Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Uncanny X-Force 14: Review and Spoilers

There are two reasons why I have thus far not reviewed any superhero comics. One is that I expect a lot of characters pushed on the public as superheroes. They may have shortcomings. They may face hard ethical dilemmas. They may not be perfect, but they have to be heroic. I have to not only find the stories entertaining, I have to admire the characters. The other is that I wanted to avoid turning this blog into a forum where people- myself included- behave like so many angry primates flinging complaints like so much excrement. Sadly, there may be some reason to be angry, or at least disappointed.

The X-Men haven't been anything like what I'd call heroic since Decimation. Furthermore, they hadn't faced what I would consider logical consequences for their unheroic actions, such as the formation of an assassination squad that has to debate among themselves whether or not it's acceptable to kill a child. But writer Rick Remender has accomplished the difficult task of bringing around what comes around while also making me care again about the characters. I could even almost admire Psylocke for the first time in years. Deadpool, whom I always found amusing though not heroic, I actually loved for the nerve and caustic wit he showed in pointing out that X-Force had brought their current spate of problems upon themselves- and upon the rest of the world.

Most moving is the child reassuring his very pregnant mother that everything will be all right, because Archangel and Holocaust are superheroes- just as Holocaust/Genocide incinerates them. I don't think Remender meant it that way. It's entirely possible that I'm overthinking this or reading too much into that brief scene, but it tragically illustrates the disconnect I see some fans make between actions and character. Even in the midst of the atrocities various X-Men characters have committed, some still brand them as heroes. It's refreshing to see that finally addressed in the X-books, as well as to see Archangel basically admit he's not a superhero.

The work of colorist Dean White is well worth noting for its appropriately moody range from dim, dingy gloom to fierce, ruthless vibrance. Artist Jerome OpeƱa could benefit from tightening up the pencils in some panels, but he demonstrates an excellent grasp of sequential storytelling, especially of how to draw a fight scene. Most importantly, however, is the story itself, and Remender's writing may well put an X-book on my regular pull list again if he keeps up the good work.

The preview of New Avengers: Fear Itself 16 proved a nice and hilarious bonus that addresses and piques curiosity about the following questions: Exactly what's Daredevil doing on the Avengers, how will he do, and how will his teammates deal with him?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

TPB Tuesday - FUBAR: European Theater of the Damned

A smidge of R&R and an overabundance of time meandering from one convention to the next means this hardy captain of the road trip war (who's never, ever sick in the car) has been doing a lot of reading. I was overall very pleased with this twisted, spooky, sometimes triumphant, often bitingly (pun not intended) hilarious mashup of alternate military history and zombies. This anthology takes a variety of figures from World War II- from anonymous Jewish refugees to the most famous and notorious players on the world stage- and puts them in some of the creepiest or craziest post-apocalyptic scenarios imaginable. And yes, they thought of a way to make General Patton seem even tougher and larger than the real life legend.

I only have two nitpicks. One is that the theme of suicide echoed perhaps too often. It's one thing to highlight the sheer desperation of the circumstances, but when it occurs again and again, it feels too heavy and depressing. On a lighter note, the epilogue done by Stephen Lindsay (of Jesus Hates Zombies and Lincoln Hates Werwolves fame) presented me with the only moment in the book that made me scratch my head in confusion. The book, though an anthology, stuck consistently with George Romero's version of zombies- ghoulish, cannibalistic undead that can be taken out with a blow or bullet to the head. And then zombie/ghoul Abraham Lincoln showed up with a bullet hole in his head, taking me out of an otherwise perfectly sick, twisted, and funny vignette to wonder if he was supposed to be a Romero "zombie" or a more traditional ghoul.

