8/01/2015

Archie vs. Predator #3 and #4

Archie vs. Predator: Writer: Alex de Campi Penciller: Fernando Ruiz Inker: Rich Koslowski Colorist: Jason Millet Letters: John Workman.  Archie et al. created by Bob Montana Predator created by Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Stan Winston.Archie vs. Predator: Writer: Alex de Campi Penciller: Fernando Ruiz Inker: Rich Koslowski Colorist: Jason Millet Letters: John Workman.  Archie et al. created by Bob Montana Predator created by Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Stan Winston.

Writer: Alex de Campi
Penciller: Fernando Ruiz
Inker: Rich Koslowski
Colorist: Jason Millet
Letters: John Workman

Archie et al. created by Bob Montana
Predator created by Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Stan Winston

The Predator kicked off his killing spree of Riverdale's populace by disposing off its most peripheral members, then made short work of the entire cast until only a quintet composed of Archie Comics' core characters remained. In the final two issues, the pace slows down as the remaining survivors hide, take stock, make plans, or start freaking out. It's as introspective as a traditional Archie Comics publication gets. Plot logic goes out the window as the zaniness ramps up. Take Riverdale's resident science nerd/inventor Dilton Doiley. How does he deal with the prospect of being murdered by an unstoppable alien big game hunter? Turns out he's been building a high-tech Archie-themed suit of armor on school grounds all this time. So now is probably as perfect an occasion to reveal his newest creation, save what's left of the town and hopefully impress the girls.

Archie vs. Predator: Writer: Alex de Campi Penciller: Fernando Ruiz Inker: Rich Koslowski Colorist: Jason Millet Letters: John Workman.  Archie et al. created by Bob Montana Predator created by Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Stan Winston.

This is all sorts of crazy, yet it's probably what would happen to anyone else if they were the only nebbish trapped in a world which revolved around a freckle-faced teenage boy and offered no other role models as viable alternatives. Just like those dystopian stories Lord of the Flies, Battle Royale, The Hunger Games, etc. which are all the rage at present, all drama is reduced to the petty rivalries of adolescence, only carried out to its bloody extreme.

The difference here is that the students of Riverdale High are decidedly more wholesome even when they have no reason to be. No one becomes too mean-spirited. No one turns on each other. Not even the vain and self-centered Veronica Lodge, who would be the first to sell out her companions to the Predator if this story took place in any other universe. She gets to have her own heroic turn when the chips are down, and eventually gives mad props to her perpetual rival Betty Cooper. As for Jughead Jones, he's a true best friend who's just way too distracted by the constant need to fill his own stomach. And main man Archie Andrews is a genuinely nice, but largely ineffectual, protagonist. Heck, even the Predator of the series is basically another insecure teenager who wants to be like Archie, through his own sociopathic means off course.

Which is pretty much what happens in its most messed up version. The Predator is the wholly exotic bad boy who rides into an insular community and proceeds to upset the status quo in the worst possible way. He tries so hard to catch the attention of the prettiest girl in school while facing down the cliquish student body. He succeeds, after a fashion, but at a personal cost so high it wrecks himself and the object of his affections. That’s just the mundane horror of life in high school school.

7/28/2015

Photo Gallery: Aerials

LA 12 by Jeffrey Milstein.
NYC 55 by Jeffrey Milstein.
LA 23 by Jeffrey Milstein.
NYC 33 Statue of Liberty by Jeffrey Milstein.

Go to: LA Aerials and NYC Aerials by Jeffrey Milstein (via Alissa Walker)

7/26/2015

Godzilla in Hell #1

Godzilla in Hell #1 Story and art by James Stokoe, Jeff Zornow, Sara Richard.  Godzilla/Gojira created by Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishirō Honda, Shigeru Kayama, Eiji Tsubaraya.
Story and art by James Stokoe, Jeff Zornow, Sara Richard.

Godzilla/Gojira created by Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishirō Honda, Shigeru Kayama, Eiji Tsubaraya.

Whether acting as an agent of destruction or as a defender of humanity from other kaiju, Godzilla is more a force of nature than an individual creature whose behavior can be characterized as exhibiting clearly recognizable motives. So does the concept of eternal damnation even apply to such an entity? How'd you go about punishing him? Wouldn't the mercurial monster be perfectly at home settling into such a horrific place? The 5-part miniseries Godzilla in Hell takes a stab at answering these questions with the creative teams changing for each issue. For the opening chapter, the writer/artist is James Stokoe, whose excellent Godzilla: The Half-Century War was a clever commentary on Godzilla's ever-changing film career. So he's a pretty good choice to start the series.

