Batman #30 Review

This article was originally published at DC Infinite on April 16, 2014.

Screen shot 2014-04-16 at 11.34.55 PMBatman #21, the first chapter of “Zero Year”, began the story with a big promise. It revealed Gotham City as a chaotic wasteland, equal parts jungle and city. Every chapter since has been building to the fulfillment of that promise. The success or failure of “Zero Year” as a whole is dependent on how the story created that setting as much as anything. Batman #30 introduces “Savage City” and it works. It works like crazy.

Like previous acts of the “Zero Year” story, the opening pages create a mystery. They provide a look at an unknown location and time that somehow relates to the current story. Although this sort of cipher can be fulfilling upon its completion, it provides no value to the story at hand. It is the sort of thing that is designed for collections and fans who enjoy speculation. It will work in those regards, but as part of a segmented story, it falls flat.

The story really begins on page three with the first of two large establishing panels. The map of Gotham City and the two page spread of the city’s new appearance on pages 6 and 7 provide wonderful visual indicators of the new status quo. The spread is beautifully composed as a point-of-view panel, firmly placing readers in the shoes of Bruce Wayne as he discovers the fallout of “Dark City”. It’s also well-crafted in the use of line, pointing readers to read from bottom-to-top, indicating The Riddler’s status as the new king of Gotham. There’s also a subtle question mark hidden in the rubble of the streets that speaks to The Riddler’s true nature as a broken and shallow man, in spite of his self-presentation as a clean cut benefactor. It also starts a trend of connecting various lamp posts to The Riddler, including the one under which Bruce’s parents were murdered.

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These large panels provide some much need decompression. After the chaos of Batman #29, the series needed to ground itself and discover what happened to all of its characters and plot threads. This is initially provided by some obvious exposition between Bruce and Duke, a young Gothamite who rescued Bruce after the events of the last issue. It’s the messiest part of the issue because of how clean it is. Duke and Alfred walk Bruce (who is essentially a stand-in for the reader at this moment) through what happened to him and Gotham between the events of Batman #29 and now. The seven pages dedicated to these conversations take away from the excitement of discovery. This is alleviated by some visually interesting panels of Gotham as Alfred explains how The Riddler has succeeded in taking the city hostage. The bright purples and greens contrast excellently against the grimy brown coloring of the newly decrepit Gotham City. The sequence serves its purpose, but does so at the expense of the story.

The problems found in early exposition are quickly dispelled by turning to Commissioner Gordon and his efforts to free the city. The action sequence combines the best elements of “Zero Year” with the most interesting aspects of The Riddler. Like all of “Zero Year”, it is over-the-top in its scale and visuals. This operatic approach to Batman stories has worked well for both Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. Snyder has found it to re-tell the Batman origin in new, interesting way and Capullo has crafted big, engaging visuals in every issue. This sequence applies that approach to the Riddler’s love of games and puns. Using massive buildings as dominoes and crafting a riddle — where literally one wrong move will result in Gordon’s death — makes the sequence the highlight of the issue. It’s crazy, it’s super-sized, and it’s very fun to read.

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Like many of the big, operatic action beats of “Zero Year”, it manages to conclude with a significant character moment as well. Much of the story has hinged on Bruce learning to trust his allies, specifically Alfred and Gordon. At the start of “Dark City”, he openly detested Gordon, but slowly learned that he was wrong. The final panel of Batman #30 does an excellent job of linking the characters and showing how their relationship has grown. It has been a natural evolution that invests the reader in the relationship between the two.

Batman #30 is far from a perfect issue. The exposition and opening cipher slow the reading experience and don’t work on multiple levels. But the parts of the issue that do work, work very well. From the beautiful establishing panels of Gotham to the Riddler’s mad master plan to the tower-tumbling action sequence, Batman #30 offers excellent moments that create clear stakes for “Savage City”. Despite its unevenness, it’s a great introduction to the final part of “Zero Year”.

Score: 8/10

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American Vampire: Second Cycle #2 Review

This article was originally published at DC Infinite on April 16, 2014.

Screen shot 2014-04-16 at 11.19.12 PMThe impact of horror stories often hinge on their ability to create tension. The pressure carefully increased over the course of the story allows for a release which can make a reader feel simultaneously relieved and terrified. Without the strain, the scares or reveals of a horror story lose their impact. American Vampire: Second Cycle #2 constructs tension perfectly and then releases it to great effect. It shows why Scott Snyder is renowned for his work within the horror genre and how Rafael Albuquerque translates his concepts into very effective, very scary comics.

The opening scene is surprisingly subtle in how it evokes a sense of mounting terror. It opens with the re-introduction of Cal, one of the series few returning characters, and the the laying of basic groundwork. It’s a scene focused around exposition, exploring the new status quo for Pearl, Cal, and the Vassals of the Morning Star. It’s loaded with visual subtext that only becomes clear on its final page. The color orange lies beneath the panels of each page as flashes of The Signalman performing. His presence is slightly predatory, as panels focus on his teeth and the sharp shine of his guitar pick. The compositions alone are enough to create a general sense of unease. When the meaning of his orange suit is revealed, the previous pages gain a menacing significance. There is a large unknown threat and it is lying directly beneath the panels on every page, behind the scenes just out of view.

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The subtly mounting tension of the opening sequence is turned into something much more visceral in the following one. Panels from this sequence are not included because to see them out of context would be to ruin the effect. The sequence reveals a mysterious monster, a strain of vampire not yet encountered in the series. It approaches a lone man and reveals its horrific face. It then speaks using the voice of the man’s son, but the voice actually belongs to his (now deceased) child and it speaks at length with his father. The final panel of the sequence is so creepy, laden with an overwhelming sense of inevitability that it must be experience first hand.

Albuquerque’s art is the key to the sequence’s effectiveness though. It is deeply expressive and dark, his linework exaggerated just enough to bend reality in a believable manner. The concept of this monster is scary on an existential level, and that fear is fully realized on the page, whether it’s in the monsters gaping jaws or the quietly crying face of a farmer accepting his death. Every image expresses the inherent wrongness of what is occurring.

The face of the monster serves as a perfect mid-point to the comic as well. It represents the climax of the issue. Something hidden and mundane is revealed to be horrific and threatening. It comes from an unexpected place and its power is overwhelming. If there were a theme to Second Cycle #2, it would be that what we don’t know about can hurt us in unexpected and vicious ways. This moment captures that concept perfectly.

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This all leads to the final pages where chaos breaks out. Cal is attacked in his hotel room by a well-armed conspiracy and Pearl discovers that one of her wards has transformed into a gigantic monster. Despite all their caution, both characters have been attacked where they believed they were safe. The attacks are almost a relief after the preceding pages of threat and menace. They were inevitable, with the only question being what form they would take. The effectiveness of the scene is that readers will be attempting to take a deep breath, just as the action begins.

