Monthly Archives: April 2011

Thoughts: S.H.I.E.L.D. #1-6 + ∞

A Marvel or DC comicbook breaking the mold, in any fashion, deserves some sort of credit. Why? It’s not easy for a mainstream book to push forward. The editorial hurdle stands tall, and it preaches a pattern of slow pace and continuity. Any light of experiment in a mainstream book, especially in these modern times, is, honestly, quite the achievement. While Jonathan Hickman’s S.H.I.E.L.D. stills functions within the Marvel house style, the book  does showcase an element or two that make its narrative unique. Namely, the characters and their function.

The cast includes Da Vinci, Issac Newton, Nostradamus, Nikola Tesla, Michelangelo, the fathers of Reed Richards and Tony Stark, and some kid (whose name I honestly forget), and after six issues I honestly feel I know none of them. At least, not as I would expect when reading a Marvel Comic. Hickman characterizes and defines his cast, but he does it in more of a archetypal way. Da Vinci stands in as the good, smart guy with a pocket full of ideals, while Newton functions as the bad, smart guy concerned with selfish development.  They go no farther than what the reader would already know; it’s pretty obvious and well-known these guys were smart. The bad and good, the ideals and selfishness are the only new bits. Even those stick to the archetypes. The combination of those specific qualities is nothing new in terms of heroes and villains.

And yeah. Mr. Richards and Mr. Stark are a lot like their sons. Not necessarily archetypes, but they work as stand-ins for characters we already know. Nostradamus speaks the future while burdened by the knowledge he carries. Tesla and Michelangelo are mysteries.

None of it goes farther, but it surprisingly works.

Hickman sacrifices character for idea in S.H.I.E.L.D. There is a cast, yes, and members of it seem to be experiencing an arc, but their “existence” doesn’t seem to mesh in a traditional sense. The characters feel hollow, almost: just shells for concepts rather than actual characters. That’s what Newton and Da Vinci are in this series. Hickman takes entire issues to examine the two to show their concept and not their actual character. Maybe that’s confusing and maybe the book cold better from a strong, developed cast, but to me the hollowness is intentional. For two reasons. One, this isn’t about characters; this is about knowledge, human potential, and more. A writer could write high ideas and character complexity, but leaving the character out helps the reader hone in on the series’ core. Plus, the appraoch gives the book an attitude – an attitude that says, “this is what we’re about.” This is the first volume or prologue after all. To Hickman and the story, it’s important we understand what this is from the beginning.

Second, the hollowness or lack of character centric plot breaks the Marvel mold and helps the book stand out in a sea of simularity. Marvel books center on characters, and S.H.I.E.L.D. does not. It’s simple, but the difference alters S.H.I.E.L.D. in a big way. Many during its monthly release, including myself, said that at some point the book’s plot would come together in a recognizable thread. Truth is it was there all along,  just not in a form we expected. The focus on ideas rather than some lead figure changes the way we read it. Comicbook readers, specifically mainstream readers, make a point or just instinctly know to attach to a character. That’s our anchor point and guide; characters are the heart beat of most stories. S.H.I.E.L.D. throws us off when we cannot find a character to grasp onto. We suddenly begin to read differently as we search for a plot thread, and S.H.I.E.L.D. gains a sense of narrative identity by doing something a little different.

I like how Hickman achieves this, and I like the result. I find it smart and stylish. The pacing of S.H.I.E.L.D., however, sticks close to Marvel’s current style. Yeah, I know, I couldn’t let it get away completely. It does, though. The narrative follows a different pattern, but its actual flow plays it pretty safe. Marvel books, excluding Rick Remender’s stuff, share a common ground of slow pace. What do I mean by that? Plots unfold and declare themselves sluggishly. Everything is little drawn out and everything has a wide screen, absorb this kind of tone. Plots and their visuals feel almost a little big for the printed page. Everything feels a little too serious, and specific moments see specific attention. Most would probably call this “decompression,” but I’m not sure what to call it. I just know this exists, and the thread runs all across books by Bendis, Brubaker, Fraction, Millar, Gillen, and probably others. S.H.I.E.L.D. falls into this slump just by its structure. 

