Meteor Mags: Small Flowers – now in print

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The rock-and-roll space adventures continue!

In the months after Hunted to Extinction, Alonso’s interspecies band gets a name and performs its first concert during the reconstruction of Ceres, with Meteor Mags on the mic to fuel the fires of revolution.

Kaufman and Anton move into their new home in an old friend’s strip club, Dr. Plutonian gets more than his mind blown, and Mags disregards safety regulations to plug in her free-energy system for the first time.

Plus, Dekarna kills an asteroid full of miners to make a nest for her eggs, but Mags and the space octopuses have a different plan for the last surviving reptile from the Battle of Vesta—one that will give the space lizard everything she ever dreamed of, at a price she never imagined.

May not be suitable for children or carbon-based life.

Now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

indie box: Sin City

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It’s no secret that one of my favorite pieces of fiction is Frank Miller’s Sin City series. I discovered it at the Las Vegas public library about eighteen years ago when I checked out the A Dame to Kill For TPB. It was the most awesome thing I’d ever read, with over-the-top brutality and an atmosphere that was darker than the blackest noir. It was so intense about being intense that it was funny and morbidly serious at the same time, and the first thing I did after reading it was read it again. Then I tracked down the other stories! One had dinosaurs.

For a while I had the complete series in an awesome collected edition, but those books were smaller than the full-sized TPBs, and there’s just something about this series that suits being as big as possible. The original TPB collections also appear to include more pages than were printed in the original serialized formats, such as extra splash pages for multiple perspectives of Dwight holding a dude’s head underwater in a toilet in The Big Fat Kill. The one missing ingredient in the earliest TPBs is color, the use of just one primary color as an accent to individual stories, such as the yellow highlights in the TPB for That Yellow Bastard. Still, I’m okay without the color if I get a bigger page size!

The black and white art is insanely melodramatic, as shown in a couple pages of Marv walking in the rain from the first Sin City TPB, later titled The Hard Goodbye. The text is like a hard-boiled detective novel with the volume turned up to eleven. I not only love this scene, I love that it goes on for ten whole pages — eleven in the TPB!

While writing last week’s post about Next Men, I looked into some other John Byrne works I hadn’t seen yet, including his stint on The Sensational She-Hulk. That run is best known for relentlessly breaking the fourth wall and having the characters be aware they were in a comic book. Byrne based the fiftieth issue on a gag that he had been killed, and the cast needed to find a new writer and artist. So, he showed how some of his friends in the industry would do a She-Hulk story. That’s how we got a couple pages of a Sin City She-Hulk.

This post was made possible by this blog’s readers who use my affiliate links to buy comics. Recent store credit made it possible to reconnect with the Sin City TPBs that first hooked me on the series. Thank you!

big box of comics: New 52 Batman

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DC’s New 52 is now old news, and it came and went without my paying any attention to it. But the one thing I missed that I really wanted see was Greg Capullo drawing Batman, beginning with Bat’s first New 52 adventure The Court of Owls. So, last year, with some of the store credit I earned thanks to this blog’s readers who use my affiliate links to find books, I got the first paperback collection.

It’s a wild ride, and I’ve since read a digital version of the rest of the Snyder/Capullo run just to see what happened next. I plan to get the second TPB, but after that one, the series began to lose my interest. The second TPB features an amazing Mr. Freeze story, and if you’re expecting the cartoon silliness of Arnold Freezinator from the movies, you won’t find any of that. Snyder writes Freeze as a mentally and emotionally disturbed villain, playing up the sympathetic tragedy and ultimate self-delusion that drive his maniacal actions.

After that, the series goes into a Joker story that starts off well and is exquisitely drawn but eventually collapses under its own weight. It asks us to believe that everything that happens is all a part of a wildly complicated “evil genius” plot, kind of like the Saw movies or virtually any of the “serial killer” thriller films, except there’s no way anyone could plan for all the eventualities, and much of it is downright implausible. Then the series goes into a lengthy plot involving Commissioner Gordon becoming Batman, and a whole lot of “Batman’s early days”. I didn’t care for either development.

The first two story arcs for Court of Owls feature an inventive mix of crime, horror, and superheroics, and it’s a perfect blend of genres for a “world’s greatest detective” who dresses like a frickin’ bat. I can’t even describe how glorious it is to see Capullo drawing Batman in action, and the first arc does an inventive thing with page layouts when Batman is caught in a maze and hallucinating his ass off. I won’t spoil it for new readers, but I will say that I got just as turned around as Bats did at that point in the story, and I thought that was brilliant.

