Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Double Jumpers #1 Advance Review

Double Jumpers issue #1,
on sale May 30th 2012
Almost two weeks ago I attended WonderCon in Anaheim, CA as a correspondent for the overly heckled yet popular comic rumor site Bleeding Cool. On a Saturday night (while most WonderCon geeks convened at the Masquerade with high hopes of wardrobe malfunctions), my entourage and I met together over drinks and good laughs at the bar within the Hilton Hotel. Seated next to us was another amusing group of WonderCon attendees, among them was one Dave Dwonch, the Creative Director of Action Lab Comics. Dave and I hit it off instantly, discussing old '80's flicks, comparing the works of Alan Moore to his real life persona, and most importantly, drinking cold beer. Somewhere in midst of the night life, Dave informed me he is the author of several comic titles and his latest one Double Jumpers (with art by Bill Blankenship) will appear in comic stores in two months time. We made sure to exchange cards before the night was through and I promised I would swing by his booth the next day and obtain an advance copy.

Now let me admit something here and now before I conduct this review of Double Jumpers. When I promise to review a comic for a friend, acquaintance, or random internet avatar, there are several grieving questions that plague my conscience: what if this comic book sucks? What if this comic book really sucks? And, what if this comic book really, really fucking absolutely sucks? Okay, so maybe the question is merely  rephrased to the point of exaggeration, but realistically I dread telling someone that the amount of time and money they pour into their creative endeavors is an absolute waste. Thankfully, Double Jumpers does NOT fall in this category. It's an absolute blast!

Double Jumpers tells the story of Jason Mulliet and his team of video game programmers on the brink of releasing the hottest new virtual reality game The Dungeon Lords 2: The Darkheart Chronicles. While attending an E3 event in Las Vegas the team is criticized for being over budget and unable to meet their set release date. After this embarrassing public display, Jason and his team are put under pressure by their boss Danielle Miyamoto (who happens to be Jason's lover) and scramble together in an all night gaming session in effort to discover and rid all the gremlins plaguing their new game. Unfortunately, midway through their gaming experience an innocent hotel maid spills an energy drink over their gaming console which somehow traps the game programmers inside The Dungeon Lords 2. But the fun does not end there; the video game character's personas are now trapped within the bodies of the game programmers who are now free to run amok in Las Vegas. This is where issue one ends.

The first aspect about Double Jumpers that surprised me was Dwonch's remarkable talent at plotting. Most independent comics tend to be scatterbrain and move slowly while leaving loose ends. If anything Double Jumpers uses each and every page to benefit the storytelling and keeps the pacing constant, there is not a moment where the read slows down and breaks away on a random and unnecessary tangent. Dwonch holds a steady control of each and every page and the same can be said about his dialogue. Read the very first page and you will see just how it conveys mystery, intrigue, and humor. All of which Dwonch excels at.

If Double Jumpers needs a defining genre, I would categorize it as a comedy-fantasy. Dwonch certainly brings his A-game with the comedic writing, but more importantly artist Blankenship truly shines with his comic character portrayals. Blankenship knows how to really work a character's expression for comedic effect (once again, I will refer you to the first page) but he also has the ability to depict wonderfully attractive and exotic settings like when he illustrates the preview for The Dungeon Lords 2. As a reader, you would swear you flipped the page to a different story. As the comic progresses and more attention is given to Blankenship's art you will spot fun little details in the background, like cosplayers dressed like Link and Megaman in the background of the E3 event. These quirky tidbits keep the comic lighthearted and are particularly enjoyable once discovered.

Overall, with Dwonch's entertaining storytelling and Blankenship's phenomenal artwork, this new series is guaranteed to garner many laughs and many fans. Someone needs to call Hollywood, because this comic is comedic gold and deserves a film adaptation immediately. But even more so (and it makes me incredibly happy to say this), this comic book rocks! This comic book really rocks. This comic book really, really fucking absolutely rocks!

Rating: 9/10

Monday, March 26, 2012

JH Williams III and W. Haden Blackman Talk 'Batwoman' at Blue Moon Comics

W. Haden Blackman (left) and J.H. Williams III (right)
hold a signed copy of Batwoman #1
Last Saturday marked a signing event at Blue Moon Comics in the bay side city of San Rafael, CA, where the writers of the current Batwoman series signed fans beloved comics. Although the dreary rain may have turned some fans away from getting artist/writer JH William III and writer W. Haden Blackman's autograph, nothing could stop me from making an hour's drive to meet this talented duo. After getting a number of my comics signed and viewing JH's phenomenal artistry (plus sneak peeks at issue twelve's artwork--fans will flip when they find out which DCU star Batwoman is teaming up with), I sat down with these award winning creators to discuss their current and forthcoming work on Batwoman. Find out more about J.H. William III's career jump to writing, the use of supernatural urban legends in Batwoman, Amy Reeder's recent exit from the project, and reactions to newly appointed Batwoman artist Trevor McCarthy in the interview below: 

Ryan King: I’m here with JH Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, the creative writers behind DC’s Batwoman series. To begin, I would like to thank the both of you for taking the irreplaceable time out of your day to speak with the readers at Go Suck A Comic. Thank you!

JH Williams III: Sure, you bet.

RK: Many fans of the new Batwoman series were introduced to Kate Kane and her alter ego through the Batwoman: Elegy story arc written by Greg Rucca. JH, you provided the pencils for Rucca’s run on Batwoman, but now you are back with the title of artist and co-writer. How do you feel breaking the reigns as an artist and co-scripting the series with Haden?

J3: Oh, it’s fantastic. I mean, you know, writing is something I’ve always wanted to explore and I did a little bit of it earlier in my career but this is really, I feel like, my full real opportunity to have a real say about how a series moves and stuff. And being able to work with Haden as a partner I’m learning a lot too. Something I was talking about earlier with somebody else is that as an artist it takes longer to produce a piece of art so I kind of get to sit with an idea longer so my thought process works a little differently that way. But with writing, I am having to learn a lot about being able to think of more ideas more rapidly. So yeah, it’s been fantastic. 