It’s not a terrible thing by any means, but it is nothing different. On some levels, I feel Hickman does a wonderful job structuring this comicbook. I love how the first three issues unfold. We go from a classic first issue with everything in your face to two issues focusing on two sides of the same coin. Hickman gives you everything in the first half of the prologue; then, everyone meets in issue four to go nuts in the second half. But, as I just typed, it takes Hickman HALF of this first volume to setup his world. HALF. That’s a lot of time, especially when you consider this book’s “every other month” scheduling. Slow pacing: that’s the draw back of most Marvel/DC books.

S.H.I.E.L.D. does enough to break away though, and as stated at the top, the smallest action to experiment is just enough to give a mainstream book credibility. And the writing stands complimented. Dustin Weaver, what can I say? He brings this book home in a lot of ways.  There is a certain cosmology that comes when creating a book like this, and Weaver understands that. The big panels and detail he provides echo Hickman’s intended focus, and he gives Hickman’s point a visual look. 

I don’t see S.H.I.E.L.D. keeping this chosen style of narrative – the infinity issue makes it clear that Hickman wants to develop his cast as he seeds background and plants motivation- but for what it’s worth S.H.I.E.L.D. volume one feels different enough. The story certainly pulled me in, and I still feel Hickman has something to say. That’s what matters, right?

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Let’s Talk Comics

I disagree a lot. My rebellious, youthful anger may contribute to that, or maybe I’m just a dick.

I should stop writing this post. Right now. In the end, these words will do harm and provide a bad representation. I bet most walk away from this post shaking their head. I bet some understand. Maybe one will applaud.

Or everyone just won’t care. (Probably this one.)

Stick till the end, though. The conclusion may differ from the heading. 
 
I care little for characters or plot.  
I care less for continuity or universes.
I read for execution.
I read for craft.
I love art, and I love storytelling.
Their application fascinates me.
Artists and writers applying them well …
… fascinates me more.

Yet, I read mainly Marvel and DC super-hero comics. I should not. My perspective probably flows more with a PictureBox crowd than a Hulk crowd. I might fit right in over there. You know, chatting about page composition and narrative structure and, of course, conversing about how flowers in one specific panel represent the backwards nature of the universe…

Yet, I read Savage Dragon every month, and I enjoy it. I enjoy super-heroes; they embody comicbooks through their basic visual appeal, and I smile at their wackiness and bright colors and punches. I just want to talk about them differently. Why? I tire from hearing everyone else’s discussion or point. Everyone else either fulfills the expected fanboy quota or offers lackluster criticism.

Well, not EVERYONE obviously, but the internet sure feels that way some days.

Everyone lets comics slip to something simpler. They ignore the makeup and construction in favor of price tags and Spider-man joining a team. No wonder the outside looks down on us. We give them reason. We tell them Spider-man and the Fantastic Four are friends, for christ’s sake. We portray these fictitious elements as truth. No wonder they look down. Our conversations doom comics to a poor reputation.

I probably should not care. At all. What stake do I hold in it? None. Comics live on with or without me. I love them though, and I cannot help but feel a burn when I read someone’s poorly conceived notion of critique. If I disagree, I yearn to jump into the conversation and shout, “no!’.

As mentioned, I love super-heroes, but I tire of how they are talked about. Continuity and plot need to occupy the backseat for a bit while craft and design grab the wheel. Let’s talk Marvel and DC like they are PictureBox. Let’s talk art or maybe lack of – however you see it, really. More exists on those pages than most let on to believe.

Of course, most stay put in their outlooks and keep comicbooks as strict surface entertainment.

The post may turn around right here. Or dampen.

I cannot argue this, really. I mean, comics do act as entertainment, and they are sold as entertainment. Why shouldn’t people be entertained and be entertained by the plot and surface material provided? That’s why they purchase it. Unlike myself, most people work traditional jobs and have families and obligations. Comics become that one moment in the day where they can relax. Why not allow them that? How can I argue that choice to read in a particular way? I cannot. They have every right.

These people who jump online, though…Obviously they put in extra time so why not read a bit closer? For all the individuals who bitch about price and “3.99,” you may feel a greater satisfaction by spending a little more time with your purchase. For those hitting up the message boards or recording a podcast, do a little homework and make your point worth a person’s time. Just a thought.

