American Vampire

In a world where vampires are being portrayed as adorable glittering objects of prepubescent lust, thank Bram Stoker for Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque and Stephen King bringing us 'American Vampire.'


I realise I've talked about comics in the last four outings of my 'Good Stuff' blog, and in the time I have to now add another post I had intended to talk about some of the awe inspiring TV shows that are currently hitting our screens BUT that can wait for a little talk about 'American Vampire'. I mentioned Scott Snyder in my post on DC's New 52 and my love for him as a creator has grown rapidly since then. After discovering him through Batman I decided to check out some of his other work and that lead me to 'American Vampire' Volume 1 and wow, I really enjoyed it. Scott Snyder is definitely now on my list of the top writers in comics.

Snyder has penned a story about the first vampire concieved (that sounds wierd, created maybe?) on American soil, Skinner Sweet, and he's different to the pasty, night dwelling vampires of Europe. For one, he can walk in the light and is even powered by the sun. Second, he'd like nothing more than to see the vampires that made him bite the dust. Skinner transforms a young actress Pearl Jones, who was preyed on by the Euro-vamps, into another American Vampire. The best thing about Snyder's story though is that even with this unique idea of American vampries he does bring the soul (yes, I get the irony of this) of a true vampire story. Vampires are scary as shit and they want to eat your face off and drink every pint of blood in your skinny human veins, just the way they should be.

It's also great to see horror legend Stephen King dipping his toe into comics. He pens the origin story of Skinner Sweet and tells his story over the first few issues while Snyder writes the Pearl story. The best thing, apart from having Stephen King in comics, is that King and Snyder's stories work phenomenally well together and Snyder certainly holds his own next to the horror legend.

Finally the art is spectacular. Rafael Albuquerque shows his versatility by illustrating Snyder and King's stories in different styles, cleaner lines for Pearl's story set in the 1920s and sketchier lines with some gritty ink wash for Skinner's story from the 1880s. All in all, art that perfectly complements both Snyder and Skinner's stories. No, not just compliments, it does what all great comic art does and pushes the book to a whole new level.

In a genre that is totally saturated, 'American Vampire' pulls itself above the other vampire stories out there and sets itself apart as truly 'Good Stuff'.

And yes, it's better than 'True Blood.' Not as much boob though.

 

Spaceman.

As both a comic reader and a comic writer I'm a big fan of trade paperbacks and original graphic novels - reading graphic narrative in long form. I know it's perhaps not the usual opinion of a comic fan but I got over monthly floppies long ago. Sure, there's a certain buzz, and something a little nostalgic about going to the comic shop each week and picking up your books, reading them, and then waiting for the next installment, but as a means to experience story serialisation just doesn't cut it for me [clever pun about cutting and serialisation not intended]. What on earth has this got to do with Spacemen you ask? [pun about earth and Spacemen intended but certainly not as clever] Well, the answer is that I've recently been trying to get back into reading single issue comics for a few titles (like DC's New 52 as I discussed in my last post) but my apparent bias towards longer form books, perhaps it's impatience, has meant that not many books hold my attention for long. However, Spaceman certainly has held my attention and I must admit it is good to feel the excitement for a monthly release again.     

Spaceman is a creator owned title released under DC's Vertigo imprint written by Brian Azzarello with Edwardo Risso on art duties, the team behind the excellent 100 Bullets which the pair have been running with for 10 years. Spacemen is the story of Orson, a man resembling a Neanderthal, genetically engineered by NASA to be capable of withstanding long term space flight. Unfortunately with the Earth going down the toilet and NASA shut down Orson is stuck on Earth. Things get really interesting for Orson when he finds himself embroiled in a kidnapping. 

While the premise, the story and the characters are all interesting, it is the world that Azzarello has created that is the truly unique star of the book. Azzarello has created a future that is a frightening extrapolation of where we may be headed with our current saturation of the internet and media. This is most evident in Azzarello's terrific use of language, a language that has been decimated by internet and text speak to the point where characters don't laugh, they just say "lol lol lol."

If you're a comic fan looking for something different, or even if you're not a big comic reader, do yourself a favour and pick up the first issues of Spaceman (at the time of writing 3 of a 9 issue series have been released). They are readily available in comic shops or digitally on iPad, iPhone and Android through the excellent comixology app. Admittedly it takes a while to get into the rhythm of reading Azzarello's unique dialogue but once you get into the swing of it this really is a book that shows the power of graphic narrative both as storytelling medium and as a medium for thematic expression.

It's good stuff...good enough that I'm eagerly awaiting next month's issue. 

The New 52...

