Review: Terminator 2029 #2

Needle-Nose Ninja

Script: Zack Whedon
Art: Andy MacDonald
Colors: Dan Jackson
Lettering: Nate Piekos
Cover: Massimo Carnevale

When we talked to Zack Whedon last month about Terminator 2029 #1, he was coy about some details that were obviously going to play a part as the three-issue miniseries unfolded. This was to be expected, of course– but, having read issue #2, I have to chuckle to myself at just how much he was holding back, and how amused he was at what was coming up. He’s certainly earned it; this issue has elevated the series up a notch from “good” to “great.”

Terminator 2029 is technically centered on Kyle Reese, but Kyle’s lieutenant Ben gets all the love this time around. Ben and Paige’s arc in this issue comprises the B-plot, but they completely steal the show. I try my best not to spoil big scenes in these reviews, but I have to make an exception in this case, so steel yourself for the next paragraph.

How cool is Ben? He takes out a 800-series Terminator… with a pair of needle-nose pliers. Everyone else’s tech-geek cred just went down a few points by comparison, fictional character or not. Stand aside, Gordon Freeman, Ben’s on the scene.

When he’s not being a Leatherman ninja, Ben’s romantic subplot advances satisfyingly as well, intercut with scenes from Kyle’s bombastic A-plot. Kyle remains a strong character for Whedon to play with, but the main plot in this issue is a bit weak and formulaic. A band of renegades, ex-soldiers unsatisfied with what they consider to be the Resistance’s timid pace, bail Kyle’s refugees out of last issue’s cliffhanger… and that’s the problem.

In the immortal words of Bad Religion, these guys are “a pack of wild desperadoes scornful of living,” and Kyle’s stuck dealing with their issues. He’s essentially ego-goaded into helping the band’s leader make a raid on a strange new Skynet compound nearby. What follows is a workmanlike A-to-B progression– spot the base, go to the base, break into the base. It’s fun, but the Paige and Ben arc is so well done that it overshadows this de rigueur action.

Of course, that might be what Whedon intended all along. The ending ties both plots together in a surprise that will leave you smacking your forehead in why-didn’t-I-think-of-it delight. It’s not an M. Night Shyamalan-style twist, leaping on the unsuspecting reader out of nowhere, either– it’s actually neatly concealed inside the things we readers already know about the Terminator mythos. Or, well, if it’s not, it should be, anyway. Depending on how Zack decides to write himself out of the corner he’s just placed himself into, we’ll see what holds up through issue 3.

Also worth noting in this issue is Andy MacDonald’s steadily-improving art. #2 is a much tighter affair on all sides, and Andy’s really hit his stride. Dan Jackson’s use of a two separate color palettes, emphasizing the differences between the cold of the snow and Skynet and the tenuous warmth of the Yankee Company compound, is spot on. Massimo Carnevale’s cover art for this issue is poster-worthy, even as biased to Ben as we might be at the Department.

I was a big fan of Dark Horse’s movie properties in the early 90’s. Aliens, Predator, and Terminator mini-series were regular pulls for me when they were first running. This is the first time in a long time I’ve been this excited about one of them.

Review: Siege: Secret Warriors

Siege: Secret Warriors cover by Marko Djurdjevic.

Yeah, that's pretty much what's going on here. No subtlety!

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Alessandro Vitti
Colorist: Jose Villarubia
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic

I’ve read three of the Siege one-shots now– I skipped Siege: Captain America and Siege: Young Avengers, since I’m not following their home titles– and I’ve been pretty solidly entertained all along. Two of those three issues have played directly to their authors’ strengths. Siege: Loki showcased Kieron Gillen’s grasp of the Asgardian mindset, first displayed in “The Latverian Prometheus.” Brian Reed’s knack for physical comedy got full run of the place in Siege: Spider-Man, including the single best Ms. Marvel panel I’ve ever seen.

Given that, you’d probably expect Siege: Secret Warriors to go straight up the usual Jonathan Hickman alley– weird conspiracies, epic pseudoscience, and portents of disaster at every turn. You’d figure on at least a token appearance by Hydra, and you’d guess that Secret Warriors leader-in-training Daisy might be integral to the plot, as usual.

