So…This is Probably Worth a Mention

By Sean Fahey

 I wrote an introduction for the trade paperback of Dark Horse Comics’ The Moth, which was released a few months ago (BUY IT HERE!).  The other week when I was picking up my comic books, the guy that works my shop – cool guy, but who I’d never really talked to before – said as I walked in the door, “You never told me you wrote the introduction to a comic book! Why would you keep that a secret?”

Good point.

The Moth is a very cool comic book, and Gary Martin and Steve Rude were nice enough to ask me to write an intro for it – which was one of the high points of my life.  I’d recommend this book to anyone that digs Silver Age inspired comic books – stuff that sets out to be nothing more than fun and exciting.  The type of stuff that attracted us to comic books in the first place.

The Hitpack: A Digital Comic… and the Way of the Future?

By Dave Davis

 This review is gonna start out as a rant. I can’t help that. Bear with me here…

See, I have a standing bet with column honcho Sean Fahey that within ten years, monthly comics as we now know them will barely exist… and something tells me he’s gonna be buying me a whole lot of drinks.

When the creator of The Hitpack, declared as “the first totally digitally distributed comic”, dropped us a line to check out the premiere issue, Sean said he needed to think about “opening the doors to web-comics”. I told him it was too late, the door was opening whether or not he turned the handle: the whole online comic book craze is already resembling early MP3 trading, with .CBR files of complete scanned comics one of the most downloaded items on various file-sharing programs. And there’s even less regulation than when Napster first debuted several years back.

Publishers and retailers will tell you that there will always be monthly comic books, because people will always want to hold them in their hands, people aren’t interested in reading comics on their computer, etc. (of course, many of these same people also long underestimated the potential female comic audience, which probably now accounts for half of sales when manga is factored into the equation). Maybe I’m just cynical, but clutching tightly to the archaic format (I can’t help but think of laserdiscs when I think of monthly comics) seems like a highly optimistic viewpoint, especially with the “right now” attitude that audiences have developed from cellphones and broadband and on-demand cable.

Collections and tech, those are the two directions I see comics going (and potentially merging).  Look at the shelves of your local major bookseller and you’ll probably find a comic section that’s grown five times bigger in as many years, but it’s stocked with manga and trade collections with scarcely a "floppy" monthly book to be found. More and more, readers prefer to have a whole story presented to them, and how can you argue against people who “wait for the trade” (like myself) when you can watch an entire season of a TV series over a weekend thanks to DVD? Sure, that might also attract new viewers to the regular weekly series as it’s aired, but getting 44 minutes of fresh entertainment per week is far more enticing than waiting an entire month (if the comic you’re reading actually makes its solicited release date, which is increasingly rare) to purchase another "episode" of a book you’ll read in 15 minutes, isn’t it?

There’s a perception that the comic industry is currently robust, experiencing a “resurgence”. But when you consider that only hyped “event” titles (House of M, Infinite Crisis) push more than 100,000 copies while brilliant books like Brian Azzarello’s 100 Bullets or Warren Ellis’ Desolation Jones are lucky to lure 20,000 readers on a monthly basis, relatively speaking those figures seems almost infinitesimal. Hell, that’s less than 10% of this site’s visitors on a really slow day, and barely a decimal point of the worst-rated TV series on any “boutique” cable network. And smaller independent publishers sell maybe 3,000 copies per title and consider that a major victory.

I bought a DVD player back when there were only about five films actually worth owning available on the format. I had a portable MP3/media player that could store and display full-length movies about a year before iPod got around to releasing their version. I’m not trying to sound superior or prescient, just ready and willing to accept new technology (and not always for the better – yeah, I once dropped $600 for a 3D0). My point is that humans are progressively more receptive and adaptive to changes in the way they experience entertainment – the same people who not long ago despised “those black bars” on their movies are now buying widescreen TVs by the thousands. And similarly, in five or ten years I predict that printed material will almost assuredly diminish as people view their periodicals on their laptop or PSP2 or tablet or whatever becomes the next affordable and accessible portable fusion gizmo.