While Court of Owls and its follow-up arc are dramatic and gripping, it soon becomes apparent that they lack any consequence. For example, Bats is subjected to unimaginable beatings and torture, but then a few pages later, he’s totally fine. No bruises on his face. No long-term disability from being stabbed almost to death and drowned. He just sort of gets back to business. I was worried he was going to die, but then he’s okay because the plot demands it?

Plus, the Owls succeed in killing off many prominent local politicians and governmental figures, but all this does is give the rest of the Bat-family an excuse to jump into the story to protect whoever is still alive. If you killed most of the public officials in a city, there would be ramifications, but Court of Owls never deals with them. I didn’t want a series exploring the politics of Gotham—although I loved Brian K. Vaughn’s politically themed Ex Machina—but I did want some sense that what happened in the story mattered. Instead, it’s glossed over as quickly as Batman’s mortal wounds.

There are a few other details like this. The Owls figure out where the Batcave is, but after Bats defeats the cave invaders, that knowledge is never used again. That’s powerful information! They wouldn’t—I don’t know—send an email to Lex Luthor with the GPS coordinates? Or spam every person on the planet? Or announce it on Twitter? Are they serious about Bat-termination or not?!

Also, in the first issue, Bats uses an amazing facial recognition technology that is never mentioned again. It only serves as a plot device to give us information dumps about characters—apparently to get new readers on board with the cast by disguising the info dumps as Bat-science. It’s a cool trick, but it’s a tech without any lasting consequences.

Despite those flaws, Snyder gave Capullo some amazing, moody material to work with visually, and the first couple of Snyder/Capullo TPB volumes deserve a place in a “best of Batman” collection. And, if you don’t mind implausible “serial killer movie” plotting, the third volume with the Joker is also visual feast.

indie box: Next Men TPB

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Once upon a time, I had the complete Next Men series, except for the Hellboy issue. Though I read the series three or four times, I’ve missed having it around ever since I sold it. This month, thanks to this blog’s readers who use my affiliate links to find books, I earned enough store credit to get all six of the 1993 trade paperback collections. Reading the series again reminds how much the series blew my mind the first time through, and as a bonus, it includes the Hellboy issue with pages drawn by Mike Mignola.

Hellboy’s appearance in issue #17 makes it the most expensive one to collect. It’s easy to collect all the other original, single issues for less than $3 each, but #17 will cost as much or more than all the other thirty issues combined. That’s not a problem with the collected paperback.

Hellboy might be part demon, but he is a far cry from the absolute evil of the series’ main villain. Sathanas is the remnants of a mutated energy vampire who kills people by draining their lifeforce, and since so much of him got blown up, he survives in a mechanical suit. Despite his silly name, he’s among my favorite John Byrne villains.

Despite the fun of the paperbacks, they have three disappointments, possibly because they were made more than a quarter-century ago before TPBs became so popular. These days, we expect the TPB to include all the original covers and, if any, all the variant covers. But the Next Men covers get treated terribly, reduced to about 1/6 of the page size and combined in a “gallery”. It’s an odd design choice, considering that there’s a useless page between each “issue” that just splits the words “Next Men” across its front and back. That would be a lovely place for a cover!

Second, the story is so intertwined with the short graphic novel 2112 that the original Next Men series isn’t complete without it. This oversight is forgivable, since the events of 2112 get summarized by one of the characters.

What’s unforgivable is the omission of the entire series of “back-up” stories, M4. These were short episodes with characters who, at first, seemed only tangentially related to the main series. But the stories intersected eventually, and the M4 characters were essential to the finale and resolution. Leaving out the M4 pages makes these characters appear to pop out of nowhere in the main storyline, which makes for utterly confusing plot developments for unfamiliar readers. Plus, M4 had its own covers, featured on the back of the single issues where it ran, and the TPBs have none of them.

For the completists: When IDW reprinted the series in color in 2009, they included M4 but not 2112. IDW’s 2011 reprint series (“Classic Next Men”, in three TPBs) includes both M4 and 2112, and it’s also in full color. I’ve only ever seen it in stock on Amazon for around $40 per volume in paperback, but you can get them for $10.99 each for Kindle and Comixology, and as a set with the sequel for a total of $43.

Even with these omissions, I loved re-reading this imaginative and intricately plotted series that features some of Byrne’s most humanized and fully realized characters. Consider what he does with three wordless pages to show Jasmine’s emotional state as she flees from an attack in underground tunnels. Her old, perfect life was taken from her, and she’s not adjusting well to reality, where trauma awaits her at every turn. Without a single line of expositional captions or thought balloons, Byrne portrays her fragile condition in these pages.

arrest the president

Mars Will Send No More enters its eighth year this month, and this blog’s focus has always been on comic books, art, and music. So, let’s have some music. And let’s have it loud.

avengers 267: time and time again

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One of my favorite Avengers stories features the time-traveling psychopath known as Kang The Conqueror. He sports a ridiculous outfit that only John Buscema and Tom Palmer could make cool.

