Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Wednesday Review: The Cure to the Fifth Wednesday Blues

July is one of those five Wednesday months. What does that actually mean? From a retailing perspective, you begin to notice certain patterns week to week, month to month. Most months have the number of releases pretty evenly spread out across the first three weeks. But week four tends to be relatively loaded up more than the first three as publishers scramble to get books out that should have dropped earlier in the month. Five Wednesday months play all kinds of havoc with the release schedule (for retailers who in many cases survive week-to-week, anyway). Week-to-week, the quantity of new titles gets spread out with publishers putting out perfunctory annuals or one-shots towards week five, and you can usually tell it's a five Wednesday month by Wednesday two. However, this month was Sand Diego Comic-Con, and most of this week's releases were in the first three weeks of the month to get product out in time for the con. I only really noticed the five Wednesday doldrums when week five actually hit because of the front-loaded release schedule. So it's Wednesday number five for July and it's a pretty small week in terms of quantity of new titles - my stack was still thirteen new books deep, but most weeks are in the 20-25 range. So what came out worth reading on Wednesday number five for July?

Vertigo, moribund Vertigo, pale shade of past glories Vertigo, Vertigo which has lost the banner of creativity to Image, that Vertigo put out two new number ones (and a solid number three) this week. In Tom Strong and The Planet of Peril, writer Steve Hogan takes a another go at Alan Moore's wonderful pulp science hero from the ABC days. Like the last mini-series, Hogan has Tom Strong co-creator Chris Sprouse (and Karl Story) back on art duties and their art in this universe is a constant delight. Sprouse gives the book the proper visual feel; unlike, well, pretty much everything else ever, Alan Moore is cool with Hogan taking the reigns and Hogan again does an admirable job taking Moore's creations forward. Tesla is pregnant but something is wrong, Flame Prince Val is duly worried, and the only solution is to head off to the parallel Earth Terra Obscura to ask Tom Strange for help. The first issue here doesn't have the same pop as the old ABC stuff, but there are surprises promised to come.

Then there's Collider, a new creator-sortof-owned series from writer Simon Oliver and artist Robbi Rodriguez. In an alternate now there's all kinds of weirdness with the actual physical laws of the universe are haywire, the Federal Bureau of Physics (the weird science FBI) respond to various problems as they arise. Rodriguez's art is energetic and a nice fit for the attitude of the story Oliver is telling, I just wish it was more interesting and engaging. This is just chapter one, of course and sometimes things work on a slow burn - for instance Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski's actual creator-owned Image book Sex. Issue five came out today and not much and a hell of a lot happened (there was some actual sex this issue, for once). Sex is a very interesting read - it's a non-superhero superhero character piece set in a futureshock corporate setting that is taking it's sweet time getting somewhere (or nowhere at all), but damned if it isn't consistently compelling. There are slow burns and then there is whatever the hell Casey is doing here. I can't wait for more and I can't even put my finger on why. Plus the best letters page in comics and this is a constant must-read every month. And back to Vertigo with another slowish burn in Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy's The Wake. This week's issue three throws events into overdrive and it was one hell of a read (which cannot be said of the first two issues). Lots happens, there are more apparent distemporal flashes, and I'm finally interested in the story. Yay serialized fiction!

In Tom Strong, we got some cutesy comic book meta-references, but those were an actual artifact of the mechanics of the Tom Strong Universe. In FF 10, the actual creators and editors of FF show up to document the FF for Marvel Comics. Misadventures ensue, while back at the Foundation the kids have a creepy encounter with Maximus the Mad while Doom does his thing behind the scenes. But back to the meta-stuff: Matt Fraction, Mike Allred and Tom Brevoort showing up here isn't just self-indulgence (though, there's a little of that to be sure). In the Marvel Universe, Marvel Comics actually exists and chronicles superhuman activity both fictionally and metafictionally. More to the point, especially in stories involving the Fantastic Four, there is a long legacy of the comics' creators interacting with the FF that goes all the way back to the first brilliant time Doom forces Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to re-write Fantastic Four #10 to trap Reed Richards - a moment that still makes you go whoa even in the Age of Grant Morrison. So do the meta-references work here? Well, they're not meta-references: Fraction/Allred/Brevoort aren't making this FF comic, but an FF comic as part of the Future Foundation's public relations plans. It fits the attitude that this half of Fraction's Fantastic Four/FF duopoly has so brilliantly portrayed. It's funny, odd, self-indulgent, and completely appropriate. Yet another fun issue in Marvel's funnest-est comic.

The modern nu-nu-Marvel Now artistic wave led by Eisner winners David Aja and Chris Samnee not to mention Jamie McKelvie and Javier Pulido gives us yet another artistic revelation in Javier Rodriguez with Mark Waid on Daredevil 29. Rodriguez's stuff is getting better and better along with his peers who are marking this contemporary run of Marvel comics so damn visually memorable. Waid's usually tight scripting doesn't hurt in Daredevil 29's case. Last issue's cliffhanger has Matt Murdock going up against a whole building full of Serpent Society baddies where friend and foe could be anyone. Really fantastic stuff.

Ach, Guardians of the Galaxy 5 has Neil Gaiman's Angela and honestly, who cares. (That's a statement, not a question.) The least interesting new-to-you character in comics introduced in one of the worst superhero comics of the last five years, but hey, the last page is alright, I guess. And any excuse to look at Sarah Pichelli art is almost worth it. Batman Annual 2 is completely pointless, despite whatever claims at tying into Zero Year the cover makes (it really doesn't). On the other hand, Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve No 13 from Drawn & Quarterly will be the best six bucks you spend all this month. Or likely next month. (UPDATE: Read my full review of Optic Nerve No 13 here.)

Happy Wednesday, everyone. Enjoy the reads.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Follow The Comic Pusher All Over The Interwebs

Now you can get updates from The Comic Pusher right up in your FaceSpace thing! Like The Comic Pusher on Facebook at

New, September 2013! You can now follow The Comic Pusher on Tumblr and you can now see the Full Index of Reviews Here!

As always, follow me on Twitter at @B5Jeff.

You can also subscribe to The Comic Pusher via olde timey RSS and Email!

Like a particular review? Don't forget to click the icons at the bottom of the review to Share it on Facebook, Recommend it on Google Plus, Tweet it, and more!