Which is an excessively long way for me to get to The Hitpack. Creators Enrique Corts and Mar Hernandez have constructed a comic format that may not be revolutionary, but it’s certainly evolutionary.  There have already been online comics, sure – basic cartoon strips, Flash animations, the aforementioned .CBR files – but this is the first I’ve seen that’s forward-thinking and genuinely optimized for computers.  More than a simple file, The Hitpack has a slick but uncomplicated interface menu reminiscent of a special edition DVD, with options and features that include sketches, pinups, and “behind-the-scenes” progress of pencil, ink and coloring stages. Loads of goodies, really — the sort of stuff you’d expect from a beefy trade paperback or one of those overpriced “director’s cut” comics.

So how is The Hitpack comic itself?  Not bad at all, actually (though I’m fuzzy on what that title means).  The story is fun but reasonably standard fare – teenage outcast Amy Sanchez is abused by her mom’s drunken boyfriend and picked on by the school bullies. One night she dreams of a strange woman named Lilith and wakes to develop supernatural abilities, which she discovers when a trio of armed priests arrives at her school to ask her a few questions, leading to no small amount of bloodshed — definitely intriguing enough to merit checking out the second issue.  The artwork is exaggerated and dynamic, with a style that reminds me of artists like Damion Scott (Batgirl) or Humberto Ramos, and the outstanding coloring work is appropriate for the kinetic action and cartoonish character designs. The page layout is horizontal, so that it fills a computer monitor, and the panels flow nicely, while a quick mouse click takes you forward or backward through the 30+ pages.

The best part is that the whole package will cost you a measly $1.70, less than half the price of many print comics — only Marvel and DC have consistently held their price point below three bucks.  You can purchase the first issue of The Hitpack and download it immediately from their site at . 

I’m rather impressed by what the creative team behind The Hitpack have put together – bonus points for their venture’s style and initiative, and I hope they keep it coming on a regular basis and hopefully expand to other titles. It’s a great and inexpensive method for prospective comic publishers to get comics into people’s hands (or hard drives, as it were) with a velocity that beats traveling to a local store (sorry, retailers) or waiting for the UPS guy to ship your mail order.  To be honest, if Marvel announced they were abandoning print next year and going strictly to this format, I’m sure people would be up in arms… but not me.  I’d also wager Marvel would sell several times as many issues of any book they’re printing now, and they could do it at half the price and with far more immediacy and efficiency. How would they figure out how to incorporate advertising, or prevent dissemination or piracy?  I have no idea – that’s up to the high-paid corporate chimps to figure out.  As long as the Hitpack creators get proper credit and compensation.


Statute Of Limitations For Spoiler Warnings Is Over!  Jason Todd Is Back Where He Belongs: Annoying The Hell Out Of "Batman" In Issue #647

By Rob Glenn

 Jason Todd, the second Robin for Batman, was lame.  When he was initially created there was little to distinguish him from Dick Grayson, the first Robin.  In essence, Todd was only there so that writers at DC could have it both ways: They had the former Robin who had come into his own and was leading the Teen Titans AND they got the amateur crimefighter adolescent to contrast Batman’s know-how.  Except the new Robin was Grayson to the extreme.  His bad puns and wild undisciplined wackiness were annoying.  That’s why in 1988 when DC let the fans phone-in vote whether he lived or died, they voted to off him (no matter how close the race was).  His subsequent death was the best thing that could have happened to the Batman universe.  In death he created a new facet of guilt complex for the Dark Knight and therefore made his existence in the first place more essential than years of his irritating one-liners could ever hope to do.  Up until recently, the best Jason Todd story could be found in the trade paperback that collects the events leading up to and immediately after his passing.  It’s called A Death in the Family (BUY IT HERE!) and it makes for great reading.

