Spring Cleaning and All-New Invaders #2

Posted by Dan Billings on April 8, 2014 under Off the New Comic Rack | Be the First to Comment

It seems like every April I begin my organization of my comics. Maybe it is my version of spring cleaning or because my parents host Easter, but it always makes me look around my room and it’s incredible amount of comic books. I love comics. I started reading them when I was 15 and have fallen in love with the medium. There is something about the way the images flow with the words that has captured my attention. Now, it just seems like a bit much though.

Spring CleaningI take the same photo almost every year of the comics yet to be sorted and stacked and it gets more and more of a tight quarters each year.

One thing I am hoping to get better at this year is writing about comics. I think I have a pretty good vision of what a good comic is and where stories sometimes falter. The hardest part of criticism is to not come across whiny or like a troublemaker but to actually appreciate the art and show where it could improve. Maybe sometimes that is impossible, but I’m hoping to do that.

Other times, it seems like there is nothing to write and that the minute I finish reading it, it just disappears from my head. The All-New Invaders by James Robinson and Steve Pugh is one of those books. I just finished the second issue and read the first one just a couple of days ago. I have a general memory of the story and I remember a very clean looking book, but nothing stood out. I don’t fault the creators because I think they both did admirable jobs on the story, but I wonder if I’m just burnt out by the piles and piles of superhero fare that I have read in the past 17 years. How many times can I read a story about a former team coming back together because of a forgotten mystery? Maybe it’s a sign that I’m moving past superhero comics right now.

Sometimes, I just want action. I don’t like action movies, but a fight in a comic always entertains me. I try to read into the choreography of the scene and see how the artist is using the space and what is being portrayed on the page.  The best page in All-New Invaders #2 is right in the middle of the book when the big Kree woman is fighting Cap, Bucky, and the Original Human Torch.

2014-04-08 22.28.48

Spring Cleaning Break – All-New Invaders #2 Mini-Review

You have a set of framing panels between Tanalth and Jim Hammond that looks like a Super Nintendo fighting game opening screen. You have Tanalth holding the hammer towards the reading with a spare Bucky-shot hitting her thigh. On the other side, you have Hammond just standing. She is ready for a fight and he has trepidation. The way her panel bleeds onto his page shows this dilemma. And right in the middle is all of the action that takes place while Hammond decides to “Burn”, which is what happens on the next page. It’s all set-up for their fight as Cap and Bucky are just brutalized. It’s a really well-crafted page in the middle of the book. It is probably the best colored portion of the book as well. The earlier and darker parts were a bit muddied and then the sky just takes over in the last half. As with anything there can be a few qualms, like what is happening to Bucky’s face in the bottom panel of the middle of the pages. But overall, this is why I read superhero comics.

So, even when I get a bit down and think there isn’t much left and that maybe this spring cleaning will involved an end to some comic purchases, I grab a book and I remember the love. Spring cleaning isn’t all that happens in the spring: it’s a time of rebirth of why you like things and people fall in love with others and ideas and life.

Run

Posted by Dan Billings on November 1, 2013 under Off the New Comic Rack | Be the First to Comment

I am currently taking the class Comic Books and Graphic Novels taught by Professor William Ruskin of the University of Colorado on Coursera.org. Our final project was to create our own four page comic book.

I have read thousands of comic books but never tried to make my own, so I was a little excited about this project, even though my drawing skills are below par. I think it turned out well.

This is a link to the PDF: Run

 

Avengers Now!

Posted by Dan Billings on February 20, 2013 under Off the New Comic Rack | Be the First to Comment

I have now read all the recent issues of Avengers and New Avengers by Jonathan Hickman, Jerome Opena, and Steve Epting. I don’t get it. I enjoyed the characters in Avengers but the villains in both are not interesting or frightening. The solutions are simplistic and a little annoying because they just end with no actual solution, even though the characters think they are over. The saddest part is I read Avengers 2 before Avengers 1 because I grabbed the wrong issue and I didn’t feel any more loss in the storyline than I did after I read the first one. Each issue (all seven) cost $3.99 so it was $28 worth of comics. I don’t know if I got my money’s worth – especially from New Avengers, which seems to be about a story that I missed a large chunk of it even though I don’t know where I missed it from. The art was never the problem. It was good. But nothing that really set it apart.

