Thursday, 24 December 2009

Top Ten: Covers of 2009 [To me, at least]

Last post before Christmas, mainly because I have a much bigger thing to work on that needs doing, but also because CHRISTMAS! So enjoy, and see you back here in a couple of days. NO WAIT READ THE ARTICLE!

Oh, top lists of the year/decade, do you ever end? No? Shame, as most of you are hopelessly generic and pander to a mainstream view of what deserves to be placed in a top ten. And as we've all learned I'm the sort of idiot who will be the only person to vote something as the number 1 comic book storyline, so take from that what you will.

Anyway, here's one of my requisite lists of ____ of the year, with a basic twist. What twist you may ask? Well, I'll tell you:

This year was the first full year I've been back into comics.

So much of this year has been shaped by the various things to do with comics that affected me, and something that decided what comics I would in fact read was often the covers. In fact you could say that comic covers defined what comics I would be into and what sort of comics fan I would become (though in the end aren't we all just angry comic book nerds?). So it's with a head held high that I highlight some of the ten most important covers to my formation as a comic fan this year.

So let's dive in to one of my most important and insightful top tens that is purely about what I like and what shaped me rather than any critical opinion by HITTING THE BLEEDING JUMP!

10. X-Factor #200 by Esad Ribic
This one's actually a little sneaky. I mean it just came out. But its significance isn't any smaller than the others on this (for once totally in a ranked order) list. As soon as I saw this cover in the solicits I was reminded of why I love X-Factor, why the new direction would be nothing to worry about, and why Esad Ribic is one of the best artists about. My year of full integration into comics suddenly had clarity on how the whole comics industry has the capability to both be art AND captivate in the way only good exciting imagery can. But outside of all that boring personal stuff this is really just a flippin' awesome cover and deserved a mention whilst it's still easy enough to buy in everyone's local comic shop.

9. The Great Unknown #2 by Duncan Rouleau
In a perfect world this would be issue 3, but that NEVER CAME OUT. Still, it WAS this issue that made me realise that independent comics could be awesome, even if it was the next issue image that really sunk that idea into my brain. This cover is beautiful and captivating in its simplicity (as is issue 1, but that's not the example here) and is a great draw in to a great comic if you let it absorb you in the blueness. Also light bulbs!

8. Mighty Avengers #27 50s Decade Variant by Howard Chaykin
I HATE HOWARD CHAYKIN. He's quite a shit artist. In fact he ruined Punisher War Journal for me. Like RUINED. Completely and utterly fucked up what would otherwise have been really enjoyable. So when it came to seeing one of the many brilliant decade variants (seriously I could have done a list just of those) it was with a massive amount of shame that I realised how much I loved this cover. It taught the valuable lesson that no matter how much you hate something there will always be something good to do with them. Like, really good. Same goes for Bendis (ooh deja vu. No seriously not about moaning about Bendis, moreso this entire sentence *ahem* anyway), Loeb and Liefeld (the latter of which ACTUALLY KILLED ME WHEN I REALISED). So yeah, for the sheer importance of this cover, it gets to make it onto this list! That and Hank Pym and Jocasta are adorable in this. Adorable is a manly word right? Good. MOVING ON!

7. Black Panther #3 by J. Scott Campbell
This is a hard one to make sound deep. Because it isn't. No, this is just an example of how one beautiful cover can make me buy something I'd never otherwise touch. And boy was it worth touching. Cover art is a powerful draw and sometimes just being beautiful can be enough to make people pick up something that whilst not life-changing can still influence their interests in a significant way. In fact this cover in particular should have been on the front of the hardcover. Maybe then it'd have sold loads and volume 2 would be a hardcover too (hint: no it wouldn't have been but I'm just destroyed by the lack of HC for volume 2).

6. Superman #686 by Andrew Robinson (I think?)
I can't say I even liked the idea of superman outside of his awesome tv stuff from the 90s (animated, Lois and Clark) at any point ever, so when I say that I love the Superman title now to anyone who's known me long enough it's fairly normal to expect them to be surprised. Then I follow it up by pointing out that Mon-El and the Guardian are the main characters now and they just blink, confused. Still that's not the point (especially now I LOVE Superman, especially Kryptonite and All-Star), the point here is that this cover pulled me into the world of both these obscure characters and I have yet to look back, simply because my GOD is Mon-El awesome in this picture. And in fact the whole series. This is just the incredibly pretty point that pulled me in.

5. Lockjaw & the Pet Avengers #1 by Karl Kerschl

.... What? That's not fine logic? Well how about the fact that.... SHUT UP!

4. X-Men Noir #3 by Dennis Calero
When most people bring up how they discovered a love for white space covers they'll usually mention Immortal Iron Fist's covers by David Aja. Well screw those people, because I learnt what I wanted from a cover from this. Which is white space, low detail and a weird amount of depth to the image. In this case we have Eric Magnus, the X-Noir universe's Magneto and Chief of Police, showing his darkness, his brutal abuse of authority and sick pleasure in such an abuse of authority(amongst other things) in just a single image. It's awesome with layers. What more could you want?

3. Detective Comics #855 by JH Williams III
Oh as IF Detective Comics wouldn't make it onto this list. There's nothing much to say about this than that everyone ever thinks that JH Williams has made this series into art and the covers are the definitive proof of this. Especially this one which just hit me straight in the face and the bruise of artsy love has yet to fade. Wait... Is that almost a metaphor for spousal abuse? Man, I should stop writing before I put my foot in my mouth by saying something about kitchen's and sammiches.

... Except I have two more to list.

2. All New Savage She-Hulk 90s Decade Variant by Juan Doe
Wait, this seems familiar. Didn't I declare this my favourite example of a good comic cover a long, long time ago? I DID?! AND I STAND BY IT?! GOOD GOD WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME!