The kicker to this entire sequence is that the process of building tension begins again when it concludes. A hand belonging to person unknown hangs up Pearl’s phone. The newly revealed monster in the other room is merely a distraction. Far worse creatures still lie in wait, just outside of the panel, just out of view.

Skinner Sweet is notably absent from this issue and it is probably for the best. The division between two stories in American Vampire #1 worked to re-establish the story, but never gave either plot enough room to accomplish anything significant. Given an entire issue to focus on Pearl, Snyder and Albuquerque craft a story that will stick with readers until the next issue.

Second Cycle #2 is a masterclass of tension and horror. It uses each scene to make the reader feel more trepidation, until it unleashes the monster that has been hidden the entire issue, then starts the process all over again. American Vampire is typically used as an example of how the horror genre can be effectively utilized in comics. Issues like this are the reason why.

Score: 9/10

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Legend Comics & Coffee 3rd Annual Make-A-Wish Fundraiser (DC Infinite)

This article was originally published at DC Infinite on April 15, 2014.

Legend Comics Crew

Legend Comics & Coffee, an Omaha, NE comic book store, is sponsoring its third annual fundraiser for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Starting in 2012, Legend has sold drawing tickets during the month leading up to Free Comic Book Day. The drawing includes a wide variety of prizes, but is always headlined by a valuable comic book. The drawing is national in its scope. Legend will mail prizes (with the best of packaging and protection) anywhere in the United States. The fundraiser page can be found here.

Legend provided copies of Amazing Fantasy #15 (the first appearance of Spider-Man) and Spider-Man #1 in 2012 and 2013, respectively. This year they are giving away a copy of The Walking Dead #1 with a CGC rating of 9.6. It is valued at approximately $ 4,300. In addition, the grand prize will grow as more money is raised, creating a drawing for another copy of The Walking Dead #1 (CGC rating 9.4) after $20,000 has been collected.

All money raised from the fundraiser goes directly to Make-A-Wish. All of the comics and prizes are donated by Legend and local businesses. The time, advertising, and Paypal fees involved are all paid by the store. The intention of this policy is that 100% of all money raised goes directly to Make-A-Wish.

The fundraiser was inspired by Alyssa, the niece of co-owner David DeMarco. David met Alyssa at his wedding reception when he married her aunt, Michelle. He learned that Alyssa was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at the age of five. She spent over two years in the hospital and during that time she received a wish from Make-A-Wish.

Alyssa and her family accredit her survival to the experience. DeMarco says, “It was this wish that gave her the happy memories to cling to when being sick all the time got tough.  It was the wish that ensured that no matter what happened, her family, mom, dad, brothers and sister, would have a memory of their daughter and sister that didn’t involve the hospital.”

DeMarco, partnered with co-owners Jason Dasenbrock and Wendy Pivonka, and store manager Joe Patrick to open the new location of Legend Comics & Coffee one month after his wedding. DeMarco says, “In that month, I decided to do something that would make my niece proud… I owned an entire comic book store, there was only one thing to do: use my position as a comic book store owner to make a difference in the world.”

Legend Comics & Coffee has encountered a great deal of success since opening their new location. They recently received their second nomination for the Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award and will be traveling to San-Diego Comic Con for the ceremony this summer. They are part of a thriving comics scene in the Omaha area and are well known for their welcoming atmosphere, knowledgeable staff, and community building events. It is considered by both locals and visitors to be a “must see” comic shop.

DeMarco spoke of the incredible gratitude he feels for both the success of his shop and the opportunity he has been given to help others. “Thanks to Alyssa for being the best niece an uncle could ask for, and thanks to Make A Wish for giving children a chance to hope”

If you would like to donate to the Legend Comics & Coffee 3rd Annual Make-A-Wish Fundraiser, you can follow the links listed below. Winners outside of the Omaha area will be able to receive their prizes through the mail.

Fundraiser Webpage

Facebook Event

Ms Marvel Quote

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Getting Schooled

This article was originally published at The Nerd Cave on April 14, 2014.
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About a month ago I published an article about the need for comics specific education and programs. I wrote that no current area of study fully encompassed the medium and what it is capable of. It is not the first time I have written on that subject and it will certainly not be the last. Only a week later the subject was raised in conversation with a friend of mine whom I respect a great deal. Upon hearing that I wanted to develop collegiate programs to study comics, he asked me what the benefit of those classes would be. Why should schools pay to fund those courses? Instead of providing an earnest answer, I responded flippantly, “They pay for film studies, so why not?”

The moment I said it, I regretted it. That answer isn’t good enough. Not even close. So I’m going to take a mulligan on this one. I’m going to answer the question the way it deserves to be answered.

The Question: Why should comics be funded and taught in both public schools and at a collegiate level?

The Answer: We start learning about the written word as soon as we start school. From kindergarten on, there is a regular and consistent focus on both writing and reading. Literacy is a huge focus, as it should be. Yet the focus on literacy with a written word has left other forms of communication neglected.

We exist in a world where we are constantly bombarded with communication. Televisions, iPhones, computers, tablets, etc… the ways we interact with the world are variable and constant. Many of these forms also rely on images. Advertisers have always relied on pictures to convey their messages and that is for good reason. A thirty-second advertisement is capable of evoking deep emotion in some. A carefully rendered image on a billboard can do the same. Images are powerful tools of communication. A single picture can carry more weight than a well-researched essay and delivers that information instantaneously. Yet there is very little emphasis on graphic literacy.

There’s a need to understand how we can communicate with others and how others, in turn, communicate with us. Command of language is important in all aspects of life, ranging from interpersonal relationships to professional meetings. Without an understanding of written language, it is impossible to effectively communicate. Yet written and spoken language are only two aspects of communication. Visual language is an important aspect and a growing one. The lack of focus on language outside of the written and spoken word is creating adults who are inadequately prepared to engage with the world. Not only does it hinder their ability to understand art and stories, but it ensures that adults lack the tools to comprehend the effects of advertising or propaganda. It’s a problem and it’s one that comic literacy goes a long way in solving.

Comics are primarily a visual medium. No matter how large of a focus is placed on writers; a script without an artist is not a comic. A comic relies on pictures, placed side-by-side in a purposeful order to convey information. This information is composed on various levels, ranging from the staging of forms in a panel to the composition of panels across a page. Every aesthetic choice is purposeful and effects the reader. This is not purely a question of design either. Colors and lettering have a great effect on how a comic is read and interpreted. Every element of every page is important, making the understanding of comics a massive, multi-faceted undertaking. The ways in which comics can teach people about the world are limitless.

