Panels for December 2011: Odin and friends

 Here we go for December!

American Vampire #22
by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque

Chew  #22
by John Layman and Rob Guillory
Golf players! What a bunch of thugs.

Daredevil #6 and #7
by Mark Waid, Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera

Look at all those lines! It's a big task to draw radar sense the way Rivera draws it.

Flash #4
by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccelllato
Look at this. The art is literally turning the comic book panel for us so we can see what happens. It's a very exciting way to show what's going on.

There are some sweet two-page spreads going on in this issue, and the last three pages are great too, but I can't scan all those. . .

Ultimate Comics The Ultimates #1-3
by Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic
This is how I'll be spending New Year's Eve.

Last serials for 2011: The Flash, American Vampire. . . .

Here it is, folks! The last Wednesday's brought a new set of comic book serials for the year 2011. And what a Wednesday it is. My sister gave me a giftcard for Chicago's local chain, Graham Crackers Comics, so I've taken the opportunity to try out a few funny books I wouldn't have otherwise. Today we're looking at not two, not three, but five titles. Let me know what you think.

American Vampire #22
by Snyder and Albuquerque

Dig that cover! Rafael Albuquerque returns to American Vampire and the word from the bird is, he's cookin'! Continuing with the vampire in American history, Snyder tells the first of the four-part story of a teenage rebel with a cause: hunting down the vampires in his area. Also, he gets a malted milkshake. Oh god, I love America in the 50s.

Albuquerque's inks aren't as polished in a few panels, as much as I'd like, but still refreshing to read. Snyder presents a "bad-boy-whom-the-parents-won't-approve-of" story and makes a plot twist -- with vampires! I'm definitely sticking around for next ish.

Captain America #5
by Brubaker, McNiven, Camuncoli and Leisten

I'm dropping the title with this issue, and I say good riddance. Cap and the gang beat up the bad guy, while the other bad guy escapes to sow more discontent and doubt in Cap's mind.For five issues, the conclusion is more simple than I'd like it to be, and the issues don't seem interested in providing much more story. Without much of a story value, and without the art from Steve McNiven, I'm not enough of a Cap fan to stick with the $3.99 title.

Captain America & Bucky #625
by Asmus, Brubaker and Francavilla

But I'd still rather read about Captain America. There's some blogosphere hype surrounding Francavilla, and the title's still reasonable at $2.99, so I picked up the new storyline. It turns out Phineas Horton, the creator of the android Human Torch, also made a second android: Adam II, who went on to create its own droids. Cap investigates with the grandson of William Naslund, the man who succeeded our Cap and was killed by Adam II. CLIFFHANGER: Oh snap is that android Bucky Barnes?

There's a lot of backstory to wade through, but the craft is competent enough that I'll check out the next part. Did you get this issue? What did you think?

Daredevil #7
by Waid and Riveras

 This came out last week, but I decided not to visit my shop last week. Paolo Rivera returns for a one-shot, in which Daredevil sherpherds a bus-full of blind kids to safety in a snowstorm. The ending is particularly inspiring, but, well, I work with 1st- and 2nd-graders, and it'd be grand to think they'd do that on a field trip (they wouldn't).

Normally I'd recommend Daredevil furiously, but I don't think anyone would enjoy this issue unless they've been keeping up with it to begin with. Consider the Spider-Man crossover next month -- I will be picking that up. Also, what happened in the last page of this issue? Did somebody dig up Jack Murdock's grave?

Flash #4
by Manapul and Buccellato

HAHAHAHAHAHA! Wow. Manapul takes some cues from Batwoman's J.H. Williams III, and makes some insane layouts to frame flashbacks and stories within the main story. There's a lot of it in order to explain Manuel Lago's backstory, and it looks fucking fantastic. Barry Allen gets the last few pages in order to show us how he survived a bullet to the head, and the entire sequence, words and images, is nothing short of glorious.

Pick up this title! Best new title of 2011.

Library trades for 12-26: Magneto and Animal Man

X-Men: Magneto Testament
by Greg Pak and Carmine Di Giandomenico
Collecting the five issue miniseries from 2009
Marvel Knights, $19.99

This one's a straight narrative about the escalation of anti-semitism in Germany, starting with things like the Nuremberg laws and ending with a revolt at the concentration camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau. It follows the life of one Max Eisenhardt, a German Jew before he adopted the name of Erik Magnus Lensherr, before Magneto. The transition to the concentration camps are meticulous and believable, and Pak researched the hell out of everything in the five issues. There are numerous citations at the end of it, along with supplementary material and a teacher's guide.

