Station #1 Review

I saw a few interesting things today as I went to my LCS (local comics shop). Firstly, there were a few more people there than usual, which was fantastic. I guess most of them heard about the place from the Supanova expo. I love it when people discover comics for the first time. I firmly believe that there is a comic, or series, or writer, or artist out there for everybody. You just gotta find it. Secondly, I saw Supanova’s guest artists, Howard Chaykin and Joe Jusko there too, chatting it up with the employees and getting there photos taken. Topics discussed included TV Hulk Lou Ferrigno’s lactating nipples and Punisher War Journal’s Jigsaw story arc conclusion coming in September. (Click here for the alternate cover. You’ll go ape for it!) But comics are a minefield. Many of my friends feel initially daunted when going to the LCS for the first time. Where’s the latest Superman issue? What are all these surnames doing on the covers? What in the world is a TPB? It’s a confusing world. Well, fear not, I’m here to help. Starting from the review below, I’ll be attempting to guide you through the muddy waters of the comic book universe. Look for new pages, and a new category, entitled, New To Comics? for articles and reviews for the newbie. By the way, TPB is a Trade Paper Back, a hard cover collection of a previously published series, much like a DVD box set of a TV show you’ve seen before, but with extras and no ads. See, you’re learning already.

Space is a great setting for stories beyond straight sci-fi. Films like the original Alien, Solaris and last year’s Sunshine showed us that it isn’t always extra terrestrials that are the greatest threat. Paranoia and claustrophobia can play their part in creating terror too. With astronauts cut off from their loved ones and the strange sensation of zero gravity, normality is thrown out the window.

Station from relatively new publisher, BOOM! Studios’ continues this tradition. The first issue of a four part monthly series kicks things off with a bang. Well, not a bang really, but an immediate sense of desperation.

The international space station is a gleaming example of scientific advancement and a unified humanity. That is until the latest batch of multi-national astronauts take up residence in its cramped quarters.

It’s not long before Nicolay the cosmonaut is murdered. Not in a brutal manner, but certainly an effective one; rendered with such despair as he floats away. Dedicating two pages of almost blackness to this pivotal plot point works extremely well. Nicolay is captured by the endless space, and there is nothing his colleagues can do but watch his terrified face get further and further away. Nicolay’s death was, of course, no accident, and of all the people on the station, his work was the apparently the most earth changing.

As Dr Karen James, one of the astronauts remarks, “That’s the thing about being on a space station. There’s no place to hide. Everything comes to the surface sooner or later.” And it appears the murderer on board has only just begun their work.

Writer Johanna Stokes comes from TV, and her character work here is excellent. With only three issues left to tell this story, she has her work cut out for her, but she’s off to an intriguing start. At this point, the killer could be anyone. There are genuine chills here with a moody pace. Leno Carvalho’s artwork fits well in this context. Realistic in the style of Ultimates artist Bryan Hitch with a mix of 90s Aquaman penciller Jim Calafiore, with a good eye for the technical details of the station and the expressions of the increasingly desperate people aboard it. A whodunit in a floating sardine can is a brilliant premise. So far this series lives up to it.

TobyMac: Alive and Transported DVD/CD

TobyMac LivedcTalk helped me become a Christian. I used to mock their cheesy and outdated Christian Television Association ads over a decade ago, then I saw their Welcome to the Freak Show live concert on VHS and couldn’t believe they were a Christian band. Surely Christian music had guys in braces playing harps and singing, “Hallelujah,” all the time. Right? Wrong-thankfully. I loved that album and listened to the tape so many times I destroyed it. Then when Jars of Clay, Newsboys and delirious came along all my misconceptions about Christianity were swept away. Contemporary Christian music has been an integral part of my life since.

dcTalk’s last album of new material, 1998’s Supernatural, was certainly a fitting swansong from the groundbreaking boys, and the demand for an immediate re-union was high. I don’t think many people expected TobyMac to be the most successful solo artist after the split. With the soaring voices of Michael Tait and Kevin Max “that guy that does all the rapping” had to work hard to get noticed. But he did, and it paid off.

With his three solo albums (Momentum, Welcome to Diverse City and Portable Sounds) each better than the last, and his own label Gotee Records, he continues to shine in the hip-hop arena.

Alive and Transported is his first live DVD/CD. He looks as young and as energetic as he did when he first made an impression on me all those years ago. With the hits from his albums, plus dcTalk’s anthem, Jesus Freak, this 20 song collection won’t allow you to stop grooving. The CD and DVD collect the same songs, but the DVD has a nifty bonus; an almost one hour long doco on the man himself as he discusses life, touring, family and the sometimes mundane, sometimes extraordinary ways he met his current band mates. Toby’s voice sounds more powerful than ever and he never loses a beat throughout the concert’s entirety on memorable beats like Boomin’, Made To Love and Extreme Days. It must be exhausting, but moved by the adoration of the huge crowd and his passion for Christ, the guys just keeps rocking, and rapping. It doesn’t have the fancy multimedia of a U2 show, or the fancy footwork of a Justin Timberlake show, but these guys (and girl) know how to party.

