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Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs | FX2: The Lost Land

FX2: The Lost Land

FX2: The Lost Land
Written by Wayne Osborne; Illustrated by Uko Smith
IDW; $19.99

In FX2, Wayne Osborne takes analogues to various superheroes and other adventurous characters and archetypes and then mashes them into a story so packed that it may just include the kitchen sink as well. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, but I suspect that readers will have mixed feelings about it. I certainly waffled about it a few times.

If we re-replace the FX characters with the ones they’re standing in for, the story’s about Green Lantern and Spider-Man’s attempt to rescue a bunch of high school kids from the Mole Man. The villain has appeared from the ground in the middle of a football game and taken his captives back into the Earth. Among the kidnap victims is Mary Jane Watson, who’s transformed by Tyrannus into the Hulk (she becomes too dumb and uses the word “smash” too much to be a She-Hulk analogue).

The characters don’t stay in the caves forever though. When the Hulk disappears, the heroes follow her to the Savage Land where they meet up with Ka-Zar and learn the horrifying truth about what the bad guys are really up to. There’s far more at stake than the lives of a few kids.

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Comics A.M. | Brenda Starr to retire; women like superhero comics, too

Brenda Starr

Comic strips | Tribune Media Services has announced it will cancel the 70-year-old comic strip Brenda Starr rather than find replacements for writer Mary Schmich and artist June Brigman, who have decided to end their lengthy run. The final installment will appear on Jan. 2. Created by Dale Messick, the flame-haired reporter debuted in The Chicago Tribune on June 30, 1940, and later appeared in comic books and movies, and on merchandise. Messick retired in 1980, and has been succeeded on the strip only by women, from Ramona Fradon to Linda Sutter to Schmich and Brigman.

Kiel Phegley offers commentary, and catches a series of tweets from writer Dan Slott, who relates that his great-grandfather’s sister championed Brenda Starr at The Chicago Tribune. In related news, Tribune Media Services is partnering with Hermes Press on a multi-volume hardcover series titled Brenda Starr, Reporter by Dale Messick: The Collected Daily and Sunday Newspaper Strip. The first volume will be released in June. [press release]

Retailing | Borders Group reported a third-quarter loss of $74.4 million, nearly double the loss incurred during the same period in 2009. ICv2.com provides analysis. [GalleyCat]

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Robot reviews: What’s up with Vertigo?

American Vampire Vol. 1

When DC announced it was shuttering the Wildstorm and Zuda imprints back in September, after having announced the shutterings of the CMX line less than six months ago (and only two years since they canceled the failed Minx experiment), all eyes started moving uneasily towards Vertigo, the first and final imprint DC had left. It didn’t help that DC had also announced they were going to be absorbing certain Vertigo characters like Swamp Thing back into the superhero fold. Add to that the recent cancellation of such series as Air, Unknown Soldier and Greek Street, and many ended up wondering not just if Vertigo was being sized up for the chopping block but when the ax would fall (I’ve got $20 in the office pool down for May 2011).

Mark Oliver Frisch aside, we don’t have access to DC’s actual, total sales numbers, however, so it’s nigh-impossible to tell exactly how well Vertigo books are selling and how essential the line is to DC as a publishing and licensing entity. Perhaps the only  way we can make any assumptions at all about the health of the line is to look at the comics that Vertigo has published in the past few months. Which is exactly what I plan on doing after the jump.

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Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs | Beasts!

Beasts!

Beasts! Book 1
Curated by Jacob Covey; Written and Illustrated by 95 writers and artists
Fantagraphics; $28.95

Beasts! stretches the definition of what a comic book is, but we’re adventurous folks, right? At first glance, it’s an art book. Ninety different artists each depict a cryptozoological creature in the style of his or her choosing. There’s also a paragraph about each by one of five different writers, but that sounds like the kind of thing you’d flip through once and then stick on the coffee table. It certainly doesn’t sound like a comic. There’s no story and that’s what comics are. They line up pictures to tell stories.

Except that this book does tell a story. Not a very conventional one perhaps, but it’s there.

