Kurt Christenson ** Timothy Mucci ** Johnny Gatts ** Brian Bannen ** Rick Lacy ** YOU!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Comic Reviews: Week of March 24th

DC/Vertigo:
Streets of Gotham #10: After reading this Damien-centric issue, I can honestly say that this little ninja is the only Robin who I actually want to see get a solo series. Paul Dini has always been a solid and reliable Batman writer, but he's really coming into his own on this title. It helps that Nguyen's Gotham is not a place of great towers or epic monuments. On the ground level, Gotham is a filthy, crime-ridden metropolis, and Nguyen perfectly captures this sense of urban desolation. Dini also does a great job of creating a truly menacing Mr. Zsasz. Though he's not super-powered (or a criminal genius in the vein of the Joker), Zsasz is one of the more frightening members of Batman's Rogue's gallery, if only because his breed of sadism is simple and believable. Across the board, Batman books have been really great lately, and Streets of Gotham rounds out the line-up nicely, providing some excellent straight-forward Dark Knight storytelling.

Scalped #36: With each new issue, my love for Scalped becomes more and more fanatical, slowly mutating into outright obsession. To be honest, I don't know if I can fairly review Scalped anymore; I'm too involved. From the very beginning, this book has had balls. And I don't mean balls in an "it's explicitly violent" way; I mean that Jason Aaron is not afraid take the book into increasingly uncomfortable and taboo territory. More than that, he constantly gives side characters whole story-arcs that are just as important and as good as the A-character arcs. This time, the focus is on Shunka, Chief Red Horse's enforcer and right-hand man. Shunka has been one of the best characters on the cast from the start, but wow, you'd have to be watching him pretty close to see this coming. It's doubly impressive that this issue comes after last month's relatively quiet stand-alone. The increasingly complex world of Scalped is downright jaw-dropping, and if you're not reading this book you need to start. In my completely biased opinion, Scalped is a crime drama of unparalleled substance and quality.

Marvel:
Breaking into Comics the Marvel Way #2 (of 2): Not a lot to say about this, as it's pretty much the same format as issue #1. Of the up-and-coming artists featured here, my three picks are Tommaso Bennato, Stephen Thompson, and Gabriel Hernadez Walta. Also, I think the back-up materials in this issue are better than the first. C.B. Cebulski's 140-character or less advice in the back is great for artists and writers alike, as it gives clear and succinct words of wisdom for working in comics. Other than that, I'd say only pick this up if you like anthology-style storytelling or you're looking to see what artists are on the cusp of breaking through.

Marvels Project #7 (Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting): With the series' penultimate issue, the Marvels Project continues to be an impressive display of a phenomenal writer/artist combo. But for all the good things about the Marvels Project, I still have a hard time finding it compelling. This could be because we already know how it's going to end, or it could be the pacing of the story. Although none of the initial issues were bad by any stretch of the imagination, it seems as though the action hasn't really picked up until these most recent two or three issues. At the risk of repeating myself, I feel that the Marvels Project will make for a much stronger story once it's collected in a trade or hardback; as a series of single issues, it's hard to stay interested. Issue #7 does deserve a fair share of praise though, as Brubaker proves yet again that his strength lies in building a complete sense of a character in only a few pages. More so than other high-profile writers, Brubaker understands how to craft tightly constructed characterization through dialogue and narration. But while the Marvels Project is good, I can't help but feel that Brubaker/Epting's time would be better spent telling a new story.

New Avengers #63: I don't know what it's going to take for me to feel compelled to read New Avengers again. This issue really pulls on the heartstrings, by focusing on two relationships within the New Avengers as they head into the battle for Asgard. To be honest, I kinda want the New Avengers to go away. Maybe it's because the New Avengers have always felt like a team that was custom built for big events. Maybe I'm just tiring of Bendis' dialogue, of which there is a lot in this issue. Maybe I just miss Doctor Strange. Bendis does a good enough job at humanizing this current battle, but it's a little too much to have major characters essentially spell out their emotional drives for the reader. On the plus side, artist Mike McKone's opening splash page sure is pretty. So while Dark Avengers heads for what is sure to be a great ending, New Avengers looks like it might go out with a whimper, which is a shame since the title started out so good.

