J. Caleb Mozzocco, Author at Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources
This month marks the third anniversary of of the New 52, and, as was the case with each September since the 2011 relaunch of DC Comics’ superhero titles, that means the entire line is being unified under an umbrella theme … or gimmick, depending on how charitable you are.
In 2012, it was “Zero Month,” with each book telling a story set in the hero’s first year of rebooted continuity. Last year, it was “Villains Month,” featuring fancy 3D covers, decimal-point issue numbers and stories starring DC’s antagonists. This year, its a little from column A, and a little from column B: There are more of those fancy covers, but all of the stories are set five years into the future.
As I did last week, I’ve grabbed a handful of new Futures End one-shots, more or less at random, for review. This week DC released 10 Futures End one-shots, of which I have five sitting in a little stack next to me as I type. Last time, I tried ordering the reviews from worst to best, but I had trouble doing so this week, as there wasn’t really a stand-out like Grayson. Rather, these five seemed to cluster around a baseline of mediocrity, with a few being slightly better, others slightly worse.
He’s gathered a Murderers’ Row of great contributors and collaborators to tell the life’s stories of 16 cartoonists, in the most obvious format to do so — comics, of course.
But what, exactly, constitutes a cartoonist? Some of those included might have worked at one point in the field, but made their greatest marks in other areas: people like Walt Disney, Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel and Hugh Hefner (whose inclusion will likely be the biggest surprise to more readers; and, make no mistake, the book is made as much for the casual reader as the expert, armchair or otherwise). Others you might not think of as cartoonists at all, like Edward Gorey or Al Hirschfeld.
And changing the world — the whole world?! — is a pretty bold claim, certainly bolder than changing, say, a genre, or a medium or an industry. Certainly Disney and Osamu Tezuka qualify, as do Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who introduced the superhero as we know it, and Jack Kirby, who reimagined the superhero, made countless contributions to the form and who created or co-created characters and concepts that today make billions of dollars.
But what about Harvey Kurtzman, Robert Crumb and the aforementioned Hirschfeld? Are their influences and innovations on equal footing?
In the near future, some sort of sentient operating system has awoken and taken over the world, transforming its inhabitants into cyborgs that then either kill or assimilate the rest of the population. To try to prevent this apocalyptic nightmare, Batman Bruce Wayne sends Batman Terry McGinnis into the past to stop that operating system from being created.
I know parts of that plot might sound familiar, but notice the presence of Batmen in it, so obviously I am describing The New 52: Futures End, DC Comics’ weekly series set five year in the future, where McGinnis is trying to alter his past to save his future.
I wonder if DC could send someone back in time, whether they would have altered the storyline of Futures End a bit. It’s always difficult to tell exactly how well a particular series is selling — in part because of the insane way the direct market sells comics, in part because publishers don’t typically release numbers — but one expects DC might have had higher hopes for Futures End, given that this year’s theme month of September is devoted entirely to tie-ins to the storyline, as the company has suspended much of its New 52 line and replaced it with
52 42 Futures End one-shots.
Last week saw the return of Sensation Comics to store racks, as DC Comics repurposed the long-defunct title for a new Wonder Woman anthology series, featuring stories by rotating creative teams that debut online as part of the publisher’s digital-first initiative. It’s a strategy the company previously used for similar anthologies Legends of the Dark Knight and the soon-ending Adventures of Superman.
It’s a great idea, and one well past due. Unlike Batman and the Man of Steel, Wonder Woman has long been confined to a single solo title, with fewer miniseries, specials and one-shots, and is more often subject to drastic new directions, due to a perceived notion the character needs to be “fixed.”
The current Wonder Woman series is a good example of this, with Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang and company reintroducing the character with an “Everything you thought you knew was wrong!” origin, accompanied by a weird and dark backstory for the Amazons, and a London setting for the heroine.
Last time I checked in with Wonder Woman, the title character was the demigod daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta and had become the goddess of war, dispatching her foes with magic swords — and when she’s really in a pinch, she takes off her power-dampening Amazon bracelets, which allows her to “power-up” into a sort of glowing Super-Wonder Woman.
A few of the short, scary stories in Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods evoke elements of classic fairy tales. Some are quite direct, like the young woman in the conclusion who dons a red hood and cape to walk through the wilderness, avoiding a wolf. Others are more indirect, like the possibly murderous, Bluebeard-like husband in “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold,” or simply in the patterns of repeating events, like what happens to the three sisters in “Our Neighbor’s House” or to the pairs of characters in “His Face All Red” and “My Friend Janna.”
