Crowd Funding Update 6

I Fight Dragons – Project Atma (music): They were awesome at Warped Tour – I can’t wait until they go on the Projecet Atma tour. Manufacturing delays at the vinyl plant meant that the album was delayed. Still don’t have it – should be in my hands in December.

Jonathan Coulton, Greg Pak, and others – Code Monkey Save World (music and comics): Still missing the new music and The Princess Who Saved Herself. To be fair, the latter wasn’t promised until early 2015.

Branwyn – Cyborg Like Me (book): Got the book and loved it. (Removing from future updates)

Random Encounter – Let Me Tell You A Story (music): Got album and stickers. No more rewards due to me. (Removing from future updates)

Pre-Order Beebs and Her Money Makers New Album and Documentary (video/music): Got the album and really enjoyed it! (Also enjoyed her set at Warped Tour) The only glitch – WATERFALLS was a wav instead of an mp3 file. Easy to convert. No biggie. (Removing from future updates)

Augie and the Green Knight (book): A children’s book I got for Scarlett. Written by the writer of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and illustrated by Boulet, I got it for the same reason I wanted The Princess Who Saved Herself, the main character is a strong female who solves the problems on her own. Important for my daughter to see. Also great since my daughter loves to be read to. Potentially will be the third project I’ve backed to actually come out on time. (After Let Me Tell You a Story and The Wurst Album Ever)

So far I’ve done a good job of picking Kickstarters that don’t run out of steam. My main metric – have they made stuff on their own before? So far I’d kickstart any of these creators again. IFD seems to have learned key lessons in what to do and what not to do in the future. I doubt JoCo will let things fall through on his. Everyone else was very good about being on-time.

Review: The Mocking Dead Volume 1

The Mocking Dead Volume 1The Mocking Dead Volume 1 by Fred Van Lente
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Parodies are hard to do well. The worst parodies are unbearable, the best deconstruct the tropes. I was afraid The Mocking Dead would be the former, but since I got it as part of a huge Humble Bundle, it was nearly free for me to check out. Luckily it turned out to be less Scary Movie and more like something Mel Brooks would put together.

It is a competent story that stands alone without any knowledge of what it parodies. While Spaceballs is funnier if you know Star Wars, it’s enjoyable without any knowledge of it. Similarly, the only things The Mocking Dead takes from The Walking Dead are the black and white color scheme and zombies. This saves it from the Family Guy-ization of parodies (eg Scary Movie, Not Another Teen Movie, etc).

However, the greatest original contribution is that of laughing zombies. The art is so perfect – it captures what’s always been horrific about Joker’s laughing serum. Bad guys coming at you with a grin plastered on their face is creepy. Combine that with being undead and laughing and it’s almost terrifying.

The Mocking Dead is not going to be a classic nor is it an awesome comic book. But it’s a good story that pokes fun at zombie tropes and current nerd/pop culture. (With a little politics thrown in for good measure) I’d recommend it for the zombie geek in your life.

View all my reviews

Reviews: Wizzywig: Portrait of a Serial Hacker

Wizzywig: Portrait of a Serial HackerWizzywig: Portrait of a Serial Hacker by Ed Piskor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a commentary on the sad state our country has been in since the 70s and 80s when it comes to computer crime. Although there should always be consequences for skirting the law we have often taken it a bit too far. This graphic novel was sad to read in the wake of Aaron Schwartz’ suicide when threatened by law enforcement.

Main character Kevin Phenicle is a combination of a bunch of historical hackers and ends up “being there” at a lot of key events. (Phone phreaking, etc) I missed out on most of this when it happened – partly from being too young and partly from my family’s socioeconomic situation at the time. My family couldn’t afford a computer until I was much older (at least a modern computer – my father did give me a Tandy when I was 8) and we didn’t get a modem until years later. Even then I didn’t associate with the computer nerds. I would have loved to, but didn’t even know that was a sub-culture. I thought I was alone – what a different world from today.

As for the particulars of this story, Kevin Phenicle’s amalgamation means that while there is a story arc and progression, it’s not quite as cohesive as some other stories. The art was fine, if a bit uneven – in some scenes Keven goes from skinny to “fat” or super broad-shouldered. As someone who’s drawn his entire life without getting that good at it, I am not claiming I could do better. Just mentioning that it was a bit uneven.

I’ve mentioned my stance on profanity, smutt, etc in previous reviews. It doesn’t bother me on its own. As I’ve mentioned before, the over-the-top profanity and violence in Pulp Fiction is one of the things I enjoy most about the movie. But, like the famous Supreme Court decision says, obscenity is something you know when you see. In my case, sometimes it seems necessary to the plot and sometimes it seens arbitrary. I don’t know why, but it bothered me a bit in Wizzywig. The profanity and random depictions of sexual acts – it bothered me a bit. I can’t quite put my finger on it other than to say there’s a random scene late in the book in which someone mentions marrying someone and that it was nice and the accompanying image is of the man having sex from behind his wife. Nothing necessarily deviant about that on its own. But it just seemed unecessary to the story, and again, given that this was not an over-the-top crazy porno book, it was irksome.

If my review seems a bit lukewarm, that’s pretty accurate. I appreciated and enjoyed the story Ed Piskor is communicating through the graphic novel because I have a respect and fondness for the hackers who came of age a decade or so before me. But the execution wasn’t something I was a huge fan of.

