Okay, "Bronze Age" fans, this one is a must. Artist Val Mayerik, co-creator of Howard the Duck and whose name is the very last one you see in the final credits for the movie Guardians of the Galaxy, sat across the table from me and Moises Chiullan to talk about his career, his peers, his relationship with comics, and a certain cigar-smoking water fowl. It's not your typical episode of Giant Size and we couldn't be happier about that.
This is the second half of our Spider-Man discussion with artist Todd Nauck (Nightcrawler, Young Justice, and, yes, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man) where we get into the darker flavors of Spidey and storylines that use death to frame Spider-Man's heroism. Also in this show (we've teased it in the past) but we're finally proud to present the full audio for Moises Chiullan's Dallas Comic-Con panel and first-time meeting between Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee and current Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott.
What better way to talk about all things Spider-Man than with Todd Nauck, a guy who just happens to have drawn one of the best-selling modern Spider-Man comics of all-time (Amazing Spider-Man #583, for those keeping score)? Nauck joins Moises and myself to go over our personal introductions to the character and our favorite moments from the wall-crawler's long history. Later, former Spider-Man editor and writer Howard Mackie joins the show to talk about the controversial "Clone Saga" and we're treated to audio from the first meeting between Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee and current Spider-Man shepherd Dan Slott!
Tonight 17 minutes of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy was screened to eager IMAX audiences, and afterward -- lo and behold -- a new trailer popped up on Fandango. This one has an extended comedy moment used in earlier ads and we get to hear Ronan the Accuser speak for the very first time. Nice use of "Cherry Bomb" as well.
I'm very interested in the film, but that interest is accompanied by my long fanboy sighs of wishing the comic was better. I really liked Abnett and Lanning's relaunch, but I kind of feel like Bendis's revival stalled out quickly. Marvel's working hard to make sure the Guardians in the books match the Guardians on the screen, and I get it -- it's good for business. But I just read a bunch of old Starlord stories this weekend, and those sure are a different beast than what they're serving up here. No matter. I still want to see the damned thing, so it's working.
The Pull List is a new semi-regular feature where I post capsule reviews of the comics from my personal reading stack. I buy from Capstone Comics, where I have my subscription box, and Austin Books & Comics. Please support your local comic book store!
- Batman #32 (w. Scott Snyder, p. Greg Capullo) - What I really want to know is what Scott Snyder will think about "Zero Year" five, maybe ten, years from now. He's a sensitive personality, deeply invested in his own work, and interviews reveal him to be a bit of a worrier when it comes to the execution of his own ideas. "Zero Year" does a lot right, and it certainly doesn't feel like anyone is aping "Year One." But "Zero Year" is also unwieldy, twice as long as the story necessitates and even then interrupted with one-shots (Villains Month) and tangents (presumably to allow Capullo to catch up) that have corrupted the momentum of the story. It's Snyder's most ambitious story and a play at making a definitive Riddler tale, but I can't see it becoming a perennial Batman best-seller in the way I can see that future for Snyder's "Court of Owls" or "Death of the Family." Specifically, the book doesn't lack for action beats, but the dialogue is often dedicated to the action that immediately follows (imagine two pages of Batman saying "I'm going to go down there and punch him" followed by three pages of Batman going down there and punching him. It takes the air out of the tension.) and there are no B-plots to break up the characters' constant, meticulous planning (either Batman's planning or Riddler's). FCO Plascencia should win all the awards for coloring Batman in a way that a Batman book has never been colored before and Capullo is doing the best job he's ever done as an artist. That's a lot of blood, sweat, and tears poured out to create a Batman story that's far too bloated for it's own good.
- Red Lanterns #32 (w. Charles Soule, a. Jim Calafiore) - Soule has done a good job finding purpose and appeal for these characters. In this issue, things come to a head with Atrocitus while Supergirl is ousted from the group (so that she can appear in Lemire's Justice League United). This has become one of my favorite New 52 books.
