Coming Soon to a Convention Near You: Texas Frightmare Weekend

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bannerWill you be in Texas in May? Do you want to see my glorious face in full 3D and Technicolor? Do you want to buy my book? If you answered Yes to any of these questions, I have news for you!

I don’t often get to the chance to make my rounds on the convention circuit. College gets in the way of that, as you can imagine, since I’m either there or I’m broke from going there.  However, with my first novel Fleshtrap under my belt, this year I’m making the trek to Texas Frightmare WeekendHeld May 2nd – 4th just down the highway from me in Dallas, TFW is the biggest celebration of horror in the southwest United States. This time around I’ll be in the company of the good (ish?) people of Post Mortem Press. There will be boozing, cruising, and even a horror movie trivia contest. Oh, and you can buy stuff from us. It’ll be bitchin’.

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Sound good? If you’re in my neck of the woods in May, come on by and see us. Buy some books. We might even sign them for you, if we’re upright. And be sure to hang around for the Frightmakers 101 panel Eric and Co. will be hosting, as well as the trivia contest. Mark your calendars, people. Also I will be appearing on some podcasts in the next few weeks promoting the book, so watch this space for more news.

Comic Book Review: Moon Knight #1

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Marc Spector is Moon Knight!…Or is he? It’s hard to tell these days, especially when New York’s wildest vigilante protects the street with two-fisted justice and three—that’s right, count ‘em—different personalities! But even with the mystical force of Khonshu fueling his crusade, how does the night’s greatest detective save a city that’s as twisted as he is? The road to victory is going to hurt. A lot. Marvel’s most mind-bending adventure begins NOW as Moon Knight sleuths his way to the rotten core of New York’s most bizarre mysteries!  Written by Warren Ellis with art by Declan Shalvey.

The cult hero Moon Knight returns in this #1 from the dynamic creative team of Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire. Moon Knight may or may not be insane, as his various personalities might suggest, but I can guarantee that the book just might be. With its unique visual aesthetic, air-tight scripting, and unresolved ending, this opening issue poses more questions than it cares to answer. But that’s what makes Moon Knight #1 such a compelling read: You’re not quite sure what you come away with when you’re done, but you definitely want more.

The issue opens with Marc Spector’s return to New York, as expounded by an as of yet unnamed journalist, following a series of grisly late-night murders. Spector, who may or may not be who we think he is, dons his updated costume to serve as a consulting detective of sorts for the NYPD, despite the reservations of the other officers on the scene. Descending into the sewers to find the killer, he follows blood to the lair of the strange and brutal creature at the heart of these deaths, resulting in a confrontation that is worth the cover price.

This updated Moon Knight affects a surreal presence on the page, a stark white profile amidst the fully colored and detailed supporting cast of police officers and grimy New York streets. Shalvey’s line work truly shines here, illuminating the machinations of the character through an exceptional use of motion and framing. His dynamic page designs are made all the more vibrant by Bellaire’s brilliant color choices, using grim palettes of blacks and reds in severe contrast with the disorienting whiteness of the titular character’s costume. It leaves you with an unsettled feeling, uncertain of what these colors represent or if any of this is actually happening, which is a testament to the strength of this team.

As for the writing, Ellis’ scripting is slick and polished, with lines of dialogue so cool as to chill. Despite the succinct recap on the title page, Ellis gives nothing away about the larger nature of the story, or how much of it is even real. While mystery in superhero titles is often ham-fisted at best, the unsure footing that Ellis places the reader on is tantalizing as he sends us into this rabbit hole with Spector, with no idea what awaits us at the bottom. Nothing is clear, nothing is certain, except that Spector is in New York and people are dying. I did find the last section and the subsequent ending a little abrupt, but when the writing is this good, I can safely advise you to run – don’t walk – to your local comic book store and pick up your copy of Moon Knight #1.

Comic Book Review: Hawkeye #15

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The brothers Barton double down against the bad guys as the Clown lays siege to their building. Can Hawkguy keep everyone safe against a killer nobody’s even seen yet? What happens when you’re locked up with your loser big brother for like a week straight? You go nuts, right? Clint goes a little nuts. Plus…two free staples!  From Matt Fraction, David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth.

After a lengthy break from Clint’s story, we finally catch up with the Barton brothers in Hawkeye #15. With the confrontations with the mob getting worse, Clint and Barney prepare go to war to protect the building in a battle that could cost them all their lives. Recent production delays put #16 out ahead of schedule, giving readers a double-dose of Kate Bishop’s side story, but this issue proves itself to be more than worth the wait.

