Wednesday, March 25, 2015

More Teeg Lawless: The Dead and the Dying TPB in Stores Today!

We're still processing our thoughts on the Criminal Special Edition, which we could NOT recommend more highly, and which we're giving to friends as the best single-issue introduction to the world of Brubaker and Phillips -- and, last time, we failed to note the largely overlooked news from's recent interview with Brubaker, that Image Comics is reprinting Incognito later this year.

In the meantime, we would be remiss not to note that today sees Image re-release the third trade paperback of Criminal, "The Dead and The Dying."  The volume collects a triptych of extra-long single-issue stories that stand alone but interconnect in an ouroboros of violence and betrayal.

The story gives us the first close-up look at Teeg Lawless, a central character in the larger world of Criminal, and its intricate structure hinted at even greater experimentation to come.

Last week's release of Image's June solicitations included the fifth volume of the series, "The Sinners," so presumably all six volumes will be out by July or August.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bullets: CRIMINAL One-Shot & FADE OUT Trade Tomorrow, & More!

I've been re-reading "Lawless" in its new trade edition from Image, and it's been a real kick.  It had been far too long since I've read the book, and -- as with all the works by Brubaker and Phillips -- I catch something new every time.

The "fearful symmetry" was striking, but not just in how both Lawless boys had come to resemble their father -- especially Tracy, as "The Dead and the Dying" shows Teeg's unecessary brutality was driven by his own protective instincts.  There was also how Tracy had become both the hunter and the hunted, as he and his pursuer violently interrogated people simultaneously.

I continue to be awed with how intricate the plotting tends to be in each of these Criminal arcs, with no wasted moments, no obvious "plot hammering," and lots of irony in the juxtaposition of scense.  The world is set up very carefully before it all comes crashing down, but it all seems very effortless.  I don't think the comparisons are outlandish, between Criminal and Watchmen, and I think the former actually compares favorably in being less obviously overwrought.  The writing and the artwork almost seems impressionistic at times, so its elaborate structure sneaks up on the reader.

Since my neighborhood is seeing its first real snow days, now has been a great time to read "Lawless" with its cold, bleak setting, as hard and dangerous as the man returning to the city at Christmastime.

This is also the first time I've re-read the story as the father of young children.  Having first-hand experience of the natural and unconstrained joy of kids seeing their dad after a long day at the office, I'm even more repulsed at the simple evil of Teeg Lawless, striking terror in his sons.

But we have more to write about than the new reprint of an eight-year-old masterpiece.

The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on!

• CRIMINAL Special Edition, and THE FADE OUT TPB in Stores Tomorrow.  It will have been almost 3 and a half years since the last issue of "Last of the Innocent" -- 1,261 days to be exact -- but a new issue of Criminal is in stores tomorrow.

The Criminal Special Edition one-shot will be released in a standard edition and in a magazine-sized variant:  we hope you've already ordered your copy of the latter, and as we reported late last month, AV Club has posted a five-page preview of the comic.

Comicosity has an interview with Ed Brubaker, where he mentions the origins of this new story, a writer firend telling him of the popularity that a lot of adult comic magazines like Heavy Metal, Eerie, and Savage Sword of Conan enjoyed among prison populations.  Brubaker was entranced by the idea of an inmate reading a barbarian comic, and with the mid-1970s being "such a great era for neo-noir pulp," Teeg Lawless became the obvious choice for the character. has a Brubaker interview combined with an advance review, awarding the book 4 out of 5 stars.   With the series being reprinted by Image, the creators wanted to produce something like an annual to celebrate its return to stands, with a magazine-sized variant that they and readers really seem to enjoy.

We've also seen a very positive reaction (and a few new pages) in an advance review from Coming Up Comics.  We can't wait to read the first new Criminal story in ages, and one song has been running through my head all day...

