REVIEW: Silver Surfer #14

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on October 26, 2017.

Storytellers: Michael Allred & Dan Slott

Color Artist: Laura Allred

Letterer: Joe Sabino

29 issues, 5 collections, 2 volumes, 1 Secret War. This is the entirety of Michael Allred and Dan Slott’s run with the Silver Surfer and which reached its final destination in the pages of Silver Surfer #14 this week. Even in a world filled with hyperbolic comics reviews, it is not an exaggeration to say that this series has been one of the best superhero stories of the past decades. Its style, creativity, and sincerity set it on the same plane as the likes of Astro City and Ms. Marvel. This issue provides a final statement that cements its legacy.

Anyone who has encountered Michael Allred’s work on Silver Surfer or FF will know exactly what he brings to the stories of the Marvel universe. His bold style emphasizes the joy and experience of each individual panel. Characters pop, action lands, and there’s never any repetition. It’s not difficult to see why his approach to comics art has connected so well with the characters first imagined by Jack Kirby in both series. Yet emphasizing Allred’s style fails to capture his powerful storytelling capabilities.

Even in Silver Surfer #14, which often functions like something of a greatest hits catalog, Allred provides cues that lure readers deeper into the story. The mystery of silhouettes create a subtle tension in an issue where every character’s fate is already essentially resolved. A seemingly minor change in shapes and colors (aided by colorist Laura Allred) at the very start of the story comes back to become much more significant by the final page. Small moments like this provide the real genius of Allred as a draftsman, providing not only an alluring look, but one that resonates after completion and upon re-reading.

The concept of resonation is one that is key to Silver Surfer #14. After winning an Eisner Award and consistent acclaim, an epilogue issue like this could easily have functioned as a victory lap. Instead of simply retreading what made the series great it strives for one last single issue celebration of the sentimental, cosmic, and moral. Dawn Greenwood has been the heart of the series since it premiered and the finale offers another way to celebrate the character’s life, even after the endearing goodbye provided just one month prior.

Allred and Slott offer two big monuments to the notion of a specific life-changing love, the kind shared by Dawn and the Surfer. One of them fails to achieve the right balance and crosses into the land of the maudlin and hoaky, and reminding readers of Slott’s open Whovian influences. Yet the second and final moment sticks the landing. It ties into the roots of the Marvel universe and the comics’ even more open admiration of Kirby. This is the decision that pulls everything together for an ending that feels right.

This one moment combined with the structure of Silver Surfer #14 also provides readers with a reminder that these stories, unlike our own, are not temporary. The beginning and end of the Marvel universe are accessible to any reader, and they can be tread and retread with new lessons to be learned and joys to be discovered. The Surfer briefly transcends his own existence in this issue to appreciate the perspective of those who have read these adventures for almost 4 years. That shared experience not only offers a satisfying conclusion, but a compelling reason to return to #1 and live each adventure once more.

Grade: A-

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5 Reasons We Already Love Porgs

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

It might surprise director Rian Johnson to learn that in the build to “The Last Jedi” the most controversial aspect of his film would be the inclusion of a non-speaking character that resembles a puffin combined with a river otter. The wide-eyed, web-footed, furry and feathered creatures that populate Ahch-To have captured fans love and ire in equal parts.

 

For every Star Wars lover running out to get a Porg plushie or backpack right now, there’s another who’s ready to roast the creatures on a spit and feed them to Chewie. Despite having only a few seconds in the newest trailer, they seem to be taking up about half of the conversation. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. Johnson wants to keep the movie’s plot under lock and key, and Porgs provide a great distraction.

 

We think they add a bit more than a distraction though. Porgs represent a lot of what there is to love about Star Wars and without having seen “The Last Jedi” there are already plenty of reasons to love the oddities. Here are 5 of them…

 

Star Wars Should Be Fun

 

For all of the twists and tragedies that populate parts of the Star Wars universe it’s easy to forget that this franchise is a whole lot of fun. All you need to remember that is a viewing of the very first film. It’s an adventure filled with strange planets, incredible technology, and wild creatures. Even in the most tense scenes, the trash compactor or Death Star trench run, it’s a movie that is a whole lot of fun to watch.

 

Porgs look to be a whole lot of fun and they match that consistent tone throughout all of the films. Even at the very start R2-D2 and Chewie were pretty cute, not to mention smaller additions like the Jawas or mouse droid. These movies have always contained silly and exciting little elements that many fans latch onto. BB-8 was the breakout star of “The Force Awakens” for many good reasons, including the fact that he was a literal ball of adorable fun. There’s nothing wrong with having some fun and Star Wars provides regular reminders of this lesson, including the addition of Porgs.

 

Behind The Scenes

 

One of the great things about sci-fi and fantasy films is learning how filmmakers bring the worlds to life. Studying classics like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws, and, of course, Star Wars shows us how far ingenuity and technology can go in constructing truly awesome films. While technology has come a long way since the 1970s there’s still a lot of cleverness that goes into making a new Star Wars, and Porgs provide an excellent example of this.

 

When filming began on the Irish island of Skellig Michael, Johnson and his crew found the place to be swarming with puffins, too many to be wrangled or physically removed from shots. Rather than spend millions of dollars digitally editing the puffins from the film, it was decided that they could become part of the atmosphere and ecosystem of Ahch-To. From what we’ve seen of the film so far the result is a more lifelike and interesting landscape. It’s also an example of how great filmmakers can transform challenges into opportunities. The origin story of Porgs is a constant reminder of how the process behind a Star Wars movie can be just as engaging as the movie itself.

