ROGUE ELEMENT #109: C2E2 2013

By Avril Brown

Every comic convention is different. There’s the first con, the worst con, the cosplay con, the disorganized con, the con with plenty of panels, the con with few panels and so forth. This con, Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo 2013, may have saved my life.

Alright, that statement may be a little overdramatic, but C2E2 certainly did inspire changes in my daily routine and basic lifestyle choices. When I told my personal trainer boyfriend I wanted to really look the part for my cosplay this year, he took me at my word and gave me the tools, guidance and support I needed to make it happen. I wanted to look like the warrior princess Red Sonja who is so badass her armor consists of a chainmail bikini, and he set about helping me make it so.

A relatively controlled diet and three months of hard work at the gym and I was ready to don my costume with confidence. First thing was first, however: go out and greet my favorite con.

Friday – The first day of C2E2 is always reserved for a non-cosplay, shopping-free walk of the convention floor. This way I get the lay of the land at my leisure while having the opportunity to chat with friends I only see at cons, scope out potential acquisitions without breaking my budget and generally relax and soak up the sights. Done, done and super done. I also spend Friday night hanging with some of my favorite blokes, throwing back brews and getting silly. Bearing witness to a good bromance is like diving into a good novel: once it gets going you just can’t look away, and every time you revisit there is something new to appreciate. A great day, and a great start to the weekend.

Best Cosplay – Overall: Hagrid, complete with lifts, a pink umbrella and a homemade ‘Monster Book of Monsters.’
Best Cosplay – Doctor Who: Two gentleman dressed like an ‘Empty Child’ character and an Ood.
Best Cosplay – Random: Boba Fett as a White Sox fan, armed with a metal bat.

Saturday – When people who typically are not interesting in attending comic conventions decide to brave the nerdy waters and wade into unfamiliar territory, it is a good sign that a fledgling con is really finding its feet. Jesse’s brother and his sister’s boyfriend decided to have a man-date and try the con on for size, which was thrilling, but the biggest shocker of the day actually arrived before I did on Saturday morning.

Ladies and gentleman, hell froze over: my folks came to C2E2. Now my father is the source of a lot of my nerdiness and could fit right in at a con, but I was floored that he actually dragged my mother along as well. I was excited, touched and a little nervous by their presence at my Mecca. ‘Excited’ because they could see in living color that not only am I not alone in my passions, but witness for themselves that comic cons are fucking cool. ‘Touched’ because it means so much to me they spent all that time and money to learn more about this part of my life. ‘Nervous’ because I was donning my costume for the first time and my metal loincloth only covered about half my ass. My mother did jokingly shield her eyes at first but they both managed to look at me without turning to stone.

Before I dressed up (or down, as the case may be), I walked the floor with my parents, feeling eight years old again as I excitedly pointed out, well, everything. ‘Mom, look at this amazing print! Dad, do you recognize that character? Did you see how many Doctors and Daenarys’s there are? Food court is back there, and the bathrooms on that wall have no lines. Let’s walk Artist Alley so you can meet my friends! Did I mention I’m happy to see you guys?!’ They accepted my akin-to-Ritalin excitement level with the patience and forbearance of parents who’ve accepted their daughter is a dork many moons ago, and dare I say it, but they seemed to have a good time.

Eventually we parted ways as I had panels to attend and pictures to pop a T and A pose for, and they were tiring, not yet imbued with the three-day comic con stamina, this being their first con and all. You have to train for that kind of heavy lifting. So I walked with friends, did a little window shopping, attended a couple panels (more on that in my C2E2 Panel column!), glowed with pleasure every time someone took my photo, chuckled internally when half of those people had no idea who I was cosplaying, and all around had an amazing Saturday.

The evening was spent in good company, with tasty nibbles and reasonable brews as we celebrated what felt to be a successful presentation and one hell of a con weekend. Continuing what is becoming a slightly boring but undeniably healthy tradition, I was in bed and sacked out before midnight.

Best Cosplay – Character from Specific Issue: Tie between two ‘Hawkeye’ characters: a guy dressed in a maroon tracksuit with a word balloon sign saying ‘Bro,’ and Kate Bishop in her circus outfit.
Best Cosplay – Short-lived Character: The Stalk! ‘Saga’ is only a year or so old, and The Stalk’s appearance lasted about five pages put together before she was killed off, but she made quite an impression being an armless, half-naked, spider/woman mercenary.
Best Cosplay – Movie: The house from ‘Up.’ ‘Nuff said.

Sunday – Sleep is the only god I worship on a regular basis, and I am devoted to its omnipotent presence, even on a con weekend. However, this means I am always left feeling rushed on a Sunday; I didn’t chat long enough with my friends, I didn’t do all the shopping I wanted, I didn’t see enough. Therefore I planned accordingly and actually woke my ass up early to shower, eat and make repairs to the costume (maintaining strategic placement of leather pieces inside a chainmail bikini is rather important), all in time to hit the floor at 10AM.

