Wednesday, July 31, 2013

train kept a-rollin' 003: what if? avx #3

by Chad Nevett

What If? AvX #3 (Marvel)
by Jimmy Palmiotti, Gerardo Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona, Rachelle Rosenberg

The creator names on the cover of 'What If? AvX' #3 are incorrect. They’re a carryover from the second issue where Jorge Molina penciled the issue, Norman Lee and Rick Magyar inked it, and Rachelle Rosenberg colored it. The third issue still lists those four names under Jimmy Palmiotti on the cover, but the art team is actually Gerardo Sandoval handling the penciling and some inking, Jordi Tarragona doing the rest of the inks, and Rachelle Rosenberg coloring (and acting as the only artistic link to the first two issues). It’s the same sort of... well, I don’t want to call it laziness, because that brings some horrible connotations, but, maybe, incompetence? It’s the same sort of incompetence that also leads to three dead characters (see last column) showing up as part of the cast on the recap page. Is this comic maybe a low priority? Again, see last column. Editorial blunders, while amusing, are not what I want to discuss.

The change in pencillers with this issue is appropriate. Normally, I’m with everyone else and hate to see the art shift mid-project (unless purposefully designed that way or the new artist being a vast improvement over the original) and my reason for not thinking that this time is one of those instances where I imagine people will understand my reasoning while still thinking that my approach is a little askew. 'Avengers vs. X-Men' was not an artistically cohesive event. Few are once you factor in tie-ins, but 'Avengers vs. X-Men' featured three pencillers through its 12-issue run (John Romita, Jr., Olivier Coipel, and Adam Kubert) with another penciller (Frank Cho) drawing issue 0. Basically, the first half of the event was done by Romita with Coipel and Kubert switching off on the second half. The result is a nice looking series that has zero visual or artistic cohesion, and it works to a degree because the series was also written by five writers. It was a hodgepodge mess of large-scale collaboration where consistency and unity were not invited. So, it’s only appropriate that 'What If? AvX' should shift artist teams in its third issue (if only they had numerous writers as well...), offering no sense of cohesion and visual consistency.

Because, obviously, Gerardo Sandoval’s art looks very little like that of Jorge Molina. Molina’s art is clean and blocky, aimed mostly at clarity and communicating exactly what is happening. There’s a little bit of roughness that creeps in around the edges that hints at something more stylistically interesting and makes me a little sad, because I would have loved to see more of that style. The way that he draws Magneto and Hope sparring in the first issue hints at something a little more lean, a little darker and messier that sits in contrast to the more open, clean-lined work he does elsewhere. His page layouts do not adhere to a set grid structure, but he rarely breaks from direct square or rectangular panels, again in the service of clarity and ease of reading. Panels are usually structured along three- or four-panel tiers with a somewhat steady pace that slows and speeds up depending on the moment. The rare moments where he breaks from these conventions are cases of ‘big’ moments where a double-page spread is required or, late in issue two, where Thor flies at the Phoenix and Molina uses a two-page layout, giving three-quarters of the room to that shot with two panels (one at the bottom of each page) that closes in and showcases Thor and the Phoenix. The first issue was looser with this, having more instances of characters breaking the panel borders, possibly because of the deadline crunch of the second issue. The second issue offers only one real moment of formalist play early on where the Black Panther is in a spaceship, communicating with Captain America. It’s a fifth-tier panel at the bottom of the page on a page where every tier is a single panel taking up the entire length of the page. The Black Panther’s back is three-quarters to us and we can see the ship’s screen in front of us along with his teammates in space and the Phoenix. The panel has an inset, though: a circular shot of the Panther’s head that is drawn like a word balloon coming from the other Panther figure. It’s not anything remarkable, but does show a willingness or ability to break from the layouts that we see in the first issues of 'What If? AvX'. Stylistically and structurally, his art is aimed at clarity and directness. It’s very difficult to be confused or thrown by anything Molina presents in the first two issues.

Gerardo Sandoval follows that example to a degree, but seems far less interested in clarity and ease of reading. His page is an awkward layout of the Vision, Ms. Marvel, and Nova descending upon Magneto, Emma Frost, and the Phoenix-possessed Hope on the Moon. The perspective is from above the three mutants, albeit from an angle, with the three Avengers at the top of the panel, in front of the reader, almost like our perspective is meant to be as some non-existent fourth Avenger descending onto the Moon. It’s clunky in the way that characters are positioned on the page and looks somewhat cluttered. Stylistically, Sandoval’s art is not something I particularly like. There’s a manga influence in it that results in lots of hair spikes and youthful faces. A horrible artistic crime, I know; it’s simply not something that I find visually appealing. The characters look like less than what they usually are, if that makes sense. Magneto is a youthful, attractive man until he becomes ‘more evil,’ and, suddenly, gains scars and a face that shows his age to a larger degree. There’s very little naturalism or realism, but also not a strong enough dynamism to warrant the contorted poses meant to convey movement and action. Too bland to be weird, too weird to be bland. As it were. He has a tough time balancing the demands of the art and the demands of the writing in places. One page, where Iron Man pulls Wolverine from the ocean and they regroup with the Avengers is a cluttered mess of character shoved into whatever space is available given the number of panels and tonnage of word balloons. Then again, maybe the page didn't need such a large shot of Wolverine vomiting sea water? (A sentence I never thought that I would write...)

Despite my clear dislike of Sandoval’s work, there is that connection to 'Avengers vs. X-Men'’s artistic changes that allows me to move past it, intellectually. Even the choice of starting with John Romita Jr. then shifting to Olivier Coipel and Adam Kubert seems to be the pattern here. Romita, while more distinctive stylistically than Molina, is an artist that places a premium on clarity, while Coipel and Kubert are more willing to sacrifice clarity for style. That shift is reflected in 'What If? AvX', just not to the same degree. It’s a faint shadow of the original, like a lot of 'What If...?' stories of the modern Marvel.

