Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Three quite interesting new efforts from today’s house of ideas.

I’m a huge fan of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips’ oeuvre; they consistently turn out high quality stories and art, material that engages the read on multiple levels, and comics that do not give the reader and easy way out. They tend to sneer at happy endings, and why not? Why not challenge the reader? Why not lead the story to a natural conclusion, rather than a forced one?

These guys are brilliant at that.


With that, I have to admit that their previous book, THE FADE OUT, was not one of my favorites. That’s likely unfair on my part, but when compared the one before that – the astounding occult noir FATALE – it didn’t have the same energy. That leads us to KILL OR BE KILLED #1-2, a welcome return to occult noir storytelling, and a book that will set your nerve ending alight in the first few panels and has not stopped across the span of two outstanding issues to date.

The setup is clean and simple: Dylan is kind of a fuckup, and he’s approaching 30 with no signs of his being a fuckup going away. He’s in love with the wrong woman, his prospects are dim, and he pretty much has nothing going for him. So he decides to end it, jumping off the roof of a building.

He does not die (this is not a spoiler).

Instead, clothes lines and utility lines break his fall and he survives. Or so he thinks, until he is visited by a demon who tells him that he allowed him to survive, and in order to continue doing so, he owes a life a month in exchange. Dylan must become a cold-blooded killer in order to have a chance to live on and maybe – maybe – not become a total piece of shit.

Quite the conundrum, wouldn’t you say?

Phenomenal characterization, tasty dialogue, gorgeous art, fantastic story… KILL OR BE KILLED is, after two issues, looking like it could be the best Brubaker/Phillips collaboration ever, which is no mean feat. There isn’t a false note to be heard here, just page after page of amazing comics work, the kind that wanders off with a ton of awards. Certainly, if it maintains this level of quality, it will likely wind up at the top of my best-of list for 2016. Can’t recommend it highly enough.

Shifting gears, let’s take a look at another highly anticipated book that recently hit stands. Bryan Lee O’Malley is certainly a name that brings to mind A-list work. The SCOTT PILGRIM books vaulted him to the top of the comics stratosphere, and while the follow-up SECONDS didn’t sell as many copies, it was actually a stronger work that demonstrated just how talented the man truly is. Now he has arrived at Image to offer up his first foray into monthly comics, SNOTGIRL #1-2. What makes this branching out even more intriguing is that he is only writing the book; artist Leslie Hung is handling putting the pictures to paper, and seeing how their collaboration plays out is part of what makes the book so interesting to read.

snotgirl 1

Snotgirl is Lottie Person, a fashion blogger with a sharp sense of style and allergies that consistently make her miserable (I can relate to at least one of those things, and it isn’t the clothing). She’s young, attractive, kinda shallow, on a break from her boyfriend, and quite possibly… a murderer.

Not your standard comics setup, for sure.

O’Malley surrounds her with a fabulous cast of characters, each one with their own quirks and personalities, and he’s wonderful at putting them together on the page and seeing where those personalities take them. Aided and abetted by Hung’s incredibly energetic neo-manga artwork, the pages crackle with life and movement. It’s really quite something.

If you had told me of this premise and not told me of O’Malley’s involvement, I would have likely avoided this book like the plague. It doesn’t normally fall inside my interest range. But that’s what talent can do: overcome wariness and create interest out of nothingness. I’ll keep reading SNOTGIRL for the long term, I think, and that should tell you all you really need to know.

In the “best new concept” category, my vote goes to HORIZON #1-2, which spins alien invasion stories on their heads in an outstanding way. The setup: in the near future, Earth has truly hit a point where its resources are shot to hell, so a plan to leave and take over another planet is hatched. That planet, Valius, is not happy about that idea. At all. So a scout force of saboteurs is sent to Earth to make sure humanity’s plans for invasion never get off the ground.


Told from the POV of the Valius scouts, HORIZON is an excellent piece of science fiction, an alien invasion story that asks you to root for the aliens. And the way that writer Brandon Thomas structures the tale, you don’t mind that at all. Thomas does an outstanding job of making the Valius crew interesting, complex, and heroic. He’s obviously put a great deal of thought into world-building, and it shows. Seeing Valius, and seeing what is will do to avoid invasion goes a long way into developing a rooting interest in the alien crew.

Thomas is partnered with artist Juan Cedeon here, and Cedeon’s work is terrific. His characters are grounded and realistic, his backgrounds and design work are lovely, and his action work is compelling. I liked the look of HORIZON all the way around.

Sometimes it can be easy for a book like this one to get lost in the mad jumble of Marvel and DC flooding the market, so I’m feeling a bit evangelical about it. HORIZON deserves all the eyeballs it can get. Pick up these first two issues, then pass them on to someone else so that they start picking it up. Let’s reward original thinking and good, solid comics.