Splitting the Proverbial Comic Book Baby

Posted by Dan Billings on February 13, 2013 under Off the New Comic Rack | Be the First to Comment

To drop a book or not drop a book…I wish it was a question. Instead, it is a several month dilemma of weighing factors of quality, quantity, and more. I buy comics that I have bought for sixteen straight years – no questions asked. There are books that I drop after the first issue. However, the hardest books to deal with are those that have something I really like, but also something that makes me not want to even open the cover. Prophet and Doctor Who are two examples of this current dilemma.

Prophet is a reimagining of a character created by Rob Liefeld back in the earlier days of Image comics. It is a book I want to support – independent creators trying something new; beautiful art and imagination that expand what a comic can be; and something that is deeper and more intense than a typical 20 page flip-through. I open up each issue and love looking at it.

Photo Feb 12, 9 34 49 PM

Sci-fi adventures never had such a vision

It has a unique stay that brings all the weirdness to life. The art team of rotating penciled featuring Roy, Milonogiannis, and Dalrymple have created a beautiful universe to play in. However, I have no idea what is going on and remember nothing from the previous issue, even if I read it only hours earlier.

Photo Feb 12, 9 35 39 PM

Brandon Graham is an interesting creator that I really want to like. I have bought King City and Multiple Warheads. Some of the themes are utterly fascinating. But I don’t care. It reads hollow to me. I understand why people love this book and I see all of the interesting turns Graham is taking. But it just isn’t for me. And I should not continue to spend $4 hoping that the book will finally click with me.

But unlike a novel where I can just walk away and not think twice about disregarding something that other people obviously would like, comics makes me want to support products that break the mold so that publishers continue to break the mold. The fear is that they will just release another Green Lantern series or an Avengers spinoff, so anything unique deserves my money, even if I don’t like it. Weird, huh?

Unlike Prophet, I love and get the concept of Doctor Who. I watch the television series and think these characters would translate well to comics. But I am again disappointed. However, Andy Diggle’s writing is not the problem in this recent issue. He provides the lightness to the characters as they exist on screen. He creates a nice setup with the wise cracking alien, a femme fatale, a ship captain, and various peripheral characters. It hits the twist at the end of the first issue to get wrapped up in the next issue. It has great pace and charming dialogue.

But the art is incredibly distracting. It looks incredibly rushed. But remember this is a two-issue arc. Josh Adams started with this issue and it looks completely rushed. If this was a rush job by IDW, they need to work on their editorial mandates right away. This is unacceptable work. If this is how Josh Adams wants his characters to look, then he may need to reexamine his motives.

For example, the aliens have nothing unique about them. One is a short gray blob.  The artist can do anything. Look at what any of the Prophet artists do with this freedom to create above. The characters has interesting aspects to their costumes. A lot can be read into them by a quick glance. All of the aliens here look like they have to meet the BBC budget guidelines from 1974. There are never any backgrounds. It is always just a color wash. Again, look at any of the work in Prophet. If this is written to be 1974 or low-budget, then I suppose I am not the market for this book, but it is incredibly distracting to never have nice backgrounds in panels or to have any imagination going into any of the character designs.

Additionally, below are pictures of how Rory and Amy look in the issue. This actually looks like something that the artist used a photo reference for. It has Amy’s inquisitive face and Rory looking at her with a little bit of awe and fear.

Rory and Amy Pond. Take 1

But they have different facial features as the story continues. I have no idea how tall or chubby Amy is from these drawings. Rory’s strong features get molded by clay into a blob. Amy’s arms come out at her at angles that don’t even make any sense

Now, she looks like Sabrina the Teenage Witch

Now, she looks like Sabrina the Teenage Witch

The art is incredibly rushed and incredibly lazy.  And it makes me want to ditch the story. It is distracting and bothersome. Rory looks like and old man who is waiting for someone to feed him pudding and Amy went from being tall and thin and only a couple inches short than Rory to a fireplug with a square face. She looks like she was turned into an ape woman.

Amy has become squat and square faced

Amy has become squat and square faced

 

 

All New X-Men 1-3

Posted by Dan Billings on December 7, 2012 under Off the New Comic Rack | Be the First to Comment

Some joke about Kansas…

Previously…Cyclops, possessed by the Phoenix, killed Professor Xavier. Wolverine runs a school. People are afraid of mutants again and there are more and more appearing after a few “years” of No More Mutants.

