Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Rating the New 52: Animal Man #1

As many of you probably know, DC has kicked off it's "New 52" push-- basically, they are releasing 52 number 1 issues to attract new and, in my case, lapsed readers. Fans have bemoaned some unusual editorial choices, including the...de-wheelchairing of Barbara Gordon (the former Batgirl who found a much more unique role as computer wizard Oracle) and someoverblown costume designs for characters like Superman and Harley Quinn. That said, I'm willing to dip into the New 52 pool and have subscribed to 8 of their titles, which I'll be reviewing throughout the month.

The first of these I've read is ANIMAL MAN by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman. If the rest are as good as this comic, this'll be a month to put in the history books. ANIMAL MAN #1 is one of the most exciting comic book issues I've ever read. Lemire starts his superhero comic with a one-page faux interview in The Believer, in which Lemire chats with our protagonist, Buddy Baker. Buddy is a semi-retired superhero who these days is better known as an animal rights activist, hipster idol and unpaid indie movie actor. Lemire does an amazing job showing up the stable (but not undramatic) relationship that Buddy has with his wife Ellen and his children. As the book dips into action and horror territory, Lemire never loses sight of Buddy as a character--this improbable indie icon who can connect to an animal life version of the Speed Force called The Red, which gives him access to just about any creature's abilities (the bark of a dog, the rough hide of a rhino).

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the unsettling artwork by Travel Foreman. This man is a true talent, and is equally comfortable drawing simple domestic scenes (like a dinner scene at the beginning of the comic) and more violent and disturbing imagery.

ANIMAL MAN #1 is a must-read comic for any fan of the genre, or even any open-minded reader willing to give this new, strange book a try.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Next up: SWAMP THING #1, baby! His name is Alec Holland....his name is Alec Holland...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


This is , without question, one of the stranger comic titles I’ve read in a while. BATMAN: DIGITAL JUSTICE is a 1990 graphic novel (“COMPUTER-GENERATED”, as a yellow-striped banner across the bottom of the cover reminds the reader) that’s pretty much batshit insane. Plot-wise, the book is set firmly in the realm of hard cyberpunk; futurized Gotham is basically one gigantic microchip, and the media and police are controlled by computers. There are “neo-skaters” and, an instance of startling prophecy, an extremely popular musician named “Gata” who wears ridiculous outfits and has amassed a legion of rapid fans. Jim Gordon’s grandson, also a cop, is tasked with protecting her “Bodyguard”-style, and is soon dragged into the aforementioned batshit insanity.

The plot’s little more than an overly-convoluted take on Blade Runner (and it shares a lot of similarities with the film “Lawmower Man”, though that was released two years after DIGITAL JUSTICE.) It’s about interesting to note that one of the main plot points, Joker being turned into a computer virus, was explored in the “Batman Beyond” series. I can’t help but wonder if Bruce Timm and company read this comic before crafting their take on Gotham’s far future.

Even though every page is packed with streams of techno jargon and clunky dialogue, “Digital Justice” is a captivating experience on a purely visual level. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for creator Pepe Moreno to craft a four-issue comic using early 90s computer technology, but his efforts paid off in spades. Every page in “Digital Justice” looks like it’s taken from a TurboGrafx-16 cutscene—trust me, that’s a compliment. The page layout is unique and the colors are eye-catching; Batman’s new costume and vehicle designs are more than a little goofy, but definitely fit the tone of the piece.

However, there are some drawbacks to Moreno’s choice to go all-digital. He re-uses the same JPEG too many times (I don’t care if you shaded it blue, IT’S THE SAME DAMN OFFICE BUILDING) and often repeats the same figure a half-dozen times to fill out a crowd. However, these are minor quibbles. Even if the plot’s a little too messy for its own good, DIGITAL JUSTICE is still a strong example of how early 90s artists tried to integrate programs like Photoshop with more traditional ways to tell comic book tales.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


I've loved my family's miniature beagle since she first charged into our lives in 2002. My grandfather had just passed, and this little dog was a kind of inheritance. My dad drove all the way back to Maine from Florida with her. For this reason he was always her favorite human, the person her whole life revolved around.

But we all loved her. Loved the way she rolled over on a moment's notice. Loved how she raced through the house after a bath, flinging wet clumps of hair onto the carpet. We even loved how she would commandeer my parent's bed and try to become the new Mrs. Cole by not-so-subtly nudging my mom off the bed.

Lately, we've all known that her life was winding down. Rolling over was an impossibility. She couldn't bring herself to hop onto my parent's bed, and even struggled at times to climb the three wooden steps of our back porch. A tumor had grown exponentially on the side of her face. Worst of all, she was nearly beside herself whenever my dad was away, pacing around the house and howling for his return. And when he would come home, Jessie didn't even seem happy or relieved to see him. Just...tired. Worn out.

