Why It Matters to See Barrier in Print

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 9, 2018.

Barrier Vaughan Martin - Cover #1.jpg

Image Comics provided some of the finest picks in Free Comic Book Day material this past weekend, including the first print edition of Barrier #1. This comic miniseries from writer Brian K. Vaughan, artist Marcos Martin, and colorist Muntas Vicente was previously only available on the digital outlet Panel Syndicate. That site, founded by Martin, is a unique platform offering a pay what you want model for digital comics without any restriction. It was launched by the same creative team with their Eisner Award-winning series The Private Eye, which was also transformed into a hardcover by Image Comics recently. Now Barrier will be republished in oversized comics on a weekly schedule throughout May, following the standard-sized first issue offered for free.

The transition of Barrier from a digital only comic to physical issues (and, hopefully, another hardcover edition) is more than a nice update for collectors and librarians. Choosing to adapt the series offers several new opportunities for the comic and readers alike. If you didn’t get a chance to check out Barrier #1 while it was first being published at Panel Syndicate or in its free sample during Free Comic Book Day, that shouldn’t deter you from picking up the weekly installments throughout the next month. It’s a big deal, and here’s why…

Expanding Comics (Literally)

We recently made the case for publishing more comics in different shapes and sizes based on the beautiful over-sized series The Highest House from IDW Publishing. Barrier offers another excellent example of how moving comics away from standard dimensions opens up new storytelling and stylistic opportunities for the mainstream of the medium. Part of the rationale behind Panel Syndicate was for Martin to design comics for a computer screen. He approached each page with the widescreen of a monitor in mind, striving to give digital readers the best possible experience for looking at comics on the internet. That took into account both the dimensions and size of a standard monitor, requiring greater levels of detail in order to satisfy readers who would be examining the pages on screens like small televisions.

That experiment has paid off in critical responses to work like Barrier and The Private Eye, rendering some of the best digital comics reading experiences imagined so far. However, these oversized, widescreen pages are not inherently limited to a digital experience. Looking at the printed version of The Private Eye it’s clear that the work holds up when given pages large enough to encompass all of its detail and bear the sweeping panel layouts. Seeing Barrier presented in oversized single issues substantiates that point and shows how well it can be achieved in the pamphlet format as well. While this could be read as encouragement to adapt more comics from the internet to physical printing, it also makes the case for publishers to support more experimental formats. Creators like Martin and Vaughan carry a big fan base and have the skill to make experiments like these work. If they desire to work in print, then the success of a series like Barrier ought to encourage more risk-taking in the printing and design of future comics.

Print Still Matters

There is value to be found in print comics as well though. While the concept of digital comics presents a lot of merits, there are some issues they will never overcome. We might imagine that digital material is permanent, but access to it may not be. Someone seeking copies of Barrier or other digital-only comics decades from now may find that they are limited in resources. There is no guarantee that any digital vendor will still exist in the future. There is a further concern about modification. Most digital sales do not guarantee the story being sold will remain unmodified. Movies, novels, comics: all of it can be edited in a digital version stored by an outside vendor. Print provides a permanent copy that can be maintained and referenced. If only for historical purposes, this is immensely valuable. There is a reason that the Library of Congress is a highly valued resource, and its because it maintains original copies for historical purposes. Once a comic is printed it cannot be altered or lost (if securely stored). As we encounter new questions and concerns in the digital age, print offers scholars security.

There’s also the readership who might not care to use digital reading tools. This could be due to an instinctual aversion or very real discomfort when utilizing screens for elongated periods of time. The preference for paper over pixels is completely understandable and keeping a comic to only one or the other is likely to limit its distribution. If a story is worth sharing, then its best to provide it as many outlets as possible in the long run.

The Value Of This Story

That applies specifically to Barrier because it is a story worth sharing, especially in 2018. The title references many thing, but the most thematically important is the barrier created by culture and language. Vaughan and Martin, as popular and critically-acclaimed as any duo in comics, experiment with dual narratives in multiple formats throughout the narrative. Language plays a massive role as the two protagonists in the series speak only English or Spanish, without any translations. The visual storytelling allows readers with any fluency to still experience the story, but changes perspective and understanding based on how much of the dialogue they can interpret. It raises vital questions of how we work together in a multicultural society and how something like language can reshape narratives on a personal level.

This dual narrative also establishes a lack of understanding in the pair from the very first issue. Both have endured hardship, but lack the reader’s awareness of shared experiences and frustrations. Watching them work together guides readers to recognize the importance of empathy and the value in discovering other’s stories. As rhetoric and tensions heighten, specifically around the issues of immigration addressed in Barrier, the series serves as a call for a compassionate and humane approach to any disagreement. It stands out as a genuinely significant story for its time, highlighting why it’s valuable to be discoverable by as many readers as popular. That’s why we’re glad it’s being printed by Image Comics and sold to new readers in comics stores across the United States.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What Makes “You Are Deadpool” The Most Ambitious Marvel Comic of 2018

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 9, 2018.

You Are Deadpool - Cover.jpg

Almost everyone remembers picking up a “Choose Your Own Adventure” title as a child. When you had to read in 6th grade and all of the Goosebumps titles were already taken from the classroom library, this was the best possible choice for a reluctant reader. You were transformed into being a part of the action and could lead your protagonist to a grisly end seemingly every few pages. These titles were a lot of fun, while also managing to make reading fun for even the most hesitant students and delivering some useful lessons about cause and effect in the doing. However, it’s hard to imagine that format being pulled off in comics, much less over multiple issues.

That’s exactly what Marvel Comics is doing in the page of You Are Deadpool though. Following on from single issue experiments in Adventure Time and 2000 A.D., the publisher is currently in the midst of a 5-issue miniseries in which readers take Deadpool through a complete journey that travels through all 5 issues, albeit not necessarily in the same order.

