The Bulletproof Coffin: The One-Thousand Yard Stare Review

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on June 7, 2017.

Taken at face value The Bulletproof Coffin is a comic that should not work. That is especially true of its newest installment, a one-shot titled “The One-Thousand Yard Stare”. It riffs on the ever-smaller and more incestuous comics industry while delivering a layered story stuffed with cruel, nonsensical characters. This comic doesn’t appear to like its creators, itself, or anyone that might walk into a shop to purchase it.

So why the hell does this comic work so well?

The secret is in the cruelty. There’s not a romantic notion to be found within the pages of The Bulletproof Coffin. While the series regularly acknowledges both its history and means of production, there’s none of the feigned reverence or mythologization commonly found in most superhero metanarratives. It opts to deliver every plot point as bluntly as a shotgun blast to the face.

Nowhere is this traumatic impact approach more clear than in the comic within a comic “Hypno Vampires From The Stars”. This comic created none other than Shaky Kane plays with pinup aliens, brutal cops, and a noir hero that checks off every cliche (give or take a fly mask). It’s simple and uninspired, but manages to deliver more entertainment than current reiterations of similar concepts in Batman. The lack of self-importance is refreshing as it packs an entire narrative into just a handful of pages.

This could be read as a rejection of decompression or a mockery of the genres, but neither of those seems to be the real case. What “Hypno Vampires From The Stars” really seems to be is an imitation of something done a thousand times each year in American comics to various degrees of applause from a very small crowd. That Kane’s drawings and layouts are more effective than most of what you’ll encounter from “Big Two Comics” might an accident of talent and focus. The focus here is on efficacy and that makes the quick read within a read a surprisingly superior creation in spite of its lack of depth. It is what it claims to be on the surface and that is what makes it both entertaining and effective.

Where “The One-Thousand Yard Stare” really pushes itself is in how that ashcan comic conflicts with the story surrounding it. This is where the hate sets in. Kane is depicted as a resentful comics creator shackled to a convention circuit and surrounded by fans he loathes. His history jumps between that of an imagine Image founder with too much money and a monstrous version of Jack Kirby hunched over a table. There’s a lot of aspects to be found within Kane, but all of them are resentful.

The sadness of his story emerges from the depiction of every character. Wrinkles and small details turn each individual, no matter how minor, into something crude. Compared with the smooth contours of Coffin Fly or buxom cops, the people in and around comics are hideous. And while they don’t feel like real people, they do hold some connection to reality in a way the “heroes” never do. These broad strokes of theme and specific lines of ugliness are all well-crafted. The metanarrative only steers off course when it relishes pointing out the world which it critiques a bit too precisely. Joy at mentioning Image or the Big Two draws attention away from the cynicism that makes “The One-Thousand Yard Stare” both compelling and repulsive.

The Bulletproof Coffin is back and readers may believe it is with a vengeance. That would be a misinterpretation of a comic whose characters are driven by self-loathing, or ought to be. There’s no grand statement about comics within these pages; it’s a saddening acknowledgement, really. However, within that acknowledgement lies great craft and a depiction of people and artifice that reveal why some of us still can’t leave comics alone.

Posted in Comic Reviews, Comics, Comics Bulletin, Wednesday Checkup | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Leading Questions: Archie Comics Will Never Die!

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on June 1, 2017.

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

So without any further ado…

How does killing off a member of the Archie cast of characters damage the metaphysics of our reality?

This is one of those questions that goes from being laughable to fascinating in quick order, assuming you’re high or particularly sleep deprived. Metaphysics is essentially the study of ideas without any science or evidence. It’s a look at abstract concepts and what defines them, and it makes for an evenly balanced mix of tedious and enlightening conversations if you happen to have been a philosophy minor, like yours truly. You wind up talking about what time means without digging into those difficult bits, like fundamental interactions and relativity. It’s a lot of talk with little application, which brings us about to whatever the hell metaphysics has to do with Archie Comics.

Archie and his pals in Riverdale aren’t original character conceptions; they’re archetypes. If Joseph Campbell were to read a bunch of these comics, he’d write a sequel to The Hero With A Thousand Faces about the American teenage narrative. It would be much shorter and much less meaningful, but there would be a funny tangent about American Pie and raunchy comedies, so not an altogether terrible read. In any case, Archie Comics embraces the very idea of innocent American teenage narratives. It is to this genre what the metaphysical concept of time is to an atomic clock. There is the idea of the thing and the thing itself.

I suppose that’s what makes the narratives of Archie Comics timeless. They do not require anything new in order to be sustained. Archie, Betty, Veronica, and the rest simply are. It’s also what allows for so many variants of this core cast to be reconstructed with so many interesting results. When you start to put restrictions on their world or twist the genre, you can see how the idea of the thing impacts the thing itself. That’s why Afterlife With Archie works like gangbusters. Even people who don’t care to discuss the concept of the “All-American Boy”, “Girl Next Door”, or “High School Prankster” suddenly acknowledge that these characters are impactful when the stakes are so high. You may not care about the concept of time, but when it comes to actually measuring the day, you’ll find yourself caring a lot.

Archie Comics is the center to all of its spinoffs, alternate realities, and a whole lot of other stories that don’t openly acknowledge these archetypal forms. It doesn’t matter that American Pie or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off don’t bother with Archie Comics, they still can’t extricate themselves. And the center must hold.

Mark Waid offing Reggie Mantle is not what I would define as the center holding though. For the past few months Archie Comics has been revving its marketing engine about the story “Over The Edge” in which Archie Andrew, Betty Cooper, and Reggie Mantle get involved with some car racing shenanigans that sends all of their vehicles over a guardrail. This has all been followed with the promise that someone will die and nothing will ever be the same, like Archie Comics is suddenly the realm of capes and crippling masculine insecurity.

It doesn’t take a genius to tell you that Reggie is fucked.

