Thursday, April 24, 2014

Series Review: The Private Eye

The Private Eye
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrated by Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vicente
Panel Syndicate

The Private Eye is an ambitious sci fi/detective series, published exclusively online by co-creators Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin under the Panel Syndicate banner. The Private Eye is offered on a DRM-free, pay-what-you-like model. More to the point, it's one of the best comics you'll read, online or offline. The story is set in the year 2076. This is a world which looks somewhat like what you'd imagine the future to be (tall buildings, futuristic cars), but there's no online connectivity. At some point (but well prior to the events of the story), there was an event where "the cloud" burst and for forty days and forty nights, all of everyone's deepest, darkest secrets became public. After that, no one trusted the internet anymore. Privacy is highly valued in the "present" time of the story; people go out of their way with masks and pseudonyms to hide their true identities in order to maintain their privacy. Interestingly, the Press has assumed the role of law enforcement, investigating crimes.

The story centers around a private investigator, known either as P.I. or by the pseudonym Patrick Immelman, who's approached by a beautiful woman (as these sorts of stories often tend to start) named Taj in order to run a background check on herself to see what sorts of dirt might turn up. When she's found dead up dead the next day, the case gets more serious.  P.I. is approached and essentially blackmailed into investigating Taj's murder by her sister Raveena.  P.I. And Raveena are almost immediately attacked and they go on the run, with some assistance from P.I.'s grandpa, who was a young man in our present day and still has a lot of trouble adjusting to the world of the story. Information is a lot harder to come by in 2076, as there is no internet and people's library searches are federally protected. P.I. and Raveena learn that Taj had been under the influence of a powerful man named De Guerre. During course of the first 5 issues, it becomes clear that De Guerre was responsible for Taj's murder (and some others as well) and is on the trail of P.I. and Raveena now, as part of his nefarious scheme to bring back something called "the internet".

In Issue 5, P.I. And Raveena make their way to the library - they get away from librarian shooting at them only through the help of P.I.'s teenage sidekick/driver Melanie. Unfortunately there's a car crash and she's injured at the end of Issue 5. In the current issue, Melanie is recovering in the hospital when she's approached by the press to get her story, unfortunately she's abducted by De Guerre's French henchmen, who engage in a firefight with the reporter. P.I. and Raveena follow a lead all the way out to the old Santa Monica pier, which no longer looks out onto the Pacific, but instead onto a giant sea wall, several hundred feet high. They find the home of Nebular, a scientist who's been working with De Guerre. At the same time, Nebular and De Guerre are heading out to Santa Monica, thereby setting up a big showdown in the next issue.

Vaughan and Martin have created something special with this comic. The story is a richly designed and detailed world, full of amazingly rendered touches. We don't know all that much about any of the characters in the story (as they come from a world where privacy is highly valued), but we're given enough to make them interesting. The art from Marcos Martin and colors from Muntsa Vicente are vibrant, detailed, and remarkably rendered. Every character has a tremendous amount of detail, and the setting (a futuristic world where most people where elaborate masks and costumes when outside) lends itself to the artistic team really getting to let their imaginations run wild. It would also not be a surprise to suggest that Vaughan (co-creator of Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina and Saga) knows how to build a world; he and Martin have done so skillfully here. Like the best science fiction, this story may take place in the future but it's about right now. The way these characters live (zealously guarding their privacy, not trusting any form of online communication) is a great commentary on how we live today, where we share everything online and trust in the security of the cloud. The idea of the cloud crashing down in a flood of data and thereby remaking the world is a great reinterpretation of the Biblical story of Noah*; the world that would emerge afterwards really would have to be different in order to function.

One example of the creative team's skill in world building, storytelling and social commentary is P.I.'s grandpa. He is a great recurring character in the issues and a source of comic relief, but he's a lot more than that. He goes on at various times about how he can't get any wifi or "bars" on his phone, and he's covered in tattoos. He defends the way they used to live, sharing everything because they had nothing to hide. It's funny to see an old person going on about these things, because these are the things that concern us now. So we see in this comic relief that all things are cyclical, and that all of the old people in our lives were young once, and everything we hold to as modern and exciting may someday seem quaint and ridiculous to our grandchildren. If it makes us a little uncomfortable, the creators are doing their job by giving us something to think about along with a terrific story and stunning art.

There's probably something ironic about The Private Eye only being available electronically. Don't worry about that though; this is a rich, interesting, beautifully rendered story in any format.

* A recurring theme in the books being reviewed by me, it seems.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

You Should Go To the Brooklyn Zine Fest April 26th and 27th, 2014

It's a little hard to believe that I've known Matt and Kseniya for over five years now, back when "I Love Bad Movies" was only in its first edition, but it's true. I've seen it expand to multiple issues, watched them oversee a movie night related to the zines and now organizing a highly successful (and mini-comic/zine star-studded) festival in Brooklyn every year.

While I never managed to make it myself, and now I'm too far away, I wanted to call attention to this year and encourage anyone in the area to try to make it down to the show. They're trying out something new this time: Each day of the show features an entirely different line-up of exhibitors! I've never heard of doing this before, and I am really curious to see how it works out. The big advantage to this--for those who can make both days--is it allows the show to have 150 exhibitors in a space that normally fits only 75.

Held at the Brooklyn Historical Society, in addition to the creators at their tables, there will be two events held leading up to the show and a few panels during the weekend.

First up is a talk about zines and mixed heritage:
Thursday, April 24th at 7pm / FREE, All Ages:Zines from the Borderlands: Storytelling about Mixed-HeritageFeaturing four Brooklyn Zine Fest exhibitors, this panel will discuss questions like, How can zines create new narratives and representations for mixed-heritage people, LGBTQ communities, and people of color? and, What is the role of zines, DIY and self-publishing within marginalized communities?
 On Friday, there's a reading performance and party, starting at 8pm with an $8 cover charge. It's all ages, but alcohol will be served to the 21+ crowd, so plan accordingly.