The first clue is Jacob Covey’s title. He didn’t edit the book; he curated it like a museum exhibition. The book’s Introduction further reinforces that notion. It reads like a program, with a definition of Cryptozoology and notes about the artists, the creatures they selected, and the approach the curator took in putting the collection together. It also shares interesting facts, points out easily missed elements of the book’s design, and even suggests the best way for “the enthusiastic reader” to experience what’s to come. In other words, it’s not only a program; it’s a tour guide. By the time I was done reading it and ready to turn the page, I genuinely felt like I was entering an exhibit. Not just an art show, but a fascinating trip into The Study of Hidden Animals.

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Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs | Boneyard

Boneyard, Volume One

Boneyard, Volumes 1-7
Written and Illustrated by Richard Moore
Published by NBM

I’m trying to figure out how to use the words “Monster Decadence” to describe Boneyard without sounding mean about it. It’s a wonderful, fun, involving series, but there’s an element to it that reminds me of the problem with having Speedy beat crooks up with a dead cat or Guy Gardner vomit blood all over the cover of a comic. I’m not suggesting that Richard Moore’s done anything wrong – it’s his series, he created it; he can do whatever he wants with it – but on its surface Boneyard appears to be simply a cute story about an unlucky everyman who inherits a graveyard full of funny monsters. There’s something very Bone-ish about the concept and kids would love the creature designs and giggle at some of the jokes. But it’s not a kids’ book. At all.

Again, I’m not faulting Moore. He’s got an appealing, humorously animated drawing style, but it would be foolish to suggest that he should tone down his writing because of that. On the contrary, it’s very cool that he’s been able to create such a grown-up story with such attractive, endearing characters. And as much as I kept thinking, “My son would love this if only…,” Boneyard is a whole different creature from “adult” superhero comics.

This is ironic since Boneyard is a monster comic, but it’s nowhere near as bloody or violent as the Superhero Decadence crowd of books. What puts it out of kids’ reach is mostly its playfulness about sexuality. There’s plenty of cheesecake, but nothing graphic; just good, naughty fun.

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Robot reviews: Acme Novelty Library Vol 20

Acme Novelty Library #20 by Chris Ware

Acme Novelty Library Vol. 20
by Chris Ware
Drawn & Quarterly, 72 pages $23.95

(Note: I shall endeavor to be as spoiler-free as possible, but obviously if you’re the sort who would rather dive into a book like this knowing as little as possible then you may not want to click on that “continue reading” link.)

Acme Novelty Library #20 is about an asshole. The book’s main character, one Jordan W. Lint, is a bully, a coward, an adulterer, a drunkard, is frequently callous and cruel to friends and family, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In some regards he is an outright monster.

And yet, Ware manages to make us not only care, rather deeply, about this unlikeable figure but also sympathize and, to a surprising degree, understand his plight. Without condoning or excusing his behavior, Ware manages to offer a portrait that is nuanced enough to make us reflect upon our own foibles and fears. If that’s not the mark of a great artist, I’m not sure what is.

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Because we all wanted to see Batman swing an axe: a review of Superman/Batman: Apocalypse

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse isn’t a travesty, the way the previous Superman/Batman animated film, Public Enemies, was. It wasn’t an affront to my sensibilities or a 80-minute cringe-fest. But it’s not a particularly good film either, and bears a multitude of sins on its shoulders, including clunky exposition, poor to downright confusing characterization, inane dialogue and some surprisingly sloppy animation.

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Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs | The monster-hunting pets of Burden Hill

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites
Written by Evan Dorkin; Illustrated by Jill Thompson
Dark Horse; $19.99

I know we’ve been talking a lot about comics for kids lately, so I’m going to give that a rest for a bit (except to point you to Nate Cosboom and Skottie Young’s latest thoughts on the subject). Fun and awesome comics don’t always have to be kid-appropriate. Beasts of Burden is an excellent example of that. Monster-hunting dogs and cats sounds particularly good for children, but not when the monsters are this scary. Your kids may be different from mine and more power to them if they are, but my eight-year-old would have nightmares if this was his bedtime reading. Doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy the hell out of it though.

As you may know, Beasts of Burden began as a recurring feature in the Dark Horse Book of… anthologies. There were four volumes – Book of Hauntings, Book of Witchcraft, Book of the Dead, and Book of Monsters – and one of the highlights of each was always Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s story about five dogs and a stray cat who get pulled deeper and deeper into the supernatural.

