Monday, December 24, 2012

May The Joy Be With You


May you all be happy and safe and content in the coming year(s) and may your pages never be blank and your inner muse never be blocked.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Patriot No. 1 by Bleeding Ink Productions

(Patriot issue No. 1 of 4.)

To paraphrase Bruce Wayne's praise of Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, I believe in Jesse Grillo. I believe enough in the work I have seen from him and his comic book production company, Bleeding Ink Productions, that I helped fund Patriot, a four-issue miniseries he marketed on Kickstarter. Obviously, since I was funding a product that had not been completed, I was going on Grillo's past work and the premise of Patriot.

I was not disappointed with the results.

Patriot follows the story of the titular character after he discovers he has but weeks to live after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. He decides it is time to stop simply capturing and imprisoning his enemies only to see them escape and commit the same heinous crimes again and again. He decides it's time to put an end to their murderous activities...permanently. The plan does not go over well with his teen-aged son and is accepted with even less approval from his teammates in the Union of Superheroes.

The book overall is strong, especially from an independent with very little funding. Grillo handles the writing and does it capably. Jeff Slimmons' pencils and inks have a very pulpy feel to them (imagine some of the horror comics from the 40s and 50s) and Melissa Martin Ellis' colors complement the artwork perfectly. Together, it all has a very personal feel, not like many of today's comics, especially from Marvel, that feel as though they are generated by a computer graphics program.

The premise itself is interesting, especially with the "Death of the Family" story arc featuring the Joker currently taking place in the Batman titles. It has been said for years (decades) that Batman's strict adherence to his code of never taking a life has, in fact, cost hundreds if not thousands of lives. By allowing the Joker to live, Batman has indirectly caused the deaths of every victim who has been killed at the hands of the Clown Prince of Crime. The same can be said of Two-Face, the Penguin, et. al., but the Joker is easily the most diabolical and purely evil of Batman's Rogue's Gallery.

Patriot's bailiwick is unique in that his decision to turn to murder is a result of his own impending mortality. We've seen comics such as The Punisher that have been cut and dry from the very beginning: do evil and be killed, period. Patriot, based on the reactions of those around him when he reveals his plan, was very much in the mold of Superman -- a god-like being who chose to simply stop criminals and allow the proper authorities mete out justice. It is a familiar storyline with an added twist that provides the reader with a What Would I Do In That Situation? scenario.

Another unique aspect of the book is the lack of thought balloons and the third-party narrative the vast majority of comics employ. Not using thought balloons is becoming a topic amongst comic creators and fans on social media such as Twitter and while many believe the tried-and-true use of internal monologues should continue, not using them provides a more in-the-moment experience. It provides the reader an opportunity to consider for themselves what the characters could be thinking and what their motivation could be rather than having it spoon-fed to them.

As with any new comic, hero and villain names can be clunky and hard to process and Patriot is guilty of this in certain instances. However, if you take the names of heroes that have been around for decades such as Wonder Woman, Aqua Man, Spider Man, Mr. Fantastic, and the like, the names of the new heroes don't sound as awkward.

The other thing to consider is that Grillo is working mostly alone with a shoestring budget. The bigger the budget, the bigger the staff and the more people to assist with editing and to bounce ideas off of. Considering that Grillo has little name recognition among mainstream comics fans and the aforementioned next-to-nothing budget, Patriot, along with his other titles, should stand out as a triumph of David versus the Goliath of the Disney-owned Marvel and Warner Bros.-owned DC Comics. Grillo has talent and a strong portfolio; brands like Dark Horse, Radical, Vertigo, and others would be well-advised to grab him while his price is still low.

For more information on Bleeding Ink Productions or to check out its line of comics, visit them at their official website.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Minion's Excuse for Ignoring Auntie Heather

(Who would want to ignore Auntie Heather? She's delightful! Photo by Kurt Bali)

OK. So Heather Brewer, known by her thousands of minions as "Auntie Heather" is awesome. I don't think there's any denying it. She also hosted an event in St. Peters, Mo., Oct. 30 to promote her latest book and the second book of the Slayer Chronicles, Second Chance. It wasn't just a regular book promotion stop for me. Brewer, a resident of St. Louis, honestly moved me that night as she talked about being bullied as a child and her struggles to become an author, or what she thought at the time was an author. I was moved to tears on a number of occasions during her talk, as were many others. I was there to cover the event for Walrus Publishing and was going to make my deadline for once.

So, what happened?

Well...I lost my notes. Seriously.

Bad news: I'm an irresponsible man-child. Good news: I found the notes yesterday! Alright, it's been well past a month since the event, but the things she said are timeless and, hey! the book has only been out two months so it's still relevant. Yay, stretching my worthlessness into a plausible excuse!

