Friday, November 29, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #48 - Hello, Again

Hello, Again 
Top Shelf Productions
$10.00, B&W, 156 pgs.
Writer: Max Estes
Artist: Max Estes



I recently took advantage of Top Shelf Production's annual $3 clearance sale, which features a great selection of graphic novels and trade paperbacks normally priced at $10-$20, and reduces all selected titles to either $3 or $1.  Top Shelf's annual event both reduces excess inventory, while also raising funds for the following year's new releases.  Although most of the books included in the sale are not recent releases, there is some incredible reading material available, so it's always worth a look. 

One of the books that caught my eye this year was Hello, Again, by cartoonist and children's author Max Estes.  Normally cover priced at $10, this "mini-size" (in dimension, but not page count) graphic novel was available for just a buck, so I eagerly added it to my shopping cart. 

William, a building superintendent, is not living the most joyful existence.  Each day he deals with endless complaints from the tenants in his apartment complex, avoids contact with his parents, and maintains a guilt-filled affair with his best friend's fiancĂ©e.  It's obvious, however, that there is something else much darker on William's mind that is keeping a permanent cloud over his existence.  Without going too far into spoiler territory, an incident during William's childhood comes back to haunt him in a very strange manner.  William is given a second chance to make restitution and get his life back on track, but the decision to do so will come with a cost.

While Hello, Again has a definite "I Know What You Did Last Summer" vibe (with a middle-aged protagonist rather than a group of teenagers), it's by no means a horror based story, focusing more on its emotional core with some dark humor thrown in for good measure.     

You could read this graphic novel in about ten minutes, but I wouldn't recommend it.  Although Estes' style may appear to have a simple approach from first glance, there are some powerful emotions at play here, and the book is best enjoyed when read slowly.  This is a story about two people whose lives were destroyed by one bad decision, but one may still have a chance of redemption.   

I'll be reviewing more of my purchases from the Top Shelf clearance sale in the near future.   

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #47: Happy Thanksgiving from Garfield!

Garfield #19
KaBOOM Studios
$3.99, color, 28 pgs.
Writers: Mark Evanier, Scott Nickel
Artists: Andy Hirsch, Gary Barker, David Degrand
 
 

There is plenty to be thankful as we enter the holiday season, including the wide variety of all-ages comics that are available, which was one of the focal points of my recent presentation at the Grand Rapids Comic Con in October.  Garfield is very high on that list. 

Garfield is one of the best all-ages comics currently being published, but it often gets pushed aside in the wake of KaBOOM's more popular titles," like Adventure Time and Regular Show, or other licensed properties, like IDW's My Little Pony series.

The monthly adventures of Garfield, Odie and long suffering owner Jon Arbuckle are helmed by the creative team of Writer Mark Evanier (who was also a primary contributor to The Garfield Show, the animated series from the France 3 network) and Artist Andy Hirsch.  However, the series also benefits from the contributions of Creator Jim Davis and collaborator Gary Barker, especially on the great covers of each issue. 

Garfield also utilizes a comic book tradition that dates back several decades: the holiday themed comic book.  This issue celebrates Thanksgiving with a heart-filled story in which Garfield uncharacteristically sets aside his primary holiday mission (to eat as much as possible, of course) to bring back a piece of his owner's childhood.  Jon no longer has the holiday spirit due to the overcommercialization of the local Thanksgiving parade, caused by the CEO of the big box retailer that runs the parade.  Despite his bumbling errors, Garfield succeeds in showing Jon that some holiday traditions are still out there to enjoy. 

Just in case things are getting too sappy at this point, the creative team of Scott Nickel and David Degrand continue the ongoing tales of Garfield's battles against food-oriented monsters.  This time, it's a gang of zombie meatballs, along with their leader, the Bride of the Calzone Creature! 

Degrand knocks it out of the park with his "old school" approach to drawing the cast.  There are times where Garfield almost appears to be too lazy to even run from the monsters, which makes the story even funnier, and readers will enjoy the unique solution Garfield devises to defeat the creatures.  Whether the confrontations with these monsters are actually taking place in the "real" Garfield universe, or if they are just nightmarish images in Garfield's dreams caused by overindulgence in his favorite Italian dishes is up to the reader to decide.

Additional features in this issue include Garfield's tips for Thanksgiving and some classic Sunday strips featuring one of the staples of the comic strip: the headless talking turkey.  I'm looking forward to seeing the upcoming Christmas and New Year's themed issues of this continuously enjoyable and entertaining comic book series. 


This iconic Norman Rockwell image has been a popular one in comics through the decades.

Friday, November 22, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #46: Scooby-Doo Team-Up!

Scooby-Doo! Team-Up #1
DC Comics
$2.99, color, 28 pgs.
Writer: Sholly Fisch
Artist: Dario Brizuela



I believe I have watched the Scooby-Doo Meets Batman DVD well over 100 times, and it may actually be closer to 200 viewings.  This DVD was my son's absolute favorite movie when he was between the ages of three and five, and he would watch it...again and again and again.  For a period of time, I started to believe that he would never watch another cartoon again.  The DVD collects two episodes of The New Scooby-Doo Movies, which aired from 1972-1974, and was a bizarre team-up series that paired Mystery, Inc. with everyone from The Harlem Globetrotters to Don Knotts to The Adams Family.  The two episodes featured on this DVD were "The Caped Crusader Caper" and "The Dynamic Scooby-Doo Affair."  Both episodes featured Mystery, Inc. teaming up with the Dynamic Duo against the combined villainy of the Joker and the Penguin. 