With Bobbi’s help, Clint realizes that he’s embroiled in a losing battle with the mob, who are buying all the property in his neighborhood. Since he has no legal right to the building and as such no lawful recourse, Clint has to take matters into his own hands, regardless of the outcome. He enlists Barney and Natasha in helping him defend his neighbors against the Clown, including a visit from Jessica as he tries to defend them all against the worsening invasion. Don’t let the cover and the clever crossword puzzle motif fool you, however. While Kate’s recent California adventures have been a bit more endearing and upbeat, Fraction changes gears to bring us an issue fraught with danger, concluding on a dramatic cliffhanger that even I didn’t see coming.

Once again Hawkeye strikes the perfect balance of quirky humor and self-effacing charm, even as the consequences of his actions barrel down on Clint at the expense of those around him. His very real desire to protect his neighbors makes this issue all the more distressing as the Clown leads a bloody siege on the building, targeting the families inside. The emotional subtleties of Fraction’s smart scripting are brought to the page by Aja and Hollingsworth, with consistently affective and engaging success. With the exception of Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto on Black Widow, I can think of no other creative team on a Marvel title as enduring and successful as this one, providing a captivating reading experience issue after issue. Hawkeye #15 is a must-read, and one of the best of the series in my book.

About Writing, Superheroes, and Me

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It’s been a slow few weeks in terms of comics. I haven’t had much to write about, which is  bit out of the norm for me. So instead of posting comic book reviews, I wanted to do something a little different.

I don’t like to write characters that are like myself. I think most writers would agree that we’re not interesting enough to merit characters shaped in our likenesses. Casey Way from Fleshtrap isn’t much like me, and that’s probably for the best. He wouldn’t be much fun if he were, honestly. But when I sat down to do The Crashers, a book just as much about superheroes as my relationship with the genre itself, I found it a lot harder to separate myself from the writing.

In a lot of ways, this is a book about me. It’s about my childhood aspiration to write comics when somebody rolled their eyes at me and said, Only men write comic books. Women don’t do that.” It’s about the hours spent on my front porch with stacks of Generation X and Excalibur comics sitting between my knees, reading all the subversive little jokes (at the genre’s expense, of course) that Warren Ellis got away with writing. It’s about that sick feeling I get whenever Captain America dies, or Jean Grey dies, or Scarlet Witch dies, and sometimes they come back and sometimes they don’t, and it always just feel a little unfair no matter what ends up happening. It’s about how I spent last winter burning through Misfits on Hulu, and feeling so acutely, inexplicably disappointed at the end of every season. It’s about how I read Earth X over and over, and every time feel like I’m mourning a part of myself that never lived.

Somewhere in the middle of this, there is a version of me that both loves and is saddened by the superhero genre. That, invariably, is what The Crashers is all about. That’s why this book fills me with a strange calm as well as equal measures of peculiar sorrow. That’s why all of these characters are, for better or worse, just like me. That’s why they have to be.

Adam Harlow is the part of me that has been dealing with depression as far back as I can remember. He’s that part that’s always been like glass, afraid to touch or be touched, for fear of cracking any more than he already has. He’s the part that destroys everything he touches. That’s why he’s the strongest of them all, so he can learn how unbreakable he really is.

Norah Aroyan is the part of me that can’t be weak. She’s that part of can’t accept help or charity, or even a compliment, and will never admit when she’s wrong. She’s the part that pulls herself up by her boot straps, even when her knuckles are bloody and there’s nothing left to fight for. She’s the part that will destroy herself in order to prove a point. That’s why she’s the most powerful, so she can learn when to back down.

Kyle Jeong is the part of me that believes in nothing and no one. He’s that part that would rather be alone than reach out and risk rejection. He’s the part that builds fortresses and throws stones. That’s why he can’t be destroyed, so he can learn to build up those around him.

Clara Reyes is the part of me that can’t accept imperfection. She’s that part that strives to be the strongest, the funniest, the smartest person in the room. She’s the part that holds herself up to standards that no one set for her, and no one sees as a failure. She’s the part of me that can’t handle setbacks. She’s the part that can do everything and nothing. That’s why she’s the fastest person there is and ever could be, so she can learn to slow down.

Bridger Levi is the part of me that accepts he is powerless to shape the world. He’s that part that eventually makes peace with his past, with his future, and everything else in between because he knows he’s the product of things that are beyond his control. He’s the part that I try to be every day, to take the good with the bad, and to not lose his ability to laugh at the hands that life’s dealt him. That’s why he’s the clairvoyant, so he can see that it all works out in the end.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, where these people meet, is the point of their story. Somewhere between the pages, where people live and breathe and laugh and die, I left a part of myself behind. I’ll just have to wait and see how it all shakes out.