Otherwise, it was a wonderful way to pass the time on the road. It read like a literary horror candy shop crammed cover to cover with so many gory and grotesque goodies I couldn't possibly list them all. "Killroy Was Here" by Jeff McComsey, artist, writer, and "supreme commander, allied forces" featured my favorite moment of sheer awesomeness. "The Brief" by Phil McClorey, Steve Willhite, and Jef McComsey highlights the ruthless, deliberate, devious, and all-too human evil behind the zombie apocalypse. "Stalemate" by Dominic Vivona and Jeff McClelland succinctly highlights the desperate position, motives, and modus operandi of all the major players in the war."Golem's Last Stand" by Shawn Williams, Darrin Stephens, and Stephen Lindsay combines different, contrasting kinds of undead lore to fascinating effect. I very definitely want to read more of "Mother Russia" by Jeff McComsey. Thanks to all the creators involved for making my latest cross-country road trip this memorable.

Monday, August 22, 2011

From the Bully Pulpit: The Buzz from the Hive

"Ever wonder why nobody says anything nice about Jamie?"
"Nobody likes Susie."
"Everybody who's ever done business with Mr. Smith says he's bad news."

"Nobody will sit with me at lunch."
"All my coworkers hate me."

Is it possible for an entire classroom, workplace, or community to be wrong? Yes, absolutely! Neuro-linguistic programming counselor Carolyn Laithwaite described this quite frankly as "gang bullying." She describes it as a phenomenon resulting when a primary bully gathers followers. "He may be a loud, highly visible leader. If he is a quieter sort, his role may be more insidious," she says. "Some members of the group may actively enjoy being part of the bullying. They like the reflected power of the primary bully. If the primary bully leaves the organization, and the institution does not change, one of these individuals may step in to fill the shoes of the primary bully. Others of the gang join in because they feel coerced. They fear that if they do not participate, they will be the next victims. Indeed some of these individuals do become victims at some point in time."

Latricia Wilson calls it "mobbing" and describes the behavior as "acted out by groups of individuals to protect a job position or a status/ranking... that mobbers have little confidence they have secured. So incompetent bullies attack competent employees because they are seen as threats by the bully." She says this behavior flourishes in mismanaged corporations, but it is also very common among contractors or freelance workers who often have to compete more fiercely for work.

In cases of mobbing (a word I like in this case, as it brings to mind lynch mobs and mob "justice"), it can very well be instigated by a "queen bee" type, but sometimes there is more than one instigator. Bullies in bigger and more sophisticated mobs may even specialize, each employing different tactics with the same purpose- to harm the target. The mob may not always employ overt coercion, but branding anyone who disputes their claims or tactics as an "enemy" and potential or even actual target is very common. Many people involved in a mob may not even see themselves as bullies. They may be convinced that the target is indeed "bad news" or that the bullying is just addressing some wrong, whether fabricated or real, that the target has committed. Or they may fear that standing up for the target will make targets of themselves, and understandably so, for the mob is woefully intolerant of dissent.

Dissent anyway. Targets and witnesses alike may feel powerless against the mob, but there are some things we can do. If it's safe to do so, discuss the matter privately and individually with members of the gang. Some hangers-on may only participate in the bullying out of fear, as I'd already mentioned, and may need support in distancing themselves from such activity. Some may not know just how detrimental their actions are, not just to the target, but to the entire work, school, or social environment. Sadly, some won't care, but may back off if you stand up for yourself. If the bullying takes place in school or at work, take it up with a teacher or supervisor. Be prepared to take your complaint all the way up to the top. If that doesn't work, prepare to take legal action and take hope in how more states are enacting or enforcing laws and courts are more willing to protect adults as well as children from such harmful behavior.

Smart Alex On the Road: Suitcase Con-tents

Okay, so I thought I'd run out of bad convention-related puns, but I was recently shown a video that absolutely rocked this Indiana Jones fan's world. It also got me thinking about the various souvenirs offered not just by merchants, but by the conventions themselves, or the unique sales and gifts artists may offer just for conventions.

Let's start with the free tables. A Memorial Day weekend spent in Missoula, Montana can net you a good haul of free sci-fi, fantasy, and horror books at MisCon, even at the end of the weekend when the table's relatively picked-over. The free table at Nampa, Idaho's Fandemonium practically overflowed with a variety of movie posters. Every convention with a free table seems to offer up something different, reflecting something of each convention's unique character.

