New Comic Book Day

Today is Wednesday, which, in my world, means pretty much only one thing: it’s the day new comics hit the shelves. While I wasn’t that involved in comic books as a kid (instead spending my hours devouring science fiction and fantasy novels), I did dabble in them and found a few I really loved. Calvin & Hobbes, Green Lantern, The Mighty Thor, Spawn, Witchblade – even though most people didn’t particularly care for them in the 90s, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. It really helped that my role-playing group met in our local comic shop (which has sadly since closed).

After moving away, my comic reading took a dip. I’d still read the Sunday funnies and was addicted to a number of webcomics, but strayed from the classic comic-book format. It wasn’t until college that I started to consider returning, partly due to my increased consumption of manga. After all, if I was willing to spend time and money on comics from Japan, it was only logical to try a return to the American variety. After testing the waters, my tastes quickly gravitated toward DC and a number of independents over Marvel, (though I typically prefer Marvel properties in movies, cartoons, etc).

And so here we are, about 7 years and many MANY comics later. I’ve been to conventions, met authors and artists, and managed to bring others into this nerdy pursuit. Even better, I’ve made some real friends online and in a number of shops around Boston.

But the last 2 years have been tough, starting with the saga of Blackest Night. (Here’s where this post starts getting a bit ranty.) Being a huge Green Lantern fan, I was excited to see it take center stage in a big crossover event. And I fell headfirst into the trap that has been so prevalent in comics since the early 90s, buying every single issue, spin-off, and side-story. To add context for those not in-the-know, the late 80s and early 90s saw a huge jump in the speculative value of comic books. Accordingly, Marvel and DC began publishing “special” issues (variant covers, ridiculous tie-ins, etc) because people would by them thinking they would eventually be worth something. But true value comes from rarity, and this practice quickly backfired, leading to a pretty serious crash in readership (one that it hasn’t really recovered from).

Now, I want to be clear, I didn’t buy them for collecting value, but so that I could experience every angle of the story line (I do occasionally buy a variant cover, but only if I like the art or artist). But despite my almost rabid level of faith in Geoff Johns, I finished Blackest Night pretty disappointed. Not simply because it meant having to buy into Brightest Day (a separate event title, but a direct follow up) to see how everything really worked out, but because the plot and characters left me unsatisfied. I’m not saying that there wasn’t a stunning amount of genius involved, and quite a few jaw-drop moments, but really the only thing I got out of the entire ordeal was a new love for a character I had always dismissed – Barry Allen’s Flash.

As for Brightest Day, you guessed it – I bought into that too. And boy, that was possibly the most pointless stretch of comics I have ever read (I get that Swamp Thing is an awesome bit of nostalgia, but the whole thing was poorly constructed).

Simultaneous to all this was the drama surrounding  Bruce Wayne’s death and rebirth, which resulted in it’s own group of spin-off titles. And while I’ve never been much of a Batman fan (or Superman for that matter), I am willing to trust in Grant Morrison’s vision. But there has been a serious consequence from all this – a kind of malaise that envelopes me every time I think about reading some comics. Aand now months worth of comics sit to the side until I can build up the willpower to dive into them

All told, that’s a lot of time, money, and self invested into the DCU. Which is why I was skeptical about this whole New 52 relaunch, dubbed DCnU (DCU being the classic means of referring to the DC Universe).

52 new titles launch in the month of September. 4 of them are Green Lantern-related titles. They roll back on some momentousness character events. That sounds a lot like the old trap, and I would really prefer not to be burned again. I mean, there’s no way all of them are worth reading (let alone buying), and the market won’t support it. I see maybe half of those at most making it 6 months.

But, at the same time, I don’t want to give up on DC or wait 5-6 months to figure out which storylines are worth getting in trade form. So here’s what I’m going to end up doing: sticking to authors I trust, like Gail Simone. Not buying into any events or tricks.  Hopefully that will keep me interested in DC. If not, I suppose I’ll end up sticking to the indies that have always stood by me.


Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite

GN 29. Umbrella Academy Vol. 1: Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way. Illustrated by Gabriel Ba and Dave Stewart. 192 p. Published July 2008.

12302008-umbrella-academy1 The introduction probably puts it best: “It begins, in the best way possible, with an atomic flying elbow…” In an unprecedented wrestling match, “Tuslin’ Tom” Gurney knocks out the space squid from Rigel x-9 and 43 children are simaltaneously born around the world. Reginald Hargreeves, an inventor and millioniare, does his best to collect these children, and adopts seven of them in order to save the world.

Raising them in the Umbrella Academy, these children grow to show extraordinary abilities, and work toward protecting the world from evil. Their first mission: stop the Eiffel Tower as it rampages across Paris.

