Not a day goes by that I don’t think,”Gee, I should blog about this thing I just read, watched or saw that I really dig.” For me the reason for this blog is two-fold. First, I want to let people know about cool things that they might also enjoy. The second is as a kind of pop culture digital back-up memory. With both goals in mind, I think I’ll take to this format of quick hits every week (maybe, we’ll see).
Man, Star Wars is just in the air right now, isn’t it? I read both of these books a few weeks back when speculation was running rampant about who would be directing the next episode of Star Wars for the now Disney owned Lucasfilm and rumors were swirling that there might be spinoff/non-episodic entries in the franchise. After reading Star Wars Legacy and Tag & Bink, I was all the more convinced that the latter would be a fantastic idea because just look at how diverse these two comics are. You’ve got a straightahead, in-the-future action adventure in Legacy featuring almost no characters from the origina trilogy and a comedic Rosencrantz and Guildenstern look at the events of, first, the original films and then the prequels. In fact, I’m way more familiar with Tag and Bink, so I refer to any “comedic look behind the scenes of a piece you’re already familiar with” by their names instead of Shakespeare’s characters.
Anyway, as I mentioned, Legacy focuses on the future of the Star Wars Universe relative to the original films (as the cover bust says, 125 years after Jedi) and focuses on a descendant of Luke Skywalker called Cade. As a teen, Cade was training to be a Jedi like his father before him and his grandfather before him, but most of the group was slaughtered by Sith agents. Cut to present day and Cade’s a bounty hunter working with Jariah Syn (who hates Jedis, but doesn’t know Cade is/was one) and Deliah Blue (who loves Cade). Cade’s doing his best to avoid the Jedi thing, but it very much falls into his lap and he’s reunited with some of the survivors of his old group while also meeting the daughter of the new Emporer (who is not the main Sith bad guy, that’s Darth Krayt).
I don’t want to get too deep into the connections and triangles, but I do have to say that John Ostrander is fantastic at making comics. He not only gives great single issues stories, but also works so damn well in arcs with foreshadowing and moving the story forward that it makes you realize how bad some other writers are at it. Everything of his that I read, I wind up loving from the original Suicide Squad and GrimJack to random 90s Valaint Magnus Robot Fighter issues. I’m very interested in getting the rest of these trades and seeing where this story goes, it’s a good one, one that actually make for a great film series in and of itself. Someone get on that.
I want to talk about Jan Duursema’s artwork for a second. She’s fantastic on this book and does all kinds of work from panel to panel. The characters look lived in gritty was the first word I thought of, but there are too many negative connotations to that term in comics, they don’t look like action figures that were just taken out of the packages. At the same time, they look heroic and iconic. That might sound like a contradiction, but think of how Indiana Jones looks on screen, that’s what I’m talking about. Duuresema does do something interesting in the book though, every few pages it looks like one panel doesn’t get inked, so that panel comes off softer in comparison to the others which might be because of inker Dan Parsons or colorist Brad Anderson. I’m not exactly sure how I feel about these panels. On one hand they kind of take me out of the story because you’ve got a less polished looking panel in the middle of “finished” looking ones, but on the other I wonder if the art shift is an indicator of something important that I’m missing. Thoughts?
As I mentioned above, Tag & Bink is a comedy book featuring a pair of Rebel fights who wind up finding their way into the background of just about ever major scene in the Star Wars films. Remember the Emproer’s red-clad Royal Guards? Yup, that was them. Same with the two Stormtroopers who Obi-Wan tricked to get to the generators. How they get there and why is the real fun of the book. And yes, this book is a ton of fun, Rubio actually got the gig making these comics after making a fan film called Troops.
Like with Legacy, I don’t want to get too far into what makes this book funny because talking about humor can be super boring and, worse, unfunny. So, to fill space past saying, “Hey, if you like funny and Star Wars, do your best to dig up one of these trades,” I’m going to mention how both of these comics remind me of working at Wizard. I actually got the Tag & Bink book for free while working at Wizard and was either turned on to it by my co-workers or if they were talking about the book in the magazine before I started working there. Also, at one point, the ToyFare guys did a feature on the series and were raving about it around the office (this was before I joined the team). They even did a really cool feature in the mag that was a kind of wish list for characters from the comic. This memory came back to me when I was reading through the first volume when I kept recognizing characters even though I’d never cracked one of these comics. I want to say I even helped get artwork for that feature, so there’s even more of an old school connect.
