picture via Stela
Did I wake up this morning thinking I needed a comic written in iambic pentameter about Shakespeare fighting crime while writing his plays? Well, yes, but that’s because I wrote this column two days ago. But did I wake up THAT morning thinking I needed a comic written in iambic pentameter about Shakespeare fighting crime while writing his plays? No! But then somebody sent me the Kickstarter for No Holds Bard, and I thought “ooh, Erica Henderson art!” And then I got a little excited. And THEN I thought “maybe I can write the segue paragraph in iambic pentameter too!”
This week’s comics go back through time shit.
We see this week in comics GODDAMMIT.
I swear to God if I can’t make this work I’ll SCREW IT I’M JUST GONNA REVIEW AN APP.
Stela is a new Apple app for reading comics. It’s not quite out yet, but I did get my hands on a beta version of it, and I’ve been screwing around with it for a week or so now. It’s pretty damn cool.
First of all, the comics look better here than they do on my Kindle or on my desktop. That’s probably because I’m looking at them through a retina display on my phone, and not through my 634-in-tech-years (it’s actually 18 months old) Kindle Fire, but still: the colors pop and the art is incredibly sharp. The biggest difference you’ll probably notice is the vertical scroll. Stela seems to be angling to hit a medium point between Line WebTOON, where it’s a fixed, three panel vertical scroll; and Comixology’s Guided View, which zooms and rotates based on the panel orientation. Stela is much smoother than Guided View, which can sometimes be a little jagged and sensitive (again, that may be my discount tablet, so grain of salt y’all).
The other big difference here is the ability to comment directly on the comic you’re reading, like the note taking feature in the Kindle reader app. That could be interesting. Or it could be like most comment sections; a festering pustule leaking shit all over my nice Internet (not you guys; you’re cool). But it remains to be seen how much and what kind of moderation there might be on those comics, and whether they get taken over by jackals, or they get used for something genuinely interesting and innovative, like an in-app virtual book club. That sounds really cool, actually.
What’s most interesting to me about Stela is how creators will modify their work for the format. We’ve already seen motion comics become prevalent on Comixology because guided view lets the reader work almost like a flipbook, turning it from a static reading experience to almost animation. And when I talked to Dean Haspiel at NYCC, we did talk about how he has to change how he works to fit the style and format of Line. Stela is, at its core, another way to tell a story, and I’m looking forward to seeing how good creators adjust to it.
You can pick up Stela in the iTunes store or through their web site.
Ivar, Timewalker #12 (Valiant Comics)
I knew we were coming to the end of the big story Fred Van Lente and Pere Perez were telling, but for some reason I didn’t realize we were coming to the end of the book. With that in mind, I’m saving this issue (which I have a copy of – Valiant is one of the companies that does send me review copies regularly) until I have some time to spend with the whole series. So I’m not going to be able to talk about what happens in 12, but I feel comfortable talking about the series as a whole.
My best comics of 2015 list is coming soon, and while Ivar won’t be on it, part of the reason why is that I liked it too much to trust myself to be objective about it. It is routinely the second or third Valiant series I recommend to people looking to try the company out, and there are maybe two comics I look forward to every month as much as I do this one. It’s funny and heartfelt and smart, like everything else from Van Lente I’ve ever read, and Perez handles the subtle (and not subtle) comedy as well as he does the traditional superhero sci-fi.
If you like funny superhero comics and you’re on a budget, you can’t really go wrong with the first Ivar collection, currently cheaper than $8 on Amazon or $9.99 on Comixology. If you’ve been with us all along, you can pick up the last issue of Ivar, Timewalker at your friendly local comic shop or online via Comixology.
Dark Horse Comics
The Hero book 2 (Dark Horse Comics)
I feel like using ancient mythology as anything other than the spine of a story subjects it to the same rules as adaptations – unless you (or the medium) have something unique to offer, it just feels like filler. So books like Ody-C or this, Rubin’s retelling of the 12 labors of Hercules, have a high bar set in order for me to care. Ody-C cleared the bar because it was something I’d never seen before. Hero does because it’s so damn good.
I had this whole bit prepared for this. I was gonna talk about The Fall of the House of West and how great David Rubin’s art was there and how he’s a natural at Paul Pope-style art and how excited I was to read a book that talks about Hercules but looks like Pope. And then I opened the first one (to get caught up on it), and WOW, does color make a massive difference on Rubin’s work, in a great way.
I’m not going to be a snob about it, but there are artists and books that look way better in black and white. Most of his Battling Boy pages have been black and white, and that’s what I know him from, so I think I had just associated him with colorless art in my head and not expected him to work another way. But there was something so inherently colorful in his art that it now seems like it’s always been this bright. And he uses it so masterfully, too – the scene at the beginning of the book where Hercules kills his family is terrible in every sense of the word: awful and sad and horrifying but also epic and grandly brutal, because in large part of how Rubin uses color. The Hero is a hell of a way to cap a hell of a year for Dark Horse, and it’s an incredible statement from Rubin that he is one of the most talented people working in comics today.
You can pick up The Hero book 2 at your friendly local comic shop or online via Dark Horse’s site.
Batman & Robin Eternal #11 (DC Comics)
I’m a few issues behind on this series, but what I’ve read of it has been an absolute joy. Seriously, weekly comics aren’t supposed to be this much fun.
I feel like Dan Slott has spent a huge chunk of his time writing Spider-Man in reclaiming some of the terrible crap that happened in the ‘90s. He (I think) successfully redeemed the Clone Saga, and then one-upped it with Spider-Verse. I get the distinct sense that the creative army behind this book (led this week by Ed Brisson and Fernando Blanco) is trying to do the same with Batman. We’re now neck deep in a story about the Order of St. Dumas, David Cain and Santa Prisca, and it’s wrapped around a team of -best friends- Robins trying to figure out something horrible from Bruce’s past. The execution has been outstanding. I really can’t believe I’m excited for a comic that Well ACTUALLYs Knightfall, but here we are.
