Thursday, February 28, 2013

Comic Review: Uncanny Skullkickers #1 (Skullkickers #19)


            The comics industry is ridiculous.  Just this week a question was posed by Sean Murphy (mastermind behind Punk Rock Jesus) that basically asked, with the music industry recently bouncing back in terms of sales, when will comics see a resurgence?  My answer to him was that given the fact that we just had fifty-two variant covers (see last week’s rant) and that there is a gold-foil chromium cover coming for Age of Ultron, comics is trending in the wrong direction.  We are repeating the stupidity of the 1990’s all over again, except we don’t have the build-up to it that we did throughout the 80’s and there are still people that remember when the bubble burst and we all came to the realization that the days of a comic book selling 500,000 copies was far in the past.

            No one in the comics industry seems to understand how ridiculous the current comics industry is like Jim Zub, writer and creator of Skullkickers.  This is apparent given his willingness to renumber his comic starting at #1 (but only on the cover) and change the name to Uncanny Skullkickers to piggy back on the trio of Uncanny comics over at Marvel (three Uncanny comics, are you kidding me?)  The best part is the blurb on the top of the cover, right above the title:  “We figured out what our series was missing: adjectives!”  It’s a lighthearted middle finger to Marvel which relies on adjectives in place of creativity when it comes to providing titles for their comics (not so much with DC, which has somehow avoided being bitten by the adjective bug – maybe because Uncanny Batman just sounds stupid). 

            For this reason alone I should just award the comic with a ten out of ten based solely on the fact that Jim Zub is unafraid of poking the bear and refuses to take what he is doing too seriously.  That would discredit the work done on the actual comic though and given that Zub and artist Edwin Huang are one of the best teams out there (right up there with Layman/Guillory and Kirkman/Ottley), it would be a good idea to judge the comic on it’s merits and then award bonus points where they are warranted for Zub’s big brass balls.

            With that image firmly embedded in your brain, let’s get to it shall we?


Cover:
            Originally, you may look at the four variant covers and call Zub a hypocrite.  He’s thumbing his nose at the system, yet going along with it at the same time.  If you look closer, you will see that two of the covers are not “general public” covers (one being an exclusive for the upcoming Emerald City Comic-Con and the other a Phantom Variant (which probably has to do with quantity ordered, I’m not 100% sure on the variant cover specifics).  The other two covers are the standard ones you would see if you went into a comic shop.  One is for Uncanny Skullkickers #1(the one I picked up) and the other is for Skullkickers #19, which follows the familiar motif of having the illustration take place in a frame created from the skull logo.  Those people looking to get in on the joke can pick up the Uncanny cover while those that want a uniform collection of Skullkickers comics can pick up the other.  It’s actually incredibly smart on his part and is a more legitimate variant cover scheme than just pasting a new flag on each one.

            The artwork on the cover itself is drawn by Huang, the interior artist and shows the two main characters busting through a page of the comic (an homage of sorts to past covers that have utilized that motif).  While this cover is not narrative, it does utilize the “busting through” action to piggyback on the title which works just as well.  Honestly, if this was a true #1 issue, a cover like this would be fine, and if you wanted a cover that was more narrative in nature (or at least as narrative as Skullkickers covers in the past, then that option is available). 

            The artwork itself is nice and clean and utilizes bold linework to accentuate the characters while also leaving enough room for the colorist (Misty Coats) to do a wonderful job.  The lighthearted nature of the title itself is reflected in the way that this is colored.  Dark colors are few and far between, with things that you would normally see as black (a belt or shoes, or something like that) colored as a dark grey or blue.  While the story and some of the language in it may not be entirely for kids, the art has a feel of something you would sit down and watch on Saturday mornings.  (I would watch the shit out of a Skullkickers cartoon by the way).   

9/10 – Huang and Coates are an incredible artistic combination that brings the cover to life without deviating from the general mood of the series. 

Story:

            This is the first issue of a new story-arc and it feels like both a number one issue, but also a continuation of the series.  I have seen a lot of comics in the past that treat the first issue of a story arc like a brand new series, rarely making mention of what happened in the previous issues.  This not only makes mention of it, it’s an integral part of the story.  This is what happens next, as in directly after the events of the last issue.  Instead of a one paragraph blurb about what happened in the previous eighteen issues, we get two whole pages devoted to catching us up. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I have read the first two Skullkickers trades (my local comic shop never got the third trade in, which seems to be a common theme for them with anything that doesn’t have a Marvel, DC or Walking Dead on the cover).  I have never read a single issue though and really wanted to see how the writing translated to more of a serial format.  By not reading the previous issues though, I was a little lost when I didn’t see the dwarf on the cover.  What happened, did he magically transform into the elf chick (they do have the same color hair, and I wouldn’t put it past Zub to introduce something zany like that into the mix)?  Luckily, by page two we are told that the Dwarf is dead.  Well, okay, that’s that I guess.  While I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes back to life at some point (especially considering the amount of magic and mysticism that is thrown around in the earlier trades) the running gag in this issue was a single panel at the bottom of the page that showed the Dwarf’s dead body floating in the ocean.  I, like many people I’m sure, expected something to happen by the end; a twitch or something, to tell us that the Dwarf is alive.  Nope.  The consistency is hilarious, and the fact that we as readers were probably hanging on that moment as much as we were the action above it shows what a good job Zub has done in establishing the Dwarf as a character. 

The rest of the story follows the bald guy (apparently named Rex – I really need to pick up that last trade to get filled in) and his new companion, the Elf girl named Kusia.  They’ve washed up on the shore of an island, and aside from a brief interlude that has to deal with Glacier Giants, they are the sole focus of this book.  The story is fairly slow moving, but what it lacks in progress, it makes up for in little character moments.  My favorite part, aside from the reveal that they are on an island inhabited by giant horned monkeys, is the page where they take stock of what meager supplies they possess. 

This page

These are the moments that the writing shines through.  A different writer may have glossed over this completely, or may have talked about each item in intimate detail, but Zub finds a way to explain what things are and inject a bit of humor into each scrap of wood or broken crate that is in the survivor’s possession.  It’s small moments like this that show me that while there are obviously grand plans in the works for these characters, it is still a comic book and the actions therein shouldn’t be taken with such extreme gravitas as to warrant death threats or hate mail when something happens that a fan doesn’t like. 