Like Alice disappearing down the rabbit hole, Godzilla enters Hell by falling down his own very large, very dark, deep pit. I like how Stokoe's large vertical panels seem to suggest that he was cast out from a higher realm like another fallen angel. After finally crashing and pulling out of the resulting impact crater, Godzilla encounters the famous epitaph "Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here" carved out as a gigantic stone relief many times his size. Hell is built on a suitably massive scale to say the least. But an unimpressed Godzilla simply burns the sign down with his radioactive breath. Does our angry protagonist even feel "hope" or "despair"?

This Hell is fantastically surreal. A desolate landscape as far as the sky can see that glows faint red, dotted by deformed structures. Stokoe's art is very lush with textures rendered by delicate cross hatching. The overall effect is that the setting isn't just grandiose, but vaguely threatening and extremely claustrophobic. This looks like a separate Hell designed for kaiju, as it's largely bereft of human or demonic presence with one notable example I'll discuss shortly. A smoke plume created by the destruction of the epitaph implies that Godzilla has skipped Limbo and entered the Circle of Lust. Indeed, the comic's most impressive visual, which is a reference to Dante Alighieri, is a violent superstorm composed not of clouds but of countless human forms that engulfs and even manages to push the mighty Godzilla around.

Otherwise, this part of Hell just feeds into his appetite for stomping on other kaiju. And my final impression is that Godzilla hasn't so much been punished as been tested and came out on top. But there are still 4 issues left before his journey through the underworld is over. So it's a little hard to predict if events will always play in Godzilla's favor. But I'm hoping he gets to bump into his many kaiju rivals before the story's over.

7/17/2015

7/13/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 28

 Raye Hollitt, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag.
Raye Hollitt, Comic-Con autograph area.

One last detour to the autograph area before I boarded the train leaving San Diego.

This marks the end point for this segment of the series. I hope you enjoyed my nostalgic excursion to Comic-Cons past. And if you were at this year's convention, I hope you had a great time. I'm sorry I wasn't there. Peace out!

Pt 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27

7/12/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 27

Portfolio review, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag.
Portfolio review session, Comic-Con exhibit hall

Comic-Con portfolio reviews: where countless dreams about making it in the industry go to get crushed under the boot of weary editors. This cattle-call style process is nerve-wracking enough without having  to deal with all the surrounding commotion. Unlike other publishers, DC held their sessions at their massive booth. All the better to intimidate hapless victims, I mean inspire the fans.

Pt 151617181920212223242526

Webcomic: Manfeels Park

Manfeels Park by Erin and Morag
Great Expectations

Go to: Manfeels Park by Erin and Morag

7/11/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 26

Mighty Mouse cosplay, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford Delta 3200 Black and White 35mm negative film.  © Michael Buntag.
Mighty Mouse cosplay, Comic-Con Masquerade
Mighty Mouse cosplay, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford Delta 3200 Black and White 35mm negative film.  © Michael Buntag.
Mighty Mouse cosplay, Comic-Con Masquerade

The Mouse is back! Last year's hit contestant was invited to appear on stage one more time. For an encore, he danced to the song "My Sharona."

This was the first time I attended the Masquerade from beginning to end. I recommend that Comic-Con attendees do this at least once. It's an amazing and inclusive celebration of fandom. But it does tend to sap one's energy, which will be sorely needed for Sunday bargain shopping.

Pt 1516171819202122232425

Cartoon: Goliath

Goliath by Kate Beaton

Go to: Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

Video: Kate Beaton Teaches You How to Draw the Fat Pony

Kate Beaton Teaches You How to Draw the Fat Pony

Go to: Time (via Kate Beaton)

7/10/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 25

Cindy (Furgatch) Freeling, aka Princess Anne Droid, Harware Wars, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford Delta 3200 Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag.
Cindy Freeling, Comic-Con autograph area.

Located across from the Portfolio Review Area, Comic-Con's Autograph Area is the pop culture equivalent of Artist's Alley - A motley gathering of celebrities, starlets, has-beens, and ne'er-do-wells detached from the madness of the main exhibit hall. Some of them can be very charming, such as the lovely lady pictured above. Most of the time, the atmosphere of the hall is relatively sedate.

