Thursday, June 30, 2016

Bullets: UNDERTOW PODCAST EPISODE 2, Brubaker's Newsletter and Audio Interview, and More!

We have couple big items to wrap up the month.

Undertow Podcast Now Online!  The second episode of The Undertow Podcast has been released and is now available on iTunes and Podbean.  Robert and I pay tribute to the late, great Darwyn Cooke, with an emphasis on two acclaimed works that might be of particular interest to our listeners -- and to our readers here:  his work with Ed Brubaker redefining Catwoman for the modern era and his four hardcover adaptations of Richard Stark's Parker series.

We also discuss and recommend two works I mentioned in my last post, both humorous looks at the genre of crime fiction: a new comic called The Fix and the movie (and accompanying novelization of) The Nice Guys.

(About The Fix, it looks like issue #4 is out next week, along with additional printings of the first three issues.  In the meantime, we've noticed, via Ed Brubaker's Twitter feed, that Paste Magazine posted an excellent article on the series early this month, resulting from an interview with the creators.  Nick Spencer is said to be a fan of "crime comic classics such as Criminal and 100 Bullets.")

We anticipate our next podcast episode will be released in late July, after the release of Velvet #15 -- and we're looking forward to it already.

Ed Brubaker on "How to Be a Person" Podcast. We're not the only one recording audio discussions for an online audience, and last week the podcast, "How to Be a Person," published their episode interviewing Ed Brubaker.  There's not much new about his creator-owned comics, but the wide-ranging conversation covers his childhood and his early encounters with comics, his work on Captain America and Gotham Central, and his recent job as one of the writers for the upcoming HBO series Westworld -- all before less serious segments, a how-to on creating the text for cartoon sound effects and a short game devising supervillain names for people in real life.

In the interview, Brubaker describes Westworld as the most ambitious sci-fi television series since the updated Battlestar Galactica.  A teaser trailer for the series was released just last week, and Ars Technica has more details on the creative staff and premise for the show, which premieres in October.

The one-hour podcast is available on SoundCloud, and we think it's worth a listen. 

More on Velvet & Kill or Be Killed in the Brubaker Newsletter. We mentioned this in our news digest at the beginning of the podcast, but Ed Brubaker's second full-length newsletter was sent out by email on June 15th.  He discusses DC's latest controversial moves involving the world of Alan Moore's Watchmen, and he's inviting readers to send questions -- and lucky readers who have their questions answered will also win a prize from the writer.

Brubaker includes some great artwork from his current books, both in-progress and in their final version.  There's a couple pages of action from Steve Epting for the upcoming issue of Velvet, and there's an advance look at Sean Phillips' cover art for Kill Or Be Killed #2, which we're reprinting below.

Kill Or Be Killed #2 cover, From the Desk of Ed Brubaker
There are quite a few items of note regarding both series.
  • Velvet 15 went to print the week of June 15th, and Ed explains that all of the various delays were due to him, not Steve Epting:  his workload has been too much, and this particular story has been intricate and difficutl to write.
  • This upcoming issue is the "grand finale of the first big Velvet story," and Brubaker is just starting the script for his next project with Epting:  this project is "still top secret," and the artist will be drawing something quite different from anything else currently on the stands.
  • This new project does NOT mean the end of Velvet, as Brubaker assures us that the series will return -- and that he's been sitting on "huge" news that he can't wait to announce.
We we're quite surprised to see that Velvet is going on a kind of hiatus, and while we have our guesses, we do wonder what the big news is on that front.  As always, we'll relay all news as we find it.

In the interim, one great way readers can keep up with the news themselves is to subscribe to Ed's newsletter.

The Grand Finale of Transformers Vs GI Joe. Finally, one of our other favorite series -- and the book I recommended in our first podcast episode -- wrapped up yesterday after an amazing two-year run:  Transformers vs GI Joe, a bonkers and brilliant series that pushes the very limits of what comic books can do, a self-contained riff on two licensed properties that has no business being as great as it is.

In that article on The Fix that we mentioned above, Paste Magazine mentions Scioli's "intricate Kirby-esque chaos" that makes it (like The Fix) a meaty book well worth rereading.  In its size and scope, it actually compares to another book we discussed in the latest podcast, Darwyn Cooke's epic love letter to the Golden and Silver Ages of DC Comics, The New Frontier.

