Review: Fantastic Four #579

“The Future Foundation”

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Penciler: Neil Edwards
Inker: Andrew Currie
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer & Production: VC’s Rus Wooton
Cover: Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, & Javier Rodriguez

Futurists perform a quirky, but necessary, task in modern society: we function as the long-range scanners for a species evolved to pay close attention to short-range horizons.

–Jamais Cascio, “Ethical Futurism

Reed Richards has been a lot of things in his tenure with the Fantastic Four. Scientist, adventurer, hero, husband, father– he’s even been on the wrong side of history a few times in recent memory. In “The Future Foundation,” Jonathan Hickman has taken stock of those sides and given Reed one convenient identity to cover it all.

It turns out that Reed Richards is demonstrably a futurist, cast in the mold of real-life folks like Alex Steffen and Jamais Cascio. There’s only one question left– is he an ethical one?

Cover to Fantastic Four #579.

Ooo, Alan Davis!

Certainly, this storyline positions Reed in the vanguard of thinkers tackling issues like posthumanism and global change. He has no problems publically taking his colleagues to task at an event that looks suspiciously like the Singularity Summit, berating them for their lack of forward vision. His futurism brooks no boundaries and accepts no setbacks; his end goal is nothing less than a star-spanning empire of humanity, broken free of the dying Earth to achieve near-godhood through science.

And that’s where everything gets problematic. Instead of inviting his colleagues to reconsider, Reed stomps off on his own to apply some long-term thinking to the problem. Remember “Solve Everything?” Remember how creepy and Machiavellian an entire roomful of Reeds operating as one body was? Yeah, this is pretty much that all over again, except this time there’s just one Reed. And he’s pissed.

Reed stomps home and institutes the Future Foundation within the Baxter Building, with the stated goal of educating the FF’s cast of wayward children in the finer points of creating a sustainable human future. Because nothing could possibly be wrong with indoctrinating your son, your alleged daughter, a Moloid head in a jar, a few Atlantean kids, and Alex freaking Power with your somewhat obsessive, singleminded, possibly-fascist worldview.

I know I sound like I’m down on this plan– and I am– but the actual setup is great, delightfully warped reading. Prior Hickman plotlines have demonstrated that Reed’s theories don’t always survive contact with their applications. We know that Reed has a tendency to sequester himself from others, mentally and psychologically, when he’s working towards a specific end. And, well, didn’t we just see Reed saying a few issues ago that he would renounce his quest to solve the world’s problems? He’s right back on the crack pipe, ladies and gentlemen, only now he’s trying to get the kids to suck the fumes back with him. This can’t end well, but it’s going to be awesome to watch it all fall apart.

Hickman’s setting up a fairly grand endeavor in this book, and it’s compelling reading even when I don’t quite grasp everything that’s going on. There are two pages of Nu-World flashbacks and flash-forwards in this issue, for instance– I thought we left Nu-World behind a couple of arcs ago. That doesn’t stop the spread from being both visually stunning (I’m still partial to Dale Eaglesham’s muscular take on Reed, but Neil Edwards brings the ultratech in an appealing manner) and poignant in its cryptic separation from the rest of the book. Hickman never gives me the sense that he’s going to leave things hanging, though, for all the isolated hints and off-beat moments. If we’re checking in on Nu-World, I know it’s going to play some role in the long game.

That innate sense of an eventual payoff, of an underlying order to the massive amount of plot presented, makes this book enormously fulfilling to pick up each month. If the finale of Lost made your inner skeptical futurist scream and throw things around the room, pick this book up and start pondering the ethics of Reed Richards, man of science and shaper of worlds.

Review: Rescue #1

“Rescue Me”

Writer: Kelly Sue “Supersonic” DeConnick
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Jose Villarrubia
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover: Travel Foreman & June Chung

Oh, if only I could stay a while
what am I afraid of?
All this psychic damage
of all the years I’m made of

-Ted Leo & the Pharmacists,
“Bottled in Cork”

Forgive the indulgence of opening with a song quote, but it seems fitting given the previous connections we’ve made between Ted Leo and Invincible Iron Man. That particular quote, too, sticks out in my mind– not only for being (in my opinion) the best turn of phrase to be had on The Brutalist Bricks, but also fitting for where Pepper Potts stands at the opening of Rescue.

Set just before the events leading up to the climax of Siege, Pepper finds herself a fugitive on the run. She’s temporarily gone to ground, hiding out in the basement of a school somewhere in Oklahoma. Once she’s got a few minutes to herself, the lack of sleep and the surfeit of adrenaline from what she’s been through up to that point contrive to confront her with the one thing she hasn’t dealt with yet: Happy Hogan’s death. We’re treated to a flashback of Rescue in action as Pepper debates if she’s done enough, if there isn’t more that she could do, if she can ever do enough.