...but that's not the only book out tomorrow.  In that second interview, Brubaker confirms that more from The Fade Out is on the horizon, and tomorrow sees the release of the first trade paperback, priced at $9.99 and featured in this week's "Trade Waiting" spotlight at Comicosity.

THE FADE OUT Featured in Image Firsts Compendium.  This leads us to Image Comics and its "Image Firsts" promotion to provide inexpensive introductions to their best and most popular creator-owned work.

It started in 2010 with one-dollar reprints of first issues, which we have seen for all of Ed Brubaker's work for Image:  Fatale and The Fade Out with Sean Phillips, and Velvet with Steve Epting.

The approach has expanded to include "Image Introduces... Volume Ones," first-volume trade paperbacks at $9.99, of which The Fade Out Volume 1 is only the newest example.

We're not sure how much it's been promoted, as we missed its February 11th release entirely, but the approach now includes a trade paperback of first issues, Image Firsts Compendium Volume 1.

The hefty book containing NINE first issues for the incredibly low price of $5.99, not much more than the typical single issue.
  • Wytches by Scott Snyder and Jock
  • Outcast by Kirkman & Azaceta by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta
  • Nailbiter by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson
  • Southern Bastards by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour
  • The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
  • The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
  • Low by Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini
  • Shutter by Joe Keatinge and Leila del Duca
  • C.O.W.L. by Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, and Rod Reis
In addition to Brubaker and Phillips' take on Hollywood's Gilded Age, the collection features their partner Bettie Breitweiser providing colors on Outcast.

I still think that The Fade Out stands out even among the best books on the shelf, but at less than 70 cents an issue, this trade paperback is impossible to pass up.

• Feature on Donald Westlake's Getaway Car.  Finally, one can draw a fairly straight line from Criminal to Hard Case Crime to my becoming a fan of the crime writers Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block.  One can't say enough about the former's Parker books, written under the pen name Richard Stark, available in prose or in Darwyn Cooke's award-winning comic adaptations, and the latter's non-fiction books on writing are must-reads even for the poor souls who don't like noir.

(Thanks to Block's email newsletter, I also discovered Jerrold Mundis' Break Writer's Block Now!  Block had been selling the book on "block" through his eBay store, I got a copy, and it's been a great help in my professional life.  It's funny how you can stumble across the most useful things.)

Westlake passed away on New Year's Eve, at the end of 2008, and this past September, the University of Chicago Press published The Getaway Car, an anthology of non-fiction work.  With a foreword by Block and cover art by Cooke, it's a great stand-alone book that also complements the trade paperback reprints of the Parker and Grofield novels that they've been releasing.

Toward the end of last year, Alan David Doane posted an extensive interview with the book's editor Levi Stahl, who lists his personal favorites, recommends a few works as entrees into Westlake's extensive bibliography, and praises Memory, Westlake's lost novel published by Hard Case Crime.

Between the Criminal one-shot and new trade for "Lawless," the new trade for The Fade Out, and a new issue of Chew (following up on the twisting ending of issue #45), there's a LOT to read this week, but the interview is worth your time.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"Lawless" Trade, Back In Stores Today!

Along with other sites, Image Comics' official site confirms today's re-release of "Lawless," the second volume of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' Criminal.

This chapter introduces Tracy Lawless, who has been the main character in two arcs so far -- this arc and "The Sinners" -- and in the short story "emission" titled "No One Rides for Free."  This focused and violent man is so self-contained that the narration is in the third person, which is unusual for the series.

This chapter also clarifies the series' overall format:  each story focuses on a single character, but all the stories occur in a shared universe.

  • Leo has a cameo, letting us discover his fate from the end of "Coward.
  • Sebastian Hyde was referenced in that first story, and he makes his first appearance here.
  • We are introduced to the comic-strip creator Jacob, whose detective comic was introduced in Criminal #1 and who has the starring role in the fourth arc, "Bad Night."
  • And we first meet Tracy's monstrous father Teeg Lawless in flashback:  perhaps the linchpin character in the series, Teeg features in the next chapter, "The Dead and the Dying" and in the upcoming Special Edition one-shot, and his death was a crucial event in the back-story of "Coward."

