Random Finds, Major Announcements

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Something here is not quite right...

We found the above fanzine while digging through boxes in our basement. I figured you more observant folks would get a kick out of it. But to the point, we are clearing out some space, and the reason for it shall be revealed in a few days... and it will knock your socks off. So stay tuned to this blog for that major announcement!



Naruto Box Set

Recently Viz released a special Naruto boxed set containing the first twenty-seven volumes of Masashi Kishimoto's international smash-hit ninja Manga. For only $174.99 you get volumes 1 through 27, a nifty poster, and an exclusive booklet. Before the price puts you off, consider that, purchased individually, the first 27 volumes would cost more than $233 with tax, so you are saving a bunch of dough by getting this snazzy box set to end all box sets. And if you get the set this coming Monday or Tuesday, you save 20% - that is just $139.99 plus tax! What a deal! So if you like any Manga, are a fan of the TV show and haven't had a chance to try the books, or know someone who may want this, pick this up while we still have some left. You'll be glad you did.


P.S. We still have one of the Bleach boxed sets (containing the first 21 volumes!) available at only $149.99!


Reminder: Major Signing Friday

Friday, January 2nd, (New Comic Day!) we will be having a signing with nearly the entire creative team behind What If? Secret Wars! Dropping by the Manhattan Store will be Karl Bollers, Patrick Spaziante, Jeff Powell, Chris Allo, and Justin Gabrie! So come on in from the cold, pick up some new comics, and get your copy of What If? Secret Wars signed by everyone involved!


JHU Blog Exclusive: First Look at New Titles out Friday!

As you know (if you have been reading this blog!) new comics don't come out 'til Friday, so to tide you over here are a few recommendations to whet your appetite.


Coming out Friday, Wolverine #70 by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven continues "Old Man Logan," and the revelations and shocks come fast and furious. Talking with folks in-store, I know there has been a lot of excitement about this run, and deservedly so. Millar and McNiven have a track record of quality, and it certainly has been one hell of a story so far. Fifty years in the future, fifty years after the villains won and wiped out nearly every super hero alive and carved up what was left of the U.S. amongst themselves, and Logan has not popped his claws, not even fought. He is a farmer living in California, but the Hulk Gang, his landlords, want rent and he needs to go on one more mission to pay up and protect his home and his family. Clint Barton hires Logan to escort him from California to what used to be Washington, D.C. to deliver a package, and along the way they run into Moloids, Dinosaurs, Ghost Riders, and Clint's daughter, the new Kingpin of Crime. But still Logan does not fight - something especially horrible happened to him on the day the heroes all died, and he, the former Wolverine, has made a vow of pacifism. At the end of issue four (#69), we were promised an explanation of what happened on that awful day, and the promise is fulfilled here. Obviously I won't spoil it for you, but if you have found yourself frustrated by the delays in this book, then let me say, marveling at the stunning, stunning scenes in Logan's recollections, that this issue has made it worth it. This is some of Steve McNiven's strongest work, hands down, and Mark Millar characterization and plotting is firing on all cylinders here... There are no less than three powerful "Oh my god!" moments in this one issue, including an image I guarantee you have not seen anywhere before. Do not drop this book - if you have been sticking around then the mid-story payoff is worth it. If you want a good place to jump on, then pick up issue one of the story (still in stock) and pick up this one, you will be pleased and surprised!

Another Millar-penned title I know a lot of folks have been itching for is Kick-Ass #5, (of course illustrated by the great John Romita, Jr., from Marvel's creator-owned Icon imprint) and things begin to come to a head for Dave Lizewski... sortof. I am loathe to describe the plot of this issue too much as quite a bit tends to happen in the individual issues of this book, this week's being no exception. If there is one theme in this title, it is that playing dress-up and throwing yourself into situations best handled by actual professionals is liable to only get yourself killed, and needless to say, Dave confronts the rise of superheroes he inadvertently created and finds himself in a situation where kicking ass (or attempting to) simply will not help.

Greg Pak and Carmine di Giandomenico are doing a remarkable job with Magneto: Testament, this week's #4 being a prime example. Telling a story involving a super-villain set during the Holocaust could be really easy to screw up badly, but the story they are telling is quite effecting and far from trivial. Young Max Eisenhardt has lost his family and has been shipped off to a concentration camp. The stories of horror and survival of that time are well known, and the title doesn't necessarily tread new ground here... It has always been hard to wrap one's mind around the sheer scale of the horror of the Holocaust, and Pak and Infantino find a simple and powerful way to translate that unfathomable tragedy in a two-page spread of inanimate objects that stops you cold. This is a book of subtleties - from the beautifully rendered use of Max's powers to a jump in time represented by empty panels a la Brubaker/Phillips Criminal - mixed with scenes of the worst the human species has ever inflicted on its own, and it is a stunning, moving work.

My number one ongoing book of the year, Scalped, concludes "Gravel In Your Guts" with a showdown, and there are some surprises thrown in to keep you off your feet. This brutal title is filled to the brim with shades of grey, and that certainly doesn't change here. I especially liked Shunka's efforts at getting Red Crow to act despite the consequences, and ultimately Red Crow is trying to protect his people... but the spectre of the past, ever present, reminds us that he is protecting himself, too. Great stuff.

Ah, cosmic books, my delicious guilty pleasure... In Green Lantern #36 in part two of "Rage of the Red Lanterns," Hal Jordan gets the troubling low-down on the Blue Lanterns while Sinestro gets a little love from the Red Lanterns. Things are really ramping up in this book, and the revelations in this week's issue are certain to turn things on their head for quite a while. In Guardian's of the Galaxy #8, Rocket Raccoon and his Guardians go to kick some Badoon... uh, whatever-Baddon-have-for-posteriors, and Peter Quill gets in way over his head while trying to atone for his many, many mistakes. I love this book, and I love the fact that even though the Guardians are spread throughout the Galaxy and aren't even a team anymore, that the various plot threads all still interconnect and play a role in the upcomming War of Kings.