So here we are over a decade and a half later and they’ve brought Jason Todd back.  Opinions on his return are pretty polarized.  Those against his return only seem to have one major complaint in that comic book characters just can’t stay dead.  Like a daytime soap, you can count on no one staying dead for long if they’re popular enough.  Why can’t they just stick to something as arc-transforming as a dead character?  Those who are for his return are excited by the effect he may have on Gotham in general and Batman in specific.  It still isn’t clear how Todd escaped death in the first place.  Or why he is back in Gotham now to fight crime in a more violent fashion than the Bat.  Or even what his ultimate goal may be.  As far as this reviewer is concerned, the jury is still out.  When Todd’s new place in the Batman’s mythos is in a relatively fixed state, a judgement can be made.  Until then, the ride has been plenty fun.  Seeing Todd reenact his own death by the Joker with the roles reversed?  That’s just cool!  Having Todd wear the Red Hood that in some continuities is where the Joker himself started out?  Also cool!  There being a new crimefighter in Gotham that is fighting for the same goals as Batman without the need to pull punches?  We’ll see. 

In the latest issue of Batman (#647, on shelves now) Batman’s conundrum is his foreknowledge of a trap set by Black Mask to take out Todd.  Should he come to the aid of his former protégé? Or should he let Todd understand in the harshest of environments that when it comes to fighting crime in Gotham there are two choices; Batman’s way and get out of the way?  In this issue, too, the DC crossover event Infinite Crisis pokes its nose in.  Since the arc known as "War Games", the Black Mask was the uncontested leader of the underworld.  The Crisis’ collection of bad guys known as "The Society" shows up in the form of Deathstroke offering to remove Todd (known to them as only "Red Hood") in exchange for Black Mask’s signing up.

This meeting of the bad guys makes for a pretty humorous segment.  The Joker has, up until recent times, been the sole comedy-potential rogue to contrast with the mirthless Batman.  Judd Winick writes a very funny Black Mask.  A conversation in this issue regarding the obscurity of another character’s gender is out loud funny.  If you’ve let your Batman subscription lapse because you didn’t like them "bringing another dead character back again, for crying out loud" then you may want to give it a second chance with this issue.  Because, until ultimately proven otherwise, Jason Todd’s return can only be a good thing.


First Look: Dixon and Mahnke Offer “Team Zero” of the Navarone

By Russell Paulette

 More than any writer working in comics today, if someone told me that Chuck Dixon was really Alistair MacLean reincarnate, I’d be hard pressed to tell them that they were a liar.  Known for stuff like next week’s Team Zero—the first of a six issue mini-series exploring the sordid, spy-fueled past of the Wildstorm universe—Dixon’s strengths lie with the plot-oriented, guys-with-guns, stuff-‘splode-real-good genre.  He’s terse, lean with his dialogue and prose, and very committed to turns of the plot and action set-pieces, and this book has all of that and…well, I was going to say more, but really, that’s about it—just a tough guy summer blockbuster, here.

That’s not to say that it’s bad.  Dixon sets up an interesting enough premise where Collins, the square-jawed hero codenamed Deathblow—as well as the lone survivor of a suicide mission into the Axis side of the Bering Strait—is hand-picked for a top secret mission into some of the Nazi rocket labs at Pennemunde.  Being the good soldier that he is, he snaps to, but not after a night of reveille with a local nurse that soon turns dangerous.  His mission starts once he handpicks his men, which is where the issue leaves us.

Dixon is good, keeping the book moving along at a brusque pace, keeping the action flowing and the dialogue snappy and clipped.  There isn’t much in the way of character interaction or anything—the government handlers are appropriately wormy, and Collins is appropriately tough guy, and that’s about it.  There are signs and portents pointing towards connections with the mythology of the Wildstorm Universe—apparently, this guy is the World War II era Deathblow, so ten points if you can tell me who Deathblow was—but, ultimately, it doesn’t seem too terribly important to an understanding of the story.  This guy is thick, square-jawed, and bad-assed—that’s really everything this first issue meant to communicated, and after seeing him standing with a syringe of truth serum in his neck, let me tell you, the point is taken.

Speaking of unforgettable images, Doug Mahnke does a breathlessly ballsy job on the artwork, giving us lovingly rendered scenes of carnage, destruction and ball-stomping bravura.  While, to some extent, it does feel like he’s going through the motions, Mahnke’s half-hearted efforts come off as clean, crisp and clear in the storytelling and rad-as-hell in the execution.  If you couldn’t tell, I’ve long had a man-crush on the man, and this issue is no different. 