My one complaint is, and has always been, the sound effects.  Now I may be alone in this because the writing tutorial Zub gives at the end (a great reason to pick up the comic on its own) says that a lot of people like them.  In the first few trades they were okay, a mild annoyance but not overbearing.  Now, they seem to be a little too dominant.  I think that the joke is getting overused to the point where it won’t be as funny anymore, but like I said, no one else may share this opinion.

These are instances where it is done well, and actually adds to the humor without distracting from Huang's artwork

9/10 – A great jumping on point for anyone that hasn’t read the series before, with jokes aplenty.  The writing tutorial in the back is worth the price of admission itself.  Just reading the script makes me want to illustrate something that Zub has written, anything, even a eulogy.  I’d draw the hell out of a Zub-penned eulogy.

Art:
            Speaking of drawing the hell out of something, Huang is great at drawing in a cartoon style without making it look too cartoony.  Everything has weight and definition , almost Ed McGuinnes in nature without everyone looking like they are on steroids.  Hatching is basically non-existent and blacks are rarely, if ever, spotted.  This goes to show what an incredible find Misty Coats and Ross Campbell were.  They interpret everything perfectly, adding definition and mood to the story and the characters through their use of light and shadow. 

            Huang does a great job treating the characters as actors and not static playthings, with each panel and page showing a great deal of movement.  You never get the impression that anyone is ever standing around, straight up and down (even when they are).  This ability translates to the faces as well as Huang maximizes the facial expressions without using eyes.  This shows how good he is, as 90% of the time the eyes are little more than a line on the face, indicating either a squint or a fully closed eye, or they are circles, just circles, nothing fancy.  The fact that he can convey so much emotion without using the most expressive part of a face shows his mastery over body language and characterization. 

This sequence is great.  It lets the art tell the story and gives us information about the characters by showing us instead of hitting us over the head with it.  Plus the artwork, even in lighter moments like these, is so well executed, you can tell that Huang isn't just in it for the fight scenes. 

            The only misstep I noticed was the massive tangent created between Kusia’s sword and a leaf in a couple panels.
This sequence
 I don’t know if I would have noticed it outright if I hadn’t been reading it with my critic-pants on, but in a comic full of hits, one slight miss doesn’t really warp my perception of it.

10/10 – Between the crisp, clean linework and the beautiful, expressive coloring, this may be one of the best art teams in the business today, especially because they are on this book, one that maximizes their abilities and rewards that teamwork.

Overall:  9/10 – Buy this book.  Seriously.  Buy all of the back issues and then buy this book.  It is one of the smartest, funniest, self-aware books on the market and makes for required reading of anyone that just wants to enjoy a comic book without any extra frills or headaches. 


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Corsage

The funny (or sad, maybe) thing is, I remember my junior prom.  I had a small graduating class and a good portion of the girls at the prom had dates that were considerably older than they were (not 50's or anything but early 20's, so right around the age of the characters here).  This is obviously not out of the ordinary, but even though I originally wrote this storyline many years ago (and years after my own prom), I just thought of the correlation.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

We Don't Need None of That There Edumacation


            One of my biggest pet peeves is spelling, or I guess I should say; mis-spelling.  In this technological world where everyone has to speak in 140 character bursts, I realize that the ability to spell is kind of thrown to the wayside.  This does not include people that use numbers and/or symbols instead of letters.  You people are juvenile and ridiculous.  While I have come to grips with the fact that people are not as cognizant of spelling as I am, or that they can’t be given the restrictions of social media (and those tiny keyboards on smartphones, I hate those things), it does officially chap my ass when a “news outlet” commits spelling errors.  You don’t see this too much from those that post regular news reports (even from terrible news groups like Yahoo!) and even sports writers tend to have an editor, or at least a proofreader.  I read a lot of comic book news, and those sites are full of simple, silly mis-spellings, to the point where I often stop reading because of it.  The best way to alienate educated fans is to seem uneducated yourself.

            This brings me to the real point of this post.  A couple weeks ago I threw a tweet out into the twitter-sphere about the lack of education that many of our professional athletes have, and how apparent it is when you hear them speak.  There has been and probably always will be a fight over the value of an education and the ability to earn millions of dollars playing professional sports.  What really irks me is that we have individuals that are becoming the heroes of millions of children, that can’t even put a coherent sentence together for public consumption.  This is rampant across all of the major sports, but I see it most of all in the world of professional basketball, which coincidentally, is where the biggest anti-college argument comes from. 

            Let’s get one thing out of the way first.  If English is not your primary language, you get a bit of a pass.  I can’t fault baseball players from Latin America or basketball players from Europe (or vice versa) if they cannot speak perfectly; just like I would hope that someone from Europe wouldn’t crucify me because my German is sub-par (ie. non-existent).  You can tell when someone is struggling with a language because they are foreign to it and when someone is struggling because they are ignorant and uneducated though. 

            It would be one thing if we just admired these individuals based solely upon their talent, if they were looked upon from afar with a reverence akin to “I wish I could do that”.  Instead, we get to hear them speak.  We get to hear every double negative and slang term that they can cram into a sentence, and we have to be ok with it because we have elevated these individuals (many of them mere children) to a status too lofty for their age and experience.  While it is our fault for putting the individuals in this position to begin with, we are not asking them to give a dissertation on the economy, or to map out complex foreign policy.  The majority of the questions that sportscasters ask are “Hey ‘Player X’, what do you think about the impending trade rumors for ‘Player Y’?”  To which Player X will reply “It ain’t no thing, we don’t need no help.”  I seriously think Microsoft Word took out a hit on me for even typing that last sentence.

            This is now the norm, and is now largely accepted by the public as okay.  Why, I will never know.  When did we lower our standards so much as a society that the mouthpieces are now the uneducated.  It used to be that the politicians and business owners would have more clout.  While they were usually morally bankrupt thieves, they were at least able to speak to the public without sounding like they failed out of second grade because coloring was just too hard. 

