Leading Questions: And a Bug Shall Lead Them

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on March 9, 2017.

Cosmic Odyssey - Bug 2

Every week in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Publisher of Comics Bulletin Mark Stack will ask Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.

So without any further ado…

Cosmic Odyssey just had a big re-release after being out of print. You turned me and a bunch of others at CB onto that book a while back, and there’s one element that has stuck with me from it. Orion, of the New Gods, doesn’t learn anything during that story. He massacres groups and continues to dismissively refer to Forager as “Bug” even after his death. How can we as readers learn from a character who doesn’t in the long term?

First thing, thanks for calling out the series I wrote with Sacks, Elkin, Gehen, and Garret on Cosmic Odyssey. It began with some late night drunken San Diego Comic Con ranting and hopefully ended with a few more people reading this incredible comic. While I recognize it’s not a classic to everyone, it’s one of my absolute favorite comics and one I wish more people would give a read. That’s why I’m glad to see DC Comics finally reprinting it in a prestige format because it seems relevant now more than ever.

That’s something your question gets to the very heart of.

In the mythos of The Fourth World Orion is the hero, or the closest thing to that central role as it is possible to identify. I’m talking Joseph Campbell sorts of heroes here, the ones to which we can trace Skywalkers and Buddhas alike. He’s the son of the evil tyrant, raised by the benevolent figure, who must wander his own journey in order to discover his destiny. The guy has the makings of a Hollywood star. He’s also kind of a dick.

I won’t get into the intricacies of Kirby’s work, but that’s not accidental. Goodness is always a struggle for Orion and he’s often at his best when putting his worst tendencies to a good cause. There’s a lot of moral gray areas contained within the character that allow him to save the world and support noble causes while also killing folks who may not deserve it and being prejudiced against his allies. He’s a blunt instrument perfectly designed for political allegory.

That depiction of Orion has been consistent throughout the best continuations of Kirby’s originating work, whether we’re discussing Morrison’s JLA or Cosmic Odyssey. In Cosmic Odyssey Orion kills dozens, if not hundreds, of brainwashed Thanagarians to Superman’s horror. The result of this horrifying action is that he saves existence. That’s not an overstatement either. As a direct result of his actions, he helps to stop a plan that would unleash the Anti-Life Equation and end existence as we know it. It’s still possible to argue over the possibility of another way, but it’s difficult to not sympathize with the position of “by any means necessary” in this specific scenario.

None of that stops Orion from being an asshole. He spits shame on Superman for criticizing these violent tactics in the moment, but the much more telling instance comes at the end of Cosmic Odyssey in his final interaction with Forager.

Cosmic Odyssey - Bug 4

Forager, also known as Bug, is a New God just like Orion. He was raised by a different race of people though and is looked down upon by Orion and some others, referred to disparagingly as Bug because of it. Forager accomplishes the same task as Orion at the conclusion of Cosmic Odyssey; he stops a bomb and in doing so saves Earth and the entire Milky Way Galaxy. The difference is that when Forager accomplishes his goal nobody dies, except for Forager. There’s a zombified Parademon and police officer, but they’re both already rotting. It is only Forager who chooses to pay the price for the salvation of countless other lives.

And how does Orion acknowledge this tremendous sacrifice?

Cosmic Odyssey - Bug 3

It’s great that Batman plants one on Orion’s jaw for that minimizing response, but it doesn’t quite make up for the insult. As much as I love superhero comics, there’s no way that punching can solve deep-seated prejudice or an entire worldview. It’s only good for a brief cathartic moment, no matter how well drawn by a master like Mike Mignola.

This is where it gets complicated too. It’s bad that Orion doesn’t appear to learn anything in Cosmic Odyssey. It’s bad that he treats an incredible soul like Forager with such disdain. It’s bad that he kills hundreds of innocents in order to save billions of others. Yet we can’t deny that Orion is one of the good guys.

He’s not an incidental ally. He’s not an accidental hero. He’s not a vague anti-hero. He really is one of the good guys who is fighting for core values of humanity every day. I think we as readers can take two lessons from that, specifically within the context of Cosmic Odyssey.

First, we learn that our heroes aren’t without fault and don’t need us to apologize on their behalf. The great thing about Batman’s takedown of Orion at the end of the story, or even Superman’s horror midway through, is that they don’t undermine Orion’s accomplishments. Superman doesn’t state that the goal of saving the universe was unworthy and Batman doesn’t act as if Orion’s vile language undermines what he did before. But those actions don’t redeem the sins either. These rebukes acknowledge a world of moral complexity in which heroes also need to be held accountable for their failings.

It’s easy to see this in regard to a field of dead Thanagarians, but the righteous anger Batman feels at the insult against his dead friend Forager is more raw and complicated. It’s a passing slight, something far easier to imagine overlooking, but Batman cannot unhear what has been said and reacts. He rebukes Orion for not being the best hero he can, and there’s no one on the page or reading the page who would hesitate to support that choice. Orion fucked up and the final pages of Cosmic Odyssey are focused on that fuckup, rather than the galactic victory of literally saving everything.

Before we can get to that ending though, it’s important to touch on the second lesson of Orion’s complex moral standing: The strongest of the New Gods does learn from the weakest. Within the mythos created by Jack Kirby, Orion isn’t just the obvious hero, he’s the biological and adopted son of the two most powerful beings in existence. Orion stands tall even among the most powerful beings of the DC Universe. Forager, on the other hand, was cast aside early in his life, and is looked down upon by those who should consider him a peer. By virtue of his raising and outlook, he is constantly considered less than.

Cosmic Odyssey - Bug 1

At the end of Cosmic Odyssey, it is Forager who is the great hero and Orion who is the champion requiring wisdom and repentance. That doesn’t occur because of where they come from, who they are, or what they say. It is a role reversal that comes about through their actions. And those actions are what ultimately allow Forager to rise far higher than Orion within Cosmic Odyssey.

The final page of Cosmic Odyssey isn’t a celebration or bit of foreshadowing; it’s a small human moment that predates Mignola’s many great “small” moments throughout the course of creating Hellboy. Highfather dispatches Orion to return Forager’s remains to his people in the hopes that it will teach him a lesson. Flowers fall from above while Orion is left in silence, something so rare to the character, his head cast down in shame.

This ending isn’t change, but it’s the opportunity for change.

We are watching a character who from the very start of this story has always followed his own directives and instincts be forced to question his values and actions. What Superman could not accomplish over a field of corpses has been done by the actions of a noble individual transformed into a legend before Orion’s eyes. The leader of the heroes has been led to a chance to reconsider what good may be done in the world.

