You guys excited for Ready Player One? Because I am sure as shit not. I can’t remember the last time I finished a book so angry (Atlas Shrugged doesn’t count because I never finished it). This wasn’t a book, it was a Frankenstein’s monster of cobbled-together nerd references begging to be loved based off of shared nostalgia. There wasn’t a plot, there was the writer shouting “HEY DO YOU GUYS REMEMBER ZORK? IT WAS JUST LIKE THAT.” There wasn’t a shred of character development beyond “DO YOU REMEMBER A COMMON FIRST CRUSH FOR OUR DEMOGRAPHIC? SHE LOOKED LIKE THAT ALSO.” The whole book was an exercise in lazy groupthink, a nerdsploitation I Love the ’80s. I can’t wait for his next book, It’s Like The Last Starfighter, But Just Different Enough To Not Get Sued. It’s really scary that Wreck-Gar may have accurately predicted the future.
If you enjoyed this week’s tirade, be sure to come back next week when I go all nerd Andy Rooney about Whole Foods charging full price for flatbread pizza that doesn’t fit the golden ratio. This week in comics, we start with GODDAMMIT an adaptation. But at least this one is pretty damn good.
Rick & Morty #1 (Oni Press)
When I spoke with Zac Gorman, the writer of the Rick and Morty comic, I hadn’t yet had a chance to read the book. I saw the previews, and I was cautiously optimistic, but I was still a tiny bit wary. With a show like this, the voices of the characters and the tone of the show are so defined, but so specific that translating that over to a different medium involves a little bit of needle threading. And as a HUGE fan of the show – prep for the interview involved my wife and I rewatching season 1 like, 4 times – I really wanted this to be good.
I’m so glad that it is. The first issue absolutely nailed everything that I like about the show, right down to Rick’s burps and tics and alcoholism. Gorman said one of his challenges was making the comic as dense as the show, but to his and CJ Cannon (the artist on the book)’s credit, there is as much going on around the story here as there is in any episode. It moves a tiny bit slower because of the format change, but otherwise it was a pitch-perfect transition from TV to comics. And there’s a Meseeks in the background! If they don’t find a way to work the most insane, nihilistic, hilarious character from the show in more, this whole series will be a letdown.
You can pick up Rick and Morty and Hopefully More Meseeks (Look at Me!) #1 at your friendly local comic shop.
The Michael Moorcock Library volume 1: Elric of Melnibone (Titan Comics)
Moorcock is another blind spot for me – not a nerd heresy, because I don’t disagree with the prevailing opinion, but something I haven’t had a chance to get to in my reading yet. I…think I’m going to rectify that now, because holy shit would you look at these pages?
I know they’re just reprints, but I’m really excited to go through this for the first time, both because of how often Elric gets referenced by people I regularly read and because of how utterly gorgeous the artwork is. Gilbert and Russell’s artwork is epic and incredibly detailed. I couldn’t care less about how good the story is after seeing the preview pages, but I’m fairly sure that Roy Thomas gave us at least an acceptable, solid bit of writing to go with the spectacular art.
And with that, I have successfully completed a preview of this book without making a single juvenile, obvious joke about any permutation of his name. HOORAY, JIM! I guess this means I’m an adult now. To celebrate, I’m going to get my cholesterol checked and tut tut kids for texting too much.
Last Man: The Stranger (First Second)
First Second inked a deal with the creators of this French fight comic last year to import their book to America, and it’s been generating some decent buzz ahead of its release. It’s definitely earned it, because I really liked it.
Bastien Viv?s, Micka?l Sanlaville and Balak are early in their planned 12-volume story, which has a mysterious stranger showing up in a medievalish fantasy town for their annual fighting tournament, where he teams up with a kid with an attractive mom living in vaguely alluded-to poverty.
There was an article floating around a couple of weeks back (or maybe a video, I can’t really remember) that talked about the differences between Hong Kong action movies and American ones; how the impact, figuratively and literally, is sapped from American fight scenes by constantly cutting away from the hit to show the aftermath. In comics, nailing that impact and maintaining the sense of motion, the fluidity in fight sequences, is even more difficult. In Last Man, it’s done incredibly well. It’s stylish and gorgeous, shifting from almost photoreal to impressionistic blurs sometimes on the same page. But it never loses its flow or energy. It was frustrating that it ended, but I’m glad there’s a lot more to come, and I’m looking forward to the next volume.
You can pick up Last Man: The Stranger at your friendly local comic shop.
Avengers: Rage of Ultron (Marvel Comics)
For the past couple of years, Marvel’s been releasing in-continuity original graphic novels not essential to the ongoing shared universe story of the characters, but steeped in the current world of the comics. Starting with Avengers: Endless Wartime, through Mike (ilu X-Men: Legacy in all your forms) Carey and Salvador Larrocca’s X-Men: No More Humans, and then through pretty much everything Starlin’s been doing at Marvel, they’ve been putting out standalone stories that let their talent run wild, but that (if I had to guess) they can plausibly disown if the continuity repercussions are too much. And to be honest, they’ve mostly been pretty good.
