April 21, 2014 By: Justin Crouse Category: DISCUSS, Staff Picks

staff_picksjustin_staff_picksJUSTIN’S PICK :: Some weeks, doing a staff pick can be pretty tough. I mean, I know there are homeless and starving people in the world, but do THEY have to sift a SINGLE comic book – out of hundreds – to highlight on a weekly basis? NO. Clearly, my plight is underrated. Taking a cue from our man Phil, I’m just going to babble about a few things that’ve struck my fancy of late. We’ll call this the Southern Variation, since that’s an appropriately nerdy in-joke one out of ten of you will understand.

First of all, Uncanny Avengers. This is my favorite Marvel comic going right now (but it better watch its back, She-Hulk’s creeping up fast). Rick Remender packs more into a single issue than most writers manage to squeeze into a trade paperback. The pacing can be pretty glacial, and he wanders off on a lot of tangents, but man, are they good tangents. Remender is one of those guys that really understands the synthesis of plot and characterization, and how crucial that alchemy is to comics. Too many of his contemporaries seem to sacrifice one for the other, and it makes for some pretty boring and/or predictable comics. Of course, having Daniel Acuña illustrate your scripts is never collateral damage, and this guy’s stuff just gets better and better. I liken his artistic development to whittling: the more he shaves off, the more beauty is revealed. Uncanny Avengers #16 is part two of a big denouement for the series – Avenge the Earth – and even though the involvement of Kang makes any incident inherently undoable, it’s about the trip, not the destination.


If you’d like to take a different trip, why not visit the fantastical land featured in Chris Roberson and Paul Maybury’s new Image sword and sorcery series, Sovereign? Issue two is out this week; #1 teased just enough to really whet the imagination.  Understandably, it concerned itself more with exposition and conceptualizing, but hinted at broad enough conflicts to fuel this title for some time. The focus is split between a few different classes: religious, royal, and warrior, and an underlying sense of dread informs the whole issue. This is an obvious choice for fans of Saga or Game of Thrones, and the art! Paul Maybury is consistently overlooked as a reliable and deft storyteller. The guy deserves more eyes on his stuff. Provide a pair, won’t you?


Lastly, my generation will not permit the publication of a Simpsons one-shot without at least a passing remark. After the likes of Mr. Burns, Professor Frink, and even Lisa Simpson have proven to be shining solo stars, who could warrant the treatment next? Moe Szyslak? Bumblebee Man? The Captial City Goofball? Close, but no cigar! It’s the one, the only…DUFFMAN! That’s right, Springfield’s resident swill shill is ready for Spring Break with an issue of his very own comics magazine! What shenanigans may ensue are anyone’s guess, but here’s hoping the Seven Duffs show up (“Surly only looks after one guy: Surly.”). I suppose for this particular issue, we’ll have to move back to the former genre rack residency…but then again, what 80s kid didn’t adore Spuds MacKenzie? Alas, those were different, heady times.


Welp, that’s the top of the heap for me this week. Good night, and good luck. See you in the funnypages. Etc.



March 18, 2014 By: Craig Fischer Category: DISCUSS, Staff Picks


craig_smlCRAIG’S PICK :: SEX CRIMINALS #5: In 1970s fandom, we used the term “groundlevels” to describe comics that combined fan genres like science fiction and fantasy with adult visuals and subject matter(s). “Groundlevel” refers to the middle position these comics occupied between the DC-Marvel “mainstream” and the excesses of Crumbian undergrounds. Dave Sim’s Cerebus was one early groundlevel comic, Wendy and Richard Pini’s Elfquest another, and nowadays, when I look at the artistic and commercial renaissance at Image Comics, I see the rebirth of the groundlevel aesthetic. Saga gives us adult science fiction–adult enough to precipitate an iPhone and iPad ban on the images of gay sex in Saga #12–while Pretty Deadly splices the Western to hallucinogenic storytelling Ă  la Alejandro Jodorowsky’s cult movie El Topo (1970). These comics are weird and adventurous, but the genres are familiar.


A big part of the adult content of the groundlevels was sex. I bought Star*Reach #1, my first groundlevel, in 1975, when I was twelve years old and too young to know what sex was. Star*Reach #1 was edited by Mike Friedrich, the man who coined the word “groundlevel” and who convinced Howard Chaykin, Walt Simonson, Steve Skeates, and other pros to contribute to his comic and exercise creative freedoms mostly not available at the Big Two. One artist who ran with the freedoms Friedrich offered was Jim Starlin. His contribution to that first issue of Star*Reach have a lot in common with his trippy work on Captain Marvel (both feature Death as an actual character in their stories), but Starlin drew his green-skinned Star*Reach girls topless, something Stan “the Man” Lee never brought to the pages of the Fantastic Four. I paid a pricey 75 cents for Star*Reach #1, took my dirty book home, read it, and immediately grew hair where there wasn’t hair before.

