Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
What I bought, read, or otherwise consumed – April 2019

What I bought, read, or otherwise consumed – April 2019

The desire of some men for peace is a frequent cause of war. (Joseph Heller, from Picture This)

Die #1-5 (Image).

You might recall that I’ve been a fan of Kieron Gillen’s since almost his first comic book (he wrote two short stories, it seems, before Phonogram), and he’s one of my favorite writers in comics. So of course I’m going to buy his comic about six kids who get transported into their role-playing game and spend two years trying to get out, but only five come back and 27 years later they go back to get the sixth dude! Yep, that’s the premise of Die – for their 16th birthdays, Solomon creates a role-playing game for his best friend Ash, and when a group of them play it, they’re sucked into an alternate reality. Two years later, all but Solomon return, but they’ve been deeply scarred by the experience (in the case of Ash’s sister, literally, as she loses an arm). In 2018, Ash receives Sol’s blood-stained 20-sided die, and he gets the group back together to rescue Sol. But when they return, they find out that Sol has become the Grandmaster of the game, and he wants them to keep playing. They can only leave if everyone agrees, and Sol obviously doesn’t, so they’re stuck. It’s a problem.

This arc is really, really good, and if the rest of the series is as good, this might turn out to be the best thing Gillen has ever written (and he’s written a lot of great things, and this has a long way to go to surpass Phonogram). I still haven’t re-read The Wicked + The Divine (I’m almost to it in my back issues read!), but something about it has kept me from loving it completely. It’s not McKelvie’s art, which is amazing as ever, it’s Gillen’s script, and I’m not sure what it is (I might change my tune after re-reading it in one sitting; we’ll see!). Part of it, I think, is that the characters aren’t as relatable as in most of Gillen’s work – Laura is the point-of-view character, and she’s interesting, but she becomes a god so quickly that it’s hard to get into her journey before she becomes removed from the reader a bit. The same thing kind of happens to Solomon in this comic – he becomes the Grandmaster off-page, so it’s hard to care too much about the tragedy of him becoming a villain, but the other characters are really well done, and Gillen gets to their tragedy really quickly and effectively. Ash is the main character, and Gillen gets into some gender fluctuation with him – he’s a boy who chooses a female character to play, so in the world of the game, he’s a woman, and while we haven’t gotten too far into that, it’s an interesting conceit. The other characters are all damaged in some way by their experience when they were teens, and they deal with it in different ways. Gillen uses the standard RPG tropes to create devastating characters, and he’s always been excellent at creating pathos out of very little, so the young man in the trenches who describes his life to Ash is a terrific – if short-lived – character. Issue #1 was a good way to set up the series, but issues #2 and #3 are magnificent – full of action, emotion, plot twists, a fun cameo, and just powerful storytelling. Issues #4 and 5 aren’t quite as excellent, but that just means they’re not in the running for best issues of the year – Gillen sets up an ending of the arc that we know can’t happen (everyone getting home, because then the series would end!), but the way it happens is still fantastic, because it taps into the way he’s built the characters. It’s just masterful how this arc unfolds. Even if you’re not into RPGs (which I’m not and never have been), the humanity of the characters comes through and makes their dilemma that much more gut-wrenching.

This is Stephanie Hans’s first ongoing, and she’s amazing as well. Any good artist can draw any series, but she seems particularly suited for this kind of book, with her dream-like art, from the way she designs characters and settings to the way she colors books, with a painted quality that makes everything even more ethereal. She does a wonderful job making the outward appearances of the characters match what we know about their personalities, and she uses a nice stronger line for the flashbacks to ground them in memory a bit more. Her colors are fabulous, too – there’s a lot of red in the book, which isn’t surprising in such a violent book, but she uses lots of different shades of red so that nothing blurs together. She’s also quite good at blending the medieval aspects of the game with the steampunk aspects, making the world look odd but not incongruous. There’s a feeling of symbolism throughout the work, either overt or subtextually, and Hans does a nice job making sure that it there’s but it doesn’t overwhelm the humanity of the characters. Hans has shown that she can draw sequential work (it’s not the first time she’s done interior work, just the first time she’s doing an ongoing), and it’s nice to see her get the chance.

Anyway, I’m really enthusiastic about this comic. Even Gillen’s essays in the back of each issue are fascinating! There’s a trade coming out in June, and you really should check it out. It’s pretty danged cool.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Don’t fuck with the dude with the big sword!

Fairlady #1 (Image).

Brian Schirmer and Claudia Balboni have worked together before, so they must do well as a team, because now they’re doing Fairlady, which is a private investigator series set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world. Yeah, wrap your head around that fun elevator pitch. There’s a quasi-city called the Feld, which is, it seems, a giant robot body that crashed and started to decay, and then people moved in. Schirmer writes in the backmatter that it’s a gender-swapped Magnum, P.I. in a post-War-of-the-Ring world, which sounds about right (although I imagine the Fourth Age in Tolkien was more “civilized” than what we see here), as Jenner Faulds, our hero, is in charge of security at a wizard’s tower (there’s even a Higgins) but she takes cases on the side. Each issue promises to be one case, although Schirmer does mention that each “arc” will be five issues. I don’t know if that means they’re just doing five unconnected issues and then taking a break to allow Balboni some time to catch up, or if there’s a thread running through the arc. Oh well.

It’s a tough sell for relatively unknown creators, but it would be nice if the fact that you can pick up any issue and not be lost (or so it sounds) might make it more attractive to people in case they miss an issue. Schirmer doesn’t give us the most complicated case in the world – Jenner is hired by a lout to find a bookkeeper who absconded with some of his money, and she simply follows the clues. It’s not too difficult for her, so the interesting parts of the case come from what we discover about Jenner and the world she lives in. She’s accompanied by Oanu, a large cat-like being who enjoys punching people, and she fought in this great war that possibly wrecked society. We learn a bit about the war, and we also learn a bit about how society is structured in the new world (not too differently than it is in any world, but it’s still fun to see what’s going on). There’s also a dude wearing an octopus on his head like a motherfucking hat, and I want to know more about him. Meanwhile, Balboni does a solid job bringing the world to life. I haven’t seen too much of her work, but she seems to be getting stronger and more confident, and while she still has some problems with the way characters move, for the most part, the work is nice. Her design sense, both of the characters and the buildings, is impeccable – there’s a good feel of the world and the way people live in it. It’s a nice-looking comic.