The comic from writer Al Ewing and artist Salva Espin puts Deadpool on the trail of a device capable of setting him loose in time (and between panels). After a brief tutorial it unleashes readers on the entire series to craft a complete story. This isn’t just about Deadpool’s propensity to break the fourth wall or another fun mini-series though. After reading the first 2 issues, it’s apparent that this may be the most ambitious comic published by Marvel in 2018.

Maximum Formalism

Adapting this style of story to comics requires an impressive amount of effort, even more so than authors who compile entire novels with dozens of endings. Page numbers are suddenly sub-divided into panel numbers, which require each page to hold multiple storylines instead of a single one. That is further complicated by a page count requiring all ideas to be fit gracefully within an exact amount of space. There’s no room to leave off half of a page once a story ends or simply carry on; You Are Deadpool is a comic requiring front-to-back understanding before it could go into production. Every panel had to be in place before it can succeed, and the first two issues are flawless in their execution.

What really complicates the matter is that comics are a visual medium which makes the obscuring of outcomes vastly more difficult. Hiding a potentially catastrophic future from a reader as they flip between pages, or even attempt to read panels on a shared page, is almost impossible. Rather than ignore this potential bug, Ewing and Espin have transformed it into a feature in You Are Deadpool. Readers may notice a large explosion occurring in the panel above the one they are supposed to read, only to have it referenced as a key element of the action. The format of comics and their storytelling mechanisms are turned to the advantage of the story. It requires an incredible amount of design and consideration, but the payoffs are substantial.

More Than Fresh Paint

That problem is alleviated in the digital format of the comic, which combines its first several pages and panel into a single element, so that each additional panel matches with their matching page divisions. This simultaneously makes the digital reading experience different and reveals the further levels of thought that accompanied the production of You Are Deadpool. Reading it in print and on a tablet screen are both effective, but the experiences are different, adding a further metatextual decision to choosing your own adventure.

Ewing, having already created a similar narrative in the pages of 2000 A.D., doesn’t appear to have been satisfied with only giving readers a choice as to where they wish to go next. In You Are Deadpool he has added a elements of chance, choice, and character development. The introductory page of the comic provides a rudimentary character sheet similar to what readers might use in Dungeons & Dragons. It provides them with an inventory and two meters to track Deadpool’s “badness” and “sadness”. The former is determined by the reader as they notice items and can add them to 1 of 3 spots, only to find out if they are (or would have been) useful later in the story. The character meters are based on decisions made and their disparity or equality determines further branches in the story as it goes along.

The final addition takes the form of a six-sided die which players can cut and build from the pages of You Are Deadpool #1. It is used to simulate battles with each side being given a set number of dice to use and the larger sum of rolls winning the day. All of these devices stack up to create a truly unpredictable reading experience and one that actively encourages rereading. There’s also a valuable surprise to be found if readers do cut out the die, one not worth spoiling, but that speaks to the careful consideration of each choice made in this dynamic comic.

Potential Payoffs

That single joke about cutting out a die from You Are Deadpool #1 speaks to the long term possibilities found in this comic. Both the considerations required for filling each page of a single issue and the many additional facets constructed by Ewing and Espin create a work that is far greater than its next gag. Multiple endings don’t simply allow for readers to reread the comic, but make the process rewarding. It toys with notions of choice and delivers games in ways that will surprise many. In addition to offering a great reading experience now, it also provides a future opportunity to entice reluctant readers and help others consider what goes into the form of comics.

While You Are Deadpool remains a comic that is simply fun to enjoy, that shouldn’t undermine the work and ambition present in every page. Constructing the experience of choosing your own adventure across an entire miniseries requires a complex understanding of how every element will fit together. In turn it helps readers to consider each of these elements. The function of page turns, cliffhangers, panel construction, and so much more are called into question. While having a good laugh, we are simultaneously given a better sense of just what makes comics unique. That seems like a worthwhile goal for such an ambitious miniseries.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Review: Southern Bastards #20 Is The Series First Misstep

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 9, 2018.

Southern Bastards #20 Review - Cover.jpg

*Spoilers Below*

Anticlimax. When everything that you feel should be happening fails to happen, when the world ends with a whimper instead of a bang, it leaves one very important question behind: Why? The concept of anticlimax can be used to subvert expectations or recontextualize an entire narrative. It can be one of the boldest and most introspective twists in fiction, when utilized well. Southern Bastards #20 is all anticlimax. It fails to deliver on the promises built up throughout “Gut Check” and even goes so far as to reverse several big moments throughout the arc. That begs the question: Why?

Latour’s visuals encompass much of the story so far and broadcast the potential of this being a finale issue, for several characters if not the series itself. Imagery from across the entirety of Southern Bastards is stacked up and deployed with almost military precision. Dogs come out in a mob to surround Big’s old house, looming in their flat dark gray tones like ghosts. The concept of trees as heritage and history is resurrected as yet another one falls. Past and present are fused into singular sequences that make it clear everything has built to this moment. In Craw County everything is connected, history, family, football, all of it. And that has never been more apparent than the depiction of these chases and fights.

The weight of all these past decisions and a long season of failure for Coach Boss has led to this, and this turns out to be the continuation of what was already occurring. Nobody dies and everyone is allowed to return to their position (give or take some bullets and arrows). While Roberta’s decision to release Coach Boss and pursue his destruction via other means is explained. It is explained in a forced fashion. The very act of pontification from Roberta runs contrary to everything the character has said or done up to this point. It offers logic, but the logic does not flow from character. Furthermore, given what has happened to Coach Boss’ empire throughout “Gut Check”, an enormous fall reinforced throughout this issue, it seems that Roberta’s need to watch him fail has largely been completed. There are few more obvious acts of plot guiding character and it grates in a series that has been so excellent up until this point.

Southern Bastards #20 does not just undermine its characters through their decision making process, it violates the tone it worked so hard to establish in its opening arc. Violence has been a consistent fact of life in Craw County, one that is sudden and ferocious in nature. Death is a truly nihilistic force that comes without concern for plot or character. Yet throughout this issue death is pushed back as an unwanted impediment for future stories. Those thought dead are resurrected and a plan is laid out for many future issues to come. The story is back on obvious rails and expectations are significantly diminished as a result.

