter’s colors are dead on, and blah blah blah it looks great. Best looking Marvel comic? Probably.


I’m getting to what knocked my socks off.

Fraction found a way to do thought balloons, though these are technically captions, that actually feels like real life thoughts. They’re raw, unfiltered, and the sort of thing that actually fits in between speech. They’re the voice of the lizard brain, mean and ugly. I love how Harbin (or Peter?) colors the angry thought caption to red. It comes across like a blast of hate, the sort of thought that makes your eyes narrow and your lip curl before you can make it stop. And then the next caption–petulance.

Colored captions: lizard brain. Regular captions: forebrain.

(or, as a commenter points out, it’s actually Cornelius’s caption and I’m slightly wrong.)

This page is so sad. Cass comes off kind of pathetic and lost. Small.


Here it is:

Lotta build-up for a little nothing, yeah? It’s not even a full page. It’s just one panel from early in the book, and it’s been almost entirely stripped of context by me pulling it out from its page and scene. On the page before, a janitor asks, “Was it the cancer? Lotsa folks dyin’ of cancer these days.” Cass’s response: “It’d take something worse than that. I’m afraid.”

Page two of the comic.

This is one of those things that comics can do that movies or books or whatever can’t. That space between the two balloons speaks volumes. Say Cass’s line aloud and you hear “It’d take something worse than that, I’m afraid.” Somber, yes, but the sort of thing you say with a sad smile. A deflection, kind of.

The space changes the tone of the sentences, though. “I’m afraid” is a complete thought. Taken in context, he’s saying that it would take more than cancer to kill him, and he is literally afraid of that fact.

There were a few phrases that echoed through Gula: “What thing can kill me?” and “No one ever dies.” Those are paraphrased, maybe. Cass said “What thing can kill me?” early in the first issue, and it was a bit of mid-fight sass, something to show off and strike a bit of fear into Dokkktor Klockhammer. Panache.

Now that we’re in Avaritia, “What thing can kill me?” has become “What thing can kill me? Because I would like to die.” He’s suicidal, maybe overtly, maybe latently, and he wants out. And he’s afraid of what he has done, what he has to do, and what he’s become. He’s the greatest killer mankind has ever created, and it… chafes, to put it lightly. He’s beyond burned out. He just wants everything to be different, but he doesn’t know how to make that happen.

“What thing can kill me?” has become a plea. All of his swagger has paled in the face of the murder of billions. It’s tough to spit wisecracks when you’ve got the taste of coppery blood in your mouth.

And the… the ease with which Fraction and Harbin slip this in there, and Bá and Peter give us this sad, dejected, and slumped super-sexy super-spy with Xs for eyes (what do dead men have in comics?) knocked me off my feet. Or my socks off. Whatever. It’s panel two of the entire comic, of the entire series, and I instantly got it.

Imagine “What thing can kill me?” echoing off the walls of eternity, warping and shifting until it becomes “Fuck your future. Nothing is sacred. Harm everyone. Save yourself.”

Casanova Quinn went from super cool to broken, and you can see it in that little strip between (“It’d take something worse than that.”) the balloons (“I’m afraid.”).

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buckshot blogging: akira toriyama, static shock, chew, breaking bad, naruto

September 7th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Static’s back. Have you heard?

Static is one of those series that’s near and dear to my heart. It’s the hands down best updating of Peter Parker thus far, and since Spider-Man is the best expression of a superhero (it’s not Batman, chuckles, Spider-Man is a genuine everyman fantasy character), that’s saying a lot.

Anyway, I was most interested in Static Shock #1 out of DC’s New 52 books that are launching this week. (DCnU looks and tastes like poop when you type it, so chill with that.) It was equal parts interest and trepidation. I mean, DC has managed to screw up everything else relating to Milestone except the trades of previously printed material, you know? What’s next? Ed Benes on Icon?

As it turns out, my fears were pretty much unfounded. Here’s page two of the issue, the moment I decided I would enjoy reading it:

And man, Static is such a goofball and this is exactly what I was hoping to see. Well, not exactly–that’s definitely hyperbole, but as far as the platonic ideal of a comic featuring Virgil Hawkins goes, I’ve got to tip my hat to John Rozum, Scott McDaniel, Jonathan Glapion, and Guy Major. This was a pretty good stab, and enough to make me commit to buying the issues at $3. It’s well worth your time. You can cop it here.


