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1508

God of Comics 2015-08-05

Culture, God Of Comics

August 4, 2015

 

Bloodshot Reborn 005Bloodshot: Reborn #5

Why You Care: The best pure action comic on the shelves has been mixing some horror elements into its narrative with great success, the sort of thing that leaks from the Valiant to Book of Death. The issue promises a deeper look at the voices haunting Bloodshot and driving the action, both who and what they are. Given how good this book is, we can only imagine how cool that reveal is going to be.

 

 

Cluster 006Cluster #6

Why You Care: A girl who didn’t kill her sister but took the fall and the guilt for it being sentenced to military service, only to learn that the military is up to no good for the profit of a very few, continues. Also, her politically powerful father is trying to being her home from the revolution she is not a figurehead of, and a bountey hunter has been called in. Weird and excellent.

 

 

 

Deadly Class 015Deadly Class #15

Why You Care: Because there is nothing else like this comic, and never has been in the history of comics. Runaways and worse are kidnapped and brought to a school for assassins, and the faculty are up to something as our main character continues to self-destruct in the wake of his not-girlfriend’s secret murder. There’s a bleak honesty to this comic, a tightrope terror that is utterly unique.

 

 

Imperium 007Imperium #7

Why You Care: You read our article on Hacktivist, right, and why you should be reading it? And you read our article on X-O Manowar? Imagine combining the themes of those two books and you have Imperium, a series about a man trying to move the whole of the world from scarcity economics to a Utopia and the powers that would do anything to stop him, including unleashing an enemy beyond comprehension.

 

 

John Flood 001John Flood #1

Why You Care: If you missed Luther Strode, go read those comics. Then come here and grab this, which is the next tale from the fertile mind that wrote that. Basically, an experiment robs a man of the ability to sleep and forces him into a waking dream state, which allows him to see the underlying patterns of the world around him… including a serial killer that no one believes exists, but now knows that he’s out there…

 

 

Ms Marvel 017Ms. Marvel #17

Why You Care: The editorial staff at Marvel has spent the better part of the past decade assassinating the character of Spider-Man in an effort to do what this comic is already doing. The magic of this title is incredible and perfect, a tale of a young girl coming of age, with respect to the dignity of the character and the world she lives in. And this issue marks the first time that our teen hero teams up with her super-idol. There are few comics better than this one.

 

Nailbiter 015Nailbiter #15

Why You Care: Because some of the mystery that hangs over this book is coming to light. More than a dozen serial killers have all emerged from a single town, and the one FBI profiler who noticed this has had things go horribly wrong for him. Everyone else following in his footsteps has had similar problems all tied to an ancient temple under a lake – a temple we now know is a fake. What the hell is going on? No idea, but the premise and characters are impossibly cool.

 

Pisces 004Pisces #4

Why You Care: Do you watch Nerdcouver? You should. In one of their reviews, they talked about how this book is about a man drifting through his own consciousness and possibly dealing with post traumatic stress disorder. That alone would make this book worth looking into, but the creative team that handles this book is incredibly talented, and is crafting some of our other favorites (Rat Queens, for a start). Worth tracking down.

 

 

Spire 002Spire #2

Why You Care: A murderer in a society where the whole of the populace lives in a large spire is causing a bit of a ruckus, and the cop that’s been assigned to search for the killer is a one-of-a-kind mutant with connections to the noble house, connections that are not especially pleased with her. Crime and politics mingle with imaginative art that makes the whole more than the sum of its parts. If you’re looking to branch out a bit, this is worth your time.

 

The Wicked + The Divine 013The Wicked + The Divine #13

Why You Care: Kieron Gillan is writing and he’s one of those writers who, when you find out he’s written something, you should try to track down a copy. Kieron’s work is the sort of thing you study, and his art team handles the expressions and concepts of his worlds perfectly. In this case, gods incarnate every ninety years or so and then die after two, a cycle that keeps the world existing. This comic is Eisner Nominated. It must be read.

 

 

We Stand On Guard 002We Stand On Guard #2

Why You Care: The United States conquers Canada using the same justification that use when invading anywhere else – a pack of lies that hide the fact that they’re after resources of political advantage. Only, this is the future instead of the modern day Middle-East. Hey, remember when America was the good guys? Do you think in another generation or so anyone will? Anyways, giant mechs and plucky freedom fighters equals a sci-fi version of USNA, and that’s not a bad thing.

 

The Woods 015The Woods #15

Why You Care: A whole high school gets warped to an alien dimension with kids and faculty inside. They’ve since met other peoples from other times, and are trying to make a life for themselves in a world they barely understand and tied to a some fairly serious intrigue. There’s a war brewing and there’s monstrosities coming, and it’s hard to say which will be worse. This comic is excellent.