CHEW 56-57

CHEW #56-57
Written by John Layman, Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Kulla

After a brief hiatus us food fanatics find ourselves once more emerged in the wild and crazy lifestyle of everyone’s favorite cibopath, but this time the roller coaster ride is nearly at an end. Knowing that all great things must come to an end and experiencing said end are two vastly different monsters, because when something is still so good you believe it will always be so. However, I keep reminding myself that nearly all of my top comic picks have been finite series because they told a wonderful, complex and intriguing story and left it at that, just like they had always intended. With that in mind I have to say I am just buzzing with excitement to find out how CHEW wraps things up.


When we last saw our beleaguered Tony Chu he’d discovered Mason Savoy’s body and his ever-so-subtle ‘Eat Me’ suicide note. After a few nibbles Chu swiftly discovered Mason’s last revenge: he had consumed beets, the cibopath’s kryptonite, with his last meal, making extracting Savoy’s font of knowledge rather challenging…and chatty.

First of all, seeing Colby’s reaction to Savoy’s last little ‘fuck you’ to Chu was priceless. Getting to read more of Savoy’s lengthy diatribes was an added bonus. Slowly but surely Savoy peels back the intricate layers of the series-long mysteries behind the avian flu, the core conspirators and the alien sky writing. By the end of issue #57 we learn both from food-ghost Savoy and Paneer, the head of NASA and Toni Chu’s mourning fiancé, what exactly caused the so-called avian flu, who was behind it and why, and the intense time crunch our heroes now labor under. Worse yet, Chu is apparently left with an impossible and terrible choice if he is to succeed in his mission.

After all of the ups and downs this series has provided, I honestly don’t know what I’ll do if it plays out the way this latest issue is indicating it will. I have faith the creative genius team of Layman and Guillory still have a few unpredictable fastballs heading our way regarding the conclusion, but meanwhile I’m stocking up on tissue and preparing for some self-sacrificing, heart-wrenching CHEWy goodness.

Thankfully they provide some of the best digs known to man to keep things light even when they’re bleak, and these latest nuggets were gems. I enjoyed the ‘Castaway’ nod with the ‘Tom Hanks was here!’ writing on a cave wall just above a red handprint with a face, but my absolutely favorite, possibly of the whole series, was a billboard proclaiming: ‘FDA: We’ll put a wall around chicken.’ Well fucking played, gentlemen, well played indeed. Regardless of how things turn out for the Chu clan, these last three issues are going to be unforgettable.


Rogue Element #133: Changes

By Avril Kulla

Change is a controversial topic to say the least. Change can be good, bad, meh and everything in between and outside the spectrum. Hell, change IS the spectrum; it is whatever it wants to be, takes whatever form, breaks through previously impenetrable barriers. Change should never be taken lightly, except for when it should. Change is complicated, simplistic, fun and terrifying to behold. Change is one of the most powerful forces in the universe, right up there with love, because anyone and everyone can wield it. We all certainly experience it, but we can choose how much we actively practice it.

Personally, I’m scared shitless of change, a character flaw I can more easily acknowledge than overcome. “I know what I like, and I like what I know,” a television character once said. Of course she was discussing Mac versus PC whereas I apply those words to almost everything in my life. The unknown is pants-wettingly terrifying, and what’s so wrong with the way things are now? Is change strictly necessary when life is maintaining a decent status quo? What is so special about change?

Everything, and nothing. Change is needed just as often as it is not, and it is welcomed as often it is shunned. However, it has to happen for there to be forward motion. I’ve been discussing forward motion a lot lately; my husband is a big fan of it. As much as I kick, scream, dig my heels in and clutch onto the hallway bannister lest I be pulled into the fiery pits of lava (sorry about that Dad, but it was totally Chels’ fault as well) I have come to accept, embrace and soon practice the idea of forward motion.

Marvel Comics has been floundering a bit lately. Whereas their movies and television shows have reached new heights (suck it, DC), many of the books I read have reached new lows. While I continue to collect my books I wasn’t reading them as often and recently found myself with a large stack of comics awaiting my perusal. When I finally sat down with my various titles surrounding me like a witches’ circle of pretty colors and ‘Pows!’ I felt that familiar tingle: the excitement thrumming in my veins as I prepared to ride along another impassioned adventure in a world of mutant powers, flying heroes and lovable guardians who are saving lives all up and down this galaxy. I was pumped and couldn’t wait to read what happened next.

I cannot say I was disappointed (I’m as horrified of that word, or more accurately provoking that word from my loved ones, as I am of change) because I did still enjoy a majority of my books, but I was slightly disillusioned. My X-Men are not consistently my favorite characters to read at this time, which is discombobulating to say the least. X-Men are the reason I started reading comics in the first place. For years they were all I read, through thick and thin, good stories/art and bad stories/art. It took me years to branch out, because why would I? The X-Men are the best superheroes in the world; the team and their powers are so varied there’s always something new and exciting to read about. Over fifty years old and there are still fresh stories to be told, even with the original team. Sure, three of them are dead (for the moment; as they say in the X-Men, that trick never works) and the other three have gone through more looks and personality changes than Cher and Madonna’s love child, but hey, that’s comics for you.
Point is, I’ve been in a relationship with the X-Men for over twenty years and I’ve seen and put up with a lot of shit, but I’ve kept reading because there are always new writers and artists who can take the characters and stories in unique directions. When they’re on I savor it, when they’re off I ride it out until the next creative team takes the wheel. I’ve always read the X-Men because captivating or crappy, they’ve always been there to read.

