Before Watchmen Leaves No Room for Complaints

It's not often that I find myself feeling the kinds of feelings that I was when I started reading Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1. Darwyn Cooke starts off with, what I read as, a commentary on what Alan Moore has meant to the comics industry. It's veiled as Hollis Mason speaking about what it meant to the rest of the costumed hero world when Doctor Manhattan stepped onto the scene and could fly and evaporate a man with barely a stray thought ... but it's also the kind of language that has oft been used to describe what it was like working in the comics industry (or for that matter reading comics) when Alan Moore crossed the Atlantic and started shaking things up in the world of American comics. 

The book begins with respect. And I think that is the most important aspect to what the book continues through to the final pages with. Are there some missteps? Of course. As has been mentioned online on many forums there is a bit of confusion between what is Hollis' novel and what is his internal monologue, which leads to some misinterpretation on the part of some readers. It's something that will be infinitely easy to fix in the collected edition. 

So let's talk about the feelings that I had when reading the comic. The first was relief. Relief that the book was going to be as good as I had hoped. That it wasn't going to be trite like I had feared. That it was as finely a crafted a comic as what I held in my hand. Relief isn't a feeling that you often have in the world of comics. Especially not when you've been reading them for close to 25 years or more. You try to not let your expectations build when you've been burned. And this was one of those rare times where I had let my hopes get past where I am usually comfortable letting them go. The internet is ablaze with people who are looking at this as a cash grab, as a slap in the face of one of the better talents that has ever plied his skill in the world of comics, as the last scrapings from the bottom of the barrel. This book is not that. This book is another great, unique voice in the world of comics showcasing what he can do with a finely crafted character. What he can do with one of the most well developed worlds to ever grace the pages of comics.

Which brings me to my second feeling. Awe. Darwyn Cooke has been one of my favorite creators since I first became aware of his work in the world of comics. And I feel like this is one of his finest efforts. He puts to use all of his abilities as a story teller and crafts a great, if not at times moving, story. Cooke's Hollis Mason is wistful. Is brimming with the desire to be able to return to a younger man's game. But at the same time seems comfortable with his decision to leave the world of heroics. 

The third feeling I had while reading Minutemen #1 didn't come until the end of the issue. Anticipation. I truly feel that if the rest of the Before Watchmen titles manage to even measure up to half of the first issue of Minutemen that the internet is ablaze for all the wrong reasons. These titles have the opportunity to serve as such a great supplement to what is considered to be the best graphic novel of all time. While I don't think that they will outpace the original, I don't think that was the intention. I think that the hope was that for those whose only experience in the world of comics was the pages of Moore & Gibbon's Watchmen to have something to entice them to try out other comics. To make them see that there are a bevy of other creators out there who are hoping to make their stories new favorites. 

If anything I hope that people will put their prejudices aside and pick up the book and give it a read. I think it has the power to change even the most concretely held opinions.

And Then it Was Time to Go Back to School

I have spoken here before about how it has taken me a goodly while to reach the point where I could actually count myself as a fan of Wolverine. I have also mentioned that I am quite the fan of Jason Aaron in posts here before. But if you're new to my diatribes then let me eduficate you a touch. I've long been a fan of not only the writings of Mr. Jason Aaron but also of his incredible beard. I have also long counted myself among the dwindling few who thought that Wolverine was a bit overexposed considering that he wasn't really that cool a character. But as I mentioned in my last article X-Men: Schism was totally amazing and at it's conclusion we got what the book promised. And as a reader who has been around long enough to remember the first time there was a "Blue Team/Gold Team" split I can tell you that this one is far more interesting and not just because Wolverine is on one team and Cyclops is on the other team, but because it's actually a divide.

Jason Aaron has the helm of the new book on the block. Wolverine & The X-Men is a really and truly great book. Honestly. It's amazing. It's everything that I think a new reader fresh off having read ... Well ... Pretty much anything is going to want. The best part is that the book is welcoming the characters in as much as it is welcoming the readers. For people who have been looking for an in-road into the world of the X-Men or mutantkind as a whole you have bever had a better opportunity.

I'm deadly serious.

This might be Marvel's best #1 of the year.

And the art is downright amazing. Chris Bachalo has long been one of my very favorite artists. Mostly from his work on Generation X and later on Steampunk. For many people his work has often proved to be too chaotic for consumption and while that is, in many ways, one of the things I love most about his work he seems to be showing the kind of restraint that is characteristic of his work as of late. Click This Image ... Seriously ... NowPerhaps it is that he has adapted as an artist, perhaps it is that he is coloring his own work lately, perhaps it is that the inking team that he works with has become more familiar with his style and has better adapted to inking his work ... I don't know. All I can say is that people who may not have been fans in the past would do themselves a favor by checking out what he is doing currently as it is not only thrilling to fans of his as it is detractors.

In short. This is a seriously good book. 

Get on it.

