Saturday, August 8, 2009

From the Reading Pile - Little Nothings: The Prisoner Syndrome

Little Nothings, Vol. 2: The Prisoner Syndrome

By Lewis Trondheim

Trondheim describes the prisoner’s syndrome as

It’s when someone’s locked up and isn’t doing anything. By Not doing anything, he gets more and more tired and has less and less desire to do anything.

Fearing this phenomena, he decides to do more festivals around the world.

The Prisoner Syndrome is like A Moveable Feast. It is very stream of consciousness oriented and almost diary like. When Trondheim notices something about a place that interests him or has a clever idea, he jots a cartoon of it down.

As a result, there is no narrative here. It is like a hip version of Family Circus. There is an overall theme going on about his life, but there isn’t necessarily any causal connection between pages. The elapsed time and location vary wildly.

It is an amusing book. Probably best read like a joke book, a little at a time. It is funny in places and heart wrenching in others.

A Reading Pile Special: Understanding Comics Day Five

Understanding Comics: Chapter Four - Time Frames
By Scott McCloud

In this chapter, our intrepid author talks about time and how it is utilized and conceptualized in comics.

It is a whole lot of theory. To be honest there is nothing super revelatory in this one. To anyone who has read comics for as long as I have, this is old hack.

It is interesting to see that the lingering moody panel is relatively new to western comics. As was his discussion on how the box of a panel can change time completely - its shape, size, content, and lines can be powerful indicators. The rest is all conceptual talk about composition. It is extremely important to anyone who may want to create comics in the future, but not very interesting for talking philosophically. It is hopefully just a breather after the beast that was Chapter Three.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Witchfinder: In the Sevice of Angels #2

Witchfinder: In the Service of Angels #2
Written by Mike Mignola
Illustrated by Ben Stenbeck

Mignola is laying out a period mystery drama with a supernatural foundation. One would expect no less from him. What is astonishing is that he makes this London of 1879 just as real as the settings he places the BPRD in during the Forties or where Hellboy lives out his story in the present. It is a fertile mind that can handle such diverse locales and times so capably. The mystery is tense in this one, the stakes high, but as of yet there is not a lot of out and out action. This isn’t a bad thing by any means. He is doing solid character work and that is to be commended. This book is as much about mood as it is the horrible.

Mignola is giving us background in his larger epic here. It is great to see how far back his story goes. That kind of world building is what makes such a complex concept work. Here we see Victorian London’s dark corners, its alleys and the men who would profit at the expense of others.

RIYL: Hellboy, The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft, Proof, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Star Wars: Dark Times - Blue Harvest #0

Star Wars: Dark Times - Blue Harvest #0

Written by Mick Harrison
Illustrated by Douglas Wheatley

Dark Horse reprints the two Star Wars chapters from their online anthology, Myspace Dark Horse Presents. The story is set up for the "Blue Harvest "storyline that begins in Dark Times #13. Evidently, a large demand for this introduction caused this #0 to see print.

It is easy to see why. Harrison’s dense script is epic and exemplary of the heights of storytelling for which this franchise is known. The scope is breathtaking here. It is almost as if there is an illustrated version of the famous vanishing scroll that introduces each of Lucas’s films and as the score of John Williams quiets down, you can almost feel the fade.

RIYL: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Wasteland

A note

I blame Doom Patrol, but the Review Pile Special on Understanding Comics will not be happening today, tomorrow it will continue.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

From the Reading Pile: The Black Diamond Detective Agency

The Black Diamond Detective Agency
By Eddie Campbell (from the screenplay by C. Gaby Mitchell)

When a train explodes at the turn of the century, a devious plot is unearthed and the Black Diamond Detective Agency are the only people who can solve it.

Campbell hits everything perfect here. The story is a hybrid of a Western and a pulp noir. There are twists and turns, deceptions and mob wars. It is a thrilling and gripping read that will keep the reader at the edge of their seat.