Almost 40 years later, Scooby and the gang have reunited with the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder, this time to track down the genetic hybrid creature known as Man-Bat.  However, the search is complicated when the crime fighters discover there may be more than one strange "bat creature" prowling around the local mall.  Just as they did decades ago, the two teams successfully combine their efforts to solve the mystery and save the day, despite the usual bumbling efforts on the parts of Scooby and Shaggy.

Sholly Fisch is no stranger to all-ages comics, with a huge list of kids' titles under his writing belt, including Super Friends, Cartoon Network Block Party, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and his newest assignment, the comic book adaptation of DC Nation's new animated series Teen Titans Go! (currently airing on Cartoon Network).  Now he's bringing together two of the biggest animated properties in a series that will also feature Man-Bat, Ace the Bat Hound, The Scarecrow and more characters (not revealed yet) that will team up with the mystery solvers in future issues.

In addition to the main story, this first issue also includes the usual "DC Nation" extra features, including profiles/bios on Plastic Man and Adam Strange, and news about other upcoming all-ages comic books from DC Comics. 

Scooby-Doo Team Up! is a welcome addition to DC's line-up of kids' titles, and the first issue of this series is about as perfect as a comic book gets.  There's adventure, humor, a fun team-up between old friends, bright vibrant art by Dario Brizuela, and Sholly Fisch's wonderful dialogue that will entertain both younger and older readers alike.  Those older fans will remember watching The New Scooby-Doo Movies, not on a DVD or on the internet, but on their parents' old 19 inch Zenith TV on a Saturday morning.  It doesn't get much better than this.
 

Writer Sholly Fisch throws in some inside references to "The New Scooby-Doo Movies."


Saturday, November 9, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #45: X Marks The Naught!

The Mysterious Strangers #5
Oni Press
$3.99, Color, 28 pgs.
Writer: Chris Roberson
Artist: Scott Kowalchuk, Dan Jackson


 

Writer Mark Waid once described The Mysterious Strangers (formerly just "The Strangers") as a "beautiful harmony of Jonny Quest, The Doom Patrol and Secret Agent."  Set in the Cold War era, The Strangers is a team comprised of four people with special powers and abilities who deal with unusual and bizarre situations that threaten the world.  The team's primary mission, as explained in the first issue of the series, is very simple: "Protecting the planet from the strange." 

Each issue may remind readers of classic television shows from the 1960's.  There are even opening credits and a closing sequence that is reminiscent of shows from that era, such as The Avengers and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 

The new story arc starting in this issue will probably bring to mind another classic television program: The X-Files.  All the familiar elements are present: The small town sheriff, the military presence, the lone diner, and of course the small town citizens with very big imaginations. 

When several people inexplicably vanish in the small town of Marfa, Texas, The Strangers take a break from filming a television show to investigate the unexplainable disappearances.  When the body of one of the missing townspeople is found, but aged by almost 80 years, the mystery starts generating more questions than answers.  Much like the weekly adventures of Mulder and Scully, the issue ends with a great cliffhanger.

Writer Chris Roberson also begins to explain the origins of The Strangers, and reveals just how far back in time this "mysterious" group goes.  As their leader Absalom Quince reveals, the organization goes all the way back to the Elizabethan era, when The Strangers were a group of travelling actors that took time away from their performances to confront otherworldly and paranormal threats.

One of the best aspects of this book is the unusual format.  Each story arc only lasts two issues, which means this title ranks high on the "new reader friendly" scale.  A new storyline starts every other issue, which means a higher likelihood that new customers will be encouraged to try out this book. 

In case this issue is your first, here's some great news: The first collected edition is on the way early next year.  The Mysterious Strangers: Strange Ways is scheduled for release on January 29th, 2014. 



Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #43 - The Comicverse #3 !

The Comicverse #3
Awakening Comics
$4.00, B&W, 33 pgs.
Writer, Co-Plotter: Bianca Alu-Marr
Artist, Co-Plotter: Steve Peters

Steve Peters sketches and promotes The Comicverse on Free Comic Book Day!
 

I was very pleased to arrive home and find a package containing a review copy of the latest issue of The Comicverse.  For those who have not read my previous reviews of this fun series, it explores the adventures (and misadventures) of a group of characters working and socializing in a comic book store that is located on a space station.  The story is also told through installments on the creators' website and Facebook page, which are eventually compiled into issues of the series itself. 

Reiko Starr is the owner of The Comicverse, a comic shop located on the Tianhtar Space Station, a prime location for visits from many different types of alien species.  Just like the comic shop owners here on Earth, Reiko and his employee Ying (a friendly, if somewhat mischievousness dragon) have to contend with obsessive fans, unruly customers, and even the occasional flirtation with a female customer.  This is where Aki comes into the picture.  Aki is a beautiful but tough space pilot and courier that has a lot of history of her own (which begins to be revealed in this issue).  There is also an artificial intelligence unit called "Smart Rack" that may not always be likable, but is also one of the most important aspects of the comic shop of the future.  Smart Rack has the ability to print comics using "smart paper" that allows ink to settle permanently on the molecules of the comic, once the customer decides which comic book they wish to purchase.  Needless to say, this device would probably eliminate the phrase "We're sold out" at comic shops here on Earth. 

Issue #3 contains a lot of bang for the reader's buck, starting with the extended number of pages in this issue.  Reiko and Aki go on their first date, and readers will get to find out more about how the space station itself operates and provides for its denizens.  Ying is also placed in charge of the store while Reiko is gone, which leads to a startling revelation, when he meets another dragon for the first time, and discovers he is not alone as previously believed.  This mysterious second dragon teaches Ying a valuable lesson, when he finds out that Reiko has not been entirely truthful about the reason for allowing Ying to manage the store by himself.  In between all these events, life at the comic shop rolls on, just like it does here on Earth, and there are hints as to when the storyline takes place in Earth history. 