It's Been a While

Hello All, It's been a while since I last spoke with you. I hope that your holidays were delightful and that this last bout of terrible weather didn't crush your spirits too completely. I had the joy of doing my civic duty last week as I was summoned for jury selection and had to do a whole lot of sitting around and waiting while the gears of justice turned. While I was doing all of my waiting and whatnot I did some reading (if you're ever summoned for jury duty then you really, really need to bring reading material, I cannot emphasize this enough). Knowing that I would be doing a whole lot of waiting and whatnot I brought plenty to read but what I wound up spending most of my time with was a book that I've started reading a few times but never managed to finish thanks to surrounding circumstances, Carla Speed McNeil's Finder. I don't know that I've ever read a series in which the world was so fully formed on the very first page. The book takes place in a far flung future where the world is quite different. The first book (the Anniversary Hardcover is featured at the right) follows a terribly unique character named Jaeger. Jaeger is what is known in this future as a Finder, something of an aboriginal detective, not attached to any police service nor really a private detective in the sense that most people think of in this day in age. Think of him more as the kind of guy that you'd want to know when your life goes to hell, or you desperately need to find something you've lost. The world in which he lives seems an awful lot like what our world might become should we continue on the path we're headed down. By which I mean cities that are covered in domes in order to keep them livable ... so ... yeah.

McNeil has been lauded for her work on this series and from every vantagepoint I really must agree with those who have spoken so highly of her work, and nominated her for several awards. Her art is simple and gorgeous, and at times reminds me of the simple line work of another of my favorite creators, Strangers In Paradise creator Terry Moore. The story is also brilliantly crafted and at the same time an anthropological wonder. The seamlessness of the world she has created is truly something to behold. 

Having only ever self-published the series it's something that you could probably be forgiven for having missed out on. However anyone and everyone should be adding it to their list of books to look out for in the next few months as a new collection of material that appeared primarily on Carla's website ( and then a new publication of a "Library Edition" of the first 21 issues both brought to print by Dark Horse Comics. It's an exciting time to be a fan of intricately produced science fiction. And if you're one of the people who haven't hear of Finder before and think that the world sounds interesting then you should keep your eyes open and possibly let your retailer know that you want to make sure to get copies of what might be one of the more exciting releases by one of the more oft overlooked creators in the industry this year.

The first release will be this upcoming week's Voice and it's only $19.99 for what is likely to be an incredibly entertaining and thought provoking 208 page book:

What you find isn't nearly as important as what finds you . . . 

Since 1996, Finder has set the bar for science-fiction storytelling, with a lush, intricate world and compelling characters. Now, Carla Speed McNeil's Eisner Award-winning series comes to Dark Horse with the original graphic novel Voice. 

In a society defined by its intricate network of clans, Rachel Grosvenor has grown up an outcast, straddling worlds. Now, her quest for admission to a highly exclusive clan sends Rachel spiraling into the dark underbelly of Anvard and a paradox that holds the key to her future: How do you find a Finder?

And then scheduled for March release is Finder Library Volume 1 which only hits the wallet for $24.99 and weighs in at 616 pages. Definitely something worth checking out:

Since 1996, Finder has set the bar for science-fiction storytelling, with a lush, intricate world and compelling characters. Now, Dark Horse is proud to present the first four story arcs of Carla Speed McNeil's groundbreaking series in a single, affordably priced volume!

Follow enigmatic hero Jaeger through a "glorious, catholic pileup of high-tech SF, fannish fantasy, and street-level culture clash" (Village Voice), and discover the lush world and compelling characters that have carved Finder a permanent place in the pantheon of independent comics.

This first of two Finder Library volumes collects the multiple Eisner Award-nominated story arcs Sin Eater, King of Cats, and fan-favorite Talisman.

One Moment in Time - One Man's Opinion

It wasn't ever really Peter Parker, or even Spider-Man, that got me interested in reading Amazing Spider-Man. It was J. Michael Straczynski. I had read Rising Stars and had been floored (floored I tell you) by Midnight Nation and had kept myself away from his Amazing Spider-Man run until I started working for The Fantasy Shop and after I had read, and fallen in love with, Bruce Jones' run on Incredible Hulk which featured art by John Romita Jr. that I decided that maybe I should check out the adventures of the Amazing Spider-Man. I realize that for some people that invalidates me as a reviewer for this story arc. That I never read a single issue of Amazing Spider-Man prior to his marriage means that I didn't really have an attachment to the character as a romantic bumbler that he seems to have been. I've only ever seen him with the stunning red head at his side. His own version of the incredible woman that stands behind and beside every great man. And when I read JMS' run on Spider-Man I loved it. Almost to a fault (with the exception of the Other story-arc which I liked up until the strange "Spider-Spikes" made their appearance). It made me love Spider-Man and understand what my best friend Tim Kaiser had seen in the character when we were in 3rd Grade and he had decided it was his favorite character (which meant instantly that it couldn't be my favorite character, clearly). Hell I didn't even see the Spider-Man movie in the theater in 2002. So let me get that out of the way. To me, JMS Spider-Man was excellent and I acknowledge that it colors my review. 

