Thursday, 21 February 2013

New Beginnings - Justice League Of America #1

So in the span of a week we have found out that Geoff Johns is leaving the Green Lantern series (boo!) and at the same time he is starting a new line with the (late) arrival of Justice League of America.

Over the years, the JLA has had various incarnations, quite often incorporating at least one of the Justice League main members. On this occasion it is for very different reasons and flows from the reimagining of the New 52 Justice League. For this team is there as a failsafe. A potentially redundant safeguard against the original Justice League in case anything ever went wrong. The original member included in this line up is the Martian Manhunter who rather unceremoniously left (before a brief stint in Stormwatch) after a dispute. This also fuels his inclusion with Waller’s line up and her agenda too.

Although this team member is one of the latter to be approached, the remainder of the comic is dedicated to the other associates that he will have. The line up is unconventional to say the least as it contains Hawkman, Katana, Vibe, Star Girl, Green Arrow, Catwoman and the new Green Lantern, Simon Baz. All of which are carefully selected - not because of who they are - but what they can do. Each of them possesses a skill, strength or power that can neutralise a specific member of the League. This is also something that Colonel Steve Trevor can also see through, which is why he is prime to mould the group.

Considering that some of the characters are either relatively unknown - or have not been in the DCU for very long - Johns does a good job of introducing everyone and respecting their relative character flaws and foibles, without dumbing down their character traits. He has also created a huge air of unease, which will no doubt be a plot vehicle around this dysfunctional team.  This mix is one that will also not be widely well received in the public eye. And the large personalities within the group will cause a certain amount of friction.

Simon Baz epitomises this fantastically as he is the new Green Lantern recently added to the Corps only a few issues ago in the Green Lantern title, currently perceived by many as a terrorist. Johns is not afraid to bring existing history over for any of these individuals.

Whilst reading it as well it’s very easy to forget that there are actually three different storylines being explored here. In addition to the team's formation, we have the Dark Hunter (later revealed as Green Arrow in disguise) on the run, plus a flashback depicting Professor Ivo some years in the past taking on the mantel - along with others - as would-be super-villains. All things to come in no doubt which shows the forethought and planning that is already afoot.

David Finch, who most recently gave us the artwork on Batman: The Dark Knight, has joined Johns to create this title. Having loved his work on B:TDK I was keen to see what he provided here too. It’s not what I expected though, as it is different in certain ways. Working with so many characters who have a reputable image has meant that he couldn’t really change them too much but there are small differences that set them apart with his own little twist. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the huge volume of information that the reader is visually provided with as every inch of every frame has been considered and used appropriately. He has also obviously enjoyed providing his take on an iconic image such as the cover which many will recognise, albeit not in bronze.

As a new beginning I didn’t feel that it was the strongest of stories, as it was more scene setting and by that the style also became a little clichéd. However, once you looked beyond the obvious you can see that there is a lot more going on. I also have a lot of time for Geoff Johns as a writer and have come to expect that there is most likely a lot more than meets the eye here, a literary iceberg in the making.

I may not necessarily follow this title straight away, but I will be keeping watch on it to see how it progresses.

Matt Puddy is pondering what to say about Jeph Loeb's new take on Nova...

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Better late than never - Happy Pancake Day!

Isn't this great? This was sent to me on Monday by one of our customers, Neil Norris. I had hoped to get it online for Pancake Day itself, but sadly illness has derailed a number of deadlines this week! Still, here it is - better late than never.

If you are observing Lent, good luck! I hope it's going well for you. I have one friend attempting to give up crisps for Lent, just to give herself a challenge rather than for any religious reasons. And it is quite the challenge, when you consider she has a four bags a day habit! Good luck matey! 

I'll be posting our Easter opening times in coming weeks, but it's fairly simple this year - we'll be open as normal on Saturday and closed as normal on the Sunday and Monday; the only change will be Good Friday, when we'll be open from 11-3pm.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Digital Canvas - an interview with Ryan North

In my continuing efforts to interview creators with the unique perspective of working both in print and web comics, I’ve managed to steal a bit of precious time away from Ryan Q. North, the legend behind the ever popular and the rather superb Adventure Time print comic!

Todd Marsh: So for people who don't know, how did you first get into webcomics?

Ryan North: I started in 2003, when we had a class assignment to "do something interesting with a website". My group didn't really do much so I said "WELL I WANT TO MAKE A COMIC" and put up the first comic over the weekend and that was it!

TM: And how did that lead to writing print-comics? Was one a stepping stone to the other?

RN: Yep! Almost literally. The editor for Adventure Time liked Dinosaur Comics and thought it'd be a good fit. Web comics are great because they're so accessible: people who wouldn't otherwise see your comic can see it. Plus it shows that you can meet a deadline and tell a joke, which I guess are useful skills that editors of comedy comics will look for?