And stay tuned, Vito will have a little something for you on another Marvel/Icon title out this week, Incognito #1, the new superhero slash crime comic from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips shortly. Let me just say I've been jazzed about this book since it was announced, and it lives up to the hype. Brubaker and Phillips have some magic mojo working lately, and judging by the packed first issue, Incognito is certainly shaping up to be a worthy follow-up to Criminal (one of the best books of the year).

The above is just scratching the surface... it's a big week this week with a ton of great books coming out from accross the board! And don't forget about the signing at 6:00 on Friday with the ENTIRE CREATIVE TEAM behind What If: Secret Wars. Woot! See you then!

c) 2008, 2009 Jeffrey O. Gustafson - The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.


New Comics Friday 1/2

Monday, December 29, 2008

Just a reminder, new comics this week will be coming out Friday, January 2. Also, don't forget about our upcoming New Year's Sale and New York Comic Con tickets are on sale now! See you at the store!


Five More Reviews

Thursday, December 25, 2008

by Jeffrey O. Gustafson

Just like I did last week, here some past entries from my column in the weekly newsletter.

In 2003 Marvel released the stunning Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules (now available in trade paperback), written by James Sturm, and illustrated by Sturm, Guy Davis and R. Sikoryak. The series opens with the revelation that, in research, Sturm (indy cartoonist and founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies) discovered that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had created the Fantastic Four based on real people, and that what follows is their "true" story - he even provides interviews and documents as "proof;" of course this is just a clever gimmick, one that helps set up the time and place of the story... It is 1958, and Dr. Reed Richards is a professor at Columbia University and a scientific adviser for the military. His neighbor and would be paramour is "Sue Sturm" - a young woman trying to raise her soon-to-be rebellious younger brother Johnny. Reed's old buddy Ben is nearby, running a boxing gym in his old neighborhood. What follows is not a superhero story. There is no rocketship, no cosmic rays, and no physical transformations, although transformations do take place. The late 1950s was a time of great cultural transition - the liberated era of the 1960s was bubbling on the surface of the 1950's chaste conformity. The story is fiercely of this time, taking place over one day with each of its four issues focusing on a different character. Johnny, bullied and alienated, joins up with a group of beatniks in a night of self-discovery; Reed, ever the genius at matters of science but not matters of the heart; Ben, while being there for one person may lose the friendship of another; and the real highlight of the book, Sue, saddled with the responsibility of her brother while trying to maintain appearances in her well-to-do neighborhood, suffocated by the weight of her responsibilities, the loss of the life she could have and still desperately wants to lead, and the expectations of society on a woman in the 1950s. These four people's lives orbit around each other and intersect in one fateful night that will change all of their lives forever. Unstable Molecules is an utterly remarkable, daring work, with palpably real characters and a fantastic story that jumps from fiction into our world and back again. The title of the book refers not to Reed's greatest early discovery (although those weird particles do appear), but to these four lives, all independent of each other yet effected by the presence of the others, and all just outside of Reed's ability to understand, the hearts and minds and motivations of these fantastic four people.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest comics ever made, and seen as one of several titles from the mid-1980s that changed the medium, one would imagine everyone has read The Dark Knight Returns... Except I hadn't. I didn't really like the cramped art (which is still somewhat off-putting), I just never got around to it... and, frankly, I let my perception of Frank Miller's current work put me off, which was a mistake, of course, as the book really is pretty good. An informal poll of several acquaintances showed me that, yeah, quite a few folks haven't gotten to it for whatever reason, so I was not alone in my unintended avoidance of the book. For the uninitiated, The Dark Knight Returns is the seminal four-part mini-series from 1986 written and illustrated by Frank Miller that helped to reinvent Batman. It's the near future, it has been ten years since Bruce Wayne retired the Batman, and Gotham has suffered for it. America is a very different place - Superheroes in general appear to have been outlawed, and the country lies on the brink of environmental and economic disaster and on the razor's edge of war with the Soviet Union. As Gotham is overrun by street gangs, Bruce Wayne, despite his increasing age, finds himself pulled back into defending his city. But just as Batman begins to retake the streets, he becomes the target of the city, his former allies in the police, and the U.S. government. On the surface, the book is a standard possible future story we see all the time in science fiction, and elements of the story haven't dated well. But there is more going on than just a Batman story: As much as anything, this is an exploration of a society's reaction to media suffocation, unceasing crime, a failing economy, war abroad, a destroyed environment... it is a shockingly subtle and graceful observation of the apocalypse, of a society in collapse. Frank Miller's art is more uneven than his nuanced writing here. Often, the panels are packed onto the pages like sardines, usually just at the service of clunky exposition. But where Miller (with Klaus Jansen's inks and Lynn Varley's appropriately muted coloring) breaks away to get into the action is where he really shines, leaving us with many iconic, stirring images: a fallen general, a giant amongst men, a dark knight riding to his doom. So if you are someone who has not read it (or perhaps has not read it in a while), then this eloquent, emotionally resonant book is worth finally checking out.

