Monday, June 28, 2010

Comic Buzz – Morning Glories

Creative Team: Nick Spencer (W) Joe Eisma (A) Rodin Esquejo (covers)
Image Comics, ongoing series, starts in August

This is how teasers should be done. I first stumbled on the teaser ads for this series on Newsarama. I didn’t know anything about the series other than what the weekly teases told me. I really liked the look of the ads. And by the third one “Most likely to quote Star Wars at inappropriate times” I was really interested in where this was going. It took until the fifth one for me to find the interview Nick Spencer did with Comic Book Resources. And now it’s on my list to be added in August (which means ordered in June). The first issue will be double sized to give fans a really good taste of what is to come.

Described as “Runaways” meets “Lost” details are still being kept pretty quiet. The information in the exclusive CBR interview is our best look at what is to come for now. Our setting is a school, the prestigious Morning Glory Academy, and our main characters are students. But the school holds some major secrets and our students find themselves facing more than they may be able to handle. Many twists and turns are promised, but Spencer promised that he already has the ending set and won’t just be making it up as he goes along. All the mysteries and clues will mean something somewhere down the line.

Waiting on the final teaser to be revealed I expected a girl, and I was hoping for something like “Most likely to kick your ass at video games” or “Most likely to cause collateral damage.” After the flirt and the emo girl I felt we needed a strong girl to balance out the cast. But I think the confident looking Casey who is “Most likely to save the world” does that job nicely, even if the young blond does remind me of another tagline referring to saving the world. I just hope she’s not a cheerleader. (Seriously, the more I look at her the more she reminds me of Claire. Their names even sound similar.)

I’m already sold, but I can’t help but want it to be a big thing so it can keep going as long as possible. Another interview with Spencer came out recently letting him expand on the characters since they are all much more than their simple yearbook descriptions. We’ve been promised a look at some pages from the first issue soon, and I’m chomping at the bit for more.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fan Ramblings – DC goes Digital

I’m excited to see DC branching out (all at once, with no advanced warning in fact) onto the digital scene. I know digital comics can be a bit of a polarizing topic among fans, and while I prefer to read comics that I can hold in my hand and not off of a screen I do recognize that this is a big step for the publisher. Anything that can get comics into the hands (or onto the screens?) of more people is a good thing, and DC really seems to be taking care of a lot of the concerns people have had about it. I’ll be very interested to hear more about their “Retailer Incentive Program” that could not be in place for launch but they promise is coming soon.

DC kinda one upped Marvel’s big announcement of releasing their Invincible Iron Man Annual #1 online on the same day (June 30) as it comes out in stores by offering their bi-weekly Justice League: Generations Lost series as a same day release from here on out (starting exactly one week before Marvel’s big online experiment), and at the same price as the actual comic. Honestly, I think it was an okay choice to experiment with, but apparently not for the same reasons that DC does.

In an interview with CBR, DC co-publisher Jim Lee spoke about why this title was chosen, “Creatively speaking, I think it was ideal for our day-and-date experiment because it has some of the world's most recognizable and well-known characters. So if you're interested in pulling in a lot of new readers coming in via a Justice League cartoon or game they've played, and having seen these characters in other media, that title will showcase those characters first.” I hate to argue with Jim Lee, but has he seen who the lineup is in Generations Lost? It certainly isn’t the Justice League from the cartoon. As far as I am aware it’s Booster Gold, Fire, Ice, and Captain Atom (former members of the Justice League International) along with Blue Beetle (Jamie Reyes). Of those, I think the only character to even appear in Justice League Unlimited was Booster Gold. As much as I like some of those characters I certainly wouldn’t call them “some of the world's most recognizable and well-known characters.” Honestly, of the list I would say Blue Beetle is currently the best known outside of comic book folks because of the Batman the Brave and the Bold cartoon. I could be very wrong about this series, because I honestly have not read it. But from what I understand about the series from interviews, reviews and solicitations this just doesn’t seem to be a comment that holds water. Just because Justice League is in the title doesn’t mean that it’s going to appeal to fans of other things called Justice League.

