November 19, 2017

Catch it at the Comic Shop November 22nd, 2017

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to three single issues and one trade for your consideration, with a little bit about why we like it.

James' Picks:

Dept. H #20 by Matt and Sharlene Kindt, published by Dark Horse Comics.
I continue to love this book. A number of the recent issues of Dept. H have been intimate explorations of the pasts of the various characters that have been trapped at the bottom of the ocean. One of them is a murderer, and we don't know who, but we've learned that each of these characters have been through a lot. This has been a great murder mystery along with an emotionally resonant story, and Matt and Sharlene Kindt's art continues to be wonderful.

Thanos #13 by Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw, published by Marvel Comics.
I'm very interested in this comic because of the creative team.  Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw last collaborated on God Country, one of my favorite comics of the year.  So, I'd pick up anything they did, but seeing them on Thanos should be interesting.  Cates has proven he can handle both big epic storytelling and intimate moments, as depicted in God Country. And Shaw is a fantastic artist who's clearly at home drawing any situation. So, I'm curious to see where they go with this character that (to be honest) occasionally feels a little one-note to me.

Doomsday Clock #1 of 12 by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, published by DC Comics.
Not exactly a small indie pick, but I have to say I'm incredibly curious about this comic, despite our not receiving pancakes. Is it a sequel to Watchmen? Something else? I think this is going to be the place where they lay out the full scope of how Watchmen is tied into the DC Universe.  Beyond curiosity about the story, I like the creative team involved here.  Johns and Frank have collaborated previously, most notably to me on a terrific run on Action Comics, along with the wonderful Superman: Secret Origin.  I'm a huge fan of Frank's depiction of Superman as it's a Christopher Reeve homage. S, I'm just incredibly curious to see what this is.

November 17, 2017

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Nothing touches a critic's heart quite like pancakes! (Weekend Pattering for 11/16/2017)

This and That

** At DC Comics, An Editor Rose Through The Ranks Even After Being Accused Of Sexual Harassment (Buzzfeed)-- Even at a week old, it almost feels like this is old news but Buzzfeed did some great reporting about Eddie Berganza, the DC editor who was fired following this report because of repeated harassment issues.
Within an industry that has created some of the most influential American fiction serving as the basis for blockbuster films, TV shows, and video games, Berganza has become notorious for the contrast between his personal conduct and professional success. Professionally, he’s moved through the ranks at DC from group editor to executive editor and back again, shepherding properties like Superman and Wonder Woman — properties that grow more valuable by the day as superhero movies dominate box offices and define pop culture. Berganza has become a quintessential company man at a big company inside an even bigger company; DC Comics is part of DC Entertainment, which is owned by Warner Bros., part of Time Warner Inc.
You really need to read the whole thing as it does a great job at shedding light on actions that have long been talked about but never really investigated.

Following the firing of Berganza on Monday, others have been named as harassers, including cartoonists, publishers, journalists and even a recently hired VP at Marvel Comics.  This week at Panel Patter, we've removed pieces reviewing/promoting some of these alleged harassers work as well as removed our banner for the time being. 

2017 has been a year of controversy, pain, and hatred in comics and in the world.  Back in July when writing about Howard Chaykin's morally ugly and racist cover to United States of Hysteria #4, we said: 
But Panel Patter is a place that will always be a home for those who might be rejected elsewhere. And we will continue to speak out against hate within our community.
We mean this now more than ever.  With all of the recent events, we stand with the victims of abuse and support you.

** Missing the point: The Eddie Berganza story (Smash Pages)-- Brigid Alverson points out that the firing of Eddie Berganza for harassment is only part of the story here.
The only way DC can make this right is to change their corporate culture and make a determined effort to hire more women. (Please do not say “They should hire the best candidate for the job.” The whole point here is that by not hiring women, they haven’t been doing that for years.) During the dark period when DC was covering up for Berganza and god knows who else, more enlightened comics publishers were hiring and promoting women. There are plenty of qualified creators, editors, and managers out there, and DC should be seeking them out and preferentially hiring them.
Firing Berganza is a start but DC still has to address why they've known about this for years and have sheltered Berganza as he's edited high profile books.


from Watchmen #1 by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Previously on Panel Patter

Cover of the Next Week

I honestly have no idea what this is but if I spotted this cover on the racks at the comic shop, I'd definitely pick it up because it doesn't look like anything else on the stands.  Looking at artists Maaren Donder's website, I think he's an artist I need to familiarize myself with right away.

Current Mood

November 15, 2017

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Repeat Review: Butcher Baker: The Righteous Maker by Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston

(Note: This review first appeared on Wednesday's Haul on January 10th, 2013 when the hardcover edition of this book was released.  With the release of it in softcover, we are reprinting the review here.)

Butcher Baker The Righteous Maker is the book the teenage me wanted to make back after reading The Dark Knight ReturnsWatchmen and American Flagg! With a cover which looks like any generic report cover bought at a Walgreens adorned with its magic marker scribblings of a title and creators, to the anything-goes approach to storytelling and artwork, Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston write and draw a story that features everything there is to love about the deconstructionist superhero comics of the 1980s. There’s sex, drugs and rock and roll (or at least the attitude of rock’n’roll.) There’s disregard for authority and a take-no-prisoners approach to the works and pictures. Everything is laid out there on the page, as visually captivating as any page Dave Gibbons, Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz ever laid to paper. And it’s not all just surface sheen as Casey and Huddleston also create a story that approaches those old stories about un-heroic heroes and dares us to say we like them because the heroes are “real” or “cool” or even question whether they’re really heroes at all.

