Interview with AiT/Planet Lar’s Larry Young
Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. Larry Young is a writer, publisher, dreamer, and all around good guy. Last year, I had the opportunity to read and enjoy the hell out of his collection of adventure stories centering on the NASA space program, ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE. Since then, I have read quite a few books from his company, AiT/Planet Lar, and each book has a quality and originality that makes it stand out from the rest of the stuff on the racks. I enjoyed them so much, I named AiT/Planet Lar my pick for Best Publisher in this year’s @$$IE AWARDS. Larry had a chance to answer a few of my questions about his new comic THE BLACK DIAMOND and some of his other projects before heading out to the San Diego Comic Con this weekend.
Larry Young (LY): AiT/Planet Lar publisher Mimi Rosenheim and I were driving from San Francisco down to LA on the 5 for a meeting with Jason Netter at Kickstart Entertainment about other-media opportunities for one of the comics we publish, and there was some guy driving the speed limit in the fast lane. Who does that? It was a nice day, no road hazards or bad weather, nothing. It’s a straight-line road with no tricks to it at all. Heading south, though, it’s a two-lane road, and the right lane is always full of 18-wheelers hauling fruit and radio parts and live chickens and whatnot, so the travel speed of the passing lane is really at the mercy of the slowest driver in the lane.
Ambush Bug (AB): Can you tell us a little about THE BLACK DIAMOND and how you came up with the concept for the miniseries?
We’d been pretty lucky in the trip so far, and since it was the middle of the week, the only people on the road were the ones who knew the score, so the right lane was full of semis going 50 and the left lane was full of sports cars and SUVs doing 80 and all’s right in the world. But just before we hit The Grapevine, some guy went left around a truck and didn’t pass. Just went down the highway pacing the trucks and fouling up traffic. Was driving me nuts. So, to head off some building road rage, I’d started talking to Mimi about cool ways to solve the problem. I thought the whole trip down would be improved if there were a slow lane for the trucks and senior citizens and student drivers, a fast lane for experienced drivers, and a carpool lane, AND A SPECIAL LANE JUST FOR US. And so once you have a thought like that, it’s a short leap from “A special lane just for us,” to “and all my friends” and then to “and, you know, some cool cars“ and then it just sort of turns into Hugh Jackman driving the 60s Batmobile and Keira Knightley throwing Molotov cocktails and Bruce Willis playing the Steve McQueen part in a BULLITT sequel shot by Michael Bay up in my head. Once you come up with that sort of landscape…an all-bets-are-off society fuelled by fast cars and quick quips and high heels and hot lead, you can’t go wrong. The story almost writes itself.
AB: It seems as if a lot of your stories function just on the cusp of futurism. Your books (THE BLACK DIAMOND and ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE, even other AiT/Planet Lar books like CONTINUITY and THE COURIERS) seem as if, given a few years, they could actually happen. Are the more realistic aspects of sci-fi more appealing to you?LY: Well, here’s the thing. I’m of the mind that most fiction writers fall into two main camps: those who are in love with storytelling and wordplay and so write “literature,” no matter how you might want to define that one, and crusty ol’ misfits who really don’t like how the world is going and try to make sense of it for themselves by telling tales to their friends about the world they see in their heads. I’ve always had an affinity for the second sort; the kind of iconoclastic mind that asks you to buy just one thing in the story, and to follow that thread with them to the end. Mary Shelley in Frankenstein, for example. “OK, stick with me, here; just buy into this one thing, that a scientist can shock dead meat back into life. How does that impact the man, his friends, his village, his world?” But, me, I like best writers like Kurt Vonnegut, who has a foot in both those arbitrary camps, who’s in love with storytelling and wordplay but also asks you to buy that scientists have discovered “ice-9,” a type of water that’s solid at room temperature.
Those’re the sorts of tales I like to tell, myself. I’m not so much a “What If?” kind of guy as a “Then what?” writer. What-ifs are easy; then-what’s are where the fun is, and the sorts of stories I respond to as a writer and as a publisher. Sure, ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE is “What if the world’s richest man returns to the moon for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo landings?” but all the fun is in “And then what?” and that’s where the embedded news crew and secret base and the robot miners and zero-gravity beer-drinking and all comes in. Or THE BLACK DIAMOND’s transcontinental highway, or CONTINUITY’s reality-changing pregnant teenager who gives birth to herself, or THE COURIERS’ gun-toting underground NYC delivery kids. And then what, yeah?
So, yes, a sort of realistic aspect appeals to me more. I don’t believe a man can fly, or in one ring to rule them all, but I suppose I do believe a rich guy with a sharp focus could put us on the moon again before the government could, or one dude with a fast car would risk taking on the Army to save his kidnapped wife. Too many Harrison Ford movies as a kid, I guess.
AB: What type of research went into THE BLACK DIAMOND?LY: Just as ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE was my love-letter to all the science fiction films I enjoyed as a kid that had spacemen in some sort of jeopardy as the core of the story, THE BLACK DIAMOND is the same for all the flicks I’d see at the drive-in with my folks in the back of our Pontiac Safari station wagon just over the city limits in Rutland, Vermont. Stuff like TWO LANE BLACK TOP (where the four main characters are The Driver, GTO, The Mechanic, and The Girl), DIRTY MARY AND CRAZY LARRY (when your name is “Larry,” you sort of have to see that one right away), and HOOPER and THE STUNT MAN and MAD MAX and LE MANS. So I pulled out a few of those from my stack of DVDs and watched ‘em to get tone. Did some reading on the construction of the Autobahn, cracked open a couple of books from my reference library (THE ILLUSTRATED DIRECTORY OF AMERICAN CARS, and THE ROADS THAT BUILT AMERICA), and talked to a couple of gearheads I know to get some details for dialogue.
