5 More Batman Team Ups We Need

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on December 7, 2017.

Batman Team Up - TMNT 2 - Cover

The sequel to Batman / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hits stands this week and we could not be more excited. It’s not just that these are two of the best superhero comics crossing over either. There are plenty of great superheroes that don’t necessarily pair up well together, but Batman and the Turtles go together like Booster Gold and Blue Beetle, the chocolate and peanut butter of heroic pairings. Writer James Tynion IV and artist Freddie Williams II are all set to deliver another stellar crossover, focused this time on Batman foe Bane, but that has left us wondering what other great pairings might be made with the Dark Knight.

If there’s a problem with Batman crossovers, it’s that many either don’t make sense or fail to mix well with the mythos of Batman. Many of the obvious superhero pairings are no different than interactions Batman has already had with many DC characters already. That’s why all of the Marvel characters have to be left out. There are already ample examples of each archetype provided at the Big Two and how Batman plays with these sorts of heroes and villains. In order to find something interesting you have to think outside of the box.

We’ve assembled five team up ideas that we think could even give Batman / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a run for its money. These cross overs come from a variety of publishers and genres, and they all challenge the idea of Batman or the concept of a Batman story in interesting ways. Click ahead to see all five of our picks and share your own favorite ideas in the comments below.

Batman Team Up - BPRD

  1. B.P.R.D.

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Created by: Mike Mignola

Batman has met Hellboy before, but this is about a team up with the entire Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. It’s a perfect match because of the bizarre and powerful foes faced by the B.P.R.D. and the unique talents the many members of the Bureau bring to the table. Any creator ought to salivate at the possibilities of this combination.

In this team up, Batman makes for the obvious centerpiece as a levelheaded leader and tactician to fill Hellboy’s long absent shoes. How he interacts with the big personalities and powers of the bureau as well as the complex villains they face makes this a puzzle both in and out of combat. The fun would come in seeing how Batman helped everyone realize what they are truly capable of, while learning more about the supernatural from them. This is still a longshot, it’s a plausible crossover and one both Batman and B.P.R.D. fans would be lucky to see.

Batman Team Up - Manhattan Projects

  1. The Manhattan Projects

Publisher: Image Comics

Created by: Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra

This combination brings many of the same interesting elements that come with the B.P.R.D. concept: a fascinating collection of powerful individuals, weird science outside of Batman’s normal experience, and a universe without superheroes. The big difference is that the world of The Manhattan Projects is entirely amoral. While some of the scientists in this motley crue have made heroic efforts, the best of them are simply defined by not being outright evil.

Given the enormous scale of conflicts and consequences in this Cold War scenario along with super weapons capable of threatening entire planets, Batman would have plenty of challenges from both allies and enemies. And that assumes he can tell the difference. This crossover would challenge Batman’s sense of right and wrong while providing plenty of spectacular fireworks along the way. It would be fun to see the Dark Knight debate ethics with Oppenheimer while facing down nuclear armageddon in an intellectual blockbuster.

Batman Team Up - Transformers GI Joe Scioli

  1. Transformers vs. G.I. Joe

Publisher: IDW Publishing

Created by: Tom Scioli

We are referring specifically to the crossover between Transformers and G.I. Joe created by Tom Scioli here, one of the strangest, post-modern experiments in all of comics. Scioli’s vision of mainstream entertainment is unlike anything else in existence and adding one of the biggest superheroes of all time to the mix could only make it more fascinating.

Scioli adores playing with all elements of a fandom and would be sure to show off Batman’s many famous allies, enemies, and gadgets. More importantly they would be placed into spectacular conflict in the universal war fought by these two insanely powerful sides. Batman would be as resourceful as ever, but forced to confront his relative scale in a battle where planets literally stand up and fight. If there’s ever going to be a sequel to Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, we would be lucky to have “vs. Batman” tacked onto the end.

Batman Team Up - The Goon

  1. The Goon

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Created by: Erik Powell

The Goon is a comic that has parodied and rebuked mainstream superhero comics. With its tougher than nails approach to stories and blue collar tone, there’s not much room for capes or colorful villains in this tragic world of horror and crime. Needless to say Batman would not find much sympathy from The Goon or anyone else in this comic. That sort of tension would make for a great story though.

Both Batman and The Goon are (somewhat) ordinary men fighting to protect their cities in their own very violent manner. While they might dislike or disrespect one another’s modus operandi, there is a common thread that could ultimately connect them. In addition to the potential gags and bizarre situations, there’s a great story about the nature of heroism to be told between Batman and The Goon.

Batman Team Up - Invincible

  1. Invincible

Publisher: Image Comics

Created by: Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker

When it comes to superhero comics, Invincible is the exception to the rule. It has taken every trope and story idea in mainstream superhero stories and either inverted them or brought them to conclusions impossible to find in ongoing series. Characters really die, the world is really changed, and politics collide with the existence of superpowered beings. That’s what makes this the one superhero property that it would be truly fascinating to see Batman crossover with. Everything would be familiar, but it would all be entirely different.

This story wouldn’t have to focus on a particular threat, but could act as an excuse to compare and contrast the DC Universe with Kirkman’s sprawling original superhero epic. Batman’s outsider take could offer insight into what makes both of these concepts function and why they both appeal to fans. It could be a truly interesting study on the superhero genre and the differences between stories that end and those that continue forever as legends.

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Review: ‘Usagi Yojimbo’ #164 Is a Stellar Issue of an Ever-Expanding Epic

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on December 6, 2017.