The Comic Pusher by Jeffrey O. Gustafson - and

Monday, July 29, 2013

An Appreciation of Emily Horne and Joey Comeau's A Softer World at Ten Years and 1000 Strips

The Best of A Softer World at Ten Years and 1000 Strips

I first brought up the webcomic A Softer World here on the Comic Pusher a few weeks ago in my review of Force Field Fotocomix and the inherent difficulties involved with fumetti. A Softer World by Canadians Emily Horne & Joey Comeau is a unique and beautiful exploitation of the comics form that manages to transcend what is possible with photo comics. In each three-panel strip we get a perfect melding of Comeau's verbal poetry and Horne's visual poetry, executing works of narrative art that are concise, moving and powerful.

A Softer World strips are often very funny, thought provoking, beautiful, or sad, and always an astonishing combination of images and words. Horne's photography and design is intimate, her panelization and editing emotive and dynamic. Comeau's narratives always translate pure accessible emotion in expansive narratives packed in a short space with a stunning economy of words. Both are poets of extraordinary skill who have forged a visual and narrative partnership of uncanny felicity.

Strips in A Softer World often poetically explore themes of loss, sex, love, and depression. Those strips that are short narratives involve zombies and relationships and science fiction and divine absurdity, all the while commenting on the human condition. Even the slightest strips execute a timeless, efficient humor evocative of Jack Handey.   

For ten years Comeau and Horne have been publishing A Softer World several times a week, a total which will soon reach 1000 strips. Some more of their best strips are after the jump

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Over-serious Silliness in Seven Against Chaos

Harlan Ellison's 7 Against Chaos
by Harlan Ellison & Paul Chadwick
DC Comics, 2013
A few weeks ago DC released an original creator-owned hardcover graphic novel from legendary sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison that really came out of nowhere: 7 Against Chaos. Evidently in production for quite a while (five or six years looking at the backmatter) and likely intended as a mini-series, it was adapted and illustrated by Paul Chadwick from Ellison's story. The provenance of Chadwick (best known as the creator of Concrete) and Ellison (who is, y'know, Harlan Ellison) certainly piqued my interest.

Chadwick's art is decent; Ken Steacy did the colors, pulled out of the same apparent mothballs as Paul Smith in this week's Rocketeer/Spirit crossover. The whole thing is really quite weird, though. Quite a ways in the future, some mysterious figure is pulling together a ramshackle team of unique individuals from across the solar system to avert some epic crisis going down on Earth, because supercomputers told him to. It's Seven Samurai in SpaceTime. The group put together is indeed quite colorful, and I like a lot of Chadwick's execution here. But the story is just not that solid. There are the fairly standard story beats of the group coming to terms with the conflict and each other, and then the main conflict happens, and its a weird one. There are disruptions in the fabric of reality across Earth, with vast physical destruction and overlapping epochs of time. The disruptions can be traced back several million years and the crew of oddities goes back to confront the culprit. What follows isn't all that satisfying and just too odd to like (pissed off lizard people!). It's all a little too silly to jive with the self-seriousness of Ellison's prose.

I can buy weirdness from a Grant Morrison or Joe Casey, but those are two writers who can strike the right balance of not taking themselves too seriously while embracing the bizarre. Ellison's seriousness just doesn't work, and perhaps a different attitude in the narrative (and the characters) within the same story might have better served the proceedings. If there is any saving grace, it is Paul Chadwick's art, wonderfully translating all the misshapen spaghetti Ellison throws at the wall. Very occasionally I'll read a comic that I think would be better served without word balloons or captions, and 7 Against Chaos is sadly just that comic.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Wednesday Review: Women with Weapons

Happy Wednesday, everyone. Here are some of this week's better new comics in stores today.

Genetically engineered girl, gun, sword!
 For reasons I can't put my finger on, Lazarus 1 from Greg Rucka and Michael Lark just didn't work for me. I wish I knew why because this is Rucka and Lark and they just don't suck. Thankfully I really enjoyed issue two. Maybe I'm better primed for the vaguely post-apocalyptic setting, maybe I'm really digging Lark's art here (yup). It's serialized fiction, not every chapter is going to hit, but there's always a bigger picture. I'm glad I'm sticking with it.

Girl, two guns, spaceships!
Dark Horse Presents won the Eisner this year, as it should have, but like any anthology there is hits and misses. Number 26 is emblematic of that, but the misses aren't all that bad and the hits do keep on coming. Ron Randall's Trekker is gorgeous and entertaining, Baron & Rude's Nexus is badass and hilarious ("Is that Cyclops?") and we get some David Lapham and a hilarious Patrick Alexander strip for good measure. There's other stuff, too, and your mileage will vary, but certainly not for the worse.

Woman, weapon, post-apocalyptic boat!
The Massive almost lost me with an absurd one-shot a couple of months ago but Brian Wood and Garry Brown save things for the second month in a row with the second "Americana" in this week's issue 14. The Massive encounters an entire US Navy battle group (complete with aircraft carrier) and they want Callum Israel and they've got big guns to make this happen. But there's a crazy Russian guy with a nuclear sub nearby, and shit starts to hit the fan as The Massive makes a break for it amongst the ruins of a flooded Manhattan. A tightly plotted issue with stunning visuals with a fair amount of surprising back story and twists and turns thrown in. A damn fine comic.

Hawkeye Kate, Bow & Arrow, Madam Masques (her weapon is craziness)!
Is it any surprise that Hawkeye Annual 1 is astonishing? Well, no. Starting off at the end of issue 11, the story follows Hawkeye Kate (seriously pissed off at Hawkguy Clint) and Pizza Dog as they run off to Los Angeles. Her plans fall apart fairly quickly when her funds get cut off and Madame Masque seeks revenge for what went down in Madripoor a few issues back. And of course, making it worth twice the price is 28 pages of Javier Pulido art, from his clever use of silhouette and inventive captions to his expectedly superb action sequences. My goodness, Hawkeye is a continuing embarrassment of visual riches, the latest in Pulido's stunning work. Matt Fraction is one lucky writer. With the extraordinary art of the likes of Pulido (and Matt Hollingsworth's colors), we are even luckier readers.

Women with weapons! This is a coincidence, I swear.
Mind MGMT 13 starts off a series of one-shots and if you've been looking to get into Matt Kindt's marvelous superspy scifi series, do it here. A horror story of programmed sleeper agents in a small neighborhood turning on each other, we get a good look at the depths of the story Kindt is telling as well as his artistic style. - Bounce 3 from Joe Casey and David Messina's stoner superhero dramedy is really, really entertaining. What more can I say? It's a stoner superhero dramedy that's really entertaining. Joe Casey was born to write this. -  Superior Spider-Man 14 by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos continues to push the bounderies of the Spidey mythos with a new costume (that I really didn't notice, actually) and Spidey-Henchman (which I did). Doc Oc Spidey is the superior Spidey. - Garth Ennis's Red Team 4 continues to explore the intersection of power and revenge, subject matter Ennis is pretty familiar with. But like his war comics, he does it better than anyone else. - Rocketeer/Spirit: Pulp Friction 1 has pretty contrived beginnings, like any such crossover, but Mark Waid and Paul Smith (where on Earth has he been?) keep things light and accessible. - The penultimate Journey Into Mystery is just OK, but hey, Valerio Schitti is comics' next superstar artist, damnit. Buy ten of these and sell them on eBay in three years or something, or buy one and enjoy his clear, expressive art. Either way, you win. - Incidents in the Night is the new (to the USA) David B graphic novel (or the first part, anyway), and man, this thing is all over the place. The narrative is a mess but the art is gorgeous, so go for it.

