Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Reviewing a Starting Point: 2000AD 1900

Hey! Did you know it was day of Dredd? Well, it is! So here's a review of the new jumping on point of Dredd's home comic, 2000AD!

While I first became aware of Judge Dredd through the Sylvester Stalone movie, of all things* I never had any access to 2000AD growing up. I don't think it was even carried in my local comic shop. Even the excellent Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh had only a few, and given my obsessive need to have a starting point, I didn't jump from the middle.**

A few years ago, I just started reading 2000AD from a random point. It was a bit on the rough side to start, but once I got into the swing of things, I was hooked. Here's a weekly series that's putting out batshit crazy comics, most of which I enjoyed. Sure, sometimes I was flipping pages when there was a series I didn't care for, but one of the things that's awesome about 2000AD is that no story in any issue is longer than 6 pages. Don't like something? That's okay, there's another story just a few pages away.

So yeah, here I am slowly becoming a big 2000AD fan, and a Dredd one in particular. I skipped a few here and there, but I've got a pretty good handle on the storyline from 2012 to the present. My interest grew after watching the new movie, which was criminally underrated. Urban's Dredd may live in a world that's a bit less colorful than his comics incarnation, but he nails the essence of the character, the world actually featured people of color living in as normal people (not just thugs), and My God, they treated the female characters with respect, even the villain.

A page from the new Dredd story.
Basically, whether on screen or on the page, Dredd and 2000AD are pretty much everything we say we want in comics, but for some reason, don't always support.

Why? Well, in the case of 2000AD, I think it may be because it's hard to find an "in." While I am not of the opinion that you need to keep dropping new #1 issues like they're a breadcrumb trail from Hansel and Gretel, it's still a bit daunting to look up and say, "Hey, I'd like to read issue 1784 of this series, please!" It's absolutely astounding that 2000AD has been going strong for over 37 years and hasn't missed a week, turning in a milestone issue just under every two years. (The history of the milestone issues is covered in a great essay, written of course by 2000AD's alien editor, that is included in Prog 1900.)

It's also kinda scary to anyone new. In fact, even as a reviewer, I've had a hard time picking an entry point, because though there have been a few others in the time I've been reading, by the time I go to do the review, it's sometimes already too far past that point to make for a timely review on a weekly book.

That meant that this time, I was going to be ready. We've got our starting point, and now it's time to talk turkey? Is this really a good issue for a new reader? I tried to do my best to think of what it might be like to start with this issue, and the answer is definitely yes. Sure, there's going to be some things you'll wish you knew, especially in the case of the two non-Dredd stories, but overall, there's definitely a sense that these first parts of new serials were written for someone who had little to no knowledge.

I'll take each of them in turn:

Judge Dredd: Block Judge features Dredd being asked to take over one of the most thankless tasks in all of Mega-City 1: Presiding over an entire city block. Cleverly using a discussion between Dredd and the block leader to help new readers understand that in Mega-City 1 terms, a city "block" extends to dizzying heights into the sky (in this case, 307 levels, of which the final 47 are private), original co-creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra return to Dredd to give him a new task. We quickly see that the block is not anywhere close to Dredd's high standards for order, and he's going to have to work particularly hard to get it up to speed. This first entry shows his team already fighting back, with Dredd pondering his limited resources and nearly impossible mission. Ezquerra's art style is similar to people like Simon Gane, who bring a level of grime to extremely detailed linework. You can tell this place is a shithole just by looking at the rubble, and my only minor quibble is that his Judges are a bit too similar in form, meaning we need their badges to know them for sure. A great start, with a lovely pun for the second serial--Meet the Blockers.

Stickleback: The Thru’Penny Opera Every once in awhile, I get absolutely blown away by the art in a comic. This was one of those times. Even though I've seen D'Israeli's work before in anthologies, finding it here in 2000AD portraying a world where avatars of gods via for power, a person hides their persona behind an elaborate and painful costume, and where 1890s London itself is a twisted, maze-like mass of buildings toppling in on each other, absolutely blew me away. The artist's vision here and ability to show everything from an angry robot to the gentle work of disguise, building an entire world for the reader in just a few pages is really amazing. It doesn't hurt that Ian Edgington's dialogue is top notch, especially in the quips between Stickleback (a name literally derived from the spines on the costume of the main character) and a Mr. Punch, whom Stickleback proffers was named because "You're sweet, fruity, and intoxicating?" Done entirely in black and white, with a strong sense of contrast between the two, this one took me by the lapels and made me pay attention. I can't wait to read the rest of this one!