When it was announced that Joe Quesada believed that you couldn't tell interesting stories with Spider-Man as long as he was weighed down by his marriage to Mary Jane (the quote is actually "Peter being single is an intrinsic part of the very foundation of the world of Spider-Man") I didn't understand. It didn't sit right with me. And when he decided to draw the One More Day arc of Spider-Man I knew it was a dark portent for my favorite neighborhood web-slinger. I had always enjoyed Mr. Quesada's artwork but it just made me feel uneasy knowing his opinion of the marriage I had come to admire and to understand in a way. I, myself, had lucked into a beautiful woman who I always thought was too good for me once and reading Peter Parker as a High School science teacher and husband had always just felt right to me )I mean what is a brilliant scientific mind doing being a photographer anyway?). The problems had really started in the pages of Civil War where Spider-Man revealed his secret identity to the world based on less on the reasoning of a character than a desire to build hype. So when things started to go downhill for Peter & Mary as well as Aunt May it certainly wasn't any surprise. 

When the One More Day story arc kicked off it pretty immediately soured my opinion of the way the story was going to go. But, being a retailer I read the story so I could be conversant with customers. The story started to feel less and less like JMS was really writing the book (which has been revealed in recent years was in fact the case). Then what happened happened and the book started anew with a crew of writers and artists to get the book cranking out 3 times a month and readers started to have opinions. Some were negative. I remember customers dropping the book who were die hard fans of the series (I remember specifically the statement "I read this book through the Clone Saga and even how much I hated that I kept reading it ... but I can't keep going."). But at the very same time there were customers who were saying "I haven't enjoyed Spider-Man this much in years!" and "The stories are great!". 

And they weren't wrong. Either groups. Despite how divisive the story was and how heated the discussions might become they were neither wrong. The readers who had invested years and felt like they had grown with Peter were understandably upset. The readers who longed for a change of the status quo (and particularly fans who had become disenchanted with Straczynski's more mythically toned run) had what they had wanted. And the stories were good. Joe Kelly's issues focusing on The Rhino were some of the best Spider-Man comics that I have read in a very, very, long time. But I didn't really see how these stories couldn't have been told with a married Peter Parker. It was a question that plagued me more and more.

And then there started to appear these "OMIT" ads. The only additional information provided being: "Joe Quesada & Paolo Rivera". And rumors started to spread that the story might finally be the return of the former status quo. Readers who had been disinterested in the storyline started to get their interest piqued. Without doing a thing aside from deciding to release the black background and white lettered ad they had created a buzz again. But perhaps we should have looked at the definition of Omit a little closer:

to omit (third-person singular simple present omits, present participle omitting, simple past and past participle omitted)
(transitive) To leave out or exclude. (most common usage)
(transitive) To fail to perform.
(transitive) To neglect or take no notice of. (Obscure)

They meant "To leave out or exclude", that they had omitted the telling of how things had actually changed. They were going to finally reveal the moments that had changed in order for the reality to become what it currently is. But by keeping quiet they had achieved what they wanted, they got readers who had left to come back to think about possibly coming back.

But once they came back they were subjected to a story that no one wanted. By defining the events that resulted in Peter & Mary Jane no longer being together they showed us how you make the sausage. And if there is one thing that no one really wants to know it's how the sausage gets made. Also the story was contrived. Let's go ahead and define that one as well:

contrived (comparative more contrived, superlative most contrived)
unnatural, forced.

The story, to me, felt like Joe Quesada telling us all "See! I was right! The character is more interesting and more viable when he's single! I told you all!". But I still don't, for even one second, understand how the stories over the last three and a half years couldn't have been told while he was married. Why is it that only with a single Spider-Man that we can tell interesting stories? I just quite simply don't believe it to be true. Honestly what it comes down to as well is that Amazing Spider-Man, for the last 3 years has really been the second definition of Omit: "(transitive) To fail to perform". The book hasn't sold nearly as well since it changed the status quo and went to three times a month ... and I think that everyone realizes that.

But maybe I'm wrong.

But I don't think I am.

And if you wanted an ongoing Spider-Man story with a single Peter Parker, Joe, then you need have looked no further than your own company. It is called Ultimate Spider-Man.

Jason Aaron or: How I Learned to Stop Hating and Love the Wolverine (A Review of Wolverine #1)

I hated Wolverine. Seriously. Go ahead, start frothing at the mouth and forming your posts of venom and anger. I'm ready for them. The only good Wolverine stories I had ever read had been Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown (mostly for Jon J. Muth and Kent Williams' artwork than anything else) and Greg Rucka's run at the beginning of Wolverine Vol. 3 (which abandoned much of what had made Wolverine Wolverine for the previous 10 or so years and made him more of a hard boiled detective who sought revenge for the unfortunate innocents who had met him and in doing so had been caught up the wake of destruction that follows him). And then I read that one of my favorite writers was going to be writing a BRAND NEW WOLVERINE ONGOING! and I felt the overwhelming need to do two things: 1. Not read something written by one of my favorite new writers who I wanted so badly to support -or- 2. Bite back the taste of rising bile in my throat and Buy a Wolverine comic. He had managed to make me like Ghost Rider, a task I thought patently unachievable, so after giving it a lot of thought I wound up doing the latter and I wasn't disappointed. As a matter of fact it did what I had liked about the Rucka run. In many ways I found that written correctly ... I might even be becoming a Wolverine fan. And all it took was putting my prejudices aside and following, perhaps a little blindly, the instincts of a growing super-star: Jason Aaron.

