Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Velvet Preview, A Brubaker Interview, A Criminal Trade, and an Eisner Nod!

Image Comics continues to release new editions of Criminal, and the fourth volume is out today:  "Bad Night" is the first of three stories (and counting?) where the medium of comics strongly intersects with the narrative, and it showed that, with each new story, Brubaker and Phillips would continue to challenge themselves, the readers, and even their deeply flawed protagonists and their tenuous grasp on the world around them.

We believe that the interruption was definitely worth it, but the Criminal Special Edition one-shot was nevertheless a significant interruption in the usual output of creator-owned comics by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and even Brubaker's other collaborator Steve Epting.  The Fade Out #4 came out in the first week of January, and Velvet #9 came out in the first week of February, and we're only now seeing the next installments -- in back-to-back weeks.

The Fade Out #5 came out last week, to very positive reviews, with Comic Book Roundup aggregating views from 11 different critics, all giving the book an 8 or better on a 10-point scale.  The review from Doom Rocket is particularly worth reading for noting the distinction between noir and detective stories, and it dovetails with an excellent, lengthy look at the first trade paperback, in a review published by Hyperallergic earlier this month.  Rhymes With Geek has another good review, but it's worth noting that this issue is more the beginning of a new act in the sprawling drama rather than a "jumping-on" point for new readers.

Hot on the heels of Brubaker's latest work with Phillips is his latest with Epting, closing a chapter instead of starting a new one.  Velvet #10 is in stores today, Graphic Policy has a three-page preview, and has a quite positive advance review.

Image's July solicitations just came out yesterday, and we see the planned return to a more regular schedule.  Between June and July, we should see the last two Criminal trades released (volumes 5 and 6), The Fade Out #8, and Velvet #14.

Ed Brubaker addresses the schedule in a lengthy interview published by Comic Book Resources last week:  in an image caption for The Fade Out, we find that "Brubaker says the book is set to remain on a monthly schedule for the rest of the year."

The interview also reveals that Brubaker is currently working as supervising producer on an HBO series, set to debut later this year:  he could not reveal further details, but the writer is juggling his work for TV and his creator-owned books.
I get up at 6 in the morning and I write my comics for like three hours, and then I go into a day job. I'm asleep by 10 every night right now.
It's interesting. The structure's been really good for me. We have no phones or computers in the writers' room -- my attention span has totally come back. I really thought I had slowly developed ADD, but it turned out I was just looking at the Internet all the time and checking my email. Once you're untethered from that? Now I'm reading more books, I'm looking at the Internet in general so much less, and I feel so much mentally healthier from that. But it's a lot of work to carry.
In fact, Brubaker says that there is a unique appeal to a creator-owned comic book: "I'll tell you -- working in Hollywood has made me appreciate my comics job a lot. No one gives me notes, I don't have to involve a lot of people in the process. I love the hours of my day when I get to sit and write my comics. I think I appreciate them more now than I did when it was my full-time job."

Does he miss writing superhero comics for the big two publishers?  Not so much.

Brubaker's work in creator-owned comics continues to pay off, in more ways than one.
The Image deal is so fantastic. This year, already, has been my best year financially in comics, ever. And it's only three months in. I've made more money from Image than I made last year when the "Winter Soldier" movie was out, on "Captain America" books.
Every project [Brubaker and Phillips] do sells better than the last one now, and it's not that more of our old readers are coming back. There's just a bunch of new people who are reading comics now. It's pretty fucking amazing.
But it's not just the financial rewards and the increased readership:  critical acclaim is another reward, as The Fade Out joins Criminal, Incognito, and Fatale in being recognized in the list of Eisner nominees.

The 2015 Eisner nominations were released just two hours ago, and Brubaker and Phillips' latest collaboration makes a notable appearance, as The Fade Out is nominated for Best New Series.

As always, winners will be announced at Comic-Con International:  the gala awards ceremony will take place on Friday, July 10th, in San Diego.

We heartily congratulate Ed, Sean, and Bettie for the nomination!

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bullets: The Fade Out #5 Out Today, and More!

The Fade Out Returns, with Issue #5 In Stores Today!  The first act of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' take on Hollywood's Golden Age wrapped up with issue #4 in early January and was released in a value-priced trade paperback in late February.  The series returns to stores today, and Ed Brubaker describes the issue as "Beginning of ACT TWO, where we may actually start dropping clues, even. Maybe."

The issue is on Comicosity's "Hot Five" for the week, and Flickering Myth has a (spoiler-ish) advance review that has particular praise for Brubaker's writing, which "manages to capture regret, anger, and bitterness really effectively with the narration, and usually without directly saying what’s on the character’s mind."

Late last night, Comic Book Resources published a brief three-page preview of the issue.

• Brubaker and Phillips in the June Solicitations.  A few weeks back, Image Comics released its June solicitations.  The Criminal reprints' rollout will continue into the summer, as volume 5, "The Sinners" is scheduled for a June 3rd release.  June 24th is scheduled to see issue #8 of The Fade Out, the conclusion of the second act which begins today.

• Marvel Classics from Brubaker and Phillips.  Marvel Studios have just released Daredevil, the first of several TV shows in the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" that will culminate in the team called The Defenders.  He's not the only one to praise the show, but halfway through the season Ed Brubaker writes that finds the Netflix series "pretty fucking perfect" -- and he reminds fans that his work on the comic series of the same name has been collected in three Ultimate Collections that still appear to be in print.