            I love sports as much as the next guy, but it is time we held our athletes to a higher standard.  Basketball stars don’t want to go to college at all because it cuts into their NBA time when they could be making millions of dollars for putting a ball in hoop?  How about having a little self respect for the supposed “education” that you receive (I realize that the education at many sports universities is a joke, but that’s a topic for a different time).  These athletes spend their entire life being told that they are great and apparently have little to no use for learning the proper use of the English language.  This generation is most likely a lost cause.  They won’t change, and they won’t be required to.  The next generation of sports figures needs to realize that they will be the mouthpieces of a society that will continue to get more ignorant based on the people that it looks up to.  This is a fixable problem, but it starts with accountability and putting a premium on education and doing things the right way.  I do not currently have a plan, especially one that will appease the greedy, but it is something that I think we can all put our heads together and accomplish.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Baby Gap

Here's the thing.  If you are going to do what Sluggy is doing, your friends are obligated to give you shit for it.  Seriously, it's in the rulebook.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Sixteen

Cute girls are cute girls, but sixteen is sixteen, don't forget that.  Sometimes someone in Sluggy's position may need a gentle reminder (ie. a smack to the back of the head) of that fact.  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Comic Review – Vitriol The Hunter #1


            First, a mini-rant:

            I walked into my comic shop today, and it was like I was transported back in time to 1992.  Someone at DC Comics had dusted off their flux capacitor and decided that Justice League of America needed not one, not two, not three, but fifty-two variant covers.  Okay, DC, you guys are idiots, and your marketing department should be forced to physically consume the leftover copies of this stupidity.  When I first heard the news of the variant covers I thought it was dumb, but now that I see them in person I realize just how ridiculous they are.  Here is the thing, my comic shop, and I’m assuming any other shop of a similar size or larger, moved comics out of the way so that an entire shelf could be devoted to these covers.  I have never worked in retail, but I know how important shelf space is, and the fact that regular inventory was moved to make room for God knows how many copies of one comic is just stupid.  They are all the same damn thing just with a different cover (and not even a markedly different cover, just a different flag cut and pasted in photoshop)! 

            Not only that, but I went into the shop yesterday in a pretty decent mood.  My pull list was pretty light but there is one thing that really got me excited, the newest Goon trade was out!  I was going to be able to follow along with Goon and Franky while they did whatever it was they were going to do.  Did that happen?  Nope.  No Goon.  I am hoping against hope it was just an oversight and not because the entire comic budget for the shop was spent on 150 copies of the newest superhero garbage from DC. 

            Anyway, on to this week’s review: Vitriol The Hunter #1.

Cover:
            It’s a first issue, so the montage cover actually works pretty well here.  The cover was drawn by the interior artist so that is a major plus as well because what you see artistically is what you get throughout (I’ll go into that more in depth in the art section of the review).  The cover itself fits the subject matter very well in terms of the tone that it sets forth.  The best part about it is the fact that they didn’t try to put any color or tone in the actual title itself.  The cover itself is so dark with its predominantly purple and blue hues that anything but white would have blended too much into the background.  The title itself is clear and easy to read.  It doesn’t interfere with the art and just sits there, doing its job as it is supposed to.

            The art does a decent job of telling me who the good guys and bad guys are.  At least the vampires don’t sparkle.

5/10 – A middle of the road cover.  The title is good but the art itself doesn’t really do anything else that stands out.

Story:
            I really want to read a good vampire story to reclaim the genre from the Twilight kids.  I was hoping that this was going to be one that brings the characters of vampires back to being scary and sinister and not caricatures.  The vampires themselves are okay, a little cheesy but not terrible representations.  They are a bit stereotypical of the kind of vampires we would see before vampires had “feelings” or whatever has happened to them of late.  The whole secret society thing can be done well and it’s nice that writers Billy Martin and Brent Allen have given them specific idiosyncrasies that they have expanded upon in footnotes.  This helps to make the vampires more their own creations as opposed to just copies of something they saw in a Wesley Snipes movie. 

            That all goes away when one of the vampires is named Korbius though.  Really?  Korbius?  As in Morbius from Marvel comics but with a “K”?  Wow.  That is within the first few pages and it is easy to see that this comic goes from a reclamation project for the vampire genre to pretty damn formulaic in a hurry.  The way that the vampires talk, especially big boss vampire is very clich├ęd and offers nothing fresh.  From there it gets worse because we are introduced to the main character and he is automatically shoved down our throats as some kind of bad-ass (with no pupils, not really sure what that’s about).  He’s a take no prisoners kind of guy that, after he is injured, gets patched up by a girl that will either become his girlfriend or his damsel in distress (or both) before all is said and done.  Of course her father used to do the same thing for him, and of course there is some kind of magical pill that he takes to help him.

            If you haven’t noticed, there’s a lot of “of course that happened” kind of moments in this.

            We then move to fight scene where the vampires are attacking some cops that look to be dressed in the kinds of uniforms you usually associate with German or Soviet troops circa 1945.  Surprise surprise, these troops are getting massacred until Vitriol shows up and saves the day.  We then get treated to a montage of Vitriol fighting the vampires and…meh.  It’s just boring and uninspiring.  The fight ends and we get more quips and shots of Vitriol that are supposed to make us think he is cool or a badass, but all I am reminded of is Carson Daly.  Someone that really wants to and really tries to be cool but is just a tool.  Oh, and of course we are introduced to some kind of magic serum that creates werewolves (which they call Lycans here because of course they do) and find out that that is what the vampire horde was after the whole time. 

1/10 – The story is full of coincidences and “of course that happened” moments.  Nothing feels original, and the extra effort to make Vitriol into some kind of bad ass that doesn’t respect authority etc. etc. is just sad.  How did this comic ever get green-lit?

Art:
            It’s obvious that Billy Martin is a fan of Humberto Ramos.  In fact he may be trying a little too hard to be Ramos as I am pretty sure there is at least one panel that I remember from Ramos’s work in the past (I think it’s from Crimson but not too sure).  That’s the thing, this book is just trying too hard to be Crimson, and it’s not doing a good job of it.  Art-wise, the perspective and the anatomy is way off and not in an exaggerated style like we would normally see from someone like Ramos, but in a WTF kind of style where the artist just obviously screwed it up.  Heads and limbs don’t look like they rest on the characters in the right places and the one girl in the whole comic is drawn like she has no internal organs (or lower ribs for that matter).  A decent job is done in terms of drawing backgrounds and establishing where things are taking place, but that doesn’t save the art when it is supposed to be relatively action oriented. 