Speaking of has-beens - I don't remember at which Comic-Con this took place at, but I once spotted Wil Wheaton when I was rushing between review sessions. These were still the lean years before Wil's tireless blogging and courting of the Web 1.0 crowd would catapult him to nerdlebrity status. This was before Nemesis. Before w00tstock. Before The Guild. Before geeks conquered the media landscape. Those days were filled with high anxiety, self-doubt, narcissistic brooding, fannish nostalgia, and a pathological disconnect as narrated with a heavy dose of self-depreciating humour in his autobiography several years later. Of course, I didn't know that at the time. To me he was just the actor formerly known as Wesley Crusher.

Wil's table was located so that he was split off from the majority of the autograph group, his table facing so that his back was turned towards them. Wil didn't have any immediate neighbours to either side of him. Well, at least I didn't see anyone when I was there. He was alone. And he looked utterly miserable just sitting there. A part of me wanted to walk up to him, say "hi", and tell him that not everyone hated him when he was on ST:TNG. But a bigger part of me felt awkward about approaching someone in such a state, felt unsure about how to reach out. I was too wrapped up in my own personal shit at the time. And I've gradually realised that I'm not the most empathic individual. Or maybe I was just paralysed by a sense of impotence to help. So I moved on to whatever it was I was currently occupied with.

An that's why I don't have a picture of Uncle Willy.

Pt 15161718192021222324

Video: How to Make It as a Cartoonist

Kate Beaton: How to Make It as a Cartoonist.

Go to: Time (via Kate Beaton)

7/09/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 24

Saya, Blood: The Last Vampire PVC Figures, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag.
Saya PVC, Comic-Con exhibit hall.

So many anime-based toys in one place. And not nearly enough cash to buy them. I'm not a very avid toy collector, but Comic-Con sorely tests my resistance to unbridled consumerism with it's sheer variety of merch being sold. I suppose a lot of attendees can relate to that scene in Paul were Clive Gollings lovingly eyes a katana, only to put it back down when the vendor informs him about its retail price. But it's the little things you can afford that begins to add up once you try to get them all.

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Doctor Fate #1 and Superman #41

Doctor Fate #1 Writer: Paul Levitz, Sonny Liew Artist: Sonny Liew, Ibrahim Moustafa Colors: Lee Loughridge Letters: Nick J. Napolitano.  Doctor Fate created by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman.
Doctor Fate #1
Writer: Paul Levitz, Sonny Liew
Artist: Sonny Liew, Ibrahim Moustafa
Colors: Lee Loughridge
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano

Doctor Fate created by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman.

I like the idea of Doctor Fate more than I like the character itself. In reality he doesn't distinguish himself enough from all the other sorcerer supreme types. The DC Universe is awash with magicians from decades of continuity - lone wolf John Constantine (until he joined Justice League Dark) currently being the most popular character to come from their ranks. On the other hand, Fate is traditionally associated with the Justice Society of America. But I haven't been keeping up with that group, post Flashpoint, or know if they even still exist. So can veteran writer Paul Levitz infuse a more unique perspective onto such a staid figure? Not yet, judging from this issue.

The new Fate is a NYC resident and pre-med student Khalid Nassour, called on by ancient Egyptian goddess Bastet to fulfill his destiny by donning the magical helmet and fight against her evil counterpart Anubis. The latter seems intent on initiating a new worldwide deluge. Yeah, it's not a very original good vs. evil set-up for a superhero comic. And its use of mythology already feels old fashioned in our post-Neil Gaiman/Alan Moore era. Levitz is clearly attempting to make his characters sound more relevant and hip (and look, they're texting each other with their smartphones). But the for now, Khalid comes across as little more than a cipher for the reluctant hero.

If the dialogue can be a tad generic, the title's promise comes from new artist Sonny Liew. I'm pleased to see the current DC regime moving away from the baroque New 52 house style. Liew's emaciated forms combined with Lee Loughridge's strong colors produce an unsettling psychedelic effect, which compliments the story's fantastic milieu. But here's hoping Khalid does something more interesting with his costume, which for now is just him wearing the helmet over his normal street clothes.

SUPERMAN #41 Writer: Gene Luen Yang Artist: John Romita Jr., Karl Kerschl Inker: Klaus Janson Colors: Dean White Letters: Rob Leigh.  Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Superman #41
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Artist: John Romita Jr., Karl Kerschl
Inker: Klaus Janson
Colors: Dean White
Letters: Rob Leigh

Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

A source of potential confusion over DC's handling of Superman is that the character is spread over several interconnected monthly titles. A story arc which began in one title is picked up by another. Several weeks ago, Superman's status quo was drastically altered in the pages of Action Comics #41. This involved among other things, a reduction of his powers and a change in costume. The new status quo was explored in Batman/Superman and Superman/Wonder Woman. But it's only with the recent release of Superman #41 has the cause of the change being revealed, though only partially.

