ROGUE ELEMENT 104

Rogue Element #104: Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, ‘Battlestar Galactica’


By Avril Brown

I have been collecting comics since I was sixteen. I’ve attended Comic Conventions across the country, the last two years in nearly naked cosplay. I have a ginormous tattoo of my favorite comic book characters. I religiously watched ‘Star Trek: Next Generation’ growing up and was nigh inconsolable when Lieutenant Yar met her demise in a puddle of evil black goo.

My point is I am an established nerd. I have years of cred to call upon, but during conversations with people when I would admit to being a ‘Battlestar Galactica’ virgin, I would get that look, the one that just sneers, “And you call yourself a nerd?”

As I have explained before, for me an exciting new show or book isn’t something I just ‘get into,’ it is more as if I begin a relationship with the plot and characters. I become attached rather quickly, and I crave to have the whole story as fast as possible, reading two hundred pages at a time or sitting down for a five episode marathon whenever I can squeeze it in. Of course this also means when a book kills off a favorite character, or a show takes a turn for the worse, I take it to heart.

So in the last few years whenever a fellow nerd would say with utter shock: “You haven’t seen ‘Battlestar Galactica?’”, I would volley back with, “Nope…but how did you feel about the series finale?” Their looks of dismay, disappointment and disgruntlement, I felt, settled the argument.

For almost every person I’ve met who has preached how amazing, nerdalicious and must-see ‘BSG’ is, they would also admit to being let down by the way the series wrapped things up, and quite frankly I wasn’t ready to enter into such a vast emotional, five-season-plus-two-movie commitment knowing this relationship would only end in despair. Recently, however, that excuse has fallen deaf even to mine own ears, and for good reason.

This show is about the annihilation of the human race. Set several thousand years in the future, mankind developed an artificially intelligent robot called a Cylon, and eventually this new metal race turned upon its makers and brought bloody war onto the humans. The new ‘BSG’ (the most recent series is a remake of the original ‘70s ‘BSG’) opens forty years later where humans have been lulled into a sense of false security, having no conflict or contact from the Cylons in the last four decades, but all that changes when all but fifty thousand humans are obliterated in several planet-wide nuke attacks from the Cylons. Although this clearly is a science fiction plot, the series is centrally a human interest story. How will the last fifty thousand human beings react to losing their planets and their civilizations? How will they cope with each other, particularly now there are twelve Cylon models that look (and for some, act) like humans, sowing doubt and mistrust among the remaining people? How will they survive the perils of space, the relentless pursuit of the Cylons, and most of all, living in the aftermath?

Now, a mere two and a half seasons in, ‘Battlestar Galactica’ is constantly breaking my heart. There are couples I didn’t expect, and one I want that just can’t get it together. There are Cylons I love to hate, and some I’m hating to love. I want to kick Dr. Gaius Butler in the balls so hard they disappear into his body. Edward James Olmos as Commander Adama is a reliable rock of poignancy in every episode, and I just cannot wait to see what Starbuck does next. I’m worrying my fingers down to the nub wondering who else on board Galactica is a Cylon but still forbidding my boyfriend from spilling the beans. In other words, I am loving this series.

As I slowly mature at a glacial pace, I am starting to be able to delve into my fantasy worlds to a healthy degree of affection to where I am connected to the unfolding story while maintaining that emotional distance normal people find so easy. ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ though a powerful piece of small screen cinema, can also be slightly cheesy in its never-ending, heart-wrenching drama, which in turn makes it the perfect series to help me continue to grow. Therefore go right ahead and do your worst, ‘BSG,’ for not only do I need to learn how to take my licks, you make it so much fun to practice.


BEARDO 3

BEARDO Volume 3
Written and Illustrated by Dan Dougherty
Published by Beardo Comics


Reviewed by Avril Brown

Meet Beardo, a coffee barista/illustrator/band member living in Chicago with his fiancée turned wife, two dogs and a never ending pile of bills. Beardo also happens to be the comic cartoon version of the author/illustrator himself, Mr. Dan Dougherty. An all ages, real life comic strip about Beardo’s daily successes, struggles and slapstick, ‘Beardo: Volume 3’ covers several major milestones in the life of the protagonist, all the while keeping things lighthearted, cheery and cartoony.