Two shining examples of heads that just don't seem to be connected to the bodies that they are on.  And why is Vitriol standing like that while shooting someone?  That's not natural at all.

That middle panel looks off in terms of the perspective of the window.  If that was accurate the vampire would have to be practically laying down.  A good idea but with poor execution.

How many organs did she have removed so she could get her waist that small?  And the panel all the way to the right, her hand should be moved to his other shoulder because there is no way she should be able to be turned the way she is turned but still position her arm that far back.

No wonder they can't defeat the vampires, this gut doesn't even watch where he's shooting.

I have seen the face in the inset panel before.  Plus you have the exclamation of Vitriol's name after the text that it's supposed to precede.  Piss poor job of layout.

I have seen this exact panel in a Ramos comic before (I think it was Crimson).  This looks like it was poorly lightboxed from that comic.

Stuff like this is supposed to make him sound bad-ass but just makes him sound like a douche.

You are holding what is presumably a glass vial of something that changes people into werewolves, or something like that.  Why would you be squeezing it like that?  It looks like he's beating off, not holding a delicate, possibly earth shattering find.

2/10 – It’s almost as if Billy Martin sat down with a complete collection of Crimson and just made a fan comic of it, a pretty poorly done one at that.  Again, how does something like this get green-lit?  Is it because people will hopefully look at the cover and see a Ramos style and vampires and get duped into thinking it’s Crimson 2.0?

Overall: 2/10 – This was just not a good comic all around.  The story was formulaic and forced and the art lacked basic drawing skills, instead preferring to ape a style that took years to perfect all of the little things that make it stand out.  The coloring is good but if I wanted to buy a comic strictly for the coloring I would seek out the colorist’s portfolio.  It just leaves me very disappointed.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Standing Out

I have seen a lot of goofy colored tuxes but never pink with a bolo tie.  Someone needs to get on that right away.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Gilligan had it worse


            I was watching 20/20 last Friday night and they had a special about cruise ships.  The lead story was obviously about the Carnival Triumph (aka the shit ship).  They described the conditions that these individuals were living in for their five days on the powerless ship, expanding upon the articles that I had read throughout the week.  These were not stellar conditions to say the least, and definitely not something that you want to experience on your vacation. 

            I don’t want to dwell on the specifics of the conditions too much except to say that as bad as they were, people have survived through worse.  There are people that live in those conditions on a daily basis, and while it is not ideal for a vacation to turn into that, it is hardly the end of the world.  Hell, ask anyone from the Costa Concordia if they would trade spots with you.  At least your ship stayed afloat!  Ask anyone that had their ship attacked by pirates in the Indian Ocean if they would change spots with you.  There are worse things in life than a little shit smell and some sub par food.

            What this post is really about is what is coming next.  You know about the conditions of the cruise, but did you know that as compensation for their ordeal the individuals on the cruise got a full refund on the price of the cruise, a voucher for another cruise in the future and $500.00.  Let’s take that one at a time.

            A full refund:  Considering the fact that there were thousands of people on the cruise, this was probably the biggest blow to Carnival, and even though the passengers got half of their cruise the way they wanted it, they got a full refund.  I’m not sure how many other instances you would see that happen.  If I ate half a pizza and said that it was gross, I wouldn’t expect to get a full refund.  Here, when making customers happy is a number one priority though, it makes at least a little more sense.

            A voucher for another cruise:  I’m not sure how many people will actually take Carnival up on this one, but it is also a pretty penny for the cruise line to dish out.  It may turn out to be an empty gesture, but it’s a gesture nonetheless.

            $500.00:  That’s right.  People actually made money for having a shitty (no pun intended, I promise) time on their vacation.  The law awards people money to “make them whole” in civil suits.  That means that in order to make it up to you, the individual or company that wronged you must provide you with compensation to get you back to where you were before the incident, in this case before the shit cruise.  Technically, that would be limited to the refund, and probably paying for your hotel room in Alabama when you docked (which Carnival did).  The voucher for another cruise can be taken either way because they may never be used, but the $500.00 is above and beyond making people whole.  That’s good business sense and a very nice thing to do in terms of damage control.  By making a grander gesture it looks like you are sorrier than you really are (Kobe Bryant and a giant diamond ring come to mind here).

            Here’s the thing, it won’t end here.  Not by a long shot.  There were probably as many lawyers ready to greet the passengers of that ship as there were television cameras.  The lawsuits will come fast, furious and without merit.  Passengers were made whole and then some, yet they will want more, because in this society we are takers.  We never settle for what we are owed or what we have earned.  We always want more, and other people be damned because of it. 

            This is not to say that a lawsuit may not be warranted for some people in this case but a class-action one that is banking on emotional distress is bullshit.  If someone gets sick to the point of hospitalization and can tie that to the cruise, I can easily see that individual getting Carnival to pay for it.  Aside from that though, people live through massive amounts of emotional distress all the time, people come closer to death than anyone here ever did, and you don’t see them lining up at the nearest lawyer.  What gives someone that had a bad time on their vacation the right to sue the company that provided that experience?  I had a very poor dining experience once and you know what I did after that?  I told everyone about it and refused to eat there again.  Did it sink the company?  No, I’m sure they didn’t care, but it’s one less thing for me to worry about.  This idea that we have to bankrupt a company that wronged us because making us whole “is not enough” is ludicrous. 

            That being said, I have one question about the cruise and the way it was handled (and if this was already addressed and you know the answer or have a link to an article that does, let me know because I am genuinely curious).  If they were able to provide supplies to the Triumph via both helicopter and other cruise ship, why were they unable to remove the people from the Triumph and transfer them to a different boat?  I understand the logistics would have been a nightmare, but they were adrift for five days, you can’t tell me that the only (and apparently best) option was to tow them to Alabama.  What was the thinking when that was brought up in the Carnival boardroom?  Was it too expensive, too much of an inconvenience to other passengers on other boats?  What was it like when those other boats came by to drop off supplies and the people on the shit cruise saw the other passengers living it up on a boat with power?  I’d hate to have been on the good boat at that point, to have thousands of eyes staring you down because you are enjoying your vacation, as if you are the one that shit on their boat and left. 