- Secret Origins #3 (w./a. Various) - I was looking forward to Batwoman's appearance in this anthology comic. I've never had a handle on the character's motivations, but her segment here didn't do me much good. She moves to Gotham and fights crime and becomes Batwoman just because? Am I to believe that her one face-to-face encounter with Batman was enough to make her want to dress like him? I don't really get it. If you're a continuity junkie the Red Robin origin here will make you twitch, as Scott Lobdell tries to make it fit in with what we know about Tim Drake and what the New 52 has already established. It's a thankless job. That leaves the standout as the Green Lantern/Hal Jordan tale, and while it's all too familiar, Robert Vendetti adds meaning to Jordan's first meeting with Abin Sur by directly tying it to the death of Jordan's father (both men are crashed pilots). Thought that was clever.
- Superman #32 (w. Geoff Johns, p. John Romita Jr.) - Arguably, the most hyped DC book of 2014 has arrived and it is...good. Was there ever any doubt? We've seen Johns on this character before, so we know he's capable (the only question was if this book would skew "new reader" awful in the same way Johns' New 52 Justice League did; I'm glad to report it does not). Romita's Superman is appropriately iconic and larger-than-life even saddled with Jim Lee's busy New 52 costume.
- Flash Gordon #3 (w. Jeff Parker, a. Evan Shaner) - I've barely sampled Dynamite's line, but of the ones I have tried, this is the one I've liked the most. Shaner is just absolutely crushing it on pencils here, month after month. It's a gorgeous book and one that fully revives a dead brand name into something that's a must-read adventure. I love it. (Book needs a new logo, desperately. The current cover dressing is snoozeville, guys.)
- Amazing Spider-Man #3 (w. Dan Slott, a. Humberto Ramos) - Ramos feels rejuvenated here (his Black Cat is especially beautiful), and I'm not sure why, since there's nothing on the surface of this new relaunch that would markedly inspire the pencil of a Spider-Man veteran like Ramos. That is to say, it's another consistently strong superhero tale from Dan Slott. Felicia Hardy is a Spidey villain again, and Slott has such a handle on the cast's characterizations that the shift in her attitudes never feels forced. This continues to be Marvel's most steadfastly "old fashioned" book in all the best ways possible.
- Avengers Undercover #6 (w. Dennis Hopeless, a. Timothy Green III) - Other than Green drawing Death Locket somewhat off model (as a long and lean woman and less an average teen), I appreciate the issues when Hopeless lets a single character take the spotlight (and I happen to really like Death Locket). However, coming off such a fantastic fifth issue that focused on all the players, this solo story felt like a sidestep.
- Fantastic Four #6 (w. James Robinson, a. Leonard Kirk/Chris Samnee) - Thought I dropped this last month with #5, but this ended up in my sub box somehow. Sort of glad it did, as I feel like this is the first issue where I was invested in some small way -- likely due to heavily dramatic moments for both Sue and Ben, each dealing with their own problems as the team crumbles. Best issue so far, but it's a downer. The new direction appears to be "watch the Fantastic Four get dumped on by the Marvel Universe and each other." I'm not sure how that can sustain much longer.
- Ms. Marvel #5 (w. G. Willow Wilson, a. Adrian Alphona) - Kamala Khan is the best. I can not wait for her to get through this origin story and into full-fledged superherodom. I love how Wilson uses the original Spider-Man formula (good-hearted teen already in a world of problems before their superpowers arrived) to lay the groundwork for a character I hope is around for years to come. Alphona's art is beautiful and colorful and fluid, and unlike anything else the Big Two are putting out.
- Original Sin: Hulk Vs. Iron Man #3.1 (w. Mark Waid, p. Mark Bagley) - You can guess from solicitations -- or the cover -- what "original sin" this story contains. Some of it feels like post-Avengers film "Science Brothers" fan service, and my general feeling about retconning Tony Stark to be responsible for the creation of the Hulk kind of makes my eyes roll. The only thing that keeps them from rolling right out of my skull is that in the hands of Waid and Bagley, the comic itself is perfectly fine; it's the central idea that grates.
- Original Sins #1 & #2 (Various) - I liked the Deathlok story in #1 and can see how it would provide a springboard for a new monthly. Can't say the same for the Black Knight lead in #2. The Young Avengers five-parter running through this whole mini-series feels designed for fans of those characters only. Unforgivable sins in Original Sins? Allowing brown-eyed Howard the Duck to have blue eyes.