Only after writing this did I notice that all of this week's spotlight covers feature women with weapons. Read into that what you will.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Magic of Cathy Malkasian's Percy Gloom

Wake Up, Percy Gloom! by Cathy Malkasian
Fantagraphics, 2013
Cathy Malkasian is an extraordinary cartoonist whose debut graphic novel from 2007 was the unheralded masterpiece Percy Gloom. Part cutting satire, part fairy tale, part nightmare (and back again), in Percy Gloom Malkasian crafted a disarmingly simple tale about the overwhelming forces of loss, love, government & society, and religion. The titular Gloom, a short, balding little man, overly cautious about everything and doted upon by his mother; in a state of constant suffocation by the weight of the world, travels abroad for the first time, coming to the headquarters of his dream job located in an odd little city hiding some deep, dark secrets. At first, the story seems to be about breaking free of the constraints of life and taking chances, but very quickly takes many weird and wonderful turns and becomes something so much more - a story of profound heartbreak and loss, of redemption, and of freedom not just from the overwhelming weight of life but from the poison of corruption and power wielded by both the zealots and the broken. Percy Gloom was (still is) a book to be experienced, a work of surprising beauty and grace that has an emotional punch, packed with surprises that leap off the page and stick with you. Malkasian's unique art, charcoal-like cartoon illustrations both simple and versatile, solidified Percy Gloom as a breathless, stunning piece of art, and one of the best comics of 2007.

Her follow-up from 2010, Temperance, was no less assured, another richly detailed fantasy parable about belief and violence and the power of story. Her accomplishments as a fiercely unique visual storyteller are even more pronounced Temperance, weaving a narrative and visual spell rooted in the contrasting beauty of nature and expansive architecture of a stunning and wholly original citystate. It was with great anticipation that I awaited her new graphic novel, a sequel to Percy Gloom; I was not disappointed.

All of the strengths of her previous works are immediately evident in her new graphic novel (out this month from Fantagraphics) Wake Up, Percy Gloom!. Taking up where the last volume left off, Wake Up, Percy Gloom! follows Percy and his love Margaret as they embark on a quixotic journey in search of her supposed twin. Fate intervenes and Percy falls into one of his Rumpelstiltskinian sleeps - which can last many years (Percy, like his mother, is immortal). When he awakes, a series of misunderstandings leads him to believe that he's been out for 200 years, when really he's been asleep for just one year. As Percy meanders through a world he thinks is radically different than the one he left, he encounters a walled city and a government bureaucrat as shut off from reality as the city he worked for.. All the while, Percy's mother is coming to terms with a religion she accidentally created from a joke book she wrote centuries earlier. Their different stories intertwine and come together in entrancing moments of beauty and magic, vividly realized in Malkasian's extraordinary shaded pencil art.

Malkasian expands on the themes she wove in the first volume, using her remarkable fantasy world to comment on isolation, religion, government and the pain and terror and joy of love both unrequited and achieved. Wake Up, Percy Gloom! is another astonishing work from Malkasian, a beautiful and uplifting graphic novel filled with magic and loss and joy. Malkasian, a veteran animator and now highly accomplished cartoonist, once more delivers a work of startling power cementing herself as one of the most distinct and important voices in comics. For those unfamiliar with Malkasian, Wake Up, Percy Gloom! is a perfect introduction to her work - even the better if you go back and get her first two graphic novels, making a trilogy of astonishing works that weave an utterly captivating spell.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The 2013 Eisner Award Winners - Full List and Analysis

Chris Ware (4 wins, including Best Graphic Novel and Best Writer/Artist) and Brian K. Vaughan (3 wins) are the big winners at this year's Eisner Awards. Artists David Aja, Fiona Staples and Juanjo Guarnido (2 wins each) also made their mark. On the strength of Vaughan and Staples' Saga (3 wins, including Best New Series and Best Ongoing Series) Image Comics was this year's most awarded publisher (4 winning publications plus one shared win); Pantheon (Ware's seminal Building Stories won 4 times) and Dark Horse (3 winning publications plus 1 shared) also had banner years. And also of note, there were two ties in this year's balloting, for Penciler/Inker and Reality Based Work.

The dominance of Ware for Building Stories and Vaughan & Staples for Saga is no surprise and well deserved. Ware's extraordinary graphic novel is one of the best reviewed comics of this decade, and Saga is a best-selling critical darling. (Both were on my Best of List for 2012, and on pretty much every other Best of List, too.) Even without the nominations, 2012 was the year of Saga and Building Stories; despite the crowded field of high quality nominations from the best creators in comics doing the best works of their careers, it's hard to see anyone else winning those categories. David Aja's wins for his inventive work on Hawkeye with Matt Fraction for Marvel were also well-deserved, as was Juanjo Guarnido's wins for his and Juan Díaz Canales' entertaining anthropomorphic noir Blacksad.

I was 16 for 24 in categories I voted in this year, which either says I have my finger on the pulse of what makes a damn good comic in America, or I ride the tide of critical consensus. I'd like to think the former, but Saga Saga Saga Saga Ware Ware Ware Ware Ware Hawkeye Hawkeye.

The FULL LIST of winners, with commentary, continues after the jump - For the full list of Nominees, as well as who I voted for this year, click here.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Culbard on Lovecraft and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
by INJ Culbard, based on the story by HP Lovecraft
SelfMadeHero, 2013
Next up in my review of two recent books from newish British publisher SelfMadeHero is H.P. Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward adapted by I.N.J. Culbard. My first exposure to Culbard's work was the Victorian zombie-vampire occult murder mystery thing The New Deadwardians he created with Dan Abnett for Vertigo. Though uneven, I largely enjoyed that book, including Culbard's fairly straightforward art. Apparently Culbard has adapted quite a few classic works for SelfMadeHero, which shows in the assured and accessible adaptation presented here. I've read some Lovecraft, though I haven't read Lovecraft's original in this case. Lovecraft is in vogue lately - though one could argue that he's never been out of vogue - with recent adaptations by the always creepy Richard Corben, to the heavily Lovecraft-influenced recent works from Alan Moore like the wonderful League of Extroardinary Gentlemen graphic novel Nemo: Heart of Ice and the reprehensible and irredeemable Necronomicon. Culbard does a fairly competent job of crafting a graphic novel that is obviously very Lovecraftian, less in overt monsters and more in reveling in the 1920s New England period drama of people coming to terms with forces beyond their understanding. There are creepy immortals and grave robbings and strange alchemy and weird noises and lights in the night and plenty of good old-fashioned madness.