Fandemonium also featured young aspiring manga artists giving out free, hand-drawn stickers. Chicago Comic Con also netted me a lot of free bookmarks, of which I seem to find myself in constant need, including one for the Explosive Comics Kickstarter project. Individual artists and merchants abounded with unique deals. Besides the raffle for original Dan Jurgens art, Heroes Fallen Studios offered free prints from Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan to veterans who came by their table at Chicago Comic Con. I was also able to spot fantastic deals from the comic book retailers at Fandemonium and Chicago Comic Con. (Ungraded, readable 1940's issues of The Spirit for twenty dollars!) Star Wars Celebration has been well known over the years to offer limited edition toys for those willing to brave the lines, free finds for the sharp-eyed souvenir-hunter, and some of the best costume contest prizes I've seen at any convention.

Some might think that after all the conventions from which I've returned with my suitcase much heavier, I'd be rather blase about more stuff, but Matt Busch's complete reference work of all things Indiana Jones on one poster has me geeking out on behalf of everyone who can get their hands on it at Adirondack ComicFest.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Smart Alex On the Road: Con-flicting Schedules

Since I'm running out of bad puns, perhaps it would be best to take a break from the convention circuit for a little while and rest. Nonetheless, I was indeed presented with an interesting conflict- SpoCon and Chicago Comic Con occurred on the same weekend, and since I'm not Jamie Madrox and can only be one place at a time, I had to choose.

SpoCon offered the same coziness and familiar craziness I've come to enjoy about the smaller conventions, particularly those of the American Northwest. Though some of the faces, like that of the multitalented Tanglwyst de Holloway, were familiar to those who attended Fandemonium just the weekend before, SpoCon also featured some different offerings.

Moving the event to the Doubletree Hotel went over well with convention-goers, as did the greater emphasis on events for children. As always, the writers' workshop proved a source of sage advice for the aspiring author. Of course, that's to be expected when the likes of John Dalmas and Patricia Briggs attend. The inclusion of an actual writing contest provided further incentive to get involved. Congratulations especially go to Esther Jones, Scott Janke, Natalie Rogers, Greg Schneider, Margaret Lang, Kaye Thornburgh, and Brianna Harper.

Spokane also boasts an active and imaginative filk scene. I very strongly regretted not being able to listen to or participate in any of the informal jamming that took place there. Thankfully, Chicago Comic Con had...

Ethan Van Sciver, almost as famous (or notorious, depending on your outlook) for his musical interludes as for his work with DC Comics. So it's not like we were left musically bereft in Illinois.

The masquerades and costume contests at both SpoCon and Wizard World Chicago featured a variety of talent and much hilarity, but my favorite of both conventions has to be...


A whole murder of ghoulish characters also roamed both conventions, though the presence of Walking Dead cast members such as Norman Reedus and Mike Rooker seemed to attract a more substantial horde to Chicago.

Firefly fandom was also well represented with the Browncoats of various affiliations present at both. I have mentioned before the charitable work the Seattle Browncoats have done. Unfortunately, I did not get to spend as much time as I would have liked with their Chicago counterparts and learn more about what they were doing. However, a couple of tables down from them, Heroes Fallen Studios boasted a table full of copies of Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan for purchase and original artwork donated by Dan Jurgens for raffle to benefit numerous veterans' organizations. They reported having a weekend full of fun, some tears shared with veterans or their families, and great success.

Now that I've finally returned safely to the middle of nowhere and recovered, I can safely say the same while I rest up and shift my gaze to upcoming conventions. Some interesting developments have cropped up about November's Adirondack Comic Fest, for instance. Valerie Finnigan, Clayton Murwin, and Michael Kellar will not appear there. On the other hand, John "Waki" Wycough and Chris "Batjeepster" Hollars have recently joined the list of those slated to attend. Stay tuned for more updates.