View all my reviews

Review: Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present

Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the PresentComics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present by Dan Mazur
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclosure: I received this book as part of the First Reads program in which the winner recieves a copy of the book in exchange for a review. (It’s slightly more complicated than that, see the Goodreads First Reads terms for all the details)

I love reading these types of histories about culture. I have read similar books about photography and animation published by Taschen. This isn’t my first time reading about the history of comics, I also read 10 Cent Scare and Grant Morrison’s Supergods. Anyone who’s been reading my reviews for a while knows that I love comics and actually run a comics analysis site,

The best thing about this book is that it starts from the 1960s. So far everything I’d read about comics can be compared to the way I learned US history growing up. Every year we’d start with Christopher Columbus. We’d learn about the Pilgrims and Jamestown and so on. Every year, when February rolled around we’d learn about the Civil War. We rarely made it past World War I. As a result I barely know anything but the pop history version of events from the 60s to now. I know more about America’s founding than I do about the decade in which I was born. The same often happens with comics. We start off learning about newspaper comics and The Yellow Kid. We learn about the 1930s and how revolutionary Superman and Batman were. Then there’s the creation of Marvel. Then some Brits came over and things got edgy in the 80s.

What this book does, by starting at the 1960s, is to give a lot more weight to the silver and bronze age as well as giving some nice, important perspective into the 80s and 90s. Perhaps more importantly, the book explores each decade by looking at America, Europe, and Asia. Every history I’ve read until now has operated as if only America and England mattered when it comes to comics. Until reading this book I had no idea that Europe had such a rich comics history. (Other than hearing about Tin Tin and The Smurfs) This also allows the authors to explore how each region influenced the other. It is true that Europe hasn’t had as much of an influence in this direction as England and Japan, but it has had some influences and that was nice to see.

Overall, I think the biggest weakness of this book is that it’s a physical book. As such it was limited in many ways and, as even as someone who didn’t have regular internet access until about age 14, I just kept thinking the book had so much more potential. This book is amazing, but it really brings into relief the power of the Internet over a book when it comes to a huge tome just like this one. The text is amazing, but the images leave me wishing for more examples. Also, I’d like the images to be closer to where the artist and/or writer is being discussed. But this is much more easily done online than in a book. Also, I think links between related topics would be awesome in this book. Finally, links to buy the awesome works I’m reading about. This book crossed with wikia would be a dream come true for any true fan of the medium who wants to know about the creators, not just the characters. It’s the ultimate irony that the breadth could easily be surpassed by a wiki, but what makes this book worth buying is that the authors use their research to draw a through-line of trends that would be lacking from the anyone-can-edit environment of a wiki. Perhaps the growth of the Internet and technology will eventually lead to a situation where people can provide a wiki-like experience but gain the money needed to pay for the research.

And while my main complaint was with the images, there were some glaring omissions in the text for space reasons. In the 60s the Kirby and Adams text was pretty sparse for such important titans in the industry. The chapter on manga through the 80s clearly proves my point about how, while the research is phenomenal, it suffers from being a book (rather than a website) as many landmark manga are left unillustrated in the book. Another limitation of the book format, the following only get one sentence: 100 Bullets, Y: The Last Man, and Fables. One last complaint – it focused a LOT on art trends and less on storyline trends. The line had to be drawn somewhere (no pun intended), but I’d love a companion book that looks more closely into that aspect of comics history.

For examples of what I found neat within each chapter, check the status updates which (at the time of this writing) are included at the bottom of the review page on I would recommend doing as I did and reading it sequentially at least once because that gives the reader the best chance of understanding how the trends evolved through the decades. After that, I’d use it as a reference to look up certain periods and I would definitely recommend using it as a recommendation engine equivalent to those lists of movies or books that you MUST read. Despite the limitations of its form factor, I would heartily recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in the history of comics and how we got here.

View all my reviews

Other Articles I’ve written recently

This’ll be a semi-recurring blog post highlighting some of my work on other websites. (Most often, but not necessarily, other sites I own/run)

Race Flipping in Comic Movies over at Comic POW! in which I discuss Johnny Storm being cast with an African American actor in the new film.

Autobiographies: Swimming Part 1 over at I’m not Mad in which I take a stab at autobiographical comics. It’ll be a little bit until Part 2 – probably around May when this semester ends.

Crowd Funding Update 5

I Fight Dragons – Project Atma (music): Things are on track with IFD. They are posting awesome videos of the recording process. It’s already March so as long as there aren’t any more delays, the album will be here in a few short months! Also, they’ll be on the Van’s Warped Tour, so I’ll be attending Warped Tour for the first time to go see them (and quite a few other bands I really like)

Jonathan Coulton, Greg Pak, and others – Code Monkey Save World (music and comics): Got the book and all the digital copies of the book. Overall it was a fun read and well worth the money. The acoustic versions of the songs have been released. I’m wondering what’s holding up the rest of the music. My only guess is that JoCo is re-recording them with his new backing band. Also, I can’t wait for the book of The Princess Who Saved Herself. Ever since delivering the book they’ve gone silent. I like my crowd-funding chatty. It’s fun to know what’s going on and helps alleviate the impatience.

