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More Webcomics I Read

It’s been a little over a year, so I thought this would be a good time to follow up on my post “Webcomics I Read” with a list of some others I’ve started following since then:

  • Aardehn, by Eric Vedder: A high fantasy comic involving a heroine who’s bonded to a demon, and maybe the subject of a prophecy, as well as an evil sorceress consorting with demons and an elf trying to escape her clutches. The story doesn’t set the world on fire, but Vedder’s art is gorgeous (though decidedly on the hot-babe end of the art spectrum, in case that’s not your cup of tea). Seems to be on hiatus since June.
  • Bad Guy High, by TheRedDeath: A straight-up superhero parody about a young villain at a school for villains, and his best friend, SuperDan (who got his powers when he was bitten by a radioactive Superman). The parodies are (deliberately, I think) heavy-handed, but sometimes quite clever when you see where he’s going with a joke. The writing style is one of action-adventure, not gag-a-day. The art has advanced from crude to actually pretty solid superhero fare. You pretty much have to like superhero parody to enjoy this one, but within those bounds, it works well.
  • Bad Machinery, by John Allison: Allison’s earlier strip Scary Go Round had been recommended to me, but it came to an end before I started reading it. Bad Machinery features a group of schoolchildren in England, and conducting investigations into the strange goings-on in their town. The strip is very English in temperament and dialogue, and the characters are all emotionally vivid, whether angry or insecure or whatever, which makes for some unique reading. Allison’s story meanders all over the place, focusing mainly on the characters’ interactions, while the individual stories move forward slowly (the second story is nearing its end right now).

    I was dubious about the strip for a while, but the first story ended quite satisfactorily, with some nice surprises and a nifty denouement. I’m hoping the second story ends as strongly. Allison’s style involves crisp lines and figures with gangly arms, but he also fills in all the backgrounds and gives the strip a distinct, yet fully-realized look. While not everything in the strip is my cup of tea, it’s a good one.

  • Blip, by Sage Leaves: The premise of this is that the heroine, K, was born outside of God’s plan, and so her actions – especially when she writes or draws – can shape the world in unplanned ways. She’s a “blip” in the universe. Consequently there are angels who watch her to keep her from being creative, and the forces of Lucifer who are trying to pull her in another direction. And her best friends are a witch, a robot and a vampire – although K knows none of this.

    Despite the fantastic overtones (and there’s a lot of conflict among the various empowered characters), Blip is largely a slice-of-life comic, especially where K is concerned, a far more whimsical Questionable Content, overlaid with elements of Gunnerkrigg Court. The art is cartoony and energetic, especially when portraying K, who is very expressive (elated, angry, frustrated, etc.). On weekends the creator runs sketch panels which nonetheless fill out the story and sometimes move it forward, so it’s a true 7-days-a-week strip. This strip is pretty representative of the strip’s sense of humor.

    Overall I’d say it’s quite good, maybe a bit light; I’d like to see the fantastic elements move forward a little faster.

  • Border Crossings, by Christian Sager & Andrew Sides: A serious fantasy adventure in which a surfer girl, falls through a hole into an alternate universe, a world which is nearly all water, with a single island and city on it, where humans are unknown and elements of our world’s culture occasionally fall through to bewilder its inhabitants. She ends up as a crewmember of a nautilus-like submarine, perhaps the only outpost of freedom on the planet, and also learns to use wield some of the world’s magic.

    I’m not quite sure where it’s going, and it’s hard to relate to Venetia as the nominal protagonist, but it’s entertaining. The art is good, but not quite doing justice to the designs, which are often amazing – the best element of the strip.

  • The Guns of Shadow Valley, by David Wachter, James Andrew Clark & Thomas Mauer: This is the stuff! A supernatural old west adventure. Despite raving about the comic book The Sixth Gun and this one, I don’t have any particular love for westerns, these are both just really good stories. Here a sheriff puts together a posse to head into Shadow Valley, a mysterious place where weird things happen, and where a mysterious treasure is apparently there to be found and taken. Of course, the posse has a few special individuals itself, including an outlaw named Frank who can draw a gun faster than any other man – and has a few other special talents besides. On the other hand, a Colonel leading a force including some supernatural beings seems to be on the same quest.

