The Comic Book Observatory

[Sunday, January 03, 2010]

Graphic Novel Review: Incognegro


In the mad mix of caps, mad science, power rings, and spandex, I often forget that this medium can be the most powerful vehicle for conveying stories and messages that exists today. Lost amidst the soap opera of teenage angst and testosterone filled battles there are books and graphic novels filled with brilliant stories that lead us to transcend our awareness of our history as a people and a nation and in the process learn about ourselves.

Published just in time for Black History month in February 2008 by Vertigo Comics, Incognegro by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece take us back to the 1930's, which were a shameful time in the history of our country. As the book tells us, between 1889 and 1918 over 2500 Negroes were murdered by lynch mobs, and those are the ones we know of. These killings had become so common place and acceptable that the newspapers no longer considered them to be newsworthy.

Incognegro is a book about Passing, a term that is often used to describe a person of mixed heritage assimilating into a group that is different than what they have been raised in. The context of the for the story deals with a light skinned Negro who is an investigative journalist. According to Mat Johnson the book is about the lead character, Zane Pinchback, a mixed race Negro journalist who looks white. He investigates Lynchings in the South and writes about them in the North under the code name Incognegro. Mat Johnson uses the story of Zane Pinchback going back Incognegro one last time to help solve a crime when his own brother is framed for murder.

Unlike many stories that deal with Passing, Incognegro is not a typical piece that looks to caution readers not to cross race lines or risk a comeuppance of some sort for their risky behavior, instead Zane is a hero who risks his life for his people to help bring to light the horrible crimes that are being committed without much care or concern for laws or decency.

One of the things this book did so well in my opinion was to take an event and era of our past that was easily so filled with hate, tragedy, and shame and instead of telling a story that wallowed in those feelings, Johnson's narrative brings us through the experience with all the disgust, fear, and loss that the characters themselves went through, but we are also given a bright window of hope for an improving society and future.

The story could have found itself mired in a straightforward accounting that just tried to recreate an actual lynching from historical documents, but Johnson weaves his story around well developed characters and gives us heroes to root for and villains to root again, and the murder that Zane Pinchback is trying to solve is filled with more twists and turns than an episode of Law & Order. It is riveting just as a stand alone story, so getting everything else along with it is a phenomenal bonus.

Pleece's art work is brilliant. The black and white panel drawings are not shaded to tell the characters apart by race. Instead readers have to rely on more subtle differences like dress styles and hair styles to determine the race of a character in the book. There are also moments, especially towards the end of the book, where Pleece is able to carry the story along perfectly with just his visuals alone. In many ways it's style of strong simplicity reminded my of the power of Spiegleman's Maus.

I can easily say that this is one of the most important and powerful books I have ever had the privilege of reading, and that's not just going up against graphic novels either, that includes all printed material. It is just a fantastic piece of American Literature and I hope to one day get a chance to meet Mat Johnson myself and have a conversation with him about anything and everything. Or at the very least, use this the next time I am teaching American history. Everyone who is a fan of comics needs to do themselves a favor and pick this up in some way as soon as they can.

[Thursday, August 20, 2009]

Final Chicago Comic Con Report


So this year's Wizard World sponsored comic convention came and went. There's a pretty detailed report from on this week's Zone 4 Podcast over at Comic Related, which will go up sometime tomorrow. I'll through a new link out once it's up.

If you've listened to me rant at all over the last few years, you'll know that I pretty much can't stand Wizard and what I perceive to be their overall hubris towards fans and the industry. To state it in the most simple terms, I still get the feeling that they believe THEY are believe they are bigger than the industry they cover. Maybe you agree with me, maybe you don't, but it's how I feel. So, it probably doesn't take too much for you to guess I'd be cynical as this convention approached. You'd be absolutely correct, I was very cynical, especially after it became obvious that many of the top publishers weren't attending. No Marvel, No DC, No Darkhorse, No Image. I don't even think I saw Devil's Due (based out of Chicago) or IDW either. So for an aspiring creator who likes to meet mainstream creators, this was a huge disappointment to me.