I will whole heartedly agree with the next part of his statement though, “The fact that it also comes out on a bi-weekly schedule is something that speaks to the digital environment. Having something that comes out more frequently helps because, as we know, everything online happens at a quicker pace. The idea of a book coming out every two weeks works well in that format.” People want things on the internet to be fast. They don’t want to wait a month for an update to their story. Two weeks is a much better jumping on point for a reader, who feels like they can get a story fast without losing too much steam in the process. Also, from DC’s point of view they will get twice the data from this title than if they had used a normal ongoing. Since it comes out twice a month they can get more detailed data on the rise of this service and how often people are using it. And since it is a limited series (24 issues last I heard) if it turns out that this was a huge mistake for whatever reason they aren’t committed to it forever. They have a good set time period to look at the data and make observations from there.

He ended his response with this, “And also the fact that it's launched more recently meant that it would benefit from the additional press attention and marketing that this announcement would garner, and that will help drive not only digital sales but print as well.” I would agree that it could help print sales, but probably not of this specific comic. This comic is under the Brightest Day banner, dealing with characters brought back from the dead after Blackest Night. If they do it right with advertising and teasers for other books this could bring people into the other Brightest Day comics.

All in all, when I saw that Generations Lost would be offered as a simultaneous release it really didn’t surprise me. Whatever the reasons that drove the company to choose it I think they could have made a far worse choice.

Looking over the rest of the initial release titles there are a few things that stand out. Most of the selected titles make a great deal of sense in one way or another. They released the first 6 issues of Jonah Hex, which would have been a very smart move to go along with the movie release, except that I have heard that the movie is terrible and strays so far from the source material that it probably turned most of the mainstream off of the franchise, and even if someone did like the movie he wouldn’t find a continuation in that same vein in the comics. The first twelve issues of The Losers are available, again probably with movie hype in mind. There is a strong Green Lantern presence again for the upcoming movie. Superman and Batman have strong showings here while Wonder Woman is notable absent again supporting the idea that DC has a Big 2 and not really a Big 3 as they claim. I’m thrilled to see Tiny Titans offered here! Anything that can bring more sales to that title is aces in my book.

I really enjoy the idea of a free issue 0 as with Fringe and Mirror’s Edge, making preview possible before committing to a title. However, I’d be happier with a policy of first issues being free or $0.99 as a standard policy. As it stands here, the first issue of The Unwritten is twice the price it was on the stands and, as I recall, it is available for free on Vertigo’s website. I’m not sure why someone would want to pay $2 for it with those things in mind. But that’s really the only issue I can see that seems to really drop the ball.

And while licensed titles from video games and such might not sell that well in print form they are exactly the kind of product that DC should be pushing on the digital market. That’s the kind of potential reader that this service will appeal to. Those licensed comics could well be someone’s first comic. We already have a lot of overlap with the video games community, but there are plenty of people out there who play video games and aren’t reading comic books.

There is a good variety of titles from DC, Vertigo, Wildstorm, and even Zuda. I think it presents a good cross section of DC’s lines to new readers who might be surprised to find that DC does more than just superheroes. There are a lot of first issues here and the whole launch group just seems to scream “new reader friendly!” And while it might not offer a whole lot for the dire hard comic fan, there is certainly potential for more to come and a nice safety net to explore what is available.

Now what’s missing? I’m surprised that there are no Young Justice issues here. If we don’t see it soon I will be shocked. With the cartoon coming out soon and fans ALWAYS asking about collected editions at cons it seems like a no brainer to reprint those stories in this format (people want to give them money for these stories!). I suppose that’s what I’m really looking for from this service. Comics I can’t find anymore. Old comics, things that have never been collected, that sort of thing. I’m talking first issue of Batman old. Now I’m sure the royalties issues with these older works is going to be a pain in the ass to figure out, which is probably why we don’t see them here, but I hope they make their way here in the future.