The book was Wolverine: Weapon X and it promised to be a Wolverine book without being a Super-Hero book. And it was. And it was totally awesome as well. The first arc was Black-Ops Spy fare as Logan hunts down members of the BlackGuard Security firm (owned by the always villainous Roxxon Industries) who have been augmented by scientists using the files retrieved from the wreckage of the Weapon X program. Essentially laser claw wielding mercenaries who will work for the highest bidder is too much for Logan to bear and he goes on a hunt to find and destroy these men. The story was brilliant and carried the kind of voice and references that I had become accustomed to from Aaron. 

What he brings to the book is difficult to describe ... I've often said that he is the master of the moral grey and that he writes characters who are neither heroes nor villains better than almost anyone in the industry and also has sort of an everyman's literary style (I keep trying to come up with a better phrase than that but the only thing that comes to mind is "literary by way of gutshot last words" and I don't know how well that translates if you've not read his work) and he brings both of those aspects of his style to his Marvel work with great panache, but he also brings a sort of Grindhouse style to the world of super-heroics that seems at once strange and also immensely brilliant.

The arcs that followed in the Wolverine: Weapon X series would vary greatly. The second arc brought a horror story set in an insane asylum which brought numerous chills to my spine and the final arc was a sci-fi tale of Deathlok's coming back in time to kill threats before they reached adulthood ala Terminator but with a more interesting moral message. And then the series ended. As did all the other related Wolverine ongoing series. And a slew of NEW ONGOING WOLVERINE SERIES were announced. And once again Aaron's name was attached, and this time to the flagship title, and I was admittedly a little thrilled. 

This series starts from a pretty interesting point and also clearly continues the trend established in Weapon X of treating Wolverine more as a character who just happens to wear a costume from time to time than a costumed character. The first issue begins with Wolverine trying to understand his own place in the universe. After having had his entire life history unlocked during the House of M event he very quickly began a campaign of violence against those who had wronged him in the past. But now he finds himself at the end of all of that vengeance and is, in the wake of losing his best friend during Second Coming, starting to wonder how all the unchecked aggression is going to weigh on his immortal soul. And then things get weird. But weird in the kind of way that is signature Jason Aaron. It appears that Wolverine's body may have been overtaken by a demon, and the only way for that to have happened is that his soul is no longer in his body ... which opens up all kinds of pain for the man known as Logan. 

The series continues many of the narrative threads that had begun in Wolverine: Weapon X (perhaps most essentially his burgeoning relationship with San Francisco Post reporter Melita Garner) and so for those who had been reading and loving that title it's going to be an comfortable transition. For those who hadn't been reading the title it's going to be an easy transition as Wolverine is a renowned skirt chaser and has a trail of spurned and deceased former love interests as long as his origin story, but for an easy introduction pick up last week's (8/25/10) Wolverine: Saga for more information.  I think that this is going to be one of the more interesting eras for Wolverine and for Wolverine fans and I hope that Aaron's run is as long as it deserves to be (think Bendis on Daredevil), as his voice is the kind that has the potential to revolutionize the character and get the haters (of which I was one of their number) off James Howlett's back.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (Movie Review)

I was introduced to the Scott Pilgrim books while visiting San Diego for Comicon in 2008. My best friend from high school loaned me the first four volumes which I devoured over the weekend and immediately purchased upon arriving home. Six months later Volume 5 was released coupled with the news that they were beginning filming. I couldn't believe it, this was actually being made!

Scott Pilgrim vs. Comic Accuracy

When a movie based on a property we love is announced strong, divergent feelings are evoked. First we are excited beyond belief, we dance around the room shouting praises to the gods. Then our endorphins subside and the doubts being whispering vile things like "kid-friendly sidekick" and "Michael Bay directing" and we scour the internet researching every rumor, checking the writers' credits and invoking dark rituals of protection. I have done this before, and I did it again with Scott Pilgrim. But I couldn't comprehend what was happening. Every rumor, leak and announcement just stoked the fire of my glee. The director and casting were great! Every image from the trailers seemed to be lifted straight from the comic! And while everyone knew that the unfinished final volume obviously wouldn't be ready in time for filming they were working from Bryan Lee O'Malley's notes so it would be similar in plot and theme. But while watching the film I was surprised at how different the plot seemed to unravel. Most of the subplots (Mr. Chau) were eliminated and many plot points (Envy's weak spot) were altered and blended into other scenes. While I noticed the changes and omissions they were hardly a distraction. Looking at the whole movie I feel the choices were smart and only helped streamline the film. I can only hope fans look at it from the direction that these cool bits were left in the movie only by repurposing them.

Scott Pilgrim vs. Pacing

The pace of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a mad rabid sprint at break-neck speed across a mine field. It could be disastrous with one wrong step but luckily Edgar Wright pulled it off flawlessly. The verbal sparring between mother and daughter on the Gilmore Girls seems plodding and clumsy compared to the quick, biting dialog in Scott Pilgrim. The film is a brilliant weave of seamless scene transitions with characters walking out their apartment door into a nightclub like we just turned a page and extensive usage of jump cuts bouncing us from panel to panel around a page. Items purposely appear and disappear with humorous regularity eliciting confusion from the character in the dark and laughter from the audience. Everything in Scott Pilgrim is a blink away from being missed. If the movie tripped over its own feet it would shatter into more coins than any of the evil exes drop upon defeat. But it doesn't. It speeds through the projector as one of the funniest, smartest movies Hollywood has delivered in years.

