Laika is meditative and heartbreaking

Nick Abadzis‘ and Hilary Sycamore‘s Laika (paid link) is meditative, thorough, and heartbreaking.

Everything I knew about Laika — the first orbital space traveler, a stray dog trained and conditioned for her one-way mission — before reading this book came from her Wikipedia entry and small exhibits about her at aerospace museums. I now know a lot more about her, and how extraordinary she was.

Laika is as good as two of my other favorite biographical comics, Box Brown‘s Andre the Giant: Life and Legend (paid link) and Derf Backderf‘s My Friend Dahmer (paid link). Both are sad reads (and the latter is challenging in other ways, too), and both enriched my knowledge of their subjects.

Where Laika takes liberties — fully disclosed at the outset — they ring true to me. Dogs have an inner life; they think and feel, love and fear; they’re sentient beings. Considering what Laika’s inner life was like, which is beautifully expressed in the comic, is one of the things about the book that resonates most with me — and has continued to resonate months after I finished it.

Reaing Laika made me glad my first dog, Charlie, died in my arms, surrounded by people who loved him, and it makes me want to go home and pet Wicket.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.

Rat Queens fucking rules

I love getting reading recommendations, but my to-read shelves are such an embarrassment, particularly when it comes to comics, that I don’t always take them. But after a visit to Outsider Comics and Geek Boutique (which rocks!), I took one: Rat Queens (paid link).

I heard about RQ when it launched, but had too much on my plate to give it a look. I’m sorry I waited so long, because it’s excellent.

Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe and illustrated, at least initially, by Roc Upchurch (he was kicked off the series after being arrested for domestic abuse, but apparently he’s coming back), Rat Queens is in many ways a raunchy love letter to D&D and fantasy tropes.

(Cover by Fiona Staples.)

It’s feminist and funny and inclusive and bloody and surprising, and I love it. The back-cover blurb from the first trade sums it up nicely:

They’re a pack of booze guzzling, death dealing battle maidens-for-hire and they’re in the business of killing all the gods’ creatures for profit.

I’m Team Hannah, the foul-mouthed elven mage:

. . . but I dig all of the main characters: Violet, the hipster dwarven fighter who was shaving off her beard before it was cool; Dee, the atheist cleric who was raised in what’s basically a Cthulhu cult; and Betty, the smidgen (think halfling) drug-cooking thief. They do a lot of the things an average old-school D&D party might do — start fights, cause trouble, and murder their way across the countryside — but they also right wrongs and try to help people. It’s a good mix.

Maybe the best recommendation I can give is this one: I’ve been on a manga tear for the past few months, to the point that I found myself accidentally reading Rat Queens right-to-left several times, and Rat Queens is the first American comic out of a stellar lineup of potential candidates to break that streak.[1] It’s splendid, and I can’t wait for the second trade.

[1] It also broke my 3.5-month streak of not blogging. I figured something would — I’ve been busy doing other stuff, not avoiding blogging per se — but I didn’t expect it to be Rat Queens.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.

Zentropa: A wordless, sexy, phantasmagorical graphic novel

I backed John Mahoney’s Zentropa on Kickstarter because it looked gorgeous and it seemed like he had his shit together. When I saw the samples he posted, it felt very Heavy Metal to me, and apparently they agreed: The first 10 pages of Zentropa appear in issue #382.

I was also intrigued by the concept of a wordless graphic novel. Not new, but not something I’ve seen often, either. And holy shit, that artwork.

Choose your own adventure

By design, the story of Zentropa is open to interpretation — you decide what it’s about, and what’s happening in it. (I’ll still avoid anything I think might be a spoiler here, though.) Here are three examples of John’s artwork that should give you a good idea of what Zentropa is like.

Here’s the first panel in the book:

Most of the book is black and white, but some panels and pages are two-tone or color, like this gorgeous piece:

Lastly, here’s a page that highlights how well John mixes detailed elements with negative space:

An exploration

Zentropa invites exploration — of what it might be about, what it could mean, what’s happening in each panel, and of the artwork itself. Looking at the rest of my comic collection, there’s nothing else in it quite like this book.

It’s weird. It’s sexy. It’s neat. And it’s fun to explore.