A page from Kingdom
Kingdom: Aux Drift was the weakest of the three stories for me. It's a great way to show off some of the bat shit insane things you can find in 2000AD (this is a world where genetically modified dogs are all over the place and fight against equally large and absurd-looking insectoid creatures). Gene, a mostly humanoid dog if I understand things correctly, saves a pair of pilots who get stuck in the wasteland. It's got a great splash page by Richard Elson at the end, where Gene's allies arrive to take the fight to the big bugs, but I wasn't feeling all that moved by Dan Abnett's plotting or script. It's got potential to grow on me, but I prefer Abnett's Grey Area, where aliens are quarantined on Earth before allowing to explore the planet.

Overall, this is a solid introduction that, were I coming into it completely cold, I think I'd definitely pick up Prog 1901, which actually comes out today. Between a promising new story for Dredd and the innovation of Stickleback, which really blew me away with how different it looked, even by the more exploratory and experimental standards of 2000AD, I'd want to read more.

I hope this has intrigued you enough to try out 2000AD. If you are a science fiction fan but haven't had the pleasure of discovering this magazine, don't wait. Go bug your comic shop, or do the easy thing and get a DRM-free download directly from 2000AD online, starting with Prog 1900.

After all, when Tharg the Mighty throws his 2000th Prog bash, you don't want to be late to the party.

*And sorry, Ulises, it is not better than the new one with Karl Urban.

**This is a failing on my part, I know. But I like seeing how things develop.

Help Sparkplug Finish Its Fall Book Funding

It's time for another "last minute push" post from us, as we encourage you to help Virginia Paine successfully complete her Kickstarter campaign to fund the Fall Sparkplug Books line.

The popular small press publisher, now in the hands of Paine after Dylan Williams lost his battle with cancer, has continued on, working to finish the series he started, such as Elijah Brubaker's Reich series, which would reach its twelfth issue as part of the two-book offering.

A page from Reich 12.
Virginia is honest about the fact that it hasn't been easy to keep the line going after Williams' passing. As she notes, they publish "underappreciated, idiosyncratic comics by really awesome folks" which means that while they may be the critical darlings of bloggers like those of us at Panel Patter, Rob Clough, and many others, they aren't always at the forefront of commercial success.

She'd like to make sure that Reich finishes, along with publishing other books that are in the same spirit as those that came before from Sparkplug, and as of this writing, they are extremely close to their $6500 goal, but still need several hundred dollars to put them over the top.

The two books that would be published in this offering include Reich 12, which is the last issue of the story of Dr. Wilhelm Reich, a protege of Freud with some controversial ideas. Brubaker has worked hard on this biography, and it would be a shame not to see it reach the end.

A page from Vortex
The other works is Vortex by William Cardini. It's a collection of Cardini's minis. This is the one that appeals strongly to me, because of Virginia's description:
Bold, mystical, expertly designed and engrossing - Vortex follows the Miizzzard as he travels to a mysterious planet and battles a strange, regenerating monster.  The story gets more complex as the Miizzz finds himself sympathizing with the monster and her kin.
 Now that's exactly the kind of book I'd love to see published!

If you agree, why not see if you have a few dollars to spare? Levels range from $5 postcard+FCBD offering to digital tiers for a bit more, physical copies (making it a matter of pre-ordering), and higher rewards that offer t-shirts and art.

If you want to help fund the Fall season of Sparkplug, the time to do so is fast running out! You can visit (and contribute) to the Sparkplug Kickstarter here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Annihilator #1

Written by Grant Morrison
Drawn by Frazer Irving
Lettered by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Legendary Comics

The burden of being a dreamer or artist is a terrible thing. And by that I mean the burden of being Grant Morrison is the burden of being the storytelling prophet for an era that would rather have Geoff Johns or Brian Michael Bendis. Since the 1990s, Morrison has tried to show us the way of his truth and his light in comics, working on such mainstream titles as New X-Men and JLA but also giving us smaller, more intimate works like Seaguy and Kill Your Boyfriend.  In Morrison comics, the world/universe/reality is always on the brink of forced extinction but there are those King Mobs (The Invisibles) out there, striving away for our salvation.  Or, at least, a salvation.  Grant Morrison wants to heal your soul the only way he knows how to-- through comic books.  