You’d be entirely wrong, too.

The focal point of this issue is Alex, the extremely creepy boy-genius son of Ares, the recently-deceased god of war. Unlike his dad, Alex is the god of fear… and while Ares can’t possibly have been the best of parents, given his treatment of his charges in books like Dark Avengers: Ares, he did leave a few very specific instructions for Alex in event of an emergency. Alex sets off to fulfill those requests as best he can, and, well, when you’re the god of fear, your best is probably a damn sight better than most people’s.

Hickman throws every bit of his usual carefully-honed subtlety out the window in this issue. I lost count of the number of people Alex chops up on his way to finding out the reason for his father’s (quite temporary, it seems) death. The entire A-plot is pretty much one dirty, protracted fight sequence; there’s not a lot of talking, just a lot of Alex going house on mortals who aren’t prepared for his assault. People who’ve been following Secret Warriors from issue one will be pleased to see Alex finally embracing his father’s amorality, which he displays in flashes throughout the regular series. His actions certainly bring up questions about how much longer he’s going to put up with being the mascot in Nick Fury’s Junior SHIELD Scouts, and I think that’s exactly what Hickman wants the reader to ponder.

If you’re not a regular Secret Warriors reader, though, Alex’s quest for vengeance probably won’t do much for you. After all, you’ve got almost no reason to care about him. You’re not going out and buying, I dunno, Secret Phobos or Ultimate God of Fear or Alex: Origins every month, because he doesn’t have that kind of cachet in the Marvel lineup. For you guys, Hickman’s thoughtfully provided a B-plot where Nick Fury and the reborn Steve Rogers renew their acquaintance over a round of hapless mooks. Vitti does a fine job with this big, sprawling Avengers-style battle, rendering Cap with a brawler’s raw physicality and Nick with the breezy charm of an amiable drunk.

The editorial dictate of the month, if this book and Invincible Iron Man #25 are any indication, is “Get all the major players in the Illuminati/ Civil War plotline back on or near the same page before June’s Avengers event.” Siege: Secret Warriors accomplishes the reunion of Nick and Cap in swaggering style. And, hey, if you’re a fan of Alex’s ongoing quest to attain the full scope of his divinity, there’s a lot to like here too. Essential for Siege diehards who were left hanging by Ares’ death, folks who liked Dark Avengers: Ares, and Secret Warriors readers. You could probably skip it if you’re not in those three categories, but you’d miss a rare atypical Jonathan Hickman story, and I don’t think I’d recommend that.

LA Times Festival of Books: New Media Meets Publishing

The second panel we attended at the LA Times Festival of Books, “#book: New Media Meets Publishing,” wasn’t overtly a comics panel. That being said, folks with an interest in process and digital publication will probably want to read my recap anyhow– the processes and networks that allow guys like Wil Wheaton to self-publish are the kinds of things that can be adapted to comics work as well. The panel moderator was LA Times blogger Carolyn Kellogg, who’s covered the publishing industry for the Times since 2008. The panelists were:

First observation: Carolyn speaks LOLcat. Pretty fluently. In addition, she encouraged audience members to tweet from the panel using the “#latfob” hashtag, which was a nice touch. The Times kept that hashtag front and center throughout the Festival; placards posted in vendor areas mentioned it prominently, and every panel we attended made a point of telling us how to tag any tweets we made. That’s good message discipline, and hopefully something other festivals, conventions, BarCamps, and the like will emulate.

The panel opened with Wheaton briefly explaining that he’d come to Twitter after the urging of LA ubergeek Sean Bonner (founder of the Crash Space hackerspace in Culver City, CA), but didn’t really embrace its potential until Warren Ellis directed him to the pithy, pun-filled tweets of Diesel Sweeties cartoonist Rich Stevens. Kellogg then asked Dana about teenagers’ Twitter habits, which, well… it turns out that “teens don’t Tweet,” which is pretty much the attitude my 22-to-25-year-old coworkers display about the service too.