I’m not sure where best to pick up Zentropa post-Kickstarter, but this looks like one option.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.

Grant Morrison’s Heavy Metal

When Grant Morrison took over as editor-in-chief of Heavy Metal, beginning with issue #280, I subscribed on the spot.

(Cover by Gail Potocki, one of three variant covers for Morrison’s debut issue.)

I’m a wee bit of a Morrison fan:

. . . and I used to be a regular reader of Heavy Metal back when I was a kid, so putting the two together sounded fantastic to me.

Right off the bat

Here’s an excerpt from Morrison’s introductory piece:

Welcome, one and all, to our jelly-packed Rites of Spring issue – where mighty prehistoric behemoths batter zombie Martian tripods to the bloody pub-sawdust with tree-like, reptile erections while Stravinsky is played at mind-shattering jet-engine volume through the bladder of a screaming helpless pig and STILL those filthy rich squidillionaires in their ermine, crowns, and fancy couture just sit there texting, oblivious to the suffering of performers, audience, and critics alike!

Expectations: high.

Also, this:

In most cases I’m unfamiliar with the work of the artists assembled between these covers, but I liked the cut of their collective jib and thought they came closest to exemplifying the Heavy Metal spirit as I understand it.

Apart from multi-issue runs of particular stories, and HM regulars like, say, Richard Corben, in the past when I’ve opened up an issue of HM that was generally my experience as well: no idea who these folks are, but their work is awesome and surprising and will likely stick with me. I’ve always loved that about HM.

Is it good?

Yep, it’s good.

It’s a weird mix, as it should be.

Beachhead, written by Grant Morrison, illustrated by Benjamin Marra, and colored by Marra and Tom Forget, opens the issue strong, with over-the-top, jingoistic aliens “conquering” a far-future Earth which appears to be populated only by bacteria.

I also loved Anna Larine Kornum’s A Mind Bomb, which is genuinely creepy and wouldn’t feel at all out of place in an Unknown Armies campaign. Check out this dude, who has bloody plastic bags over his hands and the stubs of what look like angel wings on his back:

The Key, by Massimiliano Frezzatto, is lovely. This little guy lives inside a woman-shaped ship of some sort; to say more would spoil it.

There’s plenty more good stuff in there, too, and much of it is eminently gameable, from turtle-people who grow time-manipulating drugs in sacs on their backs (and are hunted for them) to a rather unusual explanation for why airplanes sometimes go missing.

I didn’t love every story, but that’s true of most media that use this kind of format. On the whole, this issue struck exactly the notes I was looking for, with trippy artwork, unusual self-contained tales, and a stew of stuff for my brain to chew on. If this is a sign of things to come under Morrison’s editorship, I say bring it the fuck on.

I haven’t tucked into issue #281 yet, but it’s waiting patiently for me.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.

Paradox Girl is a hoot

I don’t usually buy single issues of comics (I much prefer TPBs), but I backed Paradox Girl on Kickstarter because it looked like a lot of fun, and I wanted to support its creators. It delivered on time, and I finished reading all three issues over the weekend. It’s every bit as fun as I’d hoped it’d be.

Written by Cayti Elle Bourquin and illustrated by Yishan Li, Paradox Girl is a time travel comic about the titular Paradox Girl, whose superpower is instantaneous, at-will time travel which doesn’t violate causality. That means that she’s essentially an “infinite being”, because copies of her are all over space and time, doing stuff — often stuff that helps her sleep in, acquire her favorite snacks, or fix problems other version of her have caused.

The 1987 Waffos loop

One of my favorite bits in Paradox Girl is the kickoff to the first issue: PG’s endless loop to ensure that she always has a box of Waffos, a toaster waffle product that hasn’t been made since 1987.

As they put it on the PG website:

You’re infinite, so while there might be 4 of you somewhere saving children from a burning school, there’s probably 800 more of you arguing about why you set the school on fire in the first place.

There are no temporal consequences for PG’s time travel, so versions of her do all sorts of things on a whim, constantly. It’s gloriously chaotic.

Binkiesaurus vs. laser-emu

The first three issues are self-contained stories, each built around a core of problems caused — usually unintentionally — by PG herself, or by PG reacting to a problem someone else caused.