The Animal Rites collection includes those four stories as well as the four-issue Beasts of Burden mini-series. In the spirit of anthology tales, each of the eight stories stands by itself. There are no cliffhangers; no To Be Continueds. But there’s a larger story taking shape as the pets learn more and more about the paranormal and begin to figure out that the recent weirdness in their quiet, little, wooded community is being orchestrated by a single intelligence. What that intelligence is remains to be discovered by the end of Animal Rites, which is fine by me. There’s a slow build moving towards that revelation and I don’t want Dorkin and Thompson to rush it. Besides, I want more of these stories and it’s comforting to know that there are plans for that.
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Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes

Apple

Digital comics | Following more than two years of complaints, Apple has given developers the guidelines it uses to determine which programs can be sold through its App Store, and relaxed some restrictions on content and tools. The company recently was criticized for forcing the creators of a comic adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses to remove nonsexual nudity from some panels — Apple later changed its stance — and for initially rejecting an app from Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore because his animated political satire contained “content that ridicules public figures.” Alan Gardner notes that the revised guidelines specifically exempt “professional political satirists and humorists” from a clause prohibiting defamatory or offensive material. [The Associated Press]

Comic strips | After 60 years with United Feature Syndicate, Peanuts will move in February to Universal Uclick. The news isn’t totally unexpected, as Iconix Brand Group partnered with the heirs of Charles M. Schulz in April to buy the rights to the comic strip from United’s parent company E.W. Scripps. The $175 million deal was for the entire United Media Licensing division, which includes Dilbert. [Comic Riffs]

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Chain Reactions | Wolverine #1

Wolverine #1

This week was marked by the debut of a new Wolverine series — it’s at least the seventh, by Douglas Wolk’s reckoning — in which the hirsute mutant goes, quite literally, to hell. Or at least his soul does. His body, meanwhile, is on Earth, possessed by demons who have nefarious plans for the fleshy vessel.

The premise undoubtedly leads more than a few readers to cringe, at least until they consider the creators behind the storyline: writer Jason Aaron (Scalped, Wolverine: Weapon X) — it’s based in part on an idea he pitched for Hellblazer — and artist Renato Guedes (Superman, Supergirl).

“It’s my ‘Heroic Age’ story of sending Wolverine to hell and watching him grapple with this sense of hope and faith and what’s really more scary to him: more of the same old dark, pessimistic Logan he’s always been, or him actually thinking that there is a chance things can get better and wonder where he fits into that,” Aaron tells USA Today.

But the first issue also includes a Silver Samurai back-up feature by Aaron, artist Jason Latour and colorist Rico Renzi, which, judging from the reviews, may have stolen the lead story’s thunder.

Here’s just a sampling of what people are saying about Wolverine #1:

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Robot reviews | A Drunken Dream and Other Stories

A Drunken Dream

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories
by Moto Hagio
Fantagraphics Books, 288 pages, $24.99.

It will be interesting to see what sort of response A Drunken Dream has in the alt-comix community. While I’m have no doubt that more traditional manga fans (especially older manga fans with an interest in the medium’s history) will lap it up and ask for more, I’m not as convinced that your average Fantagraphics reader (if there is such a thing, and I acknowledge full well that I might be off the rails here in even thinking such a thing) won’t find this to be a little far afield from their purview.

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Chain Reactions | Morning Glories #1

Morning Glories #1

Morning Glories #1

The promotional push for Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma’s Morning Glories apparently paid off, as the first issue of the Image Comics series sold out this week at the distributor level. But how did it fare with reviewers?

Spencer (Existence 2.0, Shuddertown) certainly sets a high bar for Morning Glories, describing the genre-bending prep-school mystery as “Runaways meets Lost.” And judging from online reactions, the first issue meets that lofty goal. (You can check out previews here and here.)

Here’s a sampling of what people are saying about Morning Glories #1:

Ryan, Chronic Insomnia:Morning Glories is very strange, quite dark, often creepy, sometimes hilarious and almost always refreshingly novel. This comic crackles beneath the surface with ideas that pop. Certain books exude a kind of energy signature, where you can almost feel the creator’s muse across the page. Hickman’s Fantastic Four. Simone’s Secret Six. Glories radiates like that.”