Southern Bastards #20 continues much of what has earned the series its strong reputation. The visual storytelling is unparalleled in its ability to construct mood, deliver violence, and toy with time. It remains a powerful, visceral experience. Yet the narrative has been undermined in a fashion that calls into question the longevity of this story. It has rebuilt the world and called characters back into play to stretch their arcs further into the future, contrary to everything established in the first arc of the series. There is much more story to come, but it suddenly feels like a much safer story and that has never been what attracted readers to Southern Bastards.

Published by Image Comics

On May 9, 2018

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by Jason Latour

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Review: Justice League: No Justice #1 Promises An Extraordinary Superhero Team Up

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 9, 2018.

Justice League No Justice #1 Review - Cover.jpg

This is a very specific form of comic, one that only exists in the superhero genre and, even then, primarily at Marvel and DC. It is a comic that establishes a story told in many parts with many purposes. That leaves it with a laundry list of tasks, including the introduction of characters, presentation of an inciting incident, and construction of notable villain(s). It’s an odd form of storytelling that can easily tip into the realm of infomercial, which is why so many of these issues are priced far less than their page count should indicate. This is the rubric required to see how impressive elements of Justice League: No Justice #1 are, and why they indicate a great deal of optimism in what comes next.

The logic laid out in this first issue for constructing teams of wildly different characters, many with conflicting personalities and motives, is the most superhero reasoning in the world. It also functions by embracing that idea. The world of DC Comics is not our own and it possesses its own reasons, including a breakdown of 4 primal forces that seem driven by their essential “cool factor.” It is the child of the Metal event and does a far better job of cherishing the weird and doing things for their own sake. While its possible to challenge the formation of teams in this comic, to do so would be to work on a very different set of assumptions than the comic itself lays out. Things work because that’s how things work in superhero comics; this is a necessary understanding.

That comprehension helps with a lot of issues, but the enormous number of characters and backstory are still a boulder at the bottom of a hill. There’s a clear decision to dispatch with these issues at the start rather than risk spreading them across the entire miniseries and upcoming iterations of Justice League comics. It’s a bite the bullet mentality that serves the story well. The core villains are laid out in a single spread that serves as a Rosetta Stone for everything else that is put into place. Much of the remaining pages help reveal everyone who is present before the adventure really begins. Questions remain, but they’re the questions that can drive future adventures and mystery. There is no need to dig deeper into exposition in a second issue and that serves as yet another lesson learned from Metal, which stumbled in providing the opposite approach.

Manapul makes this infodump function much better than it might have otherwise. The exposition splash pages are beautifully constructed, and specifically balanced to work with the fold of the comic. Narrative captions are not so dense as to cover the lush illustrations that make them work. Every new page turn invites readers to explore what “No Justice” will be about rather than overwhelming them. The early pages of adventure serve as a promise to what the future holds as well. Manapul’s comedic timing is impeccable and he offers plenty of great moments of his own making with allusions to the past subtly placed (like a sideways recreation of Brave and the Bold #28).

Justice League: No Justice #1 is the introduction and explainer for the next phase of DC Comics. It pulls an exorbitant number of characters together and constructs a whole new swath of legend and history, all of which underpins the future series and events that will populate 2018. What makes it notable is that it does all of this in a truly entertaining fashion. Jokes land. Characters look great. The legends are enormous. It all works together about as well as anyone could expect, and the individual pieces promise an even greater story now that the place setting has been accomplished. It’s a good reason to start here and a better reason to see what happens next week.

Published by DC Comics

On May 9, 2018

Written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Joshua Williamson

Art by Francis Manapul

Colors by Hi-Fi

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mini Reviews for 05/09

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 9, 2018.


The Despicable Deadpool #300

Gerry Duggan’s final issue as the writer of Deadpool, after 7 years, doesn’t disappoint. It isn’t the best story in the long run and doesn’t contain all things that fans might want, but it does at least one thing very well. The story itself is very focused on recent events and feels dragged out over a page count that goes from being over-sized to excessively-over-sized. Yet the big twist at the end creates a perfect visual metaphor for readers to experience the highlights of what has come before while building emotion behind a very big final decision. It also sets up whatever comes next, but focuses on what makes this issue and story special. Despicable Deadpool #300 offers a poignant, bittersweet conclusion, one that captures the tone of this run perfectly. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

Exiles #3

With the team assembled Exiles is able to focus more on the story at hand. That doesn’t slow down this issues continued emphasis on exposition though. Characters explain the premise of the series yet again as they move so quickly between locales as to make none of them stick. There is an odd tension between the plodding pace of reading every word on the page and breakneck speed at which events ought to be moving forward. Rodriguez does a remarkable job in recovering from this stilted presentation with his usual panache and smooth style. Many of the best moments in Exiles #3 come in quick, quiet panel gags occurring within a fraction of a page. These moments are a welcome reprieve from the larger narrative. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

The Incredible Hulk #716

This is a meat and potatoes Hulk comic. Some big punches are thrown and the power scale is increased, while the real struggle is wrought in a big metaphor for internal battles. Nothing in these pages has failed to be done before or done better. That doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining. The fight sequences, external and internal, deliver a few blows particularly well. An appearance from Thor makes for some of the best pages in several issues. Yet the overall effect is to stall fro time as “World War Hulk II” slowly arrives at a conclusion broadcast from the very beginning—coming in just a few more weeks. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #304

The emphasis on cause and effect as a means to explore Spider-Man’s themes of power and responsibility are taken to their natural conclusion immediately following the cliffhanger of #303. There is no ambiguity or loose threads in this plot; it’s all about function. That leads to some tragicomic places, as joyful to witness as ever even as dark colors and moods hover ever closer. The time travel device is being utilized exceedingly well, making each new sequence an opportunity to explore a changed world or push the story forward with grace. This series remains the best Spidey comic on the stands today. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

