Archives for posts with tag: horror

blackestnightofthelivingdead

The best decade has been great for zombie enthusiasts. Despite speculation on zombie fatigue, great zombie media continues to be released. I’ve shared my love for zombie comics on this site before in in my annual best-of lists and also in the Graphic Novel Faceoff (SIDENOTE: Now that the new 52 is officially over, I’m planning a New 52 Face Off in the coming weeks). Some of my favorite zombie books include Revival, ’68, and The Other Dead. 2015 has introduced some hot new zombie stuff.

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DOUBLE TAKE COMICS- If you haven’t had a chance to look at this zombie-filled universe from new comers Double Take Comics, then you should and you can. In fact, you can preview all their issue ones for FREE on their website. They are really pushing the limits of what can be done with digital comics, which makes them pioneers in their fields, but what really makes these titles stand out in the story-telling and dialogues. Having only read issues digitally, I’m really curious to see how their physical counterparts work. As someone who prefers trades and long story arcs, I’m really looking forward to seeing where these comics go because the Double Take universe is off to a great start.

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G.I. ZOMBIE- Another fantastically written (and poorly selling) comic from our my favorite creative teams in comics Justin Gray and Jimmy “Mr. Amanda Conner” Palmiotti! Those two are most famous for their work on All-Star Western (Jonax Hex) and they’ve actually ventured into the world of the undead before with The Last Resort. In addition to featuring Palmiotti and Gray’s story-telling, both GI Zombie and The Last Resort feature cover art by Darwyn Cooke (who does not do the interior art in either title), but beyond those two similarities, the titles are really different. The Last Resort is cute, funny, and pokes fun at our tendency as humans to be self-obsessed, detached, greedy, and petty while G.I. Zombie is a political thriller that has its cute and funny moments, but its social criticism is far more sophisticated and biting.

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GOTHAM BY MIDNIGHT- While Gotham By Midnight is not exactly a zombie comic, it does deal with supernatural mysteries. Like Gotham Central before it, it’s about Gotham cops and it’s well-written, but comparisons can really stop there. Ben Templesmith’s art creates a very playful nightmare to accompany Ray Fawkes’s fantastic story. What I like best about Gotham By Midnight is how the mystery actually means something; without spoiling a great read for you, let me tell you that the mystery touches on one of the most shameful yet elemental parts of US history. While I’m no longer a classroom teacher, I still consider the value of each comic I read as a teaching tool and I’d recommend this one to middle school, high school, and university teachers of US History.

On a somewhat related sidenote, Dan Abnett’s The New Deadwardians is being used in one of Dr. Carol Senf’s classes as a result of my lending her my copy. If you’re not familiar with Senf’s research and you like vampires, I strongly encourage you to check her out. You can find an interview with her here by comics writer and friend of the site Van Jensen.

Back to zombies, I’d also like to encourage all of you to watch the Season 6 premiere of The Walking Dead on AMC this coming Sunday October 11.

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classybestof2014

For the second year, the World’s Second Greatest Detective presents an assessment of the comics I’ve read, awarding accolades to books that impressed me. Like last year’s list, this one comes at the beginning of September because my comics year begins and ends with Dragon Con in Atlanta. A lot of titles that I mentioned last year continue to turn out great work: Saga, Revival, Batman, Manhattan Projects– but I’d rather steer attention to titles that didn’t make last year’s list either because of my ignorance, their slow creep to trade, or the fact they didn’t exist last year. There will also be some categories this year. For example:

Best Comic Book Character portrayed in an animation

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Katana in “Beware the Batman”

I should remind you that I don’t read any Marvel books, though the announcement that Charles Soule is leaving all his DC titles and the particular temptation of his Death of Wolverine has me eying the other side of the fence a bit. My decision to abstain from Marvel Comics is sort of arbitrary, but not totally without reason- limits on time and resource do not permit me the luxury of reading every comic book, so I picked one of the big two companies and don’t read the other at all. Though I do read a lot of independent comics and that’s really where my heart belongs. I picked DC over Marvel because of many reasons, but the simplest is Batman.

Not all of the accolades will categorized. Nor may all those mentioned really be ‘comics of 2014’ in the truest sense. For example, thanks to a generous donation by Oni Press to the WonderRoot Jackie Ormes Comic Book Library. I had the privilege to read two series that knocked my socks off:

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Courtney Crumrin is the fun story about a misanthropic little girl who lives a society worth hating, but luckily finds an uneasy friendship with her witch uncle and a few easier friendships with netherbeasts. It’s a clever book and the content is acceptable for most age levels.

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The Sixth Gun is an epic story set in a very Wild West, shaped by all sorts of occult and heebie jeebie ghost stuff. Cullen Bunn and the other creators of The Sixth Gun have moved onto other things and the news that DC would cancel All Star Western saddened me a little. East of West is still kicking around, but 2014 has  introduced a Western title that I may enjoy more than all three of those titles.

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Pretty Deadly contains some amazing art. Much like the best work of J.H. Williams III or Francis Manpaul, Emma Rios’s artwork stands out for her creative use of the medium. Panels and pages work together to create a fantastic pace. As Kelly Sue Deconnick’s writing takes the story in and out of stories and timelines, the art and especially the coloring distinguish the different parts of the whole quite well. Deconnick opened the Comics and Popular Arts Conference at this year’s Dragon Con with a rousing talk touching on a variety of subjects such as how we learn publicly and with record in a fast-paced technological society and how that empowers a ‘gotcha culture’ which in turn hinders our ability to learn; the use of the white male as the default character; the futility of overly emotional and aggressive responses to opposing ideas; and comic books. Her husband writes a pretty good comic too.

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Sex Criminals is a twist on Bonnie and Clyde, Robin Hood, Out of this World, 9 Songs, the Matrix, A Dirty Shame…and yeah, it isn’t. It’s an incredibly original story about a girl who stops time when she orgasms and a boy who also stops time when he orgasms. They discover this shared ability during the act of coitus and put it to good use, robbing banks to raise money for a library under attack by a viciously greedy bank that the boy happens to work for and where he poops in his boss’s office plant once a day.

Another catergory?

Worst Comic Book Character portrayed in an animation

For the video game-inspired animated movie Batman: Assault on Arkham, a bit of a revolution for the animated superhero movie with its Guy Ritchie-like pace, excessive profanity, explicit sexuality, and a level of violence exceeding even last year’s The Dark Knight Returns, DC made a Suicide Squad movie under the guise of a Batman movie. One thing I like about it is how they retained the original physical attributes of Amanda Waller instead going for the Angela Bassett model. One thing I didn’t like is how they turned King Shark from this:

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King Shark in the comics to:

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King Shark in Batman: Assault on Arkham

He looks a cross between Bane and Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me. Their motivation for desharking the shark is unclear to me. I also don’t understand why David Goyer wants to demartian the Martian Manhunter.

Best Comic Book Companion to a video game

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Injustice: Gods Among Us begins before the video game’s storyline. In the simplest terms, Joker has tricked Superman into killing Lois Lane who is pregnant with Superman’s baby. Superman gets so mad that he kills the Joker, beginning the fascist reign of Superman and a doting Wonder Woman. Because it is an Elsworlds story with so many DC characters involved, the opportunities for bringing the essences and flaws of these characters abound. Tom Taylor wastes none of them. The Bat family is especially well-done is the book- particularly Alfred and Catwoman.

Best Art in a Superhero Comic Book

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Jae Lee did some of the best work of his career during his time on Grag Pak’s Batman/Superman. Of all the superstar artists from the 1990s that have continued in comics, I think the development of Jae Lee’s work has been the most interesting to watch. If you haven’t seen his work on Before Watchmen: Ozymandias, I highly recommend that one too. Batman/Superman is a dreamy book, but it is not without a strong sense of character and expression. This collaboration between Pak and Lee stands out as a triumph in comic storytelling.

Second Attempt That Makes The Most Sense in the New 52

Giving Deathstroke another chance at having his own title. Also looking forward to Gail Simone returning to her Secret Six roots later this year.

Second Attempt That Makes The Least Sense in the New 52

Why are the Teen Titans starting over again with issue 1?

Best Volume 3 collection of the New 52

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Grant Morrison’s run on Action Comics fulfilled its own prophecies in Vol. 3: At The End Of  Days. Morrison’s writes for the long haul and sometimes it works really well (Seven Soldiers of Victory, All-Star Superman, the epic story of Damian Wayne, Doom Patrol, Filth). His eighteen issues on Action Comics is separated into three acts, best illustrated by their separate trade collections. Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel comes off as a pretty typical superhero comic- it’s action-packed and reintroduces many classic characters from Superman’s mythology such as Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Metallo (Metal-Zero), and Brainiac. There are few weirdo moments, typical of Morrison’s work, but don’t overpower the straight-forward superhero elements. Vol. 2: Bulletproof is pretty weird, more distinctly Morrison. The story is all over the place, referencing itself, making the most out of the queer moments from Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel, as well as introducing a Barack Obama doppelganger named Calvin Ellis- another dimension’s Superman. Finally, in Vol. 3: At the End of Days, all the kookiness starts to make sense and the details of Clark’s arrival in Metropolis in Vol. 1 become enriched by a Myxlplyxian plot that satisfies the patient reader.

Best Vol. 4 Collection(s) of the New 52

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While The Flash Vol. 4: Reverse, Wonder Woman Vol. 4: War, and Batwoman Vol. 4: The Blood is Thick all continued runs by outstanding creative teams, it is books like the Green Lantern family of books, Justice League Dark, and Green Arrow that have seen new creators come in and take the books in different directions to which I’d like to draw your attention. Much praise has been tossed to Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s Green Arrow, collected in Green Arrow Vol. 4: The Kill Machine. The art distinguishes itself from the unofficial DC house-style and the writing invigorates Oliver Queen as a character. I do think that in praising Lemire and Sorrentino’s work, a lot of undeserved criticism has been thrown Ann Nocenti’s way. Her depiction of Oliver Queen as an Ugly American in the People’s Republic of China is one of my favorite instances of seeing China portrayed in a superhero comic. Jim DeMatteis has seemingly inherited the Dark family of DC titles, emerging from his run on The Phantom Stranger. In Justice League Dark Vol. 4: Rebirth of Evil, he takes over for Lemire- moving the story from Trinity War to Forever Evil territory. The little demon Constantine‘s are great, but I wouldn’t have minded a bit more Frankenstein, my favorite member of the Justice League Dark. With the announcement of Charles Soule signing an exclusive contract with Marvel, I expect DeMatteis may take over Swamp Thing, which had a good, but short Vol. 4: Seeder. Matteis does interesting things with the character in Justice League Dark, but if I was going to pick the new writer of Swamp Thing, I’d go for either Tim Seeley, Kurtis Wiebe, or Angelo Tirrotto. To write an Animal Man title despite his joining Justice League United, I’d recruit Corinna Sara Bechko or Joshua Ortega with the instructions to keep Animal Man dark. Finally, the new slew of Green Lantern creators gave the ring-slingers an exciting year. Ranked best to least best: Red Lanterns, Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians. Outside of those Vol. 4s, I was disappointed with the Larfleeze title, but look forward to Cullen Bunn’s Sinestro.

Best Non-Picture Book Author to Write a Picture Book

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Toby Litt on Dead Boy Detectives

When I lived in Ireland, I discovered the work of Toby Litt, an author whose work was not available in the United States, and absolutely fell in love with it. Deadkidsongs, in particular, left me creeped out and inspired. When I heard he would be rebooting the Vertigo series Dead Boy Detectives I waiting in hefty anticipation for the trade to be released. While I was not disappointed, I must admit that Litt has not taken to the medium as quickly as the likes of Brad Meltzer who blew the comics world away with Identity Crisis. I do however see great potential in the future comics work of Litt as he adapts to the medium. Reading the trade, you can see him become more comfortable and, in turn, more capable.

Best Superhero Live-Action Movie

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X-Men: Days of Future Past, like its predecessors, stands well above the rest of the Marvel movies (with the possible exception of Captain America: Winter Soldier). Jennifer Lawrence, Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, and the rest of the classic mutants put on a great show and new arrivals like Quicksilver brought energy to the film. This and X-Men: First Class are my favorite of the X-Men movies. They somehow managed to make Fan Bing Bing look terrible, which is my only real complaint about the film.

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In conclusion, I’m looking forward to more great comics this year though I have some concerns about a few creative teams at DC (Wonder Woman) and will miss some of my favorite creators and titles as they disappear from the shelves, hopefully replaced by new books of splendor, wonder, and ideas.

 

 

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When the “Before Watchmen” project was announced in February 2012, I had only recently rekindled my love affair with comic books. My first on-line contribution to comic book discourse came in the form a fanboy-type suggestion. I’d just finished The Long Halloween, Hush, and Jeph Loeb’s run on Superman/Batman, so I innocently posted a comment on a news article that I thought Loeb should contribute to the “Before Watchmen” project. Within seconds, I received a scolding from some other random netizen about how Jeph Loeb would only bring death and rape to the Watchmen universe. At the time, I hadn’t familiarized myself with Loeb’s Ultimate contributions in the Marvel Universe, so I didn’t really understand what the other commenter was talking about. I also didn’t think death and rape were out of place in the Watchmen universe. Watchmen is one of the touchiest subject in comics and its touchiness is largely manufactured by the comics and comics news industry, particularly by Alan Moore himself. I’ve discussed Alan Moore’s diva-like behavior on this site before and that’s not my intention here. I’m using this space to share my thoughts on the “Before Watchmen” project and will try to do so in as much of a Moore-Gibbons vacuum as possible. The series have been collected in four beautiful hardcover editions- like nearly all comics, I tried to avoid this series until they were all collected in trade editions.

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Here’s the short version:

I really liked “Before Watchmen” and think the haters either didn’t read it or read it with their minds already sown up tightly by their off-putting and thinly developed cultural elitism.

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Here’s the long version:

“Before Watchmen” does the comic book magic- taking the familiar and making it feel new. Looking at the original and looking at the prequels feels as radically different as looking at Golden Age comics and Silver Age comics. The comic medium has matured and it can clearly be seen here. The seriousness with which all of the creators approached this project with is apparent in every panel. The art is a serious departure from the tiny paneled original series. Similarly the text is less cluttered and more experimentally displayed than in the original.

While the four volumes could be read in any order, I will discuss them in the order that I read them, which worked well for me.

BEFORE WATCHMEN: MINUTEMEN-SILK SPECTRE

Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner should work together as much as possible. Their styles capture an essence of sequential art that other artists miss, a humanity unique to the comic book form. Cooke’s Minutemen story is largely the story of Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl, and his struggle with the dark side of costumed crime-fighting. His unfortunate crush on Silhouette, the awkwardness of Captain Metropolis and Hooded Justice’s relationship, the commercialization inherent in Silk Spectre, Dollar Bill, and the Minutemen project itelf- all of these issues are seen through a somewhat existentialist Mason’s eyes as he comes to grips with the hypocritical society to which he belongs. Moving from the original Silk Spectre to her daughter makes the transition to Conner and Cooke’s Silk Spectre story logical. The mother-daughter relationship is explored, bringing to mind toddler beauty pageants and the millions of other ways parents suffocate their children, but with superheroes. Laurie runs away to find her own destiny, looking in LSD-riddled 1960s San Francisco. She encounters an enemy that Thorstein Veblen would certainly appreciate and causes her mother plenty of grief. While reading it, I sort of expected Mina Murray from LOEG Century 1969 to cameo in someone’s acid trip. I highly recommend this volume.

BEFORE WATCHMEN: OZYMANDIAS/CRIMSON CORSAIR

Len Wein works with several artists to provide more complete accounts of the Crime Busters’ Ozymandias and the Minutemen’s Dollar Bill. The bulk of the collection is the Ozymandias story, which relates most closely to the ultimate plot of the original series and explains Moloch’s role in everything clearly. Jae Lee’s art is top notch. If you compare the still amazing art Lee was doing for Namor twenty years ago to his work in Ozymandias, you can see how Lee has mastered his own style and how working with colorist June Chung bring his pictures to a whole other level. The art from The Curse of the Crimson Corsair and the Dollar Bill one-shot are very different from Lee’s high art style. Crimson Corsair sports the gritty pulp art of horror comics while Dollar Bill features colorful art that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Before Watchmen: Minutemen/ Silk Spectre collection. To be honest, I didn’t really enjoy the Crimson Corsair story, but I didn’t really enjoy the Black Freighter stuff in the original series.

BEFORE WATCHMEN: NITE OWL/DR. MANHATTAN

J. Michael Straczynski pens three great stories here: Nite Owl, Dr. Manhattan, and Moloch. The Nite Owl story features the best recreation of Rorschach and a stomach-turning villain more suited to Rorschach’s brand of justice than Nite Owl’s more moderate approach. The Dr. Manhattan story delves into the practicalities of Shrödinger’s cat, modal realism, parallel universes, and the nature of time. The final product is a successful experiment. The final story told in this collection Moloch ties closely to Len Wein’s Ozymandias story. It’s a good villain story- in addition to my controversial stance that “Before Watchmen” is a worthwhile idea that was brilliantly executed, I’m also excited about September being Villains Month.

BEFORE WATCHMEN: COMEDIAN/RORSCHACH

I really like Brian Azzarello especially his Wonder Woman stuff. However his contributions here sit weirdly among the other ones. The Comedian story reads like an Elseworlds Watchmen story, one where the Comedian is best buddies with the Kennedys. In Azzarello’s telling, the assassinations of both brothers are pivotal moments in the Comedian’s development as a character, but they run contrary to previous incantations of the Comedian, such as:

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or

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Despite contradicting the original comic and Zack Snyder’s more blatant assertion that the Comedian played a role in John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Brian Azzarello’s Comedian is a compelling read rife with dark humor and a rich understanding of the Kennedys and how the military industrial complex matured in the decades following World War II. I also really like Hearts and Minds. While Azzarello’s Rorschach is also an interesting, it fails where Straczynski’s Nite Owl interpretation of Rorschach succeeds. Azzarello scripts Rorschach like Batman while Straczynski captures the fractured poetry of Rorschach. While writing of Rorschach disappoints, the art does not. Having worked with Azzarello on Luthor and Joker, Lee Bermejo brings his artistic strengths to every disgusting wound, stain, insect, and bodily fluid in Rorschach. Fans of Bermejo’s work will get lost in the gory detail and reborn with each breathtaking sunset.

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In conclusion, I recommend all four volumes and strongly discourage arm-chair critics from attacking this project until they’ve given it a chance.

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2013 is turning out to be a busy year for Charles Soule. Debuting his creator-owned series Strange Attractors and his first issues on two of my personal favorite DC properties Swamp Thing and Red Lanterns, Mr. Soule is one of the reason’s your local comic rack suddenly got so much more exciting. While I’ve enjoyed the Green Lantern run under the reign of Geoff Johns, DC has picked some incredible creative teams to take over the Green Lanterns, bringing up some of independent comics’ most innovative talent including Mr. Soule.

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INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES SOULE

WAYNEXIAOLONG: First of all, congratulations on being chosen to write two of what I consider to be DC’s best titles right now, Swamp Thing and Red Lanterns. These two titles are pretty different from each other. Can we expect to see any overlap between the two books?

CHARLES SOULE: Well, you said it yourself – these two titles are quite different from each other.  The fantasy/horror tone of Swamp Thing doesn’t obviously mesh with the sci-fi space opera of Red Lanterns, but it’s comics, so never say never.  In the short term, I’m trying to do a bunch of world-building in each title, to really give them their own identity.  Once that’s established, though, why not? No specific plans, but one of the great joys of working in a big shared universe is actually sharing the universe.  We’ll see where it goes.

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WAYNEXIAOLONG: From your comics and your blog, you demonstrate a fiercely independent spirit, reminiscent of grassroots activists and punk rockers. Are you having any trouble reconciling that spirit with the fact that you are now working for the Man?

CHARLES SOULE: Ha! Creating comics is hardly the same as slaving away over a set of accounts ledgers.  My experience with writing company-owned characters has been remarkably open so far, to be honest.  I think DC (and any other comics publisher) just wants fantastic stories that push things in interesting directions.  There are certainly bullet points to be hit in any story, and you can’t really burn a franchise to the ground, but since that’s not something I particularly want to do, it’s all good.

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WAYNEXIAOLONG: Like you, I am an historian and I’m thrilled whenever someone with a strong sense of history translates that into comics. Recently, fans like myself have been blessed with far out works like 68, The Manhattan Projects, and your brilliant 27 that mess with historical conventions to reveal some invisible cracks in the narratives we use to comfort ourselves.  Likewise, the past twenty years have shown a significant rise in the study of environmental elements of social history. What kind of research have you done in preparation for writing Swamp Thing?

CHARLES SOULE: A fair amount – I like to immerse myself in whatever subject I’m writing about, just as a matter of course.  If you do enough homework, you get to the point where cool details rise to the surface while you’re scripting in a completely organic way.  I’ve also been a big history guy for ages, and I really enjoy integrating that into my stories.  Swamp Thing in particular is a great character for that, because part of his established history is that there have been Swamp Things on earth for billions of years, covering all of recorded history.  So, I can delve into any period I like.  In  Swamp Thing 21, we see the Avatar who was active in the 13th Century, and the upcoming Annual will cover a huge swath of Swamp Thing history. It’s one of my favorite parts of writing that title.

As far as non-historical reference goes, I took a trip down to New Orleans earlier this year and went out into the swamps in the Atchafalaya Basin region.  I checked out Houma, LA – which is the traditional “home” of old Swampy.  I just immersed myself as much as I could, so I could write about the region with a little authority.  Plus, I got to hang out in New Orleans a bit, which wasn’t half bad either.

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WAYNEXIAOLONG: You’ve studied Chinese history and culture. How do you feel about how China has been represented in the New 52?

CHARLES SOULE: That’s a good question.  One of my favorite character groups in the DCU is the Great Ten – the China-based superhero team.  I know a bit has been done with them so far, but it would be fun to see them brought out in a more significant way.  I actually have a story idea for Accomplished Perfect Physician that it would be fun to write up one of these days.  Put it in the stack with that Swamp Thing/Red Lanterns crossover idea – we’ll see!

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WAYNEXIAOLONG: Which figure in Chinese history do you think a Green Lantern ring would most likely have chosen?

CHARLES SOULE: This might be a bit inside baseball (or inside Chinese history), but I think Zhu Yuanzhang, aka the Hongwu Emperor.  He’s the guy who started out as a Chinese peasant during the latter years of the Yuan Dynasty (which was when the Mongols – guys like Genghis Khan – were running China).  He ended up fronting a revolution against the Yuan, and, eventually, taking over the whole country and founding the Ming Dynasty.  Talk about willpower.  I actually shudder to think of what the world would look like today if that guy had gotten his hands on a ring. He did plenty with nothing other than what he was born with.

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WAYNEXIAOLONG: Which figure in human history do you think would be most justified in putting on a Red Lantern ring?

CHARLES SOULE: Red rings are given to people who have experienced great rage. You know who’s always seemed incredibly ticked off about just about everything? John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols.  Harlan Ellison, too – neither one of those guys seems to get through a day without flipping out about something or other.  I realize you might have been looking for someone more like Boudicca (the revenge-crazy Celtic queen who whipped through Roman Britain like a well-sharpened scythe), but hey, there’s plenty of room in the Reds for everyone.

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Some panda trafficking…

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Some erotic cannibalism…

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Edible evidence…

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