Besides the extended main story, this issue also has a humorous bonus story, and a special appearance by the one and only Fred Hembeck!

One of the great aspects of this series is that the characters are continuing to grow.  What could have been a one-note gag about people working in a comic shop in space has gone far beyond the original concept, by exploring the growth of each character in more depth than what readers will often find in a comic from the Big Two. 

The art by Steve Peters on this title is a huge part of the fun.  The Comicverse is one of those series that rewards readers who pay attention to the small details.  With a "smart rack" that can create any comic the customer desires comes unlimited possibilities for the store's customers.  The cover for this issue is just one example, as you can see titles as diverse as Rom: Spaceknight and The Walking Dead displayed on the same comic rack.

I have been reviewing this series since the beginning of its run, and each issue has truly been better than the previous one.  What does the future hold for these characters?  Without giving out any spoilers, let's just say things are about to get a lot more serious for the cast, as the world of pop culture starts to collide with real world events. 

Following up on the success of the first three issues, Creators Bianca Alu-Marr and Steve Peters are introducing their first spinoff series: the Kickstarter funded Comicverse: Behind The Counter!  Stay tuned for a review of this series soon!

The Kickstarter event for Comicverse: Behind The Counter was a success!



Friday, September 20, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #42 - Garfield #17

Garfield #17
KaBOOM! Studios
$3.99, Color, 27 pgs.
Writers: Mark Evanier, Scott Nickel
Artists: Andy Hirsch, David Degrand



Garfield has been a familiar sight in newspapers since its premiere back in 1978.  From the very start, the title character had a slightly "edgy" quality to him, and could even be considered a precursor to Bucky Katt, one of the main characters of the popular comic strip Get Fuzzy.  Over the past few decades, Garfield's adventures have usually centered around the most important aspects of his life:  eating lasagna, sleeping, and persecuting his hapless dog Odie.

However, when The Garfield Show first aired on the France 3 Network in 2008, it moved the character to the next level.  It was like giving the famed pussycat a much larger budget than he ever had in his comic strip adventures.  The animated series has featured everything from alien invasions to time travel to parallel universes. 

The monthly Garfield comic from KaBoom! (Boom Studios' kid-friendly line of comics) continues in the same vein as the animated series.  Helmed by Mark Evanier (who wrote many of the series' episodes) and artist Andy Hirsch, the stories are fun, entertaining and faithful to the character.  Long time strip collaborator Gary Barker has contributed some great covers, and the series has also featured variant covers by artists such as Al Jaffee and Fred Hembeck.

This issue starts with "Time and Time Again," in which Garfield manipulates a cat from the future to continuously return him 25 minutes into the past, so that he can eat the same five (gradually increasing to ten and twenty) pizzas over and over again.  Unfortunately, Garfield's selfishness results in the future feline attempting to remove all of his favorite Italian dishes from the present time period.  Therefore, Garfield is faced with the quandary of how to save the present...from the future. 

The second story, "Taste of Italy," features guest art by David Degrand, who draws Garfield in a style very similar to how he appeared in the early days of the comic strip.  Garfield's attempt to sneak into a food fair is complicated by a mad scientist and yet another bizarre mutation, this one created from a giant calzone.  This time it's up to Odie to save the day.

This issue also includes a couple bonus features: Sunday Classics, and a feature called "The Best Things in Life are Edible," a series of single panel comics with humorous captions for each one.

Garfield is continuously entertaining, witty and just plain fun to read.  It's a true "all ages" title that can be enjoyed by anyone with a funny bone! 



 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #41 - Catwoman #21

Catwoman #21
DC Comics
$2.99, Color, 32 pgs.
Writer: Ann Nocenti
Artists: Rafa Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona


Every once in a while, I pick up a title that I normally don't read just to see if the publisher is providing a "new-reader friendly" experience.  Unfortunately, Catwoman #21, while still a decent book, does not qualify. 

I have not read Catwoman on any regular basis throughout her many incarnations, simply because I've never had any real interest in the character.  Although I've checked out a few issues from previous series, it's just never held my attention long enough to commit to a regular monthly title.  This issue is actually the first I've read since the current series premiered in the "New 52" DCU.

The issue does not offer any kind of recap or summary of the storyline for new readers.  DC Comics' website says the story is "following the events of the Catwoman Annual," but does not provide much detail beyond that.  However, it's fairly clear that Catwoman and The Penguin are in some kind of territory war over a section of Gotham City called "The Badlands."  On one side is the Penguin and his army of henchmen, which also includes the super villain Volt.  On the other side is Catwoman and a street gang called the Rat-Tails, who are trying to free themselves from the protection racket that the Penguin uses to keep the gang under his control. 

While the issue has some exciting moments and plenty of action, Ann Nocenti's dialogue reads a little too much like her Daredevil run from the early 1990's.  As for the art by Rafa Sandoval and Jordi Tarragona, I would have to agree with the comment made on the DC Comics website, which noted that the characters appeared to be walking around with their eyes closed.  There does appear to be a lot of squinting going on, which may not be the best strategy when The Penguin is trying to blow up your entire neighborhood.

One of the determining factors of a comic book being "new-reader friendly" is whether or not that reader will return for the next issue.  Unfortunately, this latest version of the character did not stoke my interest enough for me to pick up Catwoman #22. 





Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #40 - Batman Incorporated #12

Batman Incorporated #12
DC Comics
$2.99, Color, 32 pgs.
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Chris Burnham


In terms of "The New 52," Batman Incorporated has been (thankfully) one of the exceptions to the continuity reset button that has befallen most of the DC Universe.  Unlike other series like Action Comics and Justice League, this book has retained most of the continuity of Grant Morrison's past storylines, which go all the way back to the beginning of his Batman run in 2006.  There have been many memorable stories since that first issue was released almost seven years ago, including "Batman: R.I.P.," and "The Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul."  After all these years, it's hard to believe Morrison is finally at the finish line, and it's been quite a ride.  During a recent interview on the Comic Book Resources website, Grant Morrison described his final story arc as "The Vengeance of Batman," and this issue makes good on that promise. 

Over the course of this series, Batman has been pushed beyond the breaking point.  His friends and allies have been injured or killed; Gotham City has been virtually held hostage and forced to turn against its protector; and the global enterprise that Batman put so much time, effort and money into has been brought to its knees.

And now the woman responsible for it all has brutally murdered his son Damian. 

In this issue The Dark Knight lives up to his namesake.  It's not so much about justice right now as it is about getting payback, and Batman is not the only cast member that wants revenge.  It starts with a brutal last stand against "The Heretic," a battle made even more horrific when Batman sees the face under the mask (nope, I'm not going to spoil it).  After yet another shocking moment, Morrison sets the stage for what promises to be next issue's final showdown with Talia Al Ghul, who has certainly moved up into the top five, if the not the #1 spot in Batman's Rogues Gallery.


Batman Incorporated #12


One interesting aspect of this issue is seeing Talia's true nature come out, especially during the scene when she yells out in protest at Batman's refusal to yield.  I found it interesting how Talia, while running an international crime syndicate, overpowering and imprisoning the mighty Ra's Al Ghul, and bringing Gotham City to its knees, is still at heart nothing more than a petulant child that wants her own way, and will stop at nothing to get it.


Batman #658: Talia's intentions were made clear early on in Morrison's epic run.


From the first page to the very last panel, this issue delivers in every possible way, and will leave readers breathless, and anticipating next issue's finale.  Chris Burnham's visceral art, which just keeps getting better with every issue, has been no small contributor to this title's success.  This book is firing on all cylinders, and the only bad news is that there is only one issue left to go.  I completely expect, however, that Morrison's finale will not leave anyone disappointed. 




Friday, June 21, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #39 - The X-Files: Season 10 #1

 
The X-Files Season 10 #1
IDW Publishing
$3.99, color, 22 pgs.
Writers: Joe Harris, Chris Carter
Artist: Michael Walsh


The truth is out there, once again.

For the fourth time since the mid-1990's, The X-Files, one of the longest running science fiction television programs, has been adapted into comic book form.  However, this new ongoing series from IDW Publishing takes the property in a different direction than what was done with the prior three adaptations. 

Like the TV series, the Topps comic book alternated between "mythology" tales (stories focusing on the government conspiracy to cover up the truth about alien races and their agenda), and what has been referred to as "monster of the week" stories, which were usually stand-alone episodes about supernatural phenomena, genetic mutations and serial killers with unusual abilities.  The comic was launched during the peak of "X-Files Mania" and generated much excitement, with the first issue quickly escalating in price on the collectors' market.  While this series featured both great writing and art (including Artist Charles Adlard, most known for Image Comics' series The Walking Dead), the creative teams were somewhat limited by how far they could take both the characters and the storylines, since the comic book was running concurrent to the Fox television series.

In 2008, Wildstorm Comics released a six issue mini-series (preceded by a single issue "special") that once again featured the characters up against horrific monsters and conspiratorial forces that sought to prevent them from discovering the "truth."  This series was released shortly after the premiere of the second X-Files movie I Want To Believe, and both the comic and the movie were met with mixed reviews.     

In 2010, Steve Niles and Tom Mandrake brought back the two F.B.I. agents in the X-Files/30 Days of Night mini-series, as Mulder and Scully faced off against the vampires of the popular horror franchise.  This time the series was a collaboration of Wildstorm Comics and IDW Publishing.  While not linked to any specific season, the story appeared to take place early on in the duo's adventures, as evidenced by Scully's continual specticism of Mulder's theories, which all but disappeared in later seasons of the program. 

In this newest iteration, the creative team of Joe Harris and Michael Walsh have taken a similiar route to what Dark Horse did a few years ago with Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight.  This new series launches as the official "Season 10," with canonical stories that take place after the series finale and two movies.  "Believers" begins with showing readers where Mulder and Scully's lives have taken them after the end of their careers as government agents.  There is life after the F.B.I., but it may not necessarily be what readers were expecting.

Dana Scully has returned to her medical career, working at a Virginia medical clinic under the assumed name of Dr. Dana Blake.  While she seeks to distance herself from everything associated with The X-Files, Spotsylvania County is an interesting choice for her relocation (in real life, the county is actually close enough for many commuters that work in Washington, D.C.).  At the same time, Fox Mulder appears happy to be lost in suburbia, at least on the surface.  However, there's no mistaking that infamous "I Want To Believe" poster that spent nine years hanging on the wall of his workplace, and is now taking up residence in his home office.  The first issue also features the return of fan-favorite character Walter Skinner, who has since been promoted to Deputy Director at the F.B.I.


The first issue is compelling, suspenseful, and brings back that great "spooky" feeling that viewers would experience during the earlier seasons.  It even includes the standard "teaser" scene that would usually precede the opening credits of each episode.  Joe Harris delivers a great first issue, diving right into the story and placing all three characters in immediate peril by a sinister threat as yet unrevealed.  His enthusiasm for the series is undeniable, especially given his recent appearance at Heroes Con in North Carolina earlier this month, where he enthusiastically promoted the first issue to fans.  At the same time, Michael Walsh's art style is perfectly suited for this series, with a similiar approach to the way Stefan Petrucha drew the characters in the original Topps series, but still with an unique style all his own. 