Warren Ellis is a long time fan of science fiction, and three recent works written by Ellis exemplify a style of simple character and technology driven sci-fi that hearkens back to the work of science fiction's true golden age of the 1950s and 1960s. Ocean, available in softcover from WildStorm, confidently illustrated by Chris Sprouse, is about a UN weapons inspector circa 2100 AD investigating an anomaly on Europa - that ice covered moon of Jupiter long the center of many science fiction stories exploring the life-giving potential of the moon's under-ice liquid water seas. But instead of finding a new lifeform, a group of rag-tag scientists stumble upon an ancient discovery that may threaten all life in the solar system - and there are corporate forces at work that want to claim the discovery for their own, despite the consequences. In the near future of Orbiter, available in hardcover and softcover from Vertigo, the Space Shuttle, long thought lost and missing for over a decade, suddenly crash lands in Florida covered in an extra-terrestrial skin, and containing but one (possibly insane) passenger. Intricately illustrated by Colleen Doran, the story centers on the investigation of what happened to the shuttle and the crew, and the Earth-changing discovery of what was left behind in the Shuttle after its mysterious journey. Both of these stories are competently produced, fairly straightforward near-future sci-fi stories. The far superior Ministry of Space, available in hardcover from Image, is a rare mix of concise science fiction mixed with alternate history that fulfills the promise of science fiction, telling a story that reveals truths about the human condition that only the greatest sci-fi can reveal. Ostensibly a Dan Dare sendup, the story begins in a far different 2001, looking back over the decades as England comes to dominate the space age while America and Russia are left in the dust. By the 1950s, man is in space, building space stations, heading to the moon with Mars in sight. By 2001, the world (read: British Empire) is a transformed place with cheap and plentiful food, easy space travel to the outer planets, and widespread advanced technological advances. For science fiction fans, there is a sense of loss in how far we could have come if we exercised our own potential as a species... but this is no simple love letter to the what-could-have-been England if it had dominated the global political and scientific world. Thrown into flux by the characters' own dark revelations and a shocking last panel, the reader is left stunned by the implications asked by the question: At what cost, progress? The story is aided by absolutely stunning art: Chris Weston is allowed page after page several times in this short graphic novel to just show us this world and its history - the retro-future of 1950's England all the way through the lost sci-fi future of the present. Colored by the incorporable Laura Martin, Ministry of Space is a rare mix of perfect art and perfect story, a true classic "basic" science fiction story rarely seen in comics.

c) 2008 Jeffrey O. Gustafson - The views expressed are solely those of the author


Kramers Ergot 7 Is Here

Kramers Ergot
7 is out, and we still have a few copies available. Kramers Ergot is the award-winning annual anthology featuring some of the best independent cartoonists alive, and this year's edition is huge - literally. The super-large format (featuring 16" by 21" pages) was chosen as a throwback to the comic strip medium's earliest days of the early 1900s. Then, comics, still a novelty, were published in "broadsheet" newspapers with these very large dimensions. Kramers Ergot editor Sammy Harkham was intrigued by the recent, stunning original-sized releases of Winsor McKay's classic Little Nemo in Slumberland, and was interested to see what modern comics would look like at that scale.

As you can see, it is quite large.

OK, not that large - you'll be able to carry this home just fine.

So, it is gorgeous, handsomely presented, and uniquely large, but what about the comics on the inside? Part of the joy of this volume is looking at all the comics and seeing how different cartoonists responded to the huge space available to them. Some used the space better than others, and like with any anthology the quality can be hit or miss, but the contributors hit more than they miss and the best strips in the book are the ones that use the whole space available to them.

"Sawdust," by Dan Clowes (his first new work released in a couple of years) effectively uses the space to tell a complete tragedy of murder and revenge on one page. Similarly, Jaime Hernandez tells a complete story on one page, this one of childhood memories, time travel, and murder. "NSFW" is a subtle, bizarre story about a deeply disturbed man as his life falls apart around him. In "Cradle of Frankenstein" by Ted May, the space is used most effectively and inventively in a beautifully twisty little tale (literally in terms of layout) about a scientist, his obsession, and a monster. "Night of the Jibblers" by Josh Simmons is stunning horror story tinged with loss and mystery. Ivan Brunetti's "American Splenda" is exactly what you'd imagine, a Pekar-like slice of life story told through the lens of Ivan Brunetti's comical self-evisceration. There is the beautiful and disturbing "Angels" by Anders Nilsen (of which I would love to see more). And of course, one of the best pieces in the book, a story focusing on the un-named protagonist from Acme Novelty Library #18 by Chris Ware. Chris Ware, as usual, packs an emotional punch into a small space, and the large space in this volume does not disappoint. And this doesn't even scratch the surface... there are also works by Kim Deitch, David Heatley, Matt Groening, Johnny Ryan, Richard Sala, Seth, Adrian Tomine, C.F., Gabrielle Bell, Ben Katchor, Rick Altergott, Jonathan Bennett, Conrad Botes, Shary Boyle, Mat Brinkman, John Brodowski, Martin Cendreda, Joe Daly, Matt Furie, Tom Gauld, Leif Goldberg, John Hankiewicz, Eric Haven, Tim Hensley, Walt Holcombe, Kevin Huizenga, J. Bradley Johnson, Ben Jones, Geoff McFetridge, Jesse McManus, James McShane, Jerry Moriarty, John Pham, Ron Rege Jr., Xavier Robel, Souther Salazar, Frank Santoro, Anna Sommer, Will Sweeney, Matthew Thurber, and many more.

There is a huge amount of variety in this book, with strips ranging from simple works that could exist at any size, deeply experimental non-narrative works, and everything in between. It is a who's who of the best cartoonists working today at a format you won't see anywhere else. The $125 price may appear a bit steep, but in terms of production value of the book (its hand-bound on fancy archival paper in an extremely limited print run), and the variety and quality of the comics inside, it is well worth it (and don't forget about our upcoming sale on graphic novels and trades - Kramers Ergot 7 is included, and 20% off equals some big savings on this book).

And for a great overview of the book and an interview with Sammy Harkham by Tom Spurgeon, check out this excellent read from The Comics Reporter.



Great books that help out great charities

Earlier I mentioned ways you can help out a great comic charity while getting something in return. Here are a couple of ways...

First, Image recently released Liberty Comics, benefiting the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and it is one of the best values in comics. This full-color comic features a new, never-before-seen story starring The Boys by Garth Ennis and Darick Robinson, and a new Criminal tale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips! By itself, these two stories would be worth the price of admission, but on top of that you get a Rick Veitch Bratpack story and more never before seen comics by Mark Millar, Darywn Cooke, Art Adams, Sergio Aragones, and more. These are some of the biggest and best names in comics donating their time and talent for a great cause, and at only $3.99! And you can chose between three new, original covers, including a Hellboy cover by Mike Mignola, a Danger Girl cover by J. Scott Campbell, and the newly released Thor cover by Walt Simonson! Wow. And it can't be stressed that in addition to getting all these great original stories, you'd be helping out a great cause, The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which has been defending our First Amendment rights for more than two decades.

