There’s been a wave of conflict of interest issues popping up around comics writing lately – okay, not really a wave. Just one, about someone writing a story for a company she was trying to get a job at before she was officially brought on board. It started a remarkably honest, introspective discussion of the economic realities of doing this :waves hand at stack of memory sticks full of PDF comics: as more than a hobby that lets you write your comics off at the end of the year. That conversation, despite being co-opted by an insecure child lashing out at people who were being mean to him, was a worthwhile one, and there seems to be a consensus developed around the idea that our readers should know when we get free shit, so they can judge if it affects our reviews. In that spirit, I want everyone to know that I get varying degrees of review materials from most comic companies. Some of them, like Fantagraphics or Nobrow, send hard copies. Some, like IDW or Action Lab, send PDFs. Some don’t give me access to anything.
I want to make you two promises: one, that I will not review anything I have a financial interest in. If I stand to make money off of a product, then I don’t think I’m a reliable reviewer, and I’m sure Luke doesn’t either. If I’m looking to get a job at a comic company, I won’t review their stuff or direct coverage of it. If a personal friend does, I will let you know, but that hasn’t been an issue that I’m aware of yet.
Two: I bust my ass to judge these books on their merit as comics, and not allow stuff like whether or not I have access to an advance copy impact my reviews. For example, I just got a copy of the new Double Take Super Pack (which I threw into a corner as soon as I saw what it was, like some kind of cursed amulet). Meanwhile, Marvel swears that they don’t give out review copies, and this week in comics, I say some very nice things about one of their books!
ONE THAT GOT AWAY
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. Normally this happens at the end of the column, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to waste my smoothest segue ever. The Vision #1 was amazing.
I mentioned in the weekend thread that this was really good, but I wanted to talk about why. I’m going to dial down the Tom King fanboyishness as much as possible, but this is really excellent writing. Vision dumped all the emotional connections to his memories, created a family – a wife, Virginia, and a son and a daughter, Vin and Viv – and moved into a D.C. suburb to raise them while he acts as the Avengers’ liaison to the White House. There’s a great balance between making fun of the absurdity of domestic life (there’s an entire scene where Vision and Virginia talk about the difference between saying their neighbors “seem nice” or “seem kind,” and settle on nice because it’s a little more ironically dickish) and an uncomfortable, American Beauty-esque suburban ennui. Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Jordie Bellaire crush it on the art. This is supposed to be a weird, unsettling comic where everything seems normal, and all the art cues are just the right mix of bright, shiny superhero and domestic bliss, but catching the brief flashes that make the story upsetting.
As for comics that came out this week:
Superman: American Alien #1 (DC Comics)
Many of you may remember the cheap shot I took at this comic (and Max Landis) during SDCC. As promised during our subsequent conversation on Twitter, I wanted to give American Alien a fair review, separate of my feelings about the dreadful looking BvS. In truth, it’s easy to get excited for this series, in no small part because of the superstar collection of artists he’s lined up to draw the book – Jock (Wytches), Tommy Lee Edwards (1985), Joelle Jones (Lady Killer), Jae Lee (like, everything), and on this issue, Nick Dragotta (East of West) does a wonderful job of drawing young Clark Kent. With art like that, it’s almost impossible for this book to be bad. If the first issue is any indication of the rest of the series, it’s going to be great.
The series is being sold as Clark being taught how to be a good person, and this issue starts with him at about 8 years old dealing with being able to fly but with no control. There are no groundbreaking revelations about Superman’s backstory in here (except maybe in the last two pages, but that’s less a revelation than another layer to Jon and Martha). But there are wonderful interactions between Clark and his parents – for example, Jon scolds Clark for punching through a wall not because he shouldn’t use his strength, but because he shouldn’t use it in frustration. And Clark’s monologue at the end is some of the most kid-accurate dialogue I’ve ever read in a comic. This was a great book, and I’m so glad I got to check it out.
The Goon Library volume 1 (Dark Horse Comics)
WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY back in February, I got completely turned around reading a Goon comic out of order. As if by some act of divine intervention, Dark Horse must have heard my laments and said “You know, we should totally put out library editions of these.” Long story short, that’s how I was responsible for the massive Goon collection that’s out today*.
*Note: pretty much nothing in that paragraph after “out of order” is accurate anywhere but my own imagination.