What teens do, though, is write, as Dana Goodyear found out while covering Japan’s keitai shousetsu (cellphone novel) subculture for the New Yorker. Most of the early authors of cellphone novels were teenaged girls in the rural districts of Japan (roughly, “anything outside of Tokyo proper” if you’re a Tokyo resident); these young writers captured their experiences via text message and gained an audience of over 12 million readers. Conventional publishing caught on, and the dead-tree versions of cellphone novels sold well to eager audiences looking for souvenirs of their reading experience. (You can read Goodyear’s original article, “Letter from Japan: I ♥ NOVELS,” here.) Inspired by this experience, Goodyear went on to start Figment, a Web platform where teenagers will be given the tools to express themselves without restrictions on form or content. (Figment will launch later this year; you can check out the prelaunch site now, though.)

Pablo Defendini envisioned a similar community for science fiction and fantasy fans at Tor.com. Instead of being a puff site for Macmillan’s SF imprint, Tor|Forge, Tor.com was designed to be as accessible as possible to people at all levels of interest in science fiction publishing. It’s equal parts group blog and SF/F magazine, open to content from readers, writers, publishers, and editors alike. “Access to guys like Wil Wheaton and Neil Gaiman is easy now,” Defendini said. “[Publishers] need to engage and listen to the readers… and leverage that knowledge with bookstore buyers to get our books on the shelves. The Internet hates middlemen.”

Wheaton concurred entirely with Defendini’s assessment, detailing his own experience with both his content and the works of others. Both Wheaton and Defendini spoke admiringly of author Scott Sigler (Ancestor, Earthcore), who releases multiple editions of his novels in differing formats. The hardcover version of a Sigler novel might have tipped-in additional content, while the paperback has a different plot; Sigler’s audiobooks are released as free, serialized podcasts via Podiobooks. In much the same way as Sigler approaches each narrative as mutable, Goodyear noted, the authors of cellphone novels often take suggestions from their readership as they write; the narrative, delivered in 70-to-100-word installments, becomes a dialog between the author and his or her fanbase.

Like Sigler’s audiobooks and Tor.com’s free PDFs of SF novels, the cellphone novel is given away freely– but free content isn’t the defining feature of digital publishing, Wheaton pointed out, going on to note that digital publication offered new avenues of consumption and interaction for audiences and authors. Defendini likened these new avenues to a Balkanization of publishing, where large houses would eventually fragment into smaller publishing services that catered to and were deeply invested in very specific interests. Wheaton also noted that in such a market, print-on-demand or self-publication should no longer be a taboo topic, unlike pay-to-publish vanity press scams. He emphasized that a book should look and feel good; to that end, aspiring POD/ self-published authors should utilize their personal connections and hire competent, talented people in order to create a professional product.

Of course, that might be a bit easier for Wheaton than for others– he mentioned that, among others, comics artist D’Israeli and White Wolf game designer Jesse Heinig had assisted him with production work on his books. When asked what he would do if he ever needed a translator for his works, Wheaton unflinchingly replied that he’d go to his blog and Twitter and ask for applications from his one-million strong reading audience. Still, even folks less famous than Wheaton can apply that strategy to their interactions with like-minded creators; Kellogg half-jokingly noted that with the current state of the print publishing industry, authors could easily “hire the laid-off” to work production roles on their titles.

When it got down to nuts-and-bolts discussion of best practices for ebook production, though, Wheaton and Defendini brought out their geek A-game; Goodyear was visibly impressed with the amount of work each of them had put into thinking about digital publication. Wheaton called for publishers to standardize on an open ebook format and “take [proprietary formats] out behind the barn.” Defendini agreed, and mentioned that he found PDF an inflexible format for ebooks because “text needs to be more accommodating” to different reading devices; he prefers the open EPUB standard. Goodyear concurred, noting that teenagers are platform-agnostic as long as the reading experience isn’t jarringly different from phone to laptop to digital reader. When asked for specific tips on creating EPUB content, Defendini noted that generating EPUB can be a dirty, hands-on coding process requiring knowledge of XML. Wheaton jumped in to assure the somewhat frightened audience member that “it’s really easy,” while also recommending the ebook formatting services provided by SmashWords and other layout houses.