Soon, however, they may not.

I recently glanced at an article on a comic website which had a tally of the titles Marvel will be releasing come the fall after yet another revamp of sorts, and there were no specific X-Men titles. Now it did state that this was likely not a complete list, and there are still X-Men out and about (Rogue and Cable are on the Uncanny Avengers team, which will continue in October), but there remains the possibility that the X-Men, as a team and a book, are no more. This change is…challenging for me to accept.

Nothing is finalized yet, but I’m an ‘assume the glass is half empty so if it’s not I’ll be happy and if it is I’ll at least not be surprised’ kind of gal, so I am trying to mentally prepare myself. The truth is lately if I decide to reread a story it’s typically not a recent X-Men title. I’ll read ‘Transmetropolitan’ until I break the spines, I have enough ‘Harry Potter’ in my head to kick ass at trivia (go team Pet My Niffler!) and I may have read ‘Fray’ almost as much as I watched ‘Buffy,’ but there are few recent X-Men story arcs I have a craving to revisit. Older ones, such as Joss Whedon’s run, House of M, the classic ‘90s issues and the first couple years of Gambit’s solo title, I’ll reread the crap outta those comics, so maybe that’s telling. I’ll always have my favorites to dip back into; nothing can take away how those adventures and relationships can still make me feel. Therefore it may not be the worst thing in the world if Marvel moved on from the X-Men for a spell, and in that forward motion they may find each other once more down the road, and build something new.

The X-Men not only introduced me to the marvelous macrocosm of the mutant universe, they introduced me to comics, an entertainment medium I continue to adore. Though it took me a bit of time I did start to explore other aspects of the comic world besides the X-Men one to which I was born, and while I still dig me some superheroes some of my favorite books now are of the non-powered variety.

Forward motion. I’m preparing to commit to the biggest change I’ve ever, and likely will ever, experience, so talking comics may seem a little trivial in comparison, and yet it has its importance as well. I’m not there yet (calm down, everyone) but if all goes to plan someday soon I may be someone’s mother, teaching them about change and love and comics. Nothing lasts forever even though comics can make it feel that way sometimes (Captain America was first printed 75 years ago and that sucker is still going strong), but there’s also no better place to learn about the joy and pains of change then between those glossy pages where anything can, has and will happen. So for now I look for merriment in my forward motion and say with my glass and head held high, cheers to change.


Rogue Element 132: Let’s Get Together: Captain America: Civil War vs. X-Men: Apocalypse
By Avril Brown

A well-made, entertaining and successful superhero ensemble film is a tricky beast to tame. As with any movie, the story matters. As George Lucas once infamously said (and later ignored, much to ‘Star Wars’ fans’ dismay): “A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.” In this digital day and age, a superhero film is rarely boring judging by special effects alone, but whether it soars or sinks is very dependent on the quality of the story being told.

Part of what makes an ensemble story not suck is the amount and quality of due diligence given to the major players. What is the point of inviting so many people to the party if we are denied an opportunity to see their tricks? A display of power is not the only thing we want to see from the front runners; we need a reason to care about them, so we need an adequate amount of background intel in order to giving a flying fig.

Balance is key, and finding it is like finding Waldo in the middle of a Where’s Waldo cosplay convention. A proper accord must be struck between telling a compelling story, presenting the major characters and providing several extensive fights scenes (these are, after all, comic book movies).

That being said, let’s explore what worked and what didn’t in this years’ biggest ensemble films.

Civil War

The third installment in the Captain America franchise started with a bang; almost too much so, I felt upon initial viewing. Both action and story clipped along at such a rapid pace I found myself wishing they would actually take a beat and let us absorb everything before moving onto the next phase. However, this was actually a slow-burn type of film where by the end of it you can fully appreciate the sheer genius of the understated villain story, and the well-executed hero one.

An important element to remember is this is a Captain America movie, so his ideals, actions and allies are the true core of the story, but Captain America has become an Avenger, and therefore the villain is not after the Cap specifically, but all Avengers. Hence the ensemble. Here is a man driven to vengeance by his losses, and what he seeks is not death but devastation, and in some ways, he wins. Kind of hard to swallow for a superhero movie, yet it works.

Civil War succeeds spectacularly at achieving the main bullet points for a winning team movie. The main characters and their relationships are decently explored (there are some rather adorable scenes between Cap’s besties, Bucky and Sam), the story was well laid out (the twist ending was a gut-wrenching surprise) and there were some kick ass fight scenes, each unique in their own special ways. Plus, the biggest and baddest of the battles was in the middle of the movie rather at the end, but you didn’t feel the movie was lacking because of that particular change up.