I’m also surprised that none of the classic Teen Titans stories are here. The Wolfman and Perez run is classic and would probably appeal to fans of the cartoon looking to get back to the comic roots. Again, no Wonder Woman. You’d think with her 600th issue hitting the same time as Superman’s 700th they could at least have gotten equal hype with a preview here. Flash is also missing, but with his movie push coming along, this will no doubt be corrected sooner rather than later. But I suppose the trouble is in deciding which Flash to put up. Do they put up old Barry Allen stories? Do they put up the more recent Wally West stories, even though he seems to have been more or less shelved at the moment and the movie will no doubt be only about Barry? Or do you wait a few months and then try to put some of the very recent Flash stuff up? And if you do that, could it affect the trade sales? Ah, I can clearly see why there is no Flash presence here.

All in all, I’m rather pleased with this initial release. I’ll probably go download all of the free issues and play with the app and see how it reads. I only have an iPod touch, so I’m not sure how it will be reading on the small screen. But I’m willing to give it a shot and see how it works and am not completely against giving them my money in the future.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Waiting for Trade? – Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites (hardcover)

Creative Team: Evan Dorkin (W) and Jill Thompson (A)
Price: $19.99
Available: June 23, 2010

A few years ago in the various Dark Horse “Tales of” anthology books there were some short stories of adorable pets that had to deal with ghosts and witches and the super natural. These four short comics were well received (winning Eisner Awards for Best Short Story and twice for Best Painter) and the series was continued with a four issue miniseries (which has been nominated for the Eisner awards for Best Publication for Teens and again for Best Painter). All of those stories are gathered here in a single collected volume.

These pets are your average pets, except that they live in your not so average town of Burden Hills. Creepy stuff is happening in the town and one of the old and powerful Wise Dogs recruits our heroes to help manage the evil lurking about. The stars are a group of dogs and one cat who are still learning how to deal with these strange occurrences when our mini begins. Jill Thompson describes it as Lady and the Tramp meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I feel that’s a pretty accurate description.

The writing is very well done. All of the pets have their own clear personalities which shine through in their dialogue. They all have regular dog names like Redd, Pugs, Rex, and Ace. They regularly get overwhelmed by what they are facing and have to find a way to push through and overcome without the benefit of, say, opposable thumbs. The art is gorgeous. Jill Thompson’s watercolors are amazing and beautiful and haunting in all the right ways.

But be warned: there are cute animals in this book, but it’s still a horror book. Bad things happen to our characters and not everyone makes it out unscathed. If you don’t want to see bad things happening to house pets you might want to skip this one. It’s all very tastefully done, but you should be prepared. That being said, while it is probably too dark for the little ones I think this book would be good for older kids who might be ready for a little more maturity in their comics but still like the whimsicalness of talking animals. Dark Horse suggests it for ages 14+ on their website. If you have kids, my best suggestion is to preview it to decide if it’s appropriate for them.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Dark Horse has provided the first three short stories on their website for you to preview. If you like what you read there, you’ll love the mini where they had more pages to devote to the characters and their story. And most of those early stories play a role in the mini at some point, so you feel a strong sense of continuity and repercussions. You can also preview the first 10 pages of issue one of the mini series here.

Although I have all the single issues I will most likely get the trade myself in order to collect the previous stories. The creators seem excited about doing more stories with these character in the future, but until then this collection will have to tide me over. At least until the Hellboy crossover. Words cannot describe how awesome sounding that is.

UPDATE: With the release of the trade there are two new interviews posted that I wanted to link you to!  You can read them here and here.  Enjoy!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Comic Book Issues: Doubles Feature of Awesome!