The one area where there is almost parity is in the reproduction of one cohesive element in 'Avengers vs. X-Men'’s art: the coloring. The entire event (save the 0 issue) was colored by Laura Martin and, in 'What If? AvX', Rachelle Rosenberg has colored all three issues (and I assume will color the fourth issue). At first, when looking at issue three, I had thought that Rosenberg had taken a different approach to coloring Sandoval’s pencils from what she had done for Molina’s, but, looking at some side-by-side comparisons, it’s not as strong a difference as I had thought. It’s a little surprising to learn that, to a degree, how I view the pencil art influences how I perceive the color art. If I don’t like the pencil art, I seem to think that the coloring is weaker somehow. That is an effect that I hadn't given much thought before. Rosenberg’s coloring seems best suited to Molina’s pencils, honestly. She, like Molina, seems to be going for a clean, easy to comprehend style. She doesn't overpower the art with a lot of effects, but does help with mood and storytelling. I particularly like the way she depicts the confrontation in issue two as happening at dusk, something that the pencil art doesn't seem to call for, but adds an emotional tone to the scenes of destruction and death that wouldn't be there if she colored the scene as taking place in the middle of a sunny day. It also allows for a clear passage of time over the course of the series: Magneto and Hope spar during the day; the confrontation with the Avengers happens as dusk begins; the Avengers regroup as we shift to night; Magneto and Phoenix Hope arrive once night has fallen, leading, most likely, to a final issue that takes place at night. She provides a sense of time that tells us when events are happening that another colorist wouldn't necessarily include. I like that.

Next issue, I imagine Jorge Molina will return, but I almost hope that we get another new penciller to finish things. A Kubert to Sandoval’s Coipel after Molina was Romita with Rosenberg acting as the series’ Martin. It will be almost like a true alternate version of 'Avengers vs. X-Men' then.

Friday, July 26, 2013

1987 and all that 011: this is why i'm hot

by Matt Derman

...reading comics from the year i was born!

Avengers #275-286 (Marvel)
by Roger Stern, John Buscema, Tom Palmer, Julianna Ferriter, Christie Scheele, John Wellington, Jim Novak, L.P. Gregory, Bill Oakley

Recently, there’s been some debate online about what constitutes and/or what should constitute an Avenger. Because Marvel has so many series with “Avengers” in the title, and because in the current “main” Avengers book the roster is so expansive, people are beginning to wonder if the name has lost some or all of its meaning. If so many characters, major and minor, old and new can be part of the ever-growing group, then what distinguishes an Avenger from any other superhero? Mutants are Avengers, Runaways are Avengers, even Loki, the villain whose evil-doings brought the original team together way back when, is part of an Avengers crew now. Yeah, OK, it’s technically Kid Loki, but still…the irony doesn't disappear just because the character ages down.

Personally, I don’t have too strong an opinion one way or another on this topic. If Marvel wants to dilute the brand to such an extreme, that’s certainly their prerogative, and every series should be judged on its own merits, not whether or not it fulfills someone’s criteria of what an Avengers title should be. The reason I bring it up here is because, reading the 'Avengers' issues from 1987, it seems like it was crystal damn clear in those days what being an Avenger meant. Every member of the bizarre and varied cast that starred in the book at that time had some specific qualities in common, and as a team it gave them a few distinct advantages over some impressive foes.

The most obvious of these shared traits is a certain relentlessness, a steadfast refusal to give up no matter how dire or hopeless the situation seems to be. I suppose just about every superhero has this determination to some degree, since they constantly battle villains with immense powers and insane, broadminded schemes. But in these Avengers issues, the team takes the never-say-die attitude to new heights. It doesn't matter if their headquarters is taken from them, if they’re battling gods, or even if, to all outward appearances, they have already been defeated by their foes. No matter how badly the odds are stacked against them, they face the challenges eagerly, with an illogical assuredness that they’ll come out victorious. And, this being mainstream superhero comics, they always do. They have their moments of doubt individually, but when one Avenger feels shaky, the rest merely become that much more confident to make up for it. Which brings me to the next attribute they all posses: faith in each other.

As written by Roger Stern, 'Avengers' is an exemplary team book. The cast is truly an ensemble, each of them having moments of glory and of weakness in more or less equal turn. And what also makes the series such an excellent team book is that its titular heroes make such an excellent team. They understand each other’s strengths, and put absolute faith in one another to come through when needed. When the Masters of Evil invade Avengers HQ, leave Hercules in a coma, bound Captain America and Black Knight, and trap Captain Marvel in another dimension, the only active member left standing is the Wasp. This is the situation at the beginning of 'Avengers' #275, and things sure look hopeless for the good guys. Baron Zemo, the Masters’ leader, cockily mocks Captain America, because in Zemo’s mind the battle is already won. But Cap, though he has no concrete reason to believe this, swears up and down that the Wasp will rescue her teammates, that Zemo is a fool to underestimate her. Cap and Wasp do have a long history together, so he’s more than aware of her competence and capability. But all the same, when he’s tied up and cut off from her, continuing to so unwaveringly believe that she’ll save him and the rest of the team borders on foolishness. Except, of course, that he’s right.

This is just one of many examples. In a later issue, She-Hulk goes nuts and starts attacking her friends in the street, and right away they all assume (correctly) that she’s under some sort of mind-control effect, and start looking for the cause even as they attempt to stop her rampage. When Captain America’s legs are broken, he lends Namor his shield, saying that it’s now the Sub-Mariner’s responsibility to “maintain the colors.” The Avengers constantly have members getting captured, disabled, or otherwise taken out of the fight, but when anyone goes down, their allies are more than ready to step up. And because the lineup is so varied, someone always has just the right tactic at just the right time to save the day in the end.