Something like Afterlife With Archie has already killed a slew of characters every bit as important as Reggie, so why does this make a difference? However, we’re talking the idea of things instead of whether they make an impact, which this clearly doesn’t. The idea of Archie Comics is centralized in its iconic, canonical town of Riverdale. It’s the idea of the “real Riverdale”, not one where Archie gets raped by his music teacher or Jughead eats brains. Right now that idea is continued in the stories of Archie, the relaunched center of this comics brand. It’s the ongoing concept of the place where all of these teenage brands and their mentors live forever cycling through a variety of wackadoo adventures and lessons.

Riverdale is the endless, timeless imagining of the American dream as viewed through the innocence of children hoping to become adults. That’s why whacking one of these kids making one or two of the other leading cast guilty of negligent homicide is a bit damaging.

Killing one of these kids in the “real Riverdale” forever alters that world’s view of youth, its most important concept. When the children who are learning how to become adults can die because the world is actually a cold, chaotic, cruel place, then that is the place Riverdale becomes. Randomly killing Reggie Mantle who is still learning whether or not he’ll be a jackass as an adult moves Riverdale closer to reality, away from the idea of Riverdale. That’s how the center is lost.

It’s a move that screams for relevance, and that broaches tones and ideas that have no connection to the strengths of Archie Comics. It’s like throwing The Punisher into an issue, then telling readers Dilton is still murdered next month because sometimes mass murderers misjudge a situation, and mass murderers are very real.

I’m not saying that “Over The Edge” will ruin Archie Comics forever or that we should be outraged about it. I’m just saying it’s a choice that fundamentally misunderstands what Archie is and why it matters. In the big picture this particular genre is only a small part of the tapestry of stories, and the choice to kill off one archetype in its most thematically central narrative is a minor choice. Yet it’s still a damaging one that discards a significant sort of character and antagonist.

I suppose you could compare it to a tiny ding on a well-cared for muscle car. While it’s ultimately insignificant, it’ll still bug the ever-loving shit out of you if you care about the car. It won’t ruin anything, but it’s still a bit of damage to this incredibly minor branch of metaphysics as you’ve forced me to define it.

Posted in ComicBook.Com, Comics, Industry Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Local Comics Store Spotlight: Acme Comics

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 31, 2017.

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.

____________________________________________________________________________

 

Many of the comic stores that have been covered in this series were born of the comics boom of the 1990s or rose from the ashes of its bust. Acme Comics was around before X-Men #1 was supposed to send a generation of kids to college, and it looks like it will last well beyond the final pages of current favorites like Saga. It’s a store that has not learned the lessons of building community and focusing on the actual comics because it has been teaching them for more than 30 years. Today we look at Acme Comics, a shop that’s as close as it comes to an institution in the American comics market.

 

Acme Comics opened in Greensboro, NC in 1983. For perspective, that was the same year Eastman and Laird founded Mirage Studios, Jason Todd was introduced as the second Robin, and Walt Simonson debuted on The Mighty Thor. It was an exciting time for comics and one in which Acme Comics found itself competing against newsstands and grocery stores. They were an alternative where fans of the medium who wanted specific issues or a staff that understood what an inker was could find just what they were looking for. Before the LCS was an abbreviation, Acme Comics was establishing the concept in North Carolina.

 

Those original aims from 1983 are still intact. Acme Comics provides collectors and fans a wide variety of choice titles from the golden, silver, and bronze ages. However, their aspirations have expanded along with the years. “Our goal is to be a community partner that epitomizes the small business in Greensboro North Carolina,” says store manager Jermaine Exum. That means two very important additions. First, Acme Comics strives to bring comics creators and professionals into Greensboro in order to interact with fans who cannot travel to conventions. Second, the store is focused on creating a new generation of comics readers within their community; that means lots of comics and outreach for young readers.

 

A history as long as that of Acme Comics provides too many interesting tidbits to be covered outside of a long afternoon talking with the staff. They are part of a rarefied community of American comics stores older than three decades. Exum knows this history sets his store apart, but he also believes their genuine attitude is distinguishing. “We try our best to build relationships in our community with schools and other local small businesses” says Exum. Acme Comics is part of the landscape of Greensboro and it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. That leads to the question: What comes next?

 

Click ahead to learn what the future holds for Acme Comics, and why the next 34 years look to be just as exciting.

 

One benefit of a long existence is that it allows Exum and his staff to take a long view of the comics industry. As retailers they’ve been invested in creating new markets for the medium, and have seen that pay off in the past few years. “Kids under twelve are once again interested in reading as part of their entertainment portfolio with comic books and graphic novels. Boys and girls.” says Exum. That’s especially exciting given that for more than a decade the market was dominated primarily by adolescent and adult men. Acme Comics has cultivated a wide-range of comics that suit children’s tastes and that have an aesthetic appeal for parents. It’s a win-win as parents get their kids to read and kids get some great stories.

 

It’s not just a growing market for young readers either. Exum has observed the number of women creating pull files growing each year. New comics like Saga and reinvigorated classics like X-Men are both attracting an increasingly diverse audience to Acme Comics.

 

Exum is reluctant to chalk up Acme Comics success and longevity to luck. There’s something special about what he and his co-workers have accomplished, and Exum proposes it’s because they’re a “Third Place” within the community. He describes the idea of a Third Place as a spot between work and home that people want to travel to whenever possible, even though they don’t have to. It’s a special location that adds a boost of energy and positivity to your day; that’s what Acme Comics is to Greensboro. Transforming the store into that Third Place has helped to build a strong community about it. “The reason we have endured is that an incredible community unlike anything I know of anywhere else” says Exum.

 

When asked about what the future of the store holds, many years of success have not dulled the aspirations for tomorrow. Exum acknowledges the wide variety of roles a comics store can play in a community and thinks all of them hold a significant role in what comes next. In the future Acme Comics will be a “tastemaker”, “support system”, “network”, “reliable business”, and so much more. It will be a place that nurtures young readers and sustains longtime fans.