Saturday features a discussion about queer and trans zinesters:
Queer & Trans* Zinesters (Saturday 4/26 at 4:30pm)
For some of us, the first time we connected with queer people was through zines. How do queer zinesters — especially queer people of color — tell their stories? How do zines build queer community (or not)? Listen to these panelists speak on how queer and trans* identities appear (or don’t appear) in their zines and how zine culture figures into the rest of their lives.
Featuring: Nia King, Daniela Capistrano, Sarah Mae Allard, and Amos Mac
And Sunday has two more panels:
Collecting Zines (Libraries, Archives, & Collectives) (Sunday 4/27 at 1pm)
Zines are often thought of as impermanent; most have a very limited distribution and are not expected to be distributed forever. However, there are many large and growing zine libraries, archives, and public collections that are making zines more permanent and lengthening their “shelf life.” On this panel, we will be discussing the ethics of zine collecting and how collectors go about their work.
Featuring: Jenna Freedman, Robin Enrico, and Kathleen McIntyre 
Anonymity (Sunday 4/27 at 3pm)
What are the benefits/drawbacks of being a “public zinester”? Some zinesters find that the material they put out might change their relationships with other people if it was put under their real name; some just find it to be part of “zine culture” to be mysterious. Do you put your real name on your zine? Come find out what our panelists have to say about and share your own experiences with anonymity.
Featuring: Carnage NYC, Research & Destroy New York City, and Deafula
As usual when previewing a show, I like to point out who you should see. This is the first time I've had to split it into days!

SATURDAY:

The I Love Bad Movies zine is for anyone who's ever sat down and watched some truly terrible films and loved every minute of them. Filled with short reviews of some really awful films, this is a great series that you shouldn't miss out on.

Paper Rocket mini-comics has exactly what it says. Home of some great compilation minis like "This Isn't Working,", they are definitely a group to check out.

So Buttons is writer Jonathan Baylis working with a wide variety of creators, including Noah Van Sciver and Fred Hembeck, telling stories of his life that are engaging and touching, and often funny, too. This one's for fans of Harvey Pekar, though it's definitely a lot less bleak!

SUNDAY:

The La-La Theory is writer (and flea market maven) Katie Haegele, another zinester I've known since I got involved via Erica several years ago. She's collected my favorite series of hers, White Elephants, into a book, and also has other projects involving language, interviews, and other things.

Deafula is a zinester who discusses the ins and outs of being differently abled in America. At times it's angry, hopeful, and funny, as she explains to the rest of the world just what it's like to live in a culture that is anything but hospitable to those who have physical challenges of any kind. Highest possible recommendation on this one.

Steve Seck is one of my best friends in the mini-comics field. I'm not sure if his wife Sara will be there or not, but the pair are a creative force who couldn't possibly work in more different parts of the genre. Steve's work is all about unpleasant characters doing things you know--and they know--they shouldn't, while Sara's is mostly about really cute cats with jobs. If you are an MST3K fan, run, don't walk to this table and get Steve's new print, featuring a whole host of your favorite creators and characters from the movies they attacked over the years.

Marguerite Dabaie is a friend of Steve and Sara, and is an amazing artist in her own right. I reviews her latest series, A Voyage to Panjikant, recently. and it's gorgeous and full of detail. Make sure you stop by!

Liz Prince is one of the best at writing frankly about relationships in her autobiographical work. She reminds me quite a bit, even down to the style, once upon a time, of Jeffrey Brown. Her new collection with Top Shelf should be available when you see her at the show.

Ray Ray Books is the small press imprint of Cody Pickrodt, who also writes and draws the comic series Reptile Museum. You can learn more about him from this interview Rob Kirby conducted for Panel Patter.

I hope you make it to the show and have a great time! You can find more information on the show at its website.

Translucid (1 of 6)

Translucid (1 of 6)
Written by Chondra Echert and Claudio Sanchez
Illustrated by Daniel Bayliss
Published by Boom! Studios

Translucid is the first issue in a new miniseries from the husband and wife creative team of Claudio Sanchez and Chondra Echert with art from Daniel Bayliss. Sanchez is best known as the lead singer and guitarist for the rock group Coheed and Cambria, and he and Echert have previously co-written the comics Key of Z and Kill Audio. This first issue is a beautifully illustrated work that explores and begins to deconstruct some familiar themes (mostly the strange, symbiotic relationship between heroes and their arch-villains) but does so in an interesting enough way to leave a reader wanting to know more.

The story begins with a scene of a young man in his room designing what appears to be a super hero costume, and then turns to the present day, where super villain The Horse (a well-dressed man wearing a horse's head helmet) has recently been released from prison. The Horse meets with lesser villains The Apocalypse 3; he wants their help in his plan to go after the city's greatest hero, The Navigator. The story goes back and forth between scenes of the young man (who turns out to be the Navigator) in the past, and the present day (and we nicely get to see his imaginative dreams come to fruition).

The Apocalypse 3 have taken the Horse hostage in the Empire Building and have rigged the building with explosives. The Navigator finds the Horse tied up in the building, and the Horse presents him with a choice. If he frees the Horse, the building will explode. He just has to be willing to leave the Horse to be captured or killed. The Navigator makes the typical comic book choice, and the Horse turns things around, essentially punishing the Navigator for being unwilling to make the hard choices. The story ends with a scene of the past, with the young man waking from a nightmare because of a sound of a crashing bottle, and hints of a very difficult childhood.

The story is expressly meant to be a deconstruction of superhero tropes; more specifically, it's meant to be a close examination of the strange, symbiotic relationships between superheroes and their arch-nemeses. This story most clearly brings to mind Batman and the Joker. Like Batman and the Joker, we have a high-tech crime fighter battling against an eccentric criminal mastermind who creates ridiculous elaborate schemes not simply to hurt and destroy, but to test and challenge his heroic nemesis. Much like many people have asked the question over the years "Why doesn't Batman just kill the Joker and be done with it?" here the creators present us with the question of "Why doesn't the Navigator just leave the Horse in the building, rather than allow the Empire State Building, and anyone inside it, to get blown up?"  The story answers this question by telling us that this crazy horse head man is apparently the closest thing the Navigator has to a friend. 

The art really helps sell the story here. Daniel Bayliss is a serious talent. He brings to mind some combination of Paul Pope, Frank Quitely and Nick Pitarra (some pretty great territory to be in). His depictions of the young Navigator, from the detail of a very modest home to the muted tones, convey a "real world" setting. By contrast, when we see the Navigator and the Horse, the colors are more expressive (though the backgrounds and design still feel very real). There are some scenes at the end of the story, when the Horse has drugged the Navigator, that are in the realm of mind-blowing psychedelic visions (easy enough to imagine when your adversary is dressed up like an anthropomorphic horse). Also, given Bayliss' skill as a visual storyteller, the writers here smartly don't overwrite this issue (other than in a panel or two where they tell rather than show).