But most of the research went into the format of the book to simulate the look of 1970s comics. That’s why it’s a monthly six-issue miniseries instead of a graphic novel, and why artist Jon Proctor is rocking the day-glo color palette, and why we’re printing it cold-press on good newsprint. The whole thing, from self-aware voice of the characters to the smell of the ink on your hands is supposed to scream “Seventies!” to the reader.
AB: You've created a world in THE BLACK DIAMOND that really is ripe with story possibilities. All sorts of stories could be spawned from the lawless streets above our heads. Any plans to revisit THE BLACK DIAMOND after the miniseries is over?LY: I appreciate you saying that, thanks very much. And that’s why we’ve got all sorts of artists and writers weighing in with the “Tales of the Black Diamond” back-up stories, to show that there’s a whole lot of stuff going on in this world that Dr. McLaughlin and the cast are speeding through.
Because of the style of the story, the big hug we’re giving to Seventies story-telling, I can say that the end of the mini sort of suggests a whole other story on its own. That while things are resolved (in a Seventies way) for some of the main characters, society still might not be done with The Black Diamond. Let me tease you a bit and say it answers the question of why the highway goes from San Francisco to Baltimore and what Seattle, LA, Atlanta and New York have to say about things.
But of course that all depends on Jon’s schedule. I’m not going to do any more TBD stories without him, so it might be a while; he’s getting a slew of offers from his work on this.
AB: Could THE BLACK DIAMOND actually exist in this day and age?LY: Well, that goes back to the “just buy this one thing” aspect of the storytelling I enjoy. Logistically, I’m pretty sure that insurance rates for those living under such a thing would be astronomical, and that it’d never get built in the first place because of adversely-effected environmental impact and other political-type maneuverings. But given that there is an eight-lane superhighway bisecting the country 150 feet overhead, I don’t think it would take too long for our present Red State/Blue State society in this country to split vertically, and have all the law-abiding SATURDAY EVENING POST/WALL STREET JOURNAL/FOX NEWS people on the ground and all the outlaw MOTHER JONES/HIGH TIMES/ROAD AND TRACK/BUSINESS 2.0 people having fun up-top.
That’s the story, anyhow.
AB: ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE seemed like a labor of love for you. It definitely was one of my favorite reads in recent memory. What type of research did you have to do to bring this vibrant story to life?LY: I was six years old living with my family in Dallas, Texas when Neil and Buzz first hit the green cheese. When they called down, “Houston, Houston, do you read?” I was pretty sure they were talking to us, what with Houston being right down the road. So I’ve been a big student of the U.S. manned space program for pretty much all of my life... but ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE isn’t exactly hard science, although I tried to ground it in as much reality as I could and still tell a neat adventure story. I mean, yes, it still takes about three days to get to the moon, but the news crew pulls on pressure suits over their street clothes. The anchorman has his suit and tie on, still, underneath his helmet!
So as far as research for that one went, I basically assimilated every American SF film of the last forty years and read all the main SF writers of the last fifty years for fun before I turned 30. I reached into the ol’ pop culture bucket and pulled out what I needed.
AB: Can you give us a glimpse at your writing process? Do you have any rituals or superstitions that you go through to get the creative juices flowing?LY: I’m with Babe Ruth as far this question goes: “I have only one superstition. I touch all the bases when I hit a home run.” That is, I just do the work, you know? Sit down at the computer, turn it on, and just start writing. It’s easier for me to concentrate and hear the voices in my head if it’s quiet, so I don’t have TV or music on or anything. Honestly, the problem isn’t so much getting the creative juices flowing as it is finding time to get all those things down on the page, working around all the administrative and logistical and production issues of publishing. If I letter fifteen or twenty pages of artwork in a day, the last thing I want to do is go home and stare at my computer screen for another two or three hours, writing.
But since we just had our first kid, we’ve arranged the publishing schedule to pause a bit and I find I’m up a lot more in the middle of the night when it’s nice and quiet, so I get quite a bit of new fiction out now, so there’s that. It’s an interesting juggling act, I’ll say that.
AB: What do you look for in a story published by your company?LY: Me, I like a strong adventure with idiosyncratic art that tells a straightforward tale from a creative team stretching their skills in service of their vision. I know Mimi likes warm, personal tales rather than sweeping epics, as a rule, but there’s no real hard-and-fast answer to this. We like high-quality works. It’s like the notorious line of Justice Potter Stewart in a 1964 obscenity case, “…I know it when I see it…” and Mimi and I publish comics that we like and trust that others share our taste in comics. We know an AiT book when we see it.
AB: AiT/Planet Lar is a relatively new publisher with an eclectic mix of product being put on the shelves. Is there a mission statement that you abide by?LY: We short-hand it for people as: intelligent, but not high-brow; boisterous, but not obnoxious; intimate, but not cloying; humorous, but not slapstick; unconventional, but not obtuse. Obviously, there’s a lot of room to maneuver in those descriptions, and not every description is going to jibe with everyone’s understanding of the words we use. Me, I like to think of the stuff we publish as for the sorts of folks who like strong, confident tastes. Anchovies-on-the-pizza people, you know? A stiff belt of something neat to take the chill off; extra sharp cheddar cheese slices on the plate next to a slice of warm apple pie; unapologetic politicians; a cute girl looking you right in the eye and saying, “Sure.” That kind of thing. You may not like it, but you know people who do.