 

We Need Something Cuddly

 

There’s a real need for something cuddly and fun in entertainment right now. Given the modern news cycle, some amount of escapism feels like a necessity. That’s something Porgs provide for a lot of Star Wars fans, especially younger ones. Whether it’s in the form of a speaking stuffed-animal or backpack, these adorable designs are bringing smiles to a lot of faces everytime they pop up.

 

There’s nothing wrong with something being sweet or cuddly. Star Wars is a franchise that has always replaced even mundane objects with its own unique twists. So if we aren’t going to see any dogs or other cute animals, then it only makes sense that we get a few invented. They’ll certainly come in handy in a second chapter that is supposed to give “The Empire Strikes Back” a run for its money.

 

The Ewok Defense

 

Ewoks are one of the most unfairly despised elements of the Star Wars franchise and make a great case for not judging books by their covers. The typical argument against Ewoks is that they are too cute for the high stakes of “Return of the Jedi” and ruin the action as a result. There’s some pretty adorable stuff that occurs with these creatures, but at the end of the day they slaughter Imperial troops and many of them die in the process. They don’t hold back when the action starts and genuinely earn some real thrills and pathos in the process.

 

If you want to put down Ewoks, then you probably aren’t paying that much attention to the movie they were actually in. Porgs will likely turn out the same way. Johnson has earned plenty of credit as a writer and director, and pre-judging something in his newest film because it looks cute is entirely unfair. Before you dismiss these little guys, remember the Ewoks and how they are actually one of the coolest additions to Star Wars from “Return of the Jedi”.

 

They Really Are Adorable

 

This point ought to make itself. Just look at the few clips and pictures we have of Porgs so far and try not to let out an audible sigh. Those big, black eyes. Those wiggly, Corgi-like bodies. Those little wings and flippers ready for all occasions. If you saw one of these at your local zoo, it would be tough to say whether you’d rather spend time with it or a Red Panda.

 

That doesn’t even mention the shot of a Porg imitating Chewbacca like a proud pup taken along in the Millennium Falcon. Chewie could certainly use some support right now and maybe Porgs will turn out to be a Wookie’s new best friend.

 

In any event, we look forward to seeing these adorable new creatures when “The Last Jedi” is released in just over two months. No matter how dark things get, there will at least be a little bit of light in the movie, and that’s something worth anticipating.

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In Defense of Szechuan Fandom

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

On October 7 fans of the cartoon Rick & Morty lined up at McDonald’s around the United States to obtain some promotional Szechuan Sauce not available since the release of Mulan in 1998. The fast food chain was taking advantage of the nonsensical third season premiere that concluded with Rick revealing all of his machinations were about obtaining more of this cheap condiment. For fans of the cartoon it was a chance to gather and grab a bite of supposedly delicious sauce. For McDonald’s it was an opportunity to sell a lot more chicken strips.

 

Things did not go well.

 

The restaurants were allocated between 20-40 packets at most and many were left without any at all. This was far from enough to satisfy lines that often ran hundreds of people long. Things spiraled out of control. There were fights that required police to be called, violent and crude rants against the restaurant, conspiracy theories of employees stealing the sauce, and one customer even sold their car for a single packet.

 

Even readers who have never seen Rick & Morty have heard about the McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce debacle by now and it has not resulted in a good look for fans of the series. There has been an onslaught of think pieces pointing this out. They’ve trashed the fandom and called out how this experience runs counter to the show’s actual themes. They also all miss the real point of this minor disaster, and here’s why…

 

Szechuan Men Arguments

 

Responses to the fandom who turned out for the Szechuan Sauce promotion are coming from a place of obvious bad faith. There were overreactions. A fistfight cannot be justified over any McDonald’s item. Cursing out a PR professional for miscalculation is a ridiculous response to sauce that can easily be made at home. Selling your vehicle for a few ounces of said sauce reflects some pretty poor decision making skills.

 

These stories are horrifying, hilarious, or a mix of the two. They’re also the exceptional reactions to this event, not the rule.

 

Stories that represent the fans who turned out as being represented by these responses do so in order to make a broader point that doesn’t exist. Most fans arrived, were disappointed to not receive any sauce and went somewhere else for lunch instead. Some tweeted about their disappointment and others decided to settle for BBQ sauce, but they were almost all very reasonable. That doesn’t make for a great hot take though. Applying the worst examples across the whole is more exciting and purposefully dishonest.

 

Frankly, these takedowns all come across with an air elitism. They not only represent every person who turned out with a dozen of the worst examples, but also write about the silliness of seeking some sauce on a Saturday afternoon as if there’s something inherently wrong with that event. A lot did go wrong; that’s no reason to trash the concept itself or anyone who experienced a small amount of excitement about it.

 

McDonald’s Botched the Promotion

 

A small, non-violent and non-disparaging, level of disappointment is entirely understandable in this scenario. Rick & Morty is a cultural phenomenon and the idea that 20 packets allocated to only a few restaurants in a major metropolitan area would cover demand is a severe underestimation of demand. What’s even worse is that most restaurants failed to be up front about their limited supply, opting instead to allow hundreds of people to spend hours waiting for sauce they would never see. It’s very fair to say that this is also a bad look.