Usagi Yojimbo #164 - Cover

Created by Stan Sakai

It’s not everyday that you can hand someone the 164th issue of a comic book that also happens to the 2nd chapter of a 3-part story and tell them it’s a good starting point. In fact, that exact situation might never have occurred before in the history of comics. Nevertheless, it’s the truth about Usagi Yojimbo #164. The issue opens with the ronin rabbit knocked unconscious at the feet of bandits and quickly dives back into the ongoing action and mystery of “Mouse Trap”, while making every character knowable, every plot development accessible, and every twist exciting. Like almost every issue of Usagi Yojimbo before it, this one proves Sakai to be a master of cartooning and storytelling: a true comics artist’s comics artist.

Usagi Yojimbo #164 - Ambush

The introductory action sequence is a perfect example of how less is more when delivering a top-notch swordfight. Sakai breaks every set of panels into a clear set of actions and reactions without becoming hung up in minute details or framing. Across four pages only a single pair of panel present a similar perspective in sequence. Typically it shifts, even if only by a few yards to optimally present the action and avoid any stagnating scenes. The focus is always on what is most important: a wide lunge by Usagi, then a moment of recovery against building odds, and then the fateful reappearance of a friend. Even for a reader unfamiliar with who is within these pages, it would be impossible to avoid being pulled into the action upon them.

That’s not to say it’s difficult to learn who these characters are. From the sniveling snitch who plays the smallest of bit roles to the heroic Usagi and Inspector Ishida, every individual is defined clearly by their actions and expressions. Usagi’s dual nature as a fearsome warrior and lonely philosopher are as well distilled here as anywhere across the prior 163 issues. Sakai emphasizes bold expressions distort faces to reveal what lies beneath them. Perhaps the most intriguing element of this particular tale comes in the form of Nezumi, a Robin Hood style thief who hides his face beneath a mask. Squinting eyes and bared mouth make him even more of a cypher, allowing for him to remain a wild card in this story filled with obvious heroes and foes.

Usagi Yojimbo #164 - Fight

“Mouse Trap” is not the high watermark of Usagi Yojimbo comics. It doesn’t reach the epic heights of “Grasscutter” or the delightful notes of Sakai’s most bizarre one-shots, but that doesn’t detract from the joy of reading the issue. Instead the simplicity of the story highlights what makes this series consistently great. There are no tricks to be found in these pages, just the masterful work of a very skilled cartoonist.

Usagi Yojimbo #164 delivers every piece of its story elegantly. Characters are distilled into the necessary number of lines needed to convey emotion. Action crystallizes the most essential moments into rapid excitement. Even the dialogue is used to simultaneously move the story forward within each panel while filling in new readers. This may not be the best single issue of the year, but it provides a standard to which every single issue of ongoing comics ought to aspire.

Grade: B+

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Why Usagi Yojimbo Is The Best Series At Dark Horse

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on December 6, 2017.

Usagi Yojimbo - Best of Dark Horse - Cover

Dark Horse Comics had one of the best year’s of any publisher in comics. Their current lineup is the strongest it has been in over a decade. Despite losing Star Wars, licensed titles like the Aliens, Predators, and Godzilla lines remain very strong and feature some of the best creators working today. Even more impressive are the many creator-owned titles being produced. There’s Mike Mignola’s sprawling collection of Hellboy titles, Matt Kindt’s ongoing series Dept. H, the recent Eisner Award winning Black Hammer, and many more.It’s hard to pick out a series from Dark Horse’s current lineup as being the best, but not impossible.

That title must go to Usagi Yojimbo.

Usagi Yojimbo is the story of a ronin rabbit in an anthropomorphized feudal Japan, wandering the country and becoming involved in many adventures along the way. The saga was created by master cartoonist Stan Sakai in 1984 and first appeared in an anthology. It wasn’t until 1987 that Miyamoto Usagi received an ongoing series at Fantagraphics for 38 issues. The series was moved to Mirage Comics for 16 issues before finally settling into its final home at Dark Horse Comics where it has now run for more than 140 issues. Usagi Yojimbo has become one of the standard bearers at Dark Horse alongside the likes of Hellboy, and the current series is one of the most widely beloved in all of American comics.

If you’re not already familiar with Usagi Yojimbo and Stan Sakai, here’s why you should consider checking out the best series at Dark Horse Comics today.

Usagi Yojimbo - Best of Dark Horse - Sword Fight

A True All Ages Story

The phrase “all ages” gets thrown around a lot in entertainment, and it’s typically used as a synonym for “you can give this to kids”. A real all ages comic shouldn’t just be enjoyable for kids though; it should be enjoyable for readers of all ages. That’s a bar Usagi Yojimbo doesn’t just reach, it leaps it like Superman over a tall building. When researching who reads Usagi Yojimbo, you’ll find studied cartoonists, adult comics fans, and entire classrooms of grade school students. These stories are the real deal when it comes to the concept of four quadrant storytelling.

A large part of Usagi Yojimbo’s success as an all ages comic comes from its willingness to engage with difficult material. In these stories characters die and bad things occur. Sakai is engaged with the reality of feudal Japan and that means often brutal conditions for those living in these tales. Sakai doesn’t revel in the violence or misdeeds of the age though. Instead he acknowledges them in a manner that isn’t too disturbing for younger readers just learning about the unfairness of life. The stories also make the feelings evoked more understandable, confronting sadness and anger head on. There are plenty of farces and comedic tales in Usagi Yojimbo, but even when things get dark parents shouldn’t avert their children’s eyes. These comics walk the delicate line that allows for adults and children alike to be moved by their stories. That’s a large part of the magic that is Usagi Yojimbo.