But something is lost in translation - much of the thrill of Lovecraft is in interpreting his descriptions of things ancient and evil and so completely other. When you read Lovecraft, you get to sense the utterly alien in every conceivable way, the very profound wrongness of the proceedings, something few authors before or since have ever achieved. By adapting the work, you lose that thrill of mystery because it is made literal on the page before you. Just like the movie is rarely better than the book or comic, so here the comic is not (quite possibly can not be?) better than the original. At least that's the sense I get here, one of slight dissatisfaction rather than profound vicarious disturbance. Culbard has also adapted Lovecraft's masterpiece At The Mountains of Madness for SelfMadeHero... While I haven't read his adaptation - so perhaps this is unfair - I cannot imagine how it can possibly work. When Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neil set Nemo: Heart of Ice, essentially in and around At The Mountains of Madness, they at first focus on the terror in their eyes and faces rather than the horrors they see. And when those horrors do show up, an artist with O'Neil's sensibilities does a remarkable job of illustrating them, but even he cannot match up to the picture painted in the mind's eye. The characters have experienced horrors beyond the human capability to even understand, and that's the key to Lovecraft: you cannot possibly translate those horrors, and Culbard understandably falls short in Charles Dexter Ward.

(Another observation about the work: Culbard's art, in places, looks exactly like Guy Davis's - not Davis-influenced, but almost as if Davis himself illustrated some pages in places. Guy Davis is a damn fine artist and an appropriate influence for the subject matter, especially considering Davis's deep catalog of Lovecraft-influenced storytelling in BPRD, but the similarities in places here, which I did not see in New Deadwardians, were quite striking. I am not remotely saying that Culbard cribbed Davis by any means, just that the influence is definitely showing.)

Lovecraft's unique and timeless horror tales have inspired artists and writers for generations now, and will continue to do so. And sometimes as an artist you need to work through your influences to develop your own voice, just as Culbard is working through both Lovecraft and (seemingly) Davis in this work. Depsite its obvious qualities, Culbard's Case of Charles Dexter Ward doesn't quite hold up, though the attempt is certainly admirable and well-made. I just can't quite recommend it.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The History of US and Middle East Relations as Realized in the Visual Astonishments of David B.

SelfMadeHero is a newish (to the U.S.) U.K.-based publisher of original graphic novels, and they seem to have a pretty good mix of projects in their still young catalog. I decided to randomly try out two completely different graphic novels released by the publisher in the past year, today reviewing last year's Best of Enemies by Filiu & David B. Tomorrow I take a look at INJ Culbard's Lovecraft.

Best of Enemies - A History of US and
Middle East Relations, Part 1: 1783-1953
by Jean-Pierre Filiu & David B.
Translated by Edward Gauvin
Futuropolis 2011/SelfMadeHero 2012
First up is David B. and Jean-Pierre Filiu's Best of Enemies - A History of US and Middle East Relations, Part 1: 1783-1953, originally published by Futuropolis in France. David B. (Pierre-François Beauchard) is an accomplished cartoonist and author of several acclaimed graphic novels; Filiu is an renowned diplomat, educator and historian of the Arab region, who has published several well-received books on the decidedly complex subject.

And complex doesn't scratch the surface of U.S.-Arab relations. Filiu does a remarkable job of presenting an illuminating overview of the subject. After a brief prelude covering the historically analogous Epic of Gilgamesh, Filiu dives into the early and formative - and drawn out - conflicts involving the young American country and the Barbary pirates. The United States was not the only country dealing with the scourge of Barbary piracy of the era, and it proved to be one of the America's first forays into non-defensive military actions halfway around the globe. Eventually the American government would actively seek to overthrow the government in Tripoli for its own benefit, using back-channels and guerrilla tactics and straight-out warfare to do so.

Things don't look much rosier in the second half of the book in the chapters "Oil" and "Coup d'Etat." Around the two world wars, as oil became increasingly important a resource for allied interests, the United States took an increasingly active role in the interests of several countries in the region, most pointedly Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Egypt, again manipulating the political outcomes of countries half way around the world. Filiu is clearly drawing a through-line between America's meddling in the middle of the century and our current plight today, a line likely to be closed in the second volume. Key agents of American political and military-industrial will are painted as the manipulator and the aggressor in these chapters (particularly Kermit Roosevelt), but it is made clear that there ware parties on the other end happy to have America in its corner.

And while it's nice to have Filiu's highly expert summation giving structure to the proceedings, it is entirely David B.'s consistently breathtaking art that drives the work. Not content to simply adapt, what is in essence, a richly detailed Cliff's Notes lecture on the Middle East into basic illustrated prose, Beauchard takes the story and setting provided by Filiu and gives us series of visual astonishments, every panel an incisive political cartoon more akin to ancient historical tableaus. In so much of Best of Enemies Beauchard gives us physical beings subsumed by weaponry, linked personages melting into each other, disproportionate presentations of the human form repeatedly falling into glorious, illustrative, and completely appropriate representative abstraction. And this is no neutral rendering of historical events, Beauchard has a visual agenda as Filiu has a sociopolitical one but both play all sides evenly.

I went into Best of Enemies (Filiu and Beauchard should just get it over with and call it Frenemies) with an eye towards some small amount of enlightenment about a complicated and important subject, and while I certainly learned a little more than I knew before about the Middle East, it was David B.'s electrifying artistic tour de force that livened the dry prose and put the work into a different creative stratosphere. And make no mistake, what David B. accomplishes here is quite extraordinary and worthy of note. I can't wait for the second volume.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The International Private Eye and The Future of Comics

How the Internationalization of Brian K. Vaughan & Marcos Martin's The Private Eye Will Change Comics

Much is being written, and deservedly so, about Brain K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin's The Private Eye. Self-published online through their Panel Syndicate venture, the monthly comic is being hailed as fairly revolutionary for their publishing model: DRM-Free and Pay-What-You-Want.

