Bend It Like Bendis

The news broke Tuesday that Brian Michael Bendis, a writer whose name has been synonymous with the Marvel brand for almost two decades, is wrapping up his tenure and creating new work for its Distinguished Competition. It’s a huge development in the American comics industry. I’ve been a big fan of a lot of Bendis’s work at Marvel — mainly the solo titles as opposed to team books — and as a guy who started out reading only DC comics as a kid, I’m excited to see what Bendis will do with some of my cherished childhood icons.

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Textbook Examples

How Comics Work
Writers: Dave Gibbons & Tim Pilcher
Cover artist: Gibbons
Editor: Angela Koo
Publisher: Wellfleet Press
Price: $24.99 US

While best known as the artist on the landmark Watchmen series (though most commonly read as a graphic novel collection for years now), Dave Gibbons has had and continues to enjoy a decades-spanning career, not only as a comics artist, but as an accomplished writer. He’s worked with and learned not only from the best writers the medium has known, but also from the best inkers, colorists, letterers and production people. So who better to guide readers through “how to” book on the craft of comics. The title of this paperback is a bit deceptive. While Gibbons and co-writer Tim Pilcher do touch on how the medium works overall, this book could have easily been titled How to Make Comics. It’s like a textbook, or even a manual on how to put a comic book together from scratch. From the first glimmer of an idea for a story to the printing press, Gibbons and Pilcher take us through the process. It should appeal not only to someone just starting out in the world of comics, but longtime fans of the medium.

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It’s the End of the World As We Know It

Thor: Ragnarok
Actors: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Idris Elba, Karl Urban, Tessa Thompson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Ruffalo & Anthony Hopkins
Director: Taika Waititi
Writers: Eric Pearson and Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost
Studio: Marvel Studios
Rating: PG

It was clear early on from promotional efforts that Thor: Ragnarok was going to be a much different beast than the previous two Thor movies, and that was a wise approach on the part of Marvel Studios, since those earlier Thor flicks, while successful, weren’t among its most popular offerings and often felt a bit stiff. Well, Ragnarok ain’t stiff, that’s for sure, but I’d have to say the studio overcompensated. This is a buddy slapstick comedy dressed up with super-hero elements, and it’s quite a bit of fun. Part of that fun stems from great performances from actors just joining the Marvel cinematic universe for this project. Other aspects of the fun, though, flow from better known players in the silver-screen continuity acting out of character for brief moments. It’s funny, for sure, but ultimately, I left the theatre feeling as though this installment in the Marvel cinema brand was a bit… inconsequential. Don’t get me wrong, it’s worth seeing on the big screen, but it shouldn’t be topping anyone’s list of favorite Marvel movies.

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Artful Obsessions: It’s Pronounced Voit-KEV-itch

Everyone has their favorite incarnation of the Justice League, be it the Silver Age original, the JL Detroit team, Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s return of the Big Seven, or perhaps (and most definitely in my case) the humor era begun in the late 1980s by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire. I don’t think anyone has ever mentioned the two-year stint on Justice League America from the mid-1990s by writer Gerard Jones and artist Chuck Wojtkiewicz, which saw a new lineup launched in the wake of Zero Hour.

I have very few issues from this run on the title, which surprises me a little, since included in the team roster at the time were Infinity Inc. alums Nuklon and Obsidian, characters I’ve loved since they were introduced in All-Star Squadron in the early 1980s. Despite my lack of connection with this era of the JLA, I jumped at the chance to pick up this board from Justice League America #98. The price was right, and there was a lot about the page that appealed to me.

