Sunday, December 20, 2009

SOLO #12

SOLO #12, October 2006 by Brendan McCarthy, DC Comics

This comic is kinda old, but I thought it deserved a review anyway. It basically made its way into my possession with no effort whatsoever on my part; I didn't pick it out, had no previous familiarity with the series or the creator, and honestly I couldn't tell after reading it that it was even part of a series (the number is included in the fine print at the very end). But now I'm definitely interested to see what the others are like. The general stylistic vibe is a combination of show poster/flyer art, zine collage, and a comic book twacked on Adderall but still afflicted by a serious case of ADHD. It sorta cycles through these elements or mixes them together in varying degrees. It's very colorful, even psychedelic at times (in a not-cheezy way), and makes tasteful use of digitally modified drawings. An experimental and non-traditional approach was taken for pretty much every aspect of this book.

You won't find any serial-style storytelling here--just a bunch of strange little self-contained vignettes which don't seem to have any direct continuity from one to the next, though they do occasionally reference each other. It appears to be purposefully structured like a night's worth of dreams, and I think it achieves that sense of motion and content rather astutely. The length of each piece varies greatly, from one page to several, and the entire 48 page book is filled with almost 20 separate "episodes", if you please. It reminds me a lot of the mad scientist's frequent channel flipping in Robot Chicken, but is far more subtle about being humorous when it is, and a lurking esoteric vibe pervades throughout. The longer narratives that appear in here are uniquely contrived, including a cool religious-themed magical action sequence, and a strange tale about commissioning a Batman comic based on a dream. Some of the topics are so wacky that you're just like.. umm what?? How far must one penetrate to actually understand what this weirdness means? I'm still not sure about that, but it didn't keep me from enjoying everything; it still looks cool from an artistic perspective, even if what it's saying doesn't make sense to those who haven't yet lost their mind to some sort of schizophrenic paranoia. Its derangement is a major point of attraction for me, and there are lots of interesting concepts both visually and lingually, and well... conceptually. It's smart and actually quite thought-provoking.

It's also very meta--there are lots of references to comic books and related activities, such as buying, reading, and creating them. It's very aware of itself. But the way it incorporates things like that is almost as if someone with a long-term obsession for comics went insane, confused their real lives with comic book realities, and then lots of their random thoughts were turned into a comic book themselves. I'm not entirely sure if all the characters who appear in this are regulars in the series. At first I thought the comic was a one-off, and it could stand on its own like that. Each vignette introduces a setting, style, and characters which intrigue me as to whether or not there are more adventures waiting in their particular universe. Either way would be cool. According to the little bio at the end, the creator has apparently been involved in a lot of other interesting things throughout his career, and this comic definitely left me desiring to experience more of his work from the comic medium.

(Note: I just looked up the Solo series and each issue features one main creator, so Brendan McCarthy's work in it is limited to this issue)

Sunday, December 13, 2009


In last years big Grant Morison-driven DC Comics event, Final Crisis, the two star comics were Superman Beyond. Written by the mastermind of the DC event, this extremely complex pair of comics boiled down to being about one thing: narrative's essential and eternal role in the concept of reality itself. Morison, while hardly the first comic book writer to explore the idea of superheroes that become aware of themselves as comic book characters that "we" are reading, did an epic job of expanding this concept with his run on Animal Man. Superman Beyond is his swan song of the post-modern, self-aware super hero tale. With tear jerking monologues from Superman, comparing the sensation of being read to being cradled like a baby by a breath that comes from "direction with no name". This pair of comics serves as the capital city of the Final Crisis series, a series that celebrates the love of making comic books, stories, and myth.
This year's big DC event, Blackest Night, presents a yin to Superman Beyond's yang. Also written by the events mastermind (this time Geoff Johns), and involving postmodern blurring of the comic book world and the real world; this pair of comics serves as a mockery of comic book making rather than a celebration. But a yin/yang relationship involves similarity as well, so trust me when I say that both are brilliant. Slapstick comedy instead of poetic existentialism. Bitter cruelty towards the reader and critic in us all rather than overwhelming love for the writer and creator in each of us. Blunt, literal smashing of the 4th wall instead of graceful Lynchian melting of it. Again though, still so brilliant. The cliff hanger at the end of part one is just as frightening as Superman Beyonds cliffhanger. The ending opens up possibilities for the DC Universe that are exciting and drive the imagination countless places.
It is also quite and impressive feat that Superboy Prime's humanity and heroic potential is returned in these Adventure Comics. He had been buried in a pretty deep hole of nasty behavior over the past decade. An incredible fun hole to see dug, but definitely a deep one. Here Geoff Johns gets him out of it very quickly and believably. I hope they continue in this direction with the character in 2010.
So, don't expect monumental philosophical exposition out of these two comics, they are rooted in a 50's silly pulp concept of the comic book. But they are fantastic in their own way, that serves as a great foil to Morison's similar self-referential tales.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Look out, comic book world. It’s the amazing debut of the first new creation from comic book superstar Todd McFarlane since SPAWN.

