Friday, August 17, 2007

Chicago comic-con and some reviews of what I'm reading now

Here's a photo of me with David Mack and David Seidman signing copies of SE7EN: ENVY at the Zenescope booth during the Wizard World Chicago convention last weekend. Thanks to everyone who visited us and supported the issue's premier.

One of the most common questions I was asked at the Chicago convention was what comic books do I read regularly. A couple years ago, I probably would have answered that I rarely buy ongoing monthly comics, but instead tend to collect the work of cartoonists (writer/artists) who only put out an issue of their comic every year or so. But after a decade of finding little interest in ongoing monthly comics, I’ve become hooked on a few that keep me involved over multiple issues with no end in sight.

I equate a good ongoing, regularly published, comic series with some of the best - and most addictive - TV shows I watch. Television is also something I’ve recently returned to after more than a decade of ignoring it. But for me I’ve found, in the last couple years, that most movies rarely deserve to run longer than an hour, and few can hold together a decent third act, while TV shows, like serialized comic stories, are pretty much all second act. They need to end eventually or they'll wind up sucking, but there are some that can stretch that second act pretty far without losing my attention.

However, I don’t watch TV shows an episode at a time, but in big season-long chunks on DVD. Similarly I rarely read individual comic issues anymore, but very much enjoy the collections. Here are a few that I’ve been enjoying:

Y, THE LAST MAN by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
(DC/Vertigo – So far I’ve read 48 issues collected into eight volumes)

For me Brian Vaughan is the comic writer of the moment. He writes comics that read like good serialized television, which is the way I think ongoing comics series should read. It's no wonder this guy is now story editor on the TV show Lost. That's why he's writing two of my favorite series of the last few years. In fact I'd have included Vaughan's Runaways on this list as well, except I have a soft spot for Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz's original New Mutants and can't stand to see that series upstaged. Won't admit that is has been upstaged, I mean. There seems to be so many ways that a story about the last man on earth could go, but the path Y has taken is far beyond anything I would have imagined. It's a brutally hilarious dark comedy that touches on most everything about human nature. A stunning achievement in writing, brought to life by the simple, understated artwork of Pia Guerra, who I'm so totally jealous of right now.

B.P.R.D. by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Guy Davis
(Dark Horse – So far I’ve read approximately 26 issues collected in six volumes)

I'm a Hellboy fan mostly because I love (LOVE!) Mike Mignola's art. He can draw space raccoons or mutant thumbs, it doesn't matter, I'll buy it. But when Hellboy is being drawn by some other artist, I rarely have any interest in the character. Similarly I had a hard time getting into the early B.P.R.D. collections because Mike wasn't drawing them. But once Guy Davis took over the art chores with the third volume Plague of Frogs, I was hooked. And the subsequent three volumes, The Dead, The Black Flame, and The Universal Machine just keep getting better as they add to the ongoing storyline. It’s kind of weird because the first Hellboy collection Seed of Destruction was essentially a team book, and then bit-by-bit it became a solo series. So it’s nice to see it come full circle (even without the red guy) and do so successfully. I can honestly say I enjoy B.P.R.D. as much or more than I ever did the Mignola drawn Hellboy comics, and that's saying a hell of a lot.

EX MACHINA by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris
(DC/Wildstorm – So far I’ve read 27 issues collected in five volumes)

Hmmm, politics. Not my favorite subject in or out of comics. Politics in America remind me of commercial sports: you pick your team, stick with them no matter how much they suck, and ultimately, when the flag waving and the insults die down, it’s all the same stupid ballgame. Well, that's just boring. Ex Machina, however is not. I think I first picked up this book because Tony Harris was drawing it, but after a few issues I was hooked by the unparalleled ability of Brian Vaughn to write such sharp witty dialogue that cuts through the political bullshit and shows what it might actually be like to juggle the multiple responsibilities asked of a young New York City mayor.

ALL STAR SUPERMAN by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
(DC – So far I’ve read six issues collected in one volume)

Grant Morrison has more or less been my consistently favorite comic book writer for about twenty years, beginning with his early run on Animal Man and The Doom Patrol in the late 1980's. Sure, there are other writers, such as Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, who've received more accolades and more press, but neither of them alone or combined can match the staggering wealth of good stories that Morrison has written, which span all genres and he may have invented a couple along the way. I first became aware of Frank Quitely's amazing storytelling talents in JLA: Earth 2 (also written by Morrison), and was stunned by some of the fantastic visual choices he made in We3 (also written by Morrison). But even combining their talents again, I never thought these two would get me to read and enjoy a Superman series (what am I, ten years old?). Well, I was wrong. This series takes all the absurdity of the Superman universe and makes it so incredibly, awesomely, fantastically fun that it's impossible to put down.

THE WALKING DEAD by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard
(Image Comics – So far I’ve read 24 issues collected in four volumes)

Zombies again? Yeah, this has been done over and over and over and over, but somehow this time it seems different. I think this is the movie-versus-television thing. The Walking Dead works because once it starts it keeps going and going and going. There is no end. And that's what makes it scary. There’s no neatly wrapped third act. You know the still-living characters aren't going to win. The question is, how long can they hold out? I’m willing to find out.

DAREDEVIL by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark
(Marvel – So far I’ve read 93 issues collected in fifteen volumes)

I've never cared much for the character Matt Murdock or his alter ego Daredevil. Maybe it's because the guy is just bad luck incarnate and it makes me want to keep my distance. In any case, his only good fortune seems to be attracting excellent writers and artists to tell his story. Yeah, I really liked the Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli run on Daredevil back in the '80s, but I've got to say that with Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada's revamp of the series in 1998 (and continuing in the hands of David Mack, Brian Bendis, and Alex Maleev) I've become a true fan of Daredevil’s ongoing drama. It’s rare to see a superhero book from a major company where the character (and his situation) is constantly evolving, and by-golly this book definitely is. Which leads to the current team of Brubaker and Lark. At close to a hundred issues, this book is pushing it’s luck with me, and so with the new creative team I wasn’t expecting the quality of the colossal Bendis/Maleev run, but so far, after two collections, they’ve kept their heads above water. Looking forward to a third.

ASTONISHING X-MEN by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
(Marvel - So far I've read 18 issues collected into three volumes)

Okay, so I was a huge X-Men fan in my teen years. I had every issue of every series that had even a slight connection to Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters (Power Pack, anyone?). It was the geek soap opera supreme. But nearly 20 years later I find it hard to understand just what I loved so much about those old issues aside from the overall addictive nature of their overwhelming complexity. When the X-Men movies came out (I liked the second one a lot), many of my friends having seen the movie, who new I used to be an X-freak, asked me what comics they should pick up that would continue the stories told in the films. I didn't have an answer. X-Men has no set beginning. None that most would want to read anyway. What makes it so appealing to the Marvel Zombie insider is also what has alienated it from the rest of the world. That is until Astonishing came along. I can happily hand the first collection to anyone and in all confidence say, if you liked the movies, here's something you'll enjoy. No overly-complex back-story to wade through. Just cool characters like Wolverine, saying cool lines like "I'm not doing anything that doesn't have the word beer in it" drawn in a clean realistic style that doesn't alienate the casual reader, and allows old-timers like me to re-live the glory days without having to actually, you know, read all those issues.

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Blogger Jason Copland said...

Great post, Leif! You're taste in books (past and present) are very much inline with mine... and Guy Davis is fast becoming one of my favorite artists of all time!

9:22 PM  

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