Anyway, if you dig Star Wars and haven’t gotten too far into Dark Horse’s Star Wars comics, I’d recommend giving these two books a shot because they’re both high quality and also show the width and breadth of this franchise.
I write about a lot of trades on this site, about two a week if I’m on my game. But, I actually read a lot more than that. So, this particular list is the 12 books or runs that I enjoyed the most reading or re-reading this year. Most of them have been covered on the site, but others have not. I’ll give the latter a few more words than the former, but hope you enjoy.
I read all of Judd Winick’s run of Outsiders this year, but didn’t write about it? Why? Well, it was a pretty big reading project, something that makes it harder for me to write about as a whole. But, I still really enjoyed this reading experience. Winick brings a realness to superhero comics without letting it get too in the way (if that makes sense). I know a lot of people think he forces issues into books, but I think these are the kinds of things that should be talked about and seen. Anyway, this was a fun superhero reading experience that made me remember how fun the DCU was back when this book and Geoff Johns’ Teen Titans launched. Good times. I haven’t written about James Robinson’s Starman because I haven’t finished the last omnibus yet. I haven’t finished it because I kind of don’t want to finish it and I also need quiet time to really sit down and finish it. This series is up there with Preacher and Sandman for me in my list of all time favorites. It lives in my heart and I was elated to discover that I still like it. This is what shared universe superhero comics could and should be. I know I just read the first two volumes of Grimjack, but the experience has stayed with me. I love that world and keep thinking of great ways it could be interpreted for different genres. Right now I’m thinking about a Crackdown/Amazing Spider-Man style video game set in Cynosure where you take on jobs or just spend your day drinking in Munden’s Bar. If you dig Hellboy, B.P.R.D. or 100 Bullets, I think you’ll enjoy Grimjack. I’ve had a lot of different feelings about DC’s New 52. At first I was upset that “my” versions of the characters would only survive in my trade shelves and long boxes. Then I realized that I don’t really read new issues anymore and I still have my collection (and books I’ve never read from that era) to enjoy. I also realized that I’m almost 30 and have better things to worry about. With that behind me, I was able to dive into various trades with a mostly clear head and enjoyed them for the most part. I appreciate how DC was attempting to hit all different kinds of genres and audiences, of course, not all of those attempts were successful. The least successful tries in my opinion, though, were the books that just failed to set up a basic reason why that book existed aside from “to make money.” I still have a pile of them to read and am getting a sense of the new U, which is kind of fun. Even though I read the second arc of Ed Brubaker’s Secret Avengers first and the first second, I had a great time reading this “black ops” take on superheroes. Bru writing Captain America/Steve Rogers is always aces in my book, but throwing in a lot of other street level-esque characters was even cooler. I’ve only read these first two volumes, but was satisfied with Brubaker’s ability to create an enjoyable sci-fi/spy mash-up story that felt well contained while still making me want to read more. Return of King Doug came out of left field for me. It was gifted to me by a pal and I knew nothing about it, but Greg Erb, Jason Oremland and Wook-Jin Clark reminded me so much of the kinds of stories I love from the 80s, but while also doing all kinds of new, funny things I enjoy. Read this now. I’ve said this before, but one of the things I miss most about not working at Wizard anymore is access to all of the Hellboy and B.P.R.D. comics that came out. I’m super behind, but I did get my hands on some B.P.R.D. trades this year for a little catching up (Hell On Earth: New World and Gods And Monsters). That’s still the best damn comic series around and has been for a while. I don’t mind playing catch-up on some books. I’ve been super happy re-reading things like World War Hulk and catching up on Hulk, Incredible Hulk and Red Hulk this year. Super fun, popcorn books mixed with well thought out ongoing superhero tales filled with monsters? Yeah, I’m all over that. I read the first iZombie trade in 2011, but was delighted to get my hands on the second and third volumes in 2012. I wrote about the second one here and have a post in mind talking about the third. Anyway, this series is the rare mix of intriguing characters, wacky situations, rock solid architecture and mythology I want to study PLUS one of the greatest artists the medium has ever seen. So, so, so good. I’m pretty surprised there are two Vertigo books on here. It seemed like for a while I was reading nothing from them. Now iZombie and American Vampire are two of my faves. Then again Chris Roberson and Scott Snyder are two of the best newcomer writers around, so that’s no surprise. In this case, Snyder takes two things that have become old and boring — vampires and American history — and makes them both super interesting and intense. Can’t wait to see where the rest of this series goes.Batman: Knightfall Volume 1 was pure, nostalgic joy. All of the Batman comics that got me into Batman in one place in one fat volume? Yes, yes and yes. I have the second and third volumes waiting to be read. Maybe next month after knocking off a smattering of random trades I want to check out. I don’t remember exactly why I didn’t write about Jeff Lemire’s Lost Dogs. It’s one of the few books I’ve bought through Comixology for my Kindle Fire. The long and short of it is that this story about a simpleton trying to save his family. It’s raw and rough and hits you in the gut. I don’t know if I liked the experience of reading this story, but it was certainly powerful. I can’t remember if it made me cry or not, but it came close.