When PG wants to get rid of an angry wolverine in issue #2, she pops into points on the timeline where increasingly improbably creatures can be found, and sics them on the wolverine — and each other.

On this page, she’s “summoned” a binkie-sucking dinosaur to battle the cyborg emu she summoned to . . . you get the idea.

I’ve been jamming on time travel lately, and Paradox Girl scratches an itch unlike any of the other stuff I’ve been reading.

It takes nothing seriously, especially PG herself, but it also delivers solid time travel stories that have me flipping back and forth to see where loops began, to suss things out, and to smile at how everything comes together. It’s a light-hearted delight.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
Comics Tabletop RPGs

Atomic Robo is really good

Atomic Robo is awesome. You can read all of it through that link, as webcomic; it’s also available in print (paid link). Written by Brian Clevinger, drawn by Scott Wegener, and colored by Ronda Pattison, Atomic Robo is an angst-free, punchy (and punch-filled), pulpy romp — a comic where “I punch it with SCIENCE!” makes perfect sense.

I love pulp, I love robots punching stuff — it’s a mystery to me why I didn’t check this out sooner. And seriously, that link? This isn’t a bargain-basement, I-can’t-draw-or-write-but-it’s-free-so-why-not affair — Atomic Robo is polished, professional, and just happens to be free.

Beautiful and well-written

(From the story “Pyramid Scheme,” which starts here)

I see a bit of Mike Mignola in Wegener’s artwork, which is a good thing, and the artwork and coloring complements Clevinger’s humor beautifully. I looked for a sample page that would sum up that humor and showcase some of the series’ appeal, while also not spoiling anything, and settled on this one (from the first story):

The rules the creators follow really come through, too. I mentioned #1, “No Angst,” but I also love #5: “The Main Robot Punches A Different Robot (Or Maybe A Monster).” If that’s not your jam, you know it right up front.

But Fate, there’s more!

There’s also a licensed RPG, powered by Fate Core and available in paperback (paid link) or PDF (paid link).  It’s a standalone volume, including all of the Fate rules you need to play.

I read a few reviews, checked Amazon, and ordered a copy with same-day delivery so I could read it on a trip. It looks amazing, both on its own merits and as a take on Fate Core, and I can’t wait to tuck into it.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.

Manga bakuhatsu: Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, One-Punch Man, and Assassination Classroom

A recent family outing to Uwajimaya snowballed into a trip to Kinokuniya Bookstore, and that place is trouble — particularly because their manga selection is insane.

I wound up picking up the first Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (paid link) omnibus and the first volume of One-Punch Man (paid link), and quickly followed those up with the first Assassination Classroom (paid link) collection.

Just look at these covers. They’re glorious! Graphic design for all three of these books is on fucking point.

I’ve been reading manga since I was a teenager, but generally less of it than American comics. These three books have brought me roaring back to it, and I wanted to share some of that joy here. (The only spoilers in this post are revealed in the first few pages of each respective first issue.)

Sound effects and Watchmen

I also want to focus a bit on sound effects, which are so often used poorly in comics. Alan Moore’s Watchmen (paid link) was, I think, the first comic I read that did something I’d been waiting years to see: There are no sound effects in Watchmen.

Watchmen is the comic that made me realize my general annoyance at sound effects was justified, at least most of the time, and it’s an aspect of comics I’ve paid close attention to ever since.

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service

KCDS is about a group of students and alumni at a Buddhist university who all have talents which relate in some way to the dead, and they use those skills to identify souls trapped in corpses and bring them to peace — usually by taking the body somewhere and righting a wrong in the process. It’s a horror comic, at least in part, so murder and revenge play a big role in many of those corpse deliveries.

Housui Yamazaki’s artwork is stunning, and it’s beautifully matched by Eiji Otsuka’s writing. The whole series is suffused with dark humor, and the characters are weird, believable, and fascinating.

It’s genuinely creepy, and it manages to make what are essentially zombies unnerving. I find myself thinking about things from KCDS long after I’ve put the book down.