You Are Deadpool #2

The second issue in this experiment establishes some ongoing rules, including the placement of mini-games and extravagance of early endings. However, what it really accomplishes is revealing this story to not be a one-trick pony. The careful structuring and promise of the first issue are still present, but the connections between each issue of the series are just beginning to emerge. Every lesson learned helps to build bigger gags, while the callbacks and punchlines become even more complex. The work is present on every page and pays off with some very big laughs and surprises (in addition to a couple of great cameos). — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5



New Super-Man & The Justice League of China #23

This series really embraces the addition to its name in a climactic showdown that feels a part of classic Justice League narratives. The mix of competing characters, forces, and motives all build to an appropriately consequential set of decisions that simultaneously lay future subplots and redraft the status quo. Dragonson (a.k.a. Aqua-Man) is the standout element of the issue. His design, specifically when returned to North Korea, is impressive in battle. His role on the team is even more so, finding a resonant new take on the original Aquaman’s outsider narrative. It really feels like the Justice League of China has cohered in this issue. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

Wonder Woman #46

The final page of Wonder Woman #46 has everything a superhero fan might want from a cliffhanger, building a future threat and featuring a great guest star. Looking back on the 20 pages that led to it reveals there’s little to be excited about though. Cheetah’s role, both as a cast member and action feature, is deeply underwhelming. The fight goes through predictable paces while her role seems capably summarized in a handful of sentences. That applies for Jason’s subplot, which continues to drift without cause. Looking at the final page it’s easy to forget everything that preceded it because there is so little of substance to be found. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5



Analog #2

Given the introduction of this series there was an expectation that violence had repercussions. Bullets left holes and bodies were bound to drop from any sort of serious encounter. The second issue walks this back as increasingly tense situations deliver relatively easy outs for all involved. Lots of jokes are made to undermine the impact of a savage beating or tense standoff. Stiff characters constructed from blocks only serve to make these events less impactful. After two issues there’s even less in this new series to be intrigued by than it seemed at first glance. It may be time to let this idea fade away instead of making copies.  — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

Back to the Future: Time Train #5

Any affection for this story is bound to come from the source material. Even Doc Brown is a caricature of himself here, running on fumes of time travel shenanigans and a familiar exclamation. Yet for what it is, this bonus material for Back to the Future fans manages to deliver plenty of content in a comics package. There are ample enemies and mix ups making for a more endearing riff on what came before. The addition of several canine companions and their own absurd rules makes this a perfectly tolerable licensed comic book. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

Black Cloud #9

This comic reads like the initial threads of steam emerging from a kettle, the tension of waiting for a scream. It’s not all build as the world is set ablaze (sometimes literally), but it’s all about what comes next. After 9 issues a paradigm shift is underway and the emphasis here is all on what that could mean. It’s tense and provides some excellent backgrounds for extended conversations. Characters themselves, along with color work, continue to light up these pages and make each step forward worthwhile, especially as the series prepares itself for a leap. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know #6

The first six pages of this issue are perfect. Their impact resonates throughout the entire story, achieving epiphany as everything is different without a single thing being changed. The various stories, missions and personal disputes all continue, but they are reshaped by new context. It’s a stunning achievement that shows off the craft of every creator on this book from artists to letterer. It’s worth reading as saying anything more would be to spoil the experience and this issue is an experience, even as it attempts to return to normal. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 5 out of 5

Green Hornet #3

Three issues in and the newest iteration of the Green Hornet plays like superhero comic book mad libs. A few pages play for exposition filling in the blanks with generic secret society and trained killer jargon. It’s not just that this story is familiar, but that each new step in the plot feels as though the comic is sleepwalking. Even a car chase that ends on a boat fails to get the blood moving as characters and objects are reduced to scratches and little connection exists between actions. It’s a tedious reading experience that relates the information of the story, but little else. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

Hungry Ghosts #4

The final installment of Hungry Ghosts reflects the same issues as the entire series. Both ghost stories added to the repertoire here provide little fare to make heartbeats accelerate. They are told functionally, more like an anthropology textbook than campfire tale. The source material behind the tales are still rich enough to evoke a handful of very powerful panels, including an incredible array of Japanese demons. That’s not enough to make the individual bits stick though. After so much preparation, it’s even more disappointing to see how the framing device for all of this is resolved. Like much of the series, it reads like an afterthought with more potential than can be found in the final production. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

Maestros #6

Skroce delivers gore-filled battles better than almost any other artist in comics. As things go from bad to worst, it’s incredibly hard to look away. Characters are torn to literal pieces as every new bit of good news is met with two bits of bad. That constant acceleration is seemingly unsustainable, especially as the splash panels become more extravagant. Yet in the last few pages it becomes a clear choice that is balanced wonderfully with this setup for a finale. While Maestros #6 is best experienced as a surprise, it shouldn’t shock anyone to learn that it’s utterly vicious and an absolute delight to behold. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

Medieval Spawn And Witchblade #1

This crossover feels like a return to form compared to the current Spawn series. It’s all about armor, weapons, and demons that look like something from a heavy metal album cover, and embraces that aesthetic. Legends of a lost king and evil sorceress are the landscape for this story. When it focuses on the battles themselves, it looks excellent, but slows during long periods of exposition. Despite the dryly delivered backstory, this certainly feels like the best form of Spawn to be found on shelves today. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

Oblivion Song #3

Kirkman focuses primarily on conversations in the least active issue of Oblivion Song thus far. That’s not a problem as De Felici delivers excellent expressions and provides some interesting shifts in perspective (like a sequence featuring two walking dogs). What is a problem is the word choice and diametrically opposed perspectives. Characters become mouthpieces existing to create new positions rather than develop their actual identities. It’s an unnecessarily aggressive means of exposition that leaves the cast less distinguished by the end. There’s still a lot to like, but the human beings in #3 possess about as much individuality as the monsters. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 3 out of 5