This series is very much in the Watchmen-esque, "superheroes are psychologically messed up" territory, which is well-trod ground. However, given skillful, effective art, and the weird, interesting and self-aware twists and turns the first issue has already provided, it feels like the creators here have something to say. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Rob Ullman's Animal Alphabet

 Written and Illustrated by Rob Ullman
Self-Published

Anyone who is a fan of this blog knows my long association and friendship with Rob Ullman, the biggest Pirate/Steeler/Pens fan not living in Pittsburgh.

It's been a rough weekend, given the Bucs are back to their old tricks and the Pens look ready to choke more than the Boston Strangler, so I thought I'd cheer him up by telling you about this gem of a mini from a few years ago.

Back in 2011, a group of cartoonists, many of whom I am either friends with or know of, got together and put together a group Tumblr featuring a different letter of the alphabet each week for six months. For each letter, the artist could pick a corresponding animal of their choice.

(I even did one, in a rare art moment. "L is for Lemings on a Ladder.")

Well, those of us familiar with Rob's art know he can easily draw beautiful and realistic women, but could he manage to do the same for the animal kingdom?

The answer is a resounding yes.

Taking the same slick lines that serve him so well when crafting humans, Ullman puts together images of the selected animals that portray them as neatly as if they were illustrations in a field guide or 19th Century biology book and yet feel just light and airy enough to match his other works. Each creature is front and center, taking up as much of the page as possible, with backgrounds that fit their natures.

(I will forgive Rob for adding an Igloo to the Penguins one, given it *is* the name for the old Mellon Arena.)

This is a unique sketchbook that shows off Rob's talent in a way you can hand to your child, and even, as he notes on the website, let them color the figures in, if they're so inclined. I love themed sketchbooks (I even have one that's an artist's choice alphabet, that I desperately need to get working on), and this is no exception. If you enjoy artbook mini-comics, this is a must-have, that you can get from Ullman's website.

Not convinced yet? Then I leave you with a picture of Rob's Dik-Dik:


What else were you expecting? For shame!

Cram Yourself with Good Comics at the end of the Study Group Kickstarter

A little over two years ago, I wrote about a new collective of artists who were opening a webcomics portal called Study Group.

Unlike some projects of a similar nature, this one kept on going, even without the benefit of being on RSS (something I really hope they'd change by now, to be honest). Led by Zack Soto and Milo George, Study Group has grown over time and several of the things first serialized there have gone on to a print publication. In addition, Study Group Magazine is two issues into its run so far, with no signs of stopping.

Study Group the website is, I think, a great success, and I'm pleased to see that their Kickstarter is already over its goal with a few days left. The crowd funding is being used to effectively create pre-orders for It Will All Hurt 2 from Farel Dalrymple, Haunted from Sam Alden, the third Study Group Magazine issue (in 3D, no less!), and now Titan 2 from Francois Vigneault and Secret Voice 2 from Zack Soto.

The project has funded, but I wanted to give it a final signal boost to give it a bit more attention, let my readers know about in case they hadn't already seen it (I know I miss good projects all the time), and ensure they get the final stretch goal to make this feature a total of five books instead of just three.

While I am not always active on the website, I have been reading the print editions coming out from it, and I can tell you they are stellar. I reviewed It Will All Hurt 1 and came away extremely impressed with the nature of Dalrymple's storytelling and the quality of his art. I expect the second issue to be just as good, if not better.

I've already read the first two issues of Study Group Magazine, with plans to review the second issue soon. It's a great combination of art and commentary, leaning heavily on the experimental side of things. The articles and comics blend together seamlessly, treating the medium with respect and care and yet also allowing for irreverence in the material contained within at the same time.

If I hadn't been planning to back the Kickstarter, I would have definitely picked up Sam Alden's Haunted, which looked gorgeous. It has full and rich linework and colors that jump out at the reader. It took a lot of willpower not to double dip. If you need further validation of Alden's quality, keep in mind he's a Retrofit Alumni, being a part of this year's group. Long-time Panel Patter readers know of Box Brown's curating quality, as his small press's titles are always finding a place on my end of year lists.

In terms of reward, this is yet another strongly tiered project. After the usual thank-you levels, you can get stickers for $6, Titan #2 for $8, It Will All Hurt 2 for $12, Secret Voice 2 for $12, $15 for Study Group Mag 3D, and $18 for Haunted. There's also a digital tier (YAY!) for $12.

From there, you have a series of combo packs, ranging from groupings of books to retailer incentives to signed editions. There really are a great number of options for anyone with extra funding who wants to have a larger reward.

Study Group are a great bunch of people who I've had the pleasure to meet on a few occasions now. They not only know how to put together a model that is successful, they do it with great comics, too, that run the gamut from the rawest of alternative comix to absolutely gorgeous watercolor work by Dalrymple. Whether it's on the web or in print, it's comics of the highest quality. If you'd like to see that for yourself in either a hard copy or a digital form you can read on your favorite device, take a look and then add a few more dollars on the pile.

You can back the Study Group Kickstarter here.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Single Minded Catch-Up: for 2/26/14: Weak Week for Remender, Strong Week for Turtles

Welcome to the first of my Single Minded Catch-Up posts, in which I go back and talk about books that aren't exactly as new as they were when I was supposed to write this up.

Normally, the cupboard is a bit bare at the end of the month, but this one featured a ton of new #1 issues, making for a rather long column. So there's a ton to talk about, whether it's new Gail Simone, old Charles Schulz, or some series that could be sleeper hits for you. All in all, there's 11 books in here, because as we all know from my 'Rama work, I'm never more at home than when saying a few things about a lot of books.

Let's begin with one of the two Rick Remender books, which had an amazing issue one.

Issue two? Not so much.

Deadly Class 2
Written by Rick Remender
Illustrated by Wes Craig and Lee Loughridge
Published by Image Comics

Marcus learns about his new home in a series of cliché set pieces and the amazing artwork can only do so much to save this second issue that fell flat for me after a promising first issue.