Anyway, I'm going to start working on the story immediately and all of Auntie Heather's gloriousness will be passed on to you.

Monday, December 10, 2012

DC Comics Stays Classy; Fires Gail Simone Via E-Mail

(Concentrated red-haired awesome, Gail Simone. Photo by Luigi Novi)

In a world filled with assholes, douchebags, and scoundrels, DC Comics decided to make a solid run for Dick of the Week by firing Gail Simone. If you don't know who Simone is, run, don't walk, fucking run, to your nearest comic book store and grab any issue of Batgirl produced during the New 52 era. I personally recommend the recently-released Batgirl Annual #1. Got it? Awesome, isn't it? Well-written, well-plotted with characters you really care for and empathize with, right?

Yeah, DC decided to shit-can her. From one of the more popular titles out right now. Via e-mail.

Unless Santa Claus gives an orphan the finger while kicking a puppy, DC could have that Dick of the Week title wrapped up. I'm writing this as a fan and not as a comics insider because 1) I'm a fan, and 2) I'm not a comics insider and as a fan, I think what DC did was bullshit.

(Yeah, she responded to a compliment I gave her, so we're pretty much besties.)

Simone has been at the helm for some of the best, and underrated, comics in recent years for DC, including Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, and Fury of Firestorm. Her work on Marvel's Deadpool is, in my opinion, the catalyst for making that title one of the most popular in the Marvel Universe. Wade Wilson went from a meh character with corny one-liners to an anti-hero spewing laugh-out-loud comments that were cringe-worthy in their darkness and inappropriateness.

On the flip side of that was Batgirl, a book that has all the bang-pow superhero stuff you could ask for, but also provides a back story worthy of one of the most interesting characters in the DC Universe. Something of a fringe character in the past, Alan Moore's The Killing Joke put her in the limelight when the Joker put a bullet in her spine and paralyzed her. No longer able to be Batgirl, Barbara Gordon became Oracle, the eye in the sky for Batman and the Bat Family as well as the leader of the Birds of Prey, a female group consisting of such super heroines as Black Canary, the Huntress, Lady Blackhawke, and others.

(Don't. Just don't. Be a grown up. Photo by

Simone's run on Birds of Prey was very notable in that since it was a comic about women written by a woman, it would be, well, all girly and shit. They would talk about boys and, er, women stuff, and it would be unreadable. Nope. Not even close. In fact, it was reading some of the trade paperbacks of BoP at my local library that convinced me I should give Batgirl a shot when the New 52 kicked off. I already had all the Bat titles plus Justice League in my pull file at my local shop, but after reading Batgirl #1, I was hooked.

So. We have cred with the fanboys in a male-dominated field, a book that is popular in aforementioned field, and a legion of fans who went absolutely batshit (pun intended) on Twitter Sunday when Simone confirmed she had been given her walking papers. Via. Fucking. E-mail.

Sports fans will remember this. Remember when Jimmy Johnson, formerly a championship coach, now an analyst and spokesman for big-dick pills, won his second-straight Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys and Jerry Jones, prior to his permanent impersonation of the creepy preacher from Poltergeist 2, fired his ass? This is kinda like that, but different.

It's like that because there's an obvious analogy to be made between the two instances and different because I love what Simone has done with Batgirl and abso-fucking-lutely hate the Dallas Cowboys. I taught my son when he was four years old that the Cowboys set fire to kitten rescues on Christmas Eve. Truth hurts sometimes. I bring up the Jones/Johnson situation because of this: Rumor has it, there was some friction between Simone and her editor. Obviously, I don't know for sure but if the internet says it...

Anyway, the point I'm laboring to make is, if you're successful, you bust your ass to get along. It doesn't matter if you literally fucking hate that person to the point you wish their grandparents would come back to life so you could kill them all over again, you make an effort to get along. Batgirl is a magical title and it's because of the combination of Simone and Ardian Syaf (pencils) making it thus. I'm not saying you should suffer assholes gladly, but if I'm Simone's former editor and she walked by my desk, knocking my coffee cup off my desk daily and giving me wet willies in front of my kids, I'd suck it up a little because you're part of a profitable team and, in the end, that reflects on you. Plus, I'd teabag the shit out of her laptop when she wasn't looking. But I'm passive-aggressive that way.

Monday's news from Simone was much more positive as some of the biggest names in comics, such as Neil Gaiman and Batman's Scott Snyder, coming to her defense on Twitter. The lady herself made several comments, basically saying she's receiving a ton of offers that are actually more lucrative than her gig on Batgirl. She also said she's spoken with the heads of DC and they have told her they are sorry things ended the way they did and there was some miscommunication between the firer and the firee i.e. they shit-canned her without getting their ducks in a row first.

