Friday, April 11, 2008

Comics Are Expensive: ECHO #1-2, RESURRECTION #1-4, CRIMINAL 2 #1-2,

"Comics Are Expensive" is written by famed Expertologist Chris Lamb.

And back. Sorry about last week – a combination of absolutely no time for anything outside of work and the rather disheartening nature of last week’s intended subject matter conspired against me to result in a lack of column. But now I am returned to you, brimming with wisdom to be shared and a stack of books potentially worth your consideration. It’s like Christmas in April, only if instead of giving you presents Santa just sort of rambled about them for a while and left it up to you whether to spend money on them or not. So maybe not at all like Christmas, then.

Still, new comics. Onwards.

ECHO #1 & 2
Writer & Artist: Terry Moore

Ah, Terry Moore. Much like Jeff Smith, Moore’s creator-owned Strangers in Paradise was an important book to me growing up. Unlike Bone, however, which remained the only comic I read for years after getting fed up with Marvel and DC of the time, SiP was more instrumental in helping defining my tastes and tolerances – specifically, my tolerances for contrived, meandering storytelling pulling in everything from the mafia to deadly gangs of female assassins to keep it's “will they or won’t they” hook dangling for as long as possible. While the first three trades of the series still stand up fairly well, everything past that sees the characters stuck in arrested development, making the same decisions and giving in to the same waffling till the very end, when everybody not named David magically gets a happy ending before the curtain comes down. Moore deserves a lot of credit for his work on SiP, but the extreme jump of the rails the series took and never recovered from should also serve as a cautionary tale to all would-be writers about the importance of not being afraid to kill your darlings.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to Echo, his newest self-published book. While only two issues in, the series is already off on a stronger foot than SiP plot-wise, largely because it has one. While the early days of Katchoo and Francine involved a lot of Moore trying to figure out what he wanted to do with them, Echo’s Julie appears to moving in a definite direction, complete with a proper major even to push her in it. While taking pictures in the Californian desert, a lady in a special metal suit and wearing a jet pack explodes several thousand feet over her head. The resulting debris rains down on her, polka-dotting her and her truck with drops liquid metal that refuse to come off. Upon getting home, a larger piece of metal found in her truck bed causes all the dots to merge into one, creating a sort of breast plate with a weird logo in the center that tingles when threatened and shocks jerk doctors. All in all, there are worse freak accidents.

Along the way, we get bits and pieces of Julie’s life, such as it is. She lives alone in a cabin with her dog and a stack of unpaid bills. Old divorce papers decorate her kitchen table, and she’s still wearing both her engagement and wedding rings despite the regular messages from her ex telling her it’s time to move on. She has family in Seattle she never sees, and all signs point to her being pretty much withdrawn from the world at large and quite probably a good chunk of reality. I’m curious to see what such a character does with a suit capable of what we saw it doing before its previous owner was all atomized, particularly as both its owners and the military are moving to get it back. Issue #2 ends with a standard issue Moore Tough-As-Nails-But-With-A-Sensitive-Side Girl showing up to do just that, setting up a meeting that probably isn’t going to go well for at least one of them.

There’s a lot of potential here. Terry Moore has obviously grown as a writer both over the course of SiP and since then, and his art is as strong as ever. I’ve always admired his ear for dialogue, whether its coming out in melodramatic monologues or as a funny exchange between characters, and despite Julie’s isolation there’s still a nice portion of that across these two issues. Still, I don’t think I’ll be quite comfortable with the series until a few more issues in, once it’s a bit clearer if Moore has learned the difference between telling a story and talking to himself. It’s an interesting premise, and one ripe to be spun in a number of different directions, so here’s hoping.

BUY STATUS: #3 should decide whether I keep following this one by issues or wait for the trade. In the meantime, it’s worth picking up at least the first one to see if Moore’s new slow boil of a story piques your interest.