Defendini further recommended the open-source EPUB creator Sigil as a good starting point for the timid. When asked about covering all the possible format bases, Wheaton mentioned that he avoided some formats (like the Kindle) because the terms of use weren’t beneficial to his bottom line. Defendini reinforced the notion of selectivity with the observation that when you have an idea, the presentation should be chosen explicitly to suit the idea itself– does it work best as a book? as a Twitter feed of crafted content? as an iPad app?– and urged people to pick their shots accordingly.

Certainly, Goodyear, Defendini, and Wheaton are presenting a paradigm for thinking about digital publication that will ruffle some feathers in traditional publishing. I’ve already seen one recap of this same panel that, er, didn’t resemble what I got out of it at all, and I doubt that’s the last one I’ll see. I know, specifically in the comics field, that I’ve seen several creators be quite open about their lack of digital publishing know-how during public appearances– and, well, a guy like Mike Mignola knows that Hellboy fans would buy Hellboy on stone tablets if that were the only distribution channel, so, arguably, he’s perfectly correct in not giving a shit.

Most of the rest of us don’t have Mignola’s considerable professional leverage, which is why we should be listening to folks like Defendini, Goodyear, and Wheaton. They’ve been over this ground. They are working out the paradigms in which many of us will work in the years to come; it would be stupid not to take heed now. If we want to move from “aspiring” creators to creators, we must know our markets. We need to move towards laying out cold, hard cash to like-minded artists to create the most appropriate and attractive packages for our ideas. We need to engage openly and honestly with our audiences… and we need to have the kind of content that compels those audiences to listen.

LA Times Festival of Books: Brubaker, Mignola, Oliver Talk Comics

The LA Times Festival of Books brought hundreds of authors, publishers, and patron to the UCLA campus this past weekend, and those of us in the Department were no exception. We went Sunday for the two panels that interested us the most– first, a lively discussion of comics publishing moderated by Geoff Boucher of the TimesHero Complex blog, and then a new media panel hosted by Jacket Copy Times blogger Carolyn Kellogg.

Simon Oliver's Chas: The Knowledge #1.

Oliver's sticking with Vertigo for a new crime GN.

Boucher’s panel featured Criminal and Secret Avengers author Ed Brubaker, Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, and Exterminators creator Simon Oliver. Topics ranged from the exact definition of an indie publisher (Mignola: “Does Dark Horse even count as an indie any more?”) to the challenges of moving between comics, film, and TV writing (Brubaker: “There’s always room for more comics, where there’s only so many slots for new pilots or films.”). Superheroes were also on the agenda, with Brubaker discussing his espionage-oriented approach to Secret Avengers and Oliver talking about the mixed fan reactions his no-Spandex run on Gen13 provoked. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mignola is content to be “in [his] own corner;” he’s concentrating all of his creative efforts on the continuing Hellboy mythos, including an upcoming return to art duties on the main Hellboy series.

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #1 cover.

...while Mignola's returning to art duties on Hellboy...

Brubaker and Oliver also gave out some hints about their upcoming projects, with Brubaker explaining that he and co-conspirator Sean Phillips are working on the sequel to Icon supervillain tale Incognito. Possibly subtitled “Bad Influences,” the new Incognito should debut in September. After that, there are plans in the works for another Icon pulp series, this one a science fiction adventure. (If you didn’t just emit a bodily fluid of your choice in anticipation, this might not be the blog for you, by the way.) Oliver’s also dipping into the pulp waters with a weighty 200-page graphic novel for Vertigo’s new Vertigo Crime imprint; although I don’t have too much solid information yet, I understand it’s a period piece, taking place on the border during the Mexican-American War.

Incognito #6, by Brubaker and Phillips.

...and Bru's going Incognito again in September.