 

Exum points out that “Acme” is not just a word from a Tex Avery cartoon. It’s definition in the dictionary is “The point at which something is at its best or most highly developed.” That definition is important and it’s how Exum defines his perspective on the store and community he loves. “Acme will continue to be a work in progress and we never stop trying to be the best we can be for our community and the comics industry” he says.

 

Click ahead to see full details and photos of Acme Comics.

 

Store Info

Name: Acme Comics

Address: 2150 Lawndale Drive

Greensboro, NC 27408

Phone: (336) 574-2263

Website: Acme Comics

Twitter: @acmecomics

Facebook: Acme Comics

Posted in ComicBook.Com, Comics, Industry Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Leading Questions: Strange Case of The Hulk and Hyde

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on May 25, 2017.

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

So without any further ado…

Is The Hulk a sustainable character?

Before diving into the specifics of The Hulk, I think it’s worth defining what exactly you mean by “sustainable”. Most characters in fiction are never judged by this concept. You don’t look at Taxi Driver and wonder “How many films does this Travis Bickle fella have in him?” You read To Kill A Mockingbird and think “But could Scout carry a 12 more novels?” Most characters have a story and they are judged within the context of this singular or limited set of stories.

That’s not the case with many superheroes, specifically those owned by Marvel and DC Comics. There are some other exceptions as well, like network television and soap operas where the goal is to pump out as many seasons as possible. The connective tissue in all of these cases is that the goal is for the stories to not end, which seems almost antithetical to the nature of storytelling. Yet we have received some incredible works of fiction from these formulas over the years, so perhaps it’s best not to write it off altogether.

So when you ask me if The Hulk is sustainable, I don’t think of whether he is a good or meritable character, I only question if he can be ridden by a train of creators over the course of decades like some sort of dark, sex-tinged metaphor I don’t really want to make right now. It’s a question that lies more on a spectrum than a binary, although there are clear outliers on either side. The obvious yes answers would be characters like Batman or Daredevil who are constantly recreated to both critical and commercial praise. The obvious no answers are much more obvious, you can take literally every recent spinoff from Deadpool and the Mercs for Money for example.

I’m inclined to say that The Hulk lies closer to the “no” end of the spectrum though. He’s not a downright, never should have run loser like Slapstick or Solo, but he’s hardly the five decades and still going juggernaut that is the X-Men or Spider-Man. That’s because the premise at the core of The Hulk is both less flexible and more finite than those of characters who we see as being “sustainable”.

The Hulk’s co-creators, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, were never afraid to discuss their influences with the character. Lee says, “I decided I might as well borrow from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as well—our protagonist would constantly change from his normal identity to his superhuman alter ego and back again.” Reading early issues of The Incredible Hulk or just having a glancing knowledge of the character makes that influence obvious. To discuss the sustainability of The Hulk is really to discuss the sustainability of Robert Louis Stevenson’s original creation in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. While The Hulk is less openly evil than Mr. Hyde, he is every bit as monstrous in appearance and destructive in nature. Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Banner are even more alike in nature as mild-mannered, well-intentioned individuals of intellect destroyed by their own unleashed egos. After all, Kirby and Lee simply decided to take the core concept of this two-sided character and start to stretch it.

That’s where the answer to this question becomes apparent because there’s a damn good reason that Stevenson’s story ends. The split between these two personalities, Jekyll and Hyde, Banner and Hulk, is ultimately irreconcilable. It represents the violent urges and nature of man set against the civil trappings we use to make ourselves civilized. They are not two sides of a coin, but competing elements where one seeks to suppress the other, and the other seeks to consume the one. It’s an internal struggle, one that can be stretched, but not one designed purely for destruction rather than growth.

Peter Parker gets to learn about responsibility. The X-Men get to struggle towards a more just society. But Banner is left to be consumed by his demons. You can rewrite this story and that has been done many times in stories like “Planet Hulk” and “The Stars, Mine Enemy!” (the first appearance of Professor Hulk), but these are not continuations of the same character, they’re an abandonment of that character.

A story needs to deal with its conflict and in order for The Hulk to deal with his the story needs to come to a conclusion. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I would argue it’s a strength and one that makes Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde and some of the better loved stories of The Hulk standout. Yet as a member of the ongoing cast of the Marvel Universe, it makes The Hulk a weak link. He isn’t a hero and his journey is only interesting as long as it is dealing with a conflict that is inherently fatal. Everything else is either nonsense or an abdication of the character’s core themes.

What’s even worse for The Hulk today is that this is a story that has already been done perfectly in comics. The first two volumes of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen feature a reimagining of Stevenson’s original creation from Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill. This version of Hyde is far more brutal than any of the others I’ve mentioned and is a crisp summary of some of Moore’s most common themes. Throughout these two volumes this incarnation of Hyde explores the savage nature of masculinity and how an individual can subvert their nature in order to do some good. It’s a subversion that works because it is fatal for the character. That’s a point I’d like to dig into more, but it’s beside the point of your question. The point here is simply that the story of The Hulk has already been done perfectly in the comics medium and it was perfect because it lasted no more than 12 issues.

So no, The Hulk is not a sustainable character. That doesn’t make The Hulk a bad character though. It just means that within the intellectual property mill of Marvel Comics he’s bound to be continually misused and misunderstood. Either his central conflicts and themes will be delayed forever or thrown out in favor of a new color or costume. So maybe The Hulk does kind of suck now…

Posted in Comics, Comics Bulletin | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Why We Love Groot

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

In the age of Marvel Studios Groot has become one of the most popular characters in superhero fandom. His bizarre appearance, charming personality, and memorable quote have enshrined him in the hearts of moviegoers everywhere. Yet Groot has not always been an obvious hero or success. Even though this character has been around longer than most in the Marvel Universe, Groot’s recent reinvention highlights why comics constant cycling can be good for characters and readers alike.