This is a solid debut, and it would be nice to see it do well enough that Schirmer and Balboni can do a bunch of issues. I love a good mystery comic, so let’s hope we get some good ones from this series!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

You’re damn right

Outer Darkness #1-6 (Image).

I wrote about the first three issues of Outer Darkness a while back, but now the entire first arc is done, so let’s revisit it, shall we? John Layman and Afu Chan’s science fiction/horror story continues to hum along nicely, and Layman, as usual, is not afraid to upend the status quo – such as it is for a book that’s only six issues in – and throw everything into chaos. To recap: Joshua Rigg, a fairly unpleasant human being, is offered command of a spaceship for a mission to the “outer darkness” – a place we know nothing about except that it appears it’s where souls go when they die. Rigg is on his last chance, as he seemingly constantly bucks regulations and gets himself into trouble with authorities. His crew hates his guts, but he doesn’t care. He has his own reasons for heading to the outer darkness, and no points for you if you guess that it’s about a woman! In this universe, magic exists alongside science, so Rigg has exorcists and spell-casting mathematicians among his crew, and they encounter demons and other supernatural creatures in this arc. We don’t know too much about the characters yet, so the few deaths we’ve encountered don’t have much impact (and this is a universe in which people can come back from the dead, so only two important ones have “stuck” so far, but perhaps those won’t even once the series returns), but the plot is quite good and Layman is good at ratcheting up the tension. We know certain crew members are plotting against Rigg, we know there are other bad things on board, and we know Rigg might know about some of them, but we don’t know what he knows, so that’s one source of the tension. Plus, the fact that no one is safe – despite the lack of (as yet) an emotional component – means that we’re never quite sure what’s going to happen on the next page. It’s good plotting, and Layman is making the characters work pretty well, despite the brevity of the book, plus the book does have a slight sense of humor, which helps offset the horror. Chan is a meticulous artist, using a strong line and little hatching to keep everything clean and crisp. His characters are well designed, as he draws the humans with many different body types and makes the aliens just human enough to be relatable but just alien enough to make us uneasy (it’s not a bad thing when it’s done in visual fiction, but when politicians do the same thing, it’s insidious). His demons and monsters are terrific, too. On a quick glance, the art looks fairly simplistic, but Chan is far more subtle about things than you might think, and the art is more complex than it is on a first look.

I had lunch with Layman early in April and we talked about various topics that I’m not at liberty to discuss. He does like this book a lot, and he’s enjoying writing it after the break he had once he was done Chew. There’s a trade coming in May, so give it a look!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Well, he has a hard shell with a nice soft interior – of course he looks yummy!

After Alice (HarperCollins).

This is the final Gregory Maguire book I own, so now I can move on to other authors! (I mean, I always could, but I do try to take my reading order – alphabetical by author – seriously, because when I start to move around, that’s when I forget some books that I want to read. It’s a pickle, man.) I don’t think it’s because I’ve read a lot of Maguire books over the past few months, but this is probably his worst one, sadly. Like many Maguire books, it’s a riff on public domain works, in this case Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. The problem is that unlike his other books, where he either remakes an old story or focuses on a different character without what we think of as the “main character” being much of a presence, After Alice is very concerned with Alice, but she isn’t in the book very much. In Wicked, for instance, Dorothy Gale makes an appearance, but for most of the book the Wicked Witch isn’t concerned with her at all. In this book, Maguire takes a character mentioned briefly in the original book, Ada, and spins a tale about her falling down the same rabbit-hole, only she went in a bit later than Alice did. He also introduces a young boy, Siam, who has been brought to England by an American abolitionist who rescued the boy from a Georgia plantation, and Siam ends up going through a mirror into Wonderland. Finally, Alice’s sister, Lydia, is in Oxford, where she and Ada’s nanny look for the two missing girls. In Alice’s house is her widowed father, who’s entertaining the American abolitionist as well as Charles Darwin. So there’s a lot going on.

The problem is that Maguire doesn’t have a lot of focus in the book. He checks in on Lydia and the adults who are either scornful of her because she lost Alice or indifferent to it because Alice always gets lost, but because we know Alice is eventually found, there’s no tension in that section of the book. Lydia is 15, which in 1862 wasn’t that young, and Maguire hints at how she’s chafing against the constraints of being treated like a child, but it never really goes anywhere. Ada, meanwhile, simply follows in Alice’s footsteps, so we get some familiar characters but nothing comes of it. Ada is somehow disabled, but in Wonderland she doesn’t need the metal contraption that helps her stay upright and walk, and Maguire does something clever with that, but it’s not too clever, either. He’s writing a pastiche of Carroll’s book, but Maguire isn’t the surreal genius that Lewis Carroll was, so his Wonderland is a pale imitation of the real thing (which, to be fair to Maguire, is the problem with a lot of Alice pastiches). The most interesting part of the book is when he focuses on Siam, as he’s been freed from slavery but still feels adrift, and going through the mirror is a good metaphor for the way his world feels to him now. But Maguire doesn’t really do enough with Siam, not understanding that he’s the best character with the most interesting story, so we get Ada and Lydia, whose stories just aren’t as good.

Maguire is still an entertaining author, and there are a few books of his I haven’t read and probably will at some point. But this one is a disappointment, especially if you like the Alice books (as I do). So sad!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Hot Lunch Special volume 1: The Family Business (AfterShock).