Also, as if the idea of SF pulp wasn’t tantalizing enough for you, Mignola and Brubaker exchanged a few interesting asides during a discussion of Mignola’s undead pulp adventure hero, Lobster Johnson. Mignola noted that there could always be more Lobster Johnson tales to tell, to which Brubaker said “…gee, maybe I should write one of those Lobster Johnson stories!” Mignola merely eyed him speculatively and said “Maybe you should.” Again, if this isn’t a personal wet dream for you, the Department may not be your kind of reading material– the idea of a Brubaker-penned Lobster Johnson mini seems too good to be true. (Scott Allie! Are you reading? Make that happen!)

Next post, I’ll tackle the new media panel. Stay tuned.

UnReview: Captain America: Who Won’t Wield the Shield?

We’ve had a good time reviewing things we dig here at Department H. Every once in a long while, though, something comes along that defies traditional critical review. Captain America: Who Won’t Wield the Shield? is one of these books.

How do you approach something where Deadpool breaks the fourth wall less than anyone else in the book? How do you judge six pages of psychedelia that make the most out-there Shade the Changing Man covers look like hotel room art? What commentary can possibly be made about Matt Fraction’s dying tweet?

In considering all of this, I decided that trying to answer any of these questions in normal, linear space and time was an effort in futility. I realized, after reading it Wednesday night, that I had a unique chance to do something different. To quote a very wise woman, in an insane world, it was the sanest choice.

Go, girl!

…so I went down to the LA Times Festival of Books today and got it signed by Ed Brubaker.

Review: Siege: Spider-Man

"blblblblbl, I'm your new boyfriend now!"

"blblblblbl, I'm your new boyfriend now!"

Writer: Brian Reed
Artist: Marco Santucci
Color Artist: Chris Sotomayor
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramanga
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic

Let me cut right to the chase: Where in the hell has this Venom been all my life?

I must admit up front that I’ve read none of the previous canon in relation to the character. When I was the obligatory angry young man, Venom’s meteoric rise to popularity soured me to the entire concept and what it appeared to be doing to Spider-Man and Marvel as a whole. I can trace my inability to find purchase in any of the Spider-Man comics to what seemed like an editorial mandate to over-hype the symbiote and its hosts. More than likely, looking back, Venom was the leading contributor to my disdain for Marvel in general for the majority of the last two decades. I’d walk into a shop, be greeted by a sea of fanged, saliva-dripping-tongued faces on posters, t-shirts, what have you, and I’d retreat hastily to the Vertigo section.

As my interest in the Siege storyline has grown over the last few months, though, I keep brushing up against the Mac Gargan Venom, especially as the action moves closer to Asgard. When Brian Reed posted the preview to Siege: Spider-Man to Twitter last week, I was dubious. But those six pages compelled me to do something I’d never even considered before.

I was going to have to buy a Venom story.

I was not disappointed, and I’m still not sure how to feel about that. I’ve invested a lot in hating Venom. It’s defined my comics fandom for twenty freaking years now. It’s not like I can just let that go all of a sudden. Reed’s sense of humor is natural for Peter Parker; when you see Spidey, you expect smartassery. The application of that same humor to Venom, though? It works, and it makes him a convincing dark mirror to Spidey– the one thing he’s been missing for me this entire time. Reed’s Venom is eminently quotable, and invoking the best lines in my head as I write this still makes me laugh hours after the fact. If nothing else, Reed deserves a medal for having Venom invoke the the phrase “OM NOM NOM” while dining on Asgardian flesh.

It’s essentially a prolonged, laugh-a-minute fight scene between Venom, Spidey, and Ms. Marvel, but the story never loses its awareness of surrounding events- the visual callback to Siege: Embedded is a nice touch that rewards observant readers. And despite everything else going on, Siege: Spider-Man never loses its actual focus on building the growing bond between Peter and Carol. How that’s going to work out in the long run is… unclear, but it makes for a nice story all the same.

The art, color, and lettering combine here in a very fluid manner to carry these hijinks along seamlessly. Caramagna’s lettering job, especially, makes Venom’s dialog shine through. And, uh… how can I say this? A naked man has never been funnier to me. Ever.

I keep having the same thought as I read all of these Siege and Siege-related one-shots from Marvel: More like this, please. Brian Reed and company actually made me like Venom, FFS. Clearly, we have entered the end times.