This might have been the most disappointing book I’ve read recently, mostly because the first issue had so much action and potential. But unfortunately, instead of building on that steady, moving beat, Remender opts instead to methodically take Marcus through life at the assassin school, taking pains to hit every single stereotypical school trope possible: The wise headmaster, the racist hicks, the hot-blooded, lust-filled Latinos, aloof and mysterious Japanese folks (and form the romantic interest, because we need an exotic beauty), the outcasts who break the rules, the homophobic jock, and the good natured wimp who befriends the main character.

That would be fine as far as it goes (I’m no stranger to reading comics that revisit themes), but I can’t find anything new happening with them here. We could easily have ended with the line about “the dagger they put in your back is real” and moved forward, using our vast prior knowledge of such scenarios to fill in the gaps while we move into the more interesting parts (like the classes themselves, Marcus’s object of revenge, and what happens when a student fails an assignment). Instead, this one just beats us over the head with how hard it’s going to be for Marcus, who doesn’t fit in anywhere, something it only takes about three pages to actually express.

The Craig and Loughridge art team, which I praised extensively in my review of issue one, do the best they can with the story they’re given here. The coloring tricks that worked so well in issue one are present again, and have the same effect, setting the mood and place for the reader and enhancing Craig’s panel structures and figure placements. There’s a greater use of blacks here, adding a nice edge. Craig’s character designs fit Remender’s stereotypes well (another reason we don’t need the endless exposition scenes—the art tells more than the dialogue can) and he gives them a lot of great body language and expression.

Still, this one hit a sophomore slump pretty badly. I’m hoping for better in issue three, but if it’s more of the same, this one might be out of the rotation.

My Little Pony Friends Forever 2
Written by Jeremy Whitley
Illustrated by Tony Fleecs and Lauren Perry
Published by IDW

Three ponies try hard to make their mark, but get into trouble when their assistant is a trickster with powers, leading to pages of parodies in Princeless writer Jeremy Whitley’s My Little Pony debut.
I thought I was done reviewing MLP comics, but here comes another of my favorite writers, following on the heels of Alex de Campi’s series-opening one-shot. This one was a little harder for me to follow along with, because I have zero familiarity with the characters so I wasn’t able to fully grasp the backstory.

Once I got the premise of the unaffiliated ponies and their desire to get a cutie mark and that Discord was a Loki/Q style character possibly trying to be a better creature, the story is a lot of fun. After briefly showing the ponies’ failures, Whitley has Discord take up the challenge of putting them in increasingly convoluted scenarios, trying to figure out what they’re good at.

Line artist Tony Fleecs matches Whitley step for step at this point, easily switching from generic sports scenarios to a rather familiar spaceship to a series of panels that feature everything from waling the plank to hysterically cute rogue cops. I continue to be impressed with how the artists on this series can manage to make the ponies do things and act humanoid while still keeping them looking very much like the iconic toys that the book is created to help sell. (I will ding Fleecs for drawing a d8 when the dialogue calls for two d6, however.)

Jeremy’s ear for dialogue that serves him so well on his signature series also plays out here. He’s able to write lines that are fun, but turn things a bit serious when needed, such as the wrap-up scene, where the characters discuss what they’ve learned, a hallmark of writing a series for kids. There’s still plenty of jokes for the adults in the room, though, and the overall plot and story are very much all-ages in the best sense of the word.

Generally speaking, I’m not going to tell you to go read a MLP comic, but for the second month in a row, I’m going to ask you to make an exception for this one, another solid entry in this anthology.

Furious 2
Written by Bryan JL Glass
Illustrated by Victor Santos
Published by Dark Horse Comics

Cadence tries to get ahead of her press as Furious, but a figure who seems to know her all-too-well looks dead set on ruining everything in another reflective issue about the nature of identity and redemption mixed with violence, heroics, and a realistic look at how cops would deal with a cape.

This is a very clever comic that's only getting better as it progresses. Though it can occasionally require a bit of page flipping to make sure you're on the right track, the idea of trying to make the world a better place when you did your part to ruin your share of it registers strongly. Mixing a bit of natural sexism with tongue in cheek media references (I caught those real twitter handles, guys!), Cadence's struggle is not only in controlling (and understanding) her powers but in trying to figure out her place. It's a fight she's been doing almost since birth, in poignant scenes that echo the familiar child-star disasters we know all-too-well.

Victor Santos' linework remains sharp, despite having to switch between past and present. His panel work here is extremely impressive, such as using a rifle scope view to portray some of the action or breaking things at odd angles, allowing the story to dictate the layouts. Some of the choices are a bit odd here and there, cutting off the main action, but overall, this innovative style serves the plot well and gives it a distinctive look compared to similar comics.

Furious is doing a good job with its deconstruction of the nature of being a hero, and the new element of either a split personality, clone, or some other antagonist with similar powers should prove interesting as we move into the next issue.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 31
Story by Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow, and Tom Waltz
Written by Tom Waltz
Illustrated by Ross Campbell and Ronda Pattison
Published by IDW

The Turtles quiet respite breaks apart violently as their sanctuary is invaded and the fragile trusts built up may soon fall away as one of the quietly best comics out there keeps on being amazing.

After illustrating so many touching personal scenes, Campbell gets to show off that he's no slouch at drawing action, either--as those of us who read the Glory reboot know so well. Thanks to clever plotting by the creative trio that leaves the heroes unaware of the attack, when Shredder's new bird-themed warriors attack, it's devastating, putting the Turtles back on their heels. Ross captures that perfectly, showing the team ready to fight but not on top of their game.

I've spoken extensively before about how much Campbell and Pattison bring to the table artistically, and this issue is no exception. From the playful fighting romance of Raphael and Alopex to April's Campbell-girl makeover, the issue has his stamp of design all over it, with Pattison's coloring bringing out the best in Ross's work. But the best moment so far in the arc might be the look of betrayal in Raph's eyes when he believes Alopex was the cause of the ambush. His eyes grow wide, preparing to pounce, and letterer Shawn Lee pulls his words right out of the dialogue balloon, finishing the effect.

It's note perfect, and my only complaint is that this arc will soon be over, and we'll have to wait for more Campbell Turtle work. If you aren't reading this one, shame on you.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Utrom Empire 2
Written by Paul Allor
Illustrated by Andy Kuhn and Bill Crabtree
Published by IDW

The backstory of Krang and his people continues against a new fight for their survival, as alliances shift and twist in the deadly wind of this second issue.