 

A lot of the anger from attendees on social media or local news broadcasts is a completely understandable reaction to what happened. If McDonald’s had told fans about the limited allocations from the start or been sure all select locations actually received sauce, it would be extreme. Yet they spent hours at an event which they were promised a specific outcome that McDonald’s always knew wouldn’t be the case. They spent hours of their weekend waiting in line like many fans do for Hall H at San Diego Comic Con, but at least they get to see some celebrities at the end.

 

The restaurant has worked to make amends. In response to the furor surrounding this event they’ve announced a much larger batch of Szechuan Sauce is to be prepared, guaranteeing enough that no attendee will go without. That’s a good response and the chain should receive credit for rectifying the initially botched promotion. With any luck it will provide some much better news stories when the second round of sauce is released.

 

In Defense of Fandom

 

One of the worst takes to come out of this situation is that Rick & Morty fans don’t understand the show they love. Writers at a variety of sites and magazines spent time explaining the conclusion to “The Rickshank Redemption”. Rick’s obsession with Szechuan Sauce is an example of how his nihilistic worldview leads to loneliness and self-loathing. When everything means nothing and you start attaching meaning to the meaningless (e.g. Szechuan Sauce), it creates a vapid existence. You don’t have to be a super-genius to see that.

 

The assumption that every fan who turned out to get some chicken strips and sauce believed the sauce really was the point of the episode or series misses the point of the event entirely. Obtaining Szechuan Sauce wasn’t about striving to be like Rick, it was about connecting to the show and other people who enjoy it. It was about experiencing fandom.

 

Szechuan Sauce is cheap and not particularly special.

 

Rick Sanchez doesn’t actually care about Szechuan Sauce.

 

Nobody should throw a punch to get a condiment.

 

That’s all besides the point. Most of fandom in any “nerdy” arena, whether it’s comics, films, cartoons, or anything else, is a singular existence. You watch or read stories alone. Fandom is the experience of sharing these joys we typically find alone. We find these excuses in a variety of ways. Sometimes it’s a convention or viewing party and sometimes it’s a fast food promotion. The fun comes in encountering people who love the same thing you do, and that was why so many people turned out for Szechuan Sauce.
McDonald’s may have severely underestimated Rick & Morty fandom, but they’ve also responded by preparing a lot more sauce for the winter season. It’s another opportunity for fans to gather for a silly and enjoyable event. Let’s treat it like what it is.

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Advance Review: Maestros #1

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on October 26, 2017.

It seemed that Steve Skroce had all but left comics behind before he returned to collaborate with Brian K. Vaughan on We Stand On Guard in 2015. The dystopian allegory about American invasions and the causes of terrorism was a bright reminder of Skroce’s incredible talent, in spite of its dour themes. Complex design work, clear acting, and some of the most refined pencils in comics today combined to create a complete and compelling world. That return must have hooked Skroce because he’s returning for another mini-series at Image that is every bit as gorgeous: Maestros.

 

Skroce is both writing and drawing all of Maestros with Dave Stewart providing colors. While the style is similar to We Stand On Guard, Skroce’s turn at plotting this story sets a dramatically different tone. Politics and allegorical horror are stripped away in favor of exploitation and excess. There’s still a feeling of shock and awe throughout the first issue, but that’s due to the persistent violence and sexuality of the story. These elements feel more like a lark at a midnight movie than something to be pondered, and that’s not a bad thing. Maestros feels like a fun comics story, and that’s what provides the first issue its hook.

 

The series is set on Earth, but on an Earth made by a wondrous predecessor still filled with magic and all of the trappings of the fantasy genre. Rather than devolve in a spoof of that genre, Maestros focuses on the opportunities presented by a rule bound by poor physics and few limits. There’s a callout to Gandalf, but Skroce isn’t engaged by discussing Lord of the Rings, instead he’s making a comic filled with f***ing and killing that can be accomplished in a thousand visually fascinating ways. In the first issue alone the protagonist is brutally devoured and Skroce alludes to that being repeated.

 

It’s in the monsters and how they wreck the world around them that the series is at its best. Every sequence provides some level of grotesquerie. At its most heightened sentient, mutant plants slaughter a strip club. In the most mundane moment a hideous minister discusses ideas just as awful that engaged readers can only hope to see soon. From the artist who developed fantastic landscapes in films such as Speed Racer and The Matrix trilogy, it quickly becomes apparent that this series is an opportunity to invent at the quickest pace possible There’s no idea that is impossible here and no producers or writers to hold back concepts, no matter how crude.

 

Elements of character and plot provide a sturdy structure for this non-stop invention, but they are secondary in nature. There’s a mother-son relationship that may be worth exploring and plenty of politics at play, but they are scaffolding for detailed constructs, splashes of violence and wonder, and a brilliant array of colors to be built upon. Readers seeking to be morally challenged may want to look elsewhere. Maestros understands there is a moral universe and seeks no piece of it. This is debauchery for its own sake and it looks exactly like the sort of fantasy comic many of its own characters might enjoy reading.

 

Grade: B+

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Review of Batman: White Knight #1

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

Batman: White Knight #1 opens strong. The first few pages are everything a reader familiar with Sean Murphy’s work would want from a Batman mini-series. Gothic settings are stacked to transform Gotham City in a land of ghoulish valleys and mountains. Shadows loom and consume entire buildings and figures within each panel. The world is filled with sharp edges and dripping with ink, providing an unrealistic sense of grimness to the story. It’s all about tone and reading those pages on an October night is capable of offering chills. The comic is never better than it is in this introduction; most of it is a step far below.