Thor #608: I have to give Kieron Gillen credit for keeping the focus of Thor on the Asgardians during Siege, as Thor's supporting cast has always been one of the best parts of the series. However, it's hard to buy that the Asgardian warriors are this downtrodden and easily bested by an army of Mortals and Super-foes. Sure, the Sentry is all-powerful, and the Hood has some Norse-powered stones at his disposal, but what about all those H.A.M.M.E.R. agents and the Hood's C-List squad? They can beat Norse God-Warriors? Sorry, I don't buy it. Though I ragged on it last month, Volstagg's redemptive battle against Thor-clone Ragnagok is actually pretty entertaining, if only because it shows how this whole event has affected the rotund warrior. This issue was also a bit unbalanced due to the art duties being handled by two separate artists. It's an interesting way to differentiate between separate plots, but I can't help but feel that it was done because the stories were written only to function as filler, biding time until Siege is over.

Secret Warriors #14: This is another Secret Warriors issue where there's not a lot of action, but the greater gears continue to move us slowly toward one hell of a resolution. The depths of Contessa's/Madame Hydra's treachery are revealed, Hydra deals with the realization that they've been betrayed, and two members Nick Fury's team face a team roster shake-up. It's fun to see the different methods of these three clandestine organizations as they try to gain leverage against the others. And while some critics continue to accuse this book of moving too slowly, I think that Hickman and Caselli have accomplished something truly worthwhile: they've managed to make a complicated espionage story that holds it's own in a market of action-packed superhero extravaganzas. Though it's hardly a book for everyone, I'm continually surprised by the high caliber storytelling of Secret Warriors.

Uncanny X-Men #522: Heeeerrrrre's Kitty! After months of waiting patiently, Kitty Pride is back, although it doesn't look like things are going to be all hunky dory for awhile. Matt Fraction does a good enough job of getting Kitty back while also building toward "Second Coming," although I don't know if I have it in me to stick around and see what happens next. There's a good chunk of characterization here, particularly centering around the dynamic between Emma Frost, Cyclops, and Magneto. But for such an important issue, the ending definitely left me cold. In a series of silent panels, we're shown various members of the X-cast, in a section meant to catch up all the readers who (like me) grabbed this just because it was the return of Kitty Pryde. It felt a little bit like those old slow-motion endings to episodes of Lost. However, the silent panels lack any sort of emotional structure or gravity, and thereby subvert an otherwise satisfying conclusion.

Image:

King City #6 (Brandon Graham): Whenever the an issue of King City hits stands, it's a cause for comic celebration. In the last of the previously published material, the Cat Master of King City has a showdown with some real evil baddies of the psychic/undead variety. Plus, we finally get the long-awaited reunion of Joe and Anna, as well as a great cat-vs-squid monster battle. King City is a book that deserves praise for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which being Graham's ability to create a refreshingly original and fun science fiction story. There's nothing else out there like King City. Say what you will about Image as a publisher, but they've earned big-time points with me for reviving the otherwise dormant brilliance of King City.

Orc Stain #2 (James Stokoe): In as much as King City succeeds due to Graham's graffiti-leaning spacious style, James Stokoe's work in Orc Stain is equally as impressive for opposite reasons. Where Graham's city is full of wide open spaces and broad curves, Stokoe's savage planet is jam-packed with astoundingly detailed, sharp illustrations. Even if the story sucked (which it doesn't), Orc Stain would be worth checking out if only for the art. Just take a look at that cover and try to tell me this isn't a book you'd at least flip through. Having read his previous book for Oni, Wonton Soup (which is also highly recommend), I can say that Stokoe's strengths as a storyteller are definitely improving. He's taken a fantasy staple, roughed up the edges and created a fresh and raw world. If you are a fan of Conan the Barbarian, Heavy Metal, or any similar brand of violent, sexual fantasy, you owe it to yourself to check out Orc Stain. In fact, the only foreseeable problem with Orc Stain is that it's probably going to be one of those books that ships infrequently; but keeping in mind that Stokoe writes, draws, colors, and letters the book, I'm going to go ahead and say it will always be worth the wait.