Writer: Marc Guggenheim

Artist: David Dumeer

As premises go, I can’t think one seemingly built to dive deep into the heart of my raccoon-like brain and win it over that tops the one behind Resurrection - suppose aliens had spent the last ten years hammering our planet into utter ruin, wiping out large chunks of the population in the process and driving the few straggling survivors underground, and suddenly, as of this morning, they’re all gone. What happens next?

“Next” is the bit Guggenheim and Dumeer hope to answer with the series, hopping around between different groups of survivors while sprinkling flashbacks of life amongst the aliens throughout as both a tease for the huge story that happened just before issue #1 and a handy way of providing us with looks at our characters before they got where they are now. It’s a nice device, and a perfect fit for this sort of story (see also the incredibly fun novel World War Z by Max Brooks for more fiction from a post disaster, “where do we go from here?” perspective), providing the wider view this sort of story requires. While all the current characters are in America (and for the most part, the same part of America), there’s promise for things to expand outward as things move along. If done right, this is the sort of idea the creators could spend stories out of for ages.

Of course, that’s also the big unknown here – are Guggenheim and Dumeer up to the task? While off to a good start, these first four issues are running largely on the strength of the premise – the characters introduced so far are more the sum of their actions rather than people with any real depth, producing reactions to events without any known motivation behind them. The most fleshed out so far is probably rich super genius Norman Tulley, and he’s spent most of the time since being introduced aboard a crashed alien ship with some sort of techno virus burrowing into his head. Dumeer’s art starts nice and solid but gets shakier with each issue, going from a great scene between some poor experimented bastard and survivor Sara on the road at the start to a genuinely couple of bits with the current president where your best hope of telling one person from another is trying to tell their remarkably similar haircuts apart. There’s every chance these are just growing pains, and with a few more issues under their belts the creators will find their track and stick with it. Time will tell.

I’m hoping for great things from Resurrection, if only because the idea behind it is so different from pretty much anything else comics are doing at the moment (or for the last several moments) that I want the rest to measure up. Despite my grumblings above its largely very good work, already showing how much thought has been put into how the world tries to pick itself up before the first issue was put together. If Guggenheim and Dumeer can prove capable of realizing even most of the potential inherent in their wonderful idea, then they just might have something truly special on their hands.

BUY STATUS: I’m in for the next few issues at the very least. This first story arc should be enough to get a feel for where the rest of the story goes after, so we’ll see then. Thanks for the recommendation, Mike.


Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Sean Phillips

Because it just isn’t a Comics Are Expensive without a Brubaker book, y’know? Despite having already talked about the start of the latest Criminal series ever-so-briefly a while back, the new issue out this week left me wanting to look at the thing a little harder. Brubaker and Phillips have always worked well together – their run on Wildstorm’s Sleeper a few universe reboots back is still one of my favorite filters for looking at superheroes, and the first couple of stories to come out of Criminal showed it to be one of the few comics around to understand the difference between crime fiction and proper Noir. Talking about the first few issues of the new series also created a nice little theme for the week, feeding into my feeding neatly into my twisted sense of OCD. So bonus points there.

The funny thing about Noir is that, by its very nature, you pretty much already know how the story ends. Noir at its most basic principles is about putting somebody up against a corrupt system, giving them a reason to fight it, and then watching that system break them down into little pieces and swallow them whole. Criminal understands this with every panel of every page, presenting a nameless town full of thieves, murderers, thugs, addicts, and all other sorts of human wreckage just teetering on the brink. Sooner or later one of them starts looking for a way up or out from their current situation, and that flash of ambition, that little bit of hope is all it takes for the city to turn on them. It took me a while to realize it, but there are no “regular” people in Criminal - they’re background, trimming, as much a part of the story as an unassuming crate or trash can. Less even, as those are the sorts of objects characters often find themselves getting beaten with. It’s not a book about regular people, but one about all the rest who couldn’t quite cut it.