The beauty of library editions like this is that they let you follow not just the development of the characters, but the development of the creators as well. This volume has not just the first few Dark Horse Goon stories, but also “The Rough Stuff,” a batch of really early Goon stories where Eric Powell was still finding the character’s voice (and face). This goes a little past what Goon comics I’ve read, and coming back to it probably 10 years after I last read it was a lot of fun. And let’s face it, $40 for 500 pages of Goon comics is a hell of a steal.
Imperium #10 (Valiant Comics)
Last issue of Imperium kicked off a war between Toyo Harada (lead badass in the Valiant Universe, head of the Harbinger Foundation, and a guy who explodes people’s’ heads for shits and giggles) and the Vine (the alien race behind just about everything not Harada’s in the Valiant U – the X-O armor, Divinity, etc.). This issue, we get some background that I think is very important to the Valiant cosmology, but I’m not certain how I feel about its placement in the story, and I don’t know if I will be until the arc is over.
LV-99 is the Vine monster captured by Harada and his team and brought back to HQ. He makes contact with a Vine agent embedded in Harada’s team, and that sets up an extended flashback about how the Vine Planting Liberation Army first encountered him (during Vietnam) and when they realized he was a monster. All of this is good, and it was a really well done issue – Cafu is a consummate professional who draws everything so crisply that it’s easy to read, and Josh Dysart tells a compelling story. But I’m worried that throwing a flashback this early in the arc derails the flow of it a little. I’ll be back to check in on Imperium when the arc ends, and that’s probably a better place to figure it out, so for the time being I’m just going to enjoy a solid comic.
The Goddamned #1 (Image Comics)
HOLY JESUS RM Guera’s art is something else. He’s like if James Stokoe or Geoff Darrow wanted to draw gore more realistically. And despite the gore and stabbing and burnings, Silva’s anatomical figures are impeccable, like they’re from a textbook.
The Goddamned is Jason Aaron and Guera’s new book, a sort of retelling of the Book of Genesis, only from the people who gave us Scalped. It’s magnificent. It’s a setup issue, so it has a lot of information to convey and worldbuilding to do, and Aaron and Guera do a fantastic job of that. They also manage to squeeze in a six page sequence with no dialogue, just Cain (of Cain and Abel) killing the hell out of an entire tribe of people. Seriously, Guera’s art is incredible. Everything is so grimy and beat up and (for a few pages, literally) shitty. I haven’t been transported into a world by a comic the way The Goddamned did in a very long time.
I have to be honest. This show, Robots In Disguise…it’s not bad, but it’s definitely Not For Me. I really think it’s the animation style that keeps me away – everything is too round and bouncy, and I like my giant transforming cars to be boxy and hulking. But I keep being drawn to the toys, because oh god working at this place made me catch the fever and because they look like a fun way to get my niece and nephew into Transformers. So I checked out the comic, and it’s pretty fun!
Priscilla Tramontano keeps the artwork light, and it somehow feels more expressive than the show – where the mouths and the rounded faces don’t work for me in motion, in a series of static, sequential images, for some reason I don’t mind it. And she uses their faces to sell a couple of great jokes from Georgia Ball – the idea of trashy Cybertronian reality TV like “What Not To Alt-Mode” had me giggling, then imagining an entire HGTV transforming robot lineup like “Garage Hunters Interstellar” or “Shouldn’t An Inspector Have Caught That Before You Bought It – Cybertron Edition” This issue is also crystal clear about everything going on and who everyone is, a feat that many comics forget to perform in the first issue of an arc, nevermind the last like this one.
Last Sons of America #1 (BOOM! Studios)
This was an odd book. In Last Sons of America, an herbicide (Agent Pink) makes it so no one in America can have children. In response, there are “adoption agents” scouring Central America for kids, offering families large sums of money for their children and even snatching some outright for resale on the American market. That’s a pretty loaded premise, right? I heard that and I expected a book full of grand allegory – like Americatown, the book set in a future where Americans are illegally immigrating elsewhere. But it’s…not really there. There’s some vague allusions to imperialism and distrust of America, but it’s rooted firmly in the story itself, not really commentary on a contemporary situation. It’s really the story of two brothers trying to function in the economy that this sterility creates.
Matthew Dow Smith does a good job with the art. I really like how his inks are thick, but still sharp and angular. Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s script is tight, too. The dialogue between the two brothers who are making offers on children is smart and sharp. I think for me, this issue was the victim of my own expectations. It was a good comic, it just wasn’t the exact book I imagined in my head, and I’m certain that now that I’m free of them, I’ll enjoy the next ones.
That’s what I’m reading this week. What are you picking up?