Branwyn – Cyborg Like Me (book): Recently got an email that he’s nearly done with the writing. Book should be sent out by the end of this month or the next, at least that’s my impression. Works fine for me – I don’t really have time to read for fun right now with my Master’s classes.

Random Encounter – Let Me Tell You A Story (music): I THINK I either got or will get some stickers. I can’t remember.
Pre-Order Beebs and Her Money Makers New Album and Documentary (video/music): I first saw Beebs  and Her Money Makers last fall when they were on Five Iron Frenzy and Reel Big Fish’s tour. I really liked her set and the EP she was selling. So, by chance, I was home on Monday and saw on Twitter that she was using crowd funding to fund her new album, make a documentary, and ALSO be at the Vans Warped Tour. AWESOME! So I threw a few bucks her way to get the album. I was surprised to find out the Indiegogo has been around longer than Kickstarter since Kickstarter’s getting all the headlines. Perhaps it’s because Indiegogo is a little more annoying because they do their own credit card processing rather than let me use Amazon (had to go dig out the credit card). Or maybe it’s because the backed gets the money whether or not they get all of it – which could mean even less of a chance of getting your object than on Kickstarter? Dunno. Either way, it was interesting. So with Beebs I’m going with the same rationale as I Fight Dragons – they’re an indie band and they’ve put out their own albums before. On this album they’re even working with a Reel Big Fish producer. So I’m pretty confident we’ll get the album. Documentary is bonus and somehow I think they’ll probably be on Warped Tour no matter what. It’s hard to tell for sure based on the wording of the campaign, but if they’re looking to finish the album before the Warped Tour, that means I could end up getting the album at the same time or even earlier than IFD. Win!

Kickstarter Update 4

It’s December and I should have gotten all of my Kickstarter products by now. But that’s not exactly what happened. Every single one of my Kickstarters was late except the one I had the least faith and relationship with – Random Encounter’s Let Me Tell You a Story.

I Fight Dragons – Project Atma (music): Holy COW! This band – my first Kickstarter – nearly disbanded over the Kickstarter! I thought they were the surest bet. They’d self-published their first few albums and they had rented a studio and had a producer and everything. However, they clashed over the direction the producer was taking them and almost broke up.

….and matters finally came to a head on Monday when the rest of the band called a meeting and confronted me.  I still insisted that we had no choice, that we had spent the money for the producer and studio and we had a schedule and we had to stick to it, no matter what.  I argued that backers had expectations, and that I didn’t want to be one of those kickstarters that let people down.  They obviously disagreed strongly, arguing that the real backer expectations were for a great I Fight Dragons album, and that I was the one letting fans down by insisting we move forward on the path we were on.  Tempers flared, words were said in anger, and while we were smart enough not to make any decisions in the heat of the moment, no one backed down and the way we left it that night was that I Fight Dragons was likely done.

They ended up firing the producer and losing the recording space which cost them the money they were going to use to produce the documentary. It was the reward I was looking forward to most after the record itself so that bummed me out. The latest update says we won’t be getting the album until next summer. In the beginning we were getting a lot of bonus tracks and that was awesome. Nothing for a while now and, to be truthful, I’d rather not hear demos of most of the songs (especially the song cycle) before hearing the finished thing. I wouldn’t mind getting some B-sides ahead of time, though.

Jonathan Coulton, Greg Pak, and others – Code Monkey Save World (music and comics): Greg Pak has created three or four other comic Kickstarters and JoCo is no newcomer to the world of self-production. Still this comic has had its share of delays. It was supposed to be ready for Christmas so we got an update recently in which they gave us vouchers to give to people who were supposed to get it as a Christmas gift. This was being delayed hasn’t hurt as much as the IFD album being delayed because while I did put in at the level to get the trade paperback when it is done, we’ve been getting the individual issues along the way on Comixology. Those have still been late, but it’s not too bad. Also, the last update said the book was being sent to the printers so it seems unlikely too many more delays could creep in.

Branwyn – Cyborg Like Me (book): I honestly thought there was no way this would end up delayed. Dude is taking essays he’s already written and then writing forwards and/or afterwards to bring us up to speed with what’s happened since then. The book is mostly a collection of essays about being there when the Internet and other techie geek culture stuff happened so I was most interested in seeing how we went from a Gibson-esque view of the future to what we have today. However, the money was essentially to support him writing full time and it ran out before he could finish the book. So, I think we’re supposed to get it in January now. Least updates of all the Kickstarters. However, updates are text and so is the book – so, unlike the others, it might be tiring to write more words when your product is words.

Random Encounter – Let Me Tell You A Story (music): As I mentioned above, it was the last one I did and I’d never heard of them. But it was the only one on time. The music was good. Some songs were even great. Overall, I really enjoyed their covers/reinterpretations (their Purple Haze/Sephiroth reinterpretation sounds pretty great) and was a little less on board with the original stuff. Still, I’d certainly keep them on my radar for future projects.

Kickstarter Update 3

I’m writing this in late August – by the time this post appears I should have received all of my Kickstarter goods or they should be in the mail. Interestingly, even though the Kickstarter backer cycles were spread over about a three month period, they’re all supposed to be delivering the product at around the same time – 4th quarter of this year. As of the time of this writing, this is the status of my Kickstarters:

I Fight Dragons – Project Atma (music): They are recording the album. By contributing daily to a blog about the effort, I still feel a part of the process in a way that most artists don’t often reveal. I’m extremely excited to hear the album.