So I shopped, oh how I shopped, and wandered, chatted and took photos. I stripped down to my metal skivvies and wandered, chatted and posed for photos, often awkwardly. Sunday is ‘kids day’ and while there were only a few children interested in posing with Red Sonja, I was at a loss of what to do. I couldn’t crouch to their level without causing a scene, and standing proved no safer when one child stood directly in front of me, pressing his head into my metal-clad crotch. As the headline ‘Red Sonja flashes naughty bits, scars children for life,’ has yet to go viral, I think I remain un-sued.

Best Cosplay – Movie: Tie: Ann Darrow from ‘King Kong,’ donning a bloody dress with a large gorilla hand wrapped around her midsection (this lady also came with a child yelling at his mommy for ‘smiling too much’ for my photo), and Wesley as the Dread Pirate Roberts with a plushie RoUS on his back.

Best Cosplay – Group: Nine lady Doctors who paraded around a blow-up Dalek.
Best Cosplay – Crossgender: A female Hellboy, with beer in hand.
Best Cosplay – TV: Two of the ‘tech-head’ characters from the Epitaph episodes of ‘Dollhouse.’

As always the end of C2E2 came far too soon, and I was left simultaneously elated and exhausted. Thanks to this con and my nerdiness/vainness, I’ve become a bit of a gym rat and a (mostly) healthier eater. I’m also more accepting of the fact there is only so much one can absorb, and instead of lamenting the things undone, I immerse myself completely in the moment at hand. If my folks can try on a con then coercing my sister, brother-in-law and baby niece to come on by should be an attainable goal.

Every con is different, and fingers crossed this will forever be the case.


CHEW #33
Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

Tony Chu is hardcore. That is the message this issue has really hammered home: Chu is downright badass, and Tony himself is finally starting to understand how powerful he really is. Unfortunately his sister’s murder is what is bringing about this revelation, and his singular focus on finding Toni’s killer is beginning to affect his other relationships, and not all in a good way.

Poor Colby is stuck between a rock and a hard place as readers see in this issue the extent of the sacrifices he has made to get Chu back into the FDA, and his loyalty to Chu, which has been rock solid thus far, is about to be tested. Colby’s flexibility in the bedroom has caught up with him, and it appears to be a bumpy road ahead for this half-robot Romeo.

Readers are also treated to a damn cool new food power in the form of a ciboinvalescor (a person who gets stronger the more food s/he eats), and the fight sequence involving this guy was awesome.

The Poyo spread was equally kick-ass as Guillory continues to outdo himself with every challenge Layman throws at him. This issue was, of course, chock filled with great background nuggets, several of which had me in stitches. There was a sarcastic nod to the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, and the Seinfeld shout out was priceless.

CHEW remains a fun book to read, but readers should strap in as the book has taken on a darker tone with Toni’s death and shows no signs of easing on the throttle. The good news is if CHEW readers are dying for more of their favorite foodie, John Layman and Rob Guillory will be in Chicago this coming weekend to talk CHEW for the epic nerd-fest that is C2E2. Come out to the McCormick Center and soak up all the geeky goodness you can handle here in the Windy City from April 26-28!


Written and Drawn by Various
Published by First Second

Reviewed by Marc Mason

On at least one occasion, if not more, I have chosen First Second Books as my “Publisher of the Year” when doing a year-end wrap-up. They do consistently high quality work in a variety of genres and by an amazing array of talents. I recently received a bunch of new books from them to check out, and guess what? Yep, they’re right there at the top again, because each one is a total winner.

Do you know a young girl with a budding interest in science? Then make sure to buy her a copy of PRIMATES by writer Jim Ottaviani and artist Maris Wicks. Ottaviani has long established himself as the master of science and comics combined, and this book falls right into his wheelhouse: it tells the stories of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas, three women who immersed themselves in the study of primate behavior. Recruited over a period of years by legendary anthropologist Louis Leakey, each of them would go on to become their own legend with their work in the field. Using research and extrapolation, the book takes you through the trials and travails these women faced in getting taken seriously, living in remote areas of Africa, and gaining the trust of the creatures they were studying. Wonderfully illustrated, PRIMATES grabs your interest quickly and never lets go, and the women all fascinate though they are each quite different from one another. I mentioned young girl readers at the top, but really, this book is for anyone who likes the subject matter or just good comics. An excellent piece of work.

Sticking with books that are good for all readers, ODD DUCK fits that description nicely. Two talents who have done excellent work on their own, writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Sara Varon, team up for this story, a deceptively simple one. Theodora, a duck who lives a well-ordered and controlled existence, gets a new neighbor in Chad. Chad is an iconoclast duck, doing things his own way and on his own terms. He is an agent of chaos in Theodora’s life, but as they get to know each other, the two find ways to break down the walls between them and grow a friendship. ODD DUCK could have come off as preachy, but instead it plays out as subtle, keeping a subtle distance from Theodora as she shifts her perceptions of Chad and of what “normal” really means. In doing so, several different metaphors shine through, allowing the reader to take from the story whatever they wish. These two creators work very well together; I hope they do so again.