Their strategic prowess is the final thing all of these Avengers share. These are not one-trick ponies; each of them uses the full scope of their power-sets, their knowledge of the enemy, environmental factors, and anything else that can give them the upper hand in any given conflict. So the super-strong characters don’t just hit the baddies as hard as they can, easy as that would be. They also use improvised weapons, grappling techniques, and verbal jabs. They hit from different angles, looking for weak spots or moments of distraction. And the rest of the team find new ways to utilize their skills in battle too, even when their talents seem simple or straightforward.

The Black Knight, for instance, only really has his magical sword going for him. He’s a well-trained fighter, but otherwise just an average man, and without the Ebony Blade he’d have little to offer a group like the Avengers. Yet even he is able to do more than merely slice and dice the villains. His sword reflects one of Zeus’ lightning bolts back at the god and rescues Thor when he’s trapped under an enormous block of stone by cleaving it in two. And Black Knight’s ability to summon his weapon to him from a distance comes in handy on several occasions.

Captain Marvel can turn into innumerable different types of energy, and she’s quite creative in her decisions. Though she prefers some forms to others, typically becoming light when she needs to travel or neutrinos when she wants to stay unseen, in battle her choices are more varied, tailored to each new circumstance. Dr. Druid has mind control and telekinesis, and tends to rely on those, but can hold his own in a straight fistfight if that’s what it comes to. Wasp tends to use her powerful sting, but will sometimes instead use her size-changing powers to take somebody down, either suddenly growing for a surprise hit, or shrinking to dodge her foe’s attack and sending them into the wall behind her. The list goes on, and I won’t bother going through every single Avenger to grace these pages, but suffice it to say they’re all capable combatants with more than one trick up their sleeves.

It’s certainly possible that modern-day Avengers still possess all of the attributes I have mentioned above. I don’t read enough of the many available titles to know for sure. But this column isn't really meant as a comparison piece, another “things were better in the good old days” argument. Who needs that? I simply aim to point out that, regardless of the current state of affairs, there was a time when readers knew what to expect from their 'Avengers', and from the creators who handled them. Roger Stern had a consistent view of what it took to be one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and though each character had their own distinct voice, together they had a clear and cohesive team personality as well. Earth’s Most Reliable Heroes would perhaps be a more fitting phrase to describe this era, and it’s not just Stern’s scripts that make it so. The art from John Buscema and Tom Palmer was just as steady, and a major strength of the title.

The art is not mind-blowing, experimental, medium-warping stuff. What Buscema and Palmer bring to the table instead is a classic superhero aesthetic. The heroes and villains alike are sturdy and detailed and clear, no matter how large the cast becomes in a given story line. It’s easy to believe in the extraordinary powers of these characters, because Buscema and Palmer find a pitch perfect balance between everyday realism and comic book fantasy. A scene of Captain Marvel having a heartfelt conversation with her parents about the pros and cons of becoming the team’s new leader carries just as much weight as an all-out brawl between the Avengers and the armies of Hades. Some issues have action on nearly every page, while others focus more heavily on the interpersonal relationships and the day-to-day administrative aspects of the Avengers. In either case, the artwork is equally impressive, full of life and energy. There is no less drama when Wasp announces she is leaving the team, as there is when Captain America beats up on Baron Zemo. The art allows Stern to tell whatever kind of story he pleases, and to take his time with each narrative beat.

What I like most about the art is that it reinforces the Avengers’ bravery and trust in one another. Each of the heroes looks impressive, noble, capable, and bold. They have a sort of regality about them, especially when they stand together against a threat, which adds credibility to their unflappable confidence. The reader doesn't just know that the good guys will win since that’s how it always works; we believe it, just as they do, because they look so powerful in every panel. That’s an important distinction, and it comes entirely from the visuals. The dialogue might at times seem forced or comical if the cast didn't so consistently look like they could back up every word.

There is a change in leadership and many shifts in roster during these twelve issues, but none of that affects what it means to be an Avenger. No matter who’s on the team, as a whole their goals and attitudes stay the same, and that regularity is comforting. 'Avengers' was a title with a strong sense of identity, a voice that was unique, unchanging, and above all highly entertaining. With a creative team that the audience could count on much the same way that the characters counted on each other, 'Avengers' told rich superhero stories about a team that was undeniably deserving of the name.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

train kept a-rollin' 002: what if? avx #2

What If? AvX #2 (Marvel)
by Jimmy Palmiotti, Jorge Molina, Norman Lee, Rick Magyar, Rachelle Rosenberg

So utterly dull and uneventful a comic was 'What If? AvX' #2 that the only way to amuse myself at this point is to imagine the parallel universe that goes along with this comic where this is the actual 'Avengers vs. X-Men' event done on fast forward and we have just hit the follow-up issue to Wolverine killing Storm where Magneto, by blowing up the Avengers’ big aircraft, kills Falcon and Colleen Wing. Can you imagine? A Marvel event where the first three deaths are a black woman, a black man, and an Asian woman... and all are there for the sole purpose of shock value? Hoo boy... I would not want to be alternate reality Jimmy Palmiotti.

Thankfully, for the Jimmy Palmiotti that actually exists, this is Real World 616 and no one gives a fuck. But, should they? After all, what is the difference between the senseless deaths of these characters here and in the real 'Avengers vs. X-Men' besides some concept that one story “counts” and the other doesn't? These are all fictional constructs that live and die on a writer’s whim (or editor’s or editorial team’s or... you get the idea). Hell, they’re the same characters, really, with only a somewhat absurd conceptual caveat dividing the outraged from the apathetic (or unknowing). If those characters get killed in the exact same fashion in 'Avengers vs. X-Men' #1 and 2, then people lose their minds, but, they get killed in 'What If? AvX' #1 and 2 and nothing? I both understand and don’t understand, if that makes sense. And it seems a little strange that I actually understand this to a degree.