Review: Sif

Cover for Sif 1 by Travel Foreman and June Chung.

She don't need another hero: Sif fights her way back to self-respect.

“I Am the Lady Sif”

Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Penciller: Ryan Stegman
Inkers: Tom Palmer with Victor Olazaba
Colorist: Juan Doe
Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino
Cover: Travel Foreman and June Chung

Sif has a tough lot in the Marvel pantheon. She’s a powerful and skilled warrior goddess, but somehow she keeps getting the short end of the stick. Loki shears off her golden hair in a symbolic rape, after which she’s sent away by her parents for warrior training– apparently, that’s the Asgardian concept of crisis counseling in action. When she returns, Sif and Thor proceed to have a relationship worthy of Jerry Springer, during which Thor hits her, she runs off with Beta Ray Bill, they discover that Thor’s mind-controlled, she takes Thor back and dumps Bill… oy. It’s all ugly.

That’s not even counting Sif making a pact with Mephisto at one point, or Thor exiling Sif from Asgard for objecting to his fascist reign. Or, you know, Thor hooking up with the Enchantress and getting her pregnant while Sif’s hanging around in exile. It’s a rough life in the MU if you’re an Asgardian battle maiden, apparently– and then, just when everything started to look up, Loki provoked the Ragnarok, stole Sif’s body, and imprisoned her in the form of a dying elderly woman.

Yeah. That’s some empowerment for Sif right there. When it’s not domestic abuse and getting thrown out of the hall in favor of the evil baby mama, it’s rape and more rape. Sure, Sif kicks ass against Surtur and is every bit as badass as Brunhild, but with a personal life that painful, it’s probably not much consolation… and if you’re a female comics fan, it’s not very cheering to see a character who’s had a lot of her development come at the expense of her autonomy.

Fortunately, Sif’s been placed in Kelly Sue DeConnick’s capable hands for the first step of her recovery from this ongoing soap opera. DeConnick is arguably best-known for her work on 30 Days of Night and Image’s Comic Book Tattoo anthology; she doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page of her own, and that’s a damn shame. Sif is a clear indication of a talent worth more recognition.

The book is a compact, kinetic tale of Sif’s first steps on the road from “survivor” back to “warrior.” Sheltered in the uneasy bosom of the citizens of Broxton, Sif is drinking and nursing hypervigilant combat reflexes when Beta Ray Bill (and Ti Asha Ra, last seen in Kieron Gillen’s Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter) arrives. Of course, he’s not trying to rekindle any romance– no, he wants a Real Man, in this case Thor, to help him regain his ship from Borg-like space pirates.

That’s when Sif stops having any of this macho nonsense, thankfully, and puts herself up in Thor’s stead. What follows is a vicious little romp reminiscent of Die Hard— “Come out to deep space! We’ll get together, have a few laughs!” Sif tests her physical mettle against the disciples of the Salvation Condition and her mental endurance against the memories of Loki’s tortures. The Korbinites become background figures, witnesses to her trial, and the story’s all the sharper for it; this story is all about Sif and how she wins her way back to her true self. DeConnick keeps the focus tight and the dialogue terse, emphasizing the tension Sif feels every day as a survivor.

The visuals convey this sense of tension as Sif throws herself into combat; artist Ryan Stegman has a clean style reminiscent of Madame Xanadu‘s Amy Reeder Hadley, making Sif seem like Nimue’s plucky adventuring cousin. The various residents of Broxton are salt-of-the-earth types, making a sharp contrast to Sif’s hard-edged biker beauty. Beta Ray Bill is as snouty and toothy as I’ve ever seen him– Stegman’s depiction makes Bill a heavy-hearted, distant taskmaster, presiding over Sif’s ordeal for her own good. The panel transitions are rapid and occasionally unnerving, highlighting Sif’s near-manic dread and battle rage. Particularly successful is a panel (I’ll try to get a pic uploaded later today) where a disciple of the Condition grabs Sif’s ankle… followed immediately by a quick cut to her revulsed, shell-socked reaction, and then to the lethal consequences. Solid, solid storytelling, a welcome change from the vague visual narrative you see in other titles.