 

After the initial twist of the comic, one any reader who has seen a solicit is already familiar with, the story jumps back one year in time and spends the rest of its page count explaining what led up to that moment. There’s a chase sequence, but even that is part of a non-stop exposition dump stating conflicts, intentions, and sub-plots. There’s no room for nuance in this version of Gotham City. The Joker tells Batman what his goal is. Batgirl and Nightwing tell Batman why he could be poorly perceived. Newscasters point directly to the political themes the series intends to address. Everything is told and nothing is shown.

 

That is frustrating because the ideas on display are not so convoluted as to even approach confusing. Batman as public menace and Joker going sane are two well-worn tracks that even comic shop passersby will be able to quickly grasp. Yet dialogue is packed into each page, forming even more gargantuan towers than the monastery-like monstrosities of this very enticing rendition of Gotham. Even in the midst of the chase sequence Joker is explaining himself and Batman’s family is explaining what is already on the page. It slows panels that Murphy packs with momentum, diluting the rarely achieved effect of velocity in comics. Combined with 3-D flames that contrast poorly with this rough, ink-centric style it transforms the entire affair into a drag.

 

The premise itself shows ample restraint. While Batman is shown as a destructive force, he’s made overly sympathetic and Joker’s case against him is less than convincing. It’s a presentation of two sides when one is already accepted as heroic and normal. Batman appears in need of a good lecture rather than a takedown by the end of the first issue. That lack of emphasis on differing power dynamics and inversions of accepted themes makes the final splash page land with a thud. It’s overly dark, unconvincing, and states the title of the story in a hamfisted fashion. It’s the final gasp in a balloon that began to deflate as soon as “One Year Ago” appeared.

 

Murphy’s inks and abilities to pace action are as adept as ever. His Gotham City alone justifies providing this story with a second chance, but this #1 fails to provide a hook even half as enticing as the sales pitch for this series. If the story is to succeed outside of producing gorgeous landscapes and grittier than normal depictions of favorite characters, than it needs to speed up. Word balloons and captions are deadweight on a concept and style that ought to burn like rocket fuel.

 

Grade: C-

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5 Best Punisher Artists Ever

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

There’s no debating that Garth Ennis is the writer who has most influenced The Punisher, Marvel’s most notorious anti-hero and consistent selling characters. Ever since he first tackled the character in 2000, the writer and character have been drawn back to one another for some of the most acclaimed superhero comics of the current century. He has even managed to surpass the character’s original creators, writer Gerry Conway and artist John Romita, Sr., in terms of association.

 

While Ennis may be the writer most associated with the character, The Punisher isn’t best known for one liners and clever plot twists. He is a character defined by an iconic design, brutal action sequences, and some of the toughest page turns in comics. Artists are every bit as important, if not more so, when it comes to defining who The Punisher is to comics readers today. That begs the question: Who are the greatest Punisher artists of all time.

 

We have five answers for you.

 

  1. Steve Dillon

 

You never get Ennis’ legacy on The Punisher without his inimitable collaborative partnership with Steve Dillon. This duo was always better together, bringing out the absolute best in already great creative work. Dillon’s Punisher managed to capture disparate elements of the character and his world in a consistently surprising fashion. His direct approach to storytelling, a dedication to clear delivery of action and story beats, ensured that even the most hectic of battles never left readers confused. In addition to that, the unique facial expressions that blended cartooning with grotesque caricature ensured that there was never any doubts about what lay behind Frank’s grimace or his victim’s screams.

 

Yet the most effective element of Dillon’s work is how he managed to infuse humor into The Punisher without undercutting any of the other elements. In the typically dour and violent underworld that Frank Castle spent his time in, Dillon could deliver each joke or humorous twist well enough to elicit actual laughter. For every great death or terrifying trap, there’s a gangster smiling and saying “It’s bears” seconds before a polar bear decapitates him.

 

Dillon was truly one of a kind and so was his take on The Punisher.

 

Recommended Reading: The Punisher (2000-2001)

 

  1. Mike Zeck

 

Zeck is the very first artist to draw The Punisher in his own series, the five-issue mini later titled “Circle of Blood”. While he did not draw as many issues as other artists on this list, his work on The Punisher would defined the look of the character’s stories, and much of Marvel’s grittiest fare, for a decade to come. This is the world of 1980s New York City filtered through the most paranoid of lenses. Criminals take on traits that resemble monsters more than men with gargantuan pectorals or thin, weasley faces. Zeck allows readers to drop into a nightmare version of the real world, one in which The Punisher’s existence isn’t simply justifiable, but desirable. It’s a mad, mad take on the Marvel Universe, one which later created “Kraven’s Last Hunt” and had a long lasting impact on Frank Castle.

 

Recommended Reading: The Punisher (1986)

 

  1. Goran Parlov

 

There’s no doubt that Dillon is the artist most associated with the multiple beloved Punisher series to come from Marvel’s MAX line, but Goran Parlov doesn’t get nearly enough credit. He’s the artist that defined one of Frank Castle’s only ongoing foes in Barracuda and brought the man back into the Vietnam War in the maxi-series Fury. His sharp lines create a world where even the landscape feels like it could cut you like a knife. Characters are well-defined by their silhouettes and each wound looks as raw as the flatted red colors inside. Parlov is a modern master and his take on The Punisher might be the most stylistically brutal version to date. That’s also what makes his return to the character this week with Punisher: The Platoon so exciting. Be sure to check it out.