That’s not to say the movie didn’t have flaws. You definitely had to have seen ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ to understand pretty much every important aspect of this movie, though they did a fair job of trying to catch up new viewers without being redundant. Bucky was a central catalyst to the whole story and yet he had a very muted and lackluster conclusion. The incident which was the final straw for those seeking to control the Avengers, an explosion inadvertently caused by the Scarlet Witch which killed a dozen Wakandan peacekeepers, would have killed possibly hundreds more if she’d let it explode where it was: in the middle of a busy market, and yet no one is pointing out that fact.

I may be getting a little nitpicky on that last one, particularly since I can say with absolutely no reservations that I loved Civil War and consider it almost on par with ‘The Avengers.’ I also just like to acknowledge that nothing’s perfect. Speaking of…


Any X-Men fan will tell you that Apocalypse is one of the most formidable of their foes; definitely an extinction-level, multi-chapter, spawning an alternative universe kind of bad guy, so one would expect a lot of large displays of badassery. On that score, ‘Apocalypse’ did not disappoint.

The introduction, though a little drawn out, did its job of establishing En Sabah Nur (aka Apocalypse) as a seriously intense fellow, at least judging by his four horsemen. These trusted disciples are as fierce as their powers, and while we don’t see much of En Sabah Nur’s particular skill set, you’re made to assume he’s packing given what his people are capable of.

Given the early reviews I was expecting a distinct lack of power display, but thankfully this was not the case. We get to see quite the array of amazing mutant abilities in addition to some key background character history. In the comics Apocalypse brainwashes his horsemen in addition to giving them a serious power boost, but in the film they join him of their own volition, so establishing some emotional vulnerability is vital to understanding why they chose this path. The only one who was denied this treatment was Psylocke, and yet she seemed the most committed to the cause. Hm.

Again, with a name like ‘Apocalypse’ you’re to expect quite the emphatic exhibition and they deliver, but most of these are from everyone else besides the big man. Yes, he boosted their powers, and sure, he can melt people into walls, but what is it about this mutant that is so apocalyptic when he seems to gets everyone else to do his heavy lifting?

Things get pretty repetitive towards the end as well; lots of the same speeches, posturing and delaying the predictable. While the teams really come together and the side battle scenes are tight, the main battle is somewhat, well, dull and easily foreseeable. While it was stated early on that Jean Grey was a powerful mutant with a tenuous control over her powers, we were given no substantial visuals to back that up. To really build up a game-changing, pivotal character like Jean, we need to see what it is that makes her so potentially dangerous.

There were many elements of humor which kept the audience laughing; definitely an important factor in a feature film of this length and depth. Quicksilver once again stole the show with his breakout scene, and while one could argue they essentially used the same gimmicks and set up as his debut in the previous X-Men film, the truth of the matter is it worked damn well then and even better now.

Part of the problem with a lot of sequels is they are following a rather tough act, and it is by this successful stick they are measured. ‘Days of Future Past’ was a highly enjoyable film, and everyone was expecting, or hoping, the quality would continue upwards, as it did with the Captain America trilogy. ‘Apocalypse’ was leaps and bounds beyond the last third installment in an X-Men franchise, but that’s not saying a lot. It delivered action, drama, and build up, everything an end of times super powered film should have, but it carried on a bit too much in all aspects and was, therefore, not quite what it could have been.

When you think about it, all X-Men movies are ensemble films, therefore one cannot help but be a harsher critic on the franchise which, in theory, should have this formula for success down pat. So in terms of the box office encounter between the ensembles, Civil War most certainly takes the cake, but Apocalypse has its good points which cannot be discounted. However, when it comes to the next generation of superhero film franchises, as En Sabah Nur said himself, Only the Strong Shall Survive.


Written and Drawn by Judd Winick
Published by Random House Kids

Reviewed by Marc Mason

As good as the first volume of HILO was, the second volume is a quantum leap forward in terms of story, pacing, and art. Judd Winick is attempting to outdo himself, and he is succeeding.

When last we left the robot boy he had achieved a great victory at a high price: seeming destruction and an early exit from Earth. But as volume two gets underway we see him start to find his way back to Earth thanks to his toe.

hilo vol2

If I explained that to you, it would ruin a great gag. Not gonna do it.

Reunited with his pals DJ and Gina, he gets right back to enjoying the fruits of our planet and to experiencing things like trying to eat. But it isn’t too long before trouble starts brewing: rifts start appearing in the air and unusual creatures (and robots) start making their way through. When one of those creatures is a cat-warrior who is something of a samurai, the secret of Hilo’s existence may not remain secret for much longer…

Hijinks, tremendous battles, and incredible amusement follow.

To use Hilo’s favorite word, volume two of this terrific series is outstanding in every way. It is clever, exciting, drawn beautifully, has richer and deeper emotional stakes, and amazingly fast-paced. I continue to be extremely pleased to have this Judd Winick back making comics, not the one who did all those dark and gritty DC comics. This is his wheelhouse. Can’t wait for the next volume.


