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Chew

Best Comics of 2010: Chew

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After establishing itself as the best new series in comics in 2009, 2010 has seen Chew solidify its position as one of the most consistently entertaining and inventive comics out there. It’s the sort of series where single issues don’t tend to jump out on their own, but instead the ongoing narrative has developed depth and interest on a month-by-month basis. It’s probably the comic out there that most resembles a TV series (even down to the obvious real-actor casting of some of its characters), and this was perhaps most apparent with the excellent Thanksgiving-set issue #15, which felt particularly like an “end of season one” moment.

It now becomes clear that that first year-and-a-bit was all about getting the characters in place and set up for the reader – and even as it felt like major plots were happening, it transpires that in fact this was all setup for the plot itself to begin as of issue #16 onwards. #15 offered one last revelation about Tony’s background, introducing one last character to the core group, and confirmed in its closing pages that the story was moving into a scope bigger and wider than had previously seemed the case.

Through all of this, the series has remained devilishly witty – laugh-out-loud funny at times, even – and its strong emphasis on characterisation (in addition to the inventive ideas) is one of the things that sets it apart. Even though he’s (quite deliberately) made only fleeting appearances over the past year, there have been few better characters introduced in comics of late than Mason Savoy, and the promise of #15 – which featured him directly in scenes on his own rather than only showing him when he interacts with Tony – suggests that he will still have a major part to play in the book’s future, and that there’s still a great heap of moral ambiguity to come.

It’s odd that a series can make it as far as 15 issues and only then lay down a marker to say “Right, we’re getting going now” – but Chew has earned a great amount of goodwill by being such a solidly fun (and at times utterly demented) comic, with Layman admirably choosing not to just sit back on the one good idea (the series’ main hook) but instead scattering lots of great smaller ones throughout as well. I’ve enjoyed inhabiting its bonkers little world over the past year – it being one of those few series that I make sure not to miss the week it comes out – and the promise of the actual plot exploding into life makes it an appealing prospect to stick with for 2011 as well.

Seb Patrick | 26th December, 2010

Ash Vs. Britain: Old Comics, New to You.

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ashvsbritain

There might not be any new American comics in the shops this week, but that isn’t going to stop some of us from wanting to go out and spend our weekly comics budget. And hey, a comic doesn’t have to be newly-released to be worth reading. So in this post, we’re going to each recommend 5 back issues you might want to go and have a look for down the local this afternoon (or on Saturday, or whenever your New Comics Day is) – not the obvious ones, of course (you don’t need us to tell you to go pick up Gaiman’s Batman issues) but hopefully, a few you might not be aware of.

Although comic shops that stock back issues are a dying breed nowadays, there are still a fair few around that offer good selections. If you’re in London, then the dusty old-fashioned Comicana has probably the best selection, and the back section of the new Orbital premises has rows and rows of stuff as well. Or there’s always Book & Comic Exchange in Notting Hill Gate, which carries an excellent range of second-hand back issues and trades. Meanwhile, if you’ve a Travelling Man in your town, note that for today only, all back issues are being offered on a 3 for 2 deal in their shops. If you’ve any other suggestions for places to pick up back issues this week, then leave them in the comments!

James’ Recommendations

generationx71Generation X #71 – Brian Wood might currently be best known for writing three awesome Vertigo series in the shape of DMZ, Northlanders and Demo, but back in the day he wrote this – my favourite issue of the X-Men spin-off, Generation X.

At the time, Wood had joined Marvel under the instruction of Warren Ellis, who was revamping the second-tier X-books, bringing in new creative teams and establishing new directions. The revamp was branded “Counter X”, and the issues of Generation X, X-Man and X-Force that Ellis was directly involved in were recently collected under that name – although, sans the final arcs, which Ellis was not involved in. This issue is from Wood’s first solo arc on Generation X, and also turned out to be his last, as the book was cancelled with #75.

Titled “Four Days”, this arc comprised 4 single-issue stories about Gen X members, set on the same day. This one was the Chamber solo issue, and sees him heading into New York to buy some records, becoming friends with someone as a result. Fans of the original Demo might remember that it tangentally span out of Wood’s “NYX” treatment – and that, itself, seems to have notionally spun out this. It’s a clear precursor to the work Wood and Cloonan would later do in Demo, and if you think this might lack Becky Cloonan’s visuals, well, it has Steve Pugh instead, which is almost enough to make up for it. This issue is easily my favourite, but if you see any from this arc (which ran in Generation X #71-#74) you should snap them up without hesitation.

fnsm23Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #23 – Remember when Spider-Man unmasked himself live on TV? Admittedly, the denizens of the Marvel Universe don’t, but that’s what makes this issue worth tracking down. Produced during the brief period between Civil War and One More Day when the world knew that Peter Parker was Spider-Man, this issue features the meeting everyone wanted to see – that between Peter and J. Jonah Jameson.