AB: For such a new publisher, you've been able to wrangle some pretty top name talent: Brian Wood, Charlie Adlard, Joe Casey, Darick Robertson. How'd you manage that?LY: Those guys were all my pals; I worked with Brian Hibbs, proprietor of the world class comic book shop Comix Experience in San Francisco, for five years as his Minister of Propaganda, wrangling promotions and marketing for him and writing and editing his in-store newsletter, ONOMATOPOEIA, which I can still spell confidently and quickly to this day without looking it up. It was in that position I got to know lots of folks in comics. But for these guys, I’m one of Brian’s biggest fans; I wrote him an email when I saw the Previews ad for the solicitation of the first issue of CHANNEL ZERO, and championed his work wherever I could. Charlie I met through former comics agent Sharon Cho, when we were looking for a strong artist to complete ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE. Charlie is an absolutely breathtakingly talented artist, and one of the finest gentlemen you’d ever hope to meet. I often kid him that I admire his work so much that he has more comics published through my own company than I do!
We’ve known Joe for over ten years, as well. We first met him through Matt Smith, the artist on the first three chapters of LIVE FROM THE MOON, and we’ve been pals ever since. I have a lot of admiration for his work, as well, and I think CODEFLESH and ROCK BOTTOM, two graphic novels he’d written for Charlie to draw, are among not only their best works, but stand among the best comics published, as well.
I’ve known Darick for so long, I sort of don’t remember where we met, but it was either at Comix Experience, or through Kieron Dwyer, with whom he shared a studio for a few years. But he’s a good pal, and we’d often split tables at cons in the early days. It was through Darick I met Warren Ellis, and was able to publish some experimental stuff by him, and Steven Grant, and Stuart Moore.
But I enjoy most breaking new talent and getting them the attention they deserve and watching them turn into top creators. We’ve published Becky Cloonan’s and Matt Fraction’s first pro work, and given fresh attention to Rick Spears and Rob G., and Ryan Kelly, and Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, and Tom Beland. And, of course it’s too soon to tell, but it’s hard not to think we’ve published Tomorrow’s Superstars by doing the first graphic novels of DC’s Adam Beechen, and ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY’s Marc Bernardin, and Image’s Alex Grecian and Riley Rossmo. So there’s a whole spectrum of talented creators, from old pros to new kids.
AB: What I've liked about a lot of AiT/Planet Lar's books is that they are often anchored by some kind of historical fact or time; FIRST MOON had ties to the Lost Colony of Roanoke, SEVEN SONS was tied to an ancient fable, ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE was heavily reliant on NASA history. Was this a conscious decision or is this just the way the comics have come to be?LY: I think this goes back to the “just buy one thing” theme we were discussing earlier, and that I personally enjoy rooted-in-reality adventure stories. Of course, this doesn’t explain stuff like the talking-millionaire-gorilla-with-a-jetpack that is SKY APE or the obsolete-technology-of-yesterday’s-future that is SHATTER or the whacked-out pop culture stew that is SCURVY DOGS, does it?
But I think if your story has a foot in something fact-based or historical, it’s a little easier to get the audience to go with you on your trip.
AB: What else do you have coming out in the near future?LY: Joe Casey and Axel #13’s KRASH BASTARDS is done and just waiting for me to finish the production on it. That one’d be out already if it wasn’t for me; that’s all my fault. And I’ve just begun work on a sweeping adventure story that’s currently been blocked out to 16 issues and is really quite poised to be an ongoing if I can wrangle it. But that’s definitely what I’ll be working on for the rest of this year and most of next. The working title of it right now is INTRINSIC, but that’s really more of an internal company code so I don’t have to call it “That big sixteen issue monstrosity with the four competing narrative tracks that’s like a big game of Jenga in story form” when I’m talking about it with my wife. I’m pretty excited about this one, as it’s my most ambitious piece yet.
AB: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming small press publishers who are trying to make it in the hectic comic book industry?LY: One of the things I try to stress to people is to just Do The Job. I get, no kidding, at least two emails a week from people pitching me six volume epics about some sort of sentient forest fungus and his pet tricycle made of solidified smog and the challenges they face as copy boys in a big city newsroom, or the like, who are offended when I tell them they should reign in their vision to a little something more manageable, like a three issue or six issue miniseries that ends with a payoff that allows the creator to revisit the characters if it hits big. The usual response is mostly “Don’t tell me what to do!” or “This is the format I want it in!” or something equally strident. Well, gee, in the present climate, Quentin Tarantino or J.J. Abrams might have a time trying to launch such a thing, what can you show me of yours that you’ve completed, I will ask.
There’re either tumbleweeds rolling across the Internet as I wait for their reply, or a very fast response along the lines of “This will be my first work, but I’m not writing a line of dialogue or drawing a page of art until I get paid!” Well, there’s a lot of already established creators ahead of you wanting to work that can make a more commercially attractive proposition than that, so it’s like actors getting SAG cards, in comics, nowadays. If you’re an indie actor, you can’t get a SAG card unless you get a part in a SAG film. But it’s hard to get a part in a SAG film with all those other SAG members vying for your part. So you just Do The Job until somebody notices your brilliance. Or shoot your own film, in the Kevin Smith/Robert Rodriguez way, or produce your own comics, like Dave Sim, and Jeff Smith, and well, me. And then you’ll either be whisked away to write POWER MAN for Marvel or too busy counting money from all the sales of TREE ROOT AND AIR TRIKE: BIG CITY NEWSMEN to worry about “breaking in.”