Magneto Testament is a respectful, no-nonsense take on the Holocaust and Marvel's one mutant who survived it.

Animal Man Vol. 3: Deus Ex Machina
by Grant Morrison, Chas Truog and friends
collecting Animal Man #'s 18-26 (1989, 1990)
DC Vertigo, $19.99

Collecting the last third of Grant Morrison's famed run on Animal Man, I had no trouble skipping straight to this one without reading the first two. The first two issues contain the infamous "I see you!" page where Buddy Baker (A-Man) learns that he's a character in a comic book. It's an exciting moment, but the story doesn't end there. Somebody's had his family murdered, so the next two issues involve Buddy's climb up the ladder for revenge.

But no it doesn't even stop there! Unsatisfied with the revenge that he wrought, Buddy seeks the help of Booster Gold to travel back in time to save his family! It doesn't work (of course), and he returns to his own time to find Psycho-Pirate -- the one man who remembers the Earths before the Crisis, and brings back a myriad of the people who were lost in the crisis! And one of them was Overman, hellbent on nuking the entire world.

Buddy Baker stops him and oh man you best believe it's not over yet. The final two issues are Grant Morrison meeting up with Buddy Baker, and Buddy demands to know why Grant's been making his life hell. Morrison brings up his cat, Jarmara, who died. He doesn't get to have Jarmara back, but anything can happen to Buddy, simply because his writer writes it so. So Morrison writes his family back to life, reuniting Buddy with his wife and kids. This neatly dovetails to Lemire's current work on Animal Man!

Deus Ex Machina is an exciting, challenging comic book that gripped me from start to finish. Next time you see it, give it a try.

Merry Christmas Uncle Ben: Spectacular Spider-Man #27

Ah, the time is upon us once again. Generations of family get together to watch claymation Frosty the Snowman come to life. Friends gather by the tree to exchange presents. What's Santa brought this year?

Chicago hasn't gotten a lot snowfall for once, but it's Christmas all the same, so I've dived into my back issues for a little treat to share with you. The name of the issue is The Spectacular Spider-Man #27, from Paul Jenkins and Mark Buckingham. Together with J. Straczynski and John Romita Jr on Amazing Spider-Man, they made some of the best Spidey stories of the double-oughts, with a pathos and maturity that few modern comics are interested in showing. I have it in trade format, which you can find in Spectacular Spider-Man vol. 6: The Final Curtain. There's a one-shot where Spidey plays poker against the Kingpin, a second one-shot reviving the supervillain Mindworm, and a three-parter where Doc Ock teams up with a new guy and, that final issue with Jenkins and Bucky. It was their last issue ever, and the end for that run of Spectacular Spider-Man.

Issue 27 is pretty simple: Peter Parker visits Uncle Ben's gravestone to wish him a Merry Christmas, and imagines a conversation with him. The issue starts with an adorable young Peter Parker having a snowball fight with Uncle Ben.

Then it changes to adult Peter, playfully tossing a snowball at Ben's gravestone before laying down a present for him.

So they start talking about the weather, and about Aunt May's scarves. They make snow angels and Ben starts to prod Peter about his troubles. Peter talks about a nightmare he has, when he's running through a backstage. When he opens the curtains, a light blinds him, and he's surrounded by his worst enemies: Venom, Doc Ock, the Green Goblin.

He can't escape his troubles, no matter how hard he tries. He feels guilty that he loves Mary Jane now, when he never got to tell Gwen he loved her. It's difficult for Peter to move on, when he'll never know if his parents would be proud of him.

But the Uncle Ben moves him to live and be with the people he loves. Christmas is about memories, but it's also about sharing the time with loved ones. So Peter leaves, right after Ben tells him to send his love to Mary Jane.

That night, Peter has a good dream.

Issue 27 was "The Final Curtain," and it was for the creative team, and Spectacular Spider-Man. For an issue that was just an imaginary conversation, it was pretty damn good.

Merry Christmas Uncle Ben.

Hey Agent Mason Savoy of the FDA!

What's the past tense of the verb, "swim"?

What was that?

Oh right, gotcha. Thanks.

From John Layman and Rob Guillory's Chew.

A bit on Annihilation Classic and Batman & Robin vol. 3: Batman & Robin Must DIE!