What I find most interesting about Rescue is how it compares to DeConnick’s other Women of Marvel one-shot from last month, Sif. At first blush it’s tempting to argue that it’s the same story with power armor instead of a longsword, and the arc of each character, from a distance, is certainly similar. The difference here, though, is the vector each character takes to get where they need to go. The two books compliment and bookend each other remarkably well as character studies. I could wish, further down the chain as things sort out for the Heroic Age and in what seems to be the new Avengers tradition, to see a Sif and Rescue team-up. They would be quite a force.

Also, as an aside, I love the version of J.A.R.V.I.S. in the Rescue armor. It’s obviously a cue from the movie-version of J.A.R.V.I.S., and Kelly Sue uses it to great effect as comic relief. Being able to banter with the suit is a real treat.

I’ve loved the design of the Rescue armor from when it was first introduced in Invincible Iron Man, and Andrea Mutti does it great justice here. In all the ways that Iron Man epitomizes Tony’s concept of masculinity, Rescue is undeniably feminine without losing any of the strength inherent in a Starktech armor.

Rescue is, much like Sif, something I’d like to see as an ongoing series, or at least a limited run. They both would take well to more breathing room. We’re treated to a wonderful and poignant bit of character development with Rescue that wasn’t quite as possible with the straightforward Sif. Pepper’s only human, after all, and as such is laden with all the complications and baggage any of us accrete over a lifetime. (Not to detract from Sif’s issues, but as an Asgardian and a warrior, her solution is somewhat more linear.) It’s rewarding to see Pep fight through some of her issues. And if things line up the way Matt Fraction’s hinting at with the recent return of the Spymaster in Invincible Iron Man… well, it’s a good thing Pepper’s had this moment of closure before her return to righteous ass-kicking.

Interview: Kelly Sue DeConnick

Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick: Iron chroniclers.

It’s no secret that we of the Department are unabashed fans of all things Invincible Iron Man— and that includes the transformation of Pepper Potts into armored heroine Rescue. Pepper’s adventures in her own custom suit have come to a (temporary?) end in the main title, but Marvel tapped writer Kelly Sue DeConnick— manga adaptation specialist, Sif writer, and IIM scripter Matt Fraction’s wife– to fill in some of Pepper’s heroic history in a new Rescue one-shot.

Rescue comes out today, and to celebrate, we’ve asked Kelly Sue a handful of questions about writing for Pepper, working for Marvel, and what might be next on her plate. It was a great chat, and we’ll be reviewing the book tonight.

JC: On the first page of the Rescue one-shot, Pepper Potts says something I’ve been waiting to hear for a long time– “I’m going to do what I do best. I’m going to clean up someone else’s mess.” Pep’s been Tony’s personal assistant, corporate CEO, and, as of recent issues of Invincible Iron Man, lover– but there’s always that tinge of codependency, of Pepper giving up her own desires to further Tony’s agenda, to their involvement. How do you understand their relationship? What experiences have you had that help you bring Pepper’s situation to life on the page?

KS: This is sort of a weird thing to admit, but I probably relate to Tony a little better than I do to Pepper. Not because I’m a wealthy international playboy and unparalleled genius (though… you know…), but because I’m embarrassingly familiar with junkie-brain; the addict’s mindset that I’ve seen best described as “the piece of shit at the center of the universe.” Tony may be a dry drunk, but he’s still a manipulator and an egotist. It’s a little horrifying to say so in a public venue, but I’ve been there, done that. I’ve been, you know, God’s most special snowflake who knew what was best for everybody, played people to suit me and hated myself for it at the same time. I call that period of my life “my twenties.” Not my finest hour. The difference–aside from the playboy thing–is that Tony probably *does* know what’s best on some level. I was just an ass. (Also, I’m not sure Tony’s plagued by self-loathing, you know? He may be an ends-justifies-means guy.)

Anyway, I was lucky enough to have not one but several Peppers in my life–people who cleaned up after me, gently nudged me away from the brick walls into which I was determined to crash and, when I couldn’t be dissuaded, bandaged me up repaired the masonry, you know? I can’t really speak to their motivation–maybe they were broken in a way that made that relationship work for them, or maybe they were just nurturing and generous. It feels like it’s not really my place to speculate with regard to my story, you know? Like, I need to take care of my side of the street and let them worry about them.

For fiction, though? Let’s speculate. As amazing and capable and smart and funny as Virginia is, I don’t think there’s a psychiatrist worth his or her papers who would describe her relationship with Tony as anything near healthy. I absolutely adore her and I get her dedication to Tony but yeah… the woman needs a 12-step meeting like nobody’s business.

JC: What was the genesis of the Rescue one-shot? How did you approach the pitch? Did you have to sell Marvel on the idea, or did they come to you specifically asking for a Pepper solo story?

KS: Both books spun out of the Women of Marvel initiative. Marvel invited me to pitch on Pepper and Sif–I hoped to land one or the other and somehow managed to get lucky twice. As far as how I approached the pitch? First I found out when within the context of the larger story my story was to take place, then I pitched what was interesting to me. I answered the questions I wanted answered.