Here's the kicker of the whole thing; despite some aspects that still bothered me about their show, I had a blast at this convention! I was really shocked. Once the initial disappointment wore off about the absent publishers, I was forced to make a choice. I could either bitch and moan through the convention for the entire weekend, or I could make the best of it. What I did was simple and cathartic, I shed my aspiring writing persona and put on my fanboy face.

As I mentioned last post, I dug into the vendors looking for deals, looking at what was there, and just finding gems and treasures I've long admired and wanted to read. In the process, I was able to fill in some of the gaps in runs that I was missing. It made me appreciate the medium and the products for their incredible storytelling capabilities. I looked and felt every bit of my 40 years, but I acted like a young man again, discovering the sheer joy of comic books.

I also picked up 4 of the next 5 trades I needed for Ultimate Spiderman (9, 10, 12, 13) for a total of $15!! At $3.75 each, that was a HUGE steal. Overall, it was a great convention and despite next year's emergence of the C2E2 show in April, if Wizard holds another convention in Chicago, I will be there!

Lastly, what is a convention without taking pictures of guests and geeks!! For some reason I saw more people dressed in DC outfits than Marvel, which I thought was odd. It was cool to see though. Anyways here they are, along with my attempts at witty commentary.

The entrance of the convention center. I think the water fountain is why we get charged a $5 "Convenience Fee" on our tickets.

The view of the floor from the doors. Notice the lack of publisher booths?

Green Lanterns! I can't believe there all girls. If my wife didn't have me wearing my "Gold Lantern Ring" my will power wouldn't have been enough to resist! (Sorry, I know that was lame)

One of my favorite costumes this year! Marvel Mini-Mate Zombies!!

Margot Kidder. In person she doesn't look that much older than Noel Neill anymore.

Lori Petty. I didn't see much activity at her booth all weekend.

Lamest costume of the Convention. Lady Galactus? I guess I know what to do with that old office waste basket and my purple shirt.

Kevin Nash. He looked much older, but still looked like he could kill me with just his hair.

These guys are there every year. They're also out of shape every year. At some point, I am hoping they "get it."

Harley Quinn. This would have worked better if she smiled more.

More Female Green Lanterns! Thankfully my Gold Ring was at full strength!

???? Yeah, it was a Gillete Razor Fusion Booth. I saw people shaving there on the convention floor. This is sooo stupid. I would have rather seen an "Axe" booth, there's much more need for one.

Buck Rodgers Gil Gerard.


I think this is actually one of my old Prom pictures. You can decide which one is me.

Emma Caulfield from Buffy. She seemed very nice. I wish I was nicer to her.

Edward James Olamos. I don't care how much BSG the man does, I still see him wearing a paper hat and teaching math!

A Zombie. Not sure what he was hawking, but he acted stupid and I laughed.

Duffman!! The simplicity of the costume is awesome!!

Dr. Strange and Scarlet Witch.

I Don't Know, I Don't Care. It was Weird.

I haven't a clue, but it set off alerts from my Gold Lantern Ring, so I figured I should document it.

Donna D'Errico from Baywatch. She looked much nicer and non-plastic than I expected.

Demolition Ax & Smash!!

An Absolutely Gorgeous Black Canary that makes me feel old and creepy when I look at her!

The Black Bastard. That's really his name, I have his comic. It's about as funny for as long as this sentence.

Further Proof that Ben Reilly is lame.

A Jumping Banana. Why not? Throw in a badly kept beard and I'll take your picture dude!

An older Justice League. It's funny that Robin is taller than Hal Jordan.

[Saturday, August 08, 2009]

Wizard Word Comic Con Day 2


You"ll have to excuse my lack of coverage from the first day. Due to family obligations and some very uncooperative weather and traffic, I cut my losses and stayed home!!