Usagi Yojimbo - Best of Dark Horse - Fearsome

Accessible to Everyone

It’s not enough for a story to be accessible to everyone in terms of content. One of the most difficult elements of comics is simply finding a story that you can afford to read, discover a good starting point, and even find at all. Usagi Yojimbo checks all of these boxes. The series is easy to find at comic book shops, local bookstores, and libraries nationwide. The combination of more than 30 years in publication and a lofty reputation in comics, literary, and educating circles has made its distribution an inevitability. That demand has made affording the series much easier as well. It’s regularly stocked in libraries for anyone who can’t afford to purchase comics or just wants to give the series a try. For those interested in keeping some great reads around their home there are still a wide array of options. Dark Horse provides oversized collections that pack an enormous amount of material into a $25 package, as well as more standard trade paperbacks and monthly issues. No matter where you’re coming from, you ought to be able to find a way to start reading the series.

That brings up the last question though: Where to start? Unlike most comics that have been around since 1984 or longer, Usagi Yojimbo remains very friendly to new readers. While many of the characters have been around for a very long time, many of the new issues require no prior knowledge to enjoy. Much of what Sakai writes today is designed for brief one or two issue tales. A stronger appreciation of character arcs and the history of the series develops from a deep dive, but it’s far from intrinsic to appreciating any new installments. Even the most epic tales from Usagi Yojimbo, like the sprawling “Grasscutter” and “Grasscutter II”, are individual sagas that can be read on their own or within the context of a chronological run. The truth of this series is there’s hardly a wrong place to begin.

Usagi Yojimbo - Best of Dark Horse - TMNT

A Variety of Exciting Tales

Being able to start anywhere doesn’t mean much if everything is the same though. One of the most exhilarating elements of exploring Usagi Yojimbo is how change is a constant within the series. Sakai speaks regularly in interviews about how he follows his own interests and curiosities to inspire future stories, and he appears to have a very active mind. Within Usagi Yojimbo there are massive sagas of legendary swords and feral demons accompanied by small tales of the traditional building of kites in Japan. Some stories might send shivers down your spine while others will teach you how to replicate classic arts.

Even considering the most recent issues of the series shows the diversity of genre and tone struck within Usagi Yojimbo. Within the past few months, Sakai has told a locked room mystery, explored the preparation of fugu fish, and began a three-part showdown between Usagi and bandits in Usagi Yojimbo #163 in November. The only constant within Usagi Yojimbo is the skill of Sakai’s storytelling and the variety of tales he still has to tell. That’s why Usagi Yojimbo is the best comic published at Dark Horse today.

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REVIEW: Sleepless #1 Provides An Alluring First Glimpse

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on December 5, 2017.

Sleepless #1 Review - Cover

Written by Sarah Vaughn

Art by Leila del Duca

Colors by Alissa Sallah

Letters by Deron Bennett

High fantasy is one of the most difficult genres to execute in comics. Simply consider the adaptations of Game of Thrones bogged down with too many characters, too much dialogue, and a pace that is lethargic, even when compared to the low points of the novels. Comics are constrained simply by space, so introducing a brand new world filled with its own politics, history, and magic is a very difficult feat. The first issue of Sleepless acknowledges these constraints and focuses on its own strengths in order to introduce a fascinating new fantasy world packed with potential.

There are lots of familiar elements in Sleepless. There are royal families, brave knights, castles, magic, and points of intrigue. The story focuses on Poppy, a princess whose father just died ceding the throne to her uncle. In the days following his death she ponders what must come next and is protected by a Cyrenic, sleepless knight who has had his ability to rest removed somehow. It’s the focus on this pair and their walk through a single, eventful night in the kingdom of Harbeny that makes Sleepless accessible and allows readers to being the process of unraveling a complex new tale.

Sleepless #1 Review - Sleeping

While a focused story is important, it’s the pacing of that story that really makes Sleepless #1 function as both an individual issue and general introduction. Individuals scenes are allowed space to breathe; it’s rare to see more than a few word balloons in a given page. Del Duca does much of the heavy lifting as splash panels and minor details reveal just as much as what is being said. The issue breaks down into four essential stages and none of them feel rushed or overstuffed. Emphasis is placed on the story being told rather than exposition and this has a massive impact.

When dialogue is emphasized, Vaughn always utilizes it on multiple levels. There’s just as much being unsaid as being said. Allusions are carefully crafted to help readers build the world in their own minds and del Duca frames panels in order to help guide the eye towards the unspoken truths. The work behind this introduction is shown in how little thought is required. The experience of reading Sleepless #1 is undisturbed, but the amount learned in only 28 pages is incredible.

Sleepless #1 Review - Yawn

All of this is to say that Sleepless presents an ideal first issue, one that not only overcomes challenges, but offers plenty of reasons to keep reading. It functions exceedingly well as a fantasy comic packed with simmering ideas, but reading more like the first few chapters of a novel. Hints of romance, danger, and politicking abound, but the mood is more like that of a lazy, summer afternoon. Del Duca’s presentation of the world and its characters enhance this feeling. People and animals alike exude personality, but their are creeping flaws that avoid the effect of trying too hard to please. Harbeny is a world that invites us as spectators, but already contains ample warning for its inhabitants. There are a million places to go, but every reason to savor the individual page. No comic in 2017 has perfected the formula of high fantasy as well as Sleepless.

Grade: B+

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The 5 Best Entry Points Into Star Wars Comics

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on December 04, 2017.

Star Wars Comics - Star Wars #1

“The Last Jedi” is less than a month away and the need for a Star Wars fix has never been stronger. Whether you’re looking for something to while away the hours before the newest movie debuts or to keep that Star Wars high going, there’s a lot of excellent spinoff stories being produced within the new continuity at Disney. There are some excellent television and novels out there, but nothing comes close to the Star Wars comics being produced by Marvel Comics right now. Since the line was revitalized in 2015, it has been one of the publisher’s best sellers and their most regularly praised set of titles.

