These might be the most important words in comics: "Hey, have you read that?" The medium's lifeblood has always been the word-of-mouth that passes from one reader to another. The only query that might surpass the above is "So, what'd you think?"
Hence, this recurring feature in Kotaku's slice of comics programming, where comics critics, video game makers and folks from all walks of life talk about new and/or meaningful comic-book releases. Here's where we put the discussion into Panel Discussion. Of course, we want to hear from you. Please join us in the comments below.
Douglas: I am behind on everything but I sat down and read the entire run of The Massive this morning.
Graeme: I tried early issues of The Massive, but it didn't gel for me. Mind you, I hated DMZ at first, and then ended up really enjoying it on re-read towards the end.
Douglas: It gels a little more later on, but I'm still not sure I'm anywhere near down with the premise.
Graeme: It's very Brian Wood's idea of "important," if that makes sense?
Douglas: "Giant ocean liner whose mission is 'ecological direct action'"—that doesn't seem like a workable idea, really. So, most of the series is Wood working around that premise rather than demonstrating it.
Graeme: Not so different from early DMZ, I feel.
Douglas: And, really, the real-world problem with preventing slow ecological disaster is that there's not really a way to make it exciting or sexy. Early DMZ was "journalist thrown into Manhattan-as-Baghdad tries to make sense of it," which is clearer. (Did I just use "really" twice + "real" in the same sentence? Shoot me now.)
Graeme: Really now, Douglas.
Douglas: Also Mary from The Massive is very close in a lot of ways to being Zee from DMZ.
Graeme: Wood is a problematic writer for me. When he's on, I love him, but otherwise, I have SO many problems. He does have his "type" of characters Both male and female.
Douglas: He does, and you can tell the difference between the ones he's invested in to the point of imagining how they work & the ones he isn't. Callum Israel is still pretty much a noble glyph to me—I'm not sure there's anything below his surface.
Graeme: That's definitely a Wood issue. He does surface well (ish) but deeper motivation...? Not so much.
Douglas: Still, I got a sense of who most of the major players in DMZ were, on the surface and below, pretty much right away; there's less of that here.
Evan: I was the one who suggested we talk about this series. So, here's what I love about The Massive: it's quiet and kind of raw and it scares the hell out of me. It makes me wonder about what kind of world my kid is going to inherit, even if there aren't any extinction-level ecological disasters.
Graeme: That's interesting that you call it kind of raw. It read as very... over-rehearsed, I guess, to me. It felt like an undercooked, overthought attempt to do a DMZ on a larger scale. Although I jumped off the book very quickly because it wasn't to my taste in single issues. Evan: I caught up in a big chunk and definitely reads better that way. It feels like all the characters are licking individual wounds.
Douglas: One thing I really do like about it is that it's a "the climactic climate disaster has already happened and here's what comes after it" story.
Graeme: I think Wood's books do in general. DMZ was that for me. I only got into it when I had multiple trades to work through.
Douglas: But there are also lots of big uncooked slabs of exposition, and relatively little about what the individual characters are doing or want.
Evan: It is similar to DMZ, yeah.
Graeme: Did DMZ do character better, or am I just biased having not read enough Massive? I seem to remember that DMZ had less "stock Wood character types" for want of a better way to put it. But that could just be because I was more immersed in the world.
Douglas: Also, one thing that DMZ had that this doesn't is a really compelling visual approach. Bombed-out Manhattan never gets old; there's not much to do with "here's a big ship," visually. (And Kristian Donaldson leaving after three issues didn't help.)
Evan: there's commonality between DMZ, Massive and Ultimate Comics X-Men, too. They’re all filled with extraordinary characters trying to fix broken worlds and maintain some sense of moral equilibrium.
Graeme: I might actually go back to see what it's like post-Donaldson. I find him an interesting stylist, but not great at narrative.
Evan: But, as stock as the characters may be, I've liked some of the solo character focused issues, like the ice heist story in #5.
Douglas: I liked that one in principle, but I have to note that Mary's "there is much I have to give to the ocean!" routine bugs me.
Graeme: Evan is winning me over (and remembering how much I liked DMZ, too), I have to admit.
Douglas: I suspect that once The Massive clicks, or gives us a sense of its bigger picture, it'll be very good Wood, but it's still not quite there for me yet. (Also, how odd is it that it's named after something we haven't actually seen on-panel, almost a year in?)