This chapter also features a narrative device where there was a heist in every monthly issue.  The tension rises as Tracy Lawless becomes both the hunter and the quarry, returning to the criminal underworld to avenge the murder of his younger brother Ricky -- whose funeral was first referenced in the previous chapter, "Coward."


Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Bullets: New Velvet Out Today & The New Coward, Examined -- And More!

Velvet #9 Preview Online, in Stores Today.  It has been almost exactly three months today, but Ed Brubaker's other period piece returns today with Velvet #9.  The espionage comic from Brubaker and Steve Epting continues with the heroine breaking out the mysterious figure introduced at the end of the previous issue, and Comic Book Resources posted a three-page preview just a few hours ago.

The New Trade for "Coward," Compared, Contrasted, and Reviewed.  We've had a chance this week to examine Image's new edition of the trade paperback for "Coward," the first volume of Brubaker and Phillips' first creator-owned series, Criminal.  There are some noteworthy similarities and differences with the original trade published by Marvel's Icon imprint.

The most important similarity is the story:  examining a few pages closely, I believe the story's contents are identical in both trades,

[UPDATE:  I originally noted that the contents are identical, "including a possible coloring error and a few typos -- all extremely minor -- that have persisted since the original monthly issues."  A concerned reader asked for clarification, and these sort of things are NOT printing errors that should have fans think twice about purchasing the book:  they're things like an unusual shading choice on a small part of a single panel and an omitted hyphen, the latter of which I ONLY noticed in my umpteenth re-read just this week.  I've seen other books with bad printing errors, such as one of the original Gotham Central trades, with the dialogue missing from almost a full page, and it's quite rare to see a book as professionally presented as "Coward."]

Both trades are also fairly bare-bones releases.  I honestly think that Brubaker and Phillips' short "trailers" would add to the experience, but the story speaks for itself, and the hardcover deluxe volumes are excellent archives for such bonus material.

Obviously the two books have very different covers, with the new edition adding greater emphasis to the Criminal title and dropping the phrase about the book being "A Criminal Edition."  Ironically enough, the new cover art appears to be from the trailer's last panel rather than the actual story.

The cover is a sturdy, matte material rather than the glossy cover for the Icon edition.  Along with a revised synopsis, the back cover describes the title as the "most-acclaimed crime comic of the 21st century," being the winner of six Eisner and Harvey Awards.  There are also new blurbs from Brian K. Vaughan, Joe Hill, and Warren Ellis.

I believe the original trade was designed by Sean Phillips, and on the new edition's copyright page, we see Phillips credited for the publication design -- a new and simple design that draws our attention to the Criminal logo and to the credit for Val Staples as the colorist.

Also on the copyright page, careful readers will notice a slight change from the earlier edition.  Both versions attribute the trademarks to Brubaker and Phillips, but the copyright now belongs to Brubaker's Basement Gang Inc.

The new edition lacks two extras from the original -- the introduction by TV writer Tom Fontana and the concluding acknowledgements by Brubaker and Phillips.  The new edition makes up for this with an appendix of the wrap-around cover art for the original monthly issues, artwork that was noticeably missing from the old edition.

The new trade paperback isn't strictly necessary if you have the original trade or especially the deluxe hardcovers, but its release is a great excuse for re-reading "Coward."

After nearly a decade, the story still amazes me with its intricate plotting, intelligent characters, gut-wrenching tragedy, and moments of surprising comedy.  As with all of Brubaker and Phillips' work, the book rewards close, careful, repeat readings.

For what it's worth, we find that the story packs more of a punch because it focuses on a single character rather than a sprawling ensemble like in The Fade Out, and its naturalistic setting precludes the need for the world-building that we saw in Incognito and Fatale.