Beardo has decided to take life by the beard in this volume and has finally committed to a path he has ached to follow for years: full time freelance illustrating. For two volumes of ‘Beardo’ strips he has been Beardo the Barista, killing a pot of coffee with a deft hand and a wisecracking wit. As he says a lengthy goodbye to the coffeehouse, his coworkers and the multitudes of curmudgeonly customers, he evolves into Beardo the Comic Creator who works from home, can barely afford a cup of coffee from the shop he recently vacated and does his best to stay on task and keep the gigs rolling in.

‘Beardo’ is an excellent balance of cartoon humor and real life levity. Aside from switching jobs and all the financial headaches that come with such an adjustment, Beardo gets married. There are several panels discussing the happy couple’s constant war with their budget and buildup of bills, and rather than being depressing or too close to home for us 99%ers out there, Dougherty always injects an element of clever gaiety, often in the form of Cartoon God messing with him. In one strip as Beardo shows off the extra money left over after the bills were seen to, Cartoon God winds up, takes aim and lets loose a bolt of lightning destined to destroy their vacuum cleaner.

In addition to a slightly spiteful Cartoon God, ‘Beardo’ frequently features appearances of Beardo’s individual beard hairs who are forever fearing they will one day turn white and be sacrificed to the Great Claw. Poor Beardo also has several close calls with copious amounts of free cash which he ignorantly misses by millimeters due to random happenstances. Whiskers the Drinking Cat is a personal favorite sidekick, always bringing with him cheeky shenanigans and plenty of booze. One of the best parts of ‘Volume 3,’ however, had to be the Beardo-eye view of Blago’s appearance at Wizard World Chicago two years ago. I was there at that moment when the announcers trumpeted the soon-to-be-jailed former governor’s presence, and the fans really did ‘boo’ him en masse, just as Beardo observed.

To label ‘Beardo’ as ‘family friendly’ almost sounds too limiting, though truly all generations can enjoy this collection of strips. Younger folk will likely enjoy Beardo’s Little Orphan Annie appearance and the way his possessions seem to be frequently smote by a robed man on a cloud, and adults are the winners of Dougherty’s ability to tackle the world and all its emotional, financial and career-related ups and downs with a sense of warm whimsy rather than a feeling of repetitiveness. Give ‘Beardo’ a chance and you’ll certainly enjoy the wholesome hilarity contained within.

ROSS-SOLARSKI

ROSS/VIDEO GAME ART
Written, Drawn, and Edited by Various
Published by Various


Reviewed by Marc Mason

Comics and graphic novels have never looked better than they do these days. Thanks to better printing, a wider variety of colors, and more talented artists having interest in joining the field, we are in something of a renaissance age when it comes to ye olde funny books.

Mind you, this doesn’t always mean that the stories are better or that the storytelling is better. Just that the final product has a polish and a visual verve that old newsprint comics never had a chance to deliver. However, these older comics did have giants like Jack Kirby and Joe Kubert drawing them, and frankly, there aren’t a lot of talents in the business these days who aren’t just building off of what the legends started.

I was thinking about this stuff as a couple of new books crossed my desk for review. The first one was the paperback edition of ROUGH JUSTICE: THE DC COMICS SKETCHES OF ALEX ROSS (Pantheon). Ross is really the true patron saint of the painted comics movement, a man who took a niche area of comics art and exploded it into an astonishing mainstream popularity. His breakout success was MARVELS, but far more of his work has come from DC, including KINGDOM COME, JUSTICE, and an enormous number of covers. Thus, in this book, you get precisely what I was discussing above: a book that could not have really existed until now. We needed better printing, more colors, better paper in order to show of Ross’ talents to their fullest potential. The book itself does an excellent job if diving into Ross’ artistic process, showing everything from layouts, test sketches, and finished product. You also discover – and see from the artist’s own words – the influences on his work that the legends had. The book and its material are a fascinating mixture of homage and honest-to-god coolness. Definitely a potential holiday gift for the sophisticated fan in your life.

But I was far more surprised as I read through DRAWING BASICS AND VIDEO GAME ART by Chris Solarski (Watson-Guptill). I almost have difficulty categorizing this book; on one hand, it is very much a “how-to” volume, showing the reader how to master basic, classic art techniques, while on the other hand it reads like something of a plea. Solarski is fighting a battle here, trying to prove to the world that video games are an art form unto themselves and should be treated and respected as such. Not always an easy fight; a couple of years ago, film critic Roger Ebert picked a fight on the internet by saying that they weren’t art and incurred the wrath of ten thousand fanboys. Solarski’s methodology here is to show us the artistic techniques that every artist should know, and then he transposes them to the realm of video games to show how they should be used to create a far more artful gaming experience. For the most part, he’s successful in using logic and trying to make his point with examples. Will that convince the naysayers? Who knows? But if I were an artist planning to do video game work, I’d have a copy of this on my shelf.