            In closing, I also want to point out the fact that CBS missed a real opportunity for some reality TV gold here.  Seriously.  You drop Jeff Probst on the shit ship and it’s instantly a Survivor season that everyone will want to watch.  Maybe next time CBS, maybe next time.

Update 2.21:  Well that didn't take too long

Monday, February 18, 2013

si

It should be fairly apparent that Pablo has brain damage just at the idea that he joined Sluggy's 
knitting club in the first place.  

Friday, February 15, 2013

Prom 4

That would be so special, but I have a feeling that Make-a-Wish wouldn't really ask Sluggy to participate.  
Who knows though, maybe they're desperate. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Comic Review: The End Times of Bram and Ben #2


            I don’t think I ever realized this growing up, but the comics industry is a lot like the music industry.  Instead of looking for fresh ideas, they are looking for the next (fill in the blank) until a fresh idea punches them in the face.  They were looking for the next Nirvana in the ‘90’s which beget bands like Bush and Godsmack.  They were looking for the next Nickelback in the 2000’s which beget bands like Seether and Hinder.  The same thing happened in comics and I never really understood it until now.  In the early ‘90’s everyone drew like Rob Liefeld, then they started to draw like Joe Madureira.  As independent titles grew in popularity in the last decade, everyone is looking for the “next” Walking Dead, or Chew.  That’s the comparison we get a lot nowadays, Chew.  This is obviously due in large part to the continued quality that is a monthly Chew book, and is a testament to Layman and Guillory for their hard work. 

The problem is, any book that is a little off the wall, or has characters that are not drawn in a realistic sense is dubbed “The next Chew” regardless of the merits it has on its own.  I recently heard this about Todd The Ugliest Kid on Earth at a site that is not really renowned (in my humble opinion) for it’s reporting, or it’s spell check for that matter.  Todd, is a fun book, it gets a little flat in the second issue and it is not nearly as fun as issue one, but it is interesting if for no other reason than trying to figure out where it’s going in the next two issues.

            That being said, Todd is not Chew, and it will not be Chew, and trying to drum up sales by saying that is the “next” Chew is ridiculous.  The whole point of independent books is that they hopefully have their own identity.  If you want formulaic corporate crap go read stuff from the Big Two.  If a creative team sits down saying that they want to create the “next” Invincible, or Spawn or whatever, then they have already lost.  Let’s celebrate some original thoughts and ideas instead of trying to stick them into a category so it’s easier to stock them on the shelves of our brain.  Maybe if the comic news writers showed an iota of the creativity of some of these independent creators, they wouldn’t be writing about someone else’s comics for a living.

            Okay, end of rant.

            Now, if you want a fresh concept, look no further.  The end of the world is by no means a new plot device in comics or any other media, but the hallmark of creativity is taking something old and making it new again.  Let’s see how this apocalypse works out.


Cover:
            While I am not sure of the significance of the girl on the cover between Bram (with the devil tattoo) and Ben (the angel tattoo) this cover does show you that inside Ben makes a choice to oppose the forces of hell and Bram.  This is a very “artsy” cover with a great sense of design and JAW Cooper should be commended for making a quality illustration that doubles for good comic cover as well.  The only issues I have with it would be the fact that it is so very grey.  Not that the apocalypse should be brightly colored or anything, but if you’re trying to sell a book without first catching their eye with a bright illustration, or at least something to pull them away from the latest Bat book, then you may be setting yourself up to fail.  The other issue is the fact that the art styles are so different between cover and interior.  I don’t mind because as you’ll see in a bit, I like the interior art, plus my comic shop doesn’t pre bag it’s books so I can flip through to determine if I want to buy instead of taking a chance based solely on a cover illustration. 

7/10: Aside from the minor issues discussed above, the cover is solid as both a comic cover and an overall illustration.  Remove the words and blow it up and it would make a cool poster to hang on the wall.

Story:
            I have an affinity for end of the world tales.  I’m not sure why, but I feel like the apocalypse shows the extreme side of people (not Extreme, like no feet and shoulder pads, the other kind).  Seeing how someone reacts to something that is so over the top like zombies or nuclear winter or whatever a writer can dream up is more interesting to me than seeing something that I 100% know cannot happen (like superheroes for example).  Maybe this is why I like Think Tank so much, because the more real and plausible it is, the more interesting to me it becomes, hence my preference of nonfiction books. 
           
            Regardless, Bram and Ben takes something done to death like the apocalypse, and looks at it from more of a religious/spiritual side.  Sure, we have seen that before but mainly as the Angels vs. Demons super fight book type thing.  This book introduces more of a human element into all of that.  The premise of the story is simple, and is recapped nicely on the inside front cover.  Basically, it’s the end of the world, and people are taken to heaven in kind of a rapture-esque move.  Bram is taken with them, except his is done accidentally, a “clerical error”.  Instead of keeping him there, heaven sends Bram back to earth.  Bram now has this knowledge of what is going on, and apparently where he is going to end up one day (hint: it’s really really warm) and he promptly labels himself the antichrist.  Who doesn’t have a friend that would do that? 

            From reading the second issue, Bram’s roommate Ben doesn’t strike me as particularly religious, but he still doesn’t feel comfortable mixing it up with the whole devils and antichrist thing that Bram has got going on.  In this issue, Ben is visited by the angel of a work acquaintance that not only shows Ben what is in store in Bram takes everyone to hell with him, but also tries to kick the ass of an apparently minor demon that is fueling the Bram for antichrist campaign machine.