These elements of design, color, composition, art, and so many other things help to create a substantial understanding of visual language. They can be applied across mediums to film, television, and painting. They can be applied to the creation of a business brief, to a student flier, or to an instruction manual. Engineers, economists, fashion designers… the list of careers to which comics literacy applies are limitless.

There is not only a place for comic studies in education. There is a need. An understanding of comics will not only enhance students, but the society to which they contribute.

- – - – -

When I first started writing about comics on a regular basis over a year ago, I started by posting a quote from Scott McCloud as a thesis.

“Comics is a powerful idea, but an idea that’s been squandered, ignored, and misunderstood for generations. No art form has lived in a smaller box than comics for the last hundred years. It’s time for comics to finally grow up and find the art beneath the craft.”

I thought it was a powerful, honest statement then. I think the same now. There is an important place for comics in our classrooms, in our homes, and in our lives. Comics are capable of connecting with people in a unique way. It is a medium of unbridled imagination, unlimited potential, and with no barrier to entry. It deserves advocates who can speak to that incredible power so that it can be shared.

It is still an undernourished medium though that suffers from a lot of public skepticism. The typical association with comics for most adults is still “superheroes”. Time and patience are requirements for changing that public perception, so that comics can be treated with the same respect as music, prose, or film. The biggest requirement will be people capable of educating others about comics. The comics medium needs people who can give the right answers to the big questions.

I need to give the right answers.

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Astro City #11 Review

This article was originally published at DC Infinite on April 10, 2014.

Astro City 11 - 1

Astro City is at its best when it is telling slice-of-life stories. The series has always focused on a civilian point-of-view in the superhero genre. Even stories told from the perspective of people with powers tend to place greater emphasis on their relatable traits and mundane lives. After spending time with analogs of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman in previous issues, Astro City #11 returns its gaze to a more commonplace tale and it is one of the best issues of the current volume.

The story centers on Raitha McCann, the personal assistant of The Silver Adept (a fusion of Doctor Strange and Zatanna). It comprises a single day in her life: scheduling meetings, sorting mail, and filing paperwork. Whatever eccentricities are added due to Raina’s employer being the mystic protector of Earth are unimportant to the actual drama of the story. Its focus is on Raina’s life and the excitement of her job.

That’s not to say that the story is tedious. The scheduling involves pocket dimensions, the mail contains goblin eggs, and the paperwork is century old scrolls. Every aspect of her role as a personal assistant is elevated and made visually interesting through the inclusion of superhero genre elements. The combination of everyday lives with the awe-inspiring nature of superheroes is what has always made the slice-of-life stories in Astro City function so very well. The addition of fantastical elements creates interest and heightened stakes for stories about everyday people.

In Astro City #11, Raina must confront the Stone Sea Mages and prevent a war. It’s terribly exciting, and the effectiveness of this confrontation is only heightened by Brent Eric Anderson’s character designs. Ultimately, the centerpiece of the issue is not about the Mages or what kind of havoc they can stir up on Earth. It’s about an unanticipated appointment and the struggle to keep things running smoothly. The focus of the story never drifts to reveal the backstory of this encounter; it only presents the problem from Raina’s perspective. It is shown to be a secretarial complication, not an earth shattering event.

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That’s the brilliance of Astro City #11. It takes a problem that most readers would not typically care about and makes it exciting to them. In this instance, it looks at the fast pace of an assistant’s life and the level-head and creativity required to be successful. Readers who work in a corporate environment will already understand the importance of employees like Raina. Those who don’t will have been granted a new perspective. Although the arrival of unanticipated visitors may seem minor, when placed in the shoes of Raina who has to handle the situation, it can feel like the world is ending. It’s an obvious metaphor, but it works very well in these twenty-two pages. Astro City #11 is all about empathy and it does a wonderful job of evoking it for the many assistants and administrators who keep the world running smoothly.

It also makes the standard components of Raina’s life matter even more. Astro City #11 begins and ends in front of The Silver Adept’s house in the normal world. Her day at work is frantic and absurd in comparison to the scenes outside of the house. While at work, Raina is forced to constantly confront and overcome new challenges. Raina’s gallery showing and time with friends are thus made meaningful, because of what she must do to reach these moments. The “small” stuff is all the more valuable because of what Raina must do to earn it.

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All of this is only possible through Anderson’s wonderful designs. Raina’s work is engaging even before the high stakes of the day are revealed. When she first enters her workplace, she is greeted by a minotaur with a beard of bees. It’s a visual that is striking due to its unexpected nature. It marks her work as something special. Anderson continues this throughout Astro City #11, making each new character and detail interesting in its own right. The overall effect is that Raina’s work is made to be special and readers are kept engaged. Without the valuable contributions of these designs, the comic would fall flat, unable to transform Busiek’s metaphor into an engaging story.

Astro City #11 is a return to form for the series. It evokes empathy for normal people by setting them side-by-side with superheroes. When the comparison is made, it’s hard to tell the difference between those with and without superpowers.

Score: 8/10

Administrative Professionals’ Day is two weeks away on April 23rd. If you work in an office with someone who helps to make your day easier, remember to thank them for everything they do.

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12th Level Intellect: The Wall

This article was originally published at DC Infinite on April 7, 2014.

John Ostrander (1) made his debut at DC Comics plotting the 1986 mini-series Legends. The series was moderately successful, but served as a launching pad for Ostrander’s most popular comic series, Suicide Squad. In Legends Ostrander created a character that would not only serve as the focal point of Suicide Squad, but would become one of the most adaptable and popular characters to emerge from the 1980s: Amanda Waller.

Amanda Waller_1

Ostrander realized that Waller would be an unconventional, if not shocking choice to play the role of a tough-as-nails commander willing to accomplish her mission at any cost. Only middle-aged white men like General Lane and Sergeant Steel had previously filled that sort of role. Ostrander was not a fan of business as usual, and played to that reversal of expectations in her first appearance.

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Amanda Waller is not physically shown in the first page on which she appears. She has plenty to say though, providing the reader with a clear sense of who the character is. She is loud and commanding, bringing a colonel into her office and dismissing his stern attitude with a blend of sarcasm and dismissive remarks. What begins as a disembodied voice slowly takes shape throughout the page. In panel three, Ostrander reveals she’s a woman. In panel four a hand is shown, revealing she is black. It is not until the following page though that she is first seen as an entire person.

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Her first appearance is undoubtedly meant to be shocking. (2) Only her face is shown, filling the panel. She’s angry, reprimanding Colonel Rick Flagg for a vaguely racist remark. Waller is not a woman to be trifled with, and she’s not like any woman that had ever appeared in a DC comic book. Full-bodied, black, and with more willpower than some Green Lanterns: Amanda Waller was something entirely new to the superhero genre.