I wrote about Akira Toriyama drawing fight scenes in Dragon Ball, more specifically DBZ for ComicsAlliance. Dude is super talented and I finally figured out a way to say so without just saying “I like how Vegeta effortlessly murks this guy right here.”


I like how Vegeta effortlessly murks this guy right here.



He’s such a thug. ~swoon~

Buy Dragon Ball Z, or just v22 if you want to see this scene.


I wrote a post about how I don’t really dig on steampunk and you know what happened? I went and read a steampunk comic book that I really dug. What’re the odds, man? Here’s a page from it, though, and I think you’ll see why I dug it:

Art team: pencils by David López, inks by Álvaro López, Nathan Fairbairn on colors, and Jared Fletcher on letters. Words team: G Willow Wilson, who I’ve praised before.

This book really clicked for me. It’s a little Cinderella-y, with a twist I saw coming halfway through the book but was still well-executed. I might want to talk about it in-depth later, I dunno, but I liked this page and the book enough to share it. The Lopezes have come a long way since Catwoman, and I remember liking their stuff back then, too. Fairbairn does wonders for their art. It’s like magic.


I’ve been reading/rereading Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto. Five bucks a volume, man. I didn’t expect to be so weak. I’m ten volumes in now. I got to my favorite bit from the cartoon–the Rock Lee vs Gaara fight? It’s either this or this on Hulu, I dunno. (Hulu is down for me right now.)

I loved the Rock Lee vs Gaara fight because it got so bananas in a way I really, really dug. Fast punches, clever gimmicks–it starts with a punch from the front that almost hits the back of Gaara’s head. It’s awesome fight staging. They blew their animation budget on this episode, because everything after looks like crap crapped out of a crap-filled crap butt.

It looks way better in the comic. Here’s three pages that I liked:

From Volume 10, my dudes.

I love page 3, panels four and five. The dust in the air over Gaara’s head in 3, and then Gaara being almost entirely constructed out of speedlines–including his fist, eyebrows, eyes, and mouth–is fantastic. Good looking comic.


I’m writing these while watching Breaking Bad. I download it, so missing it when it airs isn’t really a huge deal, but it’s marathoning this show is crazy. It’s SO tense, but also very, very funny. Walt is so passive-aggressive. Every once and a while he decides to show everyone who wears the pants and whoops look at that, look who’s pants have pee on them. It’s you, Walt. They’re your pants, and you peed in them, because you suck, son.

Jessie Pinkman is incredible this season. Everything he does, man. A+, give that dude some awards.


I liked this bit from Chew 20, now on sale digitally:

Tony’s sister doesn’t curse, you see. Simple, ain’t it?

But quite clever.


I love this image.


Read Good Comics.

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4 Elements: My Favorite Comic Book Story

May 30th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

As of today, I am no longer a man in my 20′s. I was wondering how to be all sentimental about such a change and decided that I would do a 4 Elements post on my favorite comic story. That’s a hard decision to make, really. What to choose? I love Watchmen and all, but I don’t know if I’d rank it that high. Hell, I love Kingdom Come more than I should, but even that rings hollow. Maybe there’s some Deadpool story buried in there that I should gush over.

In the end, I decided to go with a short story from a 90′s What If issue. Yes, I’m terrible. In fact, most of the issue is terrible. It’s What If #34 from the second volume, otherwise known as What If No One Was Watching the Watcher? Years back when I ranked the top 100 issues of the series, that one only made it to #57. Despite being a humor issue, it featured 19 pages of unfunny jokes and inane concepts. The only reason it ranked so high was because of the opening 7-page story.

The story, written by Scott Gimple and drawn my Tom Morgan, came out in 1992, only a month or so after the finishing of Marvel’s hit Infinity Gauntlet series. Now, I’m a fan of violence and fictional destruction, but strangely, there’s a major lack of it in this story. In fact, the only actual action comes from the first page as this reality’s Thanos gives the business to Galactus, Eater of Worlds.