Planet of the Apes: Ursus #5

The never-ending swirl of ideas without a story is perfectly encapsulated in snippets from holy scrolls paired with short scenes. There is wisdom and, depending on the style of the timeline, some powerful visuals. None of it ever manages to combine into something more substantial than a vignette. The core issue at the heart of this series is that it is plastering cracks in what has come before, and cannot tell the story of Ursus in a forthright fashion. That continues to be true here as any few pages may seem substantial, but they all fail to stack up when combined. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

Punks Not Dead #4

After making so many efforts to distinguish itself as something odd or different, this issue of Punks Not Dead veres back to familiar territory. Looming threats and conspiracies resemble those that anyone familiar with Vertigo and DC Comics traditions might recognize. The arc of establishing superpowers and responsibilities is present, and the future is clear. Cut and paste depictions continue to look stiff on the page, resulting in the action itself failing to even provide a thrill. There’s very little new to be found in this comic, which makes its rebellious attitude feel even more like an act. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

Resident Alien: Alien in New York #2

Harry finally arrives in New York City and things become much more interesting. Both the minor and the major receive ample attention as small disturbances back home are played for humor and the quest for another alien moves forward. The latter is presented with some excellent lettering choices and a spy-like scene that would make Greg Rucka jealous. Small details subtly build tension so even a relatively friendly scene reads in a tense fashion. Wherever this is leading, it has made the journey worth following.  — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

Rough Riders: Ride or Die #4

The finale of this second outing possesses about as much flavor as packaged tofu. There is a story being told with characters narrating their own choices and futures in blunt fashion, and it’s depicted well enough throughout these pages. However, there’s no discernable reason to care about any of these historical figures. They are caricatures of even the most superficial sort of textbook reading, removing everything that makes them or their place in history seemingly interesting. An adjective is enough to introduce or define any one person, which makes the rote battle with forces of evil even less thrilling. It’s probably for the best that this is the likely end of the Rough Riders. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 2 out of 5

Season of the Snake #2

There is lots to love in each page of this volume. The landscape is wrought to inspire dreamlike visions of what might rest just beyond the panels, creating tension between urges to rest with each moment and quickly move to the next. Colors remains an integral element of the storytelling and is skillfully deployed throughout this installment. In spite of that intricate detail and world building, Season of the Snake remains cold in its narrative and telling. There is a dispassionate eye given for all those who occupy this space making deaths and changes in drama much less impactful. It’s still a beautiful world to behold, as chilly as it may be. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 4 out of 5

Sleepless #6

It’s easy to go big, especially in high fantasy. Where Sleepless proves its merit in concluding its first arc is its willingness to remain small. Tensions come to a head in a purposefully unsatisfactory fashion that allows the narrative and artwork to focus on much more subtle issues. Prophecy and romance are brought forth in big panels that allow silence to have its say as stars or other actions linger on the page. There are big moments in this issue, but they are only as big as the characters and careful worldbuilding until this moment allow them to be. It’s a testament to the success and staying power of Sleepless as one of the best new series from Image Comics. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 5 out of 5

Supermansion #2

The second installment of this adaptation doesn’t simply embrace low brow humor, it doesn’t believe any other form exists and puts no effort into the sorts of jokes it’s telling. In a showdown between a European superhero team and the American characters of Supermansion, every joke falls into the laziest stereotypes imaginable. A frenchman possesses the powers of a frog and is continually accused of being a coward. There are no puns or twists, just that sort of joke which might have made someone titter in grade school. This comic’s greatest sin isn’t being offensive or poorly illustrated (although it is). The real issue with Supermansion #2 is that it doesn’t even bother to show up. — Chase Magnett

Rating: 1 out of 5

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

8 Reasons Now Is The Time For Hellboy’s Return

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 9, 2018.

Hellboy Returns - Cover.jpg

B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know returns this week to follow up on the incredible cliffhanger from the end of its fifth issue. The conclusion of its first arc left Abe Sapien and Liz Sherman standing over the corpse of their longtime colleague and friend, Hellboy. We don’t want to spoil anything from the new issue itself, but we are hoping that Hellboy officially returns today.

Hellboy was killed at the end of “The Fury” in 2011 after defeating Nimue and saving most of England. In his wake he left a world prepared for the apocalypse which the B.P.R.D. battled in the pages of B.P.R.D.: Hell On Earth. His story continued in 10 issues of Hellboy in Hell, which detailed the death of Satan and ended with Hellboy finally resting. It was an appropriate ending and one that upset expectations in a meaningful way.

However, with his body resurfacing and even greater threats for the Earth looming (along with a new movie in 2019), it seems that now is the time for Hellboy to make a big return. It’s not just that it makes commercial sense though. After so many years away, there are a lot of reasons that now is the perfect time for Hellboy to come back…

More Mignola Is Always A Good Thing

Let’s start with the obvious. We love reading great comics and everything published under the Hellboy line of comics headed up by creator Mike Mignola is consistently great. This includes the ongoing B.P.R.D. series, the multiple miniseries featuring past characters and stories, and anything else that arises along the way. No matter where these adventures lead, they’re part of a team and history that consistently promises some of the best horror and adventure comics in the business. Bringing Hellboy back means that Mignola has more stories to tell with the character and will be making more comics. That’s win-win scenario for everyone involved, a win-win-win scenario if you count Hellboy.

The B.P.R.D. Needs Hellboy

If you’re caught up with the recent events of B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know, then you know that this team can use all of the help they can find. Following the defeat of the Ogdru Hem and a single dragon of the Ogdru Jahad, they are running very short on staff with many of the team’s longest running heroes killed, including both Johann Krauss and Kate Corrigan. Now an even greater threat looms on the horizon. Hellboy’s return would provide hope in a necessary moment and strong leadership at a time when many members are at one another’s throats. If there was ever a chance for Hellboy to seize the mantle of “Once & Future King”, it’s now.