Ostrander’s creation of Amanda Waller represents an understanding of diversity beyond many current writers working at DC. She certainly represents a wide variety of diverse factors: body type, gender, race, age, and—later—socio-economic background. But she was much more than the collection of her traits. In Suicide Squad, she was a fully realized character. Waller grew beyond the tropes of a militant commander to reveal unexpected depths. Her attachment to both her team and the missions she sent them on were driven by her life experiences and often conflicted with one another. She was simultaneously haunted and strengthened by family tragedy that had nothing to do with super powers. She was an incredibly human character. This made her accomplishments in the series all the more incredible.

Suicide Squad 10

One of Waller’s most notable moments came in Suicide Squad #10. Batman sneaks into Belle Reve Prison to discover the secrets of the Squad and expose them to the public. He views the team as “a travesty of justice” that must be abolished, which sets him in direct opposition to Waller, the team’s sponsor. Upon discovering that Batman has hacked into the team’s files, Waller sends her operatives to stop him. In the course of five pages, Batman plows through the team: taking down a half-dozen guards, Duchess (3), Deadshot, and Rick Flagg. He only stops when he looks up to see Amanda Waller holding a sub-machine gun.

It’s not the gun that stops Batman, though. It’s the woman holding it. In a calm and confident manner, she explains that if he were to expose the Squad, then she would expose his secret identity. Whether she actually could discover that Batman is Bruce Wayne is unknown, but if she is bluffing, then Batman is scared to call her on it. Instead he agrees to hand over the information he had stolen and leaves the prison having failed in his mission.

Not only is this moment powerful because Batman is perceived as an unbeatable superhero, but because he represents the status quo in DC Comics. He is a white, wealthy, physically-fit man. Ostrander’s choice to have Waller defeat Batman, rather than some other urban vigilante, was not simply due to his star power. His appearance as the most popular character in DC Comics highlights what makes the Suicide Squad and Amanda Waller, in particular, so unique. They do not conform to the status quo, but are all the better for it. Waller wins a metaphorical victory, too.

The Wall v Batman

Having not only stood up to Batman, but also made him back down, Waller’s nickname was secured. Amanda Waller was The Wall.

This was her consistent characterization throughout 68 issues of Suicide Squad (66 issues, one annual, and one special). It established her character firmly within the canon of DC Comics. Neither hero nor villain, she would continue to operate in the shadows fighting for good using dubious means.

She also proved to be a very adaptable character. Waller has appeared in multiple live-action and animated television shows, animated features, and a movie (all of which were non-cameo roles). Without a doubt, she is one of the most popular pieces of intellectual property created at Warner Brothers in the 1980s.

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She has also appeared outside of the WB wheelhouse in Michel Fiffe’s Copra. (4) Part Suicide Squad homage and part indie comic, Copra captures the essence of Amanda Waller in Sonia, the leader of a similar team framed for the use of a weapon of mass destruction.

It’s a relief that Fiffe is writing a version of Amanda Waller, as Ostrander’s Amanda Waller has disappeared from DC Comics. In the New 52 revamp of their superhero comics, Waller was reimagined as a young woman of athletic build. Her family and urban roots were replaced with a special ops background. Instead of being a uniquely qualified woman in a special position of power, she was written as a stereotypical military commander: violent, cruel, and often wrong. Her new design turned a highlight of diversity done right into a stereotype. (5)

New 52 Waller

Perhaps the most damaging change to the character was the shift in body type. Amanda Waller was one of very few examples of overweight individuals in superhero comics, especially ones not characterized as villains. Her new figure is stereotypical of super heroines. A change in coloring could quickly turn the new Amanda Waller into Harley Quinn dressed in a suit. Whereas her old design emphasized her character over her physical characteristics, the new one objectifies her. Even with a military background, she wears high heels and pant suits that emphasize her breasts and thighs. It’s a disappointing development. Superhero comics already lack in diversity—real diversity—and do not need it to be removed.

The Wall is not merely diverse because of her race, gender, and weight. She represents diversity because she is a relatable human being who has a unique story to tell in the tapestry of DC Comics. Her role as a wife and mother, as a person who rose up from poverty, and as a woman confronting a glass ceiling all provide diversity as well.

This type of diversity, told with real characters that can share experiences with an audience that will never personally face, represents the value of diversity. Amanda Waller was one of the best examples of this. She lived through traumas and struggled with things that no other character in DC Comics had. She brought value not just to comics like Suicide Squad, but to the lives of its readers. That character is gone, for now.

There are signs of hope though. The new Ms. Marvel, created by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona, is as exciting of a new creation as The Wall was in 1986. She’s a young woman of Pakistani origin who practices Islam. Most importantly, she is a fully realized character. She is not defined by her minority status, but by her humanity. It’s important to create more characters like that, like The Wall, who represent not just the diversity of our society, but our shared humanity as well.

The Wall_Final

(1) Ostrander’s name will be used to denote the writing of Amanda Waller in every issue of Suicide Squad in this article. However, it’s important to note that that comic was also extensively developed by Ostrander’s collaborator, and later wife, Kim Yale. Yale first worked on the series in Suicide Squad #23 and continued to contribute until its conclusion. Her impact on the characters is undeniable. I am only discussing the specific issues Legends #1 and Suicide Squad #10 in this column, so I will only be using Ostrander’s name, since he wrote these issues alone.

(2)Her initial appearance was drawn by the legendary John Byrne. However, it was Luke McDonnell that would define the character’s physical appearance and mannerisms, as he drew every issue of Suicide Squad.

(3) Duchess is better known as Lashina, the leader of the Female Furies from Apokolips. Duchess played an interesting role within the Suicide Squad. Not only was she an alien devoted to violence, but she was easily the Squad’s strongest member. She outmatched characters like Rick Flagg and Bronze Tiger in terms of physical strength and brutality. This sort of role was and still is predominantly reserved for men in superhero comics.

(4) Copra is a truly incredible superhero comic, one of the best published in the last decade. Fiffe applies a visually striking sense of composition and design that places the book on a level of its own. Although it can be hard to find, it is worth the effort and money.

(5) Another very popular character from the 1980’s created by John Ostrander and Kim Yale was Oracle. Left paralyzed after The Killing Joke, Yale found her treatment distasteful and worked with Ostrander to include appearances of the mysterious Oracle in various DC Comics before revealing her identity in Suicide Squad #38.

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Trillium #8 Review

This article was originally published at DC Comics News on April 5, 2014.