The Marvel Universe is generally agreed to have begun with the debut of Fantastic Four #1 at the end of 1961, but Groot’s first appearance pre-dates this comic by about one year. Groot arrived in the pages of Tales to Astonish #13 where he was created by artist Jack Kirby and writers Larry Lieber and Stan Lee. In this issue he was a monster of the month, a singular menace from outerspace for the people of Earth to defeat. His arboresque appearance is about all he has in common with the hero of modern movies.

Kirby Groot

Groot would only make two more appearances before the turn of the millennium. First he teamed up with five other monsters in the pages of The Incredible Hulk Annual #5 in 1976, and then he appeared in the nightmare of a young Peter Parker in The Sensational Spider-Man #-1. As far as deep cuts went, Groot was one of the deepest.

The flora-based monster did not begin his process of reinvention until the 2006 mini-series Annihilation: Conquest – Star-Lord. This series, part of a larger cosmic event, featured Star-Lord leading a group of Marvel B- and C-listers on a suicide mission to help save the galaxy. It’s here that Groot first began to show characteristics of the hero we know today. He forged a friendship with Rocket Raccoon, a fellow member on the mission, and grew to enormous size to save his comrades in a seeming sacrifice. If there is a single comics source for the titanic hero in the film Guardians of the Galaxy it’s this comic from writer Keith Giffen and artist Timothy Green II.

Yet these individual elements are still a long distance from the character voiced by Vin Diesel that America fell in love with on the big screen in 2014. You can trace parts of him to Tales to Astonish and Annihilation, but the truth is that the Groot that both moviegoers and comic readers today love was born in theaters.

GotG Groot

In 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy became an unpredicted smash hit for Marvel Studios. Whereas previous successes like Iron Man and Thor had been predicated on lesser known superheroes, Guardians of the Galaxy was composed of a cast almost entirely unknown to audiences unfamiliar with comics. The most recognizable characters in the film were the barely seen villain Thanos and the barely recognizable Nova Corps, and even these would be considered minor figures in pop culture at best. In spite of this lack of recognizability, the film was a hit and its most successful character, without a doubt, was the three-syllable uttering Groot.

The charm of Groot is not difficult to understand. If you’ve enjoyed Superman: The Movie, then you already get what makes this odd-looking tree such an endearing hero. In a film stuffed with goofballs, selfish anti-heroes, and reluctant killers all trying to turn over a new leaf, Groot is the moral center of the film. He is the one character who has already chosen to be the good guy and helps everyone else in the story do the same.

His pairing with Rocket is no accident, as the furry hothead is the most destructive and self-absorbed protagonist in the film by far. Their partnership is a one-sided ordeal in which Groot continually supports Rocket through all of his escapades until it is revealed that Rocket needs more than an accomplice, he needs a friend. When Rocket divulges the experiments that transformed him, it’s clear the character has suffered and Groot’s role as a support network is clarified.

Groot offers this to the rest of the cast in a variety of ways. It doesn’t extend to the Guardians alone either. There is a brief moment in the film when Groot encounters a young woman and instantly produces a flower to offer her. It is this instinct that clarifies the version of Groot created by director Sean Gunn and written by Gunn and Nicole Perlman. He is a constant source of giving within the film, both to his friends and whoever is in need.

I Am Groot

That heroic sense of giving is perfectly captured at the end of the first film when Groot announces “We are Groot” as he forms a protective shell around his teammates to protect them from a crash landing. It’s a tear-jerking moment in the midst of a comedy-action romp that performs perfectly on repeat viewings. Frankly, it’s every bit as good as Superman spinning time backwards to save Lois Lane. There are few instances of superheroism more perfectly captured in movies. It’s this moment that has distilled what Groot means as a character after more than 40 years of existence and perfected Groot for comics and film, alike.

It’s from this distillation of the freshly reformed character that Marvel Comics has launched a variety of Groot-related series and mini-series. They’ve put some of the current industry’s top creators on the character, including artist Skottie Young. None of the series have been a smashing success, but they sell reliably well and have a consistent audience of readers looking for more of the Groot we’ve all come to love in the past few years. That’s undoubtedly why a new Groot mini-series is launching this week in the form of I Am Groot #1 from writer Christopher Hastings and artist Flaviano.

It’s rare that comics fans compliment movies for improving the source material, but Groot is a perfect example of how it can occur. There is a give and take between media in which new creators add and reimagine what they come across. Some creations are perfectly crafted from the start, while others require lots of work. Groot has come a long way from the horrifying monster found in 1960, but today he is a lovable cupcake of an intergalactic superhero that comics and movies fans alike can adore. That’s why we love Groot.

Posted in ComicBook.Com, Comics | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Review of Deadly Class #28

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

In a market drowning in soap operas, Deadly Class has continually set the standard for American comics over the past three years. After some significant twists and turns, that remains true as it reaches the middle chapters of its fifth collection in Deadly Class #28. This issue is stuffed with as many parallel plots as a Chris Claremont issue of X-Men, but that’s something writer Rick Remender and artist Wes Craig embrace. The result is a very busy comic that ought to please fans of the series, even if there are as many misses as hits within its pages.

The benefit of telling a story with a bounty of characters, plot lines, and settings is that they do not all need to be winners. Just look at Game of Thrones or East of West. With so much happening, fans are allowed to pick and choose what they adore and let the mediocre elements slide away. As Deadly Class quickly bounces between all of its significant elements in a very, very busy issue, that lesson becomes crystalline.

What works exceptionally well is the follow up to Deadly Class #26 in a much need, but hardly anticipated reunion. It’s a cathartic moment between two (or three) characters that fans of the series will appreciate because it is absolutely necessary. Given the relative violence and noise of this comic, Craig plays the opening scenes of #28 in a quiet manner and it’s a wise decision. Watching individuals who have grown and been explored for so long engage with another simply as human beings is something to be relished here.