Yes. My favorite comic book story is What If Thanos Changed Galactus Into a Human Being? Rather than imprison him in energy cubes like in the original story, the omnipotent Thanos punishes Galactus by sending him to Earth in the form as a human. In his naked, human form, Galactus finds himself in a Kansas trailer park. With no memory of his true identity, hungry and entranced by the sound of nearby music, he stumbles into the home of Gertrude Rebmann, a waitress, single mother and Elvis enthusiast. At first, she’s horrified that there’s a naked dude collapsing at her front door, but then we get a good look at Galactus’ human form and she’s even more shocked.

Complete cosmic coincidence, Galactus had been transformed into a form that looks and sounds just like Elvis Aaron Presley. Gertrude is sure it’s him and spends the next few hours feeding him, playing him Elvis records, reading his life story via magazines and showing him some of his movies. Since Galactus has amnesia and he’s a complete match – even down to the singing talent – he agrees that he is indeed Elvis. He doesn’t understand it, but he knows he has a second chance and he intends to do it right this time.

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4 Elements: Darkwing Duck

May 26th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

Excluding Gargoyles, Darkwing Duck was always my favorite part of the Disney Afternoon. I always felt that although Disney is great at showcasing their many properties, Darkwing got the shaft. Sure, it got an NES game, but when the cartoon ended, so did the franchise. Darkwing fell into obscurity, only to become a piece of nostalgia years later.

But what a show it was. Funny and filled with adventure, it acted as the way lighter comedy counterpart to Batman: The Animated Series. It had plenty of character to go around. Not only with our egomaniac mostly-competent hero, but they stole the best character from Duck Tales for the sidekick role and the youthful ward seems to have more gusto than the title character himself. If a superhero is defined by his villains, then you can see the reason the show was so great through the likes of Darkwing’s rogues gallery. Except for that one walrus guy. He kind of sucked.

I never expected to ever see Darkwing again. Whenever a new Kingdom Hearts game came out, I’d half-heartedly hope that maybe we’d get some kind of return appearance, but no. He doesn’t rank with the feature film big shots. Alas, he’d only live on in Toon Disney reruns.

That is, until BOOM! Studios announced a Darkwing Duck miniseries. I was jazzed! Eventually, the idea became so popular among the masses that the company turned it into an ongoing. I was more jazzed! Then I read the first issue. That made my jazz flux levels go even higher! I even got to do an interview with writer Ian Brill one time! My jazziness… it… I… I was pleased, okay?

Darkwing Duck has finished up its first year via twelve issues (three story arcs) and an annual that featured a short story by the series creator Tad Stones. The main series is written by Ian Brill with James Silvani killing it on art. In a time when my favorite characters like Venom, Deadpool, Juggernaut, Booster Gold and Luke Cage have their own fantastic comics going on (by “Deadpool” I mean Uncanny X-Force. Sorry, Daniel Way), I can still tell people with a straight face that my favorite comic series being released today is Darkwing Duck. I get a lot of skeptical looks, but I stand by my claim. With those twelve issues plus one released, I’ve found myself blown away thirteen times in the past year.

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4 Elements: Axe Cop

March 18th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

There was an episode of The Twilight Zone entitled The Big Tall Wish. The episode – and recent graphic novel adaptation – is about an aging boxer named Bolie who is about to take part in a match against a young fighter who will no doubt beat him. Adding to that, he busts up his knuckles before the match. There’s a little boy named Henry who looks up to him and Henry makes a big, tall wish that Bolie would win the fight. Despite the beating Bolie takes in the first round, reality twists and he finds himself standing over a beaten opponent. He’s the winner.

Nobody notices any foul play. Everyone celebrates his miraculous victory. His fist isn’t even all that hurt anymore. He finds Henry and tells him that this isn’t right. Henry warns him about how disbelief can ruin the wish, but Bolie, as a hardened adult, can’t handle it. There are too many holes in the story. The reality is that he could never win that fight… and so he didn’t. Reality sets itself back to normal with Bolie on the mat getting counted out. With no memory of the alternate reality he created, Henry becomes disfranchised with the idea of wishes and loses a big piece of his childhood. The story has a great message to it, but it’s so damn depressing.