Really, I’m not trying to criticize the online writers who usually write about deaths like these, they simply present a convenient example in the dynamics of superhero comic readers on a larger scale. Last year, 'Avengers vs. X-Men' #1 was the biggest selling comic of the year to that point and, this year, how many people even know 'What If? AvX' is coming out at all? Part of that is down to hype and marketing. Part of that is the lack of big name creators. But, mostly, it’s that 'What If? AvX' “doesn't count,” so people are inclined to skip it. Having read the first two issues, that seems like the safe bet to keep eight bucks in your pocket, except the decision of those readers to not care was not made after seeing the issues released so far. It wasn't even made when the project was first announced. It was made long ago when they decided to not care at all about 'What If...?' and other comics like it. There’s one group that “counts” and another that doesn't, and the latter isn't limited to extra imaginary stories like 'What If...?', it’s any comics that don’t drive forward the main thrust of the shared universe it inhabits. Quality has nothing to do with it. Content only does in the most superficial sense. And none of this is news to any of you...

So, why does 'What If? AvX' exist? Why is the gravy train still a-rollin’ one year later? The AvX brand is barely remembered, the creative team is C-list at best, and the total cost of this futile exercise is $16 when few would probably shell out one quarter of the cost for a more compact version of the exact same story... No one cares.

They should, though. Because there is no difference between Storm, the Falcon, and Colleen Wing dying as they did here or in any other comic. There isn't. It’s still a comic where those deaths happened in a meaningless manner meant to rack up a tiny body count and create the illusion that the stakes are high all of a sudden. Who cares if it “counts?” These are fictional characters where any story can suddenly “count” or be forgotten and cut out of the history books, by the publisher, by a writer, by an editor, or by the fans. There’s no such thing as “counts.” Go to my old blog and take a look at my 'Avengers vs. X-Men' Reader Order where I put the entire event into a logical, readable order, and scroll right to the bottom where the last two entries are: 'A-Babies vs. X-Babies' and 'What If? AvX'. If they’re part of the reading order, they count. For me, at least. To skip anything on that list is to skip part of the entire 'Avengers vs. X-Men' story. It’s not like there weren't massive, glaring contradictions before having to reconcile the original event with its alternate reality version. Who cares? Is it so hard to hold contradictions in your head, see them there, recognize them, and, yet, not have any invalidated? If 'What If? AvX' was a better story than 'Avengers vs. X-Men', would I seem strange if I preferred to think of it as the “real” story that “counts?” I have said many, many times that I absolutely love the second story in that 'What If? Civil War' one-shot that Marvel published where Tony and Steve talk things out and no one dies. That feels more like the characters that I have read all my life than the actual Marvel event. It feels more “real.” So, in my mind, it is.

Except when it isn't, because it doesn't count.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

diary of a guttersnipe 07/16/2013: don't go crying to your mama

by Shawn Starr


Daredevil: End Of Days (Marvel)
by Brian Michael Bendis, David Mack, Klaus Janson, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alex Maleev, Matt Hollingsworth

A retelling of "Citizen Kane" through the prism of costumed vigilante Daredevil , written as subtly as one would imagine the writer of 'Citizen Wayne' could muster.

*I dug Janson/Sienkiewicz’s loose almost sloppy late period Neal Adams style.

Hawkeye #11 (Marvel)
by Matt Fraction, David Aja, Matt Hollingsworth, Chris Eliopoulos

[“pitch” notes for an essay on 'Hawkeye' #11]

  • issue renamed: 'zza dog:
  • Issue of the year! “doggy years that is” (that means best issue in 7 years).
  • a deconstruction of Chris Ware's cold formalism illustrated by two dogs sniffing each other and some circles with hearts in them.
  • Makes 'Acme Novelty Library' look like Dominos. - Killer Lines. Use. Pitch Comics Alliance!
  • "Air Bud" or ‘zza dog. mashup poster. look for someone on Deviantart. No Pay. EXPOSURE!!!! (highlight the exposure angle). Chris Sims will know someone. [Get Chris Sims email]
  • I bet Dan Clowes likes to smother dogs in their sleep. He at least hits them with old 'Eightball' issues. I’m sure of it. Maybe incorporate this fact. FACT (stress this). MAYBE something about "Art School Confidential". i was not a huge fan of that movie, i bet no one else likes it. I’ll slam him on that. Is there a dog in that movie??
  • “the pick of the litter” - possible headline/ title. check with editor.
  •  more Avengers should have pets. Cap can have an eagle. Saturday morning cartoon? call someone.  get the ball “woofing” on this.
  •  need more Dog Puns. Make a sub-folder for dog puns. 5-10 needed.                 
  1. “a woofing adventure”
  2. “a woofing good time”
  3. need to cut down on “woof”. maybe Ruff. “ruffing good time”(?)
  • if you don’t like this comic you’re “BARKINg” up the wrong tree. (note: i like this one. maybe a come back in the comment thread? that will shut them up/no doubt)
  • make it Sorkin-esque.



Truth Zone 84: “The Critty’s”. I like that Truth Zone is a comic made for maybe  500 people who are invested enough in alt-comics to get the jokes. Nick Gazin being “The Dane Cook of Comics Criticism” made me laugh.

Jog writes a latter day Steve Ditko reader over at Comics Alliance. (I’m still not certain if the new iteration of Comics Alliance retains the copyright over work they publish like the previous AOL owned site did. I remember when that policy came to light it was fairly controversial, but that discussion seemingly disappeared when the site reopened.)

Chris Mautner interviews Marc Sobel about his new book/books 'The Love and Rockets Companion' (which will be followed up later this year by 'The Love and Rockets Reader'). I think this line is very apt:

    “The fact that these two punk, Mexican-American brothers created a series that has sustained thirty years of success in an extremely fickle industry like comics underscores its legendary status.”