Eliot Rahal writes in the introduction that Hot Lunch Special is about his experiences as an Arab in the States, which is fine, but it’s really not. The fact that the Khourys in the book are Arabs is almost completely incidental to the story, which is about how the Khourys became gangsters (or at least gangster-adjacent, if we’re feeling charitable) and what happens when those chickens come home to roost. It’s a completely standard gangster story, in other words, but I happen to like gangster stories if they’re told well, and Rahal tells this well. I mean, we get the clichés: the misunderstanding/argument over business that turns tragic, the retaliation that escalates, the clueless or corrupt cops with the one honest one who is able to figure out what’s going on, the surprising “heroes” that rise when the bloodshed gets overwhelming. The setting – the upper Midwest – and the players – Arabs – are different, but not to the point that it obscures the gangster-related stuff. The Khourys run a restaurant in Minnesota but they also have a very successful food supply business, and when their patriarch doesn’t offer his trucking partner a contract to expand outside of Minnesota with the Khourys, the trucker gets peeved. Then things go to shit, as they usually do, and everyone starts killing everyone else. I don’t want to spoil too much, but you’ll be able to figure out who the two players who end the book facing off against each other (there doesn’t need to be a sequel, but I wouldn’t mind it) will be soon enough, and the Khourys’ big plan at the end is kind of clever, even though it goes pear-shaped to a certain degree. It’s an entertaining gangster story, and that’s all it needs to be. Jorge Fornes provides art which is not exactly “groundbreaking,” as Rahal calls it in the intro, but still quite good – his work kind of looks like a very rough Michael Lark, which is perfectly fine with me. He gets the feel of the chilly upper Midwest and the grittiness of gangster stories quite well, but his line is fine enough to show some of the less-criminalized characters in the story quite well.

It would be nice to get a new arc from this creative team, but volume 1 kind of stands on its own. If you like gangster stories, you’ll probably enjoy this!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Oh, Liam – you’re such a douche!

Nice volume 1 (American Gothic Press).

When the best thing about your comic is that sweet Tula Lotay cover, that’s not good. Nice isn’t a terrible comic, as the premise isn’t too bad – there’s a society of assassins and a fairly lousy cop wants to take them down – but it’s just not that good, unfortunately. Writers Dagen Walker and Joseph Ettinger give us some intriguing characters – the cop is named Hanin, and she is horribly scarred from so much violence in her life (it appears she’s had a mastectomy, too, as we see her topless at one point and from other scenes in the book, the creators don’t seem shy about showing boobs) and addicted to painkillers, although we only see her take pills once and it doesn’t seem to affect her all that much. The main assassin is a woman named Grace, but the two characters who drive most of the plot are “junior” assassins named Jose and Kevin, who appear to be auditioning to get into this assassination organization. They have some decent banter as they navigate Los Angeles, killing people as efficiently as possible. But whatever good will comes from them isn’t enough to overcome the fairly shoddy plotting, the abrupt and inconclusive ending, and the general sense that Walker and Ettinger are trying to burn through plot without really caring about the characters at all. It’s frustrating. They’re not helped by Marc Rene’s art, which is very stilted and stiff, with chaotic page layouts that often don’t clearly flow together, so the story feels even more disjointed. The Photoshopped stuff isn’t integrated into the pencil work well enough, either, which is always annoying. There are a few places where Rene does some interesting work with design, but overall, it’s just not a very attractive book, and the story doesn’t overcome that.

I like trying new things from small publishers, but this isn’t really worth your time. So sad!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That’s going to mess up that dude’s complexion something fierce

Plastic Man (DC).

Gail Simone and Adriana Melo’s Plastic Man is a strange animal – it’s kind of an origin story, although Eel O’Brian is already stretchy when we first meet him – and it’s a superhero story, obviously, although Plas spends the book telling us he’s not a superhero and then he proves it in the end, and it’s funny and often heart-warming but, like a lot of Simone books, it gets really violent in a few places. It features a homeless girl who is not sure how she wants to be identified, gender-wise (it seems by the end she decides on “he,” and while Eel eventually does the right thing and call CPS (or whatever the DC version of that is), it’s presented (naturally, because it always is in these situations) as something totally mean and in the end Eel gets to mentor the kid, which is a horrible, horrible idea. It’s a pretty entertaining comic, as Simone does know how to write a funny comic with abrupt tonal shifts, and she gives Eel and the principal characters a lot of attention, so we get to know them pretty well, but it’s also a bit disjointed. Neither major plot – the one with the cabal of recognizable super-villains or the one with the newly-created villain – gets resolved, and I’m not sure if this creative team is going to do another mini-series or if DC has plans for a series with someone else that picks up on these threads. It’s weird, though – I certainly don’t mind creators making new characters (and the villain is pretty good, too), but if they have no plans with them, what’s the point? Melo does nice work with the art – it’s occasionally cartoony, which is fine in a book like this, but she’s also able to get a bit gritty, which is also not a bad thing when you’re writing about, essentially, a criminal (yes, he’s a criminal with a heart of gold, but still). There’s a lot to like about this series, it’s just a bit odd. You’ve been warned!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Old-timers are unfazed by nudity!

Wicked the musical (Gammage Theater at Arizona State, 16 April 2019).

This month I went to see the musical Wicked with my daughter, who’d seen it before. She went a few years ago with my wife, and when it came around again, my wife asked her if she wanted to see it again, and she said she would. As I hadn’t seen it the first time, my wife asked me if I wanted to go with, and I said sure. I like plays more than musicals, but I can dig a good musical, and as I noted recently when I re-read the book, I was curious to see how they turned a rather dark book into a musical.

First of all, it’s a good musical, and the performance we saw was quite good. Like a lot of musicals over the past 30 years or so, the production values are through the roof, but they didn’t overwhelm the performers, which is nice. Gammage doesn’t have a huge stage, which made the performance feel a bit more intimate than it might have in another venue. The show’s success or failure is pegged to the two main performers, Elphaba and Glinda, and both Mariand Torres (as Elphaba) and Erin Mackey (as Glinda) were excellent – interesting characters that were totally different but able to find common ground. Glinda’s part, as the soprano, is a bit showier, and Mackey is an excellent singer, so she dazzles a lot. Torres is very good at shrinking away from the spotlight, which is what the role calls for, and her voice is great, but the part is an alto’s part, and altos don’t quite shine as well as sopranos (as a bass and not a tenor, I know this all too well), so her songs don’t quite have the verve that Glinda’s do. But it’s still a neat musical.