Artists releasing material and letting the audience dictate its value is not new, but still a bit of a novelty, especially in comics. If there had been instances in the past of comic PWYW releases, they never made an impact the way that The Private Eye has. The Private Eye is just like Radiohead's In Rainbows, a highly anticipated Pay-What-You-Want release from A-List creators with top-flight production values and undeniable critical success and fan response. While there was much supposition on its release that In Rainbows would change the music industry with many more PWYW releases, this hasn't been the case. Monetized digital downloads of music has revolutionized the record industry, but that was going to happen regardless. The mainstream comic industry finds itself on a similar digital precipice and has been smartly taking advantage of it through various DRM means (Digital Rights Management, that is releasing material tied to a specific program or device). But DRM-Free releases online of comics are actually nothing new - simply look at pretty much every webcomic ever made. But unlike most webcomics, the release format of The Private Eye - ten issue monthly maxi-series of 22-30 page comics with cover and backmatter - is more like mainstream North American comic releases, which are almost never released DRM-Free. And unlike most webcomics, The Private Eye is being produced by two very well-known, critically acclaimed creators who can arguably write their own ticket with any mainstream creator-owned publisher. For Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin to release The Private Eye the way they have is risky, far more so than if they were releasing it through any traditional creator-owned publishing outlet. But it appears the risk is paying off for the creators.

This is all noteworthy, but at the end of the day the experiment would be a failure if the finished product was no good. Unsurprisingly for two creators with their proven creative track-record, Vaughan & Martin's The Private Eye is a superb comic, a complex visual feast wrapped in a layered sci-fi noir parable. Vaughan's story, a richly detailed metaphor about privacy and the media, follows a private investigator in over his head in a murder plot in a future where privacy was apocalyptically shattered and everyone hides behind a mask. Martin's art - with Muntsa Vicente's extraordinary colors - reveals a master storyteller at work, explosive action and dramatic character set-pieces bouncing through an astonishingly realized futurescape. Three issues have been released so far, all of them riveting.

But as good as the comic is, as unique the release format is, I think the most important aspect of the story's release that may have a larger historical impact than anything else the two creators are doing, is the aggressive internationalization of the work.

Private Eye #1, Pages 19 & 20, by Brian K. Vaughan & Marcos Martin (Panel Syndicate, 2013)
Languages (top to bottom): English, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, French
(Open the image in a new tab or click here for bigger.)
The idea to release The Private Eye online, DRM-Free and Pay-What-You-Want, was Marcos Martin's. He'd been looking to do something like that for some time and the opportunity that presented itself in Brian K. Vaughan's story was too good to pass up (especially in light of the storyline parallels about a specifically analog future without an internet). But Martin's true stroke of genius with The Private Eye's release format is in the multiple languages in which every issue has been and will be released.

Martin is a Spanish artist fluent in Spanish, English and Catalan, a romance language spoken in Southern Spain, France and Andorra. When Martin and Vaughan set up their novel distribution method, it was a small step for Martin to release the material in the three languages he was familiar with. And as each issue was released, additional languages would be added on, to date Portuguese and French with more in the pipeline. The nature of the work's production and release, both purely digital, makes this possible.

In most cases of translations of North American mainstream comics, there is a significant time and logistics lag involved. You first must find a publisher for the work in each market, dealing with the logistics of royalties and copyright. In many cases, even popular works by known creators may not see publication in foreign markets for years after initial North American publication, if at all. The availability in each market may be completely outside the creators' hands, with some publishers licensing out work without contractual obligation to pay royalties or even inform the creators involved. And this works both ways, with many well-received European (especially French and Italian) or Japanese comics never matriculating their way Stateside.

In The Private Eye's case, the work has already been released to every market on the globe with a computer attached, and it is a very simple matter to upload versions released under increasingly diverse languages. There are no printing costs involved and the only limit is the creators' will and the availability of quality translations. By their liberal and aggressive internationalization of The Private Eye coupled with their easy to access DRM-Free PWYW model, not only are Vaughan and Martin able to get access to the vibrant comic markets in North America, Spain, Italy, France and the United Kingdom, but they also have an immediate global reach not limited to countries with a comic tradition, a reach achieved by few creators in the history of comics. In the five languages The Private Eye has been released under so far, they can reach 1.2 billion potential native speakers (not even counting non-native speakers). Naturally the potential audience is much smaller than that, limited by access and desire as is any potential audience, but for the first time Vaughan and Martin have in an instant global audience. And by putting out the translations themselves as soon as possible, they negate the need for "scanlations" (fan translated digital bootlegs) ensuring quality control and added potential financial return.

It is this globalization of the type of quality material originally limited to North America that will change comics forever. The power of the tools Vaughan and Martin have at their disposal, coupled with their vision and will to utilize those tools, are truly remarkable.

Already the industry is shifting in response to Vaughan and Martin's vision: Image has announced that their titles will be DRM-Free, though not Pay-What-You-Want. But some established Image books, as well as every comic and graphic novel put out by America's largest publishers Marvel and DC, are locked into long-term republication and licensing contracts that necessitate large gaps in time and catalog coverage between different languages and regions. But it is a given that more creators with control over their rights to their work - a steadily increasing proportion in the light of the creator-owned renaissance gleefully endemic of this decade - will begin to internationalize their works like Vaughan and Martin have with The Private Eye, especially if they have digital global distribution at their disposal, even DRM limited distribution which most North American comics fall under.  

And of course, the comics medium exists as a unique visual language all its own where there is no translation necessary. But the costs of translation are minimal and the benefits are nearly endless. The Private Eye is the perfect work, with its quality and accessibility, to lead the vanguard of the new future of comics as a truly global phenomenon.

The Private Eye by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin is published monthly, DRM-Free and Pay-What-You-Wish in multiple languages by The Panel Syndicate at

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Daring Visions of Grant Morrison and Garth Ennis

Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future by Fred Hampson
Exploring the Dan Dare Comics of Grant Morrison and Garth Ennis

There was a nice little Easter Egg of sorts in a recent issue of Jonathan Hickman's Avengers, as part of a series of one shots focusing on the origins of various updated or multiversally-transplanted characters joining a new, globally expanded Avengers lineup. One of these characters is the new "Smasher." A couple of years prior, college-age astronomy student Izzy finds a pair of space-goggles on her family farm in Iowa and through a small series of cosmic misadventures finds herself the first human admitted into the Shi'ar Imperial Guard. Upon returning to Earth, her elderly grandfather gives her the card of an old World War II buddy, Steve Rogers, encouraging her to join the Avengers. She is accepted and it is revealed that her full name is Isabella Dare; the card from her grandfather, signed Dan.