Also check here for Jeff McLelland's report and pictures from Baltimore Comic Con.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Smart Alex On the Road: Con-templation

Time to rest after Nampa, Idaho's Fandemonium may be a scarce commodity before the next convention, but sharing the highlights is always worthwhile.

The Pros (in either sense of the word):

Jacob Bear and Steve Willhite hosted an informative panel on the basics of making a comic book. They provided a wealth of helpful tips on how to visually direct the flow of a story, when and how it's appropriate to break panels, how to work well with writers and editors, when it's acceptable to "cheat," and suggestions for lettering software.

They spent most of the rest of the convention in the artists' alley, taking commissions and offering a variety of sketches, prints, and books. (Coming up soon, by the way, will be a review of FUBAR: European Theater of the Damned, which Steve Willhite helped illustrate.) The artists' alley also featured purveyors of manga sketches, stickers, buttons, and clothing items and accessories, most notably writer, costumer, and panelist Tanglwyst de Holloway. In fact, the artists' alley was so populated, creators spilled over into the dealers' room. Writer Valerie Finnigan spent most of the weekend there with her friends from Fat Dog Comics promoting a variety of projects, especially Hero by Force and Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan. The dealers' room featured some of the more usual and unusual offerings. My favorites included Everett Comics, Phoenix Fire Games, and one table that my friends and I had a hard time figuring out, but served up a delicious weighted companion cube cake and a host of excellently costumed characters from all over pop culture. There is a reason I took most of my pictures there.

The Cons

I unfortunately could not stay for all the after-hours fun. I was not allowed to pet the adorable creatures the Brothers Thir13en brought out. (Yes, I understood the legal mumbo jumbo. Yes, I know the germs those critters carry. Yes, I know how to wash my own hands and take responsibility for myself. And yes, I still followed the rules.) The presentation of the Real to Reel panel could have been better. But still, I look forward to returning next year. They're promising even more fun for "the end of the world."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Comics for Causes - AD: New Orleans After the Deluge

The late summer of 2005 reduced one of the United States' brightest, most colorful cities to bleak, abject horror. People could do little more than try to get out of the way before society, like the levees protecting New Orleans' Ninth Ward, crumbled. Too many couldn't even do that. All have their stories. Some were lucky to have them chronicled by Josh Neufeld and Nick Micciola in AD: New Orleans After the Deluge.

As you may gather from my post on Voices from the Storm, I find the comic book medium not only suitable for this subject matter, but better for maintaining each individual story's narrative cohesion while also showing what happened to everyone day by day. This book illustrates exactly why. Of course, it also helped that it focused on the accounts of fewer people, so it is all the easier to keep track of who was doing what, when, and where.

AD is also in a fairly unique position of being available both in print and as a slightly different web comic. Each comes with some advantages that are not available with the other. The web comic comes with links to a wealth of facts about the storm, helpful tips on disaster preparedness, and unique aspects of local culture with the appropriate panels. For example, the panel of a writer finishing up work on an issue of AntiGravity Magazine includes a link to that publication.

The print edition doesn't come with all the fun and informative links, but it does come with more story, more art, and a different reading experience. There are no ads, no links, nothing to distract the reader, nothing to get in the way as the reader comes face to face with the stark reality and tries to fathom it.

The creators behind AD have used the incredible attention this book has received to provide continuing support to the community even well after Katrina and the BP oil spill. Some of the links in the web comic promote area attractions, helping support the local economy. The release of the print version was accompanied by a fund-raiser for Common Ground Relief. The web site has an entire section of links and resources where readers can learn more about New Orleans, about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, and how to help.

And yes, when word got out via AD that Leo McGovern had lost pretty much his entire extensive and expensive comic book collection to Katrina, comic book fans and pros like Darick Robertson mobilized to help him out. This is just one especially unique example of AD inspiring people to lend a hand. Or send a book. There are many, many more.

Read the the book if you haven't already. Prepare to have your guts wrenched by both the subject matter and the moody art. And get ready to be inspired. Help keep up the good work.