Day two offered me a ton of photo's and with the obvious absence of the biggest publishers in comics (Marvel, DC, Darkhorse, IDW) there was a very different feel in the air. For the first time in four years I found myself not chasing panels and stars, but I was chasing down issues to complete some series and runs that have needed it. I think I got some fantastic deals too. Here's what today netted me:

The Demon #2 1980's Matt Wagner Mini x2---- .50
The Demon Driven Out #4,5,6 -----.25 a piece
The Micronaughts #1,2,3,4 ----- .50 a piece
Kamandi Last Boy On Earth 29,30,31,33,34,35,36,37,38,39,40---- .50 a piece
The Demon (Kirby) #2---- $1.5
Moon Knight (!st series) #1,3,4----$1 a piece
Tor #5 (Current Series)----- .50
Astounding Wolfman #2 ----- .25
DMZ 11,12,13------ .25 a piece
ION #2----- .50

I'm pretty happy that I got started on some series and got closer to closing a few out for an awesome overall price. Tomorrow should be much better when the haggling really begins in earnest. Hopefully I'll get around to posting pictures later tonight or tomorrow.


[Friday, July 03, 2009]

This Week's Picks


Green Lantern Corps #38 We're just two weeks away and this Prelude to Blackest Night is getting me over excited! There are not going to be any spoilers, but it looks like the little Blue Guardians may actually be trying to piss off everyone in the galaxy!

First their secrets were slowly exposed; They knew the other colors existed, The made deals with monsters (Orange Lantern Lafreeze), Sent Lafreeze to attack the Blue Lantern Planet to eliminate the Blues, and now they're executing prisoners of war without a trial! Kyle Raynor and Guy Gardner have openly questioned them and are primed to rebel and take on new colored rings as the Guardians try to scramble just before they are betrayed by one of their own, the Guardian who has named herself Scar!

I had such a great time reading this issue that after I stopped and thought about it, I read it a second time before I read anything else. I enjoyed it THAT MUCH!!

If you're not already picking this up and you are even mildly interested in the whole Blackest Night event, this is a good point to jump on. You won't know everything (how can you on ANY book from the big two publishers that isn't a #1) but you'll be able to follow along and have a great time.

As good as GLC #38 was, Jonah Hex#45 almost stole the spotlight away from them. In a very rare multi-issue story arc (six issues) the second chapter of 6 Gun War brings the Supernatural into the Wild West as El Diablo sets Jonah Hex on course to Mexico to free his friends Bat Lash and Tallulah Black from a Mexican crime lord. Along the way he picks up an armed escort of Commanche Indians looking for revenge against this same guy. In addition, Jonah gets a chance to have a go against the man who started Jonah on the path of death!

This is some seriously good fun. The writing is top notch and the characters are well developed and play off of each other very well, even the Wild West versions of the Red Shirt Starfleet Member. Pick this up. You can probably find #44 still available in most shops (or backordered from Diamond) so treat yourself to something different and experience what the West can be like in sequential art!

Those two easily stood out from the pack this week. You'll also notice that I had absolutely ZERO books from the House of Ideas. That's because I decided to pick of Captain America: Reborn in trade format instead of the floppies. It was a hard decision for me, especially since Cap is one of my regular pulls each month, but I don't trust this to come out in a timely fashion. So for now I'm going to stick with Bucky and if I feel compelled to back up and get this, I have little doubt that this will be overprinted enough to be waiting for me even in a few months time.

As for the rest of what I got this week? Here they are in order with just a few brief words about each:

The Astounding Wolf-man #1
7-- A very solid book that wrapped up some loose ends before going forward.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 8 #26
-- I was on the verge of dropping this title, but this issue has convinced me to stick around for a bit longer.

Irredeemable #4
-- This was the weakest issue of this series so far. It was still cool and dark, but the ending was less impressive than the previous 3 have been.

Secret Six #11-- This is Gail Simone at her best! She's put some permanent stamps on what were throw-away characters just a few years before. Despite being villains, I think this might be the best team book out there right now!