Sale on Jim Woodring and Peter Bagge designed shirts for $10.

The first six issues of Patrick Kyle's 'Distance Movers' are online.

    An editorial on how Wacker and Johnston can eat a dick

This Bleeding Cool article is pretty disgusting. Wacker's tweet seems like something a person says to score “cred” with the subclass of the comics community who like to leer at women in cosplay and then call them whores when they object to being touched (also see people who jerk off to J. Scott Campbell pin ups of Black Cat ). The tweet might as well read as “GOTCHA! MISANDRY IS REAL!” because that is in essence what it is saying. Wacker caught everyone in their lie, in his eyes at least.  Johnston's commentary on the original tweet doesn’t read much better, smugly asserting that artists/authors who publicly announced they would not take part in panels that did not feature any females (or gender parity according to Johnston) should be outraged over this oversight; in what i can only see as in his mind as a clear representation of male oppression in the comics industry [Johnston's original article was later updated showing that Wacker’s tweet and Johnston’s article were based on outdated/incorrect information since there were indeed males included on the panel. Johnston made a point to deflect any personal responsibility by pointing towards multiple panel drafts with different panelists listed, and that the original listing had been edited since his article ran. Because it was either a conspiracy, or Johnston and Wacker won one for men. I did not notice a redaction from Wacker, i assume his Fedora aficionado meeting ran late this week].

Friday, July 12, 2013

1987 and all that 010: growing pains

by Matt Derman

...reading comics from the year i was born!

Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters #1-3 (DC)
by Mike Grell, Lurene Haines, Julia Lacquement, Ken Bruzenak

Phrases like “mature readers” and “grim and gritty” and “dark superhero” have become commonplace in the comic book culture’s vernacular. This was not always the case. And even though there’s a general acceptance among current comic fans that grown-ups can enjoy them too, not everyone in the world agrees. At times, Mike Grell’s 'Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters' feels like a loud, overdone response to the naysayers, so brutal and hopeless and cynical in its content that no one could possibly suggest it was meant for children. There are places where this almost feels like the series’ top priority, and those are usually it's weakest moments. That said, each of the three prestige format issues also contains stunning artwork, a strong lead character, and enough legitimately moving tragedy that, as a whole, the title is still a success. It has uncomfortable yet compelling takes on violence, heroism, and morality that (whether you agree with the series’ viewpoints or not) are at least sure to provoke thought and stir up strong emotions.

Part of what this book is famous for is stripping down the Green Arrow concept to its purest, simplest, and most disconnected-from-the-shared-superhero-universe version as possible. In the first issue, Oliver Queen laments letting “the gimmicks and trick arrows do the job for [him]” and goes back to the simple, potentially fatal arrows we all know and love. Grell is even careful to avoid the name “Green Arrow,” except to have Oliver, in the same scene where he gives up the fancy weaponry, say that the persona was somewhat forced upon him by public perception and not, necessarily, a moniker he likes or wants to hold onto. This all plays into Grell’s attempt to dramatically age up the character and its audience. He abandons the code-names and gadgets and other more fanciful aspects of superhero comics in order to tell the story of what might happen if a real man, using real-world weapons and tackling real-world problems, tried to take justice into his own hands. It does not always (or even often) go well, but Oliver’s efforts are still noble and heroic.

Oliver goes after serial killers, corrupt CIA agents, and various organized criminals. He also butts heads with local cops, gets information by torturing petty thieves, and teams up with a Yakuza hit woman because her targets are the greater evil. Her name is Shado, and her story, almost as much as Oliver’s, is at the center of this series. In the first issue, she is known only as “the Robin Hood Killer,” a mysterious murderer who has left a trail of bodies in her wake moving west across the country. She makes it to Seattle only shortly before Oliver moves there, and though at first they are rivals, he gradually comes to admire her skills and respect her cause until they find themselves fighting on the same side.

Shado is a murderer, yes, and more often than not she kills her targets in cold blood and from a safe distance, but generally they deserve what they get. They were all criminals in their past, greedy thugs who stole gold from her father, and most of them have only grown into more despicable and/or sophisticated law-breakers since then. The gold in question may not have been clean exactly, since it belonged to the Yakuza (who also funded Shado’s archery training from her infancy and sent her after the men who dishonored her families, biological and criminal). So Shado is really just one villain’s weapon with which to attack other villains. But she also takes out the Seattle Slasher, another serial killer in the area who has been stabbing prostitutes. And when Dinah Lance (a.k.a. the Black Canary, though she’s never called that in this book) is kidnapped by the real baddies, Shado assists in the rescue, saving Dinah and Oliver’s lives. She earns Oliver’s trust in this manner, and proves herself worthy of the reader’s support as well. Whether or not you agree that a hero can kill, in this tale that’s what they do, but Shado does so with far more discrimination and purpose than the villains. Oliver, too. It is, ultimately, what sets them apart.

The idea of the good guys using lethal force is just one morally questionable aspect of 'The Longbow Hunters'. Personally, I don’t accept the notion that all superheroes should avoid killing no matter what. Situations will be different, and call for different tactics, plus at some point, if you’re not offering a permanent solution to the super-villains, you’re just allowing them to keep coming back for more. But in this story, the villains aren't super. Neither, truly, are the heroes, though Oliver and Shado’s precision with their weapons does require some suspension of disbelief. So the question becomes: if Oliver and Shado kill when other methods might be just as effective in shutting their enemies down, does that make them evil? On that, I’m less sure of where I stand, and Grell feeds into that ambiguity. Oliver, the protagonist, only kills once, and it is Dinah’s torturer who is his victim, a sociopath who relishes her pain and misery. If anyone has it coming in this book, it’s this guy. Yet it still eats Oliver up to have taken a life, causing nightmares that make him wonder if he is now as bad as his foes. Shado is less bothered by it, but also less definitively a hero. All she’s ever known has been preparation for and now the carrying out of her assassination assignment. I empathize with her, and don’t hold her wholly responsible for her actions, but her being so unphased by the death she causes is neither a surprise nor an especially strong argument in favor of such extreme methods.

