Trade Pile Part 2: Shutter, Aquaman, Batman & Doom Patrol

Alright, so going through the top half of this pile was pretty fun on the previous post. I had a great time with Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy, Batman ’66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E. AND the first volume of Mockingbird so there’s no reason to expect I didn’t also enjoy the bottom half (mostly because I tend to follow the old “if you don’t have anything nice to say” adage). Want to hear about Shutter, Aquaman, Batman: Dark Knight, Dark City and the first volume of Gerard Way’s Doom Patrol? Then you know what to do! Continue reading Trade Pile Part 2: Shutter, Aquaman, Batman & Doom Patrol

Adventures In Freelancing: Looking Back At 2015

monkey-typing2015 was the fifth full year that I worked as a freelance writer. It’s wild to think about. I got unceremoniously and somewhat surprisingly laid off from Wizard in September of 2009. With no idea what I would do with the rest of my career (a fun thought to have at 26) my friends jumped at the chance to set me up with freelance work. I wasn’t sure if it would stick, but dove in and am still rolling today.

That year I wrote for Marvel.com, Maxim.com, Topless Robot, Wizard, ToyFare, UGO, MTV Geek, Click and even a bit for CBR and realized I could actually do alright for myself with just my brain, a computer and a solid internet connection. Since then, a few of those outlets have gone defunct (I miss seeing my work on the magazine stand) and some completely changed directions since then. These days I find myself mainly working for three sites: Marvel.com, CBR and Geek.com and I’m digging it. Looking back at the past year, it seemed like an okay time to reflect a bit on the ups and downs of the year. Continue reading Adventures In Freelancing: Looking Back At 2015

X-Men Trade Post: Rise & Fall Of The Shi’Ar Empire & Supernovas

Uncanny X-Men-The-Rise-and-Fall-of-the-Shiar-Empire Uncanny X-Men: Rise And Fall Of The Shi’Ar Empire (Marvel)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Billy Tan & Clayton Henry
Uncanny X-Men #475-486

Several years ago I started writing a pretty lengthy post about my brief time as a big-time X-Men fan. I never finished it, but am incorporating some of the ideas into this Trade Post. I loved the 90s cartoon, but that only ever read into me picking up the Fatal Attractions trade as one of the first collections I ever purchased. I also tried getting into the X-world around the time that Grant Morrison took over, but funds grew limited as did my attention span so that went out the window. Then I got a job at Wizard in the research department and wound up covering the X-Men beat for about a year. This might have stemmed from the fact that I’d interviewed Mike Carey for Newsarama about his impending Vampirella take-over between my Wizard internship and actually working at the mag. Anyway, I was the go-to guy talking to Carey about X-Men, the editors and lots of other folks. When you cover things like this extensively you feel the need to keep up on the books because, one, you will probably have to cover them again in the next few months and two,  you’re curious to see how it turned out.

At this point which was after the mutant-limiting 198 even with Scarlet Witch, Ed Brubaker — who I dug as the writer on Captain America — took over Uncanny X-Men and Mike Carey was doing X-Men. I’ll get into some of the ancillary titles I also really enjoyed like Cable/Deadpool and New X-Men when I can get my hands on more of those trades, but I figured it’d be fun to go back and read the first years’ worth of both these books, starting with Bru’s Rise And Fall Of The Shi’Ar Empire story. This was one that a lot of people I knew weren’t that into and, if memory serves, it did feel kind of slow when coming out in single issues — this is a pretty epic story spanning 12 issues — but when you read it all together it has that concise nature that I love in his writing.

This story spins directly out of Brubaker’s Deadly Genesis miniseries which revealed that Professor X sent a brand new team of mutants to try and save the original X-Men before he put together the international group made famous in Giant Sized X-Men #1. Most of them died, but two — the third Summers brother now called Vulcan and a super adapter named Darwin — survived. Vulcan flew off into space to get revenge on the Shi’Ar who killed his mother and enslaved him. This prompts Prof. X — who’s not having a great time as all his dark secrets are finding the light of day — to put a team together and go after his one time student. Said group includes Havok, Polaris, Nightcrawler, Darwin, Rachel Summers and Warpath (who I did a fun Wizard Insider on and actually got really excited about as a different take on the Wolverine idea). They head into space, but the trip winds up taking a long time because Vulcan is destroying all the jump gates and winds up actually falling for Deathbird and becoming part of the Shi’Ar royal family.