SPAWN was Al Simmons, a super bad-ass, top-secret government killer who died, but came back to life as a supernatural hero with a Venom-like living costume (which McFarlane also helped create) and had to help protect his former wife, who in an ironic twist, was now married to his former best friend!

Well, forget everything you knew up to now! Here’s HAUNT. As David (I think it was David) Kilgore, he was a super bad-ass, top-secret government killer who died, but came back to life as a supernatural hero with a weird, gooey, Venom-like costume – and has to protect his former wife, who in an ironic twist, has some kind of history with his own brother! …who is the person Kilgore is possessing and turning into HAUNT!

Okay, maybe that sarcasm was a bit stronger than necessary. But really, McFarlane hasn’t been doing any actual comic creating in over a decade and this is the new idea he’s come up with in that time? Look, back in the days of Todd McFarlane drawing Spider-Man, I thought he was THE awesomest artist EVER. But even then, I could tell his writing was a little dodgy. I could even tell his art was a little dodgy, but it was always filled with ink-loads of “awesome” detail. So it seems like a winning idea to bring in a really good writer write his book for him and have a solid artist do the pencils (Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley respectively, both of the INVINCIBLE book I raved about in my last post) - and let other long-time Spawn artist Greg Capullo do the page layouts, and McFarlane adds his inks and the final result should have that McFarlane feel but with real quality underneath. But this has way too little Kirkman-Ottley and way, way too much McFarlane-Capullo – whose contributions seem completely phoned in. I mean, halfway through issue 2 it looks like they’re just using Ottley’s pencils, darkened by the colorist, without any inking at all! In case you doubted my assertion that McFarlane’s contribution here is half-assed.

A bit more on what’s in this comic. First of all, no characters display any depth or personality. Living Brother Kilgore is a priest who’s gone bad! He visits prostitutes and has stubble and smokes cigarettes! (sorry, those cannot be considered personality traits) Dead Brother Kilgore is a merciless killer, who’s maybe kinda good! At least, he kills a guy that he considers bad! (that also does not qualify as a personality) Have you noticed that other decent superhero origin stories usually involve some kind of emotional element? Batman’s parents are killed and he couldn’t do anything to save them, so he is filled with righteous vengeance. Spider-Man’s parent is killed and he could have done something to save him, so he is wracked with guilt. Haunt is killed over some vague secret document thing and now he kills bad guys because he feels like he probably ought to help his wife. Does he love her? No evidence to suggest that here.

So Dead Brother Kilgore possesses Living Brother Kilgore and makes him barf up some gooey ectoplasm-costume which covers everything but his chin. Even his upper teeth and lip are covered by the barf-costume, which means that when he talks it must sound like the mean sister with orthodontia from South Park. It looks really dumb. Then he slaughters a bunch of bad killer spies (different from our “hero” … how?) in the messiest manner he can – even though he could have just strangled them - AND in issue 2 he has to call in a guy to clean up the mess. (compare this ho-hum scene to the downright gripping use of gory violence in INVINCIBLE)

I still sort of hope that this book could turn out okay, but I really just wish Kirkman and Ottley had made up their own new thing and not bothered to collaborate with McFarlane here. I mean, look at the 2 covers above. The first is the cover to issue 1, drawn by McFarlane. The second is Ottley’s alternate cover. Which would you send to press? At least in Ottley’s cover you can see that Haunt has a symbol on his outfit, not just a mess of McFarlane-squiggles, and you can sort of figure out what’s going on with his silly barf-mask, and his living goo-power looks like it at least has some form to it, and not like he’s just jumping through a big splash of milk like he’s Dark Count Chocula in an X-treme cereal commercial. (I will leave it to others to speculate on what else that substance might be)

I can’t recommend this, but I guess I’m sticking around for another issue or 2. If it improves, I’ll let you know.

UPDATE: It just occurred to me that since this blog is run by noisy music people, I should put a music analogy into my reviews. This comic book is like if you heard that Eye from the Boredoms was forming a new band with both Brians from Lightning Bolt, then you listened to their album and it sounded like "Chinese Democracy."

Monday, November 2, 2009


This comic made me sick. No, seriously. I had to lay down after reading this. I’ve had movies make me feel that way. Usually it’s sustained, realistic, and brutal violence that gets to me. But this is the first time I’ve felt that way reading a comic book, which I didn’t really think was possible (the realism, y’know). This is also probably the best issue of any comic book that I’ve ever read. For what I think is the first time with a comic book, I actually forgot that I was reading something and felt like I was just seeing it happen.

The credit doesn’t all go to this single issue, but really to the work of writer and creator Robert Kirkman, and artist Ryan Ottley, over the course of the INVINCIBLE series. This is a superhero comic, which fully embraces all the craziness that comes with that: bright costumes, aliens, time travelers, giant monsters, etc. But Kirkman knows that you’ll care about what happens in the story if the characters feel real and if you start to think of them as real humans. (Even when they’re invincible aliens.) The premise goes like this: Mark Grayson/Invincible is the son of Omni-Man, who is basically Superman (with a mustache) except that it’s revealed (in issue 12 or so?) that he isn’t here on Earth to protect us, but to prepare us for his planet’s conquest and enslavement of humanity. Upon discovering this, Invincible turns against his father and is beaten nearly to death by him, until Omni-Man suddenly decides not to kill his son and leaves the planet.

So INVINCIBLE is fantastical and fun, but sometimes it gets really, really real. And that’s what happens in the 3-issue battle that climaxes in this issue, 64. You remember that Superman vs. Doomsday fight? The one that led to the “Death of Superman”? Try to imagine what such a fight would really look like. You have 2 people who are so indestructible that the only object which can harm each one is the other’s body. One of them is completely intent on killing every person he can, and the other one is the only thing that can stop him. It would not look like a pro-wrestling match. It would not end like the Superman story, where both characters fall over with a few rips in their clothes and slight nosebleeds. It would get very bad and very ugly.

Conquest, one of Omni-Man’s race (the Viltrumites) shows up to eliminate Invincible and kill as many people as necessary to conquer the planet. Their fight stretches over 3 issues, but like any good story, it's not just an extended action sequence. In the first part it's established that Invincible looks to be far outclassed by his opponent's strength, and also that Conquest has no intention of letting up, but intends to kill Invincible and then as many others as he can, mainly because it's what he enjoys doing.

And then I missed an issue! I picked this one up and immediately saw that things had started to get really bad. Right on page 1, Invincible looks severely beaten, one eye swollen shut and with a bone sticking out of one leg. His girlfriend and fellow superhero, Atom Eve, a character who has also been developed since issue 1, lies at his feet with what looks like the entire lower half of her face pulverized. That's exactly what Conquest did to her in part 2 when she showed up to help, then put a hand clean through her body. Yikes! I was surprised by how upsetting this was, but then, Atom Eve had really become a fleshed-out character, and you could really feel for Mark/Invinvible, because he reacts like a real human would: with shock, horror, grief, and rage.

This issue really puts Invincible to the test, and shows us why he's being called a "superhero." Having "powers" is cool, sure, but the heroes who are really compelling are the ones who can accomplish what seems genuinely superhuman. When superhero stories are well-written, they are about the hero overcoming obstacles that are not just tests of physical strength, but mental and emotional strength. It's about events that challenge and change them. Invincible's defeat of Conquest feels like a really superhuman acccomplishment, and goes way beyond what I think most people would be capable of. When the bones break and pop out of one arm, he hits Conquest with the other one. When grabbed in a bear hug, he takes a gruesome bite out of Conquest's shoulder. When his other hand is crushed, he begins headbutting Conquest in the face, again and again and again...

Some of the shock of these events comes from Ryan Ottley's art. Like the stories it's depicting, his work usually looks bright, clean, and slightly cartoonish. It's easy to overlook the level of detail and realism he puts in - until something like this is happening. At the end of this fight we're left with a close-up of Conquest's smashed face that would be suitable for a grindcore album cover. And though I don't want to give away all the surprises, if you pick up new issues you'll find that Atom Eve survived and yes, it does make sense and is based on previously established facts about her abilities. I closed the book and immediately started feeling ill. Afterwards I asked myself if the creators needed to take things that far, but I decided that the answer was "yes." If you accept the fantastic premise, this would be the all-too-realistic outcome. Kirkman wanted to have us feel what Invincible would be going through. That final image of Conquest's smashed face would surely be burned into his mind, which is why we got a big, gory close-up of it.

INVINCIBLE is my favorite superhero book right now and I give it my highest possible recommendation. Even if you're not a fan of gore (and really, I'm not either). Honestly, it only happen rarely in this book, which is smart because then it has the intended emotional impact. It's probably also a good time to start reading, as the story builds from here to the inevitable(?) war with the Viltrumites.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Although I am fairly vocal about my disinterest in most Marvel comics, I hate the idea that a bias would prevent me from enjoying the rare, awesome Marvel title. So I've been keeping my eye out for something on Marvel getting good reviews. I am happy to say that I add this review to a growing pile of glowing words surrounding Doctor Voodoo #1. Hopefully the quality will keep up with it and I'll have a Marvel publication to keep up with.
The weakness with so many Marvel comics comes from relying on cool characters that just fight and fight and fight and then one wins for some random, meaningless reason. Case in point, I picked up the Dark Avengers teaser Marvel published for Free Comic Book day this past May. A long winded story relying on the idea that it is "crazy" for the Avengers to have evil twins. The Avengers team up with their evil twins to fight a giant monster, but it goes nowhere and nothing is resolved, just a God In The Machine ending where someone remembers, "Oh yeah, I have a weapon that automatically kills this monster." Boring. My fights need some meaning and the resolution of the fights needs to extend from that meaning.
That said, Doctor Voodoo doesn't rely on this meaning-centered narrative and is still great. In fact, it sort of does just present a world of cool stuff and not too much more. What really makes it shine though is how masterfully the narrative plows through tons of playful ideas while keeping a smooth and easily read pace. Even for me, with almost no background in the Marvel Universe, let alone its mystical characters, this first issue creates a very rich and unified world that exists in a limbo between compassion and dark magic, both embodied by Doctor Voodoo. The dense background of the character is also addressed eloquently and in natural flow with the story. As Doctor Voodoo is tossed through dimensions where his sense of time is stretched from minutes to years and back again, and into realms built upon a void that is so difficult for his senses to comprehend that his mind nearly shatters, the concept of this character is made vivid remarkably quick through an eloquent series of simple statements and frames. Not dissimilar to a good Grant Morrison comic. While being much more a roller coaster than a beautiful and sweeping epic in the making, it is a ride crafted so well that I can't help but be excited to experience again. If someone is going to tell a story that just relies on cool shit, it is going to require a perfection of delivery. Even the DC comics I love often lack in the delivery department but are still great because of how insightful they are. Doctor Voodoo could go there. Maybe even has to for me to read this for very long? But for the moment, the first issue has the delivery it takes to make me happy.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Jim Starlin has kept me anxious for each new issue in this 8 part series. After reading #7, I was so sad to think that the next issue would be the last of the run. I didn't even mind that the ongoing tease that Bizarro would party with Adam Strange and co. still hadn't happened 7/8th of the way in. That said, issue 8 had a lot riding on it for me and needed to be insanely good. I honestly could not image what could happen in issue 8 that could pay off. So, did it pay off? Well, in one important sense, yes. But in a very backhanded way and in the company of a lot disappointment.
This series was so great because it is, simply, pulp. While someone like Geoff Johns masterfully navigates both the worlds of complex psychological comics circa now and the world of golden age moral comics, this series is almost just plain golden age. Enough story and character though to keep it interesting and ultimately very fun. It would be hard for me to recommend this series to a non-comic book fan. But if you love comics, this series is a must even with what I have to say about it's conclusion.
Some stories rely on a big shocking ending. Stange Adventures is hardly a shocking tale though. So why its climax center's around Eye committing suicide/ultimate self-sacrifice I can only chock up to desperation. Of course, as the name of this blog suggests, death in comics is hardly eternal anyway, so it makes this move even more of a yawn to me. Issue 7's climax, centered around some incredible writing where a ton of completely disparate characters are made to agree with each other in a cosmic argument was far more amazing. Which I know sounds horribly dull, but the whole point of this blog is that story comes first in good comics. So argue away heros! Save the fighting for someone more boring!
Anyway, one of the big payoffs I was hoping for was what goes down between Bizarro and the other characters when they finally meet. A really enticing move is that Bizarro is given intelligence at the beginning of issue 8. Similar tactics have proven really compelling with Solomon Grundy, so I was hoping for a lot. But ultimately, there was almost no interaction still. Bizarro was left intelligent though, so hopefully future appearances in other comics will be amazing?
The one thing that I am stoked about is that this story actually has no resolve. It is essentially a big "to be continued" and since most of these characters now move on to being in the R.E.B.E.L.S. series (which I know little about), my wish for this story not to end has been granted. There is also a direct reference to what is going on in the Blackest Night story line. A sort of awkward reference, but one that puts dreams of these very sunshine sci-fi heroes entering a very modern horror story into my head. I like those dreams.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


The sensationalism of this, at least for a certain audience that I'm included in, is to the max. An official Simpsons comicbook, endorsed by Matt Groening himself, with stories and art by folks from Paper Rad, C.F. aka noise artist Kites, and old-school mindbending indie comic artist Tim Hensley? It didn't even matter if the content was quality. This is historical. Monumental for all us punk-nerds. So the question is then, is it more than an artifact?
Tim Hensley opens this collection with a post-modern (in the very literal, self-reflective sense of the term) take on the ever-repeating open title sequence of the Simpsons cartoons. It is great to feel Hensley's classic 50's-tarded humor applied to the Simpsons, but it is hard to not wish for more. Somehow it feel more like an homage or even critique of the Simpsons than fully committed to being an official Simpsons story. Then again, that the insane and impossible line being walked here. Some complete fucked artists/writers have been commissioned. We want to see them break the mold right? But somehow I also want these to be more proper than a fan-fic. It is unfair to imply that Hensley is just taking the opportunity to smash the mold and laugh at the pieces. Far from it. But with only 1 page to work with, he isn't quite able to reinvent the Simpsons entirely. Again, take a huge grain of salt with what I am saying, because this is MY fantasy, not some M.O. printed in the beginning of the comic.
Subsequent stories, of greater length, have varying success as far as satisfying this desire of mine. The two that make me the most happy are "The Call of Vegulu" which feels just like a Simpsons story, but presents all the characters in an alternate/bizarro world sort of way. What alternate world? The alternate world of bike-punks, vegans, and DIY culture. But my favorite is "Boo-tleg" by Ben Jones of Paper Rad fame. It, of course, looks just like Paper Rad art, with the whole MS Paint style done masterfully. The story is more edgy than your usual Simpsons story. Sometimes this edginess resonates in just a more Family-guy crass sort of way, but at its best, it touches on issues of racism and capitalism in very contemporary ways that are far too forward thinking for television. All the while, with the characters being very, um, in character. Bootleg-Krusty saying "Excuse me, the factory didn't make my soul right," shivers me at the core. Amazing.
The issue is closed with C.F. then actualy smashing the mold. Shitting on the remains, and putting a bloody middle finger in the air. Definitly a memorable and appropriate way to end this insane comic and pop-culture event, although it does make me sad that such a good-bye seems to admit that this probably will never happen again. Oh well, fight the power.