Comic Book Review: Ms. Marvel #1

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MsMarvel1Kamala Khan is just an ordinary girl from Jersey City–until she is suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the all-new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm, and prepare for an epic tale that will be remembered by generations to come. History in the making is NOW! From writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona.

The much-anticipated Ms. Marvel #1 is finally here, establishing new mythology as Carol Danvers passes her original title to new hero Kamala Khan.  The best part about this book is Kamala herself, a sixteen-year-old from Jersey City who writes Avengers fanfiction and idolizes Captain Marvel. Her life is boring, her family is a constant source of irritation, and she’s the target of the concern-trolling white kids at her school, who treat her religion as a charming and exotic distraction. She is the average young comic book fan personified, looking for escape from her humdrum existence through the world of superheroes. Not only is she easy to identify with, as a Muslim woman she also highlights views and experiences not often seen in comics, making her all the more engaging.

When concern-troll classmate Zoe throws a party, Kamala is banned from going by her endearing but conservative father. Wanting to go out and have fun like a “normal” kid, she sneaks out to attend, only to find she isn’t really welcome. As she leaves, the effects of the Terrigenesis bomb Black Bolt detonated over New York reaches the neighborhood, engulfing the city in mist. Kamala passes out on the street where she imagines Captain Marvel, Iron Man and Captain America, appearing to her like idols of devotional portraits, surrounded by hat-wearing birds and animals.

They tell her that she’s at a crossroads and must decide who she wants to be. She tells them that she wants to be beautiful, powerful, and less complicated, like her hero Captain Marvel. (But only in Carol’s politically incorrect black swimsuit with thigh-high leather boots, Kamala strongly emphasizes. Can’t say that I blame her on that one.) Her visions promise her a change, but warn that it’s not what she thought it would be. Waking up from her dream, Kamala finds herself in a cocoon. Panicked, she fights her way out of it, only to realize she’s been transformed into pre-Captain Marvel Carol, complete with black suit and boots. She’s different, much to her surprise, but definitely not less complicated.

Everything about this book is delightful and refreshing, from Wilson’s loveable Every Girl in Kamala to the well-rounded world she inhabits. The dialogue is so natural and well-written, striking a nice balance of humor and earnestness that makes Kamala a compelling protagonist. Like our up-and-coming hero, Alphona’s artwork is equally engaging. His light airy lines and gently exaggerated anatomy affect a storybook-like quality, creating a fun and appropriately whimsical graphic narrative. Herring’s color work really brings it all home through the use of soft earth tones and dreamy turquoise, contrasted by the deep blues and striking reds of Kamala’s vision and final metamorphosis. Their collaboration makes for a truly lush and inviting visual experience with a cohesive and strongly defined aesthetic.

This book is beautiful from start to finish, with great scripting and amazing artwork. It lives up to the hype and then some, establishing a new chapter in the Ms. Marvel mythology as well as Marvel pantheon at large. I’m not afraid to say that Kamala Khan has won my heart, and I hope that, given the chance, she can steal yours, too.

Comic Book Review: New Avengers #14

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NA14THE SECRET OF THE BLACK SWAN…From writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Simone Bianchi.

The Illuminati peer into another doomed world in New Avengers #14, while Doctor Strange journeys to the Lost Lands in search of greater power. Recycling the same plot as the last issue, the team watches their doppelgangers in Earth-2319 struggle hopelessly against their impending destruction, only to lose as the other teams have. The 2319 team, sporting an intriguing lineup that includes Emma Frost, the dual Captains Britain of Brian and Betsy Braddock, and Doctor Doom, meet their ends at the hand of the Sidera Maris, the forerunners of Mapmakers that Black Swan was a part of. As the 616 Illuminati reels in the certainty that their struggle may too be for nothing, Strange travels to the Sinner’s Market. So rocked by the events of Infinity and his possession by Ebony Maw, he’s decided to sell his soul for the ultimate magical power, concluding the issue with his barter.

While I see the symmetry in this kind of cyclical narrative, I found this issue didn’t do enough to justify reusing #13’s plot. It is interesting to see how the Illuminati fares across the Multiverse, with vastly different rosters and scenarios, but Hickman doesn’t introduce enough new information to really substantiate it. In the end, the team once more recoils in horror as another Earth falls, helpless to do anything to stop it. Perhaps Hickman has a plan to make all of this work, but for now I have to say it’s a bit disappointing, even if the scripting is otherwise solid and affective.