Craig’s style is as cutting as ever, but his depiction of people is more humanizing than typical. Bodies and poses are less accentuated and for a moment it is possible to believe that two people are relishing a moment on the beach together, just like any other couple might. Even given a brief hallucination, the moment is small and endearing. Remender’s use of musical call outs is as well utilized as it has been throughout the series. References to a couple of bands are not made to set a period, but instead establish character in a variety of ways. The first half of Deadly Class #28 is small in all of the right ways, and this is enough to make the issue stand out.

The simplicity and beauty of these moments and the continuation of Saya’s story makes the elements that take place at the academy less obnoxious. Remender includes a digression into 1980s X-Men comics that will only service crossover readers from his days at Marvel. For those who are truly new to comics and using Deadly Class as a gateway, his digs at a crossover older than most of his readership will simply seem bizarre. It’s unhelpful that all of the characters who remain to study are the least likable in the series. While you can defend this as an aspect of the story that is necessary, it’s thematic weight within the comic is negligible.

Deadly Class #28 is an example of how a creative team can keep a dozen plates spinning. Some will slow and begun to wobble, but others will whirl at such a thrilling speed as to distract readers. There is no consistent theme or purpose to this issue as a single piece, but as one chapter it includes enough good to outweigh the bad. Craig’s layouts and Jordan Boyd’s colors on the beach are enough to justify the price of entry. What comes next as these plates begin to collide will be far more interesting, but for now it is beautiful enough to know the story has led us to a brief respite with characters we care about this much.

Grade: B-

Posted in Comic Reviews, ComicBook.Com, Comics, Wednesday Checkup | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Local Comics Store Spotlight: Escape Pod Comics

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

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.

____________________________________________________________________________

A comics store sells comics. That is the very definition of its existence, typically accompanied by a set of walls and a roof. A good one sells comics well and encourage customers to read more of what they love. However, a great comics store does something altogether different; a great comics store builds community. If you’re looking for an example of what this means, then you only need to visit Escape Pod Comics on Long Island.

Escape Pod Comics has only been around for about 4 years, but it has already built a strong reputation and community within and outside of its walls in that time. It was opened by Menachem Luchins, a man who says he is “obsessed with matching people up with the perfect book for them.” Upon opening the store his goal was to show anyone who might enter that there was a comic for them. That goal has not changed, but the store has continued to expand its selection in order to prove Luchins right. Almost every inch of wall space is now covered in comics that include Scholastic trades, self-published indies, art books, Big Two superhero comics, Kickstarter incentives, and a whole lot more. It’s a store that manages to encompass all of comics in some way, and it’s too big for just one person to run.

Luchins was quickly joined by Conrad J. Roth who now manages the store. Roth received a recommendation to visit Escape Pod from none other than J.M. DeMatteis at New York Comic Con. Despite the notable trek between Queens and Long Island, Roth found himself traveling to the shop with increasing regularity until he essentially worked there, and then he was hired. Together Luchins and Roth keep the shop open six days of the week. They are only closed on Saturdays in order to observe the Sabbath.

Roth is more of a rule than an exception at Escape Pod Comics. As readers and creators come into the store’s orbit, they find it increasingly difficult to leave. It’s not just the incredible selection and outgoing nature of the staff, Escape Pod has had a notable impact on the lives of those who know it as a second home. The story of part-time employee and indie comics creator Andrea Shockling shows just how that happens…

Click ahead to learn how Escape Pod Comics has helped to nurture both comics readers and creators in New York City.

Shockling came into Escape Pod’s orbit when she was still a resident of San Francisco. Despite the continent-wide distance, she moved her comics pull file to the store and would have them shipped in bundles. After she returned to the East Coast, it was only a matter of time before she became a regular denizen of the store. Initially, she would visit the shop just to see her friends, but slowly began to spend more time there and started to help out with events. Soon Shockling was helping out at the store when she was in New York City. She was taking out comics guests when they visited for signings and filling in on a variety of other fun details. One of her most obvious additions to the store is the closed sign used for Saturdays. It is a hand-drawn depiction of Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski screaming “Shomer ****ing Shobos!” This sign is both a humorous reminder of the store’s observance of the Sabbath and that it loves to support comics artists.

Afterall, Shockling is a rising star in the indie comics scene who made her debut at Small Press Expo (SPX) just last year. She currently draws an autobiographical webcomic that details her life and its many roles in the wake of losing her mother. She’s not just Escape Pod’s semi-official artist, providing detailed signage and name tags for visiting creators. The store was the very first outlet to carry Shockling’s very first published comic “Mom Privilege”. Escape Pod has become a home for Shockling and her work in comics. “I feel like the stuff I can do at the store and for the shop relates to my identity as an artist.” says Shockling.

She is far from the only comics creator who feels attached Escape Pod Comics. The shop hosted a total of 13 comic book creators on Free Comic Book Day this year (which Escape Pod hosts on Sunday). The assembled artists and writers included C. Spike Trotman and Donny Cates. It was a diverse group of individuals and that reflects the attitude of the store.

“It sounds a bit corny, but the shop is a safe space.” says Shockling. There’s no judgement to be found within the walls of Escape Pod. Luchins, Roth, and the rest of the shop regulars are entirely focused on including new readers and finding a comic for everyone. “All are welcome and made to feel welcome. And that, more than anything else, builds community.” says Shockling.

When you examine everything that Escape Pod Comics has accomplished in such a short frame of time, it’s easy to think that the name is intended to be ironic. From the very first day Luchins opened the shop’s doors, Escape Pod has only attracted positive things – people, creators, and comics. It is a place that those who love the medium seem to never want to leave and that has fans across North America. It provides support to its readers, local creators, and whoever else might walk through its doors. That’s how Escape Pod Comics has built a community and why it’s difficult to imagine anyone ever wanting to leave.