JC: Ralph Macchio and Alejandro Arbona are the editorial powers behind the Iron Man books, and also behind Sif. We hear a lot about what it takes for people to break in at Marvel, but not much about what it’s like to work within the Marvel editorial process.

What sorts of feedback do you get from Ralph and Alejandro when you turn in a script? How do you work together to improve the final product? How does the give and take between editorial mandate and creative control work– when do you push a creative decision, and when do you accept the editor’s call even if you don’t agree?

KS: My interaction with Ralph has been fairly minimal. I suspect — and I don’t mean this to be at all critical nor particularly self-deprecating; it’s just reality — he’s got his plate full with bigger names, you know? On the other hand, I’ve worked with Alejandro quite closely. He’s given me feedback at every step in the process — from outline to final lettering pass.

I’ve been writing professionally for about 10 years and working in the comics industry for about seven, but I’m brand-new at Marvel. Alejandro has been an invaluable guide, helping me figure out how this genre works and suggesting tips, tricks and rules for how to get the strongest, tightest story down on paper. There’ve certainly been times when we’ve disagreed. I can think of one time in particular when he stood down and in the final lettering pass I realized he’d been right all along. (To his credit, he resisted the urge to say “I told you so.”)

I think we work well together. I think we make a good team.

With regard to when to push a creative decision and when to accept an editor’s call, man… I don’t know. It’s such a tricky channel to navigate. I mean, ultimately, Marvel is my client. My boss. In the end, what they say goes. On the other hand, my name is on the byline. Happily, we haven’t thus far butted heads too terribly much. (Honestly, I’ve seen a few editor-writer relationships that were antagonistic, but I’ve never had that experience personally. With one exception, very early in my “career,” I’ve been lucky enough to work with people who upped my game and made me a better writer.)

Of course, right now I’m being asked to title a story and I have one in mind that I love… and I’m pretty sure my editor hates it. She sort of sweetly told me to, “keep thinking.” Who knows? Maybe I’ll fight for this one! (Seriously, I love this title.)

JC: You collaborated with Jamie McKelvie (Phonogram, Siege: Loki) on a Black Widow short for this week’s Enter the Heroic Age special. Any chance we’ll see more work from both of you in the future?

KS: Jamie is awesome, isn’t he? I would certainly love to work with him again. I suspect that I’d have to get in line, though. (And possibly arm-wrestle my husband.)

JC: Are there any other artists you’d like to work with?

Ha ha! Yes, of course. Here’s the thing though: that’s like saying you have a crush on someone. What if they don’t feel the same about you? Well, that’s just humiliating. I’m going to play it coy and, you know, hang out by their locker until they notice me or something. (This is a technique that didn’t really work for me in high school, but I can’t seem to let it go.)

*cough* Chris Samnee, Tony Moore, Steven Sanders, Emma Rios, Noel Tuazon. *cough*

JC: Any other properties– DC, Marvel, or otherwise– you’d especially like to tackle?

Oh, I’m sorry to do this to you, but I’m loath to answer this one as well. I’ve learned this from watching Fraction — if I name a character that someone else is writing right now, it sounds as though I’m saying I could write that character better. If it’s a character no one is working with, well then, I certainly want to keep that information to myself. Don’t want to give anyone any ideas and get scooped, right?

JC: I’ve seen you talk about Japanese comics that have influenced you– Kazuo Koike’s Lady Snowblood sticks out in my mind– and about American comics and creators, like Walt and Louise Simonson. But what about conventional prose authors? I’ve seen you mention John Irving and Ayelet Waldman in discussions on Whitechapel and elsewhere; what writers really inspire you? What are you reading these days outside of comics?

My taste is all over the board. I am a great lover of Ernest Hemingway and Peter O’Donnell. Neil Gaiman and Anne Lamott. Joe Keenan. Nicholson Baker. Joan Didion. JK Rowling. Sinclair Lewis. Mary McCarthy.

My bedside table right now is mostly stacked with parenting books and research material on the suffragette movement. Oh, and Ellen Goodman’s PAPER TRAIL: COMMON SENSE IN UNCOMMON TIMES.

JC: Thanks so much for talking to us, Kelly Sue!

KS: I’ve really enjoyed this interview. Thanks.

(The Department also thanks Arune Singh, Marvel’s manager of sales communications, for helping us set up and conduct this interview.)

Mike Mignola Signing at Golden Apple Comics

We swung by Golden Apple Comics Saturday afternoon to check out the Mike Mignola appearance. Ryan and the crew were suited up in their finest occult-fighting Men in Black attire to assist as fans young and old came to meet the creator of Hellboy and participate in the Dark Horse ‘Join the B.P.R.D.’ campaign. Badges were handed out and an awesome photo booth was set up for pictures form the event. We got to meet and talk a little with Christine, his wife, and have arranged to set up an email interview with the man himself, so if you’ve got any questions for Mike, let us know, and maybe we’ll throw yours in!

Here’s some pictures from the event:

Lots of folks waiting...