As for the artwork, the energetic scenes of 2319’s destruction keep the issue from feeling too much like filler, brought to the page through the strength of Bianchi’s storytelling. His dramatic use of dark expansive shading creates such ominous scenes, making the hopelessness of the situation truly palpable. For me Strange’s quest to sell his soul is the highlight of the issue, as Bianchi develops the Sinner’s Market with demonic creatures and otherworldly architecture. As with #13, Dell’alpi’s color palettes round Bianchi’s pages out nicely, with the warm earthy tones contrasted by ghostly pale blues. The pair of them make for a visually pleasing issue, and I’m really enjoying their work together so far.

Comic Book Review: Black Widow #3

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BW3The Finely Woven Thread – PART 3: “FOLIAGE” She’s the kind of woman you call when you need to escape from a South American prison. Don’t miss the book everyone is talking about (and it isn’t even out yet!) By writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Phil Noto.

In the midst of a jailbreak gone awry, Natasha must make some tough personal choices. When she’s hired to free a wrongly convicted Angelo from an Argentinian prison, distractions pull her out of the job, thinking back to her neighbor Ana, who has been beaten again by her husband. Despite her decision to never have personal ties, she finds herself unable to resist making connections. She too sympathizes for Angelo, only to realize she’s made a mistake in her presumptions as she discovers he was Lobo Blanco, a former military leader and vicious killer. Correcting her error, she grabs Angelo from the safety of his minion’s helicopter and drops them into the river below, leaving him to the alligators while she retreats to a safe house.

Edmondson takes the generic action premise of a botched jailbreak and makes something useful out of it, serving as the backdrop of Natasha’s continued personal development. At first it looked like Angelo was another blemish in her ledger, but the twist of her killing him herself in lieu of payment for his escape is a much more satisfying outcome. The dynamic between Natasha and Isaiah is great, as well as Natasha’s confrontation with Ana’s husband at the end of the issue as she comes to accept she isn’t as alone as she likes to think she is. Natasha’s narration further emphasizes her growth without coming across as maudlin or hokey, finding a nice balance of character voice and exposition.

As always, Noto’s masterful storytelling and engaging page designs really drive the issue. Every line is deliberate, every panel so well-composed with no extraneous information or embellishment. There’s a beautiful efficiency to Noto’s work that hits all the right notes, evoking a sense of quiet and composure even in scenes of violence. Defined by the strong partnership between Edmondson and Noto, Black Widow #3 is another satisfying issue in an already highly enjoyable series.

Comic Book Review: Inhumanity #2

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I2Medusa’s kingdom is destroyed, her king is dead and her people’s population just increased exponentially. Everything is different—how can she possibly deal with it all? From writer Matt Fraction and artist Nick Bradshaw.

Originally from separate tie-in, this issue was absorbed into Inhumanity, but deals directly with the fallout of the last. With Black Bolt presumed dead and Ahura still missing, it’s up to Medusa to rule over her declining kingdom. Plagued by nightmares, she tries to retain her composure in the face of destruction as the Avengers rush to find the thousands of Inhumans spread across the globe. Meanwhile, with Terrigenesis cocoons being destroyed by a mysterious group, others are being stolen by Inhuman rebels, causing further panic and chaos. Medusa and her remaining court attack an AIM facility to retrieve the stolen cocoons and save what remains of their people, offering a dire warning to anyone who tries to meddle in her affairs.

While not quite as strong as its first issue, Inhumanity #2 offers a solid exploration of Medusa’s plight in ruling what’s left of her kingdom. Fraction’s Medusa is dignified and assured as the bereft queen, capable of tiny glimpses of softness and humor despite the losses she’s suffered. His script is well-paced with some great narration and dialogue throughout. Jumping onboard, Bradshaw delivers some pleasing visuals here, especially in the opening pages of Medusa’s dream, and is a strong storyteller overall. His style is so unapologetically 90s that I could almost feel Danger Girl dripping off the page, which is a huge shift from the poise and sobriety of Coipel’s work from the last issue. He still manages to pull it off through the strength of page design and some lovely little flourishes here and there, even if the style ultimately feels a bit out of place.