As I noted for the first issue, this is one for the hard-core Turtles fans only. But if, like me, that includes you, then you are in for a treat, because Allor's writing here is some of his best. He's able to make Krang something of a sympathetic figure, even as his ruthlessness is on full display. The idea of his opposition to a grand empire at a young age cuts the reader like a knife when balanced against his current state. At the same time, Stockman's fly-self gets a slight twist, as the mad scientist tries to bring everything down around him and the Fugitoid is stuck in the middle.

Kuhn and Crabtree do a great job with keeping the visuals dancing back and forth between past and present, making both worlds come alive. Despite dealing with talking brains, robot bodies, and the odd dinosaur, Kuhn still manages to get emotions across with the posing of limbs, both real and artificial. Crabtree keeps things varied with an ever-changing color palette, shading the Utroms in a variety of pinks and purples.

This issue leaves everything in an upheaval, with a very real chance we may see an end to Krang's Dynasty. I've had a lot of fun reading this spin-off, which helps build a world thankfully (at least so far) immune to that upcoming disaster of a movie.

Edison Rex 14
Story by Chris Roberson and Dennis Culver
Words by Roberson
Art by Culver and Stephen Downer
Published by Monkeybrain

A look behind the scenes of Edison Rex's new empire shows quite a few cracks in this breather issue that continues to show that Edison's world isn't as happy as he hopes it will be.

Split across several cut scenes is a main arc showing what it's like to be an ordinary henchman for one of Rex's lieutenants, focusing on two young women who bond over the difficulty of staying in uniform. We've seen low-level looks like this before elsewhere, so it's not quite as interesting as some of Roberson and Culver's past parallels. That could be partly because the point is to use them as a way to see the chinks in the armor, so even as we see them taking breaks or going out for drinks, the reader's thoughts are on how this plays out in the overall story.

Culver shines bouncing from place to place and character group to character group. He's easily able to show one page of L.A.R.V.A. in a romance pastiche then roll into a science division marching like automatons. There's no a lot for him to do visually here, but holding the disparate parts together is enough.

After a set-up issue like this, I'm hoping we move into a bigger story with the next issue.

Tomb Raider 1
Written by Gail Simone
Illustrated by Nicolas Daniel Selma, Juan Gedeon, and Michael Atiyeh
Published by Dark Horse Comics

Regrets? Lara Croft has more than a few, and they come back to haunt her in a rather morose opening to this new series that feels a bit too close to Simone's recent Batgirl work.

I want to note right away that I have no connection at all to the Tomb Raider games. As best as I can recollect, I never played it, even at a friend's house. So my impressions here are based solely on this as a comic, not as an adaptation.

And to be honest, while I really like Simone's work on Batgirl (when it's not stuck in a crossover) and especially on the new Red Sonja, this one didn't really grab me. What I do know about Croft is that she's an adventurer, kind of a female Indiana Jones. After a teasing, action-packed opening, most of the rest of the issue is spent with Lara internally beating herself up for a past event that haunts her and the rest of her team. While there's a crazy event that ends the issue and sets up a world of the supernatural for Lara to face, the middle is just a slog of morose regret. I've gotten plenty of that in Batgirl lately, thanks.

Selma doesn't help matters, drawing competently but without bringing any life to the proceedings. A perfect example is when Lara thinks she might have to kill a friend. Instead of showing the tension with a tight grasp on her pick, Selma shows her hand frozen in place above it. It's a passive gesture and the rest of the issue is similarly designed. Backgrounds fall in and out, struggles look posed instead of passionate, and it always feels like it was the moment before or after that the reader should see, instead of the one chosen by the artist.

I will give Selma props on one thing, however: His design for Croft makes her look like an athletic woman, someone who probably played sports and would be at home swimming in the Olympics. This is not the improbably chested pixel person of the games*, and that's a good thing.

Because this is Simone, I'll give it some time to work. But honestly, I was disappointed all around, especially for a title that was hyped up.

The Remains 1
Written by Cullen Bunn
Illustrated by AC Zamudio and Carlos Nicolas Zamudio
Published by Monkeybrain

A strange man comes to an ordinary family farm and causes trouble of the supernatural variety in this opening salvo of a horror story that uses some familiar tropes quite well.

The thing about horror is that it isn't so much about creating something new as it is finding a way to use the things that scare us in a way that's entertaining and engaging. It's very rare for something to be completely unique (Madame Frankenstein being the exception that proves the rule), so the key is to see how apply the ideas and concepts of horror to your particular project.

In this case, Bunn uses the child protagonist to tell a story that she's managed to survive, but only after extreme pain, which the comic will show for us, piece by piece. After setting up how normal her world was before the change, we go straight to an incredibly creepy drifter who the narrator immediately distrusts but the father feels they need. It's not long before something kinda creepy in its own right (giant, hungry rats) gets worse as the rise from the dead in the first sign that something's wrong.

All of this is captured in great, period-feeling detail by AC Zamudio, whose work I liked when I saw it in Monkeybrain's Real West #1. Given a longer piece to work with, she applies the same touches of light and shadow, alternating goodness with menace. The aging, ailing father looks a bit like Pa Kent while the design for the villain, Cole, is pure menace. His long face and leering, toothy grin, makes it clear he'll be trouble, but in true horror tradition, only the girl can see it. The backgrounds make it clear that this is a family who are just getting by, with buildings that are slightly run down, adding to the overall feeling.

If you are a horror fan, this is well worth checking out. As per usual, Monkeybrain's signature quality shines through.

Black Science 4
Written by Rick Remender
Illustrated by Matteo Scalera and Dean White
Published by Image Comics

Grant is getting what he deserves but it's another team member who pays the price as this time-lost group forms a poster child for dysfunction in a brilliantly drawn issue that's lagging badly in the scripting.

Ward is the star of the show here, doing his best in a shitty situation to keep everyone alive, even Grant. He shows a level of courage and dedication that sets him apart from the rest, which makes his final fate all the more tragic, even though you know it's coming from the start. People like Ward are the cannon fodder lesser men like Grant and his boss Kadir use to get ahead.