RK: Haden, you’re certainly not an amateur in this industry. Your career has spanned 13 years working for Lucas Arts on many Star Wars comic titles and now you write for DC Comics. Did you have any hesitations prior to making the jump to DC and following in Rucca’s footsteps?

W. Haden Blackman: No, I mean…well, there are kind of two separate things in terms of  moving over to DC. All along I wanted to always do superhero comics (for lack of a better term), so for me it was just really exciting to get that opportunity. More importantly I always wanted to work with Jim. We’ve known each other for well over a decade now and have always wanted to do something together and when this opportunity came together it was kind of a perfect fit. In terms of following after Rucca, honestly had I thought about it more and had we had more time, it was kind of a whirlwind thing when they asked us to take over the series when it got announced—

J3: We had to decide within 24 hours.

HB: Yeah, so the issues we had done, we had pitched them a limited series with Batwoman as one of the characters and they green lit that and we were moving ahead with that because no one knew exactly what was going to happen with the ongoing yet. And then it became clear that Greg wasn’t going to sign on to do the ongoing so they came in and asked us to do the ongoing and then take our limited series and fold it into the ongoing which will actually be arc three. Which as Jim said, I believe we only had 24 hours to make that decision, so had I any more time to think about it, I would have gotten more nervous. But really we’re just trying to do our own thing and respect what came before and not compete with it.

RK: So you mentioned previously that you guys new each other for about what, ten years before this?

HB: Yeah.

RK: My next question is how did the two of you come together to write Batwoman? Were you both friends before the experience and did DC simply pair you together or did you come together to pitch this idea?

J3: No, we’ve known each other for a long time and we came at them with it. Basically Haden and I, the first thing we did together was shortly after this time where we met in San Diego—a bunch of Star Wars guys got together with a bunch of comics guys and had dinner and stuff and geeked out on each other and it was fun and cool, you know—and I hit it off and exchanged phone numbers and stuff, and I somehow—I don’t remember how it came up—but this Hellboy: Weird Tales thing was happening, like mini-series stuff, and they asked Haden and I if we wanted to do anything.

HB: I was doing a lot of work for Dark Horse at the time on Star Wars so Scott Allie, who is the editor of the Hellboy stuff asked me if I wanted to write a Hellboy story and he knew that I knew Jim, so I think it was really kind of a ploy to try and get Jim to do a Hellboy story. So he said, ‘Hey, would you like to do a Hellboy story with Jim doing the art.’ And I was like, ‘Sure!’ So then we got on the phone and talked a little—

J3: Yeah, we kind of worked on the story together on that a little bit so it was kind of like we seemed like we seemed like we had this cool easy report of each other and after that was done—this short, little 8 page, 10 page tale or whatever— and surely after that I called him up and said, ‘You know, I really had a great time of doing that. Let’s do some more stuff.’ I said, ‘I have ideas for creator owned stuff if you have ideas for creator owned stuff. Let’s kind of marry some things together.’ And so ever since then we’ve actually been developing our own stuff in the backgrounds. We have numerous different concepts that hopefully will see the light of day someday. We were always kind of working on those ideas when Greg decided to leave Batwoman and DC said, ‘Hey.’ At the time I was telling DC I wanted to do more writing, get back into that, and they were like, ‘Well, how about this? Greg is leaving, you want to take over? Let’s bring Haden along.’ I literally like called him up and was like, ‘You want to do this or what?’ And he was like, ‘What we have to decide right now?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah!’

HB: And the next day we were doing the press release, right? It was crazy. It was good though.

J3: Actually, it was kind of nightmarish because DC wanted the jump on the press release and I’m like, ‘What!? Hold up! I mean, we don’t even have a story yet!’

HB: Well the good news though is that we did have that limited series which I think—you know, it’s so much annoying the way the industry works. We pitched this twelve issue limited series that was set in the DCU but with a lot of new characters that got a lot of attraction at DC. And then meanwhile we started working on this 5 issue series of Batwoman just because Jim in particular really wanted to make sure Batwoman was kept in the public consciousness and was kept alive and people were going to do stuff with it. So that got green lit and we were working on that. But the fact that we were kind of already working on Batwoman in a way made it easier but no one’s going to see that story until arc 3 and we actually changed it quite a bit because it’s no longer an isolated little thing.

RK: So arc 3 will actually be the original?

HB: It will be based on that original series, yeah.

J3: The core elements of it are based on the original but we kind of picked at its bones as the genesis for everything that we set up and do at the beginning so we can feed into this bigger picture and that will turn over into arc 4 and 5 and so forth.

RK: JH, you certainly have one of the strongest visual prowesses in the comic book industry when it comes to panel design and page layout. Your work with Alan Moore on Promethea showcased the bulk (but certainly not all) of your artistic abilities. What is it like to step back in the creative role as a writer?

J3: It’s very daunting in a lot of ways. As he knows I fret a lot [laughs]. It’s kind of a tricky balance for me because I know I have a lot to learn and at the same time I have something to say. It’s one of those things I kind of want to stay at, now that I’ve gotten a big taste of it, I don’t ever want to let that go. I’m sure there will be projects in the future where I’m just going to be stepping back and being just the artist on. But hopefully I’ll be writing something else that I am not the artist on while that’s taking place or whatever. Just the whole thing is pretty cool. It will be interesting to see what people think of the writing over time as all the pieces come start to come out.

RK: Would you say that working on those 32 issues of Promethea and seeing Alan Moore’s scripts has helped you at all?

J3: Yes and no [laughs].

HB: [Sarcastically] Have you ever seen one of Alan Moore’s scripts?