Jonathan Coulton, Greg Pak, and others – Code Monkey Save World (music and comics): Yesterday they showed us some colored pages from the first issue. It looks awesome. Unfortunately, something about the Comixology process means we probably won’t get access until September, but the good thing is that as restitution we’re all getting a comic that was originally only for backers at a higher level. The colored pages look awesome and I can’t wait to read it. I’ll be posting about it over at Comic POW!

Branwyn – Cyborg Like Me (book): He had a sample PDF with a few articles from this book. It sounded exciting and I can’t wait to read it.

Random Encounter – Let Me Tell You A Story (music) – This is the last project I backed, but it is the one with the soonest predicted delivery – September! (Sure, we get the first issue of Code Monkey in Sept, but not the whole thing) They were recommended by I Fight Dragons on their blog and I liked their personality based on the backer video. I’ll be very interested to see what the album sounds like.

The Kickstarter Lull

Those of you who have been reading this blog long enough know that I often write my blog posts during my lunch break at work and set it to post at some point in the future. I’m writing this post almost 1 month before it is to appear on the blog. So in the middle of July I find myself in what many who have backed projects probably experience as the Kickstarter Lull. I backed a project by I Fight Dragons and interviewed them about it here and I backed a comic project by Greg Pak and Jonathan Coulton. During the backing period as a way to drum up support there was a constant stream of both updates and digital goodies. IFD, in particular, gave backers 2 albums (live concert recording and a conceptual album) and a concert film. A little while after the backing period was over, the projects contacted us for the info they needed to fulfill our backer rewards. Since then I haven’t heard from either of them. On the rational side, I’m glad they’re focusing on creating what we paid them to create. But after the constant communications it just feels odd to have “radio” silence. Now we just wait for the products to be created. In the case of these two projects, the members involved are all veterans: IFD put out records before having a record company contract and Greg Pak has already done about a half dozen Kickstarters. So, outside of catastrophe, I don’t fear for my money. I could see where this silence might be more disturbing with an unproven team.

Anyway, it’s just so anticlimactic after all that excitement to just be sitting here waiting.

The day before this post was schedule to appear I got an update from I Fight Dragons that would help with the Kickstarter lull – They have a production blog they’re updating daily. (And it runs on WordPress, yay!)

Review: Man of Steel

I had no intention of seeing Man of Steel in the movie theater; I was voting for Monsters University. I’ve grown quite tired with the constant universe rebooting. We all know where Superman (or Batman or Spider-Man etc) came from. Can we not waste another 2+ hours and $millions to retell that. Why can’t we just tell new stories? These characters have such rich histories and such iconic villains that it just seems so pointless to keep hitting the same notes. Additionally, while I liked Snyder’s Watchmen, I was NOT a fan of Suckerpunch. But my parents wanted to treat Danielle and I to a nice dinner for our wedding anniversary and Man of Steel was the movie that would get us out of the theater in time to make out reservations.

I’d read somewhere (probably Rolling Stone) that this movie was loosely based on Mark Waid’s Superman: Birthright. Well, I’d have to put a STRONG emphasis on LOOSELY. A short list of differences: (note, there will be spoilers)

  • Mark Waid’s telling has many more awesome and empowered women. It is Superman’s mom who convinces the father that putting him on the rocket is the right thing to do. And it is Ma Kent that is the computer and technological wizard in such an awesome and empowering way that should always be canon
  • Superman: Birthright has Lex Luthor as the villain
  • Superman: Birthright focuses on Clark’s interactions with his school mates and young Lex
  • Superman: Birthright has Clark working as a journalist from the beginning, just not for the daily planet
  • Lois does not know that Clark is Superman
  • General Zod is mentioned, but is not a key part of the Earth portion of the story

There are SOME similarities:

  • Superman is feared by the world. This is pretty much the only way to put Superman into a modern and realistic world (necessary if there’s going to be a crossover with Nolan’s Batman series). In a change from Superman: Birthright he’s feared as a kid, too.
  • Clark works all over the world in an attempt to hide his powers. The difference is that Clark is working as a reporter in Superman: Birthright and is just wandering the world in Man of Steel.
  • Lois tries to put together story of mystery super man. In Superman: Birthright she isn’t able to put it together and know that Clark is Superman – but at least it is realistic in that stories like this would definitely leak out.
  • Clark’s father can’t come to terms with his powers. The consequences are different, but it’s a similar beat.

Although, given how I open this post, I think we could have been ok with a quick spaceship landing in Kansas and then jump to adult Clark Kent at the Daily Planet,  I admire the pace that this movie takes. It’s very important to the film’s thesis – being Superman is a burden. Sure, it has a cultural cousin in the post-Interview with a Vampire world in which we see that with incredible power can come incredible loneliness and that can sometimes come across as melodramatic and emo, but I think it works well with a modern Superman. Clark lives with the realistic fear that, as an alien, he would become a government project if he were discovered. Additionally, although he has to learn it on his own, his father realizes what a change to the status quo this would be. And I’m not surprised this point of view comes from the director of Watchmen, after all, Alan Moore’s Dr Manhattan throws the entire world into disarray. He makes the USA safer, but makes the world more dangerous as the Soviets ramp up in an effort to build up a force capable of countering the god.