He does an excellent job, even if you can somehow tell he’s not enervated by the goings-on, and either way, combined with Dixon’s pared-to-the-bone script, this just looks like good dumb fun of the six guns and grenades variety. 



Artist Mike Allred’s “Solo” is an Endearing Love Letter to Comic Books

By Sean Fahey

 Mike Allred’s Solo is a just a beautiful comic book, and I mean beautiful in every sense of the word.  Visually, Allred’s style is in a category all it’s own – a unique blend of Silver Age influences with a modern pop bent.  Very unique.  Very groovy.  Very cool.  And Solo is an incredible tour-de-force of Allred’s hip visual style.  Equally impressive though is Allred’s prose – and Solo is an endearing, heartfelt and unapologetic love letter to comic books.  Very moving.  Very thoughtful.  Quite beautiful. 

Though the framework of Solo allows the featured artist access to the entire DC Universe, it comes as no surprise really that Allred focuses entirely on DC’s Silver Age period.  The Metal Men.  The Teen Titans.  Doom Patrol.  The New Gods.  Batman.  The JLA.  They’re all here, as if (understandably) Allred simply couldn’t say no to himself – that given the opportunity to visit the candy shop, he was going to make darn sure he took a bite out of everything.  And naturally his enthusiasm for the characters and the period is contagious.  You can tell Allred had the time of his life working on this book. 

This is a fun book, generally quite upbeat and lighthearted.  “An Hour with Hourman” is a hilarious vignette following (you guessed it) Hourman – who has mistakenly taken a strength-inducing Miraclo pill – as he tries to burn off energy anyway he can.  Delivering pizzas, walking dogs, digging ditches, playing basketball, you name it.  Allred nails the requisite (frantic) comedic pacing.  “Doom Patrol vs. Teen Titans” is equally amusing, as Allred plays up the generation gap between the two teams by having the Titans host a groovy teenage superhero dance party one floor directly above the stuffy Doom Patrol curmudgeons.  Wacky shenanigans ensue.  And though only two pages long, the zany Mister Miracle tale “Fourth World Wager” will certainly get a few laughs. 

The centerpiece of Solo though is “Batman A-Go-Go,” a fascinating and powerful statement about the tone of modern superhero comic books – especially the modern concept of “realistic” superhero comic books.  It’s poignant and I can’t do the piece justice in this short review, but suffice it to say that it is the most creative defense of Silver Age values that I’ve read.  Essentially Allred asks why it’s not enough for our heroes to be virtuous and brave beyond reproach – why instead they have to become as “dark” as the villains they are trying to stop.  To say that it’s a thought provoking piece is an understatement.  And, as if to put an exclamation point on the issue, Allred closes Solo out with a semi-autobiographical piece illustrating how his love for comics developed and why the Silver Age – and the values it represents – is so important to him.

Solo is a work of art. A hip, stylish, heartfelt and endearing work of art.


"Industry of War" Skirts The Realism/Cyborg Angle To Surprisingly Efficient Effect

By Rob Glenn

 The most daunting aspect of getting into comics for the uninitiated has got to be the massive amount of titles to choose from.  You have the big two: Marvel and DC.  Those are the most easily recognizable.  Say you want to go with Marvel, how about X-Men?  That team has a couple of decent movies recently made about them, so that may be a good place to start.  But wait, should you go Ultimate X-Men, New X-Men or Uncanny X-Men?  Oh, and don’t forgot the big event crossover Marvel has going with The House of M.  You run into similar problems at DC.  Batman has Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, The Batman Strikes, All Star Batman & Robin and a myriad of miniseries that pop up here and there.  DC’s own crossover event Infinite Crisis also makes for a confusing mess for people who just want to read a comic and see what it’s all about.  This is why the notion that indie comics and more adult oriented graphic novels being viewed as some kind of "graduation" from super hero books shouldn’t be the case.  Truthfully, it should be the reverse.  Self-contained stories are best suited for those who are interested in testing the waters.  Later on if one feels they want a more wide-sweeping storyline including many artists and writers working toward a deep environment of interconnected plots, then they should all means pick up a few titles from one of the big two.