No joke though, whilst my opinions from back then are mostly redundant, this stands as an example of a cover just blowing me away and holds a helluva place in my heart that no other comic cover will replace. Yet it's in at #2. So perhaps I should shut upa and just say that it kicks all sort of arse and is the best decade variant Marvel did this year. That and the obvious significance here is that it's one of the first covers I ever wrote about and the fact that it has continued to stay amazing to me (probably because of said early blog usage) has earnt it its place at #2.

#1. Nomad #3 by Rafael Albuquerque
Well, if you've been around the site long enough (and none of you have) you all know why this is here. I am a MASSIVE fanboy of Rikki Barnes. In fact I'm a massive fanboy of Lyra too, explaining this top two (And of Batwoman... Wait is this a pattern?). That and this is amazing. All the covers to this limited series are, utilising Red, White and Blue to great effect to make covers that arrest the eyes. This one wins out over everything ever though for actually having the ability to make me just stare at it mindlessly for ages. But as we all know, the real reason this is here is because Rikki Barnes has been a crucial part of this blog's history and her Nomad series just happened to have flippin' amazing covers. I can't emphasise how much this has been a part of my first year back in comics and just how much I like this cover. So I won't. I'll just finish this post.

Honourable mentions go to Ambush Bug: Year None #6 (never came out but by GOD is it pretty), all the covers to Chew (which I learned of too late so didn't count really) and about a million others. Now I must sleep. HARD.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A to Z: E is for Elephantmen

Okay, so we've reached the end of the first handful of A to Z (one for each digit!), and it's been a much longer journey than I expected. Still it's quick to read and a great insight into the developing insanity that is my mind. And so with said insanity in mind let us delve into the article!

This time around I'm jumping into territory that is so foreign to me that I had to refer to research materials multiple times just reading the first volume of the series. However that can only improve what is basically the 'newcomer's approach' that has occasionally been called the style of these articles by... I don't know, some people. This series comes as a suggestion from Kirk Warren of The Weekly Crisis, and I both want to thank and throttle him at the same time.

Why? Because this is one of the most rewarding comics out there, but moreso one of the most confusing. Mainly because it's a spin-off apparently, but still. Oh you want me to do that normal thing where after the introduction I say what the comic is?

... It's Elephantmen.

Now, this installment has some notes to get out of the way before I get all snooty on your arses about how great it is, so let's hit those on the head here and now. First and foremost is that this is in fact a spin-off from a series called Hip Flask, that starred the titular character and addressed the existence of the Elephantmen and so on. It's a good series by the look of it and worth it to save on having to waste time researching like I did with this comic. Secondly the entire basis of this is the first volume (7 issues) so there's a fair chance that the comic gets better or worse as time passes. Got it? You sure? Okay.

Who are the Elephantmen? Well, I'll tell you. They're the genetically spliced monstrosities created by the crazed Japanese head of the MAPPO corporation in Africa. At some point in the recent past they were trained soldiers and killers and now finally have their own independence and lives in the slightly grim future that they live in... which is the present. I'm fairly sure I just made professional writers cry at how poorly I explained that. But that's not the point. The point is that there are Human/Animal hybrids living out there in the general populace with their own personalities, souls and purposes, just wanting to live their lives in their own particular ways. Of course there's the typical racism that comes form being different and threatening, but that's just framing to the actual point of the stories in these first 7 issues. The main point is just to episodically give you a taste of each individual character and prepare you for whatever future events may come from them. Oh and there's a Hip Flask story running all through it, but I'll get to that.
The aesthetics of the series is very Bladerunner-esque, with that semi-dystopian feel where it's obviously not a good future, but it's still somehow an incredibly pretty one. And to cap this weirdly serious caption HOOTERS! WOOOOO!.. Or something. I don't think we have those here in Blighty, so any reaction might well be stilted.

If there's an obvious problem with this series (other than it being pretty confusing for the first few issues) it's how differently you'll feel for each character. Not necessarily in that the different emotions they provoke is bad (after all, variety is the spice of life) but rather that some focus characters will provoke empathy and immediate enjoyment of their plight or story and others will just fall flat. All ensemble stories carry this risk but the stark contrast between Ebony Hide (awesome) and, say, the crocodile guy is so huge that you lose so much interest in reading the next issue. This is subverted by each issue usually containing two stories in a fair ratio, but there's always that risk that a future issue will contain two bad stories and make you feel like you've been summarily ripped off.

Finally (if only because this is REALLY hard to write about and I have so much other stuff to move onto) I feel the need to mention issue 7, which is genius to me. The issue is framed by a young girl who befriended the elephant character Ebony Hide wanting to be taken to the hospital to see him after an incident and the hippo Hip Flask talking her down and telling her a story about a pirate. Except it's evidently not a pirate story, it's a part of his past masked as this story. The parts that make this clever instead of the normal cliché that these stories tend to be is that it is presented 100% as a brilliant pirate story that visually, and indeed in how it is laid out with the text and everything, is like a BRILLIANT children's book. I'm to understand that the creator of the Elephantmen did graphic design stuff prior to the series such as fonts and logos and the like, so I shouldn't be surprised by how amazing this is, but it took out my mind and replaced it with a pleasant jelly as I read the issue. Observe:

I best wrap this up, simply because this is more nonsensical and I don't even know what I'm going on about now but trust me when I say you should pick this up and if you don't you're STUPID. Or at least as easily confused as me with less intent to research like a hopeless comics whore.

You can pick up the Hip Flask stuff HERE and the first volume I used for this review HERE

That's E, what's F? F...lippin' hard to write about? No. No it's much easier to ramble about. You'll love it. Read More ..

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

A to Z: D is for Dial H for H-E-R-O

UPDATE: Primewax now has his piece up about the recent H-E-R-O series. It's great stuff and more than worth reading. Head over there NOW and read it immediately to understand how very different the two series are!

This almost became a write-off before it begun, due to one problem or another. Thankfully the brilliant Primewax (who I do believe is writing about the fairly recent remake soon, which I'll link to when it appears) came through with a series I could do as a joke. And of course because I'm unfunny as hell I actually got my hands on the series and here we are, with you reading me writing about a comic from 1966.