That isn’t fair. It’s certainly not right. But you look at that moment, and you know it’s something true. Changing hearts and minds is not as easy as stating the logical or pointing out the horrific. Oftentimes, changing someone’s heart comes with a horrific cost as understanding does not come easy. That doesn’t rob this moment of some beauty though, no matter how bittersweet. As Orion turns his head down, ceases to speak, and reflects, we see that the good are always capable of change, and in that change there lies hope.

Orion is not the only character in Cosmic Odyssey that fails to change. The same is true of Forager. While Orion is obstinate, vicious, and angry in his quest for the good outcome, Forager is steadfast, calm, and serene in his own. Forager’s path and his dedication to both ideals and methods of goodness manage to inspire all of those around him. They provide the ever dour Batman with a friendship he won’t forget and manage to even impact the mightiest of the mighty in Orion.

The story of Forager is the story of Orion in Cosmic Odyssey, and it tells us not to lost hope. Forager gave everything, but in the giving he discovered new wells of goodness in the world. That’s a change worth believing in.

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Local Comics Store Spotlight: Isotope: The Comic Book Lounge

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on March 8, 2017.

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The foundation of ComicBook.Com is comics. While we love to cover all aspects of pop and geek culture, our roots lie in the comics community and the plethora of characters and stories that have sprung from it. If you speak with anyone in the comics community about what has made the medium successful in North America, you’ll quickly discover one answer that stands far above the rest: local comics stores. They are the bedrock of comics in the United States and Canada, supporting fans, communities, and conventions with open doors and a dedicated staff.

This year on ComicBook.Com we are highlighting this important aspect of comics and culture by taking a look at one local comic store each week. These are stores that embody what it means to support culture and community. We hope you can visit some of them throughout 2017.

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If you’ve been following these columns throughout the first few months of 2017, you’ll notice there’s something a little bit different about this one just from the title. Take a look at the name of the store “Isotope: The Comic Book Lounge”. It doesn’t sell itself as a shop or store; there’s a unique ring to that name making it clear this is a place that desires to stand apart. That isn’t due to a superiority complex or gag, it’s the very nature of this shop that it walk its own path and you can find that in every aspect of the shop.

Isotope was co-founded by owners James Sime and Kirsten Baldock in 2001 to offer those interested in comics with a stylish and welcoming environment to discover the medium, today it features an irreplicable interior that draws readers from across the world while they visit the Bay Area. Like many other retailers it does a lot with relatively little space, including two floors of room to read and shop, an incredible array of modern comics to buy, and art displays that will keep you spinning. The thing to remember when entering Isotope is to keep walking so you don’t block the door while looking up.

That Astro City mentality is something obvious now, but it traces its roots to the earliest goals of Sime and Baldock when creating the store. The mission statement of Isotope is both heartening and entirely unsurprising for anyone familiar with Sime’s way with words, it is “to represent comics to the world as the revolutionary art form that it is.” That mission has been explored in a variety of ways since the doors first opened almost five thousand and eight hundred days ago.

Over the course of a decade, Isotope hosted their own award: the Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics. Sime said the award was “to celebrate the art of handmade xerox comics and gave us an excuse to help promote one of the more unsung corners of the comics industry.” Throughout its existence, the award helped a half dozen up and coming creators discover their first publishers and promoted a variety of great work that most comics sites weren’t even aware of.

Eventually the award ran it’s course thanks to the rise of webcomics, Kickstarters, and other new ways for creators to get their work noticed, it was a forerunner in promoting a variety of voices and art styles. That goal speaks to the heart of Isotope and is well worth discussing.

But the thing that everyone who enters Isotope will always remember is the toilet seats.

 

Isotope is an incredible store, staffed by awesome staff of aficionados ready to help you find the perfect read and an array of current comics that will make the mind reel. Yet the first thing you are bound to notice upon entry is a line of toilet seats that runs throughout the entire store, each of them covered in original artwork from the very best creators working in the medium today. If you’re skeptical just click ahead to the picture gallery.

The museum was founded by Rick Remender and Brian Wood and now includes lids by Brian K. Vaughan, Jim Lee, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Frank Quitely, Jason Aaron, Brandon Graham, Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson and many more. It has become a proud part of San Francisco’s off-beat culture and legend.

While there’s a story behind each toilet seat, the one that first springs to Sime’s mind these days is that of Darwyn Cooke’s lid featuring a portrait of Catwoman. After visiting the store, Cooke realized the owners had forgotten to ask him for a toilet lid.

The artist was sure to berate the store owners much to their chagrin, but presented Sime with one as a surprise when they met in Florida. Sime says he was delighted, but Cooke was sure to have the last joke. Sime says, Cooke “laughed with a wicked grin and pointed, ‘Hey! Have fun being the weird guy carrying a toilet lid on the airplane back to California!’”

It’s not all shenanigans at Isotope either. While the toilet lids are a lot of fun, they serve to remind everyone in shop what the focus is: comics as art. Even the strangest of places it’s possible to appreciate the tremendous accomplishments of comics storytelling. That’s something the store doesn’t just preach; it actively teaches. For more than 5 years, the shop has hosted Isotope Univerisity where professionals teach new artists about the artform. The class has featured talents including Ed Luce of Wuvable Oaf, Alex Woolfson of Young Protectors, Kelly Martin of Doctor Lollipop, and Devin Grayson of Batman fame. It’s just one more way in which they continue giving back to the community.

Even if you were to swing by Isotope on a day when there are no artists drawing on toilet seats or classes being taught or any other events occurring, the love of comics would be obvious. One thing that sets Isotope apart is its relentless focus on selling comics. They don’t stock related merchandise or board games or long rows of back issues. Isotope is devoted to selling a wide array of current comics so that any person can enter and find a story that is for them. It’s a store that promotes reading comics as its goal and brand. No matter where you look in this shop that’s clear.

Isotope: The Comic Book Lounge is different and that’s obvious from the first step you set inside. It’s not a simple matter of any one element. The lids, the classes, the awards, the wide-array of modern comics all stem from something more fundamental. Sime pins this down in romantic terms that ring true, he says, “an isotope is an element, just like any other element, but with a molecular difference that makes it much more dynamic.” That is Isotope in a single line. It’s a local comics store that has devoted every aspect of its being to making comics and the experience of reading comics better. That dynamic difference is clear with just one glance.