I’m certain I missed a few books that I didn’t write about, but this is a pretty solid list by all accounts. I should probably branch out into more diverse trades and graphic novels — and I plan to — but what can I say? I love me some superheroes. I also happen to love all kinds of other comics, so let’s continue to make and talk about awesome comics.
GrimJack is one of those characters that I had a vague awareness of, but never really knew anything about, aside from the fact that he had a funny hat and a big sword. It wasn’t until I was listening to one of the SmodCast podcasts (I think it was either Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave or The Secret Stash) and Walt Flanagan started talking about how much he loved the book that I thought, “Hey, I should check that out.” To Sequential Swap I went and made a trade for the first two volumes of the 80s First Comics offering as reprinted by IDW.
If you’re unfamiliar with the character, GrimJack is an old soldier who now works as a kind of gun-for-hire helping people who need it. That alone is interesting as he’s essentially a Clint Eastwood character (Clint’s voice circa Dirt Harry was GrimJack’s voice as I read), but then you’ve got the book’s imaginative setting. GirmJack lives in a place called Cynosure which is a city that exists in a pan-dimensional city that touches different dimensions at various times. Because of this, there’s a lot of dirty dealings going on, dirty dealings that GrimJack sometimes runs afoul of.
This first collection is interesting because, in addition to intros by John Ostrander — a writer whose later work on Suicide Squad I like very much — Tim Truman and editor Mike Gold, there’s also a new wraparound story that introduces the reader to many of the characters who will show up in the series including GrimJack himself and his bar, Munden’s. This is interesting because the second volume has absolutely no extras.
Anyway, this book collects the short stories that originally appeared in the back of Starslayer and while they obviously share characters, they’re mostly one-and-dones which is good because they offer the reader the chance to get to know GrimJack by way of the things he does and doesn’t do. These tales really run the gamut, from the first one about a god who has abandoned his people and taken to drinking in a Cynosurian bar to sci-fi/fantasy story co-starring Starslayer. There’s also a vampire one and one where he goes to a world populated by adorable cartoony animals.
I’m a big fan of the variety found in this collection. In addition to the character stuff I talked about, it also gave Truman the chance to draw, well, pretty much everything. It also shows how crazy GrimJack’s world can be. While reading this collection, I kept thinking about how cool a movie, TV series or even video game series would be. There’s so much meat here that could be explored and exploited. With Eastwood probably too old to play the part, who would make a good GJ?
Soon enough, GrimJack proved popular enough to warrant his own series from First Comics, which wound up going for 81 issues. While still crossing all kinds of genre ground, these issues definitely carried over into one another a lot more. I’ve got no problem with this because, unlike a lot of stories these days, there’s no decompression at all as you’re constantly propelled forward either in the story itself or from one to the other. You also get to learn a lot more about GrimJack, his world and his past. He’s one of those characters like John Constantine where he’s got this big huge past filled with battles, friends and foes. The nice thing about reading from the beginning, though, is that you know what’s actually been on the page before and what’s new, unlike when I’ve read random Hellblazer trades.