THE FIX #1-2
Written by Nick Spencer and Drawn by Steve Lieber
Written and Drawn by Kaare Andrews
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Two newbies from Image that are deserving of your attention…

Boy, oh boy, is THE FIX a breath of fresh air.
We open with the main character extolling the virtues of being a criminal, and it’s done so in almost depressingly hilarious fashion. As he and his partner rob a senior citizen’s retirement home, you immediately know you’re in for a ride. One, what the hell kind of criminal robs this place yet also acts appalled when the residents aren’t being properly supervised, and two, how many of these old guys tend to have a shotgun in their bed?


One too many, as it turns out.

From there it only gets crazier, as we learn these two gunmen are even more off the chain that you might have guessed… because they’re actually cops. Super, super dirty cops.

Hilariously dirty cops.

Not only that, but they are in debt to even dirtier cops, which causes them to make some… unusual decisions to try and clear the books. To tell you more would be just mean; suffice it to say that the plot goes off in absolutely insane directions, making THE FIX some of the most fun I have had in recent memory when reading a comic. Not once was I able to predict what was going to happen next, and that is a true gift to a reader. Genuine surprise doesn’t happen much anymore.

Spencer and Lieber continue the outstanding collaboration they developed while doing SUPERIOR FOES OF SPIDER-MAN, and the book soars because of it. The creative chemistry here is amazing, and both are working at the top of their talents on every page. I laughed consistently at THE FIX and at the end of each issue I immediately wanted the next one. Highest possible recommendation.


I was a little dubious when I heard about RENATO JONES. The concept sounded a little too calculated to me: a killer who preys on the 1%. That’s pretty much a meteor directly to the heart of the zeitgeist, and that made it easy to be cynical about it.

But here’s the thing: it turns out to be pretty good.

renato jones 1

Kaare Andrews uses his artistic imagination to do some amazing things in this one, engaging different art styles, multimedia, negative space, and more to tell the story of a young boy who rises from the streets to become a quiet scourge to those who place themselves about the rest of us. It is violent. It is profane.

Yet so are the actions of many of the 1%. There is justice here.

RENATO JONES didn’t set me on fire with its rage and anger, but it did engage and entertain me in a meaningful way. It isn’t like anything else on the stands, and that, for damn sure, matters.


Written by Lisa Yee
Published by Random House Kids

Reviewed by Marc Mason

A new series of superheroine young adult novels? An easily accessible way for the early tween set to get to know classic comic book characters? Strong characters, good role models, fun stories?

Where has the DC SUPER HERO GIRLS been all my life? I needed this for my daughter a decade ago!

wonder woman at super hero high

That said, I’m extremely pleased to see that it exists now, and the first book of the series, WONDER WOMAN AT SUPER HERO HIGH has dropped and it is a fun little tale of teem bonding, teamwork, social media, and learning how to be one’s best self, wrapped in glorious superheroic trappings.

A teenaged Wonder Woman, chomping at the bit to leave behind the Amazons and see the world, applies to Super Hero High and makes her way to a society that she does not understand and has no experience with. Here we have a Wonder Woman who is completely guileless, lacking even the basic knowledge of sarcasm as she wades into a school full of powered individuals like her. Her naiveté leads to a great deal of confusion as she navigates her new life, especially with Harley Quinn (cast as a Youtube queen here) as a roommate. And of course, traditional school cliques are in play, something else Wondy does not comprehend. What’s great about the way Lisa Yee writes it is that she manages to make Wondy’s experience universal to pretty much any kid experiencing a new school

This is a Wonder Woman who is relatable in ways we have never seen before.

Of course, you have to have genuine conflict, and there is plenty here to deal with. Jealous students trying to sabotage Wonder Woman’s success and get her expelled. A rival school of supervillains. A competition amongst schools with high stakes. All the stuff you’d want to see in this kind of story. Yee delivers in a big way as she creates this genre hybrid, truly putting together the best of both.

My one down note was that the story takes its sweet time getting moving. The first hundred pages, the pacing is slooooooooooow. But the characters are written in such a charming way that you still want to keep moving along and see where the story takes them. That’s good writing right there.

The final page ends on a “cliffhanger” though it is a harmless one. If you didn’t read the next book, you still got a complete story here. But with something this much fun, why wouldn’t you – or the tween girl in your life – want to read the next one?



Rogue Element #131: C2E2 2016 The Panels

By Avril Brown

Your Brain on Comics
Kerry Freedman, Meryl Jaffe, Joe Magliano, David Rapp
Moderated by Josh Elder

In order to more fully explore the effects reading comic books can have on the brain, and how teachers, parents and mentors alike can utilize said effects, particularly in aiding children who are struggling with reading, comic creator Josh Elder moderated this panel of several brain-focused PhDs.