Re-reading the book for the first time in a few years, we feel quite justified in our belief that Criminal remains the pinnacle of the pair's career, the closest rivals for "Coward" as their single best work being most of the subsequent stories in this pure crime comic.

[UPDATE:  I noticed a couple things I missed after posting.]

Fatale Month at Comicosity.  Since Criminal isn't their only collaboration worth re-reading, the Comicosity Book Club is declaring this month Fatale February, reading a chapter or two each week and tweeting about the book using the hashtag #FataleClub -- should be worth reading, even if we had our own 30 Days of Fatale in the lead-in to the series' explosive conclusion.

• The Criminal Special Edition, Complete and Forthcoming.  Finally, it's worth noting that we're nearing the end of the long wait for the return of Criminal.  Yesterday Mitch Breitweiser announced that the book has just left the studio that he shares with colorist Bettie Breitweiser, and the British "bricks and mortar comic shop" Page 45 reports that they have read the issue.

The Special Edition and its magazine-sized variant will be in stores by the end of this month, and we can hardly wait.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

TODAY ONLY, Half Off Sean Phillips' Original Interior Art at Splash Page Comic Art!

This deserves its own post: Splash Page Comic Art has announced a one-day sale of Sean Phillips' original interior artwork, 50% off TODAY ONLY, in honor of the artist's 50th birthday.

The sale ends in about 10 and a half hours, at 11:59 PM Central Standard Time.

A few years back, my awesome wife purchased original art from Splash Page, an interior page from the debut issue of Criminal, and we could not have been happier with the process and the results.

Here's hoping the sale goes well -- and many happy returns to Sean!

Bullets: Criminal One-Shot Preview, First Trade Back in Stores This Week, and More!

• Five-Page Preview for the Criminal One-Shot.  Earlier this morning, the AV Club posted an exclusive five-page preview of the Criminal Special Edition one-shot, in advance of Image's first new Criminal trade, out this week.

The preview confirms our guess from earlier this month, that the sword-and-sorcery comic-within-a-comic is titled, "By This Sword, I Live!"  It introduces us to Zangar the Valandrian, and it recounts the darkly comic reason Teeg Lawless is in jail.

Image Trade for "Coward" In Stores Wednesday, without the Criminal One-Shot.  Along with the AV Club, other sites, including ComicList and Image's website, confirm that Image Comics' first new edition of Criminal is in stores tomorrow, but without the "Special Edition" one-shot.  Ed Brubaker has relayed that his copies have arrived, and he posted an image showing that the trade paperback will advertise all six volumes, presumably in the back pages.

As soon as we can, we'll have a closer look at this new edition to compare it against the original trade paperback released through Marvel's Icon imprint.

In the meantime, what about the Criminal Special Edition?  Both the AV Club preview and ComicList's extended forecast for Image gives us a release date of February 25th, which would actually be a week after the release of the second trade paperback.  We wouldn't be surprised if the trade paperback for "Lawless" is pushed back to coincide with the one-shot:  since the new story focuses on Tracy Lawless' brutal father, the timing would be more thematically appropriate, but I'm sure Brubaker and Phillips would have preferred that the issue kick off the return of Criminal with a January release.

With the news story from the AV Club, we can be fairly confident of a February 25th release for the one-shot.

• Criminal, The Fade Out, and Velvet in April Solicitations.  This time last week, Image Comics released its April solicitations, which include the fourth reissued trade collection for Criminal, the twisted "Bad Night."

Criminal Volume 4: Bad Night is due on April 22nd, along with Velvet #12, while The Fade Out #7 is due on April 29th.

For these dates to hold for the monthly issues, we would have to see four issues of Velvet (#9-#12) and three issues of The Fade Out (#5-#7), all between February and April. I wouldn't  be surprised if these dates got pushed back, but we can be assured that more issues of both excellent series are on their way.