The task of explicating this part of Superman's collectively molded saga is given to newcomer Gene Luen Yang. He joins the already established art team led by John Romita Jr., which lends a sense of continuity because the Superman title hasn't been able to hold on to its writers for very long since George Pérez took over in 2011. Romita and inker Klaus Janson imbue the character with a certain gritty dynamism and down-to-earth presence - qualities not usually associated with past portrayals from the character's more well-known artists.

But it's Yang who's the revelation here. Having established himself in the industry with critically lauded creator-owned passion projects, a high profile corporate property like Superman is uncharted territory for him and his fans. But Yang acquits himself very well, easily updating the well-established relationships between Clark Kent, Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane with relaxed, informal, and youthful banter (though Jimmy's use of a smartphone over a DSLR/ILC was ridiculous). I like how Lois rather quickly insinuates herself into an investigation the former two are secretly conducting. The story pays homage to Superman's early crusades against corrupt politicians and arms dealers, as well as the character's propensity to fight giant killer robots. There might be hope that the Superman title will finally have some stability if DC can retain Yang.

7/08/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 23

Jill Thompson, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. © Michael Buntag.
Jill Thompson,  Comic-Con exhibit hall.

If I recall correctly, she won an Eisner that year.

Pt 1516171819202122

7/07/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 22

Julius Schwartz, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. © Michael Buntag,.
Julius Schwartz (1915-2004),  Comic-Con exhibit hall.

I never realised the comics legend had his shirts embroidered with his name. Adorable.

Pt 15161718192021

7/06/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 21

Escalators/stairs, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. © Michael Buntag.
Staircase, San Diego Convention Center

Comic-Con has become a lot more crowded in the intervening years. But I'd like to think fans can still find a quiet place to read their purchases.

Pt 151617181920

7/04/2015

Black Canary #1 and Justice League of America #1

Black Canary #1 by Brenden Fletcher, Annie Wu, Tula Lotay, Lee Loughridge, Steve Wands.  Black Canary/Dinah Drake Lance created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.
Black Canary #1
Story: Brenden Fletcher
Art: Annie Wu, Tula Lotay
Colors: Lee Loughridge
Letters: Steve Wands

Black Canary/Dinah Drake Lance created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.

Black Canary is one of those ensemble characters DC keeps pushing from time to time as a star in her own right. Most of those efforts tend to focus on her skills as one of the world's foremost martial artists/covert operatives. Nothing wrong with that since the premise provides an excuse to show lots of kick-butt action. It's just that it's well trod territory. This latest relaunch still references those chop-sockey roots, but adds a twist which so effectively sets the character apart from the DC stable it has me wondering why no one's ever tried it before. Actually, I've probably answered my own question.

Basically, Dinah Drake or "D.D." is now the frontwoman for a rock band called "Black Canary." The new series can be considered a spinoff of Batgirl, where she was a supporting character for a bit. Brenden Fletcher nonetheless avoids making any explicit connection or even mention to her New 52 history. So it's a little unclear how much of it still applies to her. Just as well. Dinah is portrayed as an enigmatic figure hinting at a mysterious but troubled past. She still beats up a lot of bad guys, oftentimes while still on stage.

As with Batgirl, Fletcher eschews the company's house style for something a bit more alternative in flavour. And as with that series, the art team is largely responsible for making its premise work. Annie Wu's roughly hewn linework combined with Lee Loughridge's bold splashes of bright colors perfectly captures the youthful energy and gritty atmosphere of an indie rock concert. Under Wu's deft hand, Dinah's traditional black costume is subtly altered to look less like a circus outfit  worn by a pulp heroine from the 40s and more like something a punk musician would put on for a live performance. And Steve Wand's typography completes the effect by helpfully repurposing some of the page layouts to look  more like music posters.

This is an enjoyable reimagining of an already familiar character. It's such a departure from previous incarnations that more knowledgeable fans might feel at a loss trying to relate Dinah the rocker to past decades or even the last few years of continuity. So the comic is best read by anyone who can come to it with the fewest preconceptions about the character.

Justice League of America #1 by Bryan Hitch, Howard Porter, Daniel Henriques, Wade von Grawbadger, Andrew Currie, Alex Sinclair, Jeromy, Chris Eliopoulos.  Justice League of America created by Gardner Fox.
Justice League of America #1
Story: Bryan Hitch
Art: Bryan Hitch, Howard Porter
Inks: Daniel Henriques, Wade von Grawbadger, Andrew Currie
Colors: Alex Sinclair, Jeromy Cox
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos

Justice League of America created by Gardner Fox.