On Twitter, series co-writer and artist Tom Scioli highlights a blogger's lengthy review of this last issue that points out that the entire run does things you can only find in comics -- and does it often, about six times an issue.  Printed in a prestige format for its extra-long content, this "Armageddon" issue did have quite a few cards up its sleeve, and -- to my surprise and delight -- it even left me wanting more from this particular universe. 

I've done this a few times before, for the works of Brubaker and Phillips...

- The 30 covers for Fatale's monthly issues and trade collections.
- The 6 covers for Image's reprints of the Criminal trades.
- The 12 covers for The Fade Out.

...but I've been so giddy over this sci-fi series that I made a quick collage of the cover art for the series -- at least of the standard covers for issues #0-#13 by Tom Scioli, and his wraparound variant for the finale.  (There have been more than two dozen other variant covers.)

As before, an extra-large version is available on Google Drive, clocking in at 4-MB.

If you grew up with these characters, and if these covers pique your interest, do yourself a favor and check out the series.

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Friday, June 03, 2016

Bullets: Solicitations, Previews, a New Newsletter, and Much More!

There have been some noteworthy news items over the last couple weeks, and we begin our MASSIVE summary with quite a bit about the next series from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, Kill or Be Killed!

KOBK #1 in August Solicitations.  On May 17th, Image Comics released its August solicitations:  Comic Book Resources has the full list, and on his blog Sean Phillips reposted all his projects -- including a Criminal trade, which we'll mention again below. 

Along with the debut of Jonathan Hickman's The Black Monday Murders, Kill Or Be Killed #1 is listed as a "Gem of the Month."
AUGUST 3 / 40 PAGES / FC / M / $3.99
The bestselling team of ED BRUBAKER and SEAN PHILLIPS (THE FADE OUT, CRIMINAL, FATALE) launch their new monthly series: KILL OR BE KILLED, the twisted story of a young man who is forced to kill bad people, and how he struggles to keep his secret as it slowly ruins his life and the lives of his friends and loved ones. Both a thriller and a deconstruction of vigilantism, KILL OR BE KILLED is unlike anything BRUBAKER & PHILLIPS have ever done.

Via Twitter, Brubaker relays that he believes the $3.99 cover price will just be for oversized issues, and we can't wait for this series' 40-page debut.

KOBK "Trailer" in Image+ #2.  Last Wednesday saw the release of issue #2 of Image+, a monthly magazine highlighting upcoming projects from the creator-centric publishing company.  Free with each $3.99 issue of Previews -- or sold separately for $1.99 -- the magazine is interesting in its own right, with interviews, previews, and an original story from The Walking Dead, serialized across the first 12 issues in four-page installments.

The first issue featured Snotgirl from Bryan Lee O'Malley, and this month, the cover features Kill Or Be Killed.  Inside we find a two-page interview with the creators -- Brubaker, Phillips, and colorist Bettie Breitweiser -- and what appears to be the "trailer" for the series.  At six pages, it's the longest such preview for one of their works, and rather than a montage of scenes we see a single, violent vignette that still doesn't reveal anything about why and how our protagonist is forced to kill but permitted to choose his victims.

More KOBK Info and Previews in the Brand New Brubaker Newsletter.  Image's print magazine isn't the only new source of info, as Ed Brubaker has recently announced the launch of an email newsletter, to be sent out about once or twice a month.  Named "Notes from the Basement" after Brubaker's company Basement Gang Inc., a letter from Brubaker's desk will be sent out about once or twice a month.  Fans can subscribe here; the first newsletter came out Thursday afternoon, and those who missed it can find the archived copy online.

The newsletter includes a quick recommendation (mentioned further down) and a brief comment on superhero books -- prompted by the latest Captain America controversy and the blowback that Brubaker received despite his having wrapped up his Marvel work in 2012 -- but the book focuses on Kill Or Be Killed.

Fans will be particularly interested in learning that the six-page "trailer" is really the opening scene from the book, with a tweak to page #6, suggested by Phillips.  The newsletter includes the same sixth page as it will appear in the book plus another two pages -- all with the additional art uncolored, and with the story's premise still very much a mystery.

(In a quick addendum, Ed Brubaker mentions that this additional artwork should NOT be reprinted without his permission.)