I would love more discussion on comics’ craft and execution. I believe it would take us away from the usual “comicbook guy” tropes. It would take us to another level of fanhood. The truth of the matter? DC characters and their magenta rings dominate the discussion and attention. That’s the extent of the reading experience.

What do I know, though? I’m probably a snob because my tastes and outlooks are slightly pretentious. Very few will agree with me. Most will shun me. I guess I will bite my lip, not step on toes, and keep my voice here to my blog. Best I can do.

And there lies the finish. Granted, there be plenty of exciting comics discussion online. Just not the majority. But, for the sake of linkage, here are voices that must be heard.

Sean Witzke, Chad Nevett, Tucker Stone, Tim Callahan, Jason Wood, David Brothers, Peter Rios, Matt Seneca, Derek Coward, Savage Critics.

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No Clever Title Needed #4

Bits of info that go no farther than this.

I’m expecting to be busy this week, so this post is it for the next few days. But, hey, I updated three times last week. I’m happy with that, especially since my writing made a little bit of progress. At least I felt that way. (Just read the First Wave post and compare it to anything previous). My writing still needs work though, and I’m not afraid to admit it. Most posts I write hold a “clunk” in their flow and my word choice lacks, but I’m working on it. I’m searching for the right flow, I’m cracking the code of verb choice, and I’m finding my voice in the words. I’ll crawl my way there. I hope.

Last week was good, though. The Chemical Box, after a four month absence, finally made its return. For those on the outside, The Chemical Box is a comicbook centric podcast hosted by Joey Aulisio, Just Jean, Chris Johnson, and myself. Why absent that long? Every other time we recorded, the show went sour. Plus, I had a bad case of “radio-Alec,” and I kept taking away from the show by trying to sound pro. Lesson learned. I’m loosening the tie and using podcasting as the escape. As it should be.

Listen in, though. We should be somewhat consistant now. link.

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Erik Larsen took some shit last week. He tweeted a few thoughts on web comics, and people went crazy in true internet fashion. Larsen said:

Every crappy submission can “see print” on the web–every reprint book that would sell three copies in print would work on the web. The web is the great equalizer. Every crappy thing can get tossed up there. If it all went digital nothing separates a pro from an amateur. Print is far more discriminating. There are fixed costs which can’t be ignored for long. It’s not the wild west like the Internet is. That’s why the web doesn’t excite me a whole lot. Every nitwit can put stickmen telling fart jokes up–there’s nothing special about it.

Stickmen telling fart jokes is Watchmen as far as the internet is concerned, @BizzaroHendrix.

I mean–there’s things on the internet that people are willing to read but they would never pay for–and those are the success stories.

It’s an entirely different level though, @NoCashComics– even the worst pro comics have a modicum of professional standards.

I’m not saying everything on the net is bad–no need to take offense, @tsujigo @BizzaroHendrix just that there is no filter.

I disagree and I don’t disagree, @IanBoothby — how’s that for being agreeable? There are plenty of groundbreaking things in print as well.

I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the best online work is on par with good pro comics but the worst is far worse. I don’t think there is a web only comic that’s as good as Watchmen or Dark Knight. Correct me if I’m wrong. There are certainly web comics that are good for a laugh–and better than what’s in the Sunday Funnies–but not at a Watchmen level–yet.

Point being–anybody can do a web comic. There’s nothing preventing a completely incompetent idiot from doing it, @215Ink.

No. Nothing promising falls through the cracks, @drawnunder if you can’t get your proposed book in print somewhere–your book sucks.

Now, this wonderfully organized collection of tweets originally saw “print” here, at Robot 6. The have every right to report on this. I mean, I’m “reporting” on their reporting. I just feel Larsen’s point was unfairly twisted.

“I’m not one for Internet triumphalism, but it seems awfully churlish — and odd, for an artist and publisher — to greet the Internet’s enormous boon to speech and self-expression in this way, quite aside from the question of whether he’s accurately characterizing webcomics to begin with,” the article comments.