After reading these two trades, I definitely see what Walt saw in these books and agree that it’s worth a read. I do have a bit of a problem, though. As I said above, the series wound up going for 81 issues, but there are only 8 volumes in this series from IDW which get up to #54. For whatever reason, they stopped making these books and switched over to the smaller omnibus format collections. It’s kind of annoying to not finish out one format and switch to the other, but I could adapt. The real problem is that those books seem to have stalled out too with the second omnibus hitting in 2011 and nothing else. I’m sure GrimJack collections aren’t exactly burning up the charts, but I do wish that companies would finish reprint projects like this once they start. I don’t know how it all breaks down, but it seems kind of crummy to promise a full run of a series and not follow through on it.
In a somewhat shocking revelation, I actually liked all three of the random comics I grabbed out of The Box for this week’s post. It helped that two of them were comics I purchased at a convention in the last few years, but hadn’t gotten around to reading, but it’s still nice to know that randomness can be a good thing.
First up, I checked out 1993’s Detective Comics #662 written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Graham Nolan. This issues happens to be the eight installment in the Knightfall storyline that would eventually see Batman with his back shattered. I’ve said before on this blog that Superman’s death is what got me hooked on comics, but once I was in, the breaking of Batman helped keep me there and broadened my reading habits. I don’t exactly remember where I came in on this story, but it was after this issue because I didn’t already have it. It got me thinking of how shocking the end of this story must have been to people reading the event as it happened. Sure, Batman had been in some tough spots before, but he always made it out okay, that would happen again this time, right?
Nope. Anyway, this particular issue finds an exhausted Batman fighting Firefly at the zoo while Robin stops one of Riddler’s plots. This particular issue doesn’t do a great job of explaining what all is happening though, that Bane released all these criminals and has set them loose on Gotham with Batman trying to bring them all back in. You get the gist here and there and at the end, but if this was a Valiant or Crossgen crossover I wasn’t familiar with, I’d have been lost. Reading this issue made me want to get those new Knightfall paperbacks that came out recently as I realized I’ve never read the whole story from beginning to end as I just jumped in whenever I started reading.
Up next I pulled out another DC Comics, this one Suicide Squad #35 from 1989 by the creative team of John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell. This was interesting time as I’d just finished reading the first arc of the series in trade paperback form a few weeks prior. As I mentioned in that post, I’d read a number of the issues when my pal Ben lent them to me, but can’t really remember how far I got. I’m not sure if I got up to this issue, but the adventure did seem a little familiar, so maybe I did.
Anyway, this one finds the Squad — a group of criminals who go on crazy missions to help alleviate their prison sentences — stranded on Darkseid’s planet Apokolips fighting the Female Furies and doing a much better job than they probably should have been able to do if you ask me.
The issue feels like the middle of a three parter as it’s pretty much one huge fight scene, but there’s still enough explained that I didn’t feel lost. Lashina had been abandoned on Earth in an earlier issue and basically joined the Squad, but still wanted her revenge for being left behind. The issue ended on a cliffhanger that made me wish even more that this whole series was collected in trade. I guess I’ll just have to keep collecting issues like this one and read them all together down the line.
Lastly, I pulled out another issue of Magnus Robot Fighter, this one 1993’s #21 by John Ostrander and John Bock. Huh, just realized that I pulled out two Ostrander comics back to back. After reading Magnus #25 last week, I wasn’t super excited about reading this comic, but I went through with it and it was alright. Much like last time, I still don’t really know why Magnus fights robots, but the issues does have a dream sequence that recaps a lot of Magnus’ recent adventures (and contains lots of robot fighting).
There’s some presumably big reveals to people who had been reading the series for 2o issues before this one. For them, they might have been like “Holy crap!!!!” but I was like “Oh, okay.” That’s just how these things work. You’re not going to surprise a newbie with a revelation in the 21st issue, but you can do your best to set it up for them so they at least understand what’s being revealed and why it’s important. Ostrander did that here and that’s all I can really ask for.
Oh, also, Bock’s art is still awesome in this issue.