With an exciting cliffhanger closing out the premiere issue, this new ongoing series is already off to a great start.  Although a lot happens in the first 22 pages, there are just as many questions as there are answers, which is exactly how The X-Files should be.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

HEROES CON 2013 REPORT - PART TWO!



In the first part of my review of Heroes Con 2013, I focused on the fantastic job Shelton Drum and his staff/volunteers did with providing a family friendly environment and plenty of fun activities for the thousands of kids that attended this past weekend.  However, Heroes Con is not called "America's Favorite Comic Convention" just for one reason!  Once again this year, there was a massive and diverse guest list of comic book writers, artists, colorists, publishers and more!


Neal Adams is always a favorite with Heroes Con fans, and it was great to chat with him, as well as get some of my favorite silver/bronze age comics signed!  Neal also had an impressive portfolio of art available for purchase, which kept his booth buzzing with activity throughout the weekend.



Charles Soule, the new writer of Swamp Thing, was a welcome addition to this year's guest list.  With the upcoming Superman/Wonder Woman team-up book arriving later this year, plus his new writing assignment on Red Lanterns, he certainly stands to have a significant impact on DC's "New 52" Universe this year.



Dark Horse and IDW Publishing were also well represented at the convention this year.  Several creators, including Georges Jeanty, the artist for Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9, had a very busy booth.  It was also a pleasure to meet Joe Harris, the writer of The X-Files Season 10 ongoing series that is starting this month.  Like Dark Horse's Buffy series, this book will begin where the popular television series left off, after completing its ninth and final season back in 2002.  Joe's only regret at the convention was that the first issue was still a couple weeks away from release at the time of Heroes Con, so he could not sign copies for his fans. 



Besides the large number of modern day creators, there were also many "classic" artists on hand, such as Marcus Hamilton (Dennis the Menace), and the great duck artist Don Rosa.  Rosa always has a wonderful booth display, featuring classic silver age Marvel comics reimagined with Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge and other iconic Disney characters.




Tom Heintjes is the editor of Hogan's Alley, also known as the "Magazine of the Cartoon Arts."  It is an unique publication devoted to the cartoon arts and has been in publication since 1994.  Tom had a large array of back issues available for sale, and it was a pleasure meeting him in person.  



Perhaps the greatest thrill of the weekend, however, was meeting the legendary Jim Steranko, who was a last minute addition to the show.  Jim was very gracious with all his fans, and having my wife locate a copy of Spyman #1 (Steranko's first professional work) for him to sign only made this experience even more special! 
The legendary Jim Steranko (Photo by Bob Bailey)

Besides signings and sketches, several guests also appeared in various panels throughout the weekend.  Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction and Jason Aaron took part in a "Marvel Writers" panel, and there were also several publisher panels from DC, Image, Valiant and Dark Horse.  In addition, Heroes Con also featured a variety of interesting subjects for panels, including Hip-Hop and Comics, young adult graphic novels and even a discussion about Kickstarter, the popular funding platform that so many indie comic creators have utilized to bring their dream to fruition.

My third and final part of the Heroes Con 2013 Review will be posted soon.  Stay tuned!





Friday, June 14, 2013

HEROES CON 2013 REPORT - PART ONE!


There are some things in life that are so incredible, so perfect, that you may not want to experience them a second time.  The realization hits that repeating the event or activity couldn't possibly exceed your initial experience, and in some ways may actually diminish it.  It could be the best restaurant you've ever dined at, a Broadway show that succeeded beyond all expectations, or meeting your favorite celebrity or movie star.

Would that be the case with Heroes Con?  I think the picture above says it all.

In 2004 our family attended our first Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC.  Without a doubt, it was the best "pure" comic book convention we had ever attended.  And yet, the 2005 show was even better.  2006?  Yep, more guests, more things to see, more vendors.  Fast forward...

It's 2013, and Heroes Con continues to improve upon the prior year's event, like they have always done.  Of course, one of the reasons for this phenomenon is the peerless leadership of Convention Grand Master Shelton Drum, and his incredible team of staff members and volunteers, all of which contribute to making Heroes Con "America's Favorite Comic Convention," as stated on their website.  Unlike many other convention organizers, Shelton looks at each year's convention as an opportunity to make the next year's event even better.  No detail, big or small, is overlooked in making this show so successful each year, whether it's the late guest addition of the legendary Jim Steranko, or making a variety of the coolest and most collectible convention badges ever. 

One of the new additions to this year's show was the "Passport to Fun" scavenger hunt.  All attendees under 12 received a passport book that could be stamped by different vendors throughout the convention floor, including the Heroes booth itself.  Once all pages were stamped, each participant could pick a free book from the Heroes Con Kids Library!  One of the activities to complete in the passport book was the "Quickdraw Contest," in which different age groups had 20 minutes to draw anything they wanted, which was a great way for the kids to show their own artistic talent!

My son was in the back row working on his interpretation of a Green Arrow/Hawkeye crossover.

Another aspect of Heroes Con that makes it so "kid friendly" is the guest list, which always includes publishers, writers and artists that create all-ages comics.  KaBOOM Studios, the all-ages imprint from Boom Studios, had recent issues of many of their popular titles on hand, like Peanuts, Garfield and Adventure Time.  My son was especially thrilled to meet Andy Hirsch, one of the artists from the monthly Garfield comic book.  Papercutz also had a booth at the show, with a huge variety of all-ages graphic novels and comics.  The publisher even featured a special "Kids Day Sale" on Sunday in which customers could buy one book, and get the second one at 50% off!

Andy Hirsch from the "Garfield" comic book series.