Click ahead to see full details and photos of Escape Pod Comics.

Store Info

Name: Escape Pod Comics

Address: 302 Main Street

Huntington, NY 11743

Phone: (631) 923-1044

Website: Escape Pod Comics

Twitter: @EscapePodComics

Facebook: Escape Pod Comics

Posted in ComicBook.Com, Comics, Industry Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

5 Rich Buckler Comics You Need to Read

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 23, 2017.

Comics artist Rich Buckler died on May 19, 2017. His passing has called his legacy as an artist to attention and it’s a well-deserved re-appraisal. While it might be unfortunate that it takes someone’s death to call greater attention to their work, there remains no better time than the present to pay more attention. Buckler was a titan of his era who worked on almost every significant character at both Marvel and DC Comics. We think it’s time to take a look back at how great his impact on superhero comics really was.

While you might not hear Buckler’s name tossed around alongside those of Jim Steranko or George Perez, his contributions were every bit as great. Perez was, in fact, his assistant at one point and the connection between the pair’s work is clear. They both adored illustrating a wide variety of characters and stuffing pages with as much content as they could bare. These were artists who adored the medium and added to its pantheon in a wide-ranging fashion.

So whether you’re already familiar with Buckler’s work or looking to catch up in the wake of his tragic passing, here are five recommendations that any fan of superhero comics ought to enjoy…

Deathlok the Demolisher

Issues: Astonishing Tales # 25-28

Written by Rich Buckler and Doug Moench

Pencils by Rich Buckler

Inks by Rich Buckler, Klaus Janson, Al Milgrom, and Mike Esposito

Colors by Glynis Wein

Deathlok is bound to go down as Rick Buckler’s greatest contribution at Marvel Comics. The character was touted as a flagship in the original “Marvel Phase Two” and his earliest incarnation holds up after about 3 decades. Buckler plotted and drew all of Deathlok’s earliest appearances, crafting a post-apocalyptic soldier in stories that thrilled whether or not they were connected to the Marvel Universe. The earliest Deathlok stories also featured Buckler teaming up with other all-time superhero greats like Klaus Janson and Al Milgrom. They are innovative, violent, and incredibly enjoyable comics still today. The manner in which Buckler breaks down a page into increasingly small segments and details of action is well worth studying. Whether you know Deathlok from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or are looking to study some of the best Marvel comics of the 1970s, Bucker’s Deathlok issues are a must-read.

Here’s what you want to buy.

 

Origin of the All-Star Squadron

Issues: Justice League of America # 193

Written by Roy Thomas

Pencils by Rich Buckler

The co-creation of the All-Star Squadron by Rick Buckler and Roy Thomas in a Justice League backup story is a perfect counterpoint to Buckler’s invention of Deathlok. These optimistic heroes crafted to evoke the Golden Age of comics are everything Deathlok is not. Their costumes are clean, adventures fun, and tales short. While they present a much more all-ages appeal, it’s no surprise the All-Star Squadron would go on to the pages of its own series. It’s an incredibly endearing group filled with the joy and heroism that have held DC Comics aloft for almost a century, and Buckler’s design capture exactly what have made their heroes work for so long.

Here’s what you want to buy.

 

The Death of Jean DeWolff

Issues: Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-man # 107-110

Written by Peter David

Pencils by Rich Buckler

Inks by Kyle Baker, Brett Breeding, Pat Redding, and Josef Rubinstein

Colors by George Roussos, Bob Sharen, and Nelson Yomtov

“The Death of Jean DeWolff” is an absolutely fascinating study of art in superhero comics. It is certainly a creation of its penciller Rich Buckler; it includes terrifying urban cityscapes, grimy men with guns, and lots of helicopters. At the same time Buckler’s style is not as apparent due to the influence of very different inkers. You can set it side-by-side with his work on Marvel comics like Deathlok or Fantastic Four and quickly perceive what an impact an inker makes. Setting that aside, this urban crime story is one of the darkest in Spider-Man’s history and Buckler’s eye for horror and crime genre elements makes it sing. If you can find a copy of these issues, they are well worth reading.

Here’s what you want to buy.

 

The Fantastic Four

Issues: Fantastic Four # 142-144

Written by Gerry Conway

Pencils by Rich Buckler

Inks by Joe Sinnott

Colors by George Roussos

Rich Buckler described the two years he spent drawing Fantastic Four as a dream come true. That’s no surprise considering Buckler was a key artist in the second phase of Marvel Comics artists, and that Jack Kirby was the single most important artist in the company’s history. Buckler’s work on Fantastic Four both highlighted his love for “The King” and showed off what he was most capable of with a variety of emotional highs and lows. During his stint with Marvel’s “First Family”, Buckler tackled many of their greatest villains and allies, including Doctor Doom and the Inhumans. His work with inker Joe Sinnott remains an artistic highlight of the series to today, one that is only topped by other Marvel greats like John Byrne and Kirby, himself.

Here’s what you want to buy.

 

The Apocalypse Child

Issues: The New Gods #15

Written by Gerry Conway

Pencils by Rich Buckler

Inks by Bob McLeod

Colors by Liz Berube

There is no greater hurdle for artists at DC Comics to tackle than that of the New Gods. They are defined by their creator Jack Kirby as the creation that most encompass what his style and influence were all about. Rick Buckler’s work on a single issue of The New Gods showed both a deep understanding of Kirby’s work and Buckler’s own ability to extrapolate from the artists he respected. There’s a bombastic tone to The New Gods #15 that is difficult to describe, with hands and faces reaching forth from the panels. It’s a love letter to one of Buckler’s greatest influences and a reminder of what Buckler could do on his own. As a great piece of fiction or artistic study, this is a must-read for anyone interested in what Buckler could accomplish in 20 pages of comics.

