Writer: Steven Seagle
Artist: Teddy Kristiansen
Hardcover, FC, 136 pages $24.95 US / $37.95 CAN
Despite his status as the most famous comic book hero of
all time, Superman has never been easy for me to relate
to. He's too powerful, too perfect, too
alien. It seems
I'm not alone - even Superman's writers can't seem to come
to terms with him. Such is the premise of It's A Bird, a
new graphic novel memoir from Steven Seagle and DC's Vertigo.
Partly an autobiography and partly a dissection of comics'
most recognizable icon, the story follows Seagle's trials
and tribulations as he struggles to understand the last
son of Krypton, and himself in the process.
"Steve" has just been offered an assignment of
a lifetime - the chance to write for an ongoing Superman
title. Unfortunately, he can't get past the inherent absurdity
of the character, and tries everything in his power to turn
it down. How can he come up with believable stories about
an unbelievable concept? Compounding the problem, the writer's
personal life is in shambles. His father has gone missing,
he's at odds with his girlfriend and, above all, a fatal
genetic disease may be looming on his inherited horizon.
It's not easy to write the adventures of an invulnerable
superhero when your own mortality is made painfully self-evident.
The story unfolds like a one-man play as Seagle takes the
reader on a guided tour of his life. His story is told from
both first- and third-person perspectives; he interacts
with the people and places around him, yet pauses to narrate
directly to his audience. Picture an angst-ridden Ferris
Bueller, and you'll get the idea. We are given an intimate
look into his personal and professional life, his triumphs
and his hardships, his loves and his fears - all with an
underlying balance of sentiment and wit. It's an impressive
piece of work, frequently resonating on an emotional level
when it could have spiraled into an over-dramatic vanity
This isn't to say the book doesn't have its problems. First
and foremost, "Steve's" selfish whining eventually
gets tiresome. For every moment of genuine sympathy he earns,
there's another where you'll want to bitchslap him. The
man has been given an opportunity that others in his field
only dream of, yet he spends most of the book sulking and
treating his loved ones like garbage. It's like watching
a spoiled little boy complain about the color of his new
pony, and it doesn't help that he looks like a pretentious
coffee shop intellectual. For the most part, his character
comes across just as "snide and mean-spirited"
as the modern superheroes he criticizes. Maybe he's aiming
for irony there, but it makes him harder to root for, despite
the horrific obstacles he faces.
The dialogue is also a little stiff at times, creating
manufactured moments that take away from the more sincere
and emotional elements. The relationship with his smart-alecky
girlfriend is particularly annoying, right down to, "Who
are you, and what have you done with my boyfriend?"
If these two are like this in real life, then they deserve
My only other complaint is that this is vaguely familiar
territory. Can you think of a high-concept movie where the
main character has writer's block, and ends up weaving himself
into the story, using the assignment as inspiration? If
you said Adaptation, you win a cookie. If you said Big Trouble
in Little China, go sit in the corner.
Still, the pros outweigh the cons, and we're left with
a touching, frightening, and ultimately hopeful story. Now
let's get down to the good stuff. Outside of the primary
story arc, the book really shines when it focuses on Superman
himself. Within the story, Seagle breaks up his incessant
moping with brilliant 2-3 page mini-comics, each breaking
down a different aspect of The Man of Steel's strengths
and weaknesses. One by one, Seagle exposes the flaws in
the Superman mythos - his origin, his costume, his powers...everything.
These things are poetry - absolutely amazing. Poignant,
heartfelt, and extremely well thought-out, they do an excellent
job of breaking up the story, giving readers something to
look forward to around every turn. More importantly, they
show us how important comic book characters can be, how
they affect our lives and how they symbolize everything
right and wrong within ourselves.
Teddy Kristiansen's artwork provides the ideal aesthetic
for the story. Pencils are simple and abstract, with soft,
washed-out watercolors giving the images depth and detail.
The result sets a melancholy mood, complimentary to Seagle's
brooding, and the result is really quite striking. Some
panels belong on a museum wall, while others simply serve
to move the story along. Furthermore, Kristiansen isn't
afraid to experiment, altering his technique depending on
the setting or mood of the story. But like Seagle, the Superman-themed
"mini-comics" are his crowning achievement here.