 

 

UFOlogy 004UFOlogy #4

Why You Care: Ever been offered something amazing you didn’t want, or been denied something that you are perfectly suited for? This comic is about both things at once, and how that lack can be a powerful foundation for a friendship – especially when there’s aliens involved. This is one of the most human books on this list, a weird tale about humanity and coming of age and the strangeness of expectation. Absolutely fantastic.

 

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829

Game On With Dark Nexus Arena

Culture

August 4, 2015

Good news, guys.

We won.

Remember when kids dreamed of growing up to become sports stars? You’d play little league football or soccer or baseball and your parents would encourage you to be an athlete, a job with ever diminishing returns? The toll on your body would be harsh, yes, and leave you likely crippled later in life, but the chance to achieve on such a grand scheme was worth it. Put down your controller and step away from the video games, go outside and get some air and dream big.

Turns out Gary Larsen was a prophet. Who knew?

Turns out Gary Larsen was a prophet. Who knew?

Or maybe you’d be better off picking up the controller and getting good at the game. E-sports are becoming the next big thing, with League of Legends and Starcraft tournaments growing to rival the attention and profitability the old stand-bys, and without the risk of serious injury that so many professional athletes dread.

In Vancouver alone, the video game industry has raked in $548 million as of 2014, and they’re just getting started. The ground in Hollywood and now Silicon Vally North is fertile, embracing two massive entertainment industries and cultivating them, making our fair city one of the capitals of indy development.

Hoping to enter the arena of the aforementioned e-sports, a little-indy-that-can called Whitebox Interactive is poised to change the way the fastest growing genre of video games, multiplayer online battle arenas, are played.

A sellout crowd, all them people there to watch a sport called "Starcraft."

A sellout crowd, all gathered to watch a sport called “Starcraft.”

Their game, Dark Nexus Arena, draws upon the pre-exisiting universe of Warhammer 40k – a game system with thirty years of lore and fans to draw upon – and breathes new life into both that property and the game genre it enters. Touting themselves as a MOBA++, or even the first true MOBA, Dark Nexus Arena rewards player skill through fast paced play that is more akin to a first-person-shooter with MOBA elements.

The first real MOBA - or, if you prefer, MOBA++.

The first real MOBA – or, if you prefer, MOBA++.

Still in the alpha phases, Whitebox Interactive has reached out to the unofficial Facebook Fan Group, the Dark Nexus Legion, and has been handing out keys and inviting people to come in and try the game for themselves, answering questions directly from fans and engaging them in direct conversation as only an indy developer can.

This is the sort of organic communication that an indy developer can offer, and there is no better place for such development to come place.

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811

To Be Named Later Episode 6 – More Cassie, Less Eva

Videos, Webseries

August 3, 2015

Bre and Aaron continue to talk wrestling, and even suffered through Battleground before heading back to the joys of NXT and Lucha Underground. Seriously, the main roster booking is about as terrible as Eva Marie. We talk about why, and discuss what makes NXT and Lucha Underground work.

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5163

God of Comics – Hacktivist

Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

July 31, 2015

Hacktivism.

A new and, for some people, weird concept. At it’s base, the idea is that if enough people are paying attention to a thing and are spreading enough real information about a thing, then that thing will be dealt with. People will get angrier and angrier about that thing until something must be done. And when that conversation starts, it doesn’t end until whatever problem is being spoken of has been resolved.

And it is a conversation – that’s what the internet has brought us. Before, it was dictation, and always one way: the media told us what it wanted us to believe and ignored any inconvenient facts. Information was given the illusion of integrity while lacking that quality, because there was no check or balance in place to make sure that integrity existed. We assumed the news and the police and the politicians were honest, at least in the west.

Which is weird, considering the evolution of culture in the west was born of revolution, or was rooted in rebellion. People attacking established power structures. And yet, as history continued, people placed more and more trust in the power structures that evolved, believing that the ones that had been instituted were somehow more honest and better than the ones that had been there before.

Protip: They weren't.

Protip: They weren’t.

“Four legs good, two legs better.” We forgot the warning we had been given, focusing instead on the shiny new baubles that were dangled in front of us. We bought into the lie that the civil rights movement in the sixties changed everything and that racism was finished. We believed in the lie that the equal rights movement had triumphed over sexism. We believed that the government was there to help us.

