The Book Is Not Dead

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Review: Return to the Scene of the Crime with Sex Criminals #3

With its front cover opening to a quote from George Washington, Sex Criminals from Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky returns for its third issue. This cheeky sex comedy/crime caper continues its touching and humorous exploration of love and sex, bringing the reader up to speed on Suzie and John’s robbery-gone-wrong. With air-tight scripting from Fraction and engaging artwork by Zdarsky, this issue more than lives up to the expectations set by the first two issues, and opens the door to many intriguing uses of The Quiet.

The dual plots of the book continue to unfold in this issue, switching back and forth between the past and present. The main plot, told from Suzie’s perspective, continues to follow her unfolding relationship with John and their explorations of The Quiet. Here we see John’s first fumbling college sexual experiences through his eyes. Continuing to develop John and his relationship with The Quiet, he gives a summation of his romantic and sexual encounters against the backdrop of his and Suzie’s ongoing “first date” after meeting at the party. Soon he introduces her to the porn shop he frequented in his awkward youth. Their second date, beginning at the porn shop as they stop time to wreak havoc with the various toys and props, ends in a hilarious musical number (of sorts) at a pool hall in homage to Freddie Mercury. As evidence in this sequence, Fraction’s sense of humor works to the book’s advantage, and Zdarsky brings it to the page through stunning page designs.

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As we discover over the course of Suzie and John’s unconventional courtship, John works at the bank foreclosing the library where Suzie works. A bored (and somewhat disgruntled) underling, prone to using his time-stopping powers for his own amusement, he has no particular fondness for his employers. He first proposes the idea of robbing the bank to save the library where Suzie works and has been working to save. Suzie is unsure at first, content to just use their shared powers for fun, but John wants to help. Assuring her of how simple it would be to get the money, we see that he eventually wins her over.

In keeping with Fraction’s non-linear narrative structure, the subplot catches up with the crime itself at the end of the book. Realizing they’re no longer alone in The Quiet in the previous issue, John and Suzie come face-to-face with the mysterious figures at the bank. These three figures, dressed in white, confront the would-be robbers in a violent altercation that puts their plans to a halt. Seemingly trapped here with the strangers, it quickly becomes clear that Suzie and John have stumbled into something they don’t entirely understand, facing consequences they never anticipated.

Full of wit and charm, this quirky title continues to please. The development of Suzie and John’s relationship, held against their respective romantic pasts, is nice to watch unfold. Their strange attraction and bond is well-grounded in humor and heart, keeping things lighthearted and engaging to read. Zdarsky’s pencils continue to be a strong complement to Fraction’s scripts, carrying each issue to a visually satisfying conclusion in strength of composition and design. Sex Criminals #3 is enjoyable from cover to cover, maintaining this title’s impressive stride. We can only hope Fraction and Zdarsky keep it up in coming issues.

Magen Cubed

http://www.eonism.net/

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Retro Comics: Havok and Wolverine: Meltdown #1

A stylish blend of Cold War science fiction and superhero action/adventure, the limited series Havok and Wolverine: Meltdown was published in 1988-89 under the imprint of Epic Comics. Originally a creator-owned division of Marvel Comics, the imprint was known for such titles as Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz’s Elektra: Assassin and Archie Goodwin’s The Shadowline Saga. Epic was also one the first American publishers to reprint titles from other countries, releasing translations of the Moebius graphic novels Airtight, The Incal and Blueberry, and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira.

Written by Walter and Louise Simonson, Meltdown’s artwork is split between Jon J. Muth and Kent Williams, who each provided pencils for the respective protagonists. The first issue opens on a game of chess between series villains General Meltdown and Doctor Neutron. Their unfolding dialogue serves to narrate the planned meltdown at a Russian nuclear plant at the hands of two patsies. Displaying an amazing sense of design, this segment is comprised of a visually stunning series of technical drawings, tense silhouettes and watercolor splash pages. The cold detachment of the narration and scientific imagery is well-balanced with the frenetic energy of the faceless silhouettes of the plant workers, trying to stop the chain reaction they inadvertently set in motion.

After the meltdown, the story switches gears to a tiny Mexican town on the Gulf Coast where we find Havok and Wolverine on vacation. In their civvies, they’re keeping a low-profile far until Logan ends up in bar-brawl. A bored Alex looks on from while Logan goes to town on some of the locals, introducing them as the protagonists of this team-up book. This buddy adventure set-up carries Alex and Logan through a somewhat predictable set of mishaps as they find themselves targeted by a severe-looking paramilitary group. Ambushed at their hotel the next morning, by thugs from the bar, they steal a car to make their escape. Before peeling out, Alex pulls the car’s owner, a beautiful woman in a black dress, in with them to keep her from getting shot. In the desert, they find themselves under fire by the shadowy pursuers from the town.