It would be a great set piece--except that Remender gets Stan Lee disease and gives Ward an unnecessary narration that states the obvious and pulls away from the drama and wonder that Scalera and White bring to the proceedings. From an opening sequence that pits technologically advanced Aztecs against falling bombs from German airplanes to an awesome decapitation that features some of the best speed lines to heighten the vanishing point I've seen in some time, this might be the best issue yet from a visual perspective.

Scalera's facial expressions are some of his best, with the sharp, angular lines creating exaggerations that fit the characters' sharply defined natures (even if their words and actions are pretty stereotypical here). Ward's determination and Kadir's cowardice are on full display, thanks in large part to the character placement and frequent use of tight looks created by the art team. White's color work here manages to make things look dark and rainy but keep everything clear enough to see, with a range of shades that blend together nicely.

The best parts of Black Science so far are the fantastic creatures and situations that the team finds themselves in. That's enough for me, but as with Deadly Class, I am hoping the writing portion of the creative team steps it up a notch before this one also bogs down. These are some great visuals, and they deserve stronger art to go with them.

Peanuts 16
Written by Jeff Dyer, Nat Gertler, Vicki Scott, and Charles Schulz
Illustrated by Scott Jeralds, Justin Thompson, Robert Page, Paige Braddock, Andy Hirsch, Lisa Moore, Art Roche, Donna Almendrala, and Charles Schulz
Published by Boom! Studios

Lucy gets a rare moment of self-reflection, Linus learns even invisible art is commercial, Franklin gets a feature piece, and Charlie Brown is heartbroken at Valentine’s Day once more in a set of stories that continue to take good, safe care of Charles Schulz’s creations.

Leading off is “The Doctor is Way In” from the best writing/artist team on the book, Scott and Braddock. Lucy gets frustrated and decides to seek advice--from herself. Getting at the heart of one of the most difficult characters for a modern reader, Scott’s climax where Lucy assures herself she must be right after all is spot on to Schulz’s vision, I think.

Lucy also features heavily in two other stories, “She Loves Me…She Loves Me Not” from Dyer and Hirsch and “The Airtist” by Dyer, Jeralds, and Thompson. In the former story, she devastates poor Charlie Brown about his lack of a love life while the latter features her commercialization of Linus’ innocent finger-drawings in the air. Dyer isn’t able to strike the right Lucy balance in either story, making her either too cruel (vs Charlie Brown) or too domineering (vs Linus). I liked Airtist better, because it does feature the vast imagination of the Peanuts gang, able to find wonders in blank canvases and giving Snoopy a chance to play yet another role.

The Franklin story is a bit troubling, because why is the only primary Peanuts character of color given the story about *shoes*? Peppermint Patty would have been just fine for this one, being the character most associate with athleticism. Still, it was nice to see him as a main character, even if he’s ultimately outdone by Snoopy, which of course happens to just about everyone in Schulz’s world.

I don’t have a lot of art notes here because this series really keeps the lit down on the character designs, unlike Garfield, which now features a back-up story each issue with an indie artist drawing Jim Davis’ characters however they wish. I’d love to see variety in the art, but except for a few minor variations in shading from Moore to Roche and perhaps an eyebrow position here or there, you can drop one version of Lucy or Snoopy into another in this issue and would barely notice.

This is a book for those who like fun, safe new stories using the Peanuts gang. It has a mission and executes it well. Whether or not you like that mission is going to be up to you.

Tales of Honor 1
Written by Matt Hawkins
Illustrated by Jung-Geun Yoon (with Linda Sejic)
Published by Top Cow/Image Comics

Honor Harrington's may have finally caught up to her in this first issue that's set in the world of David Weber's novels and chooses an unusual place to begin--with the hero restrained and facing certain death--in an opening issue that was honestly better than I expected.

Military Sci-Fi isn't really my thing. Baen, the publisher of the Honor Harrington novels, is extremely good at what they do, but it's a label I rarely go to because of the nature of their work. So I came into this one blind but curious, and I thought that despite the strange choice of starting points, Hawkins did a pretty good job. With Harrington reflecting on what got her into this mess that looks headed for a state execution (but probably won't end there), it gives him time to provide backstory without killing the mood. We see that Honor is determined, fearless, and unflinching, no matter the odds. There's even an admission that being a woman in the military, even in the future, is a rough road.

Yoon's art is Photoshop heavy, which does hurt the comic because of its frequent feeling of uncanny valley and stiff characterization. It works okay for the space scenes, but when we get into the figure work, Harrington's expression barely changes between being in action, appearing before commanding officers, and preparing to be tortured, which is a real problem. While I had no problem visualizing the military portions of the plot, I found myself wishing there was more in the way of background details to flesh out the story.

In a world where so many things are adapted, I think there's a place for Honor Harrington, and kudos to Top Cow for looking beyond the usual suspects. I'm not the target for this one, but I included it here because I'd like to see it do well. If you like military space opera, this could be a big sleeper hit for you.

*Do you know they padded Angeline Jolie's bra when she played Croft in the movie???? Good Lord.

Admin: Time Flies When You're Moving 2700 Miles

Rob M here. I wanted to take a brief moment to thank James, Rob K., Whit, and Scott for keeping things going while I was mostly out of commission as part of the move.

I thought sure I'd be able to do more over the past six weeks, but between boxing things up, moving things out, the moving itself, and getting set up, it's taken far more of my energy than I expected.

So expect there to be some catch-up work from my end, as I go back and read some things that I wanted to talk about but wasn't able to find the time during the moving process. Look for that starting today, as well as a ramp-up back to daily content, which you may have noticed this past week.

On the one hand, I'm a bit bummed at missing out on experiencing these comics when they were brand new. On the other hand, this reminds me of Christmases Past, when Dad would buy a shit-ton of old comics for me as cheaply as he could manage, and I'd get to devour them, page by page.

Anyway, enjoy catching up with me, see if you agree with some of my thoughts, and hey--maybe you'll find a few hidden gems you missed among the hype.

The Panel Patter team is looking to keep 2014 going as a breakthrough year where we do even more to cover the kinds of things others don't always give attention to.

Just don't mind me if a few of mine are a little late. ;)

Speaking from the comics pulpit,

Rob

A Trip to LineworkNW 2014

The Norse Hall. No Grendels allowed, not even Matt Wagner.
One of things I am most looking forward to living in Portland is the fact that it has such a vibrant comics and zine community. I got a sample of this when I visited the first time, and attended Rose City's second-ever con.

