Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Janet K. Lee's Alicephabet

What a massive struggle of an article title. Say it out loud three times and see if it starts to even remotely work as a pun. Then please write down your thoughts on the back of a postcard, re-read your thoughts, put a stamp on it and throw the postcard away. As per usual Comics Vanguard operating procedure.

So hey! Janet K. Lee has illustrated a book called "The Wonderland Alphabet", a book designed to help children learn to read the alphabet. There are twenty-six pages, and each one has a different letter and a character from the Alice in Wonderland series whose name starts with that letter. We start with A, and I'm going to go ahead and assume that we end with Z. Now, this is a book which may not see publication over here in the UK - in the US it'll be published this April by Archaia - but it's never not an appropriate time to enjoy more art by Janet K. Lee, guys. Here's the first entry!

Comics Vanguard Talks to FRED VAN LENTE!

Interviewing Fred Van Lente is tough, because it’s very hard to stop him from talking about The Winter Guard, and how much he loves them, and how determined he is to make them Marvel’s most A-List team of all time. You have to keep intervening to make sure he doesn’t forget to talk about his other work in comics, such as his Ryan Dunlavey team-up series “Comic Book Comics” and “Action Philosophers”; his long run with Greg Pak on Marvel;s brilliant ‘The Incredible Herc’, or his recent work on Amazing Spider-Man and Alpha Flight. Just one mention of his upcoming three-issue miniseries “Black Widow Strikes!”, set in the movie continuity and starring a thoroughly realistic take on Marvel’s spy character which doesn’t feature any trace of The Winter Guard whatsoever; and he’s off on another long tangent about Ursa Major’s majestic fur.

Luckily we managed to calm him down through the process of asking some absolutely terrible questions - which he wisely batted aside in order to talk more about his career, interest in the Renaissance, and sense of humour. One of the most notable things about Van Lente’s career is that his works have always had a strong sense of humour to them. Even when writing something which is ostensibly serious, like in Comic Book Comics, there’s always something subversive going on. It comes from growing up in a family which was “a household of wiseasses”, who’d barrage each other with jokes, jibes, and various other insults constantly, trying to one-up one another. Connect that with a childhood reading mainstream Marvel titles like Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, and you can see why Comic Book Comics first came into creation.

A series of one-off comics which take a serious topic about the history of comics and details it carefully (but with acerbic side-notes and cartoons from Dunlavey), CBC has tackled subjects like the rise and fall of the comic-books code and made it interesting. Writing the book allowed Van Lente the chance to play around with the medium, structurally, and have a go with different story lengths, different types of narratives, and weirder and weirder jokes. The idea that "there’s always something weirder" out there is something which has followed Van Lente from story to story.

Take his recent work on Marvel’s maxiseries turned ongoing turned maxiseries, ‘Alpha Flight’. After deciding with co-writer Greg Pak that the characters all needed to be re-established and bumped up, Van Lente paid particular attention to Marina. Typically "a bit of a damp rag”, the two decided that the best way to amp her up would be through making her the most outright funny character of the team. “Marina is an alien, and we had this idea that her process of time would be different to everybody elses. So the Marina we’ve seen up till now was her as a child, and now she’s entering her teenage years”. Enter a seaweed feather boa (provided by artist Dale Eaglesham, a keen fan of all things Canadian on account of BEING a Canadian) and a misjudged sense of anarchy, and Marina became, unexpectedly, the standout character of the series.

Van Lente established himself as a mainstream comics writer during his tenure on ‘The Incredible Herc’, a series which pushed fallen Marvel star Hercules back into the limelight and re-established the character as well-meaning, entertaining jock. That title was also co-written with Pak, with the two writers swapping scripts back and forth so they could fit in more jokes and refine the storyline. Working from a long-term plan which led them up to a mini-event called Chaos War (which ended the series and their initial run with the character), they decided early on that it’d be important to have somebody for Herc to bounce off – and elected for that somebody to be Amadeus Cho. "Cho’s anarchic sense of humour leant itself well" to an odd couple relationship between the two, which gave the book a unique voice amongst the other Marvel titles. When Marvel decided to drop Cho from the book and focus solely on a more serious Hercules, "much of the momentum and energy left the title", and it was ultimately cancelled after only a few issues.

The humour in Herc must’ve caught the attention of Spider-Man editor Steve Wacker at some point, because he signed up Van Lente to be one of the writers of Spidey’s ‘Brand New Day’ era. "Getting asked to write certain stories provided a different kind of challenge", as ideas would have to carry over between story arcs and ideas introduced by one writer would be ended by a completely different one. Writing parts of the Gauntlet storyline was a highlight of Brand New Day for Van Lente, with his Sandman story (drawn by the stunning Javier Pulido) reinterpreting the character (once again) using humour and drama as the pivots. While Sandman’s storyline was rather serious and dark, Van Lente could put humour into the story through Sandman new ‘adopted daughter’ Keemia, and her reactions to Spider-Man and her surroundings. Then, at the end, he pulled the humour away and left a sombre ending to the storyline. Without the humour, that ending would never have felt so dark and powerful.

Currently, Van Lente has a number of different projects bubbling under. There are plans for TV, comics, and theatre – his wife is the insane amazing genius Crystal Skillman, the playwright who, among other things, adapted his early comic ‘Action Philosophers’ for the stage. Working on that particular adaptation at what felt like an incredible short-notice, Skillman recalls "Fred back into the room time and time again for help with jokes, ideas and characterisation". And she also recalls "pushing him out the room, time and time again, when he started to offer too many jokes, ideas, and characterisations". Together, the pair seem to have this great idea that there’s always something quirkier and funnier that can be brought into a story, and that humour is one of the best, most natural ways to bring excitement into a narrative. While she is currently writing a play with ComVan favourite James Asmus, he is currently writing a webcomic called RENAISSANCE, about "the relationships various famous renaissance men – Machiavelli, Da Vinci, The Borgias and others – had with Lisa Del Giocondo, the lady who would eventually become famous as The Mona Lisa". The art for the series is provided by Skillman’s former roommate Sarah Oleysk, who previously drew ‘Ivy’ for Oni Press. It’s all interconnected over here, you guys!

And there will also be Hulk: Season One coming out soon, followed by Black Widow Strikes! Which, as you’ll recall, features absolutely no members of The Winter Guard whatsoever. Much to everybody’s eternal dismay! The miniseries is actually pitched at Russian readers rather than American readers – it’ll be transcribed into Russian and made widely available around the country – and “sets up the movie perfectly. Also, it will be published in Maxim in Russia, mirroring the 'real life' Black Widow who posed for the magazine recently and caused so much attention-gathering controversy”. Van Lente then ended our interview with a nine-minute soliloquy about what colour Darkstar’s boots should be and whether she should have high heels.

Thanks to Mr Van Lente and Ms Skillman for their time!

Monday, 27 February 2012

Nightwing's Fans Offer A Rebuttal

A few days ago Comics Vanguard wrote an article about the New 52's treatment of Nightwing, otherwise known as Dick Grayson, otherwise known as Batman 2.0, otherwise known as Nightwing again. Well, it appears that we got it all wrong about the five or six issues Nightwing has appeared in thus far, and have been offered a rebuttal by some of Nightwing's biggest fans. In the interests of fairness and representation, here are some of those responses.

"I do NOT like Nightwing because he "beats himself up" over women or because he, supposedly, has difficulty maintaining a relationship with a woman.

In fact, I like Nightwing for precisely the opposite reason." ~ dedicatedfollower467

"That article is so full of manure I can smell it pouring off my laptop!" ~ Angelschilde

"I'm a woman. I like Nightwing because he's intelligent, easygoing, tough, strong, competent and not afraid to pick himself back up after a fall. He's spent years looking at the seamy side of life, faced triumph and tragedy and still hasn't lost his idealism.

He's never been lovelorn. More of a serial monogamist.