The other day I read several really good comics. There were those that I expected to be good and were good (The Unwritten, Tiny Titans, Joe the Barbarian) and then there were some that were new that were pretty good (iZombie, Birds of Prey, Zatanna). And then there were 2 that really blew me away. So in a happy change of pace, today’s Comic Book Issues isn’t about a bad comic I had issue with, but two comics that were really really good and stood out to me. As always I’m a month late, and these comics are from May. It’s LONG (about 1000 words for each title) and rambles, but its happy rambling and not ranting!

Let’s dig into Batman and Robin 12 and Red Robin 12!

Spoilers ahead, you have been warned.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Waiting for Trade? – Tiny Titans Volumes 1-4

Creative Team: Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani Price: $12.99 each
Volumes 1, 2, 3: Available now, Volume 4: Available September 1st

If you are a fan of any incarnation of the Teen Titans/Titans franchise you really need to check this book out. And I mean any. If you liked the recent cartoon incarnation, if you like the old Teen Titans from the 80s, if you like the New Teen Titans there is something in this book that you will love. And if you have children and want them to get hooked on characters you know and love, or comics in general, look no further than this book.

At the same time, if you know nothing about the Titans it won’t hold you back. They sneak in continuity references here and there, but they are just Easter eggs. Everything you need to understand this comic is in this comic.

The premise is simple. All your favorite Titans characters are attending Sidekick Elementary School and get into various adventures. If you follow current DC continuity, there are cute references to things happening inside the main DCU (such as when Darksaid, who is the school janitor, becomes principal for a day and demands that all the students take their finals without having studied! It was a Finals Crisis!). Battle for the Cowl, Blackest Night, as well as others have been parodied, but if you’re not following the main DCU I don’t think it will be distracting. It will just seem like quirky fun. Which is what it is. Make no mistake, these stories stand all on their own and will be just as easy to read and follow in ten years as they are now.

“Tiny Titans” is a joy to read. In a time when so many comics seem to be pulled down into this dark, depressing place it’s really nice to have one title that is just fun to read. This is the only comic book series I am reading that I can say with certainty that not a single issue has ever let me down. I never finish “Tiny Titans” and think, “meh that could have been better.” Instead I always think, “Aw yeah! That was great! I can’t wait for the next one!” How can you not love Beast Boy turning into a puppy?!

The book is part of the Johnny DC Kids line and the stories are very simple. Sometimes they take up a whole issue. Sometimes all of the short stories in the issue revolve around a theme. Sometimes it’s just a bunch of short cute stories. The art is simple but clean and fun. The colors are bright and the characters are adorable. And the single issues contain bonus pinups and puzzles for the kiddies. I’m not sure if these extras have been included in the collections or not.

Excitingly the Tiny Titan’s franchise has expanded into short chapter books (recommended for ages 4-8), one for the science fair and one for a camping trip!

If awards impress you, it won an Eisner last year for Best Comic for Kids (and it has shown up on a bookshelf in the comic) and is a New York Times Best Seller. Every interview I have seen with the creators shows that they are having a great time with this book. And you can tell from the finished product. If you have kids who enjoy superheroes or are a kid at heart yourself this is definitely worth a look.  And you can take a look here on the DC kids website and preview the first issue and here for a sample from this years DC kids Mega Sampler from Free Comic Book day!  Also, check out this video to see the guys in person.  I was amazed at how tall they both are!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Waiting for Trade? – Batwoman: Elegy

Creative Team: Greg Rucka (W) and J.H. Williams III (A)
Price: $24.99
Available now

I don’t plan to do many Waiting for Trades on main DC Universe ongoings. A lot of them are okay, but the continuity in them sometimes makes it hard to recommend just one storyline to a casual reader or someone who isn’t looking to follow a title for the foreseeable future (or until they switch writers and everything has a “new direction”). If you like the character you will probably pick it up anyway, and if you don’t then it better be one hell of a story to get you interested. So when you see me recommend one of them, I’m serious about it. The collection of Batwoman’s recent run on “Detective Comics” is one such example.  This collection inculdes issues 854-860. 