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Quick Critiques – Nov. 4, 2017

Avengers #673 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Mark Waid, Javier Pina & Paco Diaz

I lost touch with Waid’s Avengers some time ago, but given my interest in his Champions title, I signed back on for this crossover between the two team titles. I love Waid’s writing in general, but I’m just not connecting with this story. Part of the problem is that I’ve always loathed the High Evolutionary as a villain. I find him painfully uninteresting and don’t really get how he’s tapped genetics to transform himself essentially into a near-omnipotent being. I’ve never fully understood what motivates him. Furthermore, the way things stand here, it appears many Marvel heroes are well aware the big bad guy has been perched on Counter-Earth and have done nothing to ensure he doesn’t do exactly what he’s doing in this storyline. The real heart of this story, though, is the conflict between one member of the Avengers and one of the Champions: Vision and Viv. The father/daughter dynamic should be the grounded, relatable aspect of this plot, but it’s handled so… loudly, it just doesn’t seem to serve their story or characters right. Given that Viv was introduced in Tom King’s brilliant and quietly intense 12-issue Vision series not long ago, finally addressing the tension between the father and daughter in this bombastic crossover event seems as though it does a disservice to that foundation that gave rise to the relationship in the first place.

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Justice, Like Lightning…

Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1
“Cold Dead Hands, Part One: Ready to Do It All Over”
Writer: Tony Isabella
Artist: Clayton Henry
Colors: Pete Pantazis
Letters: Josh Reed
Cover artists: Clayton Henry (regular)/Ken Lashley (variant)
Editors: Rob Levin, Harvey Richards & Jim Chadwick
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I took note of this comic book’s release this week because it marks a turning point in a creative relationship between DC Comics and a writer, Tony Isabella. The latter has been quite vocal over the years about his dissatisfaction with how the Black Lightning property has been handled in the decades since it debuted, and how he’s been treated as the character’s main creator. With a Black Lightning TV series set to begin next year and Isabella’s return to pen new BL comics, it’s clear the relationship has been repaired. The problem with such a backstory is that it sets an awfully high bar for a creator’s return to the notable character he crafted, so it begs the question: is the comic any good? I’ll be honest that I was expecting something different — something edgier and far more steeped in socio-political issues than it is. I was surprised to find a rather traditional super-hero comic, not nearly as dark as I anticipated. There’s actually an unexpected playfulness to the titular hero that was a bit of fun. Easily the best thing this comic has going for it is the artwork by Clayton Henry, whose crisp lines, paired with some popping colors, bring as much energy to the story as what we see pouring out of the protagonist’s fingertips.

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Charting a Course


A comic artist with a quarter century of experience in the industry, including memorable projects involving Batman for DC Comics, is heading back to school, but he’ll be the teacher and anybody, anywhere can attend classes.

Bo Hampton — an Atlanta, Georgia-based artist known for such comics as DC’s Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Batman: Castle of the Bat and Legend of Sleepy Hollow from Image Comics — launched Drawing for Comics on Nov. 1. It’s an online course teaching comics illustration, and Hampton is delivering it through a series of videos, as well as options for live Skype assessment sessions.

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The Strong Protect the Weak

Captain America #695
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Chris Samnee
Colors: Matthew Wilson
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Chris Samnee (regular)/Alex Ross, Mike McKone, Adi Granov, Jim Steranko & John Tyler Christopher (variants)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

Mark Waid and Chris Samnee… Off the top of my head, I can think of only one other active creative in comics today that’s as well suited to one another and as successful in storytelling (Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, for the record). It’s clear that after the tremendous success of their landmark run on Daredevil in recent years, the writer and artist have their pick of projects at Marvel Entertainment. They moved onto Black Widow after DD for a solid, entertaining 12-issue run, but their renegade spy thriller didn’t have quite the same personal impact. While I’m surprised Waid has chosen to return to Captain America (after leaving a lasting mark on the character with his classic run with artist Ron Garney in the late 1990s), I was eager to delve into what he and Samnee had in store for us. After reading the creative team’s inaugural issue, I’m pleased to report there’s definitely the promise of something memorable. And perhaps even more than that; this might be a classic. It’s a relatively quiet and straightforward start, but it’s so positive and idealistic, it’s definitely the right response to the year of divisive, dark Cap stories that preceded it.