It sounds as if you're saying women only respect men they can look down on. Nothing could be further from the truth." ~ dragonbat

"Why do women like Nightwing? I may not be thinking enough about it, but he's a modern day prince/billionaire's son who's ridiculously good looking and in his early 20s. Also, he fits as the noble nomadic carnie with nothing tying him down. He's a charismatic leader. He's funny. He's a limber gymnast and a swashbuckling hero. For a little kink, he's also the neighbor's kid that grew up. I'm not a woman, but I can't find anything in there that is thought of as unappealing to women. Oh, he's also very open and honest about his emotions, comically humble, smart, considerate and is a really good listener. This may be why women like Nightwing.... Oh, and his costume is a skin tight black leotard that shows off his muscles and tush with accented lines along the front and down his arms that broaden his chest and gives the feeling he gives great hugs and a Domino mask that does absolutely nothing to hide his always perfect hair." ~ Gerard

"Sorry, but this ISN'T AT ALL the reason why I like Nightwing. I don't like him because he's some kind of lovelorn Boy-Next-Door who can't stay in a relationship with a woman. I LOVE Nightwing because he is capable of maintaining deep and meaningful relationships with other characters of all kinds, from the younger heroes who see him as a leader and the older heroes who have watched him come into his own. I love Nightwing for the fact that even after a break-up or a strange one-night-stand, he can stay friends with a girl because he's a friendly person who genuinely respects and cares for her. Yes, Nightwing frequently has girlfriends who are smarter, more powerful and (dare I say it) taller than he is. But that's another thing I like about him. He's not afraid of women OR belittling to them; they are his equals, his partners, and his friends. I can't think of an attitude I find more attractive. I don't understand why you've come to these conclusions... maybe this is what Rebooted Dick might become" ~ Erienne

Personally, I like him [Nightwing] because he has a nice bum" ~ jrfan

EXCLUSIVE: We talk with Kieron Gillen About Sex In Comics

The internet has literally been ablaze these past few months with discussion over the ways Marvel and DC portray their female characters. Also, ablaze with people who hate misuse of the word literally. With DC’s Reboot gaining them a wave of young and new readers, the company were widely criticised for their decision to portray Starfire (from Teen Titans) as a raging sex-kitten, fairly obsessed with sex in a way which didn’t make her a sexy character, but instead into a hollow male fantasy. Catwoman and Voodoo also came in for criticism, although you may not agree with everyone who claims they were exploitative. Marvel have recently come under the spotlight as well, with characters like Psylocke getting full analysis from a range of writers, journalists, and fans. The decision to have several female characters go insane from their powers hasn’t helped, with Wasp and Scarlet Witch falling victim to themselves for no notable reason other than shock value.

With all this going on, writers have had to increasingly prepare themselves for the barrage of questions they’re now receiving about their use of female characters. Brian Wood has decided to use a creator-owned series to spotlight a new, progressive female character, while Brian Michael Bendis recently created both Takio and Scarlet for Marvel. Paul Cornell has announced that he won’t be attending any comic-con panel which has less than a 50-50 male/female gender split. And now Kieron Gillen, who previously wrote a rather thoughtful piece on the issue for Comics Alliance, has stepped into the fray with his new solution. We spoke to him at the London Super Comics Conventions about his great plan, which is as follows:

Have more male exploitation in Uncanny X-Men.

Two members of his current Uncanny X-Men team are already frequently topless – Namor and Colossus – and with only a few issues left before Avengers Vs X-Men begins, Gillen has announced that Cyclops will be given a new costume, which plans to remove his shirt and large portions of his trousers – essentially leaving the character with shorts and a facial mask. While Namor and Colossus both have shiny, naked chests, Gillen told us that Cyclops will be “hairy”. Elsewhere, Gillen will be bringing in other characters to the crossover just for the purpose of exploitation.

“We’re going to reinterpret Dr Nemesis as a sexy ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ type”, he told us, as we cornered him at the London Super Comics Convention this weekend. “And you can expect to see much more of Magneto’s oiled, greasy biceps as the event continues”. When we pressed him for story details, and what would happen during his three crossover issues, he instead showed us an unfinished double-page splash by Greg Land, which show Cyclops bending over and winking at the reader. “Who needs a story?” he asked, before noting down ‘needs more veins’ on the back of the paper.

With so many female characters being seemingly nothing more than an exploitative way to get money out of male readers, Gillen claims that using sexy men will “get the girls into stores” more often. It’s a bold claim, but one which may well hold out…


This article is totally endorsed by Kieron Gillen and isn't all lies, honest.

Three Little Images

Before we head into London's Supercon and I attempt to sift diamonds from the dense bed of silt that is my handwritten set of notes; in America there was a second convention occurring at the same time, run by Image Comics. IMAGECON (was that the name? it seems like it might be) saw many surprise guests and a planeload of new titles announced, including work by Nick Spencer, Brian Wood, Ming Doyle, Frank Quitely and more. Here are three of the most exciting announcements from the con.

3: MARA by Brian Wood and Ming Doyle

A series designed by Wood and Doyle to be a rebuttal to the at-times-apparent sexism of the mainstream comic-book industry, Mara will tell the story of a young athlete whose prowess becomes her undoing when she begins to develop super-powers. Wood is looking to write a story which puts the protagonist firmly in the spotlight as an empowered, progressive female character.

2: HAPPY! by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson

Something to do with Christmas, and the first of many miniseries Morrison plans to write for Image over the next few years. He'll continue to write for DC, as well as Vertigo, but it looks like he'll be slowly moving away from the mainstream comic-book world to build himself up more strongly as a brand.

1: PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERIAL GIRL by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson

Finally Gillen and McKelvie get round to telling us more about Emily Aster, the damaged but improving former-goth chick turned artsy lesbo turned... whatever she is now. A six-issue miniseries which Gillen promises will once more subvert the way that the narrative is ravelled (everybody talks about things unravelling, but it's time to bring back RAVELLING you guys), we'll be seeing cameos from characters like Dave Kohl and Kid-With-Knife (one assumes, second bracket within the same sentence) and a few other tricks. Will there still be appendixes? We can but hope.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

60 Last Men: #2

What are you escaping into? Issue #2 of Y: The Last Man jumps two months past the incident which killed off every man on Earth, and gives us a look at the broken, but not destroyed, society which is left behind. The streets are quiet at night, but there’s no riots or looting going on – at least, that we know of. We’re told that there are a band of ‘Amazons’ out in America somewhere, causing havoc. But for the most part… all is quiet.

It’s a very different kind of apocalypse to the one you might expect, but it’s not as if women are just going to give up and die, simply because there are no men around. One of the things that we’re going to see more and more as the series continues is that Vaughan steadfastly refuses to ever pull back and give us a big picture. Instead, we’re stuck with Yorick, 355, and Yorick’s mother, as they attempt to piece together as much of their reality as they can. We only learn new details as they learn them, and we still have no idea who is telling the truth and who is exaggerating. In this issue, that means Yorick trades conspiracy theories with a former model-turned body-collector and 355 breaks into the home of the new President.

Vaughan has never been afraid of throwing politics into his work – look at Ex Machina or Pride of Baghdad – but here we have a simple, plain way of looking at things. The President was male, and now he’s dead. Everybody else in a major position was male, and now they’re dead. The only woman in a high-ranking position was the Secretary of Agriculture, and now she’s the only one left to take on the role of President. It’s a long way from Virginia, but already it’s becoming clear just how the event is affecting the World. By showing us the way succession has fallen in America, Vaughan plants the idea in readers’ mind – what does this mean for the UK? France? The Vatican?

Interestingly, the issue doesn’t really seem like it’s developing the characters. Instead Vaughan uses pre-established personalities which he allows to trickle out, bit by bit, as the story progresses. We’re reminded that Yorick is an illusionist, but not until he needs to use those skills to escape some handcuffs. His mother struggles to deal with her dead husband, but we only see it when she’s on her own and nobody else can see her. It makes the series feel a lot more personal, as we don’t have fresh introductions to the cast but are instead forced to go along with people who feel like they already exist. They experience the events the same way we do.