The second volume of the series is already off to a much different start than the “Coward” and “Lawless” storylines preceding it. Not only does it delve into the city’s sordid past, taking place in the rise of the second generation of organized crime to run things, it appears to be leaping between different characters instead of sticking with a single protagonist like before. While the first issue introduced us to Jake Brown, boxer and childhood friend of Sebastian Hyde, current boss of the Hyde family, this week’s installment follows Teeg Lawless, Vietnam Vet, generally awful human being, and father to a character we met last time around. While both stories complement each other, filling in details around the other, each can stand alone as its own creature, every bit as powerful and occasionally heartbreaking even without the extra background.

It’s a great approach I’d love to see go a bit farther with the current arc, making each issue a jumping on point to an otherwise dense and twisting narrative. At this point its far too early to see where thing are going – while the other series weren’t fast-paced by any means, a lot of thought and time is being introduced to setting the stage and putting the characters in places. Like I said before, though, being a Noir, there’s only so many ways it can end. Like the best Noir pieces, though, Criminal is every bit as much (if not more so) about the trip as it is the destination.

What else? Each issue has a bit of back matter at the end, featuring a piece by Brubaker and a discussion of older Noir films and stories by a fellow crime writer. Often very good and at the very least informative, the two here are an appreciation of David Goodis’ The Burglar by Duane Swierczynski (who’s doing all superhero books at the moment, but is already a successful crime novelist) and a look at some of the better cops (and at least one criminal) to come out of the genre by Scalped’s own Jason Aaron. The pieces add to Criminal’s overall feeling of being a love letter to crime fiction and Noir, a book that so enjoys what it is that its creators’ thrill over getting to tell these stories spills out of every issue. For a book where the end is often inevitable from the first page, it’s hard to think of a comic that offers more twists and turns on the way there.

BUY STATUS: Hopelessly addicted, I’m afraid, though finally talking about the thing has made me realize I foolishly don’t have the first two trades. Something to fix with tomorrow’s paycheck, then.

Which brings us neatly to the end. Probably no B-sides at Expertologist this week, I’m afraid, as work is even busier than last week. The short version is that Suburban Glamour ended as nicely as it began, Fantastic Four stumbled a good bit with some questionable snow graphics and muddy art, Green Lantern Corps. went back to being interesting and Nova continues to be pretty ace. Recommendations for books to read are always welcome, either via email to or in the comments thread. See you next time.


  1. Echo sounds interesting, I may have to keep my eye open for it at the con next weekend as I embark on what will be my futile effort to avoid all discount bins.

  2. Anonymous3:22 AM

    Warning! CRIMINAL's TPBs do not contain the non-fiction pieces featured in every issue; if you have the means to buy the singles, do so.

  3. wolverine - It's pretty good. I'd say at least try the first issue to see if it grabs you. Also, SURRENDER NOW.

    H-F - I figured as much; Casanova does the same thing where the trades don't have the backmatter. I think I still have all my Criminal singles kicking around, though.

  4. Pages of extended song lyrics or prose text are the comix equivalent of rats racing off of the ship and the canary dying in the mine. It's an early sign that a comic is about to creatively implode, and a cue for the reader to bail out.

    Specifically, it means that the creator has ceased to think of this book as a medium to tell a specific story, and instead is treating it as a bucket into which they can toss any old idea that seems interesting to them at the time.

  5. Lamb - that "rather disheartening nature" is a totally broken link.

  6. Andy - I stopped reading SiP around the...ninth trade or thereabouts, so I don't know how much common the lyrics and prose bits worked as things went on. For the most part I felt the lyrics usually worked, particularly when strung between series of panels, but it's been years since I've read any of it and I'm not sure how it holds up.

    And for the record, I think there's room for lengthy prose bits or lyrics in comics - as the Pekar quote goes, comics are just words and pictures, and you can do anything with words and pictures. I don't think a strict balance between the two is necessary. It wouldn't surprise me if later SiP took things a bit too far, but then the book always had a feel of Moore casting about to see where to take things next. For me, the problem started when he kept choosing the same direction with slightly different scenery.

    Reed: Link should be fixed now.