This is of course a sly reference to Dan Dare, the great 1950s British sci-fi comic book hero. Created by Frank Hampson for the seminal Eagle anthology magazine, Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future featured the titular Dare and associates in their space-bound adventures. It would be a bit reductive to call it England's Buck Rogers, but Dan Dare certainly shares in the legacy of male space action heroes that populated the popular imagination of the era on both sides of the Atlantic. Very, very British, Dan Dare shares as much of his legacy with the youth adventure books of the era focusing on pilots in the Second World War as with any contemporary science fiction work. The strip's early efforts by Hampson featured complex, long serialized storylines. Over time Hampson would be forced off the title and it floundered in the 1960s, seeing brief revivals in the 1970s in 2000 AD and a long, heavily retconned run in the revitalized Eagle in the 1980s, both pale shades of the creative and artistic heights achieved under Hampson's watch.

Dan Dare's adventures play an important role in the unique tradition and history of comics in England, although he has been largely absent in recent decades. Many of the important British writers and illustrators who contributed to the tidal wave of talent flowing into the U.S. from the U.K. in the 1980s were influenced heavily by Dare's pulpy, slightly anachronistic adventures. Indeed, an entire generation of Britons would fall under the influence of the strip's quintessentially British space heroics. Two such writers were Scottish scribe Grant Morrison and (to a different extent) the Northern Irish Garth Ennis, visionary creators with absolutely nothing in common, with the notable exception that each writer has helped produce startlingly original works based on Dan Dare. And unsurprisingly, each creator's work with the character reflects his own long-established, fiercely unique (and diamtrically opposed) aesthetic.

(It's important to point out here that both works utilize boldly reimagined versions of the established Dan Dare cast and setting. Perhaps "reimagined" isn't quite what Morrison and Ennis did as much rethought within the context of time passed. These are not ill-planned modernizations like the 1970s 2000 AD work, but sequels, dark mirrors of the glorious past, in each instance a new reality extrapolated into a future Dan Dare did not fight for, but achieved nonetheless. It is not any more necessary to have read the original 1950s comics to understand who's who and what's what any more than it is to have read the Silver Age to understand any modern superhero, or perhaps, to have read Astro Boy to understand Pluto.)

Dare by Morrison and Hughes

Dare, by Morrison and Hughes
(Fleetway, 1991/Fantagraphics, 1992)
The first of the two writers to tackle the legacy of Dan Dare was Grant Morrison, in concert with artist Rian Hughes in a story serialized in the short-lived 2000 AD spinoff Revolver in 1990. What Morrison and Hughes accomplish with Dare is frankly nothing short of astonishing, even more surprising that Dan Dare's rights-holders allowed Morrison carte blanche to tell a story as subversive and dark as he did. Not only are the themes presented a transparent satire of the destructive social policies of Margeret Thatcher in the UK in the late 1980s (as well as politics and media in general), but a fierce and stinging commentary on the tragedy that was the life of Dan Dare's creator Frank Hampson.

The Original Sin of American Comics was, of course, the purchase of Superman from Joe Siegel and Jerry Shuster for a pittance, and their subsequent mistreatment and rejection by the multibillion dollar company and industry their creation helped forge. This is referred to as the Original Sin, less for the Christian biblical parallels - Siegel and Shuster and their creative descendents aren't the ones living in perpetual sin for their actions, but the first victims of a particular strain of corporate greed that echoes down generations. It set a standard of a form of creative robbery that devalued the comic creator in a way not seen in other media, a trend that has only recently seen any kind of mitigation. For British Comics, with its unique trajectory rooted less in superhero comics and more in sci-fi comic anthology magazines, Frank Hampson's treatment by his employers at Eagle, though not as bad initially as Siegel and Shuster's treatment by National, still left Hampson penniless, suicidal, and eventually dead, an almost forgotten figure.

Morrison and Hughes' Dare reflects the tragedy of Frank Hampson in almost a roundabout way for much of the story, the tragedy's influence only being made crystal clear at the very end. But even absent the Hampson parallels, Dare is a brilliant work of postmodern science fiction. The story opens with Dan Dare, retired, living out his life in solitude on his estate, hobbled by age, plugging away at memoirs he will never finish. His past glories are long gone, the friendships from his past just another dusty memory. Jocelyn Peabody, his could-have-been paramour from his adventuring days is dead, by apparent suicide. His one-time best friend and right-hand man, Albert Digby, won't even look him in the eye at the funeral.

The Prime Minister, Gloria Monday, shows up, not to pay her respects but to recruit Dare. There's an election on, and Monday's Unity Party needs a symbol for the masses, an agreeable and positive representative to tip the balance. With few other options, Dare agrees to become a propaganda tool for the Unity party. He is indifferent to the politics, but this gives him a chance to relive past glories, and he needs the money. After doing some campaign work, Dare is approached by a mysterious agent of Digby's. She flies him to a secret location, touring the wasteland that has become England along the way. Things are rosy in the South, but the North continues to show the scars of Monday's destructive socioeconomic policies. The food lines last days, the free Treens - the alien species native to Venus who once were the subjects of the genius dictator The Mekon - live in retched ghettos, the past architecture of the future rotting away like a corpse in the sun. Digby is seeking out Dare because Peabody's death was no suicide - she knew too much, involved in a conspiracy that reaches all the way to the Prime Minister.

We learn the source of Digby's antipathy to Dare. After the fall of The Mekon, the Treens became subjects of Earth, Venus nothing more than a source of food for the increasingly starving and impoverished human population. The Treens rose up and the military, at the direction of the Unity Party, brutally puts down the rebellion, killing scores of innocent civilians in the process. And Dare was front and center of the atrocities, not that Digby is innocent either. It was war, and war can be unspeakably ugly. Digby convinces Dare to join him in finding out what Peabody knew, and the revelations force Dare's hand in taking action against Monday, herself just a tool of the returned Mekon.

Dare is reprinted in Rian Hughes' 
Yesterday's Tomorrows (Image, 2010)
The Mekon was Dare's greatest foe, one of the smartest beings in the solar system. And Mekon's machinations have proved fruitful. He's won, plain and simple, and on the surface there's not much Dare can do about it. The end, though, comes in fire, a complete wiping of the board, a mutually assured destruction, the final act of a desperate, broken man against an intractable enemy and against a future he helped create.

Rian Hughes' art in Dare is nothing short of revelatory. Hughes, one of the most distinctive visual voices in comics, could not have been a better choice for the project. Hughes' heavily designed and pop-fifties-infused style was the perfect visual commentary to match Morrison's postmodern narrative. In the original stories by Hampson, the visual (and narrative) aesthetic was one of gee-wiz sleek fifties-futurama projected into the future. Hughes' art reflects that, showing a future both anachronistically inhabiting the surface promise of that era and existing among the wreckage of the decaying past, the crumbling infrastructure a larger symbol of England's rotting soul.