Each one is completely distinct in style and tone, and all
are a pleasure to look at. They'll blow your friggin' mind.
The real question is - should you pick this book up? In
my opinion, the unique perspectives on Superman are worth
the cover price alone. Beyond that, once you look past its
flaws, It's A Bird is a touching blend of a writer's past,
present and fiction, one I'll certainly read again. It's
not the most uplifting book on the shelf, but if you're
looking for a break from the standard superhero fare, give
it a try.
Final Grade: A-
Titans: A Kid's Game
Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Mike McKone &
Inkers: Marlo Alquiza & Nelson
Colorist: Jeromy Cox
TP, 192 pages, $9.95 US / $15.25 CAN
It's not easy being a teenager, walking the line between
childhood and responsibility. You've got decisions to make,
expectations to live up to. You start to notice members
of the opposite sex. And, of course, when you're fighting
a super-villain mercenary, sometimes heat lasers shoot out
of your eyes and you're not sure how to control them.
Originally introduced as the younger equivalent of the
Justice League of America, the Teen Titans have been around
in one form or another since the 1960's. Though names and
faces may have changed over the years and re-launches, the
core idea has remained the same. The Titans are the next
generation of super heroes - teenaged sidekicks and protégés
banding together, escaping their mentors' shadows to make
their own place in the world. Though the concept began as
a spin-off, the title has mimicked the adolescent heroes
who comprise its roster, coming into its own as a major
player in DC's line-up.
Recently, writer Geoff Johns assembled a new team of Teen
Titans, and DC has collected the first seven issues of this
top-selling series in Teen Titans: A Kid's Game. Yielding
to pressure from their adult counterparts, Robin, Superboy,
Impulse and Wonder Girl have arrived at Titans Tower in
San Francisco, to continue their training under team veterans
Cyborg, Starfire, Beast Boy and Raven. Through trial and
error, initial resentment transforms gradually into respect,
as each young hero learns what it means to be a Titan.
Johns has written this book perfectly, presenting a tale
of adolescence as told through the eyes of superheroes.
Each page is loaded with teenage frustration, as the Titans
struggle to prove their worth not only to their role models,
but also to themselves and each other. At first, inexperience
and infighting lead to costly mistakes that threaten to
tear the team apart. Eventually, however, the awkward dynamic
gives way to true teamwork, as roles are defined and each
character begins to mature in his or her own way. This book
is a wonderfully believable read; no small feat, considering
how precocious and contrived "superheroes-in-training"
could have been. Johns gives us all the excitement and confusion
of the first day of school, and he writes these characters
as if he sits across from them in algebra class.
Of course, there's plenty of action to keep this trade
paperback from being an after-school special. Perennial
Titans adversary Deathstroke the Terminator (one of the
worst names in comics) turns up to whoop some ass, seeking
vengeance for the death of his son, a former team member.
And he means business, immediately blasting Kid Flash in
the kneecap at point blank range with a shotgun. The Titans
may be kids, but Johns isn't pulling any punches, and some
panels are surprisingly violent. There's also some trouble
from the cult of Brother Blood, and even the parental figures
from the Justice League show up for the familiar hero vs.
hero "misunderstanding" slugfest. There's never
a dull moment, and although this collected volume is more
or less self-contained, there is plenty of foreshadowing
beyond the Titans' origin, hinting at adventures yet to
The artwork is outstanding; as good as it can be without
being flashy or exaggerated. Mike McKone and Tom Grummett
provide pencils, Marlo Alquiza and Nelson are behind inks,
and Jeromy Cox handles colors. I'm not sure how responsibilities
were divided, but the result is outstanding. Every panel
is highly detailed yet incredibly clean, with vivid, intense
colors completing the package. These are perfect comic book
visuals, and my compliments go out to the illustration team.
The trade paperback also includes an introduction by Johns,
as well as sketches and profiles for all major characters,
making it an accessible jumping-on point for readers unfamiliar
with the team's history.
Teen Titans is the kind of series that reminds me why I
read comics in the first place - it's entertaining, exciting,
and most of all, it features well-written characters that
anyone can relate to. Though most of us might not know what
it's like to fly, every one of us knows exactly what it
feels like to be a kid.