 

Recommended Reading: Fury Max # 7-9

 

  1. Jim Lee

 

If Zeck defined The Punisher as he was born into the mid 1980s, it’s Jim Lee who would carry the character into the world of the 1990s. It’s easy to recall this period in comics for its artistic excesses, but Lee’s take on the character is somewhat modest compared to contemporary work on comics like X-Men. There’s lots of rippling muscles and big guns, but they are still placed in the exaggerated underbelly that could be connected to revenge films like Death Wish. Lee’s work on The Punisher shows his development as an artist who maximizes his sense of cool and effect in any given panel, while continuing to labor over detailed linework. Reading his work on Punisher: War Journal ought to be rewarding to both fans of the character and the artist involved.

 

Recommended Reading: Punisher: War Journal (1998-1995)

 

  1. Klaus Janson

 

Many comics fans think of Janson as the master inker who helped realize collaborations with Frank Miller like Daredevil and The Dark Knight Returns. Yet his work as a penciler often goes overlooked to the loss of those who ignore it. One of the finest examples of that work can be found in a three-issue crossover between Captain America and The Punisher titled “Blood and Glory”. It’s excess and violence is nothing short of magnificent embracing the craziest elements of the period in which it was published to great effect. Motorcycle chases, South American mansions, and a truly insane number of shootouts make this the sort of fun comic that delivers on every page. It’s Janson’s work that makes all of it work too as he guides readers through the craziness with maximum impact in each panel.

 

Our recommended reading for Janson isn’t easy to come by and has not been made available digitally, but it’s well worth the time required digging in dollar bins to read.

 

Recommended Reading: Punisher and Captain America: Blood and Glory

 

Honorable Mention: Declan Shalvey

 

While Shalvey has never illustrated the interiors of a Punisher comic, his work on the covers of the current ongoing series have been a highlight in comics over the past few years. Each cover incorporate elements of the story along with the iconic skull logo to craft a unique and inviting introduction to the tales inside. One key element of Shalvey’s design is the spartan nature of the settings, which only occasionally contain figures and creates lots of distance between any that may exist. These covers build a mood as much as anything else. They are haunting, lonely, and dangerous, embodying The Punisher perfectly in each carefully crafted image.

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Why Chris Eliopoulous is Our Favorite Star Wars Artist

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

Since Marvel Comics relaunched the Star Wars line, we’ve seen a lot of great stories. The core Star Wars title written by Jason Aaron has received consistent praise and been graced by a murderer’s row of modern artists including Stuart Immonen and John Cassaday. The first volume of Darth Vader was a top pick from critics and the Doctor Aphra spinoff has launched a new character to much success. Star Wars is doing great and it’s hard to pick out which creators have done the best work with this beloved franchise.

With that having been said, we think the best comics creators to work on Star Wars at Marvel Comics so far is actually a dark horse pick. It’s not a writer or artist, but a cartoonist who covers both sides of the field: Chris Eliopoulous. Eliopoulous has done the vast majority of his work in mainstream comics as a letterer who has created a variety of fonts and contributed to more Mavel Comics publications than you can read on Unlimited*. He’s also a cartoonist who has taken to providing non-canonical takes on classic characters in a style reminiscent of Bill Watterson. He’s a great storyteller who values fun and clarity above all else. And this is why we think he’s the best Star Wars artist working on the franchise today…

*Only a slight exaggeration

He Makes Pure Comics

One of the most difficult aspects of any comics franchise that is taken from another medium is trying to make it feel like it should be a comic. Anyone who has read an Aliens or Predators comic before knows exactly the kind of trouble this can cause. It’s easy to look at a comic based on a great film series and wonder why you would read this when you could have the “real thing” instead.

The Star Wars comics have done an excellent job of being enjoyable comics in their own right, but none have done it better than Eliopoulous’ stories with Jordie Bellaire on colors. Each of the three narratives he has created so far has told a complete story focused on a famous droid from the franchise. Everything you need is on the page and every comedic or dramatic beat is clear within his storytelling.

Nowhere is this more obvious than “Probe Droid Problem”, a story about one of Darth Maul’s spherical droids wandering Tatooine. Its silence is mirrored by all of the other characters in the book like Jawas and other droids. The entire story is conveyed in images with an occasional sound effect. Over the course of just a few pages Eliopoulous invests readers in this minor droid’s adventures and builds to a satisfactory ending with some laughs and a few surprise. The story is a great example of how much comics can accomplish in very little space, and how you really only need art in order to tell a story. For this reason alone Eliopoulous’ work stands out as being the best example of Star Wars comics today.

He Captures the Characters

Another issue with the translation of familiar film franchises to comics is the uncanny valley in which recognizable characters or elements are portrayed almost exactly as they are in real life, but in too dissimilar a manner to provide a comfortable experience. It is a pitfall avoided by most issues of Star Wars, but a handful of examples have seen semblances of Harrison Ford or Carrie Fischer appear more like wax sculptures than artistic constructs of their characters. That is an issue avoided altogether in Eliopoulous’ comics where he moves as far away from realism as possible.