Morrison is now someone who has a legacy of work that embraces the better angels of our nature, celebrates the possible and revels in genre. But Dare possibly represents Grant Morrison's most cynical work, both in the political commentary and his own views of Dan Dare's place in popular culture. In the effects on England and the costs of using Dan Dare as a tool of political war crime, his anger at Margaret Thatcher and her policies oozes out of the story, about as subtle as Urasawa's anger at George W. Bush in Pluto. Monday is willing to do anything for power, including making a deal with a genocidal dictator. And as part of her (and The Mekon's) plan, she utilizes Dare as a symbol to maintain power, a once honorable man corrupted completely. And Morrison's intent here just isn't Monday's use of Dare, but the continued use of Dan Dare as a property in the real world, an archaic symbol brought up and pranced around at the benefit of people who had no hand in creating him. The final powerful pages fade from nuclear-white to pull away and show a blank art board sitting on a table, pure MetaMorrison. The book closes with a quote, from Hampson himself: "Although I wished he would, Dan Dare refuses to lie down and die..." The message that Dare's exploitation is reprehensible. Naturally Morrison himself is a party to that continued travesty, if it is indeed such at all.

Dan Dare by Garth Ennis and Gary Erskine

Dan Dare by Ennis and Erskine
In 2007, Virgin Comics - a publishing concern predicated on putting out works by Indian creators with an eye on tapping into the largely underrepresented comic market in one of the world's largest countries - got the Dan Dare license and hired writer Garth Ennis and artist Gary Erskine to tackle it. An inspired creative decision from an odd choice of publisher, but the finished work is truly remarkable.

Now, I'm very familiar with both Grant Morrison and Garth Ennis's deep libraries, and it's hard to imagine two more diametrically opposed aesthetics. Morrison loves the superhero genre, Ennis abhors it. Ennis has a produced a large amount of straightforward historical dramas, Morrison revels in metafiction. Ennis is known for the sublime ridiculousness of his extremely dark humor, Morrison embraces the lighthearted ridiculousness of genre. Indeed, Ennis is not especially well known for his popular genre work - while he has worked within superhero universes in a few limited examples, those comics were hardly superhero books themselves, and his one notable superhero opus The Boys is especially marked by his dislike of that genre. Many of his other (non historical fiction) works may have some fantasy or science fiction element, but those elements are hardly the focus. That is why I was genuinely surprised to see Ennis tackling Dan Dare, a most unambiguous science fiction property. He notes in his excellent introduction - and there is no better writer of introductions or forwards remotely involved in comics today - that his frame of reference for Dan Dare is not rooted in nostalgia for the original works, and his goals with the project were decidedly distinct from what any other writer has attempted with the property. And what Ennis pulls off in his Dan Dare is nothing short of remarkable in a career built on consistently remarkable works.

The best works of Ennis's long career are his war comics, not just shoot-em-up genre fap but genuine character oriented historical dramas told with respect for the people and history of the time, and with just a tinge of his trademark black humor. Ennis is a student of history, and his war comics, packed with technical and historical detail with an eye on the sacrifice made by very real people, are singularly remarkable in the comics field. No-one else working in comics can pull of what he consistently does with his war comics. And his Dan Dare, more than anything else, is a war comic, told with the same level of attention to detail and respect for character that he brings to his historical fiction. To approach Ennis's Dan Dare like his historical dramas is not to reject its sci-fi adventure nature. Indeed, Ennis embraces the genre and utilizes the tropes of the genre while at the same time completely turning every single one of these tropes on their head.

Like Morrison's Dare, Ennis's Dan Dare opens with Dare in his retirement, living among artifacts of his past in complete solitude. The future that he fought for is not the future that he finds himself living in. The Mekon and his forces were exiled from the solar system and some modicum of peace was achieved on Earth, with Britain at the forefront of technological and military advancement. But War broke out on Earth - China and the United States are burned out husks following a brutal and, apparently complete nuclear war. What is left of Earth exists at the whim of Britain's technological and financial generosity. And the corruption of power worms its way to the top. Dare was approached by xenophobic elements in the British government to be the face of their party, and he rejected them, choosing to live in peace on an asteroid, completely separated from Earth.

Envoys from the Prime Minister approach Dare asking him to come back into service. It appears The Mekon's forces are re-entering the solar system and his services may be needed. Dare sees through the message to the core of what's happening, that he'll be used as a prop. But there is genuine need - as he is being pitched the temporary return to service, most of the British space forces are ambushed at the edge of the solar sytsem and completely routed by The Mekon's forces. Dare, above everything else, believes in Britain and Earth and will serve because that is his duty. He meets up with his old friend Digby, and gets into contact with his old paramour Peabody, who is now Home Secretary under the PM. Not dragging things out, Ennis rips the bandaid off the conspiracy quickly - Peabody finds out the Prime Minister is in league with The Mekon, and quickly acts to take control of the government. Things happen fast and furious and the action that ensues Earthside is a damn fine political drama. Back in space, after a setpiece that may as well be a treatise on military strategy, Dare takes control of what is left of the British space forces and sets out to confront The Mekon directly.

It is the pure Britishness of this Dan Dare that adds to this work's remarkability. Dan Dare's service is rooted in his grand belief in Britain above all else. He is an honorable man who will fight for his country over and over, regardless of the circumstance. There are many recurring themes in Ennis's war comics. One of them is the soldier's duty in contrast to the soldier's accomplishment. Often Ennis makes note that the end result of the soldier's sacrifice may not be what the soldier sought out to do, the future achieved not what the soldier fought for. Dan Dare is no different. Dare fought for Britain only to see them abdicate their responsibility in the aftermath of the U.S.-China nuclear war, taking advantage of the remnants of the world rather than taking leadership. But he fights now because this is his duty. As Peabody notes, "He saved us again and again, and what do we do? He blazed the trail and we paved it with excrement. But he'll fight for us now, because he loves this country more than life itself."

The sacrifices made in defense of country and planet are not taken lightly, the soldiers who die not base redshirts thrown into the cannons, but human lives lost in the line of duty. Dare, as commander of the forces, knows and acknowledges that the price of freedom is blood and every loss is felt. At one point a major character falls in battle, sacrificing himself to allow ships of civilians escape from The Mekon's forces. It is a heart-wrenching moment, seemingly representative of every such sacrifice made in the history of warfare. Ennis is someone with the uncanny ability to make war comics that don't glorify war and that don't preach. There is a larger message, of course, but it is not about the nature of war. It is, in essence, about embracing British exceptionalism, more specifically about rejecting the imperialistic exceptionalism that breeds greed at the expense of the third world and embracing the exceptionalism that says Britain is in a unique position to benefit the galaxy (world) through leadership and acts of goodness and inclusion.