The Image comic that would seem to carry forward that “dirty” groundlevel tradition is writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals, a book with a highly-publicized high concept: it’s about a couple (Suzie and Jon) whose orgasms freeze time. The book gets funky quickly–the second interior page of Sex Criminals #1 is a full-page splash of our protagonists bangin’ in a public bathroom–but sex actually isn’t what this book is about. After the bathroom scene, Sex Criminals #1 shifts abruptly to a direct-address monologue by Suzie, who tells us about her troubled past (her father’s murder, her mother’s grief), her oddball adolescent school days, her early sex life, and her meet-cute with Jon. She also talks about masturbation, and her discovery of the magic properties of her orgasm, but even that deepens our sense of her as a character, as in the scene where Suzie  pauses reality so she can scream at her mother about all the emotions they repress and leave unsaid during the normal flow of time. Sex Criminals incorporates elements from many genres–pornography, crime, a cadre of “Sex Police” out of a Norman Spinrad science fiction novel–but the twin hearts of the book are its characterization and its focus on the emerging intimacy between Suzie and Jon. Sex Criminals is more a rom-com than any other genre.

(If you’re at least 18 years old, and want a more rough trade Fraction, read Satellite Sam, Fraction’s collaboration with Howard Chaykin. For me, Chaykin was there at the beginning, with his hard-R “Cody Starbuck” story in Star*Reach #1, and I’ll probably be ogling a Chaykin drawing of a woman in lingerie and garters when that anvil falls from the sky and pulverizes me. There are worse ways to live and die.)


One element that unites Sex Criminals, Satellite Sam, and almost all of Fraction’s writing is autobiographical passion. In “Avaritia,” the last (so far) volume of Casanova, Fraction’s ambivalence about his status as a star scripter/caretaker of the Marvel Universe inspired Cass’ horrible job as the guilt-ridden destroyer of a dozen universes and continuities. (Every time Cass eliminates a timeline, Fraction repeats like a mantra a hyperbolic, Stan Lee-esque phrase–“sound of spatiotemporal holocaust”–decorated at the panel margins with Kirby Krackle.) The pseudo-autobiography in Sex Criminals is less angst-y, and played more for comedy, with Fraction confessing (in the letter pages) that Jon’s sexual history in issue #2 “is verrry close to my own,” and that a Halloween egg attack came from an incident in his own life. Even as Fraction cannibalizes various genres for the Ballad of Suzie and Jon, he anchors his stories in personal experience.

In the visuals, Zdarsky likewise balances reality and fantasy. On his tumblr site recently, Zdarsky posted pictures of his real-life models for Suzie and Jon, and the resemblance between the models and the drawings is remarkable. The realism of Zdarsky’s figure drawing extends to subtle, highly communicative changes in body language, as in this sequence of panels from issue #3 where Suzie waits for Jon to text or call:

CriminalsYet Sex Criminals isn’t a kitchen-sink drama, and Zdarsky makes his pictures bizarre and funny too. The soft, colorful, swirling Photoshop effects that represent Suzie and Jon’s orgasms (and their transition to the frozen world that Suzie calls “The Quiet”) are lovely to look at, as are Zdarsky’s bold, monochromatic, almost-abstract covers. (More info from Zdarsky’s tumblr: each of the original covers for Sex Criminals #1-4 is designed around a single color from the CMYK model, and this week’s #5 incorporates all the CMYK colors: cyan, magenta, yellow and key/black.) Maybe my favorite element of Zdarsky’s art, though, is the incidental detail (or in comics slang, “chicken fat”) he sneaks into his picture backgrounds. When a teenaged Jon stops time to sneak into a sex shop in #2, Zdarsky packs his panels with all kinds of sight gags–one of which is an unexpectedly poignant poster for an X-rated video titled “Not the Life I Anticipated,” subtitled “But Here I Am I Guess” and featuring a topless, frowning woman half-turned away from the camera, shyly covering her breasts with her arms. In Star*Reach #1, Jim Starlin put his green-skinned Servants of Death on display for a uncomplicated voyeuristic gaze, and my 12-year-old self was (and is) grateful, but these days I prefer Sex Criminal‘s ironic, witty raunch.