J3: It’s a double-edged sword question. It certainly has taught me what a professional script should be like. But at the same time, we’re already getting the reputation of having really dense scripts like Alan is known for. But we are nowhere near Alan’s density. The scripts for Promethea were like reading novellas every month. I feel like our scripts, what they developed into over the course of working with Batwoman is we’re somewhere more dense than Rucca, but not as dense as Alan. And what’s interesting to me is people, just more than us have seen these scripts, higher ups at DC have seen these scripts and other professionals have seen these scripts and stuff and they’re actually quite surprised how dense they are and how thought out they are. What fascinates me about that is that I don’t think people have seen scripts quite like this in quite a while.

HB: Well I think some of too might come from the fact that Jim does the art for arc 1 and arc 3 right? So I think that maybe there was an expectation that we would be really light on the panel description because Jim already has it in his head or something like that but it was actually kind of the opposite where—and Jim really drove this—we wanted to make the panel descriptions be 1.) something that would be kind of fun to read, in case these ever show up in print but 2.) start practicing for when there was an artist other than Jim and we were communicating clearly. And I think the thing we probably wrestle with the most is that there is that fine line communicating clearly and over communicating and stuff so I think that’s where we try not to be too dense but—

J3: It still happens.

HB: It still happens, yeah.

J3: Particularly whenever we change a scene or are out for something very particular, we’re going to have something to say about it. I guess that’s where working with Alan for six plus years kind of spoiled me on what I think comic strips should have. But in a good way. I look at [the Batwoman scripts] and I’m proud of what they look like as actual entities unto themselves and I also think for us we wanted to set up that we needed to know all this works on paper because we have so many different pieces and layers of Batwoman stuff that doesn’t see fruition up until through the 3rd arc or beyond, some things. We needed to know all those pieces fit properly and so that probably had a lot to do with it.

HB: So at that point the script is only one component of the writing process, right? We do a lot of brain storming and then we write up a kind of story synopsis that DC has to approve for an arc and then I actually take that an put that into an Excel spreadsheet [laughs] and kind of break it down scene by scene to make sure we’re hitting all the big beats of the story and that no scene is wasted and that—we’re absolutely paranoid about page count—we want to make sure we have enough room to tell the story and enough room to let the scenes breath. Sometimes we’re more successful with that than at other times so for me I get really, you know, ‘I want to make sure this fits in [20 pages].’ That was a big change for us actually. When we first began working on the series, we had outlines done for all three arcs and we had page breakdowns done for at least the first four or five issues of the first arc and the first couple issues of the second arc. And then the page counts went from 22 to 20 pages, and it doesn’t seem like it’s a big deal but it’s like losing two pages—

J3: Over time.

HB: So actually, I’m almost embarrassed to tell the story that I put these things in the Excel spreadsheet but I’m really glad I did do that because then we could go back and it becomes like this puzzle how you move stuff around and rather than it being buried in all these documents it’s all right there in one column. And I can say, ‘Well if we take a page from this scene, we get an extra page back from another scene.’

J3: Yeah and a lot of that process, the decision process on like, how many pages we think we might need for such and such scene is kind of decided over the phone. We have phone conversations about that part. When we actually get to the actual script writing either of us will take different scenes and do a first draft of and then we swap.

HB: Then we go back and forth.

J3: And usually it’s we’ve got it down to maybe three and four drafts now before we finalize which is pretty good. Finalization is usually over the phone where we kind of like either have certain points that we are disgruntled about or we need to solve questions or certain dialogue needs tweaking. We’ll be able to solve those issues over the phone.

HB: And normally what happens is that it will be like—what I find really nice—is that there will be something that bothers both of us in some way and maybe we can’t figure out why or whatever. So rather than roll over and live with whatever is there we just brain storm on how to make it better. And for me that’s the best part about the collaboration. We’ve gotten to the point where I feel eighty percent of the script regardless of who has written the first pass of the scene is pretty solid and then there’s that twenty percent that we’re kind of uncomfortable with but that’s where we focus all our energy. I went back and I looked, I think we wrote ten drafts of issue one?

J3: Right.

HB: And now we’re down to three or four drafts. And it’s just because we’re getting more comfortable working together and we’re figuring it out. There will be times where I just leave something misplaced only because I know Jim is going to come up with something better than whatever. Or vice versa. Whereas a lot of times Jim will put in stub dialogue and I go through and write a passive dialogue that is more real and we do another turn on it. We do a lot of dialogue work over the phone.

J3: The other cool thing, and very interesting from a creative point of view, is a lot of times most comics are written by one writer so that person has to make all of the decisions and live with those decisions. Where with us, one of us will have an annoyance but the other person might have a counter perspective that the other one wasn’t thinking about and what’s always fascinating to me about that is that we’ll have disagreements in a way about certain scenes and what’s fascinating is how we talk them out or talk them through we end up with something stronger than either individual points cause you’ll end up with it’s sort of marriage of the two things. It’s really cool.

RK: Within the first seven issues of Batwoman, the series offers an eclectic rogues gallery that includes the likes of La Llarona, Bloody Mary, and Killer Croc. These are horrifying villains, built from fear and nightmares found in urban legends. Whose idea was it to incorporate these modern myths into the series?

J3: Oh, I don’t know.

HB: Yeah, I can’t remember.

J3: It came from both of us in a way.

HB: Yeah, I’m a huge horror buff. I mean I worked on Star Wars for a really long time but my first love has always been horror, ever since I was a kid the movies I gravitated forward and the books I read. I wrote a book on monsters fresh out of college and they focus a lot on urban legends. Weeping Woman for me was always a very powerful figure. There was this whole chapter in [The Field Guide to North American Monsters]. So I always knew I wanted to bring that into some comic book work somewhere. I’m not sure where we came up with the idea that Gotham would be a really great boiling pot for all this stuff. But the idea basically was that there’s all these urban legends that we all know and they would run rampant in Gotham and Gotham is a place where these things seem to come alive. And then once we had the idea of the Weeping Woman then it became a natural. We’re like, ‘Let’s build  a whole rogue’s gallery around the other urban legends. Like the Hook and Bloody Mary, and Killer Croc is really—

RK: The giant alligators in the sewer.