However, there are two sharp and immediate differences between Carroll’s stories and the fairy tales they sometimes evoke.
First, Carroll’s stories are told in comics form, although more artfully constructed than what you might expect to find on the new racks each Wednesday (her book comes courtesy of a Simon and Schuster imprint, rather than a traditional comics publisher).
Second, they’re terrifying, some of them more H.P. Lovecraft or August Derleth than August Derleth or Wilhem and Jacob Grimm at their, well, grimmest. For example, the Little Red Riding Hood allusion in the conclusion, part of the set of stories that bookend the five gothic (in the traditional, literary sense) short stories that form the bulk of Carroll’s collection, ends with the wolf, if that’s really what it is, appearing in the dark outside the girl’s window.
If you asked me for a list of some of the best superhero comics of the past year or so, I’d be sure to mention one that comes not from DC Comics or Marvel, two companies synonymous with the genre, but from Archie Comics, a publisher popularly known for not making superhero comics.
That comic would be the one starring The Fox, a Golden Age superhero from MLJ Comics (which would eventually become Archie Comics) that was recently resurrected in a well-made, well-received miniseries, now available in the collection The Fox: Freak Magnet.
Archie’s approach to the book seems to have been somewhat Marvel-ous, in several respects.
First, the publisher appears to have allowed a talented creator, Dean Haspiel, to do pretty much whatever he liked with the relatively minor character, and he chose to stick with what came before, but to take it in his own, idiosyncratic direction, not unlike Marvel’s post-Hawkeye strategy for its secondary, non-franchise books.
Among the bigger announcements to come out of Comic-Con International was that Marvel will resume publishing Star Wars comics after a nearly 30 years, 23 years of which the license called Dark Horse home. We’ve known it was happening for a while, of course, but this was the official unveiling of titles and creative teams.
Completely unaffected by all of this is one particular pocket of Star Wars comics, those made by cartoonist Jeffrey Brown, who’s found a great deal of success in marrying his particular wit and style with the pop-culture icons of the franchise. That’s good news for comics and/or Star Wars fans who prefer their take on that universe to be ironic and funny, and, of course, for little kids.
This month, the latest installments of Brown’s two ongoing Star Wars-related projects dropped, one from Chronicle Books, the other from Scholastic.
Brown’s professional, published relationship with Star Wars began with 2012′s Darth Vader and Son, a series of full-color cartoons based on the premise that Luke knew who his real father was at a very young age, and Vader was attempting to raise his innately heroic child as a single parent while balancing his home life with a rather demanding day job: that of a Sith Lord helping the Emperor rule the galaxy with an iron fist. That was quickly followed by Vader’s Little Princess, a collection of cartoons with the same premise, only substituting Leia for Luke.
In The Shadow Hero, cartoonist Gene Luen Yang collaborates with artist Sonny Liew to tell the story of Hank Chu, the teenage son of Chinese immigrants who run a small store in Depression-era Chinatown. As with much of Yang’s best-known work, this new original graphic novel deals with themes of cultural, national and racial identity, and the tensions and conflicts that arise when identities and outlooks collide.
Here, Hank finds himself pressured by his mother to become a wholly American invention, a sort of ultimate assimilation success story. She doesn’t want him to grow up to be a doctor or lawyer or politician, but a superhero, a thought put in her head when she’s rescued from a robber by the Superman stand-in The Anchor of Justice.
Their book is an excellent one, a perfect example of a modern superhero comic, masterfully and perfectly balancing comedy, crime, action, drama, melodrama, romance and fantasy into an epic story of a young man coming of age and finding himself.
As good as Yang and Liew’s story is, however, the story of their story may be just as fascinating, in large part because it’s true, and gives the comic they crafted a remarkable level of relevance. That story is told after the conclusion of The Shadow Hero, in the generous back-matter of the First Second book, presented in standard superhero-comic size, rather than the smaller, more square shape of most of the publisher’s offerings.
Batman is celebrating his 75th birthday this year, which may come as a surprise. I mean, look at that smooth, handsome face, or what little of it is visible beneath his cowl. Look at those ripped muscles, or the way he runs across rooftops and beats up criminals — why, Batman doesn’t look a day over 35!
Now just as it did recently for Superman, DC Comics is releasing a pair of hefty, 400-page hardcover collections that serve as a sort of survey for how the character has been portrayed and functioned in the publisher’s comics line during since his first appearance. Batman: A Celebration of 75 Years and The Joker: A Celebration of 75 Years aren’t exactly the comics equivalents of greatest-hits albums, but they are nice starting points for newcomers and/or casual fans, offering quick, compelling overviews of the title characters through the decades.
The Batman volume, featuring Jim Lee’s rendition of the character from the 2003 storyline “Hush” on the dust jacket, must have been particularly challenging to assemble, given the thousands and thousands of pages of Batman comics, featuring dozens of different takes by scores of creators.
I’ve found the new Justice League United to be a rather surreal reading experience, until this point, for all sorts of reasons: It’s hard to believe DC launched this series to replace the much-ballyhooed — 52 variant covers! — Geoff Johns/David Finch Justice League of America after a mere 14 issues; it’s weird to see DC quietly reversing its “holding the line at $2.99″ policy with a Marvel-ous price point of 22 pages for $3.99; it launched with a zero issue that was actually a must-read first issue so that the story chapters and the issue numbers are now forever out of sequence; it featured Hawkman having an arm lopped up only to grow it back the next issue because Nth Metal; it featured an attempt to give the old grim-and-gritty treatment to Ultra the Multi-Alien; and so on.
However, the single most surreal aspect of the book may be one that’s suffused so much of the New 52, but is particularly present in the team books that rely on shared history (despite the fact that there isn’t really any shared history). In Justice League United, writer Jeff Lemire and penciler Mike McKone have assembled a rag-tag group of superheroes — Animal Man, Green Arrow, Star Girl, Hawkman and Supergirl — led by Martian Manhunter, whose place in the new DCU and relationships with the other Justice Leaguers is still ambiguous.
Amazing X-Men, Vol. 1: The Quest For Nightcrawler (Marvel): Writer Jason Aaron transitions quite seamlessly from his 42-issue (or eight-trade paperback) run on Wolverine & The X-Men to this new series, which maintained the same setting and much of the same cast, only a switch of focus. Rather than the student body of the Jean Grey School For Higher Learning, the stars of this series are the superhero teaching staff, with a few additions not seen in Wolverine & The X-Men (Firestar coming in to replace Kitty Pryde, who was spirited away from the cast by Brian Michael Bendis to appear in his X-Men books, plus Northstar and the guy whose name is in the subtitle and is front and center on the cover).
Aaron’s main partner for this first volume is penciler Ed McGuinness (inked by Dexter Vines and colored by Marte Gracia), an artist whose big, muscular, cartoony style fits perfectly with the slightly zany tone of the story, and Aaron’s X-Men comics in general. Cameron Stewart draws the sixth issue in this collection, a sort of epilogue in which most of the other characters you would want to see reunite with Nightcrawler do so.
This week Marvel released a couple of tie-ins to its big Original Sin event, and DC Comics issued new printings of chapters from its Superman crossover “Doomed.” But the weirdest, most unexpected and, oddly enough, most traditionally formatted crossover going right now comes not from the Big Two publishers that invented and perfected the approach, but from IDW, whose Super Secret Crisis War #1 features the heroes and villains from a half-dozen old Cartoon Network series sharing story space.
IDW has done crossover stories before (Infestation, Infestation 2, Mars Attacks IDW), but in the past these have been rather indirect, with the same menaces (zombies, Lovecraftian monsters, the Mars Attacks martians) invading the different realities of its various licensed properties (G.I. Joe, Star Trek, Transformers, etc.). Here the participants all appear in the same book, and even rub elbows in the same panels.
What ties them together is that they all once had shows on Cartoon Network and, um, well, that’s about it really, but it’s enough to get them all in the same six-issue miniseries issues (plus five one-shot tie-ins that will bring yet more Cartoon Network stars into the fold).
This allows the series to capitalize on the pleasures of two different sorts of crossovers: There’s the shared-universe crossover, as when all the DC or Marvel heroes team up (even if these characters don’t technically share the same universe), and the inter-company crossover, when characters from various properties that were never meant to meet up do so (Think Batman/Judge Dredd, Archie Meets The Punisher).
As the average price of serially published, traditional-format comics has risen sharply over the past few years, I’ve gradually turned into a trade-waiter, my pull list shrinking to such a meager size that many Wednesdays I’ll skip what was once a religiously observed weekly pilgrimage. It’s not worth a trip to the shop for one or two books, after all, so I’ll sometimes wait three weeks or so, allowing for a sizable stack to build up.
This was one such week, and I left the shop with a pretty good haul, about $45 worth of 14 comics, including a mess of DC weeklies, a pair of Marvel comics, a trio of high-quality kids titles, the latest issue of a locally produced horror series, a Batman/Green Hornet crossover and an issue of one of IDW’s many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics.
My pull list is now so small and carefully cut that I rarely encounter a book I don’t like any aspect of (generally, when I do buy a comic I have negative feelings about, they’re generated as much by disappointment as anything else). The flip-side is that because I take relatively few chances as a consumer (as opposed to a critic; as a critic, I read pretty much anything with panels on paper that I find in front of me), I’m rarely pleasantly surprised by what I bring home.
This week, I read one comic that was so good that I was genuinely taken aback by its awesomeness; I was surprised and super-excited. I wanted to stand up and shout “Yeah!” but I was in a coffee shop at the time. I wanted to high-five the artist, but he wasn’t within arm’s reach. I wanted to scrap what I was planning to write about in this space today and champion the book instead. I wanted to take the opportunity to say, “Hey everyone! Stop what you’re doing and read this comic right now!”
You would be forgiven if you thought of French author, artist and animator Anouk Ricard primarily as someone who makes comics for kids. Before the North American release this month of Benson’s Cuckoos, from Drawn and Quarterly, her only other books to make it into English on this side of the Atlantic were a pair of collections of her charming children’s strip, Anna & Froga (2013′s I Don’t Know, What Do You Want to Do? and this year’s Thrills, Spills and Gooseberries).
And while Benson’s Cuckoos does look at first glance (and even after a fairly thorough flip-through) like a kids comic, given the adorable, big-headed, Richard Scarry-esque characters, it’s decidedly adult in nature. That the characters are all cute little anthropomorphic animals accentuates the humor of the many awkward moments of their social interactions, and diffuses the darker aspects of the story, keeping them from being read as anything other than comedy.
Originally released in 2011 as Coucous Bouzon (and earning a Special Jury Prize at the 2012 Angouleme International Comics Festival), the book seems to owe a significant debt to Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s The Office, and/or its U.S. adaptation. If, in fact, Ricard has never seen the show, which is certainly quite possible, then the boss at the office in which her book is set is quite coincidentally remarkably like Gervais’ David Brent and Steve Carell’s Michael Scott.
Benson, a particularly fluffy white poodle who owns and operates the cuckoo clock company from which the book takes its title, shares with The Office bosses an inherent belief in his own hipness, completely convinced that, unlike other bosses, he’s cool and sympathetic. He tells a lot of jokes, feels closer to his employees than they feel to him, wears funny hats, tries new and creative and dumb ideas, and generally makes everyone uncomfortable.
Everywhere Antennas (Drawn and Quarterly): Julie Delporte’s challenging, emotionally wrenching book comes in the form of a sketch-filled diary, the words all written in cursive with various colored pencils. It reads a bit like a therapy journal made by someone attempting to crawl out of a breakdown, sometimes sliding back as far as she gets out, an impression furthered by the art, which, like the handwritten text, looks so intimate, “corrections” made by redrawing portions on new pieces of paper, which are then taped atop the pages before printing.
There’s such a lack of artifice to the book — unless there’s a high degree of artifice applied to make it seem as if there’s a great lack of artifice — that it really seems like something you’re not supposed to be reading, something you might have found in someone’s apartment, rather than bought in a bookstore. Delporte does tell a story, but it’s fragmentary, with characters who appear and disappear and scenes that don’t necessarily lead to the next.
It would be tempting to think it was a straight diary comic created during a time of mental crisis — the line “coloured pencils … are her favourite antidepressants” in Delporte’s back-page biography indicates that many aspects of the deeply felt contents aren’t completely alien to her — were it not for the specific ailment of our unnamed, perhaps Delporte-like heroine. She suffers from a rare sensitivity to radio waves and electrical auras, so cell phones, televisions, computers, cell phone towers and power lines give her migraines, and she must find a way to divorce herself from the modern world while still trying to live some semblance of a life in it.