Mike signs for a fan

Golden Apple's own Matt makes photo booth images on the fly

Mike signs for one of his youngest fans

Mike answers questions as his daughter looks on

Ryan Leibowitz: International Man of Mystery

Ryan Liebowitz: International Man of Mystery

The Mignola Clan: wife Christine, daughter, and Mike

“I’ll Tell You the Ultimate Secret of Madness…”

Hellblazer was my first love as an adult comics reader, which essentially made Vertigo my first drug dealer when Constantine was shuffled over to the (then) new imprint. I attacked just about every other early Vertigo title with the kind of gusto only a 19-year-old can summon. My next favorite book, after Hellblazer, was Peter Milligan’s reboot of Shade the Changing Man. As you can imagine, Milligan currently writing Hellblazer is really a personal treat for me, and the most recent ‘No Future’ story was pretty brilliant, all things considered. The next arc, however, by this point in the paragraph, should be a no-brainer as to why I’m excited. So, to cut to the chase, I offer the following Hellblazer cover art posted on the Vertigo website today:

Run, rabbit, run.

I believe this is where you young whippersnapper fanboys say “SQUEE” these days. My favorite touch is John’s tie and, as Janice’s ever-sharp eyes caught, his boxers. If there’s anyone in comics who can be said to have the Madness in his trousers, it’s John Constantine. Can’t wait.

Review: Heroic Age: Prince of Power #1

Prince of Power #1 cover.

...krakathoom me, Amadeus?

“Blasphemy Can Be Fun”

Writers: Greg Pak and Fred van Lente
Penciller: Reilly Brown
Inkers: Terry Pallot with Jason Paz
Colorist: Val Staples
Letterer: Simon Bowland

I’ve finally plowed through just about all of the Siege wrap-up books– I skipped Fallen Sun: The Sentry because I’m just about sick of Bob by now, no offense to the creative team intended– and am starting to get into the first few Heroic Age titles. Heroic Age: Prince of Power seemed like a pretty good place to start, and I’m glad I wasn’t wrong. Amadeus Cho’s first solo book is a fun ride.

A couple of shameful confessions are in order before I get down to business, I suppose. First off, I don’t really get into the Hulk the way I do, say, Iron Man or the X-Men. Thor’s managed to win a place in my pull thanks to Kieron Gillen, but the Hulk has never really had a creative team that appeals to me. Secondly, I’ve never read any of Incredible Hercules, and that’s entirely because I just don’t have the scratch to read everything I might want to read in a month. (I took an iPhone pic of the Department’s epically huge pull sheet for May 2010 when I filled it out. I should post that, just so you can feel my pain.)

I did, however, read the first issue of Hercules: Fall of an Avenger, and what I saw of Amadeus Cho in there, I liked. I knew that I was coming to Prince of Power at a heavy disadvantage, not having read any other books featuring everyone’s favorite boy genius… and, after my attempt at reading the new Birds of Prey earlier tonight, which presupposes a great deal of DCU knowledge, I was a little wary of what I was going to get here.

Thankfully, Pak and van Lente are smart, efficient writers who can pack a lot of backstory into a few witty captions. I went from not knowing shit about Amadeus Cho’s situation to meeting his ex-girlfriend, getting a feel for his mentor Athena Panhellenios, watching him fight the Griffin, and seeing him fail to manage his corporate holdings in any sort of reasonable fashion. For 22 pages, that’s not a bad start at all; I feel like I can read this series and understand what’s going on without having to hit up my resident Incredible Hercules fanboy every five minutes, and that’s a nice feeling to have.

The supporting cast is fleshed out nicely as well. Hebe, Amadeus’s personal assistant and Hercules’ widow, is a particular delight. She’s caught between a sense of responsibility to Amadeus, and a total unwillingness to roll with his grandiose and often poorly-thought-out plans, but she doesn’t come off as a blithering idiot or a doormat. Inexperienced, yes, but not naive; I could see her exchanging tips on “how to enable your crazy boss without incurring serious personal injury” with Pepper Potts. Given that I had qualms about Fall of an Avenger‘s habit of defining the women in Herc’s life in terms of their sexual relationships with him and nothing else, Hebe is a welcome change. She looks like she’ll grow into her role as Amadeus’s assistant over the next three issues, and that’s great to see.

Penciller Reilly Brown does some great facial expressions and a fantastic two-page spread of Amadeus fighting the Griffin here. His art is clean and straightforward, and Val Staples employs different color palettes to great effect over Brown’s strong linework. (Check out the transition from the day-glo fight with the Griffin to the subdued greens and grays of Bruce Banner’s lab. That’s some nice work.) The art has a solid contemporary vibe; Amadeus wears Marc Jacobs, Banner’s lab is stuffed full of ultratech goodies, and the Olympus Group offices have a Spartan feel to them. Nothing here feels tired or dated, and that’s exactly what I want in a book about a 17-year-old Einstein– a fresh, well-researched approach.