What kind of evil plan can a person hatch in striped purple thigh-high boots? Stripping to pay his way through college? But don’t judge Kang by his fashion sense, because he rocks hard in this minor masterpiece.

I was 13 when this issue appeared on the comic book rack at the Walgreens on Manchester Road in Ballwin, Missouri. The opening sequence blew my mind, and I still get a thrill reading it years later. The complete three-issue story is one of the few mid-80s superhero yarns that still holds up for me as an adult reader, and though I no longer have the complete Stern/Buscema run, I’ve read it a bunch of times. These days, I just reserve a little space for my absolutely favorite Avengers stories, including this one.

It begins the day Colossus joins the Avengers, and opens with Storm descending from the sky like the weather goddess she is. Goddess and, as we discover, an Avenger.

I love the mood and tone of Stern’s captions on that page and generally for the entire run. Despite some typical comic-book clunkers such as expositional thought balloons, his prose always made me feel like I was reading a book for adults, not children. But back to our story.

The President of the USA escorts Colossus onto the scene to induct him into the Avengers and become an American citizen.

What’s that? You don’t remember Storm and Colossus being Avengers in the 1980s? Pay attention!

Iron Man flies onto the scene to give a gift to the POTUS on this momentous occasion. And gosh, isn’t Tony Stark such a great guy?

Just tug a little harder, sir! But suddenly…

Wait, what? The whole team just got nuked into oblivion? Is the series cancelled? What do you do after THAT?!

If you’re a super-villain, you gloat.

The nuke was just a warm-up. Now, it really starts to hit the fan. It turns out that Kang’s time-traveling adventures are creating all kinds of alternate timelines, and each has its own Kang. A mysterious council has summoned our nuke-loving Kang to their secret chamber in a limbo outside of time. When Kang questions the council’s authority to tell him what a massive screw-up he is for getting his entire planet destroyed, they reveal themselves to be a trio of alternate Kangs!

They kill him then adjourn and vanish. But one Kang comes back to snoop around the building, and who does he run into? One of the other Kangs! John Buscema gives the Jack Kirby treatment to the wonders inside the secret chambers inside the secret chamber, and Kang gives Kang a tour of his time-monitoring operations.

In fewer than ten pages, Stern gave the Avengers new members, nuked an entire planet, discovered alternate realities, hatched a nefarious plot of betrayal and murder spanning centuries and multiple universes, and plumbed the depths of grief, greed, and evil in the human soul. And the real Avengers, the stars of the series, haven’t even appeared yet!

The heroes show up soon enough, and the adventure is a solid one with plenty of twists and turns and mysteries to solve. Despite his goofy outfit, Kang is a strong villain with a plan he seems entirely capable of pulling off, and he steals the show in a way usually reserved for Dr. Doom. Fitting, I suppose, since Kang originally came from the future using Doom’s time-machine and, after becoming an Egyptian Pharaoh in the past, patterned himself after Doom. As far as alternate timeline stories go, I’d rather re-read this classic than re-watch Avengers Endgame any day.

Collector’s Guide: The full story appears in issues 267, 268, and 269 of the original Avengers series, and they cost about $3 to $6 each, depending on their grade.

A big “thank you” to this blog’s readers for making it possible to get these issues as part of my ongoing big box of free comics series.

indie box: Utopiates

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This week’s pick from the indie comics short box is Utopiates, a four-issue black-and-white series focusing on characters who take a drug that temporarily alters their personality and emotions, but with violent and disastrous results.

The first issue opens with a full page of Gen-X angst that sets up what, at first, appears to be a simple tale about a young man who takes a drug to escape the dull hopelessness of his life.

By the end of the first issue, it becomes clear this tale is not so simple. We learn that the drug is somehow giving people specific personality traits because it is composed of genetic material copied from specific people. I don’t buy that bit of pseudo-science at all, but playing along with this central idea of injecting genetics like drugs does make for some interesting developments. For example, the young man in the first issue starts killing people his drug dealer assigns to him, but when he injects some Jack Ruby DNA, he kills the wrong person. This doesn’t end well for him.

The second and third issue tell the story of a different young man who served in a war as part of a private military contractor’s invasion force. We learn that he and all the contractors were constantly hopped up on one of these genetic drugs to reduce their fear and increase ferocity.

This two-part story shows how the soldier does not adapt well to normal society after his contract is complete and he can no longer get his drugs. The robotic psych counselor the company forces him to see is useless, so the young man starts looking for a source of the drug. His path leads him to discover whose DNA he and his troops were injecting.