Rage of Ultron is the latest, reuniting the Uncanny X-Force creative team of Rick Remender and Jerome Ope?a. That was all I needed to make sure that I grabbed this one. I’m going to risk repeating myself, but as a whole, UXF is one of the five best X-Men stories of all time, and Remender’s partnership with Ope?a gave us the best issues of the run. And that’s ignoring completely their work together on Fear Agent, which you shouldn’t – it was a grizzly, fun spiritual precursor to Black Science. So yeah, I’m all in on this. The story is about Ultron’s return after he got comic-book time travel wiped from reality, and how Hank Pym reacts to it. Knowing Pym, my guess is it involves making another, deadlier AI to destroy him, because that always goes great.
No Mercy #1 (Image Comics)
No Mercy, from Alex De Campi, Carla Speed McNeil and Jenn Manley Lee, takes a group of late high school, early college kids and sends them to Central America where they promptly live out ever American traveler’s worst nightmare:
having to poop in a hole in the ground getting stranded away from civilization in an area where no one speaks your language, and having to poop in a hole in the ground.
This is a solid first issue that briskly sets up the story and introduces the characters with broad strokes, and adds enough little details to the kids, through their dialogue and body language, to make them interesting. The front half of the book is light, entertaining and surprisingly funny. De Campi writes good dialogue, peppering it with fake tweets and emoji and a Bangbus joke. It’s very nice to see a comic about teenagers that’s not afraid to wallow in its own juvenile filth every once in a while. McNeil handles the transition from bright vacation to dark thriller very well. I really enjoyed how the title page was set up like a Facebook post for the kids on the trip, and that there were condolence messages posted underneath – it was just enough foreshadowing to get me concerned, but not so much as to feel heavy-handed. And I’m crazy jealous of fictional Jenn Manley Lee’s Twitter picture on the title page, and only slightly less jealous of her IRL Twitter picture. I want a Muppet version of me.
Convergence #0 (DC Comics)
I’m kinda meh on this one. April Fools – I’m inappropriately, unjustifiably excited for this. After a couple of months of hype, I’m really psyched to finally get into the continuity sausage factories the big two are giving us this year.
Is there reason to be concerned? Sure. Jeff King, the writer, is making his comic writing debut on the main book. That doesn’t mean he’s going to screw it up, but I’d love to have had a body of comics work to gauge before diving into a weekly. He’s got a solid enough record on TV, though, that I’m not too worried. I don’t think there’s any way that Convergence, a linewide, everything’s-cancelled crossover, wouldn’t have had a heavy editorial hand, but I suspect his lack of experience meant a lot of guidance was offered. That said, who cares. Even if the main mini sucks, the gems from these crossovers are almost always the side books – the Axis: Hobgoblins or the Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worldsseses. And based on what I’ve seen of the tie in titles for Convergence, there’s no way we don’t get at least six good ones out of this. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go squeal about the Shazam mini for a couple of minutes.
ONE THAT GOT AWAY
Ok, back. Every week there are way too many comics for me to read and keep track of. So in every column, I’m going to take a look at a book that came out in the last few weeks, but that I only just had a chance to read.
This week, it’s The Private Eye #10 by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin, the conclusion to their different (though I’m hesitant to call it anything more significant than that, as some folks did) experiment in comics distribution. It’s digitally distributed through Panel Syndicate as a pay-what-you-want purchase, and apparently it’s been wildly successful for the creative team. That’s a fantastic thing – anything that puts more money in creators’ pockets is a plus, even if it does get that goddamn Hall & Oates song stuck in your head (clap).
As far as the story, with Vaughan and Martin on it, you’d think this would be great, right? I mean, it is. It’s outstanding work – a razor sharp satire that’s simultaneously funny and terrifying, and an excellent use of sci-fi as a mirror on current society that never takes itself too seriously or gets too preachy. And Martin’s art is up to his typical, mind-blowingly amazing standard. But there was one tiny, nagging problem through the whole reading experience that I could never get out of my head. We’re going to get pretty spoilery from here on out, so jump to the comments if you don’t want it spoiled.
Alex Wilder, Agent 355 and D. Oswald Heist are three major black characters (or at least significant, in the case of Heist) who are used by Vaughan as cannon fodder, fridged (if you will) to further the plot or add drama to the story. It’s not something overbearing about his work, but it’s certainly noticeable enough that a friend of mine won’t read any of his books because of it, and when I started reading The Private Eye and noticed that P. I. was black, I was immediately wary. And guess what? Vaughan didn’t disappoint. In that he totally did.
Part of me held out hope that P. I. being in a sci-fi comic AND a Vaughan book would be like, some kind of racism double negative and make it out alive. There’s certainly enough vagueness where he could be comic-booked back to life for a sequel series. But that would feel almost as cheap as fridging him in the first place. Vaughan’s work is too good to stop reading, but I feel like I just saw the orange/blue thing on movie posters for the first time: now that I know it’s there, I’m going to be constantly watching for it (clap clap).
You can pick up The Private Eye #10 on Panel Syndicate.
That’s what I’m reading this week. What are you picking up?