Paper Girls Is My New Favorite Comic!

Ever since I picked up my first issue of Runaways, I’ve been a fan of Brian K. Vaughan‘s work. I didn’t know at the time that he’d already worked on some Batman comics that I’d enjoyed, but I appreciated the unique way that he handled teenage characters while also mixing in high stakes adventures and the drama that comes along with mixing those other elements.

He brings all of that to the table with Paper Girls, but enhanced by almost 15 more years of writing experience and the incredible art of Cliff Chiang. The duo came together to craft a 30 issue series that kicked off in 2015 and ended earlier this year resulting in not just my new favorite BKV comic, but one of my favorite comic runs around!

Continue reading Paper Girls Is My New Favorite Comic!

My New Favorite Things: Paper Girls, Greydon Clark & Box 13

favorite-things-paper-girls-hi-rider-box-13I’ve had a lot of good luck when it comes to entertainment choices lately and wanted to talk about them all in one place! First, let’s talk about comics. In addition to reading a ton of Guardians of the Galaxy and monster comics for Marvel.com I’ve also been going back through the 90s Aquaman series (which will get a post of its own soon) and also the first two volumes of Paper Girls from Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang and Image Comics. Continue reading My New Favorite Things: Paper Girls, Greydon Clark & Box 13

Trade Post: The Private Eye

the private eye collectionBrian K. Vaughan’s one of those comic writers who might not hit a grand slam every time, but he sure seems to swing for the fences. Saga, Runaways and Y: The Last Man are amazing pieces of long-form comic book storytelling. I’m not the biggest fan of how Ex Machina came to a close and Pride of Baghdad isn’t my thing, but the way this guy attacks his ideas and collaborates with his artists just blows me away every time even if the story isn’t fully up my alley.

So, of course I was interested in checking out The Private Eye, a pay-what-you-want, digital-first series he created with Doctor Strange: The Oath artist Marcos Martin for Panel Syndicate, the company they also started. I actually ready the first issue or two a few y ears back when I had the pleasure of interviewing BKV for CBR, but fell off a bit. When the collection, printed by Image, appeared on the library website, it was an easy request. Continue reading Trade Post: The Private Eye

Buffy Season 8 Trade Post: Volumes 1 Through 8 & Fray

buffy season 8 volume 1 the long way home

It’s vampire week here on UnitedMonkee! Let’s kick things off with one of their all-time biggest enemies, Buffy The Vampire Slayer! Like most of the internet, I loved the series (yes, even the first season). Even so, when Dark Horse first announced they were continuing the show’s adventures with Season 8, I was a bit skeptical, even though series creator Joss Whedon was acting as executive producer of the whole thing. See, back in the day, I bought a ton of Buffy comics from Dark Horse until I realized that they were just kind of filling in holes and playing with the mostly un-chronicled summers. Later on I picked up the Buffy Omnibus volumes and read in the intro that that was part of the whole deal because they didn’t want the comics to step on the toes of the show. As a reader, though, I got a bit bored reading about Season Three characters when Season Four was in full swing, but that’s old water under an old, far more crankier bridge.

The timing thing was obviously no longer an issue with the show being off the air. And, adding to the “good” column, Whedon would have an unlimited budget to work with and some of the best names in comics, TV and film like Brian K. Vaughan, Brad Meltzer, Georges Jeanty, Drew Goddard, Jane Espenson and Karl Moline.

Really, there was no chance I wasn’t going to start reading this book because I was working at Wizard at the time and free comics were everywhere. Like my fellow Buffy fans in the office, we got to reading and really enjoyed it. I might have been a little taken aback by the whole idea of this army of Slayers working around the world S.H.I.E.L.D.-style, but once I got used to it, I was all in. Continue reading Buffy Season 8 Trade Post: Volumes 1 Through 8 & Fray

Trade Post: Runaways Volume 1

runaways-vol-1-hc Runaways Volume 1 (Marvel)
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by Adrian Alphona with Takeshi Miyazawa
Collects Runaways Volume 1 #1-18

I can’t say for sure, but I believe Runaways was the last comic I decided to check out after reading about it in Wizard. I went on to intern and work there and discovered all kinds of amazing new and old comics thanks to suggestions and coverage, but this would have still been in college before I had any real connection to the mag aside from a subscription. But even then, I didn’t actually start reading until the second volume. At some point I read through those little digests to get caught up, but when it came to actually adding this comic to my trade collection, I wanted to go with the larger scale hardcovers. Eventually, I got my hands on all three of Brian K. Vaughan’s run and have them proudly displayed, but it’s probably been six or seven years since I read this original run.