Joe Casey must have read too much Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Howard Chaykin because this book channels the spirit of rebellion all three of those creators infused their career-making works with. Casey creates a story that’s a blend of 1970’s Marvel cosmic, infused it with the narrative decadence of the 1980s and views it with an ironic 2012 eye. His story of a hero that’s equal parts the Comedian from Watchmen and Captain America, with a bit of US 1 thrown in for good but obscure measure shows how much we accept as heroism is really just a blatant narcissism of a supposed do-gooder hero.

The Righteous Maker isn’t a hero. He isn’t a role model in any way but Casey and Huddleston pattern him on the patriotism of Captain America. While he may wear the colors of Cap, he stews in the same moral filth as Alan Moore’s Comedian. Like Moore's repugnant anti-hero, Butcher Baker is a hero by reputation who has long outlived his usefulness. While starting out that way, Casey and Huddleston really create a Dark Knight Returns-type story for a character who doesn’t have the same historical or cultural cache that Batman does. They create a hero who’s living in a future he never thought he’d live long enough to see and show him just as lost and purposeless as Miller’s Bruce Wayne is at the beginning of DKR.

Instead of following the maudlin and melodramatic leads of Moore and Miller, Casey and Huddleston take their tonal cues from Chaykin, injecting a heavy dose of satire and irreverence into the story. They follow Chaykin’s sarcastic lead in The ShadowTwilight or Blackhawk, books that are really easy to read on that surface level and accept that surface as the thoughts and intentions of the creators. It’s the easy way out to read a Chaykin book and think the characters are thinking and saying what Chaykin would say. Peeling back that surface, you can see how Casey and Huddleston are using this story to look back and react to the works that so inspired them.

While Moore and, to a lesser degree, Chaykin have moved on from their subjects or tones of the 1980s, Miller has moved forward with time and continued to evolve (or some would say devolve) along the same lines as a storyteller as shown in All-Star Batman and Holy TerrorButcher Baker actually reads very much like the more recent work of Miller, taking on this superhero as the ultimate moral authority approach to storytelling. But where it really is hard to separate Miller from his ethnic screeds in Holy Terror, Casey and Huddleston give you all of these clues throughout the book that Butcher Baker needs to be partially read as a comedy.

Huddleston takes on credit there as it’s hard to view a lot of his artwork as anything less than having outrageous fun with Casey’s story. Embracing the trucker/superhero debauchery, Huddleston throws every weapon he has in his artistic arsenal at the page, determined to outshine Casey’s madness with his own. Unlike a lot of contemporary artists who approach a page very seriously and cinematically, Huddleston draws comics with outrageous proportions, unreal colors and he realizes that a panel of a comic book is still a part of a comic and not a still frame plucked out of a movie.

The art in this book makes you remember the joy of surprise and the enjoyment of the image that Bill Sienkiewicz put into Elektra Assassin and Stray Toasters. That joie-de-art is what gives Casey’s story the bump up from being one massive joke about superheroes to being an explosion of comic booky goodness. Huddleston makes every panel an event, building off of the previous one and depicting a moment in an entirely new way. Never taking the story too seriously, Huddleston uses every artistic tool at his disposal to create moments in time that can only exist in comics.

The mixture of art styles, particularly the way that Huddleston mingles simple black and white drawings with splashes of color on nearly every page, creates a bit of mystery as you’re reading the book. There is no singular Huddleston style that you can get used to and gloss over as you read this comic. The thrill of turning each page, of seeing the stunning explosions or soft whispers of color pull you through the book. Huddleston’s visual strategies change every couple of pages, showing you something that can be pulled off wonderfully only in comics.

Imagine if Elektra: Assassin had the influence on comics that Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns had on nearly every comic after 1987? If every comic after Miller and Sienkiewicz’s masterpiece had been influenced by it instead of the “grim and gritty” imitations that we got. Then every comic would have looked like Butcher Baker: The Righteous Maker and superhero comics would have been a lot more fun for the past 25 years.

Butcher Baker: The Righteous Maker
Written by Joe Casey
Drawn byMike Huddleston
Lettered by Russ Wooten
Published by Image Comics

November 14, 2017

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Catch it at the Comic Shop November 15th, 2017

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to three single issues and one trade for your consideration, with a little bit about why we like it.

Mike's Picks:

Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys: The Big Lie by Anthony Del Col, Werther Dell’Edera, and Fay Dalton, published by Dynamite Entertainment
Anthony Del Col, one half of the duo who brings us Kill Shakespeare, updates the two icons of adolescent detective fiction quite well in this recent series. Both Nancy and the Hardys have been “reimagined” before, and they’ve been translated into comic adaptations as well. It is Del Col and Dell’Edera’s new approach that makes this edition vital. This series manages to find that ever so difficult balance between reverence and relevance.

November 13, 2017

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Quick Hits: Hadrian's Wall

I feel like “murder-mystery set in space” has actually become its own sub-genre at Image Comics. It makes sense - people love a good mystery, and setting the story in a space station or aboard a ship affords interesting narrative possibilities. It’s your classic locked-room mystery (Murder on the Orient Express, Clue) But you can add interesting futuristic elements and take the story in different directions.  Below, I take a look at a terrific example of that sub-genre, Hadrian's Wall. Soon I hope to write about and Southern Cross, which I caught up on (through the first two trades) recently. Each is interesting in its own way and each takes the genre in different directions. 

Hadrian’s Wall
Story by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel
Art by Rod Reis
Letters by Troy Peteri
Published by Image Comics

Hadrian’s Wall is a great, stylish and engaging space-noir mystery, and a story I very much enjoyed. It’s got some classic murder mystery and noir elements (a confined setting, an investigator with a substance abuse problem and a dark past, bad blood between him and the murder victim, and a lot more) and fantastic art and design choices that create a very appealing, engaging visual world. Hadrian’s Wall also tells a complete story in a single volume, something more writers should consider. I highly recommend this book. 
A lot of the fun of Hadrian's Wall for me was soaking in the visuals, and the very specific look the creative team was going for. The illustration and colors are from Rod Reis, and he does some fantastic work here. Reis has an engaging watercolor style with realistic, angular and highly expressive line. This creative team previously worked together on C.O.W.L., which was a terrific story which I’d describe as  “superhero murder mystery in a Mad Men world”. There, Reis did terrific work establishing a slightly different 1962, one where the city streets of Chicago were patrolled by superheroes employed by the city. Reis has terrific thin lines, and I think his work on Hadrian’s Wall represents a creative leap forward even from his great work on COWL. I would describe the style used in Hadrian’s Wall as being retro-futuristic, not in a 60’s space-age Jetsons kind of way, but very much evocative of the styles and technology of the 1980’s, and a number of different science fiction stories of the 1980's.

There are a lot of great detailed touches that make clear that the motif of the story is that it brings to life a vision of the future, as imagined through the lens of the style and cultures of the 1980’s. The look and feel of the ship is daily industrial and utilitarian (like the ships on Alien). The computers aren’t flat screen (they’re fairly big and bulky), everyone is using dot matrix printers, and the lettering on computer monitoring has a very bare-bones, MS-DOS look to it. They’re on starships, but all the technology just looks like a more evolved version of the popular tech of the 1980’s. At one point you even see characters listening to a recording on a small cassette recorder. Similarly, some of the fashion choices echo 80’s fashion - the space suits have a slightly 80’s quality to them, and Annabelle (one of the main characters) wears an outfit with shoulder pads that feel like it would’ve been at home in Working Girl.  The decision to set the story in this sort of “future as seen from the 80’s” world immediately won me over as it’s not only a fun choice that provided a nice sense of nostalgia, but it also illustrated something really interesting about depictions of the future generally. This really does feel like something someone would’ve created in the 80’s when imagining the future a century later. The reality is, we have no idea what the future will really look like. People thirty years ago could anticipate flying cars and fusion reactors but they thought fax machines would still be commonplace and couldn’t have anticipated wireless technology. It makes one wonder, what are the things that will become commonplace in the future that we aren’t even anticipating now?

I won’t say too much about the story in Hadrian’s Wall, except to say that it feels like it has a lot of classic detective story elements, but done in a fresh way. Detective Simon Moore is investigating the murder (aboard the ship Hadrian’s Wall, owned by Antares Interspace) of his former supervisor (Edward Madigan) who also happened to be married to Simon’s ex-wife Annabelle, who’s also aboard. Suffice it to say she doesn’t want him aboard, but there’s even more going on than it seems in this story. There are other people who don’t want Simon’s investigation to go anywhere, and a number of other people with differing agendas. All of this takes place in the right confines of a starship where there’s nowhere to run off to. The creators do a great job making it clear there could’ve been a number of suspects. They also make Moore, Annabelle and Madigan all sympathetic (or at least understandable) people. Annabelle initially comes across as a little stereotypically cold and shrewish, but we see there’s a complicated history and she’s got every reason to feel the way she does about Simon (and she's certainly given some agency and depth in the course of the story). There's business, politics and murder at play in a confined space, which makes for tense, compelling storytelling. The intersection of murder and big business and politics brought me back to L.A. Confidential, and if a story can do that, it's always going to be something I enjoy.

Ultimately, Hadrian's Wall is a very engaging story with a satisfying outcome. But even beyond the plot of the story, the creative team here has given us an interesting world to explore with creative and very specific visual and stylistic choices.

November 7, 2017

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Catch it at the Comic Shop November 8th, 2017

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to three single issues and one trade for your consideration, with a little bit about why we like it.

James' Picks:

Port of Earth #1 by Zack Kaplan and Andrea Mutti, published by Image Comics.
I like very much what Zack Kaplan is doing in comics thus far, and it's not just because we share the same last name.  I've really enjoyed his future-people living underground mystery series, Eclipse. It's a strong premise with great art and solid storytelling.  With Port of Earth, he's going even bigger, and having already read the first issue I can tell you it's a terrific read that serves to set up the premise of the story but also lays out the central conflict in a very effective way.  The art from Andrea Mutti is terrific, detailed, grounded work, and this is great pickup for fans of smart sci-fi stories.

Injection #15 by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire, published by Image Comics.
Injection is a weird, dark, fascinating series. I wouldn't actually recommend you start with this issue, but instead that you go back to the very beginning. Warren Ellis is fascinated with people working in the shadows who have a better, weirder, more interesting understanding of the world. In Planetary they worked hard to preserve the uniqueness of the world and save it from nefarious ends. In Injection? Well, they kind of screw up and make things worse. And that makes for some fantastic, intelligent storytelling. The art from Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire is fantastic, and if you're looking for a book to increase your sense of existential dread, this is a great choice.  

Paper Girls Deluxe Edition HC Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson and Jared K. Fletcher. 
I really love Paper Girls. I think you'll love it too.  If Brian K. Vaughan is involved, it's a story you're going to want to check out, and Paper Girls is no exception.  Vaughan is a master of creating real human characters with whom a reader can empathize and relate, and likely learn to love (I've really come to care very much about the characters in Saga). He also has a real ability to make even absurd situations feel grounded and relatable; while the situations may seem ridiculous, the emotions are real and honest. 

Moon Knight #188 by Max Bemis and Jacen Burrows, published by Marvel Comics.
I've enjoyed recent runs on Moon Knight from the team now working on Injection, and more recently from Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood. He's an interesting character that's not just a Batman ripoff, but a great way to explore introspection, mental illness, mystical gods and supernatural occurrences. I liked Bemis' work on Evil Empire (a weird, twisted and prescient series about an amoral, fascist dictator) and I'm curious to see what he does here.  

Rob's Picks:

As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman, Published by Iron Circus Comics.
Melanie's webcomic gets a collected edition courtesy of Spike's press, and I couldn't be happier. It's about a teen who's not sure she believes in God...who gets sent to a Christian camp. I got my copy in the Kickstarter, but if you haven't had a chance to read this award-winning series from a great creator, make sure you pick this up tomorrow.

Force #1 by Shawn Pryor, B. Alex Thompson, and Jay Reed, Published by Action Lab.
This project started as a Kickstarter and is now finding a home at Action Lab, where Pryor works, giving it a chance at a wider audience. I've known Shawn for a long time, and he's a great guy who wants to see more characters of color in comics, with more creators of color working on them. Force puts Shawn's money where his mouth is, featuring both. Force is the story of a football player at the end of his time, and it reminds me a bit of something you'd read in manga--the action of the games mixing with the drama of the characters. This isn't your usual comic, and that's a good thing. Check it out!

Hack/Slash vs. Vampirella #2 by Shawn Aldridge and Rapha Lobosco, Published by Dynamite Comics.
I loved the first issue of this series, which features two women who kill monsters for a living meeting up for the first time. Like Mr. Pryor, I've known this Shawn for a long time, too, and he's also a great guy. He also absolutely nails the personalities of the characters involved. His Cassie is pitch-perfect, his jokes are terrible (in a good way), and his Vampirella is really scary. The whole thing has a nice air of sensuality, without tipping into exploitation, which is a big credit to artist Rapha Lobosco. This is a romp in the best possible use of the word, and I can't wait to read this issue and the rest of the series.

Kong on the Planet of the Apes #1 by Ryan Ferrier, Carlos Magno, published by Boom! Studios.
I know absolutely nothing about this. It's King Kong mashed up with the Planet of the Apes, and really, that's all I need to know to get my interest. How about you?

Mike's Picks:

Batman Lost by Scott Snyder, Doug Mahnke, and Oliver Copiel, published by DC Comics
DC’s Dark Nights: Metal has felt both familiar and novel, a fact that stands as testament to Snyder and Co.’s ability to innovate while tugging at the threads of the DC universe. If you’ve been a long time Snyder/Capullo Batman reader, the Metal event has been all that more fulfilling. This one-shot follows Batman as he descends into the dark multiverse. I hope Mahnke’s art is as gnarly as it was during Superman: Black Dawn.

Mister Miracle # 4 by Tom King and Mitch Gerads, published by DC Comics
I love that DC has realized they can have books like Mister Miracle, Ragman, and the entire Young Animal offering without worrying about where exactly such books “fit.” Nonetheless, I’m consistently vexed with my inability to pin down MM’s canon. Is this niche, or is it definitive? I don’t know. I know it’s good though.

1985 Black Hole Repo by Seth Sherwood and Josh Bivens, published by Heavy Metal
I bought by first copy of Heavy Metal ever a few months back. I was intrigued, if somewhat lost. I’m not going to pretend to know what I’m entirely in store for with this series. But I saw a preview for it in said issue of Heavy Metal, and I feel like I’m kind of supposed to buy it since it seems to be a nostalgic 80s cyberpunk adventure with crazy worldbuilding to boot.

Trillium Deluxe Edition by Jeff Lemire, published by Vertigo Comics.

Quite frankly, I’m surprised the original Trillium collected edition was a trade paperback. Lemire’s work deserves the deluxe oversized hardcover treatment. Prolific creators occasionally become repetitive. What has always impressed me about Lemire is his ability to consistently create new series drenched with originality. Trillium is truly a beautiful read, and this oversized hardcover should do it justice. 
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Our Only Goal Will Be the Western Shore:
Thoughts on Walter Simonson's Ragnarök

At the beginning of Ragnarök Volume 1: Last God Standing, Simonson shows brief glimpses of Thor, in the prime of his power, fighting a giant serpent. It’s only the second page of the book and Simonson is giving us the big hero shot. A double page spread that’s all about the power and glory of Thor and Mjolnir, his mighty hammer, Simonson is showing the power of a god at his greatest. It’s truly a moment of myth and legend. And it’s the last time that he shows anything that resembles a god because Thor dies in that moment, sacrificing himself to win this epic battle. Walter Simonson is not telling the story of a god and hero in this version of Norse mythology. The story he’s going to tell with this Thor is one of death and the end of the age of gods.

Walter Simonson is no stranger to creating myths so on first glimpse his Ragnarök looks to be some nostalgic vanity project that’s trying to cash in on recent trends. The Hollywood pitch for this comic would be “zombie Thor” as Simonson creates a new Thor and a new twilight for the Norse gods. Back in the 1980s, his own legendary run on Marvel’s Thor was one giant tribute to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. And in the early 2000s, Simonson followed in Kirby’s epic shadow with one of the only New Gods stories that captured the essence of Kirby’s work without merely repeating it. The spirit of those past godly comics and their creative antecedents still shape the stories that Simonson is telling even as he moves out of the shadow of the creators who came before him.

And let’s be honest for a moment here, Simonson had to know what he was doing when he decided essentially to tell another Thor story. Stick around comics long enough and sooner or later you’ll wish that your most beloved writers and artists will return to the characters that they created pure magic with. Who wouldn’t want Walter Simonson to write and draw a Thor comic again? So is it weird that he’s not telling stories about the Thor everyone knows now and is drawing a character who looks more like an orc out of a Tolkien movie than Jack Kirby’s golden-haired god?

This modern Thor is a man out of his time. Having apparently “perished” in that battle with the serpent, a black elf finds him sometime later, already after the twilight of the gods. This Thor is a shade of his old self, a remnant of a godly pantheon long gone. Looking more like some undead zombie, Thor’s journey now is trying to find something to live for and that ends up being the black elf’s cursed daughter. Vowing to protect the young girl, Thor sets out to discover the god who tried to use assassins to kill the god of thunder once and for all.

This introduction to a new vision of a very familiar god allows Simonson to tell a kind of story that he really hasn’t before, the story of a god and a hero in the twilight of his own life and trying to leave something worthwhile behind. The stench of mortality and death hangs heavy in these pages as Simonson explores legend and legacy. As it would be a compliment to say that this Thor looks like death warmed over, Thor is on his own quest that includes revenge and retribution. The character has something to prove to himself and to his world and maybe there’s even a bit of that need in Simonson himself, to prove that he can still create a timeless classic.

Able to draw stunning images since he joined Archie Goodwin to tell the story of Manhunter in the pages of Detective Comics, Simonson’s art has mellowed a bit with age. Rather than dazzling his reader through layout and composition, Simonson seems more concerned with telling his story through his character’s faces. Whether it’s the determinedly haggard face of a god long past his prime or the mournful eyes of two dark elves who have lost a wife and a mother, Simonson uses these drawings of his characters to reveal their true stories and struggles even as they’re fighting trolls and demons.

Over time, the artist has really developed a lovely balance of the subtle and the bombastic. Simonson’s line has always been an intriguing one. On its own, it’s not as particularly powerfully graceful as it once was but put two, three, or more of them together and his images become these wonderfully drawn moments in time. They can either be small moments, personal and intimate, or they can be huge, violent and powerful. It allows him to tell the story of the godhood and of humanity contained in this once mighty character.

Well before Ragnarök was first published, Walter Simonson was already a well-deserved comics legend. With his latest work, Simonson is proving that he can still hang with the young punks, creating a story that’s about being a god but also about being a man. There’s an aged assuredness to Simonson’s word and line that lulls his reader into the book before he can drop an image or a sequence that is just as great as any bombastic image that he drew in the 1970s or 1980s. Too many creators from those periods have gone missing or are producing sub-par comics but Simonson’s work is as wonderful as it’s ever been.

Ragnarök Volume 1: Last God Standing
Ragnarök Volume 2: The Lord of the Dead
Written and drawn by Walter Simonson
Colored by Laura Martin
Lettered by John Workman

November 1, 2017

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Catch it at the Comic Shop November 1st, 2017

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to three single issues and one trade for your consideration, with a little bit about why we like it.

Today we have a special guest helping us out, Adam P. Knave! 

Rob first encountered Adam when he was helping post to a Live Journal parody account called MC Smeagol, and has been following his writing ever since. Adam often works with co-writer DJ Kirkbride, including the amazing Amelia Cole, Never Ending, and more. He's also a prose writer, with This Starry Deep being his most recent book. 

What's great about Adam's work is that it has an old school feel but he's very aware of the need to address a modern audience. One of the ways he does this is by ensuring his books have women in them who are awesome. Adam's newest comic, The Once and Future Queen, is a perfect example of this, taking the King Arthur legend and giving it a new spin. Check it out today!

Adam's Picks:

Iceman #7 by Sina Grace and Robert Gill - Marvel Comics - 
The new Iceman series just keeps being a joy to read with Sina Grace's sure hand. It's full of good fun hero stuff and, more importantly, great character work as well. Gill's art helps it all go down even easier and Kevin Wada covers sure don't hurt. 

Black Lightning: Cold Dead Heads #1 (of 6) by Tony Isabella and Clayton Henry - DC Comics - I am a sucker for Isbella doing new Black Lightning stories. I was a fan of the originals, and then the 90s series and it's great to see Isabella back at the hero he co-created once more. With a TV show in the near future I only hope this gets the wide spread eyes it should.

Bernie Wrightson Artifact Edition by Bernie Wrightson - IDW - 
I try to not give in and buy these giant, gorgeous, lovingly crafted tomes. Mostly I succeed. This one is a big test of willpower though. It's Wrightson art, at the size he drew it, spanning his entire career. How do you say no?

James' Picks:

The Once and Future Queen TP, by Adam P. Knave, D.J. Kirkbride and Nick Brokenshire, published by Dark Horse Comics.
From the team that brought you the terrific Amelia Cole books, this is a modern telling of the King Arthur story. It's a fun series, and this team creates quality, entertaining comics.  I like those stories where a modern-day person discovers that they're actually the successor to some sort of ancient secret, or carrying on the legacy of some celebrated figure - I think it makes for some potentially great storytelling, and I'm looking forward to picking this up.

Giant Days #32 by John Allison and Max Sarin, published by Boom! Studios.
I really love this book. Issue 32 is not a great place to start, but this is a book that's always worth highlighting. It's a story of 3 women at University in England, and their trials and tribulations.  It's funny and silly and heartfelt and sweet and emotionally honest. I definitely recommend getting into Giant Days.

Black Bolt #7 by Saladin Ahmed, Christian Ward and Frazer Irving, published by Marvel Comics. 
Sometimes some of the best books at Marvel are those smaller, weirder books.  Silver Surfer, Squirrel Girl, Karnak, etc.  Black Bolt fits that category, and its definitely worth a look.  It takes the king of the Inhumans, Black Bolt, and traps him on an unknown prison, and along the way he meets an assortment of memorable characters.  The first arc is illustrated by the incredible Christian Ward, who brings his insane psychedelic style in full force to this book and it is very effective. This issue is illustrated by the also-excellent Frazer Irving. This is a thoughtful, intelligent, and engaging comic.

Paper Girls #17 by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson and Jared Fletcher, published by Image Comics.
If you're not reading Paper Girls you're missing out on one of the very best books on the stands.  I probably don't need to tell you what a gifted storyteller Brian K. Vaughan.  He's better than just about anyone at telling grounded, relatable stories even in the most fantastical or ridiculous of circumstances, and his stories are full of great, memorable characters. Paper Girls is no exception, and that is in significant part due to the incredible art team of Cliff Chiang (art) and Matt Wilson (colors) and Jared Fletcher (letters, design). This is always a visually inventive, incredible-looking comic. If you think ET meets Stand by me meets The Goonies meets Arthur C. Clarke, you have some idea what this story is like.  

Mike's Picks:

Usagi Yojimbo #163, by Stan Sakai, published by Dark Horse
After a two part mystery, “The Body in the Library,” Sakai returns the traveling rabbit ronin to more familiar territory, specifically the characterization of a righteous samurai driven by his ethics and sense of duty. In the past two issues, Miyamoto Usagi took a little bit of a back seat, but he looks to be front and center in this next arc.

Spiritus # 2 (of 5) by Tim Daniel and Michael Kennedy, published by Vault Comics
I’ve been waiting for this issue for a while. Vault has been releasing great sci-fi comics that manage to be both action-packed and thought-provoking, and Spiritus is no exception. This series is equal parts slave rebellion and post-human cautionary tale. If you like Blade Runner or Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, this will be right up your alley.

Power Pack # 63 by Devin Grayson, Marika Cresta, and Mike McKone, published by Marvel Comics
I have no idea what’s going on at Marvel. I’ve bought two trades since the end of Secret Wars and the de facto sacrifice of the Fantastic Four at the altar of movie rights. Until December’s launch of Marvel Two-In-One featuring The Thing and Human Torch, this is the closest we’ll get to a Fantastic Four book. Mostly, I’m just hoping Franklin and Val make some token guest appearances. 63 is an odd number for a relaunch, right? Why not 1? 62 was no milestone before. Marvel is weird. 

Batman: The Dark Prince Charming by Enrico Marini, published by DC Comics

There’s a lot of good Batman on the stands this week, but I’m going with this original graphic novel by Enrico Marini, a Swiss-born Italian artist whose published work has been almost exclusively in French. I’m not incredibly familar with Enrico Marini’s work, but I’m entirely intrigued by this book because (1) his work looks like it would complement Batman very well and (2) I love to see foreign takes on American icons. Franco-Belgian genre comics tend to lean towards adventure, and I’d like to see that contrast with Batman’s pulpy noir roots. 

October 31, 2017

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Halloween Horror: Nameless by Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn

I seriously think that Grant Morrison is trying to rewrite our OS the same way that Apple or Microsoft upgrade their operating systems every couple of years. In his DC Comics, it books like The Invisibles or even Multiversity which try to upgrade our perceptions of reality, colored by the action/adventure adrenaline of those heroes. His X-Men stuff was all about rewiring how any why the X-Men worked as a mirror of the real world even if Marvel was quick to backtrack on it once he left. His Annihilator with Frazer Irving (published concurrently with Nameless) was a fantasy horror book that tried to upgrade us on multiple reality levels. His most recent attempt at introducing a new operating system to mankind happened in Nameless, a book which one of the characters in it describes the plot as “The Exorcist meets Apollo 13.

Nameless complements the work done in Annihilator as both books give Morrison a far darker and sinister level to work on but in the end offers are a far more complete reboot of our systems of perception than Annihilator did. In tech terms, think of Annihilator as a final beta of this system while Nameless is the full, ready-for-prime-time release. (You could even make an argument that Multiversity is an add-on for this os but that’s a piece for another time.) But what’s odd about this golden release is that it’s a virus. Nameless isn’t something that you download and wait to see what kind of groovy new features will be included in this release. It’s a worm that sneaks into your system through the trojan horse of this comic.

Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn are equal partners in this latest virus/update of Morrison’s operating system. Together, this trio creates a haunted house story that stretches back to before the dawn of mankind and into a recognizable future of rich, industrial men really running the world through their technological breakthroughs. Their story tries to disguise itself as one thing at first, a haunted house in space story, before revealing a second possible aspect. About midway through the book, you’re faced with the possibility that the first half of Nameless is really just the main character’s way of processing a far more horrible reality and fate than what we’ve been shown up to this point.

As a horror story, Nameless plays with our perceptions of reality, dangling possible ones in front of us without ever completely revealing a truth to us. The main character, known as “Nameless” because he won’t give that power of his name to anyone, may either be the hero of the villain of this comic. Morrison and Burnham show him trying to rescue our world from an impending collision with a chunk of a long-lost planet while for all we know his greatest sins were committed years ago and all this story is really trying to do is just make sense of the world he now lives in.

A lot of Morrison’s comics ultimately fall short because the artists aren’t able to keep up with him. It feels like no matter how clear he tries to make his scripts, the artists sometimes aren’t able to make heads or tails of it and that ultimately impacts the reader’s experience with the story. I’m thinking parts of his Batman run and even his Action Comics where there were often unintentional disconnects between what was happening narratively and what was happening visually. In Nameless, those disconnects show up but it’s far from unintentional here. Burnham’s artwork doesn’t obscure the story as it reveals the complexity of the existence that Morrison is trying to encode into us.

Even as Burnham artwork hints at the things that go bump in the night in this haunted house of existence, Nathan Fairbairn’s colors provide an almost candy-colored light to these horrors. As Morrison and Burnham bounce back and forth between the possibly true elements of this story, Fairbairn makes it impossible to look away from what’s happening. His vivid and solid colors help create these images that burn into your brain as you’re reading them. The colors are just another part of this system rewrite that these creators are trying to accomplish in our brains.

Nameless and Annihilator both deal with invasions of higher realities into our own. As multiversally primal creatures, maybe even gods, try to inject themselves into our level of being, the disruption is cataclysmic. Nameless is basically about the prisoners of war of an ancient war between angels once again being introduced back into our space. It’s this collision of reality and myth that begins the task of rewriting us to believe in the power of these ancient legends. Morrison refuses to let us accept reality on its surface level. The magic he wants us to experience exists as the basis of reality and it’s pissed that we ever lost sight of it in the first place.

This book produces a visual translation of this system upgrade (another more Morrisonian term for it may be magic spell) that functions as our installation manual. But it’s not some easy step-by-step manual that you would get to put together an Ikea FJÄLLBO entertainment unit. Morrison and Burnham's operating system instruction manual is more like an arcane religious text that references gods and monsters that mankind forgot about millennia ago. If this upgrade works, it accomplishes its goal on some subconscious level that you possibly don’t even acknowledge when you’re done with the book.

Nameless deals with ancient threats recontextualized for our times. The true horror of this book may just be how small and insignificant mankind is compared to the true forces that Morrison, Burnham, and Fairbairn speculate may be out there. At some point during Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham’s Nameless, you have to wonder what is real in this comic. It’s a bit in that classic Morrison way where his stuff is just so outrageous that you question the reality of what he’s actually writing. Is this a story about a man trying to stop an Armageddon-like haunted asteroid hurtling towards the earth or is it the story of a man who lost his mind during an alien invasion in a spooky haunted house? Probably the correct answer is probably “both” with a side of “it doesn’t really matter” thrown in.

Written by Grant Morrison
Drawn by Chris Burnham
Colored by Nathan Fairbairn
Lettered by Simon Bowland
Published by Image Comics

October 30, 2017

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Understanding Kirby #2: Tales of Suspense #15
"Goom! The Thing From Planet X"

For Jack Kirby's Centennial year, I will be taking a dive into his comics and trying to figure out what a Jack Kirby comic really is.  We'll continue this monthly series with a look at a Jack Kirby monster comic, perfect for Halloween.  "Goom! The Thing From Planet X" can be found in Monsters Unleashed Prelude from Marvel Comics.

In the early 1960s, before he would revolutionize superhero comics with Stan Lee, Jack Kirby returned to Marvel comics and drew their monster comics. In titles like Strange Tales, Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense, Kirby, Lee, and Lee’s brother Larry Lieber would begin to create something that looked more like comics of the 1960s than like anything that had come before but it still wasn’t quite the comics that would make Kirby the King.

These comics would tell tales of monsters invading helpless and unsuspecting towns. They had names like Grottu, Gorgilla, Groot, Vandoom, and Rommbu plastered over the covers. This short span of Marvel Comics would basically feature a monster-of-the-month on their way to having some kind of morality tale about both healthy doses of acceptance and fear. Sometimes these monsters looked to take over the world from space. Sometimes they were man-made, a folly of our own scientific mistakes. And now and again, they were misunderstood creatures, an evolutionary step that existed for our own protection.

One of the otherworldly invaders was Goom, from Tales of Suspense #15. In a quest for hidden planets, a scientist from our world broadcast signals into space and discovered planet just behind Jupiter. There, Goom received the broadcasts and found a world that he could conquer. This orange, bulbous-headed creator threatened the world with his technology to destroy mountains and his powers to de-age people. He was set to become Earth’s newest dictator until others from his planet came, far more peaceful and benevolent, to take their rogue madman away.

Kirby’s work here presages some of his greatest creations of the Marvel age. The story (unclear if it was written by Stan Lee or Larry Lieber) also provides glimpses of what’s to come. Goom himself looks like a prototype Ben Grimm while acting like an otherworldly threat that the Fantastic Four or the Hulk would be battling in just a few years. After almost a decade of working on romance comics, Kirby’s art here plays on the fears that Americans lived with throughout the 1950s before it would transform into the heroes of the Marvel age.

This in-between storytelling of the past (romance) and future (superheroes) shares the sense of melodrama that Kirby could do so easily. Inked by Dick Ayers here, Kirby is already a master at getting his characters to “act.” From stern, disapproving glances to ultimate fear of Goom’s powers to even the relief that Goom is an anomaly among his people, Kirby sells his characters actions and emotions in his very dramatic fashion. For all of the talk of Kirby’s power, it’s his character work that’s maybe his greatest strength. And that character work is fully on display in these pages. 
The monster designs, particularly that of Goom, are pretty ridiculous. An American’s take on kaiju, Kirby’s monsters are actually pretty soft and non-descript. There’s only a handful of these monsters who have had any staying power like Groot (and the current incarnation of Groot is quite different than the original invader) and Fin Fang Foom. And while Goom’s son Googam shows up a few issues later, there’s not a lot to set these characters as timeless designs. Instead, Kirby’s generic designs lend even more credence to the monster-of-the-month schedule these stories must have been on.

The charm of these comics is in seeing our hopes and fears of that time translated into these tales of monsters and aliens. Kirby, Lee and/or Lieber’s tale of Goom preys on both the fears and hopes that we have of the unknown. While other stories are either more pessimistic of mankind’s fare while others have a remarkably hopeful beat at the end, Goom’s story straddles the line in its visions of the future. In what we don’t know exists both monsters and allies. It’s a remarkably even-keeled conclusion that leaves its reader feeling as unsettled as it leaves them reassured in the goodness of existence.

In Tales of Suspense #15 as well as all of these monster comics, Kirby and his co-creators start laying the groundwork for the Marvel Universe. In the next couple of years, Kirby and Stan Lee would take these fantastic creatures and make them humans. Instead of Goom and Gooram, they would become Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom. Spider-Man and the Hulk are just humanized versions of these monsters. Of course, when they do that, the monsters become teenagers and citizens of the United States. The otherness of these threats become metaphors for how we live and act in our society. These monster comics lay the groundwork for the very human stories that they would begin telling in Fantastic Four #1.

Next month I'll be looking taking a slight step back in time with  Jack Kirby's Challengers of the Unknown comics.

October 26, 2017

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Interview with Jorge Corona and Jacob Semahn (No. 1 With A Bullet by Jorge Corona, Jacob Semahn, Jen Hickman and Steve Wands)

No. 1 with a Bullet is the newest book from artist Jorge Corona (Feathers, We Are Robin) that sets itself up as an antithesis to the (mis)information age. With the "fake news" circulating the web and the recent increases in occurrences of online harassment, he and series Jacob Semahn have decided to hit back.

At the beginning of the series, its protagonist, Nash, lives her life online as much as anyone else - sharing her most intimate moments with her followers in the hope of making a dent in the onslaught of social media. However, she is about to discover the first stumbling block to the most burgeoning of fame: everyone knows exactly how to find you.

Panel Patter: Was there a single triggering moment that inspired the series’ cautionary tale for technology? If not, how did the project come together?

Jacob Semahn: I feel that it’s been a series of triggering events - whether that's Celebgate or Facebook/Twitter’s role in spreading misinformation in the recent U.S. Presidential election. Technology is moving at such a rapid pace that it’s beginning to show the sharp teeth behind that welcoming smile.

While the series does slant towards warning about the all-consuming nature of technology, there’s always the interactions between Nash and her girlfriend that lean the other way. Do you plan to land the series on either side of the fence?

Jacob Semahn: We wanted this book to show the realism of our current day-to-day. There will always be those you let in close to you. We’re not quite to the point of social media and our digital lives completely controlling the facets to our lives, but we’re certainly closer than we’ve ever been.

Jorge Corona: This decision affected the art side of the book as well. Even though the main theme had to do with technology, the human aspect needed to remain at the center of it. This meant that, visually, I didn't want the book to feel cold and synthetic. It ended up a more exaggerated style that felt hand drawn, almost a living sketch.

Have the two of you worked together on previous projects? Either way, what made this a story worth pairing up for?

Jacob Semahn: Yes. Jorge and I worked previously on Image Comics’ GONERS. Jorge and I have a great shorthand on our creativity as we think relatively in the same way when it comes to story and structure. Also, we’re really good friends to boot, so it makes it all the more fun and when it comes to indie anything… fun means everything.

What was the thinking behind the Direct Messages to our protagonist, Nash, on the credits page, arguably out of the realm of the usual place for storytelling?

Jacob Semahn: We were striving for exactly that. That background feel. When you’re circling the pack of celebrity, you get the outpouring of letters, offers, and messages. Background noise that most don’t even look at. Though, our main character Nash isn’t a super famous celebrity… she’s an assistant for one. So checking messages and communications is part of the job. We figured this would be a good way to introduce her No. 1 fan into the mix. 

Starting seemingly small and innocuous like all stalkers do until it builds into a terrifying crescendo as the days wear on.

The first few pages are disorientating with their quick-switches of perspective and clashing colour schemes. What made you want to begin the series in this way? Do you plan on continuing the series with this tone?

Jorge Corona: This first scene was very important to set the mood of the book. This does not mean that the whole book will look this way, rather than this breaking or distortion of reality will pair with later moments in the story where, as Nash's mind start cracking under the pressure and the horror of the events, the grasp of reality also starts crumbling down.

One component that I love about the art is the exaggerated body proportions and body language: Nash’s boss Jad Davies and his large shoulders, his wife’s a-little-bit-too-perfect hourglass figure commandeering the panel space from our protagonist. What aspects of the storytelling play into these decisions?

Jorge Corona: Even though it may seem contradictory, I feel like there's an easiest way to convey and relate to character's emotions when you allow the art to be more abstract and stylized. Another reason for the final look of the book is that the events depicted were meant to be real and disturbing; not trying to rely on over exposure to the nature of these, we wanted the world to be stylized and not realistic.

There’s brusqueness to the reactions between the characters that we see (e.g. Jad Davies, Travis Martindale and even Nash Huang herself to an extent). Is this a statement on the show-business industry or the effects of technology?

Jacob Semahn: I think it’s a bit of both. Show biz is quite to the point when it comes to overseeing a particular project. Sure there’s stabbings of backs, but for the most part being self-assured is the name of the faking-it-till-you-make-it game. Technology definitely hasn’t helped matters in the ways of communicating complex thoughts or feelings in a 140-characters.

The page structure switches between more standard layouts (e.g. 3x3, 5x1) to pages where the panel borders are crooked and we see small moments captured in tiny, unconnected panels. What is the thought process that goes into selecting these layouts?

Jorge Corona: This comes back to the distorted reality aspect we were mentioning earlier. Since some, if not most, of the moments in Nash's story boil down to her grasp of her surroundings, we wanted to use as many elements as we could to augment the storytelling of the book.

This is also why, Jen Hickman's colors come into play in such a big way. We weren't aiming to depict a “by the numbers” visual narrative, instead we wanted the reader to be emotionally immerse in the world that we created.

At the end of each issue, you have a platform that you’re calling “Here for the Comments”. Can you tell me a little bit about your aims for that going forwards?

Jacob Semahn: We wanted to build a platform for people who have gone through stalking, harassment, or doxxing to speak out. As two guys, we felt that as a story it rubbed us the wrong way to comment on something that we’ve never personally gone through. Sure, research, thought, and talking with close friends/professionals gave us a ton of insight…but the more we heard, the more we were grossed out by the very real threats/harassment that women have faced at certain points in their lives. 

This is all the while compounded by the recent news regarding Hollywood and its practices for decades. Jorge and I reached out to Casey Gilly and Sara Sanders… two well-respected advocates for women’s rights and top notch journalists in the community to moderate this space. Each month we highlight a professional to talk about their experiences or advise on the matter. We will also be opening up to the community by creating a letters page in future issues.

With the hope of building a supportive community out of the ashes of some of the worst parts of the internet, the first issue of No. 1 With A Bullet hits stores on 1st November 2017. With such a tremendous creative team behind it, this is a book that you'll want to grab as soon as you can. 

To tide you over in the meantime, take a sneak peak at the series trailer.