Snyder does an excellent job of conveying how the Kryptonians ended up becoming “lazy” and allowing their planet to be destroyed. I’m not sure who was the first person to posit this reason, but it’s been pretty consistent as long as I’ve been reading comics. Essentially, Snyder says they have lost creativity due to a Brave New World style desire to engineer each Kryptonian to have a certain role in society. If Superman: Birthright was an attack of the post-9/11 USA excesses in the security state, Man of Steel is about losing identity and creativity. I wonder if this would have to be edited out in a Chinese release as it is basically saying that if you’re not like the USA, your planet will die. Krypton is essentially the ultimate Confucius state.

This version of the Superman canon has Lois Lane discovering Superman’s identity from the beginning. As the Rolling Stone review mentioned – this is really the only acceptable way for the story to be told in modern times. How could a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist not be able to piece it together? It also works perfectly with the Superman loneliness that Snyder is portraying. Unlike Dr Manhattan, who has lost the ability to relate with humans, Superman hasn’t been able to honestly do so ever since his childhood (with events like saving the bus). It’s quite likely that he would have continued to be alone (save his family) except that Lois had already figured everything out. So he finally had someone he could confide in and someone he could trust. Lois repays the trust and doesn’t put Ma Kent in danger by burying her story. If the story to Man of Steel 2 remains in good hands (Snyder with Nolan as a moderating force), I think this is a relationship that’s ripe for exploration. How does this secret keep them together or tear them apart? It brings a new dynamic to the relationship since it was never based on lies.

The rest of the story – the fight with General Zod and his troops and their desire to restart the Kryptonian race – it’s action and it’s comic book sci fi mumbo jumbo. It works to create a movie that deeper than it seems at first. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s as deep as the Nolan Batman trilogy – preserving the action needed to sustain the super hero blockbuster while also telling a compelling story of being alone in the universe. Snyder also has Superman commit murder when General Zod declares it’s the only way to keep him from destroying the world. I don’t know if Superman’s ever killed on purpose in the comics, but in all the cartoon adaptations I’ve seen (and some have been pretty dark), he would have found a different way. It’s what separates him from Batman who always seems just on the edge from allowing a death if it’s necessary. It changes their dynamic should a World’s Finest or Justice League movie ever come to fruition. (At least if the writers of that movie are paying attention to the movie canon and not just going with what’s in the comics/the past 75 years of canon)

On last thing – the destruction of Metropolis was a bit much for me – especially people running away as the skyscrapers fell around them. It echoed 11 Sept a little too much for me. I have to say it was the one scene (and a very rare for a movie) where I actually almost started to tear up. I will be curious to see what New Yorkers think watching it – especially those who lived through it. I haven’t had problem with random destruction since 11 Sept, but the visuals here were a little too much like the visuals from that day.

For other points of view about the movie check out G-Man from Comic Vine‘s opinion and a great review over at Flasback Universe.

When Twitter is Awesome

The thing I like the most about Twitter is the ability to interact with creatives in real time.  In the past you had to write a letter to a writer, artist, musician, etc and hope that, maybe, they’d actually read it and that, maybe, they’d feel compelled to reply with something more than boilerplate.  I started following Paolo Rivera after meeting him at Baltimore Comic-Con.  (Related topic: meeting a bunch of creators in person at Baltimore Comic-Con helped make them more “real” to me.  I’m not a jerky person, but it really does give me pause when I post a criticism to someone on twitter.  Unlike these guys.)  So when Paolo tweeted something from his blog that I wanted to comment on, I kept failing the captcha he had on the comments.  I tweeted and (to my surprise) was retweeted by Paolo:

and to my surprise, he replied:

And it’s fun stuff like that that makes Twitter awesome.

(editor’s note: I am making use of a feature within WordPress that pulls the tweet and, depending on the WordPress theme, gives it special formatting.  On the chance that the functionality breaks in the future.  The first tweet was: “@PaoloMRivera every time I fail a captcha (like commenting on your post) I wonder if I’m a robot and no one has told me yet” and the second was: “@djotaku Next time we’re both in Artist Alley, stop by my table and I’ll administer the Turing Test. “)

High School Class Continues to Pay Dividends 15 years Later

One always wonders if and when those classes you take in high school will be important.  For me, as an engineer, most of my high school classes were laying the foundation for the classes I’d take in college.  I’ve used plenty of those classes in my work and personal life.  One of the classes that has served me well all these years was Speech and Debate.  You don’t realize how long a minute is until you have to talk for a minute in front of class.  It has helped me with college presentation and work presentations.  Most recently, the following two video reviews were completely ad-libbed.  I didn’t even have any notes to go off of.  (In the AvX video I did take the comic with me to remember the name of the penciller)




I’ve gone from being unable to do a minute out of nowhere to being able to talk for nearly 15 minutes.