Watergate changed that. There were always parts of the press that were interested in actual journalism, in keeping the public informed. In 1979, when corporations were given human rights, that changed. Watergate brought down an American President, and the powers that be took note and made sure that nothing like that would ever happen again. The press has increasingly become a mouthpiece for what has become known as the 1%, touting a party line that has nothing to do with fact and everything to do with propaganda.

Think we’re wrong? Look at what’s happening with Planned Parenthood, a service that helps women stay informed as regards their personal health and helps them make informed decisions. Abortions are the smallest part of what they do, but figures like Sarah Palin would have you believe that they do nothing but kill babies. Bill O’Reilly would encourage you to kill the doctors that work there, then back pedal when his watchers actually listen to him.

All of the distractive atrocities get worse when you realize that is what they are; distractions. Pay attention to the lies being told about Planned Parenthood and the way Planned Parenthood is being forced to apologize for crimes they never committed. Ignore the for-profit prisons, the for-profit schools, the for-profit insurance companies that Obamacare replaced that didn’t actually offer any protection at all.

They turned Occupy Wall Street from a focused protest against money in politics, the unlivability of the minimum wage, and the ludicrous double standard of justice into a meaningless moment that collapsed into itself and was forgotten.

It was a brilliant piece of sleight-of-mind.

Pictured: Tired of your shit.

Pictured: Tired of your shit.

And then the internet happened and slowly, slowly, the world began to change. People began conversing with one another, sharing their stories and realizing that the things they suffered where not exceptions to the rule, but the norm. #blacklivesmatter. #yesallwomen. It’s a direct challenge to the propaganda that’s been passed off as news for decades, and it’s discredited horrible people that are too slow to adapt to what the world is becoming.

Hacktivism.

We’ve spoken before about how comics are a medium of change, an overlooked means by which outliers can find community and strength. The mutants of the Marvel universe are stand-ins for homosexuals, pariahs, Jews, African-Americans, anyone that feels marginalized by a media that demonizes them. Superman as the immigrant that makes a new home for himself, becoming the best of what his adopted people have to offer and being lauded for his achievements. Prez, both the old and new versions, which talk about the responsibility and promise of youth on a political level when that level has become entirely corrupt.

Hacktivist. A story about how open and frank communication can change the world.

This is a series created by Alyssa Milano, an actress who left acting to become one of the best people in the world, essentially using her celebrity to do good works. It’s written by Jackson Lanzig and Collin Kelly, two people that are well-versed in internet culture, marketing, and the on-going dialogue that the web has brought us. It’s drawn by Marcus To and colored by Ian Herring, who add light and shadow, weight and emotion to every frame. The end result is beautiful and gripping and shattering. It’s a comic series about our world, about hope and expectation and the people that would strangle the world out of pride and greed, and the naivete, genius, and courage that is needed to fight them and win.

It’s a story about two friends that create an internet communications company that is something like Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr and use it as a means to overthrow a horribly evil political regime and fight the political forces that try to control them. It’s about one of them learning and becoming willing to sacrifice himself to make the world a better place despite those same forces, and the consequences of what follows.

hacktivist 000

Turns out overthrowing a corrupt regime is only the first step.

Needless to say, we loved the volume. The kind of courage it takes to talk about the sort of topics that this comic took pains to discuss is massive, and the maturity to address them in this fashion while keeping a sense of maturity and dignity is intense. There was nothing shocking here, no strange twist, just excellent storytelling that took advantage of every strength the medium could offer. It was one of our favorite comics, period, and one of those titles that we still talk about.

When a sequel was announced there was a bit of a commotion in our offices. When the issue arrived we approached it with fear and eagerness, wondering if the integrity of the second epic would live up the first.

It does.

A thousand times, it does.

Spider-Man likes to talk about how with great power comes great responsibility. Their first time out, the two main characters of this title toppled a country and fooled the American government to make the world a better place. One of them faked their death, the other taken in and put in a very polite prison by that same government. It all felt real and earned, and this comic takes place six months after that one.

The world has changed, and internet culture is viewed, incited, and studied. There’s more going on in this one comic than in some entire runs of other titles, or even other titles in their entirety. And yet Hacktivist feels uncrowded, letting ideas and characters percolate and develop at their own pace. Swords win battles, sure, but ideas topple empires.

And this? This is an idea writ large, a primer on how to make the world a better place while also serving as a warning against becoming the same old and evil you might be railing against. There’s nothing else like it on the market today, and that alone would make it worth reading even if every little detail is wrought to perfection.

This isn’t for everybody, but it should be. This is a conversation piece about politics and weight and consequence, about all the things we’re told not to discuss in polite society and really must. All of those subjects are the ones that matter, that shape us and let us make the world a better place. Not dictation, not believing blindly in the edicts of any single source, but rather finding your own truth.