Remember when I updated like 39 times in a month? Me neither.

People say originality is dead. Long gone. That all ideas are old hash reformed into something resembling life. Heck moreso that originality is so dead that DC's biggest event of the year is based on an Alan Moore Green Lantern story from about... What, 30 years ago? Well... They're right, for the most part.

The main reason for this is that we have our two biggest companies, Marvel and DC, with an infinitely long history and a veritable hoard of established things to do with their universes. It limits them to certain plots and keeps any creativity tethered to this bugbear of history that I can only refer to oversized. Sure there's the occasional original gem, like Chew or The Great Unknown (more on that one later) but you'll note those are from Image, a company with a much looser universe.

So rather than throw an unoriginal or mainstream series into the ring I'm going to delve deep into the history of DC, to the dreaded Silver Age of DC comics no less, to talk about a series that actually believed itself so original that it declared itself to have 'the most original character in history'. Yes, I'm talking about something that only a few may well know. I'm talking about DIAL H for H-E-R-O!

The series is simple enough to explain in its entirety. Running from 1966 to 1968, Dial H for H-E-R-O told the tale of Robert Reed, a young intelligent boy with a penchant for science who has a mysterious dial fall into his possession, that he learns can turn him into a superhero if he dials in H,E,R and O. The only catch is that each time the power and superhero are different (and utterly unique outside of one example). Oh and that when it's convenient (silver age logic there) the dial won' work. It's all simple enough and weirdly compelling, making for a comic that I don't think I'd have ever even thought of.

Oh and also little Robby Reed says 'SOCKAMAGEE!' ALL. THE. BLOODY. TIME. What does it even MEAN?! SOMEBODY SAVE ME FROM THIS MYSTERY!

*ahem* Er..... Moving on. Another reasons this series warrants being on this alphabet thingy is simple: the heroes themselves! I mean here's just a FEW examples from the series:
A person covered in sawblades! You know, for kids to imitate!

A Squid bloke who fires special super inks when he fingers buttons. Perverse! Also one of the inks makes a FLYING CARPET! THE HELL?!

Not uh... Not touching this one.

A complete tool who looks like a bullet!

Magneto, leader of the evil brotherhood of muta- Oh, er... Just a magnet dude called Magneto... Totally different.

A... A... *sigh* Toddler... Who can make people into midgets with the mysterious substance in his baby bottles...

And my personal favourite RADAR-SONAR MAN! A relatively useless superhero who uses radar and sonar to not fly into trees. That's right, something he could do just as well as ANYTHING ELSE! Other than perhaps the mole but let's not touch that.

... I've completely lost my point here. I mean LOOK AT THIS STUFF! Bah! Who wants originality when it's this bloody crazy?! I'd much rather stick to the safe security of generic crap that rehashes plots beaten to death as early as the 80s! It's less FREAKIN' INSANE THAT WAY! RAAAAAAAARGH!


Seriously though, a weirdly great read from 60s DC and camp as all hell. I'm not actually sure if it's collected anywhere however, so I don't really have a way to promote it to you. Still if you see it in a longbox at your Local Comic Shop or even at a boot sale, you really MUST pick it up.

That's D, what's E? E...lephantmen?... Oh it actually will be. Look forward to that.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Thoughts On: November Sales Rankings

You know what the single most infuriating experience for the purveyor of lesser known comics is? Aside from hearing what horrible shit has been done to characters that made the jump to mainstream of course. That's right, it's seeing where the poor pitiful GOOD comics end up on that bloody top 300 each month. And yet each month we'll go back to it hoping that by some stroke of luck the series we cherish have made the jump up to the top 50.

As such it's time to analyse that crucial top 100 that has been released from Diamond Comics. And... It isn't looking good. No, not at all. Just... There's about 5 good comics in the top 30 that aren't Blackest Night related. That's AWFUL.


It's tempting to just list every bad comic that managed to grace the top 100 and throw my hands in the air, but that would be FAR too long a list. So instead I'll give a general coverage of the good and bad in the unstable non-structure that is my usual method of rambling. Well... with the small difference that I'll actually differentiate between one genre or subgroup and the other.


You know what the highest selling team book was this month? DO YOU?! JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #39. Sure, it's a tie-in to Blackest Night but C'MON THIS IS AWFUL NOWADAYS! I admit I'm looking forward to the new team (mainly because, c'mon, Mon-El, Guardian and Ray Palmer kick arse) but this has been the most unengaging material in a team book since... Well, the next series down the list (not counting the Corps, s'not really a team book to me), New Avengers.

If you read New Avengers you are either one of the most easy to entertain fucks ever, someone who thinks they're being humourously ironic by buying an awful comic (who are also fucks I might add) or people that genuinely enjoy mischaracterisation, bland plots and some of Bendis' worst work of all time. Or just fans of Stuart Immonen, in which case... Well it's better than owning some of his old Rock 'n' Roll comics material like I do so I'll forgive you. How this manages to sell so well each month is beyond me, I mean I can't say the series has ever been THAT good and it's only ever been as much as kinda pretty, even under Immonen's great hands. Perhaps the completely rape-tastic interpretation of Hood is really popular and I just don't see it because I'm stuck in the past with BKV's innovative and entertaining non-villain.

I suppose logically I could continue to deconstruct team books that are too high on the list, like Dark Avengers and Ultimate Comics Avengers, but it quickly becomes me banging my head against the wall going MOLECULE MAN ISN'T A VILLAIN AND HAS A FUCKING WIFE YOU DOLT or UC: AVENGERS IS REALLY BORING over and over, so it can't really be too healthy. That and I feel I'll turn into that fat comic book person from the Simpsons if I'm not careful, so instead I'll focus on the brilliant that isn't where it should be.