The existence of Axe Cop has that same moral as Big Tall Wish, but comes off as a celebration rather than a damning. If you haven’t heard of Axe Cop, it’s a young, but explosively popular webcomic series by the brother duo of Malachai Nicolle and Ethan Nicolle. It’s the adventures of a gruff, enigmatic and at times deranged police officer who goes around killing bad guys with a fireman’s axe. The big twist and selling point is that the artist Ethan is 30-years-old and his writer brother Malachai is only six. It’s such a brilliant little concept. It’s brilliant and I’m glad to see how successful it is.

The webcomic has been released in a volume recently, which has added commentary by Ethan about every little strip and how they came to be. A few weeks ago, the first issue of their Dark Horse miniseries Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth was released. In it, Axe Cop and his partner Dinosaur Soldier (AKA Flute Cop, AKA Avocado Soldier, AKA Ghost Cop) go up against an incoming planet that they can sense is evil. They destroy it, but a couple survivors come to Earth and plan to turn it into a Bad Guy Earth by taking a device that turns bad people good and reprogramming it into a device that turns good people bad.

I’ve seen people hate on the comic and give it the damning of being all, “wacky ninja cheese random.” I can see where that argument is coming from, but I think Axe Cop deserves a pass. If it was an adult who wrote it, then yes, point at it for being stupid. Someone like that should know better, I suppose, but a child adds extra dimensions to it that raise it to something far more intriguing.

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4 Elements: Uncanny X-Force #5

February 19th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

The Deadpoolsplosion is dying down and most others would say, “It’s about damn time.” Merc with a Mouth is long gone, Team-Up and Deadpool Corps are about to bite the dust and Deadpool MAX has been turned from an ongoing to a limited series. To compound my sadness, writer of the core series Daniel Way has lost his razzle dazzle and doesn’t appear certain of what he even wants to write. Still, that’s a ton of Deadpool in the last three years, not even counting the various guest appearances, miniseries and specials that have gone to his name.

And yet, despite all of that, it’s a scene in a team comic where he only appears for four pages that speaks to me as his best and truest moment of the Deadpoolsplosion. It comes in Uncanny X-Force #5, written by Rick Remender and drawn by Esad Ribic.

I always thought Deadpool would work better in a team setting. Years ago, people suggested that Peter David put Deadpool in X-Factor, mostly for the sake of being in a comic with Siryn again and I agreed with it. I didn’t think that Deadpool would drive up the wackiness level of the comic, but that the comic would ground Deadpool just a little bit more. He’s spent so much time playing off himself that there doesn’t seem to be much development left for him. That’s why Daniel Way’s written the same “Deadpool wants to be a hero” plotline that Joe Kelly and Fabian Nicieza have written before, only to write himself into a corner and make him purely a mercenary again.

X-Force is the perfect team for Deadpool. Naturally, you have a rich guy who will pay him to keep with Deadpool’s mercenary motivation. The team, especially with Deadpool, acts as a tribute to the dearly departed Cable. Then there’s Deadpool’s comedic and at times pitiful dream to be recognized as a member of the X-Men. I don’t know if they planned it, but Way’s recent storyline where Deadpool momentarily joins the X-Men and sacrifices his own reputation to make them look better works as a perfect prelude/explanation for what he’s doing here.

For those not up to date, the first four issues of Uncanny X-Force have featured the team of Wolverine, Archangel, Psylocke, Fantomex and Deadpool going to the moon in order to kill the recently-resurrected Apocalypse. While the X-Men members do this for the sake of saving mutantkind the headache of a fully-realized Apocalypse attack, Fantomex and Deadpool openly tell each other that they’re only there for the money.

The big twist is that Apocalypse isn’t like how we know him. He’s only a child, yet to grow up. His followers have been brainwashing him to be their leader, even though he doesn’t want to kill the weak. It’s a fantastic, action-packed story arc that ends with the team cornering the young Apocalypse and arguing over whether or not they should kill him. Wolverine decides that they’ll take him in and raise him right, since he’s only a kid. Arguments and scuffles ensue, only to be silenced when Fantomex coldly shoots the boy in the head. During all of this, Deadpool has been physically unable to speak, so we don’t know his take on this situation. He’s not the only one silent as the ride back to Earth is filled with awkward wordlessness.