The A-plot comes a little late in the book, a casualty of the amount of pipe that needs to be laid to get there, but it’s a good one, and it plays off all the impulsivity and loyalty to Hercules that Pak and van Lente establish in the pages that precede it. Amadeus decides that, in order to bring Hercules back to Earth, he’ll have to become a god himself and start hunting Herc down throughout a number of parallel worlds. This is about as awesomely ill-advised an idea as Amadeus has ever had– and, indeed, this issue’s cliffhanger involves accidentally pissing off Thor, so you know it’s going to be a lot of fun across pantheons as the book progresses.

Hopefully, this book is a good omen for the Heroic Age– it’s a fast, breezy read with enough backplot to hook new readers without boring the old hands. It doesn’t require encyclopedic knowledge of the Marvel Universe’s current status quo. The writing is fresh and funny, and the art’s appealing. I’ll be pretty happy if other creators take Pak and van Lente’s cue and make their Heroic Age titles as accessible to those of us who aren’t omniscient.

Review: Siege #4

Siege 4 cover by Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales, and Laura Martin.

That's three madmen down and a Heroic Age to go.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Olivier Coipel
Inker: Mark Morales
Colorist: Laura Martin

First off, I’m reviewing this issue from the airport in Seattle– on Monday afternoon. How, you ask, considering that I get my pull on Wednesdays like the rest of you? Well, I spent part of my long weekend in Portland, OR, home of Brian Bendis… who had comp copies burning a hole in his pocket. Bendis dropped some off at Things From Another World, I scooted over there on my way out of town, and the Sentry’s your uncle. So, hey, thanks, Bendis! Thanks, guys at TFAW!

Speaking of Bob, this issue puts the entire “what do you do with a guy who makes the Beyonder look sane” question to rest for the moment, and it’s actually pretty satisfying. Better yet, Coipel’s art is what sells it. The Sentry’s been one of the major annoyances of the Dark Reign– too powerful to play nice with everyone else, too unbalanced to be really compelling as a character– and getting him off the board gives me the sense that we may actually get some forward momentum going from here on out. That’d be a welcome change from the previous year and a half of dealing with twinked-out, superpowered lunatics…

…which brings us to Norman Osborn. He gets his in the end as well, although Spider-Man isn’t actually involved. Neither is Tony Stark, oddly– it’s all Steve Rogers’ show, set up to provide us with a little insight into Steve’s new motivations going into Secret Avengers. I certainly don’t mind Steve’s redesign, but I feel like Spider-Man should’ve had the last laugh in the ongoing Osborn drama, or maybe Tony Stark. After all, Norman was a Spidey villain from day one, and the entirety of “World’s Most Wanted” was about his vengeance on Tony. That being said, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Norman’s plot arc yet, so I’m not counting either Peter or Tony out of the final reckoning.

As for our final, and arguably biggest, psychotic madman, Loki… well. His comeuppance delivers a serious hit to Thor’s entire status quo. If you have any interest in Thor and the Asgardian arc plot whatsoever, you will need to read this issue (and, if you’ve got them, Siege: Loki and New Mutants #11, both of which appear to provide big hints as to Loki’s possible fate). After all the buildup Loki’s received in the last year, this is the sea change in his relationship to the rest of the Marvel Universe, and you will need to see it even if you’re not actively following the Siege.

While I don’t always find Thor a terribly compelling character in his own right, and I’m only starting to come around to his fandom, I want to see where Kieron Gillen and Matt Fraction go with what Bendis has done here. Asgard falling appears to be the least of the Asgardians’ worries at this point in the game. Siege #4 sets up a state of affairs that can’t be ignored… and yet, over and over again in Gillen’s run, we’ve seen the gods’ childlike naïveté and willful ignorance lead them into disaster. I don’t know how long it will take the various Thor creative teams to play this one out to its end, but I expect a lot of mayhem before it’s all over.

Bendis has cleared the decks for next week’s Avengers launch in grand, cinematic style; although I have quibbles with Osborn’s eventual fate, I can’t say I’m unhappy with the denouement here. The Loki plotline is worth the price of admission on its own. Most of all, though, I’m just glad to see the Siege and the Dark Reign well and truly done; it’s past time we moved on to some new storylines and new ideas.

Review: Hellboy in Mexico

Cover to Hellboy in Mexico by Richard Corben.

Yeah, Hellboy *is* beating up a demon luchador.

Note: Chad and I are celebrating our anniversary this weekend. Posting will be even lighter than usual as a result. –J

“Hellboy in Mexico, or, a Drunken Blur”

Writer: Mike Mignola
Artist: Richard Corben
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letters: Clem Robins

The last year or so of Hellboy and B.P.R.D. have been dense with continuity, leading up to a radical change in direction for both books. I’ve been reading them pretty avidly, but I haven’t felt at all prepared to review them with the thoroughness they deserve. Fortunately, I have no such qualms about Hellboy in Mexico— like Mignola and Corben’s previous Hellboy: The Crooked Man, it stands delightfully and somewhat ludicrously on its own.