Elder is the founder of Reading with Pictures, a Chicago based organization which focuses on getting comics into schools and helping children learn how to read. He opened this panel with a story of a little boy who, when his mother was unable to finish reading him his bedtime comic book, would pick up the book and read the story himself. Though too young to understand the words on the page, he nevertheless was able to follow the story via the pictures and comprehend how his Transformer heroes saved the day. Thus began Elder’s foray into reading, and comics, both passions he clearly has fueled over the years.

Though getting brain-based brainiacs to explain their research in layman’s terms is a challenge, Elder was able to do just that, and all of the panel members contributed their two cents on the mental mechanics which go into reading and processing a written and illustrated story.

While reading is something which has to be learned, the ability to recognize a scene is built in, and this core concept is what allows children to follow a story without being able to read it. Kids are willing to engage in reading a comic, but more importantly they CAN; they already have the knowledge base in order to process it. “A block of text for troubled readers may as well be in Sanskrit,” Elder explained, but images are innately understood.

Kerry Freedman studies visual culture and has done research on groups of adolescents who gather around specific visual pop culture (such as gamers and fan artists). She explained how our brains have an incredible visual memory capability, and in particular we have a sweet spot for images accompanying our narratives. We enjoy seeing things we recognize but we crave variety as well, which is why most people tend to get bored watching the same movie over and over again but get excited about a series of films as the characters are familiar but presented in new circumstances.

Joe Magliano is a psychology professor and he helped explain the challenges comic creators face. Artists have to use their work to expand upon ‘mind-reading’ by showcasing emotions on the characters faces, thereby letting the reader learn what is happening inside their mind.

There were some stunning revelations regarding colors as well when the team explained that certain color schemes can provoke particular emotions. Children’s comics tend to have more complimentary colors as it presents a more calming portrait. Contrasting colors show up more in action comics and can cause more stress and conflict. In fact, colors exude such a strong emotional influence, whether we’re conscious of it or not, that they can be the reason a person picks up a comic book or passes it by, according to Freedman.

There was plenty to take away from this fascinating panel, not the least being detailed proof that comics can truly help make reading a less stressful and more successful process for children, especially for those who need a little extra help. Perhaps one of the best moments came at the end with the final question from the audience. A woman declared herself a writer and an artist but stated she always felt comics were ‘junk food’ reading and held no intellectual value. Elder put it best: “Well, as I explained earlier I learned how to read because of comics; they opened up a whole new world to me.” He grew up on welfare but it was his love of reading, originating with comics, which drove him to earn a National Merit scholarship from Northwestern University. “Then I got a film degree and disappointed everyone. I may have wasted my life since then,” he joked, “but comics transformed my life.” Translation: ‘junk food’ my ass, you ignorant woman.

Let’s Make a Villain
Adam Withers, Comfort Love, Dirk Manning, Mark Waid

These four comic creators armed with a vast array of backgrounds and styles, aided by an eager audience, helped bring a brand new villain to life, and explained the process along the way. Adam and Comfort (I guess her parents were hippies?), who are so married you just can’t even, have produced several original comic titles available on the market today. Dirk Manning holds a torch for the horror genre, and my first experience with Mark Waid’s work was ‘Irredeemable,’ a comic which begged the question: What if a superhero with nigh limitless power went batshit crazy?

Needless to say, this was a fun panel to experience, and I do say ‘experience’ because not only did these creators really dive into the details of creating a villain, and thereby a story, they invited the audience to help create such a creature on the spot. With prompts and questions from the panelists a scarred, greedy, idealist pirate queen was born as Adam sketched her out over the course of the hour.

Villains, they explained, can shape the story. For example, if you are reading a story with a zombie bad guy, you already know something about the environment and structure of the tale. The villain guides what’s going to happen because her/his role is to propel the plot forward. They are the ones who want something, be it an item, the success of their villainous scheme, revenge, etc., and part of what makes them the villain is what they are willing to do in order to get it. The villain is the proactive character, the hero reactive, thus fueling the plot. After all, what would the hero do if the villain didn’t do anything?

The antagonist has a special relationship with the hero; they are uniquely intertwined as the villain is the one who brings traits out in the hero, a feat which no one else can accomplish. Batman’s villains were brought up as an example: each one of his challengers shows in their own particular way why Batman is a hero.

As important the villain is to the story, you cannot let your readers care more about the villain than they do the hero, the creators stressed. “Mind the sympathy line,” Manning advised. “You can brush up against it but don’t cross over otherwise people will start rooting for the villain instead.” The hero should always be the more sympathetic character, the more relatable, no matter the species or setting. Plus, s/he needs to be in danger of some sort, otherwise there’s no urgency to the story.

While the creators were unified in suggesting creating the setting first, as the environment shapes the story and therefore the characters, they cautioned to not get bogged down by it either. “As a writer, there are only so many plots to pursue,” Manning explained. “What do you want to say about the world around you? That should be the tone of the story.”

