Archives for posts with tag: Oni Press

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2014 was an interesting year for comic book covers. Some Vertigo titles experimented with putting the first panels of the story on the cover. Independent publishers like Image Comics, Top Shelf, and Oni Press drew inspiration from wells outside of traditional comics to unleash some phenomenal design and the Big Two continued to offer loads of variants while still ruining covers by filling them with ads for movies and TV shows. Convention floors, the blogosphere, and comic book shops had readers and creators discussing the merits of covers while speculators looked for hidden Easter Eggs and social activists looked for opportunities to progress a higher discourse. Two covers in particular stirred more conversation in 2014 than all others. The re-reboot of Teen Titans and a reboot of Spider-Woman faced resistance specifically from critics for whom the representation of women is elemental to their comics critique. Here I will discuss both those covers and the cover of the second volume of the Justice Society of America omnibus. Before I begin, let me just admit that my white male privilege allows me to write this article without fear of rape or death threats. It’s disgusting that we live on an internet where a noticeable portion of its populace respond to ideas they find threatening with threats of physical violence. The fact that such behavior finds a home in discussions about comic books is especially sad- what would Superman say if he saw you writing rape threats to a stranger because of her opinion on a comic book cover?

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For the first issue of their latest Spider-Woman reboot, Marvel recruited the talents of Milo Manara, an Italian comics creator known for his hyper-sexual style. Full disclosure: I’m not a Marvel reader and don’t have any emotional ties to Spider-Woman as a character. I am however a fan of erotic art and have an appreciation for low brow art. I also appreciate the long standing tradition of sequential art itself as a marginalized art form. When I heard an esteemed erotic artist would provide art for a mainstream variant comic book company, I thought it sounded like a cool idea. I love diversity among artists and believe comics generally benefit from outside influence. For example, I think the Scribbenauts variants and most of the Robot Chicken variants that DC’s been using look pretty dumb, but I appreciate that such distinct styles are been experimented with and I like to see a wild mix on the comic book shelves. Still, much of the controversy had little to do with those few defenses I just offered, but rather focused on the use of such an artist to promote a book that had been admittedly targeted towards women and on book about a character that many female readers had identified as an example of progressive representation. A lot of male readers and the creators responsible for creating it took the criticism very personally.

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Some readers found humor in the controversy.

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Some readers got scientific.

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News operations outside of the world of comics like TIME magazine even picked up the story, reporting on the cover controversy and supplying Marvel with a bit of free publicity.

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The other cover that drew a great deal attention is the first issue of the re-rebooted Teen Titans. Unlike Spider-Woman, the Teen Titans are characters that I do follow and for whom I have developed some sentimental attachment. The controversy over this cover began when former Bat-title editor Janelle Asselin wrote an article about its cover where she described it as “not just a terrible comics cover, it’s a prime example of how even the most corporate comic book companies can make basic mistakes regarding the potential audience for a book.” I have a little trouble with her describing it as a “prime example” as it seems as if she picked it arbitrarily. Her critique of the cover is largely valid; I just think it can be applied to scores of other covers that supply greater evidence to support her criticism. You can read her original article and you won’t find anything too confrontational. You might feel a little bad for Kenneth Rocafort being singled out for a trend and tradition in comics that is much larger than his own contribution to the medium, but Asselin articulates pretty clearly in her article that her intention is not to attack the artist.

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Asselin’s complaints are in some ways more justified than those made against Spider-Woman and in some ways less. For example, Spider-Woman is a variant cover and this Teen Titans cover is the official cover. On the other hand, the Spider-Woman cover is explicitly sexual while the Teen Titans cover more subtly directs attention towards Wonder Girl’s breasts. Both Asselin’s critique of this cover and the general complaints about the Spider-Woman cover made specific points about how the two books are targeted somewhat to female readers. In that instance, the real criticism is “hey comic book companies, you’re marketing your books poorly!” not “hey comic companies, you’re perpetuating a hate crime!” Disgustingly some of the public responded the criticisms as if they had been the latter “hate crime” accusation by responding themselves with very hateful speech and even threats of physical violence. Coupled with the species-wide embarrassment that was Gamergate, geek males looked really bad in 2014. Not simply because they acted like monsters towards others, but they demonstrated such resistance to advancing the mediums they purport to love. Of course, this demented vocal element of the comics reading community represents only a small portion of that community. Neither the critique against Spider-Woman nor the one against Teen Titans were revolutionary nor were they particularly sophisticated, but they absolutely belong in our discussion of comics which makes the toxic reactions so absurd. I find Asselin’s critique to be somewhat arbitrary and forced. I find the controversy over Manara’s Spider-Woman a little dumb because 1) it’s a variant cover, not the official cover 2) it’s painted by an erotic artist with the intention of being hyper-sexual, so being upset with it parallels hating ice cream sandwiches for being delicious. Still, both critiques have value. Now I would like to present a critique of the cover used for the second volume of the JSA omnibus that requires less nuance to explain.