HB: Yeah.

J3: Yeah, and the fun part is you have the basics of the urban legends or folklore myth or whatever, and find new ways to say, ‘Okay, that’s the basis of the myth.’ What do we add to it that wasn’t there?

HB: Yeah, to make it cool.

J3: Yeah, so like with the Hook, as the story develops some of the things you find out about the Hook and learn what the Hook actually is, you’re like, ‘That has nothing to do with the original urban legend.’ But it gives it a little bit more meat in subtext so it can have longevity beyond the superficial urban legend, you know what I mean? But I think a lot of that stuff we both have this real interest in stuff that spooks you. Cause particularly superhero comics you don’t see a lot of that in superhero comics.

HB: There were a couple things when we first started working on Batwoman where we said we wanted it to feel different from Batman and all the other Batman books, right? So one of the hallmarks was we wanted her to deal with more of the supernatural side of Gotham than Batman does and so that became a natural fit to get on the urban legend up.

J3: And on a metaphorical level when you think about that Batwoman’s villains are myth, we’re building all this stuff around the idea of mythology. What is mythology? And what I like about that metaphorically in terms of who Batwoman is we’re wanting Batwoman to be this legacy character, to have this mythology of herself. So the fact that—I don’t think there is any coincidence that we came upon the idea of pitting her up against mythical beings. So it’s like you know how Batman, over twenty years, forty years, has become this very mythical, iconic character culturally? And so in some ways Batwoman needs to have that too but through a different perspective.

RK: Issue six marked the beginning to a new story arc titled “To Drown the World.” One of the most distinct differences between this story arc and the former “Hydrology” relies in its storytelling technique. Whose decision was it to deviate from a linear progression and attempt this Tarantino-esque narrative?

J3: I don’t know.

HB: This is my recollection of it: when we mapped it out it was linear, like all of our synopsis and I think Jim first raised the issue that it might, because some of the stories first start off a little slow, that it might not grab readers the way we want it to. So at first we talked about let’s just “bookend” it; so the beginning and end of each issue will just be the last sequence of Batwoman fighting Falchion and his forces. And then we started talking about that we want to experiment with this book every turn and always be challenging ourselves. So rather than just have bookends let’s have all the stories take place in kind of different points in time. The key though, and the reason why I think that it will work, and we’ll be completely honest with you, we’ve got mixed feedback on it—some people really love it and some people don’t love it so much—but I think that the reason why it ultimately will work when people read all of the issues together is that we made the conscience decision that no matter where each of the stories take place in time, they all move forward linearly. So it’s not like Jacob’s story in the first issue of the arc takes place here and then on a Wednesday and then the next part of the story takes place the previous Tuesday. It’s like everything moves forward in a linear way. So you can ignore even the jumping around in time and still get the story.

J3: The only thing that’s out of time sequence honestly is the end caps. That’s the only thing when you really break it down. The other thing I find interesting is the format is it allows different reveals to happen in a different sort of way. If it had been told in a more traditional manner it would be kind of dry. And honestly a lot of it has to do with because we are dealing with a James Bondian type of plot in the context of a superhero comic and I’ve read plenty of those kind of stories in comics and a lot of times what happens when you’re reading that type of story that’s broken up into months rather than broken up into a graphic novel, let’s say, they read very dryly because all the juiciest bits, all the big bang stuff doesn’t happen till like the second to last chapter. So we were like, ‘Well, how do we get each to see this bang to kind of spice it up?’ One of the things I’ve always been intrigued by is—I’m a huge Tarantino fan, I love the way he’s able to take a story a part and reconfigure it and then in turn what happens is that story becomes much more compelling because of its organization. And we knew it was going to be challenging. We were super nervous all the way to writing the last script, we were like so nervous to people’s reactions to it. So the mix feelings that we’re getting from it isn’t surprising to me at all but that’s like in my blog stuff I’ve been trying to tell people to just be patient. Ultimately besides the end caps it is in linear fashion where it’s like little mini-sodes of each character and it will build into a whole piece.

HB: And I think what it allows—there’s kind of two things I like about it—1.) that it allows us to really focus on these kind of shorter scenes, quieter moments, like the Jacobs scenes for example. For me the reasons those work is because there are these little bite size interstitials that go on throughout the rest of the story but you almost kind of let go at trying to figure out how everything pieces together and you just enjoy each scene for what it is. Each scene, almost every scene, has some kind of dramatic little arc, some little bit of growth for the characters, or little bit of change for the characters once you pack them all together will show a more dramatic character arc. So there’s that and then there’s just those nice moments which Jim kind of touched upon where something might get referenced and then you’re seeing these kind of puzzle pieces coming together. My favorite is Killer Croc in issue 7 he’s with Marrow and he’s talking, ‘Hey, you promised you’re going to make me big time.’ And we don’t really know what that means and then later in that issue we see Killer Croc again but he’s like—it’s clearly later in time—and he’s like this crazy mutant monster and you’re like how’d he get that way? Well, [readers] don’t know yet because we haven’t revealed yet and maybe we will as this arc goes on. But you get to see those moments in the first one when Kate gets gutted by the Hook from the very beginning of the issue and you’re like, what’s going to happen to her, then you see she gets this suit that is kind of bullet proof from the D.E.O. and then you come back to her and you’re like she’s clearly not going to be gutted because she has the suit. So being able to do that stuff feels very Tarantino in a way.

J3: The other fun part for me is its allowed us to do something that you don’t normally get to see. The first arc introduced the Weeping Woman. First you think it’s just a basic ghost story intermixed with all this other personal life stuff and Batwoman’s life stuff spliced in. But then at the end of that story you find out, ‘No, wait there’s something bigger happening here.’ So issue six we have that first scene in the barrios where we introduce him and the fact that that scene takes place before the events of issue one is very fascinating. You don’t normally get to see that sort of thing but what that does when people take the time and think about it that shows that this thing is far reaching.