Explaining that the "trailer" is really the opening scene, Brubaker's newsletter sheds light on something Phillips said in the Image+ interview:
"All the creator-owned books Ed and I have done together have employed a three-tier grid.  Originally this was because we'd just come off of Sleeper and I wanted to try something totally different to the wild layouts that book had, and also to make it as easy as possible for our readers, some of whom might be new to comics to follow the story.  Comics can be hard to read for new readers and we always hoped our crime comics might attract crime fiction lovers new to comics.
"Now though, the three-tier grid has become one of the things that go into making our books look distinct, so I'm in no hurry to drop it.  With KILL OR BE KILLED, I've kept the grid but changed other things.  Now all the pages have full bleed with thinner, white gutters.  I thought this might help the pages feel more claustrophobic and chaotic, but still be easy to read.  I'm much more interested in telling the story than showing off how well I can draw an elbow, so as usual, the captions and speech balloons all start in the top left of the panel and never get in the way of the action.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
You can easily see what he means with the images below, spanning Brubaker and Phillips' career.  Left to right, we have Sleeper #1 page 1 (2003), The Fade Out #1 page 3 (2014), and Kill Or Be Killed #1, pg 3 (2016) -- and you should be able to open the full-size version of the image.

Sleeper's layout tended to have panels all over the place -- though with text generally laid out logically for Western readers, going from the top left to the bottom right -- all on top of a single splash-page image that anchored the scene.

The Fade Out carried on the layout that dominated all but the rarest of pages in Criminal, Incognito, and Fatale: a three-row grid that is usually bordered by white.

Compared side-by-side, Kill Or Be Killed is obviously structured on the same three-row framework, but the artwork escapes the frame, even intruding into other panels, as in the bottom right.  My initial impression was just what Phillips intended: the scene feels "claustrophobic and chaotic."

This variation on the team's familiar styles is another reason I can hardly wait for this new book -- and fans should definitely subscribe to Brubaker's free newsletter.

• Criminal One-Shots Collected, Solicited for September.  The other major solicitation that came out in May was for the seventh trade paperback collection for Criminal, collecting the two incredible one-shots that have been released over the last two years.

SEPTEMBER 7 / 112 PAGES / FC / M / $14.99
BRUBAKER and PHILLIPS return to their multiple award-winning series for two interlinked tales of the Lawless family in the 1970s. Teeg Lawless is trapped behind bars with a price on his head, doing anything he can to survive, while Tracy Lawless celebrates his twelfth birthday riding shotgun on a mission of death.
The two one-shots commemorated two very special events -- the series' republication through Image and its tenth anniversary -- and there isn't an obvious third milestone for another one-shot.  This solicitation seems to confirm that the two issues comprise a single work:  there probably won't be a third issue to round out a trilogy.

(Personally, I thought there was an obvious premise for a third one-shot, featuring another Lawless and a pastiche of another comics genre from the late 1970s:  Tracy's younger brother Ricky could have been reading a sci-fi story from a book resembling Heavy Metal or 2000 AD, the latter of which introduced Judge Dredd in 1977.  We still haven't seen much of Ricky, except in flashback in the "Lawless" arc.)

As one can see from the collage we created for the six Image reprints, the covers tend to alternate between a bluish tint and a reddish tint, so we wonder if this purple cover will remain the final version:  it wouldn't be the first time the cover art changed, and, at any rate, the cover probably needs a comma in its title.

I'm somewhat surprised by the listed price for this collection, since the standard version for each of the two "floppy" issues was only $4.99, but those extra-sized issues might have been sold at a bargain price relative to the amount of content.

Comparing apples to apples -- specifically, the solicited page count for each volume -- we find that this upcoming volume is almost as long as any other volume, and each had been solicited with the same cover price of $14.99.

  1. 144 pages for Coward
  2. 144 pages for Lawless
  3. 128 pages for The Dead and the Dying
  4. 128 pages for Bad Night
  5. 144 pages for The Sinners
  6. 120 pages for The Last of the Innocent
  7. 112 pages for Wrong Time, Wrong Place

Evidently, the two recent one-shots together comprise just eight fewer pages than the 4-issue arc "The Last of the Innocent" and just 16 fewer pages than either "Bad Night" or the three intersecting one-shots in "The Dead and the Dying."

Those one-shots are practically novellas.

Older Collections Re-offered in August Solicits.  In Sean Phillips' summary post on the August solicitations, we see that Image Comics is making a lot more available again.  Specifically, they're bringing back all the creator-owned Brubaker/Phillips projects that have been published or republished by Image -- at least, in one format or another.