As solid as the story is, it is Mr. Campbell’s art that is truly special here. He captures the feel of the time and the chaos of the explosion perfectly. His use of reds to underscore the mayhem without resorting to graphic depictions of the blood shed contained is restrained and genius. He leaves the more gruesome details to the reader. In fact, much of the action happens off the panel, allowing the reader to determine how a gun fight plays out, where a mark is hit, and what a mess must look like.

The painted style gives the book a kinetic flow that feeds in to the cinematographic feel of the piece. His thick chunky lines make it look animated and his detailed backgrounds give it more of a photo realistic feel. Buildings, trains, and other large objects fill up entire pages with great detail and lifelike recreations.

This is an exciting and worthwhile read with stunning graphics that should entertain anyone who likes the Western genre or is looking for a decent mystery yarn.



Written by Jeph Loeb
Illustrated by Jeff Matsuda

This book was written after the success of Heroes Reborn at Marvel. Liefeld and Loeb branched out on their own and started Awesome Entertainment. This was the first time Matsuda and Loeb worked together. So the question is, is this a masterpiece, guilty pleasure or something else entirely?

This reviewer is going to have to say it is a guilty pleasure. There are lots of fun elements. In fact, it would be my guess that the fans of Giffen and Rogers’ reimagined Blue Beetle will find much to enjoy here. It is after all, a comic about a high school kid balancing his life at school and as a hero. For my money give me Star and S.T.R.I.P.E., but the kids seem to disagree these days. In fact, given the popularity of that book and Young Justice, maybe this book started something and if so, then maybe I am being too harsh in the following critical look.

RIYL: Ultimates 3, Star & S.T.R.I.P.E., Impulse, Young Justice

A Reding Pile Special: Understanding Comics Day Four

Understanding Comics
Chapter Three - Blood in the Gutter
By Scott McCloud

Wow. Stunning. While I found chapter two a little hard to digest, Chapter Three exploded with information.

Here, McCloud describes “the gutter.” That space between panels which can take up seconds, years, or no time at all. He breaks down the types of transitions that occur in graphic narratives. I won’t bore you with those details, they are in the book if you are truly interested. Through these methods he notices trends in comics. What is most surprising is the fundamental difference in how Eastern and Western creators craft their stories.

The West tends to be concise, balancing what is needed with what can be left to the imagination. However, in the East, more emphasis can be placed on panels that relate the same point in time, creating a more detailed portrait of a moment. Most often this is used to evoke a sense of mood that can be missing in our traditional comics.

He also discusses a work’s length and abstraction on its effect to synthesize panels. His final conclusion is that the magic of the gutter is what raises comics above the level of some bastard child of visual art and prose.

It is the single most enlightening thing I have ever read about comics and explains many of my own preferences. In Manga, it explains why I enjoy the atmospheric nature of Vagabond over the more dense and Western DragonBall. It is key in understanding why I enjoy Jason and Seth, finding more meaning in their minimalism than in the static realism of someone like Alex Ross. Don’t get me wrong, I like Ross, but am more likely to appreciate a panel individually over the sequence of art as a whole. Most telling is why someone like Bendis, who I enjoy thoroughly, for other reasons, drives me mad with his penchant for confusing panel layouts.

So much of why I enjoy the comics I do is illuminated in this chapter. I feel spent. With six chapters left. I fear for my tiny brain. At this point, a pantomime strip will be a different experience for me. Already McCloud is shaping my opinion and view of my favorite medium. It is revelatory; and to be honest, a little frightening as well.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Review Group Week 182 - Doom Patrol #1

Another week, another book... this week, I had the pick and did not love my choices so I opened up a poll on the outhouse and at Facebook to let the people decide. They spoke loud and clear and as a result...

Doom Patrol #1
Written by Keith Giffen; co-feature written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis; Art by Matthew Clark; co-feature art by Kevin Maguire; Cover by Matthew Clark; Variant cover by Matthew Clark and Kevin Maguire

Come one, come all! The world's strangest Super Heroes are back, and they brought those robot guys along with 'em! Thrill to the strange adventures of the Doom Patrol, with script by Keith Giffen and art by Matthew Clark! Whether you think you know 'em or you wouldn't know 'em if they bit you on the behind, this Doom Patrol's for you! But that's not all! Read all the way to the back cover for the all-new adventures of those elemental everymen, the Metal Men, featuring the triumphant return of the creative team that brought you JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL! That's 40 full pages of comic-bookery for just under four American dollars. So why not try some Doom Patrol with a side order of Metal Men today?