There’s no doubt that Buckler will be missed, but you only need to look as far as these recommendations to see how his eyes will continue to influence superhero comics for years to come.

Here’s what you want to buy.

Posted in ComicBook.Com, Comics | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Leading Questions: Doctor Manhattan’s Ding Dong

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on May 18, 2017.

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

So without any further ado…

Can you write me a thousand words on the importance of Doctor Manhattan’s uncensored, flaccid blue penis?

Short Answer: Yes. Yes, I can.

But I want to briefly apologize first. We’ve been doing this for about a year and a half now and this is the first column that will go up late. It’ll still be on a Thursday, but barely. For what it’s worth, I had a legitimate family emergency and had to spend the last few days in Kansas. If there’s anyone who looks at the Bulletin every Thursday morning expecting to hear me ramble, I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you today. I’ll do my best to not let this happen again and hopefully provide some words of wisdom about Doctor Manhattan’s big, blue schlong to make you feel better now.

So back to the matter at hand…

We talk a lot about how comics creators learned the right or wrong lessons from Watchmen. Normally, it’s a conversation focused on the wrong and that’s fair. While Geoff Johns and DC Comics might have too much of a hard on for how Watchmen led superhero comics astray like some sort of non-sentient pied piper playing to 30-year-old children, it’s impact on the genre was not obviously positive. I believe that Doctor Manhattan’s penis is one of the positive lessons of the comic, and one of the right lessons that went unlearned.

Before diving into what that lesson is, I want to take a similar one that’s easy to observe. At the end of the first issue when Laurie and Dan are dining together on page 25, Dave Gibbons’ features a gay couple in the foreground of the fourth panel. It is not an intrinsic part of the story. It is never remarked upon. It simply is. This panel is a choice being made by the creators of Watchmen to treat the world as it is. They embrace the idea of a society in which queer people are every bit as present and visible as they are in reality. Although it is a minor detail, it is an active choice towards the normalization of queerness in society. That’s especially notable for a comic that was published when both Reagan and Thatcher were in power and using that power to actively harm this entire group of people.

So what does Doctor Manhattan’s dick normalize?

While it’s much more talked about than the unnamed couple from that early panel, Doctor Manhattan’s sidekick is almost as minor a character. You don’t get a really good look at the little guy until the fourth chapter and it’s tastefully obscured in many of the panels it obviously occupies. There’s not a thematically significant point being made in Watchmen about tallywhackers. It primarily reflects one character’s perspective on societal norms and his overall view of humanity and nature. While that’s interesting, it’s not the real important about this topic.

The more intriguing choice is that of Gibbons and Moore to prominently feature Doctor Manhattan’s pecker in a natural, unobtrusive fashion. If you were to pull up every instance of this member of the cast, you would notice that it is never exaggerated in form or featured too prominently within any panel. Gibbons’ depiction of the memorable blue organ is purely anatomical in nature. He treats it just like he does Doctor Manhattan’s bicep or eyebrow; it is simply another part of his physical being like any other element found on the human body.

Rather than treating the penis as a taboo, Watchmen normalizes its appearance and depiction. This is especially notable within the genre of superhero comics where a hero’s junk is commonly both obscured and elongated. Take a look at the package within any of those external sets of underwear and you’re likely to see a notable bulge. It’s meant to demonstrate virility, masculinity, and vitality. At its worst the superhero is wrapped in western myths of masculine power and fascism, and that’s easily observable a couple of feet below eye level. These powerful men are powerful in all aspects of their appearance, and many superhero comics (both in 1986 and today) make sexual power a part of that equation.

Watchmen defies this notion. Doctor Manhattan is the most powerful being in the entire comic, but his physical appearance is mostly ordinary outside of particularly well-defined muscles. He’s much like Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. His ding-a-ling doesn’t need to dangle too much in order to express an clear biological example of the masculine. His sexual potency is also undermined as he loses interest in sex throughout the timeline of Watchmen, engaging and experimenting with it as he would anything else later in life. Even when given the ability to shift his form or create duplicates of himself, Manhattan does not take advantage of adolescent fantasies in order to please himself. They only come about with the goal of pleasing someone else.

Doctor Manhattan’s southern exposure also normalizes the appearance of male sex organs within superhero comics. This has the effect of attempting to create balance. Female sex organs, specifically the breasts and buttox, have long been a fascination of American superhero artists. They are exaggerated like inflatable toys in a Sharper Image catalog and wrapped just as tightly in plastic and neon colors. While a male superhero’s package is often alluded to in a vague bulge, female superheroes are only offered a different color to obscure delicate elements of their anatomy, if even that.

The imbalance of how sexual organs are depicted and who this is meant to serve has been obvious for an exceedingly long time and Doctor Manhattan is a tool to correct this. He puts the last horizon of sex in mainstream superhero comics on full display. There is plenty of nudity on both sides of the gender equation in Watchmen, but Doctor Manhattan’s penis is the most apparent example.

Other instances include Dan and Laurie’s relationship. It is shown in a dream sequence in which they remove one another’s clothes and skin. Yet when they are both stripped bare, Gibbons features them in a profile that shows no more of one than the other. When the two have sex in Archie (the flying ship shaped like an owl), neither figure is more sexualized than the other. They are both shown enjoying the act and the reader is presented with their entire naked forms in an entirely natural manner, given their age and level of physical activity.

Moore and Gibbons treat sex as a normal element within their story. It is fetishized by some of the characters, but the story itself acknowledges it as a natural part of human existence. That includes the presence and presentation of human sexual organ, like Doctor Manhattan’s johnson.