Pia Guerra’s ability to draw realistic human expressions and body language is shown off here, but lots of the issue is actually about what isn’t shown. Yorick’s reaction to confirmation of his father’s death is depicted, but largely hidden under shadow. Likewise, we are yet to see anything from his sister, which leaves her fate absolutely anywhere at this point in time. And the final page introduces some villains with absolutely no explanation for who they might be – as the characters experience events, so the readers must experience them too. While Yorick still wanders round the Earth, we’re as much in the dark about his future as he is. You might cheat death and escape capture – but what’s round the corner?

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Time for another Wilson/McKelvie/Gillen Production

The Stock Aitken and Waterman (we'll leave you to decide which one is Pete) of independent comic-books have reteamed, with the news that Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson are planning to release a new series for Image at some point later this year. With a teaser image called "One More Time", we're obviously meant to think back to Daft Punk's dance tune of the same title.

Here's the thing: the font underneath the teaser image? That's the PHONOGRAM font. We'd recognise it anywhere. Are we about to see Phonogram #3 released?! Comics Vanguard ARE GOING TO GET YOU THE EXCLUSIVE ON SATURDAY. Mark our words. We are going to hunt down Gillen and McKelvie, and get answers out of them no matter what it takes.

Speedjumping back into The Flash

The Flash hits his second arc this week, as writers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato begin a two-part storyline which sees Barry Allen face up against Captain Cold. One of the most well-known of Flash's opponents (with Professor Zoom still AWOL after the events of Flashpoint), Captain Cold gets revamped by the creative team, given a simple but effective repurposing and thrown into battle with Flash. And the issue works really well, for a reason which is gradually becoming clearer and clearer:

Flash is the new Superman. He has a secret identity and interesting workplace, friends and colleagues, an interesting gallery of rogues, and a girlfriend. His stories are simple and grounded, but entertaining and absolutely rock-solid. While the main Superman book overtells a story and Action Comics continues to get lost inside itself, The Flash has jumped straight over Clark Kent and become DC’s most enjoyable, heroic, hero. He may not have the page-breaking sense of ego that Green Lantern displays, or Batman’s stoic brooding, but the writers make sure that his sense of morality is pitch-perfect, leaving the series brilliant for all-ages. It’s nice to see a character who immediately tries to help other people without throwing in one-liners, and Barry’s experience as a hero shows on every page. While the other superheroes were re-launched as relatively new to being heroes, Barry seems smarter, wiser than everyone else.

And of course, this series is being drawn by Francis Manapul. One of the most creative and brilliant artists in the industry, every month Manapul manages to outdo himself with clean, dynamic linework and a sensational ability to storyboard the action. This issue sees him drawing Captain Cold’s freeze effects, and how they stagger Flash’s use of his powers. You can really sense the battle dragging on as things get tougher and tougher for Flash to fight back against. The opening splashpage is absolutely gorgeous, as well – but Manapul truly excels with the conversational, laid-back sequences. Not only do we get some really nicely-done dialogue which builds on Barry’s relationship with his girlfriend, but Manapul shows us just how comfortable the two have become with each other. Even without the words, you can sense the relationship between the two and what’s happening between them. It’s sensational work.

The pacing of the story is perhaps not as fast as it should be, with the finale not quite ramping up as quickly and as dangerously as it should do – but the finale proves to be a deft way of bringing tension to the story, from an unexpected place. Ultimately, The Flash proves itself to be the most heroic, well-placed and smartly-created book of the entire New 52. With a clear sense of purpose, a brilliantly put together story, and gorgeous artwork, it’s a title that really can’t be recommended enough.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Defenders: Back-Door Pilot for a New Iron Fist Series?

When it was first revealed, via enigmatic word-puzzle images, that Immortal Iron Fist Danny Rand would be one of the team-members for Matt Fraction's Defenders relaunch, many were pleased to see Fraction returning to one of his most beloved characters. Immortal Iron Fist remains an absolutely brilliant book, featuring superb artwork from people like David Aja and Travel Foreman, so many were hopeful that this ongoing team book would hopefully bring more attention to the character, and bring him back into the A-List at Marvel.

Then it was revealed that Danny would be the featured player of Brian Michael Bendis' New Avengers series, as they tie-in to Avengers Vs X-Men. He will apparently play a prominent role in both New Avengers and the main event series, as he decides to abandon his teammates and come over to the X-Men's side (which is the correct side, fyi). More publicity for Iron Fist, and more prominence. What is it all leading to?

It's leading to issue #6 of Defenders, which doesn't even attempt to hide what we've all been suspecting now for quite a while: Marvel are planning to relaunch Iron Fist. The cover features Iron Fist, Misty Knight (looking.... frankly, pretty terrible, if we're being honest. Thankfully the interiors will be drawn by Victor Ibanez, and not Terry Dodson), the Prince of Orphans, and Fat Cobra - with a cursory reference to the fact this is meant to be a Defenders title coming in the form of a small Silver Surfer cameo. Is this proof enough that come the end of AvX, Marvel are going to give Danny Rand a new ongoing series?

Monday, 20 February 2012

Chris Samnee Joins Daredevil

After we heard the news that Marcos Martin was leaving Mark Waid's run on Daredevil to explore new, creator-owned shores, we were sad. A large part of the fun of the series came from watching Martin and Paolo Rivera engage in an extraordinary competition to see who could produce the most breathtaking artwork. With Martin gone, how could Marvel even hope to find somebody who was remotely in the same artistic league? Trust in editor Steve Wacker, because announced this week was the news that Chris Samnee, he of Thor The Mighty Avenger and Ultimate Spiderman fame, will be joining the series with issue #12. Rejoice! Samnee is certainly a worthy contender to face down Rivera, and the battle can be recommenced! Here's a sketch Samnee drew at the start of January, likely before he even knew he'd be hired onto the actual Daredevil series. Expect greatness, you guys!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Return of Wakanda!

We first passed on the rumour about this storyline all the way back in August of last year. Were we ever so young?! And this week, Marvel have confirmed that the next arc of Jonathan Hickman's 'Fantastic Four' series WILL INDEED centre on Black Panther, as he attempts to rebuild his broken country, Wakanda. If you remember, the 'Doomwar' miniseries saw BP forced into liquidating the country's reserves of Vibranium, the precious metal which was the primary export and source of revenue for Wakanda. Well! Now it's time for him to fix things up. The storyline, which features art by Ron Garney, will also cross over with FF, as the kids recruit a new Wakandan member of their science team as part of a field trip to Africa. The arc starts with Fantastic Four #606.

Here's a cover by Mike Choi:

Victory for Comics Vanguard!!!

60 Last Men: #1

Y: The Last Man is the best comic-book series ever written. Here’s why.

Issue #1: Unmanned

“Y: The Last Man was a 60-issue series written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Pia Guerra for Vertigo comics, starting in 2002 and ending in 2008. The series is one of a number of recent works within the comic-book medium to attempt to redefine the approach that comics take towards the representation of women. Vaughan has several times referred to himself as a “feminist” author, and alongside other contemporary works like Empowered or Vaughan’s other series, Runaways; Y: The Last Man focuses on gender and sexual representation in society. The storyline details a global event which kills off every creature with a Y chromosome, and the struggles that women have in recreating their society in the absence of men. The ‘Last Man’ of the title, however, proves to be Vaughan’s central protagonist, Yorick Brown. It is revealed at the end of the first issue that one man has survived this event, and the story proves to centre around him rather than upon the new female-only society.”

Issue #1 of the series introduces us to most of the important characters, flashing backwards and forwards through time as we see where everybody is positioned before the “event” kicks off and results in the death of every male creature on Earth. Yorick appears for the first time on the second page, trapped by a strait jacket he quickly escapes from whilst talking to his girlfriend – he is an amateur magician, and has just bought it for his new trick. As he escapes, his body gradually forms a ‘Y’ shape, which will prove to be a recurring motif for Vaughan as the series continues. Every cover (typically drawn by either Massimo Carnivale or J.G. Jones) features the shape in some form, to represent the longevity and lasting shadow that the Y Chromosome casts over modern society, even as after being wiped out. Yorick is a quick-talking, impulsive, romantic type of protagonist, often playing to his own worst demons as he tries to resist his future and ignore the reality of the broken society which surrounds him.