Rather than attempt to depict Luke Skywalker exactly as Mark Hamill portrayed him in the first film, Eliopoulous distills the character into his most essential elements. Tousled farm boy hair, an earnest smile, and flight suit make it clear exactly who is in the pages of “Droid Dilemma”. It’s even easier to see with the three droids who form the centerpieces of these stories. You can count the lines that form each of them and easily imagine how you could ape Eliopoulous’ style to recreate them on a notepad at work. It’s here that the value of his cartooning is clear. These comics easily discern what makes each design resonate and recreates them in the simplest form possible. That makes for an easy reading experience and one unhindered by attempts to look just like the movies.

He Gets Star Wars

Ultimately the most important part of any Star Wars comic comes in capturing the essence of Star Wars. That’s an incredibly difficult task as the idea of what Star Wars is really about is something geeks have argued for decades. Eliopoulous appears to really get it though. His stories are not filled with epic quests, great prophecies, or massive space battles. These are all signatures of Star Wars, but they aren’t what make this collection of stories really matter. What Eliopoulous has chosen to focus on is the heart found within each of the heroes, and the humor and adventure that follows when characters do their best to battle for the light.

Each of the three stories told by Eliopoulous and Bellaire so far feature a droid attempting to help someone else. They find friendship, service, and love along the way, and those are themes it’s easy to perceive within the Star Wars films. While the story of “SaBBotage” might be minimized as a cute love story in which BB-8 helps two Resistance pilots go on a date, it’s really the same sort of meet-cute that made fans fall in love with Leia and Han. Star Wars has always been about the human elements within the grandiose space opera. There’s a reason we think of characters before any particular battle or special effect.

That’s what makes Eliopoulous’ work stand out most. He gets that Star Wars is fun and that it encourages us to believe in stories where the good guys win. It may not be complex, but the beauty of Star Wars often comes from its simplicity. That’s why Eliopoulous is the best Star Wars artist working today.

So be sure to check out Eliopoulous and Bellaire’s work in Star Wars: Droids Unplugged #1. It’s filled with the best Star Wars comics in the galaxy today.

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Leading Questions: That’s Pretty Sketchy

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on June 29, 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…

Why do you keep a con sketchbook?

Thanks for the softball this week, buddy. It’s much needed in the midst of organizing against a healthcare bill designed to kill. But that’s enough of a reminder of the dystopian reality we spiral further into each consecutive day…

Let’s talk about sketchbooks!

I began my sketchbook a little more than 3 years ago at a convention in Kansas City. For those who haven’t seen me share it before in various articles and tweets, it’s a Kirby themed collection. Each artist who contributes has one page to draw any Jack Kirby creation of their choice. It’s a simple pitch and I cover whatever the asking price is for a bust or small page for them to cover whichever imagining from The King’s mind that strikes their fancy.

It has been an immensely rewarding project, and one that has grown with each convention I’ve attended in the intervening years. Just to give you a brief idea of how big this sketchbook is, here are a few stats:

Total Number of Sketches (and Artists): 62

Most Drawn Character (Tie): Darkseid by Freddie Williams II, Ray Fawkes, Yanick Paquette, Ramon Villalobos, Rod Reis, and Walt Simonson

The Thing by Andrew Robinson, George Perez, Eleanor Davis, Derf Backderf, Steve Dillon, and Paolo Rivera

Second Most Drawn Character: Big Barda by Brian Hurtt, Fiona Staples, Robert Wilson IV, Annie Wu, and Robbi Rodriguez

Third Most Drawn Character: Etrigan the Demon by Phil Hester, Valentine De Landro, Tom Mandrake, and James Harren

Most Unexpected Character: The Space Baby from 2001: A Space Odyssey drawn by Michael DeForge

Most Original Take on a Character: Doctor Doom crossed with Kamen Rider by Ron Wimberly

I hope that provides some sense of the variety of creators and characters contained in this little 6” x 8” sketchbook. That’s what happens when you drag a project like this between mega cons (e.g. San Diego) and indie expos (e.g. SPX). You pick up a lot of ideas in a lot of styles. I think the results speak for themselves, but I’ll breakdown why I love carrying around this sketchbook a little bit more.

First of all, it’s a matter of convenience. When you attend comics conventions you want to pick up swag and art to remember the experience and people you met. On my very first trip to San Diego Comic Con I packed an entirely empty suitcase and it was jammed full on my return trip. There’s an impulse to buy a book from every creator you admire, and that gets heavy fast. Rather than carry around a roller bag or make constant trips back to the hotel room, a sketchbook allows you to obtain great pieces of art without weighing you down.

Second, that sketchbook encourages you to support artists while you visit their tables or make small talk. Cons are a lot of fun, but they’re also a business for anyone behind a table. They likely spent cash to get where they are and need to at least make that money back in order to keep making comics. Sketches aren’t free and you should never assume they are. Having a sketchbook provides you with an opportunity to engage with an artist whose work you love and to support them in the most direct fashion possible.

Third, it offers a new convention experience. Oftentimes we find ourselves hanging in the same panel hall or waiting in long lines because there’s nothing that needs to be done at that very second. Conventions can feel like long periods of waiting filled by brief periods of excitement. A sketchbook encourages you to scour artist’s alley and talk with individuals you might have previously only asked for a signature. It’s a scavenger hunt where you can never lose. Since I started this collection, I’ve found myself spending much more time in alleys and talking more with the creators whose work I spend so much time with.