But either way, no one ever got a gig by saying they want to Do The Job; they had to prove they could Do The Job, first.
AB: Any word on Brian Wood's THE COURIERS film that was recently rumored to be on the fast track to being made?LY: The last I heard on that is that former LOST producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach had turned in a first draft screenplay to the producers and they were giving notes on it. I don’t doubt that’ll be hitting the multiplexes before too long, though; who won’t want to see that story made into a film?
AB: What's this I hear about a movie version of FULL MOON FEVER?LY: We try to play our cards close to the vest on these things, because so many projects are announced that never end up getting made, or things get optioned and re-optioned and then lapse and then someone else picks up the option and there’s all kinds of machinations and politics and all. I mean, this is AICN, you know what I’m talking about. So, yes, there’s some talking going on with FULL MOON FEVER, and it’s not with Renny Harlin, who had been attached to an early version. But who knows if or when it’ll happen?
AB: So many of your books are just asking to be made into film. Personally, I'd love to see ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE on the big screen (or maybe something like an HBO miniseries). Is there any other film news you'd like to drop here in this interview?LY: Like I said, in order to not look like the Boy Who Cried Wolf, we try not to talk about stuff until it’s ready to go. Honestly, I probably won’t say anything until I’m in line buying a ticket or setting my TiVo, and even then I won’t be happy until the last frame of the end credits shows. But there’s always something going on; I’d say that of our 100+ books we’ve published, probably one in five is or has been optioned, or is in some stage of other-media development. That’s a pretty good percentage for a publishing house of our size and certainly speaks to our commercial instincts. But, yeah, I’m with you; I’d love to see ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE on the big screen, and it’s even easier now than it would have been back in 1999, when we first produced it. Back then, it’s $200 million to get the Teamsters grinding up the Cocoa Puffs to make the moon dust for the actors to walk around in, and for Stan Winston to make the mining robots and for Digital Domain to do the flying newsvans.
But now, lop a zero off that and build some spacesuits for Ryan Reynolds and Rachel McAdams and Alec Baldwin and set them up in Robert Rodriguez’ green screen garage and everyone makes truckloads of money. Seems a no-brainer.
AB: AiT/Planet Lar received my nomination for Best Publisher in this year's AICN Comics @$$ie Awards. How has life changed since receiving this dubious honor?LY: I really did think that was an honor. Most of the comic book audience likes superheroes, which isn’t really what we’re about, and most of the regular mainstream audience doesn’t so much dig on comics and graphic novels. So the mainstream action/adventure stories we like to tell sits in that intersection of people who like good comic book stories but aren’t afraid to wave their beer at TRANSFORMERS, either. And it’s those discerning folks who are reading AICN, so, geez, having you give us your nod for Best Publisher really was quite a thrill, no kidding.
AB: Thank you so much for this interview.LY: It was very much my pleasure
THE BLACK DIAMOND is on sale now and you can seek out ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE and other AiT/Planet Lar’s books here.
THE ORDER #1
Written by: Matt Fraction Penciled by: Barry Kitson Inks: Mark Morales Published by: Marvel Comics Reviewed by: Rock-Me AmodeoIf there were a subtitle to this, it might be “how to start a team book vs. how NOT to start a team book.” I could give more than a few examples of the second (hint – rhymes with “Bladowpact…”) but this book falls into the first category. Not flawless, but very good.
The Order is an Initiative-based operation that assembles real heroes from the civilian world and gives them superpowers. It’s not a lottery and it’s not “American Idol”, but limited to people who supposedly showed real aptitude, bravery and leadership. Due to the process, they only have one year before their bodies reject their abilities and they get depowered, sort of like the classic series STRIKEFORCE: MORITURI but (hopefully) without each person eventually dying just from the process.
Besides a few cameos from Tony Stark, the best known player in this book is Pepper Potts (widowed for who-knows-how-long-in-comicbook-time), who plays a surprisingly Oracle-ish role, as if the plot called for a redhead info-goddess and Barbara Gordon was busy (ah, but we do get someone in a wheelchair anyway…spooky parallels…).
But other than her, no players. So in many ways, this book really feels like an independent superhero book with a killer concept, the kind you read and go “Wow, that was great! Too bad it’s an indy book and probably won’t have time to build a fanbase, because I liked it.” (And I can’t tell you how many times, ever since I read DNAGENTS #1, that I have said almost that exact phrase, only to watch whatever I was reading fold after a year or two.).
The nice thing is, this ain’t an indy book! It just feels that way, but it potentially has the full force of the Marvel Universe behind it (personally, I hope they stay a little separated for a while.) And Kitson’s art, which really hasn’t been seen much outside of LEGION and JLA:YEAR ONE, has that fresh, clean look of a rising unknown artist. But Kitson is no newcomer and I’ve loved his stuff for years. I think he drew an issue or two of AVENGERS/THUNDERBOLTS, but I don’t think he’s done that much with Marvel, so this should be interesting.
Character development-wise, we start with Henry Hellrung, an alcoholic actor who used to play Stark on a long-running Iron Man TV show. Hmmm…he looks like Stark AND he’s a recovering alcoholic – another spooky parallel? Well hold on – you don’t know the half of it.