The obvious team book for me to lament not being where it belongs is Mighty Avengers. This is not only the best (read as: only good) Avengers title, but also cheaper than its Bendis-written brethren. Placing at #34 is no mean feat though, especially for the end of Slott's first decent sized arc, so with any luck the upcoming MIGHTY/DARK storyline will pick it up to where it belongs in the top 20. As for The Initiative... Well... It might get into the top 50 again at some point.

Finally, I must mention how Guardians of the Galaxy continues to slum out the bottom of the top 100. Is it not awesome enough for you all? Has there not been enough talking raccoons for you? BUY IT ANYWAY! Easily the best cosmic title and it never sells the numbers it should (note to self: you only buy the hardcovers, shut up with the self-righteousness Max).


Well, time to see how low Cornell's Dark X-Men came in to frustrate me fu-....


WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! There is a God! Sure, it helps that it came out close enough after the the Utopia crossover, but that's not the point! The point is that a great comic sold well considering how good it is!... That makes no sense when I read it but shut up it sold good!

... I'll ignore that Uncanny X-Men and X-Force sold better when they're both shits on sticks at the moment.

Also worthy of note is S.W.O.R.D. coming in at #95 with its DEBUT ISSUE. Seriously what the hell?! I know I bought it! I get that it's a long time after Whedon's Astonishing X-Men so it's lost a fair bit of validity and Beast looks unusual but this is one of the best comics of the year and has MOTHER-FUCKING DEATH'S HEAD! You don't see a comic with Death's Head in and not buy it, yes? My GOD comic buyers have let themselves down.

Oh and New Mutants continues a slowish decline/middling situation. Must. Do. Better.


Blah blah Blackest Night doing well Blah Blah Necrosha doing okay Blah Blah Realm of Kings underperforming Blah Blah Blah


... How many of you are paying money for HULK? 'cause you're all idiots. Or kids. It's actually not a bad kids book... I've kinda derailed myself now... Still some people out there are older and think this shit is good. You are all fools and need to switch to Incredible Hulk, which is far lower for some reason. Nonsense!


On a much lighter and less ranty note Dr. Horrible sold fairly well, coming in solidly at #80. Well done. Class dismissed!


Saturday, 5 December 2009

A to Z: C is for CHEW

Three letters in and the variety continues, this time with a massive hit from Image that I only bothered to buy in trade because... C'mon... £7.50 trade!

When most people think of the third peg of the comics industry that is IMAGE COMICS they usually come up with the same sort of things: Robert Kirkman, the 90s, EXTREME, Savage Dragon, Erik Larsen, Todd Mcfarlane and comic's favourite kicking boy (though not an entirely undeserved position as we all well know. Although saying that he's gotten better lately. I'm rambling moreso than usual ignore this) Rob Liefeld.

Chew has nothing to do with any of these things. In fact Image Comics itself isn't the same crazed over-the-top monstrosity that it was back in the 90s. Nowadays it is home to some of the best independent material around. And some of the worst. But that's not the point. The point is that alongside the 90s remnants, no matter how FREAKIN' AWESOME some of them are, and the Robert Kirkman gore extravaganza, that Chew is part of a brilliant set of amazing indie titles that people should be buying and if the latest sales charts are to be believed actually are.

No, Chew is the smash hit of John Layman and Rob Guillory (though I can't judge if that hype is true, though it does seem to be climbing up the monthly charts) telling the story of Tony Chu, a Cibopathic (it means he gets psychic impressions from food. Think Longshot, only he has to eat the stuff and is Asian-American) detective who, following a very strange bust, ends up sans partner and an agent of the Food and Drug Administration. Oh and chicken is forbidden because of Bird Flu, though that might be a conspiracy.

Still all I've done so far is exposit about the series, so I best cut to the brass tacks and explain why I'm spotlighting this. This is a riveting and well written modern indie masterpiece (seriously, fuck Kickass, that's got nothing on this) with some of the best art of the year, trailing behind some amazing contenders (to be addressed in a future article). It's completely unique and both amazingly beautiful and comic book ugly at the same time, as all good art should be (except Detective Comics my GOD that is ART!). I mean observe how well the first issue presents what is basically a poster of rehashed panels and Tony Chu looking disgusted:
Beautiful. If you tell me I'm wrong then... We have different opinions.

Another interesting point to the art is how sinister it can be with its wonderfully cartoony look. I mean it does fulfil a fair gore quota that most Image comics have to do, but does it in a way that's actually necessary to get across the atmosphere of the scene. Take the crazed moment where Agent Chu takes down a murderer who's just thrown a CLEAVER INTO HIS PARTNER'S HEAD and proceeds to try and get more information about who else the murderer has killed he starts biting his face off! This is CHILLING. And totally awesome.

The plot makes a helluva lotta interesting turns over the course of the first five issues, so good in fact that I dare not even hint at them. Suffice to say if you read the fifth issue you'll be raring for more just from the shocking turn the series takes. This is comics writing done right, something that's getting harder and harder to find nowadays.

... And yet I appear to be trying to fill up 26 articles with ramblings about good comics?

... Shut up! The point is that CHEW IS AWESOME AND GO OUT AND BUY THE TRADE!




That's C, what's D? D...ecently written?

Wait, have I started a recurring joke at the bottom of these articles? Quick, I better not acknowledge it so that I can keep it going!... Balls.

Friday, 4 December 2009

A to Z: B is for BAKUMAN

As Christmas approaches with admirable gusto (I swear it's almost like it's the same time every year), I continue my rambling about a veritable alphabet of comics. This time we jump into what was once a very familiar territory for me: Manga.

What can I say about Takeshi Obata and Hiroshi Gamo (and it IS Hiroshi Gamo, he's as paper thin as some particularly cheap toilet paper when it comes to hiding his true identity behind the name Tsugumi Ohba) that won't be me ranting on and on about how god-awful Death Note is for being a shitty light novel that has irreversibly damaged the mainstream perception of shonen, a genre made for 10-13 year olds, by making it look like it should all be about faux-goth wankery that's popular with those particularly sweaty and hairy fangirls you try and stay away from at conventions, else their moustaches infect you with a love for slash fiction?