The fourth issue tells the story of another former soldier, a woman who becomes an assassin for hire much like the character in the first issue. It suggests that the mysterious drug dealer in all these stories is giving out these gene-drugs and manipulating people as an art form. I found that motivation a bit lackluster, but I suspect that if the series had continued, then writer Josh Finney would have given us more depth and detail about what makes the dealer tick.

I love the artwork in this series, with Finney collaborating with artist Kat Rocha to produce moody, dramatic pages that look amazing without color. I don’t know why the series ended, but it feels like it could be a treatment for an ongoing TV series with action, adventure, mystery, futurism, and a bit of social commentary. Finally, it’s possible that Finney took the name of the series from a 1964 book detailing research into why people take LSD. You can read a review and summary of that book in the University of Chicago archives.

The four issues of Utopiates make a fairly quick but thought-provoking read, and you can have them for about $2 a piece.

Collector’s Guide: Utopiates #1-4; Bloodfire Studio, 2006.

indie box: Queen & Country

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This week’s pick from the indie short box of comics is the complete four-volume collection Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition. It’s also an entry in the big box of free comics series, because I wouldn’t have this collection if not for this blog’s readers. This espionage thriller featuring a British female spy comes from the mind of crime novelist Greg Rucka and an art team that changes with every major arc, giving each episode a unique look and feel.

The four volumes total nearly 1500 pages, which includes the entire single-issue series and three supplementary Declassified series, plus a slew of extras such as interviews, scripts, and sketchbooks. I loved it, with a few reservations, and it was maybe the third time I read the series.

Queen and Country Collection (9)

Years ago, I sold a complete collection, and you can see photos of the interior art and full-color covers in my old post about the collection. I had discovered a few scattered issues in a used bookstore and gradually pieced together the set before selling it. With the Definitive Edition, it was great to read it all again in chronological order.

Still, you will find a few a gaps in chronology. Queen & Country is also a series of prose novels, and the comic-book adaptations sometimes skip a novel. “These events take place after the events in [novel]” comes up at least once. But, you get enough context from each story to follow along anyway, and a helpful flashback or two fills in the important gaps.

With the Definitive Edition, you won’t get the full-color covers, though the black-and-white versions are high quality. The page size is slightly smaller than a typical comic book, which occasionally makes the lettering a little hard to read. It was not as bad as the Tintin collection, which practically required a magnifying glass. I only struggled in a couple of stories, such as the first one where Tara’s thoughts appear in a cursive script that didn’t fare well from being shrunk.

The black-and-white art of the original series still looks incredible at this size, though some of the edges of panels disappear in the gutter — unless you want to test the limits of how far you can force the book’s spine open. A wider blank space in the gutter would have been a good thing. But, each of the four volumes is a sturdy paperback with a solid binding and high-quality paper.

Overall, it’s an awesome way to enjoy the complete series, and way easier and more cost-effective than trying to hunt down all the single issues one-by-one.

The art and writing are top-notch, with a compelling lead character who does some bad-ass spy stuff but has way more interesting internal and emotional conflicts than, say, James Bond. Tara Chace has depth, and she changes over the course of the series, and her world is turned upside down more than once. She has a strong supporting cast, and several merit standalone stories as leads in their own right.

Toward the end of the series, reading it one weekend as I did, I noticed there were an awful lot of scenes of people talking in offices, and pages of people having discussions that made a point but didn’t really advance the adventure. These were interesting for a while in the beginning, but by the end I was way more more invested in what Tara was doing than what some guys in offices were droning on about, and I skipped a few scenes.

You’ll probably feel the same way about the leading lady, and your mind might be blown at the cliffhanger ending of the series, and you might even want to pick up some of the novels afterward!

Collector’s Guide: Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition, #1-4; Oni Press, 2007.

indie box: Metalzoic

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This is the second time a book published by DC Comics has broken the rules and earned a place in my indie short box. This time, it’s Metalzoic by the legendary team of Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill, and there’s not much about it you can call “mainstream”. Metalzoic takes place in a future where the Earth is ruled by intelligent, mechanical beasts patterned after modern and prehistoric animals — and boy, do they love to fight!

Yes, you just witnessed a brutal showdown between a gorilla with a saw blade on his head, and a lion with a chainsaw for a tongue and metal skis for feet. Do I really need to say anything about the story’s plot, or is that cool enough for you? Two of my favorite pages show a shark attacking a caravan of wooly mammoths during a trek across the ice.

It’s like some sort of psychotic nature special! I can almost hear David Attenborough narrating it for a BBC documentary.

O’Neill always delivers wonderfully twisted artwork, but he pulls out all the stops to illustrate Metalzoic‘s endless mecha-menagerie.

The story is interesting, especially since the main character — the saw-blade gorilla — is a brutal, amoral hell-raiser whose brawn and ferocity might be the only thing standing between the Earth and total destruction.

And just look at him go!

When all this takes place and how it came to be are slowly revealed throughout the story. We don’t get a clear timeline until about 50 pages in. It might have been helpful to see a historic summary earlier in the story, so here it is.

If you’re like me, and you wish Godzilla movies would cut out most of the human-related nonsense and just show more monster fights, then this 64-page epic adventure is the book for you!

Collector’s Guide: Metalzoic; DC Comics Graphic Novel #6, 1986. Though it’s often out of stock at MyComicShop, you can usually find it on Amazon for between $15 and $30.

indie box: A History of Violence

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This week’s pick from the short box of indie comics takes us once again into the world of crime fiction. A History of Violence from John “Judge Dredd” Wagner and Vince Locke really puts the “novel” in “graphic novel”, telling a deeply detailed story in its nearly 300 pages. I read it years ago but didn’t see the film until this summer. The book was more satisfying, especially the ending, which is a visceral punch to the gut in print but completely re-written and watered down for the film.

So, let’s start at the beginning, because A History of Violence opens with murderous intent.

Pretty soon, the murderers stop for a bite to eat in typical, small-town America, where everything is quaint, peaceful, and family-friendly. But when they try to start trouble at the local diner, the dude at the counter decides homie don’t play that shit, and he totally destroys them.

Diner dude wastes these guys and becomes a local celebrity. There, the story gets bogged down with scenes of his resultant interactions with the yuk-yuks from Anywhere, USA as they fawn over him at little-league games and other scenes I could skip. But this shift in the hero’s calm, daily life gets kicked up a notch when the leader of a criminal organization recognizes diner dude in a newspaper article, and decides to visit.

This scene begins a gradual reveal of diner dude’s past, and how he came to be involved with the underworld in his youth and eventually assumed a new identity so he could live a pastoral life in Generic, USA. The middle third of the book tells that story as a flashback, and it’s almost as much fun as the part in the Godfather novel where we flashback to Vito Corleone’s rise to power in his youth.

The first time I read A History of Violence, I couldn’t put it down. But upon re-reading, I could have done without so many extended, dialogue-heavy scenes of regular folks standing or sitting around while having an interpersonal drama. It often feels like this could be a real barnburner of a tale if we could just cut some of the “normal folks chatting in a mild state of distress” scenes, and get into the absolutely fucked-up criminal world that really drives the plot and drama. And by “absolutely fucked up”, I mean pages like this:

Earlier, I implied I didn’t like the movie, but mostly what I hated were the changes to the ending. In fact, the film did a better job portraying the shoot-out on diner dude’s lawn where his son was involved, and the film had a somewhat tighter pace. Also, Ed Harris as the eyeless criminal guy totally rocks.

I’m a bit ambivalent about the art in this story. The panel layouts and the visual storytelling of both quiet conversations and brutal conflict are top-notch, but I can’t escape the feeling that that I am looking at a sketch of the story instead of the final version. The art is very scratchy, and while it has a visceral power, after a couple hundred pages I started wishing another inker would come along and tighten it up. On the other hand, this is a gritty and compelling story once you get into it, and a gritty visual style suits it well.

Fans of crime fiction should read A History of Violence at least once because, despite its flaws, it is a dramatic and emotional journey that not even the film could match, and it isn’t a story you will soon forget. The original edition is long out of print, but the 2005 reprint will run you about $20.

Collector’s Guide: A History of Violence; 2005 reprint edition, Paradox Press.

indie box: Hieroglyph

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This week’s pick from the short box of indie comics comes from Ricardo Delgado, whose Age of Reptiles is among my all-time favorite comic books. Hieroglyph delivers Delagado’s signature style of primarily visual storytelling with vast landscapes and non-verbal drama, only in a science-fiction setting on a faraway planet.

This four-issue series published by Dark Horse is full of visual splendor, as a lone explorer seeks to understand a distant planet and the unusual beings who inhabit it — and, along the way, make some really awful decisions and narrowly escape with his life several times.

Part of the fun of this series — and something which was commented on many times in the letters pages — is that we don’t really know what the deal is with the alien beings and all their activities, their strange and massive temples, and their relationships to each other. We experience the planet and its inhabitants the same way the explorer does: with incomplete information, leaving us to try to work out the meaning for ourselves.

The fourth issue of Hierolgyph is the problematic one, because it undermines exactly what made the first three issues so much fun. Eventually, a recurring alien character appears at the explorer’s ship and — lo and behold — it has sorted how to speak English, and it launches into exposition to explain everything we’ve seen so far. I don’t know if this was an editorial decision or an authorial one, but I would have been much happier with just about any other ending that did not involve aliens expositing in English.