All New X-Men starts on a strange note. Like the last book called New X-Men, something is happening to Beast. But Stuart Immonen draws an awesome Beast. He is the focus of this first story arc, even though he falls ill. But you can tell exactly what is going on with him through his pain, his sorrow, and his decision to go back and grab the original X-Men at their most innocent.

Immonen does emotion well. In the third issue, where the story seems to pause for an issue, all of the problems with Magneto’s and Cyclops’s powers are apparent in their body language no the interesting use of cartoonish power failures.

The ink lines are consistent with recent Immonen pencils. It is a thick style that allows the characters to pop off the page. X-Men is at its best when it is a pop comic (as Grant Morrison noted when he took over the book). Though this isn’t the same pop he was referring to, it works. In the image below, the line work surrounding the returning X-Men but the background structures do not have the same dark lines. And for whatever reason, when I took this picture, Angel consumed the flash. Read what you will into that.

As for the story, we have three new mutants who I am sure will be Chandler-style guns: a girl who can stop time and space, a boy who can bring the injured back from the dead, and someone who can mimic the look of another person. So, obviously, we have a double agent, someone will be revived, and time and space will continue to be manipulated. As Cyclops builds his team, they will probably be there.

But why? Cyclops is supposedly trying to rehabilitate himself but he killed or injured a whole set of cops who had Emma in custody. Magneto is right – this isn’t a redemption story. Cyclops knew what he was doing and he will have to accept who he is now and how he came this far. I hope Bendis goes with this storyline as it could be really interesting. After finishing his Avengers run, there were so many possibilities that didn’t go anywhere. Let’s hope X-Men stays on track. And that Scott doesn’t do the X-arm sign like his just scored a touchdown again.

X-Men Forever!

Yes, my hands are backwards, but you get the point

The story is about the steps we take to get where we think we need to get. Beast warped time. Cyclops started a revolution. The other characters are there-but I will assume they will have more to do soon. And I hate Illyana. Why do so many Marvel writers like her? I don’t get the character at all. She seems horrible.

I enjoyed the dialogue. The story has a lot of potential. The art is amazing. It is definitely the cleanest artwork that I have seen thus far in Marvel Now. I’m in. If you’re interested, I have a digital code in the books, so the first person to leave a comment can get my digital codes for the three issues.

Out of Darkness Comes Light

Posted by Dan Billings on August 23, 2012 under Off the New Comic Rack | Read the First Comment

I haven’t been able to write for a while. Not because I didn’t have anything to say, because if you know me, then you know that I always have something to say. However, I could not put what I wanted to say into words on paper.

I woke up very early (approximately 3 am) a few Fridays ago and couldn’t fall back asleep. I grabbed my iPad and saw that there was a shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado during a viewing of The Dark Knight Rises. My heart sank. And I didn’t know what to think.

I understand how violence is a part of superheroics. Many villains in lots of comic books that I have bought have shot up a building. This seemed exactly like an event from such a scene – except real people were brutally murdered, not 2-dimensional images drawn with pencils, accentuated with ink, and digitally colored. These were the events where Batman swoops in and saves as many people as he can before capturing the villain. But there was no Batman. My heart sank as I believed that the stories that I love will be dragged through the mud as a rationale and that this person would use a medium I enjoy as justification for a horrible action.

I imagined a group of people, much like myself, who wanted to experience a movie that they had been looking forward to with an audience of like-minded individuals. It makes a movie-going experience even more powerful. But that was destroyed by someone who wasn’t in a rightful mind. And in the end, a character that I have read about and followed for years was being destroyed by the antics of a horrible person. In the end, people who enjoyed Batman, like I do, were murdered for their love of cinema and wanting to be part of a unique movie experience.

I had been looking forward to the movie for weeks. I had read some spoilers that made me want to see it more. Some of my favorite storyline threads and characters were being introduced. Anne Hathaway seemed like the perfect Catwoman, as I like the character — witty, sexy, smart, and an anti-hero. I was looking forward to seeing the movie on Saturday and budgeted movie money for it. But now I didn’t know what to do.