Shuddertown #1 (Nick Spencer, Adam Geen): There's little worse than a comic book that suffers from too much narration. Unfortunately, Shuddertown is such a book. From the first page on, we're basically told that our narrator is not to be trusted. When an unreliable narrator is just flat-out acknowledged, the fun of figuring it out for ourselves is taken away. This is a shame, because there is a lot to like about Shuddertown. The set-up is interesting enough to keep reading, the protagonist (when he shuts up) feels like a real character, and the art is genuinely impressive. In fact, Adam Geen's work with both pencils and coloring are the best part of this comic. I'm holding out faith that the series will be able to escape the burden of its narrator, as I genuinely think that Shuddertown has the potential to be a great crime series.

Dynamite:

Robocop #3 (Rob Williams, Fabiano Neves): After laying a solid foundation of satire in the vein the original film, the third issue of Dynamite's Robocop begins to feel a bit like the 3rd act of the film; more action, less commentary. This isn't all bad though, as now the plot can move forward in all it's explosively gory glory. So though it's not as funny as the previous issues, the story continues to impress. The writer/artist team of Rob Williams and Fabiano Neves are doing a bang-up job of expanding the Robocop mythos, driving the corporate evil of OCP in a satisfying direction (gigantic ED-209s included) and paying homage to both the obvious and understated themes established in the original film. Neves deserves special credit for capturing Robocop's awkward movements and posture, although he does tend to move a little too swiftly at times. For long-time Robocop fans desperate for a fix, this series continues to satisfy.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Write Club Funnies! - Battle Club

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sub*Text Saturdays

Flick

This will be the comic movie of the year, scratch that, of the decade, of all time. Another great Edgar Wright movie and this time it's of Bryan Lee O'Malley's supergenius graphic novel series, SCOTT PILGRIM.

Watch the trailer above and then watch this dissection of the trailer and all the love that was put in it for the fans.



The final volume of Scott Pilgrim will be out this summer, but for a rap-tastic recap check Adam WarRock's 'I Gotta Believe' and check out the rest of his geek-inspired rap songs.

***

Pic

Love Imperfectly by me
love imperfectly

***

Vid

This guy is my new personal rock hero. Tell me he doesn't rule and isn't totally awesomely insane. And the song rocks.

Roky Erickson - The Creature With the Atom Brain


***

Lit


There is Doom…and then there is the Master of Doom! Eager readers of the World’s Greatest Comic don’t have to wait nine weeks for the fun, frisson and fantastic action of Fantastic Four! The magnificent Marvel team-up of Mark Millar (Wanted) and Bryan Hitch (Ultimates) wind up their epic run with a rip-roaring yarn that pits the First Family against their deadliest archenemy — and the powerful being for whom even Doom will bow! Are you ready to meet the Master of Doom?

I haven't read Fantastic Four in a long time, but as I catch up on all things Marvel, I came across this story arc which is Millar riding out the characters before Hickman picks up the writing chores for the book.

If you like Dr. Doom and feel he hasn't been the threat he really should be, or you like the high concept weirdness that Millar picked up from Grant Morrison, you should read this arc.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Writer Spotlight: SmartGrrrl aka Michelle Wiener

When Kurt invited me to write something for Write Club, I was pleased -- and more than a little surprised. It hadn't been very long, maybe two weeks, since I'd put up a temporary page on my website with writing samples and a relatively calm but still sorta desperate plea for work. "Hey, if you like what you see here and what to hire me to write for you, call me. I AM AVAILABLE." While I was fantasizing about offers trickling in, I wasn't really expecting it.

I have worked in publishing since 2005. Before that, I was a writing instructor and PhD candidate a few revisions away from finishing my dissertation. My reasons for leaving academics aren't all that interesting -- chances are, you know someone else who left the profession for similar reasons. But among those reasons was this prickly feeling that I didn't much care for academic writing. Granted, once I had finished my dissertation, which traditionally requires one's academese to be at the pinnacle of complexity, and then further revised it for publication, I'd be able to write however I wanted and whatever I wanted, but I still felt confined and didn't much feel like facing another decade or so of writing within some predetermined institutionalized code just to prove that I could to people who would first give me a job and then maybe give me tenure. (But I'm not bitter.)