There’s a lot more going on in the book, which also introduces Korvus, a Shi’Ar citizen locked up because his family line was touched by the Phoenix force long ago and a portion resides in a gigantic, anime-style sword that only he can heft. Oh, plus Skrulls, the Imperial Guard and the Starjammers all play important parts. There’s so much going on that the book actually feels like a really solid TV season with a few departures — every three or four issues Vulcan takes the spotlight in issues drawn by Clayton Henry to give regular artist Billy Tan a bit of a breather.

Not being the biggest X-fan in the world, I must say that I felt it was pretty easy to slide right into this story. I put X-Men up there with the Legion of Super-Heroes when it comes to figuring out how characters related to one another, so it can be daunting wading into a story like this, but Brubaker handles these ancient relationships in such a way that he gives you enough information to understand what’s happening without getting deep into continuity porn. I know very little about, say, the Havok/Polaris relationship or Rachel Summers’ backstory, but I was never confused by the elements being presented to me in this story.

I really enjoyed this trade and a big part of that is the big, bold artwork by Billy Tan. Henry does some fun fill-in issues, but there’s a clear difference in style with his looser pencils showing off how tight and clean Tan’s can be. They both create large, heroic looking figures, though, which unites the stories. I’m also going to give huge props to the ink and coloring team of Danny Miki (mostly) and Frank D’Armata. I remember around this time being really impressed with the house inking/coloring style that Marvel seemed to be fostering in a lot of their books. While not necessarily uniform, I felt like a lot of different books had a somewhat similar feel thanks to a dark-ish, yet bold tone. I don’t have either of them yet, but I’d like to get my hands on Deadly Genesis and The Extremists which bridges the gap between Rise and the Messiah Complex crossover, which I’m a huge fan of.

x-men supernovas X-Men: Supernovas (Marvel)
Written by Mike Carey, drawn by Chris Bachalo & Humberto Ramos with Mark Brooks
Collects X-Men #188-199, X-Men Annual #1

I’m going to say right off that bat that I wound up talking to Mike Carey quite a bit in my time at Wizard and grew to really enjoy those talks. He’s a very cool guy with a deep love of all things X-Men and comics whose enthusiasm always comes through. I will also say that I had a bit of a harder time reading his X-Men book because of a lack of familiarity with a few of the characters. The idea behind his book is that, in a post-198 world, Rogue will lead a team of mutants not connected to the school who go out and deal with problems. Her crew included Iceman, Mystique, Cannonball, Sabertooth (kinda), Cable (kinda), Lady Mastermind and Sentinel. Most of my confusion — both during my initial reading and the more recent one — came from a pre-occupation of who those latter two characters were. It’s not like Carey put a lot of importance on their backstory, but being almost completely unfamiliar with them and their abilities was distracting. It’s like knowing everyone at a party except for two people and becoming obsessed with who they are. I should have just looked them up on Wiki, but that info should also have probably been in the story.

Speaking of the stories, you’ve got a couple doozies here. First off, there’s a new kind of mutant who were created and evolved on a battleship who have woken up and want to take out the X-Men. They’re so tough that they scared the poop out of Sabertooth who makes his way to the X-Mansion in an attempt to take advantage of the locale’s mutant refuge. He’s kept captive for a while, but is also used as a weapon during various missions. This group of X-Men also finds themselves on the hunt for an evil scientist named Pan who can absorb and use mutant powers like Rogue, but for longer periods of time. He was experimenting on Lady Mastermind and Sentinel which is how they found their way into the story. Oh and they also help fix Northstar who was turned into a psycho killer in Mark Millar’s run on Wolverine. I like that Carey went with new villains because it adds to the sandbox while also allowing him to work within a far more limited cast of mutant bad guys.

While I did have some trouble with understanding a few of the characters, I really enjoyed getting to know some of the others better. Rogue is super-rad in this book, taking charge, kicking ass and taking names. She goes through a lot too, which toughens her up even more, something she probably didn’t need, but gets worked with in later stories. I also liked seeing the weird relationship between Iceman and Mystique. Carey also does some really interesting things with Iceman’s powers that I got a kick out of. Then you’ve got Cannonball who played well off of Cable, the two having moved on a bit from the younger hero’s hero worship of the other. There’s a bit of a sadness that runs through these stories that infects these characters, all of which makes sense when you contextualize it against the fact that their very species is at risk of extinction.

And, of course, you can’t talk about this book without talking about the artists. I love Mark Brooks and his contribution as the artist on the annual is exactly what I think of when I think of superhero comic books. But since this is a darker comic, Chris Bachalo and Humberto Ramos’ styles fit better. Both retain their unique looks, but also feel like part of the same cloth. Bachalo has a crazy, erratic-ness  that fits with the idea of a new species popping up to take over for mutants while Ramos’ freneticism fits his story. I will say that sometimes, their sketchy nature makes some of the panels hard to read, but overall I like the effect of their art on the story. Like with the above book, there’s a much shorter trade between this one and Messiah Complex that I want to get my hands on, plus Carey wrote the back-ups that made up the Endangered Species collection. I’d like to get those in the ol’ collection as well to see how they all play together. After that? Well, I remember X-Men Legacy getting a little too in-depth when it came to X-Men history which isn’t really my bag.

Movie Memories: Seeing Spider-Man 2 As A Wizard Intern

Guys, I hate Spider-Man 2. I think it’s got great casting, some really funny moments and action scenes that are pretty stellar, but then there’s that big middle section that smashes you over the head with how crummy Peter Parker’s life is. I remember sitting in the the theater watching the film and pulling my hoodie over my eyes in pain. I thought I wasn’t the only one, but as it turned out, the movie is beloved. Whodathunkit.

Anyway, I’m not writing this post about the movie itself so much as the circumstances in which I saw it. Back in the summer of 2004, I was doing a nine week internship at Wizard. I was blown away by how cool the guys were both as people and co-workers (no one looked down on us just because we were interns). There were also a lot of perks I hadn’t really thought about. We got a discount at a nearby comic shop, access to all the new and old comics in the Wizard library and even a few random freebies that the writers or editors would pass our way (I have a Bowen Punisher bust from those days proudly displayed on my bookshelf to this day).

One of the really unexpected perks was going down to see Spider-Man 2 at a special screening in New York City. I could not tell you where it was, but it wasn’t a normal movie theater. I was walking along with a big group of Wizard dudes in NYC, a place I’d only been once at this point, and all of a sudden they’re like, “Hey we’re here.” I look over and they’re walking into a door that looks like just about any other one on a street of unassuming doors. Inside was a secret theater that Sony either owned or rented specifically for screenings like this. I believe there were some pretty impressive Marvel folks in the crowd as well, but I honestly can’t remember.

Aside from the movie I didn’t like, the memory that really sticks out is how cool the whole experience was. A group of us interns drove to the train station and met up with the other guys, walked around the city to a secret theater and saw a big time movie before anyone else (or most people, I’m sure there were a ton of these kinds of screenings). I’ve go on to meet a lot of cool people, get a lot of cool stuff and see a lot of cool things before other people, but you never forget that first time. I even remember walking down the street in jeans and a hoodie looking up at the night sky in NYC and just thinking how cool it felt. Good times.

Ad It Up: Wizard #27

Regular readers will remember that I read and didn’t really get 1993’s Archer & Armstrong #17 from Valiant a few weeks back. Before tossing it in the get rid of pile, I went through and snapped a few pictures like this one for the 27th issue of Wizard. I was still a few years away from discovering the magazine at that point, but I do remember seeing this Jim Lee Wildcats cover in books and around the office. Interviews with Alan Moore and Travis Charest? Sounds like a pretty solid issue, actually. Plus I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on a Mortal Kombat arcade cabinet.

Adventures In Freelancing: 5 Things I Miss About Working In An Office

After “How’s that freelance writing thing going?” the most popular question I get from people is “Do you miss working in an office?” My usual answer is “I miss working with the cool people I’ve worked with over the years, but I prefer working from home.” I really do love being a freelancer and the freedom it brings. I can get up whenever I want and go to sleep when I want (though that freedom will disappear for a while once the baby is born, I assume). Plus, on days when I’m feeling a little more shut-in than I prefer, I can always run over to the coffee shop, get some amazing coffee, tea or a chai latte and talk with the always-friendly baristas. But, if I’m being completely honest with myself there are some things I do miss about working in an office. Here are five of them.

1. Being Able To Blame Someone Else For Getting Me Sick
Seeing as how I only have regular contact with one person (the missus), it’s really easy to figure out who got me sick. When you work in an office there’s always someone who may or may not have gotten you sick, but working from home narrows the possibilities down pretty substantially.

2. Work Parties
Around Christmas time, I actually got pretty bummed out because my company party consisted of the cat and I watching Silent Night, Deadly Night with a Coors Light at 3:30 p.m. on a Friday. Hearing the missus come home talking about how she could hardly get her work done because of all the holiday parties she had to attend didn’t help. It brought back fond memories of the occasional holiday party or the company picnic that gave me my last opportunity to play football. Plus, getting a little (and sometimes a lot) buzzed on the company dime was always a lot of fun.

3. Free Donuts
I’m not the biggest fan of sweets in the world, but I do love a simple glazed donut. I miss that thrill of the chase when word got around that free food/candy/donuts were on the water cooler. If you weren’t quick, you weren’t getting a treat (at least in the days when there were more than a dozen people in the office). The other day, I got a real hankering for donuts and realized it was because I hadn’t had one in quite a while. I guess I could start taking advantage of the Dunkin’s right down the street, but food always tastes so much better when someone else buys it.

4. Lunch
I was lucky enough to work with some great people, so our lunch time was actually a lot of fun. We’d either all get together in the office’s lunchroom and talk about comics, TV and life or all head out to a singular location and do the same there. Lunches got a little thin there for a while, but once we moved down to the city I found myself surrounded by a lot of those same people. Sure, not every lunch was amazing, but it was nice to know that I could see some friends and get some interesting food. Now, lunch is just another way to get food in me so I don’t pass out. Without other people involved, I have a tendency to forget to eat until late int he day, which leaves me lightheaded.

5. Free Stuff
Between the free table, people getting rid of their stuff and the constant flow of things into our office, there was always something being offered to you that you’d otherwise have to pay for. In addition to that, we had access to one of the largest comic book and trade paperback libraries around (I’ve never seen a bigger one personally, but I’m sure they’re out there) with nearly every comic printed coming in every week. This might sound strange or greedy, but it’s not easy going from unlimited access to none. I think I’m finally done with the withdrawal that came after that, but I do miss being able to keep up on all the comics I cared about and getting the occasional free action figure. On the flip side, I also miss having a place to get rid of some of my comics. You’d be surprised at how hard of a time I’ve had getting rid of a longbox I’ve had in the backseat of my car for months.

Rockin’ Flicks: Almost Famous (2000)

I’m not one of those dudes who had their lives changed by Almost Famous. I was friends with some of those guys in high school and in fact saw this movie over at one of their houses in high school. One friend fell in love with Kate Hudson after seeing the flick and another would incessantly sing Stillwater’s “Fever Dog.” Both were in my band. I dug the movie when I saw it, but it didn’t become a favorite.

If you’re somehow unfamiliar with the movie, it’s basically Cameron Crowe’s fictionalized memoir of touring with various bands in the 70s, but centered around a young kid named William and the fictional band Stillwater. The high schooler gets the attention of Rolling Stone who sends him on tour with the band who he becomes friends with even though his mentor Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) warns him against it and also falls for groupie–sorry “Band Aid”–Penny Lane, played by Hudson. It’s basically the story of a kid learning to go from fan to pro in an industry that’s showing him all its warts, no matter how much they wound him.

I actually had more fun spotting the supporting actors in the flick than watching it. I think that’s because I’ve seen and even lived this story a bit myself. Having been a comic book fan who worked in the thick of the comic book world at Wizard, I can really relate to what William goes through (minus the groupies) but comparing a film, even a great one, to my real life, the film’s not going to hold up. I get that it’s great and I love all the rock and roll stuff, because I’m a huge fan of music from that era, but it just doesn’t vibrate inside of me like it might have when I was younger.

Anyway, back to that star watching, here’s the ones I saw. You’ve got Jimmy Fallon playing the manager’s manager. I can’t remember if I knew who he was when the movie first played. The gone-too-soon Mitch Hedberg sits in on a manager poker game! Anna Paquin and Fairuza Balk (The Craft) play groupies. Jay Baruchel is a Led Zeppelin super-fan and even Nick Swardson has a moment as a wild David Bowie fan. Heck even Modern Family‘s Eric Stonestreet pops up as a hotel worker. I’m sure there’s plenty I missed. Plus, of course, one of my favorites Jason Lee plays an important part. It’s funny how similar the character is to Banky from Chasing Amy, but the guy they got to play the singing voice sounds embarrassingly like someone else. Oh, this was also the first movie I saw Zooey Deschanel in and didn’t even realize it!

I think had I bought the movie after I saw it and gave it a few more spins, I would have a lot closer relationship to it, but as it stands, I can appreciate it without falling in love with it. Though, I do adore the “Tiny Dancer” bit. Moments like that in real life are amazing and should be enjoyed both in the moment and later in life. I have incredibly fond ones of singing songs with my buddies back home and even the other week when the missus and I wound up singing “Summer Loving” from Grease, even though she had to sing most of the dude parts because I only know about half the words.