Auburn Slavec, Giant Killer Squid: “The writing itself is good enough to make me hate everyone in the book. I hope that was Spencer’s goal. Like I said, the setting and plot are strong enough and he’s working that whole mysterious master plan angle, but there’s only so much teenage whining I can take. I don’t try and pretend I could ever make it as a high school teacher. If we could cut back on the over-the-top character elements, I think I’d like it better.”

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Life With Archie magazine released

lifewitharchie01If you only read one review today, make it Chris Sims’s appraisal of Life With Archie, the new magazine that carries dual storylines about Archie’s marriage to Veronica and to Betty, respectively. I really didn’t know what to expect from the magazine (I still haven’t seen a copy), and Sims says it’s an odd juxtaposition of Justin Beiber pix and adult melodrama:

I’ve joked before that a comic that was really about “Mature Themes” wouldn’t have swearing and sex and violence and other stuff teenagers like, it’d be about a guy who was really dissatisfied with his job and worried that he’d made the wrong choices and become a failure in his life while slowly growing more isolated from the people he once called friends. And that is exactly what this comic is about.

He puts it into context (like me, Sims is a huge, unashamed Archie fan) and teases out some of the subtleties of the stories, including the ways in which Michael Uslan and artist Norm Breyfogle seem to be bringing some of their superhero sensibility and story devices into the comic. Who knew Dilton Doiley could end up being the key to it all?

Chain Reactions | Fogtown

Fogtown

Fogtown

The slow expansion of DC’s Vertigo Crime “sub-imprint” continued this week with the release of Fogtown, an original graphic novel by writer Andersen Gabrych (Batman, Detective Comics) and artist Brad Rader (Catwoman, True Adult Fantasy).

While Fogtown contains many of the classic noir elements, like femmes fatales, seedy locations and sordid crimes, it breaks out of the mold in at least one notable respect: Frank Grissel, the hard-knuckled private eye, is a closeted homosexual living in 1953 San Francisco.

Here’s a sampling of what people are saying about the graphic novel:

Glen Weldon, NPR.org: “The story of Frank Grissel, a private detective in 1950s San Francisco who (sing along, you know the words) finds himself drawn into a web of deceit, Fogtown is pulpy, lurid, gleefully trashy, occasionally contemptible, frequently ridiculous, crammed to the gills with noir cliches — and kinda great. It’s kinda great because Grissel is hiding a big, fat Capital-S Secret, and it’s one that doesn’t turn up in this kind of story with anywhere near the frequency it could. Seeing its repercussions play out amid all the classic private-dick tropes — femmes fatales, gruesome murders, hero-set-up-to-take-the-fall, etc. — is a lot of fun. And because Gabrych and Rader hit those tropes hard, for all they are worth, Fogtown never feels like a mere pastiche. Or, Hammett help us, as a parody.”

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Scott Pilgrim vs. the snarky movie review

The Scott Pilgrim cast

The Scott Pilgrim cast

I always find it difficult to critique a film when I’m a fan of the source material. Playing the continual game of compare and contrast in my head tends to leave me a bit muddled. Am I appreciating the film on its own merits or do I just like it because it’s a spin-off of something I’ve really, really like a whole lot? Am I griping about it because it’s legitimately flawed or because it doesn’t match up with the perfect movie version I’ve been playing in my head for months on end? Are my criticisms fair and balanced or sloppily biased? Am I just playing yet another round of “Well, it’s not how I would have done it”? Obviously any review is subjective, but am I being subjective in a totally objective way? ‘Tis a puzzlement.

So I’m not sure what to say about the new Scott Pilgrim Vs the World film, which I happened to catch a preview of at my local cinema center last week. I liked it; it’s peppy and entertaining and, at least on a surface level, extremely faithful to Bryan Lee O’Malley’s work. Yet I’d be lying if I didn’t say it didn’t have flaws — flaws that, depending upon what drew you to the graphic novels, may sink the movie for you.

Spoilers await after the jump.

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