Knowing that this week would be her last has weighed on me almost every waking moment. But my family tried to make these final days joyous ones; I took her to corners of the neighborhood she'd never sniffed out before (the dirt alley was a hit) and fed her just about every item on her "no-no" list. In fact, her last full meal consisted of two cut-up bacon dog from Wasses, a local hot dog stand.

Jessie passed at 4pm this afternoon laying on the couch, her favorite piece of furniture in the whole house, surrounded by a loving family. The vet was attentive and compassionate, so much so that Jessie didn't panic or seem upset in the slightest.

Even though I knew the date of time of my dog's death, and had time to prepare for it, the anguish has been almost indescribable. In the past year, as she began to become more needy and I remained an unemployed college student with no classes in the morning, Jessie seemed to look at me as a kind of surrogate dad, a passable helper that could fill her hours until my dad, her real master, came back.

Which is why it meant so much to me that the last thing Jessie felt, before she went to bed for the last time, was my father's hand patting her head.

RIP Jessie. You turned a 8th grader terrified of canines into a twentysomething who loves them unconditionally. You turned a family that never planned on getting a dog into one that spent as much time as they could making your life happy and adventurous. You could have never known the tremendous affect you had on all of us.

I'll leave you with this little video I shot of her last spring.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hocking Books

Several news outlets, including the Huffington Post, are singing the praises of Amanda Hocking. Hocking is a 26 year-old Minnesota woman who's made a very impressive chunk of change by selling her YA fantasy novels as ebooks and circumventing the New York publishing system.

The HuffPo article goes out of its way to paint Hocking as a triumphant figure. And in some ways she is--she gets to live out her dream. I'm happy for her, and I get that Hocking's narrative plays into a very American mythology: charge your own path and mountains of monies will rain down upon your head.

But I think these kind of articles are missing an important part of the story. Yes, Hocking's story is impressive but a) Stories like hers are extremely rare and b) it ignores one of the most important aspect of releasing a book: publishing something that doesn't suck. And many of the posts I've read mentioned that Hocking's books are in desperate need of an editor. And that's no slam against her--the first and second drafts of my stories probably read worse than hers. Which is why I write third and fourth drafts, and have the stories edited ruthlessly by people I trust.

Now don't get me wrong-- I can see the benefit of some self-publishing. Wil Wheaton is the literary equivalent of Radiohead, in the sense that he started his writing career with a publisher before selling his books directly to his fans. The thing is, most of us writers aren't Wheaton or Warren Ellis. And we're not releasing music or comic books, which were practically made for self-publishing (in fact, most comics pros I've talked with look at self publishing as a badge of honor.)

I can also see how writing can have fun and get new fans by supplementing their published work with self-published material. Heck, that's what I did with "Mural". I knew I had the attention of a few readers, and decided to share with them a short story that I'd had trouble publishing elsewhere.

One of the most insightful arguments made against self-publishing come from novelist and current "Superman" writer Chris Roberson. He said that he had been a huge advocate for self publishing novels. Roberson hired a well known artist to draw the cover and gathered some impressive blurbs...and ended up selling less than 40 copies. His dreams of self publishing were dampened by reality, and he eventually found fame by publishing with a smallish press that could edit, promote, and sell his book.

Assuming that thousands of people are dying to read your self-edited, self-published book seems unrealistic. Feel free to share a few stories via the Kindle. Just don't try to build a writing career out of it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Fall of Frost and Emotional Continuity

What really struck me about "Fall of Frost" was the novel's unconventional structure. Instead of following the chronological timeline most biographic novels take, Hall's book is presented as a series of short chapters that give us a glimpse into a frustrated, complicated life.

Non Frost scholars like myself will be amazed at the chaos, death and mental illness that plagued the great poet. The book at times feel similarly chaotic--we are hurled from a moment in Frost's early days, to a moment in the 1940s, to his time in Russia meeting Khrushchev and so on. So the real continuity is an emotional one; for example, one section lines up Frost becoming comfortable in his Massachusetts farm, then to him not daring to even glance at its dilapidated shape on a car ride over a decade later, then to "The Novelist" exploring the refurbished farm in 2004. We get to trace exactly how crucial moments (like the death of his fellow poet and friend Edward Thomas) echoed through the rest of his life.

The breadth of the novel is striking. Every thought coming from Frost feels true to his nature, and when we step outside of Frost's world (including a lovely, brief chapter focusing on Kennedy) the characterizations feel just as true. A fine, captivating book. I cannot wait to read more from this author.