... That they've made one of the best guides to the Japanese comics industry ever, perhaps? That they've managed to produce a brilliant and engaging story that doesn't substitute endless dialogue for expressive art AND manages to still be a surprisingly deep manga that succeeds in staying firmly in the comfy 10-13 year old main demographic without becoming painfully childish?

Yeah that'll do it.

So yes, to explain Bakuman. It's basically a story about two teenagers agreeing to work on manga together and make a career out of it. It actually defies the 99% probability that it would lick the arses of Shueisha (the comic's publisher) and in turn the offices of Weekly Shonen Jump (in which it runs in Japan) and presents a fairly realistic view of how a person can get their manga published in Japan, and by connection a vague idea on how to become involved with comics in the entire world. It's comprehensive and has more than enough drama to disguise it's true form from the kiddywinks who buy Weekly Shonen Jump every week. So trust me when I say this will be essential for everyone to buy when it comes out in English at some point in 2010.

"Wait... What? Why are you telling us about how great this series is if we can't even go out and buy it yet?!" I hear those of you who've made it this far possibly say. Well, I'll tell you. It's a pre-emptive strike (if not a surprisingly limited one due to my intent to avoid using scanlations for the images in this article) with the pure intention to inform you all of how worthwhile this series will be on that fateful day when it comes out in shops and most decent people will shrug it off due to the horrible stigma the authors have given themselves with that piece of shit Death Note. That and the alternative was to write about Batman: Snow, something I haven't actually managed to even read at the moment, kind of removing the ability to write about it.

Anyway, back to bigging this up in a structureless ramble by pointing out how genuinely beautiful the art is. This is Obata's magnum opus, combining the light hearted feel his earlier works like "Cyborg G-Chan" with the more 'realistic' trappings of his later, more popular hits like "Hikaru no Go" and... That other, more shitty one. It creates a captivating atmosphere throughout, that has only as much as wavered over the course of the 65 chapters that have come out in Japan.

In fact the art is pushed to it's absolute limit in how Obata approaches the series created within the series (ooh, I just had a picture in a picture moment there), making them all look like they're distinct enough from each other and not obviously all the work of the same artist. Observe:
This is Detective Trap, the first serialised work of the protagonists. Note the bolder, more cartoony art style for the main character of the story compared to the colour pages shown here.

This is Kiyoshi Knight, a series by one of the protagonist's rivals. Note how aggressive this is compared to the normal art.

Another rival's work, Hideout Door, is a completely different style with Hiroyuki Takei-esque stylings (you lot'd know him for teaming up with Stan Lee to do ULTIMO at the moment, but here's some picture reference for what I'm getting at)

And finally... *shudder* this abstract freakshow from a pretentious character that has since been thrown into obscurity.

BONUS: Just to make my point more substantial here's some faceshots of the 'real world' art.

As you can see, pretty varied stuff. I'll be making a post upon a release date being made clear for the series to promote this some more, but otherwise I hope I've whet your appetite and provided an entertaining enough post.

What could be C? Could it be C...ompetently structured? AHAHA NO!

Monday, 30 November 2009

A to Z: A...mbush Bug

OH EM GEE! A new article? A new FEATURE?! And so soon after the last one? It's almost like I actually do stuff! If you can't work out what I'm going to do with a series called A to Z... Well, you're not very intuitive.

What's the first thing that comes to mind when I bring up a beloved 4th wall breaking character or series that stretches the imagination, makes you laugh and breaks down comics on a fundamental level? Not just that but a comic that begins with the letter A?

Yes Anima- NO NOT FLARKING ANIMAL MAN! I'm talking about the crazed green guy with the creepy doll for a child! I'm talking AMBUSH BUG! And more specifically his awesome 1985 limited series.

A series unlike any other (except the other Ambush Bug series' out there), Ambush Bug managed to be straight-up comedy and parody other comics and tropes without having to resort to the shoddy modern Deadpool 'wink at the reader' stylings. In fact the series turned out to be massively prescient, predicting such things as Darkseid sitting in a heroes flat waiting for them (retarded Mary Marvel moment in Countdown to Final Crisis anyone?). It also shows an anarchic hate for everyone, be it the readers, characters in the DC universe, or even just the staff working on the book themselves. In fact it hates DC characters so much that it actually devotes page time to bring up how freakish some characters are, like that 'midget' Wonder Tot, or the Legion of Super-Pets (they were a group?!):

The story itself in Ambush Bug is completely pointless, in that there isn't one. It's just the creators pissing about and doing whatever they find appropriate issue to issue, whether it be taking the mick out of different countries, what the comic would be like done by other artists, the appearance of a villain who doesn't even belong in the final issue and having a fight between Ambush Bug and said villain drawn by the creator's son because Keith Giffen came down with a virus. If comics tried to pull this stuff off, even in satire, nowadays comic fans would hunt it down and declare it the biggest rip-off ever (with the exception of Ambush Bug: Year None, which has been accepted with no issue, so perhaps I should shut up and walk away) but Ambush Bug defies the money-wasting aspect of the comic by being a rip-roaring (I did NOT just say 'rip-roaring' did I?) adventure into DC obscurity through silliness.
I can't believe these bloody fools actually think that the English even bloody speak like that, those c**ts!

In fact writing about it has been nigh-on impossible due to how ridiculous and pointless the whole affair is. I may as well just curl up in a ball and pretend I never tried to write about it. No, that's the weak person's way out. I WILL POWER THROUGH THIS! Ambush Bug is one of the best comic series of all time and has rightfully earned it's place as the first series I ramble aimlessly about on A to Z. It's even quite easy to find now that it's collected in a brilliant Showcase volume alongside some of the character's small-time appearances and the Son of Ambush Bug series. If you haven't peeked into this series you should really buy a copy, chuckle a lot and then wish that I had written about it in a way that was actually interesting and more than just a vague ramble.