That’s why we’re here to provide some recommendations on where to start. Even though Marvel Comics has continued to print some of the classic collections, we’re staying focused on the current continuity and what’s available right now instead of a long, long time ago. These are our top five picks for Star Wars comics from Marvel for anyone interested in exploring more of the mythos between movies. It’s a collection of ongoing series, mini-series, and one shots, but they all have one thing in common: They capture the magic of the films. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish, but these comics are really the next best thing to sitting down in a theater for “The Last Jedi” or whatever comes next. Enjoy.

Star Wars Comics - Star Wars #5

Skywalker Strikes

Star Wars #1-6

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by John Cassaday

Colors by Laura Martin

In our review of Star Wars #1 we called this “the perfect Star Wars comic” and stand by those words. From the opening scrawl to the grand spreads this comic is filled with every element fans came to love in the movies. Aaron captures the voices of characters wonderfully matching the pithy humor of Han Solo and the courageous voice of Princess Leia with shocking accuracy. Cassaday set the standard for realistic artwork within this first collection of the series as he captured the essence of the original actors without ever tracing their appearances and diving into the uncanny valley.

Star Wars under Aaron’s leadership, and now that of Kieron Gillen, has always resembled lost episodes between “A New Hope” and “Empire Strikes Back”. It’s not difficult to imagine these plots being realized in a different reality. Yet they are perfectly at home in comics as renowned artists like Cassaday execute them with all the awe to be found in a printed format. New worlds are discovered, alien races met, and adventures had within the first six issues of Star Wars, and it forms the perfect starting point for any fan of the series looking to try out the comics.

Star Wars Comics - Droids Unplugged

Droids Unplugged

Droids Unplugged #1

Words and Art by Chris Eliopoulos

Colors by Jordie Bellaire

All-ages can be a dirty word for some elements of fandom, but it really shouldn’t be. “A New Hope” is an all-ages film filled with wonder, joy, and important morals. That’s the same spirit that can be found within cartoonist Chris Eliopoulos’ work on Star Wars. Eliopoulos initially created a series of mostly silent backup features for ongoing series, each of which featured a different droid from the far, far away universe. These short stories were so popular that they were later collected into a one-shot to showcase these quirky tales.

We defended Eliopoulos as being the best Star Wars artist due to his unique approach to the source material and grasp of key themes. It’s another point we will absolutely stand by. Each of these stories are a delight and can be shared with fans who saw the first film in 1977 as well as youngsters who aren’t quite ready to sit quietly at the movies. These tales are funny and filled with hope, just what we need from Star Wars right now.

Star Wars Comics - Chewbacca

Chewbacca

Chewbacca #1-5

Written by Gerry Duggan

Art by Phil Noto

Who doesn’t love Chewbacca? That isn’t a rhetorical question; if you know someone who doesn’t like Chewbacca, please point them out so we can get them help. This lovable furball has been a fan favorite since the very first film and his Marvel miniseries only helps to clarify why that love is so well earned. On a solo mission Chewbacca becomes stranded and decides to help a group of laborers being abused by the empire.

The combination of Noto’s lush, painterly art and Duggan’s clever script (which never translates a single word Chewbacca says) makes this one of the best pairings of any Star Wars comic to date. The lack of language also helps to show off the comics medium as Noto makes every action and emotion from Chewie perfectly clear. This is a feel good story that’s still loaded with action and humor – in other words, a great Star Wars story.

Star Wars Comics - Vader

Vader

Darth Vader #1-6

Written by Kieron Gillen

Art by Salvador Larroca

Colors by Edgar Delgado

Darth Vader is the crown jewel of Marvel Comics’ Star Wars line. It managed to be a consistently popular and praised ongoing series featuring crossovers and introducing new characters that wrapped up in an incredibly satisfying manner. Doctor Aphra and her murderous droid companions now feature in their own spinoff series, while Darth Vader’s writer has been given the reins of the core Star Wars series. This is as good as it gets for big Star Wars comics.

What Gillen and his collaborators got right about Vader was exactly what made him compelling in the films. He is relentless, destructive, and without compassion. Each new arc of the series made Vader even more worthy of the fear his opponent’s provided him as we cut a swath through rebels and traitors. Even the charming supporting cast of the series didn’t stand a chance. Rather than redefine this iconic character, Darth Vader reminded readers of why he is still one of the best villains ever created.

Star Wars Comics - C-3PO

C-3PO

Star Wars Special: C-3PO #1

Written by James Robinson

Art by Tony Harris

This one-shot featuring C-3PO and the story of how he got his red arm in “The Force Awakens” is everything Darth Vader is not. It features one of the least liked characters in Star Wars and answers a question no one was really asking. Yet it is the best Star Wars story published by Marvel Comics to date.

This single issue tells the stories of a diverse set of droids struggling to survive in perilous conditions. They don’t all make it, but their true characters are revealed and their actions inspire hope and courage. It’s a minor tale within the Star Wars universe, but all of the key elements of the series can be found within its pages. The inventive settings, big personalities, and focus on individual bravery all make for a single, digestible story that can inspire. While C-3PO may be no one’s favorite character, this story might be your new favorite Star Wars comic.

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Local Comics Store Spotlight: Meltdown Comics

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on December 01, 2017.

Meltdown Comics - 4

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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There are a fair number of stores in comics whose popularity and influence have grown outside of their own communities. We’ve covered a variety of them in this very column – highlighting the holidays, organizations, and advertisements that have grown from local shops to national ideas. It’s exceedingly rare for a comic book store to reach the pop culture consciousness outside of their chosen medium though. That broad influence and national recognition is one of the things that makes Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles, CA a truly special store.