Evan: Yeah, that bit is weird but appealing.
Graeme: I like that, as a concept. That the book is named after the LACK of a presence.
Douglas: Good point! So can Graeme and I rave about Zombo for a minute?
Graeme: Ha! Yes!
Evan: Do it!
Graeme: It is amazingly packed, that first episode, isn't it? And SO funny.
Douglas: "The severed head of a theme-park magnate flying a living planet that hates you. THAT, my friends, is EVIL." And the Kirby-dialogue parody!
Graeme: Every core character feels like they should be the star of their own series, which is the mark of something great. The Kirby dialogue is hilarious, even if you don't get the joke.
Douglas: "—Facing a 'weirdie' of ULTIMATE power—lurking OUTSIDE the scope of 'the known'! But closing FAST—and NOT to be stopped by the 'tinker-toys' of UNKNOWING humanity!"
Graeme: The pop culture awareness of the whole thing is also impressive - It's a series with a core sci-fi hook, but also jokes about James Bond, politics and the Beatles, all in five pages.
Douglas: Also the "Mapother creepiness scale" joke. I looked it up, and Mapother is Tom Cruise's real last name...
Graeme: Ha! That's wonderful. Zombo feels so... natural, if that's the right way to put it. It's organic weirdness and comedy, to me. It doesn't feel forced at all.
Evan: Wow. That is nicely done. And I haven't even read it!
Graeme: And yet, when you stop and think about it, it is PACKED with everything.
Douglas: Like, it's nonstop exposition-unloading, but it also sets up a genuine sense of suspense, and it's absolutely hilarious line-for-line. And Henry Flint just nails it over and over.
Graeme: Yeah, Flint's work on this series is great stuff - Classic 2000AD, but also contemporary.
Douglas: And it starts with the caption "Meanwhile, on Pantherskull Mountain…" WHO EVEN DOES THAT?
Graeme: It's remarkably confident writing. In other people's hands, it wouldn't work. Here, it just... does. Al Ewing is one of those writers who everyone should be paying attention to; I'm looking forward to his Marvel debut in a couple months, even though it's a crossover fill-in.
Douglas: I can see the lineage of Alan Moore's '80s comedy writing in it, but as with everything Al Ewing writes, it's got a really forceful identity of its own. Ooh, what's he doing for Marvel?
Graeme: Ewing is very aware of who's come before, but he's also himself; I think that's why he's such a good parodist (ie, Kirby dialogue, etc.) He's doing the Avengers Assemble issues of Age of Ultron with Butch Guice. The second of which features a new British superhero called "Aggro!" after the 1970s comic genre.
Douglas: Really! Interesting. I'll be reading those for sure.
Graeme: Douglas, you said you'd read the final issue of Ewing's Jennifer Blood. Was that the first issue of his you'd read?
Douglas: Oh, and speaking of comics with lots of Beatles references—Evan, tell us about Nowhere Men!
Graeme: (And Evan, have you read any of Ewing's Jennifer Blood?)
Douglas: (Graeme—I've read an issue of his Jennifer Blood here and there, but am waiting to read the whole thing in a sitting. I definitely read the one he and Kieron Gillen discussed on Gillen's podcast a couple of months ago.)
Graeme: I wholeheartedly recommend the whole of Ewing's Jennifer Blood. Just amazing work, and a great reinvention of the series and way to approach the vigilante comic cliche. The end of it is so, so great. Evan: I haven't read on of that Jennifer Blood
Graeme: Evan - Essentially, he takes Ennis's comedy take on it, and takes it seriously - while ALSO continuing the dark humor, if that makes sense.
Graeme: He asks what would make someone okay with being a murderous vigilante, while also ramping up the black comedy.
Evan: That'd be interesting to see.
Douglas: As I understand, Michael Carroll's taking over next—it's "the American comic that Dredd writers write," apparently!
Graeme: Yeah, after recent Carroll Dredds, I'm looking forward to that.
Douglas: So, Nowhere Men? And/or The Private Eye? Do I hear an Uncanny X-Men?
Graeme: Private Eye: More please. I loved it, perhaps even more than Saga.
Evan: At first, I thought I was getting a Behind the Music treatment for super-scientists in Nowhere Men: four guys change the world but break up and don't speak anymore. Like the Beatles but with science. but it's really turned out to be a re-casting of the Fantastic Four/Hulk origins.