    The level of craftsmanship in this series is high: The characters and dialogue are both compelling, and Wachter’s artwork is amazing, nailing the period look as well as the supernatural elements, while drawing a bunch of characters with distinctive faces. His style reminds me of Tim Truman’s, but with more fluid layouts and figures. Excellent all around.

  • Maya, by Chris Noeth: Another adventure strip, this one with a female Indiana Jones-type adventurer. I don’t have a lot to say about it, since only 13 pages have appeared, mostly early in 2010, and it seems to be on hiatus. Noeth is a good artist, not quite as good as Eric Vedder of Ardehn for my money, although this one’s in color, which I appreciate. If it can get on a regular schedule, there’s potential here, but at the moment the story’s still in its prologue, so it’s hard to judge.
  • Ménage à 3, by Gisèle Lagacé: Recommended by a cow-orker of mine, this is a straight-up relationship comic with a heavy dose of farce: Introverted virgin Gary learns his roommates are gay lovers; they move out and in move the enthusiastic Zii and the busty French-Canadian Didi. Mix in heavy doses of bisexuality, misunderstandings, and a strong manga-influenced art style, and hijinks ensue on a regular basis. I find it a little disappointing that the hijinks have overshadowed the characters in the strip, as it feels like the strip has achieved a steady state of comedy-without-development (putting it more in the gag-a-day category than the slice-of-life category, I guess). But it’s often funny and the art is quite good (although, as they say in TV listings, it contains “nudity and strong sexual content”).
  • Moon Town, by Steve Ogden: Straight-ahead space opera adventure involving an inspector who’s come to check out some suspicious goings-on in a mining town on the moon. The story is still in its early stages, and progress has been slow because Ogden keeps putting the strip on hiatus to deal with his real life. But if you’re willing to stick with it through that, this is a quality adventure strip, a worthy descendant of SF newspapers strips of the past. I hope he can get back on a regular schedule, because I want to read more of it.
  • Possessed!, by Bryan Burke & Eryck Webb: A fairly new strip about three women who move into a haunted apartment, and make friends with the ghost living there. The story’s just getting started, but Webb’s art is already improving by leaps and bounds. Looking forward to seeing where it goes.
  • Sister Claire, by Yamino (a.k.a. Elena Barbarich): Its tag line is “Pregnant nun. Holy crap.” Though that might sound like a different sort of strip, in fact this is a post-apocalyptic adventure: Sister Claire is in fact pregnant, apparently with a messiah, which is a problem not just because she’s a nun, but because the other nuns regard her as something of a screw-up. But with the forces of evil interested in capturing her, the other nuns realize they need to take care of her and help her learn to take care of herself.

    My biggest criticism of the strip is that it’s slow-moving: Other than a few encounters with the forces of evil, it seems like not a lot has really happened since the strip began. It is well-drawn and amusing, but feels like it hasn’t lived up to its potential. Plan B has a similar feel but I think is a better strip. Updating can be sporadic due to the artist having (I think) repetitive stress issues. Not a favorite, but I’m sticking with it to see where it goes.

  • Something Positive, by R.K. Milholland: I discovered this one through Girls With Slingshots, as the two strips cross continuity on occasion. But I just haven’t been able to get into this one. The characters are an array of smartasses (from the seemingly-innocent to the just-plain-angry variety), and the strip is very wordy, though it doesn’t often make me laugh. I have trouble telling the characters apart, and would have a hard time recapping what’s happened in the strip over the last six months: One woman escaped from apparently being held captive, the main character, Davon, is apparently trying to reform from what I infer are his past womanizing ways and settle down with one woman, and one young woman seems to have run away from home. But it’s difficult to keep straight. There are also frequent interludes in which Davon’s cat talks to the reader – I mostly blip over those.

    Milholland’s art is simple and repetitive, stylistically it bears some resemblance to Jeph Jacques’ over at Questionable Content, but I think Jacques has lapped Milholland in his skills.

    I’m nearing the point where I feel I’ve given Something Positive a real try and deciding that it’s just not for me, and/or I just don’t get it.

Since my earlier entry I’ve also stopped reading a few strips: Garfield Minus Garfield got too repetitive for me. Inktank stopped updating, but I’d still read it if he kept doing it (it was never as good as his earlier strip Angst Technology, though). Afterstrife came to an end, and I haven’t checked in to see if he’s doing anything new. The artist on Sweet Fat Life departed, the writer tried her hand at drawing, but stopped updating after only a few episodes.