I gotta say, I was surprised by this issue of C.O.P.S. (#7 from 1988, written by Doug Moench, drawn by Pat Broderick). If you’re familiar with the comic, cartoon or toy line, you’ll know that it’s about a group of specialty policemen and women brought together to help defend the crime ridden Empire City. My personal memories of the cartoon were filled with awesome cops like Longarm going on amazing adventures, but when I saw a few episodes on DVD back in my days at Wizard, I discovered it was actually pretty cheesy.
This comic is actually a pretty good amalgam of the cool aspects I remember and the cheesy aspects I more recently experienced. As you can see, the bad guy in this issue is actually a cop who flipped his lid and now eschews the law in favor of his own brand of justice…that he metes out via giant robotic elephant with a vacuum trunk. So, it’s probably not hard to see the dual natures at work in this book, which feels like it could have really been fun and cool if not aimed at kids.
The issue even goes into some detail about the cop’s origins and how they actually tie into those of the team itself (I read the first issue at some point in the last year or so) making it all pretty cohesive. C.O.P.S. is one of those properties that I would love to see make a comeback now that cartoons and animation can be a little more serious and realistic than they used to be. Just imagine a C.O.P.S. series done by the Young Justice team. It would be fantastic.
Every time I pull out a Valiant comic from The Box I hope that it will be as enjoyable as the good Turok or X-O Manowar issues I’ve read and not as incomprehensible as Archer & Armstrong or, well, that other issue of X-O. I’d put Magnus Robot Fighter #25 (1993) by John Ostrander and James Brock closer to the good ones and further from the bad, but it was a bit much to take in. I don’t blame this one on the creative team, actually. It’s a seemingly revelatory issue with lots of reveals for entrenched readers that also gives a ton of information to a new one like me but I was left with one all important question I’ve always had about Magnus: why does he fight robots?
I find out that there are certain robots he does fight and others he doesn’t and he even seems to be friends with robots, but the simple question doesn’t really get answered. I feel like it’s the kind of thing that today would be covered in one of those small, one-sentence origin boxes lots of comics use these days like, “Rocketed to Earth as a baby, Superman uses his enhanced strength and other powers to fight for truth, justice and the American way.” I mean, you’re halfway to explaining what Magnus is all about just from the extended title of the comic, I just need a little bit more information. In fact, not knowing what the deal was kept popping me out of the story a bit.
One more quick thing I want to talk about is the art in this book by Brock. It’s actually really rad. His characters are strong and bold and he’s got some extra line work in there that reminds me of Andy Clarke and guys like that. It’s also got some of that interesting Valiant coloring, but it’s a bit bolder than some of the other more pastel offerings I’ve seen so far.
This copy of Showcase ’94 #6 was one I actually picked up at a con along the line at some point. I am a gigantic fan of the mid-90s Showcase series’ for being repositories for great short stories oftentimes starring characters who might not warrant their own series or mini. This one has three one a team-up with Huntress and Robin, another with The Atom and a third with New Blood Sparx. The Robin/Huntress story was written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by the rad Phil Jimenez and is actually the third part in a three part story. I think I’ve read the other two or at least one of them. It’s about a killer priest who wears a gold mask and shoots people. This issue has the dramatic reveal but since I don’t really remember the other two issues, it’s not too thrilling. What is thrilling, however, is seeing Jimenez do Robin and Huntress from the era that I was really getting into the Batman books.
The Sparx story by Karl Keel and Scott Lee and, honestly, I remember next to nothing about it. Sparx is part of a family of superheroes and wants to learn about someone in her family and then Captain Boomerang attacks and things go sour so she leaves. That’s about all I got.
Lastly, you’ve got The Atom by Len Kaminski and Fred Reyes in a story where Ray Palmer has to use his abilities to stop a bomb from blowing up a city. I like this one because it’s one of those stories where the writer really gets into the character’s powers and figures out how they could really work. Kaminski does that in a pretty concise and clear way that I dug. So, I dug this issue and will actually be keeping it in my collection.
