Extra! Extra! Read All About It…

The Last Paper Route #1
Writers: Sean Jordan & Alex Kennedy
Artist: Dave Howlett
Letters: Jason Loo
Cover artist: Kody Peters
Publisher: Decent Comics
Price: $3.50 CAN

I happened upon this indie, self-published comic while attending the East Coast Comic Expo recently, and it caught my eye for a few reasons, but chief among them was its connection to the newspaper industry, notably how the industry existed a number of years ago. As a reporter for a daily newspaper (and a former paperboy myself), I decided I ought to check it out. The creators offer up an over-the-top tribute to the lost childhood job of newspaper delivery, as well as to the importance of print journalist, albeit to a lesser extent. There’s nothing remotely realistic about their take on the concept of paper routes, but there’s definitely something nostalgic. The Last Paper Route is difficult to describe. I was put in mind of The Goonies and Back to the Future — not in terms of plot, but when it comes to the exaggerated adventure and weird characters that populate an otherwise mundane, suburban backdrop.

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Critical Hit

Torpedo Volume One trade paperback
Writer: Enrique Sanchez Abuli
Artists: Alex Toth & Jordi Bernet
Translation: Jimmy Palmiotti
Cover artist: Bernet
Letters: Amauri Osorio
Reprint editor: Scott Dunbier
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Price: $17.99 US

The manager at my local comic shop pointed out he had a couple of discounted Torpedo books on the store’s clearance racks, and I’ve long been interested in curious about the work, having enjoyed Bernet’s contributions to Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray’s Jonah Hex series from DC a few years back. I plunked down my cash and happily took it home. Not surprisingly, I found a beautifully illustrated book, boasting a fun pulp-strip approach and deliciously gritty, fitting artwork. But to my disappointment, the clumsy plotting and dark characterization proved to be incredibly off-putting. I was expecting the titular hitman character to be a cool anti-hero, but he’s far from that. In fact, it’s next to impossible to find any character that fits the role of protagonist in any of these short stories. Every player in these crime dramas is so unlikeable that I really didn’t enjoy spending any time in their worlds.

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On the Lighter Side…

Justice League of America: The Ray – Rebirth #1
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist/Color: Stephen Byrne
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Cover artists: Ivan Reis & Joe Prado (regular)/Stephen Byrne (variant)
Editor: Andy Khouri
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US

A couple of weeks ago, the cover of the Justice League of America: The Atom – Rebirth one-shot caught my eye, and on impulse, I picked it up. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I started to realize Steve Orlando was a writer I needed to follow more closely. While the recent Vixen one-shot didn’t grab me, there was something about the cover on The Ray and its interior art that drew me in. Once again, Orlando delivers a thoughtful, character-driven story. It’s also a well-timed one, given the political and social climate in the United States as of late. Orlando’s story is about inclusion, about differences adding to society’s strengths and about how xenophobia is a lurking danger that’s emerging from the shadows. The story is something of a dichotomy, boasting a dark tone but ultimately a hopeful message as well. And artist Stephen Byrne stands as a new talent who merits more attention as well.

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Will O’ the Wasp

The Unstoppable Wasp #1
Writer: Jeremy Whitley
Artist: Elsa Charretier
Colors: Megan Wilson
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Joe Caramagna
Cover artists: Elsa Charretier (regular)/Elizabeth Torque, Nelson Blake II, Skottie Young, John Tyler Christopher & Andy Park (variants)
Editors: Alanna Smith & Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

I was surprised at how quickly the Wasp, only recently introduced into the Marvel Universe, was spun off into her own series, and while I liked the character concept and design, I wasn’t sure I’d bother to check this new book out. Ultimately, I decided to give it a whirl, and I’m thrilled that I did. While some dour drama can dominate more prominent titles in the Marvel title, there’s a small corner of the line that focuses on fun and a broader appeal. The Unstoppable Wasp falls into that latter category, and I hope it develops a following like other recent female-led books from the House of Ideas.

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Marvel’s Digital Downfall

Marvel announced this week, through a spin-heavy puff piece in Forbes, it was altering its value-added digital code program in its printed comics. Instead of receiving a free digital download code for the comic one purchased, Marvel will now include a code that’s good for downloads for two other, previously released and unrelated comics. The shift begins in February.

The Rob Salkowitz-penned Forbes piece is headlined as “Marvel Sweetens Its Retail Value With New Digital Bonuses For Comic Buyers,” and in the article, Marvel reports it’s changing its digital-code program to benefit brick-and-mortar comics retailers, the folks who sell the tangible comic books that it says is the cornerstone of the industry. At best, it’s a naive endeavor. At worst, it’s a lie. A possible motive for the change in approach is to curb the grey-market sale of the digital codes under the original program and to redirect that business to Marvel’s digital-comics sales avenues.