            This is a clever and interesting take on the end of days.  While most entertainment mediums pick up the story after the apocalypse has happened, Bram and Ben is apparently going to take us right up through it.  One thing that bothers me about the story though, from what I can gather, those that were going to escape hell, were already taken to heaven, meaning everyone else was doomed.  The angel tells Ben that this is the time for the Earth to choose whether it wants to be good or bad, to join everyone else in heaven or rot in hell.  However, you took the best of the bunch away, effectively killing all of those guaranteed admittance to heaven, then without telling anyone, you are judging the world’s reaction when they only have one side of the story (Bram’s).  Kind of a dick move, heaven.  Not only that, but by taking away the cream of the crop, you are effectively lowering the collective quality of the remaining crop, reducing the likelihood of them doing the right thing and paving their way to heaven.  And let’s not forget, in order to reach either heaven or hell, you’re dead, so the end game isn’t super either way.  It feels a little like writers James Asmus and Jim Festante either didn’t flesh that part out, or are purposefully withholding information from us.  Either way, I am mildly ok with it right now given that we are at issue two of four, but if that isn’t explained by the end of the miniseries it will be seen as a misstep in their writing. 

7/10 – A fresh twist on a worn concept could yield some great things if the writers pull it together over the final two issues.

Art:
            This is where I could see a comparison to Chew being formulated.  Unfortunately, like I was talking about earlier with bands, the copycats are not as good as the original (except in the case of Nickelback where the original is no good either).  It’s not that the art by Rem Broo is not good, because it is, I do like it.  There are certain parts in it where the art looks more like animation pencils that are full of extra, nonsensical lines that are usually taken care of during the inking process.  Here, many of those lines are left in as if they were part of the final illustration.  This is not hatching, cross-hatching or any other kind of technique I’m familiar with, and it can become distracting in places. 

            The storytelling is ok in the talking head parts, but when it gets to any action sequences it starts to get a little weird with a little too much camera-flipping.  The characters are relatively consistent, especially Bram and Ben, but the others stray a bit consistency-wise, not enough to make us think that it is someone else completely, but enough for me to notice.  There are a few pages where there is so much packed into them that it gets hard to differentiate one thing from another and between the sketchiness of the linework and the fact that the coloring is not helping to separate objects, it becomes a mess.

You can see all of the little "extra" lines here and there on the figures and backgrounds.

There are a couple good one-liners here, but this is probably the best joke.  During the angel vs. demon fight, the angel throws his halo at the demon, presumably to cut him.  This is what happens instead. 

5/10 – It’s ok, but it definitely has room to grow. 

Overall: 6/10 – A decent book with an interesting premise which can hopefully tie things together before the series conclusion.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Monster Cartoon Trifecta


            Over the last year there seemed to be a decent amount of movies made that had to deal with traditional “monsters” (and I’m not talking about sparkly Twilight vampires).  Three of the higher profile releases were part of our monster movie marathon at my house this weekend, as Goose had a great week at school and he is a sucker for all things monster-related.

Thursday:  Para-Norman

            The animation here was incredible.  The stop-motion/claymation-esque feel to it transported me back to my youth when that was more commonplace.  The character designs were just realistic enough to be recognizable as people but sufficiently over the top so that they were obviously cartoons.  The character designs for the zombies were some of the best I have seen, incorporating an uneasy humor with the ability to terrify at the same time.  The fully realized environment was a perfect setting for what went on, providing just enough support to the characters and the plot without being too intrusive. 

            My main gripe here is with the story.  I understood the story just fine, but it was very dull.  There were a couple funny moments, but most of those were what we were shown in the previews.  The majority of the movie does not even feature the zombies, and when it does it only has the seven that were of great importance to moving the plot along.  From watching the various TV spots, I was led to believe that this would be a little more of a monster movie and a little less of a tug at your heartstrings kind of thing. 

            The story itself is so very predictable as well.  Even something that you would expect to gloss over (the fact that the book that Norman has to read is just a bedtime story to put the witch back to sleep at night) is something that I picked up on right away.  I realize that this is a kid’s movie, but it was trying really hard to be more mature than kid-friendly or else it would have really played up the zombie slapstick elements.  It just felt like this movie tried a little too hard to be too many things, and while the visuals were superb, the story didn’t follow suit.

Friday:  Hotel Transylvania

            I went into this one expecting to be thoroughly entertained.  It contained all of the monsters, not just zombies, it had an “all star” voice cast (pretty much everyone you would normally find in an Adam Sandler movie) and the character designs were awesome.  This was a computer animated movie that basically did nothing really wrong but nothing really well.  The animation was pretty, maybe a little too pretty for the subject matter, and the whole thing had kind of a glossy sheen to it.  The character design for everything was very cartoony and exaggerated but incredibly fun at the same time.  It was almost like they were trying to catch a Monsters Inc. vibe with everything but doing it with traditional monsters. 

            This movie had more laugh out loud moments in it for sure, but it also had more cringe-inducing moments than any of the other movies we watched.  The script itself was incredibly formulaic and even more predictable than Para-Norman.  This was kitschy and definitely geared toward young children.  The best part about animation over the last ten to fifteen years is the fact that regardless of what the children’s story is, there are nuggets for the parents as well.  This not only creates more opportunities for parents to watch with their children, but also makes it so that the child will still be interested in the movie years down the road.  Hotel Transylvania lacks a lot of that.  If it wasn’t for the classic monster movie characters I would go out on a limb and say that there would be nothing there for adults. 

            And the music, oh the terrible, horrible musical numbers.  It’s like they were trying to be a traditional Disney cartoon complete with music (or the horrible later Shrek movies) but putting a horrible modern spin on it by having Adam Sandler rap.  It was neither fun nor entertaining and is the kind of thing that would make a parent not watch with their child.

Saturday:  Frankenweenie

            I fully expected to not enjoy this movie.  I’m not sure why but I didn’t anticipate really caring too much about a boy and his dog.  I was incredibly wrong.  This was by far the best movie of the three.

            The character designs were very Burton-esque as to be expected.  They were okay, nothing special in terms of the people.  The animals were wonderfully designed though and the fact that the story took a left turn and introduced more traditional movie monsters was a stroke of genius.  They also seamlessly worked this into the story to the point where kids watching it probably wouldn’t get it as much as the adults watching with them.  This was something I was waiting for all weekend long. 