So if that's A, what's B? B...etter Written, I hope!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

That Is Why: Omega Flight Should Have Been An Ongoing Series

And so with my return comes the second instalment of my multi-purposing That Is Why posts! For those of you that have forgotten or are new to the blog, That Is Why is a series of articles focused on voicing simple opinions under the guise of a well thought out essay. The first instalment delved into why Sub Mariner: The Depths Isn't What You'd Think and subsequently why it was awesome, and this time around I'm looking at why Omega Flight should have been an ongoing series. Simple enough?


Now I can already hear the people telling me that Omega Flight was originally supposed to be an ongoing series, but between one reason or another it just didn't happen and got reduced to an admittedly great five issue limited series. I know that. In fact that's exactly the reason why I'm writing this: to explore the possibilities presented within this opening arc and appreciate what elements it did throw onto the table before disappearing.

You're Witnessing The Death Of A Dream. My Dream Of Omega Flight Having Been An Ongoing Series.
For those who don't know, Omega Flight is one of many new series that span out of Civil War in 2007, alongside such successful and totally not cancelled hits as The Order, Immortal Iron Fist and Heroes For Hire and ACTUALLY successful titles such as... Mighty Avengers and Avengers: The Initiative... Huh, guess comic-goers only want titles about Avengers... *ahem* anyway, the series presented a replacement team for the dead Alpha Flight, taking on the name of old AF foes... because... er... well let's see:
Oh... That actually IS some great logic behind it...

With that solid reasoning in mind the series all rolls together, throwing elements like who belongs on the new team, the first arc's opponents and the dynamics of the series. One of the most important elements (and the first I'll address as why it should have been an ongoing series) is the use of visions, particularly from Talisman, Omega Flight's resident Sacree Shaman (how many teams have one of those?).

Thevision shown here is particularly interesting, as it stems out from her telling the story of the creation of sweat lodges and in turn the first shaman, developing into her short vision letting her know that 'someone is coming'. It's simple and vague, but stuff like this could be used to great effect to frame each problem that arises in any given arc, or even just provide more beautiful insight into Talisman's peoples history (I mean seriously look at that art. That's just... Amazing. Love it. Also owls.). Not just that, but Beta Ray Bill has been having visions himself that have led him to Canada, the sort of coincidence that can only happen when a great and destined team is being created. I love that sort of thing!

Still, just having a great way to frame the many stories that would surely have come out of Omega Flight being an ongoing series would mean nothing if the series didn't have a solid cast of brilliant and captivating characters. Like SASQUATCH!
He's big, furry and lucky lil' Talisman gets to hug his huge hairy bod. The bitch.

Sasquatch is a character with a frightening level of potential to him. The only survivor of The Collective's attack on Alpha Flight (see the pathetically awful New Avengers volume 4 for that), he's able to be that one character racked by survivor's guilt, trying to cope and lead this new team at the same time. Not just that but a team that has more and more outsiders, from the americans USAgent and Arachne (more on those later) to the horse-faced alien himself BETA RAY BILL (more on him later too) and the former host of the murderous collective Michael Pointer. Actually with Pointer it's more of an issue for Talisman it seems but I digress, can you IMAGINE being in that position, where your team members are unrelatable or can bring back the trauma of the Collective incident? Sasquatch has a lot on his shoulders and if this were an ongoing series he would definitely be the standout character. That and just look at him!
Walter Langkowski, you might well be the best startled character of all time.

Beyond that he's also entertaining and carries the sort of charm that a leader should in a team book (especially one formed of so few people). Oh and basic battle talk, such as this gem of an entrance line:
He's right! He ISN'T Captain America! 5 Points!

... Okay that wasn't so good, but does good ole Cap make good entrance lines? NO! Does Hank Pym? CERTAINLY NOT! Does Captain Britain? Do any Bendis Avengers? AHAHAHAHA NO!... Sometimes. No, leaders have to seem corny and a little awful with one liners and such. After all, we don't come to the leaders for wit, we come for them to assure us and seem awesome, whilst having the neccesary Marvel-Brand Emotional Baggage(tm) that all significant characters must have. In fact the baggage for Sasquatch is so great that he loses horrifically within the first issue of this series (that puts him out of the picture for a fair bit like all good leaders) due to a flashback to that horrible moment of fiery death. Which I might add is beautiful again. Seriously, Scott Kolins was perfect for this series and would have made a brilliant regular artist. Observe:

Still enough on Sasquatch, for it is time to highlight another, far less important character: USAgent!
No, no I'm not.

USAgent is a very polarising figure, in that most people think he's awful and I love the ever-loving crap out of him. He's an extreme representation of the atypical American gun-toting, flag-loving, commie-hating, liberal-beating thugs, going to whatever means neccesary to get his mission done and offending everyone while he's at it. Whilst I can understand that this offends the sensibilities of a fair amount of everyone's favourite westerners, It comes across as an entertaining and over the top insight to a lazy, apathetic limey like myself, providing that ever-popular caricature of Americans that is present constantly around here. But I digress it is not time to attack people in this post, merely to compare them to someone who will beat the shit out of any opponent he faces, be it monster or muscley muscley cheesecake.
... No comment on the cheesecake... Drawn well.

and now observe our sexist arsehole in all his lovable glory! TRYING TO BEAT A WOMAN! AND GETTING PUNCHED IN THE GUT! WOO!

Anyway, you may be asking just what USAgent could do over an ongoing series of Omega Flight, so I'll tell you!... Not much! No, USAgent fills a very specific void that any successful or decent team book needs: comic relief. Pretty much everything he does in the first arc (and yes I will keep calling it a first arc, for it was meant to be and I'm a bad writer) is purely entertaining, even if it doesn't intend to be anything more than throwaway, such as his weirdly entertaining potty mouth:
The time it took for USAgent to censor himself isn't really gotten across here. He's actually saying "AMPERSAND CLOSE BRACKET HASH UPWARDS ARROW PERCENT DOLLAR ASTERISK HASH AMPERSAND AT! ASTERISK DOLLAR AT OPEN BRACKET PERCENT MATT AMPERSAND!" I mean that has to be a helluva single shot he's firing there!