• Image Comics Features The Fade Out.  Between now and April, we'll also see the first trade paperback collection for The Fade Out.  The first arc ended with issue #4, which came out at the beginning of this month, and in keeping with the company's new promotional campaign of  "Image Introduces... Volume Ones,"  this first collection will retail at the introductory price of $9.99.

Image Comics recently posted a brief feature on The Fade Out, relaying that the first trade collection is now available for pre-order,  to reach comic stores on February 25th -- the same day as the Criminal one-shot! -- and bookstores on March 10th.  The feature includes blurbs from reviews and a three-page preview from the first issue.

The feature also provides an email address for librarians, retailers, and reviewers to request a PDF galley of the book.

• Code 5, a New Web Series from Brubaker and Sandeep Parikh.  I haven't seen any press at all about this, but Ed Brubaker is collaborating with actor, writer, and producer Sandeep Parikh on Code 5, a comedy series described as "two cops on the longest stakeout ever."  The first three shorts have just been released on YouTube.

Parikh plays one of the cops, and Mel Cowan appears to be something of a stand-in for Brubaker.  A close look at the credits show that Parikh and Brubaker created the series and are executive producers along with Brubaker's wife Melanie Tomlin.  One of the credited production companies is Brubaker's Basement Gang Inc.

We think it's an okay series for its short length, but it comes quite close to being an R-rated version of the ad campaign for Sonic Drive-In's.

Best Fits for Michael Mann in Adapting Comics.  Over the weekend at CBR, the Spinoff Online blog had a post on five comic book titles that filmmaker Michael Mann ought to adapt, including Brubaker and Phillips' Criminal (with a "Coward" adaptation still in development), Matt Fraction's Hawkeye, and The Highwaymen.  The latter was a 5-issue miniseries published by  WildStorm in 2007, and it was a fun enough ride that I'm glad to see it hasn't been entirely forgotten.

As a huge fan of Michael Mann's Heat, I'd like to see the filmmaker take on some comic books or graphic novels.  His latest, Blackhat, was a critical and commercial dud, and he's only directed three films in the last decade, but at age 71, he probably feels little pressure to meet other people's expectation.

• Feature on The Art Of Robert McGinnis.  With a tip of the hat to Ed Brubaker's Twitter feed, I see  that Badass Digest has a preview of artwork from a new book on artist Robert McGinnis.  His pulp style of painting graced numerous paperback books before appearing on the posters for a few James Bond movies, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and The Odd Couple.  His work was featured in the movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and it now graces the covers of 15 books printed by the fantastic Hard Case Crime imprint.

The preview is well worth checking out, and it appears that the book went on sale late last year.

• Darwyn Cooke's First Creator-Owned Work, Out Later This Year.  Finally, this time last year, we were hit with a maelstrom of news from the 2014 Image Expo:  the end of Fatale, the announcement of The Fade Out and Brubaker and Phillips' unprecedented five-year deal, and the move of their earlier works Criminal and Incognito from Icon to Image.

It seems this year's Image Expo had no news regarding Brubaker and Phillips, but one announcement should still be of interest to our readers here:  Darwyn Cooke's first creator-owned comic will be released by Image later this year.  Cooke collaborated with Brubaker on Catwoman, and he's perhaps best known in some circles for his work on The Spirit and the limited series DC: The New Frontier.   This past December, his work was featured on 23 variant covers for DC, and with IDW he's produced four gorgeous, award-winning adaptations of Richard Stark's Parker novels.

In June, Image Comics will debut Darwyn Cooke's first fully creator-owned work, Revengeance, which the promotional art describes as a three-part mini-series.

REVENGEANCE is a psychological thriller with darkly humorous overtones. When Joe Malarky is faced with a criminal tragedy, he sets out to make things right on his own. What follows is Joe's odyssey through the underside of the city and the madness that seems to drive his crazy world.
REVENGEANCE takes place in Toronto in the mid-eighties and is part crime story, part psychotronic melodrama, and a wholly fond look back at the author's hometown.