Sif also sets up a future direction for the battle goddess… one that seems likely to pay off handsomely for her, especially when it’s seen in light of the events of Siege: Loki last week. I certainly hope Marvel lets DeConnick and Stegman run with that plotline, because it’s one I’d enjoy seeing.

One last confession. We bought two copies of Sif today. The first one was ordered weeks ago in our Golden Apple pull… but we were so eager to see how DeConnick and Stegman pulled this off that Chad bought a second copy on his way home from work. You should be that eager too; this book showcases two up-and-coming Marvel talents turning in rock-steady work that takes the misogynist tarnish off Sif and restores her to her Ripley-esque Simonson-era badassery.

Review: Cold Space #1

Written & Created by: Samuel L. Jackson & Eric Calderon
Art: Jeremy Rock
Letters: Troy Peteri

The term “self-insert” is generally not used in a positive manner when it comes to writing. That’s not to say it’s inherently bad; if it’s is done well, like so many other somewhat dubious approaches to writing, it can transcend negative connotation. A talented writer producing a solid narrative can judiciously employ a little self-insertion, but if someone’s looking for an Easy Button to make up for an innate lack of talent, there’s not too many options. Unless, of course, you’re just the right person.

In other words, you’d pretty much have to be Samuel L. Jackson, for whom self-insertion is practically mandatory.

I don’t say this to belittle the man, since I can think of nothing cooler than the Space Adventures of Samuel L. Jackson- the idea alone got me to drop $4 on the book. I know he’s a big comic fan in his own right, and I’m certain he’s probably got plenty of stories he could be telling that wouldn’t need the addition of his now-classic onscreen persona. I can’t fault him or Eric Calderon for going with the obvious strengths, though, in presenting a new book.

For the most part, the choice pays off. Mulberry, the main character, is an unspecified flavor of fugitive from what passes for the law in the year 4012. A warp accident while trying to escape the authorities lands him on an uncharted moon that appears to be a cross between the outer space Wild West of Firefly and the post-apocalyptic Mad Max-esque world of Pandora from last year’s excellent Borderlands video game. Mulberry is the kind of bad dude that always seems to have the upper hand and always gets the last laugh, even when things blow up in his face. It doesn’t hurt that it doesn’t take much to imagine his lines as read by his inspiration.

Cold Space #1 is, narratively, a straight journey from point A to point B. Again, though, I can’t fault it for that because it has a good time doing it. What will be interesting to see is where they take it from here. Will it simply continue to be just what it says on the tin, Sam Jackson: Badass In Space? Or will they suck us in on that premise and somehow turn it around on itself? It’s a win-win scenario either way, but I think in this case I’d prefer to be surprised. I’ll probably hang around for the remaining three issues regardless.

Review: Siege: Loki

Siege:Loki cover by Marko Djurdjevic.

Marko Djurdjevic provides the shiny wrapper for Jamie McKelvie's best work yet.

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Colorist: Nathan Fairbairn
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna

The Loki of Norse myth is a god of many faces– oath-brother to Odin, master sorcerer, trickster deity, child of the giants. He schemes and plots to disrupt the order of the Aesir and Vanir, suffers their punishments, and then is loosed at the Ragnarok to battle his former comrades alongside his giant kin. In the Marvel Universe, Loki’s relationship to the other gods is more clear-cut– he’s a supervillain, all right, and recently, he’s spent a lot of time bending the rest of that less-august pantheon to his whim. His relationships to guys like Doom and Norman Osborn define him more than his own deeds at times.

Leave it to Team Phonogram, then– Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie– to present a Loki who’s entirely in line with Marvel’s editorial dictates and very much of a piece with his mythological predecessor. Siege: Loki depicts Loki at the height of his powers, an androgynous figure of menace, cutting deals across the multiverse to secure his own interests. From Hela’s lair in Las Vegas to Mephisto’s hell and back to Broxton, Gillen’s Loki is equally at home confronting the atavistic fallen Valkyrior known as the Disir (also seen in Gillen’s recent New Mutants issue), signing deals with the Devil, and slowly nudging Norman further into the grip of insanity. It’s just what Loki is, and the one-shot captures his personality in exquisite detail even as Loki himself reminds us that no one can truly know the totality of his being.