KCDS also does something I’ve never encountered before in manga: The dialog is translated into English, but the sound effects are left in Japanese. Each volume has its own page-by-page glossary of sound effects, but it’s not really needed — you can almost always figure out what the sound would be.

I love this approach because it reinforces the story’s tone (many sound effects are creepy), but leaves me to imagine the specifics.

One-Punch Man

One-Punch Man (Saitama) is a superhero who’s so powerful that he can defeat any foe with a single punch, and this bores him to tears. It’s a pure comedy/action blend, with Saitama’s egg-like, low-on-details head nicely contrasting with the rest of the artwork.

Yusuke Marata’s writing is quite funny, and OPM only takes things seriously in order to make fun of how seriously other manga take them. ONE’s approach to drawing Saitama meshes perfectly with how the character is written: He’s often bored, far more excited by a big sale at the grocery store than punching out a hundred foot-tall kaiju, and he doesn’t think about the world like a “normal” superhero would.

The sound effects in OPM are a hoot. It wouldn’t be the same comic without them.

OPM is a good example of a comic that uses written sound effects to reinforce humor, and it works really well.

Assassination Classroom

Just as much a full-bore comedy as OPM, Assassination Classroom is one of those comics you’ll know whether or not to read just based on the premise: An apparently omnipotent alien destroys Earth’s moon, then announces that in one year he’ll disintegrate the Earth itself unless he’s allowed to teach a class of junior high school rejects — and unless they can succeed in assassinating him before the end of the school year.

The alien, Koro Sensei, is a big smiley face atop a multitude of tentacles. He can fly at Mach 20, he’s invulnerable to normal weapons, and he reveals other powers over the course of the series. He also turns out to be a fabulous teacher, making the students — who’ve never been given much of a chance before — feel conflicted about being assigned to kill him.

Yusei Matsui both writes and illustrates AC, and he somehow manages to maintain — and constantly escalate — the ridiculous premise. It’s a hoot.

It also uses sound effects traditionally, which I usually don’t enjoy, but it does so sparingly — and artfully. In AC, I enjoy the sound effects.

In the scene above, Koro Sensei is demonstrating that yes, the special weapons he gave his students can actually harm him, and without the SPLORCH it would veer from over-the-top and funny into darker territory. The scene works so well because of the SPLORCH.

Manga bakuhatsu!

I love all three of the series I’ve written about here. After reading the first volume of each of them, I was hooked. I’ve already devoured all of the One-Punch Man (paid link) trades, I’m working on the third Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (paid link) omnibus, and all of the other volumes of Assassination Classroom (paid link) are winging their way to me from Amazon.

If you’re in the market for some manga to read, I highly recommend all three of these titles.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.

My first CGC comic

A couple months back I sent a signed copy of Green Lantern #1 (2005) to CGC for grading, partly because I thought it would be fun to hang on the office wall and partly just to see what it was like. (I enjoy collecting things, but with vanishingly rare exceptions I don’t collect stuff and not open/use/read it.)

It’s neat! It’s kind of like freezing the comic in time. The capsule is tamper-evident; 9.6 is “near mint plus,” and with a UV frame (added by me) it should stay 9.6 for my lifetime.

What I like most, because it’s funny, is the note: “2 names written on cover in marker.” If it weren’t on the pricey side, I’d send them one with a big dong drawn on the cover and see if it came back with “1 erect male member drawn on the cover in crayon.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.

Green Lantern trade reading order: Geoff Johns’ run and all concurrent lantern TPBs

Want to read a whole lot of awesome Green Lantern comics? This is the list I used to do just that, plus some context to explain the order I chose and some gushing about Green Lantern in general.

Just want the reading list without the context?
Skip straight to the list, and happy reading!

Caveat added in April 2020: Geoff Johns’ primary collaborator on the core GL series, Ethan Van Sciver, is a terrible person. His misogynistic bullshit is beyond vile. Were this a post about his work, it would be long gone from Yore. But this post isn’t about his work, it’s about a decade of Green Lantern comics that includes numerous titles not associated with Van Sciver — and one, the core GL book, which unfortunately does feature his artwork. For now, I’m leaving this post in place as a resource for folks who want to explore this era of Green Lantern comics.