This double sized issue seems to ignore whatever changes to the status quo were brought about by the DC You relaunch and goes to heart of what makes the Justice League of America appealing to fans: Some of DC's most famous characters tackling a menace none of them could handle alone. This a classic superhero throwdown with just enough intrigue injected into the proceedings to help break up the monotony of the action and suggest even more ominous forces behind the immediate threat actively working to undermine the team.

The issue's extended length allows for Bryan Hitch to employ his panoramic approach to storytelling. He's assisted by three inkers and two colorists to embellish his detailed, photorealistic art. This results in the faces being a little less consistent and refined. Could the story have been told with a smaller page count? Sure. The pacing is somewhat disjointed, and the plot becomes convoluted towards the end. But much of Hitch's appeal comes from his expansive layouts and grandiose set pieces. The additional space is utilized to showcase each Justice League member's contrasting personalities, abilities and weaknesses. The climactic battle sequence emits a real sense of danger as each of them is taken down by an unexpectedly amped-up villain.

Whatever problems this issue has in terms of plotting, characterization, continuity or pricing ($5.99 is pretty hefty for a pamphlet), there’s something satisfying in reading an iconic approach to such well-established characters. And it's kind of entertaining to see DC indulging one of its marquee creators as he goes for broke, especially after a long absence from the title.

7/03/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 20

Faye Valentine, Cowboy Bebop PVC Figures, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag.
Faye Valentine,  Comic-Con exhibit hall.

Is Cowboy Bebop still a thing? Or do fans prefer Honey now? I'm not as plugged into anime culture these days.

Pt 1516171819

7/02/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 19

Christopher Moeller, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag.
The Christopher Moeller table at Artist's Alley,  Comic-Con exhibit hall.

I hope he sold enough to at least break even.

Pt 15161718

7/01/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 18

pider-Man, Elektra cosplay, Marvel booth, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film.  © Michael Buntag.
Spider-Man and Elektra cosplayers at the Marvel booth,  Comic-Con exhibit hall.

I did read Ultimate Elektra once, but have no memory of the comic.

Pt 151617

Webcomic: Ice Cream

Ice Cream by Alex Fellows.

6/30/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 17

A Friend in Knead, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag
A Friend in Knead,  Comic-Con exhibit hall.

I doubt many younger fans will recognise ADV Films a.k.a. A.D. Vision anymore. But I still own a few of their DVDs. Should probably replace them with higher resolution versions. That's how they make their money.

Pt 1516

Webcomic: Fun with Flags

Good Man Presents: Fun with Flags by Ty Templeton.

6/29/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 16

Mat Groening, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film.  © Michael Buntag
Matt Groening signing at the Comic-Con exhibit hall.

He hasn't aged a bit, has he?

Pt 15

6/26/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 15

Spider-Man cosplay, Marvel booth, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag
Spider-Man cosplay at the Marvel booth,  Comic-Con exhibit hall.

The proceeding photos in the series were taken at the next Comic-Con I attended. Ready to take a trip down memory lane? It's been a while since the last instalment.

Remember the Ultimate Universe? I heard it's going away now. Except for Spidey. Just not the one pictured here.

Fot the previous photos of the series, go here:
Pt 1234567891011121314

6/24/2015

Prez #1 and Starfire #1

Prez #1: Writer: Mark Russell Artist: Ben Caldwell Inker: Mark Morales Colorist: Jeremy Lawson Letterer: Travis Lanham  Prez Rickard created by Joe Simon and Jerry Grandenetti
Prez #1
Writer: Mark Russell
Artist: Ben Caldwell
Inker: Mark Morales
Colorist: Jeremy Lawson
Letterer: Travis Lanham

Prez Rickard created by Joe Simon and Jerry Grandenetti

Perhaps the most unusual series to emerge out of the DC You initiative, Prez bears little resemblance to the original Prez Rickard from 1973. Set in the year 2036, the comic isn't a realistic futurist projection but a harsh satire about the shallowness of our Web 2.0 culture. Media saturation has led to a further loss of empathy and the intensifying of the craving for loud spectacle. Citizens are disengaged while they let mega corporations invade their privacy and corrupt the political process. It's a pretty bleak view of current technological trends. As one pundit puts it "This country just gets stupider." But it's what allows for a teenage girl called Beth Ross to fail her way up to the White House. I'm curious to see whether or not the story will transcend such cynicism.