If you’re not familiar with one of the most beloved Marvel Comics of the past decade, Runaways revolves around a group of kids who find out their parents are supervillains working for giant old gods. They decide to rebel, go on the run and figure out what to do with the new information about their folks they’ve learned. Along the way they also discover they have their own abilities or accessories to help them along the way.

Like a lot of BKV comics (Saga, Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina), this one features well drawn characters with solid personalities and quick wits going through relatable experiences painted on top of a superhero canvas. Each of the lead kids has realistic moments of heroism, cowardice, failure, success, courage, doubt and everything else you feel on a daily basis which means just about everyone can find something to relate to in every issue if not page. They’re just feel them in regards to their parents who may or may not want to kill them. That’s really the key to BKV’s continued success in comics: he keeps his stories fairly simple, zeroes in on character, throws a few twists and turns along the way and just makes great, solid stories that have a low barrier of entry. And most of all? He makes it look easy.

I think Adrian Alphona’s art reflects that seeming simplicity. He’s drawing real-looking kids in some fantastic moments but never loses sight of their human-ness. I will say that some of the earlier issues in this collection seem pretty slight and I think that’s a result of some thin line-work. There’s also some pretty big inconsistencies with the characters from panel to panel and page to page, but you really get a sense of the artist’s growth as these issues progress and then experience an almost quantum leap in quality going into the next volume. Like I said when reviewing The Dummy Line, it can be fun seeing an artist of any kind progress when you’re not looking for “perfection” all the time.

Much like my experience going back and re-reading Y: The Last Man, I found it interesting comparing not only my memories of this book to the actual material, but also the things I’ve heard and read about it since then. BKV gets a lot of well deserved praised in the comics community, but that can distort your perspective a bit when you finally sit down to absorb (or in this case reabsorb) the material. I really enjoyed this reading experience, but I will say that it felt a little too drawn out at times. That might be because I knew the ending and was waiting for it or that I thought one of the the things that happens at the end actually happened much sooner. Whatever the case may be, I still had a great time experiencing this first run of Runaways and feel like I have a more realistic relationship with the work now, which is always a good thing.

Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 4 & 5 Trade Post

Y The Last Man Deluxe Volume 4 Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 4 (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by Goran Sudzuka with Pia Guerra
Collects Y: The Last Man #37-48

Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 5 (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by Pia Guerra & Goran Sudzuka
Collects Y: The Last Man #49-60

I felt particularly motivated over the weekend and decided to bang out the last two volumes of the Y: The Last Man Deluxe editions and am finally ready to talk about it. I read the first, second and third volumes relatively quickly, but these two went by the quickest for sure. As I said in those other posts, the further I got into the story, the less I remembered which was nice because there were still some surprises even though I’ve read this complete story all the way through already.

The fourth book really breaks the world open in more ways than one. In addition to going international, word also gets out through a less-than-reliable source that there is actually a living male still on the planet. The proof? A naked photo on the front page. Meanwhile, the gang gets a new member thanks to Rose who we know is spying on the group, but also hope she can flip and maybe find redemption. This volume also sees a lot of older characters returning to the forefront including Alter who winds up killing another main character and Hero who finds Beth Number 2 (the woman Yorick had sex with) who just so happens to be pregnant! This leads to some drama with the Catholic Church and the reveal that her baby is a girl which of course changes a lot and continues the big mystery of whether a male can actually be born into this world in a natural way. Heck, there’s even a pair of origin issues, one that focuses on Agent 355 and another on Ampersand, even Alter and Dr. Mann get in on the action. The big push at the end of the story, though, was Toyota returning and making off with Dr. Mann’s mom which will take them to Japan in the fifth volume.

Y The Last Man Deluxe Volume 5And, of course, the fifth volume wraps up the entire epic story. This is SPOILER TERRITORY if you haven’t read the book so stay away for the next three paragraphs. Even though it seemed like the silliest plot point in the book, Yorick finally reunites with the one, true Beth only to discover the most obvious thing in the world: Beth was about to break up with him over the phone when every man on the planet but him died. This does not end well for them.