Final Grade: A
writer: Chuck Austen
author: Salvador Larroca & Danny Miki
FC, 32pgs w/ ads $3.25 CAN / $2.25 US
It's time to face the music. After a solid 40 issue run,
Grant Morrison's days of writing New X-Men are over. Now,
I don't consider his work a flawless masterpiece, but there's
no denying that Morrison pushed the title in a new direction,
bringing fresh, innovative ideas to one of comics' most
beloved franchises. With a combination of intense character
development, shocking revelations and a complex storyline
woven into his entire run, he did the seemingly impossible:
he made us care about the X-Men again. His work on this
title will be remembered for years to come. He left us a
And now, one issue later, Chuck Austen has come along and
dropped a Cleveland Steamer all over it.
What the fuck was Marvel thinking? Austen has single-handedly
destroyed Uncanny X-Men over the past few years. I've been
following that title since issue #275, and I can safely
say that his are the worst stories I have ever read. Throughout
his excruciating run, Austen has given us a mutant werewolf
society, miracle Angel blood, disintegration communion wafers
and his crème de la crème, a mutant love story
based on Romeo and Juliet. His stories are riddled with
horrible clichés, awful dialogue and asinine plots.
It's been just about unreadable, and he gets worse with
every issue. The book is in critical condition right now,
reviews are piss-poor, and fans are starting to get angry.
So what does Marvel do? It gives Austen the other core X-title,
effectively destroying my faith in the publisher and giving
readers a big "fuck you" in the process.
Is this a cruel joke? Are we being punished? Has the editorial
office stopped reading these books, or do they just not
care? If anyone at Marvel is reading this, please enlighten
me. How can you possibly follow one of the most acclaimed
X-Men writers in years with one of the most reviled?
Austen's inaugural issue is absolutely awful. I realize
Morrison left some sizeable shoes to fill, and even when
I heard Austen would be taking over, I tried to remain optimistic.
I hoped that maybe, just maybe Morrison had left behind
a kind of floor plan, a guide for any writer who had the
unenviable task of continuing where he left off. No such
luck. This is textbook Austen garbage. In fact, if I hadn't
looked at the cover, I'd swear this was just another issue
of Uncanny X-Men.
Let's start at the beginning. One of Morrison's proudest
accomplishments in New X-Men was the evolution of Scott
Summers, a.k.a. Cyclops. By taking Jean Grey out of the
picture and ending a stale relationship, Morrison allowed
Scott's character to grow, finding new love in the arms
of Emma Frost. Cyclops was more interesting than he had
been in years, and in the closing moments of issue #154,
the future seemed ripe with possibility.
So of course, in the first few pages, Austen completely
unravels this subplot, basically disregarding the previous
40 issues and pissing on everything Morrison constructed.
Cyclops immediately gives Emma the cold shoulder - preferring
to mourn the late Jean Grey - and the two go their separate
ways. And adding insult to injury, Beast starts hinting
at Jean's inevitable return, stating that, "after all,
she is the Phoenix". With Austen drunk behind the wheel
of this title, I wouldn't be surprised to see Jean brought
back to life by issue #150.
Emma goes on to run into a mob of angry townspeople laying
siege to a building full of mutants, lashing out against
the havoc Magneto wrought in the Planet X storyline. Humans
attacking mutants because they hate and fear them. Good
one, Chuck. That angle hasn't been used enough times. This
is just lazy, incompetent storytelling at its worst.
Meanwhile, Cyclops and Beast explore the ruins of the Xavier
mansion, where they run into
an evil robot. I'll let
that one sink in for a minute. An evil robot is hanging
out in the X-Men's basement. Don't think about it too hard,
or you'll rupture something. Instead, marvel at the uninspired
fight scene that follows, because it gives us knee-slapping
one-liners such as, "That's going to leave a mark".
At this point, I tried to light this issue on fire, but
I couldn't find any matches.
The X-franchise has always struggled with its revolving
door of writers, which has led to continuity problems, forgotten
loose threads and most importantly, inconsistent quality.