In Israel, an unnamed woman leads a group of reporters through a war-torn area, attempting to qualm an uprising. Her parents had three children, but only she survived – so by tradition, her name has never been spoken aloud. She calls herself Alter, in lieu of her true name. Alter believes that war is the only way to unite people. Through sharing a common cause, people can stop fighting everybody individually and instead group up to fight a rival side. It may not cause unity, but it creates more unity than having everybody fight for themselves. Another woman without a name, a secret agent who has the codename of “355”, enters a house in Jordan, looking for a diplomat. Or rather, a relic of some kind which the diplomat has hanging round her neck. Before we are told what the relevance of the relic is, the diplomat is shot and 355 has to shoot her way to safety.

A woman admits herself into a hospital in Boston, with her baby coming prematurely. She takes the attending to one side and advises him that she’ll need a private room and a lot of medical attention, because this baby doesn’t have a father – she’s going to give birth to the first cloned child in existence. She is Doctor Mann, and she’s about to break the established idea about male/female procreation. Which, outside in the parking lot, is going on even as she speaks, as Yorick’s sister Hero and her boyfriend have some fun in an ambulance. He’s a fireman, she’s an EMT. He is by no means the fire member of the fire department to spend some time in her ambulance.

While we see brief snippets from all these different women, Yorick talks to his girlfriend over the phone. She’s on placement in Australia, while he’s in his New York apartment. They seem pretty content with each other, if a little disappointed in the nature of their long-distance relationship. But, Yorick has a plan. He’s going to push himself into adulthood by becoming responsible and typical. He’s volunteered to look after a monkey, with the intention of training it up so it can assist in a hospice or care home. On top of that, he has an engagement ring.

The issue cuts everything off as Dr Mann gives birth, 355 flies the relic out of Jordan, and Yorick proposes. At that very moment, every male on Earth starts to cough up blood before collapsing, dead. Not just humans, but animals too. Planes crash as the pilots die, the stock exchange becomes a mass grave, and a nun stands over the dead body of a Priest. All the men are dead. Apart from Yorick. His phone cuts out just as he hears the sound of a woman outside committing suicide, unable to cope with the idea of losing her husband, father, sons.

And that’s where issue #1 ends. Over the next 60 weeks, I’m going to look into the series in hopefully as much depth as has ever been done. I’ll be looking at the context and subtext or the story, the impulses and desires of the characters, and the questions that Vaughan raises about society in general. Not just that, but I’ll also be investigating the way the story is structured, from the time-jumping narrative to the way artist Pia Guerra organises each page. What are the motifs and ideas behind the series? Is it a feminist work, which progresses the discussion about gender within comics? Or does it fail to live up to its premise? One issue a week, I’ll try to get into the heart of Y: The Last Man, and make sense of it all. Wish me luck!

59 more weeks to go.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Just Thought Up a Joke

Superman and Lex Luther are playing golf together. Superman plays an okay game, but bogeys on the last hole and ends up with a score of +1. He stands back and watches as Lex attempts a tough birdie on the final hole - if he gets it, he'll win the game by one stroke.

Lex wipes the sweat from his forehead, lines up, and strikes the ball. But he mis-hits it! It spins off in the wrong direction, bounces off a tree, and lands back on the green.... where it miraculously rolls into the hole. Lex wins!

Superman was irate about this. The last thing he wanted was to lose because of a foe par.

The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred Makes Perfect Sense and You’re Stupid If You Don’t Get It

Here’s a comic ideal for reading on a train, when the woman next to you is elderly, religious, and patently trying to read over your shoulder. Opening with some full-frontal nudity, Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred then goes on to offer some beheadings, an alien conspiracy, radioactive (?) jewellery and a police officer who wishes he were a communist-punching superhero.

It absolutely makes sense. Created by writer David Hine and artist Shaky Kane, TBCD seems to be following up on a series of characters who appeared in a previous miniseries and are now getting killed off or dug up. A lot of the book focuses on events which may or may not be making fun of the mainstream comic-book industry, with central characters who both embody and disprove several well-known tropes of the industry. We start off with a man in a tunnel, digging his way either to freedom or an adventure or something, who surfaces to see a superhero being dug up and brought back into existence. This hero, ‘Coffin Fly’, appears for a few pages, brought back both in the comic and by the creative team who created the comic, and then vanishes. He’ll presumably return in another issue?

Next, a beheaded corpse then leads us to meet two different characters, as the comic completely shifts away from the tunnelling man and instead focuses on policeman Johnny P. Sartre, whose ideas about police vigilance have been greatly affected by his love for comics. Determined to prove that every single murder in the city is connected somehow, he slowly becomes either insane or incredibly astute and eventually attributes everything to some kind of alien conspiracy, His partner, Ginger Palmer, is oblivious to the fact that he believes she and he should become communist-smashing caped heroes, in true 1950s-radio style.

A lot of people commit suicide. This all makes absolute sense.

After looking at some jewellery which shines in a bizarre, otherworldly manner (one of which is a gold swastika), he pieces together the fact that everybody he knows is in on this alien conspiracy and proceeds to a final showdown with his nemesis. Sort of. Then he becomes a superhero and the comic ends. Again, there’s satire at work here, but without knowing what happened in the first volume, it races right over the head of just about anybody who reads it new. Sartre, who has an American flag tattooed on his arm and watches good, American cartoons like Top Cat (I think), becomes a delusional madman superhero, and will presumably return later on in the miniseries. Next up, though? Some kind of zombie jazz enthusiast with a mysterious fridge. This all makes absolute sense.

I'm not writing a review here. This is a relatively short piece, because I’m really hoping the comments section is going to go into overdrive.

Marvel Unveil Their All-Ages Titles

Marvel came in for a lot of flack from fans after they seemingly cancelled every one of their All-Ages 'Marvel Adventures' titles earlier this year. There's been a lot of concern that, at the moment, comics are bought primarily by an aging market, with no young readers getting into comics to ensure a long-term future for the industry. But last month came the news that Marvel were going to replace Marvel Adventures with a different line of comics - ones based on their successful cartoon properties.

DC are well-known for their successful attempts to transfer their comics properties into other media, with TV shows like "Batman: The Brave and the Bold", "Teen Titans" and more capturing young viewers' attention - and even inspiring DC to introduce original TV characters like Harley Quinn into their comics. So it makes sense for Marvel to follow their lead, in the wake of their popular cartoon "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" and the soon-to-launch "Ultimate Spiderman" series. This April, two comics will launch from a revamped Marvel Universe line, featuring high-profile creative teams who are very much experienced in both comics and television.

Chris Yost, writer of Scarlet Spider for Marvel but also showrunner for "Earth's Mightiest Avengers", will write the comic-book version of the series, joined by artist Adam DeKraker. Meanwhile, Dan Slott and Ty Templeton will unite for Ultimate Spiderman, a comic which will also have stories created by the entire "Man of Action" studio. Man of Action are a collection of TV/comic-book writers who created the series Ben 10 amongst others, and count Joe Kelly (who was one of the writers for Amazing Spider-Man during the 'Brand New Day' era), Joe Casey, Steven Seagle and Duncan Roleau. We would assume that the story would be written by Kelly, but all four have previous comics experience, so it actually might be a rotating job for the team, with one person creating a new vignette every issue.

At any rate, it's a promising show of committment from Marvel, and a sign that they're willing to compete with DC's All-Ages titles in attempting to bring new fans to the world of comic-books.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Return of the Ultra Dynamo

If you pick up this week's issue of Iron Man, you can enjoy the glorious return of Galina Nemirovsky, also known as THE ULTRA DYNAMO. Created during Marvel's landmark miniseries 'Darkstar & The Winter Guard', she quit the team in protest at their politics and went rogue - only to now return, angry at Iron Man for no particular reason and ready to SMASH HIS FACE IN. Hurray! Here she is:

Is Nightwing Your Favourite Character?

