Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
New comics come out every week, by the dozens. Add that up by the month or the year, and it’s virtually impossible to keep track. Certain runs on some titles rise to the top by a mixture of critical acclaim, proper marketing and the right timing, but if all of those factors aren’t perfectly aligned, good comics fall by the wayside.
In this edition of ROBOT 6’s “Six by 6,” we look at six noteworthy creative runs on superhero comics worth a second look, even if that means a trip to the back-issue bin.
Batman: The Dark Knight Vol. 3: Mad (DC Comics): Poor Batman. His new continuity is only a few years old, and already he’s suffering from threat inflation, so that now seemingly every crime is one that could level Gotham City and every villain a mass-murderer with a three-figure body count to rival The Joker’s.
In this volume — collecting six issues and an annual from writer Gregg Hurwitz’s run on The Dark Knight — it’s The Mad Hatter’s turn for an upgrade. A villain formerly portrayed as either obsessed with hats or with Lewis Carrol’s Alice books or both, depending on the writer, Jervis Tetch here begins his road to villainy by killing a rabbit, then uses a step-ladder to reach the face of an underling who he proceeds to murder by plunging his thumbs into the victim’s eyes. From there, he murders a housewife by bashing her head in with an iron, he kills hundreds—hundreds!—of Gothamites through his mind-control technology, and he then has Batman’s girlfriend killed…by having her beaten to death in front of him.
In response, Batman tears one of the Tweedles’ jaws off, beats the diminutive Hatter until he’s drenched in his villain’s blood, then tosses him into a pond to drown until Alfred reminds him that he can’t kill the Hatter, or else he’ll be no different from him. I don’t think Batman should ever resort to lethal force, but Alfred’s argument isn’t all that powerful as presented here, given that one side of the scale has a madman murdering scores of innocents, and the other has Batman killing said killer.
That’s not the only surprisingly cliched bit of the story, which invents a new origin full of childhood trauma for Jervis Tetch akin to those Hurwitz previously gave The Scarecrow and The Penguin. Batman also decides he loves his current girlfriend, reluctantly reveals his secret identity to her and then, the very next night, one of his foes murders her while attempting to torture Batman’s secret identity out of her.
It’s a pretty problematic plot, to say the last.
Business | Bitstrips co-founder and CEO Jacob “Ba” Blackstock, whose DIY avatar and comic strip app exploded in 2013, reflects on the lessons of the year, and sketches out the Toronto company’s goals for 2014. Unsurprisingly, those include finding more uses for its comics and, y’know, making money (earlier this month, Bitstrips confirmed a $3 million injection of venture capital, which will go toward more engineers, artists and designers). [Entrepreneur]
Creators | Tom Spurgeon interviews Nate Powell about his work on March, the graphic novel memoir of Rep. John Lewis’ experiences in the civil rights movement, and one of the most acclaimed books of the year. [The Comics Reporter]
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading?, where the Robot 6 crew shares their picks for the Royal Rumble … I mean, talks about what comics we’ve read recently. Today our special guest is Landry Walker, writer of Danger Club, Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Little Gloomy, Tron and more.
To smell what Landry and the Robot 6 crew are cookin’, click below.
What do you do when you combine a love for ’70s American comics, training at the Joe Kubert School and a passion for manga? Adam Warren (@EmpoweredComic), that’s what you get. And since graduation from Kubert in 1988, the New England artist has forged his own path in comics that’s classic and exotic, and all-around fun.
For the past five years, Warren has spent the majority of his working (and waking) hours on his creator-owned series Empowered, published by Dark Horse. Described as an “episodic sexy superhero comedy,” it follows the titular superheroine who wears a skintight costume that strengthens and weakens based on her relative self-esteem. With body issues, personal issues and the whole crime-fighting thing, her esteem is far from invincible. Emp, her boyfriend Thugboy and BFF Ninjette fight crime and spend their down time together in various states of anger, happiness and undress.
Empowered is de facto second act for Warren, who rose to fame importing and re-writing and drawing the manga/anime series Dirty Pair. Since then, he’s branched out to work as a writer and an artist for DC Comics and Marvel, but he continues to find the greatest success on his own on series like Empowered. I spoke with Warren this month about the longevity of Empowered, the new one-shot with guest artist Ryan Kinnaird, and Warren’s own issues of being a writer/artist, an artist and sometimes just a writer.
The Best of the Three Stooges Comicbooks, Vol. 1 (Papercutz) Well, here’s at least one good thing to come out of the Farrelly Brothers’ new feature film: Its production company C3 Entertainment teamed with Papercutz/NBM to produce this handsome hardcover, which collects chunks of Stooges comics from two different eras.
The best of these are from defunct publisher St. John’s early-1950s Three Stooges comic (issues 1, 4 and 5, to be precise), and were drawn by Norman Mauer, a gifted comics artist who married the real Moe’s daughter, Joan (who provides the introduction to the volume).
Mauer edited the original book (along with partner Joe Kubert), and delivered action- and gag-packed pages featuring Moe, Larry and Shemp. His designs of the central characters are incredibly strong, with Shemp and Moe much more distinctly defined than they often were in their black-and-white short films.
The pair of them are short, roundish figures who favor clown-like garb, including baggy pants and ill-fitting coats and ties. Mauer’s Larry is more elongated in appearance, and, unlike the others, has a more placid, emotionless look in his eyes.
There’s a fourth character, swindler and conman Benedict Bogus, who constantly tries to put one over on our heroes, but his schemes always end up hurting him more than them. These stories can prove rather wild and formless, as if Mauer were plotting them while drawing them, and resolving them only when he was running out of pages left to fill, but the cartooning is super-sharp, and many of the panels are a joy simply to look at.