While Archie Comics was not "officially" present at the convention, the publisher was still well represented by artists like Ian Flynn, Jim Amash and Dan Parent.  My son brought several recent issues of Sonic the Hedgehog to be signed, and walked away a very happy fan.  He also picked up some trade paperbacks of Mega Man, whom he only recently became familiar with because of the "Worlds Collide" crossover event.


Ian Flynn of Archie Comics signing Sonic and Mega Man!


For myself personally, I was happy to meet Dan Parent, who has drawn some great Archie-related events over the past couple years, including the Archie/Kiss event, the American Idol storyline, and the current Archie/Glee Crossover that has been so much fun to read. 

Dan Parent of Archie Comics.

Stay tuned for the second part of my Heroes Con review, which will feature a small sample of the immense guest list, convention panels, and some of the activities on Indie Island!






 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #38 - The Creativity of Ditko!

The Creativity of Ditko
IDW Publishing
$39.99, color, 203 pgs.
Edited and Designed: Craig Yoe
Introduction: Paul Levitz


 
The following is one of several reviews that was scheduled to appear in the pages of Comics Buyer's Guide Magazine, but unfortunately never made it, due to the magazine's untimely cancellation on January 9th, 2013.  This review would have probably been featured in Issue #1700, which would have been a huge anniversary issue for the publication.

From the moment readers open this beautiful hardcover celebrating the art of Steve Ditko, they will realize it’s one of those rare books in which every page has purpose.  Whether it’s the self portrait on the cover, the title page illustration, or even the back cover panel, everything in here is absolutely breathtaking. 

Ditko’s genius is brought to life through a mix of early photos; essays by luminaries like Mike Gold and Jack C. Harris; and of course selections of Ditko’s best works, ranging from horror and science fiction, to mainstream superheroes.  Most of the book contains little dialogue, as Ditko’s work speaks for itself.  It’s even more enjoyable in this large format, and a great companion piece to The Art of Ditko, which Craig Yoe released in 2010.
Perhaps the best way to describe this stunning collection is to quote the illustration used on the title page: “You’re holding the book in your hand now, and you’re staring at it…even now, you can hardly believe that it’s yours, that you finally have it in your possession.”     

Whether you're a casual fan of Ditko's work, or a devoted completist, this book is a fascinating look at the artist Yoe refers to as "the greatest mainstream comic book artist of his time."  Highest possible recommendation.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #36 - The Strangers #1

The Strangers #1 - FCBD Edition
Oni Press
FREE, Color, 28 pgs.
Writer: Chris Roberson
Artist: Scott Kowalchuk, Dan Jackson



Described by Mark Waid as "a beautiful harmony of Jonny Quest, The Doom Patrol and Secret Agent," the newest ongoing series from Oni Press made its premiere a couple months early, as the publisher's Free Comic Book Day offering.  While other publishers release preview pages or even reprints for the national holiday, Oni Press celebrates FCBD every year by offering readers the complete first issue of a new ongoing series.  During past years, they have premiered Spontaneous, Bad Medicine, and even the popular series The Sixth Gun on FCBD.  Oni has experienced success with the strategy of offering first issues for free, and smartly taking advantage of an event that brings in many new readers to comic shops all over the globe.

Set in the Cold War era, The Strangers is a team comprised of three people coming from very different backgrounds, with unusual powers and abilities that are gradually revealed throughout the issue.  As the title suggests, the team's primary purpose is "protecting the planet from the strange," whether it involves international intrigue, or just a deranged beauty queen creating her own cult on live television.  However, this time the team may have met their match, as the travel to the island nation of Hidalgo to investigate why their president has cut all diplomatic ties with the U.S. Government.  When The Strangers find out that their arch enemy O.C.C.U.L.T. may be involved, they realize something is seriously wrong, and make plans to infiltrate the island.  Unfortunately, the team is not aware that the villains on the island are more than ready to deal with each one of their extraordinary abilities.

The first issue may remind readers of a classic television show from the 1960's, complete with opening credits and a closing sequence that is reminiscent of shows from that era, such as The Avengers and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Oni Press has once again hit it out of the ballpark with this new series.  Great art by Scott Kowalchuk, fantastic colors by Dan Jackson, and an incredible cliffhanger will motivate readers to pick up the next issue, which is scheduled to hit stores on July 17th.  Good News: If you missed the FCBD issue, Oni will be releasing a new edition of the first issue on the same day that Issue #2 is released, to bring new readers up to speed.






Friday, May 10, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #35: The Comicverse #2 !

The Comicverse #2
Awakening Comics
$4.00, B&W, 24 pgs.
Writer: Bianca Alu-Marr
Artist: Steve Peters



There are always interesting people to be found at your neighborhood comic book store.  They could be customers, the store owner, or even a visiting comic book artist doing a signing.  Part of the store experience is meeting fellow fans and chatting about upcoming plotlines, your favorite artist, or the next big comic-related movie.  

With the incredible variety of people to be found at these retail establishments, have you ever wondered what would happen if someone took their store and moved it to...let's say, outer space?

Well, wonder no longer.

The Comicverse is a fun and imaginative series about a comic shop that is literally in space.  Reiko Starr is the owner of The Comicverse, a comic shop that is located on the Tianhtar Space Station, a prime location for visits from many different types of alien species.  Like many store owners, Reiko and his employee Ying Starr (a friendly, if somewhat lazy dragon) have to contend with comic fans, unruly customers, and even the occasional flirtation with a female customer.  However, this particular store also has visitors with the potential to cause a little more property damage than your average "fanboy." 

As mentioned in my review of the first issue (published in Comics Buyer's Guide #1689), the store allows its patrons to actually customize their comics.  This process is done by the use of "smart paper" that allows molecules to set permanently after the customer decides which comic book they want.  Unfortunately, the smart rack device (which has a mind of its own) is not always in the mood to service customers, or create new comics, which can create challenges for Reiko and his staff.