Industry of War – Act One was found on the new release wall of my local comics shop nestled in with all the other monthlies.  However, this book is a whopping 72 pages!  The story by Jordan Raskin began it’s career as a fully-fleshed screenplay that translates easily to the graphic page.  It is an exciting time for film and comics alike now that creators are moving effortlessly between the page and the screen.  In 2003, Mark Steven Johnson used a Frank Miller sequence of the death of Elektra panel-by-panel as the storyboard in his under-liked Daredevil film.  More famously, Robert Rodriguez concocted a whole movie using comic panels as storyboards in his Sin City.  Raskin’s Industry of War – Act One is just that; the first act of his screenplay.  With help of his childhood friend Andrew Lelling, Raskin has brought his story to the graphic page in a much more enriched version than what one would see in a comic book adaptation.  This is the first version created with the end user in mind to consume.

The story for Industry of War is two-tiered.  It’s set in 1993 when the government was in a rush to excise it’s famous surplus of outdated or unused property.  Accidentally (or perhaps just carelessly) cyborg implant war machines called "Personal Combat Apparatus" were pushed out into the general populace.  When one remembers the final scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Ark of the Covenant is packed into an unmarked crate placed in the back of a random warehouse, this doesn’t seem so far-fetched.  We bounce between two government agents in charge of retrieving all the missing "PCA’s" and the A plot of a former gangbanger recently released from prison who comes into contact with one of the units in question.  Here we see shades of both Azzarello’s 100 Bullets and The Borg from Star Trek… only surprisingly more realistic effect than what you’d assume a combination of those two might be.

The art is rendered in glorious black and white using a technique of computer-rendered shading and "coloring".  Stippling and cross-hatching is exact in nature and the effect isn’t as stylized as that sounds.  Instead, it looks as though someone has taken photos from a newspaper and blown them up on a photocopier that has been overloaded with toner.  There’s a messy realism to the art that adds considerably to the documentary style Raskin is going for.  The only thing counteracting this effect is the over-sized "cartoony" sound effect words placed over the panels.  There is a strange dichotomy when you see an amazingly well drawn picture of a jeep exploding and then you see the giant-sized block-lettered word "BA-BLAMM" superimposed over it.

This is a damn good story with art to match.  It’s a self-contained story where you don’t need to pick up four other issues of other titles to know what’s going on.  To say that Industry of War is a good place to start a person’s exposure to comics may imply that this title is simplistic enough for "noobs" to enjoy.  This is not the case.  In fact, this is a good title to start readers on because it shows some amazing places the graphic novel can take us.  And that’s what we want to impress upon people: this medium can do so much if you give it half a chance.


First Look: Gerber on a Consecutive Sentence with “Hard Time Season 2”

By Russell Paulette

 At first flush, Hard Time didn’t seem to hold any water.  Oh, so he’s a disaffected youth convicted of a tragic school shooting.  And we get to watch him go through adolescence while stuck in prison.  I’m sure everyone reading this review can put together the logline.  “It’s Oz meets My So Called Life.”  What that hackneyed formula doesn’t reflect is the strength of Steve Gerber’s writing, and the cartoony grit of Brian Hurtt’s linework.  Next week brings the first issue of season two of the run—last time around we saw a full twelve issues focusing on Ethan Wallace’s trials and travails in the state pen, and this time it looks like we’re in for another good set of twelve. 

Gerber’s joined by his sometimes writing partner, Mary “Betcha Thought Omega The Unknown was the Last You’d Hear From Me” Skrenes, and the two of them are on form with this first volley.  Like any good, mid-stream nighttime drama, this issue reorients longtime fans as well as proving a good jumping-on point for new readers.  The plot mainly consists of Ethan being offered a chance to tell his side of the story by prisoners’ rights activists, which gives Gerber and Skrenes the chance to illuminate some of the motivation behind the school shooting incident that got Ethan convicted in the first place.  While still holding fast on the picked-on-by-bullies route, Gerber and Skrenes paint a fair portrait of adolescent victimization that is clichéd insofar as it serves its purpose.  What the writers manage to pull off, however, is presenting a situation that seems sadly familiar while simultaneously engaging the reader with the emotional truth of it all.  It’s not so much a matter of the what being original, but the how it’s presented that makes it so.