WB: There is another scene coming up in one of the issue that basically—there is a scene in one of the first arc—it is the aftermath of an event that we’re actually going to show in this arc. So it’s stuff like that that’s really fun to get to do.

J3: Yeah, yeah. And I like the idea of—not only is it challenging for us to see if we can make it all work. When all six chapters are done, does it actually all work? It’s challenging for us and also challenging for the reader too and I’m not interested in comics or doing any comics that don’t try to push something. If it doesn’t work, it didn’t work. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth trying.

RK: A couple months ago, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) nominated Batwoman for a GLAAD Award in the category of Outstanding Comic Book. Batwoman previously won two years ago in the 21st annual GLAAD awards. How does it feel to receive a second nomination from the gay and lesbian community?

J3: I think it’s just tremendous. It really shows that people see we’re very seriously committed to trying to show this character in a very positive light. Not just as a superhero role model but as a human role model. I think that’s really what it says to me.

HB: For me it’s gratifying because I came out approaching it saying I don’t want her to become an icon in the sense that she becomes untouchable. In some ways you have these characters that are iconic like Superman and Wonder Woman and I think that writers have a hard time with them sometimes because they are so iconic it’s hard to show them change or evolve or make mistakes. The best way to learn is by making mistakes. We all make that decision. When I came at it and we started working on this I really kind of made a commitment to myself that I didn’t want to be afraid to show her making mistakes and being a real person just because she has become this icon. And I think that that has allowed her to feel more human as a result of all the positive response we’ve got or awards like this. And it’s not going to change. She makes bad decisions just like the rest of us do and hopefully she learns from them and that’s pretty much the key. She’s not going to be perfect and we’re not going to put her on a pedestal ever.

J3: She’s multifaceted, you know? Just the fact that [GLAAD] recognized what Haden and I are trying to show this strong, positive relationship between her and Maggie Sawyer is so, so key. I mean, we have long term plans for this and it’s something I honestly think is missing out of a lot of other comics, whether they’re gay or straight comics characters or not.

HB: It’s so easy to fall into that trap of how it’s so difficult to balance the life of a superhero and a romantic.

J3: That’s why you should explore it.

HB: Exactly. We didn’t want to fall into that trap at all. We said, ‘Kate’s got a chaotic like. Maggie’s got a chaotic life. There are people in this world that are like that that have managed to forge strong lasting, honest relationships and so that for us was the biggest thing. I don’t want it to be like them breaking up every other issue or, ‘Oh, god! You never have any time for me.’ Or whatever. It’s like they’re both busy professionals involved in really crazy stuff but yet they can still find a way to have an honest relationship. And that to me is super critical. And it’s not that they won’t have their challenges, you know? That’s a part of it too.

J3: I’m hoping that the people who are responsible for the GLAAD awards can see that as the stage progresses we’re definitely not after trying to show this lesbian couple in a superficial way. The idea of a gay character in a superficial way not at all. We wanted people to see this as any other character you’re trying to write dramatic stories about. I think it is so important instead of just over sex it up or anything along that line—

HB: Or again, make them too perfect.

J3: They need to be three dimensional beings, multifaceted beings.

RK:  Currently one of the most desirable details Batwoman fans wish to understand is the specifics regarding artist Amy Reeder’s sudden exit from the series. As most fans understand from the explicit details regarding John Rozum’s resignation from Static Shock, chances of hearing the reasons behind Reeder’s leave are slim to none and will remain vaguely abstract. Do you believe the public will ever learn the nature behind Reeder’s creative differences with the Batwoman team?

J3: Well there’s nothing I really want to say about it that should be said to the public. I mean, I know some parts of the public think they deserve to know because they spend their dollars on this stuff or whatever but ultimately, you know—

HB: Ultimately for me it’s a distraction from the work and Amy did some incredible work on the book and I don’t want anything to distract again from the work that she’s done. And I don’t want anything to distract from the work that Jim and I have done. And more importantly to distract from the character in the story we’re trying to tell. At the end of the day I don’t care if people remember the names of the folks that worked on the book. I care that they remember what Batwoman went through and that she was a compelling character that touched them in some way or was meaningful to them in some way. And all this other stuff is just distraction.

RK: Along with Reeder’s announcement of a detachment from Batwoman, DC announced artist Trevor McCarthy will replace her on the project. How do you expect readers will react to McCarthy’s artwork on Batwoman?

J3: I hope they love it! I mean, I’ve seen the first few pages and they’re pretty phenomenal. Granted he’s a lot different than Amy but he’s a lot different from me too, and Amy is different than me. I just hope people see quality work when they see it and they can recognize it. Hopefully they will like it, I don’t really know what else to say about it [laughs].

HB: For me, just as a comic books fan, I’ve seen the first couple pages come through and I’m just floored and I think its fantastic stuff. And I think that as Jim said it’s different than either of Amy or Jim’s work but it compliments it well so I don’t think that there’s going to be—when we see these things collected in trade paperback—a huge jarring like, ‘Oh, my God! We’ve gone from Amy to some—

J3: From Amy to some low grade—

HB: Yeah, right. That’s definitely what we don’t have, like the quality part. The quality is really high. It still feels within the Batwoman family.

RK: Speaking of the future issues of Batwoman, the series to date has included previous DC characters like Chase, Mr. Bones, Batman, Flamebird, and Col. Jacob Kane. What other entities from the DC Universe can fans expect to appear in the arcs to come?

J3: Well, we got Killer Croc that’s happening right now.