These comics really blew me away. I know there were people who were doubtful when it was first announced. They wondered why they should care about Kate Kane/Batwoman. And that’s what this story did. It made you care about Batwoman. This title quickly moved up in my read order every month as the story got more and more exciting.

What we have here is an introduction to Batwoman and her place in Gotham. If you’ve never read anything else with Batwoman before (and there isn’t a whole lot you could have) don’t worry. I hadn’t read anything before this, and while there is reference to a previous plot she was in, I felt that everything was explained well. They didn’t go over every detail, so if you still want to check the story out I’m sure it will be a fun ride, but they tell you enough so you don’t feel like you are missing any big pieces of the puzzle.

The comic isn’t just Batwoman though. She has a supporting cast of her own, some characters that Bat-fans will be familiar with and some new. Her father plays a huge role in her crime fighting persona and their dynamic is a lot of fun. Maggie Sawyer of the Gotham PD makes an appearance as does Renee Montoya, the current Question, although only in flashback. An interesting cameo is made by Bette Kane, Flamebird (of the Titans variety, not the Kryptonian one), and later issues suggest she could play a big part in Batwoman’s future.

Batwoman’s first story here features a villain named Alice (who seems to speaks only in quotes from the Lewis Carol books, which must have been a pain to write) who is the new leader of a secret cult, and old nemesis to Batwoman, called the Coven. I’m still sad that the Mad Hatter never showed up to investigate Alice, since he’s always looking for her. She would have blown his mind. The confrontation with Batwoman ends with a huge impact and the story flows seamlessly and logically into Batwoman’s origin story. Back stories can often feel forced in comics, but this one is set up so that you are asking all the right questions that only a back story can answer and are glad to see it. Not only does it answer a lot of those questions, but it continues to build Kate Kane as a character.

The art is incredible. And even more amazingly for me, it came out on time. Since I get my comics monthly I could be wrong and it could have been a week delayed somewhere in there, but it never missed a month. Some of the page layouts are breathtaking. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it blew me away.  And was good enough to earn a few Eisner nominations as well for Best Penciller/Inker, Best Cover Artist, and Best Coloring.

News has surfaced of a new Batwoman ongoing on the horizon, but unfortunately Greg Rucka won’t be attached. He’s leaving DC to take time to work on his creator owned projects. This is a major bummer as he was planning to write a three issue arc explaining Alice’s origin and now there is no telling if we will ever get to see it (because unless Rucka writes it I doubt anyone else will touch it). I’m bummed because Rucka IS the voice of this character, but I’m happy to give the future a chance to impress me as well. But if you haven’t yet picked up this introduction to Batwoman and her adventures I heartily recommend that you do so.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Waiting for Trade? – The Unwritten Vol. 1 Tom Taylor and the Bogus Identity

Creative Team: Mike Carey (W) and Peter Gross (A) Yuko Shimizu (C)
Price: $9.99
Available now

I have so many good things to say about this series from Vertigo. It is near the top of my read pile every single month (normally only behind “Tiny Titans”). I have enjoyed it so much I am picking up the trade, even though I have all the floppies. The series has received Eisner Nominations for Best Single Issue (#5, included in this collection), Best Continuing Series, and Best New Series.

Tom Taylor doesn’t have a lot going for him. His father, who has disappeared, wrote a supremely popular book series about a young boy wizard named…Tommy Taylor (in the same way that A.A. Milne wrote about his son Christopher Robin in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories). The character very closely resembles Tom and, as his other ventures fail, he reluctantly rides the coattails of his father creation, attending book signings and making convention appearances.

During a convention panel a girl in the audience questions Tom’s actual identity, claiming that records pertaining to his birth and childhood have been falsified. The public is outraged and fraud accusations abound. Tom just wants to lie low until things die down and go back to his normal life. But if the mysterious group involved in a conspiracy spanning all of literature gets their way, Tom’s life will never be normal again.