Store Info

Name: Isotope: The Comic Book Lounge

Address: 326 Fell Street

San Francisco, CA 94102

Phone: (415) 621-6543

Website: Isotope: The Comic Book Lounge

Twitter: @isotopecomics

Facebook: Isotope: The Comic Book Lounge

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Review of Royal City #1

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on March 3, 2017.

royal-city-1-review

Jeff Lemire broke into comics by offering himself as a complete package, a cartoonist with style unlike anything currently around also capable of breaking into the mainstream. From his first critical success in Lost Dogs to the refinement of his artwork in even bigger commercial successes like Sweet Tooth and Underwater Welder, Lemire defined himself by his own terms. That makes it interesting to observe how much of his work in the past few years has been collaborative in nature, including a slew of work at Marvel and DC Comics as well as some creator-owned work at Image in which he has been the writer or artist, but never both. Royal City marks the return of Jeff Lemire the cartoonist, and it is most certainly a Lemire comic.

Royal City is the tale of a fractured family in a small Canadian city coming back together over a recent tragedy and reflecting on older ones. It’s melancholy, purposefully paced, and defined by its setting. These are the fingerprints of Lemire’s cartooning and stories, and no part of Royal City could be mistaken for the work of someone else. For whatever flaws might be present, Lemire reminds readers he is an auteur. And for those readers who adore his work, there will be nothing to object to here, but Royal City #1 is far from ready to be deemed a “return to form”.

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It’s not just the aesthetic and setting of Royal City that is familiar; the plot is easily recognized in many parts as a cliche. The narrative of a family coming back together in order to confront their problems, new and old, is far from original, but what’s worse is how many of the characters fit very comfortable roles. Parents that squabble about weight and being told what to do introduce the story with dialogue that could be found in a creative writing course. The “drunk” and “failing artist” are also present.

The one narrative thread that comes to a life of its own in this first issue is that of the sister who addresses issues of urban redevelopment and glass ceilings in business. She has a story that is not being told elsewhere and her connections to Royal City and her own family enhance that narrative in interesting ways. How the characters progress remains to be seen, but in this debut issue, it’s easy to ignore the majority of the family.

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What should not be undersold is Lemire’s ability to present these ideas in an engaging fashion. That ability is the lifeblood of Royal City #1 and makes many of the too familiar aspects much more palatable. Lemire’s watercolors alone make a comic worth considering and his ability to craft the plains of Canada and grim urban environments of an industrial city are stunning. The fashion in which he builds the history which this family must inevitably dig up is the single best aspect of Royal City #1 though.

This is a comic that addresses the ghosts of our lives in a somewhat literal fashion. The various appearances of one character establish what is happening to readers before the final page states the obvious, and this is to increase the effect of realization. Whether it as metaphor or literal haunting, the presentation of one family member is incredibly effective. It is the exploration of this idea, just established as a visual concept here, that will raise Royal City or fail it by not fulfilling its promise. In either case, Lemire is engaged with the work at hand and is trying to rediscover the spirit of previous work like Essex County. Royal City #1 is a mixed bag of elements that land or fail to, but it has potential to rise above the latter.

Grade: C+

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Leading Questions: Remastering Kirby

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on March 2, 2017.

kirby-simonson-orion-fourth-world

Every week in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Publisher of Comics Bulletin Mark Stack will ask Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.

So without any further ado…

The Fourth World is a cornerstone of the DC Universe that was created and populated by Jack Kirby, but does it truly function as it was crafted to after Kirby?

It’s really strange to hear you describe The Fourth World as a cornerstone of the DC Universe. You’re not wrong; The Fourth World feature prominently in both best-selling series like Justice League and is a foundational component of Warner Bros. flailing collection of superhero films. Darkseid is the biggest bad of the DC Universe and Steppenwolf is going to be the villain of the first DC superhero team movie. So you’re definitely not wrong.

But as a huge Jack Kirby fan, I feel like you’re not quite right either.

Yes, the big stone monster that shoot freaking laser beams out of his freaking eyes in Geoff Johns’ Justice League was called Darkseid. Yes, those clunky boxes in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Junky Titles are referred to as Mother Boxes in the script. But are they really these things? Does anyone actually connect them to the the Jack Kirby creations in a manner that doesn’t require the word “technically” be used multiple times?

That doesn’t just apply to these current incarnations either. This isn’t me saying that modern DC is bad. This is me saying that pretty much all of DC has been bad forever when it comes to the Fourth World. It’s much easier to single out the instances when the Fourth World was used to great effect and in a way that is true to its origins than all of the times it was not. Basically, the list goes Orion by Walt Simonson, Cosmic Odyssey, then a few comics that are pretty good, but not great. It’s a really short list. The Fourth World is a concept beloved by pretty much everyone who has worked at DC Comics, but it has also been failed on a more regular basis than Flint, Michigan by the federal government. So how does that happen?

To look at this question in another way: Does owning a piece of intellectual property mean that you can effectively redefine it in any way that you like?

You certainly can redefine it. You own it. But the key word here is “effectively” and that’s where the trouble begins. When Jack Kirby created the Fourth World, he was at the absolute top of his game. Some of his other creations from the same period in his career (e.g. The Demon, Kamandi) have been more effectively reimagined, but they aren’t the New Gods. This wasn’t just Kirby at the apex of his artistic and storytelling achievements, it was Kirby at his most Kirby. Quite Frankly, The Fourth World saga is Kirby’s masterpiece, Fantastic Four be damned.

So who can come along and continue the story of a masterpiece by an indisputable master? Well, we have Simonson and Mignola on that very short list earlier, so you can already see the bar is incredibly high. Neither of their works are really continuations either, they’re stories that utilize established concepts, ideas, and narratives, but do their best to avoid actually tapping directly into what Kirby achieved. They build on the Fourth World like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen builds on Victorian literature. Any storyteller worth their salt knows we don’t actually need a novel titled What Atticus Finch Did Next, but maybe there are some ideas within To Kill a Mockingbird worth exploring in a new context.

Attempts to integrate the Fourth World into the DC Universe regularly crumble and I suspect that’s why you’re asking this question. Everytime we see DC Comics try to make this superb comic by the greatest superhero creator to ever live into their line, the flaws are abundantly apparent. Part of that reason is the creations are so singular in their nature, so clearly the work of an auteur master, that continuation is an impossible challenge.