HB: It’s actually interesting, and I don’t think we actually consciously did this but the way you look at how the three arc unfold it’s really interesting. The first arc is really about reestablishing Batwoman and it’s about her very personal relationship and it’s about her and one villain and that kind of one on one dynamic and her relationship with her father. But it’s a very personal thing. And then with two, we kind of start to expand her role within Gotham. So we don’t see a ton of Gotham in the first one and really the only areas we reference are the barrios and that’s where a lot of action takes place. So with two we start to open up her role in Gotham, we start to introduce more villains and more characters within Gotham and show how she is impacted by Gotham and it fits into that kind of larger context by bringing in Killer Croc. And then in three, well she is a part of the greater DCU, right? So, [Jim is] going to kick me for using this term, but she’s teaming up with somebody in the 3rd arc. There’s another character, a big DC character, that’s involved in the storyline of the 3rd arc. It’s still very by determination [Batwoman’s] story and it’s something we’ve been planning from arc one and two, continuing over to arc three but now it’s more about how does she fit in the greater DCU.

J3: We didn’t do that intentionally. It just naturally evolved. The cool thing about the third arc, without saying who she’s going to be teamed up with—it’ll come out soon enough—that her story, Batwoman’s story, people will say, ‘Oh, things that Batwoman can do can impact things outside of Gotham.’ And the events that take place in this story, when you think about what’s happening, are world reaching and we’re making her a world character. And I think that’s going to be pretty darn cool.

HB: And the DEO is kind of the first step in that too.

J3: Yeah, and what I love so much about that is it’s a character like Batman himself who has become this world character has no superpowers. Yet the things that she does, the decisions that she can make can save nations.

RK: Do you guys expect any crossovers with Batwoman?

J3: No, there’s none planned.

HB: No. Again, in arc three there is a major DC figure in the comic with her but it’s not a direct crossover.

RK: Batwoman won’t appear in any other DC series at the moment?

J3: Not that I know of. Bones is appearing in an issue of Blue Beetle for an issue. And who knows, it’s very possible you might see Batwoman pop up as a guest star in other issues, who knows. But as far as any major event crossovers there are certainly nothing planned. But a part of that might be because we have to work on these stories so far in advance, it’s kind of hard to shoe in a crossover issue in the middle of a six issue story arc or whatever.

HB: I think we’re pretty protective of the character. I won’t say overprotective but I think we feel a lot of—ownership is too strong of a word because obviously it’s DC’s character—but we have a lot of pride in the work that we’ve done and I feel like we know her voice and understand who she is and we know what she would do, so we are very protective. I don’t know, maybe some people sense that [laughs].

RK: All right, gentlemen. Thank you so much!

J3: Sure thing.

HB: No problem.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

J.H. WIlliams III and W. Haden Blackman Signing in Bay Area

Hello friends. I'm currently in Anaheim, CA covering WonderCon for Bleeding Cool and although I'm far away from my home in Northern California, I have big and exciting news for my friends in the bay area and readers all around. Next weekend the writer duo J.H. Williams III (artist on Batwoman, Promethea, and Chase) and W. Haden Blackman (writer of Dark Horse's Star Wars) will conduct a signing at Blue Moon Comics in San Rafael, CA. I am tremendously excited about meeting these stars of the comic industry. In all honesty, I would ramble on and on about how much I love Williams and Blackman's work on Batwoman (I already have here), but I am exhausted as all heck and really need to crash. So allow me to leave you with an expectation of a future interview with these two wonderful gentlemen. Until then, look to Bleeding Cool for my latest coverage at WonderCon.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Stitch 'em Up - Stiched #3 - Review

Stitched #3 (wraparound cover).
Allow me to first express how my stomach churns to write this. It churns because I am reminded of all the gruesomely horrific series Avatar Press has produced in the horror genre. I've seen families brutally massacred and raped by a disease infested swarm of cross-faced maniacs in Garth Ennis' Crossed. I've read an entire comic where an undercover female FBI agent is forced to give oral sex while being sodomized by a sex cult (all before being raped by an amphibious Lovecraftian creature) in Alan Moore's Neonomicon. And now... now in issue three of Ennis' latest horror tale Stitched, readers find out the origins behind the titular monstrosities known as the Stitched. And believe me when I say this is not a comic for a weak stomach.

 Beyond the rivers of carnage and bloodshed that Avatar Press is so well known for, I am always invested in their titles solely for the purpose of enjoying a good story. Without a doubt, this is my main reason for sticking with any series; whether it appears in television, book, or comic form, a strong story must exist to pull my strings and get me to lay down some hard cash. As luck would have it, Avatar Press is not merely a publishing group known for disturbing content but rather disturbing content built around a solid, conceptually interesting story-line. Stitched is no exception.

Stitched Short-Film Poster

Before the comic, Stitched started as a short-film written and directed by Ennis in 2011. Tank Jones, Lauren Alonzo, and Kate Kugler starred in the short as a group of American soldiers lost in the hostile mountains of Afghanistan after their Black Hawk crashes. With one of the team wounded, the three soldiers must make their way across the desert terrain without gaining any attention of the locals. Little do they know they face a much bigger threat than Al Queda soldiers. They face a dark force known as the Stitched. This premise is not exactly original. In fact, it is slowly becoming it's own horror subgenre, something I call "warror," a blend of "war" and "horror" films. Jason Hignite over at HorrorHound shares my feelings, labeling movies like Resident Evil, Predator, and Dog Soldiers as "paramilitary." No matter your choice of misnomers, I would like to assure you, Stitched holds up as a strong comic using these two genre blends.

Part of the reason the comic is good is due to Ennis' ever entertaining dialogue. Ennis' history in the comic industry includes the popular Vertigo series Preacher, Dynamite's The Boys, and his run of Marvel's Punisher. I easily consider him one of my favorite comic book writers, right beside Alan Moore. My only problem so far with Stitched is the fact that it is a series. In my opinion, the only way to truly enjoy Ennis' work is if it's collected in one volume for one big, luxurious read. This makes rating a single issue extremely difficult.