Two books that approach the beauty of modern comic and video game art from very different directions. What’s your take?


AISLE SEAT 2.0.76

AISLE SEAT 2.0.76: FLASH! AHHHH!


By Marc Mason

I did something important today, though the important thing that I did wasn’t the one that I actually thought I was doing. Confusing, I know.

Around six weeks ago or so, the local comic shop that I’ve affiliated myself with – Pop Culture Paradise here in Tempe – dropped me a line asking me to participate in a charity event for a local charter school. I checked my calendar and immediately said “yes,” because it was simply the right thing to do. Any opportunity to help kids and improve education is one I want to be a part of. I’m a college professor in my day job, after all. But it was after I started looking at the guest list for this thing that I started to worry and wonder what the hell I had gotten myself into. Everyone else was an artist of some kind, including guys like Scott Kolins, Tony Parker, and Ryan Winn. For the event, the artists were going to be doing quick sketches for $5, a sweet deal no matter how you looked at it. Once again, the thought occurred to me: what the hell had I gotten myself into?

I don’t draw. I have zero in the way of artistic talent. Maybe I could practice a couple of go-to sketches or something, try and “perfect” an idea in the weeks leading up to the event. Or I would just hustle my own books. My first book, THE JOKER’S ADVOCATE would be arriving in a second edition in time for the event. I thought about that, and I knew I would certainly take some with me, along with my other stuff, but still, I didn’t have the sketch equivalent that I really wanted. Then it hit me: I would write things for people for $5.

My idea was simple: someone could come to the table, put $5 in the charity till, and give me a word. I would then take the word and write a flash-fiction piece using it. I would write the stories on nice sketch paper, giving the buyer a chance to get a sketch to match their story and go home with a truly unique keepsake. I explained this idea to friends who used the word “insane” a lot. Honestly, I kinda thought so, too. But I showed up at Pop Culture Paradise today and set up my table, wondering how the day would turn out. I donated a Mike Mignola-autographed HELLBOY novel to the silent auction, figuring at the very least if my idea was a bust, that would rake in some dough for the school.

People bought the stories. I wrote seven stories in four hours, and let me tell you, by the time it was over, my hand was cramping. I bought a fantastic sketch of Red Sonja from Tony Parker. I threw some of my own cash in the till. Not knowing how the auction played out, I can tell you that a minimum of $50 of today’s proceeds came from me. I’m pretty okay with that.

But that was not the important thing I did today.

I wrote some stories for adults, but the crowd at PCP is always wonderfully diverse. Today was no different. Later in the afternoon, a young girl around nine or ten came up to the table with her family and put five ones on the table. I smiled at her and asked her what her word was. She was very shy, twisting side-to-side, and mumbling. She finally whispered in the ear of the woman with her, and she asked if the word could be a character. I said sure, and the little girl nodded and said “Black Widow.” I asked her if she liked THE AVENGERS movie, and the girl bounced vigorously. I went to work.

It was difficult work. I borrowed an idea from the film, figuring I would have Natasha having to rescue Hawkeye again, and then I set her to work, faking a pizza delivery and beating up a bunch of bad guys. No question it was the hardest story of the day to write. She had a very particular picture of the character in her head, and it was important to satisfy that for her. I can now verify an old saying in comics as being completely true: work for hire is harder than creator-owned.

That said, the girl was utterly thrilled, clutching the story to her chest like it was made of gold. I created a memory for her, one that no one else could claim as their own. It sure was fun! But it got better!

Next up was another young girl, about the same age as the first one, accompanied by her dad. She put a five dollar bill on the table, and I asked her what her word was. She said “stunning.”

I was the one stunned, frankly. I blanked for a moment. Her father intervened and said we could go with a different word, but I said no. The girl wanted stunning, and I meant to deliver for her. Thankfully, my friend Emily had shown up, and as she saw me baffled, she pointed toward the sky. It was at that moment that I had it. I asked the girl her name (it was Morgan) and I started writing. I made her into Captain Morgan, owner of her own spaceship, and on her spaceship she fought green, slimy aliens, met an inter-dimensional horse, and conquered the Erikkan Empire so her crew could have Erikkan burgers. It was an absolute hoot to write, and if you could have seen the excitement on this girl’s face when she looked at it, you’d have understood just how important what I did today really was.