But that’s not the only story to come to a head. Elder finally catches up to Yorick for real and we discover that she, much like Yorick, really wanted to die. She was a warrior who wanted to be killed in battle by someone worthy and since Yorick was the only man around he was the most worthy in her warped mind. I liked how this ended with Yorick not shooting her but turning her over to her people. This all comes after the SUPER DUPER SPOILER quick bang murder of Agent 355 after she and Yorick realize they love each other. I know this death might have bummed a lot of people out or seemed cheap, but isn’t this really the only way a character like her can go down? She’s like Batman, she has to be taken completely by surprise otherwise, she’ll figure out a way to take you down.

And then you have the final issue. Man, I’ve got to say, Y: The Last Man #60 might be one of the most elegant final issues of a comic book series I’ve ever read. Instead of doing your basic info dump explaining how everyone ended up, we jump 60 years into the future and are more casually told the information as Beth Jr., now President of France or something, explains some of the details to one of Yorick’s many clones. When that part’s done, new Yorick gets to meet young Yorick and we learn even more by way of flashbacks. What I love most about this ending is that it’s not what you’d expect. Yorick didn’t stick around with Beth 1, instead he went over to Beth 2 and Beth Jr. and became an actual dad while his DNA went on to help respawn the human race. There’s also a really nice balance to the issue where you hear something that bums you out and then something that raises your spirits a little. I had to hold back tears when I finally got my hands on this issue while working at Wizard because of that one scene with Ampersand. Man, that was sad.

Or at least it was the first time around. I was surprised to discover that I had very little emotional connections to the deaths this time around. I remembered most of them, but when I hit them in the reading, I didn’t feel sad at all. I’m not sure if I was just less emotionally invested on this reading, if those moments were simply less surprising or if they felt more necessary as far as the story goes. When I was in college I read Thomas Mann’s Death In Venice and while we were talking about the story in class, the professor — Dr. Biehl one of the best around — talked about the inevitability of the main character’s death and not just because it was in the title. I think there was something of that going on in this book. It’s not just that Vaughan wanted to give some characters sad endings while others got happy ones, but also that some of the deaths had to happen in a literary sense. Sometimes, if you’re a character and you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do, it’s time to go. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe in that idea in the real world, but it makes sense in fiction.

After finishing the book, I still think it’s a great piece of comic literature. Yorick has a real arc that turns him into the kind of character you wouldn’t mind hanging out with as do the other characters. They’re all very satisfying. I still think the characters got a little too fact-spouty in the second and third volumes and — this is going to make me sound like an old man — but I think there could have been less profanity, especially the near constant use of “bitch” and it’s various synonyms through the story. I don’t have a problem with profanity, but it kind of became white noise thanks to the over-use.

So, no, it’s not a perfect book, but what is? It’s still one of the better books around and benefits from being a well told, complete and satisfying story that you can give to someone all at once for whatever speed the consume their entertainment at. The fact that I read all five of these books — all 60 issues — in just about a month. And that’s with taking breaks to clear my palet with some less intense superhero stuff.

Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 3 Trade Post

Y The Last Man Deluxe Volume 3Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 3 (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by Pia Guerra with Paul Chadwick & Goran Sudzuka
Collects Y: The Last Man #24-36

Re-reading Y: The Last Man has been an interesting experience (peep my reviews of the first and second volumes of the deluxe hardcovers for more background information and my thoughts on those books). One of the most interesting aspects of this read-through is that I’m starting to see some of the book’s problems. Y is one of those books that is so revered that you forget that it has its flaws, some of which I also saw in Ex Machina. One of the biggest things I’ve noticed this time around is that way too many of the characters in this book spout off trivial bits of information in an effort to make the events of the issue contextual or more emotional. About halfway through this book, that became really evident to me. Writer Brian K. Vaughan even pokes fun at it a few times with characters interrupting each other saying things like, “We don’t have time for that.” Unlike star Yorick’s annoying immaturity in the first volume, though, which is more an aspect of his character than a misfire by the author, this particular bit seems like a problem on the creative end.

Even though that got on my nerves while reading through this large volume, I still enjoyed this portion of the story, much of which I had forgotten after my first reading binge leading up to the book’s final issue. In the continued adventures of Yorick, Dr. Mann and Agent 355, we definitely hit some milestones and then kind of blow past them which is fun. This one volume includes Yorick finally giving into his primal urges, the beginning of Hero’s redemption, the reveal that Yorick’s girlfriend Beth is definitely alive, the crew getting to San Francisco, 355 facing off against some Culper Ring fanatics, Yorick almost dying, the explanation of why Yorick and Ampersand survived, a ninja, Ampersand getting monkeynapped, a transatlantic journey with lady pirates, an unexpected hook-up, a submarine, drugs and a few dream-based sci-fi and superhero vignettes that were a lot of fun.

