First Look: Writer/Artist Matt Wagner Peers into Year Two with “Batman and the Monster Men”

By Russell Paulette

 I suppose if one were to line up all the ‘early career’ Batman stories end-to-end, you’d probably cover more than half of his career.  For some reason, those early years capture the creator’s imagination more than any other period in the fictive history of the character—if nothing else, it immediately gives you the opportunity to have him make a mistake and learn from it, thus achieving some semblance of a character arc.  The fun, then, isn’t in making sense of all the stories in toto, but seeing what each individual creator brings to the show.

With writer/artist Matt Wagner, hearing his attention was being drawn to those early years was enough to pique my interest.  A longtime fan of his Grendel books, I’ve followed his work with keen interest, only lately being mildly disappointed in his lackluster cover work for DC, as well as his Trinity mini-series—a three-part prestige book that showed promise in focusing on the Big Three DC heroes, but flagged a little in the execution.  With the first issue of his new mini-series, Batman and the Monster Men, Wagner shows some of the expected flair and panache that has me excited again.

In terms of plot, Wagner’s throwing some predetermined and comforting Batmaniac signposts in there to let us all know that its not too-far off the beaten track.  Longtime Batfans will find comfort in the mob-boss being named Maroni, and the mad scientist as Professor Hugo Strange.  I’m unclear whether the philanthropist, Norman Madison, or his daughter, Julie, have connections to BatHistory, but either way, Wagner weaves them all into a tapestry that includes businessmen in league with mobsters, mobsters in league with crazy geneticists, and crazy geneticists kidnapping young socialites who insult his stature for use in his crazy experiments.  Connect the dots, and you can see where Batman will eventually fit in with all of this.

So, in a general sense, it’s kind of a by-the-numbers Batman story, but in some ways, it’s refreshing.  There’s the plot elements that require detective work by Batman, and others that require the Young Bruce Wayne, socialite role, and all the assorted Gotham politicking that comes with it.  Is it terribly original?  Probably not.  But will it scratch a classic Batman itch that comes from having plowed through your Batman Begins Deluxe Edition dvd?  Without a doubt.

One of the other major appeals of Wagner’s work has always been his art.  Here’s no different, as he draws in the familiar paired down style, that shows a command of expression and cartooning, that never quite draws attention to itself. He’s shown a willingness in his pen-and-ink work of late, to drawing his characters a little thicker, and just when I’m starting to doubt the effectiveness of his linework, he throws in a hero-shot of Batman leaping from the shadows, and I’m in love all over again.  This is closer to his Trinity artwork, if any of you saw that, so it does have that blocky edge to it, but like most of his work throughout his career, the storytelling is sharp, nuanced and dreadfully effective.

All in all, it’s a promising start to what looks to be a fun mini-series, and with a title that promises “Monster Men,” what’s not to love?


Got a business problem you can’t solve?  Don’t find the Corporate Ninja, he’ll find you.

By Graig Kent

 There are certain things in today’s internet/kitsch/pop-culture market that, to the trendy, the hip and the insufferably cool, they equal entertainment gold.  These are things like monkeys, zombies, pirates and, yes, ninjas.  You can use any of these concepts for the basis of something serious or as the premise for comedy and already you will have your foot in the door of popularity.  Of course the rest relies on the talents of the creator.

Thankfully for Corporate Ninja, its creator Matt Mocarski he has a keen sense of satire and a full understanding of bizarre as comedy.  In the first issue of this new Slave Labor Graphics series the “Blue Fish Co.” has decided, on the words of a plucky young intern with a stripy tie, to shift its marketing strategy from their traditional Navy Blue to Sky Blue in hopes of capturing more of the new, confusing and mysterious “women’s market”.  All on board decree it madness, but the Pirate/CEO says otherwise.  He’s wrong of course, and their competitor “Red Fish” trounces them at the supermarket, the haven of these new “female consumers”.  The defeat is so painful, even an executive shopping spree can’t lift company morale. 

Enter the Corporate Ninja. 