Scott Pilgrim vs. My Opinion

The end result was nothing less than spectacular. For a movie I have been anxiously awaiting for over a year it exceeded even my high expectations. Beginning with the 8-bit styled Universal Pictures logo complete with the company's theme in midi format, through the slavish comic captions, amazingly realized sets and fantastically choreographed fight scenes, Scott Pilgrim is the best comic-to-film adaptations I've seen. In fact, it is a great movie period, with no clarifying language needed. I was utterly hypnotized by the film. I loved it. It was much better than Cats. I'm going to see it again and again.

Nick Spencer Strives for a Better Future with Morning Glories

Nick Spencer is a name that has been on my mind for quite a while. First I couldn't stop hearing about his sci-fi mini-series Existence 2.0 (which has been optioned by Platinum Dunes to be made a feature film, and was followed by Existence 3.0 which will be collected in a combined series collection later this summer). Then his series Forgetless totally overtook me with full on geek joy. There was something magical and spectacular about this weird homage to non-linear story telling and modern teen culture that captured me whole cloth and held me down and made me gasp, laugh, smile, and even truly feel. His next series, Shuddertown, is a dark murder mystery that I've mentioned a few times on the ComicDorksCast and has really got me enthralled as well. There is something really hard to peg about what makes his work so incredible but it has left me feeling an awful lot like I did when I walked out of The Tivoli Theater after having seen Christopher Nolan's Memento: "I know that this is going to be the kind of creator whose career I am going to follow unhesitatingly and whose impact on the industry is going to be incredible." 

Prior to c2e2 I had heard whispers about Spencer's next series Morning Glories which I thought was initially called "Morning Glory Academy" (which, as shown by the teasers leading up to the convention and the announcement of the series, was not an entirely silly idea) sounded really interesting and then I got to sit in on the Image panel at c2e2 where Spencer revealed that the series would be, in his words: "Runaways meets LOST". That's really all he had to say to get me interested but once you start looking at the character teaser images, done by cover artist Rodin Esquejo, you start to realize that there really might be something special going on with this little series.

And then you read the first issue, a day early in my case, and you become such a big fan of what is going on in the series that you can't stop thinking about it. Much like the series premier of LOST or the first issue of Runaways it leaves you chock full of questions and dying to get the next installment. Spencer paces out the reveals and develops such intriguing characters in the first issue that you can't help but be taken in by their charm and infuriated by their brash, callous, youth. And the opening scenes make you, or at least me, wish that there was a score to go along with them. I was dying for music to pair with the scenes, so much so that I was even hoping for the kind of sound-tracking methods that Chynna Clugston used in books like Scooter Girl, but was pleased enough with the kind of dramatic instrumentation that was going through my head as I read it (sort of like a Hanz Zimmer kind of thing ... but maybe that's just me).

The book is rather well drawn by Joe Eisma, and with the exception of one minor coloring mistake I felt that it lived up to the expectations that I had set for it, which I will admit were lofty. There is a great sense for individuals throughout the book and each of the characters has a very distinct look all their own. And in a book where each of the characters are likely to be wearing similar uniforms, their school uniforms even, it's going to be important that each character be unique and Eisma does so with panache. 

The book starts with one of the most "grab-you-by-the-shirt-collar-and-drag-you-along-with-reckless-abandon-and-leave-you-breathless" scenes I've read in a comic in a ridiculously long time, maybe only The Boys #1 has started with as break-neck a pace as this book. And the book doesn't really slow down from there. It keeps introducing new concepts and new characters and posing new questions as you go along. It's, in many ways, indicative of the kind of comics we've been seeing from many publishers outside of The Big Two in the last year or two. Books like The Boys, Irredeemable, Incorruptible, Umbrella Academy, Chew, Fear Agent, Scarlet, Criminal, Incognito, Sixth Gun, American Vampire, Sweet Tooth ... and you know ... more.

This is a book that belongs alongside those I've just mentioned. This book is going to leave any reader with even the slightest bit of taste with their jaws on the floor, and I am not afraid to assure that. It's, without question or hesitation, going to be the Satisfaction Guaranteed Book of the Week at the South County Fantasy Shop this week. Between the complexity of the characters, the pleasantly mind boggling story, the exciting art, and the incredibly composed (and totally excellent) cover I think that it has every chance to be the best new book of the month (and is easily in the running for best new series of the year, in my humble opinion). 

And much in the recent spirit of the comics industry there has been a recent announcement by DC Comics that Spencer will be penning their long awaited T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents series (to be drawn by the incredibly talented CAFU) as well as a Jimmy Olsen Co-Feature (drawn by R.B. Silva who recently pencilled the totally excellent Secret Six #23 [a brilliant take on The Most Dangerous Game]) to appear in Action Comics starting with September's #893. Spencer could be the kind of creator for DC that Hickman has been for Marvel, and this is your chance to catch the book that everyone is going to be clamoring for in a few weeks. Get there first.