Comics Review: Fantastic Four, Top Ten, Generation Hope, Uncanny X-Men

Start here before FF
Fantastic Four By Jonathan Hickman # 1 – Volume 1
I’ve always been a Fantastic Four fan, but it’d been a long time since I last read F4 when I picked up FF. Being as this was a #1 of a new title, I was very confused about what in the world was going on with the Future Foundation. I knew what’d happened to ellicit the name change, but that’s about it. Well, if you read this book, it will all make sense. Right from the beginning you meet one of the future members of the FF. And later on you meet almost all of the rest of them. This TP also introduces the Reed Council which is the whole reason for the the first FF story arc. Hickman is like Marvel’s Grant Morrison. If you really want to understand FF, you are really going to need to AT LEAST read his run on F4. By the end of this TP, almost EVERYTHING from FF had been setup. I’d say, about 15-20% has yet to occur.

This book, and the first arc in is are both called Solve Everything. Mr Fantastic has always been a very well-conceived character, a perfect example of Stan Lee’s creativity. In the old comics, the geniuses were almost always mad scientist types in the vein of Dr Frankenstein. With Reed we have an idea of what would happen if that person turned to good rather than evil. Many great authors have explored what this means for Reed, but none has done as amazing a job as Hickman. I think that’s mostly due to Hickman’s great story-telling skills. But a small portion can be attributed to our modern sensibilities. With each passing decade it’s become more palatable to have heroes with issues. During the Great Depression and after World War II we wanted perfect heroes. It’s no coincidence that Superman is the boy scout he is. But now we’re OK with our characters having flaws, we demand it.

Reed’s flaw is that he has a desire to fix everything. He’s a genius. I think he’s canonically the smartest person within the Marvel universe if not the smartest entity. But he is not a god. And it’s his hubris that ends up setting into motion the events that will lead to the problems going on in the current FF book. In fact, a scene in this TP shows Reed and another Reed from the council using some special construct of space/time to be as gods and fix a dying star. And with this power comes corruption – even for Reed – as he ends up doing things he doesn’t agree with. I can’t say more without spoiling some great scenes.

Additionally, although Reed wants to be a great father and appears to be doing a better job of it than his father, his exploits often leave him abandoning his family so his thinking room. This falls most heavily on Sue. While she is a strong woman on her own, she is still human and still have wifely needs. And I don’t just mean sexual needs. Reed becomes emotionally distant and you can see that hits her very hard. While they’ve had their rough patches, when they’re together they’ve always seemed as the most loving/caring pairing within the Marvel Universe.

This book is my introduction to Valeria. When I was last reading F4, the first family only had Franklin. I think this artist did a much better job conveying her age (3 yo). Important especially since that’s part of the reason why she acts so impulsively. She has greater intellect than her father with none of the maturity to match. In the FF book she looks closer to 5. Maybe she was artificially aged somehow – it IS a sci-fi book. Or maybe you’re just supposed to know. I didn’t know she was as smart as her dad so I thought she was older from the way she spoke.

Speaking of sci-fi, I am enjoying the fact that Hickman doesn’t have too much fighting. The book is more of a hard sci-fi book. While it’s fun to see them tango with a monster here and there, I have often enjoyed the sci-fi aspects of F4. Anyway, there’s enough comic book fighting in the other books I regularly pull.

I really enjoyed reading this book. The only thing I didn’t like visually was that Reed seemed a LOT more buff than usual and it threw me off a little. It looked like both he and Johnny had been juicing. I’m anxious to check out the next book and see what else I learn that helps me enjoy FF.

The Other Side of Watchmen
Top 10 # 1 – Book 1
Moore does another deconstruction book. Last time it was what super heroes would be like in the real world. All of them, other than Dr Manhattan, are essentially variants of Batman. That is to say they don’t have super powers, they are just masked and, in some cases, caped super heroes. And Moore explores the kind of crazy people that would have to be to want to be super heroes.

In Top 10 Moore flips the premise on its head. Instead of super heroes in the real world, imagine how it would be if the entire world was made up of super heroes. That’s not a 100% accurate depiction because Top 10 is really just a super hero ghetto of the real world. In a hilarious breaking of the fourth wall, there are suddenly tons of super heroes in the 30s and 40s. After the war, the world doesn’t know what to do with this glut of super heroes, so it puts them into the city of Top 10. What results is a bunch of hilarious jokes both in what the characters do and in the types of ads and other background items.

And by creating this great world, Moore takes the boring old police procedural and gives it super powers. I wasn’t sure how much I’d like it given that I didn’t like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen nearly as much as I liked Watchmen. Turns out to be a very fun book.

As far as the story goes – it’s boiler-plate police comic. The main character is new to the precinct and gets matched with the gruff old dude who just lost his partner and doesn’t want to talk about it. The magic comes in how Moore takes that cliche premise and gives you, if not gold, then silver. I will anxiously await my chance to get to read the second volume.

An Allegory Without Being Preechy
Generation Hope # 9 – Better
This is a good issue that puts Gen Hope in the real world as well as giving some more character growth on Zero.

SPOILER WARNING: Click here to reveal hidden content.
The issue is also clearly about Mutants being an allegory for gay. Specifically, in this case I can’t help but think of the kid who committed suicide because his room mate filmed him doing gay things. It was tragic and you feel the same way here. Gillen does a great job with a series of non-dialog panels near the end that convey everything they need to. A good issue and makes me happy I have this book on my pull list.