There’s also the issue that the New Gods aren’t really superheroes. Just like everything Kirby brought to DC Comics after leaving Marvel, they’re part of an attempt to expand his own horizons and the medium. The New Gods are an epic morality play in which Kirby is attempting to understand the true nature of good and evil. They’re explosive, active, and bombastic, but they are also all about metaphors and do a great job of leaving power fantasies and Earth as a whole behind. This stuff is far closer to religion than spandex.

You might object to both of these arguments. You could say something like Captain America was another Jack Kirby creation that had just as much to do with war and propaganda, but we’ve received a lot of great Cap stories as he became a cornerstone of the Marvel universe. And you would be right.

That counter-argument also ignores the precision and clarity with which the New Gods were conceived. So many of our superhero icons were conceived by truly great creators, but their earliest stories are rarely their best. The first Captain America comics or Superman comics or Spider-Man comics all have the ingredients of greatness and elements worth studying, yet none of them are the absolute best to ever come along. The quickest any of these evolve is Spider-Man which hits its series’ high point almost 3 years after being created.

The Fourth World was perfect at the beginning.

That’s what I mean when I say masterpiece. This is the perfect, intentional creation of a true genius doing exactly what he intends. That’s the difference between utilizing these characters and their worlds, as opposed to so many other things that also came from Kirby’s mind. Whether you’re talking the Fantastic Four or Captain America, these ideas weren’t perfect when they first hit the page. They evolved and changed, taking the great ideas at the start and refining them. That invites further reinvention and imagination. But how do you reinvent the perfect?

It’s not impossible, but it’s difficult. It requires an ability that can compete with the original, one with the vision and follow through to do more than tinker, but to add a new mark of greatness. That’s how you wind up with the incredible work of someone like Simonson or Mignola seemingly adding to pantheon of Fourth World stories, when these works actually couldn’t be much more separate. It’s the same reason that someone like Mike Allred and the rest of the Allred family tackling a single Fourth World character like Forager (a.k.a. Bug) makes sense because they’re actually that good.

The bottom line is this: You don’t fuck with perfection. You don’t paint over the Sistine Chapel and you don’t try to cram the New Gods into your monthly cycle. True masterpieces are bigger than that, and only masters can hope to handle the challenge presented by painting a new picture with those similar elements.

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Local Comics Store Spotlight: Fantom Comics

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on March 1, 2017.

fantom-comics-is-great

The foundation of ComicBook.Com is comics. While we love to cover all aspects of pop and geek culture, our roots lie in the comics community and the plethora of characters and stories that have sprung from it. If you speak with anyone in the comics community about what has made the medium successful in North America, you’ll quickly discover one answer that stands far above the rest: local comics stores. They are the bedrock of comics in the United States and Canada, supporting fans, communities, and conventions with open doors and a dedicated staff.

This year on ComicBook.Com we are highlighting this important aspect of comics and culture by taking a look at one local comic store each week. These are stores that embody what it means to support culture and community. We hope you can visit some of them throughout 2017.

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Washington, DC is a city of transplants. Walk down the street wearing a sweater from a midwestern university or college in the Pacific Northwest and you’re bound to hear a few shouts of recognition from alumni or fans. It is a place filled with residents from across America and the rest of the world. That means it has one of the most diverse populations of comics readers anywhere, and that requires a very special comic book store. Fantom Comics is that store.

When Fantom Comics was first opened in 2005 they had a very clear mission: to be a store for absolutely everyone. While that may seem like a good idea for any comics stores, actually implementing and promoting that goal is a very different challenge. It’s one that Fantom has tackled each year in business as they develop a variety of programs for readers who come from a wide range of careers, backgrounds, and areas of the world.

Jake Shapiro, the store’s new general manager, says, “Ever since we moved to our current space in 2014, that mission has extended into becoming a community space for people from all walks of life.” That concept can be seen in the very layout of the store. Even in the limited sorts of spaces available in Washington, much longer than they are wide, Fantom Comics has managed to make itself seem big and inviting. Wood floors and tall shelves leave the center of the store open with low tables that encourage movement and interaction. It’s easy for the staff to keep an eye on all customers, ready to offer help at a moment’s notice.

Among the current focuses of Fantom Comics are workshops and book clubs, encouraging both comics creators and readers to share their passion and ideas with one another. These gathering fit well in the store, although they are sometimes capable of filling it from front to back, and show off the diversity of the city. They are the foundation of Shapiro’s idea of creating a community space, building new friendships and collaborations within this very active community.

 

Diversity and inclusion within the DC community are not just buzzwords for Fantom Comics. Owner Matt Klokel just completed an annual analysis of the store’s patrons designed to both show off what is being accomplished and what new goals can be achieved. You can take a look at that analysis and learn more about the readers of Fantom Comics here. This data-driven approach to business and community embraces the best aspects of the city and has helped make Fantom Comics a home for so many of its inhabitants.

One of the most fascinating points in the store’s history came directly from its location during the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009. Marvel Comics put out Amazing Spider-Man #583 which featured the President on the cover and a story where he meets the beloved wallcrawler inside. Tourists from across the country in town to celebrate the big day created a line that went down the street in order to pick up the issue. Fantom Comics storefront offered a place for locals and visitors to discover comics together, adding one more great aspect to a very important day.

The success of Fantom Comics has not been built on big days though. Many new visitors may have discovered them during the inauguration, but the ones who returned came back for more than a single special issue. The wonderful storefront and events provide a lot of value, but it is all built on the enthusiasm and knowledge of Fantom Comics’ staff.

Shapiro says “the comics that sell best are the comics our employees are personally passionate about.” The store features an expansive recommendation wall right when you enter with each shelf tailored into one employee’s unique taste. However, there are also lots of indie comics that have found a new following based on the staff’s hard work. Self-published comics like COPRA sit side-by-side with best sellers like Ms. Marvel and Batman. It’s the love of the medium that helps customers discover the perfect comics for their own tastes in a store where quality drives sales.

Looking ahead Shapiro is interested in helping the store become more involved within the local arts scene of Washington. The array of talented artists, both inside and outside of the comics community, in the city is incredible and Fantom Comics could soon become a home for them as well. Just like with customers and comics, these initiatives will be about supporting the people and ideas that Fantom Comics and its staff are passionate about.

The beauty of Fantom Comics is that it reflects the city it occupies so well. Whether it’s in the opportunities for readers and artists or the incredible diversity of the staff and patrons, Fantom Comics embraces the best aspects of a Washington mentality. It is a store that builds community and is supported by its community in turn. So if you are visiting for a weekend, consider taking some time to see Fantom Comics along with the other tourist hot spots. Inside this comic shop you’ll likely discover much of what makes America’s capitol great.