DC's Elseworlds Returns with Last Family

When DC ceased publishing new Elseworlds stories in 2004 it seemed like a real crying shame. They had crafted some of the most interesting stories that comics had published in the 16 or so years that they had been releasing these hypothetical stories of major DC characters. What would happen if the Wayne Family had found baby Kal-El instead of the Kents? Superman: Speeding Bullets by J.M. DeMatteis and Eduardo Barretto answered that question. What if the Justice Society of America had been mere men of adventure who fought for the side of good during WWII? Tony Harris & Dan Jolley's JSA: The Liberty Files explored that very scenario. And perhaps one of the greatest comics of the last 20+ years, Kingdom Come bore the Elseworlds logo. But it was understandable when DC decided that they wanted to focus on telling the best stories they could in their established universe. Their decision to do so would birth a new wave of incredible stories all based in the DCU and kept the readers focus on what was going on with the major players in their own books and in their shared world instead of fracturing their attention off onto alternate realities.

2004 was not just the beginning of the hiatus for the Elseworlds imprint. It was also the beginning of such landmark mini-series as Identity Crisis & Green Lantern: Rebirth. The following year was a banner year for DC with the release of Countdown to Infinite Crisis they fired the second shot of what would be their coming salvo of incredible stories to come over the next 6 years and there is certainly no end in sight for the incredible stories that are ready to roll out from DC. But I guess the folks in charge over at DC have decided that it's time to open the gates to fun and interesting hypothetical stories, because tomorrow Elseworlds returns.

Carey Bates & Renato Arelm's Superman: The Last Family of Krypton is an absolute joy to read. There is something subtly perfect about a book like this during the summer. The hypothetical they approach is "What if Jor-El had managed to save himself and his wife from the tragic destruction of Krypton as well as their son Kal?". What follows is an interesting story of the kinds of decisions that all immigrants must make. "How do we raise our son? He will never truly know what it means to be a Kryptonian, he will never see the planet of his birth. He will know far more of his new home Earth. Do we allow him to partake of their customs? Do we impose upon him our lifestyles?" and add to that the concerns of parents who will be seen as heroes, saviors, and perhaps in some ways even gods: "How will we ever have time to properly raise our son with so much responsibility implicit in our powers not to mention our knowledge of advanced technology?". The book was just the kind of thing that I was looking to read.

And it certainly doesn't hurt that Carey Bates has been working in the comics and superhero genre since 1963 and has an incredible pedigree of work under his belt. He returned from a 15 year absence from the industry in 2008 with True Believers for Marvel and now is breathing new life into one of the most widely loved imprints of comics history. Bates has a bit of age to his writing style but it makes it feel distinguished rather than dated (think more Denny O'Neill than Chris Claremont),

Renato Arlem is a 15 year veteran of the industry having worked most recently on the Blackest Night resurrected title "Weird Western Tales #71". His art has a sense of realism to it and really works for this story. The colors by Allen Passalaqua are most reminiscent of recent colors utilized by Howard Chaykin, which has been controversial in many circles but is, in my opinion, used spectacularly here. 

All in all the book has a few twists that you might not expect and introduces an interesting look at what kind of thought process it must take to be a superhuman in an almost entirely human world. It looks at the kind of responsibility that must be taken and the kind of gratitude that must be shown by individuals in order to not appear to be taking advantage or seem villainous. The book, as I said before, is just darn fun to read. And here's hoping that it's only the start of a resurgence of the Elseworlds imprint.

Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour Draws to a Close

It all started with a vaguely remembered rant from Warren Ellis shortly after I started managing the Fantasy Shop in Fairview Heights in Illinois. The year was 2007 and I had been managing the store for a while and wanted to start getting books in that I had always heard good things about but had never seen in the store that I had worked at previously. I was looking through the Diamond Star System Catalog and trying to remember books that I had heard good buzz about when I remembered an issuance of Warren Ellis' Bad Signal that had mentioned a book called Scott Pilgrim and how if I hadn't been reading it that I was somehow doing myself a disservice as both a comics fan and a human being. And so I ordered the book. And that's when everything changed.

Bryan Lee O'Malley's epic tribute to video games, relationships, music, heartbreak, falling in love, and being in your 20's blew the doors wide open on what could be done with narratives and comics on the whole as far as I was concerned. I quickly devoured the currently available 3 volumes and started recommending it to everyone with a pulse. I even went so far as to extend an offer to buy-1-get-1-free on volumes 1 & 2 to get people to check out what I thought might be the kind of comic that would make even the most staunch super-hero fan understand the charm and wonder of independent comics. And in many ways I was more than successful. Readers and customers who took a chance on the books returned desperate for more and I couldn't have been more pleased.

And then volume 4 was solicited and my heart started racing. I had to have more. I've never been a "Wait for the trade" kind of guy. I love the anticipation and the time to evaluate what has happened in each issue of a story to develop my own theories and think about the narrative arc. But for the first time I'd ever experienced I needed, NEEDED, the next part of a story. I had to have Volume 4 and was willing to do bodily harm if necessary. Instead I focused that energy into getting more people excited about the book and started pointing more and more readers toward the book. Giving a satisfaction guarantee on the books was becoming more and more regular and nary a one took me up on the chance to return the book. They brought the first volume home and returned anytime between a day to a week later needing to read the rest of the series. And eventually we were all waiting for volume 4.