The DVD needs big speakers and a big TV to really show the power and enthusiasm coming from the stage. The editing adds much colour and motion to the event and it is a feast for your eyes as well as ears. Though he has had moderate success in the mainstream music scene, with songs being used in TV ads and films, Toby doesn’t shy away from his Christian roots. He’s not ashamed of the gospel, and like his friend and collaborator, the equally awesome Kirk Franklin, he spills out spiritual authenticity along with his creativity. One of the greatest blessings of being a believer is that we have music like this, that honours God and gets your body moving.
And, just so you know, I used one of his songs on the Supanova Perth video seen below. Like me, you may just be surprised that there’s no harps and Hallelujahs here, but you won’t be disappointed. Give it a shot.

Supanova Perth

The geek trumpet sounded this weekend in the most isolated city in the world, and the geeks answered. And how. I’ve gotta say, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. The Supanova pop culture convention has been successfully operating on the other side of Australia for a few years now. (I went to the Gold Coast one in 2004) but I wasn’t sure how many people would turn up in little old Perth. I was pleasantly surprised. On the train to Claremont in the morning, I saw a few girls befriending each other as one of them boldly got into (some kind of anime) costume. That put a smile on my face, along with a few other commuters. My joy grew further as the train stopped and a gaggle of geeks departed. Though, none of them looked like geeks. We marched noisily through the eerily departed Showgrounds towards the convention site and got on the end of a queue. We weren’t there for long though and thankfully the rain didn’t intrude. The number of people in costumes was quite inspiring. Apart from a few Naruto and Star Wars get-ups, I didn’t know who most of the characters were. That cos-play craze is getting everywhere these days.

Supanova Stamp

We then got our wrists stamped, like some underground disco, except, it was in the daylight and no-one could dance. I spent three hours there doing laps and inspecting the goods. Games, old and new comics, action figures, busts, novelties and DVDs were all well represented. Both on-line and inter-state retail outlets had a presence and Perth’s comic and toy shops managed to make their presence known to new customers. Hellboy 2 trailers were looping, and the new Indy Jones Lego, Dragonball Z and Metal Gear Solid games had many thumbs and fingers delving into their worlds. I didn’t stay long enough to see Star Trek and Heroes actor, Nichelle Nichols and I wasn’t really interested in talking to the Stargate and Firefly actors either. I waited about 30 minutes to get painter Joe Jusko to sign my X-Men print, but saw him do two great Hulk sketches as I did so. Jusko’s almost as buff as the characters he draws. I mentioned that I had his Fleer trading cards from back in the day and he said he’s been singing those his whole life. Howard Chaykin signed all 6 issues of my City of Tomorrow mini-series and my Hawkgirl TPB. He was a funny guy and was firing one-liners to everyone he saw. He, Jusko, local lad Ben Templesmith and David Yardin all looked like they were having fun chatting to fans and talking about their work. I didn’t buy much as I must save up for next month’s San Diego Comic-Con, but I easily could of. At least I ended the day with a free coffee.

All in all, a good day. The future of pop culture fandom is in safe hands in Perth. Most of the gathering were high school kids and there was a general excitement in having that many people loving the same thing, in the same place. Next year’s will surely be better, now that it’s off to a good start. Next month I’ll be going to the world’s largest comic convention in San Diego. It’ll be like going from a paddling pool to the Pacific Ocean I’m sure. This is a nice warm-up though. Perth fanboys and girls-you can pat yourself on the back. You did us proud.

Artist Michael Turner Dead

The global comics community is still small enough that writers and artists who I’ve never met, somehow seem like old friends. I grew up reading artist Mike Wieringo’s fun and energetic pencils on Flash and Spider-Man and when he died last year, I was quite emotional. I felt the same way upon discovering Michael Turner’s death. His pencils on the new Supergirl’s introduction in the pages of Superman/Batman re-energized me about the DC Comics Universe. His covers have been seen everywhere over the last few years from Identity Crists to Marvel’s powerhouse Civil War. You noticed his work on the stands, and with his own studio, Aspen Comics and properties like Fathom, his creative output for a man suffering from cancer since 2000 is extraordinary and a testament to his dedication.