First off, I do not feel it is “odd” for to Larsen speak his honest opinion. The guy holds a reputation, so this type of outburst should come as no surprise. I actually champion him for being so outspoken. Why? Bullshit grows old, and a lot of the “opinion” offered by comics pros never rings completely true. I understand why the tongue must be bitten at times, and I would probably follow suit if I too worked at Marvel or DC. Larsen does not work for either, though. The guy creates Savage Dragon and holds a comfortable relationship with Image Comics – who, in terms of quality, is probably the strongest publisher in the business right now. A guy should speak up when in that postion, holding that many years of experience. He will have things to say, and people will listen. The honest voice provides a nice break in the manufactured PR.

As for the point, all Larsen said was that web comics are open everyone, and they lack a professional standard because of that. That’s it. The guy told no one directly that they suck, nor did he say web comics are completely useless. They are just open. And he’s correct; web comics are open. Filters do not exist for quality nor does a professional standard. Sure, any “idiot” with a pile of cash could publish a bad print comicbook, but compared to the workload web comics require how many would go through with a print book? Then there still remains the question of Diamond and distributing your print comic to stores. Print weeds out the unnecessary just through its basic operation.

Granted, maybe Larsen could have been more direct in his statement. Someone just glancing at the twitter speech could take it farther than it needs to go. When the entire statement is blogged about though, I would expect people to actually read. People react to headlines, though. That’s the nature of journalism. People skim. I would be surprised if anyone actually read this far into THIS post.

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go scour eBay for that Dart miniseries…,” the article says.

Oh, and I know it’s not cool, but I do like Savage Dragon. I would happily read that Dart miniseries.

———————————————

Matt Seneca writes about comics, and he is quite good at it. The man reviews for The Comics Journal, produces a column for Robot 6, writes for Comics Alliance, and he has a blog. Matt Seneca runs all over the internet, but his recent blog post, entitled “HarmoniComix”, is by far my favorite thing he has written. Matt knows a lot about the medium. I love when he shares his thoughts on it because his voice is so distinct, and his writing feels like a peak into another outlook I would never come up with.

Anyway. Matt wrote a mind blowing piece on color and its function in comics. To Matt, color and music are basically one as they both produce specific sounds and tones. Comics may not look the same to me anymore.

Read. Be Educated.

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Enough. I have other topics and thoughts, but this one is running long. Next time is down the road.

Also, I have a new job – a web editing job. The staff of The Daily Athenaeum, WVU’s student newspaper, has for some reason accepted my offer to care for their website. I won’t question it. I’m excited about the position and the opportunity. Hopefully, I can implement some cool online content in the next year. Plus, I have the option to write, and I plan on taking full advantage. Just another avenue.

Peace.

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Thoughts: First Wave #1-6

Too bad this failed. It had potential.

Not that I am a big supporter of the golden age or pulp heroes. Most of them uninterest me and bringing them back just feels regressive rather than cute. With Brian Azzarello’s voice though, the golden age suddenly peaks my curiousity. I am in no fashion a huge Azzarello fan as most of his work still remains unread by me, but I have experienced the epic 100 Bullets. That comic and its well focused narrative are enough to keep Azzarello’s name in my sight line. Plus, the concepts of power and agenda tossed around in 100 Bullets seem to be appropriate for a story about golden age super-heroes. They walk as gods among men, and being set in some form of the DC Universe (because, you know, of Batman) they represent the first of a new breed. As George Washington would like to think, precedence is everything, and these characters are setting it for the “superman.” Power and agenda have a lot to in that situation. At least, that’s how I see it.

Some of these ideas were brought about in First Wave. Azzarello touches upon being post-human and leaving a good example. The story just falls on its execution, and it sometimes becomes down right confusing. First Wave involves a plot where Doc Savage, The Spirit, and Batman are all brought together to stop a post-war mad scientist, and this scientist’s mad scheme seriously feels like a rip-off of  Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor. Not that I even mind a threat similar to something I have seen before. There is plenty of room for a writer to approach common threats  from different angles, but the Superman Returns threat, Luthor building his own island, was pretty weak to begin with. A mad man running off to his own land is in no way comparable to a mad man invading the citizen territory. The invasion factor creates  fear by taking away the idea of santuary. Mad man on his own island? Oh well, at least he is not bugging the rest of the world. Azzarello then brings nothing new to this conflict. He still directs the characters toward the super-island where they sneak around and fight henchmen. A dinosaur does appear, and it does fight The Spirit – which is kind of cool in a weird nerdy way. That’s the extent of excitement in the fight, though. Especially since Rags Morales brings absolutely nothing to this comic besides artwork I would rather not look at.