“The Unwritten” reminds us that every story has a story. And teases us with the idea that perhaps there is a single story behind ALL of the stories. This series blurs the line between reality and fiction. It touches on how stories affect us as readers and how we in turn affect those stories. It is compelling in a way that I feel many comics today are lacking. The writing is solid and the art fits the story really well, both in the real world and in the many fictional worlds we get glimpses of. The cover art by Yuko Shimizu is beautiful too and they are included in the trade along with some sketches unseen anywhere else. The story is smart; the dialogue feels natural with some good humor. I hope that this is one comic that will keep going for a long time.

You might be thinking this is some sort of Harry Potter rip off, but I’d have to remind you that the Harry Potter idea itself wasn’t new. Magic has always been a draw for people, and the exploits of young witches or wizards has been a popular way to present magic to people. I for one loved the movie “The Worst Witch” when I was a child. I won’t say that parallels can’t be draw between Harry Potter and the Tommy Taylor story, but “The Unwritten” is about so much more than just the Tommy Taylor books. Also, this is a more mature title with cursing, violence, and death with a darker tone than Harry Potter. The fairest comparison is probably that the two are drawing from the same inspirations and working in the same ideaspace.

But, as they used to say on Reading Rainbow, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can download the complete first issue from Vertigo's website. Then you can get some extra insight on all aspects of that first issue from the writer, artist, and cover artist. There are a good number of interviews with the creators on the net as well, and every time I read one I get more excited about the future of this comic. The interviews I’ve linked here are mostly from early in the comic’s run and thus are spoiler free.

If you’ve been waiting on this one I hope that you will pick it up now and enjoy it. I envy that you won’t have to endure the wait through the many surprising cliff hanger endings as I did (although the last one is a dozy!). And as its only $10, what have you got to lose?

Volume 2 Inside Man comes out August 11th and will cost you $12.99. It includes 2 more issues than the first volume, hence the price hike. And it’s still worth every penny.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Summer Reading List

The main reason I made this blog was to have a place to share my love of comics with others. And if we are reading the same books, it’s likely to spur conversation. And since for most of you summer is beginning (summer break in Japan doesn’t start until mid July) you should have some of this so called “free time.” And I think that reading good comics is a great use of anyone’s free time. So now you just need to find the good comics.

While I prefer to buy the monthly copies I know that a lot of people are now trade waiting in order to save money and to be sure that the product that they get is worth it (and some people simply don’t have a local comic shop where they can follow titles monthly and must depend on the collections in their local bookstore or library for their comic needs). For those of you who prefer this option I want to recommend a few things I think are worth your time and money. I have had these recommendations typed up and ready to go for several months now. So in the name of a better and more often updated blog I will be bringing you a summer reading list of the comic book variety. Not only will each entry have a brief synopsis and my personal recommendation (whatever that’s worth) but all entries will have links to interviews, previews, and anything else I can find that might be useful for someone who is trying to decide if they wanted to buy the book.

I want to get these entries up this week and next week. If you want to help encourage me to update this thing, PLEASE leave a comment on the entries. If you have read any of the titles I’m recommending, PLEASE comment on that entry, even if you disagree with me. I always want my reviews to be honest and I don’t mind other people’s opinions especially when they could help someone who is considering buying the product. And if you know anyone who likes comics, or who you want to start liking comics, please consider linking them to this blog. The recommendations here are all pretty accessible to new comic readers, and if there are issues with complicated continuity I’ll be sure to point it out. I won’t say there is something for everyone, but I there are several types of books represented, so even if one entry doesn’t stand out to you, you can check out the next one.

Quick taste of what's to come follows.  Check back soon for updates!

The Unwritten
Tiny Titans
Batwoman: Elegy
Adventure Comics: Superboy
Stuff of Legend
Beasts of Burden