Batman & Robin #2
-- Morrison's pacing is off and so is this issue. Plus, I REALLY hate Robin. Where's the crowbar and purple suit when you need it?

Justice League: Cry For Justice #1
-- Beautifully painted, but unless you're a hardcore JLA fan, save your time and money and get the trade from your library next year. Nothing important will happen. I wish I could stop myself from buying it. Can anyone help me?

[Sunday, May 10, 2009]

Ear Candy In Stereo


Before we get started I want to pass along my condolences to Chuck Moore over at Comic Related after the loss of his father. Chuck is a stand up guy and I hope anyone that reads this takes a moment and sends good thoughts and prayers to the Moore family.

We're only halfway through the weekend and I have not one, but two podcasts available for your listening pleasure. Click on the links below to listen to each one over at Comic Related.

Zone 4 Episode #7

Zone 4 is the weekly podcast by myself, Jason Berek-Lewis, Cary Kelley, and Brant Fowler. Each week the four of us get together and talk about the latest comic news and events and occassionally try to examine a topic in depth (if we don't go off on a tangent).

Along with the current episode you can download any episode you missed by visiting the link to the right or doing an advanced search on iTunes by entering the link from the libsyn page.

Zone 4 Reviews, Issue #000
At the end of this month both Brant and I will be doing a second weekly show under the Zone 4 banner humbly called Zone 4 Reviews! Each week Brant and I will be offering reviews of what we have currently bought or read. Each episode will be called an "Issue" to help distinguish it from the regular Zone 4 podcast. Issue #000 is a practive run Brant and I did as we are developing what we want the show to be and how we want it to sound.

So visit the link above, give it a listen, and if you have any suggestions or feedback, write it down and send to us. Criticism is welcomed, candy and pizza is hoped for! But seriously, we want this to be fun and worth your time, so tell us what you want to hear.

Lastly, I also want to once again thank Chuck Moore and Comic Related for hosting us and giving us a chance to have fun and share our enjoyment with you.
I'm really only half of the way through the weekend and I have two podcasts that went live this weekend. The first one is the weekly installment of Zone 4, the general comic book podcast I do with Jason Berek-Lewis, Cary Kelley, and Brant Fowler. You can always get the latest episode of Zone 4 by visiting the link to the right which takes you to our libsyn page. Not only does it have the very latest episode available, it's also the place to catch up on any back episodes you may have missed by checking the archives. Don't want to miss an episode? Then sign up for our RSS feed through the libsyn page located in yellow at the very top of the page.

It's been a productive weekend for me and my friends Jason, Cary, and Brant.

[Friday, May 08, 2009]

Journey To Another Genre


Last weekend was a pretty busy weekend for me. In addition to taking my 2 year old triplets to my local comic book store for the first time, The Windy City Pulp & Paperback Convention was held in the Chicago area over the entire weekend. It was looking to be a great weekend for me because I don't get that many opportunities to participate in fun stuff like this as much as I used to, but I had a few curveballs thrown my way and they caused me to some last minute scrambling just to get a little bit of everything in.

The triplets did real well going to get their comics; no messes, no meltdowns, and best of all, nothing was broken or tossed about! It was definitely the highlight of the weekend for me. The were so excited that they wanted to read their comic books in the car on the way home. Once home, they spent a good hour doing nothing but "reading" the books and pointing out words, characters, and objects they knew and could identify. It was comic book dad heaven!

Unfortunately my wife got sick and I wasn't able to attend the Windy City Pulp Convention afterwards, so I had to wait and catch it on the last day. Since my wife didn't feel good, I decided to go later on Sunday so she could sleep in and rest up. When I finally got to the show, all but a small handful of vendors and exhibitors (maybe 5 or 6) had packed up and left a few hours before I arrived. It was incredibly sad because I am just now getting into the Pulps and I was looking forward to learning a lot and getting a good feel for what was out there.