Not to say there isn't a potential arc here for the sap. In fact he has the joy of being the worst punchline I could think of for a 3-4 issue arc entitled -wait for it- CANADAgent!


... *ahem* Sorry about that. Anyway the sole development I can imagine for the character is that following a VERY slow learning curve over a fair amount of arcs USAgent become disillusioned with his beloved United States (this would fit ideally within Dark Reign, though his Mighty Avengers character is apparently an admirer of Osborn and how much of a patriot he is) and starts to lighten up, embracing his new country to an extreme degree, becoming CANADAgent, a swear-free, equality-loving pansy who is essentially a massive middle finger to liberals and the canadian people at once due to his skewed vision of all people that don't fit his old right-wing no nonsense approach to the world. In the end this madness escalates to him destroying all the weapons, including his own shield, within Omega Flight's base and shutting all of his team-mates inside of said base and roaming around Canada trying to disable all of their defences and weapons. Chaos reigns and only a representation of some of the things USAgent hated when he is confronted by Northstar, a gay former terrorist and Canadian mutant (not that USAgent hates mutants, just probably has issues with the other three facts due to how despicable his views on the world are) which snaps him out of his peace-loving hippyness and results in him fighting and losing to Northstar. Fun, stupid and reasonably offensive, just like Marvel should be! So, whaddaya think?
*sniff* JERK!

And with that image we make the clumsy leap over to the next character: ARACHNE! AND HER DAUGHTER! Uh... YAY!
Arachne's daughter played in this scene by Brian Michael Bendis in a wig

I think I have to admit some stuff here. First up is that I've only read two comics that aren't Omega Flight that feature Arachne: Secret Wars (which I didn't like) and a Civil War one-shot or something that led to her being in Canada (might have been an issue of Ms. Marvel, which shows what I know). Any and all other knowledge of the character comes from the Iron Man 90s cartoon, where I'm pretty sure she was just a reminder that Force Works existed and that there was a Spider-Woman that didn't have her own awful cartoon from the late 70s. So understand when everything I suggest for her future in Omega Flight is based upon her relationship with her daughter as shown in this series.

Indeed, everything that Arachne does in this series is motivated by her daughter's existence and how much she needs to fight for it to be a nice lovey-dovey world for her satanic spawn to live in. Yes, I hate child characters, thanks for asking! As such her role throughout the series is to be in every battle helping somehow and in the downtime helping her daughter understand the world... and maybe... *sigh* and maybe she'll learn some things from her daughter at the same time...
Arachne's Daughter: because children teach life's TRUE lessons

Beautiful. But I won't dwell on one of the admittedly weak (if essential) elements of the team and shall try to push my way through the other three-four protagonists and EVENTUALLY get to villains and the approach Omega Flight could have taken to missions and themes. Are you tired yet? Well take a break, here's a convenient marker point to remember where you are:


Wow, useful right? Speaking of useful, let's talk GUARDIAN!
... Wait did I say useful? I meant compromised heavily.

Like Sasquatch, Michael Pointer is a character with great potential that's barely touched upon within the first arc presented to us. The only positive thing to come from The Collective (HATE HATE HATE HATE), Pointer is now incredibly powerful and stuck inside the suit of one of the members of Alpha Flight he brutally slaughtered when he was possessed by the retcon that is COLLECTIVE XORN. Understandably this leaves our new Guardian in as much of a state as ever and wishing he could either be dead or do something, anything to help make up for the pain he was forced to inflict upon people. Basic, simple and to the point, not to mention how well it plays against Sasquatch and Talisman, two people whose very lives have been deeply affected by the events that were outside of Pointer's control.

The character has a very singular direction he COULD have gone, trying harder and harder to both be the hero he has the capability of being and to try and, if not redeem himself, bond with the team-mates he has managed to wound so badly. In fact towards the end he gets a valuable first step in this path, proving how important such things are to the character:
... What? You want a punchline?

Of course this is one of the characters where any and all possibility of further development is thrown into the air. Why, you ask? Matt Fraction. I love the man, but god damn has he altered Pointer into some insane freak coerced into joining the frankly crazy team that is the Dark X-Men. This might change in the near future however, with Paul Cornell already making steps to make him complex and interesting again in the frankly flippin' awesome Dark X-Men limited series. Read that for the best Michael Pointer 'Weapon Omega' fix, and pretend my complete lack of ideas are better.

Peddling backwards somewhat, I feel I should address more to do with Talisman, who I've only glanced over earlier in this article. She's a character who has a rich, storied history with the Flight comics and enough room for extensive growth and development now that Alpha Flight has been blown to kingdom come. And she's some much needed cheesecake to the proceedings, fitting a multitude of fanservice roles, from the Dani Moonstar style 'native charm' (oh I'm going to hell for how that sounds) to the geeky glasses look charm, or even the feisty deity looking stuff when she goes full on Talisman. She's a wonderful piece of fanservice disguised as one of the best characters on the team.
Uh... Not that you aren't ACTUALLY one of the best characters on the team... Wait am I apologising to a comic panel?