So what else should I be reading?

This Week's Haul

The last two weeks, spanning my recent vacation:

Two Weeks Ago:

  • Batman Beyond #4 of 6, by Adam Beechen, Ryan Benjamin & John Stanisci (DC)
  • Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #2, by Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin & Cam Smith (DC)
  • The Unwritten #17, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Zatanna #5, by Paul Dini, Chad Hardin & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier #3 of 4, by Ed Brubaker & Dale Eaglesham (Marvel)
  • The Mystery Society #3 of 5, by Steve Niles & Fiona Staples (IDW)
  • Morning Glories #1 & 2, by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma (Image)

Last Week:

  • DC Universe: Legacies #5 of 10, by Len Wein, Scott Kolins, George Pérez, Walt Simonson & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • Fables #98, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • The Flash #4, by Geoff Johns & Francis Manapul (DC)
  • Green Lantern Corps #52, by Tony Bedard, Ardian Syaf & Vicente Cifuentes (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #5, by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Francis Portela & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Power Girl #16, by Judd Winick & Sami Basri (DC)
  • Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #3 of 5, by Warren Ellis & Kaare Andrews (Marvel)
  • Captain America: Reborn TPB, by Ed Brubaker, Bryan Hitch, Butch Guice, Luke Ross & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Fantastic Four #583, by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting (Marvel)
  • Dynamo 5: Sins of the Father #4 of 5, by Jay Faerber & Júlio Brilha (Image)

The new series Morning Glories has gotten some good word-of-mouth, so I picked up the first two issues to check it out. At a glance, it looks like it’s going to be a thriller story with a dash of horror: The Morning Glory Academy is a private high school recruiting the best and the brightest – but it has some horrific secrets within its walls. The opening sequence shows a pair of students trying to plumb its depths, and one of them comes to a terrible – well, not end, but close. Then we’re introduced to six new students joining the academy this year, who learn a couple of things: First, that when they contact their parents or anyone outside the school, no one remembers them, and second, that they all share the same birthday.

I’m not familiar with writer Nick Spencer, but his writing doles out just enough surprises and shocks to keep this being a page-turner (although the first issue bogs down a bit showing us perhaps more of the six protagonists’ home lives than was really needed – it’s a classic first issue problem, easing into the story a bit too gradually), and certainly there’s a strong sense of “what the hell is going on here?” Who benefits from terrorizing and molding these students, and what are their goals? There’s some sort of supernatural force at work, but I hope there will be much more behind the academy than simple horror film schtick. There’s too much good stuff here for the story to devolve into being just a horror comic (that, ultimately, was the problem with Joe Hill’s Locke and Key – ultimately, it was just a horror comic).

The gorgeous covers to the series are by Rodin Esquejo, but the interior art is by Joe Eisma, whose angular drawings and awkward layouts don’t really do justice to Spencer’s stories. In particular his faces are generic and it’s difficult to tell the characters apart – a fact which left me confused about the surprise at the end of the second issue until I realized the text was meant to be taken literally. I hope he’ll tighten up his pencils and add some more detail and variety to his art as the series progresses, because right now the art sometimes makes it difficult to follow.

So I can see what the buzz about Morning Glories is about, but it’s still very much a work-in-progress. Nonetheless, it’s pretty different from most of what’s out there, and overall it’s professionally executed, so I’m glad I picked it up. I’m just curious to see how high the ambitions rise for this series.

Yeah, I really just wanted to include this issue of Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis because the cover is so terrible. Worst cover ever? That’s probably pushing it, but it’s really awful, and of course has absolutely nothing to do with the story. A waste.

Warren Ellis’ story is both a little more interesting and a little less interesting this issue: Much of it is spent with Cyclops and an African dictator posturing and lecturing each other – the sort of moralizing Ellis always enjoys writing, but it’s terribly tediously done here. Otherwise the story is turning into a sequel the Captain Britain stories by Alan Moore and Alan Davis from 30 years ago. (If you want to plunk down the money for it – and it’s very good stuff, but perhaps not this good – you can read it all in the omnibus edition.) Ellis has already brought back the Warpies – grotesquely empowered children formed by a nearby dimensional breach – and brings back a couple of other surprising figures from the Moore/Davis stuff too. I’m mildly curious as to what he’s going to do with them, although I can’t shake the feeling that he’s just plumbing the depths of yet more ancient Marvel history. What’s the point? Why not create something new? Ellis has done some great stuff reworking old comics themes before, but Astonishing X-Men has been far from his best work, stuttering around the edges of the X-Men universe and not really getting to the point – there’s never any payoff. I understand the book has been plagued by delays, but still.