Stitched #3 (regular cover)
Mike Wolfer's artwork is similar to most art featured in Avatar Press comics. The depictions of humans are recognizable but not perfect (especially in the facial features). But once the bump-in-the-night spookies come out to play, readers truly see the merit behind the art. Take for instance any of the covers for the Stitched series and you will see just what kind of horrific goodness you have in store as a reader. The Stitched creatures are a clever concoction of the classic Universal Mummy blended with the KKK. However, revelations in this months issue will tell just how these ghastly things came to be. Wolfer also adds a convincing hand when depicting the Afghanistan environment. Of course, it all appears to be rocks and sand but not once have I thought, "Damn, that looks out of place."

All in all, issue three of Stitched is worth reading. However, I strongly feel readers will find a collected volume more satisfying than picking up the single issues. I will admit that if you are looking for the next line of horror like that of Crossed, Stitched is not it. The story and art are strong but not as epic and gripping as the original Crossed serious was. Without the comparison, Stitched remains a gruesome book for any starved horror fan.

Stitched #3 (gore cover)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

What is “Shin Megami Tensei”, and Why Should You Be Playing It!

I have always been a fan of GOOD video games. Unfortunately right now, anyone who knows how to write a computer program seems to be producing video games for any kind of media you can imagine. Right now we are stuck with a few gems worth trying out while the market is flooded with boring sequels, horrible adaptations, and overall crap that seems like the producers and directors didn’t put one ounce of thought into. I personally feel that part of this is due to the “Americanization” of video games. More and more games are coming from United States publishers who throw together pretty visuals with a couple of explosions, a fart joke and girls with huge boobs and they think they have a best seller. Unfortunately a lot of gamers in today’s market fall for it. These games make millions, and they keep producing them like an assembly line; it’s all about the money. That’s not to say all American games are bad, but the ratio of good ones to bad ones isn’t impressive. Gaming to me is about the overall experience. I personally put most of my attention to the story of the game (granted visuals and playability do factor in as well). Luckily about three years ago I was introduced to a game titled, “Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4”. I already had high standards for video games, but this one raised the bar, and started me on a love affair with an entire series of quirky characters, powerful demons, and a library of titles that has surpassed most games and franchises in my eyes.

The “Shin Megami Tensei” (SMT) franchise has quite a history. “Shin Megami Tensei” roughly translates into “Reincarnation of the True Goddess”, which really has nothing to do with the spinoffs. SMT originally started as a novel series titled Digital Devil Story by Aya Nishitani (which has never been adapted into English). Shortly after, a game adaptation for the Famicom in Japan appeared under the name “Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei” in 1987. From there many sequels and spinoffs have been produced for various consoles and media. The series has been a huge success in Japan. Being an RPG (Role Playing game) it has rivaled Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest since it first appeared. More recently it has caught on in the U.S. through Manga, Anime, and English adaptations of the most recent games. Recent spinoffs in SMT’s history include; Persona, Devil Summoner, Digital Devil Saga, and Devil Survivor. Most of the games center on a protagonist and their group of friends (usually high school students) who are faced with some kind of mystery; serial murders, mass suicides, suspicious natural disasters, or distorted reality. Most of the games in the series focus on the protagonist (usually unnamed and silent) making choices as the story progresses that help them make friends (which strengthens his/her power as well as that of the party members), and choose the path of Justice or Chaos. Also in most of the games the main characters of the story are able to summon or recruit demons to help them solve these mysteries that they are facing. So let’s summarize; an RPG, about teenagers who solve mysteries, make friends, and summon demons. Confused? That’s not even half of it.

Each of these games are driven by their stories and the characters that push the action along. The situations that each of the characters face are surprisingly real. As the majority of these games take place in modern day Japan, the characters deal with situations that can be crushingly true and close to what the player may have experienced in their own past. While playing these games I have come across characters who were questioning their sexuality, crushed by family obligations, dealing with the betrayal of a close friend, coping with the illness and eventual death of a loved one, and desperately fighting to accept who and what they truly are. At first each of these games starts with bubbly J-Pop music that could sicken the cutest of puppies, but it quickly turns into an examination of the dark side of human existence. They explore the angst that people experience in their everyday lives – then they throw in demons, evil beings, monsters and the possible destruction of the world just to make things more interesting. All of these games have characters that I can personally relate to. I have been touched by how characters reacted to deaths of other primary characters (which isn’t uncommon), moved by how they dealt with family discord, and I’ve even been choked up when someone’s mother died of an illness and you were given choices how to react to her. This kind of open ended story telling that can have consequences on so many levels makes the depth and complexity of the story and its characters exciting and fulfilling when played through. The choices also allow for play throughs again and again.

Finally we have the use of the Demons. The term “Demon” in the series refers to any of the supernatural creatures you can summon (This includes actual demons, gods, monsters, and angels). Think of them as Pokémon with attitudes that wouldn’t mind killing you. The most interesting thing about these demons is that they are demons and gods that are actually found in the myths and folklore of many cultures around the world. Upon playing through one of the games, I went and researched several of the demons that were used in the game and found every one of them were actual demons from other cultures. While playing these games I have come across Cait Sith, Thor, Beelzebub, Amaterasu, Cerberus, Satan, and more. Literary characters and creatures are also available; Alice from Alice in Wonderland (who was surprisingly the best demon I have used in any of the games), H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep, and Shakespeare’s Othello are some I used. Depending on the game, they can be bosses that are incredibly difficult, starter demons that are like Squirtle or Charmander, or badass demons that won’t join you until you can prove you are worthy of their power. Unlike Pokémon you can usually take those demons and “fuse” them into other demons. There are rules that dictate how the fusing goes (so intricate I would need another twenty pages to describe), but most times they create demons that share the traits and strengths that the original ones had with several upgrades. This type of system adds a kind of depth to the games that can become obsessive if you want to fuse every demon possible. The idea of summoning creatures to help you complete your mission isn’t something new to gaming, but SMT started back in the 80’s and has evolved it into something unique and fun that varies from game to game. For Digital Devil Saga the characters change into the demons during battle; in Devil Summoner you contract them to help you through persuasion, force, or bribery; Persona’s demons are actually other “personas” of the character that reflect the kind of person they are; Devil Survivor has you fight demons after summoning them through a computer program and making a pact with them once you defeat them. Along the way you find favorites (just like Pokémon) that you want to keep in your party all the time, and are reluctant to fuse, only to find the fusion creates a demon that you like even more.