  • Scene of the Crime HC, with Michael Lark
  • Criminal Vol. 1-6 TP
  • Fatale Vol. 1-5 TP
  • The Fade Out Vol. 1-3 TP

We're still waiting for the eventual republication of Incognito, which was originally produced by Marvel's Icon imprint and has since gone out of print.  At one point, the reprints were planned for 2015, but we're still waiting for them to be formally solicited.

More Reviews of the Deadly Hands Special. The story will soon be collected along with its "Savage Sword" predecessor, but we're still catching a few online articles about the Criminal 10th Anniversary Special, and they're worth passing along.

First up is an essay from our friend Alan David Doane, this blog's founder and longtime contributor.  His interest in comics has since waned, but he happened upon a copy of the "Deadly Hands" issue, and last month he posted a review at Trouble With Comics.  He praises the book as "a well-deserved victory lap for one of the best creative collaborations in comics," and he gives readers a bit of the inside story behind the series' debut in 2006, relaying that he helped Brubaker and Phillips "create a faux-pirate preview of Criminal that we uploaded to then-popular sites where comic books were available for illicit download (now it can be told!)."

What may be even more interesting than that bit of the history of Criminal is the historical context of the "Deadly Hands" issue, and for that we turn to an essay at HiLobrow on the book's "Lost & Found Worlds," including the kung-fu comics of the 1970's and the cluttered bookstores where they could be found.  Adam McGovern describes some of the books that the one-shots emulate, and he includes a couple interesting images.

Reviewing the book, McGovern compares the comic-within-a-comic to Watchmen's "Tales of the Black Freighter," and he writes about how Criminal comments on the "counterpoint between the squalid escapism of the ’70s and the real-life decline beyond it."

Both essays are worth a look.

Gotham Central in a Massive Omnibus. We almost missed this entirely, but on May 4th, DC Comics republished all 40 issues in a single hardcover omnibus, ten years after the series concluded.

Five trade paperbacks were originally released collecting 33 of the series' 40 issues.  Between 2008 and 2011, the entire series was collected in four hardcovers which were themselves reissued in paperback.

Going by Amazon's listings for the books, these four comprehensive hardcovers -- Books One through Four -- actually have more pages than the omnibus, a total of 976 pages compared to 957 pages.  There was never any indication that the omnibus contained bonus content that would make it worth double- (or triple-) dipping, but a fellow Twitter user confirmed for us that the book didn't have many extras, just some head sketches and a couple of small character sketches.

(Thanks a million, Fee McBee!)

Also on Twitter, Ed Brubaker relays that DC Comics did not consult him on the collection, as indicated by the his "strange bio," and this follows their usual M.O., as Brubaker doesn't recall ever being consulted on DC collections, presumably including the Sleeper omnibus published through the WildStorm imprint.

Running from 2002 to 2006, the award-winning book was created by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, and Scene of the Crime collaborator Michael Lark.  Other artists on the book included Stefano Gaudiano, Kano, and -- as an occasional cover artist -- Sean Phillips.

The series focused on Gotham City's Major Crimes Unit as it struggled to deal with the city's psychopaths and supervillians, resenting having to work in the shadow of the city's masked vigilantes.  Because Commissioner Gordon and Detective Bullock were then off the force, the reader could not be assured that even main characters would survive, and "Soft Targets" was a particularly suspenseful story -- and one of the all-time great Joker stories, anticipating Nolan's The Dark Knight by about five years.

The Gotham Central omnibus is DEFINITELY worth checking out if you're not already familiar with the book.

The Indiscretions of Gerald Ford. The latest issue of Velvet was released a couple weeks ago, and we were surprised to see the book attributing some quite scandalous behavior to then-Vice President Gerald Ford. 

While I have distrust and even contempt for politicians in general, I'm ambivalent about works of fiction that impugn the character of real-life individuals:  they are our fellow human beings, after all, and I have a similarly negative reaction to the insinuation, in Alan Moore's Watchmen, that Nixon killed JFK (if only in an alternate timeline) as I did to Trump's recent insinuations regarding Ted Cruz's father.  Beyond the extremely serious accusation of murder, such myth-making detracts from the known facts that point quite persuasively to Kennedy's being shot by a pro-Castro Communist.

But knowing how well researched The Fade Out was, and curious about what informed this particular wrinkle in Velvet, I did some very brief research to find a 2013 article from the (UK) Daily Mail, reporting allegations that "Kennedy and Ford both had affairs with the same East German female 'spy.'"