Second, The Hero Intitiative in association with Marvel Comics recently released the Hulk 100 Project. Similar to the Ultimate Spider-Man 100 Project from a couple of years ago, Marvel and the Hero Initiative asked the best artists in comics to donate their time by illustrating a new, original cover to Hulk #1. These covers were then auctioned off to some lucky fans, and this book is a gallery of those covers. For just ten dollars you get 132 pages of all new, never-before-published Hulk covers by such luminaries as Sal Buscema, Ron Garney, Ed McGuinness, Ron Wilson, John Cassaday, Frank Cho, David Finch, Joe Quesada, John Romita Sr., and dozens upon dozens more - indeed, nearly every living prominent artist who has ever drawn the Hulk is in here! Plus, you get a nifty intro by legendary Hulk scribe Peter David and an essay on how Hulk's pants stay on (seriously) by Dr. James Kakalios, author of The Physics of Superheroes. Now thats a great deal for ten bucks, and it helps out The Hero Initiative, the first charity for helping comics creators in need.

A couple of great books that help out a couple of great organizations!



Toys for tots!

A hearty thanks to all the folks who donated to our Toys for Tots drive! A bunch of really lucky kids are waking up to some pretty awesome toys.

And if anyone is still in a giving mood, why don't you check out our friends at The Hero Initiative (the first ever charity dedicated to helping comic creators in need) and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (defending our first amendment rights for more than 20 years). A little later I'll highlight some great books you can buy that will help these great organizations... Helping folks while getting entertained, what a deal!



New Year's Sale, 1/5 and 1/6!

Howdy folks!

Can you believe it is almost 2009? And with the new year comes new, great deals at Jim Hanley's Universe...

In a super-exclusive first for the JHU blog, we are happy to announce the first sale of the new year! Monday, January 5, and Tuesday, January 6 will see 20% OFF ALL GRAPHIC NOVELS, TOYS, and STATUES!

Your eyes do not deceive you. Hop on down to both JHU locations 1/5 and 1/6 and get 20% off on all graphic novels, trades/hardcover collections, manga, statues (including the already deeply discounted nice price statues) and toys! We have a deep selection of trades and graphic novels, and the new year is a perfect time to try out that one book you've been meaning to read. Need help with a selection? Check out the Best-Of lists by Vito, Caleb, and myself, take a gander at our Staff Picks Shelf, or ask any of our friendly, helpful staff.

And I can't think of a better time to use those nifty gift certificates some of you lucky folks got from the more awesome friends and family in your life... Talk about bang for your buck!

See you around the store, and remember you heard this news here first!



Happy Holidays

Whatever you may celebrate, the happiest of holidays to you and yours from the folks at Jim Hanley's Universe, and a safe, healthy, and happy new year!


We have New York Comic Con tickets!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Holidays everyone!

Jim Hanley's Universe is pleased to announce that we have tickets for the 2009 New York Comic Con now on sale! The con goes down February 6-8 at the Javits Center, and you bet your longboxes we'll have a booth there. Here are the rates:

Great deals all around.

But what's that, you say? You haven't been to the New York Comic Con before? You need some convincing now?

Well, from personal experience, the past two years at the convention have been a blast! New York's own little con-that-could is really shaping up to be, year in, year out, on par with San Diego in terms of creators and booths, and has been progressively growing larger each year. This year's guests include J. Michael Straczynski (which I am personally psyched about), Grant Morrison, the Kuberts, George Perez, Jim Lee, Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction, Neal Adams, Art Spiegelman, Joe Quesada, Lou Ferrigno, Colleen Doran, Dave Gibbons, Chip Kidd, Jim Shooter, Lenil Francis Yu, Ron Garney, Mark Waid, Abnett & Lanning, Hammer & Publick, and a score of many more great comic writers, artists, editors, and more! Not to mention the ever expanding artist's alley. Hoo-dilly, look at all those cool people!

This doesn't include all the booths, panels, games, signings, sights and sounds to be experienced in our own home town comic convention. Oh, yeah, and Jim Hanley's Universe will be representing over at booth 1613 with deep discounts on hundreds of trade paperbacks, hardcovers, graphic novels, and new comics.

So, next time you are in the store, pick up some tickets. Better yet, get them as a gift - I can guarantee that the comic-lover in your life will flip over getting a free ride to the best comic book convention this side of the Mississippi.

See you around the store,


UPDATE 1/8/09:
In the week leading up to the con, we will have some major events right here in our Manhattan store! Tuesday 2/3 at Midnight, we will have a world exclusive release party for Scott Pilgrim Volume 5, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe with writer/artist/creator Bryan Lee O'Malley! Then, Thursday 2/5 at 6:00 pm, we will have our annual pre-NYCC JHU Mini-Con, with a half dozen great creators all signing at once! Dropping by will be C.B. Cebulski, Guiseppe Camuncoli, Stefano Caselli, Duane Swierczynski. Glen Brunswick, and more! ONLY at Jim Hanley's Universe! (Update! Joining these five great creators will be Jonathan Hickman and Gabriel Del'Otto!)


Jeff's Top Ten Comics of 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

by Jeffrey O. Gustafson

1. (tie)

Marvel writer Jason Aaron has had a good 2008 – he was voted “Writer of the Year” by Wizard, and to me, only Matt Fraction has had a better year. In "Get Mystique," Aaron and Ron Garney took Wolverine to the limit (and have been given their own new Wolverine ongoing starting in May), his Secret Invasion/Black Panther tie-in was one of the true highlights of Marvel's tent-pole event, and he has breathed remarkable new life into Ghost Rider. But the highlight of Aaron's recent creative output is also the best comic book series being released today, his and artist R. M. Guera's creator-owned series Scalped from Vertigo. This year saw the book go from spy/cop intrigue & mystery, and the gloriously manic observation of one crazy day, to the loss of not just family, but of self, to bad choices, redemption for some, and loss for others. This is a story about badly broken people trying to forge a life in a badly broken world, of a society shattered by drugs and alcohol, of pain and scars that will not heal. Scalped is a spy book without cliche, a crime book on par with 100 Bullets and Criminal, a lyrical, funny, heartbreaking, brutal, neo-western comic-noir about family, race, drugs, money, history and power told from a perspective almost not seen anywhere else in fiction - and it is the best ongoing series on the stands right now.