Could’ve been a bit better
Uncanny X-Men # 541 –
It didn’t suck, but it could have been a bit better. At least there’s some fan service with Greg Land’s Emma Frost. There’s also a nice twist or two. But I’m not dying to see how this ends. I’m only reading this because it’s part of Uncanny and I’m reading Uncanny. Although I enjoy Gillen’s writing in general, I feel that most Fear Itself books have fallen a bit short. Also, I guess this stuff takes place before Schism. No need to pick up this book unless you’re following all of Fear Itself or following Uncanny.

Comics Review: Astonishing X-Men, X-Men, Schism, FF, Iron Age

Not Feelin’ It
Astonishing X-Men # 36 – Monstrous, Part 1
The only story arc in Astonishing I haven’t read yet is Exogenic. I am really not liking this one. I know this is the first issue, but I’ve also read the third one due to when I got into Astonishing. I really, really hate this art style. It just looks weird and almost like a super deformed (in the manga sense) version of the X-Men and I don’t think it fits with the previous art style or tone of the book.

I’d have liked a little more info on what happened to Armor’s family, the reason they go to Japan. Meanwhile, Mentallo (who either sounds like a Magician – as they say in the issue – or a candy) is on Monster Island stirring up trouble. So far I don’t like this story arc any better for having seen the beginning, but maybe the second issue will bring me around.

Still Not Done?
X-Men # 14 – First To Last Part 4
I was sure this would be the last issue in this arc. This is a nice, long arc and I’m glad they’re taking their time to develop it. I’m guessing the next book would have to end it. I almost wish they’d just focus on “then” because the fight in “now” is getting a little old, but I guess it maintains a sense of urgency. I’m very curious to see what happens. It’d be very interesting if THIS is what sets in motion Schism rather than something in Uncanny X-Men. After all, the Evolutionaries are here to kill all humans.

They start it off right!
X-Men: Schism # 1 – Schism Part One
Everything is great about this issue and I’m not just saying that because it’s the start to an exciting new arc that I’ve been waiting for since I started seeing ads for it when I started reading X-Books a few months ago. It starts off nice and slowly. As you’ve seen in numerous previews, Scott and Logan are off to speak at a conference about arms control. In the speech Sentinels take the place of what would usually be said about nuclear weapons.

Some plot points will seem unfamiliar to you if you haven’t been reading X-Men for a while. There’s one thing in the spoiler, the other thing you should do is go back and read Generation Hope. Most of the main characters that aren’t the X-Men you know from forever are from Generation Hope. And the Schism reading list shows GH #10 and #11 as being part of Schism. The first five are already in trade paperback and the next four should be easy to find at any comic shop.

Specifically, the bad guy is the punk that’s one of the three or four main bad guys during Morrison’s New X-Men run.

The art is great and works perfectly well. The writing is spot-on. Between Prelude to Scism, which apparently takes place part-way into Schism and this book, it looks like the Wolvie/Scott split (at least everyone assumes Scott leads the other team) will be a massive and heart-breaking event if done well. As in the Prelude books, in this issue you see Wolvie and Scott closer than they’ve ever been.

The ultimate bad guy is a huge surprise. Maybe I don’t know enough about the organization he works for, but it seems strange to me that they did what they did. I assume all will be explained over the next few months.

I’m also excited for the creative teams they list for post-Schism. Bachalo did some great work in New X-Men and Pacheco is also great.

Definitely buy if you’re into X-Men.

First FF issue to feel Meh
FF # 6 – Two Kings
I know Hickman is setting up and expanding upon a huge canon of Fantastic Four/Future Foundation with this issue, but that didn’t keep me from being a bit bored. I’ve said it about other issues of other comics before: this issue will be great as part of the trade paperback. But as a standalone comic in which we have to wait until next month (and maybe the month after that) to find out what’s going on with FF and the Reed Council is annoying. Also, Hickman has said that this arc will finish by issue 9. If 7 also involves the Inhuman backstory – then what happens? Also, what was the point of getting the Doom Council together? They haven’t done anything. Perhaps that’s the point. Even the greatest minds can’t defeat Richards when they work together? Or maybe now they know each other and will cause trouble in the next arc. I don’t know. I just found it so hard to care about this issue and I think if you’re just following the story and aren’t completeist, you can probably skip this issue.

Marvel’s Most Under-rated Mini-Series
Iron Age # 2 – On 42nd Street
Unlike Schism or Spider-Island I have seen NO ads for Iron Age. Yet this series is well written enough that I was able to jump in at issue 2 and not only understand what’s going on, but care about it and the characters. I bought it for the fact that Johnny Storm is on the front cover. I will get the next one because of the X-Men Crossover.

It’s fun to see Tony going through time. He ends up in the scummy Pre-Disney 42nd Street in NYC. And apparently he went on a drunk rampage here recently. (I wasn’t a huge Iron Man guy, but I know that part of him) The second story has to do with Johnny Storm. It’s crazy to see him alive and emotional to Tony trying to figure out whether to change time and save him. Overall you should pick this up if you’re reading the FF series. Not because it ties in directly, but because you probably have a HT hole in your heart right now. Also, maybe this ends up affecting things.