I did have a lot of fun telling my daughter how much they butchered the book, which answered my question about how they would adapt it – they didn’t, really. I don’t want to get into spoilers for either the book or the musical, but despite the musical treading into some dark places, it’s nowhere near as in-depth as the book when it comes to questions of identity and discrimination, but I didn’t really expect it to be. I was probably most surprised by the ending, but again, I won’t get into that. It’s just that, in a musical, where songs need to break out every few minutes, it’s hard to get into character development too much, and while the cast (Torres and Mackey most of all, but Curt Hansen as Fiyero, Andy Richardson as Boq, and Mili Diaz as Nessarose as well) try their best, the show really isn’t written to make the characters’ inner turmoil come through. Still, it’s fun to compare and contrast, because they took the very basic framework of the book and chucked a sizable amount of it. I imagine that’s the same for a lot of musicals based on books, though.

It’s been a while since I went to the theater, and it was a fun night. If you like musicals, you should try to see Wicked. It’s pretty keen.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

No points if you guess who’s playing whom!

Gideon Falls volume 2: Original Sins (Image).

At a very few points in this volume, Andrea Sorrentino just draws things, and while he’s not the greatest artist, just the fact that he’s drawing something rather than doing that Photoshop-image-drop-and-filter thing he usually does is so welcome. Man, I wish artists would just draw sometimes, you know?

Anyway, Jeff Lemire keeps doing his thing, as we learn a bit more about the black barn and it turns into a seriously weird head trip. I don’t really want to spoil anything because it’s kind of cool, but Lemire is good at this kind of creeping dread story and he’s also good at the way this plot unfolds (he’s used it before, but I won’t say where!). We have a man trying to prove he’s sane and a priest and policewoman trying to find a killer, and those two stories intersect in a very interesting way, and Sorrentino actually does a nice job with that part of the book, because it’s more about the design than the actual line work. So the climax of the book is neat, and it leads us nicely into the next arc. I dunno – this is an entertaining series, the art doesn’t get in the way too much, and it’s fun to read. I can’t really say much more about it because I don’t want to spoil anything!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

If that’s a command to that teddy bear, things are about to get reeeeeaaaaaally weird

Moth & Whisper volume 1: The Kid (AfterShock).

Ted Anderson’s comic takes place in a future where anonymity is almost illegal, as cameras track every move and hiding your face instantly makes you suspicious. It’s not the most original idea in the world, but it’s not a bad one, especially because Anderson centers the book on a thief who uses disguises to ply their trade. Niki is the child of the Moth and the Whisper, two exceptional thieves who have disappeared, and Niki is very interested in finding out what happened to them and getting revenge on their killer, if indeed they have been killed. To do this, they need to team up with a gangster’s son, who’s trying to prove to his father that he’s a bad-ass. It’s a fun adventure. Jen Hickman, who needs more work, has a nice Tim Sale vibe to her work, and she brings this somewhat creepy world to life, showing how easily people have adapted to it and how those who haven’t can beat it. It’s a fun comic, and there’s a possibility for more, but there doesn’t have to be. So you can read without worrying about any kind of cliffhanger that might never get resolved.

There are a couple of things that … not bother me, exactly, but are notable about the story. First is the surveillance. I love it when writers do this, because they imply that it’s kind of horrific, yet they never quite get to the point where society is complicit in the surveillance. Does Anderson have a smart phone? Does he have an Alexa? This idea that some government bureaucracy is going to force all of this on us (it’s not clear where all this surveillance comes from, but it’s implied it’s both government and businesses doing it) is ridiculous, because we welcome it. And Anderson is part of the problem. So am I. So are you. Yes, we should be more diligent about things, but making sure that these faceless and probably slightly malevolent organizations stop recording us is hard, man, and I don’t know how to read a map anymore, and phone numbers are hard to memorize! Every story in which this is an aspect presents this as something dystopian, and I agree with that … but they never show us how people brought it on themselves.

The second thing is more interesting. Niki is genderqueer, and Anderson writes in the foreword how … well, “proud he is of himself” makes him sound like a douchebag, but he kind of is making that point. He wanted to write a story where the person’s identification doesn’t interfere with the story, and he does so, but the problem with that is there’s absolutely no reason in the story for Niki to identify as any gender. At one point, someone asks them if they’re a boy or a girl, and Niki tells him that they’re genderqueer, but it’s not really germane to the story or even the conversation. Later, hilariously, the villains are sensitive enough to use the pronoun “they/them,” and I’m sorry, but if you want me to believe that bad guys are wise enough to do that, you have another thing coming. By making the character someone whose entire identity isn’t about what they identify as, Anderson made the comic something that feels obnoxious when he does call attention to it. It’s tough, because he wants to write a story about a genderqueer character where the character’s gender doesn’t define them, but by kind of forcing it into the story, even on such a minor level, he calls attention to it. Look, if the story is good, it doesn’t matter what gender the character is, and people have been reading all sorts of things into stories for years that the creators probably never intended – I can almost guarantee that the people who made Top Gun did not think of Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards as gay, but there you are. Anderson’s agenda bothers me not in the least – as I’ve often said, if your main character is a pansexual octopus with a penis growing out of its head and a vagina on the end of each tentacle, I’m cool with it as long as the story is good – but it shows that very few people are able to get beyond certain facets of identity. It comes up so often, and it’s usually annoying. Niki could be a girl, a boy, both, or neither, and it wouldn’t matter if the story wasn’t any good. But the story is pretty good, so who cares how they identify themselves? Of course, maybe I wouldn’t be saying that if anyone ever asked what gender I was because they couldn’t tell, but who knows. I’m fairly certain I’m a troglodyte anyway.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Sounds like the foundation of a strong relationship!

Patience! Conviction! Revenge! volume 1: March on Vegas (AfterShock).

In the introduction (I love that AfterShock volumes have introductions!), Patrick Kindlon writes that he wanted to do a pure revenge tale, with a character who shows little to no character growth, as he is solely motivated by revenge. So we get Renny, a down-and-out loser in the desert outside Las Vegas in 2040 (and man, the world has changed a lot in twenty years!) who used to be a big deal in the town until he was ousted by a rival. He’s spent years building a robot army (his robots are a bit rag-tag, as they’re built seemingly out of spare parts), but Renny seems to be a bit of a genius, so they all work very well. The best character in the book is his robot majordomo, Robot Paul, who begins having an existential crisis from the moment we meet him and never wavers from that, even as he’s complaining endlessly about a character pronouncing the hard “j” in “Mojave” or casually killing people Renny tells him to. Renny is an asshole, but he’s a fairly charming one, which puts him in contrast to the dude he’s hunting, who seems like an asshole with no personality. I won’t say if Renny gets his revenge or not (I mean, you can guess, but I’m not saying that you’re right!), but there is a possibility of a sequel, which I would be down for. It’s a simple tale, but sometimes those are the most fun. Marco Ferrari does an excellent job on the art, keeping up with the frenetic plot and giving us very interestingly designed characters, both the humans and the robots. As with the script, Robot Paul is the most interesting, but there’s plenty of other eye candy as well. Ferrari gives us a Vegas that we can believe might exist (not two decades from now, but maybe a bit further on?), and his storytelling chops are quite good, as he makes sure we can process every little nuance of Kindlon’s wacky script … except one. There’s a pretty major development toward the end with two ancillary characters who have been fairly important to Renny’s place, and we never find out what happens to them. I don’t know if Kindlon forgot about them or if Ferrari forgot to draw their fate, but it’s kind of annoying. I wonder what the issue was.

This is fun story, full of goofy violence, some good satire, and philosophical robots will never not be funny. So give it a look!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Full Monty!

Star Wars Adventures: Tales from Vader’s Castle (IDW).

I’m not sure if these “Star Wars Adventures” books that IDW (why not Marvel?) publishes are supposed to be more kid-friendly than the Marvel books, but I assume they are – they just kind of have that vibe. I mention this because Tales from Vader’s Castle is a lot darker than I thought it would be, which I don’t mind for kids (don’t sugar-coat how life can suck sometimes!), but some people do, so I was a bit surprised by this comic. I got it mainly because Kelley Jones draws a story, but it turns out to be a pretty good mini-series. Cavan Scott writes a tale about a rebel ship crash-landing on the planet where Vader’s castle is, and the crew goes into the castle to find a way off the planet. In each issue, they inexplicably tell stories, even when they’re right in the middle of, you know, sneaking around a spooky castle. But you just have to accept that, and the stories are pretty good. Derek Charm provides the art for the framing device/main story, while Chris Fenoglio, Jones, Corin Howell, Robert Hack, and Charles Paul Wilson III provide the art for the stories. We get a tale of a haunted spaceship, Jones draws a quasi-horror story with flying monsters and Count Dooku, young Han Solo and Chewbacca get trapped on a world with killer vines, the Ewoks have to face off against a giant monster, and there’s a brief interlude about when others invaded Vader’s castle and how poorly that went for them. There’s a surprising amount of death in the stories, and not even all of the rebel crew gets away, but there’s also your generic themes about overcoming your fears and fighting evil. The narrator does mention, however, that perhaps they did Vader’s work for him by spreading stories about the castle, which scared off the rebels. So it’s a lot deeper than you might think – the themes on the surface are your standard heroic ones, but Scott does a good job adding some nuance to it. It’s an interesting read, and the artists all do a fine job.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:


William the Last volume 1 (Antarctic Press).

Speaking of kid-friendly, Brian Shearer’s charming tale is definitely kid-friendly, as he takes an age-old story – a lost heir to a throne – and does pretty much exactly what you expect him to do with it. That doesn’t mean it’s bad – Shearer has a low-key writing style that works pretty well, and his art helps make William’s strange world come to life – but it is well-trod. William lives on the beach with his grandfather, who dies. So William climbs a sheer cliff to the land above, where he meets a girl who believes that the sky is below them because that’s where the clouds are, and she doesn’t believe that he climbed from a beach. So yeah, that’s a danged tall cliff. She also tells him he can’t call himself William, and we find out it’s because that’s what the heir to the throne is called, and the evil usurper wouldn’t be happy about William showing up (he’s never actually confirmed as the heir, but it would be a weird story if he weren’t). There’s betrayal, spooky soldiers, evil and heroic acts, some humor, and … a cliffhanger. The next series has already been solicited, so it’s not like you’d have to wait too long, but I don’t know if the story will end there. Anyway, Shearer certainly isn’t doing anything original, but it’s a pretty good comic. Nothing wrong with that!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Well, that’s a pickle

Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive (IDW).

Mike Allred is a better artist than Rich Tommaso, so the fact that Allred only writes this (along with his brother, Lee) might be disappointing, but Tommaso is a fine artist in his own right, and his cartoony and somewhat chaotic style fits Dick Tracy a bit more, so it’s not really a bad thing. Tommaso also has a bit of a 1940s vibe going on with his art, so although this is set close to the present (cell phones exist, for instance), it still has a feeling like an olde-tymey Tracy strip. Tommaso uses a lot of exaggerated expressions and movements, and his weird villains look great. His work always has a kind of heightened reality that makes it work for somewhat over-the-top stories, and if Dick Tracy is one thing, he’s over-the-top. Tommaso hasn’t had a ton of success with his own creations recently (despite the fact that they’ve been good comics), so it’s nice to see him get a (presumably) better-paying gig. Laura Allred colors this, and she’s a good colorist, so the art pops off the page, too, which is keen.

The Allreds aren’t the best writers, but they’re not bad. They give us a fairly typical Tracy story – he’s a no-compromise cop who enters a world of corruption and cleans it up. He gets fired in the beginning of the book, a pattern that is noted early on, because he can never stop fighting corruption, but when he gets hired to clean up Chicago, the corrupt government wants his reputation, because they believe it will be good public relations. Of course, he immediately roots out the corrupt officials, so they decide to frame him for a crime so he has to go on the lam. Obviously, he keeps fighting and winning, and it’s fairly predictable, but it’s still fun to read. The Allreds use some classic characters well, updating Tess Trueheart a bit, for instance, so she’s not just a dame who loves Tracy (although she still does that here, despite it kind of coming from out of the blue) but a solid character in her own right. So it’s an entertaining but not great read. That’s not too bad.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

He might treat women poorly, but come on – ‘fundament’ is a great word

Exorsisters vol. 1: Damned If You Don’t (Image).

There’s a nice hook to Exorsisters, the series about twin sisters who fight demons, but I’m not going to tell you what it is, because it’s kind of fun to find out. Kate and Cate Harrow are exorcists, and Ian Boothby has some fun with that, because they actually do fight demons, but they also deal with real people doing dumb things, like the fiancé in the first story who does have demon issues, but he’s also a douchebag. Meanwhile, over the course the book we discover their tragic past and why their mother is horrible, even though they know kind of have to help her out. Boothby has some brief stories in the book, but it’s also about the overarching threat to both Heaven and Hell, so there’s that. He manages to keep it relatively light even though there are some dark things going on. Part of that is Gisèle Lagacé’s art, which has a fun vibrancy to it. Legacé doesn’t get to draw as much nudity as she has in the past, and she’s still not great at drawing action, but she has fun making the demons both kind of goofy yet still scary, which isn’t easy. She does a nice job contrasting Kate and Cate, so when we find out their history, it makes sense, and she’s also quite good at facial expressions, which help sell the story well. Overall, this is a pretty decent read. It’s not the greatest comic in the world, but Boothby’s good characterization of the sisters and Legacé’s art help make it better than the sum of its parts.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

All of life’s problems are caused by math!

Jessica Jones vol. 2: Purple Daughter (Marvel).

Eisner-nominated writer Kelly Thompson continues her work on Jessica Jones, but this arc isn’t quite as good as the first one. It doesn’t warrant a six-issue arc, for one thing, and so it feels really stretched. At the end of the last arc, Jessica and Luke’s daughter came back from an outing at the park colored purple, so of course Jessica freaks out, as the Purple Man is her nemesis. She spends the arc trying to find him and figure out what he wants. It’s not as easy as that, as Thompson does throw some curves at us, but I’m not that concerned about the plot. I am concerned about the way she has Jessica and Luke react to their purple daughter.

I know most readers know this, but I have a special needs daughter. She was in a car accident when she was seven months old and she sustained a traumatic brain injury, so she’s been disabled for most of her life. It’s obviously not the same situation as in this comic, because Jessica’s daughter was altered by a super-villain and she believes that they can undo it, but she is still different than she had been. Jessica and Luke never waver in the fact that they love their daughter, but they kind of whine a lot about what happened to her and do some weird soul-searching. Jessica even wonders if Danielle is Luke’s daughter, because she can’t trust her senses. This is a horrible feeling, I imagine, and Thompson does a decent job showing that anxiety. What bothers me is the idea that they kind of imply that they might treat her differently if she never changes back, and despite nothing being really wrong with Danielle, just the fact that she has purple skin is enough to send them into a tailspin. It rings false because we’re supposed to believe that they’re good parents. Bad parents might feel this way, but good parents wouldn’t worry about this – they would deal with the way things are now, and do what they can to adjust to the new reality. Yes, they would look for ways to change Danielle back, but they also would accept her, and it just feels like they’re so desperate to get their daughter back that they miss the second part. I know I’m reading too much into this, as it’s just a story about a super-villain being beastly, but it’s just kind of annoying because far too many people think there’s something “wrong” with their special needs kid or other special needs people (if they themselves don’t have a special needs kid), and that’s a bad message. There’s nothing “wrong” with Danielle, and a lot of this story is focused on the fact that there is. I don’t know, it’s just a pet peeve of mine, and I’m probably making it bigger than it should be. But Jessica and Luke, who are always presented as having a good relationship, almost fall apart because of this. Divorces among parents of special needs kids are higher than the general population, so it’s definitely a thing, but it also feels like it’s there to add drama and not because they’re in any danger of splitting up. If Thompson actually split them up, that might be more interesting. But if they’re a good couple, they should be able to deal with this better. Or at least I think so. I may be wrong.

Anyway, Kelly might win an Eisner, which would be well deserved. She’s a fine writer, and I’m glad she’s getting recognition!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Emma Frost is a bit too proud of her boobs!

Pontius Pilate (Tyndale House Publishing).

I first read this book probably 30 years ago, but I really like it, so I found this glorious jacked-up copy, with the spine falling apart, and now I’ve read it again. It’s a novel about Pontius Pilate, shockingly enough, that covers the 20 years or so from about A.D. 26-46, important decades in the history of humanity, I think you could say. There are very few sources for Pilate’s existence (better ones than for Jesus, to be honest), as Philo is the only person who wrote about him during his lifetime, while Josephus (who’s fairly reliable) wrote about him a few decades after his (presumed) death, and Paul Maier spins a good tale from those (and a few other) sources. He gives us a Pilate whose actions during the trial of Jesus are understandable because of the historical context in which he is placed – his mentor, Sejanus, helped get him the job as prefect of Judea, and when Sejanus rose to almost co-emperor, Pilate was in favor and tried to follow Sejanus’s example of being firm with the Jews. Sejanus was famously denounced and executed in 31, and in the book, Pilate has to scramble to save his job and his life. Tiberius is portrayed as being much more sympathetic to the Jews (Sejanus is very anti-Semitic), and so Pilate’s missteps with regard to offending the Jews bring him under close scrutiny. When the Sanhedrin brings him Jesus, he is reluctant to sentence him to death, but he also knows that he has to appease the Jewish leaders, and that’s what ultimately decides for him. Maier does a good job making Pilate sympathetic, and also showing that even things as momentous as the execution of the Son of God (if you believe that) don’t happen in a vacuum. The book is often very tense, even though we know the outcome of at least the trial, and Maier does a good job after the trial, when Pilate returns to Rome and has to account for himself to the new emperor, some young dude named Caligula. I’m sure that guy was reasonable about everything!

Maier is clearly a Christian, or at least he believes that the Bible is actual history (the New Testament isn’t terribly good history; the earliest Gospel was probably written at least 30 years after the death of Jesus and included no eyewitness accounts, and while Paul wrote letters much closer to the time of Jesus, he never met the dude), so there’s a slant toward that, but not to the point where it interferes with the narrative. He does give a prominent role to Pilate’s wife, who is mentioned once (anonymously) in the historical record (in Matthew) and has been given the name Procula by tradition. She’s a good match for Pilate, challenging him throughout the book and making him a better person – she’s been canonized by some Christian sects, so Maier makes her much more sympathetic to Jesus and early Christians. There are a few anachronisms, most notably the use of “Christian” dating – the A.D. years, for instance, which obviously didn’t exist when Pilate was around but make things easier for the reader – but also a reference to genetics that seems to imply Pilate is thinking about it, which would be revolutionary for him. But that’s not a big deal – mostly this is a solid book, a fairly gripping account of the birth of Christianity, and a fictional but plausible look into the psychology of the person who (presumably) kick-started one of the most important religions in world history. So that’s not bad.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Sex vol. 6: (Image).

I’ve always liked Sex, the weird retired superhero story from Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski, but I’ve never loved it, and that continues with its return, for which they’ve eschewed single issues and gone straight to trade. It’s a solid story with good art, but Casey, even 30+ issues in, doesn’t seem to have much direction with it. It certainly doesn’t fit well into arcs, which is fine if you’re an aficionado of old-school comics storytelling (which Casey obviously is, and which I am), but it does make the actual trade somewhat disjointed, as a lot of things happen but nothing really definitive occurs. Simon Cooke, the ostensible star of the comic, goes off to Austria to hang out with the Illuminati, while his former protégé is still involved in his gang war and trying to bring down bad guys from inside. The weird criminal brothers (?) get a bit of comeuppance, and that’s interesting, because they apparently have an even weirder relationship than we thought. There’s a lot going on, in other words, but it still feels a bit aimless. I get that real life is often aimless, but this is fiction, and while I’m perfectly happy to read the comic because I trust Casey and I like the art and the stories are interesting, I can’t deny that everything moves glacially. It makes each issue or trade hard to review, because it comes down to: Do you trust Joe Casey? If you do, jump on board. If you don’t, I don’t think this will change your mind. Sorry, that’s all I got.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Well, that doesn’t seem very nice

Let’s check out the books I didn’t read:

Mage finishes up, which will make Tom happy, but I didn’t read the first five volumes yet, so I’m not going to read this. I’ll get around to it. Similarly, I still haven’t read my massive collection of the entire original Strangers in Paradise, so I’m certainly not going to read this! It’ll take me a while to get to it!

Here’s the money I spent:

3.4.19.: $64.10
10.4.19.: $84.13
17.4.19.: $126.62
24.4.19.: $109.23

Total for the month: $384.08 (Considering there was a week in March when I spent $320 alone, I’ll take that total for the month!)
YTD: $2677.30


This year, I’ve been late with these posts, so I haven’t had time to ramble, but the way April worked out, I got this done on the final day of the month (even though I’m finishing it on the first), so I can rant for a bit if I want to. I don’t really have too much to rant about, though – I might have a controversial post coming up, but I haven’t made up my mind to write it yet, so we’ll see about that. The big news in April was the Mueller Report and the discussion about that, and while I was originally against impeaching the president because I thought that it would guarantee his re-election (or worse, the re-election of President Pence), I’m starting to change my mind about it. I’m still not sure if it’s the way to go, but I do think that Congress needs to get the various people who spoke to Mueller to testify in front of Congress and, most importantly, in front of the American people. Even if Congress doesn’t impeach him, having those people tell the people what they know (because the Mueller Report isn’t going to have the visceral impact of people talking to cameras) will be very damaging to the president. I really don’t want another four years of the Orange Overlord china-shopping his way through the government, and with the economy doing marginally better, this might be the only thing that brings him down. Which is a sad comment on American politics, but such is life.

I mentioned my daughter above, and every April I write a summary of her previous year, as the accident that damaged her brain occurred in April. If I’m writing something like this, I link to it, and I’ll do it here. It’s never the most cheery reading, but she had a pretty good year, all things considered, so if you’re interested in knowing more about my kid, you can read about her.

So let’s move on to something else I like to do but haven’t had time to do yet this year: The Ten Most Recent Songs On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle). Yes, it’s everyone’s favorite chance to make fun of my musical taste! Have at it!

1. “Southern Cross” – Crosby, Stills, and Nash (1982). “‘Cause the truth you might be running from is so small, but it’s as big as the promise, the promise of a coming day”
2. “Cold Wind to Valhalla” – Jethro Tull (1975). “Midnight lonely whisper cries, ‘We’re getting a bit short on heroes lately'”
3. “Given to Fly” – Pearl Jam (1998). “He floated back down ’cause he wanted to share his key to the locks on the chains he saw everywhere”
4. “No Way Back” – Foo Fighters (2005). “The rest of me is dead, I’m dying for truth”
5. “Blue Sky Mine” – Midnight Oil (1990). “The sweat of my brow keeps on feeding the engine”
6. “Dear Friend” – Fish (1991). “And if you pass by you’re welcome to drop in and see me ’cause it’s unlikely
I’ll be round your way”

7. “Borracho” – Infectious Grooves (2000). “She runs away from me says ‘Damn your breath stinks'”
8. “¿Dónde Estás Yolanda?” – Pink Martini (1997). “Tus labios me besaron con ese fuego ardiente, ardiente de mujer”
9. “Five Years” – Fish (1993). “My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare, I had to cram so many things to store everything in there”
10. “South Side of the Sky” – Yes (1971). “Move forward was my friend’s only cry”

To wrap up, I provided a link to one of the trades in this post, but remember, if you use that link for any shopping you might be doing, I get a little bit of it, and any little bit helps. So click away!

So that’s it for April. I hope everyone has a nice day. Be excellent to each other!


  1. tomfitz1

    Yes! I am extremely happy that MAGE 3 is done, but also sad too, which means no more MAGE. At least, that’s 1 series off my bucket list to read. Now. I gotta wait for Miracleman to be finished. 🙁

    Interesting that you mention “Five Years” as one of your 10 most recent songs on your Ipod. Terry Moore is bringing out a new series called Five Years which is a Terryverse crossover of sorts series. The said series is expected to include characters from all of Terry Moore’s creations from Strangers in Paradise to Echo to Rachel Rising.
    I look forward to that one.

    It must be Women’s month in Greg Burgas’ column. Nearly all the gifs are women-related. Always a joy! 🙂

  2. Well Dick Tracy had wrist cell phones, so to speak way before cell phones were a thing, so having one in the 1940s doesn’t seem unreasonable.

    “while Paul wrote letters much closer to the time of Jesus, he never met the dude”
    A complaint made by some rival Christian sects — one big flash of light and Paul suddenly thinks he knows more about what Jesus wanted than our church, which got it straight from the apostles!

    I much preferred Wicked to the book. Maguire doesn’t work for me at all.

    Re Gillan, I hated the one volume of Phonogram I read (annoyingly obnoxious protagonist and a lot of musical discussion that bored me). I was surprised when I read other stuff by him and it turned out to be good.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Fraser: Yeah, but in this comic, there are actual cell phones, so that’s what I meant. It’s certainly plausible that this comic is set back then and the technology is just much further along than in the “real” world.

      The debate about how Paul fits into Christian teachings always fascinates me!

      If you read the first Phonogram, the one in black and white, then I agree with you a bit (not too much, as I still liked it a lot). The second series, The Singles Club, is superb, and the third is almost as good. I get your objections, I just don’t share them! 🙂

  3. I hope you asked Layman if Image is ever going to reprint the Chew Smorgasbord edition volume 1! OK, you probably didn’t, but man, I need that to complete my collection. I have the other two volumes!

    You got so many things that I also got that I need to read as well, so I skimmed through much of this. I am glad that stuff I skipped buying, like Nice or Hot Lunch Special, were skippable.

    OK, who’s the lovely lady in the last image?

    1. tomfitz1

      I would also like to know who’s the lovely lady wearing the green Miami t-shirt, and the two head-shot ladies (brunette/redhead) as well.

      Mr. T.P. : you could try e-bay, but the one listed might be too pricey for you. Oh, well.

    2. Greg Burgas

      Travis: I mentioned the Chew Smorgasbord edition, but I forgot that it was out of print, so I didn’t press him. Sorry!

      The lady in question is Betty Brosmer, 1950s pin-up model. She’s still alive, so good for her!

      Tom: I have no idea who the woman with the Miami T-shirt is, sorry. As for the two women in the post about Wicked, is it possible they’re the two leads of the musical?!?!?!?!? 🙂

    1. Greg Burgas

      Terrible-D: Doesn’t the amount imply that I have a job? I mean, my wife doesn’t make THAT much money! 😉

      I have been a stay-at-home dad for 14 years or so, and I do get paid to take care of my daughter, so there’s that, but it’s also that we don’t spend a lot of money on other stuff. We don’t go to see too many movies, we don’t go out all that much, and my wife buys cheap books or goes to the library. So it’s not too big a deal. I wish I were more kept, though!

  4. Eric van Schaik

    I will try trades for Die and Outer Darkness. Not sure about Exorsisters.

    After tomorrow just one more week of bird-nesting and finally staying at my own place for good. My ex and her girlfriend bought a house which is almost finished.
    Until summer vacation the kids will be with me. After that I will see them every weekend.
    Still with the same girlfriend. Not a great comic lover but she saw Endgame ahead of me with her oldest daughter. Saw it yesterdag myself. Nice ending.

    I got me some stuff too this month. It’s shocking, I know 🙂
    Cosmic Odyssey deluxe edition because I like Mignola with larger pages.
    Also the 21 pound Stan Lee marvel treasury edition. I can almost read that without my glasses 🙂

    As long as you have stuff like Yes in your music list your ok in my book, although the other stuff is horrible… 🙂

    I will read about your daughter this weekend.

    I wonder when american politics will normalise. In Holland we have idiots like Wilders and Baudet but so far they will not get in control of the country.

    I’m curious about your controversial post. Will it be before or after Flippin?

    1. Greg Burgas

      Eric: Nice to hear about your relationship going well. She’s up on me, as I haven’t seen Endgame yet!

      I’m sure that Cosmic Odyssey Deluxe Edition is sweet. The art is really good.

      Man, just Yes? Nothing else? You’re tough, sir.

      Most of us are wondering when things will get back to normal, too. Who knows if they ever will?

      I haven’t decided if I’m going to write my controversial post yet or if it’s just not worth it. It will be after the Previews post, for sure – maybe next week. I don’t even know if it will be controversial, but we’ll see!

    1. Greg Burgas

      Will: Thanks! Doing these is always incumbent on whether I have enough time to type them all up, and so far this year, I’ve been good at keeping up. We shall see if that continues, but I always try! 🙂

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