We can do that now and we really must, and this comic is a good place to start learning how to become a part of that conversation. If you want to see intelligent political commentary on the realities of the world and be entertained while you’re doing it, this is one of the finest pieces of literature that you could choose.

And we cannot wait to see what comes next.

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751

To Be Named Later 005 – We Win At Wrestling

Videos, Webseries

July 30, 2015

It’s here! We’re nearly caught up with de wrestling! Also, Bre brings the style like you never seen!

You can follow Aaron Golden on twitter @lastswann

You can follow Bre Fultz on twitter @breinpictures

Aaron hosts and talks. Bre directs, edits, does camera work, and talks.

This is because Bre is awesome.

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1338

God of Comics – the Punisher

Books & Writing, God Of Comics, Reviews, Uncategorized

July 24, 2015

The Punisher is a strange character.

On paper, it looks simple enough – a war veteran named Frank Castle witnesses his family get killed as collateral damage in a shout out between rival gangs and swears revenge. Some depth was added to the character during the excellent Punisher Max run, which gave Frank some layers, and that was good. Hell, that was excellent. It’s one of the best comics out there, what with the terrible sense of grime that coats the whole of it, and it’s utter lack of any other Marvel character.

See, there’s an argument that Frank couldn’t work in the Marvel Universe. It’s the same argument that people level against the likes of Hawkeye and Black Widow, that a non-powered character – and especially this one – couldn’t operate in a world with powered heroes and criminals, that he would be easy to hunt down and either capture or kill.

And you’d have to, wouldn’t you? If you’re a hero, the Punisher looks like a mass-murdering monster, with at least a four-figure kill count stretching from Vietnam to the modern era. He has, all by himself, filled cemeteries of criminals. If you’re a villain, priority one has to be stopping the guy that’s killed thousands of your friends and henchmen and will put a bullet through you if he ever gets the chance.

Here’s where we get to the problem, because what is the Punisher’s power?

He’s good with guns. That’s it.

At least, that what it looks like on the surface. If you stop to think about him about him, though, a whole new vista opens up. He was a black operative on Vietnam, trained to be one of the most lethal soldiers in one of the most terrifying wars this world has ever known, and he’s done nothing but fight ever since. He’s refined his technique, dedicated himself to fighting and nothing else.

Iron Man is a rich guy in power armor with no formal combat training. Spider-Man gets by on spider-sense and heightened reflexes. The X-Men are a civilian militia with a lot of practical experience.

Frank knows more than all of them combined when it comes to the preparation and application of violence. His power is that he’s been fighting for so long that he can’t do anything else and that there is nothing else to him.

Punisher 004

And not a weakness of whatever it is Frank has become.

He’s not even human any more, not in any way the rest of us could understand. He’s moved into some weird mental place where he exists all by himself, occasionally touching someone’s life or, more likely, ending it. He’s a force of nature pretending to be a man.

So when it was announced that Nathan Edmondson was going to be doing a Punisher series, I was interested. Good Punisher stories are hard to find, but when they’re good they’re great. Nathan’s written some interesting military-based characters in the past (Who is Jake Ellis?, Olympus), so that seemed like a good fit.

Then I read the solicit, which said something about the Punisher going out to Los Angeles, and how was he going to operate so far out of his element, which the solicit seemed to think was New York. I remember looking at this quizzically for one simple reason: Frank’s element is killing people. Location is incidental; he’ll know as much as he can about the terrain long before he gets there, and he’ll pick up the lay of the land quickly. That’s kind of what he is.

When the first issue came out I picked it up a little nervously, thinking that we were going to see Frank making mistakes because of the territory, but that didn’t happen. Instead, the various criminals assumed he’d be out of his element, and they suffered for it. It was fun and well written, with everyone showing the right amount of terror of Frank and Frank out-thinking them as best he was able.

Because, as dangerous as Frank is, he’s still only a man physically. He’s got human reflexes and endurance, is prone to exhaustion and incremental pain, and as likely to make mistakes as anyone. When the gangs call in Electro – who Marvel really began pushing to coincide with the last Spider-Man movie – even Electro was scared of him, and ready to run away rather than stay in the same state with him.

And that’s all well and good. Really. It seemed like a good Punisher tale about Frank going on summer vacation, heading out to LA to get some sun and kill some people. It was intelligent and everyone felt like people, with us getting a police officer character and getting to see how Frank’s actions affected her, specifically, and the rest of LA in general. The criminals came across as people making the best of their situation, and no one was made to hold the idiot ball. That counts for a lot, in any story, and especially in one that focuses on people over powers.