Twenty years later, long after the Academy had disbanded due to the death of Number 6, these heroes return for the funeral of their adopted father. Spaceboy, formerly the leader of the children, exiled himself to the moon after a terrible accident left him with the body of a large monkey. Allison, known as The Rumor, is now a mother herself. The Kraken – Diego – works in espionage while Seance does little but pamper himself. Vanya, Number 7, known for her complete lack of a gift outside of the violin, finds she is still not welcome, while Number 5, recently returned after disappearing into the future, warns of a great disaster.

These siblings, despite their derision for one another, are drawn into battle when the funeral is confused for the reunion of The Umbrella Academy. Meanwhile, Vanya, upset at the lack of welcome, decides to join an orchestra composed of musicians bent on destroying the world. But this effort to find a purpose seals her fate, and possibly that of the world.

Written by Gerard Way, the lead singer of My Chemical Romance, The Umbrella Academy was heralded as one of the premier series of 2008, even winning an Eisner. While the story begins in a rather strange manner, the characters soon begin to draw the reader in while the artwork offers a colorful backdrop. As such, this reads more like one of the old comics – where the reality of the story is so far from our own that it must begin with certain base assumptions and work from there to explain the rest. Despite this, Way pens a writhing monster of a story, capturing the reader in his vision.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Batman: The Long Halloween

GN 28. Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb. Illustrated by Tim Sale and Gregory Wright. 368 p. Published November 1999.

12302008-batman-long-halloween The Long Halloween poses a fascinating question: what ever happened to all those gangsters from Batman: Year One (the origin tale by Frank Miller)? In a breathtaking noir fashion, Long Halloween sets about telling the story of Batman and the end of mobster-controlled Gotham.

Confronted by a rising mob problem, Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and District Attorney Harvey Dent bind together in a secret pact to rid Gotham of its Dons – Roman Falcone and Salvatore Maroni. But it appears someone else has the same idea, as a new serial killer begins to strike against mobsters, marking his crime by striking only on Holidays.

Faced with deciphering who Holiday is, Batman must investigate while dealing with the repercussions of Holiday’s attacks. Cofnronted by gangsters with grudges, freaks jealous of Holiday’s popularity, and even the loss of one of Gotham’s finest, Batman is soon overwhelmed. Will he be able to contain the theat and stop Holiday in time to save what is most precious or will Gotham be lost in the growing violence.

In true noir style, appearances by some of the more famous characters and villians tie Long Halloween together in an intriguing glimpse of Batman’s humanity. This was a truly inspired project, originally published in 13 issues, this tale began on Halloween and commemorates each subsequent holiday’s theme until the following October – a truly long Halloween. With a driving story and fantastically vivid illustrations, this version of Batman is one of the greatest – glimpsing a world of moral ambiguity, where there is no right decision – not even for the hero.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Preacher: Until the End of the World

GN 27. Preacher vol. 2: Until the End of  the World by Garth Ennis. Illustrated by Steve Dillon. 264 p. Published January 1997.

12302008-preacher2 In this second volume of Preacher, we come to uncover the backstories for both Custer and Tulip. The two are caught by a pair of men from Custer’s past and the Preacher is shocked to find that his powers don’t work on them. Forced to return to where he was raised, Custer must confront his gandmother, the evil head of his family, or else end up like his parents.

Yet even when Custer and Tulip manage to escape, they find bigger enemies to worry about. Hunted by an ancient orginization bent on controlling the world through Custer, the pair meet up with Cassidy and together try finding a way out of trouble. But they won’t escape unscathed.

I found the most interesting partsof Until the End of the World to be the ones without any of the main characters. The story of Custer’s parents and the motivations of the secret organization serve as the real meat of this volume, providing a captivating image of how dark yet human this world can be. With subject matter not for the faint of heart, Until the End of the World succinctly ties up the past while propelling the series toward a greater plot.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Sky Doll

GN 26. Sky Doll by Barbera Canepa and Alessandro Barbucci. 144 p. Published November 2008.

12012008-skydoll Sky Doll is the flagship in Marvel’s new line of comics imported from Soliel, a premier European publisher.

Noa is a life-like android, known casually as a “Sky Doll.” With no rights or freedom, Sky Dolls serve the needs of the state – no matter how lascivious or depraved. Knowing nothing but a life of such service, most dolls comply. But not Noa; she dreams of more. And the arrival of two missionaries, Roy and Jahu, proves to be her ticket out.

Hoping to escape her slavery, Noa stows away on their ship. But these agents of Lodovica, the Holy Mother, are not all they appear to be, and Noa is taken across the stars, an unwitting participant in a war between religions.