TM: Do you find the different mediums affect how you write? For example with readers seeing one page of webcomic at a time rather than a whole issue of print-comic?

RN: Well yeah, for sure. The medium affects what's being told in lots of ways. The nice thing about Adventure Time (which kills me in ordinary superhero books) is that there's no ads interrupting the story. That's super critical, because that lets you as a writer know what page you're working on AND where it's situated physically on the page. I love to know if the next page is already visible or if the reader has to turn the page to see what happens next. It's a small thing, but it lets you structure the story so a mini cliffhanger can last longer and be a surprise! It's less of a surprise if they can glance over and see how it's resolved.

Of course if you're doing a stand-alone webcomic that's less of an issue, but there's still ways you can control it. Visit in a browser and you'll see the whole comic, but visit on a mobile phone and you'll see one panel at a time. That was for space restrictions but I've gotten emails from people saying they prefer it that way, because then they can't spoil the punchline for themselves!

TM: Is one medium easier to write for than the other?

RN: They've both different.  I'm not sure if one's easier: it's like skateboarding vs riding a bike.  Both are fun and will get you where you're going, but you're exercising different muscles.

TM: Is it OK to talk money? Is it easier to make money from print comics?

RN: Sure! But "easier to make money" is super wide open. Lots of people make money without going online, and lots only work online and don't do stuff in print. It depends on your model, right? Like, most webcomics are put online for free and you WANT them to be shared, because that might lead people to become fans and then they might buy a shirt or a book collection. So you turn the fact that computers are really good copying machines into something that works. But if you're trying to sell JUST a print book then you're terrified if it shows up online, because that's your content and you've lost control of it and why would anyone buy the book now?

Anyway my Dinosaur Comics books are all collections of stuff available online and people still buy them, which is awesome!  Maybe it's because you can give a book as a present and it's a nice gift, but you can't yet write down "check out" on a piece of paper, wrap that up, and have it be just as nice.

TM: Do you agree with the perception that webcomic creators are closer to their fanbases due to things like page comments and social media? And is this a good thing?

RN: We're certainly very accessible. And I think that's a good thing! Honestly the people who read my comic tend to have my sense of humour, so when we're all hanging out on Twitter it's really fun. I tell a joke, people riff on it, we retweet the best of them and it's all really fun and easy. Someone with a business hat on would say that this is "organic engagement with pageview creators" or something but it's really just hanging out and having fun with pals. Who is not in favour of pals?

TM: Should regular comics and webcomics be competing or sharing the marketplace?
Do they even have the same "customers"?


I don't think they're competing. People who like comics will probably like webcomics too, but there's a difference between reading one comic a day on my site and buying a trade paperback of print comics from someone else.  It's not the same thing, right? And there are people who read webcomics who'll say "I don't like comics" because they see them as different things (unfortunately) and there's people who read only print stuff.  I don't think there's a great conflict between the web and print worlds.

TM: What do you think of digital copies of regular comics, are they the future of the industry?

RN: Was radio the future of plays? Was television the future of radio? They're different beasts, I think. Both can coexist easily, but it may take some marketplace adjustment.

TM: What with various TV and film, print comics are very much in the popular mindset at the moment. Will webcomics ever get that recognition?

RN: Sure! Why not? But I'm not sure what that recognition is worth. When Twitter accounts can become TV shows, the idea of being "tapped" by some god on high to enter The Mainstream kinda loses its appeal, a little? And then you see it as just "oh a company wanted to make money off of this synergistic cross-platform media francise, I get it now" instead of "wow TV, how does that even happen??".

TM: Think about your favourite print comics and webcomics. Would they still work if they were in the opposite medium? Would you like to see a webcomic companion series or spinoff to a print-comic for example?

RN: Sure! I mean they're obviously different things, but I don't see any tension between the media. You call them "opposite mediums" but I think the opposite of a print comic is like - an audio recording of an opera? Maybe? Print and web are siblings, to me, not opposites. And there have been print comics hat have web comics as tastes or teasers for the book - Faith Erin Hick's Friends With Boys for example  - and web comics can move to print easily too.

TM: Finally, please use this space to plug anything you want to plug.

RN: Um, I'm working on a choose-your-own-path version of Hamlet that just became Kickstarter's most-funded publishing project ever! But this is a bad plug because the Kickstarter is over and you'll just have to wait till the book comes out for real now. But it's gonna be great, honest!

TM: Thanks again!

Todd Marsh would like to thank Ryan North for humouring my stupid questions with wise words.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Late shipping UK titles due to US East Coast blizzard

Due to the severe weather/blizzard that hit the East Coast of the US last weekend the weekly shipment of comics to Diamond UK has unfortunately been affected.