This issue touches on the more fantastical elements that were a weird hook of the last run, but for the most part keeps it at the book’s fringes—so longtime readers won’t get any definitive answers they felt were lacking, while new readers aren’t completely lost.

Hurtt delivers on the artistic end, with effective, straightforward storytelling and a design sense that is simultaneously graphic and cartoony while still carrying the appropriate grit and realism.  His linework keeps the imagery loose, while still carrying enough depth and shading to make the graphic, grody stuff look appealing.  His panel work is interesting without being distracting, and his use of varying the panel borders for the flashback sequences work rather well.

Overall, it’s an attractive package from the writing on down through the artwork.  It’s a premise that is intriguing once you sink your teeth into it, particularly in how far with gusto Gerber and Skrenes take the concept.  It’s not enough to just do a teen drama in prison, but to really drift into it and explore the nuances of all the characters takes skill and bravura, which this book has in spades. 


 The Black Heart Irregulars # 2 (Blue King Studios) – I wasn’t wildly impressed with the first issue of this series, but in the second issue things definitely come together, both for the characters and stylistically for the creators.  The book – which follows a team of private security specialists in Iraq – is more sophisticated than I originally imagined.  Writer Neil Hendrick weaves some very intriguing geopolitical issues about the Middle East oil-power structure and Wahhabism into his narrative, which makes for a more engaging and topical read.  That said, The Black Heart Irregulars is ultimately a very tongue-in-cheek story about over-the-top mercenaries looking to mix it up in the desert, though an interesting CIA conspiracy arc (reminiscent of The Losers) begins to surface in this issue.  The dialogue and humor can be a bit stilted at times, but it lends itself to the “summer action movie” feel of the comic, and this issue does have a hilarious scene with the mercenaries taunting the guards at the Abu Ghraib prison.  A fun read with some solid black and white artwork by Ulises Carpintero. – Sean

RATING:  3 out of 5 Vikings

 Hatter M: The Looking Glass Wars # 1 (Image Comics) – I found it difficult to get into this book.  Naturally, not having read Frank Beddor’s popular novel upon which the characters in this comic are based puts me at a distinct disadvantage.  But that said, I’m not sure a dark de-mystification of “Alice and Wonderland” is something I would be enthusiastic about reading to begin with.  Some things just don’t need to be reinvented.  Nevertheless, Hatter M continues where Beddor’s novel left off, revealing the “true” story of Alyss, exiled to Victorian England from the peaceful utopia that she ruled.  In her absence, Wonderland has become a brutal dictatorship and the chief of Alyss’ security, Hatter Madigan, must restore her to the throne before it is too late.  But first, he must find her. Beddor and writer Liz Cavalier do an interesting job with the title character, in a sense “explaining” the perception of his madness being nothing more than his fish-out-of-water status.  But that in and of itself cuts right to what I find problematic about this book; I don’t want the Mad Hatter “explained.”  I prefer “Alice and Wonderland” as a trippy dream world, not a bloody civil conflict.  The production values for this book are undeniably high – and the raw, dark style of Ben Templesmith’s art is very appropriate for what the writers are trying to accomplish here.  Ultimately though, it’s just not my cup of tea.  Sean


Think You Have What it Takes to Be a Warrior-Scribe?

We’re going to be looking for another reviewer in the near future.  Details will be forthcoming.  This is just an early heads-up.  As was the case during the last go-around (when we picked up Graig, Russell and Rob) you’ll be asked to review about four comics (at least two of which will be pre-selected by us ahead of time so as to create a level basis for comparison) under a specific time schedule.  Just want you to be aware ahead of time of what it will basically entail.

We’re looking for someone talented, creative, dependable and proficient with either a battle-axe or a double-handed sword.  Frost Giants need not apply (unless their comic reviewing skills are top-notch, of course).

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