That being said, I still had a great time in the 90 or so minutes I was able to spend there. I met a couple of friendly and helpful vendors who were very willing to answer my questions, make suggestions, and to just help me get a better understanding of Pulps in general. It was more than I would have hoped for even if the place was packed.

Despite only a handful of vendors still selling despite being in various stages of packing, I soon discovered that this is a hobby I will never be able to seriously be involved in because the average price for the books were about $80-$85 dollars, with many going for $200 or more. Ouch! That is such a shame too, because I was told that there are fantastic stories out there that you can't get any other way than to buy the actual Pulp it appeared in. Luckily the first guy I was able to talk to at length was a man by the name of John Gunneson who publishes and sells reprints of Pulps that are a fraction of the price of what they currently are. With it being late, I was also able to get some older reprints (old being from the 1950's) and other books that were in less than stellar condition for bottom level prices. In all I bought 4 books and spent about $31. I was able to get the following:

  • Roscoes In The Night: A Bookful of Dan Turner Stories by Robert Leslie Bellem for $14
  • Other Worlds Science Stories, June 1952 for $2.oo
  • Weird Tales, Vol 47-#4, Summer 1974 for $5.00
  • Amazing Stories, March 1945 for $10
The books contain a wide range of Pulp stories from Crime stories, Science Fiction, The Occult, and The Supernatural. The only author I knew prior to this that appears in any of the books is H. P. Lovecraft. I will most likely read his story first and then settle in to Roscoes In The Night, which is the reprint book I bought.

The heroes and characters that appeared in these stories, especially those from the early 1930's, have either influenced creators and heroes of the Superhero Genre in comic books, but many of them crossed directly over into comics. Heroes like The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Phantom, and Conan the Barbarian were already established characters in the Pulps long before they found their way into the 4 color world of comics.

Even though things didn't go the way I'd have liked them to last weekend, I still had a good time and I'm looking forward to slowly devouring all these stories so I can savor the fun. From time to time I hope to talk about them here and share what I learn.

Speaking of sharing, look for at least a small hand full of reviews starting tomorrow.

[Friday, April 24, 2009]

Late Reviews & Updates


First onto the updates, which have some pretty big Zone 4 news. Tonight I will be recording the latest installment of the Zone 4 podcast with Brant, Cary, and Jason. This should be the beginnings of our new format that will premier next weekend. Zone 4 will be splitting into it's own feed on the Comic Related site and will be available for downloading via iTunes shortly as well.

In addition to that big news, Zone 4 is growing and we will be adding a second weekly podcast under the Zone 4 moniker. This new podcast will be starting in a few weeks and will feature Brant Fowler and myself reviewing all the books we've read over the course of the previous week. Brant and I will be the regular contributors, but we plan on having guests join us to get fresh perspectives and reviews of books we might not be reading ourselves.

What's special about this podcast for me is that I will be doing the editing! That alone should make things entertaining, if not sadly amusing since I've never even attempted this before. I'm looking forward to the experience and hopefully we can keep everyone entertained!

As I get some time this weekend and things get more settled with the podcasts, I'll be updating this blog with accurate links to make following and finding us as easy as I know how.

As for reviews, I'm extremely late in getting these out, so they will be mostly small and probably a bit superficial. So let me get right into things with a little Vertigo:

Fables #83

This is the start of the humbly titled "The Great Fables Crossover" between the two Fables titles. I can't say that there was much that happened in the way of beginning this crossover. It more or less felt to me like the early part of The Blues Brothers when Jake and Elwood were busy "putting the band back together."

What we do get in this foundation builder of a first issue is solid Willingham story and some great pencils by Buckingham. Bigby and Beast start to get on each other's nerves at the farm and finally come to blows! It's a pretty good fight, even though you know they will calm down in the end. Jack calls the farm and warns Snow White about the what Kevin Thorne is going to do, getting the Fabletown trust scratching their heads trying to understand everything. Meanwhile the man in Black who destroyed Fabletown is starting to affect the real world as he swells the numbers of his horde in an attempt to quickly complete his castle. It's a good story, especially for regular readers, and I recommend you pick it up. For new readers, I think it's an excellent jumping on point.