Pictured: In his element.

Pictured: In his element.

The story continued, and as it went on we got into the real heart of this. There were hints of something larger going on, and Frank got wind of whatever it was and started killing himself to answers. He took a trip down to a Mexican prison, killing everyone on his way out, and then kept the murder going on his way to the truth.

A gang war broke out and martial law was declared in LA, with Frank heading back as things continued to go wrong. We learned that the Howling Commandos – Nick Fury’s old unit from World War II, and the best active soldiers in the Marvel Universe – were after Frank. For reasons. We spent some time with them, getting to know them. We got to see how intelligent they are in the field, how carefully the plan and how skill they are.

If Marvel decides to have Nathan Edmondson write a Howling Commandos comic I’ll be all over that.

So, keeping in mind how skilled and efficient the Howling Commandos are, we get to see that even they’re taken aback when they’re ordered to go after Frank. Being soldiers and professionals means they’re willing to do it for the good of the country, but the respect they give even the idea of going after Frank shows exactly how terrifying he really is.

Punisher 005

They snipered him through a building use technology Frank didn’t know existed. It was either that or nuke the city.

It gets more complex, though. See, the Howling Commandos only get involved with things on orders, and usually around the world. Someone high up the chain has to want them to conduct operations on domestic soil, someone with a vested interest in keeping things violent in LA.

Here’s what we learn: the politics behind everything that has happened. Simple, right? And silly. We’re told never to talk politics in polite society, as if the various causes that form laws are somehow dirty and beneath notice. The truth is that there are few things that we should be discussing more, and it’s a truth that the young are adopting and claiming for their own as they come to understand how corrupt the politics they’ve inherited are.

And comics? Comics have always been a means of exploring different political causes, all the way back to their inception. The Punisher has always been about the lost, about how broken things can get, and about how crime both literally and metaphorically steals life. These are tales of societal and cultural entropy.

The Punisher is a rage-filled tragedy.

Frank is a character who stares into the face of every human evil and says no, because he’s already lost everything.

The brilliance of the Edmondson run is a sudden shift in scale.

Frank fights the symptoms of that corruption, the evil that comes from disenfranchising entire swaths of people, of forcing them into ghettos and feeding them drugs, of institutionalized racism and unchecked greed writ large. He fights against generations of criminals who come from generations of victims, the logical end result of a meat grinder society.

The Punisher goes after murderers, thieves, and rapists. He targets those organizations that are undeniably criminal, but not the white color criminals that destroy countries, that bankrupt nations, that cause the symptoms that he’s so effective at fighting. He is, in reality, nothing more than a painful bandage that does nothing to actually solve the problems he thinks he’s fighting.

Here, Frank finds himself trailing the cause of the symptoms he fights. He finds himself going to Washington DC, find himself in the office of an American Senator who put in motion a plan to incite riots and gang violence in Los Angeles so that martial law would have to be declared. The idea was to make money for both the military and a number of corporations, and the people that live in LA, well, they’re acceptable losses for the profits that will come as a result of this plan.

The senator in question is not afraid of Frank, because he hasn’t directly murdered anyone. He’s never held a knife or a gun outside of war time, if at all, and he’s certainly not going to go mug any one person. He has, however, played an indirect part on the deaths of hundreds in this political decision alone, and he admits that he’s done this sort of thing before and will do it again. This is what senators do, serve their corporate masters using whatever excuses they need to sleep at night, and the rest of the world can burn provided these senators get their kickbacks.

Punisher 000You want to talk about people that aren’t human anymore?

This is an evil that is above Frank. He can’t kill this senator and can’t fight the corruption that is causing the evils he fights every single day. They are, tragically, above and beyond him. He ends up facing off with Captain America after having this realization, and passes all this information along to Cap, but whether or not that will actively change anything in the Marvel Universe is questionable: Secret Wars came and derailed that story the same way it did everything else.

What we take away from this is a simple truth: violent revolution is all well and good, but nothing changes when you confront symptoms instead of causes. The simplest observable outcomes of an action are not the root action themselves, and without an intelligent look at why an action is happening, that action will continue to happen indefinitely.

For all his skill and lethality, Frank accomplishes very little. He’s a part of the very problem he thinks he’s fighting, another manifestation of the drama that is caused by the politics and greed that hover above him and every single one of his victims, and all of their victims, and so on, and so forth. No other comic has ever looked at the utter futility of what Frank has become like this one has, but Frank reacts predictably to this truth:

He heads back to LA, back to the riots that are now being blamed on him.

There are symptoms to fight, and that’s what the Punisher does.