  • DC Universe
  • 40pg.
  • Color
  • $3.99 US
Come join the fun!

From the Reading Pile: Little Mouse Gets Ready

Little Mouse Gets Ready
By Jeff Smith

The genius behind Bone writes his first book that is solely aimed at younger readers. It is short, to the point and thoughtful. Mostly it is just plum precious.

Little Mouse is going to the barn with his family. He rushes to get dressed, but will his attire be appropriate?

This is a great book for any reader starting out. It is cute and will appeal to some of the Bone audience, but it is clearly meant to be a primer.

A Reading Pile Special: Understanding Comics Day Three

Understanding Comics
Chapter Two - The Vocabulary of Comics
By Scott McCloud

In the second chapter, McCloud tackles a much more complex topic. It is deceivingly simple at first, but builds to a problem that is harder to express.

Here, he starts out talking about the medium through its two major components - namely, pictures and words. The bulk of this part is devoted to pictures, or to be more precise, Iconography.

McCloud defines an icon as "any image used to represent a person, place, thing or idea." The discussion then moves to the simplified abstraction of cartooning. He eloquently states something that I have been struggling with in my reviews for two years. The emotional power of an artist like Jason over that of one like Alex Ross is what is ultimately the foundation of this concept. The universally identifiable abstraction of a cartoonist is more relatable and more real than the detail of the photo realist.

Of course, with comics, it is necessary to examine words as well. They are at once more simple and abstract than a regular icon, but they are reliant on outside information. They are infinitely more complex because of the process which is needed to perceive their message.

This is all followed by a lengthy discussion of the various combinations employed by different artists. He is looking for a single vocabulary to describe the synthesis created by the received information of iconography and the perceived reality of prose. He is successful in as far as stating their iconic importance and differences, but the true complexity of the subject means that his final analysis is not as clear as he would probably like.

It is not that he doesn't express his idea well. He does, but it is difficult to understand exactly what he is getting at. This is due to the headier nature of this topic, it is not as readily coherent as the first chapter. Abstraction is always difficult to define and his effort here is both valant and borders on the sublime. It is like Pirsig's struggle with the notion of quality, it is unattainable as the safe end to his motorcycle journey. It is a necessary step in McCloud's own philospohical journey and despite its awkwardness, it will enlighten the reader on why they may prefer Herge over Jim Lee (or vice versa).

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Incarnate #1

Incarnate #1
By Nick Simmons

Nick Simmons branches out on his own in this title. Long under the shadow of his father, that member of an infamous band, his only previous comic credit is as a writer on his dad’s House of Horrors. Here he not only writes the script, but does the penciling as well.

Radical calls Incarnate an American Manga and that description is somewhat apt. From a panel design and stylistic point of view, Simmons seems to get manga as much as Adam Warren does in Empowered. However, the storytelling, the actual prose of the comic, is more straightforward like most traditional US comics.

RIYL: Vampire Hunter D, Locke & Key, Pixu, Empowered

From the Reading Pile: Flight Volume 6

Flight: Volume Six
By Various
Edited by Kazu Kibuishi

It almost seems moot to try to review this book in light of the ongoing feature here on Understanding Comics. To a certain extant, it seems pointless to be trying to review any comic at this point in time, but I will keep trucking forward.

Flight has long been the acme of the comics anthology. It has soared us to the highest heights the format can possible have us expect of it. While I have not been a fan of every story in the five previous volumes, it is easy to say that the love and creative power on display in this series is a testament to comics as a medium.