First, this is a dual nit-pick for me. One problem I have is that the world hasn’t known Stark was Iron Man forever. So how could he have been playing Iron Man for “so long?” The other nitpick (and here is the other part of the parallel) is that this concept seems to be brought over directly from STRIKEFORCE. See, Greg Mattingly (Backhand) was a third generation Morituri that actually portrayed Louis Armanetti (Radian) on a TV show, and after Radian’s death, signed up for the process. And coincidentally, he looked a bit like Radian. And coincidentally, they BOTH looked like Tony Stark. Kid you not. I’m not saying (out loud) the concept was lifted, but I would feel a lot better if the “homage” were a bit less…oblique.
And I’m not sure I liked Pepper “sex” Potts coming onto a certain character so very fast. I know she surprised herself, but that kind of forwardness seems a LOT out of character, not just a little. I could be wrong.
Still, what this book DOES do is make me care about the characters. We ARE thrown into the middle of the action, but I already know (and care) more about the lead character in one issue than like a year’s worth of SHADOWPACT. I think the opening run is supposed to focus on one character per issue, and I’m looking forward to it. If even HALF of them are fleshed out as well as this one, it should be fun…for as long as each character is around.
Ah, but that concept is a two edged sword. As this issue proves, there’s no sense getting attached to any of them – they could be gone in an instant. If the reader can’t stay attached to character, it will be more difficult to build readership. That could be problematic. Of course, since the characters will not ostensibly be killed off, then if any of them are, you know, Wolverines–in-the-rough, then I’m guessing they can be brought back. Just guessing here. Regardless, I plan on picking this book up regularly.
THE AGENCY VOL 1 TPB
Writer: Paul Jenkins Artist: Kyle Hotz Publisher: Top Cow Reviewer: Ambush BugWhen I read the title credits of this book, I kind of knew what I was getting into. Writer Paul Jenkins has been known to scribe some pretty moody stories and artist Kyle Hotz is known for his slightly caricatured but often genuinely horrifying panels of blood, guts, and scares. What I didn’t know was what this book was about given the fact that the cover of the trade paperback only had a somber group shot of the team staring at the reader as if he had pissed in their punchbowl. So without preparation above what I knew about the creators, I dove into this trade.
And it turned out to a pretty damn fine read.
This book has shades of SE7EN and other recent CSI/serial killer stories of late and mixes it with the sci fi/super hero genre seamlessly. The serial killer that can’t be caught has been done to death, but here Jenkins does a great job of keeping things fresh and interesting by making this killer such a sadistic freak that he stands out from the rest of the herd. Jenkins comes up with some wince-inducing moments as we watch the serial killer do his thing.
Jenkins fills this book with memorable characters. The main character, Virtual Jonez, is a spunky cyborg who chain smokes, swears, and likes to shoot big guns. Her partners in The Agency are equally memorable and interact together in a comfortable and functional manner, as if they had been working together for years. In a way, The Agency reminded me of Hellboy and his squad of monsters, but whereas Hellboy and Co. fight myths and monsters, The Agency is going in a more futuristic direction.
The plot is tightly packed and the book moved along like a movie without the usual lulls and filler pages that often accompany miniseries. Kyle Hotz’ tight artwork not only brings a macabre edge to the piece, but his angular characters and creative panels exude a tension that grows as the mystery deepens and the pressure grows for the Agency to capture the killer.
I’d love to see more assignments for this Agency, as long as the same creative team accompanies them. Jenkins and Hotz have made some pretty compelling panels filled with noir and horror. This book should appeal to fans of the serial killer genre, as well as those who like superheroes and sci fi.
THE PROGRAMME #1
Writer: Peter Milligan Artist: C.P. Smith Publisher: Wildstorm/DC Comics Reviewed by Humphrey LeeCreator-driven projects helmed by Peter Milligan oft times end up being way more than worth their while. Hunt down some runs of SHADE THE CHANGING MAN, or his HUMAN TARGET, and especially his X-FORCE/X-STATIX stuff with Marvel, and you'll see what I'm talking about. Even if it's not your "cup of tea", as they say, you still can't deny they have such massive amounts of creative energy going for them. THE PROGRAMME was a project I became very excited about when it was first solicited, because I was hoping to see some copious amounts of that energy again since the most I've seen out of Milligan recently was a very banal run on X-MEN that almost made me drop the book for the first time since its inception. What I wanted here was a return to form, something to show me that the man who brought me three of the most underrated and underpraised runs I've experienced in comics was stepping up to the plate again to show a return to form after a bit of a slump.
And with this first issue of THE PROGRAMME, we're standing here with a 1-and-1 count and I have no idea which way this is going to go...
Now, the premise is a good, solid start, hence why I was becoming excited over this project in the first place. THE PROGRAMME encompasses just that: old, Soviet-era superhuman projects awakening from a Cold War slumber. Where this debut issue becomes not so inspiring is in the execution. There's just soooooooo much jumping around in the narrative, trying to establish so many situations that set up the story or will be leading into future chapters, that it never fully settles in your head. It opens with Nazis at the end of World War II, jumps forward to a little place called "Talibstan" (which, I don't know how thinly veiled of a political commentary that's supposed to be) where the first of the Superweapons is unleashed, then to a guy named Max who has had an unusual reaction to the situation, then to some super-secret government types and then back and forth and back forth amongst all these. It's just trying to hard to envelop us with all these ideas that it comes off as a little too spastic.