It’s a lot and I liked the flow of the book. I like how, roughly at the halfway point, Vaughan decided to really open the story up and move around in this new world. It would have been easy to just stay in the U.S. and keep examining all of the crazy tiny groups that have popped up. I also like how casually the story transitioned to San Fran where Dr. Mann’s back-up samples were. One issues opens and, boom, they’re there and the city is actually pretty nice with the lights on and even pro basketball games in a stadium. It’s a pretty nice little set-up and you think, “Hey, good for them, they can finally relax,” and then BLAMMO Ampersand gets kidnapped by a ninja and the adventure continues. This also rekindles Yorick’s original goal which is to find his girlfriend Beth who just so happens to be going through a ton of crazy stuff on her own in Australia. There’s even a moment in the book where Yorick says he’s given up on that idea, but now that he’s sailing the seven seas, he’s back on that idea and it doesn’t seem as crazy as it did in the first book.

As an interesting aside, my wife and I just finished listening to the audiobook version of Brad Meltzer’s The Inner Circle which also features the Culper Ring. It’s interesting how these two writers used a historical idea and both went different ways with it. We don’t actually know much about the Ring in the world of Y, but we do know that they go by numbers — hence “Agent 355” — and seem to work in secret around the President and possibly above him or her. Meanwhile, Meltzer took the idea and continued it on, though instead of necessarily protecting the President, they protect the Presidency though sometimes a prez will create his own ring for various reasons. I can’t remember if there’s more about the Ring explained in Y, but I’m curious to see what else Vaughan does with it in the remaining two books.

Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 2 Trade Post

Y The Last Man Deluxe Volume 2 Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 2 (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by Pia Guerra with Paul Chadwick & Goran Parlov
Collects Y: The Last Man #11-23

My original intent when diving back into the wild world of Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man was to focus on all five deluxe collections without jumping around. But, after reading the first volume, and reliving both the intensity of the series and some of Yorick Brown’s more annoying character ticks, I needed to take a break. So, I burned through a few trades that I’ll get around to reviewing soon enough, both to cleanse my palet a bit and also to get some of the books out of my “to read” long box (I’ve set up a lot of Sequential Swaps lately and had a good deal of books coming in).

Even after feeling pretty accomplished knocking a few books off the list, I was drawn right back to Y. This volume was split about 50/50 between stuff I remembered from my first reading of the book and stuff I didn’t remember at all. I remembered all the astronaut stuff pretty much down to the letter, though there were some surprises in who dies and who doesn’t. I also mostly remembered the mostly Yorick-less theater storyline which was a nice little treat. But then you’ve got the stuff with Agent 711 as well as the Sons of Arizona stuff which had completely slipped my mind. Even remembering some of the details, though, it’s all in how BKV tells the story that makes this such a great book to read.

My main complaint about the first volume was that Yorick can be an incredibly annoying character. He’s basically a smartass kid who’s done nothing with his life that loves making cultural references to make himself feel more worldly. When I was younger, I could relate to that a lot more, but now I just want this wiseacre to clam up. Just to clarify, that’s not a complaint about the writing. I think all of that is very purposeful on BKV’s part. Yorick’s whole journey about this series is to become a better, well-rounded human being (plus that whole saving the world thing). The beauty of this volume is that BKV shifts the focus from Yorick a bit before subjecting him to 711’s unique brand of therapy (man, what an intense string of issues!) which then leads into a story that starts showing how Yorick has changed. I’m not sure how these issues are broken up in the normal trades, but I thought it was a really interesting structure for this collection.

While reading through this volume I realized another element that makes this book so accessible to new readers and non-comic book fans and that is that the art is both realistic and cartoony. By realistic I mean that it’s not ultra-stylized and by cartoonish I mean that you could see this kind of art in something like a newspaper comic strip or a greeting card (I’m having trouble thinking of other places where non-comic fans see static art). This idea came to me while looking at a page and thinking something along the lines of, “This isn’t too far off from the kind of art you’d see in an Archie comic.” It’s an interesting thought because on one hand it almost lulls you into lowered expectations of what you’re going to see in the book and then you get some pretty insane stuff shown in that same style which makes it a bit more shocking and a bit more surprising.

Once again, I found myself needing a bit of a break after reading through these 13 issues so I’m probably going to throw up another Trade Post for Friday, but I’m already back into the series with about half of the third volume read just last night. There’s a lot going on and I think I’m about done with all the parts I actually remember from the series so this should be interesting.