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636

Nerdcouver Book Review – Hexed The Sisters of Witchdown

Books & Writing, Culture, nerdcouver, Reviews, Videos

July 23, 2015

Aaron and Jenna talk Hexed: The Sisters of Witchdown by Michael Alan Nelson.

Living Myth Magazine spoke with author Michael Alan Nelson, and you can watch that here.

Nerdcouver is on the Facebooks.

Jenna is @novavanderwolf

Aaron is @lastswann

Nerdcouver is @nerdcouver

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690

To Be Named Later Episode 001 – Contrast Wrestling

Culture, Videos, Webseries

July 22, 2015

Aaron Golden and Bre Fultz compare and contrast the best in wrestling, namely WWE NXT, and the utter lunacy that is Lucha Underground. We’re thinking this should be a regular thing.

You can follow Aaron Golden on twitter @lastswann

You can follow Bre Fultz on twitter @breinpictures

Aaron hosts and talks. Bre directs, edits, does camera work, and talks. This is because Bre is awesome.

 

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2146

God of Comics – Hawkeye

Books & Writing, Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

July 16, 2015

Hawkeye is one of the strangest comics to ever come out of the big two.

This isn’t a knock on its quality – we’re doing a full-on God of Comics on this title, and we’re doing it because this comic is amazing – but that doesn’t dismiss the fact that this title did a lot of things that were very strange to Marvel or DC Comics style thinking.

It’s hard to imagine a comic where people share a name, for example. There’s been various comic stories based on the battle of identity, and that’s not even the first place this title diverges from everything else. Hawkeye stars two people that claim that name, presented as equals for the whole of the series.

hawkeye 002

Total equals. Yep.

Clint Barton and Kate Bishop are both presented as equals, Clint with more experience and Kate with her life much more together. Both call one another Hawkeye and playfully riff on one another for the whole twenty-two issue run. Their relationship as friends and partners without a hint of romance does a lot to tie the whole book together, and is a large part of what makes these comics as good as they are.

I’m coming at this disjointed, but with purpose – Clint Barton is a disjointed man in these pages, and this comic confronts that head on. He’s an archer and tactical genius who is skilled enough to hang around with super soldiers and genius millionaires and gods. He’s a child who ran away and joined the circus and made a good run of things, and this comic is all about what he does when he’s not an Avenger.

Which turns out to be crime, mostly, perpetuated against criminals.

Clint steals the rights to his apartment building from an East-European Mafia, which goes about as well as you’d expect. They keep coming after him, which gives him a constant enemy that, while not-superpowered, never stops being a threat.

Hawkeye 006

“Seriously, bro. Seriously.”

He does this to save the people he lives with, and ends up becoming the building manager on top of everything else. Half the comic feels like community building, with the reader becoming familiar with the people Clint hangs around with that are just folks, and when one of them dies about halfway through the story, it’s horrifying. We know that character is never coming back, that the price of that character’s life was bought because of who Clint is.

And who is Clint? Clint is a mess, a man thoroughly invested in the moment who is not good at long term planning or weighing the consequences of his actions. He’s very much about who he is and what he’s doing right now, and he figures whatever is coming can wait until he gets there.

Hawkeye 005

They’re good for each other.

Likewise, Kate Bishop has her own and equal arc, tied into not only Clint’s special brand of madness, but her maturation as a hero, detective, and person. She comes from an estranged rich background and we get to see the crux of that strangeness, a thing that Kate herself doesn’t understand at the beginning but will fully embrace by the end.

Kate also earns herself an archnemesis in the form of Madame Masque, a terrifying woman best known for putting Tony Stark through the ringer. We get to know some more of Masque as a person and see just how much influence she has over the underworld, ranging from the Kingpin to the various wealthy elite that creep around the shadows of the Marvel Universe.

She takes Kate’s existence personally, the things she tries to do are chilling – and Kate’s ultimate victory over her is both thrilling and hilarious and perfectly in character. She’s learned a bit too much from Clint, really, and his personality and viewpoint is affecting her as much as hers is affecting him.

Also, there is pizza dog.

Hawkeye 000

An entire detective story is told from Pizza Dog’s perspective, and it is glorious.

Here’s where we start looking at the trick of his story; at it’s heart, Hawkeye is a coming of age story, a man-child and a young woman both fully coming into their own through sheer talent and stubborn determination. There’s a host of writers that could have told this story and done it well, but this is a series of comics that excelled.

The question is, how? The story is good, certainly, but it isn’t anything new or groundbreaking. X-O Manowar got the God of Comics treatment for the breadth of theme that it embraces and then digs deep within, and Coffin Hill was recognized for the complexity of its narrative flow. Hawkeye does something completely different by making the style of the story an extension of the substance.