Sky Doll is a masterpiece. Beautifully detailed artwork and fantastic coloring are perfectly partnered with a thrilling plot line and a truly immersive world. Each chapter reveals something new about the characters and how their hidden pasts all weave together. Ending with a real promising hook (and stunning state-side sales), Sky Doll promises that its eventual continuation is well worth the wait.

Please note that both the artwork and material of Sky Doll is for mature readers only.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Storybook Love

GN 25. Fables Vol. 3: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham. Illustrated by Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha. 190 p. Published May 2004.


Storybook Love is composed of four tales which, while separate, weave together to provide a glimpse of Fabletown. First comes Jack, the lovable rogue of beanstalk, candle, and every other get-rich-quick scheme. Looking to gain some prestige, Jack joins the South in the American Civil War, and flees when the war turns sour. After winning a magical bottomless sack from the Devil, Jack finds a rich lady abandoned to die in her house. Attracted by her wealth and beauty, Jack vows to trap Death himself in order to save her, as always neglecting the consequences.

The second story, now back in the present, reveals a threat to Fabletown as an overzealous reporter threatens to expose the Fables, mistaking them for a nest of Vampires. Using a complicated plot involving Sleeping Beauty, who’s spell of sleep spreads like a contagion the longer she rests, Bigby Wolf calls upon Prince Charming, Jack, and Bluebeard to scare the reporter into submission. But when Sleeping Beauty won’t wake to Prince Charming’s kiss, an unexpected savior must rise in the form of Flycatcher, the Frog Prince.

The third tale heralds the return of Snow White after her ordeal on The Farm. But Bluebeard and Goldilocks, seeking to seize power of Fabletown, have a different plan. They bewitch Bigby and Snow, forcing the pair to take a vacation out in the wilderness where they’ll be vulnerable. Goldilocks, armed with her proven marksmanship, follows them with murder on the mind. But things are never so simple, and as Bigby and Snow waken from the enchantment, the tables begin to turn in their favor. Meanwhile, Bluebeard looks to seize control of Fabletown, but is foiled by Prince Charming, who proved his ability adjudicating the tribunal after the Farm’s revolt.

Returning to time of the Fables’ exile, The Lilliputians are the focus of the final tale. Looking to join the war against The Adversary, a ship full of these tiny warriors set sail. However, arriving in the old country, they soon realize what a disadvantage their size is in battle. Unable to return home, the Lilliputians join the other Fables in exile with one additional problem – no female Lilliputians. With only Thumbellina for all of them to pine over, one of the Lilliputians sets himself a quest: to return to the old country and retrieve the magic seeds that birthed her kind.

In this third volume of Fables, we learn what love means to the Fables. To the Liliputians it has become a challenge of both their vigor and loyalty to the cause. For some like Jack, it is a foolish and fickle thing of greed and lust. For others, such as the Frog Prince, it is pure, honest, and unrequited. And for Snow and Bigby, Love is a thing that cannot be denied, no matter how much they try.

Storybook Love is the volume I’ve been waiting for. With most of the character generation and world building finished, and a solid plot history to stand upon, this volume really shines. Plot twists, humor, and subterfuge abound, providing a truly marvelous experience. While closing the stories of some characters, this volume offers plenty of intrigue to promise an exciting fifth volume.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Other Reviews of Storybook Love: Fyrefly’s Book Blog

Animal Farm

GN 24. Fables Vol. 2: Animal Farm by Bill Willingham. Illustrated by Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha. 128 p. Published August 2003.

11292008-fables-animal-farm This second volume of Fables continues where the first left off, as Jack and Rose begin their community service. While Jack is stuck cleaning, Rose must tag along with her sister Snow White as penance. When communication to The Farm is cut, Snow must investigate. The Farm is the Fables’ upstate property used to house those Fables who aren’t able to move among humans. Snow takes the opportunity to bring Colin, one of the three little pigs, back to the Farm, but along the way find strange signs of trouble.

When they arrive, Snow and Red find themselves behind enemy lines. The pigs, along with Goldilocks and her bear family, have sparked revolution in the hearts of the Farm Fables. Armed to the teeth, they prepare to descend on the City Fables and wrest away control of Fabletown. Seeing an opportunity, Red joins the revolution, leaving Snow to flee for her life.

Truthfully, I was expecting more from Animal Farm, but with dozens of new characters and an unfamiliar backdrop, there is too much world building going on for much of the story to shine through. However, the parts that make it through the clutter – Goldilocks’ relationship with the bears and the heroism of Reynard the Fox being good examples – are priceless.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Other Reviews of Animal Farm: Fyrefly’s Book Blog