In Annihilator #1, Morrison and artist Frazer Irving take us from the farthest fringes of space all the way to sunny Los Angeles.  It’s up to you to decide which setting is more strange and alien.  Irving’s “haunted” house in L.A. is far more twisted and unreal than the prison that sits on the edge of a distant black hole. In L.A., Ray Spass tries to revive a once successful screenwriting career.  For inspiration, he purchases a house that's supposedly haunted and has a sinkhole in the front yard.  Already a has-been, Spass tries to lose himself (or as he view it, he tries to find find inspiration) in drugs and sex.  Meanwhile, on the far side of the universe, Max Nomax finds himself imprisoned on the edge of a black hole.  Max is the true artist of this duo, trying to find a way to overcome death.  

Irving's supernatural reality makes you question what you're seeing in L.A. as much as you question the scenes at the intergalactic prison.  In both locales, his color schemes of blues and oranges emit pulsating waves of heat and cold.  This is a comic that makes you shiver on one page and then sweat on another.  And then there are the pages where Irving mixes both colors, this blending of outer space and California that makes you question the reality of both Spass and Nomax.  Through his use of color, Irving unifies both parts of the story to the point where the colors tells you more about the headspace of the two characters more than his drawings or Morrison's words can.

But even visually, this is not a story about the real or the unreal because Irving makes everything unreal.  Max Nomax's adventures and imprisonment are fantastic simply because of the setting and the characters.  Morrison and Irving are tapping into a very British, 2000 AD vein with this story.  It's very theatrical and over-the-top as Nomax has a role that he needs to live up to.  It's Spass's L.A. existence that is far more twisted and unrecognizable.  Irving makes L.A. more alien than the space prison, making visual choices that quite intentionally disorient his audience.  A walk through a house or an orgy take both become their own psychedelic experiences.  The drugs that Spass is on throughout the book change our perception of the world and the story as much as it alters Spass's perceptions.

That fits perfectly into the story because Nomax's story is Spass's latest screenplay. The outer space, science fiction portions of this, with a hero/madman trying to conquer death, are words in a half-conceived story from a writer trying to reclaim some past glory.  As Spass finds out that he has his own inescapable black hole in his brain in the form of an inoperable tumor, Morrison and Irving subtle blendings of L.A. and space gets hammered home as Nomax ends up on Spass’s couch asking what the writer and the rogue can do for one another.  This is shades of Grant Morrison showing up in the last issue of his Animal Man run to basically apologize to the character for the hell he put him through. Artist and creation existing simultaneously in the same plane is the type of four-color magic that Morrison has been interested in since he first started writing comics.  

Back in The Invisibles' days, Morrison went through a lot of medical problems even as he was torturing one of his own stand-ins in the book, King Mob. That bit of coincidence or magic or whatever you want to call it echoes here in Annihilator #1 almost 20 years later in the story of Ray Spass and Max Nomax. Again in Morrison’s writing, we see the spiritual and healing relationship between reality and fiction as Morrison sets up the creation to save the creator.  Fiction is the grand healer in Morrison’s writing.  We’re saved, healed and redeemed through our stories.  Annihilator #1 sets us up along a familiar and worn path but as with most of Morrison’s comics, there’s enough fascinating meta-narrative trickery and in Frazer Irving, he’s got an artist who can add his own visual mystery to the story.  

Monday, September 29, 2014

You should go to MICE, October 4-5 2014

Poster illustration by Paul Hornschemeier
MICE 2014 Preview

The Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) is coming up next weekend (October 4-5) and if you're anywhere near the Boston area, you should make your way there. It'll be held at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Over the past few years, I've tried to broaden my comics reading beyond the "Big 2" and even beyond the bigger independent publishers such as Image and Dark Horse.  You know Panel Patter is a fan of the small press books, and if you enjoy reading about those books, you'll enjoy heading to MICE.