But this reaches new levels of unacceptable and insulting
contrivance. If Marvel has any hopes of salvaging this title's
alienated fan base, they'll yank Austen after this two-issue
storyline and replace him with a retarded monkey. Because
32 pages of smeared feces would be an improvement over this
inexcusable disaster. This is a mockery of everything Grant
Morrison strove to create, and if Austen's track record
is any indication, this is going to be a dreadful year for
Final Grade: F
A Gregory Treasury, Volume 1
writer: Marc Hempel
author: Marc Hempel
BW, 176 pages, $9.95 US / $15.25 CAN
Gregory is an institutionalized little boy, all wrapped
up in a straightjacket and left alone in a concrete cell.
He has a big, oddly shaped head. He speaks only in gibberish,
and he likes to eat bugs. I guess you might describe him
as Calvin & Hobbes in a psychiatric ward. And though
that might sound somewhat disturbing, I can assure you that
Gregory is the most endearing little lunatic you'll ever
Collecting creator Marc Hempel's first two Gregory books,
A Gregory Treasury Vol. 1 is a series of short black and
white adventures showcasing the titular character and his
day-to-day existence in the asylum. Sometimes he looks out
the window. Other times he's paid a visit by the inept hospital
staff. But most of the time, Gregory likes to yell "BIM
BIM BIM" or "ZUB" and run screaming in circles
around the room. I wish I could do that. Beats work.
Gregory is often joined by his two rodent companions, who
visit him through the drain in the floor. Herman Vermin
is a big black rat with a misguided vocabulary and a tendency
toward reincarnation, whose profound insights are matched
only by his self-delusion. Wendell is a little white mouse
who likes cheese. Together, these three unlikely friends
each pass the time in their own way, be it making unintelligible
noises, pondering the nature of reality or
Put simply, this is a sweet, bizarre, and often laugh-out-loud-funny
book. Hempel has created a unique and memorable character,
and his extremely clever series has the rough charm of a
college comic strip. There is a captivating innocence to
Gregory, who is happy as long as he's in his cozy, familiar
cell. Through his eyes, the ordinary is transformed into
wonder, even if it's beyond his comprehension. He's good-natured
and unpredictable - and completely bat-shit insane. Basically,
Gregory kicks ass. Plus, the book's pocket-sized format
and short self-contained stories make it a great little
bathroom book, so you can laugh while you poo.
The book slows down a little in its second half, which
reprints Herman Vermin's Very Own Best-Selling & Critically
Acclaimed Book With Gregory In It. Herman's existential
soul-searching and energetic ramblings are entertaining
in their own right, but they just can't compare to Gregory's
happy oblivion, and he's conspicuously absent in the book's
In a complicated world - one where our standards of entertainment
are swirling down the toilet - A Gregory Treasury is a breath
of fresh spring air. Take a break from over-hyped movies,
reality television and stale mainstream comics. This little
book is a pleasure to read, and it's one that'll make you
smile. As Gregory would say, "Kee kee kee. UH!"
Final Grade: A-
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Lewis Larosa
FC, 32 pages w/ads $2.99 US / $4.25 CAN
Now we're getting somewhere. After three issues of slow
build, Garth Ennis' newly re-launched Punisher has finally
hit its stride. Frank Castle - everyone's favorite gun-toting
criminal-killer - has been captured by the CIA, and an offer
is on the table: Work with the government to hunt down terrorists,
or die. Meanwhile, those quirky psychotic Mafia hit men
are closing in, and they've got major beef. It all comes
together in the final moments, and if the last page is any
indication, we're in for one hell of a bloodbath in issue
Aside from the overdue plot momentum, this title earns
its MAX imprint with this issue. This is some solid Ennis.
We've got unsettling and over the top violence, filthy dialogue,
political commentary - the whole nine. It's nowhere near
the Ennis masterpiece that is Preacher, but it echoes some
of that book's energy. The same goes for Lewis Larosa's
artwork, although his pencils are nowhere as clean as Steve
After this issue, it's safe to say that I'll hang around
for a while. However, I remain skeptical about the future
of this title. There's a reason The Punisher has been re-launched
seven times (not counting War Zone, War Journal, Super Bullet
Explosion Party or any of the other countless spin-offs).
Frank Castle is a one-note character with no personality,
no supporting cast, and no motive beyond revenge. If history
has taught us a lesson, it's that this formula is just not
enough to sustain an ongoing series. I'll stick with it
until the first arc hits its brutal conclusion, but when
that's over, I doubt I'll be the only reader who drops this
book like a newborn baby.
Final Grade: B+