While waiting on a BPRD pickup in 1982 Mexico, Abe and HB stumble into a deserted cantina… with pictures of Hellboy and a bunch of luchadores on the walls. HB sighs and admits to Abe that, yes, he’s been here before; in 1956, Mexico experienced a plague of supernatural events thought to be the work of the Devil himself. Cut off from the usual BPRD support staff, HB teamed up with a family of wrestlers to fight the eldritch hordes.

What happens next is… well, even lucha libre can be neatly squeezed into the intricate Hellboy mythos. The brothers believe they’re on a mission from the Virgin Mary, the avatar of a demonic Mayan bat god appears, and everything, as usual, ends a little direly for HB himself. It’s a funny story, and a sad one, and it emphasizes the gulf between Hellboy and the people he loves. It’s hard not to see echoes of Dr. Who in Hellboy here. Like the Doctor, HB works best with companions, people whose brief and brave lives show him what it means to be truly human. Hellboy knows that he’ll always have to go on without them at the end of the day, though, toward that mysterious destiny we’ve seen teased in The Wild Hunt.

Corben does some of my favorite Hellboy art. The Crooked Man found him working in the tradition of underground comics, all deliriously thick lines and bulging eyeballs, and Hellboy in Mexico showcases his talent at brooding, expectant atmospherics. A lot of this book takes place in wide open spaces, lit only by the glare of headlights; it reminds me of early Spielberg cinematography in a good way. The fight scenes are chaotic and crowded, the cantina sequences cheery and bright. As much as I like Hellboy artists like Duncan Fegredo, Corben’s got the right attitude and solid chops to pull off a slightly gonzo Hellboy story like this one.

Soon enough, Mignola’s coming back to handle the art chores for Hellboy, and we’ll see what happens now that HB’s claimed Excalibur and appears destined for the throne of England. Hopefully, all that portentous Arthuriana doesn’t spell the end of these black-humored, North American-based Mignola/Corben stories. I’d miss them terribly.

Free Comic Book Day & A Conversation with Greg Pak

From all accounts I’ve seen, Free Comic Book Day was a rousing success this year. We had a chance to head over to Golden Apple Comics on Saturday afternoon and things there were crazy busy like you wouldn’t believe. So busy, in fact, that we missed almost all of the free books. Luckily, the Atomic Robo book from Red 5 will be released online later this month, and Friend of the Department Dan Faust wound up with an extra copy of the Iron Man/Thor book that he’ll be sending our way. Thanks, Dan!

photo by 'pinguino k' on flickr

There were still lots of great deals to be had, and we like throwing one of our favorite shops money for books.  There were also a ton of cool creators on hand to sign books and chat with folks. Ryan was gracious enough to let us have a little time with filmmaker and Marvel writer Greg Pak. Greg’s best known in comics for his work on The Incredible Hulk, Incredible Hercules, and War Machine, he also has a miniseries starting this month featuring Amadeus Cho, a character he created back in 2005. (Amadeus Cho in his own book! We can’t wait.)

On the film side, Pak’s written and directed several of his own shorts, including Mister Green– which was being screened at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, another great reason to be in town this weekend- and Super Power Blues. He also wrote, directed, and stars in the 2002 feature Robot Stories. I didn’t get a chance to watch it until after talking to him, sadly, but, having done so, I highly recommend it.

As always, many thanks to Ryan, Sharon, and the entire Golden Apple crew, who all busted butt to make an awesome FCBD, and to Greg for being an awesome interviewee.

On with the show!


Chad Collier: What is it about Hulk that draws you to the character?

Greg Pak: From the beginning, when I first started working for Marvel, I guess I always had my eye on the Hulk.  I think partly because I loved the character as a kid- I loved the Bill Bixby show. I had a few Hulk comics as a kid that I read and re-read over and over again. I think that the character is really attractive because the metaphor is so simple. He’s about anger, right, and when you get down to it he’s about the price of anger, the price an individual pays when he loses it. That’s something all of us can sympathize with and understand and all of us can kind of vicariously enjoy, because every day we’re confronted with things that drive us crazy and we wish we could Hulk out. But we can’t, because we live in a civilized world and we want to try and fit in, to a certain extent. The Hulk is a great vicarious way to let off steam.

But what makes him great, I think, is that there’s always a price to be paid, and the Hulk always pays that price. Whether or not he really deserves it, because… nine times out of ten, when the Hulk blows up, he’s blowing up at the right people. But still, with that kind of anger, there are consequences that you bring upon yourself if you ever unleash it, no matter how justified you are. I think that’s one of those universal human truths that somehow this crazy pop-culture character embodies. It makes him a lot of fun to read and to write.

CC: Hercules. When I checked out your films, I noticed it was always, “Greg Pak: Writer, Director, Editor.”

GP: [laughs]

CC: What’s it like on the other side of that, collaborating with Fred Van Lente?