Prez spends more time molding the textures of its fictional world than with its protagonist. A senator proposes replacing food stamps with "taco drones" to deliver unhealthy corporate fast food to the poor and monitor them at the same time. One presidential candidate agrees to getting paddled in the rear during a popular vodcast in a desperate bid to win over Ohio voters, another appears on a game show where contestants perform a series of increasingly dangerous stunts in order to win a billion dollars. While some of this can seem hamfisted, Mark Russell's one liners quickly convey how entertainment values erode substantive debate. To wit, that horrific game show is reduced by its guest to a glib sentiment "proof that anyone can succeed in America if they just try hard enough!"

As little as we get to see Beth do anything proactive, Ben Caldwell still manages to portray her as a sympathetic character. His cartooning style which blends Disney with a dash of manga imbues Beth with a wide-eyed, naïf vulnerability. It helps that her defining character trait is a capacity for self-sacrifice. But Caldwell's delicate linework also succeeds in capturing the absurdity demanded of the story and give it an edgy fairy tale quality.

Starfire #1: Writer: Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti Artist: Emanuela Lupacchino, Amanda Conner, Paul Mounts Inker: Ray McCarthy Colorist: Hi-Fi Letters: Tom Napolitano  Starfire/Koriand'r created by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez
Starfire #1
Writer: Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist: Emanuela Lupacchino, Amanda Conner, Paul Mounts
Inker: Ray McCarthy
Colorist: Hi-Fi
Letters: Tom Napolitano

Starfire/Koriand'r created by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez

I don't know if the post-Convergence DC Universe is meant to be a soft reboot or if it's still even a universe at this point, but I was surprised that this series completely ignores Starfire's previous New 52 incarnation. Then again, given the significant negative attention that particular version garnered, it's understandable why the publisher decided to drastically change course. So Amanda Connor et al. had to clear a very low bar. For all intents, this Starfire has gone back to the beginning as a veritable newcomer trying to adjust to life on Earth.

This Starfire is based mostly on the popular animated Teen Titans series with a bit of the original Marv Wolfman/George Pérez comic character shining through. A lot of the humor is centered around misunderstandings arising from Starfire's unfamiliarity with Earth customs and a tendency to take English language idioms a little too literally. It's a well worn trope, but at least it's not a hot mess. Starfire might be naive, but she's no ditz. When a fight breaks out between two men vying for her attention, she knocks some sense into them with one well aimed (but nonlethal) starbolt.

This is a new series which goes out of its way to be welcoming to new readers. I still miss Connor's comic touch as an artist, even though Emanuela Lupacchino draws a Starfire who's both sweet and unselfconsciously seductive. The issue begins with a two page recap of her alien origins, then proceeds to situate her in a new setting filled with new supporting characters. It's actually a little weird how willing they are to help her. Inker Ray McCarthy and the colors of Hi-Fi give everything a very bright and glossy finish. In fact, the comic looks and feels less like a superhero adventure and more like a cute magical girl comedy. For a DC mainstream title, that's a bold new direction.

6/20/2015

Avatar The Last Airbender: The Rift

Avatar The Last Airbender: The Rift by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Gurihiru, Michael Heisler. Avatar The Last Airbender: The Rift by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Gurihiru, Michael Heisler. Avatar The Last Airbender: The Rift by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Gurihiru, Michael Heisler.

Writer: Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko

Artist: Gurihiru
Letterer: Michael Heisler

Avatar: The Last Airbender created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko

The Rift is the third Avatar story after The Promise and The Search told by Gene Yang and Gurihiru. So it's become clear that this creative team's working within a very rigorous framework. Contort the narrative to fit the three part structure. Start slow. Pad the story with subplots and evenly spaced revelations. Finish with a big fight that pushes the combatants into an understanding of sorts. The results so far have been somewhat underwhelming. The comics are burdened with an unfortunate sensation that their plots are warped to fit the page count and are a tad emotionally manipulative. With that said, The Rift is still their best effort yet. This is primarily because of the presence of fan favourite Toph Beifong to liven up the proceedings.

One of the biggest shortcomings with the graphic novel series is the generally flat character development of its main cast. These once rebellious teens have since settled into boring adult roles after the conclusion of the animated series. In The Promise, both Aang and Zuko are surprisingly bereft of any agency as they're driven into a conflict dictated by their responsibilities to opposing factions and the expectations hoisted upon them by their respective followers. Neither have since regained the irrepressible energy that characterized their televised incarnations and drove the entire series. the independent Katara has been reduced to supportive girlfriend with no voice of her own. And her quick witted brother Sokka has been largely stuck in odious comic relief mode.