Kaare Andrews’ art: Okay at best. He has all of the weaknesses of Frank Quitely (somewhat-inhuman-looking people, poor backgrounds) with few of his strengths (his characters look ethereal where Quitely’s look solid, Quitely’s layouts are usually strong if stiff, while Andrews’ seem awkward). Visually, the book is a mess, and particular a disappointment given the artists Ellis has been working with in earlier issues of Astonishing.

If you want to see some great art, look no farther than Captain America: Reborn, the paperback collection of the series from a couple of years ago, which gets me nearly caught up on Ed Brubaker’s run on the character. Well okay, I think Bryan Hitch is a tad overrated as an artist, his figures being a little too perfect, and he never quite sells me on his characters’ emotions, but boy, you can’t fault him for his layouts or renderings, which are truly gorgeous.

Reborn features Brubaker once again attempting the impossible: Having convincingly brought Bucky Barnes back from the dead, he now bring back Steve Rogers, who was shot twice – once at very close range, by his mind-controlled lover – setting off months or mourning in the Marvel Universe. The kicker, of course, is that Steve wasn’t actually killed, something else happened, something that the mastermind behind events wanted to use to bring Cap around to his side, and Cap’s friends have to prevent the bad guys from finishing the job.

Brubaker doesn’t pull it off as well as he did Bucky’s revival, in large part because Bucky’s story was steeped in cold war black ops and shadowy figures, the sort of stuff Brubaker does best. This is an over-the-top fantasy, which doesn’t play to Brubaker’s strengths, and which features a chain of events which borders close enough to the absurd to make it hard to swallow. It is, in short, a Lee-and-Kirby plot written by a noir detective story guy. Brubaker gives it all he’s got, but I don’t think he quite pulls it off. It’s a fun ride, with many good moments, but it feels a bit awkward next to Brubaker’s other Cap stuff.

But really, if you just want some escapist fiction to entertain you for a couple of hours, you could do a lot worse. As a sort of “event” comic unto itself, and carefully integrated into the larger goings-on in the Marvel Universe, Brubaker naturally has some strict confines to work within. So I think this can be chalked up as a good try, which kept the overall story moving forward. Not bad stuff, really.

And man, the art sure is gorgeous.

Boston in September

I’m back from a week-plus vacation to Boston to visit my parents. Debbi of course also came to visit her sisters, so we didn’t see a lot of each other, since our families live about 40 miles apart. Our strange family vacations. 🙂

We took the JetBlue red-eye the night of Thursday the 16th. Several people asked me if we had any trouble landing, because I guess there was a big rainstorm that night, but when we landed (around 5:15 am) I looked outside and just noticed it had been raining. The trip otherwise was perfectly smooth. Debbi’s sister picked us up and we drove down to spend part of Friday with them. I didn’t sleep on the plane, so I sacked out on the couch even before all of Deb’s niephews (2 girls and 1 boy) had headed off to school. Then I had lunch with Debbi and her sisters, and they drove me up to my Mom’s house.

I saw them once more, on Sunday, when one of the girls had a soccer game near my Mom’s house, so I drove over to say hi and hang out. And then I drove Debbi up on Monday to spend the night with us and have dinner, since my Dad picked up some lobsters from Legal Sea Foods for the three of them. (I don’t eat seafood, so I picked up some ribs from Whole Foods. But the verdict on the lobsters was that they were excellent.)

I visited with two friends – my friend Bruce, whom I know from my old APAhacking days, and my friend Charley, whom I know from high school. Charley asked how long it’s been since we’d seen each other, and I said, “Well, last time I saw you you still had long hair…” He said that meant it had probably been a decade or more, which sounds about right. We’d basically lost touch until I came across his web site. We had lunch in Harvard Square and caught up on various things. Bruce and I, as usual, had dinner in Boston’s North End followed by coffee and dessert at Cafe Vittoria, which is an excellent place to hang out and chat, even if we did have to watch the Red Sox get thumped by the Orioles on the big screen. (At least we got to mock them along the way.)