Before arriving at the current stature, Meltdown Comics engaged with very humble beginnings. Gaston Dominguez-Letelier and Ilia Carson-Letelier opened their shop on Sunset Boulevard in 1993, the same street and block they occupy today albeit at another location. At that time it was known by the longer moniker of Meltdown Comics and Collectibles and the shop began “with little more than some Vertigo comics, a run of The Crow, and some Spider-Man t-shirts.” Like so many other comics shops, it was a dream (and a longshot) for the owners, but theirs would succeed beyond the wildest dreams of most others.

The first store only had 1,500 square feet of space, more than many other comics stores, but not enough for what Dominguez-Letelier and Carson-Leterlier had in mind. In less than 10 years Meltdown Comics had moved twice and arrived at its current location complete with more than 9,000 square feet. That expansion has made Metldown the largest comic book shop west of the Rocky Mountains in the United States. It’s a big title, but not nearly as big as the reputation the store has earned with that space.

Selling comics was never enough at Meltdown. Over the years the store has continually expanded its goals to provides its regular customers and random visitors alike with one of the most immersive shopping experiences in all of comics fandom. They’ve created an extensive network to help readers find whatever they’re looking for, even if it’s not within the spacious walls of Meltdown. There’s also ample space for plenty of collectibles, as well as classes and other events.

There are still plenty of comics available in the store though. More than 2,000 square feet were transformed from storage to a massive showroom for back issues in 2004. The result is a space in which fans of any era or genre of comics can dive through back issue bins for days. Whether you’re seeking bronze age issues of Suicide Squad, classic issues of Amazing Spider-Man, or the start of a new Image Comics series, Meltdown Comics is the place in Southern California to search for it.

Resting in Los Angeles has provided Meltdown Comics with more opportunities than most stores to engage with stars of pop culture, both in and outside of comics. There’s one ever-present example in the shop and on the website that many bystanders are likely to miss. The alien mascot of Meltdown who goes by Mel was created by none other than Dan Clowes, the creator of Ghost World and many other beloved indie comics. Clowes association with Meltdown is just one of many examples though and far from the most famous.

Meltdown Comics is loved by many fans far from California for its extensive podcast network. The shop hosts a variety of shows, some of which deal with comics and many which veer into other topics of interest, often with live audiences. There’s something for fans of anime, Disney, hip hop, and so much more. The podcast that made Meltdown Comics a household name for many Americans though is the town hall known as Harmontown.

Harmontown began as a monthly podcast hosted in the stores recording studio until its host Dan Harmon, creator of Community and Rick & Morty, was fired from his current job and transformed it into a weekly experience. The show has grown into a phenomena that has toured across the United States and been the feature of a documentary by the same name. While Harmontown is by far the most popular podcast to come out of Meltdown Comics, it’s far from the only success.

The space in which Harmontown was initially recorded goes by several names: The Nerdist Showroom, NerdMelt, and NerdMelt Showroom. The space is not only designed for podcasts, but provides recording and performing space for comedians. It is co-sponsored by fan culture site The Nerdist whose CEO Chris Hardwick got his start in stand up comedy.  It’s a space that has hosted many of Hardwick’s peers including Jim Gaffigan, Robin Williams, and Kumail Nanjiani.  

Looking at the stories to evolve from The Nerdist Showroom, it’s difficult not to see the seemingly endless opportunities within a comics store. While comics formed the heart of the dream and community for Meltdown Comics in 1993, the people it attracted have allowed both the store and its dreams to grow. Talented individuals like Hardwick and Harmon recognize the power of pop culture and how a great comics shop turns that power into something physical and real. Walking into Meltdown it’s easy to experience just why that is in a testament to what comics stores can achieve.

Store Info

Name: Meltdown Comics

Address: 7522 Sunset Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90046

Phone: 323-851-7223

Website: Meltdown Comics

Twitter: Meltdown Comics

Facebook: Meltdown Comics

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Review: Batman: Creature Of The Night #1 Is The Batman Comic We Need Today

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on November 30, 2017.

Batman Creature of the Night Cover

Written by Kurt Busiek

Art by John Paul Leon

Letters by Todd Klein

“What if Batman was real?” It’s a premise that has ostensibly been explored many times, and that’s not even considering the tangential questions of “What if vigilantes were real?” or “What if superheroes were real?” Batman is a cultural icon as large as almost any in the Western hemisphere and his shadow looms over the minds of children and adults alike. Even outside of comics readers and superhero fans, you can’t escape fantasies of making the caped crusader real. Yet what does that question really mean and what does that reveal about us? That’s the real question at the heart of Batman: Creature of the Night and its first issue goes a long way in addressing it.

In this approximation of the real world the protagonist is Bruce Wainwright, a child who loses both of his parents in a robbery. He has his “Alfred” in the form of a caring, but physically distant uncle and his “Gordon” in the form of a well-intentioned police officer. Yet the focus remains on the reality of the situation in which a child is left with ample resources (albeit not those of a billionaire) but without parents. Even with the fantastic flourishes added by the end of the comic, this story reads more like horror than a morality tale or superhero adventure. At its core it’s about a world in which children are orphaned and no one is capable of helping. That’s what Batman looks like in reality and it makes for a gripping premise here.

Batman Creature of the Night Bill Finger

The brilliance of what Busiek and Leon do within Batman: Creature of the Night is not in the application of realism, but in the study of real topics. The inability to capture a killer in the superhero comic is a source of tragedy for a heroic origin story; here it is a failing of an overloaded criminal justice system. How does that change the people within it? The officer who wants to do the right thing, the victim who wants to see justice, the caring attendees who feel helpless in the face of overwhelming tragedy. The murder of two people is not made out to be a special event here. It’s something mundane that has real effects on characters while simultaneously reflecting broader issues. In this way the story is transformed into case study and avoid glorifying the concept of Batman or transforming tragedy into something beyond a reader’s experience. It is real in a way that matters.