- Savage Hulk #1 (w./a. Alan Davis) - It's a modern sequel to Uncanny X-Men #66, but you don't have to be familiar with that issue to get what's going on here. The X-Men are trying to help Hulk; the Leader is not. Davis as a writer always seems to bring out the best of Davis as an artist, and I can't imagine anyone not being impressed with his near-definitive visual representation of Hulk (even showing a full range of emotions for the character beyond simply angry). Also, I'm a big Hulk fan, and have longed for his rogues to be dusted off for a while now. Because this adventure takes place in the past, I can get the Leader and Abomination in their purest forms and I really appreciate that. This really is a very classic, no-BS Hulk superhero tale and I'm interested in seeing where it goes in this first arc.
- Uncanny X-Men Special #1 (w. Sean Ryan, a. Ron Ackins) - This book is a clunker, recommended only to Death's Head completists (Cyclops is kidnapped by that bounty hunter and the Uncanny X-Men kids join S.W.O.R.D. to find out what's going on). Characters on the cover don't appear inside (Nova?), Cyclops' costume has an editorially unforgivable color change from maroon to black, and the writer and artist aren't working in tandem. Ackins provides plenty of wide open spaces for Ryan's words, but Ryan doesn't use the space. Either Ackins was overcompensating or Ryan invested too much trust in the visuals. Neither was the right decision.
- The Fuse #5 (w. Antony Johnston, a. Justin Greenwood) - Here's the issue that finally reveals the killer behind the murder mystery that drives the debut arc "The Russian Shift." I'm going to totally armchair quarterback this comic and wish it was something that it isn't (not my favorite way to review, but here goes...) -- I really wish The Fuse was slightly less of a cop comic and slightly more of a sci-fi one. There have been issues where, if you missed #1, there's a good chance you might not even know the book takes place on a space station. #5 has more of the "life on the Fuse" elements that I personally find fascinating, certainly more fascinating than a whodunit plot concerning characters I'm not enamored of (speaking only of the victim and suspects -- I like the lead cops just fine). This is a very well-done book, but I can't force it to be something that it's not.
- Minimum Wage #6 (w./a. Bob Fingerman) - Can't believe I have to wait till 2015 for a new issue of Minimum Wage. This was my second favorite monthly, but what now? I find Fingerman's art here just so absorbing, only better as he's gotten older, to the point where I find myself staring at panels and how characters are rendered and how lines connect. It floors me. Not a stroke looks unplanned. I can get how the semi-autobiographical sexcapades of a struggling cartoonist wouldn't have the wide appeal of, say, Justice League America, but if I had to choose which comic was going on an eight-month hiatus? Well...
- Outcast #1 (w. Robert Kirkman, a. Paul Azaceta) - It would be so much easier to dismiss Kirkman as bazillionaire hitmaker and Outcast as "Walking Dead with demons," but this is some sobering, risky stuff. It does read a bit like a TV show pilot, but really good TV show you'd get together with friends to watch and discuss. Kirkman has been lucky picking dance partners who've stuck around for almost the entire life cycle of his creator-owned books, and he's found a good one in Paul Azaceta. Azaceta wears the same David Mazzucchelli influences on his sleeve as Chris Samnee does, and the whole dark affair looks like a million bucks under the "cinematography" work of colorist Elizabeth Breitwesier. Demons are a tougher sell than zombies, but it's obvious that the subject fascinates Kirkman. Should make for an interesting ride.
- Saga #20 (w. Brian K. Vaughn, a. Fiona Staples) - I haven't been wholly enamored of the last couple of issues (though good), but I'm back on board (read: total adoration) with this one. The sequence where Alana gets high made me laugh out loud and explain the whole thing to my girlfriend. And toddler Hazel? Awwwww.
- Sex Criminals #6 (w. Matt Fraction, a. Chip Zdarksy) - Go grab issue 1 and then look at this issue and marvel at the polish that's taking place in Zdarsky's cartooning. He's becoming one of the best at drawing "acting" from his characters and his line is more confident than ever. You're watching someone become a superstar. This is a Jon-centric issue, which somehow makes it feel oddly Fraction-specific. I don't know Fraction, but I wonder how much of Jon is in him and how much of that is spilling over into the comic. Anyway, everyone likes this book, and for good reason. It's able to balance boner comedy with tense sci-fi, making it unlike anything anyone has ever read.