So: viva the new groundlevels, and viva la Sex Criminals. If you haven’t read the comic before, you should know that the first trade, collecting #1-5, is priced at $9.99 and set to drop in a month or so. I prefer the single issues, because though the trade will feature a process section (titled, ahem, “Making Sausage”) with sketches and commentary, it probably won’t include “Letter Daddies,” Sex Criminal ‘s hilarious letters column, and I need to read Fraction and Zdarsky’s “Sex Tips.” (One example: “Sex is a wonderful and natural way to discover if your partner is a lousy lay or not.” Thanks, fellas!) These days, an active comics letters page is almost quaint and old-fashioned, and maybe Sex Criminals as a whole is old-fashioned too: despite the book’s playfully crude sense of humor, Fraction and Zdarsky insist on humanizing Suzie and Jon and using their fantastic premise as a pretext to explore the thrilling, terrifying experience of falling in love and starting a relationship. Works for me, baby.




February 10, 2014 By: Seth Peagler Category: DISCUSS, Staff Picks


seth_staff_picksSETH’S PICK :: THE MERCENARY SEA #1: The past few years have been a new golden age of sorts if you happen to be a fan of classic adventure and pulp comics.  We’ve seen the return of The Rocketeer alongside quality new series like Half Past Danger and Black Beetle.  Image gets in on the fun this week with a new adventure series of their own called The Mercenary Sea.  Set in the late ’30s, the series focuses on a ragtag group of mercenaries working odd jobs around the South Seas in a U-boat stolen by their captain.  Against the backdrop of impending war, the series promises everything from spies and pirates, to old fashioned war elements.  Though I’m not all that familiar with the previous works of creators Kel Symons and Matthew Reynolds, the previews I’ve seen of this new book suggest it’s a book well worth your investment this week.

Bonus Pick of the Week:  Lobster Johnson: Satan Smells a Rat TPB.  This latest collection starring Mike Mignola’s pulp wonder features art contributions from the likes of Kevin Nowlan, Wilfredo Torres, and Tonci Zonjic.  Aside from being yet another reliably good story of pulpy goodness that we’ve come to expect from these creators, this is a rare book where the title alone (“Satan Smells a Rat”) is enough to warrant a look. TheMercenarySea_01-1



January 17, 2014 By: Seth Peagler Category: DISCUSS, Staff Picks


seth_smlSETH’S PICK :: DEADLY CLASS #1: You’ve undoubtedly heard one or more Heroes staffers extolling the recent virtues of writer Rick Remender.  With quality work on titles like Captain America, Uncanny Avengers, and Black Science, Remender is approaching that sought after balance between writing big mainstream super hero comics and critically acclaimed creator-owned titles.  This week Remender returns with yet another new creator owned series for Image: Deadly Class.  Produced in collaboration with artist Wesley Craig, this series set in the ’80s features disaffected high school students who happen to study at a school for world class assassins.  It’s all the angst of high school combined with the frenetic energy of an action movie.  With yet another promising new series (Low) coming from Image later this year, Remender continues to reiterate his place among the comic writing elite. deadlyclass



January 13, 2014 By: Justin Crouse Category: DISCUSS, Staff Picks

staff_picksjustin_staff_picksJUSTIN’S PICK :: BLACK DYNAMITE #1: Black Dynamite has gotten staggering mileage for a cult-spoof introduced a half-decade ago. Some things – pomade, French fries, Blaxploitation – just never go out of style. Writer Brian Ash penned the wonderful (and now evidently rare) Slave Island one shot for Ape Entertainment in 2011; now, IDW is serving up the funky fury, with Ash aided and abetted by Ron Wimberly (!) and Sal Buscema (!!!). This is the first of a four issue series, so sharpen your ninja stars, break out the Nag Champa, and settle in for some quality funnybook entertainment.


BONUS PICK :: SAVAGE DRAGON ARCHIVES TP VOL 3: Plagued by delays, volume three of Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon Archives finally hits the stands. This bargain collection – in the format of Marvel’s Essential and DC’s Showcase trades – is the easiest and most affordable way to catch up on Image’s most underrated ongoing. This volume really drives home how daring Larsen is as a creator; for example, Dragon’s not even the star at the outset! It’s the sensational She-Dragon at that point! This third volume of Archives ramps up the crazy, culminating in the series-shattering issue 75, where everything changed forever. If you’re sick of the spurious changes and relentless retcons of most mainstream superhero mags, Savage Dragon is your safety haven.