Morales likes to split the page horizontally…a lot. Now while this technique can be affective in conveying a widescreen sensibility, a horizontal split can disrupt a page’s ability to build a sense of speed. Smalls panels or large-count grids add something to a comic’s pacing. They can cause the reader to read faster as their eyes do not linger on small panels as long as wide panels. Look at this Savage Dragon example:

Small, little slivers of the page (the whole page can be seen somewhere else on the internet). This example comes from Savage Dragon #168, the conclusion to the book’s “Emerpor Dragon” arc. Erik Larsen captured much excitement from the audience with this story, and this moment acts no different as the conclusion draws close. This point in the plot shows the meeting of Dragon and Darklord, a character important to the series, and it stands as a scene of excitement and pushes the reader toward the resolution. The artwork and panel design reflects that completely. Ignoring the dialogue, you zip through this portion of the comic at a rapid pace. The panels feel like brief flashes, the sense of claustrophobia they carry increases the reader’s heartrate, and the close focus along with the bright flares of red and pink grip the eye’s focus.

Now look at the Morales example:

Long, dimly lit panels that seem to carry a lot in their gutters. For a helicopter boarding a plane, you would think the prensentation would appear exciting, but no…Morales gives us one, measly, wide panel and expects it to completely capture this action in the story. There probably is much more to landing a helicopter within a plane than one long focus shot, but no attempt is made to show it. Instead, the details lie in the panel gutters and the story gains no sense of visual appeal or energy.

The coloring on this book also acts a detriment. I understand that colorist Nei Ruffino is probably going for the “noir” look, but I think the dimness in his colors really adds to the snore factor this comic suffers from. Never did my eyes perk up. Rather, they fell into a state of drowsiness, and I honestly had a hard time finishing this comic because of how unexciting it looked.

Let’s get back to the “confusing” statement I made earlier, though. I jumped over it. Azzarello threads this plot together in a jarring manner. The cast starts out seperated but then must come together, but they come together in a car crash way. I really cannot even remember how Doc Savage meets Batman and Batman meets the Spirit. Why? I don’t even think I knew when I read it. It just seemed to happen. The Spirit is tricked by some scum bag to investigate a suspicious delivery truck, which then turns out to house Doc Savage’s father’s body. Bruce Wayne (Batman) is contacted by the mad scientist to join him, so Bruce ends up on the island. The rest show up at some point. Granted, Azzarello does spend time jumping around the cast in order to show their progression through the story, it’s not like he just literally throws the cast on the island, but the writing makes it feel that way. The subplots never feel fully form, and the main conflict actually feels undetermined until about halfway through the series.

I am also confused as to when this story takes place. Guts tells me post-WWII, around the time the actual golden age of comics took place, but other details within the artwork seem to suggest otherwise. Character designs span from clothing that looks 1940s-esque to football jerseys and outfits that resemble the modern day. It just comes off as inconsistant. Plus, it does not help give this world a visual definition. The intergration of modern day technology could help defne the world. Like a juxtapositon between 1940s apparal and jargon and modern day computers and iPods. The mix and match of clothing and character style seems to take the “golden age meets today” idea a bit far though, and it completely throws it off.

One compliment I will pay: I feel Azzarello did a really nice job capturing the voices of Doc Savage, Spirit, and Batman. Each sounds how I would expect them too. Thier dialogue stands out when they all share a panel. Also, I will give Rags Morales this one page:

I just like the way he draws Batman here, like a big, black sheet that just eats that crook. It’s a cool visual.

I have to say this was poor, though, and I feel Azzarello may have just let this happen. He is the type of writer, like Ellis, to take a corporate gig and just churn out something that is well enough yet does impress. The help of delays and impending doom for the First Wave line may have also contributed to a lack of interest on Azzarello’s part. Oh well. I am not done with the work of Brian Azzarello, and I still remain excited for his next two projects, Batman: Knights of Vengeance and Spaceman, because they involve the other half of 100 Bullets: Eduardo Risso. Those two working together should produce some quality, and speaking of Risso…maybe he should have drawn First Wave?