More recently, though I didn't get a chance to write them up, I went to two signings in Portland when I was here to sign a lease. Both were great times with a good group of comics creators and publishers.

My official first con as a Portland resident, however, was the first-ever LineworkNW show, held on April 12 inside the comfy Norse Hall, in Southeast Portland. If the size of the crowd, quality of the participants, and large number of purchases by attendees is any indication, this won't be the last we see of this particular comics show.

A view looking into the crowd. Note the lack of garish banners!
When I walked inside after the show had been running for about an hour, I was immediately impressed by the size of the crowd. Pound for pound based on size of the room, it was easily as filled--if not more so--than SPX. People were lined up elbow to elbow at every table, ranging from the bigger names (Fantagraphics, Dark Horse, Oni) to established indie favorites such as Alternative Comics, Sparkplug, and of course, show co-founder Zack Soto's own Study Group. Filling in around them were a plethora of incredibly talented creators, such as Alec Longstreth of Basewood and Dylan Meconis, just to name two.

Best of all, they weren't just looking around--they were buying things. I think this is a severely underrated part of small press comics conventions. Sure, it's awesome to get the gang together, find an excuse to hang out and drink, share each other's work, and have a general good time. But unless you are local to the area--and granted, a lot of folks at the show were Portlanders--traveling to a con costs money. Perhaps more importantly, it also costs time. Every minute you are in a plane or a car or behind a table is time lost to create more comics. If that time doesn't net you sales, it's about as useful as playing Candy Crush Saga, and (probably) more expensive.

Jim Woodring and his giant pen.
So while my own finances were extremely limited*, meaning I only came home with two things from Study Group, I was extremely pleased to see money changing hands and tablets coming out on a regular basis to take credit card orders.

I really liked the construction of the show. The biggest names were given spaces that were maybe a little larger than those around them, but they did not dominate. No huge "HEY LOOK AT US WE QUALIFY FOR PREVIEWS" status symbols were in evidence. Dark Horse and Oni, the two biggest local pubs, had nice layouts, don't get me wrong, but they were appropriate for the venue. They were a part of the gang, as it were, not the superstars who suck the air out of the room from everyone else. I liked the equality of the arrangement, and I hope that even as the show grows inevitably bigger that the organizers will stick to this plan.

Similarly, it was nice to see the focus on two guests only: Mr. DeForge and Mr. Woodring. Over time, I'm sure the feature guest list will increase, but as with the placement of the big names, it helped to show that "we're all artists here" by not over-emphasizing the guests at the expense of the other creators. This reminded me quite a bit of Locust Moon or a zine fest in that regard, and I for reacted extremely positively to it.

Anyone got to try the pen, for a small donation.
I only watched one event, which I actually caught by accident because Jen Vaughn reminded me about it: Jim Woodring's giant fountain pen. I'm really glad she did. Watching him draw lines (and later, others create actual visuals) with an insanely large writing tool was a lot of fun. Like everything else at the show, it was low-key and democratic. For an extremely small donation--anyone got some time with the pen.

Before I left, I caught up with Zack and Francois and both agreed the show had been a huge success. I am very happy for both of them and for Portland as a creative community. This was a pitch-perfect opening for a new endeavor, one that, while not a Stumptown replacement, definitely fills a similar need. I will miss my East Coast shows, knowing there's bound to be another LineworkNW in 2015 makes me very happy for my future convention-going here in my new city. Especially since I expect to have money to spend by that time, and can fully participate in what I hope will be the second of many, many great shows in LineworkNW's future.

For more of my pictures from LineworkNW, click here.

*With the transition to a new city, until we get settled, I have to watch how much I spend on anything that's not rent, food, or the internet.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Jason Parts 1 and 2

Written and Illustrated by Bonesteel
Self-Published

Jason and several of his slasher pals lead ordinary lives that include killing people and stupid contests in this set of mini-comics from the author of Ninja Girl.

Once upon a time, slasher films were actually scary. Well, I guess if you were like eight or so, they were. I highly doubt they ever scared very many people who were old enough to see them. By the time I did a Nightmare on Elm Street Marathon one day because I was really bored, I arguably laughed more than I gasped.

It's in that spirit that Bonesteel picks up his narrative. Using the mute Jason as the protagonist and giving him Freddie, the Scream guy, and a few others as friends, we see just how boring a life of mass murder can be. They cook, take showers, and report to work, just like we do. They acquire pets (in a really funny sequence that carries across the two minis) and argue about whether or not they're still relevant. The banter between the newer Scream and the old man of the genre, Freddie, is a highlight, culminating in a justified homicide of Kevin Bacon as part of a race to see who can be on top.

There's plenty of references that b-movie (or is that c-movie at this point?) fans will enjoy, such as Jason talking about how going to space just meant killing more horny kids and no aliens.* The deaths are all taken in stride, and the figures killed are, as with all of Bonesteel's illustrations, practically stick figures, so they feel like little more than props. Which makes sense, given the characters involved here.

The jokes themselves are where things fall apart a little bit, unfortunately, as Bonesteel seems stuck between keeping them droll and being outlandish. The humor of Jason punching a time clock and filling out kill reports kinda clashes with frequent uses of the b-word to refer to women, at least for me. The gags work best when they're more subtle, given how outlandish and gory the source materials is. When they're more in line with the original movies, they're clever, but don't sing as much.

Visually, these vary from being a step above Ninja Girl to being very similar in style. The characters are usually larger, which puts them more in your face and gives Bonesteel the ability to provide more body language. However, even at that size, they aren't too detailed, so some readers might be put off by the close-to-stick figure work found in the series.

Behind the character simplicity, however, is a lot of cool, small details that plant the world and make it feel as ordinary as possible. Trees get bark, office calendars get individual days, and even brick walls have identifying marks. It's a definite reversal from what you might ordinarily see from a mini-comic.

Jason is going to have limited appeal, but for the right audience, it's a good match. If you can identify Chuckie in a cameo appearance or know someone who does, this series should be a killer match.

You can find Jason (and more of Bonesteel's work) at Killer Ink Comics.

