Normally I’d use the “One That Got Away” space at the end of the column to look back at a comic I missed, but I spent half of my day banging my head to a bloody pulp against my desk, trying to cram all my trepidation about the Archie Kickstarter into 300 words, and I couldn’t do it. So let’s jump right into the books this week, or you can skip to the end for more grumpy Luddite Jim railing against the evolution of technocapitalism.
This week in comics, I’m a lot less surly about the books I that actually came out. First: a bear hunt!
Wuvable Oaf (Fantagraphics)
I probably never would have noticed Wuvable Oaf if a friend of mine and Oaf’s canonical “biggest fan” hadn’t been constantly plugging it, but I’m really glad he did, because this comic is hilarious. It’s a romantic comedy about Oaf, a giant, hairy ex-pro-wrestler, and his pursuit of Eiffel, the lead singer of a black metal band called Ejaculoid. It’s absolutely jammed with pop culture references, and Ed Luce, Oaf’s creator, has pretty much the exact same sense of humor that I do. I knew the second I cracked the hardcover that I was going to like it, when I saw that the endpaper was drawn to look like body hair, and the title of the book was shaved into it.
It’s a great comic. It’s well drawn, and the dialogue and story are grounded, believable and really damn funny – from body fluid jokes (the cover of Ejaculoid’s record is everyone in the band in black suits splashed with white paint) to puns (Oaf makes small dolls for cats that he stuffs with his body hair, and he sells them at a store called “Debbie Does Dollies”). What it most reminds me of, in a skewed kind of way, is Parks and Recreation. That show was, at its heart, about nice people being nice to each other, and there’s that same kind of hopeful sweetness here. Oaf’s just a really nice, big-hearted guy, and the comedy never comes at his expense, but from his kindness and from the absurdity of the world he lives in. And speaking as someone whose chest hair bears a passing resemblance to Batman’s shield, this comic is definitely for me.
The Heroic Legend of Arslan volume 3 (Kodansha Comics)
The first couple of volumes of The Heroic Legend of Arslan were probably the first books I picked up in my manga bender, and I’m excited to see the third volume coming this week.
It’s actually an old story – the first volume of the novels came out in 1986. This series is a manga adaptation by Hiromu Arakawa, the creator of one of my favorite anime series ever, Fullmetal Alchemist. The art style is so similar that when I showed the cover of volume 1 to my brother, his reaction was “Oh shit, Edward,” right before he tore through the first two volumes. The story isn’t really anything original, either, in that it’s a standard “kind hearted prince learning to rule with empathy” tale, but it’s executed really well. Arslan is a relatable, believably nice kid, and the world he inhabits is a politically interesting fantasy kingdom. Arakawa’s art is vibrant and exciting and occasionally graphic, which when done poorly is just an excuse to add adult gore to a story without any stakes, but here serves as a way to enhance the danger the prince faces in trying to retake his kingdom and to balance some of the jokey fanservice that keeps the story light. Arslan is good stuff.
Uncle Scrooge #2 (IDW Publishing)
It’s been so long since I looked at a Disney comic that I spent a good portion of my time reading this admiring just how clean the house style is. There’s no wasted space on any panel and no scratchy crosshatching on the art, just beautiful, sharp storytelling. I have to say, if you’re going to model your art after someone, Carl Barks and Don Rosa are not bad choices.
The stories in the book are typical, all-ages Uncle Scrooge fare – ghost pirates, treasure, the economics of franchising a seafood restaurant, etc. The script aims a little bit high, with some words that you may have to explain if you’re including younger kids in your reading, but that’s a good thing. It’s always a plus to assume intelligence in your readers and let them come to the work, rather than dopily spelling everything out and talking down to kids. They’re old enough to know about the sensual implications of a treasure bath. SENSORY. Sensory implications of a treasure bath. Sorry.
Ms. Marvel #15 (Marvel Comics)
This is another comic that I can’t believe I haven’t talked about already. It’s SO GOOD. I might be the last person to publicly jump on this bandwagon, but Kamala is one of the most wonderful characters to be created in any comic company in years. Wilson’s writing is realistic without being grating or forced, and she effortlessly weaves the larger Marvel Universe in and out of the book while still telling the story she wants to tell.
Even on the issues where Adrian Alphona isn’t on art, the fill ins have been fantastic. Takeshi Miyazawa has handled penciling the last few issues, and his art is every bit as dynamic and expressive as Alphona or Jacob Wyatt. This whole series has been pure fun, and Kamala is the best. If for some reason you’re one of the three people not reading this comic, you absolutely should be. Any comic that prominently features Lockjaw, the CUTEST WIDDLE PUPPY IN THE WHOLE MARVEL MULTIVERSE YES YOU ARE, is automatically great, but the excellence of the creative team pushed this book into all-time classic territory.
Injection #1 (Image Comics)
Early in my read through, I was worried about Injection. Moon Knight, from the same creative team, was everything you’ve probably heard about it (just damn awesome), but something about the art wasn’t really clicking. It was almost like Jordie Bellaire’s coloring was off, the colors a little too bright and bleeding over the linework a little bit. It wasn’t until a touch past the midpoint of the issue, when I caught what I thought was a typo in the lettering, that the whole issue clicked for me. It wasn’t a typo at all, and it reminded me that Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Bellaire are professionals who don’t make mistakes. Everything is intentional. And when I went back and reread the scene that worried me, I realized that it was probably purposely colored that way, to keep the reader feeling as disoriented as Maria, the main character.