 

Store Info

Name: Fantom Comics

Address: 2010 P Street NW

Washington, DC 20036

Phone: 202-241-6498

Website: Fantom Comics

Twitter: @FantomComics

Facebook: Fantom Comics

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5 Reasons You Need to Read America #1 This Week

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 28, 2017.

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America Chavez (a.k.a. Ms. America) is breaking out into her own series at Marvel Comics this week, and it might be the most exciting debut of 2017 thus far. America first appeared just over 5 years ago in the pages of Vengeance #1 where she was created by Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta. They introduced her as an incredibly powerful adolescent hero raised by her mothers in an alternate dimension called the Utopian Parallel. It was there she absorbed a wide set of powers, ranging from super strength to cross-dimensional travel, from the Demiurge.

Since Vengeance, America has garnered an ever growing presence within Marvel Comics as parts of teams and a guest star. She was a key component of the critically-acclaimed second volume of Young Avengers, and has featured in the current darling series of the publisher: The Ultimates. Along the way she has developed an incredibly dedicated following of readers and fans with America Chavez cosplays regularly featuring at comics conventions. With all of this momentum it was only a matter of time until she kicked out of teams and into a series of her own.

It’s not just exciting that America is getting her own series though. It’s exciting because the first issue and everything else about the series indicates it will be as great as fans want it to be. If you aren’t already on the America Chavez bandwagon, then here are 5 reasons you need to pick up America #1 when it comes out tomorrow.

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What America Chavez Means to Marvel Comics

This is the big one. America is a homerun of a new character surpassed at Marvel Comics recently by, perhaps only, Ms. Marvel and Moon Girl. Along with these other characters, she represents a new wave of Marvel Comics and Marvel Comic readers. Her origins in a utopian-like ideal of Earth with two mothers and concepts of justice and fairness embraced worldwide, have given her a unique perspective that raises her own spirit as well as that of her fans. She is a powerful, personable, fun character that is unlike anyone other heroes fighting the good fight at Marvel.

In addition to her increasing diversity at the publisher, she also is simply an incredibly engaging character. America owns her attitude, capable of standing up to any other hero as a peer and making herself known in any scenario. Whether she’s with the Young Avengers or The Ultimates, America is a leader and leads with her feet and fists. Punching holes in reality and knocking down bad guys, America is always interesting to watch as she embraces her own brand of heroism.

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The Writer: Gabby Rivera

Gabby Rivera, the writer of America, is a newcomer to comics but is arriving with a great reputation already. Rivera is a young adult novelist who was widely acclaimed for the release of her new novel Juliet Takes a Breath last year. That novel tells the story of a Puerto Rican lesbian finding out who she is over the course of a single summer. Rivera herself is a queer latina and has shown an incredible grasp over both storytelling and sharing her identity with readers from a wide swath of backgrounds. In short, Rivera is a perfect fit to right America Chavez.

While there are similarities, America is bound to be unlike anything Rivera has written to date by virtue of its genre and setting. Watching a rising star both discover a new medium and infuse her work with big action scenes and superpowers should be a delight. There is usually some trepidation about a prose writer coming into comics for the first time, but there should be no worries here. In addition to a killer preview for America #1, Rivera is also being accompanied by some of the best artistic talents working in comics today.

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The Artist: Joe Quinones

Joe Quinones is a penciler whose talents have been sorely missed from the pages of an ongoing Marvel Comics series since his run on the most recent volume of Howard the Duck drew to a close. His style of catooning is perfect for the blend of action, humor, and attitude encompassed by many of Marvel’s best series. In Howard he managed to make the quirky surroundings support the often surprisingly heartfelt story, and it’s that ability which is bound to make America crackle under his pencils.

Quinones is joined by an awesome array of other artistic talents, as well. Joe Rivera and Paolo Rivera are inking his work, refining the layouts and figures, while providing their own keen eye for emotion and detail. Jose Villarrubia on colors lights up the preview pages as he does with every series he works on. America is a bright shining star and her world comes to life with his palette choices. Together, this team of latino artists are making America one of the best looking superhero comics at Marvel today.

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The Covers

This is one reason to specifically pick up America #1. The selection of variant covers available for this first issue will make it difficult to pick up just one copy. There are some so good that it will be difficult for digital-only readers to resist a trip to their local comics store. Among the options are some classic Marvel standards, like a Skottie Young variant and a hip hop variant riffing on Hamilton.

The artists contributing covers are all-stars through and through, and these covers really show off their talents. Cliff Chiang takes a break from Paper Girls to offer his joyous take on America Chavez and Jamie McKelvie does the same from The Wicked + The Divine in order to offer a real tough look. The only way readers could hope for more is to see some of these artists return for a special issue when the regular art team needs a break.

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The Team Ups

America Chavez may be receiving her own series, but she’s still far from being a lone wolf. Both on the Young Avengers and The Ultimates, America has defined herself as a team player and cultivated some incredible friendships with other Marvel heroes. Her friendship and hinted romance with Hawkeye (Kate Bishop, not Hawkguy) is bound to spring up in this series and offer both banter and adventures.

Her current connections to The Ultimates are going to offer some great possibilities. Whether it’s her interactions with frenemy Captain Marvel or an interaction with someone like Black Panther, the possibilities for cross-overs are nothing short of fantastic. Those team ups are what will help make it clear that America Chavez is here to stay in her brand new corner of the Marvel Universe, which is why it’s time to check out the beginning this Wednesday.

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Why Injection Should Be on Every Comic Reader’s List

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 27, 2017.

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Comics is a marathon. Every week at the store it’s about finding all of the books you’re already reading, which makes it easy to ignore some that you might need to catch up on or discover. That doesn’t mean there aren’t comics worth discovering though. Luckily, we’re here to help fill you in on where you might be missing out. This week is a perfect example as Injection returns to comics store shelves with its eleventh issue and the start of a brand new story arc.

Injection is modern science-fiction focused on a set of five extraordinary human beings who created a living, idea-based virus that has entered the world to run amok. Each arc of the story focuses on one of these team members in the present, while also exploring their past together. It’s a concept and presentation that allows new readers to potentially dip into the narrative at any point, while also providing a satisfying story with each new arc and collection. Starting with Injection #11 the series turns its focus to Brigid Roth, a technology and communications specialist, sent to investigate a gruesome murder at an archaeological site in England.

If you aren’t already picking up Injection, this is why you should check out the new story and pick up the first two collections from your own local comic store as soon as possible.