There’s a lot of chatter in the comics world these days about sexism, abusive treatment of women pros and fans, and “fake” geek girls. It pains me, not just because of the stupidity of men in treating women badly, but in how completely short-sighted it is to not develop the female audience. Here was a young girl, inspired by the Avengers movie, looking for a new story with her favorite character. That’s the kind of thing that keeps comics alive. Here was another young girl looking for a cool story of her own, a kid who may someday write and draw her own comics featuring her own stories. I don’t know. But I can assure you that I didn’t discourage her.

What I do know is that their experience today helped show them that the comics shop is one of the coolest places on Earth, and it is a place where they could fit in, feel comfortable, and want to spend their time and money. That groundwork has been taken care of. Now comes the hard part: not fucking it up.

Without the female audience, comics are screwed. Even if only ten percent of DC’s readership is women, take that away and what do you get? A much diminished publisher, and a lot more canceled titles. Marvel is no different. Margins are tight in this industry. Every copy ordered and sold counts. Why push anyone away?

I enjoyed donating my time to charity today, but I enjoyed making memories for new fans even more. That’s one of the most powerful things that any of us can do. We’re an industry based on imagination, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to imagine a comics industry that has room for everyone, regardless of gender and age. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Isn’t that something worth trying to do?

Okay, off my soapbox. Anybody want to go get an Erikkan burger?

CHEW 28

CHEW #28
Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

I’ve said as much before and I’ll be repeating myself until the series comes to its inevitably crazy-ass conclusion, but CHEW is always finding new ways to deliver some level of shock and awe with every issue. With this latest book, readers are treated to a food fashion show complete with exploding meat.

Following the events of issue #27 (which was published months ago) and the special Secret Agent Poyo (in which everyone’s favorite rooster decapitated a mad weather scientist), Agent Tony Chu is still hurting in the hospital, but that doesn’t stop both his ex-partners from dragging him into work. Another scientist is on the loose, but this one is not mad per se, just greedy, and he’s looking to sell his secrets to the highest bidder. However, John Colby the cyborg and Caesar Valenzano the double agent are having trouble locating the recently kidnapped meat geneticist, and that’s where Chu comes in handy…and so does Colby’s new partner, Poyo.

Though he’s high as a very stoned kite for half the issue, it was good seeing Chu back in action. Colby and Valenzano work rather well together, we get more background info on why Caesar can’t forget Toni Chu, and Poyo is always good for a slaughter. This issue hints at the band getting back together, and readers, as always, are in for a TNT-type treat.


GUARDING THE GLOBE 1

GUARDING THE GLOBE #1
Written by Phil Hester and Drawn by Todd Nauck
Published by Image Comics


Reviewed by Marc Mason

There’s an old baseball cliché about a player being a “professional hitter.” The announcers in the booth love that one. It typically describes a veteran ballplayer who can be counted on in clutch situations at the plate. A “professional hitter” rarely swings at bad pitches, and usually makes contact with the ball when it’s thrown in the strike zone. Any really good team has one or two of these guys on the roster.

What does that have to do with GUARDING THE GLOBE #1? Surprisingly, a lot. This is the first issue of an ongoing series featuring many of the characters from Robert Kirkman’s INVINCIBLE-centered universe, and in getting the book launched, Kirkman has gone out and hired a couple of professional hitters to take this book and make it work. Smart guy, that Kirkman.

The professional hitters in this case are writer Phil Hester, a guy who is so good that he can take concepts that were at best unreadable (like THE DARKNESS) and turn them into top-of-the-stack anticipatory material; and artist Todd Nauck, one of the few remaining guys working in comics who has a work ethic that allows him to make a monthly deadline for years running (see: YOUNG JUSTICE). You bring together guys like that, and what do you get? A very solid, entertaining superhero comic, one that also provides interesting character moments and setups for interesting plots and character arcs to come.

This is not the first go-around for GtG; a miniseries appeared a while back, but it was beset by scheduling problems, art inconsistencies, and at least one character arc that went absolutely nowhere. Looks like that won’t be an issue this time around. Sometimes, you just want to read a fun superhero comic and enjoy it for precisely what the genre offers. GUARDING THE GLOBE does exactly that, and I recommend it.