My other point of contention is Todd Nauck’s pages in the middle of the issue, which serve as another stark break in the graphic cohesion of the book. His pencils fall a bit flat, lacking consistent character detail and any really depth of shading, relying on the colorists Fabela and Mossa to fill much of it in.  The colorists do a solid job throughout, although I feel the issue might have been better served if it all had the same softened, heavily-shadowed look of the opening dream sequence. It was just so lovely and really made those pages stand out, and would complement the tone of the overall story. Even for its visual inconsistencies, Inhumanity #2 is enjoyable and a must-read for fans of Medusa and the Inhumans alike.

Comic Book Review: Avengers #25

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A25It worked for the X-Men! Would we be so crass as to do it again? Introducing the ALL-NEW AVENGERS! And we’ve been good up till now, but this issue, an Avenger dies. Story by Jonathan Hickman, art by Salvador Larroca.

Temporal weirdness abound in Avengers #25, as the team deals with the latest aftermath of Hickman’s timeline-bending and universe-colliding. As SHIELD arrives on the scene of a deadly tachyon disruption, Maria Hill is dismayed to find the body of Hank Pym at the epicenter. Meanwhile, at AIM Island, a team of Beekeepers under the watchful eye of Superia encounter the 1960s-era Avengers in a time-space rift. Comprised of the original roster, it quickly becomes clear that this version of the team is from another timeline, brought to Universe 616 by an incursion between the two Earths. This invariably brings both teams into a collision course, but it’s unclear just how it shakes out. All we know for sure is that the space between universes is growing thinner and thinner, and that one version of Pym dies as a result.

With plot elements being derived directly from New Avengers and Avengers World, the continuity division among all of Hickman’s all but vanishes, and establishes solid through-lines from book to book. While the solicitations promised that this leg of the storyline would follow down the path of Battle of the Atom, Hickman goes a completely different, and far more interesting, route. It sets up a fascinating mystery as Hill tries to put the pieces together as to how Pym died, and teases future complications in the wake of more incursions. Hickman offers just enough to keep the reader guessing, and tying in the AIM storyline from the pages of Avengers World was a smart way to start off. I was unsure of where this book would go in the aftermath of Infinity, but this arc looks promising so far.

After penciling as few pages in the last issue, Larroca takes the artistic reins for #25. He does a solid job of it for much of the book, through strong storytelling and page design. However, as is often the case, his artwork generally suffers from weak figural details and weird or inconsistent facial anatomy. Colorist Frank Martin does a good job of filling in much of the missing detail, but the artwork is overall very hit or miss. Despite some artistic missteps, Avengers #25 is a solid issue that promises to take this book in an interesting new direction.

Comic Book Review: Hawkeye #16

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H16The adventures of Lady Hawkguy out west continue as Kate helps a reclusive and Sixties-damaged pop music genius find his lost masterpiece. Madame Masque, meanwhile, finds HER. By which we mean starts trying to kill her again. Also the cat needs cat food and there’s none to be found. What’s THAT about? Hey not for nothin’ but you guys gotta try these Cronuts! Story by Matt Fraction, art by Annie Wu.

With #15 delayed due to production snags, Hawkeye #16 comes out ahead of schedule with another Kate Bishop adventure. This time, helmed again by Wu’s pencil work, Kate finds herself embroiled in the family struggles of the heavily-medicated 1960s singer-songwriter brothers Will and Grey Bryson. When she finds a distraught Will ambling down the 405, mourning the theft of his song by Grey, burgeoning P.I. Kate agrees to take on the case. What ensues is a detective caper about the underbelly of Los Angeles, a psychedelic trip into the magic and eventual disillusionment of the 60s, and a heartfelt story about the decades of mistrust and estrangement between two brothers.

Full of humor and charm, this issue serves as another enjoyable detour into Kate’s LA mishaps. Here she has the help of her new neighbors and the mysterious grocery store detective in solving her case, rounding out her supporting cast of inviting characters. Fraction’s scripting is solid as ever, with great dialogue and a lovable narrative voice for Kate as she does her best to establish herself as a detective. He crafts a lovely series of pop culture references and musical allusions that clearly read as coming from a place of knowledge and reverence. Fun to read, they never feel forced or out of place, anchored by Kate’s youthful dismissal of 60s music, and add a nice nostalgic touch to the story.

As for the artwork, Wu unfolds the plot with a wealth of strong drug-fueled imagery. She brings a welcomed shade of weird to this adventure, through the use of thoughtful panel composition and page design. As with the previous California-centered issue, her artwork makes for a pleasant tone shift that feels uniquely Kate. Hollingsworth’s clean, cool color choices once again paint Kate’s settings as uniquely sun-bleached, while still maintaining the purple tones we’re accustomed to with this title. Strong as ever, Hawkeye #16 is a solid read.