If he did, I would have automatically liked it a lot more.

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Thoughts: Generation Hope #1-5

The teenaged super-hero has always been a favorite concept of mine. Applying the struggle and responsibility of super-powers to the ever present  feel of the world hunching on your shoulders as it beats you down into a dysfunctional pulp just sounds like such a rich tapestry of story to me. Ok, maybe that was a bit dramatic, but that is how I look at the archetype of the teen hero. It is about the dysfunction and finding your spot in the world. It is about discovering responsibilities and seeing your potential. It is about showing the world how it should be done as well as disproving the tradition of things. Looking back on the X-men, that has always been their deal as a concept. Generation Hope, being the comic book that it is, makes a lot sense in that way. It is an X-men book that returns to that original notion yet also presents the gifted youngsters in a more offensive fashion. These are the young mutants led by a fiery red head instead of a bald white dude, and this fiery red head, Hope, is acting as messiah in a world where mutants are on the rebound. I am not sure this book reaches its potential, though.

Something Kieron Gillen and Salvador Espin do very well with this series is defining the book’s characters. Issue one is a nice example of selling the audience on the cast. Gillen gives each one of the five leads an appropriate amount of panel time, and from there he delivers a combination of well-constructed dialogue and caption that provide a smooth status for each cast member. Espin carries the definition further by giving each character its own posture and set of facial emotions. He does a nice job of translating Gillen’s ideas of the characters to the visual end. As the reader, you can gain a sense of what each one is thinking by looking. Hope especially is very well presented. She is in no way a back seat driver but rather a character who looks to be on the front and taking charge. Her personality and purpose seem to echo the sentiment of this book. Hope is the next step for the world of X-men, and she houses a strong rebellious spirit that challenges her to go out and show the old dogs (Scott Summers) how it is done. Does she reach that goal, though? Maybe, but I do not think the actual comic does.

Generation Hope is a weird case. The comic book presents an attitude of rebellion and independence through its main character (Hope), yet it does not entirely live up to that attitude as a book even after going as far as to supply some meta-commentary on the idea. Generation Hope is a book not about the icons, but a new generation of merry mutants where the main character presents a very rebellious, independent outlook. The actions of Hope deliver the book’s statement, and it is a statement directed at the current form of Marvel storytelling. Throughout the first four issues, Hope is constantly trying to work against Scott Summers and Wolverine’s direction. They tell her to stand back during the usual super-hero conflict, but instead she pushes past them and jumps right in. By issue five, she is laying down her demands to Scott Summers and claiming she wants to lead her team her way. No more of the expected. Instead, it is time for something new and fresh. It is time to evolve in this period of crisis. The old way has staled and mutants (comics storytelling) is at a lose right now. Action needs taken.

Generation Hope, through its lead character and obvious premise, just  feels like it just wants to rebel and distance itself from the expected Marvel Comic; it comes off as a book that should be tearing apart the orthodox manner of super-hero storytelling. The title itself, “Generation Hope,” implies this sense of something new and exciting on the way. The book rebels through the obvious fact that it spotlights new, young super-hero characters. The cast is capable of anything story wise and could rapidly change in an instant unlike the big properties. On a note of storytelling, narrative, art and energy though, the book is still pretty in line with the rest of Marvel: slow pacing with stretched conflicts, a traditionally structured narrative, and artwork that plays it safe. None of these attributes scream new and exciting comics. It is more a case where the subject matter does not match the delivery system

I do find the book enjoyable as well as the story interesting. The comic’s artwork is nice enough. Espin has a clean style, and the colors laid over his pencils are actually bright rather than the usual Marvel mud. Jamies McKelvie drew the fuck out of issue five. Gillen has a voice for each of the cast. Hope as a lead is exciting to watch. A large consequence feels eminent off panel. On the Marvel Comics Standard, Generation Hope hits the mark as it encourages excitement and a desire to follow, but it fails on a scale of great potential – potential that is implied within the actual book.