I spent much of the week hanging out at my Mom’s house, with occasional runs to Dunkin Donuts. She volunteers at the new Waban Library Center, in the building where the Waban branch of the Newton Free Library used to be. It’s a beautiful building, built between the two World Wars, and I went up and took some photos, and reminisced about going there as a kid. (Their Facebook page has photos from 1930 as well as from the modern era.)

I went in to visit Dad and have dinner with him twice, and he also joined me for my usual trip out to That’s Entertainment in Worcester, where I picked up some comic books and Magic cards.

The weather was up-and-down: Rainy and cold when we arrived, then cool, and then hot-and-humid! And then alternating cool with hot-and-humid for the last few days. I used almost all the clothes I brought, including my jacket and sweatshirt. I guess we left just before the rains returned. Though the area already looks like it’s perpetually raining leaves, since fall arrived during our visit.

Our flight home was uneventful, other than an hour’s delay taking off (half of which we made up in the air) – far better than last year’s debacle of a return trip!

All-in-all it was a very lazy vacation, and it flew by awfully quickly. Fortunately Debbi and I are also taking Monday off to catch up on things and recover from the plane flight home (it’s over an hour longer to fly west than east between Boston and San Jose). And the kitties are delighted to see us, of course, after 9 days of 3 different pet sitters! (Though I guess Blackjack did his best to charm everyone.)

Driving in Boston

Driving around Greater Boston is a much bigger pain in the ass than driving around California, for a bunch of reasons:

  • The streets are generally narrower, since many of the roads predate automobiles.
  • People park on the streets, even though they’re generally narrower, making the streets functionally even narrower. Many streets allow parking even though they don’t have a dedicated parking lane.
  • People get out of cars and just amble across the street without looking, usually without caring whether they’re jaywalking.
  • Pedestrians suddenly appear from behind parked cars, waiting for a space to jaywalk across the road.
  • Turn lanes usually aren’t marked until you’re actually in the lane, whereas most turn lanes in California are marked ahead of time, or at least on signs attached to traffic signals so you can see them from a distance. Consequently you often find yourself in the wrong lane because there was no way to tell you were heading into a turn lane until it’s too late.
  • Drivers give you approximately 1/5 of a second to go after a green light before honking at you. Personally this motivates me to drive slowly.

My strategy for driving in Boston is just to be patient and not let other drivers (or pedestrians) get to me. If they’re impatient, well, that’s their problem.

The only bright spot, really, is that Massachusetts has been on a long-term campaign to make drivers aware that they must stop for a pedestrians in crosswalks, and most drivers obey this law. This makes it a little easier to be a pedestrian than in years past.

I’m still not sure why they haven’t just added more lanes to Route 128 yet, though. They’ve been doing construction on it seemingly in perpetuity, so you’d like they could make the most obvious improvement to it.

New Bed!

Our home improvement project of assembling new bookcases for my comic book collection got finished a couple of weeks ago – I now have three 8-foot-tall bookcases (yes, anchored to the wall to guard against earthquakes) holding my collection, replacing the four 6-foot-tall cases. Overall the new cases have slightly more shelf space, so I have a little extra room, and they’re in better condition and look nicer than the 15-year-old things they’re replacing.

But the real reason for installing them is to make more space in the bedroom (yes, my collection is in the bedroom), in order to buy a new bed.

The old bed was also 15 years old, a queen-sized mattress and box spring, and has been on its last legs for a while. We’d actually started wearing through the mattress’ covering, exposing some of the foam. Well, last weekend Debbi talked to her friend Lisa, whom we learned bought a new bed that weekend, and from whom we also learned that that weekend – Labor Day weekend – is the time of the deepest sales in the mattress business. So we headed out to Sleep Train to try out mattresses.

Well, long story short, we bought a new California-king-sized mattress and box spring. Long story slightly longer, there are a lot of different mattresses out there. We lay on about 7 of them, and actually liked the one we bought more than several higher-end ones. Though I knew anything we bought would be much nicer than the one we were replacing.

Also, this just in: Mattresses are expensive!