Comics Review: Uncanny X-Men, Chew, Batman and Robin, X-23, Gotham City Sirens

It was OK
Uncanny X-Men # 539 – Losing Hope
I was hoping this was linked to what happened in Generation Hope #8, but sadly it does not appear to be. We do get to see how M-Day has affected some former mutants, and that’s neat. We also get to see why Wolverine acts so strange around her. (Although an astute reader probably already guessed why) This issue felt like a very fast read and I wasn’t left as satisfied as I’ve been with recent Gillen works. Oh well. You win some, you lose some.

A Perfect Wrap Up of Previous Plotlines
Chew: Just Desserts # 1 – Chew: Just Desserts
It seems that, to round off the first 1/4 of the planned 60 issues of Chew, the author has chosen to bring together all the plots from the previous issues. We see the return of many characters including the awesome Poyo. And the cliff-hanger at the end of issue 15 is even a callback to something from the first book. I think this series continues to impress with its twists and turns. And the humor continues to be great. All these books should be in your library.

Some Satisfying Parts
Batman and Robin # 25 – The Streets Run Red, Part 3 of 3: Boys Night Out
Unfortunately, the chance to have an adventure with 3/4 Robins was blown on this story. While it’s been fun to see the interactions between these three, I feel this would have been better suited by a longer story arc. Perhaps we’ll see some more crossover fun once Red Hood gets his comic series after the revamp. Once again, I don’t think the painterly art works well with this book. (I think it works wonderfully in FF) I also think they got lazy with naked Jason Todd. He has time to get completely redressed in the middle of a firefight? I think he should have been kicking butt naked and then gotten dressed in the helicopter. It’s OK, but so far I am not liking Batman and Robin anywhere near as much as Detective Comics.

Actually Not too Bad of a Jumping in Point
X-23 # 11 – Touching Darkness , Part 2
I read X-23: Innocence Lost and a little background on Comic Vine and I found this issue to be just fine for jumping into. Even though I hadn’t ready part one, I felt I knew what was going on. (Partly due to Marvel’s wonderful intro pages)

So Jubilee the vampire, who we last saw in X-Men #11 (or thereabouts) is now wandering around with Wolverine and Gambit. (I really wish Marvel would get the timelines straight on their X-books because they’re both playing important roles in Uncanny X-Men and X-Men: Legacy, respectively) I think she’s the perfect partner for X-23. They’re both outcasts, both have a blood lust (in different ways), and they get to channel their feminine energy into each other. After all, X-23 hasn’t really had a good, constructive female relationship yet. (Other than her mom)

I love the art style and the writing is pretty good as well. I have the next issue queued up and I can’t wait to read it to see what happens. I’m not yet ready to add X-23 to my pull list, but depending on how I feel about issue #12, it’s a strong

One Step Closer to My Pull List
X-23 # 12 – Touching Darkness , Part 3
This was a good issue. Once again, the art, dialogue, and plot were good. A couple interesting plot twists. Although this new trigger scent that works on everyone but Jubilee could be hard to write correctly. X-23 and Jubilee do some more bonding and continue the theme of X-23 being like a Pinocchio. Still not 100% convinced this is a book I can keep reading, but next issue she goes to see the Future Foundation and I LOVE the FF! So I’ll definitely get that issue. Beyond that, we’ll see.

A Perfect Wrap-Up Issue
Gotham City Sirens # 24 – Friends, Part 2
There are only two issues left in this awesome, awesome series so Calloway’s on a mission to make sure he ties up loose ends. Catwoman finally gets her revenge for the mistrust the other girls had for her in issue 2. Harley finally has to decide whether to go with Joker or Ivy. In fact, Calloway did such a good job, I’m not sure what’ll happen in the next two issues. Perhaps he’ll help setup the upcoming Suicide Squad and Catwoman books?

What I loved the most about this issue was Joker’s attempt to foil Batman. They’ve known each other forever. Even if we only start from the 1985 reboot, they’ve still faced off numerous times. So, of course, Joker would know full well how Batman operates. In fact, my absolute favorite moment in the issue is when he predicts that Batman will do something and it doesn’t happen. And for a second he wonders if he’s wrong or if Batman’s just getting slow in his old age. And then Batman does just what he thought he would. Of course, it would be a poorly written Gotham book if Batman didn’t have an Ace up his sleeve, but it was still awesome to see Joker’s plan work for so long.

Early-on when Harley trying to get the upper hand on Ivy, she accesses her psychology knowledge to play mind-games with Ivy. First of all, it was great to see Harley capable of such thought. Especially in the Dini origins, she comes off as so bubbly she couldn’t possibly have been a psychologist at Arkham. I prefer to see her like this – like Joker – able to be acting insane one moment and perfectly sinister the next. (As in issue #23 when Joker laughs maniacally before delivering a flat “No” – complete with serious face) As part of the head games Harley suggests that perhaps their relationship is a little Les Yay. And while the linked TV Tropes page claims that Dini says it’s true, it seems, at least within the context of GCS, the relationship is one-sided. Which makes it all the more tragic that Harley uses that moment for nefarious means.

I found this issue had everything I wanted in a GCS book. I’m sad to see it go and I hope the girls can make up again at some point in the future. (It’s not as though they haven’t fought before) It’s tough because I love seeing them all working together, but it could also get annoying and tired to see the same patterns playing out over and over. I know I am torn about whether Harley should be with Joker given his abusive nature. I love it, but I know it’s so bad for her. I guess we’ll see what happens