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The Ascent of Consent

What Does Consent Really Mean? original hardcover graphic novel
Writers: Pete Wallis & Thalia Wallis
Artist/Cover artist: Joseph Wilkins
Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Publishers/Singing Dragon imprint
Price: £14.99 GBP/$21.95 US

The significant swing of the social pendulum on the massive problem of sexual assault and harassment in society, driven chiefly by the revelations of allegedly abusive behavior on the part of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, is a powerfully positive force for societal change. It also comes as an opportune time for the creators behind this British graphic novel, which delves into such issues and chiefly what constitutes consent — and more importantly, what doesn’t.

What struck me right away about this book as I delved into it was the fact that I’m most definitely not the target audience for the book. And I don’t mean because I’m a man. This was crafted with teens in mind, even ‘tweens, depending on their level of sophistication. It’s an interesting read, offering mainly a discussion of sex and consent and dispelling myths. At first, I thought it was mainly designed to be informative, but as one progresses through the book, one discovers the characters develop their own little story arcs that resolve satisfactorily by the conclusion.

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Flea Market Finds: Batman: Dreamland

Batman: Dreamland original graphic novella
Writers: Alan Grant & Norm Breyfogle
Artist/Cover artist: Breyfogle
Colors: Noelle C. Giddings
Letters: John Workman
Editor: Dennis O’Neil & Joseph Illidge
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $5.95 US/$9.25 CAN

The two Batman artists who made the greatest impression of me in my 40 years of comics reading have been Jim Aparo and Norm Breyfogle, and one could argue they both offered up the least conventional interpretations of the Dark Knight. I loved Breyfogle’s runs on Detective Comics, Batman and Shadow of the Bat in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, so I was taken aback when I happened upon this prestige-format one-shot from 2000 at a local flea market. It’s an unusual example of the work of the creative team of Alan Grant and Breyfogle for a number of noteworthy reasons. It has its flaws, but it definitely satisfied that part of me that loved this team’s work years ago. After reading it, I completely understood why this was released as a one-shot (though it needn’t have been so expensive), because the premise just wouldn’t have worked in the context of serialized DC Universe comics.

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Artful Obsessions: The Art of War


I’ve never been much for war comics, though there have been occasional exceptions of strong storytelling that really grabbed my attention. But my extensive comic-book collection really includes very few war comics, just the occasional issue here and that was a part of a larger lot I picked up at flea markets or the like over the years. I have several issues of DC’s original Weird War Tales among the many long boxes around my place, but I honestly don’t recall if I’ve read them all (I ought to rectify that, especially given the vintage-comics kick I’ve been on as of late).

Despite that lack of nostalgic connection to war comics, when I spotted a page from Weird War Tales for bid online recently, I definitely wanted to try my hand at winning it. The reason wasn’t due to the content, but rather the era from which it originated and the unusual pairing of artistic talents who crafted it. I was fortunate enough to have landed the board and added to my collection, and when I finally got it in my hands, I realized it was a treasure-trove of classic comics craft details.

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Ascended from Nobility

Noble Volume 1 trade paperback
“God Shots”
Writer: Brandon Thomas
Artists: Roger Robinson, Jamal Igle & Robin Riggs
Colors: Juan Fernandez & Sotocolor
Letters: Saida Temoforte
“The Event”
Writers: Priest & Joseph Illidge
Artists: Marco Turini & Will Rosado
Colors: Jessica Kholinne
Letters: Andworld Design
Cover artist: Roger Robinson
Editor: Joseph Illidge
Publisher: Lion Forge
Price: $14.99 US

I’ve been meaning to delve into Lion Forge’s line of super-hero comics, designed in part to offer a stronger array of black characters to a market that’s clearly hungry for diversity in its escapism pop-culture (contrary to what a vocal minority might argue). To be honest, though, I haven’t been following comics news and release dates of emerging publishers and creators nearly as much as I used to, and some of the initial releases escaped my attention when they first hit the stands. So I was thrilled when I had the chance to read this first collected edition of the initial issues of Noble. There’s certainly an ambitious tone set here; like other super-hero startup lines, Lion Forge and editor Joseph Illidge have set out to building a larger, connected continuity, and based on the main story and the backup, titled “The Event,” they’ve done so in a meticulous manner. Part of me thinks such interconnections need to happen gradually, but that’s likely not feasible in modern comics publishing. Super-hero audiences crave and expect those links, and the mysterious framework set out here certainly seems to indicate Lion Forge is off to a strong start in terms of that creative endeavor.