The day got worse, when in the middle of the day, the news said that the murderer called himself the Joker. A few months back, I wrote a blog where I said that I would look into the mirror and see the Joker looking back at me. I compared myself to the same villain. And my heart sank again. I am not saying that we have similar mindsets, but all of these mass-murderers get into my head because they are generally described the same way — loners, depressed, lost. And I have felt that way many times. But there is something that I know is a huge difference — I have never left sight on how powerful life is.

I believe that the only way that an individual can kill anything is to figure out a way to dehumanize it. It is hard to kill an animal, in my opinion, if you see it as a member of a family or give it a name. But if you see it as an animal, it gets easier. I think that this is how people are able to kill. If you decide a group of people are not really people or an individual is not human, it gets easier. I don’t understand how one can get to that belief because each day, I wake up, I feel so lucky to be here and with the people I care about.

But I was depressed the entire day. I could not imagine why someone would take such actions in such a location. Innocent people trying to enjoy a movie lost that innocence. It isn’t fair. It isn’t just. And it is not what superhero movies tell.

Superheroes bring out joy. It is a simple black and white world where there are good guys and there are bad guys. They have very descriptive names that will tell you which side they are on. And their worlds can be dark. Their worlds can be scary. But in the end, there is light. So, that Saturday, I needed light. I didn’t see The Dark Knight Rises. He took that movie away from me that weekend. But I wanted to see a movie. I went with John to see Moonrise Kingdom, the new Wes Anderson movie. I needed light. And it helped.

The responses that erupted within the comic book community was reassuring. There are so many great people out there and it is sad when a movie is tarred by the actions of one individual. We must remember those who innocently lost their lives for the love of a movie, but we must also remember why they went in the first place. There is such wonder and amazement in these characters and in the movies. Very few things would bring people out of their homes at midnight, dressed in costumes, enjoying something with friends and family.

I think I had to write this before I could move onto anything else even though it has been a while. I have seen The Dark Knight Rises since and will discuss the film in the next entry. I enjoyed it, but it was very hard for me to watch without separately the events in Colorado. But the ending was exactly what I needed. It brought light.

Culling the Herd

Posted by Dan Billings on June 27, 2012 under Off the New Comic Rack | 2 Comments to Read

As June winds down, I decided to see how many comics I buy each month. 67. That’s too much. I don’t enjoy at least a third of them and they just pile up. But I’m stuck in a rut of buying them.

My goal: less than 50 ongoing books. That still seems like a lot. Between double shipping Marvel books to lots of Owls, it’s getting tough.

Here is the full list of what I bought in June:

ACTION COMICS #10
ALL STAR WESTERN #10
AMERICAN VAMPIRE #28 (MR)
AMERICAN VAMPIRE LORD OF NIGHTMARES #1 (OF 5)
ANIMAL MAN #10
AQUAMAN #10
AVENGERS #27 AVX
AVENGERS ACADEMY #31 AVX
AVENGERS ACADEMY #32 AVX
AVENGERS VS X-MEN #5 (OF 12) AVX
AVENGERS VS X-MEN #6 (OF 12) AVX
BATGIRL #10
BATMAN #10
BATMAN AND ROBIN #10
BATMAN INCORPORATED #2
BIRDS OF PREY #10
BLUE BEETLE #10
CAPTAIN AMERICA #13
CAPTAIN ATOM #10
CASANOVA AVARITIA #4 (OF 4)
CONAN THE BARBARIAN #5
DAREDEVIL #14
DC UNIVERSE PRESENTS #10
DEMON KNIGHTS #10
DIAL H #2
EARTH TWO #2
FABLES #118 (MR)
FAIREST #4 (MR)
FANTASTIC FOUR #607
FATALE #6
FF #19
FLASH #10
FRANKENSTEIN AGENT OF SHADE #10
GREEN LANTERN #10
GREEN LANTERN CORPS #10
GREEN LANTERN NEW GUARDIANS #10
I VAMPIRE #10
IZOMBIE #26 (MR)
JUSTICE LEAGUE #10
JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #10
MANHATTAN PROJECTS #4
MASSIVE #1
MEMORIAL #6 (OF 6)
MIND THE GAP #2
NEW AVENGERS #27 AVX
NEW DEADWARDIANS #4 (OF 8)
NIGHTWING #10
PROPHET #26
SAGA #4 (MR)
SAUCER COUNTRY #4 (MR)
SCALPED #59
SECRET #2
SHADE #9 (OF 12)
SPACEMAN #7 (OF 9)
SWAMP THING #10
SWEET TOOTH #34 (MR)
UNCANNY X-MEN #13 AVX
UNCANNY X-MEN #14 AVX
UNWRITTEN #38 (MR)
WINTER SOLDIER #6
WINTER SOLDIER #7
WOLVERINE AND X-MEN #12
WONDER WOMAN #10
WORLDS FINEST #2
X-FACTOR #237
X-FACTOR #238

Avengers Penance

Posted by Dan Billings on May 2, 2012 under Off the New Comic Rack, The Multiplex | Be the First to Comment

To alleviate the guilt I will have when I see The Avengers, I will follow David Brother’s post and donate to The Hero Initiative.

Here is the idea: So how about this: You’re probably going to go see The Avengers and, judging by the early reviews, you’ll probably enjoy it. How about – as a thank you to the creators who brought you these characters in the first place, who gave you something to enjoy so much – you match your ticket price as a donation to The Hero Initiative?

As creators who did not get their fair share get sick or need help, The Hero Initiative provides them with assistance.

See the movie! Help out!

UPDATED 5/16/2012: I saw The Avengers last week and just donated $10 to the Hero’s Initiative. The movie was alright. Nothing more to say.

Only The Lonely…Sit Online Waiting…Sometimes Angry

Posted by Dan Billings on April 17, 2012 under Off the New Comic Rack, Uncategorized | 2 Comments to Read

In college, everyone had America Online Instant Messenger (AIM). We all had screen names that were related to us but that were not our God-given monikers. Mine was nightwing8782.

I wish I could pull this off

I still use that today on many things, such as my Xbox. I remember sitting at my Dell for hours at night hoping that someone would send me a message to see how I was. I would post statuses that would just ask for communication. And it drove me crazy whenever no one would say hello. I would go to chat rooms or other places just to have some personal interaction. The ironic part is that only five feet away was a roommate, twenty feet away were fellow cross country runners, and within a quarter-mile was over 900 real-life people.

When I read the article Is Facebook Making Us Lonely in this month’s The Atlantic Monthly, I had to agree with the main point, but I also had to disagree with the idea that this is a new phenomenon or that it is isolated to Facebook. The Internet has created a home for the lonely in a way that even Roy Orbison couldn’t imagine. It gives us a glimpse into the good days of all of our acquaintances. It allows people to stay close but far enough away as to not get hurt. But as the writer notes in the article, it’s a tool that can be used in many ways.

Over the past few years, I have worked at using the Internet, Facebook, and even this blog, as more of a tool instead of my source of communication. I do not sit on Gmail, or AIM, or any other instant message mechanism hoping that someone will contact me. I do my best to call people and now I actually make the bold decision to have physical friends. I turn to Facebook to share in people’s joys, not to dwell in my failures. I use Facebook to post stories that I have written, this blog that I have begun to take more seriously, and share a few thoughts about my day.

But the Internet over the years has also given me confidence.

This past weekend, I went to C2E2, the Chicago Comic-Con. Yes, there are lots of people who wear costumes of their favorite superheroes (as shown above), video game characters, and other themes that they enjoy. I went with friends from work who had listened to me talk about the mundane daily interactions among the comic book Internet community. When I first read comics in high school, I did not know a single other person who went to a comic shop on Wednesday. Even in college, I would hide them under my bed because I thought they were embarrassing. No one understand my AIM moniker for instance. Nightwing is the adult version of the first Robin, Dick Grayson. But then I went online to find people who like what I like. I found communities with message boards, blogs, podcasts, and lots of other mediums. I wrote a Blue Beetle story for a fan fic Yahoo Group. I realized I wasn’t alone. And it was marvelous!

But the Internet can be an angry, lonely place. At The Iceberg Lounge, Steve K. writes blogs about recent trades or comics and recently wrote about the state of the Internet community. This is a community that I dream of becoming a part of. I imagine sitting around a table at a convention one day with all of these great critics and men and women who just love comics. I find comics so interesting and amazing and I dream of talking about it. I love talking about the different art styles, some that I like and some that I dislike. I think to myself about the great writing being done at many of the small presses.