It’s a shame that the change in the relationship between Peter and Jameson couldn’t be explored more, because if this issue’s anything to go by, it could have been an interesting one. Writer Peter David makes excellent use of Jameson, resolving his ranting, insane persona and his honourable member of the press identity to explore the psychology behind his hatred of Spider-Man. It’s not the first time it’s been done – but it is an entertaining example of it. It’s just a shame that things never evolved past this.

thunderbolts26Thunderbolts #26 – Back in the days when Thunderbolts was still about villains becoming heroes but not all of them doing it very convincingly, Kurt Busiek had Hawkeye join the team to help steer them in the right direction – after all, he’s an Avenger who started out as a criminal. One of his stipulations, though, was that Abe Jenkins, the former Beetle and one of the teams less hardened criminals – went to jail for a murder he was involved in years ago. Jenkins agreed.

Flash forward to this issue, and the guest creative team of Joe Casey and Leonard Manco write a fill-in about Jenkins’ time in jail. It’s a fantastically atmospheric story in which a gadget-less Jenkins helps quell a prison riot, proving his desire to reform and realising his heroic ambitions – even if no-one knows he helped out. It’s also an interesting perspective on the marvel universe – the super-powered prisons as seen by the villains – and even though it’s not Busiek and Bagley, it manages to be one of the best issues of the original run, worth a look even in isolation.

uncannyxmen351Uncanny X-Men #351 - The Seagle and Kelly period of the core X-Men books might have been truncated rather disappointingly due to editorial interference, but that’s all in the past now. The issues themselves remain – and of those, this one is an absolute gem.

The story follows Cecilia Reyes, the self-loathing mutant who, despite being rescued by the team during Operation Zero Tolerance, doesn’t want anything to do with the X-Men. She just wants to go back to her life as a doctor, and that’s what happens. Of course, now that she’s a known mutant in affiliated with the X-Men, her old life doesn’t really exist, and visits from Daredevil and a legacy-virus afflicted Pyro only serve to drive that home, as we follow the major beats of a day in which she comes to realise that she’s stuck with the X-Men, whether she likes it or not. Which she doesn’t really. Sadly, the good story is slightly hampered by some fairly gratuitous artwork frolm Ed Benes, who thinks that even a rather sour and highly professional doctor needs to arch her back unnaturally at all times. Still, that’s the kind of imperfection that means this rather good story might just be overlooked in the back-issue boxes.

hulk454Incredible Hulk #454 – Peter David and Adam Kubert do Hulk & Wolverine in the Savage Land. And it’s awesome. Assuming, of course, you believe that the Hulk and Wolverine fighting dinosaurs is awesome, which it objectively is. Oh, and at one point a T. Rex attacks a jet plane. If, however, you’re the kind of person who likes a good story to go along with it, Peter David has crafted a classic “outer man versus inner beast” piece that always works for Hulk/Wolverine meet-ups. Add to that his dry wit, and you have a fun read made to look great by the artwork. My personal favourite factoid about the issue is that it’s the first meeting of The Hulk and Wolverine… when he had bone claws, and as you can imagine, there’s plenty of comedy that results from that.

Seb’s Recommendations

chew1Chew #1
If you’ve missed out on getting started with John Layman and Rob Guillory’s cracking and utterly bonkers tale of cops, contraband chicken and cannibalism, and you don’t want to fork out for the first trade until you’ve had a bit of a taste first (that “taste” thing is a pun that will make more sense when you’ve actually read the comic), and the bajillion reprints that the first issue had at full price *still* weren’t enough for you to catch it, then the ludicrously generous $1 version put out this last month as part of the “Image Firsts” scheme is surely an absolute no-brainer. The fact that Tony Chu is modelled on Miles out of Lost never fails to amuse, even more so when we’re introduced to his floppy-haired part-cyborg partner (in the cop sense, not the Biblical sense), who could quite easily be played by Josh Holloway.

chloethumbChloe Noonan : Monster Hunter #1
We’re established fans of Marc Ellerby’s work here at CD, but even if you’re not into romances about young people in bands or autobiographical webcomics, it’s hard not to love Chloe Noonan. You may think you’ve seen plenty of stories about teenage girl monster hunters before, and you’d be right, but what sets Chloe apart is the way the foreground focus is on everyday mundanity, and the monster battles are almost background detail – as Ellerby puts it, the book’s more about Chloe getting the bus to a monster fight than it is about the fight itself. There’s a deadpan tone to it that’s somehow utterly charming, and it’s laugh-out-loud funny at times. Ellerby shows surprising nous as a cartoony-action artist (considering his background), AND it’s got Pixies references in. Both issues so far are cracking fun, though I slightly prefer the first one – largely for the Twix gag at the end. You can find Chloe Noonan in Page 45 in Nottingham, Gosh! in London, the various Travelling Man stores, OK Comics in Leeds, Nostalgia & Comics in Birmingham, and Excelsior in Bristol. So check it out. Huff.