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In Plato’s Symposium the character Aristophanes proposes an origin myth for mankind. He claims that man was once a round being with four hands and four feet with a two-faced head. Zeus, fearing the power of man, struck the being into two parts so that each half would be forced to look for its counter-part. Aristophanes was originally presented as a figure of comic relief in Symposium and he even introduces his tale as absurdist in nature. Despite its absurdity, it has continued to resonate with readers for more than 2,000 years. It speaks to the concept of a soul mate, a better half. It acknowledges that two people can come together and create a better whole, that there is another person capable of helping us heal and be better than we are. It is deeply romantic in nature, but it also speaks to the best in people, offering hope, comfort, and a beautiful representation of what love can be. It summarizes all of the reasons why Trillium is an instant classic that will continue to be read for many years.

Trillium was always billed as a love story, yet it was very deceptive in how it unfolded. A cursory glance reveals a science fiction tale filled with time travel, aliens, body swaps, sentient viruses, and spaceships. The two protagonists only encounter one another briefly. In Trillium #8 Nika tells William, “We barely know each other. We’ve only spent a few hours together…” There are no meet-cute’s, no crazy dates, no fight/reconciliation cycles. All of the standard tropes of romantic tales are missing from this story. Yet there is no doubt at the end of the series that this story was about their love.

Jeff Lemire accomplished this herculean task by substituting standard romantic moments with science fiction concepts. The time travel and body swapping are not included in Trillium to explore the ramifications of said technology, but to be used as metaphors for human relationships. Nika and William are disconnected in every meaningful way at the conclusion of Trillium #1. They do not share the same culture, speech, planet, or year. They slowly overcome their differences and learn about one another using the science fiction tropes of the comic. It ranges from something as small as the artificial intelligence, Essie, translating old English or as large as switching lives entirely. Every element of the book deals with the process of learning about another person.

The structure of each issue has done the same, taking full advantage of the comic form to accentuate the themes of the story. In Trillium #1, the story is told from both the front and back covers converging in the middle to reflect the initial collision between Nika and William. Trillium #2 switches perspectives every page to show the troublesome nature of first getting to know someone while simultaneously revealing the ways in which two people may be more alike than either are aware. In Trillium #5, their stories create a circle between the top and bottom halves of the comic revealing the growing interdependency of two lovers. Every issue makes a point about the evolving nature of the characters relationship.

In Trillium #8 both the sci-fi concepts and format of the comic come together to provide a substantive thesis. The first nineteen pages of Trillium #8 are formatted as a standard Western comic. All of the panels read left-to-right and top-to-bottom, and all of them are clearly oriented in the same direction. The science fiction tropes play out as the surviving characters must use their various resources to protect humanity from the dangerous Caul. That story, the science fiction adventure, ends on page 14. All of the large-scale concerns are resolved leaving Nika and William floating together in outer space with only an hour to live. This is where the true finale begins. They float closer to a black hole, the source of all their space-time troubles and body switching. It begins to warp their forms and pull them into a place where they can “experience of stretching in time and space”. It is only at this moment that Trillium once again applies a non-typical format to its pages.

As Nika and William are pulled into the black hole, their lives are pulled together. The tumbling panels on pages 18 and 19 reveal their early lives up until the traumatic moments that have haunted them. Only the following pages, 20 and 21, use any of the inverted panels that were so common in Trillium #1 – #7. They reveal Nika and William appearing in front of one another at these traumatic moments and comforting their counterpart. The panels, colors, and poses all reflect one another perfectly. If separated, the pages lose most of their impact, but together they form a perfect whole, a climax for Trillium. Nika and William are like these pages and Aristophanes’ mythical soul mates. They are two halves capable of creating a greater whole. They are the dream of romantic love fully realized.

Despite its trappings, Trillium is not a sci-fi story or a romance. It’s a myth. It is not interested in exploring the effects of new technology or the story of a singular romance. Instead it wants to explain a basic idea to the reader, to explain the concept of romantic love. Everything about it comes back to that central purpose. The genre trappings, the formatting, the coloring: all of it is used to finally make clear what love is.

It’s two people bound together in a vacuum, each of them undeniably broken, irrepressibly human. Yet together, these two people are whole. They heal one another’s wounds, provide comfort in darkness, and follow one another, no matter what that means. They are two halves of a unique whole, one that defies space and time, one that exists in a singular moment and for all eternity.

Aristophenes could not have told this tale any better.

Score: 5/5

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Dennis Hopeless on Avengers Underground


This article was originally published at The Nerd Cave on April 5, 2014.
Dennis Hopeless

Last weekend at Planet Comicon in Kansas City, I had the opportunity to speak with Dennis Hopeless on Saturday. Hopeless’ new series, drawn by Kev Walker, Avengers Undercover debuted on March 12th. It’s the sequel to their previous collaboration Avengers Arena, picking up directly where its predecessor left off.

We spoke primarily about the transition between the two series and Hopeless process in constructing a book in the mainstream Marvel universe, as well as the themes that emerged from the conclusion of Avengers Arena and his collaboration with Kev Walker.

CM: Let’s start by discussing the end of Avengers Arena and how that leads into Avengers Undercover. What initially attracted you to the concept and characters of Arena that are being continued in Undercover?

DH: Originally I was asked to pitch a re-launch of Avengers Academy. They wanted to do more of a PG-13, harder edged version with a whole new school, different teachers, and different students. They were going to graduate Christos’ (Gage) academy, so it could be a whole new thing. Initially, the book that I pitched was going to be teenage superheroes with more bullying and relationship stuff than they had done in the past. The third arc, as we were developing, was a Tri-Wizard Tournament involving Marvel Universe teenagers that devolved into a sort of Hunger Games when a villain got involved.

My editor (Bill Rosemann) took that element of the pitch and brought it to the editor-in-chief (Axel Alonso) and Tom Brevoort. They took one look at it and said, “No, this right here. Let’s just do this. That’s the whole book.” So we had done a whole bunch of legwork on this one thing and then it all shifted. I was really hesitant to do it. I wasn’t going to say no. It was my first ongoing and I loved the characters involved, but that threw me for a loop.

What eventually drew me to the concept, when I was trying to figure out how I was going to make this work, was that I can do all of these teen angst things, but with heightened drama. This is a worst-case scenario version of being a teenager: of being surrounded by everybody else, and learning who you’re going to be, and dealing with all of the egos involved. I figured out that I could focus on getting in all of the different character’s heads and showing this terrible experience from all of their perspectives. It could be really character driven, while also having this intense, high stakes environment going on the whole time. The drama would be there and driving the story. It took me a while to come around to it, but once I did, I really embraced it.

CM: It sounds like Tom Brevoort and Marvel’s editorial staff, in general, is pushing to try new things and that this was part of that effort.