Batman & Robin Vol. 3: Batman & Robin Must Die!
Collecting Batman & Robin #'s 13-16, Batman: The Return one-shot
by Grant Morrison, Frazer Irving, David Finch, Cameron Stewart and Chris Burnham
DC Comics, $24.99

Ladies and gentlemen (but mostly ladies), I present to you the first thing you demanded when Dick Grayson was made Batman:
Shirtless Dick Grayson Batman. Two more key moments: in some strange form of karmic retribution, Damian whacks up the Joker with a crowbar, and Bruce Wayne rejoins Dick and Damian to take down the Black Mask and his 99 Fiends.

This third volume, while packed with as many wild ideas as the first, is not as strong due to the art. It's a bit static for the script, and removes the reader from the story. It's not that it's bad, it's that it's telling a slightly different story from the script, and that out-of-sync-ness (?) hurts the reading experience.

Anyways, important things happen to Batman (Bruce Wayne) here, particularly his return from the dead, the defeat of his father's impostor and his inauguration of Batman, Inc. I would've liked the art to have made it important to me.

Annihilation Classic
Collecting Bug #1, Tales to Astonish #13, Nova #1, Quasar #1, Rocket Raccoon #1-4, Marvel Spotlight #6, Logan's Run #6 and Marvel Premiere #1
Marvel Comics, $24.99

Annihilation Classic was published in 2009, and I do believe it was meant to capitalize on interest after the mega-epic Annihilation and its sequel, Annihilation Conquest, which revived many of Marvel's outer-space characters. These included aliens such as bug, Rocket Raccoon and Groot to humans-given-powers such as Nova, Quasar and Star-Lord. I'm gonna tell you right now that the humans weren't interesting. I don't really need to read another white-boy-gets-powers-and-saves-the-world-gets-the-girl story, so I found it a bit dull to read the origins of Nova, Quasar and the like.

Let's talk about the non-humans. Groot, the living tree from Planet X, had his origin in Tales to Astonish #13, which was from Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. It's pretty overwritten with a telegraphed conclusion, so the story's well past its expiration date. I was impressed with the first story, Bug #1, from Todd Dezago and Derec Aucoin, which tells not the origin of Bug, but an adventure of his through space and time. In a struggle against Annihilus over the Cosmic Rod, they find themselves transported to the different origins of classic Marvel heroes such as Spider-Man, the Hulk and even Dr. Stephen Strange.

The issue includes a bonus puzzles section, which is a wry and tasteful comment on Marvel Comics. I found Bug #1 to be an exceptional story, but my favorite was the Rocket Raccoon miniseries from Bill Mantlo, Keith Giffen and Mike Mignola.

These guys create a world, and suck you right into it. Rocket Raccoon is a Ranger of the Keystone Quadrant on a planet called Halfworld. The planet is inhabited by mental patients called "Loonies," and the animals are designated to entertain the Loonies, along with two toy companies called Spacewheel Industries and Mayhem Mekaniks. When the CEO of Spacewheel (Lord Dyvyne, a viper) starts a war for toy dominance against the CEO of Mayhem Mekaniks (Judson Jakes, a mole), it's up to Ranger Rocket and his band of adventurers to save the Loonies and Halfworld!

It's an adventure that reminded me of Star Wars (the good ones). There's color and life in every page, and I love the flair they put into the sound effects.

I wouldn't mind reading a second Rocket miniseries from the same creators of the first, or maybe a collection of Bug. While I found one half of Annihilation Classic boring and uninspired, I found the other half fresh and exciting. Take that how you will.

Serials for 12-21-11: Chew and Ultimates

Happy Wednesday! ComiXology is having a nifty sale for the Holidays, and they're pimping it out at their blog. There are some indie books, 201 Batman singles and many selections from Marvel's side including Captain America and some Brand New Day Spider-Man. I know I'm going to get the Zeb Wells/Chris Bachalo three-parter from Brand New Day Spider-Man.

Chew #22
by John Layman and Rob Guillory
$2.99, 20 story pages

Not only has Layman mastered the serial format, he's added his own touch to it. Issue 22 is part 2 of "Major League Chew," and it's a goodie. It doesn't follow directly from part 1, and it doesn't have to. Instead, we see Tony Chu's daughter, Olive, kidnapped by the rogue FDA agent Mason Savoy. Then, the issue goes back to Chu getting beaten down by golf clubbers. Layman is playing with the format and the reader in a way that's clear and unique.

I've drawn a little diagram here. Under each number, there's one little arc, and above it is a larger arc. With any given issue, the reader has one small, self-contained story, but it's not until they read each issue together that they have the larger story. Also, the bigger arc ends on a higher point than it began -- this is because we know more about the characters than we did at the beginning: their stories mean more to us now.

The ability to juggle two different types of stories, this is one of the strengths of the serial format! Some comic books only accomplish one or the other. Chew accomplishes both. In this issue Olive, Savoy and his FDA partner Caesar take down the curious case of the black-hearted barista and the lethal lattes.

Here's a few panels from page two of the issue. Look at the three different panels of Olive. They're different! Guillory could have easily photoshopped the same picture of Olive, three times, but he doesn't. The discipline of this guy is staggering. He doesn't take any shortcuts to the storytelling, and Layman is giving him a great story to draw. That's why this book has won an Eisner, and that's why it's my new favorite comic book. I can't wait for #23.

Ultimate Comics The Ultimates #4
by Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic
$3.99, 20 pages

Issue 4 concludes the first storyarc of Ultimate Comics The Ultimates, and it doesn't end very well. Thor returns to "The Dome" to avenge his fallen home Asgard on "The People," and fails. Then he goes to Nick Fury to say that they should just leave "The People" alone with their new European conquests. Yes: after this open act of global hostility, Nick Fury is supposed to leave these people alone with their spoils, and beside the out-of-nowhere character reveal that I don't care about, that's how the issue ends. It opened with a bang and closed with a whimper.
Sure, Esad Ribic is killing it on the pencils. The angle and the width of that panel are a great example of his storytelling. He excels at bringing Hickman's sci-fi high concepts to life, but it's disappointing to pay 3.99 for this comic book issue and accept issue 4 as a story.

I'm sorry Ultimate Comics the Ultimates. You're real pretty, but you're just not worth the money. (. . .did I just dump a hooker?)

Jack Kirby's THE DEMON! hahaha!

Jack Kirby's The Demon Omnibus
collecting The Demon (1972) maxi-series, #1-16
by Jack Kirby, with an introduction by Mark Evanier

Jack Kirby, originally born Jacob Kurtzman, gets a lot of love, and that's for a good reason. He co-created the Fantastic Four, the Hulk and the X-Men, after all! When he moved over to DC, he created the Fourth World universe, into which I personally never got, and when the comics climate seemed to be moving over to the supernatural and horror, Kirby came up with the idea of an immortal man, Jason Blood, whose demonic alter ego, Etrigan, served Merlin of medieval times.

The introduction is really useful, because it gives us the context in which Kirby created all this. He'd never planned on full-on writing and pencilling and inking the book, but DC were cancelling his Fourth World series, so he ended up doing this along with his Kamandi book. The stories in The Demon involve evil wizards/phantoms/ogres/immortal sorceresses using the occult to gain dominion over the world/Gotham City/Etrigan himself. The supernatural vibe was new to Kirby, so the work depicted has this experimental feel to it.

It might be the colors, or it might be the art, but The Demon has a Saturday morning cartoon feel to it, even if it deals with dark things such as the abusive relationship between a "Baron Von Evilstein" and his Igor, or the repulsive face of the once-famous opera singer Farley Fairfax.

It feels like a Saturday morning cartoon, mainly because whatever conflicts arise in the story, they're easily resolved by the end of the issue or arc. Jason Blood and his cohorts have this dry, blank personality embedded onto them that make only Etrigan's life compelling in the least.

The introduction echoed an anonymous comment that The Demon was a book about life and death. I don't really see where that comes from, so I'm afraid I can't analyze it on that level. I'd rather read it as an exploration of Kirbyisms. Being in color, you can see the way Kirby draws anatomy, as well as his design sense. He has this metallic way of drawing muscles, and you can practically play a game of "Spot the Kirby dots." I also dig the way he draws Etrigan's cape.

If he didn't enjoy drawing The Demon, it sure looks like he did. Check out this sequence around issue 15.
Isn't that first panel just wicked? It demands your attention with the way the window is tilted, against the comic panel itself. Here's one last sequence that I liked, that does a really good job of using the words, supported by the art, to emphasize a dark, horrific moment.

I'm really glad the library had this, because there is no way I'm paying $50 for it, but it's a great way to sink your teeth into Kirby. After every other issue or so, they'll feature a rough sketch page from Kirby, and they also number every page in this hardcover -- this really helped me out as a blogger, as I could jot down the page number of something I liked and go back to it to scan it and show you guys. The reason some scans differ from others is that I used my home scanner vs. the scanner at university. Them's the breaks.

One last note: If any of you followed/read Chris Sims' original blog,, his slogan was, "I'm unleashing every horrible thing you can imagine! CAN YOU TAKE IT?" This is, in fact, a nod to Kirby! Specifically, the cover to The Demon #13.

Who'da thunk?

chezkevin's holiday guide to comics

Welcome to chezkevin's holiday guide for comic books. We've broken items up into three categories: gifts for the librarian, the techie and the movie fan. So give ol' St. Nick a run for his money and join us!