Leon’s depiction of these events is the key lens that differentiates fiction from reality. He utilizes a variety of styles in order to hold up a mirror to the fiction of Batman and provide inflection on each scene. Ben-day dots and clean lines are used to craft dreams and comics, the fictions of this world, and to show what Batman is to those who engage with the themes of his stories. The world is crisper and everything more clearly contained. Yet most of the comic falls into Leon’s more recognizable work wherein readers can recognize brushstrokes and engage with the texture of how each character is drawn and shadows mapped to shape a panel. Leon is a present artist and his presence is purposeful. Batman: Creature of the Night does not want you to forget it is a comic. This is art engaging with art and readers alike, and its manipulation of those who engage with it is clear without being too obvious. There’s a joy to exploring Leon’s work and his ability to affect mood and emotion makes the experience effortless.

Batman Creature of the Night Safe

Batman: Creature of the Night #1 is premise and the story is obviously far from done, making it only possible to speculate on its thesis. Yet the fashion in which it works with both specific icons and the very nature of comics storytelling is exceedingly promising. Busiek and Leon are interested in Batman, but only so far as Batman can reveal something more significant about the culture that embraces him as a hero. It raises the topics of failing systems and powerless individuals in a period when these topics have never seemed more potent or painful, even if they aren’t what everyone wants in a Batman comic. Batman: Creature of the Night isn’t the superhero comic we want, but it’s the superhero comic we need.

Grade: A-

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REVIEW: Kill Or Be Killed #14 Answers And Asks Questions In A Very Bloody Fashion

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on November 29, 2017.

Kill Or Be Killed #14 Cover

Written by Ed Brubaker

Art by Sean Phillips

Colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser

Kill Or Be Killed has finally come full circle in the conclusion of its third arc. The series opened with a man in a ski mask hesitantly narrating his future actions of murdering at least four men with a shotgun, and here he is actually murdering more than four men with a shotgun. With that the comic has finally answered the big question of “How did this happen?”, but it has raised plenty more along the way. There are crucial elements concerning Dylan’s sanity and relationships. Yet the most important question of all at the end of Kill Or Be Killed #14 is “What compels us as readers to keep going?”

That’s not a slight at the series, but an introspective point raised by a deeply unlikable protagonist. Dylan is a lead character whose self-absorption, violence, and disconnect with reality make him one of the most repulsive leading men in comics right now. It’s not only that he makes so many awful decisions, but his personality and view of reality would make him someone readers might want to avoid even without the murder and many smaller disregards for basic decency. Yet Kill Or Be Killed remains an enthralling series in spite of all this.

Kill Or Be Killed #14 Brooklyn

The answer to this question contained within Kill Or Be Killed #14 is one of thrill seeking and mystery. The first half of the issue is the execution of the very first crime Dylan was ever shown committing. While that same sequence of mass murder in a hallway has played out multiple times, the violence as displayed by Phillips and Breitweiser has never become less enthralling. They instill each moment with a visceral reality as bodies move and twist in the ugly and awkward dance of recognizable violence. When a gun goes off or blow lands, muddy reds spatter the walls and there is no victory in that dim hue. It’s spectacle engaged in the ugliness of the act where the release is that of a voyeur rather than fan. As Dylan reiterates throughout the past couple of issues – this is something a man can do and the artists make that seem true.

And the second half of the equation comes in the mystery of the series that has supplanted how Dylan reached this point. Questions of Dylan’s past and the existence of a painted demon have become increasingly important to the series, even supplanting the core vigilante narrative at this point. They provide a mystery box that is perfectly paced in its opening between issues. Like so many before it, Kill Or Be Killed #14 provides some answers and just as many questions in its final page. Phillips paintings of the demon and Dylan’s father’s other pieces still serve as the centerpiece of this mystery, pushing the concept of art and perception to the forefront. The smoke and haze of Dylan’s world are made manifest upon the page.

Kill Or Be Killed #14 Murder

Yet the core question still remains: Why do we continue to read about this stunted, dangerous man-child? In the age of the anti-hero Dylan stands out for his complete lack of compelling motive as he is entirely self-centered from start to finish. It makes the resolution in #14, a true act break within the series, somewhat less impactful. He has achieved something notable, but there are hints of far worse to come. The achievement and foreshadowing lack weight though as Kill Or Be Killed continues to rely on more concrete questions of how and why. What will happen to Dylan is beyond the spectrum of concern.

Kill Or Be Killed remains a thrilling exhibition of mundane violence and an intriguing mystery that traipses between the border of reality and the supernatural. Yet as it reaches its grandest conclusion to date, the series’ greatest flaw is exposed as the answers do not seem as satisfying as the questions being asked. As Dylan reaches a highlight of his journey, the journey seems to lack a point. It might be enough to enjoy the path itself though.

Grade: B

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Top 5 Silver Surfer Artists Ever

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

Best Silver Surfer Artists - Cover

The fifth and final volume of the most recent Silver Surfer series will be released this week, completing the collection for one of Marvel Comics’ most celebrated series of the past decade. Storytellers Dan Slott and Michael Allred took the Sentinel of the Skyways on adventures for four years in a run that would receive widespread acclaim from critics and fans alike, as well as an Eisner Award for best issue. Now that all is said and done, there’s a question of where the work sits within the pantheon of great Silver Surfer tales. That’s why we’re ranking the absolute best artists to ever work on the character.