That being said. This one is the first to falter. It is not to say that the creative energy and effort was not put into this volume. It is as well crafted, beautifully illustrated and entertaining as any of the previous volumes. No, the problem here is content. With the debut of Flight Explorer a couple of years ago, which was this reader's first foray into the series, Flight became the property of the more mature reader. There have been stories that were not necessarily suited to an all ages audience in past volumes - be it through innuendo, drug use, thematics, or what have you. Explorer opened a division in the franchise, a place for the child to revel in its delights but be shielded from what might be viewed as improper for younger readers. It seems now that maybe that was not the intent. Maybe, Explorer was purely an effort in younger reader fare, not all ages content. The difference between Jeff Smith's Bone and his Little Mouse. This should not be problematic, but then why is so much of what was on display in Explorer present in this volume?

On to the actual stories. The return of Daisy Kutter is welcome here. We also have the best entry thus far in The Saga of Rex. Other returning favorites include Jellaby and Fish N Chips. Some of the best Pantomine comics ever are presented in "Dead at Noon" and "Walters". "Mate" is the most stunningly inventive design work of the year. All in all it is an entertaining volume, it is just curious why this volume seems to be Flight Explorer expanded, instead of Flight proper.

A Reading Pile Special: Understanding Comics Day Two

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
Chapter One - Setting the Record Straight
By Scott McCloud

McCloud begins his journey into the deeper world of comics in a unique way. He starts by poking a bit of fun at them. The writer was not initially enamored with the medium, even though he would grow up to change the face of comics through his work.

In the Eighth Grade, his good friend Kurt Busiek truly introduced him to the world of sequential art. Scott’s world was changed forever. He sensed something deeper in comics, but was met by scoffing of a familiar sort about these feelings. This set his motor running.

Why did people think comics were kid’s stuff, silly superhero books with bad art? So, the first order of business is to define comics. Partly to do away with the stigma, partly to open the discourse of the book.

The simplest definition would be Will Eisner’s. He defined comics as “sequential art.” Unfortunately, McCloud thinks that definition might be a bit too broad. So he comes up with a more detailed definition:

com-ics (kom’iks) n. plural in form, used with a singular verb. 1. Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.

Using this definition, the author proceeds to look at the history of comics. He reaches past Yellow Kid and the onset of modern comics and talks about Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Mixtec Manuscripts, the Bayeux Tapestry and more. He doesn’t attempt to pinpoint the genesis of the medium. History is not his goal here.

His goal is to get the narrow perception of comics recognized as the bunk it is. This is a medium that goes back centuries and has produced a Pulitzer Prize winning tome. It is not Kid’s stuff.

McCloud throws the gauntlet down from the very beginning. He is going to explore the qualities and possibilities of comics in depth. If what you it is all Superman and Spider-Man, he wants your biases out of the way fast. An open mind is going to be needed, cause he intends to expand it.

I hope you will join me tomorrow for day three of this special look at Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics.

Monday, August 3, 2009

From the Reading Pile: Pixu - The Mark of Evil

Pixu: The Mark of Evil
By Gabriel Ba, Becky Cloonan, Vasilis Lolos, and Fabio Moon

Four of comics most, for lack of a better word, avant garde artists team up for one creepy story.

When a strange marking appears in their apartment building, five people begin to have their lives changed.

The story here is not the easiest to grasp. The "monster" is not a physical beast but a plague of the mind. The abstraction that crawls from the walls and windows into the characters is a feeling of dread, confusion, chaos, etc. These various dark thoughts creep into each of the tenants and eats away at them.

This is one of the more disturbing reads in quite a while. As the evil is mental, there is no beast to be slain, outside the apartment and its occupants themselves.

What is most astonishing is that the styles of the four artists blend together. They are, of course, complimentary, but there are moments when it is as if one artist did it all, even though you can definitively say it was this one or that in a particular panel. Collectively, they create a new visual vocabulary that is not present when they work individually.

Pixu is a ground breaking work of horror that will set its seed in the reader, much as it has its players.

RIYL: Locke & Key, Sin Titulo, Strange Embrace

A Reading Pile Special: Understanding Comics Day One

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
By Scott McCloud

Okay, so today, I came to a special book on the Reading Pile. One that is remarkably different from any of the other books I have discussed thus far. As a result, The Reading Pile Special is born. In this, hopefully, recurring feature, I will take a deeper look at a book than any normal review can entail.