The organizers at MICE do a great job making MICE feel like a "homey" event even as it's grown in size and popularity. There's a great selection of comics creators (folks like Maris Wicks, Joel Christian Gill, Ansis Purins, Jennie Wood, and Panel Patter's own Whit Taylor), that will be in attendance, who work in all genres and styles of comics.

In addition to lesser-known local artists and creators, there will be some pretty great special guests at MICE this year: Raina Telgemeier, James Kochalka, Dave Roman, Emily Carroll, Box Brown and Paul Hornschemeier. There will also be a full slate of panels on both days (with a number of kid-friendly panels each day).

Also, did I mention it's free? Saving money on admission will leave you with more to spend on comics.

Coming up shortly, we'll have an interview with the organizers of MICE to learn more about the event.

The Rise of Aurora West

Something a little different for Panel Patter today, as we begin the week by participating in an art-driven blog tour for the new Battling Boy spin-off book, The Rise of Aurora West. Instead of a guest post or other things you might find on a blog tour, artist David Rubin is giving each site an exclusive piece of concept art to share with their readers! What a great idea! You'll find ours below within the review. 

After the review itself, you'll find details on how to read other perspectives on the book as well as see more exclusive art from Rubin. But first and most importantly, HOW WAS THE BOOK?

Written by Paul Pope and JT Petty
Illustrated by David Rubin
Published by First Second

In the pages of Battling Boy, we met Haggard West and his daughter Aurora, who were trying their best to fight the overwhelming surge of monsters plaguing their city and preying on the few children who remained. Just in case you haven't read the main book (and you should, my review of Battling Boy is here), I'll only say that things are going poorly, both for the city and for the Wests themselves, and Aurora must grow up far more quickly than her her heroic and protective father would like.

Haggard West and a Sadisto Gang Member
Art by David Rubin and provided exclusively
to Panel Patter!
The Rise of Aurora West takes a step backwards, to a time before Battling Boy himself shows up on the scene. The monster crisis is getting out of control, despite Haggard's best efforts, and now the monsters appear to be getting smarter, working to build a device that can't possibly be good for the people who remain alive. While helping her father to kill the creatures and solve the mystery, Aurora stumbles on a mystery of her own, relating to her mother's death, and nothing will stop her from finding the truth, even if it drives her father further into his obsession. Mixing current events and elements of her distant past, we begin to see just what kind of person Aurora West is--and the answer might just surprise her.

It's never easy to write a prequel, especially to a book as popular as Battling Boy, which was on just about everyone's Best of lists last year. Add into the mix the fact that artist and series creator Paul Pope was only contributing to the story, leaving someone else on art duties, and you have the potential for a disappointing book.

Except that, if anything, Rise of Aurora West is even more interesting than the main book, because the character of Aurora is far more engaged and active in her story, where as the titular boy in Battling Boy wants nothing to do with the life he's been drafted into. 

That's the key to understanding this book, I think--it quite literally shows us in black and white (no color this time) just how different Aurora is from the Battling Boy, and seeing how they inevitably work together in the main series despite this seeming incompatibility is going to make the next book in the main series that much deeper.

It's exactly what a prequel/spin-off book should do--be its own thing while also enhancing readers' enjoyment and understanding of the work being drawn from. That's something that many creators get wrong when they try to do a prequel. They want to "improve," "fix," or "explain" items that often don't need any of that forced triage.

Here, writers Petty and Pope purposefully don't try to explain everything we might have wondered when reading Battling Boy. For example, we now know that the monster issue has been going on for over a decade and part of the issue is that seemingly only Haggard can slow their progress. Anytime he's distracted, the monsters gain advantage. There's a hint that the monsters have been playing a long game, but who pulls their strings is still cloaked in mystery. Perhaps most importantly, we see that there's a definite link between the Wests and the monsters, but just how deep that tie runs (I have my suspicions) and what it means for Aurora when it's finally revealed stays in the background.

Instead, our focus is squarely on a young woman who's lived through the tragedy of her mother's death and is getting ready to be able to exact the unending revenge her father undertakes every night. This book is all about her, whether it's an accidental graffiti spree that leads to discovering a hidden evil in an analogue to Ancient Egypt or defying her father's wishes to find out the truth or her key role in the climactic battle between the Wests and the monsters, where she finds her resolve.

Watching this unfold (and seeing it flow so naturally) is a tribute to the co-writers as well as artist Rubin, who has to portray things in a style that's similar to (but not exactly like) Paul Pope. He's got a ton of times where his art is almost crowded out by dialogue-heavy sections, where the writing team leans heavily on exposition discussions. It's the only part of the book that's misses the mark. Rubin is so very talented and I would have liked to see the text-slingers give him a chance to show some of what the decided to tell instead.

When not in text-heavy scenes, Rubin shows why he was selected for the art duties. While not quite able to match Pope's layouts, he's still able to capture that wide-open feel in the action scenes. Panels are constructed from odd angles, the city itself feels as though it was patched together rather than organized for people to live, and structure is less important than form. There are times when he plays with perspective, putting the reader off-balance or using the technique to emphasize a key scene.

Rubin's characters actually emote a little better than Pope, with some really great facial features, especially on the part of the monsters who feel a bit more animated here and a little less just monstrous creatures of the night. My favorite of these might be Medula, a tentacled middle-woman monster whose minions are small, frog-like things (which is really sick, when you consider she eats tadpoles). At one point, she's framed in a building hole, machine guns blazing, and it's completely awesome.

While it's impossible to avoid the comparisons, anyone worried that Rubin can't fill Pope's shoes can rest easy. He understands the fluid nature of Pope's style, how to exaggerate form without falling into anatomic trouble, and ensure that there's an underlying sense of "not quite real" permeating every page. Because the world of Battling Boy is a place similar-to-but-not-exactly-Earth, getting that concept right is extremely important, and Rubin nails it.

Rise of Aurora West is a graphic novel that could get overlooked because it's not drawn by Pope and doesn't directly continue the story that was only just begun in the 2013 book. The fact that it, too, is incomplete, with further adventures teased with the title, The Fall of the House of West, may also hurt it just a bit. That'd be a shame, because this is a great story that really drives home what loss can do to a family, taking a Batman-style concept and making it something new, unique, and highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 30

Wednesday, October 1

Thursday, October 2

Friday, October 3

Saturday, October 4

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Panel Patter's September Small Press Previews Picks

A little while back, we told you about the new site, Small Press Previews. It's a great resource, but with so many books out there, which ones should you zero in on?

Well, the Panel Patter team has come together to help you out! Here's our picks of the small press work for September. We'll try to make this a monthly feature on the blog, so make sure you keep your eyes peeled for October's entry soon!*

These are in alphabetical order, with a note at the end of who suggested the book. Participating this month are Rob McMonigal (RBM), Rob Kirby (RK), Guy Thomas (GT), and James Kaplan (JK).

Copra Round 1 by James Fiffe. Copra is one of those rare things in modern times (where everything is easily available on the internet), which is something that's actually hard to come by. Everyone who's read Copra speaks about it with the most effusive praise. It's an out-there take on a team of anti-heroes and misfits, evocative of classic Suicide Squad but with Michel Fiffe's completely unique visual style. Available from Bergen Street Press. $19.95

Covers by Jason Martin Subtitled Stories about musicians, this zine by the author of last year’s excellent Driftwood City paperback collects comics Martin adapted from his favorite music-related stories. Inside there are true tales ranging from Kurt Cobain’s gastrointestinal issues and his special relationship with Kraft macaroni and cheese, to an interesting behind the scenes look at the session musicians for Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, a look at John Lennon’s primal scream therapy that resulted in his classic John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album, Kristin Hersh on recording the first Throwing Muses album, and more. Martin has excellent taste, and chooses fascinating vignettes, most of which touch on the often mysterious alchemy of the artistic process. Self-published, available here. $3 (RK)

I Don't Hate Your Guts by Noah Van Sciver finds the one-man anthologist looking inward, showing his life with honestly, even when it's not so glorious. See what comics he's reading and what jobs he's doing, since comics don't pay the bills. From 2D Cloud, and $5. (RBM)

Little Nemo: Dream another Dream by Various. The Little Nemo movie scared me as a kid. I would watch it and have nightmares of the Nightmare King (how appropriate) all night long. As I grew up and gained an interest in Platinum Age comics, I slowly started to understand how important the strip that inspired the movie was. Little Nemo was one of the first comics to show what comics can do, exploring the potential of the dream world in a way that no other medium can. Dream Another Dream looks to be a loving tribute from dozens of talented artists (including Paul Pope, David Mack, Craig Thompson, Carla Speed McNeil, and more!) to Winsor McCay’s classic strip. I am very excited to see how these creators interpret McCay’s world, and the oversized nature of the book (designed to be the same size as the original Sunday newspaper pages) along with the sheer quality of the previews I’ve seen look to make the rather high price point totally worth it. I cannot wait to read this book. $124.99 (GT)

Mr. Wolf #3 by Aron Nels Steinke This is the third issue of Steinke’s fictionalized autobiographical series about the life of an elementary school teacher. Mr. Wolf and the entire cast are anthropomorphized, which lends an extra sense of whimsy to these delightful, smartly observed vignettes, and Steinke’s art just gets better and better. There are very few comics about teaching out there (Ms. Bean’s Art Class by Cara Bean is the only other title I know of) and there should be more.  Get a copy for the teacher in your life. Available at Birdcage Bottom Books. $5. (RK)

Nix Comics #7 continues Ken Eppstein's music-themed horror anthology, which are two great things that go great together. It looks to be another quality batch of stories, with the lead story being called MP3s of Madness and the return of everyone's favorite unpleasant guy, Bus Stop Ned. You can pick this one up at Nix Comics for five bucks. (RBM)

Weird Me Vol 1 details Dirty Diamonds co-editor Kelly Phillips's time as the person running a Weird Al Yankovic fan site, which included flying to concerts and earning a stalker. A look at the King of Parody from the perspective of a fan and what it means to be a somewhat known fan within a larger community. Available directly from Kelly here. $5 (RBM)

Wendy by Walter Scott. Wendy is a mercilessly satirical look at the Montreal art school scene, as seen through the eyes of its titular heroine. Wendy means well, always trying to succeed as an artist, but she has a fatal weakness for excessive partying and choosing unavailable men, which tends to derail her plans, time and time again. Her circle of hipster friends and frenemies includes estranged pal Tina, no-nonsense Vienna, not-to-be-trusted Paloma, sexy paramour Byron, and her always horny, always-a-bad-influence gay pal, Screamo. Scott is a wonderfully expressive cartoonist, specializing in laugh-out-loud, operatic reaction shots. His characters are deeply flawed, hilariously funny, and always recognizably human. Another triumph from Koyama Press. Available in November, being previewed now. $18. (RK)

*We can't do the column until the Tumblr updates. As of this writing, it's still only showing September books.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Final Derby

Written by Danny Djeljosevic
Illustrated by Diana Naneva
Published by Loser City

Roller Derby has moved to become a sport about men, but that's not stopping a young woman from challenging the status quo. Together with a rag-tag group of blockers, she's out to prove everyone wrong in a short comic that tries hard but ultimately comes up a bit short in the final jam.

Though I haven't been to a game in some time, because they're held in a bus-inaccessible location in Portland, I became a big fan of roller derby while I lived in Baltimore, so the idea of a futuristic derby with some really amazingly-designed characters battling it out in a hyper-violent manner definitely appealed to me.

The big problem this comic has, however, is it's got a mini-series worth of backstory that we don't see, and the context for the comic is actually contained on the publisher's website, not on the pages itself. Djeljosevic has a really cool concept on his hands, but he picks a point toward the middle-end of the drama to begin the comic, and without something to help ground us (the explanatory paragraph on the web would have worked, in a pinch, but maybe 2 pages of visual setup would have been best), we lose a lot of the point of the comic.

You see, I think what Djeljosevic was trying to do was create an analog with gaming or comics or other parts of geek culture, where women and other outsiders are scorned. Picking derby to do it, given its traditional tie with women, could have really given this a lot of depth behind the brawling, but as it stands, when her opponent calls her a fake derby girl, it just grazes the surface, and not seeing how much she sacrificed to get to this point hurts the fact that clearly the charge isn't true. In addition, while we know the derby is violent, the degree of the man's attack is blunted--is the girl's fate unusual? I don't know, and Djeljosevic doesn't really give us a way to be sure.

I'd read a comic about each of those
characters in panel 1!
It's a real missed opportunity, which is a shame, because overall, the battle scenes on the track, drawn with strong manga influences by Diana Naneva, are a lot of fun. Alternating between tight close-ups and larger action scenes, she draws the panels in a style that's familiar for anyone who reads their fair share of shonen manga. Naneva does a really good job with reaction shots, though for a comic about derby, one of the fastest moving sports I've ever seen, there's not quite as much of a sense of motion as I'd prefer.

Despite the shortcomings, I really did have fun reading this one. The character concepts are extremely strong and make me wish we'd seen more of them. A science luchador? A gorilla in a suit who plays roller derby? An opponent who tries to use his good looks against her? Each attack sequence is different, and the only complaint, again, is the constrained space in which this one works.

Final Derby shows a ton of potential on the part of both the writer and artist. I know it's really hard to put a single comic into production, let alone a series, but when you have an idea this good, it's a shame to spoil it by cramming it into twenty pages. This one is still worth reading, just to see the creativity bursting at the seams, and the ending line that is just killer.

Here's hoping next time out, this pair will get more room to breathe. I'd love to read more of their work, either together or separately. Sometimes, there's more value in a flawed gem than a polished one. Both of these creators have a lot of potential, as I'm sure you'll agree if you get a chance to read Final Derby.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Finder: Third World by Carla Speed McNeil

Written and Illustrated by Carla Speed McNeil
Published by Dark Horse Comics

World building is a very particular skill. It requires such a large amount of mind-space and intricate attention to detail that not every creator can do it. A creator must know everything about the world they’re building, from the weirdest of counter-cultures to the biggest of economic problems - and the invented cultures of that world have to pervade every minuscule part of it, just like at home. Few works have really accomplished this – Lord of the Rings, Asterix, Dune, and to some extent, Finder. The world that Carla Speed McNeil has built is massive, with dozens of conflicting locations and cultures and peoples. There is so much room to explore, so many questions to ask and little things to notice and discover.

Third World turns away from the characters of the previous installment, Voice, to follow the goings-on of Jaeger at roughly the same time. He has gotten a straight job as a mail courier, which leads him all over the city and ends up dropping him in a completely different place. Soon, questions start coming up about him and he finds himself uncomfortably close to discovering who and what he really is.

One of the things I really enjoy about Finder in general is the way information is presented. Often with stories that have such intricate worlds a lot of information is given in the form of exposition and seemingly pointless excursions that do lots to provide background information and little to progress the story. In Finder though, McNeil presents the world as if it were the most normal thing - making it feel almost plausible and minimizing the need for suspension of disbelief. It can be confusing sometimes, almost like culture shock, but it feels more natural, more fluid than if the action was stopped to explain every tiny detail. Third World maintains this tradition, and, as always, includes notes in the back for those interested in McNeil’s thought processes and some of the things that are left unexplained.

McNeil's art in Finder is a big part of why I like the series so much. (I have heard it said that she is somewhat derivative of Terry Moore - which I can see the resemblance but I wouldn’t go so far as to say derivative.). I feel like her mastery of expression and body language makes it easy to tell what the creatures of a wide variety of real and imaginary species are feeling and thinking. This continues in Third World, but with one major addition: color.

There are certain things that the color adds to immensely, such as Jaeger’s very particular eye color, and a few that they detract from, like the beauty of certain species. In the beginning, it is fairly easy to see that McNeil was getting just used to color - its quality and the way it works with her line art improves throughout the book. I think that I still prefer the black and white of the previous stories, but I am willing to keep an open mind with upcoming installments.

If you have not read Finder previously, then Third World is not a good place to start. It requires a working knowledge about some of Jaeger’s previous adventures and person, as well as the city he’s occupying and some relationships between characters and tribes within the world. Although I do thoroughly recommend that you find the time to sit down and read Finder, perhaps a better starting point would be Sin-Eater, collected in the first Finder Library omnibus, or even Voice. If you have been reading Finder, and are more or less caught up with Jaeger, then Third World is most likely everything you want it to be and more.