And on top of all this, Ennis and Erskine's Dan Dare is a consistently exciting work of science fiction that plays with the expectations of genre and story.  This may be a future sci-fi story, but the uniforms of the military, the equipment they use, even the tactics of the ships in battle are all very recognizably modern, which is important. Where Hampson's work (and by extension, Hughes' art in Dare) was a projection of 1950s sensibilities into a gee wiz future, Erskine's art and Ennis's story is very much a projection of not just the now but the constants of military functionalism into an accessible futurescape. The result is a logical, accessible, entertaining. And storywise, no major or minor character is safe from the consequences of warfare. People die in war, that is the brutal reality of it. Just because Ennis spent seven issues setting up a character to have a genuine, transformative arc doesn't make them safe from the consequences of war. Everywhere where you think the story will zig, it zags. Built on a foundation of logic, it notes the silliness inherent in sci-fi, embraces it and then brushes it aside. We get a perfunctory technobabble explanation of The Mekon's grand weapon, which Dare simply brushes off. There is a mission on, and the nitty gritty details just get in the way. And unlike most science fiction of the 1950s, there is a very strong female presence in the characters of Peabody and Lt. Christian, a young officer vaulted into command because Dare sees the potential in her.

Where Morrison's Dare was cynical and a bit hamfisted in its political message, Ennis's Dan Dare is accessible, riveting, entertaining, subtle and hopeful. Both works fulfill the promise of science fiction to comment on society and humanity, becoming so much more than a human vs alien shoot-em-up (though Ennis's manages to have more than its share of that, too). And both works pay homage to the original works that so influenced a generation of readers while breaking free and telling their own unique stories, transcending and embracing genre in equal measure.

Dare by Morrison and Hughes was serialized in Revolver magazine in 1990 and 1991 and collected by Fleetway shortly after, and reprinted in the United States in 1992 as a mini-series by Fantagraphics as Dare: The Controversial Memoir of Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future. It is currently available collected in the indispensable Rian Hughes anthology Yesterday's Tomorrows, from Image. Dan Dare by Ennis and Erskine was serialized by Virgin comics before the company folded. Dynamite Entertainment bought the license and released the material in hardcover and softcover as Dan Dare: Omnibus Volume 1. The Frank Hampson material is sadly out of print.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Simultaneity of Satellite Sam by Matt Fraction & Howard Chaykin

Satellite Sam #1 by Fraction and Chaykin
New Today from Image
I had no clue what it would be about, just that it was a new comic by Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin. C is for comic, and that's good enough for me. Well, actually it's not. Who makes the cookie comic and the flavor is pretty damn important. So a new creator owned book by Fraction AND Chaykin? Well, holy shit, just mainline that into my skull, thank you. My biases out of the way, Satellite Sam #1, out today from Image, genuinely surprised me. Not surprised me that it was good, which it was. (Though it would have surprised me if it was bad, a surprise that actually happens too damn much, but thank Kirby that didn't happen here.) No, it was the specificity of it, the straightforward yet temporally exotic world of New York 1950s live television broadcast sci-fi. And it was the sheer fun I had reading it.

It's 1951, and Satellite Sam is a live television television show on the Le Monde network. Issue one, page one, panel one, and we are live on the air and Satellite Same is nowhere to be seen on Satellite Sam. Alliteratively named Director Dick Danning is holding things together, and this isn't the first time star Carlyle White late-showed his own show. Live teevee in the fifties was the wild west, if the wild west was strapped to a home-made rocket and everyone was watching. Everything from on the fly last-second rewrites to malfunctioning equipment was the norm. The action is intense and overlapping and we are in the very thick of it, the entire densely packed issue taking place over the course of the filming of one episode, about fifteen minutes or so. And there's a ton going on here. Subplots amongst the cast and crew weave in and around the behind the scenes scrambling endemic to all live television, the constant level of controlled panic slightly heightened by the missing star and, oh yeah, the investors who decided to show up in the middle of filming.

A crew-woman (an assistant director, I reckon) hurries out into the streets of Manhattan, down 8th and Astor and St. Marks to an apartment she has the key to and where she is pretty sure Carlyle may be. And he is there, after a fashion, and certainly can't make filming in time. Back to the studio and Carlyle's adult son, Mike, is straddling a catwalk, changing a blown light bulb while below someone stretches a live commercial, wringing whatever time he can for the star to show up ("And Kids, do you love your Cream of Wheat? I mean, do you REALLY love it?").

While this is happening, the investors are meeting with the LaMonde exec, and he's pitching hard. In two brilliant pages, Fraction and Chaykin (I'm going to coin "Frayktin" here) set the stage that is the state of American Media in the post-war Boom. The economy of storytelling here is remarkable, flawlessly giving exposition for the larger cultural, political and technological landscape of the time. This is in the Long Ago Times before Cable and NetflixHuluTivo and the Interwebs; Le Monde and their competitors at RCA and other nascent networks are just now building the entertainment infrastructure of the future. The Le Monde founder (I guess this is the Le Monde of Le Monde) gushes about the technology at his disposal, an entertainment network founded on the engineering principles of the founder, like the teevee shows are the killer app for the cameras and network he's been building. The investors are worried that Le Monde still needs to rely on the infrastructure of other companies, that they cannot expand beyond the small handful of major markets the FCC currently limits them to. There's talk of lobbying in Washington, of the War, of finances. And someone notices that Satellite Sam is still not on Satellite Sam.

There's a last second casting change to cover asses and a revelation of dark secrets brought to light after a murder to bring it all home. It's clear Fraction researched the bejeezus out of this. The whole thing feels authentic, the chaos of the production, the details coloring every interaction. And Chaykin's black-and-white art is perfect - I reckon the only artists better suited for the material might be Rian Hughes or Darwyn Cooke, until you get to the revelation of a secret drawer's contents and then there's the splash page of a woman on the streets of New York and, yeah, this is perfect Chaykin through and through. The fashion of the 1950s was invented so Howard Chaykin could make a comic with people dressed in it someday.

Satellite Sam is engaging nigh-on riveting stuff, and I can't wait for more. Issue one drops today, 25+ pages of story for a paltry tree-fiddy. And while you're at the shop, check out Casanova by Fraction and Moon & Ba or the modern classic American Flagg by Chaykin. Your brain will thank you.