GP: Neither of us had any idea how it was going to work when we started, but as soon as we got underway we realized it was going to work really well. We have complimentary sensibilities and fundamentally we really love the characters in the same kind of way. It’s funny because it’s a buddy book, and Fred and I have become buddies during the course of working on the book. It’s a really good vibe and the dynamic just really works.

I think we also have the advantage that we both live in New York, so we can sit down face to face, go through the stories and talk it out. We also have a lot of fun just jawboning about this stuff. It helps when you just enjoy hanging out with the other guy. It’s worked out remarkably well.

What I also love about it is that the book is way better than it would be if either one of us were doing it solo. You know we… [love-struck sigh] we finish each other’s sentences! [laughs] We literally finish each other’s sentences. And it’s that kind of funny thing too where, sometimes we’ll set each other up for jokes that we didn’t even see coming. We tend to split up a book by pages; somebody will write the first half, the other guy will write the second half, and then we trade back and forth and edit each other’s stuff until we’re both happy. Sometimes one guy will write an entire book and the other will write the next book and we’ll trade back and forth. But we’re always going back in and editing each other, and during the course of doing that, it is kind of amazing how many times one guy set’s something up without quite realizing how good a setup it is, and the other guy sees where it goes and buts the button on it. It’s just a blast having someone else to catch you like that.

CC: How about what’s happening with Amadeus Cho, are you excited about that?

GP: Oh, yeah. Amadeus is just a huge amount of fun to write. It’s fairly rare for a new character to stick around this long and to have a shot the way Amadeus has had. It’s a blast to be part of that, definitely.

I created Amadeus in 2005 for a book called Amazing Fantasy #15. It was a anthology book and the editor gave us writers a challenge of picking an old Golden Age name that Marvel owned and re-imagining a character based on that. I picked Master Mind Excello, and that was my inspiration for Amadeus Cho. People liked him, and then we brought him back for World War Hulk. Then he ended up buddy-ing up with Hercules, and now he’s got his own mini-series that comes out in May. It’s been a lot of fun being able to build his storyline over the course of five years now. It’s pretty gratifying; it’s fairly rare for a new character to get traction.

CC: I know you started in film, and that’s how you got into comics. How does working in both affect each other? How do the comics affect the films and vice versa?

GP: That’s a good question. Definitely working in film set me up for writing comics in the sense that it’s the same kind of storytelling. It’s visual storytelling, dramatic storytelling. You’re telling stories for pictures, essentially. So the same basic principles apply. Of course there are differences in format; comics are actually a little harder to write than film because comics writers are… I think you have to do a little more work, in the sense of, you know, you break down each page and describe what happens on each panel in a way you wouldn’t quite do for film. You’re writing a little more evocatively in film, and leaving it up to the director and the DP to figure out how they’re going to break it down. It’s like a comics script is like a film script with director’s notes sort of built in.

I think working in comics has been good for me as a filmmaker just because- and I’ve been doing this all through filmmaking in a sense- working in comics gave me even more practice and experience working with other creative people and collaborating. And that’s what both of these mediums are all about. You’re working with your DP’s and your creative team and doing your best to help create the look and get the feel that you’re going for.

Both mediums require really fast decision-making. That’s also helpful. Churning out [scripts] and being on the monthly schedule with comics, doing, say, three books a month, you have to make decisions every single day and send in notes almost every single day and you just have to live with it. It’s the same thing on a film set; you have to make snap judgments every single second on set. There’s nothing a crew hates more than a director who can’t make up his or her mind, because then nothing happens and everything falls behind and it all falls apart. For better or worse you just have to make your choices and just go go go.

CC: Yeah, I’ve been there.

GP: [laughs] Exactly. But comics are good for maintaining my chops in that regard.

CC: Talking about movies, real quick, are you excited about Iron Man 2? Have you seen it yet?

GP: No, I haven’t, but I think I’m going to see it next week though, and yes, I’m incredibly excited about it! I think it looks amazing. The first Iron Man movie I thought was the best superhero movie… basically ever, with the possible exception of the first Superman, the Richard Donner Superman. But yeah, I’m thrilled. I’m really excited about the Scott Pilgrim movie, too. That’s the other one I’ve got my eye on this summer.

FCBD Freebie: Peter David talks iPad, Avatar, digital comics

It’s Free Comic Book Day, and that means plenty of books to pick up at your local store– a new Atomic Robo and Friends from Red 5, Top Shelf’s latest FCBD Owly, Fraction and JRJR’s Iron Man and Thor, and the Archaia Fraggle Rock/ Mouse Guard double issue, among others. (If you’re in LA, Red Fraggle will be helping the Meltdown Comics staff with their FCBD celebration at 11am, 7522 Sunset Boulevard.)

If you’re going, though, remember– your local has to pay shipping to get those comics they’re giving away. Why not buy a little something while you’re there to help them make rent? I recommend Justin Theroux and Joe Casey’s Iron Man 2: Public Identity #1, the first half of a prequel to next week’s Iron Man 2; that way, you’ll be gearing up for your Friday midnight nerdgasm and helping support local business.