His skills are legendary, both in the ways of the ninja, and in the ways of business consultation, be your problem marketing, human resources or financial, the Corporate Ninja is there to help.  In this situation he researches and studies intently this “women’s market” (occasionally getting sidetracked by repeats of “One Day At A Time”) finally understanding that it’s not the product but a reluctant market.  The new strategy for the Sky Blue Blue Fish is so ingenious, I’ll save it for the reader to discover.  But the Ninja’s new marketing ploy isn’t going to be accepted by its intended market lightly, not while Kathy Montgomery: Female Shopper has anything to say about it.  The two battle fiercely in the aisles of the supermarket, and, all I have to say is poor Timmy, Spawn of Kathy’s Womb of Doom.

Slave Labor Graphics has always done well finding incredible talents for their humour roster, from legends like Jhonen Vasquez (Johnny the Homicidal Maniac) and Evan Dorkin (Milk & Cheese) to newer blood like Jamie Smart (Bear) and James Turner (Nil: A Land Beyond Belief), each having their own distinct aesthetic and style of humor.   Mocarski is the latest fresh blood, and Corporate Ninja fits right in by being so different, plus he uses pirates and ninjas in the same book.  You’ve got to like that.  Can’t wait for the next one.


Daniel Way and Keu Cha Mark Yet-Another New Era for “The Incredible Hulk”

By Russell Paulette

 I feel like it wasn’t all that long ago that I was heralding Peter David back onto the Hulk for a brand-new start.  Such is life with the mainstream super-books, I’m afraid.  This month, wish issue # 88, we’re embarking on a new creative team’s run, namely writer Daniel Way and artist Keu Cha.  Way’s a little-engine-that-could kind of writer, whose books are mostly off of everyone’s radar, but every chance I get, I check his stuff out, because it usually amuses the hell out of me.  He made me read a mini-series with Bullseye as the lead character—a five-issue run that was far more entertaining than it had any right to be—and the fact that I’ve read his entire run on a Venom title is either a testament to his writing, or a sign of mental deficiency on my part, I can’t quite tell.

Either way, his first issue of the Hulk is off to a promising start, as he introduces a status quo moment of Banner sequestering himself in a cabin in the woods of Alaska for the sake of, you know, everyone.  He gets regular, monthly supply shipments from a fella named Mark, who convinces him to, hey, come on down to town and hang out at the bar.  You shouldn’t be all cooped up here yadda yadda.  Being a social creature, Banner takes him up on it and, of course, encounters some Bad Men who are going to do Bad Things to a woman, and he Hulks up to save the day.  So, all in all, a standard start, as Way uses this as an opportunity to lay down the groundwork, to have the Mark fella drop a cliffhanger bomb that reveals there’s more to this story than just simply Hulk living On Golden Pond.

What makes Way’s writing work especially well isn’t its overwhelming originality, but more in the way that he makes the familiar feel comfortable.  There’s a certain naturalism to his work that, though you maybe can guess the next beat in a scene, doesn’t make it bad writing.  I’ve enough trust in his work to know at some point in the near future to expect something unexpected, but in the meantime he’s going to hit all the right notes in all the right ways to get us there safely and easily.  It’s a tonic, and if you’re looking for just that, this first part to his ongoing run isn’t a bad place to start.

On the art front, Cha shows some fantastic artistic chops.  With what looks to be art shot from his pencils, he adds a surprisingly delicate, textured feel to the book—particularly since his star is a ten-foot-tall green guy.  There’s a naturalism to the art as well—it reminds me, almost, of Audobon’s nature drawings—and all the character work is distinctive enough that everyone feels unique.  (Though, he does draw lots of dudes with back-woods beards, and that can make it a mite difficult to differentiate—regardless, it’s good work.)

Again, it’s not work that’s going to knock your socks off, break the bank, or invent a clever new cliché, but it gets the job done efficiently and without any fuss.