Despite fumbling the ball in the fourth quarter, Hieroglyph is an intriguing read for most of its run, and Delgado’s ability to portray the feelings and reactions of both human and non-human characters through purely visual means is without peer. You can have it for only $3 or $4 per issue.

Collector’s Guide: Hieroglyph #1-4; 1999, Dark Horse.

more mixes added

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I added a few more music mixes to the archive page for my streaming sets. While hard rock is my favorite thing (set 57: Dolls, and set 58: Softly), I also love music from India (set 59: Hard Raga), and Africa (set 60: Africa). Tune in and blow your mind!

indie box: Down

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Like last week’s pick from the short box of indie comics, this week features another crime story with a bad-ass female lead. Down is a four-issue series by Warren Ellis with art from Tony Harris and Cully Hamner, and its portrayal of a police officer infiltrating a violent criminal organization reminds me in some ways of one of my favorite films: The Departed by Martin Scorsese. Down isn’t quite as complex, as the fast pace and tight focus relentlessly blaze through the story up until the bitter end. But like The Departed, this story doesn’t end where you think it will.

Down puts our leading lady into the middle of a conflict between crooked cops and even more crooked gangsters, and every step of the journey takes her into increasingly questionable decisions about just whose side she is on. In her quest to get close to the criminal leader, she is forced to consider just how far she is willing to go to maintain her cover.

Down has a high body count and graphic violence, but I feel the real intensity takes place around just how much her experiences deform and re-define the protagonist’s conception of who she is and what role she wants to play in life. At some point, she realizes she has crossed a line she can never step back over and return to normalcy, and her only option is to choose a new path of her own design.

It’s one of my favorite of Ellis’ short works, and all the better because it doesn’t end with a big explosion, a convention he tended to over-use when he seemed to be cranking out a new series every week. It’s a fun read if you like crime fiction and bad-ass women, and you can get it for about $2 an issue.

Collector’s Guide: Down #1-4; 2005, Image.

indie box: Felon

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Today’s pick from the short box of indie comics is Felon, a four-issue series from the mind of Greg Rucka, who is known for both his crime stories and his preference for writing female lead characters. I have a few other Rucka gems to share with you later, but they all feature a detective as the main character, and this one follows the adventures of a remorseless criminal.

She’s a bad-ass without being an over-the-top action hero, and even though we are sympathetic to her because her crew screwed her over, she isn’t exactly role-model material. She’s concerned about one thing, and one thing only, and this focus on her goal is apparent from page one. She is released from prison and only has three words to say:

She sticks to this simple, direct goal through three issues of violence, and the plot is pretty straight-forward, even when a new heist enters the picture. But the drive, the unrelenting focus she maintains, and her subordination of any empathy or morality to the intensity of her avarice made a huge impression on me. Felon influenced my own stories about an unrepentant female criminal who constantly smokes cigarettes and blasts anyone who gets in her way, so I owe Rucka and company a debt of gratitude.

But it’s the fourth issue that really blows my mind. The third issue brings an end to the heist story, and you wonder what’s next, but then Rucka turns the world upside down. The fourth issue introduces a female detective who is on the trail of our leading lady, completely switches to her point of view, and shows how her focus on the case destroys her personal life. Also, the first three issues are full color, but the fourth is black and white. The titular felon only appears in flashbacks related by other characters, such as a scene that recalls one of her robberies and demonstrates just how cold she can be.

Felon is a quick read but a fun one if you love crime fiction and bad-ass women, and you can get it for about $2 an issue.

Collector’s Guide: Felon #1-4; 2001, Top Cow.

indie box: Lords of the Cosmos #3

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Today’s pick from the short box of indie comics features an issue that doesn’t even exist yet! But it will soon, because the Kickstarter for Lords of the Cosmos #3 is now underway, and it is the tenth Kickstarter from Jason Lenox, whose work first appeared on this blog about six years ago.

Let’s have a sneak preview of artwork from a series Jason describes as a “sci-fi and fantasy comic for fans of He-Man, Thundercats, Heavy Metal, and Flash Gordon!”

The 1980s nostalgia is strong with Lords of the Cosmos. Jason says, “Take all your retro action figure and geek-out fantasies, throw them in a blender with some cheap tequila, put that bad boy on high, and drink whatever mangled, gnarled mess comes out!”

If that sounds the comic-book cocktail you crave, visit the Lords of the Cosmos Kickstarter to reserve your copy and more fun bonuses!

indie box: Scene of the Crime

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This week’s pick from the indie box isn’t even indie, having been published by DC Comics, but it has an indie feel and showcases the talents of two future superstars. Scene of the Crime is an early collaboration between Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark, who would later do an amazing run together on Daredevil at Marvel.