In brief, Brubaker's most prominent work in the DC Universe proper was for Batman, Catwoman, and Gotham Central; his most prominent Marvel work was for Captain America, Daredevil, and the Immortal Iron Fist.  The Winter Soldier movie was heavily inspired by his work on Cap, which is acknowledged in a blink-and-miss-it cameo, and DC has been advertising Gotham Central for fans of FOX's Gotham, even though the comic book is what the TV show should be, not nearly what it actually is.  If Netflix's Daredevil creates a new audience for Brubaker's work on the comic of the same name, we certainly won't complain.

And, Marvel Comics is gearing up for an upcoming mega-crossover (and apparent soft reboot) called Secret Wars, named after a crossover from 30 years back.  The premise involves combining continuities and famous story arcs from the last few decades of the publisher's history, and the company is reprinting first issues of major stories, to be sold for $1.00 each under the banner of "True Believers."  Among the titles is Marvel Zombies, a mini-series that features the art of Sean Phillips:  published between 2005 and 2006, it was his last major project before the debut of Criminal and -- going by the ads for that series published by Marvel's Icon imprint -- it was perhaps his highest-profile project up to that point.

Looking at the Marvel Zombies work for the first time in a decade, it's clear that the artwork is classic Phillips:  having poured over his work in traditional crime comics, the pulp of Incognito, and the horror of Fatale, I like his take on undead Marvel superheroes, his familiar style tackling an outlandish premise.

True Believers: Marvel Zombies #1 was published just two weeks ago, on April 1st.

• Some Final Thoughts on the Criminal Special Edition.  If some our readers have found this blog because of Fatale and The Fade Out, we hope that they have tracked down the Criminal one-shot:  they may have a chance to pick up the issue along with The Fade Out #5 and the one-dollar Marvel Zombies reprint.  The issue speaks for itself -- Brubaker. Phillips.  Prison in the 1970's. -- but I do have some final thoughts worth documenting here.

(Update: And if anyone's looking for reviews, Comic Book Round Up has aggregated ten reviews of the issue, all very positive.)

The issue tackles the magazine variant in a way that differs slightly from the oversized variant for The Fade Out's debut.  That issue's magazine variant had additional back matter content -- behind-the-scenes material in addition to Brubaker's "Secret Ingredient" pages and the bonus essay -- but the Criminal magazine variant has different content altogether:  the "Secret Ingredient" pages are replaced with the fake letters page, and even the ad for the trade paperbacks was changed to fit the seventies pastiche.

For that reason, both versions are worth getting:  the standard version gives us Brubaker's brief description of the story's genesis, and the magazine version goes all-out in presenting a facsimile of the comic that Teeg Lawless was reading in county jail.

The magazine variant is worth the extra buck, for a few reasons.

In the main story, you actually get more artwork, specifically on the "Zangar" pages where the art extends to the edge of the page.  The artwork isn't blown up to fit the large page: we end up seeing just a little bit more of what Sean Phillips drew.  It's especially noticeable on the page shown below.

The left side of the image shows the magazine variant, where we see more of the people on "the jeweled streets of Gla-haara."

Literally every page of the bonus content is worth a close examination.

  • There's a beautiful frontispiece, attributed to "Frederico Jacobs," which Sean Phillips explains is an allusion to his two sons; Sean did the painting himself at age 18, and it works incredibly well with the rest of the issue.
  • The table of contents reveals the chapter names for the four excerpts that we read alongside Teeg.
  • We're given a map of the land where the sword-and-sorcery story takes place, along with an introductory paragraph that sets the mood. 
  • And the letters page is hilarious with a (hopefully good-natured) ribbing at enthusiastic fans such as myself, who note the tiniest typo.
(Am I the only one to notice that, in the fourth issue of "Lawless," the criminal's name permanently changes from "Gray" to "Grey"?)

Careful readers will notice that the barbarian character Zangar was created by "Alfred Ravenscroft." the pulp writer in Fatale.  His life in Texas echoes that of Conan's creator Robert E. Howard, and his writing resembles the works of both Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, who became friends and pen pals.

Are the two series set in the same universe, the seemingly naturalistic Criminal and the definitely supernatural Fatale?  Is this the beginning of a mega-crossover among all the works of Brubaker and Phillips?  My gut instinct is to say no, as I believe Brubaker has described Criminal as naturalistic.

And there's no real reason to insist on a crossover between the two titles, as A) Ravenscroft isn't actually mentioned in the content of the comic itself, and B) the magazine variant is only a near facsimile:  the variant's title is "Savage Sword of Criminal," and a close look reveals that Teeg is reading a comic simply titled "Savage."

But as you examine the cover in Teeg's hands, do notice what it still says at the bottom:  "Featuring a Shocking New Tale by Brubaker and Phillips!"

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips definitely exist within the CRIMINAL universe that they created, as authors of the tale that Teeg reads in prison.

The one final thought is that the story itself is just great:  it's a fantastic single-issue introduction to Brubaker and Phillips that I've been buying for friends, it's the best done-in-one story I've seen in ages, and it's sure to be my favorite comic book of the year.

...and it's funny, I ended up driving around to find just one more magazine variant for a friend.  Taking our youngest child with me, I bought him an Owly book as I was getting Criminal.  The irony should not be lost on anyone who's read the one-shot.

Hopefully, the adage is true only to a point, that life imitates art.

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