1. (tie) Acme Novelty Library

Chris Ware is, hands down, the best cartoonist working today. His nigh-annual Acme Novelty Library is consistently the highlight of any calendar year, and November’s #19, essentially a character study in domestic madness told in the depths of space and in the blacker depths of Earth-bound reality, did not disappoint. The only criticism of Ware’s work is that his decades-spanning character epics take a very long time to tell – but with results like this, with works as frankly astonishing, sincerely breath taking as this, it is well worth the wait. This year, Ware returned to Rusty Brown, presenting a chapter focusing on Rusty’s father, Woody, as he looks back on where it all went wrong, where his life derailed and trapped him in a prison of familial misery. The book actually opens with a graphic interpretation of an old science fiction story written by Woody in his youth. The story within the story, a horror-science fiction pastiche both perfectly evocative of the pulps of the time while simultaneously transcending them, is one of madness told by an unreliable narrator. Alone, “The Seeing Eye Dogs of Mars” is one of the best science fiction stories released this year, Ware’s words poetry, his pictures high art. But there are layers within layers at work – the story we just read was read through Woody’s eyes, his own perspective as unreliable and colored as the narrator, and coupled with the emotional second half of the book focusing on Woody’s own relationships and his own fractured reality, both halves are put into a startling new light of pain and loss. Alone, either half of this book would put the book at the top of my list… considered as part of the extraordinary larger whole that we have seen so far in the Rusty Brown epic, and there is no competition: Acme Novelty Library #19 is the best single book released this year, and one of the most remarkable works ever released in the comics medium.

2. All-Star Superman

I don’t like Superman, never have, but Grant Morrison, with Frank Quietly on art, certainly have crafted a masterpiece. So much has been written about this run in so many places, that there is almost no need to justify its placement on this list. In totality, DC’s All Star Superman is a timeless story with great art and perfect writing, everything a superhero comic should be, indeed, could be. And for my money, the true highlight of the series outside of the ending was issue number 10, the single finest superhero comic ever made. Superman is dying, dead really, and he rushes to save the day, again and again, no matter the sacrifice. He cures the sick, gives hope to the lost, gives purpose to those affected by his greatest failure, accepts defeat to his greatest foe, confronts his mortality, decodes his DNA, and creates the universe. Of all the criticisms that are levied against superhero comics in general, it is transcendent works like this that redeem the genre in every way.

3. Thor

Thor by J. Michael Straczynski and Olivier Coipel is the best book Marvel has put out this year. We don’t see Thor hopping around and doing a lot of super-heroing, but what we do see is a consistently enthralling, pitch perfect tale of intrigue and betrayal and of gods and mortals. Thor has managed to recreate Asgard on Earth, he’s confronted Tony Stark for his sins, and worked out issues with his father. But just as strong as the Odinson is the best supporting cast in comics, the Asgardians in their floating fortress and the nearby townsfolk on Earth. The machinations of Loki are stunning in her deceitfulness and logic, the interactions between the gods and the men and women of Braxton, Oklahoma are both hilarious and filled with drama and wonder. This is a book built in quiet moments, of whispers in the dark, and of awe in the eyes of men as gods walk amongst them. Coipel, doing his finest work here, aided by Mark Morales on inks and the incomparable Laura Martin on colors, are crafting some of the best work in superhero comics today, translating these quiet moments perfectly. And increasingly rare in comics, this series is less about defined story arcs than about presenting individual, nearly self-contained stories that play a part of a larger whole, and these individual stories are remarkable on their own. For example, in Thor #11, as Balder deals with conflicts at home, Thor says goodbye to an old friend and sends the world a message. A simple story vitally important to the larger whole, yet completely stand-alone, and also one of the best single comics released this year.

But JMS’s Thor is not the only place the character has shined. Appropriately, he is less superhero than god, but when he does act, it changes the world, playing a pivotal role in Brian Michael Bendis’s Secret Invasion. But the other real highlight of the year for the character is, of course, the work that Matt Fraction has done with the character, not just the great Secret Invasion crossover and this month’s love letter to Walt Simonson’s run, but his trilogy of books focusing on Thor’s journey from God to Man and back again. His “Ages of Thunder”/”Reign of Blood”/”Man of War” trilogy, telling epic tales from millennia ago in Asgard’s storied past, alone is really one of the best main-stream fantasy/adventure stories told this year, and provides a perfect counterpart to Straczynski’s work on the character.

4. Matt Fraction

OK, Marvel writer Matt Fraction isn’t a book, clearly, but bear with me while I cheat a bit here… See, either a quarter of the list will be Matt Fraction books or I’d be forced to drop some obvious picks for sake of balance. Matt Fraction has had one hell of a year, and I’m grouping his works here. 2008 started with the end of The Order, his fun Initiative-based book with Barry Kitson, and the end of his and the great Ed Brubaker’s character redefining run on Iron Fist, a great mix of mystic transdimensional martial arts action. Casanova, with Fabio Moon from Image, wrapped up its second arc, a sleek, sexy time-hopping gender-smashing delirious head-trip of a science fiction spy thriller that alone is one of the best books of the year. Fraction (again with Brubaker) shook up the Uncanny X-Men and relocated them to San Fransisco in the wake of Messiah CompleX, telling some fun, energetic X-stories while setting the foundation for that corner of the Marvel Universe for years to come. And with Salvador Larocca, he took hold of the most controversial character in the Marvel Universe, Iron Man, crafting a smart and fun thriller that is both the basis of Marvel’s future movie strategy and the foundation of the resistance in the post-Secret Invasion Marvel Universe landscape. And of course, we cannot forget Thor (see above).

5. Y: The Last Man

Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s post apocalyptic masterpiece from Vertigo came to an end this year with the best ending of any self-contained comic book series ever released. January’s Y: The Last Man # 60 was not about action and answers but about character and tone, a work of stunning beauty, the final chapter of the end of the world and the first chapter of the beginning of the new world. There’s never been anything else quite like Y, and the ending could not have been better. Re-reading the issue for this piece, I still find myself at a loss for words… if you haven’t read Y: The Last Man, than read it for the journey, read it for the ending, read it for everything that it is, the road of a boy as he becomes a man, and the women in his life. There are the rare books that fulfill the promise of the medium and this is one of them.

