Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Miracle Pictographs
    Graphic Novel Reviews by Spencer Ellsworth
March 2012
Keeping You Regular

The majority of people who have come to comics in the last few years know them as "graphic novels," or what we longtime fans call "trade paperbacks." They take up a big fat shelf in Barnes & Noble and are mostly made up of collections of the regular issues from recent long-running series.

But the "floppies," 30-page installments of paper and staples, in their humility, were once the sole source of comic entertainment. They were rather unique among said entertainment: illustrated story, delivered to you in installments.

The comic shops are becoming auxiliary to the experience of reading and buying the things. Comic installments have gone digital, and DC and Marvel release a digital version of each of their comics the same day the physical copy hits shelves. Well, call me a fuddy-duddy, but some of us schlep over to the comic shop for our monthly haul. (Reading on an eye-straining computer screen is crazy, no matter what Apple tells you.) There are a few comics that will get me off my well-sat duff, on a bike, and to the shop with glee for the next issue. They dwindle in the last few years, but they are:

1.   Invincible: I buy the trade paperbacks of this series, but more than once I've broken down and bought individual issues to find out what the heck happens. It's created by Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead, as a love letter to superheroes in the same way that series adores zombie movies.

For a long time, Kirkman has given good superhero fun in Invincible. Recent stories, though, revolving around the campy yet psychopathic villain Dinosaurus, have me convinced that Kirkman is doing something far different with this series. He has hinted all along that Mark Grayson is not quite the white-bread constant do-gooder Peter Parker type at heart, and that Invincible may one day morph into a very different kind of hero. There's a hint of Watchmen's apocalyptic atmosphere in what was once simple superhero fun, and it just makes the comic all the better.

There is no single artist in comics better than Ryan Ottley. His fight scenes move. His scenery and backgrounds are deep and detail. His women are gorgeous and his men are tough as iron. Occasionally he makes a face too cartoony, but I find it's all in the spirit of comics. Lately, though, he's turned the gore far beyond R-rated levels, annoying me a bit. I don't buy a fun superhero book to watch someone's brains burst out of their head.

2.   Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye and Robots in Disguise: IDW Comics' Transformers stories have been an interesting thought experiment since they first appeared in 2006. Shape-changing toys aren't the stuff of Shakespeare, (and don't Michael Bay know it) but IDW has always sought to produce Transformers for the thinking reader. More Than Meets The Eye and Robots in Disguise, the new series, are the kind of thing every discerning TF fan has been waiting for, and great comics for fans of any stripe.

The Autobot-Decepticon war has finally been brought to a close, and both sides have been divided down the middle. Some are staying on Cybertron, now transformed by Chaos into a living landscape with some horror movie tendencies. They try to build a society in their safe zone, and with the non-affiliated Cybertronian robots who have returned, who never took a side in the Autobot-Decepticon war. Tis a lovely boiling kettle of political intrigue all around.

More Than Meets The Eye follows an offshoot group of robots who think they have found a path to the legendary Knights of Cybertron, thrown together on a big rickety ship under the charismatic and foolhardy Rodimus Prime. If Robots in Disguise is like unto The Wire or Game of Thrones in its scheming and volatility, More Than Meets The Eye is indebted to Dr. Who and Firefly, with a sense of sci-fi madness, deprecating humor, and larger-than-life characters.

Nick Roche and Alex Milne's art on MTMTE is quirky and alive, laced with energy. Andrew Griffith's art on RID is more murky and stagnant, but it has a sense of power and shape, too. I only wish TF artists extraordinaire EJ Su and Casey Coller would make a reappearance as they're easily the best of the recent crop.

3.   Wonder Woman: Brian Azzarello, famed for his crime comic 100 Bullets, which I will review one of these days, made this the big standout of DC's New 52 relaunch.

Wonder Woman's never been a dark, gritty heroine. The Greek pantheon hardly lends itself to such stuff. Unless you're Brian Azzarello, ably accompanied by Tony Akin and Cliff Chiang. [CHECK NAMES] In Azzarello's world, Zeus is dead, leaving behind an immaculately, or something like that, conceived heir. Hera seeks to destroy the child, and Diana Prince seeks to save it, but it puts Paradise Island at risks and reveals a few dark truths about Diana herself.

There are no words for just how cool this comic is. Azzarello's married his dark, paranoid sensibility to the dark fantasy of Neil Gaiman's American Gods. The art is wonderfully minimalist and dark, and genuinely freaky. I've seen a lot of gratuitous violence in comics lately, so the scene in which two horses are beheaded and transformed into screeching psychopathic centaurs should have rolled right off me, but the careful pacing and tendon-ripping detail made it one of the most disturbing images in recent memory.

4.   Speaking of pantheons, Thor is running one of my favorite, plain-out fun stories in recent memory. Writer Matt Fraction and artist Pasqual Ferry have created a fun, labyrinthine tale that has recast Thor's Asgardian family on Earth, in the big open spaces of Oklahoma to be precise.

The troublemaker Loki died as collateral in Marvel's big crossover Siege, but being a god, was promptly resurrected, beginning life as a youngster. The young Loki has an uncharacteristic loyalty to his brother Thor, considering that Thor made his resurrection possible, but he's still his sneaky self.

The anti-Asgard trolls have taken advantage of another seeming death: Thor's. They've rewritten everyone's memories and disguised themselves as members of the Asgardian pantheon, including Ulik the Troll's masquerade as "Tanarus," a Thunder God unfamiliar to us. Thor is stuck in limbo facing a god-eating monster, while Loki, the only one who remembers him, tries to jog the memories of the Asgardians around him.

This is just a fun comic, a fun storyline, and a real blast. Pasqual Ferry's art is skillfully animated. Matt Fraction's story is full of big fun ideas like unto Walt Simonson, god of Thor stories. It's cosmic, it's science fiction, yet it plays with the well-established mythology.

A couple others I enjoy are Secret Avengers and Batman by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. There they are, true believer. Whether you get digital or hit the floppies, I encourage you to grab some comics in their original serialized form, month-to-month.

Read more by Spencer Ellsworth

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