Grell is not necessarily trying to justify the methods, anyway. The violence in this book is graphic and harsh and sometimes hard to look at, not celebrated or condemned but left to stand on its own. The reader is respected enough to make up their own mind about which, if any, of the violent acts are called for, and where the characters (and, by extension, Grell) maybe go too far. Shado killing “the Reverend,” who once was part of the group that stole from her father but is now harmless, homeless, and delusional, is much harder to support than when she kills the Seattle Slasher. I genuinely feel bad for the Reverend, death falling on his small, pathetic, unsuspecting form from above and behind. But the Slasher is killed moments before knifing his next victim, so when he dies what I feel is relief. Shado walks that line throughout the narrative, and the script and artwork walk it with her, sometimes more disgusting and unsettling than is needed.

Dinah’s kidnapping is the clearest instance of this. Make no mistake, this is Dinah Lance’s refrigerator moment. Her only role here is to be the damsel in distress, and Grell accomplishes this by shredding her clothes and her flesh (though not her spirit), and implying that far darker things were done to her off-panel. To some degree, he makes up for it preemptively through her strong and confident characterization in the first chapter, and I’ve read enough of the Green Arrow ongoing that followed this mini-series to know that Dinah comes into her own before Grell is done. But within the pages of 'The Longbow Hunters', she stumbles blindly into danger and ends up in over her head, primarily for the purpose of a stomach-turning splash page of her strung up and broken while her stunned torturer takes an arrow through his chest.

The purpose of the scene is to push Oliver to his breaking point, to make him a killer. It also helps the reader come over to Shado’s side; any enemy of the people who did this to Dinah isn't a friend of mine. It establishes the bottomless depths of corruption and wickedness the villains possess, the extremes they’re willing to go to in order to save their illicit empire. But it’s still a bit much, a prime example of Grell being so “grown up” in his story content that it turns me off. I don’t have a problem with the narrative goals of this plot point, but the execution crosses lines it needn't cross in the name of brutality and maturity.

Not to say that this is unrealistic, that people this horrid and moments this disturbing don’t exist in the world. Of course they do, and things far worse, and Grell is shining a brilliantly bright light on some of the darkest corners of the modern world. So the few places where the despair is laid on too thickly are still thematically sound and done in the service of story. My tastes for the grotesque notwithstanding, Grell is consistent in his depiction of cruelty and depravity as widespread problems with many increasingly ugly faces. In the final issue, he reveals the primary villains of the book to be former soldiers and a current CIA agent, using drug distribution chains already in place for Iran-Contra deals. That’s an awfully cynical final beat, made even more so when Oliver ends up keeping the duffle bag of untraceable money the CIA man brought along for the trial run. Not that Oliver does not deserve it, (and Dinah sure as hell does, too), but still…is this how heroes should be rewarded? With dirty money that their enemies let them hang onto? Another moral quandary popping up at the end of a series with several.

In some ways, 'The Longbow Hunters' feels like the prologue to a much larger work that it later actually became. Grell would script some 80 issues of 'Green Arrow' after this, the first writer to have the character as the solo lead of an ongoing series. So these initial 141 pages seeded things that Grell would continue to develop down the line, including the aftermath of Dinah’s torture, Oliver’s desire for children, Shado as a Catwoman-esque villain-hero, the CIA agent, Oliver’s relationship with the Seattle cops, and so on. None of these things resolve entirely here, because Grell is smart enough to tell a more confined story on his first outing without tying too tight a bow on it. Yet this series feels whole too, and indeed each issue stands as an enjoyable and self-contained act.

The first issue is titled simply, “The Hunters” and it introduces the new status quo for Oliver and Dinah, opening a florist shop in Seattle. It also sets up and reveals the identities of the Seattle Slasher and the Robin Hood Killer both, plus the head villains of the book are met briefly, and there’s an incredibly significant and well-written conversation between Oliver and Dinah about having children. He is eager for them, but Dinah doesn't want to give up being a vigilante, and to her that means no kids. Because the hero-ing lifestyle necessarily means risking her life, she thinks it unfair to bring children into the world with such a high risk that they’d become orphans. It is a fair point made well, and Oliver is forced to agree because he’s smart enough to see that Dinah’s right. But he still wants what he wants, and the small inner turmoil he feels about giving that up is left unresolved for now, as more urgent problems arise. A young woman reacting to a bad batch of crack comes crashing through their window, so Dinah sets off to investigate whoever supplied the drugs. Oliver decides to track down the two local serial killers, and though he finds the Slasher, it is Shado who defeats him, exposing herself as the Robin Hood Killer. Even at twice the typical page length, this is a lot of story to fit in, especially after the seven-page recap of Oliver’s past that Grell provides obligatorily early on. It is a respectful nod to his predecessors, and also a mission statement, as Oliver rejects his previous superheroics and resolves to fight a simpler, more human fight for good. A strong and sure opening to a debut that keeps up that quality of storytelling until its final page.

“Dragon Hunt” is the second chapter, and it belongs to the women. The first half of the book is interspersed with scenes of Shado’s childhood, as Oliver tracks her down, tries to stop her, and then loses to her when they fight. The second half is Oliver picking up Dinah’s trail and finding her captured and abused, killing her captors with Shado’s help, and getting out just seconds before the warehouse she was held in explodes. It is very much the dramatic high point of the series, and the most action- and tragedy-packed of all three issues. The finale, “Tracking Snow” finishes filling in Shado’s origin story and sees the final confrontation between her, her enemies, and Oliver on Mt. Rainier. It has its fair share of action, but ends up heavier on the exposition, with the crooked CIA operative and his partner, the head of the drug-running operation, each getting to deliver a somewhat long winded speech about how unstoppable they are. The CIA agent is right, and walks away unscathed; Shado shoots the other guy through his heart as soon as he stops talking. Admittedly, the ending is not as tight as either of the first two issues. It is the most predictable chapter, with Shado inevitably murdering the last of the men on her list and Oliver confirming things about his enemies that the reader already knew. But it brings things to a satisfactory close, and Grell’s artwork never wavers, so even when the story’s not as impressive, everything looks great.

Grell’s art is incredibly rich and realistic. Like the scripts, the visuals aim for maturity, avoiding the flatter, more exaggerated styles of typical superhero comic books. The artwork is layered, texturally varied, and heavily detailed. From the fashions to the facial expressions of characters large and small, Grell puts a tremendous amount of care into every panel. He also plays with non-traditional layouts, and offsets some of the most extreme action with much calmer, more grounded, more intimate scenes in between. His backgrounds are as full as the foregrounds, and his people are shaped like real people. The art goes a long way toward creating the more grown up tone of the series, because Grell (assisted by Lurene Haines) packs it with nuanced emotion, intense violence, and a believable cast.

Colorist Julia Lacquement also contributes greatly to the overall visual quality and atmosphere. The range of her palette is enormous, allowing her to highlight just how detailed Grell’s pages are to begin with. The hues are muted but never drab. The greens of Oliver’s outfit are no less dazzling in this setting just because they’re darker; they are merely toned down to match the rest of the book. The blood is still vibrant red, and so is the fire, but they’re not as brash as they tend to be in this medium. Lacquement reins her colors in, opting for a more reserved approach that fits with what Grell is trying to do. They are a perfect collaborative match, and their work comes together as a cohesive whole that lines up exactly with the goals of the narrative.

Heroes who are debatable villains, villains who are the epitome of wickedness, drugs, dirty politics, implied rape, vicious torture, sex scenes, serial killers…there’s really no denying that 'Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters' is not for kids. Grell may have pushed the envelope further than he needed to here or there, but he was intentionally crafting a more savage story for an audience he knew could handle it. He puts Oliver through a great deal, and Dinah through even more, never letting either of them heal completely from the wounds they receive in this book. Shado, though she succeeds in her mission, also fails to recover from the damage of her past, still controlled by an evil organization and no doubt bound for more kills-for-hire in her future. The bad guys may lose, but that doesn't mean the good guys win, because conflict is often not as clear-cut as that. Grell recognizes this, and puts it on display in his story to great effect.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

train kept a-rollin' 001 - what if? avx #1

by Chad Nevett

What If? AvX #1 (Marvel)
by Jimmy Palmiotti, Jorge Molina, Norman Lee, Rachelle Rosenberg

I didn't already know all of this. The biggest Marvel press promotion ever with the biggest event of last year and what did they deliver? A comic that reworks some of the things that the massive amount of comics released last year showed us. I'm almost at a loss over what I can possibly say about this comic. The Phoenix is coming, the Avengers think it's coming for Hope, they want to stop that, Magneto has gone all crazy Mutant zealot, and... fight! But, seriously, I knew most of that going in. That's basically the same premise. The first issue tells me the premise. Again. In a slightly altered form. And guess what? It's not significantly better that way. It's not such a vast improvement over 'Avengers vs. X-Men'.

It's not even that 'What If? AvX' #1 is a bad comic. It’s not a good 'What If...?' comic for one thing. It lacks that central bit of information that drove almost all issues of 'What If...?' throughout its various incarnations: a simple question and answer. “What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four?” “What if Captain America was never unfrozen?” “What if Wolverine was king of the vampires?” “What if Captain America and Iron Man learned to just fucking talk to one another instead of hitting?” I don’t know what the question here is. “What if Avengers vs. X-Men happened differently for no good reason?” There’s no clear point of diversion from what happened in 'Avengers vs. X-Men' #1 last year. There are differences, sure, but that’s just rewriting. 'What If...?' was also rewriting, sure, but in a specific way, with a specific point and a clear purpose. This... this is change for the sake of change. That is not necessarily a bad thing.

I don’t particularly care for this issue. I guess the name 'What If...?' raises certain expectations and this does not meet them. I’m not sure what this actually is. In the same way that DC’s Elseworlds line of books was different from Marvel’s 'What If...?', this issue seems like a third thing, one that we’re used to: the remix. Warren Ellis called his work on Marvel’s Ultimate line of books a remix. Taking a story you already know and changing it around for the purpose of doing something quasi-new. Except, instead of having the distance that the Ultimate books have or even the distance that Brian Michael Bendis writing a new story about Ultron has from previous Ultron stories, this is another version of 'Avengers vs. X-Men' #1 except with random changes that don’t seem any more or less logical. The only function they seem to have is pointing out how artificial and random these stories are.

Why were the “Space Avengers” in 'Avengers vs. X-Men' those specific characters? Because someone decided that those characters should be the ones sent into space. Here, Jimmy Palmiotti decides to send a different roster into space to confront the Phoenix. Why? Because. Why was Cyclops sparring with Hope in 'Avengers vs. X-Men' #1? Because that’s what Brian Michael Bendis wrote. Why is Magneto sparring with Hope in 'What If? AvX '#1? Because that’s what Jimmy Palmiotti wrote. Why does the Phoenix kill the Guardians of the Galaxy? Why does Magneto confront Captain America when he comes for Hope? Why...?


Because this isn't really 'What If? AvX' #1. Oh no. It’s 'Avengers vs. X-Men' within the world of “What if Magneto was the leader of Utopia?” It’s only hinted at, only suggested, but it’s clear that what’s missing is a previous story where Magneto led the Mutant race coming out of 'House of M', not Cyclops. Where Magneto spearheaded their move to independence on Utopia in response to Trask and Osborn. Where Magneto leads the Extinction Team. He is the face of mutant-kind, the teacher of Hope, and the man that says no to Captain America when he comes to take his people’s messiah. If you thought Cyclops was a crazy motherfucker...

Within that context, this issue begins to make sense, except for one thing: why in the world would Captain America go to Utopia to reason with Magneto? (I know, I know: because that’s what Jimmy Palmiotti wrote! Aw... fuck you.) That’s the moment that does not totally ring true. If anything, Magneto leading the X-Men seems like it would mean a swifter move to violence. A calculated strike on Utopia with a shoot first, ask questions later. A comic where the Avengers are the crazy zealots of a cause to save the planet. That would have been a nice inversion, don’t you think?

(But, look at me, talking about what the comic is not, what the comic is. Gotta work the rust off somehow, I suppose.)

Right now, 'What If? AvX' #1 is a simple alternate to 'Avengers vs. X-Men' #1 where Black Panther goes into space, the Guardians of the Galaxy get blown up, and Wolverine stabs Storm accidentally. That is to say: it’s not that much different from a comic I read last year.

“Buy the ticket, take the ride.”

Monday, July 8, 2013

diary of a guttersnipe 07/08/2013: when this boy meets world

by Shawn Starr

Brief rant on Top Ten lists and their treatment of prolific artists

Tim Callahan published his "The Ten Best Comics Of 2013 So Far" and correctly gave Michael DeForge the top spot. The problem i see though is that DeForge was given the top spot for his collected works from this year and not for a singular work. I have been guilty of lumping DeForge’s work together on a list before, and in retrospect that practice seems harmful. By lumping DeForge's work into a single entry you discount both the sheer volume that DeForge is able to create in a single year (if he isn’t close to 300 pages of new material a year then i’d be shocked) but also the overwhelming quality of every single one of those projects.

In 2013 (so far), DeForge has released and/or finished 'Ant Comic' (now renamed 'Ant Colony' for its future release by D&Q), 'Lose' #5, 'Very Casual' (a collection but some new material as well), 'X-Mas Comics' #1, 'Pixar's Cars' #1, 'Elizabeth of Canada', 'The Boy in Question' and a couple other mini’s or Tumblr only strips I will remember a month after writing this and kick myself for leaving out (Edit: 'Structures' 24-34).  Five of those books i named are strong contenders on their own merit for being the best book of the year, so by putting them all under one catch-all banner you’re taking five strong books and reducing them to one slot. I have only really seen this practice in relation to mini-comic artists but there are exceptions, for example last year Michel Fiffe’s 'Deathzone'/'Zegas'/'COPRA' tended to be grouped together (but they at least share a thematic tie). I’m intrigued if a similar practice would happen to the big named artists whose books include a thick spine, like if Daniel Clowes dropped a new OGN and three mini comics unexpectedly at SPX would you just call them “the new Clowes stuff”. I’m suspect, anyways i guess Beto will be the true test of this following the 4-5 collected editions of his work debuting this year (the two of which i have read were fantastic).

made up dialogue for that comic where Buffy fucks Angel from a couple years ago

“you’ve been walking around with a stake all your life, now i have a stake for you”

“i expected his eyes to flare with the same fire i feel when i drive a stake into one of his kind, but there was something else in them...a different kind of fire...pleasure...and i felt every inch of it”

“he digs his teeth into me, i expect to feel pain, but all i feel is warmth.”

“cum, the blood of the dick”

“Sex under moonlight. The only light we will ever make love under.”

(out of ideas----- even the last three felt forced)

3 weeks of links

Kim Thompson tributes have begun rolling out. The Comics Reporter put out a lengthy overview of Thompson’s career discussing his importance to the field of comics as an editor/translator/critic and publisher, which took me three days and several sit downs to finish it, which seems appropriate when thinking of everything that Thompson accomplished.

Jim Rugg talks to Dan Nadel.

Video of Brandon Graham during his recent European art show.

CF comics. CF video Interview. CF. Cool Fucker.

Box Brown original art sale. I should read more Box Brown comics.

New Al Columbia art. Possibly more to come (at an undisclosed date).

A new issue of COPRA is out, the undisputed best superhero comic on the market.

An SPX panel from last year featuring Los Hernandez Brothers, Daniel Clowes and Adrian Tomine. I wish more shows recorded their panels and/or released them in a timely manner after the show.

New Uno Moralez content. Is it a comic? Is it three separate images? Is it the meaning of life? I don’t know, but the third image is what i think a Roy Crane by way of Ben Marra illustration would look like, and i’m all for that. Also pillow-face has one mighty looking cock.

Audio from the Todd McFarlane and Gary Groth TCJ interview.

….something about Terrence Malick...

brief Miley interlude

Youth In Decline announced two new books for spring of next year, a collection of Mickey Z’s 'RAV' and 'Snackies' by Nick Sumida.

Johnny Negron comic for Vice from a few years back that i missed.

Mark Waid article on how DC contracts work.This was a very odd read, kind of like your self identified liberal dad trying to tell you about the injustices of the world but at all points justifying their existence because that's how corporations work. They aren't people my friend.

A interview with Taiyo Matsumoto about his new book 'Sunny', I wish Matsumoto colored his work in its entirety instead of just the first few pages of each installment his sense of color and paint work is superb.

Secret Prison is having a July sale.

20 Images from Aidan Koch’s art show.

Tagame interview

New Connor Willumsen webcomic.

    “I’m long past giving a shit what people think about me and my work. As my wife pointed out to me not too long ago, most of these blogging shitheads are anonymous pussies who’d kill to have my job and my life.”
was the response to beat.