“Plot doesn’t matter apart from the structure you hang your story,” Waid declared. “People remember characters, they remember emotion.” Villains can be fun to create, but make sure they balance out the story. Also, sometimes you have to kill a character off to make the story work. “Don’t take a character away to be cheap, do it to drive the story.” A character death can be a gateway into a new world. Manning used Sirius Black’s death in ‘Harry Potter’ as an example of a death that proved they were no longer having fluffy children adventures; that there was a cost to their actions. “I mean, I’m a grown ass man, and I was like, ‘WTF man?,’ but it served the story and made the stakes real.”

When asked by a certain Spider Jerusalem whether one’s emotional state affects their writing, the answers were a resounding ‘YES’ across the board. “Find the project that channels the emotion you’re feeling and power on through, get it out,” recommended Waid. Manning referred to another writer who wrote under a pseudonym for one particular series because, as he put it, he was a different person when writing that book.

“Nothing is scarier than someone who has no business smiling that cannot stop,” Withers declared as he put the finishing touches on the pirate queen. “A villain’s way of wrecking the hero’s day should be iconic,” he stated as he turned one of her hands into a gun, “and because guns for hands are cool.” Well stated, sir.

While the Adam and Comfort comedy act was tough to weather through in the beginning (I fancy even Dirk and Mark thought them a bit much; they looked bemused, like watching toddlers trying to keep the adult’s attention past the allotted amount of time), I am thoroughly pleased to have attended this panel. As a writer I learned a lot and watching a creative process in action is always a joy. Now onto creating a dastardly villain!


Rogue Element #130: C2E2 2016

By Avril Brown

Ah, my darling C2E2, how I have missed thee! Though a touch early this year (the Con is typically in April) you are as welcome as ever. Walking towards the McCormick Center Friday morning surrounded by geeks of all sorts literally vibrating with barely repressed excitement, it feels like coming home.

However, just like returning home after a long stretch abroad, things are not quite what you remember, and it can take some time to adjust to that fact. Meg Ryan once said, “People are always saying change is a good thing, but what they’re actually saying is something that you didn’t want to happen, did.” True that, but change can be good, or change can be terrible. The goal is at the very least a semblance of balance, or ideally, coming out a wee ahead.

The Good

This year C2E2 introduced a gaming pavilion, and MAN was that a check in the win column! They had tables set up with everything from the original Nintendo console to the latest Xbox to a multiplayer dance-off. Kids of all ages (and I’m including my husband in that tally) were clearly having a blast playing old games, competing with each other and learning new tricks. I saw one woman killing it on Super Mario 3 like she’d woken up that morning saving the Princess, and the same phenomenon occurred when Jesse picked up the vintage Nintendo Zapper gun and took out the baddens of Hogan’s Alley.

Kids dominated the dance games while parents stood off to the side capturing every moment on their phones. One tween girl was acing Bruno Mars’ ‘Uptown Funk’ while another girl barely out of her toddling years was right next to her doing her darndest to keep up and learn the slick moves on the fly. While my brother-in-law was observing an unfamiliar game a nearby stranger engaged him in conversation, explaining the core concept of the game and what he’d learned so far.

Unknown individuals bonding over nerdy things; ‘cause that’s how C2E2 folk roll, yo.

The Bad

The tattoo pavilion was missing this year, which was a disappointment. The Artists’ Alley of body art has always brought me an intoxicating combination of feelings: the thrill at witnessing artists at work, seeing their creative new pieces and the depths of geeky awesomeness people have explored in their body art, and sharing conspiratorial/commiserative smiles with those under the needle are all positive emotions. Hearing the needle at work, however, sets my teeth on edge. I suppose the sound wouldn’t bother me as much if I fancied myself finished with my own body art, but such is not the case. (Sorry not sorry, Mom and Dad.)

The layout was somewhat spastic, lacking a coherent flow in addition to the sizable gaps on the floor. There were cement spaces in the midst of red carpet where a booth clearly should have stood but failed to do so, for whatever reason. I understand last minute shit happens, but seeing the blank spaces where creative vendors should be sharing their wares was saddening, and frustrating.

For reasons I cannot get into on a public forum, my husband’s gym was once again denied the ability to procure an entire booth and were therefore unable to fully express all they had to offer. People enjoy the variety Forteza has to offer; my coworker’s boyfriend recently took an introductory sword class and loved it, so it was more than a little grating to see the people I care about prevented from reaching their prime target audience to spread the word, and joy, of their hard work.

The Bright and Shiny Cosplay

I cannot get enough of cosplay. Y’know that Michael Jackson meme cut from the theater scene in ‘Thriller,’ when he’s just chowing down on popcorn and someone captioned it, ‘I’m just here for the comments’? Sometimes I feel the same way about cosplay at Comic Cons, and my fellow geeklings did not disappoint.