Please see below a complete list of all titles that are now expected to be in store and on sale in the UK one week later: Wednesday 27th February.



BPRD 1948 #5








SAGA #10


SPAWN #228









New Beginnings - Uncanny X-Men #1 (Marvel Now)

In Bendis we trust... but do we? Or should we? Well it’s certainly a question that I asked myself when I saw his name on the cover of this week’s issue for review. I’m not saying that I don’t like his work but he is definitely a mainstay over at the House Of Ideas these days and his Avengers run had certainly started to feel like it was drying out by the end.

So with the most open mind I could muster I opened the cover on Uncanny X-Men #1.

Now from the word go there are a couple of things worth mentioning. Firstly if you have missed out on the whole AvX arc Marvel gave us, but know of the X-Men before this, then things could get a little confusing as there are more changes than just the physical image of Cyclops. Both the political and emotional stance he now takes and represents are different. Gone is the blue suit, with yellow stripe and the red visor. Instead there is a far darker, more sinister black and red suit very much in the forefront. It’s edge is slightly taken away by the Ben 10 Omnitrix style watch but you can overlook that. Conversely we see Magneto now presented in a saintly white costume and Emma Frost has also turned to the dark side of the wardrobe.

If, on the other hand, you are a completely new reader then you will have missed out on all of the back
story and personal change that has occurred to bring us to this point. However the changes were mostly completed before this issue begins, so you could come into it all fresh and learn as you go, I just fear it might not have the same resonance.

Now I know it seems that I have spent a disproportionate time talking already about Scott but this is because he is the total centre of attention in this issue, and quite rightly so too. The story is told almost from a narrative point of view by a mostly unknown character (although you can figure it out quite quickly) who has descended upon S.H.I.E.L.D. in an effort to provide intel over the biggest threat that they have known for and against mutantkind - Scott Summers himself.

Through the retelling of a recent mutant emergence incident we learn why as well. His involvement with the Pheonix Force has left him broken in more ways than one including his grasp on his own mutant abilities.

Aside from unveiling the new Cyclops the story is very much about introducing the new team. Many will know Magik, Emma and Magnus but they have all changed and have their own new flaws. For those who have read the preceding issues of All New X-Men you will recognise Tempus but maybe not so much the new unnamed healer on the crew.

This all also leads up to the *shock* reveal that the new source for S.H.I.E.L.D. is none other than Magneto himself, whose concern and belief in his original motives have lead him down this path. I was left wondering if Bendis has left a snake in the new team to mix things up, and what Magneto's motivation will lead him to do next. Personally it looks as though there is a very large precipice that Scott is heading towards, but only time will tell.

Chris Bachalo has been handed the pencils to this issue, including the cover art for consistency, although there are numerous variant covers from the usual suspects like Skottie Young, Joe Quesada and Stuart Immonen. I’ve liked the art in the issue. It’s got a good mix of detail but also soft line work in there as well. That said there is a lot conveyed in the faces of the characters, which adds yet another level to the story too. It seems to me that judging by the faces there is more to the team than is let on in this first issue.

I have to admit some of the personal re-imagining has caught me off guard a little but that is always to be expected with something new.

It’s fairly well known from my previous reviews that X-Men isn’t really a title I tend to follow but as this is breaking from the norm and reinventing the scenario I have to admit that I’ve liked it and this is a title that I could happily follow. My one regret is that I now feel I don’t know enough having missed all of the AvX event. That said it shouldn’t stop new and old fans jumping on board.

Matt Puddy is surprisingly informed regarding Ben 10.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Digital Canvas - Two To Review: Cucumber Quest VS Ava’s Demon

In this week’s reviews, the golden thread binding our two webcomics together is art, specifically beautiful cel shading art. This may or may not be the correct term for this style, the term is more prevalent in videogame circles, but both featured webcomics are made up of borderless blocks of colour, sumptuous lighting and shade, and subsequently both were featured in my previous article regarding visually pleasing webcomics as a result.

Cucumber Quest is an ongoing story-driven comic split into chapters, and is created by the delightfully named Gigi D.G. The story takes place in a land of cute bunny people split into several kingdoms (each one intentionally based on typical videogame theme-level clichés), and follows very reluctant hero Cucumber, his much more adventurous sister Almond, and their quest to stop the evil Nightmare Knight.

What I love about Cucumber Quest is that it manages to both honour and mess with all the old “adventure quest” clichés we’re all familiar with. Cucumber is the most reluctant hero ever, he’d rather be in school, and he even sees clichés and plot holes rearing up in front of him. But he never manages to avoid this “destiny”, because life keeps forcing him down the path of a legendary hero. Similarly, his sister Almond is constantly fighting against the assumption that she is “just a girl” and ergo can’t be a legendary hero. She even takes steps (which I won’t mention here due to spoilers) to ensure the day isn’t saved too quickly and that the adventure goes ahead! And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the comic is laugh-out-loud funny throughout!