As a kid I was a Marvel man. I always found the characters more relatable, I was the wisecracking geeky boy who was one radioactive insect bite away from being the coolest superhero on the planet. As an adult though, I'm something of a fence sitter when it comes to the big two. I just try and read what's good and lately that has been very little when it comes to superheroes. I was intrigued by the notion of DC's New 52, if only because I truly enjoy Marvel's Ultimate Universe. In my mind Ultimate Spider-man became the best Spidey title, far better than Amazing. It was clean, fresh and not weighed down by continuity - and HO-LY do I hate weighty continuity. I was really hoping DC's reboot did the same for their line up - unfortunately it's turned out to be something of a soft reboot, the old programs are still running in the background. If it's a reboot why is Batman already on his third Robin? It's like that time I couldn't stop Skype from opening on start-up. 

I think in total I read about ten of the new 52 issue 1's (just those that I thought had potential), of those I'm still reading five titles now and that will soon be cut down to three. I've waited a few months, given the titles a chance to grip me enough. Now, I present the top three titles I think are the Good Stuff of the New 52:

3. Wonder Woman

Ok, this is surprising for me to write, but I am genuinely enjoying Wonder Woman. Now, I don't want to sound like some misogynistic twat but I generally find female superheroes pretty rubbish. No doubt someone has already labelled me as a misogynistic twat and they're commenting about how female superheroes give female comic readers strong role models etc. etc. but honestly, are most male superheroes good role models? No. They're mental. Plus, I don't think females are portrayed in superhero comics in anything remotely close to a positive way. But I digress and because you can't dig yourself out of a hole with a shovel let's just move on.

Brian Azzarello got my attention in a big way with 'Joker' so I've been following his work since I read that book a while ago now. At first I thought he was the wrong choice to write Wonder Woman simply because I wasn't sure what he was going to do with the character. However, I have to say that I like where he is taking the title. It's a book that is soaked in mythology and folklore, almost Hellboy-esque but with a little more boob. It's a great direction to take the book in, away from a typical superhero fling and into exploring myth and legend.

Cliff Chiang's art is simple yet bold. There are moments where I don't think the colouring does the pencils justice but all in all the art is good. Also, I have to say that Chiang's Wonder Woman is awesome. She is a massive unit. A beautiful woman that you'd be far too scared to talk to because she could snap your neck with her pinky, just like a seven foot tall Amazonian weapon should be.

2. Batman

 

Other than Spider-man only one other character has been a consistent read throughout my comics history and that's the Batman. I'm a huge Batman fan but have moved away from reading single issues in recent years, finding that I enjoy Batman stories far more as trades and graphic novels. That said, I decided to give both Detective Comics and Batman a go with the launch of the new 52 and have to say that Batman is the better book.

Scott Snyder writes Batman well, which I know has already been established during his run on Detective Comics, but this is my first taste of his work. Jeph Loeb's writing of Batman is my favourite, and it seems Snyder is going down the same detective mystery route which is definitely a good thing. He isn't better than Loeb yet but we shall see how it pans out over the next few issues. He certainly brings a lot of character to Batman and even some humour which nicely offsets the grim Gotham story he is penning. 

As for the art, I'm enjoying Greg Capullo although at first I found his art varying between some awesome dark Batman and some Batman that's a little cartoonish. Both are tight but the mix seemed a little off, but he seems to have got into the flow now. I think Capullo is doing a better job than Tony S. Daniel's work on Detective.

As I alluded to earlier, Batman is a seriously prime example of why this new 52 is a soft reboot, it doesn't feel like anything has changed. I'm not actually saying that's a bad thing, this is good old fashioned Batman. I'm just saying don't try and give me your freshly washed underwear and tell me it's new, no matter how nice your fabric softener is.

2. Action Comics

 

Ok, so when I said top three, its really a top four but I'm a sneaky little devil and so have included a tie for second so shut up I wasn't lying. There is little to say about Action Comics other than no-one in recent memory writes Superman as well as Grant Morrison. With All Star Superman he single handedly proved to me that Superman wasn't an oversized pretentious boy scout, that he was a character about which good stories could be written. He continues that in Action Comics. He cuts to the heart of what Superman is about, and getting there by showing us who Superman is through having the world hate him instead of love him is a stroke of masterful storytelling. There is also something more grounded in this Superman than the Superman of recent years, maybe it's because he is attempting to take down corporate bad guys rather than giant aliens, but I see it as a very good thing. 

Action Comics actually leans towards an almost genuine reboot much more than Batman does. The world of Superman in Metropolis that Morrison is penning feels new. It feels like he is still an outsider, like he doesn't belong. It isn't straight away comfortable - he doesn't feel at home like Batman does in Gotham. Rags Morales' art certainly aids this feeling of genuine rebootedness, he has a fresh take on Superman making him seem young but still brimming with the god-like power he has, able to leap tall buildings and all that. Maybe it's the jeans and t-shirt but he looks kind of cool…

Action Comics does live up to it's name, it's a good, fast paced superhero book with a touch of character as only Grant Morrison can deliver. 