I remember distinctly the day it came out, I had gone to take the deposit to the bank and to get Thai food from Tong Phoon (if you live in the Fairview Heights, IL area and have never eaten at Tong Phoon do yourself a favor and go order the Pad See Eew, you'll wonder why you've been avoiding delicious food for so long) and was coming back to the store and sat down to eat my lunch. I looked at my clerk Brian and said: "The store is yours while I eat my lunch and read Scott Pilgrim, don't bother me for a little while."

I sat and shoveled delicious noodles into my gaping maw and plowed through the pages of a comic that made me laugh out loud, think about life, and even perhaps tear up a little at times. And then it was over. And I needed Volume 5.

Volume 5 wouldn't come until 15 months later. But it was ever so worth the wait. To say that it lived up to my expectation would be a misnomer, it exceeded it by leaps and bounds. Another thing that a lot of readers complain about (and at times rightfully so) is late books. Having to wait longer than a month for the next issue of a comic can be frustrating. But when the book is as good as Scott Pilgrim (which few books are) you're happy to wait.

Once again I took the opportunity between volumes to get more people to check out the book and they were just as taken with the series as I was. By the time that the fourth volume had hit the shelves the book had started to become known as "The Harry Potter Books of the Comics World", fans would show up at midnight to get the book from their favorite comic stores in order to read it as fast as was humanly possible. Then rumors of a possible movie started to make the rounds. 

Having Edgar Wright, the mind behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (not to mention the utterly brilliant Spaced), behind the feature was an instant point of interest and the buzz behind the film began to grow exponentially. Wright featured frequent clips from on set on his website as well as a production journal that kept fans interest piqued. The casting seemed, to me at least, spot on at every choice and the wait to see a trailer of some sorts became almost interminable. By the time that the first clips of the film began trickling out as teasers, trailers, and finally the nearly flawless international trailer the excitement had reached a frenzy that could barely be contained. The release date for the final volume was announced and it left plenty of time to acquire the volume (though most would be waiting at the door the day of release) and read the conclusion to the series as well as give the whole series a re-reading or two before the film was upon us all. Michael Cera's Pilgrim looked spot on, Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Flowers a thing of alt-indie dreams, the Seven Evil Exes note perfect, and perhaps the most overlooked yet important Kieran Culkin's portrayal of Wallace Wells looked ready to steal scenes and become a kind of a step beyond mere token gay character. The world was ready for the brilliance of Mr. O'Malley.

And I have a secret ...

... I got to read the book early.

Scott Pilgrim Volume 6 Finest Hour is a tour de force. It's full of just as many brilliant, laugh out loud panels as any of the previous volumes and it shows the growth of the characters in such a deft and powerful way that I couldn't detach the ear to ear smile that grew on my face from the time I opened the first page. Opening a Scott Pilgrim book for me has become like watching the scroll before the Star Wars movies. There is a goose bumpy kind of quality to it. The final volume sated everything that I could have possibly hungered for when it comes to a comic of the sort quality (by which I mean totally awesome). From watching the effect that coffee has on Scott (eyes wide with the thrill of stimulants, hair jutting up like a Super Sayan), to the brilliantly contextual way that Scott remembers the way he's treated all of his previous girlfriends (Scott vs. NegaScott will go down as one of my favorite moments of the series), to Scott being forced to fight Gideon while wearing a promotional shirt for Gideon's new club ... to perhaps one of the best moments of the volume, the return of Gideon the Cat and the look on it's face when Scott holds it as he sleeps (could not stop laughing). The conclusion of volume 5 had left a lot of readers more than a little antsy about how the series would conclude and without spoiling it I will say that I was more than satisfied with the conclusion to this window into Scott's life that we were granted. I loved watching the questions get answered, I loved watching Scott do the things that heartbroken 20-somethings do. I loved the book. I loved that it concluded and that there won't be "The Continuing Adventures of Scott Pilgrim".

The last decade or so have included some incredibly satisfying conclusions to stories that I have loved, books like Y: The Last Man, Planetary, Bone, Strangers in Paradise, The Essex County Trilogy, Ennis' Punisher, Bendis' Daredevil, Brubaker's Daredevil, Alias, Rising Stars, Transmetropolitan, Losers, Preacher, Sleeper ... books like these are the kinds of books that come to mind when I think of Scott Pilgrim. I hope that Mr. O'Malley would find these kinds of comparisons favorable if not complimentary.

Scott Pilgrim is the kind of story that, if you have a beating heart inside your chest, will make you love comics, or even make you love comics again. I'll be the first to admit that over the last few months that it has taken me longer and longer to get through my weekly stacks of comics. I've felt a little over-saturated. But in the last few weeks there have been books that have rekindled my love for comics from it's waning bonfire to it's former towering inferno. And Scott Pilgrim's graceful yet frenetic and gloriously appropriate ending is certainly one of them.