DH: It makes sense from a marketing standpoint. If your book has a hook that sounds different from any other superhero book you’ve ever heard of before, it’s easy to sell that. That was the thing with Arena. It, obviously, drummed up some controversy and some people were upset when we first announced it. It was this big, crazy idea that was so different from what Academy had been that people understood what it was and could argue about it online. It makes sense from a creative standpoint to give us different challenges, things to change the character, new ways to go.

But also, from a marketing standpoint, you can sell these ideas. If it’s the Fantastic Four falling apart, like what James Robinson is doing right now, that’s an idea that people can understand. It’s not just issue four hundred and sixteen of Fantastic Four or whatever. It’s a new idea. Arena gave us an opportunity to do that. It was a high concept that was very easy to explain. I think by the end of issue one of Arena that everybody got what we were doing and what it was going to be. The rest was just playing it out.

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CM: Arena had a balance of established characters, like Nico and Chase, and original characters, like Deathlocket and the Braddock Academy kids. How does your approach vary when handling characters with an established history versus original creations?

DH: The biggest difference is you can read the back story. You can sit down and read or re-read Runaways, one of my favorite series ever, and see who Chase and Nico are. Whereas, if you’re creating a character, you have to figure all of that out. There’s a character in the book (Avengers Arena #1), Red Raven, who dies right away, but I didn’t know that at the time I was developing this book. So I can tell you all sorts of interesting things about Red Raven that didn’t make it into the book. Now that she’s gone, they don’t matter. But you have to get into the mind of the character. For someone like Nico or Chase, the first thing you do is re-read their back story and figure out who that character is in your mind and what voice that character has. When you’re writing them you want them to be your characters, you want to take in all of what they’ve been, figure out what that voice is in your head, and take ownership. Otherwise, you shy away from changing anything or finding a new angle on the character or you try to make it too much like another person’s writing style. It’s going to be really difficult to do interesting new things. You do your research and you do your take on the character and run with it.

CM: Jumping into Avengers Undercover #1, it’s a very natural progression from where Avengers Academy ended. There seem to be a lot of themes and ideas that were left open for this series. At what point in Avengers Arena did you begin to plan for the next step? 

DH: We always wanted to deal with the aftermath in some way. If we weren’t going to get a follow up series, and we didn’t know right away if we were going to get a follow up series, the final issue probably would have dealt with that as a coda, like what’s life like now that they’re back home? Once we knew we were going to get a follow up series, it changed the ending of Arena. I could just end it with that Arcade slap in the face, where Arcade puts the stuff online and now everybody has to deal with it. I get a whole new series to tell that story. So we knew that part was going to be happening in the book and we needed a hook, some sort of story idea that was going to sell, something more than: these are damaged kids who are trying to figure out how the world works. My editor pitched several different ideas of what we could do. I kind of wanted to do a road trip book where they ran away and went around the Marvel Universe, but that didn’t have enough of a hook. My editor pitched this idea of them going to super villain school, going the other way. I thought that sounded kind of hokey. After what Arena was, the tone of that would be really hard to get. But I liked the idea of them being surrounded by super villains. I had just re-read Rick Remender’s Secret Avengers run, which has this underground super villain mega city, Bagalia. I thought, what if we set the book there? What if there’s a way to get the characters down there? From that we got the idea of them infiltrating the Masters of Evil and going undercover.

CM: Reading Avengers Undercover #1, you can see that the scope has expanded. Whereas, Avengers Arena always had a limited lifespan with only thirty days to tell the story, Undercover feels like it could run much longer. Are you planning this in a similar way to Arena or is this being planned as an ongoing with no end in sight? 

DH: It’s an ongoing, in so much as if it sells, it’ll keep going on. There’s a long version of this first big story and there’s a shorter version. We’ll play it by ear and see how people respond and how sales go. If it blows up and people are really into it, there are definitely stories I want to tell with these characters going forward. Whether that would be Undercover #27 or a new book, I don’t know. There is a story that has an ending, being the Masters of Evil storyline, but that isn’t necessarily the end.

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CM: With the increased scope, you also get to bring in a lot of new characters. At the end of Undercover #1, there’s a great shot of the Masters of Evil featuring Baron Zemo, Constrictor, and some others. How much leeway did you have in picking out new characters? 

DH: Absolutely. As long as no one else is using them in a way that would contradict what I want to do. No one could use the Avengers Arena characters until it was about to be done, because they were away. Same sort of thing, where if somebody is using a villain in a way that wouldn’t make sense, I would have to not use them. Beyond those restrictions, we can do whatever we want to. Baron Zemo’s a cool character, a cool old school Avengers villain that wasn’t being used. I wanted to use Constrictor again because the last time we saw him, Arcade smashed him with a hammer.

A lot of it grew out of what Bagalia was. What characters would make sense to be in this new Masters of Evil? That’s where Daimon Hellstrom came in. In Cullen Bunn’s Venom, Daimon Hellstrom broke up into five different versions of himself and one of them is evil. That’s awesome! I can use an evil Daimon Hellstrom to run the Helltown down in Bagalia.

CM: The first issue of Avengers Undercover picks up on themes that weren’t explored in Avengers Arena, specifically the commentary on reality TV, the nature of celebrity, and how that is affecting these kids. Is that something you plan to continue exploring in Undercover? 

DH: It’s a big part of what’s going on in their lives. They went through the most traumatic experience of their lives, and the whole world has seen it, and everybody has something to say about it. It’s a unique element to their situation. Their life changes quite a bit after the first arc though, once they get down in with the villains.

They’re no longer dealing with the same things they were in their old lives. So it’s a big part of where they start, but the things they’re going to be dealing with going forward are going to be different. I definitely wanted to address that because I think it’s an interesting part of our culture. There’s something sort of terrifying about being famous, the idea of everyone caring about your every move and having an opinion on it. I wanted to address it up front, but it’s not a huge theme going forward.

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CM: The thing I found most striking about that in the first issue was how dehumanized they were to everyone watching the videos. It’s analogous to how we look at celebrity and reality television. It pushes the reader to reflect on how they look at those concepts.

DH: Absolutely. That’s one of the reasons why the kids, once they start interacting with the villains, those are the only people who don’t judge them. They didn’t see the arena. They don’t think these kids are monsters. They just did what they had to do. That’s the perspective of the villains. The villains in this book aren’t going to be like moustache twirling villains. They’re just people who have decided to use their powers for their own self-interest. It’s a really un-super heroic idea, but it’s a very human idea. It’ll be fun to watch the kids walk that line and decide where their allegiances lie.

CM: Turning our eye towards craft, Kev Walker drew the majority of Avengers Arena. It also appears that he is drawing most of Avengers Undercover going forward.

DH: Yes.

CM: What kind of scripting process do you two use when creating an issue together?