Citing a Politico story, the article summarizes the allegations of Robert Gene Baker, formerly a close aide to LBJ who was then arrested for theft and tax evasion in 1967.  Baker claims that Ellen Rometsch, the wife of a West German army officer, had affairs with President Kennedy and then-Congressman Ford; FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover supposedly had recordings of Ford's affair and used them as leverage to get inside information about the Warren Commission, on which Ford served.  Rometsch had been sent to America by Communists in East Berlin, and then-Attorney General Bobby Kennedy eventually had her deported.

Sometimes truth -- or at least alleged truth -- is stranger than fiction.

Maniac Cop, Written by Ed Brubaker, To Begin Filming.  Almost exactly two years ago, we reported that Brubaker is writing the screenplay for Maniac Cop, a 1988 cult thriller about an urban serial killer posing as a police officer.  The film's director was supposed to be announced at Cannes that year, but the news was delayed to last fall, with /Film reporting that the director will be John Hyams.  The director of two Universal Soldier films, Hyams calls Brubaker's script "phenomenal."

Thanks to Brubaker's Twitter feed, we see that a bit more information has come out in May.

In a news digest published on May 3rd, Screen Daily reports that the film's new script is co-written by Brubaker and Hyams, and the fill is "due to shoot in August."  On May 16th, Variety subsequently reported that the film is the first project for a multi-year first look deal with producer Nicolas Winding Refn's company Space Rocket.  The more interesting news is that the film "will shoot in Los Angeles this summer," and it's described as "the first in a trilogy."

We'll pass along more news as we find it.

New Online Store for Sean Phillips.  Also on Twitter, Sean Phillips recently announced that he's opened a Big Cartel store to replace his now-closed store on Amazon.

The store can be found here, at, listing prices in British currency. While its current inventory features books that many fans may already have, Phillips assures readers that more books will be added soon.

Shane Black and The Nice Guys. Briefly returning to his newsletter, we find that Ed Brubaker strongly recommends the new Shane Black film, The Nice Guys.  He "f---ing loved it" as a movie with more laughs and more heart than Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Fans of Shane Black's films might be interested in the "somewhat brief history" of his buddy movies, published at Devin Faraci's Birth.Movies.Death.

And fans of Hard Case Crime should know that the excellent imprint has published the film's novelization, written by publisher Charles Ardai and with a cover that we're reposting above.

I read the book almost as soon as it came out, and I caught the movie over Memorial Day weekend, and I too recommend both quite highly:  people should catch one or the other, preferably both.
Fans of Brubaker and Phillips might find a couple of hooks in the comedy's premise:  The Fade Out focused on corruption in Hollywood while the Criminal one-shots were set in the seedy Seventies, and this buddy comedy and detective story combines the settings of both.

The Fix is In and VERY Funny.  Finally, on Twitter, Brubaker strongly recommends Nick Spencer's new crime comic, "The Fix," and we can tell you the book's definitely worth a look.

In April, I had caught CBR's three-page preview for issue #1, for which Bleeding Cool subsequently posted an uncensored and extended version, but I didn't remember to pick up the book.  I've since caught up on the first two issues, and I loved it.

The description for the first issue sums up the book -- a crime comic with a wicked sense of humor -- and compares it to our favorite comic.
From the creators of The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, comes a story of the crooked cops, scheming mobsters, and corrupt politicians that run things—and the sex toy that can bring them all down. Oh, and the hero is a drug-sniffing beagle named Pretzels. Bad people do bad things to each other in this frenetic, outrageous, sometimes off-putting new caper! If you liked classic crime comics like CRIMINAL and 100 Bullets we apologize in advance for letting you down!
In the series' announcement, artist Steve Lieber describes the book as "a truly funny story about truly awful people" -- it's intended to be "an endlessly surprising tale full of shining moments of self-centered garbage humanity."

With Chew about to start its last arc and complete its thoroughly entertaining 60-issue run, we've needed another darkly comic crime book, and The Fix fits the bill, with hilarious scenes that I have to share with my wife, whether or not she wants to hear it.

Image Comics recently announced that the first two issues continue to go back to print, and the third printing for the debut issue features a photo of a real dog on its cover, shown above.

The third printing of The Fix #1, the second printing of The Fix #2, and the first printing of The Fix #3 are all scheduled to arrive in stores this Wednesday, June 8th, providing the perfect opportunity to catch up.

The book is already on our pull list, and it might help readers get through the next two months as we wait to Kill Or Be Killed.

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