• Best SNL skit cosplay: As I predicted, there were several Kylo Ren as Matt on ‘Undercover Boss’ outfits, liberated from a Saturday Night Live skit that took the internet by storm. Pure Gold.
• Best random cosplay: I saw two, count ‘em TWO different men dressed as Doug Funnie/Quail-Man. I haven’t thought of that cartoon in years, but I betcha anyone else who was a tween in the 90’s knows what I’m talking about.
• Best use of a baby: This is a three-way tie between two ladies dressed as Rockford Peaches from ‘A League of Their Own’ holding a baby dressed as a baseball, a woman who dressed her baby as Squirrel Girl (complete with acorn earrings!) and a couple dressed as Jon Snow and the Red Lady, with their baby sporting a cap that read, ‘Shadow Baby.’ Well played, parents.
• Best political statement cosplay: Stormtrooper vatos with a sign that read ‘Palpatine: Make the galaxy great again, and then we shall have peace.’ Honorary mention: a guy holding a sign depicting Trump as Lex Luthor asking people to NOT vote for him.
• Best cosplayer hero: Colonel Quickstitch is fully armed and able to help with any cosplayer crisis, and she does it for free with a smile on her wonderful, generous face!
• Most prolific cosplay: ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ characters, including a killer cross-gender Immortan Joe.

I really could go on and on. There was a Kylo Ren who looked EXACTLY like Adam Driver, someone who dressed as the Pug Monkey from that cracked out Superbowl commercial, a family of Ant-Men (and mama Wasp), Tank Girl, Colby and Poyo from CHEW, Mrs. Banks in her Sister Suffragette outfit, Kung Fury, a sad Rancor daddy, and the most perfect Q since John de Lancie.

And then there was Spider Jerusalem from Warren Ellis’s ‘Transmetropolitan.’

spider j avril 1

This foul-mouthed, mad bastard, filthy fucking journalist is on a mission to print The Truth. It’s an election year, and neither power-hungry half-aliens, corrupt cops nor insane politicians are going to stop him. Or her. Last year my cosplay was about feeling strong, in addition to expressing my love for the character. This year it was about education, liberation and a word of caution. ‘Transmet’ is some seriously twisted, powerful and important shit, and never more so than in a polarizing election year such as this; the similarities are uncanny, and disturbing. I was proud to portray such a strong, vocal and intelligent character, and I was more than pleased to encourage people to pick up the book to experience Spider for themselves. One gentleman recognized me but his female friend did not. “You’re not there yet,” he told her. Turning to me: “Don’t worry, I’ve got her started on Warren Ellis, but we’re still on ‘Nextwave.’”
One of the best things about being Spider was when I was recognized, people GOT me. I felt like every ‘Hey, Spider!’ was more than just acknowledging my kick-ass cosplay, it was recognizing WHY. Another perk was the sexy simplicity of the costume: funky green and red glasses (which prompted more than a few questions on their own), black slacks and an open black blazer, showing off a hint of cleavage. Plus, I wasn’t cold. Here’s to keeping clothes on for cosplay!

spider j avril 2

Only downside: carrying a fake cigarette around for two days prompted a craving I haven’t experienced in almost nine years. Thankfully the $12 per pack price tag they go for here in the city kept me on the wagon.

The New Beginning

Admittedly I pouted a bit things didn’t turn out the way I was hoping, but it was yet another life lesson learned from another fantastic Con. I have grown wiser and more tolerant in my many years of Conning. Gone are the days when I’m frantic over arriving at the gate early, or driving myself bananas choosing which panel to attend. Rather than break my own feet I’ll lean against a pillar and let the Con walk by me. I lament the friends I missed but I leave warm and secure in the knowledge that there’s always next year. You can always go home again, especially when home is where the nerdy heart lives.


Written by Dan Watters and Drawn by Caspar Wijngaard
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

I’m… pretty jaded as a comic reader these days. I read a LOT of comics, and honestly, most of them are solidly well done. More than a few are actually great. But for a while it has felt like you could see the great ones coming from a mile away. I mean, my favorite Image book is VELVET – but with Brubaker and Epting doing it, you just knew.

Surprise has become a commodity.

That brings me to LIMBO.


Being completely unfamiliar with the creators, Dan Watters and Caspar Wijngaard, I opened up issue one with absolutely no clue as to what I would find within. What I found was really good. I mean really, really good. Like edging on “great” good. An exquisite surprise that I never saw coming. A comic that brought a rich, bold, inventive vision to the page.

I’ve been devouring it hungrily ever since, right up through the most recent issue, number five.

What is LIMBO about? A detective named Clay with no memory plies his trade in Dedande City, a town with a penchant for voodoo, crime, and the aesthetic of an 80s music video. It’s a noir infused with magic on its brain and Miami Vice on its style.

If that sounds strange, well, it is. Because I haven’t even gotten to things like the Teleshaman yet. I won’t spoil that for you, but let’s just say that what happens to Clay when he pops in the wrong videotape is a staggering, delightful romp of unfettered imagination.

I want more comics like LIMBO. There aren’t enough comics like LIMBO. Instead of another sequel-crossover-event-line wide thingy that exists solely to satisfy the marketing department, why not take your hard earned dollars and track down a creator-owned, highly imaginative, exists solely for the love of making a cool story comic instead? That’s what Watters and Wijngaard have done here, and they should be celebrated for it. I love LIMBO; you will too.