Of course, this webcomic isn’t to everybody’s tastes. Anyone who dislikes overly cute things will take one look at all the bunny people and (excuse the pun) turn tail without giving it a chance. Equally, anyone hoping for a serious adventure or gritty drama should look elsewhere. The Nightmare Knight is a suitably foreboding villain with great presence, but his underlings appear to struggle with actually posing any real threat to the heroes as of yet. You get the sense that everything will probably work out fine without much fuss.

Ava’s Demon is a long-form webcomic split into chapters, created by Michelle Czajkowski. The story follows Ava, a seemingly ordinary girl in a futuristic world of spacecraft, aliens, and mega-corporations, Ava has a more medieval problem; there’s a demon in her head that only she can see. What this demon actually turns out to be is the crux of the story.

The feature that Ava’s Demon most excels at is atmosphere. Ambience leaks from the borders of each page in bucket-loads, and the fascinating story hooked me with ease and the juicy bait of believable characterisation. The artwork is simply beautiful, and whilst it does share a few elements and techniques with the previous webcomic, I would describe Czajkowski’s art as what Cucumber Quest hopes to be when it grows up. The strip is funny in places, but isn’t afraid to be hard-hitting when needed, and in a certain light it could be seen as a commentary on mental health issues (although I’m probably just reading into things that aren’t there).

The main problem I see with this strip is the design choice of having one panel of story per page. Stylistically, I see why Czajkowski chooses to do this; the reader is encouraged to examine each panel longer and therefore proceed through the story at a steady tempo, and of course the art benefits from the extra focus. But reading through the archives in one sitting as I did for this review, I found myself getting impatient with the pace. Maybe I’m just spoilt by other multi-panelled webcomics. I also find myself inexplicably uncomfortable with the lack of sound effects (visually I mean, like a well-placed CLONK or SPLORT in the panel) leading to an odd feeling of silence pervading the strip. I really am digging to find constructive faults here, which just shows how great I think this webcomic is.

OK, time for the verdicts. Cucumber Quest is a wonderful tale spun by a gifted storyteller, and full of guaranteed laughs (and for that reason alone has found its way onto my Favourites bar), but in comparison to Ava’s Demon it comes off too slight. Ava and her cohorts have well and truly sunk their collective claws into me, and are the deserved winners of this little face-off.

Todd Marsh still uses overly fanciful words to try and convey pure emotions.

Friday, 1 February 2013

New Beginnings - Superior Spider-Man #2

In the past months we have reviewed both Amazing Spider-Man #700 and Superior Spider-Man #1 and after such a pair of issues it only felt right to break the trend and also follow on to the second issue for those who were still a little sceptical of it all.

Unsurprisingly the story is still Dan Slott and the artist is Ryan Stegman so I won’t cover old ground from my last review. Instead it means that the story can be looked at.

With the bombshell dropping at the end of the first issue that Peter Parker (the real one) isn’t completely gone, the whole story opens up. Continuing on straight away with what is dubbed simply. “Second day on the job.” Spidey is returning stolen property and further endearing himself to the public. On the outside there is a calm exterior, but on the inside there is a screaming Peter Parker who is outraged by the limelight being given to this impostor! What makes it worse is the J. Jonah Jameson finally shakes his hand as an equal...

This is a continuing theme throughout the issue as Otto is starting to use criminal masterplan logic to arrange what should be a perfect life for Parker.  And in some cases actually looks like it’s working. Even with the derision that his spectral accomplice is more than happy to hand out, Otto uses his genius to create Spider-Bots which revolutionise his coverage of the city. Where Parker saw duty and responsibility, Otto sees opportunity.

Otto’s new approach takes a lot into account, including the wooing of MJ. Even he can’t understand why Parker let her get away and for the most part he plans to change this. Being the man he is, the idea of emotion and relationships escapes him. All he can do is see it as an equation which has an escaping answer. It’s only when he uses the influence of the costumed identity that he realises the real reason that Parker and MJ struggled to make it work. In a stroke of personal genius he does the one thing Parker never could. He lets her go to move on and stops the cycle.

As this is all going on, to Parker’s envy and later admiration towards the end, there are subtle hints and clues being dropped as Otto continues. Even though MJ is frustratingly oblivious to them all, Carlie is seeing them and combined with her last encounter with Peter in Otto’s frail body, things are slowly adding up.

It seems that the adage about not being able to fool everyone all of the time is starting to ring true and Otto’s war for Spider-Man’s body is beginning on two fronts, with a detective’s enquiry on the outside and a ghostly presence on the inside. The series is really starting to pick up now and if you aren’t on board you best start.

Matt Puddy loved the cover to #2 too...