A recent survey by DC revealed that 95% of people who were buying their New DC reboot comics were male. Now, that figure is nowhere near an accurate reality of the comic-book market, but it does serve as a reminder that mainstream comics don’t have anything like as many female readers as, say, anime does. Or normal novels. People can and have repeatedly gone into discussion over why this is, and what it is that female readers actually want. Do they want fewer female characters who aren’t worried about their sexuality? Would they like Zatanna to show less leg and for Wonder Woman to be more aggressive and violent? Or, as I’m now going to suggest, do they actually not care especially about female-led comics at all?

Ask a full-on female fan of DC who their favourite character is, and you’ll get all kinds of answers. But if you really want to get into the heart of what drives female readers into stores, just as them the following question:

“do you like Nightwing?”

YES YES OF COURSE YOU DO. Nightwing is an insanely popular character, the very first Robin grown up and turned into a youthful, vibrant, witty version of Batman. Imagine Bruce Wayne but with most of the brooding replaced by silly banter and acrobatics. That’s Dick Drayson. As written by Kyle Higgins in the current Nightwing series by Kyle Higgins, Dick Grayson remains the most eligible bachelor in the DC Universe. He may be capable and smart, but he’s also quiet and introverted in a way which makes him struggle to keep up with the women in his life. Batgirl runs circles around him on a constant basis, for example. And he’s fine with it. Unlike Spider-Man, who is smarter than all his female companions and also has no difficulty keeping them around despite being a bit of an entitled idiot, Nightwing consistently fails to keep the attention of the girls he likes. He’s lovelorn in the extreme.

And that’s something which you don’t see anywhere else in comics, for the most part. Especially at DC where, the central Trinity of characters are disarmingly sexless. Wonder Woman is maintained to be a virgin, while Superman keeps in chaste marriage to Lois Lane and Batman has to be doused in chemicals before he can be persuaded to take a woman to bed. The DC Universe has sexless characters at the core and “sexy” characters like Catwoman prowling the perimeter, constantly threatening to unsettle the flow of power. Nightwing sits in the middle, a sexually-active but inconsistent romantic who wins over women but can’t keep them. He wants to be in a relationship – unlike another female fan-favourite, Gambit, who can never admit how devoted he is to Rogue – but can’t quite keep it together. Even now, the girl he likes is secretly betraying him, once again showing him to be one step behind the woman in his life.

That’s where the line of gender melts away for DC. It’s not in changing the way that the female characters are represented – they already have some of the most diverse and interesting female characters in the entirety of comics. Changing the female characters to make them reflect the male ones doesn’t help anything, and it certainly doesn’t make the female fanbase more interested in reading, say, the Joker-inspired Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad. It’s by offering more interesting male characters, who neither balk at sex nor treat it as their right, that DC can start making comics more interesting for both sexes. Nightwing has a massive fanbase, both male and female, because he speaks to both. Women aren’t interested in reading another issue where Superman fights a robot and then goes back to gently tuck himself into bed with Lois (generalisations!), but seeing Dick Grayson beat himself up over not being able to approach a girl he likes? That’s more realistic, interesting, and entertaining for everyone. Isn’t it?

Incidentally the current Nightwing series by Higgins and artists Eddy Barrows/Geraldo Borges is very good right now.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

IDW Have the True Blood Franchise Rights, and... Ann Nocenti?

In what seems like a series of bizarre unfolding creative choices, IDW Publishing have announced that they now have the rights to the True Blood franchise - Alan Ball's vampires-having-sex-in-the-deep-south TV series. True Blood is a massively popular show all over the world, taking Twilight and extending it to the logical real-world conclusion of outlandish sex, drugs, and freakish horrible nightmares. So bringing it into the world of comics seems like a smart move, especially during a period when female readers are apparently in declince. True Blood has a HUGE female fanbase.

IDW have announced the creative team for this ongoing True Blood series to be... Ann Nocenti and Michael Gaydos. Let's look into that a little bit.

That would be Ann Nocenti, the legendary Marvel editor and writer, whose Daredevil stories are still held as some of the best work ever done in mainstream comics. After years out of the industry, DC announced her - with considerable fanfare - as the new writer for their Green Arrow series. It was a massive coup. Now here she is, writing True Blood - but not alone. She's getting a co-writer in the form of TV actor (and occasional comic writer) Michael McMillian. IDW have one of the biggest, most famous names in comics... and make her a co-writer. It seems more than a little bizarre, but then again, it's hard to tell just how closely Nocenti follows the series. Perhaps she is here to plot the title, while McMillian - who obviously knows the characters well - can provide dialogue which matches them.

Michael Gaydos is best-known for his work drawing Alias, alongside Brian Michael Bendis. His art... doesn't exactly seem suited for a comic which is meant to be filled with shiny, handsome people. Gaydos does realistic, imperfect characters. For him to be drawing a series like this seems strange, unless he's changing his style.

But anyway, I suppose now we'll have to read the first issue, to see what Nocenti does with it. It's hard to resist.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Jason Aaron Drags Steve Dillon and Frank Castle to Hulk

This teaser image is the most exciting part of it all, though. Michael Komarck bringing B-Movie glory to the Hulk franchise! We're especially looking forward to seeing his covers for this, Jason Aaron's second arc on the relaunched Hulk series. There's also a fairly interesting premise at work here - if Hulk ever stops being ANGRY, he'll apparently fade into nothing, and vanish from existence. Without the rage that sustains the Hulk form, there is no reason for the green giant to exist. On top of that, a hoarde of drug-runners are going to surface nearby, bringing Frank Castle and Kraven the Hunter into the mix as well.

Tension-raisingly, Jason Aaron has also hinted WINTER GUARD cameos. Will they happen?!

Each issue of the arc seems set to feature a different artist, as Steve Dillon will only be drawing the first part - Pasqual Ferry is slated to draw issue #9, but beyond that we don't yet know what Marvel have planned.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Cyclops Vs Wolverine: Five Months In

Everybody’s been enjoying the ‘Regenesis’ rebranding of Marvel’s X-Men line (right?), which saw Cyclops and Wolverine have an ideological split and break the X-Men into two halves. One half stayed with Cyclops on Utopia, and decided to impress the World by stressing the one thing humans and mutants have in common: neither want to be invaded by aliens or Mr Sinister or these strange bat-thingies that have suddenly started living in Montana. Wolverine’s half of the team – which includes many of the more popular characters amongst the fanbase such as Rogue, Iceman, Cannonball and Kitty Pryde – have opened a school to teach young mutants the importance of integration with humanity. Regardless of which side you think is right (personally we side with Cyclops, at least in theory), the end results have been excellent for telling stories. Kieron Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men and Jason Aaron’s Wolverine & The X-Men have both been quirky, interesting tangents for the X-Men franchise.


In an ideal World, we’d have them fight while Harry Hill amps up an already-excitable ITV audience. But life is filled with sorrows, and Hill’s absence here will just have to be one of them. Let’s look at Uncanny first, Wolverine second, and see how far both titles have come over the past five months.

Uncanny X-Men

Kieron Gillen had the hardest side of things. His Uncanny X-Men is basically a continuation of everything that’s happened before – his core cast members remain the same, only several of them have now been ripped from his grasp. The characters all still exist on Utopia, and the mission hasn’t changed particularly. Cyclops still believes that mutantkind should unite as a militant force, ready to pro-actively take down anybody who wishes them harm. Nothing has really changed, except there are less characters available to use and now the team have to deal with the aftermath of Schism hanging over them – and everything they do.

The first issue of Uncanny X-Men had them face off against Mr Sinister, who had decided the next evolution of mankind from homo superior should be... Mr Sinister. Issue five sees the third arc begin, with a slightly-tweaked line-up (Emma Frost is out, Psylocke is in) and an overview of how far the characters have all come. It is, actually, the perfect issue to look over the series as a whole. Gillen’s team of eight are all paired-off partway through the issue, which is ostensibly a ‘Dark Angel Saga’ fallout storyline. After Uncanny X-Force killed off Angel and blew up part of Montana, the X-Men head off to investigate, with only Psylocke aware of what’s actually happened.