The first book being covered this way is Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud. This book is considered a touchstone in comics. It’s a comic about comics. Not the history of comics (although there is a very impressive one of those, Comic Book Comics). No, this book starts with a definition of the word comics and then goes into detail as to what comics are and what they as a medium mean or are capable of.

I’m excited to read this book. It’s analysis is supposed to be profound and it is regarded as a game changer. Garry Trudeau said, “When the 215 page journey is finally over, most readers will find it difficult to look at comics in quite the same way ever again.”

So join me, as I spend the next nine days look at each chapter in detail. I’ll probably write a more traditional review at the end, but no promises.

A word of warning, even though Understanding Comics is itself a comic book, I will not be criticizing McCloud’s art in these pieces. I will probably rarely, if ever, mention the art at all. I am more concerned with the content and the theories of this book.

I hope you will be here tomorrow for the discussion on Chapter 1.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Review Classic: Ultimates 3 #1

I recently reviewed a book by Jeph Loeb (as soon as it is live there will be a link blog). It inspired me to look up this old one from the pre Broken Frontier days. With the writer and the recent end of the Ultimate Universe, this one seems like a good one to pull up. Originally posted at

Ultimates Vol. 3 #1
Written by Jeph Loeb
Art by Joe Madureira

I have not been a big supporter of the Ultimate Universe. Ultimate Spider-man just rubs me the wrong way, I could care less about Ultimate Power and let’s face it, Ultimate X-Men is where great writers decide to write garbage. All that being said there have been a few titles I have enjoyed. Three to be exact. Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk, Ultimate Iron Man and Ultimates. I was a huge fan of The Ultimates 2. I have yet to read Ultimates Volume 1, I have it in hardcover somewhere, but volume 2 started when I was just getting back into comics and to me, it was everything I ever wanted an Avengers comic to be. It was dark and seemed like it could be happening here.

Ultimates 3 seemed like a good idea. Jeph Loeb has always been hit or miss with me, although I really like his Batman and Superman books. However, his recent work has left me cold. The Fallen Son series suffered from being incredibly uneven in it’s writing and in a couple of issues (yes I am looking at you Spider-Man) laughably bad. His recent stint on Wolverine was so bad that after the second page of the second issue of the arc, I gave up until Loeb went away. This book is just nonsense. Am I to assume that Hawkeye’s new darker image is a result of the conclusion of the last series? Well, to drastically change a character like that needs some development and any attempt at actual characterization is absent here. Instead of getting to be introduced to Ultimate Black Panther, we get hints at a mystery. In an incredibly poor choice (that I can’t believe Marvel editorial let happen), Loeb decides to make the book more adult by introducing an incestuous relationship and then never bothers to show why the involved characters feel this way. The rest of the issue is a big fight with a villain that is just an obvious plot device to bring Spider-Man onto the team. All of this leads to what is supposed to be a shocking cliff hanger, but the problem is, I didn’t have any emotional investment in the characters so I didn’t care.

Joe Madureira is the artist on this issue. I work in a comic store, so while I was not reading books when he was drawing them, I get to see the mad passion that people have for his art. The muddiness (that is cause primarily by Lichtner’s colors) and over boxiness of the charaters made me rush to the back issue bins. I had to see what all those folk see in Battlechasers. Well, I lucked out and had an issue six in the regular runs here at the mall store (note Ultimate Comics no longer has a mall store - check the link above for locations). I took a peek, the lines were strong and the colors bright. There was some boxiness, but it just gave a distinctive quirk to the art in that book. I rushed back to my copy of Ultimates 3 #1. Then I rushed to look at the sketches in the back of Iron & the Maiden #0, they resembled the Battlechasers work. I rushed back to my copy of Ultimates 3. I am not convinced these are the same artists. Ultimates 3 is the work of a sloppy amateur. Sure he has been out of the game for a while, but why let the prototype sketches in the back of a book he let someone else draw be more polished then his hyped return to comics? Go back to games, I don’t need you. Your best work is on the cutting room floor and I get this garbage when I spend money?