Avatar The Last Airbender: The Rift by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Gurihiru, Michael Heisler.

Only Toph escapes this fate by striking out on her own. She's first shown establishing her metalbending academy in The Promise, and the fruits of her labour are revealed in The Rift. She's the only significant character who's comfortable contradicting Aang, and the primary conflict for this arc is made more personal because it arises from the differences between the two. Aang's the spiritualist always striving to make everyone happy while Toph's the materialist willing to buck tradition.

What sets this up is Aang's attempt to revive an important Air Nomad festival. He unexpectedly discovers that the ritual's once sacred site is now the address of a rapidly expanding factory town. Aang then detects the presence of a disapproving spirit and moves to shut the factory down. But he's stymied by Toph. While Aang quickly blames the factory for the area's spiritual pollution, Toph sees little point in continuing a custom that apparently serves no purpose while noting the real socio-economic benefits of the factory to the local community. Their valid points of view puts them at odds with each other, giving the story an emotional edge missing in the similarly themed The Promise and generates a tone of moral ambiguity that can't be neatly resolved by either side.

Avatar The Last Airbender: The Rift by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Gurihiru, Michael Heisler.

At the same time, the story is one huge nod to continuity. The Last Airbender is about Aang fighting a burgeoning industrial state waging a war of conquest on the entire world, while Legend of Korra is about Aang's successor working within a multiethnic society caught up in the midst of intense industrialization. The Rift is a bridge meant to reconcile these two settings and explains how the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes became enthusiastic supporters of technological progress. There's an evil Fire Nation capitalist who serves as the story's principal villain, but he feels very much like a throwback to an earlier era. Who cares about him when the story involves young metalbenders duking it out with one hundred foot tall spirits?

That shock of the new the story's most notable feature. Gurihiru has done a fine job so far in tweaking the ATLA universe. But now they get to introduce a few modern elements. When the cast first sets their eyes on the factory, it just feels wrong standing there. There's nothing extraordinary about it from the outside for anyone who lives in the real world. It's just another grimy building. It's just that in this fantastical setting it feels like a desecration. A pox on the natural beauty of the landscape. Something only an abusive Fire Lord could love.

But as Aang is given a tour of the facilities by an enthusiastic (and way too oblivious for his own good) chief engineer, he witnesses something he's been striving so hard to achieve all this time now being independently realized: balance, harmony. People from the surviving three nations coming together and working towards a common goal on the factory floor. More so than when he first visited the town of Yu Dao back in the first comic, Aang must learn a few bittersweet lessons. Change is inevitable. People adapt. And things don't always work out the way you intended it.

Avatar The Last Airbender: The Rift by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Gurihiru, Michael Heisler.

6/16/2015

6/13/2015

Noah

Noah by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, Niko Henrichon, Nicolas Sénégas, Tom Muller
Story: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel
Art: Niko Henrichon
Letters: Nicolas Sénégas
Design: Tom Muller

The Biblical myth of the Flood is a dark tale about an all-powerful but petulant god who regrets creating humanity and decides to drown them all in a worldwide deluge. But he makes an exception for Noah and his family. Noah himself barely mutters a peep as he carries out God's commands without fail, like any trusted servant. God's act of universal destruction serves to complement the Genesis story of his creation of the world. But In Darren Aronofsky's retelling, God is absent. The psychodrama instead falls on Noah as he struggles to understand the deity's will, which he believes is being communicated to him through visions so cryptic they often leave him conflicted about their true meaning. His crisis of faith becomes the focal point in an ambitious story that attempts to weave ancient myth, medieval theology, and modern science into a heavy handed morality tale about human greed and environmental despoilation.

While the graphic novel functions as a standalone story, it's interesting to see how it compares to the film. Noah is humanity's first vegan/eco-terrorist/doomsday prepper, disapproving of civilization's wasteful practices and figuring out that the world is going to end. He's even more imposing in the comic, recognized by others as a great warrior and mage. Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel teamed-up with artist Niko Henrichon for the comic well before the film was produced, so it's visuals bear almost no resemblance to the film. Noah is drawn as a cape wearing, long-haired, square-jawed heroic type who wouldn't look out of place within a Robert E. Howard fantasy novel or a Thor comic. His appearance takes on a more sinister aspect down the line as he evolves into a full-blown religious zealot.