In 2013 I got back into superhero comics (after reading mostly indie stuff for many years) when I read a comic that surprised the hell out of me: Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman  (paid link), which took a character I’d more or less dismissed and made him fascinating. That started a slow burn that led — by way of Morrison’s New X-Men (paid link), Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye  (paid link), Jason Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder  (paid link), and a couple of other titles — to a desire to explore a superhero who was new to me. A bit of Googling led me to Green Lantern, and specifically to Geoff Johns’ run on the title, which was widely regarded as being excellent.

I decided if I was going to jump in, I’d do a cannonball: read Green Lantern and all concurrent lantern-focused titles for all of Johns’ 2004-2013 run, 10 years worth of comics in 40 trades (plus a 41st for good measure). It was one of the best reading decisions I’ve ever made.

I came to love Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, Mogo, Despotellis, Kilowog, Sinestro, Soranik Natu, B’dg, and so many other great characters. I love the Green Lantern Corps, the mythology of the corps and the universe the lanterns inhabit, and the fact that lantern titles — especially Corps — are more sci-fi with superheroes than straight-up superhero tales. Taken as a whole, Green Lantern and its companion titles are over the top, pulpy in the best ways, often pretty wild, larger than life, and a whole lot of fun. They’ve become some of my favorite comics.

But this venture wasn’t without its challenges. It’d been a long time since I’d read a DC or Marvel title on an ongoing basis, and I was unfamiliar with the mechanics of crossover events, dovetailing and intertwining stories that span multiple books, and the like. It was confusing.

More confusing still, while it seemed like there should be one correct reading order, I saw lots of disagreement online about the order in which these titles should be read. I wound up using two lists as the basis for my own (and many thanks to the folks who created them!): this post by SmashBrawler on ComicVine, and The Superheroes List part 1 and part 2.

My reading order isn’t definitive — this is just how I chose to read these titles. I had a blast doing it, and I hope I can simplify this process for others who are in a similar situation.

The goal of this list

For context, here’s what I wanted to do:

  1. Read Green Lantern and every other book starring lanterns (not necessarily every book in which lanterns appear) for the entirety of Geoff Johns’ run
  2. Keep it simple by, whenever possible, reading whole trades at once
  3. Introduce myself to Hal Jordan, who I knew next to nothing about
  4. Avoid spoiling anything in the process of figuring out my reading order
  5. Strike a balance between simplicity (reading trade by trade) and maximum fidelity to the story (reading issue by issue and roping in lots of non-lantern books)

This is the list I used to accomplish those goals. It’s presented as simply as possible because that’s what I found I wanted when I was reading these trades: a simple list. “Do this and you’ll have fun.” I did this, and I had fun.

Green Lantern reading order, 2004-2013

For 1-19 and 23-37, you can read each trade on its own, one after the other. (I call out a couple of cases below where I took the lazy route and you might prefer to go issue by issue.) Three big cross-title events — Blackest Night (20-22) and Rise of the Third Army through Wrath of the First Lantern (38-41) — however, need to be read issue by issue, jumping between concurrent trades as you go, in order for them to make sense.

You can also download this list, including my notes, as a simple text file.

Do any of these books suck?

Red Lanterns is terrible. The first trade is basically just an excuse to put Bleez in lots of boobs/butt poses, the writing in all three trades is godawful, and the story is generally wretched to mediocre. There are a couple of cool moments, but I was glad every time I could put a Red Lanterns trade behind me.

New Guardians wasn’t great for the first two trades (though still much better than Red Lanterns), but it picked up in the third one and finished strong. I wound up liking it.

The two Ion trades were just okay, but important for Kyle Rayner’s story. Not bad, just not great; well worth reading.

Everything else on this list — over 30 TPBs — I loved reading and would be thrilled to read again. This is a fantastic set of comics.

Look, a rabbit hole

In the course of reading these trades, I came to dig the lanterns so much that I bought a replica lantern:

…and jumped at the chance to pick up a piece of original artwork (Green Lantern Corps #15, page 11 — one of my favorite storylines in the whole arc, featuring one of my favorite parts of that story), which my wife framed up for my birthday:

So be warned: Your wallet won’t thank you for getting into Green Lantern — but apart from that you’re in for a real treat.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.