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When Love Turns to Greed

I was pleased to find my local comics retailer stocked copies of Love Is Love, the softcover comics anthology aimed to benefit the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., earlier this year. I’d informed the manager of the shop that I’d be interested in a copy if his boss had ordered some. It turns out I was quite lucky to get my hands on it, as it’s selling out all over the place. It’s also rising quickly in the ranks of Amazon’s most popular books this week.

The project was spearheaded by comics writer Marc Andreyko, who managed and herded an inordinate amount of talent, and who even got DC Comics and IDW Publishing to facilitate the book’s publication. To call Love Is Love a success would be as major an understatement as referring to the mass shooting that sparked this creative reaction as a tragedy. It clearly brought out a lot from those involved – emotion, personal connections, generosity of time – not to mention what it evokes from and instills in those who read it and appreciate it. There’s a second printing on the way, and Andreyko noted on Facebook that there’s also a third printing in the works.

Sadly, it appears Love Is Love is something quite different out of others: profiteering.

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Artful Obsessions: Gene Therapy

The late Gene Colan is definitely best remembered and honored for his work on Daredevil, Howard the Duck and, perhaps most notably, Tomb of Dracula. However, because I was exclusively a DC devotee in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I came to discover his work on such books as Batman, Wonder Woman and Night Force. As a kid, I wasn’t all that enamored of his style, to be honest, but over the years, I’ve definitely come to respect and appreciate his craft. His style is incredibly distinctive, and I’m pleased I’ve finally managed to add a sample of his work to my collection of original comic art.

The original comic art board I recently acquired is Page 18 from Jemm, Son of Saturn #6. The 12-part Jemm series is a rather obscure footnote in Colan’s career (though the title character did show up briefly in a villainous role in the first season of the new Supergirl show). A little online research reveals it was originally intended as a Martian Manhunter book before DC editors nixed it (as J’Onn J’Onzz was about to return in the pages of Justice League of America in the early 1980s).

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Don’t Take Me Out to the Ball Game…

The premiere of Season 7 of The Walking Dead TV show on AMC has evoked some extreme reactions, as social media exploded Sunday night and into Monday with people talking about not just what happened, but how vividly and gruesomely it was depicted. I spent a good chunk of the day Monday discussing the episode with some colleagues at work, and I also spent some time actively not discussing it in front of others who hadn’t had a chance to see it. In that spirit, I should note there will be some spoilers in this essay, but they’re all contained after the front-page break. Please consider this fair warning for anyone who hasn’t viewed the episode in question — or even for those who might be way behind on their reading of the original comic-book incarnation of The Walking Dead or viewing of past seasons. Also, there are a couple of images (and some language) found after the break that will definitely prove to be too intense for some…

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Fear, Kitty Kitty Kitty…

VariantDie Kitty Die #1
Writers/Pencils: Fernando Ruiz & Dan Parent
Inks: Rich Koslowski & J. Bone
Colors: Glenn Whitmore
Letters: Janice Chiang
Cover artists: Parent and Ruiz (regular editions)/Darwyn Cooke, and Ruiz & Parent (variants)
Publisher: Chapter House Comics/Astro Comix
Price: $3.99 US

I’ve been hearing about this project for a year or so, and I’ve been quite curious about it. It was originally released digitally, but I prefer comics on paper. Anticipating a print release, I waited, so I was pleased to find it on my local comic shop’s shelves this week. I hope Die Kitty Die proves to be a small-press success, because its commentary on comics publishing, pop culture as product and the poor treatment of creative forces, though a familiar refrain, merits further exposure and discussion. Archie Comics talents Dan Parent and Fernando Ruiz not only offer a sendup of their usual employers and its characters, but also target the comics industry as a whole, even including pastiches/homages of little-used Harvey properties, such as Casper the Friendly Ghost and Hot Stuff. One thing is abundantly clear from this comic: its creators really had a blast putting it together. There’s an exuberance evident here, one that flows, I assume, from the catharsis of expressing and letting go of their professional frustrations.

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Steve Dillon, 1962-2016

Like a lot of North American comics enthusiasts, my introduction to Steve Dillon’s art was in the pages of DC’s Hellblazer in the mid 1990s. I had just finished with my post-secondary education, and I was emerging into full adulthood. Relocation, independence and a burgeoning career. A real paycheque meant my love for comics could be indulged further. I remained (and still do) a fan of super-hero comics, but my eyes had already been opened to more mature fare exploring other genres. I’d discovered Neil Gaiman’s Sandman during my university years. I think it was in 1994 that someone at the comic shop I was frequenting at the time insisted that I look at Hellblazer. I wasn’t all that familiar with or enthralled by John Constantine, as I hadn’t been a reader of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, which introduced the character.

I don’t specifically recall if it was the first Garth Ennis/Dillon issue I read or not, but the memory that sticks with me to this day was Constantine’s journey through a nightmarish American purgatory, guided by the grotesque, post-assassination form of John F. Kennedy. (A quick web search reveals it was the “Damnation’s Flame” storyline from Hellblazer #s 72-75). Though I’m not an American, I immediately recognized that the use of Kennedy, open head wound and all, as a key figure in the storyline would be practically blasphemous to my neighbors to the south. I was struck by the daring of it, by the sheer gall and bravery of the storytelling choice.