Buy Y: The Last Man volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 from our online store!

6. Criminal
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip’s creator-owned comic-noir from Marvel in recent issues stepped back from the central story that played out in one form or another throughout the series’ run, focusing on a former criminal who gets sucked back in against his will. There are secrets buried in the past, bad cops and good criminals, sex, lies, and cartoons. In a renaissance for crime stories in the comic medium that has given us 100 Bullets, Scalped, and more, Criminal is so much more than a throwback to film-noir and dime-novels, it is a graphically inventive, edgy, dark work about bad, bad men, and bad, bad women living in a world of sin.

7. Omega: The Unknown
A few years ago, Marvel published the utterly remarkable Unstable Molecules, by indy cartoonist James Sturm. I like it when the big two take these kind of risks, and it payed off for Marvel again with Omega: The Unknown, written by author Jonathan Lethem and Karl Rusnak with art by Faryl Dalrymple and Paul Hornschemeir. An indy book for the superhero crowd and a superhero book for the indy crowd, this strange (in a good way), quiet little series about alienation and discovering one’s humanity is not your standard superhero comic, of course, though there are supervillains, alien robot nanoviruses, and battles with unknown forces. This is a moody, wonderful little delight.

8. The Walking Dead
If there is one guarantee about Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s consistently superb The Walking Dead from Image is that there are no guarantees… characters you love may die at any moment, the status quo of whatever existence these characters may try to eke out may be changed without warning. This is not a cheap trick by Kirkman, but a reflection of the reality these characters live in. Zombies surround them, and the remnants of humanity can rarely be trusted. This book is about trying to survive against increasingly overwhelming odds, trying to maintain humanity in a world of necessary barbarism, struggling with sanity in unceasing madness, and this year the pain and loss and suffering was dialed to eleven. I guess another guarantee about this book is how consistently riveting and surprising it is, month in and month out.

9. Mythos: Captain America
Paul Jenkins and Paolo Rivera’s retelling of various characters’ origins in the Mythos series of one-shots have been concise, true to the originals with a unique perspective and beautiful fully painted art. In Mythos: Captain America, the final and finest piece in the series, Jenkins and Rivera crafted an elegant, heartbreaking tale of sacrifice for country and brother. What makes a hero? Who do they fight for? Why do the fight? A reflection on sacrifice and part unintended elegy, it is a reminder of how important Captain America is in this fictional universe, and more importantly a reminder of how vital and treasured our fighting men and women are in this one.

10. Cosmic Marvel
When making a list like this, I find myself torn between focusing on items that represent the finest comics has to offer and stuff I like that are definitely great, but not necessarily greatest. Well, to hell with it, this is a guilty pleasure through and through and I don’t care – there is nothing wrong with having some cake with your steak and potatoes.

I am a sucker for space-bound sci-fi stuff, and at Marvel, writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have been making wonderfully fun superhero/space opera tales. Starting with the great conclusion of Annihilation: Conquest in January, and book-ended with the beginning of War of Kings, the cosmic side Marvel Universe has never been more exciting. Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy are some of the most fun and exciting titles out now, featuring some of the most interesting characters and places in comics. Throw in the growing aftermath to Brubaker’s Shi’ar Empire epic, the ever intriguing Inhumans going into space, and of course Secret Invasion, and you have a perfect storm of exhilarating and entertaining sci-fi.

Honorable Mentions
In no order, Incredible Hercules, Fables, 100 Bullets, Punisher (by Ennis), Astonishing X-Men (by Whedon and Cassaday), Godland, New Avengers / Mighty Avengers, Ex Machina, The Twelve, Echo, Patsy Walker: Hellcat, Magneto: Testament, Ganges, Captain America, RASL, DMZ, Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps, and Tiny Titans. There are also a score of great graphic novels and trade paperbacks (that shall remain nameless for space concerns) that I read for the first time this year but were published in prior years. Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you around the store.

c) 2008 Jeffrey O. Gustafson - The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.


Vito's Top 5 Comics of 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Acme Novelty Library #19 - I have to admit to being relatively new to Chris Ware and his books. I've tried to read them before, but they just didn't take. What was it about #19 that got me? The sci-fi story. It was as EC as EC Comic-homages get. But the trick of this issue is how that engrossing story sucks you in and you don't realize there's a greater story here...a bigger picture, as it were. In the past, I would say that my hesitance to fully embrace Ware's work was the art...it's small in places, and hard to read, but after this issue, I can see how that's actually a plus, not a minus. Honestly, this is the book of the year.

Giant Size Astonishing X-Men #1 - When I read it, I thought it was (really good) and left it at that. When I discussed it with my co-workers, I thought it was great. Comics, like music, have a unique ability to divide people into groups and then into smaller groups. The thing about GSAX is that it united. Down the line, to the individual, everyone loved it. And why not? It was action packed from beginning to end, and no disrespect meant to Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi (who followed), but if you take those 25 issues of the Whedon/Cassaday run, you have a complete story that can easily turn anyone on to the X-Men. If Marvel is smart, you'll be seeing the Astonishing X-Men Omnibus very soon. I will take one of those, thank you!

Criminal #4-7 - It's without fail one of my top pics, and with good reason. It's a great antidote to the normal "capes and masks" content that the companies put out. Brubaker and Phillips are a creative team on par with Claremont/Byrne, Morrison/Quitely, Ennis/Dillon and Kirby/Lee (I said it!). What is great about this run of Criminal is that every panel is used to tell the story. You'd think that was normal, but what I mean is...in comics, you take it in page by page, but the story in Criminal is told in the panels, which makes the page so much more important. Who gets credit for it? Brubaker or Phillips? Doesn't matter. This arc tells the story of a lowly cartoonist drawn into an intricate con/murder plot and one can't help by wonder...who is the cartoonist supposed to be? Brubaker or Phillips? According to Marvel's site, the collection comes out on January 28th. Save the date.