The X-men, too me, should be the franchise to push the boundaries of super-hero comics. Metaphorically, they are the outcasts and unorthodox. Generation Hope seems to pick up on that as well as the sense of teenage rebellion. It makes those feelings very clear within the comic and even implies meta-text comments against the expected. The character of Hope embodies the idea of doing something new or different. The actual storytelling behind the comic book does not follow the que given, though. It reads like another super-hero comic and leaves a taste of potential left alone. Not that it should be doing anything completely inventive and new, that’s not what I am saying, but the book feels like it should be told in a way that is not so common among super-hero comics.

There are worse super-hero comics, though. Generation Hope still supplies entertainment and solid craft as well as a plot that draws me back issue to issue. It just does not go that extra step to make it something great.

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Thoughts: FF #1

Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four…You know, I liked the first three issues, but after that the book just toned down and lost my interest. Hickman’s opening story was well-written and forward thinking. It took Reed Richards, a character I usually find terribly boring, in a direction that seemed natural yet surprising. Richards gained a conflict and a new found depth. The questions of work and family came to the forefront. A father, Nathaniel Richards, was found. 

Four issues in though and a bullshit birthday party was the focus as artist Dale Eaglesham took a month off. Granted, it was a one issue downer, but I remember being so surprised by the poor quality of that birthday issue. “We went from that great opener to THIS?” I remember saying to a friend. I dropped the book and soon paid no further attention to Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four.

Recent occurrences have caused me to look at the book again. The death of Johnny Storm (Human Torch) to some degree, but more of my revived interested is due to the book’s re-launch and “Future Foundation” concept. I like that name -Future Foundation – and the ideas it implies. They relate back to some of what was happening in Hickman’s opener: Reed Richard’s concern for the future and how far man can possibly go. I like that approach and how it takes the Fantastic Four from being just another set of super-heroes to now some form of super-activists. After all, they were scientists before the powers. Scientists who made it their job to improve the world. The idea of a Future Foundation gets back to that, and it gets to the idea of super-heroes making a difference. Not that the book is actually showing Reed Richards combat deforestation or anything, there is the traditional comic book villainy, but the idea is implied that the FF are about combating the world’s larger problems rather then chasing down the Impossible Man. Nothing new of course, The Authority went after a similar vibe, but I still like that direction for Marvel’s first family.  It feels right; it feels progressive.

Now, concept aside, this actual issue, as a first issue, does not hit all the marks it should. I feel it is a well paced and well structured issue, but I do need feel like it sells the audience on why this is a re-launched title. You know, the “why” in “why change to the Future Foundation?” There is a brief opening with Johnny Storm – a holographic Johnny Storm – where he tells Reed that the team must continue on and take the next step, but that seems to be the only inspiration. I guess it is a fine enough inspiration. The character did die, and that would certainly pull a strong reaction from the other characters. I just feel that the scene, as in the way it was written, was lacking, and it felt pretty cliche. How many times have we seen the holographic message from beyond the grave? How many times has the deceased expressed a wish for his family and friends to venture on? The “done before” nature made the origin of the “Future Foundation” feel weak, and the death angle actually takes you out of it for a moment. The call back to comic book death reminds you that Johnny Storm will probably be back in a year, and the Future Foundation direction will revert back to the classic Fantastic Four. The hologram scene is a weird case where the origin feels like the end, and it doesn’t give the reader much faith in the longevity of the approach.

Also, I did not feel much excitement in this issue. First issues always seem to vamp everything up. They put across to the readers the series’ idea of a status quo and direction. This kind of does that, but it feels like those factors are very second-string. In a way, it is kind of a refreshing thing to see in a world where comic books seem to live and die by the first issue. You know, Hickman sort of just leans back and lets the idea of hype go while focusing only on writing a solid issue. My lack of enthusiasm seems to speak, though. Granted, I will be buying the next issue as this is a well written comic that sports a cool approach. It just felt like another issue of Hickman’s FF though and not what a first issue should be. It was not that attention grabber.

I am interested in where Hickman wants to go with the FF, and I have to say Steve Epting really adds a lot to this comic. An artist with a good sense of page layout and style, Epting gives this book the look that a Hickman comic can work and thrive with. I wish I were better at writing when it comes to art because honestly there is more I would like to say about Steve Epting. His line and look just feel very classic to me. The only thing that takes away from it is the notorious muddy Marvel coloring. With Epting drawing this comic, I would love to see a brighter more stylish palette, but instead Paul Mounts keeps everything gloomy and dirty. Even Spider-man looks dull whipping around New York City. It’s the FF. They are super-scientists. Brighten things up a little with some energetic colors.