Condolences be sent to:

Aspen MLT, Inc.
C/O Michael Turner
5855 Green Valley Circle, Suite 111
Culver City, CA, 90230

Revere Trailer

The comic biz is a hard one to break into. Most small publishers know that to compete directly with the Big Two (Marvel and DC) is foolishness, but their superhero stranglehold is fandom’s gain, as we get diverse publishers like ASP. Though they are (openly) in the midst of a restructure at the moment, some of their best books continue, including The Engineer and Mouse Guard. I can’t wait for the next ish of Miranda Mercury to arrive though. Revere: Revolution in Silver is an interesting concept involving the American Revolution and a bunch of scary looking werewolves. You can see what I mean by checking out the trailer, and it comes with a great tagline: Yes, the British are coming. But the werewolves are worse.

Nice one.

REVERE: REVOLUTION IN SILVER is a 128 page hardcover collecting the four-issue series originally published by Alias, with an expanded ending and epilogue.

Tori Amos’ Comic Book Tattoo

Kiss have done it (a few times). So has Alice Cooper, even New Kids on the Block. Now it’s Tori Amos’ turn. That’s right – musos and comics. What a combo! Almost as good as my favourite mix-up, chocolate and coffee. Mmm…mocha. Comic Book Tattoo is a massive 480 page anthology book, releasing on the 23rd of July. An impressive roster of 80 creators including David Mack, Colleen Doran, Pia Guerra and Jock expand upon Tori’s stable of songs in their own style. Long-time fan and Sandman creator Neil Gaiman scribes the introduction. Official details here, and more perty pics here.

X-Men and the Power of Community

You’ve seen the sketch variants for the 500th issue below, now you can see a few interior pages right here, free of those annoying words that only get in the way. The crowded cover is also quite appropriate to my newest article, now on Sight magazine. It’s all about the power of community, and that is one thing comics are certainly not short of. To teams of side-kicks (Teen Titans) to magicians (Shadowpact) reformed villains (Thunderbolts) kids (Runaways) and chemical compounds come to life (Metal Men) there’s a team for everyone.

Sometimes we may think that life would be better without all those people that are slightly different from us (especially if you work in retail!) but honestly, those people help us grow. When others rub us the wrong way, sure, sparks can fly, but like sharpening knives, you end up with a sharper, more useful instrument. Wow, deep. Anyway, read on….

The X-Men, Fantastic Four, Justice League, The Avengers, The Outsiders, Teen Titans, Green Lantern Corps. The list goes on and on.

The team concept is one of the comic industry’s best sellers and will undoubtedly continue to be. With extra characters come extra story possibilities due to all the varied interactions and personality clashes. Marvel’s Punisher would be the most obvious anti-team player in comic books. He sees himself as a hero; a man picking up the slack of the paltry legal system, whereas DC’s Batman has often worked with the Gotham City Police Department. The Punisher sees himself as the only man worthy to dispense justice. All of his rage and frustration spews forth from his fists and gun barrels. Batman knows that in order to dispense true justice, his methods and motivations must be in direct contrast to the odd assortment of criminals he fights.

Both men are self-made warriors, soldiers of immense focus and endurance. But they see the world and their place in it very differently. And it stems from the people they have around them, or the lack of, in Punisher’s case. If it were not for Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s English butler, the young orphan could easily have turned in to a mirror image of the Punisher. Frank Castle had no-one to offer him guidance and comfort , but Bruce Wayne had someone to at least tell him right from wrong, a father figure in the shape of a loyal servant. Alfred’s influence on the identity of Bruce Wayne can not be understated. He has also offered the various Robins over the years the kindness and moral support that Batman never could, or wanted to.
Pennyworth’s inner light has always cast a strong influence over the Wayne mansion, and the cave underneath it. To the church in Corinth, Paul advised that “bad company corrupts good character.” Bad guys rarely hang out together. Dirty deeds are done in the dark, alone, not in the light with others. In his letters to other churches Paul’s frustrations showed to the early church. They were easily being led astray. Lack of unity and leadership made these churches all too vulnerable. Paul took charge, and left for us a treasure trove of godly advice regarding everything from marriage to finances. The epistles are an amazing account of practical Christianity and down- to-earth spiritual wisdom.

We often hear that people lose their virginity too early or become drug takers simply because of peer pressure. Similarly, others attribute their run-ins with the law to “falling in with a bad crowd.” But the opposite can also be true.

With the proper influence and good examples to follow we can become holy people; God pleasers rather than only people pleasers. Heroes such as the X-Men Rogue, Psylocke and Gambit were once villains, but were then reformed by Professor X. Nightcrawler was raised by his mother, the villainous shape-shifter Mystique yet also joined the heroic X-Men. However other characters such as Sinestro started life as a member of the galactic peace keeping force Green Lantern Corps, yet left and became evil. Each day we make choices for good or evil. So too we must choose our friends and their influence over us with Godly wisdom. God has created the church as a community. We are all different parts of the same body. Within that body we can offer help and support to one another. Sometimes being heroic means not only helping others, but also asking for help from those around you when you need it.