For the librarian:

Marvel Essentials, DC Omnibii, Image Compendiums. . . .

This is probably one of the first obvious choices, but they're obvious for a reason! There's an insane amount of value in phone-book-sized, black-and-white collections. Marvel's Essential editions will give any beginning comic-book-er the essence of their character for their dollar. Essential volumes offer a foundation for readers to explore the rich history of guys like Spider-Man, Captain America or the Fantastic Four.

These aren't limited to Marvel's Essential editions. Image also publishes massive Compendiums of hit series such as Invincible, Walking Dead or Witchblade, while IDW releases Omnibii. DC also offer omnibii, but these might break the bank a bit more, and aren't so comprehensive as Marvel's collections. Regardless of company, you can read scores of stories in one sitting with these publications. Think of all the history waiting for you or a loved one!

For the techie:
Amazon Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet, Apple ipad

With the advent of cheap, color e-readers, it's a very exciting time for digital comics. Comic books are all about the images, and these tablets show the pictures and colors as they were meant to be shown! Even so, these e-readers are luxury items. You have to really love your loved one to spend $200+ on these things! The devices can do a whole lot of things, but, this being a comic book blog, we'll only examine their comic book capabilities.

Of these luxury items, the iPad's gonna be the most luxurious. The 10-incher is the best way to go for comic books, because it presents the page in the closest size to print. The two drawbacks are 1) price, and 2) weight (it's gonna get tiring holding a 10-incher for reading!). If you're looking to consume media more than create, consider the 7-inchers Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet. They're more than capable of keeping you up with your web browsing, and they offer a seamless reading system. While the Kindle Fire comes comiXology-capable, the Nook Tablet will require some hoops to jump through and a device to "root," or modify. The Nook Tablet is $50 more than the Kindle Fire's $199

For the movie fan:
Here's a fun fact for chezkevinistas/os: It was the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies that fostered my interest in comic books. I still remember the day. My sister bought the first movie's DVD for me and, on a warm Saturday afternoon I watched the film by myself. After watching the whole thing, I went to the special features disc, and lo and behold, it had a cover gallery of special milestones in Stan Lee's The Amazing Spider-Man. I leafed through these pictures of Spider-Man facing down a Ditko-Lizard, and a Romita-Green-Goblin, of his 100th issue, and these showed me how many more stories there were to read. How rich the Spidey mythos was. It freakin' changed my life, you guys.
If comic book movies have captured your attention or a loved one's, I don't recommend the one-off trades like Batman: Hush. Batman trades are especially popular due to the film, and just last week I saw a dude purchasing all these paperbacks for his son like Long Halloween and Paul Dini's Arkham City. Their total was upwards of $90!

There are two reasons I don't recommend it:
  1. I figure if you're reading this blog, you've already gotten that far.
  2. and here's my main reason: You can have a bunch of trades, but that won't keep you reading comics. Watchmen will get that foot in the door for comics, but what next? It could just be a small footnote in someone's reading history, and they won't give comics another nod. Plenty of my friends have read V for Vendetta, but when I recommend the Daredevil serial to them, they shy away. Trades might make you like comics, but it won't get you to love comics. You don't really know comic books until you come in on a Wednesday to a brick-and-mortar store, and gaze at the walls full of these new stories. You don't really know comic books until you feel the floppy pages in your hand, and carry it around with you on the train, or at the dentist's. If the movies have gotten you to love the characters, support them by supporting their comics: the format is the backbone of the characters we love.

So if you or your loved one appreciate Batman's Nolan films, consider purchasing Batman #1, from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. They push Batman and Gotham City forward, and create a delicious serial experience.

If you or your loved one are hyped up about Whedon's Avengers, consider giving them a copy of Jonathan Hickman's Ultimate Comics The Ultimates, which is the basis for the films and features Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury!

What I'm saying is, the stories don't end with the movies, and they never will. Just think of everything you can read out there. I've been reading for 8 years of my life, and I will never read a majority of them. And that's awesome.

Don't worry. It's just webbing.

Could this be the dirtiest joke I've made on chezkevin? Well, besides the Spidey tentacle rape. And besides that one Hulk post. . . How low will we go for cheap hits? Has chezkevin finally hit rock bottom, or is this only the beginning? Only time can solve this mighty Marvel mystery!

Most panels from Ultimate Spider-Man, by Bendis, Bagley and Immonen. One of them is from Amazing Spider-Man by JMS and Johnny Romita Jr.
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