The art chores on THE PROGRAMME are really unique, and quite impressive at times, but sadly they also tend to heap on the somewhat jarring nature of the issue as a whole. Overall the art here is really, really dark; it sometimes makes it really hard to grasp just what it is you're looking at. Heck, it's a rarity where you just see a straight up facial shot without some shading or whatever obscuring parts of the characters features, a lot of times unnecessarily. But overall I think there's more good to the art than bad. Some of the lighting effects that take place on panels--in the explosions and some shots involving radioactive waves or whatever--are all just oddly aesthetically pleasing. I can't quite quantify it, but with their washed out tones and ripple effects they're very interesting to the eye. And there's a lot of line detail in the backgrounds and characters; they just tend to be obscured too much by the excess shading or muddled in the mono-tone coloring some of the pages have.
I know that's a lot of negativity towards this book, but in the end I really didn't hate it or anything, I just was a little more frustrated and less blown away than I expected to be. After a reread or two though, this start isn't half-bad, it's just not as good as it could have been, and honestly SHOULD have been. It was unnecessarily confusing and definitely needed some streamlining. There's a strong premise still in here though, and has a lot still going for it. Anytime you can mix Soviets, Nazis, the Cold War, and our current socio-political environment and connect them all in a yarn involving super powered beings too, well, I think that's a story worth telling. Now I just need it to all come together and play out better and tell me a story that's not just an intriguing plot, but that actually makes me care about where it's going.
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD # 5
Written by: Mark Waid Penciled by: George Perez Published by: DC Comics Reviewed by: Rock-Me AmodeoI know this book has had not one, but two, full reviews recently, but it’s the only thing I read this week that had me full out laughing. In fact, those laughs were probably the hardest I’ve laughed in a month or two. If you have any love of classic DC and/or classic story-telling and you’re not picking this up, you’re simply missing out. What a great book.
In this issue, we continue the quest to resolve the Haruspex: Batman “teams up” with the Legion, while Supergirl is off with Adam Strange and Hal Jordan. Be advised that when Brainiac treats the recently de-jerked Batman with the usual arrogance (of a “twelfth-level intellect,” a phrase that is mercifully missing), things will not go well. And just when you think Batman has had enough – he has. Love it. I also appreciated the interaction between Bats and Invisible Kid.
In a galaxy far, far away, Supergirl and GL attempt to locate the book that will help sort everything out. Supergirl is SO in character – as much “girl” as “super” – that her attempts at gravitas-laden speechifying had me howling. Also, you just KNOW that the fact she is under a trinary sun will have some impact later. Well, I hope so. Mark Waid seems to have this laid out pretty well for that to be simply throwaway information.
And of course, the book would not be nearly as appealing without Perez’s art (which I have loved since those early days with the AVENGERS – anyone remember Hellcat?) and panel after panel, page after page shows the kind of dedication that drove him to carpel tunnel while finishing the AVENGERS/JLA crossover. You wanna see a master who’s still at the top of his game? Buy this book.
Lastly, for you ancient history fans, we’re still 6 months away from the 40th anniversary of the Siamese Human Knot, but there is cause to celebrate a bit early. You’ll know what the heck I’m talking about when you get there, but proper homage is made with the utterance of “Holy Hamstrings!” Here is a preview:
And here was the “real” deal, circa January 18, 1968.
That’s just a love letter to all of us growed-up fanboys. Too, too funny. Thank-you, Mark and George.
MARVEL ADVENTURES: GIANT-SIZE AVENGERS #1
Writer: Jeff Parker Art: Leonard Kirk Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugIf you blinked last week, you may have missed this little gem of a book, but those of you who have been buying the MARVEL ADVENTURES: AVENGERS series surely had to have noticed it. This GIANT SIZE issue features an appearance by the Agents of ATLAS. That’s right, folks. Those of you guys who enjoyed last year’s AGENTS OF ATLAS miniseries by Jeff Parker had better get off your booties and go back to the store to pick this issue up because it features a damn fine and funny story pitting the two teams against the villainous time lord, Kang the Conqueror.
The book continues to solidify my belief that Jeff Parker is going to be a force to be reckoned with soon at Marvel. Structurally sound and thoroughly entertaining, this book oozes with fun and comedy without poking fun at the genre or insulting its readers. Those of you who enjoy Dan Slott’s work should be following Parker, who in my opinion is a slightly better writer when it comes to both comedy and adventure.
Sure, this series is supposed to be geared more towards the kiddies, but month after month, this book seems much more like the Avengers I grew up with than the ones Bendis is writing today. Plus as a bonus, the book is not bogged down with CIVIL WAR continuity. But above everything else, this is another opportunity to enjoy the fun that is the Agents of ATLAS. Whereas the Avengers team in this book is slightly different than the mainstream Marvel team, the Agents of ATLAS are written as if they were in continuity, making it a must-purchase for fans of the old series.
I can’t tell you how much fun it was reading the interactions between the Human Robot, Marvel Boy, and Gorilla Man again. Not only does Parker have a good handle on the characters, but he plays them off of the Avengers fairly well too. There’s an especially fun interaction between Gorilla Man and Wolverine that I would love to see delved into deeper. Hell, I’d love to see the Agents pop up all over Marvel. It’d be a great grass-roots sort of way to get the buzz going for an ongoing series featuring the eclectic crew.
Leonard Kirk provides the art and he kicks @$$ doing so. His work is crisp and clean, yet his characters have a fluidity that suggests shape, form, and especially movement with precision and skill. Kirk is proving to be the go-to man for straightforward super hero action. He’s the type of artist that entices me to buy the book when I see his name on the cover.