On the downside, the reason these games have struggled to gain success in the U.S. is they are deeply rooted in Japanese culture, which for many people makes it difficult to understand or relate to. All of the games in the series, except one, take place primarily in Japan. There are references to the geography, culture, and lifestyle that the Japanese are accustomed to that many people in the U.S. just won’t get. That is why this awesome series has struggled to find its niche in a western market that idolizes muscle bound heroes and crude humor. Even though I love the SMT series as a whole, I do have to say that there are definitely some things that get lost in translation. If you are willing to put in the extra work and do a little research, most of the confusing elements can be explained and you can have a bit of insight into some of the more intricate parts of the stories that may not make all that much sense. However, without the Japanese culture that is so prevalent in the series, most of the depth of the game would be lost. It’s the superstition and respect for the folklore and mythos of Japanese and other cultures that allows for a varied and unique experience (I’m sorry, I don’t see a lot of U.S. made games indulge in varied cultural folklore for inspiration). The cultural traps are there, but they hardly mar the overall experience. Some of the stories even revolve around Christian and Hindu religion (one story is directly related to the biblical tale of Cain and Abel). It is wonderful that this series that revolves around Japan plays with other cultures, making it appealing on many levels.

The SMT series is definitely one of my favorite game franchises. After completing my first adventure with Persona 4, I actively sought to find every SMT game that has been released in the United States. Although I have my favorites in the series, I love each of the games for their intricate and deep stories. I’m thrilled that the SMT series is finally starting to catch on in the states, and Atlus (the current publisher) is looking back and re-releasing older games in the series on the DS or the PSP that U.S. gamers have expressed interest in.  I highly recommend these titles in the series:

Persona 4 (Available on the PS2 and soon on the PS VITA): Serial murders have broken out in a country town in Japan, and a small group of students have to use their remarkable powers to solve the mystery and fight the evil behind it.

Persona 2 (Available on the PSP): Rumors are starting to come true in Japan, everything from ghosts lurking in school hallways to the Third Reich and its diabolical leader resurrecting and attacking. Only Persona users have it in them to defeat the power manipulating Japan.

Devil Survivor (Available on the Nintendo DS and 3DS): Demons have started to erupt from a strange computer program and wreak havoc in Tokyo. Swiftly the military cordons off the affected areas, but little do the people know that a power of biblical proportions is waiting to consume everything if a band of young “Demon Tamers” can’t stop it. (My personal favorite)

If you don’t like these three titles, then SMT isn’t for you. I feel that these three embody what the SMT series is all about. They are all radically different (even though two are sequels of one spinoff) and show what kind of power this series really has. I just started the most recent addition to the SMT family, “Devil Survivor 2”. I already know this is another game that will keep me hooked until I complete everything! If you love RPGs and games with depth and a challenge, defiantly check out the SMT series. I wish they were easier to find, but now the games available in the U.S. have become collector’s items. They aren’t easy to find, and when you do they tend to be pretty expensive. Despite this, I think these games are at least worth trying. You never know, you might find a new obsession like I did.

By Justin Hopper

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Legend Passes Away - Jean "Moebius" Giraud, RIP 1938-2012

Terrible news folks. The visual artist Jean Giraud, aka Moebius, aka Gir, passed away today. Honestly, I was unfamiliar with Moebius until a year and a half ago because I couldn't readily find anything he created to read. As luck would have it, my friend Larry let me borrow a copy of The Airtight Garage and as they say, the rest is history. Sadly, with Moebius' passing, it can officially be referred to as a history. 

For those unfamiliar with Moebius, he was a French comic book artist most well known for his detailed illustrations of exotic and fantastic landscapes. His most well known graphic works were Blueberry, Arzach, The Airtight Garage, The Incal, among many, many others. He also worked as a concept artist for Hollywood cinema for such popular films such as Alien, Tron, The Fifth Element, Willow, and The Abyss.

Many current comic book artists recognize Moebius as inspiration for their sense of style and design. These artists include Geoff Darrow, Brandon Graham, James Stokoe, Nate Simpson, and even the legendary film maker Hayao Miyazaki admits his admiration. The fond relationship between Miyazaki and Moebius actually led to a wonderful museum collaboration between the two greats in France titled the Miyazaki-Moebius Exhibition. You can hear Miyazaki discuss Moebius in this video: 

Here is a collected assortment of some, and definitely not all, of Moebius' work:

RIP Jean Giraud, aka Moebius, aka Gir
May 8th 1938 - March 10th 2012

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Top 10 Penguin Classics Cover Art

The expression "never judge a book by it's cover" is often right, except in the case when professional artists are hired to create illustrations for some of English literature's most famous titles. Over the past several years, Penguin Classics has published a bucket full of novels with exceptional cover art by some of today's most cherished contemporary artists. Today I give you a top ten list (in no particular order) of the best Penguin Classic covers created to date.

1. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl,
cover art by Jordan Crane

2. The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac,
cover art by Jason

3. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley,
cover art by Daniel Clowes

4. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain,
cover art by Lillie Carre

5. Moby Dick by Herman Melville,
cover art by Tony Millionaire

6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey,
cover art by Joe Sacco

7. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair,
cover art by Charles Burns

8. The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster,
cover art by Art Spiegelman

9. Heart of Darknesswritten by Joseph Conrad,
cover art by Mike Mignola

10. White Noise by Don DeLillo,
cover art by Michael Cho

Click here to view more contemporary Penguin Classics cover art.