A Limited History

Even while Hellboy has been deceased, fans haven’t lacked stories about the character. Miniseries detailing his earliest adventures with the B.P.R.D., largely set in the 1950s, have been providing a much needed reminder of the hero we love. However, there’s only so much history to be filled. Much of the original Hellboy stories already worked backwards and it is a matter of time until the past and present collide. Rather than continuing to look to the past, it might be time to reintroduce Hellboy to the present.

Unfinished Business

When Hellboy died it was apparent that his work on Earth wasn’t complete. There’s the matter of prophecy, both his being connected to the Ogdru Jahad and the last descendant of King Arthur. These elements played into his final moments, but are not resolved as England has disappeared and the Right Hand of Doom is still attached to Hellboy (albeit in Hell). He also left behind friends and a lover who miss him dearly, as well as a world that obviously needs him in the wake of “Hell On Earth.” Hellboy is simply too important to his world to be gone for good, and his story leaves important strands dangling in need of resolution.

A Chance To Reflect

Following a long rest on the throne of Hell, it will be worthwhile to see what Hellboy’s perspective is following his climactic adventures and death. He is obviously a changed man and it is about time to learn what that change means for him and his world. Whether that involves reflecting with surviving loved ones or working to help Earth recover following the Ogdru Hem’s invasion, Hellboy deserves a chance to reflect on his legacy and what comes next for him and his family.

“Hellboy In Hell” Is A Coda

Hellboy In Hell ends with Hellboy resting on a throne, but those final pages serve more as a coda than a true ending. As we’ve already detailed there’s a lot of story left to tell and questions that remain unanswered. What this spectacular miniseries really served to do was remove Hellboy from the craziness consuming Earth and refocus the series on its lead character. That has happened and with his purpose and place clarified, it’s time to move on to the next thing.

Return of the Ogdru Jahad

The biggest reason for bringing Hellboy back is that the Ogdru Jahad are still resting in space. While one was defeated by Johann and Liz, that still leaves six dragons capable of annihilating Earth and Hellboy with the key to their cage. If the current prophecies are true, far worse threats are coming and that could mean the rest of the Ogrdu Jahad will soon awaken. If they’re to be defeated, especially after Johann’s death, then Hellboy will need to return.

Meeting A New Generation of Readers

There’s also value in a well-timed return. While many of us already know how great Hellboy comics can be, a whole new generation of readers are about to discover the character in a new movie next year. Having Hellboy back from his place of birth and temporary retirement to lead the B.P.R.D. in their new adventures will provide a great starting point for readers to discover comics, Mike Mignola, and the past adventures of Hellboy. It is simply too good of an opportunity to miss and a real reason to bring Hellboy back in 2018.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How Gerry Duggan Remade Deadpool

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 8, 2018.

Deadpool 300 Duggan - Cover.jpg

Gerry Duggan began writing Deadpool in 2012. His time with the character kicked off in Deadpool #1, the third issue to be labelled as such. A lot of writers had tackled the character since his debut in The New Mutants #98 where he was created by artist Rob Liefeld and writer Fabian Nicieza. It didn’t take long for the mutant merc’ to become one of the icons of the 1990s and develop a fanbase warranting multiple series, miniseries, and crossovers. Many comics icons, including Mark Waid, Christopher Priest, and Gail Simone, have written the ongoing adventures of Deadpool across the years. He is one Marvel Comics character not lacking for talented contributors.

Yet the past 7 years have proven to be a particularly fruitful time for Wade Wilson. The growth of both Deadpool’s character and his surrounding mythos have been nothing short of remarkable. That’s due to the dedication and vision of Duggan on the title. Now as his time with the character comes to an end with Despicable Deadpool #300 (at least for now), it’s worth looking back to examine Duggan’s legacy with this consistently popular anti-hero.

Growing The Family

The likely, longest-lasting contribution of Duggan’s run will be the extensive, extended cast added to Deadpool’s world. While Deadpool has many characters associated with him, he has never had a family like this. Friends, like Cable and Domino, have made regular appearances in past Deadpool series, but are well-defined outside of their connections to the character. Other mercenaries, like Outlaw or Constrictor, have primarily been fodder for team-ups, not revealing much about the man they were paired with. What Deadpool has really lacked is a family unit and that’s exactly what Duggan crafted throughout his entire run.

What Duggan did was to consider what the importance of a supporting cast is in superhero comics and craft one that would bring out the best in Deadpool. Just like the diverse cast of characters in Spider-Man provide a wide variety of angles on the character and opportunities for adventure, that’s what many of Duggan’s co-creations have done for Deadpool. They are not one-trick ponies for a single story, but complex individuals capable of lasting for decades.

That’s no more apparent than with two early contributions, Emily Preston and Scott Adsit. This pair of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents have grown considerably throughout the run and helped Deadpool grow as well. Their respective emphases on responsibility and understanding have challenged Deadpool to be better as he was built relationships with them. They’re the tip of the iceberg though and an extensive family of characters lies ready for future creators. Whether they’re interested in exploring the monstrous relationship Deadpool has with his ex-wife Shiklah or the surprisingly moving connection with his daughter Eleanor, Deadpool now has one of the best developed supporting casts at Marvel Comics.

Never Pinned Down

Duggan didn’t just emphasize diversity within the characters surrounding Deadpool, he played it up in the very nature of the stories. While Deadpool has a reputation for being the Marvel Comics character with jokes, Duggan showed the versatility provided by great comedic timing. Throughout his run Deadpool morphed into a lot of different styles, often during arcs. While some comedy was always present based on the nature of the character, it would be diminutive to define the run as being primarily comedic. Example abound across the past 7 years of how much Duggan could stretch and alter the tone of Deadpool.

One of the best stories from the entire run was “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” featuring a team-up with Wolverine and Captain America. It took the form of a military thriller with the trio invading North Korea in order to disrupt genetic experiments and rescue its victims. The story emphasized the stakes of the international affair and how seemingly responsible choice conflicted with humane decision making. It was a complex narrative that used each character to reflect the unique form of heroism in the others (and initiate an ongoing admiration for Captain America). It showed off that Deadpool was a series capable of sustained seriousness.