Buy Criminal volumes 1, 2, and 3 from JHU's online store! Volume 4 comes to Jim Hanley's Universe January 28!

Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite TPB - I wanted to hate this comic so much. As someone who has really tried to get his writing off the ground, it really kills me when someone from the world of movies or tv or music comes in and writes a comic. I take it personally and feel as if they are taking food out of my mouth. So, why is Umbrella Academy on this list? Well, I could never write UA. Never in a million years, and not because of lack of ability, but rather, this was Gerard Way's story to tell. And what a fantastic story to tell. Like Criminal, UA has some really great extras that, unlike Criminal, are important to the main story (Criminal has extras that are just fun and great reads). To me, Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite is reminicient of early Warren Ellis; suitably weird but endlessly entertaining. The hardcover slipcase has even more extras, so if you can, snag it.

Superman #676 - Well, if Caleb can call out his comic, I can call out mine. I'm really proud of the work I did this year, and none moreso than this little beauty. But as a reader, this book works on so many levels. You have your hero, a great and well-loved guest star (the Golden Age Green Lantern), a tough villain (Solomon Grundy) and it all takes place early in the hero's career. The art, by Julian Lopez (his first ever comic drawn, if not published) was a cross between Bryan Hitch and John Byrne and for the art alone (accompanied by Bit on inks and Marta on colors) it's worth tracking the issue down. But the lesson, as heavy-handed and "purple" as it might have been, works; honor the ones that came before you and learn from their mistakes. In this day and age, is there a better lesson to learn?

Honorable Mention - Lobster Johnson: Iron Prometheus (Great character, great story, and suprisingly great art by Jason Armstrong, the only artist after Duncan Fegredo who can do a Mignola book proud).


Staff Picks!

Monday, December 15, 2008

by Jeffrey O. Gustafson

In each week's email newsletter, you get a convenient list of new books coming out, details on promotions and sales, and a column by yours truly on some great books you (might have) missed. Below are a few of those columns from past weeks.

And while I've got your attention, next time you are in our Manhattan store, check out the Employee Picks rack, located opposite the X-Men books, where you can find a ton of great, diverse books picked by management and staff from both stores! Also feel free to ask any of us for recommendations - we all read a ton of different comics each week and love to help out folks looking for something new and exciting to read.

Now those reviews!

GODLAND by writer Joe Casey and artist Tom Scioli is one of the most wonderful and weirdest comics being produced today. Imagine the demon offspring of Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Arthur C. Clarke pouring LSD into your skull while exposing the mysteries of the Universe through imagery unseen anywhere else, with words and sentences previously unsaid by any human in any language. It is a superhero comic with the funniest villains in comics and it is a cosmic/sci-fi book with an equal focus on whacked out universal enlightenment. Astronaut Adam Archer gets zapped with incredible powers by ancient beings while on a botched trip to Mars, and finds himself being the sole protector of Earth as both he and Earth become the regular targets of ancient intergalactic bad guys, home grown (increasingly bizarre) supervillains, and his own government (not to mention family drama with his three fiery sisters). Scioli's art is Kirby-retro yet fresh, and Casey's stories and dialogue are bizarre and different in a way that leaves you in awe and thirsting for more. As the series winds into its "final year" with this last ish's #25, the gorgeous 12 + issue Godland Celestial Edition (available now) is a perfect starting point and comes packed with tons of supplementary material and an introduction by Grant Morrison. Plus paperbacks for volumes 3 and 4 are out collecting through issue 24 – a perfect time to jump on. I can't think of a reason not to read this.

Hamburger-shooting Elvi Modoks! Cursing Celestials! Broccoli Men! Mindless One's dancing to "Thriller!" Tabitha Smith (boom)! If you like your super-hero comics grounded in logic and sanity, then cover your eyes and hide your children because Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. would like to flip your world upside-down and throw copies of Not Brand Echh at your head. Writer Warren Ellis and illustrator Stuart Immonen's little Marvel masterpiece of pulp pop parody came out during those heady days leading up to Civil War and seemed to fall under the radar a bit. Nextwave, told in easy to digest two-issue arcs, tells the story of a group z-list Marvel superheroes on the run from a SHIELD-like organization lead by a suicidal nutcase named Dirk Anger ("Mommy!"). The story starts mid-plot with Monica Rambeau, Machine Man, Tabitha Smith, Elsa Bloodstone and The Captain on the hunt for monsters released by the Beyond Corporation and the Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort, for whom they used to work. As they hunt down more monsters and interdimensional threats ("Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction"), the conspiracy by Beyond/H.A.T.E. grows deeper and more patently insane. This book is positively nuts in the good Godland sense, with over-the-top plots and a twisted, beautiful internal logic separate from the normal Marvel universe and every other comic book universe, for that matter. Don't usually like Marvel comics? Tired of superhero comics in general? Want something so bracingly different you find yourself dizzy and thirsty for more? Read Nextwave. It is a synthesis of creative writing, energetic and fiery art, and cutting edge design... It is a distillation of everything that a superhero comic book is, a manic, unhinged masterwork of the form, an overlooked gem, and some of the most unbridled fun I have ever had reading a comic. All 12 issues are available in two hardcovers/trades, Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. Volume 1: This Is What They Want, and Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. Volume 2: I Kick Your Face.

On a completely different note, I picked up Percy Gloom on a whim while perusing our shelves, and what a beautiful surprise! It would almost be a disservice to try and describe Cathy Malkasian's Percy Gloom from Fantagraphics... Part cutting satire, part fairy tale, part nightmare (and back again), Malkasian has crafted a disarmingly simple tale about the overwhelming forces of loss, love, government & society, and religion. The story starts with the title character, a short, balding little man named Percy Gloom as he travels abroad for the first time to search out his dream job as a writer of safety warnings. Gloom is overly cautious about everything and is doted upon by his mother; he is seemingly in a state of constant suffocation by the weight of the world, his own familial destiny, and a dark secret from his past. He comes to the headquarters of his dream job located in an odd little city hiding some deep, dark secrets of its own. At first, the story seems to be about breaking free of the constraints of life and taking chances, but the story soon takes many weird and wonderful turns and becomes something so much more - a story of profound heartbreak and loss, of redemption, and of freedom not just from the overwhelming weight of life but from the poison of corruption and power wielded by both the zealots and the broken. I haven't given many details of the plot here: this is a book to be experienced, not just told about. Percy Gloom is a work of surprising beauty and grace that has an emotional punch, a story packed with surprises that leap off the page and stick with you, and not just in the simple yet surprisingly versatile charcoal-like cartoon illustrations. Malkasian has given the world as perfect a work as can be achieved in several dozen pages of a comic, a breathless stunning piece of art.

c) 2008 Jeffrey O. Gustafson - The views expressed are solely those of the author.