The first volume of ASTRONAUT ACADEMY made my year-end top ten list, because writer/artist Dave Roman knows his craft like few others. He’s smart, inventive, and funny, and his books are absolutely perfect for kids (as well as adults). So it comes as no surprise that volume two, ASTRONAUT ACADEMY: RE-ENTRY, is more of the same. The same clever concepts. The same snappy dialogue. The same zippy plotting. The same nifty pages full of cute Easter eggs in the panels. The same grasp on how kids really think. The same vivid imagination. I went through three copies of volume one, as they kept disappearing into the hands of kids around me. After reading this one, I better start stocking up again.

Shifting to the teen reader, I was drawn to NOTHING CAN POSSIBLY GO WRONG by the presence of the talented Faith Erin Hicks. Her FRIENDS WITH BOYS and THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERHERO GIRL have been recent favorites of mine, so I was intrigued to see what would come from her adapting this story by writer Prudence Shen. The result: a terrific bit of fun. When the Robotics Club and the Cheerleading Squad vie for the same school funding, it leads to a brutal contest for student body president, a rash of vicious pranks, and the captain of the basketball team – a young man with ties to both groups – stuck in the middle. Throw in some quiet family drama, and you get a charming outcome. The characters are funny, the dialogue is terrific, the emotions are real, and the art is beautiful. The story takes you to some surprising places and is never too obvious, which is a real bonus, and it has a nice pace to it as well. Hicks is rapidly becoming a must-read creator.

Finally, if you’re looking at something just for the grown-ups, then Matt Kindt’s work is always a solid option. RED HANDED: THE FINE ART OF STRANGE CRIMES is what Kindt does best: complex plotting, complex characters, and complex storytelling. RED HANDED is: a crime story; a nod to classic Dick Tracy work; a multimedia project; a tale that bends your perception of time; a book you should read at least twice because it rewards that second glance. At heart, it tells you that it is a simple story: Detective Gould is the best law enforcement officer in the city, and he has never left a case unsolved. But as he solves a number of unusual cases throughout the book, it begins to reveal a wider tapestry, a fine web of details that show you a different beating heart in the pages. Kindt also uses newspapers, comic strips, and panels of pure darkness to relate the narrative as it progresses, each bit granting you a different piece of the grand design. No one else in comics does work like Matt Kindt, and I don’t think anyone else could. This is just excellent, excellent stuff.


Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Let’s talk about balance for a moment, and how it pertains to comics.

A comic blends a number of separate elements together to create the final product. Plot, script, art, letters, and much of the time colors. When any one element gets too far out of balance, the end product can suffer. I thought about that as I read the first issues of two new Image series recently, and about the examples they provide.

Let’s start with EAST OF WEST by writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Nick Dragotta. EOW is set on an Earth playing out an alternate history, one that changed during the Civil War. No longer is there a United States as we know it; instead, there are separate “nations” dividing up the land. Into these lands come the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, one of whom has taken leave of the others to pursue his own agenda. I’d tell you more than that, but… that’s about all I could divine from reading this book. In the interest of keeping the reader immersed in mystery, Hickman provides very little in explanation for what is happening in his story. There’s a lot of intrigue here, no question, but there’s no character to latch onto. The book is seriously gorgeous in giving you what it does; Dragotta’s work is a feast for the eyes, and his storytelling is quite effective. In short, this is a decent enough comic, but one that is very much out of balance. It worked to get me interested in whatever might be going on, but it didn’t work to make me care about what was going on.

On the flip side, we have FIVE GHOSTS: THE HAUNTING OF FABIAN GRAY. The back cover of issue one tells you precisely what is going on: “Infamous treasure hunter Fabian Gray was possessed by five literary ghosts and has been granted access to their unique abilities.” Doesn’t get much simpler than that, does it? Writer Frank J. Barbiere and artist Chris Mooneyham don’t want the reader wasting time trying to figure out what is happening – they want the reader to dive in and just start enjoying the ride. So when we see Fabian shooting an arrow with the ghost of Robin Hood lingering over his shoulder, we get it. The story involves Gray attempting to rescue his sister from some sort of supernatural calamity, and eventually crosses paths with a temple devoted to spider-gods, and is mostly just a neat little lark. The storytelling isn’t always consistent – there’s a roughness to the art that reminds the reader of Klaus Janson’s early pencils, before he figured out his transitions – but it is something you can easily see improving with time.

So does this mean that FIVE GHOSTS is a better book than EAST OF WEST? Not at all. Each one has its merits and its flaws, and each one is something I could recommend to someone. Isn’t the great thing about comics?