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The Incredibly Weird Science

Nobody in comics writes science fiction like Warren Ellis. Nobody. Full stop. No exceptions.

Whether you’re looking at the launch of his new DC imprint with The Wildstorm #1 or revisiting his classic work on comics like Transmetropolitan or Planetary, Ellis has consistently distinguished himself as a thoughtful and unique futurist. With a vision comparable to that of Robert Heinlein, Ellis chews ideas thoroughly and rapidly. It’s common to find concepts outside of plot and character explored in the background of his series. Everything is up for questioning or concern, and the results are equally wild and thoughtful.

Injection has tapped into a core concern about the future of information systems and the potential for artificial intelligence. With each new segment of the story, Ellis and his collaborators tap into a new angle of the independent, hyper-intelligent “injection”. So far the series has explored concepts of folklore and conspiracies, how these different types of ideas influence and change individuals. That exploration of ideas has also unleashed Injection to include the fantasy and spy genres without ever losing its roots in science fiction. Now with Injection #11 the series is tackling the intelligence of ancient civilizations and great mysteries. The first issues looks at the stone circles of England and modern communication systems simultaneously in a way that questions how we connect to one another through technology.

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The Absolutely Stunning Artwork

When Injection was first announced, it wasn’t Ellis’ name that drew the most attention, it was artist Declan Shalvey and colorist Jordie Bellaire. The series was proposed in the wake of their previous collaboration with Ellis on Moon Knight and fans could not wait to see more from this visionary pairing of artists. Together they have continued to refine their approach to storytelling and their own bold style. Each new story of Injection has shown that growth and offered an absolute thriller of a comic book in return. If you’re feeling skeptical, find an issue of Injection #2. There is a fight scene at the end of the issue that actually deserves to be called “mind-blowing”. The use of space, movement, and perspective are stunning and make each strike land in your mind.

Shalvey and Bellaire continue to elevate their game with the newest round of Injection, focusing on forms and shapes in Injection #11. The new story is fascinated with connections between the natural and modern world, as well as the old and new world. Those connections can be discovered in similar forms, like those of a satellite dish and Stonehenge-like monument. The clarity of their shapes along with surprising similarities in texture bring these together in the eye. Bellaire also shows off her extraordinary ability to guide the eye and define information with color in this issue. Both her use of some bold neon tones and the creeping whites of the broders are used to great effect. Injection #11 is another example of why these two names are some of the hottest in comics and how much they are capable of when collaborating.

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The Fascinating Cast of Characters

The structure of Injection makes its focus clear. This is a comic that is about its characters before anything else. While the concept of the “injection” is something that drives the action, it was only their combined intelligence and ingenuity that allowed it to ever exist. Each of these individuals bears some familiar elements of previous Ellis protagonists, but exist uniquely in their own strengths and focus. These stories are not just an examination of modern ideas centered around communication, but character studies about individuals in fields of increasing importance.

Bridgid’s role as the new lead beginning with Injection #11 makes it clear why this character-focused approach is what distinguishes Injection as one of the best series on comics stands today. Shalvey and Bellaire’s visual definition of the character is incredibly keen. Her loneliness and isolation is framed within individual panels that juxtapose her against the stacks of technology and people around each scene. Ellis highlights that place in the world with an acerbic wit and some keen one liners. No matter how much this character wants everyone around her to leave her alone, as a reader it’s impossible to look away.

The science fiction credentials, superb artwork and storytelling, and great list of characters are all excellent reasons to check out Injection. They’re also all elements of the big reason to read this comic: It’s a great comic. No single element can be attributed for its success because it is all of these elements and others working in concert that create the experience. So pick up Injection #11 or the first trade of this awesome series to see what that experience is all about.

Buy the ticket, take the ride.

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The Best Picture Nominees Ranked

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 25, 2017.

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It wasn’t easy to catch all of the Oscar nominees for Best Picture before the category expanded beyond just 5 selections in 2009. This year there are a total of 9 movies nominated to win the biggest award in Hollywood, which would be a commitment for just about anyone to see in theaters. Luckily, we have you covered. After having seen all of the nominees for Best Picture this year, we’re prepared to give our thoughts on the entire set before we all find out who wins on Sunday.

The following represents the definitive ComicBook.Com ranking of all 9 films nominated for Best Picture. It really is an honor for these movies just to be nominated and they’re all good representations of what cinema can accomplish. This ranking is how we see the “best of the best” stacking up in comparison to one another, noting which ones are most likely to win and which we really think deserve to be honored before the rest.

  1. Lion

Directed by Garth Davis
Odds to Win: 75:1

Lion is the story of a young Indian boy who becomes lost on a train and is adopted by a Tasmanian family, unaware of what happened to his mother and siblings. The film traces both his journey away from his homeland and struggle to rediscover where he’s from. It’s heartwarming and offers a stellar performance from the always-stellar Nicole Kidman. However, as a Best Picture nominee it doesn’t really hold together. The second half of the film is not nearly as strong as the first, and many of the film’s true story elements don’t contribute to the experience in an effective. Lion is worth a watch, but not a major award.

  1. Hacksaw Ridge

Directed by Mel Brooks
Odds to Win: 80:1

Mel Gibson’s controversial return to directing tells the truly remarkable story of a pacifist who earned the Medal of Honor in World War II by saving dozens of lives in the Pacific theater. It’s a remarkable tale with impeccably shot violence and sound design that rival the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. Despite the accomplishments in the best aspects of the film, much of the script is cliched and the human elements become lost outside of the war. Gibson still has a long way to go before he deserves an Oscar, even if you ignore his extracurricular activities.

  1. Hidden Figures

Directed by Theodore Melfi
Odds to Win: 15:1

Hidden Figures is one of the true feel good picks of the nominees this year. The true story of three black women’s integral roles in early NASA history is a narrative of social justice filled with humor and great results. It’s also a story that has been told many times before with similar true stories, and feels like a very “safe” movie. There’s nothing about Hidden Figures that makes it truly exceptional. The history is important and everything about it is well executed, but it lacks that special spark or innovation that sets a deserving Best Picture winner apart.

  1. Fences

Directed by Denzel Washington
Odds to Win: 100:1

This film adaptation of a renowned play serves its source material well. The characters all come to life and their struggles are well-defined. No element of this is better than Viola Davis’ performance as Rose, which absolutely deserves to win the award for Best Supporting Actress. Yet the commitment to the original play makes much of Fences stand still and the film fails to become a unique piece of its own medium. It’s a great movie, but still plainly sits in the shadow of a greater play.