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The ensuing car chase and shoot-out with their mysterious antagonists ends with Logan and Alex losing their tail by way of plasma bolt. There’s no time to ask questions, however, as their beautiful companion pulls a gun on the heroes and fires. In the next scene Logan wakes up in the hospital. There he learns that they were shot with bullets containing the bubonic plague, and that Alex died from the illness. Going to the local cemetery to visit Alex’s grave, Logan smells that something is amiss and digs up the casket. Stuffed inside is a man-sized piñata, confirming Logan’s suspicions and sending him down a violent road for vengeance and answers.

While an entertaining read, the strength of Meltdown’s storytelling lies with its painted artwork. The Simonsons offer a fairly straightforward adventure-mystery, with a decent premise and some solid banter between Alex and Logan to keep things lighthearted. Given the melodrama each of these characters tend to be embroiled, it’s nice to go back and read through some older exploits. As the story progresses, much of the dialogue and plot elements do begin to show their age, feeling very dated, so be mindful of the kitsch factor. From a visual standpoint, Muth and Williams do their best to carry the book and serve as great collaborators throughout, especially in the tense and visually compelling opening segment. Their complementary styles, with Muth taking on most of the painting, blend together quite well. However, Williams’ highly-stylized Wolverine reads as a bit silly at times, with the excessive prominence of his iconic winged hairdo.

While a very 80s story, that probably wouldn’t stand up to today’s audiences and tastes, this team-up does have a lot going for it. It’s a fun adventure romp, an international mystery with some interesting imagery and some visual highlights throughout. In an era sometimes overwhelmed by gritty violence and excessive superhero drama, it serves as an effective break from other titles. While not the strongest title in Epic’s catalogue, Meltdown still stands out as an entertaining read.

Magen Cubed

http://www.eonism.net/

Brandon Seifert: Hellraiser, Seekers of the Weird, and Beyond

First introduced to comic book readers in 2007 for his work on The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and World War Hulk: Gamma Files from Marvel Comics, writer Brandon Seifert has made a name for himself in recent years. Brought to my attention for his issues of IDW’s Doctor Who and co-writing Boom! Studios’ Hellraiser: The Dark Watch with Clive Barker, Seifert has also garnered a dedicated following for Witch Doctor. A kind of House, M.D. meets H.P. Lovecraft, this original medical/horror series from Image Comics is illustrated by Lukas Ketner and employs an interesting blend of horror, fantasy and comedy. Known for his due diligence as a researcher, his use of fascinating imagery, and his keen attention to detail, Seifert has amassed a unique body of work, receiving its rightful share of critical praise.

With the recent announcement of his upcoming title from Marvel Comics, Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird, there’s a lot of buzz surrounding this high profile book. Created in partnership with Walt Disney Imagineering, Seekers of the Weird will serve as the launch for a series of books under the Disney Kingdoms brand, exploring the characters, worlds and attractions of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. What else is coming from this Marvel-Imagineer partnership is still unknown at the moment, but the topic is certainly stirring a lot of interest from eager fans. All of that said, I recently got a chance to catch up with Seifert, to talk about his new project, horror comics, and his plans for future books.

SeifertInterview1Q. At New York Comic Con, Marvel announced the release of your upcoming five-part series, Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird. How did you get involved in this project, and can you tell us a little bit about it?

A. I got involved in Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird because Marvel editor Bill Rosemann hit me up and asked if I wanted to be involved!

Seekers of the Weird is about two teenagers named Maxwell and Melody Keep. Their parents get kidnapped by a dark supernatural force — which leads the kids to discover that their family’s involved with something call the Museum of the Weird, a repository for the world’s most dangerous magical artifacts. The kids have seven days to find one artifact in particular in the Museum… or they’ll never see their parents again! Seekers has a bit of an Indiana Jones vibe, but also a pretty strong Harry Potter influence too. The whole project is based on the actual Museum of the Weird, which was originally going to be part of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland but got shelved when Walt Disney passed away.

Q. What has been your favorite part of working on this title so far?

A. The series artist is Karl Moline. I’ve been a fan of Karl’s work since he did Fray with Joss Whedon at Dark Horse, so I was super excited to work with him. But as good as I expected Karl’s work to be — it’s turned out to be way better! His stuff is so good that I’ve been working on “leveling up” the ideas I bring to the table, because I know if I bring an amazing idea for something like a monster or weapon to Karl, he’ll make it even more amazing when he draws it!

Q. Will this title be family-friendly, as the Disney association might imply, or did you write with a more mature audience in mind? Does this title appeal to Marvel’s action-oriented readers and Disney fans alike?

A. It’s designed to be “all-ages” in the same way as something like Doctor Who, Star Wars or the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Fun for kids — but fun for adults, too!