I'd like to say I'm not going to read Batgirl or any DC Comics titles anymore. Based on things I've read, they probably deserve it. While I enjoy the New 52, it was done (allegedly) against the wishes of most of the creative staff and according to a panel I attended with Denny O'Neil, comics are a brutal business no matter where you are with constant power plays between the creative teams, the editors, and the publishers where the biggest losers tend to be the fans. Kind of like this situation, for example.

I'm still going to read DC Comics. And Batgirl. At least for awhile. Simone's final issue is #16 at the end of the "Death of the Family" arc with the Joker and the other Bat titles. Batgirl was special because it was believable. Suspension of disbelief is hard to achieve sometimes, but Simone made it easy. You liked Barbara. You pulled for her. You felt her pain, her confusion, her fears of being put back in that damned chair. Prior to this, the closest I've felt to a character was Kitty Pryde in the X-Men of the 80s when Peter Rasputin told her he didn't love her anymore because of his feelings for Zsaji, the healer he met on Battleworld during the Secret Wars arc. Chris Claremont handled that amazingly and it left a lasting impression on me, both as a comics fan and as a writer. That is what Simone has done with Batgirl.

So Gail, I'm still going to read Batgirl. And other DC Comics. But I'll be thinking of you. Anyone that comes along, no matter how good, will just be a silver medal.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: I Am Not A Serial Killer

If you combine Encyclopedia Brown and Dexter, you get John Wayne Cleaver, the protagonist(?) of Dan Wells' debut novel I Am Not a Serial Killer.

This is another in my line of "I know it's an older book, but if I haven't read it, it's new to me" book reviews. I was introduced to Wells this past summer on the Dark Days Tour as he was promoting Partials with fellow authors Veronica Roth, Aprilynne Pike, and SJ Kincaid. The Partials series falls more in the Young Adult genre and the next book in the trilogy, Fragments, is scheduled for release in Februrary of next year.

In addition to being his first novel, Serial Killer is also the first book in a trilogy, followed by Mr. Monster and I Don't Want to Kill You. John Wayne Cleaver's tale is, at first glance, typical YA fodder: High school-aged lad placed into a supernatural situation where he has to rely on heretofore unknown abilities to win the day. This is kinda like that.


John Wayne Cleaver was given his name by his deadbeat dad because of said father's love for The Duke. The problem is, young John is a medically-diagnosed and admitted sociopath who struggles to keep the would-be killer within him at bay, so the name John Wayne takes on a rather unfortunate and much different connotation (I mean John Wayne Gacy, the clown you didn't want to hire for your kids' birthday party). His father, his sulking sister, his single mother and her pragmatic sister all figure into why John is the way he is as he helps out at the family mortuary.

Did I mention his mother and aunt run his small town's funeral home? No? Well, yeah, they do. That's not an unfortunate piece of the story for a kid who has a knowledge of serial killers Wikipedia writers would be green with envy for.

The story takes off when some very grisly murders begin taking place in John's backyard. Figuratively. They don't literally take place in his backyard. I meant in his town. After a couple of the victims show up at the family business, John decides to do some sleuthing and discovers that the killer is not only someone he knows, but someone with a very dark secret. As though being a murderer isn't dark enough.

Reading a synopsis of Serial Killer would lead you to believe you know how the book is going to play out and you would be wrong; dead wrong (see what I did there?). The brilliance of this book lies in two things: 1) Wells' research into psychology and sociopathy, and 2) changing the way you look at the protagonist and the antagonist in this story. Cleaver, while admirable in his desire to do the right thing, can be hard to like at times. The killer, while committing some truly grisly murders, has a part of his story that readers will empathize with.

Trying to put this book in the YA category is a back-and-forth fight. On the one hand, it's textbook Young Adult fare, in that there is the young person trying to take on a foe that is completely out of his league. That's a staple of YA literature. But on the other hand, every relationship Cleaver has, whether it's his family, his so-called best friend, and his potential love interest, is effected by his sociopathy, his obsession with serial killers and death, and his battle to keep his darker self from gaining dominance. Wells hasn't written another Twilight; this is no sparkling vampire or buff werewolf. John is a potentially dangerous young man and should absolutely be viewed as such. He should, however, be seen as a young man with a legitimate disease and an individual who is the target of bullying and ostracism at his school, topics that many, if not most, teens can relate to in today's society.

As a man nearing 40, I really enjoyed this book. I found it to be a quick read, an entertaining read, and a memorable read. While this book can be extremely violent, I do think young readers (high school-aged readers) would enjoy it as well. I think there are many battles fought by Cleaver that teens can identify with. The metaphoric ones. Not the ones dealing with a mass murder. Call the police, kids; that's why they're there.

For more on Dan Wells, you can follow him on Twitter or at his Writing Excuses website.