Ultimates you are on notice, you have one more issue to stay on my pull list. I am even giving "One More Day" more of a chance then that. You better bring it next time.

From the Reading Pile: Daybreak Episode One

Daybreak Episode One
By Brian Ralph

A zombie book with two very unique qualities - no zombies and it is told in first person. The first person stands out the most. I don't think I have ever seen a comic from that point of view before. As with all first person narratives (especially in a visual medium), it works to a lesser extant than one would hope. While it is on its surface an awesome idea, it becomes contrived as there is no way to truly make it seamless. No matter the conceit, it is impossible for the reader to interact in the environment of the graphic novel.

The lack of zombies is nifty. This isn't a Walking Dead type thing where you see them in the beginning and end or every once in a while, there are NO ZOMBIES in this zombie book. This forces Ralph to make his characters sympathetic and believable. It is just a tad drawn out in this volume, but it works.

Art wise, the book has a Jeffery Brown type feel. It is a cartoon with rough lines that are surprisingly consistent. The designs work and the story telling is as fine as it can be for the concept.

This is an intriguing idea. Only reading further volumes will declare whether or not it is a particularly successful idea. Unfortunately, I don't think I am ready to commit more time to this one as of now.

For anyone interested in the book, it is distributed by Bodega and first appeared as a webcomic at

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Worth a Second Look: The Mice Templar, Vol. 1: The Prophecy

The Mice Templar: The Prophecy
By Bryan J.L. Glass & Michael Avon Oeming

The adventures are Karic are a special journey that begin here. Long enthralled by the local Blacksmith's tales of an ancient order of Mice who keep all of mousedom safe, Karic is a boy prone to fantasy day dreams and eager to play swords and sorcery. When a stranger comes to town with a tale no one will hear, a dark destiny is carved out for our young hero.

The Mice Templar is a love letter to fantasy. It throws in a tablespoon of Star Wars, a cup of Redwall, a knob of Nymh, and a dash of The Lord of the Rings, but manages to come off not only as homage, but as a unique entity. This volume deals almost exclusively with how Karic becomes the last hope for an ancient order and a dying religion. He is not the first choice of the masters who need to see the legacy carried on, but he is a choice and that is something that they have long searched for.

Glass and Oeming's story is magnificent in its density and scope. The schedule of these first six issues was a bit of a problem, it seemed to come out almost haphazardly. The amount of story presented in each chapter and the unfortunate, yet incorrect, assumption that all the mice looked the same, made it hard to follow on a bi-monthly or longer schedule. The momentum of the book was lost in between chapters. The new volume which saw its first issue released this past Wednesday promises to be different with a new artist and its next issue shipping in a mere two weeks.

As you can see below, the review for that first issue of Volume Two showed that there was no love lost to this reader during the wait. That love for the story sparked this rereading and short review of the first part of the epic and it was not time wasted. This is a great story that is massively entertaining. Like those Lucas films that it seems to admire, this is one worth enjoying time and time again.

The Stuff of Legend Volume I: The Dark, Book I

The Stuff of Legend #1
Written by Mike Raicht and Brian Smith
Illustrated by Charles Paul Wilson III

Imagine if Andy in Toy Story was kidnapped. Buzz, Woody and the gang would run off to rescue him, right? Well, there would probably be a crazy committee meeting where Rex and Hamm tried to get out of it first, but they would man up eventually. That is how The Stuff of Legend begins. It quickly takes on a more serious, brooding and darker tone then the Pixar film though. It’s setting and less playful narrative add to this sense; but do not be mistaken, this comic is no less magical.

The first thing that stands out about this book is the design. This 8 inch by 8 inch square book opens to reveal a wood grained scrap book. (It is flat and on glossy paper, but you get the idea.) It is tattered, aging - brittle at the corners - and the panels make up the pictures filling it. The muted coloring of the book adds to the feel, a monochromatic relic, an artifact is in front of the reader. All of this creates a sense of history unlike any graphic narrative this reader has ever seen.

RIYL: Toy Story, Mice Templar, Unwritten, The Iron Giant, Fables