A lot of writers look at style as flourish, something to add spice to the meat of what it is they’re working on. Comics are unique in that their storytelling relies overmuch on style, which is to say art, which makes them a visual medium that is quite unlike anything else. Never in the history of comics has their been a title that played with that concept quite like this one.

The second issue, for example, looks at what it’s like to be an archer. Take a look:

Hawkeye 001

This one simple page allows us to understand what it’s like for Clint and Kate whenever they have a bow in hand. It gives us a sense of time, motion, and breath. We can begin to understand, on a visceral level, that the way both of them view the world is fundamentally different from how we view the world, while still being imminently relatable.

Hawkeye 007

“Aw, Coffee, no.”

Writer Matt Fraction had to have a world of trust for his artist, David Aja, to explain that with nothing but artistic presentation. It plays with moments, with heartbeats and words and body language, and it turns two people that look strictly human into people that deserve to be hanging shoulder to shoulder with super soldiers and genius millionaires and gods.

That gimmick used once would be enough for most comics, but Matt and Dave aren’t willing to stop there. We get into the silliness and utility of gimmick arrows, an entire episode from the point of view of a dog, a recap issue that is also a Christmas special cartoon, an entire issue in ASL when Clint goes deaf.

I’ve sold people on this comic just by telling them that Clint is deaf and uses ASL to communicate from time to time. Parents of deaf children will buy this comic just for that, so that their kids have someone to look up to and inspire them.

Hawkeye

They did an entire comic like this.

The amount of creativity at play in this book, the noirish elements, the inherent silliness of two archers standing strong against every possible odd while being pretty odd themselves is every kind of win. The sketchy art allows for a surprising amount of depth and detail, and there’s more to discover in expression and body language every time this comic is read.

It’s charming and the building blocks for one of the best buddy-teams in comics. It’s spawned a Deadpool / Hawkeye crossover that had some of the best moments in any modern Deadpool comic (which is saying something) and inspired a spin-off series by Jeff Lemire (and we’ll be getting back to him sooner rather than later). It’s been one of Marvel’s best comics for the past few years, a frequent winner of our weekly Top 5 Comics, and it deserves all of your attention.

Hawkeye is magic. It’s everything that comics can be, that weird nebulous region that embraces the inherent strangeness of the medium with some superhero elements and some noir elements and some heist elements, drawing from all without ever being clearly defined as anything but itself.

Hawkeye stands on its own, on its own terms, and we cannot recommend it enough.

Hawkeye 008

End the stand off. Read this comic. It will make you a better person.

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God of Comics – Coffin Hill

Books & Writing, God Of Comics, Reviews

July 10, 2015

There’s a rather good book called Wise Man’s Fear. In it, a musician plays an incredibly difficult piece of music while acting as though it’s nothing particularly taxing, then plays a very simple piece of music as if it were an impossible accomplishment. It’s a performance on multiple levels – those that appreciate music can listen to the tune and enjoy it just for that, but any other musician is going to look at this and know exactly the sort of skill they’re getting to witness.

I’m a writer. I’ve got a novel over here, and a bunch of others that’re raring to go. And I do this whole thing about qualitative storytelling, and enjoying good stories, and looking at why some stories work and some don’t. It’s one of the reasons we do a weekly top five comics over on twitter, so that we can spread the word on comics you might otherwise miss.

With all that in mind, we need to point out exactly what Caitlin Kittridge has done with Coffin Hill.

On the surface, this is a very simple story. An evil witch is burned at the stake, then uses magic to haunt the town that burned her through a bloodline curse. It’s nothing we haven’t see before – Hocus Pocus did this as a comedy, for example – but it’s the way in which this story is told.

What does your family tree look like?

What does your family tree look like?

We start with Eve Coffin, the latest of the descendants that have come to be known as the Coffin Witches, but we don’t join her at any particular point in her life. No, that would be too easy. Instead, we join her at three points in her life, drawing parallel narratives between her as a teenager, as a cop, and as a burn out.

The writing is good enough to give each narrative thread a unique feel, from the rebelliousness of youth to the hope of escape that comes with being a cop to the sense of crippling despair that follows that inability to escape. The art follows the writing, investing a manic energy into the first threat, a staid hyper-reality in the second, and a sense of resignation in the last. It’s in every line, the body language and inks that are used from one panel to the next, except when we need one thread to bleed into another or something otherwordly happens.