We're looking forward to it!

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Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Bullets: Fade Out This Week, March Solicitations, Year-End Reviews and More!

The Fade Out #4, In Stores Tomorrow. On Twitter, Ed Brubaker has confirmed that the latest issue of The Fade Out is in stores this week.  I haven't found any previews online, but has an advance preview, providing a few panels and giving the issue an A grade.

On a somber note, Chase Magnett notes that the issue begins with a dedication to Elizabeth Breitweiser’s color flatting assistant Eduardo Navarro Lopez, who passed away on November 27th.  Magnett concludes his review by writing that "it’s worth lingering a little while longer on each panel and examining how colors bring this story to life."

More Criminal, Fade Out, and Velvet in March.  The same day we noted the release of the Image Firsts edition of The Fade Out #1, Sean Phillps posted an excerpt of Image's solicitations for March.  We'll see "The Dead and the Dying," the third Criminal trade paperback reprinted by Image Comics, with a cover that complements the new editions for the previous two books.

Also scheduled for March is another issue of The Fade Out and -- for Brubaker's retro spy comic Velvet -- the next issue and the second trade paperback collection, titled "The Secret Lives of Dead Men" and featuring a gorgeous cover by Steve Epting.

Velvet #11 and Velvet Volume 2 are both scheduled for March 18th.

The Fade Out #6 and Criminal Volume 3 are both scheduled for March 25th.

Brubaker Interview on The Criminal Special Edition.  On the subject of our favorite crime-comic anthology, at Comic Book Resources, Robot 6 posted a brief interview with writer Ed Brubaker, focusing on this month's upcoming Criminal one-shot.  He describes what makes the title unique among his collaborations with Sean Phillips, in that the book focuses on "violent character studies" and "tragic romances," and he mentions the challenge he has given Phillips in having to create an authentic look for comic within a comic -- a sword-and-sorcery comic from the 1970's.

(About that Conan pastiche, Phillips may have let us in on its title, hand-lettered in Manga Studio:  "By This Sword I Live!")

Brubaker also discusses the inspiration for the upcoming story.

The main idea for this is something that’s been percolating in my mind for about 15 years, ever since I heard from an old editor that in the ’70s and ’80s, lots of prisoners had subscriptions to the more adult comics magazines like Heavy Metal, Conan, Creepy, Eerie and Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, stuff like that. And hearing that, I just had this image of a guy lying in a cell, reading some black-and-white barbarian fantasy comic. And it always stayed with me.
Brubaker already has ideas for what will come after The Fade Out, but he likes the improvisation that comes with Image's five-year deal with himself and Phillips.  He may alternate longer projects and shorter projects, and he writes, "The next Criminal story is starting to fall into place in my notebooks finally, and it grows out of this one-shot special, in a way, although it takes place years later."

A story set years later, growing out of a one-shot set in prison?  We wonder if it's the long-awaited "Coward's Way Out."

Velvet Tee-Shirt Evidently Canceled.  Looking back on the year that was, we recall reporting in August on Image's November solicitations.  It included merchandise for Brubaker and Epting's spy comic Velvet, specifically a tee-shirt that "demands respect."

We didn't remember seeing the shirt in stores, and we noticed that the shirt was listed as cancelled in ComicList's year-end extended forecast.  We reached out to Image Comics for any explanation why, but we did not get a reply as this blog entry went to press.

Fatale, The Fade Out, and Brubaker Among the Year's Best.  Looking On a much more positive note to wrap up 2014, Image Comics posted a press release to trumpet that their creator-owned books "dominate" critics' year-end lists.  NPR named the Fatale Deluxe Edition Volume 1 one of the Best Books of 2014.   Multiversity Comics named The Fade Out #1 as one of comics' best issues and named Ed Brubaker as one of comics' best writers.

We anticipate that this year will be at least as stellar, especially with a new Criminal story just weeks away.

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