- Stray Bullets: Killers #4 (w./a. David Lapham) - This is my favorite monthly right now. It consistently puts me through the emotional wringer, to the point where the covers themselves are starting to fill me with dread. I love this book with all of my heart.
- Trees #2 (w. Warren Ellis, a. Jason Howard) - I almost wish this globe-trotting hard sci-fi story, concerning mile-high "trees" that are alien in origin planting themselves in the Earth from above and disrupting our environment, was a novel and not a monthly comic book. It's a detail-oriented story, alive with an otherworldly pulse but the ideas within seem limited by its format. I'll explore in the future when the book is collected in one volume.
- Ordinary #2 (w. Rob Williams, a. D'Israeli) - I wish this comic were hotter. Not putting the blame on Titan for not being Image, but maybe putting the blame on comic fans for not keeping their eyes open for creator-owned material outside of the most high profile sources. ANYWAY...yes, this is a good un. It's about how a world suddenly filled with superheroes would go to Hell pretty damned quick. It's about the one normal guy in this crazy new world trying to get back to his son before something horrible happens. It also happens to be very funny in a way that doesn't deflate tension or muck with emotional stakes. D'Israeli is a hugely inventive cartoonist, perfect for this book, and to let you know just how much I enjoyed it, I'm recommending it even though it has a couple of pages devoted to a musical number. Musical numbers in comic books are just about my least favorite device ever. They're something that should pretty much never be used because they completely rely on the one thing comics do not have -- music. I hate them. And yet...here I am telling you to try this book anyway.
- Rai #1 (w. Matt Kindt, a. Clayton Crain) - Aside from Crain's painterly visuals, Rai #1 is one of the more difficult Valiant re-launches to get into. It sort of Valiant-izes the concepts of Blade Runner, with lots and lots of captions, trying to find out how much world-building exposition is too much in some places and not enough in others. Feels like a lot of words wasted when we're left knowing next to nothing about the title character himself, including who or what he is, what motivates him, and whether or not he has any personality at all. He's got a cool look though. Maybe that's enough for some.
It's nice to see a character change with the times without betraying those things that made the character interesting in the first place. The comic industry has shifted a lot in the past ten years, and that includes comic fandom, and while it may have been more acceptable for Hack/Slash to skirt the line of appealing to the T-and-A "bad girl" comic crowd back in 2004, it's not a good way to grow an audience who might be put off by the cheesecake covers or occasional bare breasts within the pages of a comic. And as someone who's read the first two Hack/Slash omnibus collections, I've always kind of felt that it looked like a trashier comic than was ever intended. The truth is slasher hunter Cassie Hack is an interesting character, and creator Tim Seeley has used her to explore a number of horror tropes in a comic that's typically much more fun than it is salacious.
Son of Samhain, a new #1 from writers Michael Moreci and Steve Seeley with Emilio Laiso on art, is not only a solid horror-action comic, it's an open armed "all are welcome" greeting to come aboard and see what Cassie Hack's world is all about. Supernatural fans will be familiar with the flavor here, which finds Cassie trying to move on with her life but getting pulled back into another monster hunting job by a burly stranger named Delroy. He's no Vlad, Cassie's former partner (missing from this book without any continuity explanation for those of us who aren't caught up), but the stakes are high and Lasio's exceptionally good at the creepy crawly monster bits.
The lack of fishnets and boobs does not in any way diminish the charm of Hack/Slash. This has always been a book about Cassie and what she's dealing with, and even if Tim Seeley is too busy with Batman books right now, her caretakers understand this. There's a meat-and-potatoes comfort in the simplicity of a monster hunting hero bashing monsters in the head with a baseball bat that I can really get into if done in a way that doesn't insult my intelligence. Thankfully, Hack/Slash always treated horror geeks like they have brains in their heads. Son of Samhain is a simple pleasure -- an unpretentious action comic with a strong lead and a Lovecraftian monster god. If that sounds like your thing, now's as good a time as any to come aboard.
Hack/Slash: Son of Samhain #1 will be available in stores and online from Image Comics on Wednesday, July 2.