This issue also reprints the first appearances of Namora and Venus. Both are entertaining glimpses of the early days of Marvel. The artwork in the Namora tale is especially great with its streamlined and angular takes on the characters within, but editorial flubbed and left the two back-up features uncredited.
From the appearance of the Agents of ATLAS, to Parker’s fun writing, to the nice back-up features, this book is the epitome of fun. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed in this book.
DRAGON HEAD V. 7
Like all great survival horror the answers here aren't easy and in fact just lead to the formation of more questions--most of which will probably never be answered in the pages of this series with only three more volumes left to go. But despite the ambiguity of the answer to the big question the presentation of how the answer is discovered is so inherently eerie that the fact you don't learn everything doesn't ruin anything within the context of the story. If anything it makes the story come across as more realistic and, if at all possible, more apocalyptic than it had before. Obviously, the characters in this series are facing absolutely hopeless odds in a world that just seems intent to destroy them at every turn. But once you learn the whys of how the world in DRAGON HEAD fell apart you'll begin to see that what has happened is possibly an extinction level event that none of the players may actually survive.
Mochizuki pulls out all the stops in his brilliant use of blacks and shadows in this volume. When I reviewed volume one of this book a while back I remember being more than impressed with how Mochizuki used darkness to great effect in crafting his visual brand of horror. With this book he brings that talent to the fore once again as when revelations are made they're made among a shroud of blackness. Mochizuki's storytelling ability manipulates the lack of detail so well that I couldn't help but be impressed with how much he pulled off with chunks of pages that barely had anything to see at all. The creator of DRAGON HEAD understands the meaning of atmosphere possibly more than any other comic artist working today. When the dark descends in DRAGON HEAD you can almost feel it swallowing you whole. DRAGON HEAD was able to send chills up my spine, which is something that barely any other horror comic has been able to achieve.
As far as I'm concerned DRAGON HEAD is a modern day comic masterpiece. I'm just going to say it now: in my twenty plus years of reading comics I don't think I've ever read a comic book as gripping, as intense, or as harrowing as DRAGON HEAD. If you're a survival horror fan you owe it to yourself to be reading this book. Hell, if you're just interested in the craft of comic book storytelling you need to read this book. It should be required reading for anyone who wants to learn how to tell comic book horror tales effectively. If you're a fan of such books as FROM HELL and THE WALKING DEAD this is a book you should be reading. As far as I'm concerned it leaves both those books in its apocalyptic dust.
BLACK GAS 2 #3 AvatarThe final issue of this miniseries was a pretty morose stroll through zombie armageddon. With the death of a major character in the last issue, the book kind of seemed to lose its heart and soul. And maybe that’s what writer Warren Ellis was trying to communicate in this extremely bleak and perverse look at zombie-dom. I’ll have to dig out old issues, but I don’t remember the zombies acting out in sexual brutality in previous issues or maybe it’s just because it is so ugly, offensive, and in the forefront in this issue that made it more noticeable. Either way, this was a helluva read with an ending that, although a bit cliched, seemed fitting and absolute. – Ambush Bug
OMEGA CHASE #1-2 Th3rdWorld StudiosI really liked the premise of this one; dropping a confused out of time adventurer in the middle of the Old West and then having him duel it out with zombies was pretty damn cool. But this book doesn’t stop there. It leaps genres with flashbacks to fantasy worlds with wizards and elves, then careens into the future casting our hero as the commander of a starship in the middle of a space battle. And it’s all the same guy. He’s as confused as the reader, but it’s just fun to see this every-hero wander from one high-tension locale to the next. This book doesn’t let you get settled before it pulls the carpet out from under you. Expect surprises, folks. And even though this book utilizes adventure clichés, it does so in an imaginative and carefully thought out manner. Highly recommended for those of you who like to read books where you can’t predict where or when it’s going to go next. – Ambush Bug
SCORN #1 Septagon StudiosThis is a heartfelt and painful little tale of redemption as one man seeks revenge for the death of a friend, but the thing that makes this book stand out from others is the artwork. Reminiscent of Ashley Wood and Ben Templesmith, those of you who like clean and clear images may want to stay away, but those like me who like moody, imaginative, and painterly styles will want to seek this one out. Artist/writer Moyers Neundorf does a great job of conveying a somber and dark mood in his panels. Scratchings and smudges are all over the place to convey the muddy feelings that these pages are filled with. And he makes it a pretty compelling read, even though the story of revenge is a well tread road. Art lovers seek this one out. This guy has a great eye for making a panel vivid and exciting with a relatively tight palette and some nice panel to panel transitions. – Ambush Bug
FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN #22 Marvel ComicsSweet Jesus! Joe Robertson is married to a Skrull!!! This is it folks, I don’t know how he doesn’t see it, but that bitch is a Skrull!!! What is going on there? I realize the art style of this book is sort of heightened and exaggerated but what the hell? As to the story, it’s a decent if not incredible finish to the Miss Arrow plot. My curiosity comes from a potential we will never see. Arrow’s whole body is made of spiders that can regroup to form her body. Given how she is defeated, what the spiders that formed her will be in a short time… man if that material is still able to regroup and reform her body, that would be the sickest but most truly urban villain ever. Where the next issue is going, a confrontation that has been pending since Spidey unmasked, that has me interested. I pray they do not blow it. - Jinxo
ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #111 Ultimate Marvel ComicsAnd thus ends an era, not with a whimper or a bang, but with a cheap shot. What could I say about Ultimate Spiderman that hasn’t been said before regarding the previous 110 issues? This is Bagley’s final issue (and Stuart Immonen’s first, providing some nice transition without us fanboys going through too much separation anxiety) and I want to say that I’m REALLY going to miss Bagley’s pencils on this title—but the upside is that he gets to do other stuff. In the meantime, Bendis will continue to write/script as Immonen takes over art. And his art is not bad at all, almost a teaser: Immonen can draw action, but time will tell if he can convey the range of facial emotions that Bagley did so well (and frankly, is necessitated by Bendis’ dialogue-heavy style.) As for this issue, we get some great closure to things between Aunt May and Peter, with them discussing things that took the “616” Peter and May about 40 years to be able to discuss. As often happens with this title, the conflicts in the “616” universe, which I grew up watching and thinking “they could avoid so much pain if such-and-such two characters could just get 15 uninterrupted minutes to hash this out…” – well, Peter and May get their 15 minutes, and it’s nice. I wish more writers could figure out that the artificial suspension of conflict resolution is often more frustrating than anything else. Why not just resolve some of it? I mean, really, even when people love each other, they will NEVER run out of things to argue about, you know what I’m saying? So it’s very nice to see something actually RESOLVED so we can move on to the next great dilemma. As for the art, I’m sad to see Bagley go. But I’m happy to see Bendis stay, and this issue is indicative of the reason. – Rock-Me
ALL FLASH #1 DC ComicsI know Guggenheim was taking Bart Allen to a new level in the last few issues of his now dead series, but all it took was Mark Waid to return with his A-game to make me excited about the Flash again. Not only does he fill in all of the plot holes from the previous series and the JLA/JSA crossover “The Lightning Saga,” but Waid manages to make Wally mysterious and fun again. I loved the little scenes as Wally comes to grips with the events of the past few days. If there is a comic book character Waid knows best, it’s Wally West. You can tell that he’s filled with excitement and the preview pages by Daniel Acuna have me salivating for the series’ return. – Bug
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #11 DC ComicsI loved this issue. Nice, tight self contained story with some real, uh, weight to it. Instead of heroes fighting and dying heroically defeating a super villain we get two heroes, post-battle, potentially dying alone and in an all too human way. After a heroic mission, Red Arrow and Vixen find themselves trapped in the collapsing wreckage of a building that is also sinking underwater, unable to contact anyone for help. Meltzer executes this terrifying concept very well. I bought in hook line and, uh, sinker. The art only makes it that much better. I’m not sure the story would have worked nearly as well with old fashioned stylized comic book art. But Ha’s more painterly realism sells that these aren’t larger than life comic book icons, these are two real people screwed beyond the telling. Maybe the best single issue story I’ve read in quite awhile. - Jinxo
SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP: MODOK’S 11 Marvel ComicsFile this under the “Too Soon to Tell” category, but I have to say that the intro issue of this series had me impressed and noting who wrote and drew it. I’ve never heard of Fred Van Lente or any of his past writing assignments, but I am impressed with the way he came up with a great premise (gather a bunch of super-villains and anti-heroes together and give them a similar goal to work for), some great characterization (especially for Puma, Spot, Armadillo, Mentallo, and Rocket Racer), some pretty cool surprises (which I won’t spoil, but the Vegas casino bit was pretty damn perfect), and some genuinely funny moments (“No need to start throwing punches at the first sign of another costume.” “Yeah, what you take us for…heroes?”). Francis Portela and Terry Pallot are two more names I am unfamiliar with, but I will definitely look for them in the future. Portela constructs some mean panels and the action is vivid, supported by crisp inks by Pallot. For the last few years, Marvel has been putting out some quality reads in the form of miniseries featuring obscure or new characters. I’m not sure if this is another one yet, but so far so good. Marvel may have another hit miniseries on their hands. – Bug
GHOST RIDER #13 Marvel ComicsMy review for this issue could be simply “Yadda yadda yadda… pointless.” Actually it could just be “Pointless,” but I was trying to stretch the review so it would take as long to read as this issue. Why did they bother? It reads super fast, has no impact on “World War Hulk”… The one positive comment would be that it was kinda funny at points but even that seems wrong. You have the motorcycle riding spawn of hell fighting a green monster with the fiery anger of hell in his heart and instead of the scariest most f’d up battle of all times, we get funny? Okay, now I’m getting Hulkin’ pissed. The Iluminati unfairly took Hulk’s life from him, Marvel is unfairly taking my cash. I’m making up my list of those who must surrender themselves to me… - Jinxo
AQUAMAN: SWORD OF ATLANTIS #54 DC ComicsOh…my…god…
This book just circumnavigated around the world of suck and returned to a point where it is so god awfully bad that it’s kind of fun to read. In this issue, you will cringe and pee a little in your pants at the sight of…The Human Flying Fish!
I don’t know if the writer of this book is such a genius that he is consciously making this the lamest comic out there or if he has just never read a comic before. But from lame characters like the Squid-kid who shouts the annoying catchphrase “Suffering shad!” every issue, to the gigantic cast who really doesn’t do much more than just stand around and talk, to the preposterous new characters being introduced like chicks with seal heads and don’t forget…The Human Flying Fish(!), to the inappropriate artwork by Sean McManus that looks as if he is drawing from a completely different script given the facial expressions and cartoony posturings. This is a train wreck of a book. I want to stop buying it, but I keep reading just to see how bad it’s going to get. I’m guess I’m a glutton for punishment.
The Human Flying Fish! Dear sweet lord! BWAH! – Bug