But the people Noah actually terrorizes are his own family, whom he's already sequestered from society when the story begins. God's reticence towards Noah in Genesis is translated in this humanistic adaptation as Noah's confusion as to whether God (dubbed the "Creator") intends for humanity to survive or go extinct. Like in the film, his increasing conviction that Original Sin has made them unworthy of the the former creates a rift with his family. And his behavior is far more extreme in the comic. At one point, he even sets the animals of the Ark against them when they defy him. This Noah takes no prisoners.

Noah by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, Niko Henrichon, Nicolas Sénégas, Tom Muller

Henrichon's antediluvian setting is also visually striking. One of the underwhelming things about the film was its subdued palette suggesting a burnt out, featureless, post apocalyptic wasteland. Not one standing building is to be seen, only crumbling ruins. In contrast, the comic feels more primordial and more alien. The stars are so close and bright they shine even during daytime. Early in the comic, Noah travels to the dystopian metropolis of Bab-ilIm  - "A city so vast it took a planet of spoil to stuff its ravenous maw" - and gazes upon its legendary tower. Its byzantine structure referencing both ancient temples and futuristic skyscrapers.

One of the strengths of the graphic novel is that Henrichon has more space to mould this fantastic world, from the exotic megafauna that populate it, to the mysterious Watchers - the Nephilim of Genesis, to Noah's shamanic grandfather Methuselah. Henrichon's designs are usually more grandiose than anything used in the film.

The drawback though is that the story becomes bloated in its attempts to cultivate its many parts. Not only is Noah racing to complete the Ark before the rains come, he's fending of hordes of refugees from Bab-ilIm led by the violent Tubal-cain, enlisting the Watchers to his cause, keeping his increasingly doubtful family in line, all while trying to decode the will of the Creator. The result is that the comic has not one, but several climactic scenes piling on top of each other.

The one area where Henrichon clearly falls short as an artist is in his character designs for Noah's family. They aren't written with very distinctive personalities to begin with, and after awhile, they all even morph to look rather interchangeable. This is where the film's cast does a better job in fleshing them out, particularly Emma Watson as long suffering daughter-in-law Ila and Logan Lerman as the much abused middle son Ham.

Noah by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, Niko Henrichon, Nicolas Sénégas, Tom Muller

Both versions ultimately flounder from wanting to have its cake and eat it. Is the story aiming for spiritual transcendence or exposing the folly of blind faith, or both? The narrative doesn't quite cohere. In an important scene, Noah recounts the Genesis creation story to his family. His words are overlaid over a montage of images illustrating the Big Bang, the formation of the first galaxies and stars, the birth of our solar system, and the evolution of life from organic molecules all the way to primates. It's a provocative way to illustrate the tale. Although in this case the film's use of strobe effects and digital imagery is way cooler than Henrichon's still images, which feel kind of textbook in comparison.

In contrast to this allegorical interpretation optimized to coexist with the prevailing scientific world view, Aronofsky takes the story of the Flood at face value. So we still get the usual imagery such as the procession of the animals into a gigantic wooden box, or a deluge that blankets the entire world while drowning everything on land, which presumably includes a lot of plant and animal life as collateral damage for humankind's folly. We still have to accept the bizarre premise that an Ark could restore the planet's biodiversity with only a tiny sampling from each species and isn't just an idiotic scheme cooked up by a deranged individual. Given Aronofsky's monomaniacal portrait of Noah, it's a pretty tough sell.


Noah by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, Niko Henrichon, Nicolas Sénégas, Tom Muller

6/08/2015

Congratulations to Alison Bechdel: Fun Home wins Tony Award for Best Musical

Fun Home wins Tony Awards for Best Musical. Photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Sydney Lucas performs Ring of Keys, Fun Home wins Tony Awards for Best Musical. Photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Go to: New York Times, by Michael Paulson and Patrick Healy (via Heidi MacDonald)

Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir about growing up gay in a funeral parlour, Fun Home’s award haul included best original score and book for Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, best leading actor for Michael Cerveris and best director for Sam Gold.
- Nancy Groves, The Guardian

Earlier this spring, Bechdel told NPR she was surprised by the idea of turning her memoir into a musical. "I thought it was crazy," she said. "I didn't know how it was even possible." But Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori spent seven years making it happen, turning the life story of a middle-aged lesbian cartoonist into a smash Broadway hit.
- Camila Domonoske, NPR

Broadway pros clearly appreciated the show’s originality and its in-the-round immersive staging. There was whooping and ovations when “Fun Home’s” Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori became the first all-female team to win a Tony for best score.
- Cynthia Littleton, Variety

Webcomic: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner.
Centre of the Universe

Go to: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner