Archive | May, 2012

Not quite a walk in the park.

31 May

By Ayo

Wax Cross
by Tin Can Forest (Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek)
Pub: Koyama Press, 2012

Eastern European art has a particular lilt to it, doesn’t it? What I have in my hands is a giant comic book constructed primarily out of triangles. As angular as the figurative work is, Tin Can Forest have a subtle manner of rounding off those triangular forms to literally take the edge off of what is constructed as a harsh visual code. The softer corners and counterbalancing curved and swooped shapes give /Wax Cross/ a graphical freedom that most angular art lacks.

Balancing the straight line, inorganic angle with the curved path, rounded edge gives Tin Can Forest a vastly more diverse visual vocabulary than they would have if they had set down their pens after “let’s use simple geometric shapes.”


The first thing that /Wax Cross/ will call to readers’ minds is surely picture books. One can infer a certain appreciation for stained glass art as well, particularly in light of the heavy Christian mythology foundation of this comic. Of course the ideas of “picture book illustration” and “stained glass windows” aren’t mutually exclusive. Picture books have long absorbed influence from all aspects of visual culture. This is something that comics, by and large, are not accustomed to.

With that frame of mind, /Wax Cross/ has a very broad appeal when it comes to graphic art. This sort of art, along with its large-page presentation will bring the reader into a mood for discovery, much like in those picture books of the reader’s own youth. That said, the context of the comic’s storytelling might be much more esoteric than it appears.

Not being personally familiar with some of the cultural references or even too certain of the country of origin, much of /Wax Cross/ flew over my head. There are some meaningful passages about bees and some goats of ominous portent but as far as withdrawing a literal understanding of what happens in this book, I’m at something of a loss.

That can be a plus or a minus, depending on a reader’s mood and disposition. In some ways, the colorful storybook imagery puts one in the mindset of a young reader learning through picture books. In other ways, while relaxing the mind into a state of receiving information, one may find the book dense and requiring of more active searching than the graphic tone initially suggests.


Last Friday, I was walking through the park. As strolled up the path, what seemed like a gentle incline turned out to be a longer, steeper trek than I anticipated. By the end, I found that I was leaning into my steps more than I initially realized.

Reading /Wax Cross/ is like Friday’s walk: it looked easy enough and was accomplished easily enough but rather than a quick stroll, this book will ask the reader to put a bit more effort into it than initially assumed.

Bang for your buck.

25 May

By Ayo

Comics don’t have enough value for the price.

This is the charge that I have read over the years. Particularly in the current age of mainstream North American comic books with under twenty-four pages of story that readers self-report reading in under fifteen minutes. Sometimes under ten minutes. When the price has increased to three and four dollars and the reading density has dropped to ten minutes or less, it certainly seems like readers are getting a bad deal. Poor value.


Competing media:

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17 May

By Ayo

There is no way that Captain America knocks out Warpath in two paces, off panel. Bullshit. Can’t happen. Warpath has Thing-level strength, he should be able to deadlift more than Luke Cage.

I would absolutely bet on Captain America in a fight with any strong guy except for Juggernaut and the Hulk. But that’s gotta be more involved than a mysterious off-panel knockout while Giant-Man gets beat up.


AnyANYway, Avengers Vs X-Men # 4 will be known as the one where Wolverine wears a bear. Wolverine walks across the Antarctic, following a trail of beer cans left as bait while wearing a polar bear tied to his arms and that is basically unbeatable for imagery in comics right now.

I’m not sure if polar bears actually live in the Antarctic. I thought that they only lived in the Arctic. Who cares? It is a beautiful image and it is exactly why pulp comics exist. The genre of pulp exists so that we can look at a drawing of a man walking through the snow with a dead bear on his back, paws tied to his forearms.

The secret is that it’s played completely straight. Script-writer Jonathan Hickman makes a pun that would make Brandon Graham proud.


Spoiler: in this issue, everybody goes to the moon. As you may be aware, the moon is the location of the final battle in the classic X-Men story “Phoenix Must Die!”

In this current comic book, the Phoenix has finally arrived, presumably to make Hope Summers its new host. Feel that? In elbowing you in the ribs. You get that? See what they did there? Do you see?

I’m just teasing, I’m as sentimental as the next guy. Of course the battle over the new presumptive Phoenix host should take place on the moon. It must. Really, there isn’t a better place for this story to end up.


John Romita Jr must have gotten on somebody’s bad side because what Marvel is allowing Scott Hanna to do to his pencils is technically illegal in nineteen states.

I’ve had a bullet in my head since nineteen forty-four.

17 May

By Ayo

One of the prime elite writers in comic books, Garth Ennis will always earn at least a peek whenever he begins a new project. Ennis successfully broke out of the realm of “doing things that companies make him do” a long time ago. For over ten years now, Ennis has clung to stories that he cares about. Usually violent war books for adults.

My War Gone By, a new series for Marvel Comics’ adult line called MAX is exactly a violent war book for adults. After an oddly restrained first issue (“While All the Planet’s Little Wars Start Joining Hands”), I nearly passed on the second issue. Nearly. Issue number 2, “Number One Fucky” makes good on basically everything in issue number 1. While mainstream Marvel writers generally write six issue story arcs and don’t pay back their plot debts until part six (if at all), Ennis pays off issue number 1 with interest the very next week.

Is this comic literally going to be a weekly?
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For no good reason, I am going to use the word “intercourse.”

14 May

By Ayo

Leave the room, authors. Nobody is talking about you. Yes, your name will be used because you are the creator of the work in question, but criticism is not for you. It’s not *for* you. It isn’t about

Criticism is for everybody else. It is for the audience of a work. Any intonations toward addressing an author in a critical piece are strictly rhetorical. That said, critics: we have to stop acting as though we are in conversation with authors. We are in conversation with work.

We exchange ideas and methodologies and the work in question is often the ball as well as the court. I am thinking of tennis as a metaphor. But nightmare tennis where you are one player and on the other half of the court are dozens or hundreds of other players. The work you are discussing is the net, ball and court. Your intelligence is your racket. No pun intended. This is a terrible metaphor.
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Ox Out the Cage

11 May

By Ayo

Hit the ground running.

If the first track on your album is titled “Intro,” you’ll be first against the wall. Except DMX because his “Intro” tracks were complete three-verse songs.

Hit the ground running.

It’s so unusual for the first track to be a song and more unusual still for the song to be topical, rather than introductory.

Nas “Get Down” from /God’s Son/
Slick Rick “Treat Her Like a Prostitute” from /The Great Adventures of Slick Rick/
Dead Kennedys “Kill the Poor” from /Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables/
LL Cool J “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” from /Radio/
Dead Kennedys “Soup Is Good Food” from /Frankenchrist/
Oscar Brown Jr. “Work Song” from /Sin & Soul/

There are some…but it isn’t universal. Personally I would like to cut the crap and the “hello, my name is” stuff and dive right into the difficult material. Plus starting off deep with a song about a specific subject suggests a strength and confidence that is rare and compelling.

Hit the ground running. “Ox Out the Cage” is actually the second song on Cannibal Ox’s /The Cold Vein/ but “Iron Galaxy” is a beautiful opening, serving the dual purpose of introduction and catalogue of inner-city decay, which is the specific topic. However, “Iron Galaxy” still feels quite “overview”-like and lacks the specificity of “Get Down,” the first track on Nas /God’s Son/.

Hit the ground running. Ox Out the Cage. All killer, no filler. Leave the chatter for the interviews. Open with a bang and leave people begging for more. Don’t rap about how generally cool you are, don’t sing about the general excitement of life. Go in.

Hit the ground running.

I read a lot of comic books. Most of them are terrible. Even a bad comic book can be good if its author isn’t worried about how serious the story is or isn’t. If the author isn’t concerned with making sure that I knew a whole lot of specific things. /Just rhyme, homie/

Superhero comics are the worst. Why are you drawing my attention to characters who aren’t even properly in the story? Waste of time. Why pages and pages of exposition? That is terrible, make it stop. Nobody cares. Scenes of superheroes making speeches for pages to inspire other superheroes (or more exactly, to clumsily introduce plot points) this is boring and I’m not reading the rest of your comic.