DH: I write full script, but, especially for action sequences, I tell Kev these are the beats, do whatever the hell you want to do. Part of my process is that I have to make sure it fits. I write full script, so I can see it in my head, but I fully expect and love the ways that Kev changes everything. Like in the action sequences, he’ll take what I wanted to do and twist it through a filter and make it better every single time. The more we work together, the more I make it clear that I just want him to do his thing. He nails the quiet moments, which are a big part of my writing: the little dialogue moments and little character beats. He always hits every facial expression without having to have it be explained by the dialogue. Then he makes these killer action sequences, so I just try to stay out of his way, while trying to write the script that allows me to move the story along.

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CM: A few other artists contributed to Avengers Arena: Alessandro Vitti, Karl Moline, and Ricardo Burchielli. Does your process change much when working with different artists on the same series? 

DH: It doesn’t at Marvel because you have the intermediary of the editor. I send the script to Bill Rosemann, who’s the editor, and he and I will talk about it, then he presents it to the artist. If the artists have questions, they’ll come back to him. A lot of the time, because most of those guys only did a couple of issues, they’re not as involved in the building of the story. They’re just working with Bill and me on that one thing. Whereas Kev is a huge part of figuring out the story and all of it, because he’s going to be involved much more. For the most part, it’s the same because I’m working through an editor. Now on a creator-owned book or something where you’re developing it with the other person: you own it fifty-fifty and they’re right there with you talking on the phone, it can be something very different. Some people want very detailed full script and some people will take a black marker and mark out anything but the action on a panel description. You learn with your artists and I’ve definitely done that with Kev. I’ve adjusted what I do with Kev, but working with those artists over a shorter period of time, it’s a different thing.

CM: One thing about Kev Walker is that he’s illustrated over 700 comics, starting off at 2000 A.D. in Britain. How was the experience collaborating with someone who had been in the industry much longer than you? 

DH: Working with Kev has been a fantastic experience because he always makes us look good, makes me look better. The other thing he brings to the table is that he will scrutinize everything from a different perspective. Kev thinks of things in different ways. He has to understand how a gun works before he can draw the gun. Kev will bring up stuff that fans would ask. In the scripts page, he’ll say that we should probably specify what this is or he’ll ask me a question that makes me realize this has to be clearer. That’s fantastic to have that other person that’s really thinking it through and wrapping their mind around it to make sure it makes sense. Some of that has to do with his experience and being a really intelligent artist.

CM: That sounds great. I’m really looking forward to the next issue of Avengers Underground and the rest of the series. Thanks for taking some time to talk about it.

DH: No problem.

Avengers Undercover #1 is out now and the entirety of Avengers Arena has been collected in three volumes.

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The Wake #7 Review


This article was originally published at DC Comics News on March 28, 2014.
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When The Wake returned in February to tell the second half of its story, it was met with a large amount of acclaim. Not only had it shifted the story to a brand new character and timeline, but had taken full advantage of the comic form to explore those changes and their thematic consequences. Sean Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth’s art was a tour de force that served the story perfectly. After a re-introduction so successful, it is difficult to imagine a second chapter not being comparatively weaker, but The Wake #7 lives up to all of the promise of its preceding installment.

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The first half of The Wake had a small cast primarily focused around Lee Archer. The second half has increased that focus and created a story with a singular protagonist, Leeward. Every character in The Wake #7 appears in relation to Leeward, whether it is as her friend or enemy. It is clearly Leeward’s story, which makes the story’s effectiveness depend on her ability to connect with the audience. If she were unsympathetic or did not have much at stake, then The Wake would fail despite all of its other strengths. It does not. Leeward is a wonderfully formed character that most readers will fall in love with now, if they managed to avoid it during The Wake #6.

The opening scene with Leeward as a child helps to provide her motivation and explain the formation of her personality. Those four pages provide a large amount of information which increase Leeward’s personal stakes while simultaneously endearing her to the audience. Snyder understands how important every page is and shows a deft ability to make economic use of his page count. Murphy also displays his ability to craft a cute scene, something not seen since his collaboration with Grant Morrison on Joe the Barbarian. The opening page is endearing without becoming schmaltzy. Readers will be able to identify with the combined excitement and terror of being a young child, and how a parent can help you appreciate the good moments before the bad ones come. Panels four and five on page one are stunning in their simple perfection.

Small touches in that opening scene help to connect it to the present as well. Leeward’s dolphin themed hat and socks reinforce her friendship with Dash and position the dolphin as the second most important character in the The Wake. That investment in both characters makes the action that fills most of the issue all the more effective. Snyder has made no qualms about killing off characters unexpectedly in the series’ first half, which pays off dividends here. The danger feels real and the characters even more so. The action both onboard and overboard is literally pulse pounding.

When the transition from the danger on the ship to the danger in the ocean is made on page twelve, Murphy and Hollingsworth bring the series central division into crystalline focus. The top half of the page is colored using the palette of The Wake #6 and #7 with a burnt lemon sky and aqua blue waves. It is bright, exposed, and full of life. The bottom half is black. It is the dark unknown of the ocean with its only feature the gigantic monster rising from its depths. It is the essential split between the two halves of the series, between the surface and the depths, between the known and the unknown. No page embodies the division that Snyder and Murphy seek to explore better than this one.

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An incredible amount happened in The Wake #6, setting up an entirely new status quo and a massive problem to be solved in only four remaining issues. With that in mind, the pacing of The Wake #7 may feel relatively slow, but that is relative. The Wake continues to accomplish a lot in every issue and the slower pacing of #7 allows for the great character work with Leeward.


The Wake is a comic that continuously sets a high standard and the second half has already exceeded the first in every way. It’s expanded scope, imaginative concepts, tight storytelling, and self-mirroring conceit make this the must read Vertigo title of 2014… and it’s only March.


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James Robinson on The Saviors

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Last weekend at Planet Comicon in Kansas City, I had the opportunity to speak with James Robinson after a panel on Saturday. Robinson currently writes both All-New Invaders and Fantastic Four at Marvel Comics. He also launched a creator owned series with J. Bone called The Saviors at Image Comics last December.

We spoke about his and J. Bone’s work on The Saviors for about fifteen minutes, discussing its origin, tone, connections of current affairs, and his collaboration with J. Bone.

CM: Where did the idea for The Saviors originate? Was this a concept you had been working on for a long time?

JR: No. I was in a fan expo a couple of years ago talking to J. Bone. He told me that because of his art style, which has an animated feel to it, he was typecast as doing children’s stories and young adult stories, charming stuff. He said that he’d really like to do a horror book. So I said that I would go off and think of something. I think he thought that I would come back with something along the lines of Mike Mignola or Steve Niles, which is great by the way, but for some reason what popped into my head was this idea of combining late 1950’s alien movies, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers with its metaphors for the Cold War and everything else with the horror elements of John Carpenter’s The Thing. And from putting all of that together came the initial seed of The Saviors. Which even since then has grown and expanded in terms of the ideas I had for the characters.