Douglas: I think of all of those, I'm most enthusiastic about The Private Eye, not least because it was _obviously_ made with digital in mind—drawn to be looked at on a pad rather than on a page, in downloadable formats, on a pay-what-you-will basis... I'm not totally sold on the "post-Internet society" premise, but I love the look and feel of it so much I'm happy to just roll with it. (In much the same way, actually, that I liked Saga much more once I realized that it was supposed to be fun rather than vaguely believable—dude with '50s TV set for head, etc.)
Graeme: Evan - I haven't read Nowhere Men - Recasting how? And Douglas, In terms of Private Eye, the art just SINGS digitally, especially the colors. It looks so, so amazing.
Douglas: I really like that Nowhere Men is trying so hard to mess with the standard narrative devices of comics, but I keep getting distracted by its wink-y references to classic rock, and I think the fractured plot isn't doing it a lot of favors so far. I suspect it'll read a lot better as a trade, as much as they're playing with the formal structure of the 32-page pamphlet.
Evan: The origin beats are all stretched out. The Hulk analogue spends two issues dying before getting all super.
Graeme: Wait, do they actually turn into superheroes? I find myself curiously less interested in the book knowing that.
Evan: No, the main four characters don't and that’s one of the better bits
Douglas: What I get from Nowhere Men is a lot of superimposition: scientists as the Beatles as the Fantastic Four. I'm happier to have too many ideas in a comic than too few, though.
Evan: Douglas, the design and callbacks are one of my favorite parts too. The series has a taste and so does The Private Eye. Everything about the visuals is conveying information about the world-building. I thought all the masks would be JUST sly superhero nudges. They are but are more than that. The masks loop back into a frantic desire for privacy.
Graeme: Putting the two books together, do you think there's a revival of the superhero genre as something that can be played with again? As opposed to Marvel and DC just doing "straight" superheroes, I mean.
Douglas: On the Uncanny X-Men front, I just read all of both of Bendis's X-Men series so far over the course of a couple of days, and I like them much more than I thought I would—especially Uncanny. I think they play to Bendis's strengths more than most of his Avengers books did, actually: specifically, he's really good at interpersonal dynamics in cases where everybody has different agendas. (Like Dark Avengers.)
Graeme: I find All-New (I haven't read Uncanny) to be the freshest Bendis has felt in a long, long time. Perhaps it's just that he is playing with new characters, but there's a life there that feels new, or at least unusual.
Douglas: And Uncanny at this point is about a team that's _supposed_ to have the same objective, but where in fact no two characters are working toward the same ends, although they're constantly communicating with each other and trying to sway each other to their respective causes.
Graeme: It helps that the books are visually stunning.
Douglas: He's _great_ at that, it gives purpose to the text-heaviness, and Chris Bachalo makes it gorgeous to look at even when (as in #3) there's a page that's just a full-page profile shot with an extended interior monologue. Just look at the light-and-dark composition on any page of Bachalo's recent comics—it always leads the eye, and it's always attractive on its own.
Evan: I actually think that revival is happening at Image, too, in a way.
Graeme: Bachalo and Bendis is a good team - He tends to find the most interesting visual solution to pages, so having him work with Bendis makes a lot of sense, and keeps things interesting.
Graeme: Evan , yes, with things like Joe Casey's Sex, etc.
Evan: Yeah, exactly that. Danger Club and a few others, too. My two cents on Bendis' mutants: I love how hormonal the original five feel. They're not just rolling with the punches. They are freaked out, which was the best part of the X-Men mythos. But it’s been a long time since, say, Iceman felt like he should be surprised by anything. This might be why I like All-New more than Uncanny right now. I find the occasional glibness in Uncanny really off-putting, though.
Douglas: I like the idea of "superheroes as an ingredient that can be added to make any story more interesting"...
Graeme: Yeah, it's Bendis's Ultimate Spider-Man in a way, which has always been his most appealing book to me.
Douglas: (Well, that way is also partly Stuart Immonen, who's always worked well with Bendis!)
Evan: Recently, I had the realization lately that Jason Aaron is holding the Chris Claremont torch high and proud.
Douglas: He kind of is, isn't he?
Graeme: Aaron's Claremont is very welcome! I want more Claremont in my X-Men.
Evan: Wolverine and the X-Men takes the soap opera stuff, seats it in the surrounding town and has a totally new cast the way those books used to do every so often. But everything you show up for in a Jason Aaron book is still there.