3 and a half 

Brian Wood Packs Heat and Heads for the “DMZ”

By Russell Paulette

 It’s hard not to see Brian Wood’s work as activist.  Channel Zero, his premiere graphic novel, was a book that wore its anti-corporate heart on its sleeve, infusing each panel with satirical propaganda slogans intended to overwhelm the reader with an ironic commentary on our own media.  What it lacked, however, was a strong narrative through-line, and in the years since—on books like the exceptional Couscous Express, the delightful Pounded, and the curiously uneven-but-still-plenty-amazing Demo—Wood has shown a knack for building an effective story spine, and giving his narrative a strong push.

With the first issue of his new Vertigo ongoing, DMZ, he combines some of that anti-corporate rabble-rousing, with his burgeoning sense of narrative design, and come up with a compelling book that has an equally compelling hook.  Seems, in this slightly futuristic world, a secessionist group calling themselves the Free States have broken off from the USA and formed their own country, maintaining an open war with Manhattan serving as the eponymous dividing line.  Matthew Roth, a young, eager undergratuate photography student has pulled strings to be embedded with a military unit traveling into Manhattan—only the worst happens, his military group is shot out of the skies and killed, and he has to defend himself on the mean streets of war-torn New York.  While there, he falls into a hostile friendship with a young, punk girl, who begins to give him native view on the island, teaching him not to believe everything he hears on the news.

There’s a much easier narrative through-line on which to hang your hat with this book—Roth’s journey through war-torn Manhattan gives us a viable, naïve protagonist whose outlook on things is virtually our own.  Because of the nature of the type of story that is, we can expect his outlook—and, thus, our own—to be radically shaken by the events of the book, and we can be led right along with him into a world of moral uncertainty and disbelief.  Because of the construction, Wood has successfully given us the right kind of vehicle for his social commentary and, as such, is going to make some of the activist arguments easier to swallow.  Make no mistake—this book obviously has an agenda, but it also seems to have a compelling story through which to proffer the agenda.

Artwise, Riccardo Burchielli seems to handle the bulk of the duties, and does an admirable job. His work reminds me of a cross between a hyper-detailed artist like Colin “Losers and Point Blank” Wilson, and a looser, expressionist Pia “Y the Last Man” Guerra.  So, in a sense, it’s accessible while also maintaining a strong verisimilitude and, because of that, fits the tone rather well.  Wood is also credited as an artist—and whether that’s layouts or inking is unclear.  The first few pages offer a framing sequence, which strongly resembles his Zero artwork, so at least that discernibly carries his signature.

All in all, it’s a promising start—and one that is infused with all the strengths one would expect from the premise and the creative team.  Time will tell if some of Wood’s weaknesses will start to rear their heads, but for now, it’s a good first issue, and one that everyone should check out, regardless of agenda.





(NBM/Comics Lit) – BUY IT HERE!

 by Graig Kent

I have a friend who teaches grade four in one of the poorer neighbourhoods of my home town.  She’s a great teacher but there are just some kids she can’t get through to.  There was one child in her class last year had been bounced between different foster homes, a schizophrenic mother, and a mentally unstable father with his younger sister, not having a stable household in years.  He’s the primary caretaker of his sister whenever they are staying with one of his parents, and he probably takes care of the parent too.  He was seven when I met him.  At that age, it’s a lot for anyone to take in, never mind a kid.  So when he goes to school, that’s his escape from real life.  He has difficulty concentrating and likes to get a lot of attention by acting up.  Who can blame him though?

In Trailers, Josh Clayton is a teenage extension of my friend’s student.  He lives in a trailer park with his alcoholic prostitute mother, and is almost solely responsible for his two brothers and his sister (all from different fathers).   Josh’s father, meanwhile, is immature and thinks a low-paying video store clerk’s job is an acceptable career.  Josh obviously has some (non-Oedipus-like) issues regarding his mother, as he can’t seem to stand up to her nor find a way to separate himself from that life.  When his mother kills her pimp, Josh is left with the task of dealing with the body, something which weighs heavier and heavier on his conscience, especially the more the body keeps getting dug up by the locals. 