In this issue, one of the store's customers is a little short on funds to pick up his weekly stash of new comics (haven't we all been there before?)  As is often the case in real life, the customer offers a barter deal: an entire case of "Zoom" Energy Drink in exchange for his pile of comics.  Reiko is reluctant, but agrees to the deal as part of a promotional offer where customers can get free drinks for checking out the store.  Unfortunately, Ying forgets to inform Reiko that there is only one thing worse than giving an energy drink to a shape shifter: giving an expired energy drink to a shape shifter.  If you've ever seen the effects of sugary soda on a young child, you probably have an idea what happens next, but I'll avoid the full details, as it has to be seen to be believed. 



In the backup story, Steve Peters gives a nice shout-out to Free Comic Book Day as it's celebrated on a space station.  Just like on Earth, customers enjoy free comics, getting sketches and having their picture taken with their favorite comic characters. 

As a special bonus, this issue also features a detailed specifications sheet on the Tianhtar Space Station, as well as some of the characters featured in this issue.  This book is sheer fun, and one of the most enjoyable and original titles currently on the indie scene.  If your local comic store doesn't carry The Comicverse, check out www.awakeningcomics.com for ordering information for the first two issues of this series, as well as updates on upcoming issues!


Saturday, April 20, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #34: Revelations #3

Revelations #3 
Here After Press
$3.99, Color, 32 pgs.
Writer: Louise Cochran-Mason
Artists: Barry Southworth, Scott Shriver


I previously reviewed Revelations in the pages of Comics Buyer's Guide Magazine #1692 back in August 2012.  Co-Creator Barry Southworth recently sent me the next issue of this fascinating series involving demons, lawyers, angels, serial killers and a secret war between good and evil. 

Just to bring new readers up to speed, here is a portion of my review from CBG #1692:

Mackenzie Rollins is a lawyer whose total lack of ethics allowed her to get the nation's most prolific serial killer acquitted.  Perhaps it's just the next logical step when she discovers she is part demon, and then receives a set of retractable spikes (which often pop out during the most inopportune times).

Mackenzie soon discovers she is a member of an inhuman race called the Andrahon, which are involved in a war between Heaven and Hell.  Her quest for answers leads back to the serial killer with whom she senses a connnection with.  In the meantime, Mackenzie also has to deal with a clandestine group called The Third Sphere Assembly.  They have an interest in her, and the unique venom that comes from her spikes.  While fatal to humans, they are absolutely irresistible to demons.

The third chapter of "M Theory" takes the storyline further and makes note of the fact that just because Mackenzie Rollins is the main character, doesn't automatically make her one of the good guys.  After reading this issue, the realization suddenly hit that there really isn't anyone in this book that would fit the definition of a hero, which makes the series even more interesting.  Even the detectives assigned to investigate the connection between Rollins and serial killer Arnold Langford are not the most well adjusted people, as evidenced by the last couple pages of this issue.

Writer Louise Cochran-Mason begins to flesh out Arnold Langford in a little more detail, and provides more information on the origins and motivations of the Andrahon.  As the relationship continues to develop between Rollins and Langford, it's up to readers to interpret whether Mackenzie's interest is personal, or just a method of obtaining more information about the creature she is gradually transforming into. 

Additional details will also be revealed, such as how a 15th century poet is connected to the Andrahon, and readers will start to get a sense of just how far back the existence of these creatures actually goes.  

Where Mackenzie Rollins' twisted journey takes her next is anyone's guess, but it promises to be an interesting one.  As always, Mackenzie's agenda is known to no one...but herself. 






Sunday, March 10, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #33 - Glee Meets Archie!

Archie #641 - Archie Meets Glee
Archie Comics
$2.99, color, 32 pgs.
Written by: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Artists: Dan Parent, Rich Koslowski

So here's what you missed on Glee:

Brittany thinks she has an imaginary friend that only appears in her locker and looks just like Artie, but it's actually a genius named Dilton Doiley that lives in another dimension known as the "Archieverse," or as his friends call it: Riverdale.  Meanwhile, Santana is mad at Rachel for convincing Mr. Schue to increase the number of rehearsals for regionals.  While Dilton continues to observe a group of teenagers that can break out into song anywhere at a moment's notice, he notices the similarities between his friends in Riverdale and these students in Lima, Ohio.  But then in Riverdale a football flies through the window of Dilton's lab and smashes into his "Portal-Porter," causing an explosive rift in the space-time continuum.  Now Dilton, Veronica, Jughead and Reggie have been transported to McKinley High, while Rachel, Quinn, Brittany, Puck, Blaine and Mercedes find themselves stuck in Riverdale.  If that's not bad enough, Veronica gets a quick lesson from the football team on what happens to new members of the glee club, even though she's not really a member.

And that's what you missed on...GLEE! 

Archie #643 Variant Cover

I mentioned in my last blog posting that Archie Comics are currently publishing some of the most creative comics on the planet.  Once again, this "crossover event" is self-contained within one title and limited to a small number of issues, so it will not break the budget for any reader. 

The possibilities for this storyline are endless.  You can already see the claws coming out for an epic Veronica vs. Santana showdown, and it's questionable how long Jughead can survive living in a place where Pop's Chocklit Shoppe no longer exists. 

And that's just the start. 

Just think about the characters that haven't even appeared yet.  Will Ms. Grundy meet her match with Coach Sylvester?  How will Mr. Weatherbee's methods of running a high school clash with Principal Figgins' philosophies?

In addition, the story is in the capable hands of Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, which should make it even more fun, considering his combined experience with writing for both Marvel Comics and the Glee television series itself.  
 