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CM: I think the art is a good fit for what you describe. It reminds me of Darwyn Cooke’s work in Parker and its relation to 50’s and 60’s cinema.

JR: There’s a lot of that. I can see some Sam Peckinpah definitely in the feel of , especially, the first five issues where they go down to Mexico. One of the things about the book though is that issue six will be set in Victorian America and will show the parallel between the aliens arriving and people arriving at Ellis Island at the turn of the century. Then in the next arc, it’ll be in Paris with an entirely different set of characters. The next one will be in Canada with a different set of characters again. Slowly you’ll see all these characters from all these arcs come together, this big tapestry that I’m painting with different characters, the plot, and everything else. Also, the aliens have been on Earth for so long that they’ve incorporated the way of life in America or in the world, so some of those become characters too in their own right.

CM: In the most recent issue, (The Saviors#3, you give a better look at the scope of the series with so many new characters being introduced from all around the world. When you were planning the series with J. Bone did you establish how long you wanted the series to run or where you would like it to end?

JR: We definitely have become quite energized by the series. We decided to keep it going and make it an ongoing book. Originally, it was just going to be the adventures of Tomas, the main character at the moment, but this larger world sort of came about and we were very excited about that. So things have changed a little bit, I initially thought the book would be more singular, but it’ll give J. a chance to constantly be changing his style a little bit and adapting the book to the different areas and characters we’ll be doing.

CM: Speaking of J. Bone, what is your process together? Do you use full script, Marvel method, or some combination?

JR: To work with J. Bone I use full script, but he has leeway. The only reason I do full script is I would rather have more ideas on the table than not enough ideas, so I just want to give him every idea in my head. But he has carte blanche to use what he wants and decide what he doesn’t. Sometimes he’s quite faithful to the script and other times he veers off and does stuff he feels is more artistically appropriate. I love that, the excitement of seeing these new ideas and the challenge of making it flow and everything else. It is somewhat structured, but there is an organic element that comes from two creators respecting each other and giving each other the freedom to do the work they want to do.

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CM: You’ve spoken a lot about the different locales in The Saviors. In three issues it’s already moved from bleak desert landscapes to a small seaside Mexican village during Dia de los Muertos. How do you and J. Bone decide where to set each part of the story?

JR: A lot of that is my suggestions and he seems very open to it. Just to give him a break, originally I was going to set the third arc in Russia, but I thought he was working so hard that I should set it in Canada where he lives, so he can draw upon easy reference for a change. He’s a really good sport, but every issue is an exercise in research. That slows him down and, I try to supply as much reference as I can, but the artist still has a lot on their plate when you throw all of these locations at them.

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CM: I’ve noticed that J. Bone’s action sequences are largely silent, besides some sound effects. In the big chase sequence in the first issue, it’s left to the reader to imagine most of the auditory elements. How did that concept for presenting action come about?

JR: It was my idea. I’m not a fan of lots of stuff going on in fight sequences. There is an argument to say that the reason you should do it is that if you don’t, then readers scan the images too quickly and don’t really take in what is going on. There is that and that’s a valid argument. But for this book I just wanted it to have the feel of a movie. You said “cinematic” earlier, and that’s something I wanted to aspire to with this book. So you’re right, there was silence in the first issue. In the second issue, the first eight pages are entirely silent. J. is very good at adding in a sound effect here or there. Initially, the only sound effect I put in the script was when the rock hits the bottom of the cliff that attracts the alien, but he put a few more sound effects in. He does them very well and incorporates them into the artwork, which makes them feel a part of the art and more organic.

CM: Another non-typical thing I’ve noticed with The Saviors is how it’s being presented. Most American comics are being marketed with sub-titles for each story or some form of clear designation between arcs. The Saviors seems to have steered away from that and is moving towards more organic breaks, where you jump between different locales and stories. Was that a purposeful choice when planning the comic? 

JR: No. It’s easy, when something works out, to say that we planned it all along, but this is the first creator-owned book I’ve done in a long time. It’s the first time I’ve worked at Image. A lot of it is trial-and-error and learning how to do it. As we get better at it, we’ll have more of an idea of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and whether that approach works. Maybe we should be doing something like, this is the next arc the way other books do. It’s a real work in progress.

CM: You mentioned this is your first work at Image. What attracted you to the publisher?

JR: I know Eric Stephenson, because he lives in San Francisco where I live. I’ve known Eric for a long time and Ron Richards, who now works there, for even longer. It’s really the logical place to go, if you want to own your property, have creative freedom, and do what you want. So that was why I chose to do it at Image. It’s been very good, a lot of fun.

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CM: There’s a palpable sense of paranoia, especially once it becomes clear that there is a worldwide conspiracy. It makes me think of current events, like the NSA revelations. Has the current political climate inspired your story?

JR: I don’t know if it’s inspired me, but it’s like how Invasion of the Body Snatchers came out and it was sort of anti-McCarthy. The general feel of the world helped me to come up with the idea, more than having started the book and having current things inspiring it now. I do think we live in a world of such uncertainty and fear. You can’t win. We’re scared of the terrorists and what they might do. We’re scared, to some degree, of our own governments and the lines they’re crossing in order to combat terrorism. Are they crossing too many line? Is it for our own good if some of our privacy is taken from us or is that too much? All of that is stuff that while it wasn’t an inspiration when I started. It’s certainly in the back of my mind when I came up with it and will certainly play into the ongoing storyline.

CM: One last question about The Saviors, giving you carte blanche to say whatever you like: I’m really enjoying the series, if you could pitch to anyone not reading the book, what would you have to say?

JR: It has lots of great tropes that we know: the alien invasion, the conspiracy theory, them having taken over the world, but I’m also trying to incorporate as much different UFO conspiracy, real stuff as I can for background. I’m incorporating it into this book as if all of it’s true to some degree. As I said, if you don’t like one character, they might be dead next issue. One thing I’ve been inspired by The Walking Dead, to some degree, and Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! was the way that you couldn’t get attached to any character. They die at the drop of the hat, when you least expect it. If you don’t like Tomas and the world he’s in now, we’re going to go to Paris and meet a whole new set of characters with a new set of experiences and skills. It’ll be set very much in the high tech world of Paris and the stylish world of Paris. The book will be constantly changing and shifting while having this overall thru line that will slowly bring all of the characters and drama together. So it’s definitely a book to jump onboard. We’ll have the first collection out for a very low price, so you can try it and, hopefully, stick with the book.

CM: Thanks for your time.

JR: Thank you.

The Saviors can be purchased physically from comic book stores or digitally at both Comixology and the Image Store.

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