388px-Dreaming_Vol_1_16The Dreaming #16
Peter Hogan’s issues of Sandman sequel/spinoff The Dreaming were a rare bright spot in what was initially a patchy-if-interesting venture, before quickly degenerating into unreadable goth nonsense. His best story, “The Lost Boy”, was a four-parter – so instead I’m going to recommend this done-in-one, drawn by Gary Amaro, called “Ice”. It concerns The Sandman‘s two major faerie characters – Nuala and the Cluracan – and shows the former, now living among humans, paid a visit by the clearly infatuated Lucien; while the latter gets drunk in a pub and is similarly visited by his rather-less-infatuated nemesis. It’s the latter thread that’s the more entertaining, and provides a surprising twist to the setup originally created by Gaiman (sadly, it’s a plot strand that to my knowledge was never subsequently followed up on). What really makes it work is that Hogan gets most of Gaiman’s character voices spot on – particularly the ever-amusing Cluracan, but also Lucien, in a subplot that feels slight but is quite sweet and charming. Oh, and there’s a third subplot that doesn’t seem to do much, but briefly picks up on the doings of Brief Lives’ Pharamond. If you’re a fan of Sandman, this is one of the few single issues put out after Gaiman’s departure from all things Vertigo that’s actually worth picking up as a bit of fan-pleasing closure/continuation. Lovely-looking issue, too.

gbdisplaced1Ghostbusters : Displaced Aggression #1
Another recent one, but the inconsistent shipping patterns of IDW licensed books to UK shops meant I never actually got an issue of this miniseries in the week it was published, and so didn’t properly cover it on the site. Anyway, it was really rather enjoyable – probably my favourite comics interpretation of the Ghostbusters (and I say that as someone who liked the 2004 88mph Studios version, too). Maybe it’s just the Back to the Future fanboy in me that got such a kick out of a flying, time-travelling Ecto-1, but the time travel scenario actually suits the characters down to the ground. This first issue is “the Venkman issue”, and it rattles along (thankfully moving on from the Wild West scenario quicker than expected, having launched into the story in medias res). The addition of more-than-she-seems-at-first grad student Rachel Unglighter to the cast actually works surprisingly well – in fact, in this issue you barely notice that the other three ‘busters are missing. It’s just well-paced, entertaining fluff, basically. Well worth a look.

JusticeLeagueAmericaAnnual1990Justice League International Annual #4
I reviewed the previous year’s JLI Annual on the site some time back, but if anything, this one from 1990 is even better. What makes it worth recommending as a random back-issue to try is that it’s almost entirely standalone – the characters it focuses on, The Injustice League, had only had one prior appearance, and are given more than enough context here that it’s almost an entirely new introduction. All you need to know is that they’re down-on-their-luck, rubbish supervillains who don’t much like each other yet can’t avoid forming a team. Basically, the issue reads like a pilot for the best supervillain sitcom you’ve never seen – and the idea of having them decide to try and join the JLI, judging it a more profitable career path than petty crime, is inspired. It’s tremendously funny, and it’s got G’nort in it. What more could you want? Should you happen to stumble across this in the back issue bins, you couldn’t ask for a more chucklesome read.

Comics Daily Awards 2009: Best New Series

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chew01_c1This week, we’re handing out the Second Annual Comics Daily awards – one per day – between Christmas and New Year. Each award has been written up by a member of the Comics Daily team after a consensus was reached, and highlights what we feel have been the best of superhero comics this year.

Best New Series: Chew

It almost goes without saying for any entertainment medium, but feels especially true of comics, that ideas are paramount right now. With so many comics out there – both contemporaneously, and throughout seven or eight decades of published comic book history – if you’re launching something new and you don’t have a good enough hook, then you’re sunk; so, in this day and age – the higher concept, the better. Meanwhile, we’ve already discussed recently the growing influence that titles like Casanova are having on the industry – and one aspect of this is in not just providing a single “big” idea to drive a series, but to litter lots of small ones throughout. It’s a case of throwing every new concept that pops into your head onto the page, knowing that not all of them will stick, but that the ones that do will often have the reader shaking their head in awe at your bravura. It all makes for a rather fun time to be reading comics, at least if you’re looking at that slightly-below-the-top-layer-of-the-mainstream, creator-owned sort of area.

Chew is exemplary of this style of comic, on both counts. First off, the hook is simply terrific – the lead character, Tony Chu, is a “cibopath”; that is, someone who can get a psychic impression from something by eating it. It’s bonkers enough that no-one’s ever done it before, without being too absurd to want to read it. But Layman doesn’t stop with just one mad idea, and that’s what puts the book firmly in the “freewheeling” category – concepts come thick and fast, building a similar-yet-distinctly-alternate reality in which chicken is a contraband substance, hard-as-nails detectives have half-robotic reconstructed faces, and the FDA are the most powerful arm of the US government. Indeed, so packed is the book with ideas and characters that many can be picked up and exhausted within the space of a single issue. It makes for a read that’s often breathless, but never less than compelling.

Strong character work, too, has marked the series out even at this early stage – Chu is, despite his uncanny abilities, a bewildered everyman in the classic Arthur Dent mould, simply trying to come to terms with the rather insane world he’s been thrown into. And it’s to the writer’s credit that after just five issues, the massive twist at the end of the last arc came as such a gut punch. It’s a brave move to set up a status quo and then shatter and replace it so early on – you need to have the confidence that the reader will have been sufficiently hooked by the one you started, and that they’ll want to stick with you after the about-face. Happily, the first issue of the new storyline introduced another new character and dynamic that’s taken the book down a different but still intriguing route; and the current issue, released this very week, has once again reminded us that it’s a series in which nothing can be taken for granted.

Helping the feel that this is something fresh and exciting is the art of Rob Guillory – it’s energetic and vibrant, leaping off the page while coping well with some of the more surreal aspects that Layman throws in. I’ve mentioned it before, but there are hints of the likes of Jim Mahfood and Gabriel Ba in there, and it works well. It definitely makes for one of those situations where the book has hit the ground running as a package – writer and artist seem to share the same slightly warped aesthetic, and that’s always a good sign. It may not even have reached the end of its first year yet, but Chew is clearly already one to keep a vigilant eye on – it can sometimes be bewildering to see which quirky independent series catch the public’s imagination and the wave of the hype machine and which don’t, but in this instance, the fuss around it (just how many times has #1 been reprinted in various forms now?) seems justified.

Runners-up: SWORD, Irredeemable, Batgirl, Batman & Robin

Seb Patrick | 28th December, 2009

Chew #6

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chew6I was late to the party with Chew – barely noticing it as a hugely talked-about-new-thing until around the third issue or so, and then attempting to catch up with whatever I could get my hands on in UK shops. Thankfully, it didn’t take long to do so – nor for it to register as one of the wittiest, most inventive and downright entertaining new books around. The current issue is the beginning of a new storyarc – and by introducing a new partner for Tony Chu and setting up a new dynamic, it makes for an ideal jumping-on point.

Indeed, after the status-quo-shattering events of #5, it’s something of a surprise to see a change in pace, and the Mason story pushed firmly into the background. It works well, though – this is still a young series, and jumping too headlong into darker territory would risk losing the unique style and energy that it’s already managed to establish. Consequently, what marks out this issue more than anything is that it’s simply so much bloody fun. Following a nice volte-face away from the implied setup of the opening pages, the arrival of robot-faced cop John Colby makes for an almost buddy-cop-movie scenario, but it works well as the dialogue flies off the page along with some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments (such as Tony’s reaction to Colby’s Minority Report-esque ability to display information). It makes up for the fact that the lead plot, such as it is, is a little less interesting than those of previous issues – falling instead into a “case of the month” sort of pattern.

But Chew bursts forth with so many inspired ideas as it’s telling said story – from the left-field concepts that drive the book, such as Tony’s power and the fact that the FDA apparently have as much cachet as the FBI and CIA put together, to things that just show up for a single panel or gag – that this is easily forgiveable. The frantic, madcap tone of the book is also helped by Rob Guillory’s artwork – it’s one of those occasions where writer and artist’s unique aesthetic just seem perfectly suited to one-another, comparable to (dare I say it) Casanova in this sense – which has more than a vague hint of the Jim Mahfoods about it (a good thing, in case you were asking). It’s early days for the series, certainly, but if you want to claim you were on the ball with what’s surely – if it keeps up this form – going to be one of the defining indie comedy-action comics of the next few years, I’d heartily recommend you check it out.

Seb Patrick | 2nd December, 2009

The Sunday Pages #80

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This week: Capsule reviews of Chew #5, Ghostbusters: Displaced Agression #2, Superman: Secret Origin #2, Ultimate Comics Avengers #3 and X-Factor #5 Read the rest of this entry »