She pairs off with Magneto, who proceeds to completely demolish what little self-esteem she has left as he openly mocks her for her role in the Montana incident. Hope, meanwhile, prepares for Avengers Vs X-Men by flirting at Namor, and Magik tries to convince her brother that there is something worth living for. And during all this, Storm and Cyclops are trying to still get to grips with the aftermath of Schism, and what their future will be. So it’s more business as usual for Uncanny, really, as the title simultaneously deals with plots started by Jason Aaron, Matt Fraction, Rick Remender and more, while Gillen throws some of his own stories in for good measure. Uncanny has always been the title which deals with everybody else’s mess, but here Gillen proves himself one of the few writers who can actually handle something like that. A poisoned chalice, Uncanny has been a wasteland where talented writers go to dust and ashes for decades now. Gillen’s starting to reverse that trend, and good luck to him there.

Wolverine & The X-Men

Jason Aaron’s attempt to mix Grant Morrison’s X-Men with…. Kieron Gillen’s X-Men style, Wolverine & The X-men is a fresh-feeling comic which hurls comic moments and subplots at the reader with wild abandon. Aaron is clearly having a ball as he takes the majority of the good student characters, adds some interesting and entertaining ones of his own, and causes mayhem with them all. Fan-favourite characters abound, from Doop to Quentin Quire and Husk. The book touches on all the different student books that have come before, but focuses entirely on madcap entertainment rather than character development or thematic resonance. Wolverine and Kitty Pryde run the school, with Iceman, Cannonball, Beast and Rachel Grey amongst the various teaching staff responsible for looking after the kids. Every issue features at least four different subplots, with one taking centre stage as the others circle round and cause Wolverine no end of stress.

Issue one of the series saw the school open, as Kitty Pryde toured two school inspectors around and tried to distract them from the general madness that goes on every day. Issue five sees about seven different storylines unfold, from Angel being declared unfit to run his company, to Kitty Pryde’s ‘pregnancy’, to Beast shrinking some of his students so he can go explore the inner-workings of Toad’s body, and offer a science lecture to them. There are also, excellently, a hoarde of mini-Nightcrawlers running around, scrawling “wolverine eats boogers” on the architecture and causing chaos wherever they go. The book races about, with cutaway jokes, bizarre one-liners, and a definite sense of homage to Grant Morrison’s work. A new title burdened with high expectations, Wolverine & The X-Men currently has enough momentum to keep things going smoothly.

Uncanny X-Men Vs Wolverine & The X-Men

While Uncanny has a tendency to ignore the central cast and focus too much on the villains, or the location, W/X-Men has too much focus on the cast and no idea what its long-term plans might be. Aaron packs a lot of different sub-plots into each issue, but that also means most characters default back to their generic character-traits: every issue Lockheed is angry, Quentin Quire is rebellious, Idie is religious and Doop is a visual joke. It’s nice to see Aaron attempting such an ambitiously large cast, but at some point Rogue and Gambit will turn up too, and there’s simply too many characters for anyone to get real focus. Uncanny X-Men treats the end of The Dark Angel Saga as an important moment for mutants, and Psylocke/Magneto in particular. W/X-Men generally treats it as a bit of a joke.

The jokes are a tad forced, at times, too. Gillen throws most of his jokes into his uniquely-written dialogue, matching Storm’s haughtiness with Namor’s lack of modesty, and so on. Aaron simply writes a lot of jokes, and throws them all on the page in the hope that some will hit home. Both titles are well-written, but Uncanny seems more geared towards longevity at the moment. Not that Gillen writes perfectly – one recent issue was essentially a twenty-two page speech given by Mr Sinister, with little room for the other characters to breathe. Storm, too, is a victim of recurring character-beats. Each issue so far she either makes fun of Cyclops or comments about the nature of violence – there’s more to her than that.

Artwise, W/X-Men is miles ahead of Uncanny. Nick Bradshaw in particular is a complete delight on this series, mixing elements of Frank Quitely with Art Adams to create a style all his own. Every page he draws throws in tonnes of small details and quirks which truly enhance everything that Aaron writes. Uncanny, meanwhile, has Greg Land doing the best work of his life – which is still rather poor, but at least not as poor as it’s tended to be in the past. Cyclops smiles or grimaces most of the time, which makes it hard to tell what Gillen’s subtext may be at any given point. And there is a lot of subtext in Gillen’s writing, which is largely absent from Aaron’s work here. Cyclops seems conflicted and difficult to like – Wolverine is a hero, a try-hard teacher and put-upon friend. He’s getting away with rather a lot, considering he’s currently running a black-ops team which recently had to put down one of his oldest friends.

Although both titles are excellent at the moment, W/X-Men is more entertaining and Uncanny is more interesting. What would actually work best, strangely enough, is if Gillen and Aaron swapped titles, and wrote about something closer to their personal strengths. But based entirely on the five five issues of both series? Uncanny X-Men is the better-written, more independent and daring comic of the two. Wolverine and the X-Men has yet to build any sense of urgency or importance, while Uncanny has been building up its cast for five months in a row. If Gillen starts ramping things up – as seems to be happening with his ‘AvX’ crossover issues – then we could be onto that rarest of things: a decent Uncanny X-Men run.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Kaboom! Announce Another New Title...

Written by Mark Evanier, and drawn by Gary Barker. You can read a full interview with Evanier on CBR, but here's the jist: lasagne, cats, mayhem, lasagne. Garfield has always been fun - and the announcement of this title adds even more weight to our theory that talking cats are poised to take over the comic-book industry. First Animal Man, then Memorial, and now Garfield?! This is excellent news!

There are also rumoured to be two backup stories in the comic, which will launch in May. And personally, we're hoping that one of them will be Garfield Minus Garfield..

Journey Into Mystery/New Mutants Crossover Means More Art by STEPHANIE HANS

We've got our priorities straight, here at Comics Vanguard. Although Marvel have just announced a interesting crossover between Kieron Gillen's 'Journey Into Mystery' title and Dan Abnett/Andy Lanning's 'New Mutants' (called "Exiled"), the REAL story here is that Stephanie Hans has done a gigantic cover for all five issues of the crossover. A ComVan fan-favourite, Hans has drawn every cover for Journey Into Mystery so far, and her artwork makes even the worst of the New Mutants (Doug Ramsey) look excellent. Hurray! Here's her giant fold-over cover thingy, which will presumably be split into five parts for the storyline. Click to make it large

Exiled will take over two issues of each title, with a Prologue out in May to kick things off.

The Imaginary World of Memorial

Memorial #3, out now, takes Chris Roberson and Rich Ellis' fairytale series and delves right into the heart of the story. While the first two issues showed us new worlds, creatures and ideas; issue #3 takes them and juxtaposes them with our own reality. As lead character Em starts to regain her purpose and work out what's going on, so Roberson's script starts to layer in some subtle ideas about the nature of creativity and creation. So! Sounds like it's time for Comics Vanguard to pick out the ol' magnifying glass and investigate further.

Half of the issue tours Em round a grand library, overseen by a man called Babylon - obviously a reference to the grandstanding King from the Bible, who orders a tower built in his honour. Only, Babylon wants the tower to climb all the way to Heaven, which makes God cross - so God strikes the tower down, and forces foreign tongues upon all the builders. This causes the builders to learn French, English, Russian, and (for some poor sods) Japanese. This towering library seems to have something in common with that, as Babylon discusses with Em the endless possibility of a story. The various librarians narrate their own personal narratives as Em walks by, in a series of languages.

What's interesting in this comic is the way in which the characters create their own reality, essentially playing God as they build a narrative and act it out. The existence of "Is", "Was" and "Maybe" as physical worlds where people and ideas live suggests that perhaps reality only exists because we create it using our imagination. Babylon states in the issue that the people of the library are all blind, which allows them to imagine what the past might have been like, and what might happen in the future. Take that and apply it to yourself: if you close your eyes, are you in the process destroying reality around you, only to remake it when you open your eyes once more? If you look at a green apple and close your eyes, does the apple remain green? Or does it not matter?