So yesterday the new bed was delivered. They gave us a 4-hour window for delivery, and arrived near the very beginning of it. The two guys came in, removed the old mattress, assembled the new frame, and put the new mattress and bed spring on it all in about 20 minutes. Amazing, really! We spent about half an hour before they arrived vacuuming under the old mattress (I think most of what I sucked up was Jefferson hair), and another 15 minutes or so removing picture frames from the stairwell walls so they wouldn’t damage anything while carrying the thing up. But it was finished in a whirlwind of activity. (I gave the movers some water while they were there, which they both sucked down. Debbi observed that most people probably don’t offer them anything.)

In addition to being larger, the bed is also taller than the old bed, which means I’ll need to move the shelf mounted on the wall above the bed. But other than adjusting to that, the bed is really nice and comfortable, and it’s much harder for us to feel the other person moving around on it (which should help keep Debbi from waking up when I roll around at night, active sleeper that I am).

Newton has instantly claimed the bed as his own space, snoozing on it even before we put the blankets on it, and curling up with us last night. Debbi noted that the old bed has smelled like him and his brother for years, so he might be trying to make this one smell like him. I said to him that this is the second bed I’ve bought in his lifetime. He really seems to like it.

Last night’s sleep was very comfortable.

This Week's Haul

Hey, look! It’s another late entry! You’d think I was running out of gas on writing these every week or something!

Last Week:

  • Astro City Special: Silver Agent #2 of 2, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Secret Six #25, by Gail Simone & Jim Calafiore (DC)
  • Tom Strong and the Robots of Soom #4 of 6, by Peter Hogan, Chris Sprouse & Karl Story (DC/America’s Best Comics)
  • Captain America: Forever Allies #2 of 4, by Roger Stern, Nick Dragotta, Marco Santucci & Patrick Piazzaguta (Marvel)
  • Hercules: Twilight of a God #4 of 4, by Bob Layton & Ron Lim (Marvel)
  • Scarlet #2, by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev (Marvel/Icon)
  • Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #3 of 4, by David Petersen, Katie Cook, Guy Davis, Nate Pride & Jason Shawn Alexander (Archaia)
  • Incorruptible #9, by Mark Waid & Horacio Domingues (Boom)
  • Hellboy: The Storm #3 of 3, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #46, by Garth Ennis & Russ Braun (Dynamite)

This Week:

  • American Vampire #6, by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque (DC/Vertigo)
  • Batman and Robin #14, by Grant Morrison & Frazer Irving (DC)
  • Green Lantern #57, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Wolverine: Old Man Logan TPB, by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven (Marvel)
  • Irredeemable #17, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • The Sixth Gun #4, by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt (Oni)
The second half of Astro City‘s Silver Agent story came out last week, and it wraps up (or winds down?) the story of the Agent, one of the tragic figures in the city’s history, and one of the most-anticipated mysteries from the early days of the series. But I was a little disappointed, not for the reasons Greg Burgas was in that I think he doesn’t see that the Agent’s point of view is just as interesting as the man-in-the-street’s (or, at least, he doesn’t think it’s as interesting), but that it feels like it wasn’t quite worthy of all the attention and build-up.

To be fair, the fact that Astro City has been on an erratic publishing schedule for a decade, and that The Dark Age initially seemed to promise to be the Agent’s story but ended up being something else, perhaps build up anticipation for the Agent’s story way beyond what it deserved. And yet.

Having in the first half seen the Agent (a Captain America character) being saved by a Legion of Super-Heroes type group from the future, now we see him walking back through time to meet his eventually end in the electric chair, and excerpts of his experiences along the way, with a focus on his last two visits, with his nephew. And he does meet his end, but in a weirdly ambiguous way, which seems like it can only be satisfying if it’s the seed for further revelations about Astro City in the future, since it suggests things about the source of the Agent’s powers which aren’t really meaningful in isolation.

I think what I feel is missing from this story is that the world at large felt a great deal of guilt over the Agent’s wrongful execution (which is why they erected the statue, after all), but given that this is a time travel story, I was very disappointed that there’s no interaction between him and the world in the future in which both he and they (obviously representatives of those who convicted and executed him) deal with the issue. He comes to terms with his fate, but the rest of the world doesn’t, and while maybe that’s a lost cause, the fact that this is a time travel story and there’s not even an attempt to try makes it feel like the whole story has been dramatically undermined.