Since the Silver Surfer debuted in Fantastic Four #48 more than fifty years ago, he has been one of the most iconic and visually inspiring characters in all of superhero comics. His simple design combined with complex settings and fantastical stories have brought many of the medium’s best artists into the character’s orbit. Their styles and storytelling have helped shape Western comics in the 20th Century and beyond, and work on the Silver Surfer was definitive for many.

So who makes the cut? How do they rank? Does Allred find a spot in this very competitive top five? And who is the greatest artist to ever draw the Silver Surfer?

Best Silver Surfer Artists - Esad Ribic

  1. Esad Ribic

Recommended Story: Silver Surfer: Requiem #1-4

Ribic is now a superstar at Marvel Comics, but he first became a regular name at comic book stores with miniseries like Silver Surfer: Requiem. The comic showed Ribic doing what he does best with grandiose backdrops and lush, painterly visuals. His rise to blockbuster titles like Thor: God of Thunder and Secret Wars is no surprise after seeing his work here. Ribic is also a particularly good match for the attributes of the Silver Surfer. He captures the alien nature of the mostly humanoid hero and provides the aura and shine of his metallic body as well as anyone else.

If there’s any criticism to be made of Ribic’s work here, it’s that the characters remain somewhat cold. The Surfer is aloof and, while his loneliness is beautifully captured, the passion and angst of the character is missing to some degree. Yet even as an artist developing into his career, Ribic still provides one of the most majestic takes on the Silver Surfer earning him a spot on this list.

Best Silver Surfer Artists - John Buscema

  1. John Buscema

Recommended Story: Silver Surfer (vol. 3) #34-38

No artist worked with the Silver Surfer more regularly than John Buscema and his work helped to define the character’s growing mythos after leaving the pages of Fantastic Four. Buscema’s influences are clear and elements like Kirby krackle are regularly present, yet the work within his issues of Silver Surfer exceeds imitation. Buscema was a masterful storyteller and regularly developed new characters and encounters that would challenge the Surfer and bring his story to new heights.

It’s no coincidence that Buscema was instrumental to the Thanos and Infinity Gauntlet stories now being developed into Marvel Studios’ largest blockbuster. He worked on a truly epic scale and was able to set gods and men side-by-side, a potent combination with the Silver Surfer who veers between both categories. Buscema managed to both humanize the character and display his awesome powers – walking a line that has become definitive in Surfer lore.

Best Silver Surfer Artists - Michael Allred

  1. Michael Allred

Recommended Story: Silver Surfer (vol. 7) #1-3

Allred is one of the best artists working in mainstream comics today and his run on Silver Surfer shows just why that is. It is a series that never ceases to invent as the Surfer and his new companion Dawn Greenwood roar across the Marvel Universe. Almost every issue introduces a new planet, concept, or character, each of them expanding upon what already exists in fascinating new directions. Allred’s use of the page is just as important as he utilizes spreads and non-traditional layouts perfectly.

This work is both an excellent showcase for Allred and the character. The Silver Surfer’s general stoicism is used to great effect in order to reflect the increasingly diverse and exciting settings of the series. Allred avoids overplaying emotions and focuses on sparse understatement with clear linework. The results help to emphasize what makes the character greater rather than reshape him into a type Allred fans may be more familiar with. There’s no doubt that Allred has earned his place within the canon of Silver Surfer artists.

Best Silver Surfer Artists - Moebius

  1. Moebius

Recommended Story: Silver Surfer: Parable #1-2

Stan Lee often mentions that his favorite comic he worked on was Silver Surfer: Parable. No doubt that goes in large part to working with French master artist Jean Giraud, better known as Moebius. His work on Silver Surfer is perhaps his best known among superhero fans, but only a small segment of an extensive library spanning many decades and genres. It is a great glimpse at what makes Moebius one of the most renowned comics artists of all time though.

The art in Silver Surfer: Parable is nothing short of stunning. Each panel is delicately detailed with carefully considered perspectives and landscapes that seem to sprawl for miles. Given a choice between what was easy and what was hard, Moebius regularly opted for the latter. The two-issue series encourages readers to spend time with each page, considering planets and characters that appear only briefly. It is an enthralling read and one that really displays the infinite possibilities surrounding the Silver Surfer.

Best Silver Surfer Artists - Jack Kirby

  1. Jack Kirby

Recommended Story: Fantastic Four Annual (vol. 1) #5

“Everybody that reads comic books knows that Kirby’s Silver Surfer is the only true Silver Surfer.” – Denzel Washington, Crimson Tide

It’s not just that Kirby came first. Kirby defined the Silver Surfer in every way that remains important even 50 years later. The sprawling, cosmic landscapes, the juxtaposition of distant alien nature and passionate, angry consciousness, and the soaring, explosive action are all their from the start. Whether you’re looking at the work of Ribic, Buscema, Allred, or Moebius, it’s impossible not to trace their inspirations back to Kirby’s work on Fantastic Four.

Whether you see the Silver Surfer as an avenging angel sent down from heaven or the lonely, eternal stranger questing for knowledge, it’s Kirby who made those characterizations iconic from the very start. Within the lines of his face and physicality of his expressions, the Surfer was stuffed with contradictions and a rich inner life. The foundations for every beloved story featuring the character since was laid down by Jack “The King” Kirby starting in Fantastic Four #48 and across the next several years of backups and B-plots. When it comes to the Silver Surfer, there’s simply no artist better than Jack Kirby.