On the other end of the spectrum Duggan regularly crafted one-shots that took the series into past eras of comics, providing important elements of back story while simultaneously commenting on the oddities and styles that fill the history of superhero comics. These were a delight because of how they embraced the metanarrative in Deadpool’s dialogue and applied it to the entire series. Yet even they were capable of surprising shifts in tone, opening the door for Deadpool’s daughter and other stories that paid off across the years.

Finding The Hero In The Merc

Duggan’s construction of a family and exploration of different styles of story were all purposeful. Across the years they helped to make Deadpool a much more sympathetic character, detailing painful origins, and a more heroic one, giving him opportunities to succeed and help others. While his journey has been far from perfect, a human being has emerged from beneath the mask and yellow speech bubbles. Wade Wilson might be an imperfect hero, but he has certainly become heroic in a very human fashion.

Simple qualities like loyalty and affection are at the heart of his change, with his actions driven by the people he cares for instead of any broad-based idealism. Deadpool has become a surprisingly relatable hero whose failings are as understandable as his successes. Duggan has reshaped Deadpool’s place at Marvel Comics and integrated him further into the ongoing narratives of superteams and big fights by making him one of the best heroes in superhero comics today.

Looking at Deadpool in 2018, he is almost unrecognizable from the character in Deadpool #1. That’s not just because his heroic potential has been built up. In addition to be a more fully understood character, Deadpool has shown himself capable of occupying almost any sort of story with a supporting family of characters that can join him. Duggan has left a legacy on the title that should leave fans expecting much more than some excellent jokes and violence in years to come. He has shown us that Deadpool is a top-tier character at Marvel Comics, and that will never change.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

8 Reasons We’re Excited for Venom #1

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 7, 2018.

Venom #1 Stegman Cates - Cover.jpg

Throughout the course of Spider-Man’s long and storied history there have been many spin offs, but none have come close to approaching the popularity of Venom. Ever since making his big debut as a villain in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #300, this symbiote has been a consistent fan favorite. He took everything that was popular in superhero comics during the 1990s and synthesized it into a singularly compelling illustration of muscles, teeth, and tendrils that could tear criminals apart. While not every solo series or miniseries to feature the character has been a hit, it’s rare to see a monthly lineup from Marvel Comics that doesn’t feature Venom in some form.

Following the events of “Venomverse”, the publisher is relaunching the character with a brand new creative team and #1 issue. As Marvel Comics enters a summer of new series, Venom #1 encapsulates a lot of what makes the publisher’s restart exciting, whether it’s on a Spider-related anti-hero or their biggest titles like Captain America. We are particularly excited for what this change in direction means for Venom though, and are here to tell you exactly why that is with 8 distinct reasons…

Back To Basics…

Venom has been doing a lot of interesting things over the past decade. He has been a government agent molded to Flash Thompson in a Suicide Squad-like pact. He has been a Guardian of the Galaxy and solo space hero fighting alien menaces. He has even been a multiversal leader in events similar to those of “Spiderverse.” While all of this has been a lot of fun, it’s a big set of alterations on the core elements of the Venom mythos. Just like having Doc Ock in Spider-Man’s body, it can be fun while it lasts, but eventually there has to be a return to a relative normal. That’s what this series represents with a focus on the core elements that originally built a fanbase and have made Venom popular across multiple decades.

Including Eddie Brock

Eddie Brock is a very bad man. Even his recent attempts to reform have revealed him to be a zealot at best, incapable of empathizing with those he may hurt while pursuing whatever his current cause may be. That ugliness and toxicity is one of the most fascinating elements of the Venom story. It provides creators a chance to examine a perfectly imperfect man with power and how that power is wielded. In this situation the Venom symbiote isn’t an excuse or antagonist, but a force that allows us to look at an uglier form of humanity through the metaphor of the superhero. Eddie is a very bad man, but a perfect fit for Venom.

A Pulse-Pounding Artist…

Before Venom was a well-defined character, he was a monstrously designed villain whose presence captured every Marvel’s readers attention when placed on a cover. As a child of the 90s, Venom is as much about being depicted in a big fashion as the story behind those depictions. Ryan Stegman is an artist capable of delivering on all the promise of this alien threat. His ability to exaggerate and propel action sequences forward are bound to make the new Venom a thrilling read. Both his silhouette and rows of teeth make for an impressive display in early previews, and we can’t wait to see more.

With A Heavy Metal Writer

Stegman is well-paired with Donny Cates to make this new series work. Coming off the very popular tails of his recent Thanos run, Cates has shown a real knack for understanding and refining Marvel Comics’ greatest villains. He approaches them with a heavy metal mentality, never admitting there’s such a thing as enough when it comes to superhero baddies. If Venom is meant to be the protagonist of this series, that will be because Cates has dreamed up threats so nightmarish that even Venom looks preferable. We can’t wait to see how he makes that happen in the first arc of the new series.

Ample Ugliness…

What makes Stegman and Cates a killer combination on Venom is that they’re likely to bring out the best in one another on this character. Venom works best when he exists as the unrestrained id of Spider-Man, a creature thirsting for justice as defined through the most horrifying lens imaginable. That means lots of blood and violence, and this new series looks set to deliver. It already has previewed some of the meaner villains in Marvel Comics and its version of Venom doesn’t even appear to be aware of the definition of restraint. However, things go down in Venom, it’s bound to be as unheroic (or at least, as anti-heroic) as possible.

Including a Primordial Threat

That potential appears to be wrapped up in a big, new mystery villain for the first arc. Early solicits promise a primordial threat that is at least as old as Venom ready to rise from beneath the streets of New York City and wreak havoc. Imagining another monster that has been around longer than a millennium provides some very potent soil to till. Whatever it is that Venom is looking to face will have just as much experience, weapons, and survivability as the original symbiote, if not even more. Whatever this thing is, it’s bound to be ugly.