  1. Hell or High Water

Directed by David Mackenzie
Odds to Win: 100:1

This story of two brothers seeking justice in Texas by robbing the banks aiming to take their family’s land is as American of a film as you’ll find from 2016. It’s packed with imagery, attitudes, and themes that are pure Texas and presents them with equal parts pathos and comedy. The two leading pairs of actors bounce off one another wonderfully, and make the conclusion all the more tragic because of it. This may not be the best film of 2016, but it’s one of the most overlooked and one well worth seeking out.

  1. La La Land

Directed by Damien Chazelle
Odds to Win: 1:6

La La Land is a musical about two dreamers in Los Angeles who are drawn together by their ambitions before being torn apart by them. The songs are great and the performers natural style of singing and dancing more charming than distracting. It’s all a callback to Golden Age Hollywood, and a celebration of the big productions from that time. Ultimately, it’s no Singing In The Rain and it doesn’t have the same ambition as Chazelle’s previous film Whiplash. La La Land is beautifully produced, but it never quite becomes more than an ode to truly great films.

  1. Arrival

Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Odds to Win: 100:1

This science fiction story about the nature of communication and discovering hope in the face of certain doom could not have come at a better time. It’s not quite the home run that Mad Max: Fury Road was, but it does hold that film’s place as the genre long shot of this year’s Oscars. Much of the beauty in Arrival can be found in its simplicity. It only keeps what is necessary to tell its tale and impart its themes. The result is nothing short of stunning though with a conclusion that loses none of its incredible impact upon repeat viewings. Arrival isn’t likely to win, but it would be a pleasant surprise if it did so.

  1. Moonlight

Directed by Barry Jenkins
Odds to Win: 6:1

Moonlight is a film told in three parts, moving between periods in the life of a young, gay, black man with little support. It is a journey of discovery, self-acceptance, and endurance that invites audiences to contemplate the humanity found everywhere in this world, not just in the familiar. The film is beautifully acted throughout, including some great moment from very young performers. What is most impressive though is how a quiet scene at a diner or a small conversation on a beach can seem like the most important thing in the world. Moonlight is a gift to cinema and would be absolutely deserving of the honor of Best Picture.

  1. Manchester By The Sea

Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Odds to Win: 20:1

Manchester By The Sea does the seemingly impossible, it captures the experience of losing a family member flawlessly. The grief, pain, and anger are all present and shown in a beautifully understated and true manner. Yet the movie truly discovers itself when it makes you laugh and makes you laugh regularly. Director Kenneth Lonergan casts off the obvious to discover the true, delving into the strange and surreal process of grieving. It’s a very difficult journey and one with no clear endings, but it’s one that is true to life. Manchester By The Sea is a film that captures what it means to be human and offers us an experience that is more than lifelike, it is life. Nothing more could be asked of a film than that, and that’s why Manchester By The Sea should win Best Picture.

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The 6 Best War Comics From Image Comics

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 24, 2017.

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This week writer Greg Rucka and artist Leandro Fernandez launch their new Image Comics series The Old Guard. It’s the story of seemingly immortal soldiers who walk the Earth searching for new conflicts and accumulating new skills. It’s both a fascinating character study and high-impact story of combat, as only these two creators could deliver it. One point of interest The Old Guard raises is how uniquely comics can tell war stories. The ability to cross-reference time periods, technology, and techniques allows for the depiction of battles that would be difficult to impossible in any other medium.

Image Comics is filled with examples of how well comics can tell war stories. They range from the retelling of historical conflicts to imagined futures in which wars are fought with ideas we can hardly fathom. All of these horrific battles are realized with an artistry that seems counter-intuitive, capable of invoking scenes only describable as “terrible in beauty”. We’ve collected six of the absolute best comics related to the war genre from Image Comics. Once you’re done checking out The Old Guard #1, be sure to give these a read, if you haven’t already.

Age of Bronze

Created by Eric Shanower

The incomplete Age of Bronze is a comic worth seeking out, even if it never reaches its planned conclusion. This comic by the inimitable cartoonist Eric Shanower is an ambitious retelling of The Trojan War. Shanower weaves Greek mythology, The Iliad, and historical elements of Greek warfare together in order to deliver a version of the most famous war in history that is entirely his own.

Each page of the story is rich in detail with a vast cast of characters and entire armies that stand out clearly as individuals. The amount of attention paid to each element of the story is stunning and reveals the complexity within a two-dimensional ink drawing. It’s not just the detail that makes Age of Bronze worth reading though. It is a comic that is shocking both in its sense of humor and violence. Shanower humanizes this ancient war and makes it seem vital millenia later.

East of West

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Nick Dragotta

Colored by Frank Martin

This science fiction tales meets alternate history of the United States uses a very real war between seven different factions in the country to craft a metaphor about modern strife. While it might actually serve as a commentary on regionalism and irreconcilable differences, East of West is also just an insanely good war story. The complexity and scope of its conflicts have led to an endless array of new inventions and stunning battles.

The creators of East of West have carefully designed each of the different nations within the series to have their own technology, politics, and strategies. That has made the conflicts behind the scenes just as enthralling as the bloodiest days of war. Every issue features some new change and it’s difficult to keep up, much like a war reporter scrambling on the ground. All of this may be based in metaphor, but it’s still a great war comic.

Invisible Republic

Written by Corrina Bechko and Gabriel Hardman

Art by Gabriel Hardman

Colored by Jordan Boyd

Invisible Republic looks at the beginning and end of a long conflict, tracing the roots of rebellion to the fallout of a crumbling autocracy. Partners Bechko and Hardman have carefully crafted the history to allow the two narratives to support one another in one of the smartest war comics coming out today. The story is packed with soldiers and violence, but its focus is always aimed directly at the motives behind everything.

The sci-fi setting of Invisible Republic does not detract from its analysis of violent change. In fact, it allows it to move away from direct comparisons to modern war zones and make comments that can be connected without being too close for comfort. Despite that distance, it’s still difficult to avoid thinking of current conflicts while reading, making this a great pick for the politically minded.

Lazarus

Written by Greg Rucka

Art by Michael Lark

Colored by Santi Arcas

Whereas Invisible Republic and East of West use science fiction to create distance, Lazarus attempts to predict a very possible future for warfare in our world. The fallout of this comic may still be a long way off, but it’s easy to connect threads of genetic engineering, corporate control, and advances in technology to current trends. This is a comic about war as it may very well be in some of our lifetimes.

Underpinning these dark, drastic predictions is a story about those commanding and fighting the wars. The most recent stories have all focused on a conflict between two major houses in Lazarus, and it’s the people on both sides that make it function. Even with all of the grand ideas on display, Lazarus never loses track of its humanity and that is what makes it a great war comic.

Pretty Deadly (vol. 2)

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Art by Emma Rios

The second volume of Pretty Deadly, also titled “The Bear”, leaps from its previous setting as a Western into The Great War, also known as World War I. The characters and mythology of the series are consistent, but the new setting is equal parts gorgeous and appalling. Even for those without knowledge of the story so far, the second volume of Pretty Deadly has a lot to offer.

Emma Rios is one of the best artists working in the medium today and she captures the horrors of trench warfare with a stunning sense of grace. Poisonous gases, mud, bullets, and blood drift across these pages savaging bodies. There’s no turning away from the endless misery of this terrible conflict, and Rios offers new lessons to be found in the pain and suffering of so many from just one century ago. It’s a remarkable comic book, to say the least.

Saga

Written by Brian K. Vaughan

Art by Fiona Staples

There’s no way that Saga was not going to land on this list. It’s a comic that has always featured war at the center of its premise. The romance and struggles of every character within the series is defined by the ongoing war between Wreath and Landfall. Whether Saga is actually exploring that ongoing campaign or using it to provide new motives for individuals, everything traces itself back to that war.

In this way Saga is attempting to say something about the nature of war, and how people are both greater than these “great” conflicts, but how we can also all be consumed by them. It is a study of what conflict really means on a personal and international level, and the many, many unintended consequences of each violent action. When it comes to war stories in comics, there are few that reach the same heights as Saga.

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Leading Questions: As Monthly Comics Go By

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on February 23, 2017.

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Every week in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Publisher of Comics Bulletin Mark Stack will ask Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.

So without any further ado…

Why should we read monthly ongoing comics?

We need to read monthly ongoing comics to prop up an industry shackled by a ridiculous distribution system and dominated by publishers with no vision or achievable, long-term goals for growth.

Oh, wait, sorry. That’s the reason we are continuously told why we need to buy monthly ongoing comics. It’s also a bullshit reason that is focused on maintaining an unhealthy status quo. I don’t mean to say that we should burn down the current program and hope a phoenix rises from the ashes, but arguing that it’s better to keep things in a current bad way than risk anything with change is the very definition of bullshit, in my opinion. But you’re not asking about why we should buy monthly comics or even why we are told why we should buy monthly comics. You’re asking about why we should read them.

There is a difference between why we buy media and why we consume media. We buy media to support it. We buy media to own or control it in some facet. And, legally speaking, we buy media in order to consume. The act of purchasing does not answer the why of the purchase though, assuming we are obtaining comics or anything else through legal means. It’s really just a matter of the how, and that avoid the most important issues of the matter.

So why do we actually read these things called comics on a monthly basis?

Considering the vast majority of people reading this right now show up to their local comic store on a weekly basis to collect, among other things, at least a few staple-bound sets of paper with superheroes or other adventures inside, that might seem like a silly question. But for many of us it’s a routine. You go to your store on Wednesdays, talk with the regulars, and get your books because it’s what you do on Wednesday. For someone like myself who has been doing it since before he was in high school, it’s just a part of life like attending church on Sunday or going to work on time.

You just do it.

That’s true right up until the moment you don’t. You’re on vacation or an unexpected event calls you away or you forget, and suddenly it’s Thursday and you don’t have any new comics to read yet. There’s no reason to ask the question why until you recognize the routine isn’t necessary. Nobody dies when you don’t get your new comics. No business suddenly disappears. No creator cries out for your attention. The world spins just fine and you don’t need these comics. So why the fuck do you go back on Wednesday?

For some people the answer is that you don’t, or you do it with less regularity. You might drop one ongoing series or switch to trades or realize it’s time to read some more fucking books. And you really should read more fucking books. If you need a recommendation, check out Stamped From The Beginning. It’s okay, you’ll survive without pictures.

Anyway… when you actually stop and recognize you don’t need these monthly pamphlets, it can be easy to step away because no one actually needs these things. That’s true right up until the moment you do.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s something like “Chase, you’re drunk. You just spent the last few minutes making it clear nobody needs to read or buy or do anything with monthly comics. So what do you think you’re doing saying we do now?” Thanks for asking that question imaginary version of Mark Stack because I have an answer.

We need food. We need shelter. We need healthcare. These are things we truly need. But they’re also the basics of survival. You can’t deny them to someone without being a literal, actual monster. So when you compare something like monthly comics or any form of art to those, it’s easy to say no one needs them. But have you ever tried just surviving on the actual bare essentials? I’m talking absolutely nothing else, not a glance at the TV or newspaper, not even some friendly chit chat at the store. That’s some real bullshit right there.

The truth is that we need more than what our bodies require to survive. We have to be engaged or else we start to die, if not on a physical level than another one that is no less important. That engagement isn’t something you can eat a couple times a month like a scheduled excursion for a nice meal. Engagement is constant and we seek it wherever we go and whenever we’re awake. That’s one shared explanation behind the rapid proliferation of the internet, mobile technology, and social media. They allow us to remain engaged, satisfying curiosity and connecting with others, on a constant basis.

That’s something monthly comics can provide as well.

Sometimes you take a Wednesday off because life gets too hectic and realize you didn’t need what was there. But sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you get to the weekend and realize a new issue of Saga or Hip Hop Family Tree dropped, and you need to pick it up. It’s not because you’re starving or hurting, but because you miss it and it gives you something not as obvious as a burger, bed, or even a joint.

You find yourself wanting to learn more about how Public Enemy put together “Fight The Power” or how a family of refugee aliens are surviving together. They’re stories you find hitting you in a place that counts. It makes you feel smarter or just feel. More importantly, it makes you feel this more than once. You get a taste and it boosts you, and then there’s the promise of more to come. There’s a continued release filled with chapters, characters, and cliffhangers.

That doesn’t make these monthly installments more valuable than a single piece like a novel or film. There’s something valuable to be discovered in reliability that isn’t there with a story told in a single segment though. You get to return to something that is simultaneously familiar and new. There are expectations delivered in style and characters, but the story itself is new. It can offer strength or reassurance or something else altogether when the week is long or the day is hard, and it’ll continue to be there month after month.

There’s no reason you need to read monthly comics, but if you think you need to read one, then you probably do.

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