Hit the ground running.

Don’t ever write a panel with one character speaking in four word bubbles. I will never know what those bubbles say. I’m a busy man. Kill that shit or don’t even turn your mic on.

Go hard or go home. Hit the ground running or tell your story walking.

“The Art of the Bad Deal” b/w “It’s Never Easy”

7 May

By Ayo

Bonus track: “Alabaster: Shelter Part 1” by Steve Lieber and CaitlĂ­n Kiernan.

Let’s talk about this Alabaster: Shelter comic. Here it is, I think this comic is pretty much–


Dark Horse’s bread and butter is licensed comics from LucasFilm and from Joss Whedon. Also whoever owns The Terminator, Alien, Predator, you get the picture. So it’s only right that Dark Horse’s Free Comic Book Day offerings reflect that. And why not? The purpose of this holiday is to encourage non-comics readers to become comics readers. So the smart money is on familiar properties. DC and Marvel are familiar properties by their nature so that isn’t a problem. Dark Horse is familiarity squared. Not only does a general population know who the characters are in these comics, millions and millions have fully experienced those stories in their original forms as films and television serials.

Were I a person who didn’t read comic books and I heard about this “Free Comic Book Day,” I would have been happy to pick up Marvel’s movie star heroes, DC’s Justice League sampler and the familiar faces of Star Wars, Buffy, et al.

On the flipside, we have the traditional comic book reader who sees licensed properties as artificial, as cash-ins. Doors open from both sides and Dark Horse is in a unique position to make inroads from within as well as from without.

With 2012’s “The Art of the Bad Deal,” b/w “It’s Never Easy,” Dark Horse wins, for me. Both stories are written by Joss Whedon’s brother Zack Whedon. The Firefly/Serenity comic “It’s Never Easy” is drawn by Fabio Moon, who has drawn comics for Joss Whedon as well as for Matt Fraction. The Star Wars comic is drawn by DavidĂ© Fabbri. For a comparison, Mr. Fabbri’s work calls to mind Andy MacDonald who drew Zack Whedon’s “Terminator” comics. I initially though Fabbri WAS MacDonald.

The style of both stories is open and amiable. The character drawings call to mind the actors upon whom they are based without being too distracting or overly awkward. Fabbri draws a nice Harrison Ford.

The best part of these comics is when River, from Firefly/Serenity in “It’s Never Easy” leaps from the top of the ship to trample on the bad guy. When she springs off of the roof, her feet are tucked behind her in a way that is counter-intuitive for most artists but actually the most logical when one considers the force that she is trying to propel herself with. She turns in mid-air and hurts the bad guy pretty well. This is the definitive memorable part of the entire comic, cover to cover.

Speaking of. These stories, Zack Whedon’s “The Art of the Bad Deal” and “It’s Never Easy” are the exact same story. Space merchants land their respective ships to trade at the local ports, end up in conversation where a person offers to purchase the ship (refused) then attempts to hijack the ship from its captain (foiled by a powerful unseen ally). That’s kind of cute, in a way. Not annoying. Full disclosure, I read these stories on different days. If I had read them in a single sitting, I’m certain that I would have been highly annoyed by the repetition of not theme but entire plot arc.

Even so, that leap from the roof–

The New 52 #1 -or- Justice League Free Comic Book Day

6 May

By Ayo

DC Comics’ Free Comic Book Day book is less confident than Marvel’s. While Marvel used their Avengers 0.1 to push forth their upcoming Ultron storyline, DC used half of their story to promote the upcoming “Trinity War,” and the second half to tease random newly premiering series.

The lack of focus doesn’t end there. In the flagship story of this issue (note: not going to talk about the random teasers) we read one story with four art teams. Four art teams in a sixteen page story.

Team 1 is Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Rod Reis. Pages 1-4.

Team 2 is Kenneth Rocafort and “Blond.” Pages 5-6.

Team 3 is Gene Ha and Art Lyon. Pages 7-11.

Team 4 is DC Comics co-publisher Jim Lee with one page of comics followed by a massive gatefold centerfold splash panel. It is four pages, pages 12-16. It is a very nice four page gate fold. Jim Lee, Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair. A good team.