The back half of the collection includes the first three issues of the Dell comics, by Pete Alvarado, whose artwork has a coloring-book simplicity to it, as he was aping the style of the Three Stooges cartoons of the time. For these stories, Shemp is out and Curly’s in.
Publishing | Eight months after the launch of DC Comics’ New 52, Marc-Oliver Frisch takes a look at the reboot and concludes that it is not the “game-changer” it was touted to be. After an initial burst of sales when the series was launched, DC’s monthly numbers have settled down to about half the September sales, above the previous year’s levels but best described, as Frisch puts it, as “solid but not spectacular.” [Comiks Debris]
Digital comics | Anthony Ha looks at the success of the Pocket God comic, which is marketed alongside the game; more than 200,000 copies of the first issue have been sold, and sales for the whole series total 600,000. Dave Castelnuovo of Bolt Creative thinks the strong sales are due in part to the 99-cent cover price: “Meanwhile, the traditional publishers don’t want to undercut their print prices, so they’re usually charging $2.99 or $3.99 for new issues. (Some older comics are available for considerably less.) Castelnuovo says that’s ‘just too expensive’ for digital comics, especially when they’re competing with something like Angry Birds, which offers more content for just 99 cents. And although Marvel and DC are sell digital collections, Castelnuovo argues that they should be doing more to bundle dozens or even hundreds of issues together, so that readers can ‘blaze through them’ the way that they will consume entire seasons of Mad Men or Game of Thrones.” [TechCrunch]
Creators | Freelance artist Oliver Nome, who has worked for Wildstorm and Aspen but has no health insurance, is suffering from a brain tumor, and his dealer is selling off his art to help pay for the surgery. [Blog@Newsarama]
Publishing | John Jackson Miller looks at the shape of the comics market in 1995, before Diamond Comic Distributors had a virtual monopoly on distribution. [The Comichron]
Awards | The voting deadline for this year’s Eisner Awards is Monday. [Comic-Con International]
Digital comics | George Gene Gustines takes a quick trip through the landscape of digital comics, dropping in on Mark Waid, comiXology’s David Steinberger and Marvel’s Avengers vs. X-Men Infinite Comic. Much of this is familiar territory to regular readers of this blog, but hey, it’s The New York Times noticing digital comics! [The New York Times]
Digital comics | FreakAngels writer Warren Ellis looks at three recent digital comics, noting how they all limit themselves to “two-tier storytelling”: “Accepting and exploiting new limitations is always part of a new format. These three projects, though, can’t produce even a full-page spread without some serious scheming and dancing.” [Warren Ellis]
Welcome to Food or Comics?, where every week we talk about what comics we’d buy at our local comic shop based on certain spending limits — $15 and $30 — as well as what we’d get if we had extra money or a gift card to spend on a splurge item.
If I had $15, I’d start things out with Wolverine and the X-Men #11 (Marvel, $3.99). I was worried this series’ intersection with Avengers Vs. X-Men might put this book in a tailspin, but from the preview it looks copacetic. Aaron has real amazing grips on these characters despite being less than a dozen issues in, and Nick Bradshaw has quickly come from being a surprising follow-up to Chris Bachalo to arguably being more in line with the book than Bachalo himself. Next up for me would be Walking Dead #98 (Image, $2.99), the low march toward #100. After that I’d get FF #18 (Marvel, $2.99) for something arguably better than its parent book Fantastic Four. I hope this title lives on past Hickman’s run on the book, because it’s succeeded in being more than the stereotypical kids team book. After that, I’d snap up Supercrooks #3 (Marvel/Icon, $3.99). Leinil Yu is on a real high here, doing art that goes up against his great High Roads and Silent Dragon era work. Mark Millar’s story is really optimum Millar-style work, but Yu’s storytelling and rendering here are the best in some time.
If I had $30, I’d buy one additional thing: Empowered, Vol. 7 (Dark Horse, $16.99). Adam Warren has really blossomed since his days doing Dirty Pair, and Empowered is a great second act showing the seedy side of superheroes. Adding to that, Adam Warren keeps up a great online presence over on DeviantArt and releases all sorts of magnificent process sketches to go along with the book.
If I could splurge, I’d spend my grocery money this week on Batman: Death By Design (DC, $24.99). Like some sort of Mister X meets Dark Knight crossover, this book is an interesting work especially in contrast with the day-to-day of DC with New 52. I still think of Chip Kidd more as a designer than a writer despite reading his first novel, but I hope this breaks that in my mind and allows me to see him for both his creative avenues.
The Toronto Comic Arts Festival, one of the high points of the indy comics year, has announced the first round of guests for this year. It doesn’t seem to be up on the TCAF site just yet, but Tom Spurgeon has the rundown at The Comics Reporter, and it’s an impressive list: Jeff Smith, Alison Bechdel, Guy Delisle, and Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon are the headliners. Smith will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of Bone, while Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? and Delisle’s Jerusalem are both due out shortly before the show.
But wait! There’s more! Kate Beaton, German creator Arne Bellstorf, Scottish creator Tom Gauld (whose Goliath is due out soon from Drawn and Quarterly) Gabriella Giandelli, Jennifer and Matt Holm (Babymouse), Jason, Kazu Kibuishi (creator of Amulet and editor of the Flight anthologies), Bryan Lee O’Malley (Scott Pilgrim), Gary Panter, Michel Rabagliati, Andy Runton (Owly), Olivier Schrauwen, and Adam Warren (Empowered) will also be gracing the halls of the Toronto Reference Library this May. That’s an amazingly eclectic and talented group. If you have been thinking “Some day I’ll make it to TCAF,” this should probably be the year.