That brings us to the issue at hand. Specifically, this scene.

There are four reasons this scene rings true to me.

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One Piece: Doing the Math Before Setting Sail

December 2nd, 2010 Posted by david brothers

David Welsh is running the One Piece Manga Movable Feast this month, and he asked me to take a look at “Baroque Works,” an arc in One Piece. I gave it some thought during some downtime and came up with a few ideas. This is post is something I came up with that doesn’t really fit into an exploration of the content of the series, but it’s definitely something interesting about “Baroque Works.”

The “Baroque Works” arc comes at an interesting point in Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece. It spans roughly from the end of volume 12 to most of the way through volume 24, which puts it somewhere in the neighborhood of 2400 pages. Volumes 1-12 are collectively known as “East Blue,” but are instead more properly considered a collection of short stories and arcs rather than a long-term story arc. “Baroque Works,” though, is a monster, longer than Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira (give or take a couple hundred pages). While it is composed of smaller stories–”Whiskey Peak,” “Drum Island,” that island with the giants whose name I forgot–those stories all work toward getting the crew to Alabasta. The first twelve volumes don’t have that unifying theme, beyond the goal of getting to the Grand Line. There’s no major villain lurking in the shadows so much as a series of midbosses that Luffy and crew need to get past to make it to the Grand Line. Kuro, Axe Hand Morgan, and Arlong don’t quite have the same pop as Crocodile, and Buggy and Alvida are so funny as to be more comedic relief than true blue threats.

Thinking through the length: Conventional wisdom says that if you have a super long epic in mind, and 2400 pages is several pages past “super long,” you need to hook your readers in first. You need them to believe in your story before you throw them into the deep end. You don’t lead with the uppercut. You start with a jab to test the waters. It worked for Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso with 100 Bullets, which was sold as a morality tale and ended up being something almost entirely different. Azz and Risso hooked them and then got down to business. Oda did the same thing.

Follow along: The main cast of One Piece is made up of Luffy, Nami, Sanji, Zolo, and Usopp. Chopper joins partway through “Baroque Works,” and Nico Robin joins at the end of the tale in volume 24. The next member joins around 21 volumes (another 4200 pages) later, and the final member comes a handful of volumes later. For much of the series, the cast that is established going into “Baroque Works” is the cast of the series. They’re the core, the primary cast.

Okay, so what, he has a cast, even Queen’s Blade has those, big deal, who cares? Well, by the beginning of “Baroque Works”, after having already made it through around 2400 pages of getting to know the primary cast, we’ve built up a connection between us and them. We made it through the emotional minefield that is Nami’s origin, seen Zolo’s slightly less sad in comparison origin, gotten used to Luffy’s (let’s be fair here) complete idiocy, and realized that Sanji isn’t just another pretty face. If you’ve made it twelve volumes in, you’re a fan, is what I’m saying, and you get how the characters react and feel.

That provides a necessary foundation for “Baroque Works.” Without that foundation, like if Oda had started the series with volume 13, we’d be dealing with getting used to the primary cast, meeting Chopper, meeting Vivi and Carue, and then the conflict of the arc. That’s a lot to take in all at once, but since we know all of the principal characters, “Baroque Works” is allowed to move at its own pace.

Long story short, “Baroque Works” is interesting because of its length and focus. It seems like after completing “East Blue,” Oda felt comfortable enough in his craft and in his fanbase to do something with a bit more meat on its bones. After “Baroque Works” comes “Skypiea,” which is around ten volumes. “Water Seven” is fourteen volumes, “Thriller Bark” is five, and “Sabaody” ended up being just a couple volumes, though “Sabaody” leads directly to “Impel Down.” He got away with a long arc on “Baroque Works” and then knew he could get away with it again.

That’s all I got as far as meta reasons to pay attention to “Baroque Works.” I’ve got a list of things to cover in the big grabbag in the next post (tomorrow, maybe) that’ll cover “Baroque Works” and more, but really, the best reason to pay attention to this arc is that it includes Mr. 2, Bon Clay. Bon Clay stands alongside Don Quixote Doflamingo, Hawkeye Mihawk, Rob Lucci, Trafalgar Law, Carue, Chopper, Kiwi, and Mozu as some of the best characters in the series.

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