McKelvie’s linework is, as usual, expressive on a level most other comics artists can’t touch. His Loki is pouting, playful, dangerous, a Tyler Durden devoid of macho and stripped down to the bare bones of mayhem. There’s the occasional knowing take to the camera as Loki taunts Norman Osborn, the sidelong glance when he reminds Mephisto of the value of ultimate personal freedom. When he does enter combat against Bor’s Disir, it’s almost incidental, with McKelvie couching it in a striking 24-panel layout on a single page. For all his prowess as a combat magician, this Loki’s real menace is embodied in his slinking, ambiguously androgynous physicality. Likewise, the Disir are portrayed as more than simple zombie Valkyrior; in McKelvie’s hands, their lust for the flesh of the Aesir appears as a depraved, nearly-sexual hunger. One panel of the Disir consuming a fallen god is enough to give rise to uneasy dreams.

I know Kieron pushes the limits in every issue of Thor; the amoral horrors of “The Latverian Prometheus” convinced me that he meant deadly serious business when it came to the deific end of the MU. Seeing Jamie step up and do the same in Siege: Loki made me more convinced than ever that someone needs to find him a job that pays better than Phonogram did, lock him in as far as he’s willing to be tied down, and let him get to it. As a primarily verbal person, it’s rare that I say this– but the art in Siege: Loki actually speaks more powerfully to me about the true nature of the Marvel Loki than anything I’ve read so far. If you have any interest in Thor’s part of the MU, even if you’re avoiding Siege somehow, you need this book. It’s the best thing Jamie McKelvie’s ever drawn, and that alone should be enough to recommend it to you.

Review: Demo #3

“Volume One Love Story”

Story: Brian Wood
Art: Becky Cloonan
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher

How we deal can define who we are. Crisis, excitement, disappointment– the way we react shapes both our self-perceptions and the way others perceive us. Most of the time, the line between those two realities is pretty solid. For Marlo, the focus of the newest issue of Demo, however, this line doesn’t exist. All the little things most of us keep inside our own minds are forced into the open for her in the form of post-it notes. She has hundreds of them, each one a comic book thought bubble made real. They leak out of her home, onto the bus she takes every day, her innermost processing stuck to the light posts and newspaper boxes she passes. She holds a pile of them in her lap at her therapy session. They’re a crutch, but they make her happy.

Until, one day, other notes start to appear in her office, on her doorstep, in her house. Notes in another hand altogether. Notes that aren’t hers, whose author appears to know her quite well indeed.

“Volume One Love Story” wears its heart on its sleeve, just like one of Marlo’s notes. It’s straightforward and breezy, and as Brian Wood notes in the issue’s backmatter, on-the-nose is sometimes the only way to fly. Given how dark any given issue of Demo can be, this story’s placement in the middle of the series is both surprising and welcome. It’s a cheerful chaser, a shot of quirky sunshine in the middle of darker stories like issue two’s “Pangs.”

While Wood’s story- his “cutest” ever, according to Becky Cloonan- is certainly at the heart of things here, once again it’s Cloonan’s art that brings it to life. Demo‘s creative team really is a dream collaboration; I would love to see a reprint of this issue colored in the simple, bright style of the cover, just to enhance the bold linework. Becky also lettered every one of the post-its, and while Brian was careful to fill in messages for the plot-specific ones, the rest of the notes were all her own work. The end result, and the way they’re used in both story and art, is rather like a deeply personal set of the Oblique Strategies– Marlo uses them as guides to internal structure and springboards for personal expression, even consulting them during her therapy sessions.

We’re halfway through the series and Demo is holding strong with what might be its strongest entry yet. Wood and Cloonan promise another walk down the dark side of the street in the preview for issue #4, “Waterbreather.” I have a feeling I’ll enjoy the entire collection of tales either way, but I can hope for at least one more lighter note like “Volume One Love Story” before we’re done.