And I love him even more because his name is Scott.

An Injection of Youth into Marvel Comics

For a long, long, long time in the world of comics there have been team books. In 1941 Marvel even had a book that teamed together all of the side-kicks of the Golden Age and had them fight Nazis just like their adult counterparts. And as far back as the launch of X-Men there have been books about young super-powered individuals being brought together to assure that they would become the heroes of tomorrow. New Mutants, Legion of Superheroes, Teen Titans, Young Justice, Infinity Inc., Generation X, Gen13, Young X-Men, Young Avengers, Avengers Initiative ... the list goes on and on. But this week Marvel has two different books coming out that high-light the exploits of young heroes who have had a rough go of it and who are in need of being pointed in the right direction. 

First up is Young Allies from one of the best writers that comics has to offer when it comes to detailing the adventures of young characters super-powered or non: Sean McKeever and his recent partner in crime (they worked together on Nomad: Girl Without a World as well as the Nomad back up feature in Captain America) David Baldeόn. The two have clearly got a good sense for how the other likes to tell stories as they communicate the story they are presenting. The pages seem to have a natural flow to both the dialog and the visuals. The story they are telling is the formation of the team of Young Allies which happens to have also been the title of the team book that I mentioned before that began in 1941. The team, so far, seems to consist of a rag-tag group of characters that have had a certain level of popularity at times but have all (or mostly all) fallen by the wayside. Among them is Nomad (she used to be known as Bucky [the one created by Rob Liefeld during the Heroes Reborn days ... I know ... I thought it was going to be a terrible idea to use her as well ... but McKeever has proven that she can be an engaging and interesting character and so I trust him on this front]), Araña (a character that I was not sure warranted a return ... but again I trust McKeever), Gravity (a character that McKeever created with Mike Norton back when he first started working for Marvel back in 2005 and a character that I don't think was ever really given a fair day in court because he is a cool character), Firestar (yes, the one from Spider-Man's Amazing Friends), and a new character that McKeever has created for this series named: Toro (which is also the name of the sidekick of the original Human Torch from the 1940's, who appeared in the first Young Allies book). 

The book is charming and instantly has the feel of "THE GATHERING OF THE HEROES" but still manages to do so without feeling overly cliché. The dialog is appropriately aged and has a genuine feel. The villains in the book are "The Bastards of Evil", which at first sounded like the most spectacularly lame name in the history of comics, until they reveal that each of the characters are the bastard children of super-villains and then it carries a certain emotional weight even if the characters are mostly, if not entirely, unlikable considering their motivations, which I will not spoil here, by which I mean they are the kinds of characters that you love to hate, they are the kinds of characters that I hope become longtime foils of the Young Allies. There is an interesting dynamic between them as they fight in the streets of Manhattan. 

I highly recommend the book even if you haven't read Nomad: Girl Without a World, or any of the other books that introduced these characters. It's a solid read from beginning to end. McKeever's already got the kind of experience that is required to keep a book like this fresh and interesting (his run on Teen Titans was really great and is terribly under-read) and Baldeόn's artwork is consistently getting better and I think that he has the chance of becoming one of the artists about which the title of "Most Underrated" might start getting thrown around. 

The other book that Marvel is releasing this week is Avengers Academy which comes to us from writer Christos Gage and artist Mike McKone. Gage, fresh off his run on Avengers Initiative (the spiritual predecessor to this book) brings a head of steam and the right kind of momentum to this book. McKone is one of my all time favorite comic artists and has worked on some of my favorite team books in recent memory (his runs on Exiles, Fantastic Four, and Teen Titans were all incredible not to mention that he was the artist on the first book I ever special ordered "Vext" from DC Comics). These are two high caliber creators teaming together on one of the highest profile launches of a teenaged Avengers launch since Allan Heinberg's Young Avengers. 

The book lives up to the hype that has been built up around it as well. This is also one of those books where becoming a team isn't going to be second nature for any of these characters, it's got a "learning on the job" kind of feel as well. There is something about this book that makes me really excited about it's prospects. All of the characters are potential powerhouses in their own ways and it's clear that both the other characters and the creators understand this possibility and will be exploring this concept as we watch these characters learn about what it is to be a hero, because as has been proven many, many times before it takes more than super-powers to be a super hero.

The characters are all interesting and what I think is most interesting is the cast of characters who are going to be the "Teachers" of these young characters. Among them are Hank Pym, Justice, Speedball, Tigra, and Quicksilver. These are all characters with a history who have had problems in the past and have a dynamic concept to the process of teaching these rather powerful characters. The young characters again have a feeling of being genuine young characters, they don't seem like young figures delivering the dialog of adult characters like so often happens in books like this. Gage has more than proven his talent for writing the dynamic of teams and has a clear grasp on how to properly pen the characters he has created for the series. 

There is a whole lot going for both of these books and I think that it shows a positive indication for the Heroic Age when it comes to new team books as both these as well as Avengers and Secret Avengers have all been strong stories upon debut and leave nothing to indicate that they won't continue to be strong books. So perhaps the time has finally come where Marvel's team books are going to be performing on the same kind of level as many of their solo character books had been over the last few years. 

Get excited people!