It might sound odd to state that Doctor Manhattan’s member is important, but it really is. Comics creators, whether they’re focused on the superhero genre or not, can look at it and see something pointing towards a more healthy direction for the medium. Both by normalizing the depiction of sexuality between genders and by normalizing the depiction of sex as a whole, it encourages a healthier, more balanced perspective of the human condition. There’s a lot to be learned from Doctor Manhattan’s dong, and I hope it’s one of the good lessons of Watchmen we start to carry forward.

Look at that. A little more than one thousand words.

Posted in Comics, Comics Bulletin | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Why Each Member of The Crew Deserves Their Own Series

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 17, 2017.

Marvel Comics announced the cancellation of Black Panther and The Crew only a few days after its second issue was released. It was a disappointing piece of news that has led to a variety of bereaved farewells and criticisms across the comics internet. The series was the second spinoff from the popular new Black Panther series and featured co-writers Ta-Nehisi Coates and Yona Harvey, the first black woman to ever write for Marvel Comics.

Black Panther and The Crew was a continuation of a previous series created by writer Christopher Priest and artist Joe Bennett. While many of the characters are different, both series feature a team of Marvel’s most popular black heroes confronting issues that affect their communities in New York City. The new iteration starred Black Panther, Luke Cage, Misty Knight, Storm, and Manifold as they investigated the murder of a community organizer by police.

Now that the series is ending with its sixth issue, many of these characters will be unrepresented in the pantheon of Marvel Comics. The current Black Panther series is planned to continue and a new Luke Cage series will debut this week, but the others lack a series of their own. While Storm still features prominently amongst the X-Men, none of the other three will have their own titles and that’s a disappointing fact. The crew assembled for this series turned mini-series is an awesome collection and we think they would all be well served by their own series being more heavily marketed to fans of superhero comics, new and old.

Misty Knight

Created By: Tony Isabella and Arvell Jones

First Appearance: Marvel Premiere #21

Most Recent Solo Series: Daughters of the Dragon in 2005

One element of the new Cage series on Netflix received near unanimous praise: Misty Knight. The character has been a mainstay of the Marvel Universe since her debut in 1975, even if it has often been in minor roles. Knight combines a potent set of elements (bionic arm, streetsmart detective, dangerous combatant) with an incredible will and plenty of attitude. She’s a blast to read about whether she’s investigating crime or beating down the bad guys who commit it.

It seems like an obvious jump to give Misty Knight her own series. Black Panther and The Crew was already largely built around her character, focused on her roots in the community of Harlem and as a police officer. Just like Daredevil or Luke Cage, Knight is perfectly suited to the street-level stories of the Marvel Universe, capably stumbling upon mysteries and putting up with the superpowered crooks of New York City. It’s time Misty Knight had her own comics instead of constantly sharing the cover.

Storm

Created By: Len Wein and Dave Cockrum

First Appearance: Giant Size X-Men #1

Most Recent Solo Series: Storm in 2014

Storm has had a much better run than Misty Knight when it comes to screen time (or should we say panel time?) in the Marvel Universe. If it weren’t for Wolverine, Storm would be the indisputable breakout character from the classic Giant Size X-Men #1. Her popularity has continued throughout 4 decades and seen her lead the X-Men and her own title more than once. That’s no surprise given the diverse range of Storm’s story, including her identities as a thief, orphan, queen, goddess, mutant, and so many others. There are a lot of Storm stories to tell and the Marvel Universe is far from running out of them.

That’s why Storm deserves her own title in the new X-Men lineup, if any character does. Her most recent solo series written by Greg Pak helped to illustrate the many ways in which Storm could carry her own title and how being a mutant was only one facet of this incredible character. She is capable of carrying globetrotting adventures and drawing stories outside of the superpower-wrecked canyons of New York City. While she may be back with the X-Men, Wolverine has already shown it’s not too hard to star in multiple series at once. It’s time Storm became a leader at Marvel and not just in the X-Men line.

Manifold

Created By: Jonathan Hickman and Stefano Caselli

First Appearance: Secret Warriors #4

Most Recent Solo Series: Never

Manifold (a.k.a. Eden Fesi) is the newest character to star in Black Panther and The Crew, and the one with the most unfulfilled potential. Since he debuted in Secret Warriors Manifold has been a recurring feature throughout writer Jonathan Hickman’s universal stories of the Marvel Universe. While Hickman has left the publisher, that’s no reason to let Manifold disappear. He has been a secret agent, Avenger, and key component of saving the entire Marvel universe in less than 10 years. His story shouldn’t stop with Secret Wars though.

Manifold’s unique ability to fold space gives him a form of teleportation that is much more complex than those possessed by most. He can warp the universe and has a unique perspective, as well as incredible power, as a result. It can be used aggressively, but offers many more opportunities to tackle stories about solving complex problems and scientific curiosities. It’s time Manifold appears in a highbrow science fiction series like the current Ultimates.

The Creators

While we really want to see Misty Knight, Storm, and Manifold appear in their own series, the people involved in Black Panther and The Crew who are most deserving of receiving another series at Marvel Comics are the creators behind this comic. Ta-Nehisi Coates has written a total of 3 titles for the publisher to date, but will only be writing Black Panther after this series ends. We hope he has more comics plans, but it would be difficult to blame the incredibly talented writer for sticking with one title for a little while.

Yona Harvey is a great new discovery in the world of comics though and Marvel Comics ought to find her a new opportunity after this one ends. Working with Coates, she has shown her grasp of the medium and genre, while also revealing a much needed new perspective at the publisher. It would be a shame to see Harvey or any of the other talented collaborators like Butch Guice, Mack Chater, Scott Hanna, or Dan Brown leave Marvel Comics not of their own accord. There was a great crew behind Black Panther and The Crew and they deserve the support of their publisher. With any luck, the talented individuals will find that as this series closes another one will open. With a bit more luck, there will be more opportunities for others who can also bring new voices and underserved characters to the forefront of Marvel Comics.

Posted in Comic Trends, ComicBook.Com, Comics | Tagged , | Leave a comment