Injection‘s first issue is vague, very first-issue-ey. It sets up a group of British paranormal/futurist investigators, all of whom are pretty broken from some case in the past that they worked on together. If you’re a fan of Ellis doing sci-fi mystery stuff, and if you’ve read Planetary I don’t know how you couldn’t be, then you’re going to like this. Even if they spend an inordinate amount of time dissecting British Isles accents that you can’t hear because it’s writing. Sometimes I miss Claremont’s phonetic dialogue.
Injustice: Gods Among Us Year Four #1 (DC Comics)
Unwieldy title aside, Injustice has been a surprisingly strong comic, especially for a book based on a (mostly kidding) grimdark fighting game. Tom Taylor took the premise of the game – Superman goes crazy when the Joker kills a pregnant Lois Lane: totalitarianism ensues – and ran with it, filling in the backstory to the ridiculous game with a surprising amount of heart and an unsurprising amount of awesome. Year Four starts with Brian Buccellato taking over writing duties, and that’s a great choice. Booch writes good superhero stuff – as Francis Manapul’s cowriter on Flash and Detective Comics, he’s been part of the team responsible for some of the best superhero comics of the entire New 52, and there’s no reason to expect any less here.
The premise of Year Four is that Superman has to go to Olympus to kill all Wonder Woman’s potentially meddlesome pantheon of gods. I have to assume that he succeeds in his murderquest, since it is a prequel comic and all. Hopefully it ends with him standing on top of Mount Olympus, blasting out a sick guitar solo on his SUPERAXE, warning all of the other pantheons to leave Earth alone. That’s the only fitting way to close the single most metal superhero setup of all time. m/
Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad #1 (Oni Press)
This new, six-part weekly digital book from Oni reads like somebody plopped an ’80s sci-fi comedy like Short Circuit or Real Genius into a comic book. It’s the story of Liz and the rest of the titular punk band, who lead standard lives fighting to not be regular people in Plano, Texas. Until one day….a talking chimp doctor shows up at their rehearsal. See?
It’s really well paced. Dr. Zakowski’s reveal is almost exactly halfway through, but the first half of the issue doesn’t feel padded or manufactured at all. Jeffrey Burandt, the writer, does a good job of setting the stage while drawing from all of these different touchstones without getting hacky or trying too hard. Dennis Culver’s art is classic, clean, and easy to follow. I have to ask, though: what the hell is wrong with Odd Schnozz’s nose? It’s a remarkably normal looking beak for someone to complain about. It’s not like she’s Owen Wilson or anything.
You can pick up Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad #1 online via Comixology, and you can check out the soundtrack to the comic, written and performed by Burandt’s band, Americans UK, at www.oddschnozz.com.
ONE THAT [won’t] G[e]T AWAY
So Archie’s doing a Kickstarter. They announced a $350,000 campaign on Monday and, well, I’m conflicted. On the one hand, Archie has been one of the ballsiest publishers in this decade. Afterlife With Archie is nuts, a gimmick that wasn’t a gimmick that ended up being amazing. The Dark Circle stuff has been across the board great. Both are huge departures from what we’d come to expect from the publisher known for Sonic the Hedgehog and light teen soap opera, and I’m glad they seem to be reaping critical and financial rewards from the chances they took. The books they’re proposing through this campaign look amazing, too. Jughead from Zdarsky and Betty and Veronica from Adam Hughes (!!!!), there’s no way those don’t turn out wonderful.
On the other hand, ugh, everything else about it. I understand that they don’t have access to the giant empty lake that Marvel stores their movie money in, but at the same time, Archie Comics isn’t some dude trying to fund print copies of his webcomic. They’re a company with one of the most recognizable stables of characters in the world. People who were kidnapped by a cult 50 years ago, forced to live in a compound with no TV or defined sexual partners STILL have 25 years of Archie stories locked away in their pop culture subconscious. So why does a company with such prominent stature in the industry need to go begging for an advance from its readers?
The rewards are garbage – $10, or twice the price of last week’s fortysomething page Secret Wars #1, gets you a digital copy of one book. You have to pledge $20 before you can get a single print copy of any of them, or at that price you can get digital copies of all four first issues. The best value here pegs these new #1 issues as worth the same in unit price as the 48 page Multiversity #2. All that does is further unmoor the value of a product from it’s price. It’s like inverse speculation – instead of collectors buying up copies of books in the hopes that they become valuable down the road, now you’ve got a company hoping copies of the books are valuable now, so they start auctioning them off in advance to see how much they can pull together to get the book printed.
How is this sustainable? In one of their flurry of updates on the KS (that, by the way, appear to be pushback on the beating they’re taking in the press), they promised six-issue runs of each book. What happens when that cash flow isn’t available anymore? Do we have to come back in six months for Archie’s “keep New Riverdale alive” Patreon? There are a thousand more problems here, like why, for 18 floppies, they’re asking for twice the amount that Fantagraphics raised to print 39 graphic novels. Or how crowdfunding impacts work for hire deals, which CEO Jon Goldwater has been pointedly elusive about. Fresh Romance, the romance comic Kickstarter that was successfully funded last month, tackled this head on by building bonuses for creators into their stretch goals. Archie’s response has been to mumble and ignore the question.
I understand that that despite existing for 75 years, they’re still kind of a mom-and-pop operation, and I genuinely want Archie to succeed. I want them to keep taking chances and to keep putting Chip Zdarsky and Duane Swierczynski on comics. I want Archie and Jughead and Kevin Keller comics on the stands. But I don’t know if I can get down with somebody asking me to prepay for something like this to help them get to market a little faster.
You can donate to Archie’s “New Riverdale” Kickstarter here. Or you can wait for the books to come out on their own.
That’s what I’m reading this week. What are you picking up?