At his core, the Agent is a symbol to Astro City: First, a symbol of the greatness of the silver age, and later, a symbol of the shame of what the city went through in the dark age. While this story focuses on the agent as a man and not a symbol (other than as a symbol out of distant memory in the far future, which is not the same thing), a satisfying treatment of the character I think needed to address both sides, and that’s missing here.

The story is itself fine, and we get a lot of tantalizing glimpses of the future of the world, but I think it went off-track in some basic way, and ended up being less than it should have been.

I’m not quite sure what I think of the finale of Hercules: Twilight of a God. Though it’s refreshing in a way that the title is absolutely truthful: This is the chronicle of the last days of Hercules, in Bob Layton’s future-outer-space milieu. Having suffered brain damage, and with his comrades from his earlier adventures in their own old age, Herc is called on for one final task, to prevent Galactus – who is collapsing into a black hole – from destroying the galactic region where Herc has made his home and spawned a family. He completes his quest, and we see the aftermath and denouement of his adventure. While it’s a glorious end, it also feels rather anticlimactic; Hercules in his dotage is not nearly as entertaining as Hercules in his prime, and the sense of foreboding and gloom surrounding this story is just not as much fun as the earlier tales (especially the second mini-series, chronicling the fall of the Olympians, which was itself a bit gloomy yet was a much better story).

So there’s stuff to like here, but… it’s not the same. And it’s also clearly the end of this series of Hercules adventures, which is in itself saddening.

Ron Lim’s art is okay, but it feels stiff, and not as dynamic as Layton’s own art on the original stories. Sometimes Lim can be quite a good artist, but it feels like he phoned this one in.

I’ll put this series on the shelf next to the nice hardcover copy of Herc’s earlier adventures, but it’s not really the same.

Hey look, I bought something written by Mark Millar this week!

I kvetch about Millar a lot. I think he’s one of the worst writers working in comics these days, and I feel no shame in kvetching because he’s also one of the most popular and successful writers in comics these days. It makes no sense to me, but, well, it’s not the only thing. My basic problem with Millar is that I think his stories are mean-spirited and un-fun, and he frequently just misses the mark in depicting existing characters. I loathed his gratuitously nasty run on The Authority, I hated his depiction of guys who happened to be wearing Avengers costumes in The Ultimates, and I hated pretty much everything about Civil War.

But I was still moved to pick up Wolverine: Old Man Logan, and frankly the main reason is that I’m just a sucker for alternate-future stories. Some of them are good, some of them are bad, but I read most of them (at least featuring characters I’m familiar with) because I just like the genre.

The premise of this one is so simple you can almost see Millar thinking it up: One day all the super-villains team up to take down all the super-heroes, and the ringleaders divide up the United States among themselves. Naturally, a few heroes survive, and 50 years later, Wolverine is living outside Sacramento, an old man who refuses to fight anymore, having been broken in the villain attack. But when the Hulk gang demands their rent, he hooks up with Hawkeye to drive across the country to deliver a package in Washington.

So the story is mostly a travelogue in which we see what happened to the heroes and the country, and learn what happened to Logan.

Considering my biggest problem with Millar is usually that he can’t get characterizations right, he nails Wolverine here, as a broken yet still strong-minded man. The story wouldn’t work at all if he hadn’t made Wolverine work. On the other hand, the story is thin, little more than a reworking of films like Unforgiven, with the Marvel Universe future-travelogue stuff thrown in.

Indeed, almost everywhere you look in Old Man Logan you can see bits that feel lifted from other stories: The Hulk as a tyrant whose creed is that he survives when the weak die (from Peter David’s excellent Hulk: Future Imperfect), Hawkeye being blind (from another David yarn, The Last Avengers Story), the Red Skull’s trophy room (also from Future Imperfect), and one of the signature spreads of art in the story, that of a gargantuan skeleton of Goliath lying outside a city, feels like it came right out of Warren Ellis’ Planetary. A lot of what would otherwise be “the neat stuff” has been done before.

Besides that, the story is decent enough. My biggest gripe in terms of characters is the notion that the Hulk would mate with his cousin, the She-Hulk, and produce a clan of hillbilly enforcers. This so runs against the grain of Bruce Banner and Jennifer Walters’ characters that although the final visuals are cute (Steve McNiven draws some ugly-looking redneck Hulklings) it seems gratuitous and implausible. And while the story’s climax is cathartic, it doesn’t really work if you think about it, either.