For brevity’s sake I am going to refer to each team as a unit defined by its penciller. The penciller is the captain of a comics art team so let’s do it that way.

Fresh on the heels of Action Comics #9, Gene Ha delivers the art for a sequence in which Pandora, the protagonist throughout these short scenes, steals her famous box. I’m very disappointed with this scene but it isn’t Ha’s fault. He is a complete tonal shift from the aesthetic sense of the other three artists. Gene Ha doesn’t belong here.

He may be my favorite of these artists but just doesn’t gel with the graphic sense that the story is pushing for.

Ivan Reis and his team are what I most want from this story. Reis employs a thin line style that leaves a lot of room open for color special effects. That seems to be Reis’ stock in trade, particularly with his Green Lantern work. Reis doesn’t ever grab me with beautifully rendered forms but always serves his purpose when he is depicting a character electrified with cosmic rays or glowing with magic.

Ivan Reis has struck a precarious balance between fine detail and readability which I find very worthy of note and praise.

Jim Lee, co-publisher of DC Comics, is the master of the style that Reis is working in. As funny as I find the notion of the publisher of a major media company rolling up his sleeve and acting as his own employee, the work that Lee puts into his pages is no joke.

More than Jim Lee’s neurotically-precise detail lines, I’m really fascinated by the glowing figure-lines on the Green Lantern, provided by color artist Alex Sinclair. This is not a new idea in comic book coloring but since this is the particular book in front of me, it’s as good a time as any to say that I like the effect. The effect is depicted twice on the cover to this magazine: Wonder Woman’s lasso and Pandora’s glowing, cracked gun. I stare into the colors.

Avengers 0.1: Age of Ultron

5 May

By Ayo

This story started off rough and then blossomed into an enjoyable adventure. The way I see it, Marvel had two options with Free Comic Book Day: they could either support the Avengers film with a tie-in comic book or they could snare the inbounding Avengers film audience and ease them into the contemporary Avengers storyline. Marvel chose the second option. This comic book is a preamble to a large event comic hinted at in earlier comics as “The Age of Ultron.”

This is a rare occasion in which Marvel has decided to put their shoulder into it and support Free Comic Book Day whole heartedly. This book is made by Brian Bendis and Bryan Hitch who are elite A-list talents in the superhero genre. Rather than being a non-essential side story this book directly leads into a storyline that will be of future great significance to the company’s bottom line. The notion of trying to earn “new readers” is not a going concern. Instead, the mission is to call existing superhero comic readers to attention and beat the drum for the next big comic party.

Given those parameters is Avengers 0.1 successful? That is for you to judge and your wallet will be the jury.

My personal feeling is this: if Bryan Hitch is drawing this “Age of Ultron,” I’m probably interested. Hitch is one of those modern artists who established the “widescreen” style. Popularized by his page designs on “The Authority.”

Hitch is known for his photo-referenced art style and his reliance on copying photos of famous actors. He is also well known for his ability to render the scope of superhero destruction on a somewhat believable scale.

There is a nice sequence in this comic where Thor’s magical hammer is ricocheting around just out of view. Each panel illustrates the damage that the weapon is inflicting until it returns to Thor. The hammer doesn’t actually return to his hand but Thor is reaching for it as the handle is just in the panel, its return imminent. Just as Thor is reaching for his rebounding weapon, the Avengers are bursting through the wall, scaring the bad guys even more.

This scene is a strong example of showing effect before cause. It instantly places us in the point of view of these hapless villains who don’t understand why everything is exploding around them. They are just seeing chaos left and right and above. Then boom: Avengers Assemble.

AvX #3: Avengers Continue to Fight X-Men

2 May

By Ayo

Spoiler, Captain America fights Wolverine. Just kidding, it isn’t a spoiler, this scenario is depicted on the cover of the magazine. The greatest dramatic turn of the story of AvX thus far is depicted on the magazine’s cover. The friendship and alliance of Captain America and Wolverine has fallen apart, more quickly than Schism‘s collapse of Cyclops and Wolverine’s friendship.

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