No one knows how Dilton will fix this mess, and return all of the lost students back to their respective home dimensions.  One thing is for sure though: The journey will be an interesting one, and both dimensions' students stand to learn a lot from each other. 


The first chapter of the Archie/Glee crossover is on sale now!






Sunday, February 17, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #32 - The Best Comics You're Not Reading!



Archie Comics continues to smoke the competition in storytelling, value and pure creativity,  Unlike other publishers, this company's "events" are not about forcing the reader to buy dozens of various titles to get the whole story.  In most cases, the story is self-contained within one title and limited to a small number of issues.  If there are variant covers, they are usually produced in the same volume as the "regular" cover.  This means no premium price, which in turn means readers can choose the cover they prefer (or both, if they so choose), without worrying about their comics buying budget. 

Over the past couple years, Archie has released fun and creative crossover events with everyone from rock band legend Kiss, to the cast of American Idol, and even the President of the United States.



This year will be no exception, as the Archie Gang prepares to meet the cast of the Glee television series, and then two of the most popular video game characters on the planet will square off against each other, as Mega Man meets Sonic the Hedgehog in the "Worlds Collide" crossover event.  For those readers that prefer a slightly more serious Archie story, there's the monthly Life with Archie: The Married Life publication, which started as a spin-off from the "Archie Gets Married" storyline that was published in 2009.  Each issue features two stories, one from the parallel universe in which Archie married Veronica, and the other from the universe where Archie married Betty.  The series is written by veteran comic book creator Paul Kupperberg, and has featured great art by Norm Breyfogle, Fernando Ruiz and others.  The magazine format is also a great value for the money, with issues running upwards of 64 pages for only $3.99, which is often the cover price for a typical 22 page comic from "The Big Two." 


Mega Man takes on Sonic in the upcoming Spring crossover event.

If that isn't enough, Archie fans can also look forward to this year's Free Comic Book Day offering, as the publisher releases a free 92 page World of Archie digest for the tenth anniversary of the day that serves as the comic industry's national holiday.  If you haven't checked out Archie comics lately, you owe it to yourself to grab a few titles at your local comic shop, and find out what you've been missing! 

The Riverdale gang meets the McKinley High gang this Spring!


 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #31 - The New Deadwardians!

The New Deadwardians
DC/Vertigo Comics
$14.99, color, 176 pgs.
ISBN-10: 1401237630 
Written by: Dan Abnett
Artist: I.N.J. Culbard





This eight issue mini-series about a zombie outbreak in England at the turn of the twentieth century would be interesting on its own.  Adding a societal class structure of vampires and their human servants to the mix, however, is what makes The New Deadwardians unique. 

George Suttle is the Chief Inspector of the Homicide Squad, although his deductive talents are wasted in a society where murders are rare.  Suttle has the makings of a good detective, but with most of the population already dead (either vampire or zombie), he has little motivation to excel at his job.  When Scotland Yard dispatches Suttle to investigate an actual murder, he finally has an opportunity to use his talents.  The murder victim is a vampire, whose mysterious death does not follow any of the normal rules that govern a vampire’s existence.        
It’s a different scenario where people become vampires, but continue living their normal daily lives, while trying to cope with the absence of familiar needs like sleep and hunger.  Even more interesting is that even in this alternate take on post-Victorian England, many of the same social issues exist.  In this reality, the struggle for women's suffrage and equal rights is more about being allowed to take "The Cure" (becoming a vampire), rather than the right to vote in an election.  The series is also an interesting study on the relationship between the vampires and the "servant class," which consists of the remaining humans that have not gone the route of either vampire or zombie. 









The entire mini-series is available in trade paperback format at your local comic shop, and is easily one of the most innovative Vertigo series of the past couple years.  It's definitely worth a look, even if the undead genre is not your cup of tea (no pun intended). 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #30 - Untold Tales

Untold Tales of PunisherMax #5
Marvel/Max Comics
$3.99, color, 28 pgs. 
Writer: Skottie Young
Artists: Mirko Colak, Norman Lee, Rick Ketcham





Cancelled comics never actually die; they just come back with “untold tales” of the title character.  Untold Tales of Punisher Max has been an enjoyable series featuring one-shot stories by creators that might not have otherwise had the chance to show their own perspective on comics’ most infamous vigilante, including crime novelists like Megan Abbott and Jason Starr.

In this issue, a son’s desire for revenge brings him face to face with the man that killed his father.  The story raises an interesting question: What happens to the family members of Frank Castle’s victims?  It’s a theme not usually explored with this character, and Skottie Young handles the story in a unique fashion.  The Punisher appears mostly in shadows throughout the story, taking on the role of the ultimate bogeyman in the boy’s eyes. 

Not all of the Punisher's victims are easily categorized as "bad guys."
 
Despite the “Explicit Content” warning that is commonly seen on Max titles, this issue would be acceptable for most audiences.  The exception is just one word of profanity that doesn’t really serve any purpose, other than to mandate the rating change.  Is it really necessary? 

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While I'm on the subject of The Punisher, I am once again recommending the superb Jason Aaron/Steve Dillon PunisherMax series that ran for 22 issues from January 2010 to February 2012.  This series features some of the most intense and definitive Punisher storylines ever published, which is saying a lot considering the legacy of Garth Ennis' run on the previous volume of the series.  Aaron also took several classic Marvel villains and successfully brought them into the MAX Universe, including The Kingpin, Bullseye and Elektra.  When the series was approaching its final issue in late 2011, an online interview with Jason Aaron discussed how the series was not so much a cancellation, as it was a planned ending to the storyline.  Aaron stated "PunisherMax is ending, the way I always intended.  It was not cancelled."