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Scene of the Crime follows the adventures of a private investigator as he unravels an increasingly sinister and fucked-up story, and I wanted to love it. It would probably make a solid movie. But after the second issue, I was flipping through pages to see the big reveal. The narration in the captions starts in first gear on page one and never really accelerates, and the art is sometimes too clean when it could use more grit and grime.

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Scene of the Crime faces a structural problem in that we as readers get hints that the investigator has some past tragedy, but we don’t get told what it is until the final pages. This makes it feel more like a postscript than something crucial to understanding the character’s motivations, and by the time we get there, the main story is basically over. So, did it really matter? It feels like it didn’t.

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Despite its flaws, Scene of the Crime is a glimpse into the early days of a writer and artist team who eventually crafted tightly-wound, tense crime stories. The four-issue series shows the team has the ability to tell a complex tale of crime and mystery, and I see it as a stepping stone to later masterpieces such as the Brubaker/Lark run on Daredevil and Brubaker’s epic collaboration with Sean Phillips on Criminal, one of my all-time favorite comic book series.

Collector’s Guide: Scene of the Crime; DC Comics, 1999

Son of Big Box of Comics: Turtles, Surfers, and Science-Fiction Mayhem

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The big box of comics series is a tribute to the fun things I wouldn’t have in my life without the readers of this blog who help me earn store credit at MyComicShop.com or Amazon.com every time they use my handy “Collector’s Guides” links to make a purchase.

It’s a symbiotic relationship — much like when an alien symbiote bonds to your nervous system and drinks your adrenaline for survival.

Actually, it’s nothing like that, but you could read that story in the Spectacular Spider-man TPB #1 by Paul Jenkins and Humberto Ramos.

This month, thanks to readers’ generosity, I put together a run of inexpensive reprints of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2–5, courtesy of IDW’s “Color Classics” versions of early TMNT. A few months ago, readers helped me reunite with the ridiculous majesty of TMNT #6, and I couldn’t go on without reading the preceding issues at least one more time!

Was it fun? Oh, hell yes. But maybe not as great as I remember from my black and white collections or the original colorized graphic novels from First. IDW’s coloring is part of that, since they put dark colors over the original Zip-a-Tone midtones, and obscuring the mid-range tends to flatten the artwork and make it less dynamic. Also, one of the pages in one issue seems to be a misprint that duplicates a page from earlier in the story.

But in terms of being an affordable way to read the Turtles’ earliest adventures, these reprints did the job admirably. Because #6 is one of my all-time favorite comics, I enjoyed reliving the outrageous plot that led up to it, and seeing how the storytelling evolved and improved in the early days. As a bonus, I got a few issues from the second volume of Color Classics, including a solo Michelangelo adventure in a kind of Lone Wolf & Cub fantasy of feudal Japan mixed with mystic lizard demons from hell. That issue includes one of my favorite Turtles pages:

Also from the second volume, a color version of an issue of the Return to New York story that’s a favorite of mine.

Along with the batch of ninja nostalgia, I picked up some bargain-priced Fine copies of Paul Chadwick’s The World Below. It’s no secret I love Chadwick’s Concrete series. World Below and its sequel, the four-issue Deeper and Stranger, don’t have the same depth of storytelling and lush rendering as Concrete, but they are a fun romp through Chadwick’s science-fiction imagination.

I like the sequel better than the first series. The sequel uses black and white art with no color, which is almost always how I prefer to see Chadwick’s art. And, the first series suffered from too many flashbacks trying to make me care about characters I never properly met, since the story started right in the middle of the action. Each time a character faced a crisis I wasn’t invested in, the character flashed back to a similar situation in their early life to beat me over the head with how huge an emotional deal it all was. That didn’t work for me.

Also, I could have lived without seeing the characters say, “eff this” and “eff you, you effing effer” instead of using the actual profanity. Those pages in World Below #3 were physically painful to read, and even old-school characters like F@%$ would have been preferable.

It seems to me that if your dialogue depends on using the word “fuck”, then you should probably just say “fuck”.

The narrative problems (mostly) smooth out in the sequel, which has my favorite issue of the series and an unexpected ending that blew my mind. Deeper and Stranger fulfills the promise of the first World Below and the tagline on those covers: the deeper you go, the stranger it gets!

Finally, this month’s box of comics included a favorite from my Avengers collection that I sold off a few years ago. Recently, someone commented on my old post about the Stern/Buscema/Palmer run on Avengers in the 1980s. It reminded me that while I basically memorized those issues after reading them so many times, Avengers #266 featuring the Silver Surfer really needed to come back to my modest “Avengers favorites” collection.

Let’s get this out of the way right now: the issue is a post-script to one of the most god-awful, tragic dumpster fires Marvel produced in the 1980s: Secret Wars II. Don’t even get me started.