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Flea Market Finds: Captain America: Madbomb

Captain America & the Falcon: Madbomb trade paperback
Writer/Pencils/Editor: Jack Kirby
Inks: Frank Giacoia & D. Bruce Berry
Colors: Janice Cohen, Phil Rachelson, Michele Wolfman & Don Warfield
Letters: John Costanza, Gaspar Soladino & D. Bruce Berry
Cover artists: Kirby & John Romita Sr.
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $16.99 US/$27.25 CAN

It’s always fun when Diamond Comic Distributors has a clearance sale, as my local comic shop, without fail, capitalizes on it and offers a diverse array of product at deep discounts to its clientele. Which brings me to the 2004 Captain America & the Falcon: Madbomb collection. Part of Jack Kirby’s heralded return to Marvel Comics in the mid-1970s, his run on Captain America is a keystone in comics history – one I hadn’t read before. Now, I must confess, while I appreciate the creativity, genius and foundational talent of the late Jack Kirby, I was never a huge fan of his work, at least as a younger comics reader and enthusiast. What’s noteworthy about this classic Cap run is that Kirby was the sole creative force; he’s even listed as the editor. That shows in the storytelling, and especially in the occasional clunkiness of the writing. Fortunately, there are still some powerful political notions at the heart of this story. While it shows its age a fair bit, there were moments when the story resonated and made me consider socio-political realities of the now. To achieve that sort of connection with a reader 40 years removed from the original crafting of the story speaks to why Kirby was so successful and integral in comics years ago and why he remains an ever-present force in the medium even years after his death.

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Flea Market Finds: Future Quest #1



Future Quest #1
“Part One: Lights In the Sky”
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artists: Evan “Doc” Shaner & Steve Rude
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Cover artists: Shaner (regular)/Rude, Bill Sienkiewicz, Joe Quinones & Aaron Lopresti (variants)
Editor: Marie Javins
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I was sorely tempted to pick this comic up when it was released last year, given the creative team and the strong recommendation of the manager of my local comic shop. However, I was reticent, given my lack of nostalgic attachment to the many Hanna-Barbera adventure properties that populate the book. When I saw a copy at a flea market for a steal, I saw my chance to indulge my curiosity and appreciation of the work of writer Jeff Parker and artist Evan Shaner. While I’m pleased I was finally able to examine the book, my initial instinct proved to be correct: Future Quest is for the die-hard fan of these 1960s and ‘70s cartoons, and that’s about it. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with how the writer and artists present the material; it’s solid. But it seems clear to me that appreciation of this comic is wholly dependent on a pre-existing love for these characters.

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The Mage Runner

Mage, Book Three: The Hero Denied #0
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Matt Wagner
Colors: Brennan Wagner
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $1.99 US

I have to admit I’m only a casual reader of Matt Wagner’s comics. I’m broadly aware of the two creator-owned properties for which he’s known – Mage and Grendel – but I’ve read only a few comics from the various runs of those titles over the decades. There’s no denying there’s a fanbase out there for this material, though, so Wagner’s choice to return to Kevin Matchstick and company isn’t surprising. What drew me to this comic wasn’t so much my past exposure to Mage or the strength of Wagner’s work, but the cheap price, to be honest. While entertaining and diverting, it manage to hook me, so I don’t know if I’ll be moved to seek out subsequent issues.

Creepy little monsters still lurk in the dark corners of the world, and a new generation of heroes has arisen to deal with them, heroes like the hover-boarding millennial known as “the Steeze.” The cocky, young champion encounters Kevin Matchstick and is determined to show the old-timer a thing or two, but it doesn’t take the experienced hero long to teach him a thing or two. Still, the Steeze struts away, confident he saved the day, but Kevin knows the new generation hasn’t even scratched the surface of nefarious threats out there.

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