The only bright spot in Josh’s life is Michelle, a cute girl in class.  He sees himself as way too beneath her, but she’s much more intrigued by Josh’s life than she is put off by it.  Through her inspiration, Josh wants to make a change in his life, but that would require standing up to his mother, which is the most frightening thing he could ever face.

Trailers is a very meaty, intense, and respectful look at a life gone terribly wrong and out of control through no direct action of his own.  It’s about growing up, taking responsibility but also learning that you can’t always do everything alone.  It’s a sincere drama with moments of dark comedy written with naturalistic dialogue by Julie Collins-Rousseau.  The art by Mark Kneece is completely fitting with nicely defined characters, an expert handle on setting, and a cinematic storytelling sensibility.  Trailers straddles the border between powerful and entertaining, but manages moments of both equally well.  Recommended.



 Gotham Central # 37 (DC) – With this latest, stand-alone issue, the Crisis-du-jour comes to the relatively closed off and homogonous world of Gotham Central.  Greg Rucka, working with longtime partner, Steve Lieber, crafts a street-level tale of the effects of all the cosmic craziness on our favorite Gotham City detectives.  Rather than being a “red skies” kind of crossover tie-in, what is most effective about Rucka’s script is that it’s a perfect character vehicle for Allen, the oft-mouthpiece detective in Rucka’s stories.  In effect, the issue comes off like a disaster movie—as Allen, on the job when the crisis strikes, is merely fighting his way through the torrential plot points simply to reunite with his family.  This makes the issue flow smoothly, as it focuses largely on Allen’s human drama, leaving all the greater universe-dividing material up to the big boys.  A perfect addition to the book, and one that resonates less because it’s an off-procedural story, and more because it’s a pitch-perfect character piece.  Lieber, as usual, displays deft storytelling chops and effective character moments.  Russell


 Infinite Crisis #2 (DC) – For those of you who hopped on board after 1986, Infinite Crisis #2 catches you up to speed on what that whole Crisis on Infinite Earths thing was all about, and (negating the necessity of JSA Classified 1-4) finally reveals Power Girl’s true origins.  Geoff Johns does an excellent job in concisely summarising the original Crisis and in finally giving a sense of what the actual “event’ of this Crisis is.  At the same time, Johns kind of loses it in trying to juggle too much.  Short side-trips with Animal Man, Lex Luthor, Booster Gold, the Joker, and Batman all seem like geek appeasement, more than actual relevant story extensions (actually what they really appear to be is promotional efforts to try and get you to pick up the tie-in books).  Phil Jimenez is still doing some fantastic work, but the rotating cast of inkers gives the book a tangibly inconsistent feel, and his Power Girl looks clunky.  The Infinite Crisis is starting to fill out nicely, and this issue is the promising set-up that the first issue wasn’t.  Plus, a new, amazing mystery has surfaced:  Why is Jerry Ordway’s name on the cover when he had nothing to do with the book? –Graig


 The Book of Lost Souls # 1 & 2 (Marvel/Icon) – Arriving hot on the heels of one another, the first two issues of J. Michael Straczynski’s creator-owned Marvel book have shipped and the results are…less-than-breathtaking.  It starts with an interesting-enough premise—Jonathan is a man displaced through time charged with finding lost souls and recounting their stories in order to maintain a balance between forces of dark and light.  The first issue spells out Jonathan’s quest, and that’s about it, and the second gives us a sample adventure of one of these lost souls.  Formally, there’s a lot of interesting notions going on in the book—Straczynski has the lost soul story operate firmly in the fantastic and the real, affording artist Colleen Doran the opportunity to show off some formidable artistic chops.  The actual content, however, comes off as fairly pedestrian—an abused wife, seeing herself as a princess and her husband as a dragon, must come to terms with her station and slay the dragon.  Yawn.  But it’s executed rather well, and leaves me at a middle ground with the book.  I like the style and the presentation, but the actual content leaves me cold. – Russell


So ends this accounting of valiant warriors and high adventure! Return next week to honor still more comics. Praise Odin.


To discuss this column and all things Nordic, you may contact Sean at , Devon at , Dave at , Russell at , Rob at and Graig at