But this issue focuses on two powerful beings—one a respected hero, and one a reviled villain—who need to work together to heal a cataclysmic wound in the Earth before the planet falls apart and kills everyone. All in 32 ad-free pages, in which the fate of the world might depend on one total nerd’s desire to watch sitcom re-runs with his girlfriend instead of letting the disaster take its fatal course. It’s so insane!

This issue has many examples of Stern’s dialogue that endeared me to his Avengers. Namor and Hercules bust each other’s balls like only gods can do, but below their arguing I sense a mutual respect born of the knowledge that they are both beings of power, and maybe they need each other to call each other out sometimes to help keep their rages in check.

She-Hulk isn’t turned off at all by Hercules’ temper tantrums; she flatters him and straight-up asks him to dinner, which is almost as awesome as that time she hooked up with Juggernaut. Jennifer’s a being of great power, too, and she seems perfectly comfortable and relaxed about it.

Hercules’ thoughts on nobility and heroism after the villain supposedly “loses his powers” while saving the Earth — also a lovely piece of internal dialogue.

But my favorite part is the final scene where the villain reveals he never lost his powers at all, and that the hero was complicit in this deception.

But why?

The Silver Surfer’s comment on courage and vulnerability really sums up what I love about this Avengers run. Sure, it’s all fun and games in spandex with lots of punching and the fate of the universe at stake, and there’s no shortage of expositional thought balloons. But every now and then, Stern’s humanistic and thoughtful depictions of his characters meld with John Buscema’s and Tom Palmer’s artwork to create high points of visual literature.

You know what? I might need to reclaim a few more of my favorite story arcs from this run — especially the Kang saga and the assault on Avengers Mansion.

That’s it for September’s big box of free comics, and I am excited to tell you about the October box that is on its way!

cover songs from the archives

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These two tracks are from a pair of live performances in 2002 in Depot Town, a small commercial/arts area in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I’d love to release them on an album, but I don’t want to mess with obtaining commercial rights to sell my versions of the original songs. So, here they are, free of charge.

The first is a cover of I Had a Chance by Morphine. I kept the lyric but re-tooled the music. Click to listen or download the MP3.

The second is a medley of two songs: Cactus by the Pixies, and The Letter by Joe Cocker. I took some liberties with the key and the chords. Click to listen or download the MP3.

Though I’ve never been a talented singer, I had a lot of fun in 2002 as a ‘solo act’ with my old Epiphone acoustic guitar, playing and singing in galleries, record stores, and other low-key venues. I still have her, though she’s worn from years of use and abuse, and the top is cracked from banging on it like a drum during an overly enthusiastic performance of Had My Chance. A couple years ago, I took her apart, painted her black, and reassembled her, and now she sounds about as good as she ever did.

The two concerts took place at Dreamland Theater and a record store across the street, whose name I can’t recall. They were recorded by Craig Baker, who passed away a year or two later. He was a regular on the same open mic circuit I frequented, and we had many great conversations about life, art, and music. I’m grateful that he volunteered for the job, because I’d have no record of these shows if not for his generosity.

indie box: Tales of the Cherokee

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Today’s pick from the box of indie and small-press comics is Tales of the Cherokee. Let’s have a look at Gene Gonzales’ illustrated version of the Cherokee creation myth in “How the World Was Made.” Dig that splash page featuring the worlds above and below!

Below is another tale, a Cherokee love story Gene calls “The Origin of Strawberries.”

Collector’s Guide:
– From Tales of the Cherokee #1, Mandalay Books 2001.

To see current works by Gene Gonzales, visit
http://www.genegonzales.com and http://www.genegonzales.blogspot.com

indie box: Saurians

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This week’s pick from the short-box of indie and small-press comics deals once again with Unnatural Selection, much like the Elephantmen issues we looked at by Casey & Ladronn. But this pick comes from CrossGen comics and deals with evolutionary developments in the course of a war between humans and reptilians.

From the reptiles’ perspective, they’re the good guys. One of them discovers that by eating the humans, the reptiles get smarter and more adaptable like humans. This change allows them to kick our butts in intergalactic warfare. But the politics and religion of the Saurians make things more complex, as does interpersonal rivalry that can only be solved through sword fights and ass kicking!

Hell, yes! It’s like Mark Waid wrote this one just for me, and the artwork is so much fun though this whole story, from the creative panel layouts to the glorious colors.

Saurians: Unnatural Selection is a two-issue limited series telling the tale of the reptile that first made the discovery that eating people is the smart thing to do for an evil space dinosaur, and even if you never followed CrossGen’s main titles, this is a damn good story!

Collector’s Guide:
– From Saurians Unnatural Selection #2; CrossGen Comics, 2002.