Babylon also discusses how imagination/narrative can not only create or destroy reality, but also how they assist in understanding what reality really is. It's by creating stories - "what if I trip on this crack in the pavement?" - that people prepare themselves and keep themselves safe. By creating a scenario where you fall over, you act to ensure that this narrative never comes to pass. And when Roberson has physically created a land of Maybe (home to Schrodinger, the cat who may or may not exist), it begs the reader to wonder what might exist there. Here's the great thing: if you wonder if the land of Maybe has unicorns living there, you create the possibility that they do, and therefore you confirm their existence in the land of maybe. Upon doing this, the unicorns then transfer across to the land of Is, as you have just confirmed their existence. The reader actively takes part in creating the World of Memorial, and setting out what does and does not exist there.

The most telling line of the issue comes towards the end, as part of Roberson's narration. It goes; "without knowing what she had done, Em had unlocked something".

That's what the premise of Memorial allows the reader to do. Subconsciously and consciously, they act to build Worlds, which exist parallel to one another. It's an utterly fascinating thing, and demonstrates just one more reason why you should BUY THIS BOOK.

We'll go into all this theory in more and more depth as the series continues. Which, is something you should be excited for! Or is it? You decide - it's your future.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Everybody Fights Talons for The Night of Owls

In which a legion of heavily-costumed thugs march into Gotham and attempt to stab everybody in a Bat-costume. Since when did the Batman books became a metaphor for Jewish suffering during WWII?

Well, anyway. The Night of Owls, Scott Snyder's crossover storyline for the Bat-titles, starts in May proper. Among the titles taking part will be Batman, Nightwing, Batgirl, Batwing, Red Hood, Catwoman, Batman & Robin, and, uh, All-Star Western. Snyder will also write a Batman Annual which reintroduces classic villain Mr Freeze to readers of the New 52, as he is somehow connected to the Owls.

While the main title, Batman, is approaching the story as a way to look at Bruce Wayne's self-belief and doubt, most of the other books seem to be approaching the story in a much simpler "let's fight Talons NOW" way. Batgirl, Red Hood, Damian Wayne and Batwing all seem to be jumping in to the story just for a one-issue story where the main character fights one of the Talon villains. Batman: The Dark Knight is even getting involved, as Red Robin takes over the title to fight a Talon for a bit.

Other titles look to be getting more deeply involved in the story, however. Kyle Higgins; who is in charge of Nightwing and also helped co-create the Court of Owls way back with Scott Snyder during their "Gates of Gotham" miniseries; is getting involved in a slightly different way. It seems as though Dick Grayson will be fighting a "fake" Talon, so there's some intrigue there. Catwoman is going to be protecting Penguin during the event, for some reason, while All-Star Western (which is set in the past) will look back to the first few years of the Court of Owls, and how their rise affected protagonist Jonah Hex.

Batwoman will completely ignore the crossover, for the time being, as will Detective Comics. And also, keep in mind that the event will be kept within the main books, with no new titles or spinoffs planned for the time being. Cost-effective!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

How Will These Things Factor Into AvX?

In an interview with Newsarama, Kieron Gillen announced that his entire X-Men run has been created with the intention of leading the series seemlessly into Avengers Vs X-Men, the big event of this Spring/Summer for Marvel. Every page, every panel, every single line of dialogue was crafted to foreshadow and build up AvX. Which means that THESE THINGS must surely be showing up in the event somewhere...

Dazzler and Pixie are BFFs

Pixie had a bit of a tiff with Dazzler during Gillen's first Uncanny X-Men arc, 'Quarantine', but they eventually made up in the most heartwarming panel to also feature classic Welsh slang thrown about regardless of America's ability to understand it, of 2011. With the news that the Avengers are going to throw Pixie into a concentration camp, are we about to see Dazzler affect the single most fabulous jailbreak of all time? WILL DAZZLER PUNCH TIGRA IN THE FACE?? During the Regenesis one-shot, Dazzler was revealed as the new overseer of the New X-Men students (or at least the remaining ones), and she definitely now needs to stand up and rescue her charges. You've made a promise, Kieron Gillen!

Adam X is the X-Men's Plan B

When all else fails, Cyclops' last-gasp plan involves throwing Adam X, THE X-TREME, at his problems. He was ineffective against the Dark X-Men and less effective against Juggernaut. But will he be effective against Luke Cage?

Oneg The Prober is Hanging Around

Gillen's first arc of the relaunched Uncanny X-Men not only saw Mr Sinister reasserting himself as superior to homo superior, but also brought in those cheeky funsters The Celestials for a quick cameo. They didn't really have much to do, in honesty, but it seems pretty clear that they appeared for some kind of reason which, as of this moment, remains known only to Marvel. Amongst the Celestials was the big cheese himself, the creator of mutantkind, Oneg The Prober. Some people believe him to be the greatest X-Man of all time, y'know. If Oneg's still around, keeping an eye on his favourite guys, then you can guarantee that he'll leap in last-minute to save Utopia from a nuclear explosion.

Magneto Knows

Months and months back, Magneto stumbled upon the existence of Uncanny X-Force and asked Wolverine to do a favour for him. More recently, in the current 'Tabula Rasa' storyline, Mags has once again started asking questions about Wolverine's secret hit-squad - this time to Psylocke. Wolverine's side of the Schism is based on the premise that mutants should be integrated with society, that children should not be born into conflict, and that everybody can be whatever they want to be. Unless, that is, they want to not be part of a secret black ops kill squad. One of the original five X-Men recruited by Xavier was on that team, and now he's dead. If Wolverine wants to hold the higher ground during AvX, then Magneto is the one who can destroy him. But will he do it?

New Image: Hustling The Thief of Thieves

There is absolutely no chance whatsoever that I won't at some point get the i and e of thieves mixed up at some point during this review. Theif of Theives is a new #1 from Image comics, released this week. The idea behind the creation of the series seems to be something Image are pushing towards: they take one of the A-List writers, like Robert Kirkman, and have him plot a book for one of their other writers to pick up and run with, adding their own dialogue and character beats to the narrative. In this case, Kirkman is plotting the book while Nick Spencer, from off of Morning Glories and several other Image titles, scripts. It seems like a clever way for Image to promote two of their wrters at once. Fans of Walking Dead and Invincible will recognise Kirkman's name and pick up the book, and if they like it they might be more tempted in future to pick up some of Spencer's comics.

Close in style to the TV show Hustle (this is a heist comic) Thief of Thieves jumps around with the timeframe in true television tradition in order to keep the readers five steps behind the characters. This being a first issue, Spencer is left the job of getting a lot of exposition into the story without it feeling forced, and uses the jumps through time to do so. Instead of the characters saying "remember that time we...", Spencer simply jumps to the time thet actually did it, so we can experience it for ourselves. At first the jumps throw the reader off and are a little confusing, but once we start to understand who is working for whom, things become a lot more enjoyable.

Another reference for the comic seems to be Burn Notice, as some of the most effective parts of the comic are essentially Nick Spencer telling us how to jack a car. Although the main character here, Redmond, is a lot more jaded than any thief you ever see on TV, his presence does have an immediate charisma, and you can see how he manages to get away with all the things he does. To this extent, artist Shawn Martinborough helps things immensely. Superb at drawing steely gazes, Martinborough also throws in some fun perspective shifts to keep the conversation scenes flowing, and colourist Felix Serrano creates a startling visual style for the comic. The last three pages, in particular, benefit from some dynamic colouring which makes Martinborough's expressive art pop from the page.

The last page is really good fun, too. With entertaining dialogue, an interesting plot and clever last page, Thief of Thieves looks like a comic worth sticking with. A Heist Comic lives or dies on the strength of the actual heist, but Kirkman and Spencer have set things up very nicely. The letter by Kirkman, which follows the comic and explains his reasons for creating it, is not very good, however. We advise you skip it, because... it's kinda obnoxious. Superhero comics can be dynamic and fresh and new, and just because you don't like them doesn't automatically make them staid and insipid. AND THAT'S TOLD YOU!

Oh dead. I get the feeling like Robert Kirkman just tricked me into furthering the debate about superhero comics.

But, ahem, yes. Thief of Thieves: rather good comic. It doesn't so anything to revolutionise the way this sort of story is done, but it's slick, professional, and we're looking forward to issue 2.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Travel Foreman Explains His Reasons for Leaving Animal Man

Taken from a post made on the CBR forums by Travel:

"I just want to chime in briefly, because everyone here has been so supportive of the book and because there's so much behind the scenes stuff that goes on with these books... I read a lot of comics and I too get confused about whats going on in some books and ultimately feel like we're getting a raw deal sometimes.

The change on Animal Man boils down to the reason I was on the book to begin with, which was that I needed to take on a job after my mother died (to deal with the financial end of someone being sick for a while and then passing) and Animal Man was the only thing DC was going to let me do. Which in any other time frame would have been perfect.
But really the context of me dealing with the death of my mom and drawing the kind of content in Animal Man just burned me out sooner than I thought.

I had hoped to stay on the book until at least the spring so that the artist I wanted to replace me was free from his commitments, but I would have ultimately just dragged the book down if I did, because it was becoming harder and harder to concentrate on the work.

Steve was bending over backwards on his fill-ins to keep the book on schedule so you have to keep that in consideration. Really, he won't skip a beat once he's doing the book full time.

Thanks, everyone."

Our apologies to DC and to Travel for any slight we made earlier today when we first reported the artist shuffle. And something else we hadn't realised before we grumpily complained about this to you: this news means we get to see Duane Swierczynski and Travel Foreman reunite, after their stellar run on Immortal Iron Fist. Hurray!

An Incomplete List of the Awesome Stuff in Adventure Time #1

Adventure Time issue #1 came out this week. It’s amazing. If you noticed anything yourself that you want to hi-five about, then list it in the comments!

With that said, let’s list one amazing thing which happens on each page.

Page 1: A woodworm experiences the thrill of a lifetime

Page 2: We discover the exclusive news that the possibility of adventure occurring is UNLIMITED

Page 3: This is the first comic to ever be physically published, but with internet alt-text included on several pages. Uh-oh! Secret second jokes!

Page 4: The snail still thinks he’s made a friend.

Page 5: A two-headed duck!

Page 6: Slant asymptotic, dude.

Page 7: Jake tries to remind Finn about his priorities RE: saving lives

Page 8: Jake is also worried about Finn’s use of footholds

Page 9: Can’t pick just one thing

Page 10: dinosaur skeletons!

Page 11: The lettering goes BIG and then small and stretches out forrreevvveeerrrrrr

Page 12: Finn makes what appears to be a very rude gesture with his hand

Page 13: sweet neck grains!

Page 14: PENGUIN!

Page 15: To be continued – there will be an issue 2! It comes out next month!

Page 16 onwards: OH MY! A second story! Yayyyyyyyy

This may be the most incomprehensible post we've ever made. Adventure Time #1 is so much fun! Writer Ryan North has brilliantly matched the tone of the series, with artists Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb throwing in everything you could want to see in an Adventure Time comic. The backup story, both written and drawn by Aaron Renier, is excellent.

Kaboom have, as of this very moment, a PERFECT line-up of titles. There is not ONE dud amongst the batch – Peanuts is good, Adventure Time is great, and Snarked is fantastic. Absolutely fantastic stuff – now it’s up to every other company to try and match up with this incredibly high standard.


DC's Questionable Creative Cascade Continues

DC are going to continue their "cascade" of creative-team switcharounds in May, with several artists tranferring from one book to another, for seemingly no reason. And... while we've already tried to hazard a guess at why they moved Jeff Lemire and Peter Milligan around earlier this month, throwing "Stormwatch" at Milligan and asking if he can save that sinking ship, we're at a loss to explain the news that several of their artists are being moved from one title to another, apparently at random.

Animal Man will be the starting point here, as acclaimed artist Travel Foreman leaves the title which he is being acclaimed for and moves to Birds of Prey. He will be replaced by Steve Pugh, who drew several issues of the 1990s Animal Man title. This pushes current Birds of Prey artist Jesus Merino over to Resurrection Man. That then pushes current Resurrection Man artist Fernando Dagnino over onto Suicide Squad.

And, seemingly, current Suicide Squad artist Federico Dallocchio vanishes into the ether.

Why are DC switching around the creative teams so much? After a massively promising start for their New 52 Initiative, this seems like an unbelievable step backwards for the company. Birds of Prey and Animal Man have both been received well by readers and critics, and the loss of Foreman in particular is bound to hurt the current Animal Man series, for whom his art is a headline draw.

Hopefully all the artists will be able to switch their styles and adjust quickly to the new comics they'll be drawing in May. Because otherwise, DC have just made a huge mistake.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Conan The Barbarian #1 - REVIEW

Who is Conan? He doesn’t appear to be either a Barbarian or Austrian, for one thing. Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s relaunch of Dark Horse’s Conan series gives us a rather smart, somewhat entitled hero who spends more time sitting around on boats talking about beer than he does smiting civilised heads from their shoulders. Dark Horse are pitching this relaunch, which begins with Wood’s retelling of the original Robert E. Howard Conan story “Queen of the Black Coast”, as a perfect jumping-on point for new readers. And for Conan too, who literally jumps into this story to kickstart what seems to be a somewhat intense mythical and personal journey which will at some point also feature a big swordfight on a pirate ship.

I know nothing about Conan apart from the films, which are routinely terrible and don’t feature nearly enough wrestling with boars for my liking. So even before I picked up this issue, I was highly sceptical about even a stellar creative team like this being able to get me interested in Conan. As ever, I was absolutely wrong. Conan The Barbarian #1 is not about gore and boobs and people wearing animal pelts and eating raw meat. It’s instead a fascinating comic which plays directly into Wood’s strengths as a writer: his narrative and pacing. The bulk of the issue has the main character lounging around on a boat, telling a few stories about his past and hopeful future to a group of surprisingly accommodating merchants. But rather than seemingly dull or draggy, this sequence perfectly leads the reader into an unnerving dream sequence, drawn by Cloonan with incredible precision and inflection. Can images have inflection? They can when Becky Cloonan draws them.

The entire issue flirts with reality, giving us a look at a different time and throwing Conan entirely out of his comfort zone. Perhaps going straight into an adaptation of one of the more off-kilter Conan story wasn’t the best idea for an issue #1, as we only get to hear about Conan’s strengths as a swordsman and not see them. But instead of it building into a weakness, Wood instead deftly plots around the issue and makes it a point of tension for the readers – to what extent is Conan actually gifted, and to what extent is he bluster? This conflict is explicitly pointed out to the readers, and is one of several moments where Wood predicts a reader’s reaction to a page and acts out on it within the narrative.

The writing is poetic in the extreme, mixing Moby Dick with Treasure Island and throwing in some Edgar Allen Poe for good measure. Not literally. There are no crows in this issue. Cloonan’s art is obviously another big draw for readers, and Wood immediately bows to this with an opening double-page splash which has only one narrative caption but tells the reader everything they want to know about the main character. It’s wonderful, and Cloonan’s character design and background work only improves from there. The Black Queen herself is a fabulously beguiling creation, playing with gothic fiction and dramatically seizing attention from the readers. Cloonan’s helped in no small part by the stellar colouring of Dave Stewart, whose work again offers a mix of the startling and the subtle. The sailors, for example, all have eyes tinged slightly red from all the sea spray they encounter. A tiny detail, but one which adds to the story greatly.

Conan The Barbarian #1 is a surprise, a wonderfully written (I desperately want to use the phrase deftly written a second time, but shall refrain) comic which acts as a showcase for Wood and Cloonan’s unmatchable comic chemistry. Every panel is carefully placed and written and drawn, and the quality shines through on each page. A masterclass in how to produce a comic, Conan #1 is on sale right now. We’d well advise you to pick it up.