Sign up for our email Newsletter

If you look at the top left corner of the page, there is a handy little box to sign up for our email newsletter. What comes in the newsletter? Each Tuesday, you get a full list of all the new comics coming out Wednesday and early details on upcoming signings and events (this is essentially an email version of the JHU Star by our own Vito Delsante). You also get a review (written by yours truly) of a nifty book you may have missed, and alerts on upcoming sales and promotions. Neat! So hope on over and plug in your email address - you'll be glad you did.



On deconstruction and sidekicks

Saturday, December 13, 2008

by Jeffrey O. Gustafson

The concept of the sidekick has always perplexed me, and to be honest, I cannot recall ever enjoying a comic that featured them in any prominence. Maybe because I've always been a "Marvel Guy" and the only notable sidekicks were Bucky and Toro in the 1940s and 1950s, or maybe because, even in worlds with gods, monsters, and flying men in spandex, it always seemed a stretch that one would bring a child along to wage battle against criminals and psychopaths. What kind of person plays dress up and cops and robbers with underage boys and girls? This isn't Fredric Wertham territory, here, these are questions of basic logic - questions Rick Veitch's Bratpack attempts to address, after a fashion.

The story opens is fictional Slumberg, PA, a particularly bleak city that is wallowing in filth and crime in the aftermath of disappearance of the Superman-like "maximortal" True-Man. A group of four superheroes has attempted to fill the void, employing sidekicks along the way. We are introduced to the young sidekicks - jaded, loathsome - only to see them murdered by Dr. Blasphemy, a supervillain of sorts. The story then follows the recruiting and training of a new group of sidekicks, and things get predictably twisted.

I say "predictably" because I am reading this in 2008, at a time when the superhero has been deconstructed multiple times, and one has become accustomed to the exploration of the seedy underbelly of the superhero concept; in 1991, when the book was originally released, this likely would have been - and is still seen by some - as a seismic shift in the theory and practice of the superhero story (Heidi MacDonald groups it with Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns as a "troika of immortal works dissecting the superhero genre"), and one can easily see the possible influence on many current works such as Garth Ennis's The Boys. That is not to say that there are any real revelations here, that there is any subtlety to the deconstruction... whereas Watchmen's deconstruction was elegant, literary, and in my opinion incidental to the story being told, Bratpack's is as subtle as a jackhammer. Veitch does go into that Wertham territory head first, even dedicating the book to the good doctor. The book quite clearly spells out its intentions (superhero = twisted fascist) and its metacommentary on several long-standing comic book tropes is clever and yet a bit over-emphasized. The superheroes are ugly shells of people, twisted caricatures of several easily recognizable archetypes, and the new sidekicks' collective journey from wide-eyed innocents to abused abusers is nothing new. Despite this and other minor faults (the first half of the book drags a little), the payoff in tone and message is well worth the trip. Veitch even manages to sneak in some nice philosophical surprises along the way, especially as it applies to the void left by True-Man's absence with an anti-Superman argument as succinct as any I have seen.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Veitch's art. At first glance, the black-and-white art is unremarkable. But as I read the story, the page layouts and panel design really began to pop out. The style of the art is appropriately reflective of the tone of the story, and there are several points in the book where Veitch lingers on random scenes from around Slumburg that more vividly paints a picture of the time and place of this story than pages of clunky exposition (which this story does suffer from early on). As the story becomes fractured, splitting between the four heroes and their sidekicks, the art keeps up in clever pacing and layouts, revealing a mastery of craft that may be missed on first pass.

This is not a perfect book, but it is a fun, provocative read, and on continued reflection, certainly begs consideration as a book that belongs on a must-read list for anyone looking for an examination on the meaning and purpose of the costumed vigilante... and their sidekicks.

c) 2008 Jeffrey O. Gustafson - The views expressed are solely those of the author.


Caleb's Top 5 Comics of 2008

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Here's my personal list of the five best comics from 2008, in alphabetical order:

All Star Superman - Probably the first truly 21st century comic. This is a comic for people who read Superman and like him, for people who read Superman and don't like him and for people who have never read Superman. This is upper-escahlon superhero comics here, belonging with the all-time (or all-star) greats like Watchmen or Lee & Ditko's Spider-Man.

Buy All Star Superman from JHU's online store!

Black Summer - This violent story kicks off moments after a bloody presidential assassination and only gets more exciting and more violent from there. A fresh new look at one of writer Warren Ellis's favorite themes: "How much of a monster to you have to be to stop monsters?" and adds a liberal dose of "Who decides who's a monster and who's a hero anyway?" Juan Jose Ryps's ultra-detailed art makes every issue feel twice as long as they actually are. And that's a good thing. Great story. Great art. Self-contained. What more could you ask for?

The Remnant - My new mini-series from BOOM! Studios. Comes out this Christmas Eve, just making it onto the 2008 list. Sure, I wrote it, but it's also one of my favorite comics this year and it is my list, after all.

Scalped - My favorite ongoing book on stands. A stunning long-form work, but at the same time every single issue packs a satisfying emotional wallop of the type most full-length mini-series merely wish they could pull off. Crime writing at it's best. Human drama at it's most horrifying. You won't be able to look away.

Skim - An amazing graphic novel. Perfectly captures the awkwardnesses of being in high school, being a strange kid, and feeling the emotion of love for the first time. Perfectly illustrates how transient everything is at that age, but at the same time how life-or-death important it all seems. Don't miss this one!



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