Review: Vision Machine #2

Written by: Greg Pak
Pencils by: R.B. Silva
Inks by: Alexandre Palomaro
Colors by: Java Tartaglia
Letters by: Charles Pritchett

Ahhh, the Singularity. The best friend of speculative fiction in the early 21st century, along with nanites and steampunk. Equal parts valid and dangerous to use, a crutch in the wrong hands and magic in the right hands.

Enter Vision Machine by Greg Pak. Normally this is where I’d give a brief breakdown in what’s come and gone so far in the first two parts. I don’t have to, however, because Pak is using this series to fully embrace the concepts he explores on the page; the comic is being released for free and under a Creative Commons license. You can find issue one and two on the comic’s website (as well a bunch of other great stuff, meta and not), and  via ComiXology for iPad and iPhone. Also worth noting is that he’s releasing this himself via his own Pak Man Productions label, sans help from any publisher at all, along with some help from the Ford Foundation.

Let me reiterate– this is all for free.  No excuses; there’s nothing stopping you from giving Vision Machine a look.  And you should give it a look, because…

…what Greg’s done here is nothing less than construct this generation’s Give Me Liberty. Frank Miller’s grim, fin-headed approach to having grown up in the Vietnam era is swept aside and replaced with the age of Apple and Google’s preternatural rise to domination of the societal hive mind. Laser cannons, brains in jars, and classical revolution are replaced with the hip new product launch, the dark battlefield of content ownership, and the overarching war for information. Every page and panel- wonderfully delivered by R.B. Silva with pencil work that just gets better as the series progresses-  is gleaming, sharp, Jonathan Ive clean. All of the usual dystopic trappings are cast aside, and instead of cheapening the message, the look serves to draw me closer to the characters.

Ultimately what’s winning me over the most so far is that it’s not automatically based on the premise that all of this has to suck. I wrote part of this on an iPad (take that, consumption-not-creation argument!); my iPhone goes everywhere I do. I enjoy this stuff because it honestly does bring me my information and computing experience to me in the best way possible for me, and also because it’s cool to use. Vision Machine takes the same stance; technology is a tool, like any other weapon. It’s not the concept of the iEye that’s evil here, it about the people manipulating it and being manipulated by it. Focusing on the makers and the manipulators instead of fetishizing the gear moves Vision Machine’s storytelling the essential step beyond the namedropping didacticism that characterizes a goodly chunk of probable-future SF these days.

There’s still an issue to go, but I have a feeling Vision Machine will be on my short list of books to hook new readers with, next to Atomic Robo and Thor: The Mighty Avenger. It’s an instantly compelling book, a fantastic read with no barrier to entry. There’s no reason not to grab the PDF and post it far and wide.

Just mind the EULA…

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.

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.