            The story started out as predictable as I had expected and instead of following the natural conclusion in the science fair, it went off the rails (delightfully so) in the third act and became a monster movie.  This is what I was waiting for in Para-Norman but it never came.  Here the writers were able to meld the sentimentality from the previous two movies with a good deal of humor without really resorting to the traditional tropes of children’s movies.  It was almost as if Burton wanted this to be an adult’s movie that was marketed toward children on accident. 

            The animation itself is halfway between the rawness of The Nightmare Before Christmas and the polish of The Corpse Bride.  I really enjoyed the fact that it was shot all in black and white and it really helped with the overall mood.  The voice acting synched up with the animation perfectly and fit really well with each part cast.  The best part about the voice acting is that no where was there a Johnny Depp to be found; a downright revelation in a modern Tim Burton movie. 

            In short, buy Frankenweenie, rent Para-Norman and borrow Hotel Transylvania.    

Monday, February 11, 2013

Prom 2

Yup, I went for the easy joke there, and I'd do it again.  

Friday, February 8, 2013

Prom

Ok, here's the background for this storyline.  My younger brother was going to school on Long Island and he had a girlfriend in NJ (it didn't last long, which is good because he also met his wife at college and she's pretty awesome).  But I remember talking to him in that small window when he was actually dating this girl, and while this was not during the traditional "prom-time" I believe there was a mention of a dance of some sort.  I can't remember exact details of the conversation as it was so long ago, but I laughed a bit to myself and knew that I would have to find a way to work that in to a strip.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Comic Review – Transformers: More than meets the eye #13


            I know, you’ve been holding your breath for this review for a month now.  Well breathe easy because it is here and the comic itself was well worth the wait.  I have yet to pour through my stack of comics this week yet, but it was a banner week for IDW’s Transformers franchise as it saw three titles released along with the new issue of Think Tank and the Paul Jenkins/Humberto Ramos Kickstarter monster known as Fairy Quest (now picked up and released by Boom Studios).  I can’t speak to the quality of the other comics out this week, but I know that Transformers: MTMTE is top notch, let’s dive in shall we?


Cover:
            Cover A featured the Transformers found in the issue in their human guises (a solid hologram that can be used to seamlessly blend into a crowd of humans or other aliens.  Cover B, the one that I purchased, was the image above.  Both covers actually take place within the story so that is a bonus.  The cover that I picked up was well done even though it was slightly misleading.  I was under the assumption that Cyclonus, who I am just waiting for to betray the bunch, finally lost it and it was up to the other members of the Lost Light to subdue.  This is pretty far from the truth, but he does lose his cool in one part of the story (for a couple panels) so while it was sneaky by artist Nick Roche, it was not a blatant lie to get people to pick up the book.  The artwork itself is very well done (as we have grown to expect from Roche) and each character seems to be exuding a bit of his own personality with their respective body language and facial expression.  Roche has become a master of taking traditionally blocky figures and imbuing them with a level of fluid movement and emotion that is hard to believe is even possible.  He is definitely one of the best Transformers artists currently working and when paired with a good colorist, like he is with Josh Burcham here on the cover (who also colors the interiors) then his work is kicked up a whole other notch. 

8/10 – A solid illustration made even better by the coloring.

Story:
            Swerve tends to be writer James Roberts’ mouthpiece for many of the issues, and this one especially.  This is a good thing as he has taken Swerve from a supporting character and made him the focal point of the buddy-comedy that he has created with MTMTE.  Not only that, but each other character on the Lost Light (the spaceship they are all travelling on) has his own distinct personality as well as their own specific mission (some have yet to be revealed).  This particular story focuses on a “quiet” period, where the individual members of the lost light are let off the ship for a little R & R. 

            Crazy antics ensue (which always seems to happen to these guys) as well as some revelations about Swerve, Ultra Magnus and Tailgate.  Roberts balances humor, talking heads, and a good deal of emotion and still finds a way to move the story forward.  This is the kind of done-in-one story that we used to see all the time back in the eighties and early nineties and it is a revelation to be able to sit down and enjoy a comic that takes longer than eight minutes to read.
            The best part of the comic is the revelation about Swerve and his “friendship” with Blurr at the end.  This adds another dimension to the character and while it was unexpected, was a welcome addition. 

            Now it isn’t all roses as Roberts does tend to get a little wordy in some places, but he does manage to balance that out with some silent panels here and there, little beats where we can catch our breath and enjoy the artwork. 

            I can’t talk about the writing here without also mentioning the prose story in the back that takes an instance in the comic and expands upon it, while also filling in the gaps between issues nicely.  Other writers and other companies would have taken that four page story and made it into a six issues, but Roberts wedges it in quite nicely.  Is it necessary to read it in order to enjoy this issue?  Not at all, but it is nice to be able to have anything extra on hand from an individual like Roberts who obviously knows and loves the property. 

8/10 – While it is not a page-turner by any means, it is a solid character driven story that expands upon the individuals and fits in nicely in the series.  This is the calm before the storm as next issue will reveal a big villain for the crew if I remember correctly.

Art:
            Guido Guidi is the artist on this issue and his style seems to mesh well with the style that Roche has established for the series.  Guidi has a very open style that leaves a lot of room for the colorist (Burcham and Joana LaFuente) to add layers and mood.  It keeps an animated feel, which is nice considering the roots of the franchise, but does not make it feel like a children’s comic.  It is incredibly accessible to everyone as kids will be attracted to the characters and the color while the parents will enjoy the decent storytelling in the artwork as well as the story itself. 

            The artwork can seem to get a little overwhelmed by amount of detail that Guidi squeezes into each panel and each page, as he, and in some instances the colorists, don’t always do a great job of separating the fore/middle/backgrounds.  This leads to a bit of confusion every once in awhile and can lead to moments of sub-par storytelling, but it quickly rights itself and never gets stuck in a rut. 

7/10 – The artwork fits the story and Guidi does a great job as a fill-in for Roche in terms of keeping the styles fairly consistent as well as keeping the characters fluid and emotive throughout the story. 

Overall:  8/10 – This is still the gem of all of the current Transformers books, just as it has been from the beginning.  Robots in Disguise is quickly catching up, as that was more of a slow-burn in terms of getting where it wanted to be but I have a feeling that with next month’s issue, MTMTE will cement its position even further.  It’s nice to anticipate comic again like I did in my youth, and all of the IDW Transformers series do that for me.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

So I saw this today...