The Dark Side of Marvel Comics…

One of the things that Venom has always done best is to explore the dark side of Marvel Comics. With the Thunderbolts and Flash Thompson, Venom showed us what the black ops and conspiracy side of government looked like. Venom has regularly fought with monsters crawling beneath the city and throughout the cosmos. And Venom has hunted serial killers and the cruelest villains in existence ever since his first series. For fans of the darker side of superhero comics, there’s no better place to start than with Venom.

In The Streets of New York City

That also means returning Venom to his hometown of New York City (at least on Earth). It’s not just the place where most of the action at Marvel Comics goes down, but the home to many of the series worst villains and most terrifying lore. There’s no better place to kick off a back to basics approach on this character than in the alleys and sewers of Manhattan. We can’t wait to see what goes down on and below the streets of New York City in Venom #1.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What Is Free Comic Book Day?

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 5, 2018.

Free Comic Book Day is upon us! We have everything here you might need to get ready for holiday, including a list of all the free comics, our top picks for the day, and how to find your own local comic book store. While the event may seem self-explanatory, it’s still worth asking: What exactly is Free Comic Book Day?

The History

The very first Free Comic Book Day occurred in 2002. Its creation was first discussed by shop owner and comics columnist Joe Field who proposed it as a way to generate new readers and interest in the comics medium. The initial event was tied to the release of Spider-Man, building on the popularity of superhero films and free publicity from the launch of a new one. Together the increased interest from movies and the event helped to offer stores new customers and an improved recovery following the speculator bubble of the 1990s.

Since its debut the event has continued to grow and change, but the core elements have remained the same. Participating stores give away pre-selected copies of comics, most often printed specifically for the occasion, to all attendees. While rules vary from store to store, often including a limit or purchase requirement, the giveaway element has remained at the center of the day.

FCBD Today

Free Comic Book Day has grown almost every year since its inception. Today the event occurs in more than 2000 stores across more than 30 countries. This growth is reflected in regular expansion of participating venues and the number of issues ordered specifically for the day. While the Free Comic Book Day website has continued to advertise specific films, the day of the event is no longer tied to a theatrical release. This year’s event for example falls right after the release of Avengers: Infinity War, but is also being used to promote the upcoming release of Venom.

Instead, Free Comic Book Day has been dated to the first Saturday in the month of May. The timing generally offers good weather, as well as families looking for activities to start their summer fun. As a result the event itself has morphed and grown at individual stores to include a wide variety of activities and traditions beyond the core of Free Comic Book Day.

Endless Variety

Every local comic book store approaches Free Comic Book Day a little bit differently. Some have even transformed the event into a mini-convention, offering tables for local artists to sell their work and invite creators to sign their own issues. Legend Comics & Coffee has used the holiday as an opportunity to raise funds for Make-A-Wish, and many other great stores have created similar opportunities to promote good causes. Whether it’s a special guest appearance, carnival games, or something else altogether, each Free Comic Book Day celebration provides something that makes it unique.

That variety highlights what really makes Free Comic Book Day special: the local comic book stores, themselves. It’s the people who run these shops and the communities they’ve built that allow this special, pop up affair to occur and bring so many smiles to faces. While the free comics are a big attraction, it’s the quality of the people as well as the content that ensures new readers keep coming back for more. Free Comic Book Day is a holiday for interesting new readers and sharing comics, but it’s also a celebration of small business and the wonderful, geeky communities that surround local comic book stores.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How To Find A Local Comic Book Shop

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 5, 2018.

Now that you’ve heard of Free Comic Book Day and figured out which new issues you might like to read, the question is simple: Where do I get these free comics?

In order to answer that question though, you’ll need to know where your local comic book store is. If you’re not already familiar with the idea of the direct market, it’s pretty simple. The majority of monthly comics in North America are sold through specialty outlets that sell comics and possibly related items (e.g. games, toys). Thus the focus on the local comics store (LCS) for this annual free comic extravaganza. Most metropolitan areas have at least one LCS to support their local readership, and there are multiple ways to find yours.

The best possible place to start is with the store locator on the Free Comic Book Day website (linked). This locator provides a lot of information for any stores within your area. The basic details are all there including name, address, and phone number. There are also links to help you get directions to the store and take a look at a shop profile that includes hours of operation and other details. Several stickers might be included beneath each listing as well. These will help provide important aspects of the shop, including whether they are a Free Comic Book Day participant, if they offer kid friendly comics, if they are partnered with schools and libraries, and if there are any special events occurring on Free Comic Book Day. Many shops sponsor small carnivales, guest signings, and charity drives, so be sure to keep an eye out for those event listings.

If that locator doesn’t provide any results, don’t lose hope. There are other valuable means of finding a local store that sells comic books. Find A Comic Shop offers another locator that allows users to adjust the search radius between 5 and 50 miles. Comic Book Realm offers yet another simple model that may be worth trying as well.

If none of these online search tools help, there are still some old school methods worth trying. The yellow pages (physical and digital) may list your shop under comics or books. In small communities that don’t have enough readers to support a dedicated comic book store, often times book, hobby, and record retailers step in to fill the void. Don’t hesitate to investigate interesting speciality shops in related categories to see if they at least offer comics, even if they may not participate in Free Comic Book Day.

With all of those tools and options, you are bound to find a local comic store in your area, if there’s one to be found. The niche nature of comics in North America can make it difficult for some places, which is why it’s important to support your local stores. Free Comic Book Day is not free for retailers who pay for the comics they’re giving out. Be sure to make a purchase to give back for all of the time and money that goes into making this holiday happen.

Don’t hesitate to visit more than one location either, if that’s an option. Stores tend to specialize in larger communities with different styles of operation and focuses in content. Together they help to build a strong foundation for comics to grow and find new readers, and can use your support to thrive until Free Comic Book Day next year.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment