Mark Millar’s CLiNT Is About What You’d Expect



This week, the good folks at Titan sent me a review copy of CLiNT, the new comics magazine edited by Mark Millar, and review it I did. And if you just want the short version, here you go: It is not very good.

It’s a good idea with exactly the kind of over-the-top presentation you’d expect from Millar, and while that’s not intrinsically a bad thing, the non-comics content is lousy and the comics that aren’t reprints aren’t a whole lot better. As pal Andrew says in the comments, it’s the lad-mag version of Pizzazz, and now I’m mad that I didn’t think of that comparison first.

Thanks, Andrew.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe!

Your eyes do not deceive you, folks: The fifth volume of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series doesn’t hit shelves for a couple of weeks yet, but thanks to the good people in Oni’s marketing department, I’ve gotten an advance copy to review!

And short version?



It’s awesome.

As for the long version, well, let’s start with the negatives: Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe is not as purely enjoyable as Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together, which marks the first time in the series that the latest book doesn’t just blow away its predecessor. But to be fair, Gets It Together isn’t just the best of the series thus far, but one of my favorite comics of all time, so it makes a pretty tough act to follow.

At the same time, SP v.5 really couldn’t be any other way. Volume 4 was exactly what it said on the cover–the story of Scott finally getting his life together and learning The Power Of Love–and as such, it marks a big emotional turning point for the story for Scott himself, and it leads naturally into a story that raises the stakes. He’s the one that gets it together, he’s the one that learns to accept Ramona and his feelings for her, he’s the one that steps up and has a talk with Knives Chau’s dad, and in this one, he’s the one who has to deal with everything around him falling apart.



If you’ve been following the series so far–and really, you oughtta be–then you have a pretty good idea of what to expect from this one. The basic beats that make the series so fun (menacing exes, people being hit so hard that they turn into change, sub-space highways) are all here, but with a shift in tone that sees the past catching up with Scott and Ramona in some pretty significant ways that can’t always be dealt with by a handy video game reference.

It’s fitting then that while Scott spends more time fighting in this volume than ever before, very little of it’s actually shown on-panel. Instead, O’Malley shifts the focus to the supporting cast while the big fights rage in the background, and while this can be a little disappointing at first if you–like me–have been hoping to see Scott throw down on a bunch of robots for the past fourteen months, the tradeoff is a deeper emotional undercurrent. At this point, we already know that Scott’s going to win any fight he gets into, and by taking that as a foregone conclusion and using the time to set up the other aspects of the story, O’Malley’s asking a different question: Sure, the hero fights hard and gets the girl, but what happens after? What if they go through all that and it doesn’t work out?

It’s an interesting change from the more lighthearted tone that the book started with, but that’s what made it such a good read to begin with, and what continues to keep me hooked, to the point where I’m honestly regretting that we’re this close to the end.

So while this one might not have the pop of the last volume, it’s every bit as awesome.

Like I said, a review copy of Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe was provided by the publisher, but it’s scheduled to hit shelves at your friendly local comic book store starting February 4, and probably reputable online retailers shortly thereafter. So buy it already!

An Unexpected Present

So yesterday, I went out to the mailbox to find a few packages waiting for me.

This isn’t exactly an unusual occurrence, especially at this time of year. After all, I do a lot of shopping online, and sure enough, one of the packages was a copy of Jim Kelly’s Black Belt Jones that I’d ordered as a present for myself. The other one, though, was something of a mystery, mostly because the return address didn’t have a name.

In fact, other than a West Coast address and the “DO NOT BEND” scrawled across the back, there weren’t that many identifying features about it at all. So of course, curiosity piqued, I opened it up.

Inside was this:



Yep: A copy of Marvel’s first Anita Blake hardcover. A pretty weird thing for me to get in the mail, especially considering that I already own one, thanks to the fact that it had a new story in need of annotation and a pullquote from me on the dust jacket.

So I flipped through it, and that’s when a post-it note stuck to the title page caught my eye:



Now, I’ve done a lot of freaking out in my time. It’s pretty much what the entire website here is based on, and between Haney, Kanigher and Mantlo, I think I’ve built up a pretty good tolerance for the unexpected twist.

But this?



Well played, Post-It. Well-played.

Relatively Serious Comics Reviews: Laika and Elm City Jams

Despite the fact that my usual method for critical assessment seems to be grabbing whatever’s within arm’s reach, scanning a panel and calling it a night, I occasionally find myself in contact with someone who’s mistaken me for what the boys down in Marketing refer to as “a reputable influencer.” Thus, they send me something to tell you guys about, and in a tribute to my love of getting stuff for free, I try to get through an entire review without making jokes about monkeys.

As you’ll see tonight, it doesn’t always work out that way.



With Robot Dreams and Notes For a War Story hitting shelves this week at finer comic shops everywhere, the good folks over at First Second have started in on their fall line of graphic novels. There’s still plenty to come over the horizon, though, including the one that first caught my eye when I saw it in Previews a while back: Nick Abadzis’s Laika.

As the Communist aviation history buffs among you might’ve already guessed, Laika is based on the true story of the first animal ever launched into space, and given the inherent dangers of being the first anything to do something like that, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that Laika doesn’t make it home for a happy ending. Upon reflection, I maybe should’ve put a spoiler warning up there for that, but seeing as we’re dealing with matters of historical record, I think I’m safe.

Besides, it’s best that you find out now, Abadsis is utterly shameless in his emotional manipulation of the reader. It’s a tearjerker almost from the first page, as he shows not just the direct events that lead up to the launch of Sputnik 2, but crafts an entire life story for Laika, who is known throughout most of the book by her original name, Kudryavka, which translates from Russian to “Little Curly,” owing to her curly tail:



See? Adorable! And if Laika’s adorability wasn’t a matter of public record, there’d be no doubt in my mind that it was just another tactic to wring an emotional reaction out of the reader for a story that, at its heart, is essentially about a cute little puppy that is shot into space to die needlessly in the name of science.

As it stands, though, the first section of the book–a fictionalized account of Laika’s early life before she was brought to Moscow’s Institution of Aviation Medicine–already reads like a litany of cliches gleaned from stories of heroic dogs. There’s the sweet, loving girl who wants to take her in but can’t, the cruel master who tosses her into the river, and–in the most abjectly cartoonish segment in the book–a maniacal, murderous dogcatcher who views Laika as his own personal nemesis.



It is, for about twenty pages, like a really, really depressing episode of Heathcliff.

What’s surprising about it, though, is that it gets a heck of a lot better. Abadzis begins and frames the book not with Laika herself, but with Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, an honest-to-God rocket scientist, opening with him being released from a gulag in the dead of winter after a six-year stay courtesey of Stalin’s 1938 purge. It Sergei that has the strong idea of destiny and purpose that drives the book, to the point where he’s the one to give Laika her new name, selecting her himself for the spaceflight he was comissioned by Kruschev to design in a little more than a month.



And he’s just the first member of an interesting, complex cast of historical figures that Abadzis uses to tell his story, which quickly shifts from Laika’s puppy misadventures to Yelena Dubrovsky, the animal technician assigned to prepare the dogs for their flight. She imagines herself as a Dr. Doolittle, speaking to the animals and imagining their responses as she goes through her workday, calming them down and reassuring them, then feeling the intense heartbreak that goes along with becoming too attached to test animals. It has the same sort of tear-jerking quality as the first bit, but the cheesiness is swapped for emotional content with characters that you’ve been through the book with, and it makes for a prety compelling read.

The problem with all this is that Laika is coming out three months after James Vining’s First In Space from Oni Press, and while they are by no means the same book, there are certainly a lot of similarities. The Xeric-winning First in Space tells the American side of the story, but–as one might expect from something rooted in American history rather than Russian–involving a much happier ending, relatively speaking. And there are also monkeys. In space. Which is pretty awesome.

In essence, though, it avoids Laika‘s main problem because it’s a happier story, and therefore doesn’t require the amount of sentiment and emotional manipulation that a puppy being left to die in the cold, dark expanse of space contains just on principle, which frees it up to present the facts in a much breezier way.

There is, of course, room on my shelf for both of these books, as they tell different stories in different styles in different ways, but there’s always going to be that odd coincidence of having two slightly fictionalized accounts of the true stories of test animals during the Cold War space program being released in the same summer, and there’s really no way around comparing the two. With Laika, though, the emphasis is definitely on sentiment spiked with science, detailing Laika’s life in a way that naturally leads to its ending, but it’s sentiment done well.

If it sounds like your cup of tea–and it is a very well-done book–you’ll be able to find it in comic book stores starting early next month, or you can pre-order it on Amazon right this very minute.



The last time I did a Relatively Serious Review, I mentioned that mini-comics aren’t really my thing. This is, of course, in spite of the fact that my pal Phil and I actually made one a couple of years ago where a fictionalized Jack Kirby fought a Nazi Robot and got blasted into a dimension of dog-people, but that’s beside the point, which is this: I may have to revise my standard line pretty soon, because ever since David Morris sent me his bootlegged final issue of OMAC, every mini-comic I’ve been sent has been off the chain.

Case in point: Elm City Jams.



This bright yellow bundle of joy was sent over–along with a few others–by Isaac Cates of Satisfactory Comics, and it’s built on the absolutely genius premise of getting a bunch of cartoonists together and forcing them (possibly at gunpoint, Isaac wasn’t really clear on that) to draw one-page strips based on titles drawn completely at random. It’s a great idea for something like this, allowing the participants to show off their skills and letting everyone involve have fun.

Because really, how could you not have fun with titles like “Don’t Mess With Hexes,” “Damn Tree-Hugging Robots,” or…


Hezekiah Sugata, Hillbilly Shogun


And that isn’t even the best one.

In total, Isaac sent over four of his mini-comics, including ECJ #s 1-3 and Satisfactory Comics #7, and while there are some great bitss in those–including a great two-page bit on slightly adjusted opening lines from classics of Western literature that’s just fantastic–but the real star of the set was the one pictured above. It’s a great sequence of gags from start to finish, with the high point being a jam from Tom O’Donnell, Mike Wenthe, and the omnipresent Isaac Cates called “Jared Fogle Kills A Prostitute” which features the Subway pitch-man not only getting up to the action you might expect from the title, but doing it as a member of the Green Lantern Corps.

Admittedly, I’m saying this as someone who got it for free, but it’s well worth whatever Cates is charging for it. It’s very, very entertaining stuff, and you can find out more and see about getting your own at the Satisfactory Comics Blog.

From the People Who Brought You A Four-Day COPS Marathon…

One of the most awesome things about my meteoric rise to fame on the Comics Internet–which, as Kevin said, is sort of like being “janitor famous”–is that people sometimes send me things for free.

I’m not just talking about review copies either. Those are great, but every now and then, somebody will actually just give me something for no other reason than they think I’ll enjoy it, like the guy who gave me bizarre breast-related Japanese comedies on DVD (which I really ought to get around to watching), and one reader who dropped off a self-addressed envelope full of trades for me at HeroesCon this year to read and send back at my leisure. And then there’s Nina, who felt so strongly about a promo comic she got from her local shop that she felt I had to see it.

And that, my friends, is what brings us here tonight.



I’ve talked about my love of the cross-media promotional comic before–mostly in my rundown of The Heist, wherein a team of rappers led by Fat Joe takes on an army of sinister clones–but I somehow managed to miss this one when it came into the shop. Which, as it turns out, was probably no big loss.

As you can tell from the cover, it’s a promo for a new series from the masters of fun over at CourtTV with the intriguing premise of going from wedding to homicide in under thirty minutes. The kicker, though, is that each story–“directed to be intentionally over-the-top, complete with overacting and cringe-worthy dialogue,” according to Wikipedia–is actually based on a real-life murder, inspired by the network’s vast library of court transcripts. So thanks for that, Canada!

Playing the part of the Crypt Keeper this evening is John Waters, who may be familiar to those of you who watch too much VH1 as the elfin, mildly horrifying trash cinema auteur who once directed a movie where a large transvestite ate… Yeah, you know what? Not even going to bother writing that one down; you can look it up yourselves if you’re curious. Best to just move on.

In this case, Waters is safely in front of the camera as The Groom Reaper, a pun regarded by folks at CourtTV as so hilarious that it appears no less than three times in fifteen pages in large, boldfaced type. Despite that kind of a marketing push, his main function appears to be standing around pointing out that one of the people in the story’s going to kill the other one, which seems pretty pointless since that’s already the established premise. But to his credit, he does have the creepiest moustache in years, and that probably goes a long way to scaring up some chills in this thing.

The story itself–if you want to go so far as to call it that–concerns a young couple with its share of problems, most notably the fact that the poor wife, Bonnie, doesn’t even get a name until you’re three quarters into the story, and by that time, odds are that you’ve long since given up caring. Bonnie, it seems, is married to a young mortician named Ronald–a survivor of three pages of nameless oblivion himself–who loves her despite the fact that the actress playing her part is wearing an oversized sweatshirt in an effort to look dumpy and overweight. That, incidentally, is the pure genius of this comic: The character in the comic actually looks like a thin actress playing a fat woman.

That’s right: This shit just got crazy meta on your ass!



In what passes for irony around here, the Reubenesque Bonnie is employed in the sales department of a health food company run by Slade, who appears to be a slightly more sinister version of White Goodman. Slade–referred to hereafter in my head as the Evil Tony Robbins–is perceptive enough to notice that Bonnie’s hiding a hot actress underneath her sweatshirt, and sets her on the path of visualizing her goals. Goals… of murrrrrder!

No, sorry, her goals here are weight loss. The murder stuff comes an interminable amount of time later. But for your sake and mind, let’s cut to the chase:



Yes, Bonnie’s cheating on Ronald with Slade, who advises her to murder her husband so that they can make out in the company gym all day, but before anything actually gets around to happening–like, say, an explanation of why anyone should care at this point–John Waters shows up again to let us know that if you want to know who gets stabbed, you should quit wasting your time reading comics and go watch the show.

Well thanks a ton, Waters.

Thus, this exercise in cross-media promotion comes to a swift and merciful end, and I’m starting to get the feeling that Nina sent it to me not because of any desire to see what I thought of it, but an overwhelming urge to get this thing out of her house. I can’t really blame her, though, since I’m feeling the same thing, and wondering if it’s possible to just send this thing all around the country until it finally ends up in some poor guy’s collection.