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Top 5 Collections to Celebrate Jack Kirby’s Centennial

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

Jack Kirby Collections - Title

As 2017 draws to a close so do the many celebrations of what would have been Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday. Publishers, news sites, and fans have spent the year honoring one of the most important comics creators of all time – a man who reshaped medium, the American industry, and more than one genre. Yet for many readers there’s still a question as to where they should begin. All comics fans know Kirby’s creations and most have encountered at least one of his comics, but it’s a poor assumption to believe everyone is familiar with “The King’s” massive catalogue.

In order to help new readers or those who have simply gone uninitiated, we’ve prepared a list of the five best collections available to celebrate Jack Kirby’s centennial. These aren’t the best individual stories or the best collections ever; these are the books that could provide potentially anyone an entrypoint to appreciate the work of a true master of comics. In order to help our readers we’ve selected this list using a few key criteria:

  1. All collections must be readily available for purchase in print or digital formats and affordable (less than $40).
  2. All collections should comprise a different era or genre of work to provide different entry points for different tastes.
  3. All collections should comprise a notable collection of issues, either a complete run or long span, to offer a thorough sampling of the work.

We hope these recommendations will help new Kirby fans discover what the hype is about and, perhaps, allow older ones to rediscover a favorite set of stories. Enjoy!

Jack Kirby Collections - Mister Miracle

Mister Miracle by Jack Kirby

Issues: Mister Miracle # 1-18

There’s more than one good reason to start with Mister Miracle collected here in its entirety. The Fourth World Saga is Kirby’s magnum opus – an epic entirely written and drawn by Kirby after being given carte blanche at DC Comics. Of the four series composing the saga Mister Miracle is easily the most accessible. It starts with an origin story and slowly weaves itself into the grander conflict between New Genesis and Apokolips. The core of these tales is recognizable for its elements of adventure, superheroes, and romance.

There’s also the revival of Mister Miracle occurring today, and it’s no surprise that this character attracted the eyes of rising stars Tom King and Mitch Gerads. If you’re a fan of what is occurring in DC Comics’ most acclaimed new title, there’s a lot to be learned in its origins. Kirby’s tone and style are radically different, but almost all of the elements being utilized are pulled directly from this series. In spite of the Kirby’s relatively short run (only 18 issues) on Mister Miracle, after reading this it’s obvious why the character has remained a favorite of creators across the years.

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Jack Kirby Collections - Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four Epic Collection: The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine

Issues: Fantastic Four # 1-18

This collection must come with a word of warning. It is the birth of the Marvel universe, the foundation of the Jack Kirby and Stan Lee partnership, and the start of one of the most acclaimed comics runs of all time. It also represents a massive learning curve for both of the creators involved. There is no doubt that Fantastic Four #1 is brilliant within the context of its time. The issue provided characters who were ugly and human in ways that no other superhero was, and Kirby’s artwork was already bold and confrontational.
Yet across these initial 18 issues of Fantastic Four a massive change occurs. The book grows towards the style and stories that would define it a few years later. Looking at issues #1 and #18 represents an exponential growth in storytelling. There’s no better collection to understand how Marvel Comics was founded, but some context helps make this collection much more appealing too.

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Jack Kirby Collections - The Demon

The Demon by Jack Kirby

Issues: The Demon # 1-16

The Demon is a truly unique example of Jack Kirby’s work. There are no other examples in his enormous library of horror comics and that makes sense given Kirby’s attraction to optimistic themes regarding humanity, technology, and progressivism. His invention of Etrigan is in direct conflict with all of those ideas and the results are truly fascinating.

This series goes back in time and digs into yet another mythos, that of King Arthur, as Kirby focused on medieval horrors to populate DC Comics. Etrigan is a compelling design infused both with dark humor and rage-fueled power. Kirby’s gothic settings are every bit as detailed and engrossing as his futuristic Fourth World landscapes. The Demon serves as both a wonderful counterpoint to much of Kirby’s work and an enthralling story that exists perfectly within only 16 issues.

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Jack Kirby Collections - Thor

Thor Epic Collection: To Wake The Mangog

Issues: Thor # 154-174

If the Fantastic Four collection is meant to show Kirby growing into himself at Marvel Comics, then these Thor stories show Kirby at his apex before leaving the publisher. The various tales collected as Kirby’s time on Thor drew to a close are as epic and experimental as anything he would go on to create at DC Comics. They range from the space epic in which Thor encounters Galactus to the creation of Mangog.

What really makes these issues stand out is how unique they are even from the decades of superhero comics to follow. Kirby’s use of fumetti and experimental layouts have sometimes been mimicked, but never to the same success. His use of scale makes these stories of gods feel as if they truly have the weight of the heavens, and his linework has never been more distinguished. For all of the praise that Fantastic Four receives, this is the best collection of any superhero comics made by Jack Kirby at Marvel Comics.

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Jack Kirby Collections - OMAC

Jack Kirby’s O.M.A.C.: One Man Army Corps.

Issues: O.M.A.C. # 1-8

While this collection of O.M.A.C. is the shortest on this list, it might also be the most relevant today. Part science-fiction odyssey, party dystopian epic, and part war story, O.M.A.C. is packed with ideas that seem frighteningly prescient today. Kirby’s conception of an Earth overrun by consumerism and war included visions that mirror modern drones and sex dolls. While the stories remain enjoyable reads, the ideas contained within are insightful and often dark.

There may be no better example of why Kirby continues to be treated with such deference than O.M.A.C.. It is a comic that shows his sunning style and storytelling chops. Each issue displays incredible inventions and new visual concepts. And at the heart of every new story are ideas and themes that have only become more relevant in the years since their publication. O.M.A.C. is not simply a great example of Kirby’s comics, but one of the best comics of the 20th Century. If you can only try one collection from this list, then this is the one that must receive the absolute highest recommendation.

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