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Eye in Comic

VariantVariantCave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #1
“Part One: Going Underground”
Writers: Gerard Way & Jon Rivera
Artists: Michael Avon Oeming
Colors: Nick Filardi
Letters: Clem Robins

“Super Powers”
Writer/Artist: Tom Scioli

Cover artists: Oeming (regular)/Matt Wagner and Brennan Wagner, & Bill Sienkiewicz (variants)
Editor: Molly Mahan
Publisher: DC Comics/Young Animal imprint
Price: $3.99 US

Of the three Young Animal titles to be released thus far, this stood out as my favorite thus far. While it’s still weird and mature, it’s probably also the most grounded and relatable of all of Gerard Way-led new titles. The fact that it’s far more rooted in the DC super-hero universe, with its inclusion of oddball characters and concepts, probably doesn’t hurt either, given my lifelong affinity for DC properties. Despite the obscurity of the characters here, Way and co-writer Jon Rivera don’t offer up a lot of exposition about their back stories, but the script is nevertheless accessible. One is able to piece together the relevant character bits pretty well from information that woven organically into the dialogue. Furthermore, there’s an air of mystery that’s fostered by the writers’ decision not to explain every little detail, not to offer deep background on the players in this drama. Ultimately, what drew me in was the character study of Cave Carson himself – not the mystery of his cybernetic eye, not the question of what the corporate EBX is plotting, but rather his sense of loss. That relatability really anchors a truly weird and even playful story.

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Quick Critiques – Oct. 15, 2016

The Clone Conspiracy #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Dan Slott, Jim Cheung, Ron Frenz & John Dell

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the Amazing Spider-Man relaunch with Peter Parker as a global tycoon and philanthropist, so much so that I definitely feel I should have followed the Superior Spider-Man epic that preceded it. That being said, I’m quite surprised that Marvel has chosen to revisit the world of cloning (or whatever analogous scheme the Jackal is up to this time), given how the Spider-Clone saga of the 1990s continues to be mocked and viewed by many as a convoluted low point in the iconic hero’s long history. I’m also a little dismayed this wasn’t just published as the latest issue of Amazing instead of as a new first issue. This is a continuation of the storylines we’ve been following over the past year or so in that title, so a spinoff book seems like little more than a cash grab. That being said, I enjoyed this comic book for a number of reasons, not the least of which is how important Peter Parker’s status as an industrialist remains an important element in this new Jackal storyline. Slott wisely continues to build on the importance of Peter’s overdeveloped sense of responsibility for what happens to those around him.

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We Are the Champions (Well, Not Us, But Them)

VariantChampions #1
Writer: Mark Waid
Pencils: Humberto Ramos
Inks: Victor Olazabo
Colors: Edgar Delgado
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Clayton Cowles
Cover artists: Humberto Ramos (regular edition)/Alex Ross, Mark Brooks, John Tyler Christopher, Jay Fosgitt, Rahzzah, Art Adams, Mike Hawthorne & Scottie Young (variants)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Price: $4.99 US

I’ve been a fan of Mark Waid’s writing for a long time, but I have to be honest – what drew me to this comic wasn’t the creative talent, but rather the characters. Marvel’s new generation of teen heroes have been standouts of its line for a while now. Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man (formerly Ultimate), Viv Vision and Amadeus Cho as Hulk have all proven to fascinating additions to the Marvel Universe. Mind you, I was confident that Waid would make the most of these heroes and offer stories in keeping with the established characterizations that made them interesting in the first place. That confidence proved to be well placed. But what surprised me about this debut issue was the fact that it wasn’t these colorful teens who stole the show. Instead, it was a socially relevant message, one of hope and responsibility.

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What Lurks in the Hearts of Men

The Twilight Zone: The Shadow Vol. 1 trade paperback
Writer: David Avallone
Artist: Dave Acosta
Colors: Omi Remalante
Letters: Taylor Esposito
Cover artist: Francesco Francavilla
Editor: Joseph Rybandt
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Price: $15.99 US

Nostalgia for 1960s and ’70s TV shows has been a mainstay of Dynamite Entertainment’s publishing strategy in recent years, and while I don’t doubt there’s an audience for it (as Dynamite’s adherence to the approach would suggest), it’s not really something that interests me. That being said, the unusual pairing of The Twilight Zone and the Shadow struck me as inventive and potentially intriguing. Ultimately, the schtick is used to force the title anti-hero into introspection, and it’s an effective plot device, even though the results are a little clichéd. They’re still diverting and entertaining, though, and capably executed. The script hits the right beats (though with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer), and the art conveys the concepts — from the mundane to the surreal — clearly. Though not mind-blowing (as the title might suggest), The Twilight Zone: The Shadow represents competent comics storytelling.

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