Finally, I would recommend starting a sketchbook because it will have personal meaning. The great thing about having your own collection is that each page contains a memory.

I can tell you about the time I had coffee with Louise Simonson before Walt drew Darkseid. I can tell you about Alex meeting Fiona Staples in order to obtain a Big Barda while I had to be elsewhere. I can tell you all about George Perez or Steve Dillon carefully penciling together rocks as they told stories and asked questions, before it suddenly became clear they were drawing The Thing. Each page of that book means a lot to me, and I’m grateful for every experience along the way.

For me there’s no purer way to engage with comic artists at a convention than through a sketchbook. It lights a fire under your butt to tell artists how much you appreciate their work and encourages you to support their artwork. In that process you get a small glimpse of insight into the creator whose work has impacted your life and a memory you will carry with you as long as you can open the pages of that little book and see their work inside.

A sketchbook can be a constant reminder of why we love comics and how much we appreciate the people who make them. I think that’s pretty great.

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DC & Looney Tunes Crossovers (Ranked)

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

The end of June also brings an end to DC Comics series of crossovers between their own heroes and those of the Looney Tunes franchise. Across six one-shots they told stories of beloved caped characters meeting up with America’s favorite cartoon rascals. Each comic contained both an A and B story with the former set in the DC Universe and the latter in a Looney Tunes setting. While this might seem unremarkable, these crossovers are some of the best superhero comics made in all of 2017 so far.

It’s understandable that you might be a bit skeptical, but we promise that this is the god’s honest truth. DC Comics has knocked it out of the park with these crossovers. There’s not a loser in the entire lot, and each issue highlights at least one aspect that makes it worth buying. Some emphasize a great artist taking on new characters while others remind us what makes these characters great. In any case, they’re worth checking out. It might be hard to know where to start though, which is why we’ve ranked our favorites to provide you a guide on what makes each of these crossovers stand out.

  1. Legion of Super-Heroes / Bugs Bunny

A Story Written by Sam Humphries

A Story Art by Tom Grummett (pencils), Scott Hanna (inks), and Steve Buccellato (colors)

B Story Written and Drawn by Juan Manuel Ortiz

This is a comic tailor made for fans of the classic Legion of Super-Heroes. There is a massive array of characters all aping what makes the cult favorite superhero series so well-remembered. There’s plenty of angst and issue references to go around, and that matches Bugs Bunny’s irreverent tone perfectly. While those references may not be clear to younger audiences, it’s still a fun adventure with lots of earnest heroes winning the day.

Unfortunately, this issue really falters with its B-story. Rather than provide a different take on the characters or a fresh plotline, the backup comic offers the exact same story with a more cartoonish style and less dialogue. It’s a SparkNotes version of what came before, and difficult to find any additional value, especially when the referential humor is removed. It’s not that this issue is bad, but with the same story told twice it packs the least bang for any reader’s buck.

  1. Jonah Hex / Yosemite Sam

A Story Written by Jimmy Palmiotti

A Story Art by Mark Texeira and Paul Mounts (colors)

B Story Written by Bill Matheny

B Story Art by Dave Alvarez

Anyone who has read Palmiotti’s previous Jonah Hex stories knows what to expect from this issue. The A-story even includes the character’s classic introduction. There’s loads of murder, backstabbing, and the same bittersweet ending as every other Hex tale. Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn make for colorful additions, but this story wouldn’t be too out of place in any other Hex collection.

The backup is a lot more lighthearted, but doesn’t stand out much more than the A-story. It has a few more jokes and is a lot more colorful, but never really offers a surprise. Anyone who misses Palmiotti’s take on the Old West will appreciate this one-shot, and it is a rootin’ tootin’ good time, but it doesn’t exceed expectations like some of the other crossovers.

  1. Lobo / Road Runner

Written by Bill Morrison

A Story Art by Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen (colors)

B Story Written and Drawn by Bill Morrison

The team-up between Lobo and Wile E. Coyote is very similar to the Jonah Hex and Yosemite Sam pairing in that it’s exactly what you’d expect. There are lots of shenanigans as both hunters fail to catch their prey and watch their trap backfire in a wild manner. However, what sets this issue apart is the artwork on display.

Kelley Jones, best known for giving Batman 3 foot long ears, provides a style to the wily coyote and deadly bounty hunter that makes their dismemberments even more comical. The backup in which Lobo is not allowed to curse or engage in graphic violence offers a delightful all-ages take on a particularly not all-ages character. Jones and Morrison’s artwork shows how new eyes can make old characters seem fresh again in both halves of this issue.

  1. Martian Manhunter / Marvin the Martian

A Story Written by Steve Orlando and Frank J. Barbiere

A Story Art by Aaron Lopresti (pencils) and Jermoe Moore (inks and colors)

B Story Written by Jim Fanning

B Story Art by John Loter

You will walk away from this issue begging DC Comics to let Steve Orlando and Frank J. Barbiere write a new Martian Manhunter series. They play into the pathos of this classic DC character and highlight how both he and Marvin are the last of their kind. It’s a story that, while filled with hijinks, really tugs the heartstrings. J’onn is shown to be a hero both for his powers and his empathy, which he uses to make for a happy ending.