*Of course I've seen Jason X. What, you haven't? For shame!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Me Likes You Very Much

Written and Illustrated by Lauren Barnett
Published by Hic & Hoc

A variety of vegetables, birds, and other normally non-vocal objects and animals go through life insulting each other and generally be humorously unpleasant in this collection from cartoonist Lauren Barnett.

Originally posted online on a blog called "Me Likes You," which continues to this day here, the strips are very much in the style of one-panel gag comics you might see in the newspaper or in the New Yorker.

Except that in this case, they're actually funny.

I have a complex relationship with gag comics. When they work, they're some of the best thing you'll read in the humor end of the comics spectrum. My current favorite working in the genre is Sam Henderson. He understands that the key to making it work isn't playing it safe. To do a gag strip that's truly funny, you have to be willing to be unpleasant and uncomfortable, going in directions that would get you banned out of the newspaper within a week.

In short, this is the kind of thing that can only work online/in the indie comix world. While it reduces the potential readership, of course, it improves the quality of the gags significantly.

Barnett understands this and immediately lets the reader know what kind of jokes they are in for. The first official page has two birds (frequent protagonists in the collection), one of whom is stupid drunk and forcing its sober friend to deal with it. I've been on both sides of that one, and I suspect Barnett has as well.

From there, the jokes come fast and furious, ranging from the simple ("I'm as cool as me," says a cucumber to another, overheated veggie) to the subtle (a cassette expresses a sigh) to the crude ("I thought you were a stupid asshole and I guess I was right," says one bird after the other brags about their diet), balanced nicely across the pages. It's very rapid fire, with Barnett never lingering too long over a particular joke.

That makes this a quick read, which at $14 might be an issue for some. While there are about 175 comics in the collection, the nature of the jokes and the minimal details provided in the art do not invite a reader to linger the way that you might with, say, something from Kupperman or even the master of the one-panel gag, Gary Larsen, who could add things that required time to appreciate.

However, this isn't a flaw in Barnett's work at all. It's more the nature of the beast. The point here isn't how lavishly she could depict a kitchen--it's the idea of a bird getting baked into a cake by another bird or the shock and tears a banana sheds when it arrives too late to prevent suicide by banana bread.

Not all of the jokes worked for me, of course, but that's also the nature of the beast. What one reader finds laugh out loud funny another could see as a dud. Overall, I thought there were quite a few good jokes, and a few that were absolutely brilliant, like the dictionary that cheats at Scrabble.

As is evident from the samples included here, Barnett's art is uncomplicated, doing only what it must to convey the gag. It's not unlike what you might see from a mini-comic, where the emphasis is on the point of the story rather than the technical quality of the linework. You can tell it's an apple/bird/french fry/talking pile of poop, and that's what's needed. Again, that's why this is something you need to compare more to newspaper gag strips instead of a graphic novel. The comparison is much closer.

Every once in awhile, Barnett will show off her art chops, with pieces that resemble inspirational posters by have a great, sarcastic wit instead. A well-textured snake dismisses the reader as common, for example. In another, a rooster demands the reader's accountability. These indicate that Barnett understand the ability to draw in a more technical style, and rejects it as necessary for the jokes.

Me Likes You Very Much isn't going to be for everyone. It takes a certain kind of taste for that odd combination of low-brow jokes with sophisticated humor to work, which is why fans of Henderson will find much to appreciate here. I liked this very much, and I look forward to seeking out more from Barnett in the future.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Shutter #1


Shutter #1

Written by Joe Keatinge

Illustrated by Leila Del Luca, Owen Gieni and Ed Brisson
Image Comics
Shutter is a fantastic new comic from writer Joe Keatinge, illustrated by Leila Del Luca, with colors from Owen Gieni and letters from Ed Brisson. It's also one of the most fun, inviting, engaging first issues of a comic I've read in a long time. Not to pass judgments, but if you don't love this you might not have a soul. There's art here that just pops off the page, and a great deal of attention has been paid to all of the design elements in this book. There's also a remarkable amount of world building that takes place in a single issue, and that's handled skillfully, without feeling like a lot of exposition is dumped on the reader.
Kate Kristopher is the daughter of Chris Kristopher, world famous explorer. As the story opens with a wonderfully rendered shot of young Kate on the moon, chasing after her father, we can see that this is a world different from our own. The next scene shows us Kate's fathers study, where he reminds her of her family's legacy of exploration and discovery. 

The story then jumps twenty years to the present day. Kate wakes up in her apartment with her talking cat alarm clock, and news on TV of the gods of a lost civilization returning after twenty thousand years. Kate opens her window and we venture out with her into the world, and see that this is a world not so different from our own, except that magic, monsters and other supernatural phenomena are real here and just part of the landscape of New York City, along with the Empire State Building, and dirigibles (a popular feature of many alternate world stories; people just love a good dirigible). 

Kate is approached by a child on the subway, who recognizes her as the author of books from her own time (alone and with her father) as a world-famous explorer. She tells the child that she's left that behind, and she also rebuffs her roommate's attempt to reach out to her. She's on the way to her father's grave, an annual tradition. While she's there, having an intimate moment with the memory of her father, she's attacked by purple ghost ninjas (because of course), and she holds her own against them; as she tells them, she's had some experience dealing with things like this before. Finally, as she is overtaken by the ninjas and a robot with a mustache who appears to be wearing a cowboy hat (again, just like you normally see), the issue ends with a surprising revelation.
This issue was a real joy to read. Only one issue in, and Kate Kristopher is already an interesting, complex, protagonist about whom a reader would want to learn more. As mentioned above, this is a gorgeous issue, an impressive combination of styles. Del Luca and Gieni do some masterful work here, as the adventure scenes from the past have a soft, warm quality, the scenes in Chris Kristopher's study have a silver-age, pop art, pixelated feel to them, and the present day scenes have a harder quality, with more shading and more realistic colors. 


The art here works to effectively tell the story, as we understand the adventure scenes from Kate's past are seen through the warm fog of memory, and the scenes in her father's study have a different quality (just like you might remember a fun family trip differently from how you would remember an important lecture from your parent). The team here is also showing us (rather than telling us) about this strange and complex world that Kate lives in. They don't waste time telling us "this is a world of magic and monsters living among people, full of supernatural mysteries", they just show us this by having Kate travel from one point to another. By the end of the first issue, you've got a sense of the scope of the series, and anticipation for what's to come. A very strong debut.