Sometimes I plan these Trade Post columns out really well and sometimes it just so happens that two books I’ve read within a given time have a similar theme. The latter happens to be the case with this particular one. I’ve been sitting on this first (and possibly only) volume reprinting John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell’s excellent Suicide Squad run. I had a little experience with this comic while coming up in comics and an iteration of the idea became very prominent in DC comics around Infinite Crisis and the surrounding events, but it was my pal Ben Morse who turned me on to this book specifically. He’s a big fan and has all the issues. A few years back, when we were still at Wizard he let me borrow a big stack of issues and I tore through them. Luckily, my memory is pretty crummy, so I didn’t remember everything when I sat down to read this book recently. As a nice bonus, this trade not only brings the first eight issues of the series together, but also the team’s origins that were printed in Secret Origins. I love when companies put a little extra time in to do something like that.
The idea behind this book is essentially The Dirty Dozen with superheroes and villains known from throughout the DC Universe. Amanda Waller rejuvenated an old idea with the son of a former leader in Flag who wants to prove himself and also die a little bit. These early issues feature characters like the original Captain Boomerang, Bronze Tiger, Deadshot, Enchantress and the Penguin, some of whom are part of the regular team while others pop in to help out in certain cases. Their early adventures are actually pretty real world-based, even if they do still involve people with super powers. You’ve got them taking on a foreign terrorist group, the Female Furies, a white power group and vigilante and Russians.
I really like how grounded the stories felt even given the more super elements. It reminded me a lot of the Mike Grell run on Green Arrow or Dennis O’Neal’s run on The Question. This series would go on to have a healthy 66 issue run. I hope that DC decides to collect them all, including The Janus Directive a crossover that involved books like Checkmate, Captain Atom and, I believe, Firestorm. It looks like they solicited a second volume, but it has yet to come out, so it’s probably not looking good.
Much like Suicide Squad, I was encouraged to check out Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force by Ben Morse. I recently read his first arc on Venom which, while well done, just wasn’t the kind of book I was looking for but had also really liked what he did with Punisher and the wild FrankenCastle story. From what I’ve read, Remender’s excellent at coming up with capital A awesome ideas that sometimes might not get to be as cool as you want them to be because he’s working within the Marvel Universe, which can have it’s fair share of constraints, as do all of the shared, multi-book, multiple creator ones. That’s just how those work.
So, I was curious about his X-Force and when I saw it on sale for a reasonable price from an Amazon seller I was buying a few other things from, I bit. I knew that this first story was about a new X-Force team consisting of Angel, Wolverine, Psylocke, Deadpool and Fantomex deciding whether or not to kill a resurrected Apocalypse who came back as a child. I think I wrote something about it for Marvel.com, otherwise, I probably would not know all that. And that’s basically what this book is about. I don’t know how the previous X-Force team ended and it doesn’t really matter because this is an all new direction, so none of that really matters. All you need to know is that X-Force is a team of mutants who send themselves on the dirty jobs that Cyclops and the X-Men don’t want to deal with personally, as it has been since the wonderful Messiah Complex.
And the story is as straightforward as I mentioned. Sure there’s inter-character things like Psylocke helping Angel keep his Archangel persona in check and Deadpool being, well, Deadpool, but the main thrust of the story is first finding this new Apocalypse, fighting his new Four Horsemen (or Final Horsemen as they’re called this time around) and then deciding whether or not to ice the kid. The four issues did a weird thing where they at times felt rushed and at other times stretched out, but I think the end result is a well balanced story. I have questions about some of the technical stuff, but I’m guess that’s because I don’t know much about the X-Men and even less about Apocalypse.
Overall I did like this comic, it was a fun, interesting read that got me interested in Fantomex, a character who is so weird, he clearly came form the brain of Grant Morrison. An external neural system that can also turn into a spaceship connected to a guy genetically created to murder but instead pulls of elaborate capers and based his life on a French novel character? Yeah, that’s Morrison. I will also say that SPOILER I was really surprised with how they ended this arc. Seeing as how Apocalypse was a kid, I really did not expect them to kill him. As they were discussing the possibility of taking him with them and training him to be good, I was excited to see where that would go and then, literally, bam. It’s over. And that’s essentially where this trade ends too. I don’t think I’ll go out of my way to purchase the next volume, but I will definitely keep my eyes peeled on Swap to see if anyone’s got an extra.