It’s definitely going to have a broad appeal. The project started with the Disney Imagineers. They’re very involved, and very interested in making sure we live up to the history that the project is based on. But Marvel’s also making sure it’s very much got a Marvel kind of vibe to it. I don’t know what people are expecting from this series — but I think they’re going to be really blown away when it comes out!

Q. You’re known to many readers for your issues of Doctor Who and Hellraiser: The Dark Watch, as well as your own original project Witch Doctor. As a writer, is it difficult to switch gears from genre to genre, or is Seekers of the Weird in the same thematic wheelhouse as some of your other work?

A. I dunno, I sort of think the idea of “genre” lumps together a bunch of things that don’t really go together. Some genres are all about the kinds of tropes you use — science fiction needs some kind of fictional science thing in it, whereas, like, “urban fantasy” needs magic in a city setting — a kind of trope in a specific setting. Then on the other hand, you have genres like “comedy” or “horror.” And those aren’t about the setting you use or the trappings you play with as much as they are about evoking a specific emotional response from an audience. In comedy, you’re trying to make the audience laugh. In horror, you’re trying to scare them, or disturb them. So, when you have “science fiction” — stories about fictional science — and “comedy” — stories that make you laugh — and you call them both “genres”… I dunno. That doesn’t make a huge amount of sense to me.

So if you’re doing a “genre” like “science fiction,” it’s easy to mix other genres in. Most of my favorite fiction is stuff that mixes different genres. Doctor Who is science fiction, but also action, adventure, horror, mystery, comedy, drama… it varies from episode to episode. With Witch Doctor we were doing horror and medical drama… but also comedy, action, drama, urban fantasy, lots of stuff. So doing a series like Seekers of the Weird, which also has a bunch of genres mixed into it, is a pretty easy transition. I find it a lot harder to do a book like Hellraiser, which is supposed to be pretty straight-up supernatural horror with some urban fantasy/dark fantasy stuff mixed in. I can’t do a lot of comedy in that book, or even a lot of “action genre” stuff, because it’s antithetical to what the series is supposed to be about. And since I’m someone who doesn’t like sticking to one tone in a story, that’s much harder for me.

Q. As mentioned above, you’ve had success both with franchise titles as well as your own original series. Do you find yourself looking to create more original works in the future?

A. Oh, yeah! Doing franchise work definitely has a lot of benefits you don’t get when originating a new project. For one thing, franchises like Doctor Who and Hellraiser have been big, important parts of my life, so working on them is much more of a “dream come true” thing than working on something like Witch Doctor, which I originated myself. But working on franchises has pointed out to me that I’m definitely happiest and most creatively fulfilled when I’m working on projects I made up myself. And I really do my best work on projects that I came up with. So going forward with my career, original projects are going to be more and more my focus.

Q. You’re known for your distinctive way of approaching the horror genre in your work. Do you find yourself drawn to horror in particular? If so, is that an aesthetic choice, as vehicle for other narratives, or do you feel that horror comics can be elevated?

A. Honestly, I think part of what people are finding distinctive about my work in horror is that most of my influences SeiferInterview2come from outside horror. Look at Witch Doctor, #1, that’s a good example. WD #1 is an exorcism/demonic possession story. But it’s not inspired by stuff like The Exorcist, let alone other exorcism movies. It’s inspired, on the one hand, by a whole bunch of research I did into actual exorcism and possession beliefs, especially stuff in the Vatican. I read several books about Vatican exorcists, the things they believe and the training they go through to become exorcists. So that was one side of it. The other side was, it was inspired by the whole biology metaphor we use in Witch Doctor, where we cross classic monsters with really disturbing stuff from medicine and biology. So in Witch Doctor, “demonic possession” is actually infection by the parasitic larval stage of the demon life cycle. So I did a whole bunch of research into parasitic insects, especially stuff like botflies and applied that to demons.

Really, I think horror can be “elevated” by bringing in influences from outside of horror. But that’s the same thing that’s true of every genre. Star Wars elevated science fiction at the time because it pulled in all this stuff that wasn’t being used in science fiction. Action/adventure tropes, World War 2 dogfighting movies, samurai movies, metaphysics, Joseph Campbell, Kurosawa. I’d never say I’m trying to “elevate” horror, because that implies that I think horror needs to be “elevated,” like there’s something wrong with that. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the horror genre. But I do think my approach to horror interests people because I’m not looking at horror for my inspiration — I’m looking at all kinds of other stuff.

Q. Are there any other franchises/genres you’d like to tackle someday, if given the chance?

A. Oh, lots of them! I haven’t gotten to do much science fiction, and that’s always been my big love. I also want to be doing superhero comics. They’re what got me into the medium in the first place. Besides those, there’s a bunch of other genres I’d like to do. Westerns are one. And Wuxia is another — the whole Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon strain of martial arts movies from China.