Captain America #49

The book focuses on Steve Roger's formerly mind controlled assassin Sharon Carter. It's a subtle character driven story showcasing how she is dealing with the fallout of her actions as she has secluded herself from most everyone trying to ride out the nightmares of what she's done. Along the way we learn that she's been teaming with the Falcon (can you think of a character that is in more need of a costume upgrade than Falcon? ) searching for someone who is going around and impersonating Steve Rogers.

I'm enjoying this book more than I thought I would and I think it's due to the fact that Brubaker is weaving an interesting mystery through some great action arcs and character expositions like this issue. My ignorance over Cap's history is a bit difficult at times, but the story is good enough to keep reading, and the Internet supplies me with many answers!

Oracle: The Cure #2 of 3

This is one of the many miniseries and one shots under the Battle for the Cowl banner that DC has going right now. This issue continues Oracle's hunt for the person searching the Internet for enough remaining remnants of the Anti-Life equation to be able to put them together. This time it takes her to Hong Kong were nothing out of the ordinary happens. By that I mean everyone assumes she is helpless as a cripple and that she must be Oracle's assistant because she's a women. Oh yeah, and she is STILL battling the Calculator.

To be honest this series has underwhelmed me. With only one more issue to go, I don't know how they're going to satisfy me. They continue to throw the same crap at us with Babs on her own, fighting to prove she's more than a quadriplegic and that the Calculator is her tech equal/rival. It's all fine, but it is presented the same over and over again and I am tired of it. I predict that two things will happen in the final issue next month, Enough (or all) of the Anti-Life equation will be put together and it will allow for healing. Calculator's daughter (who is in a coma) will probably be saved and I'm guess that we see the return of Barbara Gordon Batgirl as well. If you're not into the whole Battle for the Cowl storyline, there's no reason to spend your money on this mediocre story that should be summed up, by the end, in three sentences in a regular Batman book.

Action Comics #876

This was a great book, but if you aren't following the New Krypton storyline or if you don't have a strong sense of the Superman mythos, stay away from this book because it will confuse you. I enjoyed the story and the good art. General Zodd sends Ursa to Earth to to kill Nightwing & Flambird. What follows is a really good fight showing just how deadly Ursa is. She's gotten Flamebird beaten to the point of death and then starts in on her son, Nightwing. Unfortunately for her Nightwing (for reasons I am not fully sure of yet) is not a full Kryptonian and isn't as affected by the kryptonite dagger Ursa's been using to slice up Flamebird. Just yielding it affects her and has decreased her powers, but it doesn't have the same effect on Nightwing. He ends up slapping her around, rescuing Flamebird, and burying Ursa under a part of the Fortress of Solitude that he collapses. I don't know why, but he brings Flamebird to Lois for help and calls her "Mom."

It's solid fun stuff that's pulling me deeper into the Superman titles, which is what I want when I read a book. The cliffhanger ending, since I don't know all the history, really has me wanting that next issue now!

Green Lantern Corps #35

As we get closer to Blackest Night Johns & Tomasi are throwing quite a bit at us. This issue has the Science Cells attacked and ravaged by a Red Lantern who not only frees many Sinestro prisoners, but releases the rings so they can find new users, Sodam Yat and Arisia head to his home planet of Daxam to liberate them from the Sinestro Corps, only to find his father preaching and leading them to kill themselves as a way to thwart their captures, pissing off Sodam and making him read them the riot act and tell them they WILL fight! Meanwhile of Korugar Soranik and Yolande are trying to quell an angry uprising of Korugar City who feel cheated out of executing the escaped Sinestro, only to see that Sinestro has taken out Yolande so that he can have a "word" with his daughter Soranik!

There's just so much good stuff here that for me both Lantern books are at the very top of my reading list each month. I can't recommend this to people enough.