Outside of the now beaten into the ground concept of her interactions and potential forgiveness of Michael Pointer, Talisman can develop personality-wise in many aspects, especially her motivations for co-operating with Canada's last superhero team. Starting out as an uneasy alliance purely to help find and save Sasquatch from the Wrecking Crew, it evolved into a pleasant parting at the end of the first arc staying with her family for the moment. Given the right incentive she could be the quintessential reserve member in an ongoing series, coming to the team with new visions or information that could lead to new arcs or sub-plots (see the vision stuff about 1500 words ago), or even just appear on the larger missions to bond with characters on one-to-one or team basis's. A personal favourite idea I've been shooting about has been for Talisman to fit into Marvel's new $3.99 + backup approach as the star of a back-up in an ongoing of Omega Flight (or even the ongoing that was supposed to exist), going on vision quests in the ghostly world of... Wherever this place is described as (Spirit Canada?):
Admittedly not the best picture of Spirit Canada, but I'm understandably limited by laziness after getting together 80 images from the comic to use. So sorry but trust me, Spirit Canada is awesome

On the note of visions, I'll close out this overly stuffed character focus with that horse-faced sonuva gun that we all love to love, BETA RAY BILL!

Drawn to Canada by potent visions of a giant evil Sasquatch destroying a city, a giant demonic gateway and a strangely familiar owl (read as: that owl in the vision Talisman had) calling him to a museum in Canada. We find all this out in a creepily well drawn notepad page Bill's doodling on whilst on a coach journey, but none of this is important. The fact is that fate and weird owls have drawn Beta Ray Bill to Omega Flight, making him a destined member of their team right?

... RIGHT! Sure by the end of the first arc he's been thrown into a mysterious demonic dimension, but that's even less permanent than death, as we all well know! I mean in the post-Omega Flight world he just turned up in Secret Invasion: Thor and no-one batted an eye-lid, so him finding a way back sharpish in the ideal ongoing series wouldn't be too infeasible. Though the events he HAS gone through under the masterful pens of Matt Fraction (ugh, that guy again?) and Kieron Gillen (a true genius in Marveldom) are miles above anything that could have happened to him under the banner of a team book, so perhaps the direction of Beta Ray Bill should have stayed the same course as the non-Omega Flight ongoing world, and added him into Omega Flight again with his creepily hot wife in tow. Unless he becomes a recurring cast member of Gillen's S.W.O.R.D. in the future in which case you can essentially disregard any thoughts on him belonging with Omega Flight. Still he does manage to pull of the most indisputably awesome transformation in any comic ever (from his black alter ego, Simon Walters):
I feel there's a 300 joke here, but I just don't know what... Spar... something...

Beyond the threshold of the characters and their development in the series is the obvious element of villains, which come in two distinct yet familiar flavours: villains trying to make a name for themselves jumping up to Canada, and crazy demonic stuff that blows your mind and then some. Both of these are given the ideal representation within the first arc, allowing for me to delve into them and continue to not just shut up and end this article. First and foremost to address is the big Civil War effect of villains heading up to Canada to take ass and kick names. Aided by the unusually sinister representation presented by THE WRECKING CREW!
Again, I feel there's a joke here I'm missing. One about Mentos, the freshmaker? Ah, never mind.

A regular laughing stock of the Marvel U, the Wrecking Crew have never been more than the typical first group of villains a team should face (or at least one of the earliest they should encounter to prove their heroism in the face of super-powered stupidity) and whilst they fit that role here they are brutally reinvigorated without any hesitation from the bumbling fools that had plagued comicdom for something upwards of 30 years to startlingly sinister foes with purpose and intent other than smashing things up and other stupid goals. In fact within their first appearance in this series Wrecker comes off as a psychotic murderer, like any good villain should be... Well a fair few anyway. Observe:
I mean God- DAYUUUUM! That's some sinister shit. And weirdly funny too.

Not just that, but the upgrade given to them through the magical forces of... Whatever the hell magic force is responsible for everything (it's a face in a wall in a magic dimension or something, but for the life of me the name eludes me) turns them into veritable powerhouses and cosmic-level threats, with Wrecker taking on Beta Ray Bill in one of the most awesome fight sequences in recent history AND WINNING. No, not just winning, but doing it with enough cockiness to finish the fight on this sentence:
Oh, don't say that you'll make Thunderstrike cry!

I won't dwell on the Wrecking Crew themselves (despite how horrifying Thunderball is, abusing Sasquatch) and just say that any character given a treatment this unusual, this game-changing, this... Amazing, will indisputably become a character to remember. Heck, this could even make someone like Paste-Pot Pete credible (no it couldn't). Just yet another reason that Omega Flight should have been an ongoing series I guess.

The final hurdle to address before concluding this never-ending essay are the magical beings that have the potential to appear and make any fight seem more and more hopeless. Not to suggest that all threats should be magical and result in the characters having to win against unreasonable odds with possible losses along the way. No that would get stale as hell and probably ruin magic for the entire Marvel Universe. No, what I would suggest instead in this crazy dream world of Omega Flight having been an ongoing series is for magic to be an underlying theme, enhancing either the villains or heroes, or being an all-out threat on OCCASION, the sort of thing that can build as a sub-plot or background detail over the course of a couple of arcs before exploding outwards in an epic 6-12 issue extrrrrrravaganza that would make people jump to their wallets to buy it in an oversized hardcover filled with love the second it starts to happen. But then this is a dream world so instead we're reduced to just thinking how great the magic threat managed to seem in this 5 issue beauty.
AAARGH! REAL MONSTERS! Oh? They're in a comic book and probably won't ever appear again? Never mind then.

In conclusion, Omega Flight is truly a well of untapped potential, and I hope that I've shown that to you within this article. With the characters in the story, the potential directions the series could have gone and the presence of significant threats and issues touched upon in the first arc, there is no doubt in my mind that this is the one series that really had the chance to be so much more than anyone could have imagined. The only thing to come close in recent time has been Savage She-Hulk, and that is living on for now as a back-up story in Incredible Hulk. There's so much more I would like to say about this series that I just don't have the time for (mainly because this article has taken me somewhere upwards of a month to produce due to lack of time and hiatus and such) and I will probably return to them more one day with a standard review of the trade paperback. Until then rest assured that THIS is all why Omega flight should have been an ongoing series.

And that dead Captain America jokes will always be funny:
Too soon?

Oh, probably helps to link to the TPB: It's over here! Read More ..