1. Animal Man 

I had never read any Animal Man before - not the Grant Morrison run or the Vertigo days - so didn't quite know what to expect from this character. I knew the general premise, it's a guy that takes the powers of animals right? So, like, he meows like a nearby cat or something…little did I know as I first began this book that it would turn out to be what I consider the best book of the new 52. Jeff Lemire has penned a story that instantly let's you know who this character is, stuntman, actor, environmentalist, superhero, all of the above. I haven't read much of Lemire's work to be honest but he certainly has the chops. It feels as though he draws on Grant Morrison and even Alan Moore pedigree in his superhero work. Grounding the character early with his mock interview but slowly building the sense of the unreal.

What I really like about Animal Man is the growing sense of dread and almost horror themes that are totally at odds to the shiny world of the superhero. Animal Man takes the glamourous superhero and says, "let's see what happens when we start chucking your freaky little kid killing animals at you." Travel Foreman's art hits the right notes here too. His work during the ordinary world scenes looks almost plain but then once he gets some weird to play with his pencils really come alive.

It could be the fact that I haven't read Animal Man in the past and that makes all this a little new and exciting, but Lemire and Foreman's Animal Man is my pick for the best of the new 52.

DMZ

There is so much epicness in the world of comics, but there are those titles that rise to the very top of this epic pile of epic epicness. One of these titles is Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli's DMZ.

 

I've always been fascinated with the what if question - the idea of alternate history or speculative future. The could have, should have or might have stories that twist our world just enough so that everything is familiar but still different enough to entice, like the cookie you didn't realise had hash in it. In fact, one of my own in-progress graphic novels is based in a world in which Nazi Germany succeeded in invading England. A world that is clearly not our own, but one that is recognisable as what could have been. I enjoy writing these stories because of the sense of unease they develop in the reader. Of all my favourite comics one I would love to have written (apart from my own of course) would be DMZ.

DMZ stands for De-Militarized Zone (cool title - check). It is set in the near future in which the United States has fallen into its second civil war against the "Free States" (cool speculative premise - check). Fighting between the two sides results in New York being split with New Jersey and Inland falling into the hands of the Free States and Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island remaining the territory of the United States. Manhattan Island is caught in the middle and made the DMZ, the De-Militarized Zone, it's basically Baghdad taken off America's CNN TV screens and shoved down their throats - right in the middle of New York City so that the buildings with holes in them are bigger.

The series revolves around Matty Roth, a young photojournalist who, during an internship, finds himself trapped alone in the DMZ. He is suddenly the only member of the press on the island and takes it upon himself to report life in the DMZ to the outside world.

If DMZ's premise alone doesn't make it good stuff it's creative team certainly does. Brian Wood loves the world he's created and the characters he inhabits it with, you can just tell from the writing. Whether it is some response to post-9/11 America or not, the writing resonates with a real grit about conflict and the hazy line of right and wrong. The world is deep and well thought through, the dialogue pops and the characters crackle, add the snap of Wood's graphic design touch and you've got a tasty bowl. It's also a relief to see an American writer bring about the destruction of the US and highlight its inadequacies, instead of blowing Uncle Sam's Golden Trumpet of Patriotism that we see so often. 

Riccardo Burchielli's artwork is stellar stuff too. An Italian artist, DMZ is Burchielli's first work in the US and it's a shame we haven't seen him hit the world stage of comics earlier. His stylised, a little rough around the edges look is perfect for the book and compliments Wood's writing really well. He paints, or more accurately pencils, a believable New York City as a battlefield.

While I'm sure the US actually deteriorating into civil war would not be good stuff, being entertained by a fictional account of what may happen if it did is good stuff. DMZ is good stuff, and like the graffiti that is shown early in the series says, in the DMZ "Everyday is 9/11."

"I'll chop your head off!" - Axe Cop

What do you get when a policeman gets a fireman's axe? A superhero named Axe Cop of course.

There's a story arc in the Axe Cop webcomic in which Axe Cop teams up with Vampire Wizard Ninjas from the moon, there's another one in which Axe Cop's partner Flute Cop uses a unicorn horn to turn himself into Dinosaur Soldier, and things would be amiss if I didn't mention the fact that Axe Cop often rides on a Tyrannosaurus Rex with miniguns for arms.  

Axe Cop is probably the very definition of Good Stuff.

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For those of you not familiar with Axe Cop it is drawn by Ethan Nicolle, a 29 year old comic artist, but written by Malachai Nicolle, Ethan's 5 year old brother. What this means is everything in the story proceeds in just the logical way an imaginative 5 year old mind would expect. Don't have enough superheroes to defeat the giant robot? Hold some superhero tryouts and get yourself a partner. Can't find the bad guys? Just go to your headquarters and open the 'Map to Bad Guys Labs' draw. Of course this is the way it should be, why shouldn't you have a villain with socks for arms? Ethan Nicolle does a great job tying down his brother's ridiculously awesome storylines into well illustrated panels. It's one of the best drawn webcomics around.

Apparently 5 year old boys know Good Stuff too, and they're not afraid to tell you about it.

You can find Axe Cop at axecop.com.