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No Clever Title Needed #3

Here are the thoughts that lack a specific home; they are tossed here.

What a week. Honestly, that is all I can say to describe it. Just so odd. Just so off. That was this week. Not terrible by any means, just odd. I guess that is a pretty vague description, right? Oh well.

This week, or at least something I watched this week, did make me want to move to Portland (Oregon) even more, though. This something would be the short and so appropriately named documentary, Portland Comics.

Moving entirely across the country for a comics scene may seem like a bit much, but to me it would be more than comics…Ok, scratch that, it would be all about comics, but it would be for the community, culture, and lifestyle around the medium rather than actual, physical comic books themselves. At this point in my life, I feel comics are, and forever will be, apart of me.  The medium has me at my heart and mind. I feel I know it so well, yet at the same time have many aspects to learn about it. Comics, as corney and possibly messed up as it may sound, have shaped me into the person I am today. Seriously. Without comics, I would never have podcasted, never have choosen a career in journalism, never have taken an interest in writing or storytelling as strongly as I have, and would never be writing this blog. Also, the ways in which I look at the world…those would probably be different too, as well as the group of friends I hold.

To me it makes sense. Portland does. The comics scene, and the people of it, just feel like a setting I need to be surrounded by. It is a setting I need to exist in. It would bring home and strengthen the idea of comics being a piece of me. Granted, I am going completely off a documentary and other word-of-mouth, but I know that I need to at least visit Portland sometime in the near future. From there, well, we will see what happens.

For now though, the land of Portland, Oregon will remain a wishful thought. One that I may possibly work towards.

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Dave Wachter kicks ass. Here is a sweet Galactus piece from him, and it is in color.

Dave’s blog: http://davedrawscomics.blogspot.com/

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A friend of mine discovered this really cool short film called Logorama. It is an animated presentation that depicts a universe of brands.

On the surface, this film works as a cute comedy that provides numerous chuckles, but as expected with the subject matter it does dive into its corner of commentary and subversion. The bit that really impressed me was the use and placement of specific brands, such as the use of Ronald McDonald as the villain in the piece. That, ladies and gentlemen, was no accident. I actually think you could probably spend all day watching this film picking out brands and the comments they make.

It is a visually busy film, and I certianly suggestion taking the sixteen minutes to watch it.

http://vimeo.com/10149605

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New Criminal.

I am always in the mood for Brubaker and Phillips’ Criminal because it feels like the most natural work these guys produce. This promotional image is excellent. I love the colors and the way the women’s red dress contrasts with the blue of the background, and I also love the vertical streaks casting down like long rain drops.

I have yet to read the latest arc of Incognito from this creative team, and from what I understand those comics may be weak, but I am certainly looking forward to this project. I will be buying.

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The Mountain Goats’ latest, All Eternals Deck, is very good, and it has been my playlist of choice over the past two days. With luck, I may actually be seeing them live, in Pittsburgh, on April 12th.

Tracks that impress: Damn These Vampires (1), Birth of Serpents (2), Estate Sale Sign (3), The Autospy Garland (5), High Hawk Season (7), For Charles Bronson (11), and Never Quite Free (12).

Get it.

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The name of Jay Diddilo has become legend to the internet in the past week or two. Why? Well, just blame Rob Granito. If you have not had enough of Jay Diddilo (and really, how could you?), then you must check out the man’s actual website.

Your laugh buds will thank you. Oh, they will thank you. http://jaydiddilo.com/index.php

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Last, but not least, Brandon Graham, the artist and creator of King City, has been providing a great daily column over at The Comics Journal all week. This is a must read. The man provides some great artwork along with  fun, quirky bits of internet goodness. Plus, a cool peak into his daily life.

http://www.tcj.com

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Yep. That’s it. Next week I should post something more substantial. For now, enjoy this post, and if you frequent Twitter follow my ass. I want more followers, so I can feel some higher sense of happiness. You want that, right?

twitter.com/alec_berry

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