Ex Machina Trade Post Volumes 1-10

I’ve had a very on again, off again relationship with Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris’ political superhero adventure Ex Machina. Back when the first issue came out in 2004, I picked it up on a whim and the last page reveal that main character Mitchell Hundred’s superhero alter ego The Great Machine saved the second World Trade Center tower didn’t shock or intrigue me as much as it did lots of other people. I wasn’t hooked, so I didn’t bother getting the next issue. I think I got back into the book a few years later while at Wizard when I had access to the trades and recent issues, but I soon fell off the wagon when lateness became a huge issue. Over the years I’ve collected the trades and for my birthday this year, I got the last one I needed from my folks, so I figured it was time to read the entire series from beginning to end.

If you’re unfamiliar with the book, Ex Machina stars Hundred a man who was granted the ability to talk to machines thanks to a strange device that exploded all over him. For a while, he used those abilities as a vigilante called The Great Machine, but that was short lived. He decided to unmask and run for mayor of New York City as an independent, something he had no chance of winning until September 11th happened and he saved the second tower. The majority of the series revolves around Hundred as mayor and the various political hurdles he finds himself jumping which cover the gamut of hot button issues from gay marriage and religion to the enforcement of old laws and the legalization of marijuana, but with plenty of flashbacks to his time as the Great Machine. The series jumps around in time quite a bit and has a set up that feels similar to that of Lost–which I’m sure is one of the reasons he was tapped to work on the show for a brief time. I wonder if anyone online has figured out how to tell this story completely chronologically.

SPOILERS AHOY I had a pretty great time reading the series from beginning to just before the end, which frankly I’m still not sure about. I get the feeling from reading this all together and having read some of Vaughan’s other comics like the glorious Y: The Last Man and Doctor Strange: The Oath that he just ran out of steam and possibly interest when it came to Ex Machina and, as a result, just rushed the ending. After building this huge story interweaving superheroics and politics all of which had this looming mystery about where Hundred’s powers came from and why other people seemed to get different variations on his abilities for 9 volumes, the 10th just seems rushed and anti-climactic. I have no problem with the idea that a dimension hopping group created the machine that gave Hundred his powers or the idea that Hundred defied his program and wound up saving his world, but the finale had a “is that it?” quality to it. Making matters worse, it felt like Vaughan was hinting at a much bigger, crazier story that Hundred was preparing himself for as he became Vice President, as if he needed to be in a seat of power in order to save the world from future invasions (or to usher one in) which actually sounds like a more interesting story than the ending I was given.

It’s all the more disappointing when remembering how moving the end of Y: The Last Man was. Not everyone got a happy ending (Ampersand’s almost made me tear up), but they were all treated with respect and they all made sense. That wasn’t the case with Ex Machina. Hundred killed one friend and another professed his love for him (which was completely out of no where) and everything just ends on a shit note. Harris’ usually fantastic art even suffers in these last few issues, which makes it all the worse. The usually robust panels look flat and have a strange effect on them that looks like Tom Goes To The Mayor episodes, which is not a good thing in my book. Harris is the rare artist who started off with one style that I really dug on Starman and completely changed his style in something else I really like and yet, like his partner, he couldn’t end on the same high notes he began on.

Something I’ve come to realize over my years of talking about stories is that, for me, “disappointing” is a much worse designation than “bad.” Something that’s bad, is just bad and that’s it, but something that’s disappointing had my interest and some investment from me and didn’t deliver. It’s like a creative betrayal, but probably shouldn’t be so dramatic. In the case of Ex Machina, the book won me over even after not being too blown away by the first issue so many years ago and a shitty production schedule knocked me back off the ongoing and then completely failed when it came to the ending. The real question I ask myself after I read a trade is “Does this go on the shelf or up for Swap?” My initial feeling after finishing the last book was “dump this junk,” but I’m a little more conflicted. Is this an ending that I will never like or is it the kind of thing that, now that I know how it ends, I’ll know it’s coming and it won’t be so disappointing? It’s a tough call because I dig so much of this comic leading up to ending. It’s such a careful, well-plotted story with plenty of political and social ideas that really took center stage, a good amount of logical superhero moments and even a great mythology that seemed so deliberately paced and revealed that the hurried up ending stings even more. I think I’ll keep the books for now, but instead of the shelf, they’ll go into one of my spill-over long boxes filled with trades that can’t fit on the shelf right now to be read another day when shelf space is more plentiful.