And otherworldly stuff does happen. Eve doesn’t know what she’s getting into when she’s young, and her dabbling ends up costing her so badly that she flees her home and goes to become a cop. Think about that for a moment; this is a young woman who is so badly frightened that police work in a slum, facing drug dealers and serial killers, seems like a safe alternative. And as we come to understand what happened to her, we agree with her decision.

She thinks if she can trap herself in the mire of the worst normality has to offer, she’ll somehow escape the curse she was born into. She can’t, of course – she’s drawn into a serial killer investigation that needs her to succeed, because the killer they’re hunting is something of a witch, too. She needs to draw on the power she’s forsaken not just to catch the murderer she’s hunting, but to survive the attention that is drawn to her because of it.

We know she catches the killer, and we know the cost. We can see it in her face in the future, the irrepairable damage that is caused by running away from your problems. She’s drawn back home, where she has to face the consequences of her actions, and finds that they’ve only grown worse in her absence.

Running away solves nothing, not really. Whatever you’re running from is either going to catch you when you’re finally exhausted, or grow more powerful without you there to stop it.

This is only the first arc.

It’s maddening, how complex and how well this story is told. Snippets of information revealed in one thread of time that give weight to the others, going both forward and back. We can see where hubris and disbelief leads to, and we can see what it takes to refind faith not in magic, but in self. It’s some of the best writing you’re going to find in a horror comic, and, yes, this is horrifying.

There’s a sense of dread that hovers around every character in this book, regardless of when they are. Terrible things lurk just out of sight, and it’s hard to tell who has it worse – the people that almost know what’s going on or the ones that are entirely ignorant. There’s no escaping what’s just out of sight in any event, so the question is would you rather not really understand what’s coming for you or live, unaware, until whatever is coming, comes. Both options are terrible, but they’re the only ones available.

We get inversions of common horror tropes, examinations of escapism and empty faith and the cost of belief. We look at love in all its permuations, as friends and family and lovers, and we see how love can be corrupted and used as a weapon, but also how it can heal and make people stronger. There’s balance here. Everything feels real, regardless of how insane the events might be.

As the story goes on it becomes more complex, again and again and again. We delve into more points of when, following the childhood of Eve’s estranged mother and coming to understand why she’s become so aloof and crippled and the distance that separates the two of them. We see what the original Coffin Witch did to kick this whole thing off, and the terrible vengeance she’s enacted on the town that bears her name, the town she cursed before she died.

She also made a really creepy house for her kids.

On the plus side, she made a really creepy house for her kids.

It’s an incredible piece of work, and here’s the trick: it looks simple. The way it flows from one point in time to the next, the way the story handles revelation and character building is so easy to follow that you could swear you’re reading a child’s primer. There’s no hesitation, no confusion about who you’re following or when you’re following them even as the story spirals ever deeper into history and characterization.

Think about that for a moment. Think about how much time and thought had to go into building the structure of this narrative, to measure out information and when to dole it out for the most possible punch. It’s heady and thought-provoking and a goddamn masterpiece, but it’s so easy to follow that you don’t even notice how complex it is until you take the time to think about it.

If you’re just looking for a good horror story, you can read this and put it down and be done with it. It’ll give you the chills you’re seeking, give you engaging characters and that slow creeping fear that the best horror stories craft and the worst try to replace with jump scares. It’ll come across as really good, great campfire material maybe, a story on par with the old Clive Barker or John Carpenter movies. Hellraiser. Prince of Darkness. That sort of thing.

On the other hand, if you are Clive Barker or John Carpenter, you can enjoy Coffin Hill on an entirely different level. You can look at this story and pull it apart, take a look at what was done where and understand why. You can appreciate this tale the same way you might appreciate a gourmet meal, something crafted together with care and thought and diligence. You can internalize the why this story is told and apply some of the devices to your own writing, and become a better writer for it.

And the artwork…! This is a comic carved from shadows. I remember hearing about a cartoon where the artwork started with black backgrounds, and added color. That’s what this artwork feels like: Inaki Miranda and Eva de la Cruz started with absolute darkness and added the bare minimum of color needed to drive everything forward.

This gives the impression of light being terrified of what’s happening in these pages. This isn’t to say that the artwork is dark or hard to follow. It isn’t. It’s lush and vibrant, almost a rebellion against the terror writ large on every page. It’s just as complex as the writing demands it to be, and it’s a large part of why this comic is as powerful as it is.

In brief? This is one of the best horror comics of the modern era, a complex look at the cost of bloodline curse and the horrors that come with it, framed by gorgeous artwork that does everything that it can to enhance the power of the narrative.

Coffin Hill is as enchanting and haunting as the best grim faerie stories, and we can’t recommend it enough.

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