As for other franchise I’d like to do… I’m a huge fan of Marvel Comics, so there’s lots more stuff I’d like to do there. I’m also a big fan of Ghostbusters, and Aliens, and Buffy. All those are things I’d love to try writing someday.

Thanks so much to Brandon for taking the time to talk. Be on the lookout for Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird coming out in January. We hope to hear from him again soon.

Magen Cubed

http://www.eonism.net/

Graphic Novel Review: Avengers: Endless Wartime

AvengersEW1Warren Ellis returns to the Marvel Universe in this first of an all-new series of graphic novels, attempting to bridge the gap between the 616 continuity of the monthly comics and the new continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Illustrated by Mike McKone, this novel is a pan-generational mash-up of storylines, a kind of unofficial sequel to the events of the MCU films, as well as an interesting introduction for readers lured by the success of the franchise on-screen. With its intriguing reimagining of these well-known characters and blending of Asgardian magic with Ellis’ characteristic dystopic super-science, Avengers: Endless Wartime is a well-scripted adventure with plenty to offer readers both new and old.

An ancient threat rises from the past, a past more recent for some than others, hiding behind the face of American militarization. What emerges is an intersection of science and magic as Thor and Captain America realize they’ve both tousled with this once before, in different forms and at different times, drawing an interesting parallel between both characters. Mounting a response, the adventure that follows is largely well-plotted, throwing out some pointed questions about the nature of industrialized, privatized warfare. The action that buoys that novel is suitably exciting, as executed by McKone, as the team encounters hordes of formidable techno-organic baddies straight from Norse mythology. While impressive, there are some moments of disconnect from page to page during these action scenes that feel a little disjointed, ultimately culminating in a climax that suffers from this same fragmentation.

The novel is carried by the familiar MCU Avengers roster of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow and AvengersEW2Hawkeye, with the inclusion of Wolverine and Captain Marvel to round out the lineup. Ellis argues an interesting case for his characterizations, which make for a newly-formed team of heroes and all the growing pains one would expect. Even for it, this novel is neither strictly comic-verse nor movie-verse, blending them in a hybrid of timelines and interpretations that sometimes feels a little muddled. Captain America is strongly defined by his temporal displacement, distant but not unkind, still struggling as a man “living in a foreign country called the Future.” Iron Man serves as his counterpoint, tempered by a more movie-friendly handling, an introspective reflection of his father’s war-mongering as he attempts to reach out to Cap and make the team work. Thor is still very much an alien, trying to reconcile his own past with his place in the human world. The appearance of Captain Marvel (in her 616 uniform) serves as a nice touch-stone for comic book continuity, while Wolverine, influenced more by his appearances in his own movie franchises, fills an antagonistic role in questioning Cap’s authority and moral platitudes.

The Avengers aren’t the friends we’re used to from the comics, instead a collection of uneasy alliances and clashing personalities with a common goal. Informed by several stories and sources, and groomed by the MCU, these characters do stand in departure from both film and comic. While this won’t bother new fans, it will probably irk seasoned readers, who are aware they’re not the target audience of the book. For all of this friction, the formula works here, exploring interesting character dynamics despite the occasional discrepancy Ellis encounters along the way. As long as you’re willing to leave your presumptions at the door and accept this as its own separate entity, it’s a successful addition to the Marvel Universe at large.

AvengersEW4McKone sells the script in a balance of appealing splash pages and energetic action sequences. His panel transitions create useful tension with some solid page design throughout, aping cinematic framing to varying degrees of success. The repetition of static character close-ups breaks up the narrative for me more than I would like, but McKone’s sense of motion and scale during fight scenes makes up for it. From a design standpoint, the back end of the book is particularly lovely, marked by a fascinating use of techno-organic forms and dense futuristic settings. He’s very successful in rendering the baddies as otherworldly and alien, with their fluid compositions and seemingly endless ranges of movement and shape. The moody color palettes of Jason Keith with Rain Beredo make the most of these scenes, establishing an ominous tone in dark pages peppered by the light of our heroes’ gunfire or energy blasts. Overall the effect is appropriately dramatic, foreboding, and occasionally creepy, capturing the weight of Ellis’ pessimistic scenario as well the internal struggles within the team itself.

While not a perfect hybrid, Avengers: Endless Wartime is a solid graphic novel that bridges the gap between comic and film in some interesting ways. Ellis’ script sheds intriguing light on characters we know and love, exploring their ideologies when faced with a world they find themselves struggling to protect.

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McKone’s illustrations carry that burden well, and create some unique and engaging imagery along the way. If you’re new to Marvel and looking for a good read to get your feet wet, it’s definitely worth picking up. If you’re a Marvel fan looking for a well-written side adventure, I suggest you put your potential biases aside and take this book for what it is.

Magen Cubed

You could check Magen’s website at: http://www.eonism.net/