December 26, 2013 By: Justin Crouse Category: DISCUSS, Staff Picks

staff_picksjustin_staff_picksJUSTIN’S PICK :: SAVIORS #1: It’s a light week this Christmas at the comic book store, with the usual suspects of the Justice League and the Avengers ready to stuff your stockings. But for those of you who like to wander off the beaten path, Saviors is a book that certainly deserves your attention. An unlikely team of fan favorite creators – writer James Robinson and cartoonist J. Bone – craft an interesting tale of small town boredom, fatal acceptance, casual drug use and a weird, alien menace.  Your guide to Passburg is Tomas Ramirez, a prototypical slacker. When his idyllic life suddenly erupts into a bizarre chase, both he and the reader are caught in a literal cliffhanger. James Robinson requires no paltry accolades from a scrub such as I; J. Bone’s art is, as always, a thing of crystalline beauty. A perfect team on a great book, don’t let this gem get lost in the shuffle.





December 16, 2013 By: Seth Peagler Category: DISCUSS, Staff Picks


seth_smlSETH’S PICK :: PRETTY DEADLY #3: It’s the end of the year, so I can finally say it: Image produced my favorite monthly comics in 2013.  What I appreciate the most is that their creators can, by and large, keep to themselves and tell the stories they want without having to allot time to company wide shenanigans (crossovers and events, I’m looking at you).  The results are books like Hickman and Dragotta’s East of West, Dingess and Roberts’ Manifest Destiny, Brubaker and Epting’s Velvet, and Remender and Scalera’s Black Science (issue two is also out this week!) – all exciting comics that warrant your monthly attention.

Then there’s Pretty Deadly, the incredible new supernatural western series from Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios, and Jordie Bellaire.  This series shouldn’t be celebrated just because all of the book’s talented creators happen to be female.  We should celebrate this book because it represents the creators’ best work of their careers.  It’s also, more importantly, a riveting and layered comic book experience.  DeConnick’s writing, which I’ve long been a fan of, is lyrical without being overwrought, poetic without being overly expository, and soulful in its delivery.  Rios’ art is full of fragility and fright.  She captures the vulnerability of  small animals with the same confidence as she does the horrific rage of the daughter of Death himself.  Bellaire, who may well be 2013’s most prolific colorist, doesn’t merely match the tone of the writing and art, but stretches her palette more here than you may have seen in her other works.  It’s early enough in this series to be able to pick up the first two issues at cover price, and I’d encourage you to seek them out.  This is a fine comic book, and one I hope you’ll pick up before the end of the year. pd3



December 06, 2013 By: Seth Peagler Category: DISCUSS, Staff Picks


seth_smlSETH’S PICK :: MANIFEST DESTINY #2: It recently dawned on me that Image Comics is currently producing the monthly comics I’m most excited about.  Between East of West, Pretty Deadly and Black Science, there are plenty of interesting new titles from the company.  Add to that list Chris Dingess and Matthew Roberts‘ Manifest Destiny.  This is one of those seemingly obvious concepts that writers everywhere are kicking themselves for not thinking of first.  It’s a new take on Lewis and Clark exploring the vast acreage obtained in the Louisiana Purchase.  While rooted in history, this series diverges from it by pitting the legendary explorers against an array of monsters and beasts that defy imagination (think buffalo centaurs).  In case you missed the sold out first issue, there’s also a second printing available this week.  In other words, here’s a perfect opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a very promising new series. manifestdest



December 04, 2013 By: Rico Renzi Category: DISCUSS, Staff Picks

staff_picks rico_staff_picksRICO’S PICK(S) :: AMAZING X-MEN #2 & VELVET #2: I couldn’t pick just one book this week. Here are a couple of second issues following up a pair of great number ones. Hop aboard these two book now! Aaron and McGuinness or Brubaker and Epting, it’s a win-win.Amazing_X-Men_Vol_2_2_Textless velvet2



November 25, 2013 By: Seth Peagler Category: DISCUSS, Staff Picks


seth_staff_picksSETH’S PICK :: BLACK SCIENCE #1:  If you missed Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera’s run on Secret Avengers, you should treat yourself go back and read it.  It was full of imaginative comic craft, and  felt unique among the other Marvel comic it stood beside.  As memorable as that run was, I wondered what kind of comic these guys would create if they had complete control over it.  That question is finally answered this week in the form of their new series Black Science.  Conceptually, it’s a sprawling science fiction epic featuring rogue anarchist scientists who break the barriers of reality and find themselves amid an endless amount of alien worlds.  This is the kind of big concept Remender seems to relish, but is made all the more interesting by the bombastic art of Scalera.  It’s been a while since there was so much early buzz surrounding a new creator owned sci fi series.  This book seems primed to not only live up to its hype, but very likely surpass it. blacksci