McNiven is a terrific artist – he was certainly the best part of Civil War – and there’s really nothing to complain about in any aspect of his work. While his style has echoes of John Cassaday and Gary Frank, I’d say he’s better than either of them, with more intricate designs than Cassaday, a better sense of anatomy than Frank, and more dynamic layouts and figures than either of them. Unfortunately he seems to be a bit too slow of an artist to maintain a monthly schedule, because he has all the tools to be one of the greatest comics artists of his generation.

So all-in-all Old Man Logan may be the best Millar story I’ve read, but it’s still merely okay. At least it’s not downright repugnant like other stuff I’ve read by him, so maybe this is the first of several steps forward.

Is The Sixth Gun the best comic being published today? That’s high praise, and frankly it’s hard to make a firm decision, but wow, it’s awfully good. This Old West supernatural horror adventure (that’s a mouthful!) involves a Confederate general who – we learn in this issue – somehow got hold of six enchanted handguns for himself and his five henchmen. One of his posse, Sinclair, decided this was too much for him and bolted, managing to escape the General’s revenge. At some later point the General was defeated and imprisoned, having somehow become immensely powerful in the meantime. Now he’s back and he’s looking for his gun, now in the possession of Becky, the daughter of the reverend who apparently took down the General.

The comic’s full of foreboding, supernatural conflict, and mystical beings hanging out in the Old West, and features a pair of strong female characters in Becky (coming to grips with the position she’s been put in) and the General’s wife, who matches her husband in ambition and spirit. The backstory is being revealed slowly – but not so slowly as to be frustrating – and it’s not yet clear exactly what stakes are being played for (just how powerful will the General be once he recovers from his imprisonment and if he gets his gun back?). But just four issues in The Sixth Gun has covered more ground than many comics today cover in a dozen (I’m looking at you RASL). And Brian Hurtt’s artwork is terrific, cartoony in the sense that Charles Addams’ work was cartoony, but still dramatic and menacing. His style might not translate into mainstream superhero comics (where he’d surely earn a lot more money), but it’s perfect here.

The only downside is that I don’t know if this is a mini-series or an ongoing series. The story doesn’t feel like it’s poised to end in a couple of issues, but you never know. Nevertheless, this series is a lot of fun: Go buy it.

Fenestration

This morning, @joeyhagedorn tweeted that his word of the day is “defenestration”:

I was moved to respond to him on Facebook:

Used in a sentence: “A lot of wildlife habitat loss in the world is occurring due to defenestration.”

His response:

For that grammatically correct sentence, I wish to defenestrate you, mrawdon!

I later stopped by his office and observed that everyone talks about defenestration, but refenestration never gets any love.

It turns out the Urban Dictionary has a definition for “refenestrate”:

Sad to say, this exchange may have been the high point of my day. Sure made me laugh, though!

San Jose Municipal Rose Garden

Last week I bought myself a new digital camera – a Nikon Coolpix S8000. My old camera is still decent, but I was sucked in by the growing megapixel rates, and more importantly by the suddely-growing optical zoom capabilities of subcompact cameras. This thing has a 10x optical zoom, about 3 times greater than my old Canon! I’m by no means a power photographer, but greater optical zoom is one of the few things I’ve wanted in my cameras, and now I’ve got it.

Then, since we were heading down that way yesterday anyway (to buy cinnamon bread at Greenlee’s Bakery and drop in at Recycle Bookstore), I surprised Debbi by taking her to the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden. This rose garden was in danger of being taken off national registries a few years ago due to neglect (presumably due to shrinking budgets), but a huge volunteer effort not on revived the gardens, but won them an award recently, as well as a lot of local recognition.

So it’s no surprise that it’s quite pretty. There appeared to be two weddings going on at the edge of the garden when we arrived. We wandered through it for about an hour, Debbi being attracted to orange and peach roses, and me by any roses that weren’t white. I also like old municipal land like this since they often have signs of early 20th century architecture or decor, which I find attractive: The wrought-iron fences, the stone benches and buildings, and so forth.

And this gave me a chance to try out my new camera, so here are a bunch of pictures:

Read on, Macduff! »