Image Comics and kid-friendly Image label Silverline have prepared a small FCBD sampler of their July 14th hardcover GN release, Fractured Fables… and, well, on release day, we’ll have a special surprise here at the Department for any fans of the fractured fairy-tale genre. For now, though, we’ll just hint that it involves Peter David of X-Factor and Hulk fame, and his involvement in the project.

Speaking of PAD, we got to sit and talk with him over at Golden Apple Comics last month (thanks, Ryan!), and I’ve just now gotten the time to condense the over 70 minutes of transcribed audio (!) into a few tidbits for you guys. With no further ado, here’s an assemblage of the wit and wisdom of Peter David:

On working with Claudio Sanchez of prog-rock band Coheed and Cambria on the new Coheed and Cambria novel, Year Of the Black Rainbow:

“The band’s worldbuilding is unbelievably complicated. Fallen Angel is a cakewalk to follow compared to the plethora of ideas that Claudio has for his masterpiece. It’s an amazing concept that he’s come up with…

“The novel was written over a period of six months, if I’m recalling correctly. Claudio and I worked together on it, developing the entire structure of the book, and what I was really pleased to see was that Claudio had absolutely no ego when it came to this stuff. All he was concerned about were the ideas. If there where things where I said this doesn’t work, then he accepted it. If it was something that had to work because it was already in the song, then it was my job to make it work. But anything that could be changed that I felt needed to be changed, Claudio was completely on board with it. All he cared about was making the work itself as good as it possibly could be.”

On Jim Cameron’s Avatar:

“Well, I thought the story for Avatar was good… when it was called Dances With Wolves. And I thought it was kind of okay, but not great, when I saw it as Pocahontas. I thought it was wonderful when I read it as a kid and it was called John Carter of Mars. In fact, if he’d been doing a John Carter of Mars film, I wouldn’t have taken issue with it.

“The problem with Avatar is not only that the story is overly familiar, but Cameron’s presentation of it was fatally flawed. You’ve got your protagonist essentially in someone else’s body, which means there’s no jeopardy to your actual protagonist. If his avatar winds up being killed, nothing happens to him. It means his mission is a failure, granted, but he’s going to be OK. He himself doesn’t face any real jeopardy until the very end of the film.

“For me, that’s problematic, and I don’t understand why he did it that way and why it couldn’t have been something as simple as, ‘What happens if my avatar dies?” “Yeah, well there’s a problem with that. If your avatar dies there will be a psychic feedback that will essentially turn you into a vegetable.’ So now he’s got an interesting conundrum, because you’ve got a guy who can’t walk and he has the opportunity to be in a being who can walk, but he’s taking a risk because he could wind up being even worse off than he is because he could wind up a vegetable. Then you’ve got an interesting decision and you’ve got sufficient jeopardy to make the character’s fate of interest to me.

“But what you had essentially was spending two and three quarter hours watching a guy playing a video game. I’m not that interested. It’s like watching TRON, except he doesn’t get pulled into the computer. Who wants to watch that? Who gives a crap?”

On the iPad:

“I think it does present incredible potential for comic books. The colors, from what I understand, are unbelievably vibrant. The disadvantage to it is, if I take this and [violently slams a TPB down on the counter several times] …looks OK to me! Do that with an iPad, and you’ve got a bit of a problem. I think that it would be really nifty if they came up with a way to be unbreakable.”

On digital comics and electronic publishing:

“I haven’t tried any of the digital comics platforms. I like physical comic books; I’m old fashioned. I mean, go sign your frickin’ iPad, why don’t you. I was actually at a convention and somebody was in the audience and we were doing a panel and they were talking about, ‘Ohh, books are dead, books are dead, the Kindle is everything. I have a Kindle, it’s terrific.’ And I said, ‘Are you planning to get autographs later?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’

“And I said, ‘What are you getting them signed on?’ And he went, ‘Books.’ And I said ‘Uh-huh…’ And he went ‘…ohhhh.’ He hadn’t thought about it.

“But with that said, from an ecological point of view, trees are… the concept of being able to get material out there that doesn’t require us to knock down trees for paper or drill oil in order to print… There’s something to be said for the eco-friendly aspects of electronic books and electronic comics. To say nothing of the fact that most of the cost of comic books comes from the physical production, which means that digital comics can be acquired for a fraction of the money.

“On the other hand, it could be the death knell for places like [Golden Apple]. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. People always tend to look at the most extreme aspects of things and say it’s the death knell for something else. When movies first started up, people said that’s the end of theater. When recorded music first became available, people said that’s the end of concerts. So now we have electronic books, and people say that’s the end of paper books. I don’t agree.”

On letting Aquaman win in the infamous Namor vs. Aquaman battle in Marvel vs. DC #2, March 1996:

“If I’m writing Aquaman vs. Sub-Mariner, I’m having Aquaman win, because I’m writing Aquaman! A lot of fans bitched about it, but you know what? Suck it. I was writing Aquaman, he wins.”