The backup gives Marvin more of a spotlight and plays up the Looney Tunes antics to great effect. There are a lot more laughs in the B-story, but it’s still a plot that shows a surprising grasp of why these aliens seem so very human. In both stories we’re reminded that it’s a darn shame that there’s no Martian Manhunter comic today (and that Marvin is very underrated).

  1. Wonder Woman / Tasmanian Devil

Written by Tony Bedard

A Story Art by Barry Kitson (pencils), John Floyd (inks), and Lovern Kindzierski (colors)

B Story Drawn by Ben Caldwell

We are overwhelmed with high quality Wonder Woman stories right now, and maybe that’s why the A-story of this issue seems so ordinary. It has a lot to offer: Greek mythology, a unique twist on victory, and some great fight sequences. Really, this would have been an outstanding Wonder Woman story in 2015, but today it just seems at par. However, par for Wonder Woman is still a high standard and her relationship with Taz in this narrative is delightful.

It’s the backup that really ought to sell this issue though. The B-story retells the story of the Trojan War with Wonder Woman as Helen and Taz as Paris. Plus, they do it all in couplets, including one that rhymes “rectal” with “Bechdel”. It’s just as wild as it sounds and Bedard is perfectly paired with Caldwell on this farce that effortlessly jumps between being foolish and smart as hell. It’s by far the best back up and makes this crossover a real standout.

  1. Batman / Elmer Fudd

Written by Tom King

A Story Art by Lee Weeks and Lovern Kindzierski (colors)

B Story Art by Byron Vaughns and Carrie Strachan (colors)

The trick with these crossovers is balance. The best ones balance both the A- and B-stories, as well as the strength of writing and art. There is no better example of that balance than in this crossover between Batman and Elmer Fudd. The A-story is pure noir that embraces the genre by reimagining almost every Looney Tunes character into the darkest elements of Gotham City. Lee Weeks sells the entire scene and the writing is self-aware enough to walk a tightrope between silly and dramatic. It’s an incredibly funny story that still manages to scratch every itch a fan of Criminal might have.

The backup is pure Looney Tunes madness though. It buys into the classic schtick of rabbit and duck season by adding bats, and Batman is absolutely the punchline of this story. Tom King’s reluctance to take the Dark Knight too seriously is perfect for this tale and lands some great jokes on the franchise without mocking those that love it. In both this and the A-story there’s a balance between fandom and criticism that makes this the best of all worlds for a bizarre crossover.

It may be hard to believe, but this might be one of the best single issues of 2017. So be sure to check it out.

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Leading Questions: The Real MVP

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on June 22, 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…

They say don’t meet your heroes, but who has grown in your estimation after encountering them?

I’m going to keep this one short. That’s because it would be too easy to go on about all of the great people I’ve met in comics, and because I think this column will be a bit more meaningful if it just points to one person.

Before I get to that one person though, I do want to point out that comics is filled with great people. No matter how much we may complain, and lordy we do, the vast majority of folks I’ve met are genuinely enjoyable personalities who are kind and generous. More than four years ago I conducted my first interview with Greg Rucka and he treated me, a complete novice writing for a nothing site, to an hour of his day and far more knowledge and stories than I had any right to expect. He set a high bar that most creators I’ve encountered have continued to meet.

I do think it’s a bit easier to act with kindness and generosity when you’re in a position of power though. That isn’t meant to take Rucka or any of the other greats for granted. Their humility is a fantastic quality, but when people know who you are and you’re making enough money to actually have a saving account… well, that removes some stress. It’s easier to be good when you’re doing well and everybody wants your time and attention. That makes me appreciate some of the creators I’ve been able to watch from an earlier point in their career that much more.

One guy in particular I would point out in response to your question is writer Christopher Sebela.

I met Chris at my very first San Diego Comic Con at the Hilton bar. We were both maxed out on people, and I know I was maxed out on a few other things. The patio was jam packed and I was looking to hunker down. A mutual friend had introduced us, and he was kind enough to let me bum a cigarette. We bullshitted for a while and had a good time from what I recall.

That’s it. There’s no big reveal to the story or stunning act of kindness. Chris was a good guy to hang out with and talk with even when he was absolutely exhausted. What sets him apart that weekend was that it was a time that could have gone to a lot of people’s heads. He had just been nominated for an Eisner Award and we’ve both seen how that grows some egos three times overnight. That didn’t appear to be the case with Chris. He wasn’t too busy for someone looking to catch some fresh air besides him on the patio that night. Frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Chris be too busy for anyone.

We’ve continued to run into one another over the past few years. It’s a pretty even split between late night bars at conventions and less comics-related gatherings in various other cities. Across that time Chris has built a larger and larger library, worked with an increasing array of great artists, and done plenty of things worth more pride than an Eisner nomination (e.g. surviving a month in a clown motel). Across all of that what I’ve noticed is that Chris has not changed, and I mean that in the best way possible.

He’s still level-headed. He still has a wicked sharp sense of humor. He still cares a lot about his work and, more importantly, his people. And you’d never know he’s approaching the realm of a hotshot because he genuinely does not believe he’s better than you just because he’s writing for DC Comics.

So when I think about my heroes in comics, I’ll always have a big list of people who have already made their mark – folks like Stan Sakai or Brian K. Vaughan – and persist in being great people. However, the people I think I’ll recall most fondly are those I got to watch grow and remain true to themselves and the great people they are.

That’s not an easy thing to do, and it’s why I think comics is lucky to have someone like Chris Sebela.

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