First, let’s look at the cover:

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For the cover of the omnibus, DC Comics decided to use the wrap around cover from JSA #50, an iconic cover featuring most of the primary players in the series. In terms of aesthetics, I think DC could have used better images for both volumes, but this isn’t a discussion of aesthetics. As you can see, the characters that appear on the front cover are Green Lantern, Dr. Fate, Wildcat, Captain Marvel, the Flash, Dr. Mid-Nite, Sands, and Hawkman. These are all important characters though some are more prominent than others. Two things that the characters all have in common are their race and gender.

Second, let’s look at the full image from JSA #50‘s wrap around cover to see what other members of the Justice Society appear on the back:

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Here we see the rest of the team: Atom Smasher (white male), Power Girl (white female), Hawkgirl (white female), Black Adam (middle eastern male), Mr. Terrific (black male), Jakeem Thunder (black male), Hour Man (white male), and Stargirl (white female). As you can see, all of the women and minorities have been placed on the back cover. Because this image is originally from the fiftieth issue, what we are seeing here is DC Comics deciding to make the same offense twice. None of these offenses- Manara’s Spider-Butt, Rocafort’s Wonder-Boobs, or the JSA’s occasional instance of segregation- are end-of-the-world problems, but they ought be discussed while creators and readers alike consider the vulnerability of the medium and the value of constructive criticism in order to produce higher quality art and tell more compelling stories. While conventional wisdom tells us not to a judge a book by its cover, we should recognize the role the cover plays in determining the reception, reputation, and overall destiny of the book.

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The Jackie Ormes Comic Book Memorial Library is now open to the public and members of WonderRoot Community Arts Center in Reynoldstown, Atlanta, Georgia. I started the project at the beginning of this year and finally installed it on Friday. The library wouldn’t be possible without some generous donations, particularly from Oni Press and Valiant Comics. You can see that Oni donated some great runs- look at all those volumes of The Sixth Gun! Obviously the library could offer a more substantial selection and I encourage y’all to donate to this venture- if you don’t know what to donate, shoot me an email at waynexiaolong@gmail.com and I’d happily provide suggestions- you could tell me a little bit about yourself and I’d recommend a donation that matched not only the library’s needs, but your spirit as well.

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I chose to dedicate the library to Jackie Ormes for a number of reasons. Her role as an activist is not limited to breaking the color barrier in the newspaper funnies. The content of her comic strips, particularly Patty Jo n Ginger, confronted all sorts of society’s hypocrisies. Her approach to social change and criticism kept a good sense of humor, but didn’t cower away from a fight- this is much the spirit of WonderRoot Community Arts Center where social change and art share equal footing in their mission. We also have the same birthday.

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In addition to an assortment of comics, the library also features two plaque that I made. One features a portrait of Jackie Ormes, pretty standard commemorative fare. The other features a collage I put together of Jackie’s comics work. The frames were provided by Creative Reuse, a fantastic WonderRoot program that resells donated art supplies at incredibly cheap prices- getting materials into the hands of folks who’ll use them.

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I was also able to secure some signatures for the books from a few creators.

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Rob Vendetti signed a copy of X-O Manowar Vol. 1: By The Sword during Free Comic Book Day at Criminal Records. I also had him sign my personal copies of both Surrogates books, The Homeland Directive (which you should read if you haven’t read it!), and the first collected trade of his work on Green Lantern, which he told me was the first copy of that trade he’d signed yet which is nice for me.

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I ran into Ted Naifeh at this year’s Dragon Con and had him sign volume one of Courtney Crumrin. Oni Press actually donated volumes one through four, but I didn’t feel like carrying around four hard cover books with me at the convention in addition to the other books I brought to get signed.

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At that same Dragon Con, I ran into Andrew Aydin and he personally donated a copy of March Book One, which is created with Civil Rights icon and U.S. Congressman John Lewis and artist Nate Powell. If you haven’t read March, I strongly recommend it. Of all the books in the library, this one probably fits the snuggest with the spirit of the library.

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Again, if you’re interested in donating, please contact me. Just off the top of my head, some classics the library could use- Watchmen; Maus; Perseplois; Liberty (the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund collection); Saga; Pride of Baghdad; some Fables; Green Lantern Green Arrow (the Adams-O’Neil search for the soul of America run); Girls; Criminal; Stray Bullets; Feynman; The Manhattan Projects; The Underwater Welder; and certainly any collections of classic underground comics, Golden, Silver, Bronze, etc. Age stuff, and some manga. In the meantime, I encourage you to go check it out- grab a comic and escape to an extraordinary world.

 

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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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