You can pick up Batman and Robin Eternal #11 at your friendly local comic shop or online via Comixology.
Huck #2 (Image Comics)
Speaking of comics I can’t believe I’m excited for, if you had told me at the beginning of the year that come Christmas I’d be looking forward to Mark Millar’s comic about a slow guy in the deep south with all the powers of Superman who spends his life trying to do one really nice thing for someone every day, I probably would have put some curses together in a configuration you’d never even imagined before, let alone heard used about your mother. And yet here we are, a week out from Christmas with me eagerly awaiting the follow up to one of the most good-natured, sweetest comics I’ve read all year.
My problem with Millar’s work isn’t that he’s not capable or that he’s writing stuff from a bygone generation of comic books, because his ongoing success as a comic writer is evidence that that’s not true. My issue with him, rather, is that I think his work might embody superhero comics too well. Honestly, the stuff that he’s done that drives me nuts – Kick Ass, Wanted, the first issue of Jupiter’s whatever it was that was boring and had Quitely artwork – is all stuff that I routinely hate in any comic: “What if superheroes really existed?” is a vapid, pointless question that Kick Ass couldn’t really answer adequately and Jupiter’s Whatever couldn’t answer interestingly enough to bring be back for a second issue (ooh, their kids are bored! Yeah, well so am I). Meanwhile, his stuff like Superman: Red Son and Huck and Starlight all bore straight to the center of what makes superhero comics timeless and wonderful. Starlight deals with the real world a THOUSAND TIMES better than “What if Eminem were a supervillain,” and it’s a comic about a fiftysomething Flash Gordon getting old and missing his wife. And as for Huck, I suspect that by the time the series has wrapped, it will have done more with big themes like celebrity and honesty than anything with the word Ultimate in front of it will have ever even tried to. Point is, Huck is very good comics and you should read it and be happy.
You can pick up Huck #2 at your friendly local comic shop or online via Comixology.
Jem & The Holograms Holiday Special (IDW Publishing)
Amy Mebberson jumps in for Sophie Campbell on this special holiday issue of Jem, and it’s adorable and wonderful and everything a holiday special should be.
The conceit behind the issue is kind of clever: the Holograms and the Misfits draw each other for Secret Santa at the label’s holiday party and actually buy each other nice gifts because they’re competitive and don’t want the other band to do better at the holidays than them. The rest of the issue is spent following the two bands as they shop for each other.
Mebberson is a REALLY good choice for this book. All the fashion helps deepen each character’s definition – for example, Jem’s outfit looks like a Jem outfit (holy crap is it ever a Jem outfit), and Kimber’s Rainbow Dash footie pajamas are pretty clearly destiny for her and for us. (TO ME MY INTERNET. Somebody wanna tell me if this is the first canon Jem/My Little Pony crossover?) But Mebberson does an incredible job with body language and blocking out every scene to maximize the effect of every word on the page. She really did a fantastic job on this issue, as did Kelly Thompson and the rest of the creative team.
You can pick up Jem & The Holograms Holiday Special at your friendly local comic shop or online via Comixology.
Star Wars Legends Epic Collection: Infinities (Marvel Comics)
For a canon that’s been entirely dismissed, Marvel really seems to be going out of its way to publish everything that’s ever had Star Wars branding on it. The latest is this omnibus collection of the Star Wars Infinities comics from about 15 years ago.
Infinities was a group of four-issue What If? style comics based around the OT: in A New Hope, Luke’s torpedoes don’t destroy the Death Star, only prevent it from blowing Yavin 4 up. In Empire Strikes Back, Luke dies after the wampa attack. In Return of the Jedi, the mission to liberate Jabba’s nice Han Solo coffee table from his palace goes to hell. I have to be honest, these came out right in the middle of Prequel-mania, so the hype may have clouded my judgement, but I do recall these series being a lot of fun when they first came out. And what with me being deep in an Episode VII fit, I’ll probably end up buying this.
You can pick up Star Wars Legends Epic Collection: Infinities at your friendly local comic shop or online via Comixology.
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.
This week, it’s Behemoth by Chris Kipniak and J.K. Woodward. It’s a monster squad action/horror comic that’s really close to being excellent, but even with a couple of spots that could be improved, it still ended up being a very good story.
The comic is about Theresa, a young girl who’s turning into a monster. Like, a for real Hellboy/golem monster. The Feds catch wind of it and take her to a “home” for other monsters, and eventually give her the choice between joining a militarized squad of them, or slowly dealing with her humanity slipping away in a group with a bunch of others who have lost all sentient thought. She chooses the military organization, trains, gets sent on her first mission, and then deals with it when it all goes to hell.
The writing is good. Theresa and Rex (her squad leader and eventual romantic interest) are believable and interesting characters. With a setup like this, I read it half waiting for cliches to spring up like traps all over the place, but they never did. Kipniak does a good job of hitting everything he needed to in an action horror story like this without it ever feeling rote or played out. Woodward looks like he photo references the faces in his art a bit, and that’s where my biggest concerns with Behemoth came – his art was a lot stronger when it didn’t have that look. He has a strong sense of action pacing, and in the sequences where the team was losing control, he did a great job of deteriorating the design of the page to match the characters’ deteriorating intellects. It’s a really well designed and thought out package, and even with that mild reservation expressed, I’d still heartily recommend this to anybody who likes horror comics.
You can pick up the first four issues of Behemoth online via Comixology.
That’s what I’m reading this week. What are you picking up?