Stopped at a stop light, right in front of me.  Dude, you are driving a neon green Hyundai Accent through Syracuse, you "ain't no joke" and you also ain't no literate.

Jack LaLane, The Original Juicer


            What the hell happened to pro sports?  Seriously.  We used to be able to turn on a game, be it Football, Basketball or Baseball (the big three in America) and just be able to enjoy the game itself.  Now, the first thing we have to worry about is “who’s doping”?  That’s a tragedy.  Sure, back in the day your questions would center more on who was carrying a vial of crystal meth in their back pocket to snort between innings, but that didn’t really affect “fair play”.  Being drunk, high as a kite, or just wore out from a night of banging every able-bodied and willing female in the vicinity really didn’t provide a distinct advantage to those individuals partaking in the merriment.  Was there steroid or PED usage back then?  Probably a little but I’m sure it wasn’t nearly to the degree it is now. 

            Nowadays we get the Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens etc. cone of shame.  Now we get players in football (Ray Lewis, according to a recent report) using deer velvet extract to help them come back faster from an injury.  I am a little more accepting of the utility of the substance when that is the reasoning behind it than when it is used to gain a distinct advantage, but a banned substance is a banned substance.  The fact that these individuals find it necessary to use these substances, be it testosterone, HGH or rhino penis extract, whatever they decide, just means to me that their inability to grasp the passage of time, to live in the now, is a chronic problem. 

              Let’s examine why this problem exists.  The fact of the matter is that these individuals are treated like superheroes, like modern day gladiators.  Once they fall out of the public eye, regardless of their past accomplishments, they will be discarded.  This is not just a matter of a group of people growing up with different sports heroes to worship.  Unless you were the absolute best at your position, of all time I’m talking, then it is hard to stay in the public’s consciousness much past your shelf life.  Even then, you have to constantly market yourself in order to stay relevant. 

Ex.
Michael Jordan (the best basketball player ever) – Owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, loves Hanes T-Shirts

Dan Marino/Steve Young/Troy Aikman (three of the best quarterbacks of their generation, if not ever) – All popular and well respected analysts, on TV every Sunday at least. 

Pick an old baseball player that is still relevant.  Go ahead.  Is he a manager or a TV personality?  Probably one or the other. 

            The only other way to stay relevant is to be the best ever at something.  And by best ever, I mean top of the list.  This is where the Hank Aaron’s of the world come in.  Do you think anyone would know or care about Hank Aaron if he was #6 on the home run list?  Of course not.  He stayed relevant all these years because he was (and many say still is) the home run king.  Babe Ruth, while not #1 on that list was also an accomplished pitcher in his time and stories of his off-field antics will probably outlast stories of his on-field accomplishments.  Joe Montana won four Super bowls, which guarantees him a spot in the national consciousness.  The list goes on and on. 

            The thing is, there is only one Joe Montana, there is only one Hank Aaron, and there are only a few coach/manager/announcer gigs out there to be had.  If you want to make your mark as an athlete and be remembered, you need to do your best to get to the top of whatever list you are aiming for.  If you are not a freak athlete, or cannot sustain that freak athlete performance over an entire career, then you cheat. 

            Fame is intoxicating.  Let’s look at Alex Rodriguez for example, as he is the main reason this is being written right now.  He was a kid when he came to the major leagues, and yet he was instantly viewed as one of the best, if not the best, shortstops in the league (this was during the Jeter/ Ripken Jr. days though so I’d argue he was never the best shortstop).  The thing is A-Rod could hit.  Sure, Jeter can regularly hit for average, but A-Rod was hitting for power, and people like a power hitter; see Sosa, Sammy and pretty much anyone with giant heads from the 1990’s.  This culture of blowing these individuals and their accomplishments way out of proportion resulted in a god-like status for them.  Regardless of the fact that they were just playing a game, they became figureheads of the sport and reaped the rewards of that status.  This obviously meant more money, and who doesn’t want that?  Between the bigger paychecks, and the adulation of millions of fans, the heads of these individuals became more swollen than even the steroids could make them. 

            Back to A-Rod.  He is not the player he was with Seattle when he first came into the league, hell he’s not the player he was in Texas.  He had one good postseason and a couple decent years with the Yankees and that’s about it.  He’s been okay in the regular season but not spectacular (regardless of his MVP's) and I can almost guarantee that this eats away at him (the New York media doesn’t help I’m sure).  In order to recapture that former glory, A-Rod has decided to turn back the clock through artificial means.  Now many have tried, be it through experimental blood spinning techniques or actual drugs themselves, be they natural or otherwise.  The main problem here is that baseball has been severely burned by steroids in the past, so much so that they closed the doors to the Hall of Fame this year in terms of inductions.  The first year of eligibility for many of the “steroid era” players yielded no recipients of the sport’s highest honor, even for those not linked to steroids at all.  These god-like figures during their playing days will now fade away into obscurity, their names just hushed whispers on the lips of those that saw the McGwire-Sosa home run race, or Bonds slug his way past Aaron’s record. 

            Ok, so that’s the problem.  What can we do?  How about we stop treating people that play a game like they are that much more important than those that help us through our daily lives?  This goes for all entertainment, not just sports.  Why are people that are basically there for our entertainment multi-millionaires?  Because we create them, that’s why.  As a society, it’s time to start valuing those that work hard and not just those that are there for our viewing pleasure.  That will not only help to right our backwards culture, but also get these pro athletes to stop trying to hang on to the past through artificial means.
            

Monday, February 4, 2013

Tutor Time

This is where the bulk of the story starts.  Knitting club was just the initial storyline that got the ball rolling.  Once we get a little further along I will explain where and when the inspirations for this story struck, so you can look forward to getting a slightly scary glimpse inside my brain.

Friday, February 1, 2013

All Week Long

This is typically how I work.  Ending or big punchline first, then build situations or other little things around it to flesh it out for a few strips.  I call it a little more bang for your buck, but since it's free...well I guess you can still call it that.