As Steve K. notes, it is also full of vitriol, and it seems to be on the rise. The Internet (and Facebook) give us all the chance to complain to a wide audience. We all become Simon Cowells – judging people we barely know to try to be funny, iconoclastic, annoying. I am sure that everyone has at least one friend on Facebook or Twitter or whatever that is constantly complaining about their job, their spouse, their kids, their … I might be that friend to you.

And there is a reason why: people like reading angry diatribes. People like bad reviews. A good review or a good story doesn’t get the attention of someone talking about how sad they are or how bad their friend/spouse/boss/President is. Think about your likes or comments on a wall. Do you respond to positive thoughts or to negative thoughts? I know I remember the negative ones more. The same is true about comic book commentary. I remember when someone writes badly about Stephen Wacker or Marvel. I remember when someone badmouths something that Dan Didio is doing over at DC Comics. It’s more entertaining.

From Comic Book Resources

This creates isolation, however. If the marketplace of ideas does not hear good thoughts due to lack of voice, then those who, for instance, liked Avengers v. X-Men don’t feel comfortable adding their two cents to the dialogue. If someone is trying to get attention on Facebook posts about how great their day was and no one asks why, but if they post about how bad their day was and get five people trying to sympathize, what behavior is incentivized? The Internet can become very homogeneous with everyone agreeing and posting on a topic such as to to fit in. The Internet can become very homogeneous because no one wants to counter the points that others are making and decide to hide in the shadows instead.

Loneliness created from a man-made device is difficult. It may be ingrained into distant relationships. But when people reach out because they want to talk about a comic or their day at work, it may be helpful to try to respond to the positive ones than only the negative ones.

 

Batman and Robin #8 Review

Posted by Dan Billings on April 13, 2012 under Off the New Comic Rack | Be the First to Comment

After the relaunch, I did not continue reading Detective Comics or The Dark Knight because I was not impressed with the prior creators’s work. It wasn’t my tone. Batman and Robin has hit the sweet spot for me.

When Grant Morrison introduced Damian as Batman’s son with Talia al Ghul, he was a jerky kid who had a chip on his shoulder. He didn’t think anyone could teach him anything and had the ego of a boy that had a psychopath as a grandfather and a mother…

Let alone a vigilante as a father.

Batman and Robin #8 Cover

And that is the story of Batman and Robin. Damian has been Robin since Batman “died” and he was Dick Grayson’s sidekick. Their relationship was great because Dick as Batman was more laid back and Damian did not respect him as a leader. Throughout the precursor series written by Morrison and art by various artists, including Frank Quitely, Philip Tan, and Cameron Stewart, among others, they developed a respect for each other. But Damian was still a loose cannon. And now his dad, whom he really does not know, is back.

Bruce Wayne is a powerful figure. Damian seems afraid of him, like many sons fear their fathers. Not a fear of punishment or pain, but of not being what the son believes their father to want. This story has been told multiple times in literature, on film, and even in comics. But not with Batman.

Peter Tomasi (writer), Patrick Gleason (pencils), Michael Gray (inks), and John Kalisz (colors) have created a beautiful story in the first eight issues of the new 52 Batman and Robin.

First, the art is dynamic but also very telling. The touching scenes between Bruce and Damian (and usually Alfred) are beautifully portrayed. The color schemes and inking appear to change with the tones of the room. If they are angry, the art gives it away in more than just the pencils. When they are Batman and Robin, there is that sense of kinematic fighting as well as dilemma. In this last issue where Batman has to rescue Damian, the reds are amazing. The expressions on Bruce’s face as he rushes into the Batcave with a waiting Dr. Alfred and touching and really provide a beautiful set of images.

Now, the story, as I noted above, is not original. But it doesn’t matter. We all understand the feelings of wanting to satisfy a parent or to watch one of our children try to match what they think we want. Tomasi has created a faulty dysfunctional family built around violence. We believe Batman to be a good man who is trying to stop crime in his city. But does that same intentions create a good father? He enlists young men to be his sidekicks to fight insane people in a little costume. At every turn, Alfred is trying to remind Bruce that Damian is still a boy who needs a childhood, even though both of his parents have been advancing him in age unjustly. To have the surrogate father act as a grandfather to slow down Bruce is an amazing storytelling technique.

This book has moved to the top of my pile and has become a must read. Way to go, DC Comics!