So I had my mid-30s career change, which scared me a little and terrified the hell out of my parents. I went into publishing because that made the most sense to me -- I knew I could write well, even if I was untested in the non-academic field, and editing couldn't be that much different than grading student papers and helping young writers find their voice. I was fortunate to land an associate editor job, writing the front of book blurbs and short interest pieces, and managed to get one feature-length story in before I left to become managing editor of a startup online magazine. And here's when I learned that the same job in publishing can mean extremely different things to different companies. I've worked at places where the managing editor does a great deal of the editing and copyediting, and others places where the ME holds a more administrative position, making sure copy circulates among writers and editors, but not really doing much of the work herself. I found managing to be not as fulfilling a job as I had hoped it would be -- I craved more hands on experience and more creative input. Fortunately I had a couple friends who were magazine editors at different craft magazines, and they threw a little writing work at me. Writing articles on the side was a great outlet and way to keep on top of things that interested me.

When I lost my job in June of last year, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do next. I was pretty sure I didn't want to have any sort of administrative/managerial job again, and equally sure that I wanted a job that would both require me to be creative and allow me to develop new skills and grow with the position. It is exceedingly tiresome and soul-sucking to have mastered all the skills you need for any one particular job, and then not be thought capable of or allowed to do anything else. In the back of my head I could hear a soft voice telling me to write, but I felt overwhelmed by the idea of starting out brand new at something that it seems everyone in this city wants to do.

Then one night I was having a conversation with friends, and one of them made a comment about how frustrating it can be to compete with all these other people who want to be published writers. And it wasn't until then that I realized, I AM a published writer. I've been published lots of times. Granted, my bylines are all in niche publications . . . but so what? And that's when that soft voice got a little louder, and kindly but firmly told me that it was about time I stopped thinking that this was something that I couldn't do, since I had already done it before.

I am still looking for full-time work (*cough* here's my LinkedIn profile) but I have rededicated myself to writing, both professionally and personally (*cough* here's my blog) (and here's another blog). I'm not afraid of exploring unconventional channels for possible writing gigs (*cough* I am available). What I'm starting to learn is that anything can make a good story. The most important thing that I've learned over the last couple months, however, is that any kind of positive action -- even doing something as seemingly silly as putting up an "About" page summarizing my work experience on my blog that only averages 40 hits a day -- tends to create forward momentum, and that is never a bad thing.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Five Choice Books of Small Press Expo Book 5: Boxcar Joe

by Max Evry

It is fun to imagine the whir of hundreds of printing presses and, yes, Xerox machines working tirelessly in the days and hours before the Small Press Expo kicks off each year. The two-day celebration of independent comics in Bethesda, Maryland attracts the many brave souls who put their hearts, minds, and cold-hard cash into getting their cartoon visions out to attendees.

With so many titles to choose from, it can be difficult to tell the wheat from the chaff. Is it a beautifully drawn title, or merely one with a nice cover? This series will shine the spotlight on five authors who represent the most promising emerging talents on the indie comics scene, including exclusive interviews where they discuss their process, their inspiration, and their joy in creating these works.


“BOXCAR JOE” by Pranas T. Naujokaitis

Having followed web cartoonist Pranas Naujokaitis for quite some time, from his trippy, gag-laden SCAD student strip “Rocket Tonic” to his (almost) daily journal comic “Inkdick,” it can be said that he is the very definition of an emerging talent. While many of the others in this series have clearly found their niche, Pranas’ style is still exponentially evolving.

A prime example of this continued experimentation with form is “Boxcar Joe,” a mini-comic that literally takes the shape of a bright-red train car. The slipcase has a cut-out window through which we see the book’s hero, an old bearded hobo who rides the rails without a care in the world. Once removed from the slipcase, each successive page contains a single panel, the interior of the boxcar. This never changes, but both the scenery in the background and the characters in the foreground do, and the tale almost unfolds like key storyboards from an animation, with the title character meeting a friendly dog and a not-so-friendly young rival. By the end the reader feels as if they have taken this trip along with Joe, and the subtle gestures in each panel create surprisingly vivid characterization from relatively simple illustrations.

Naujokaitis had this to say on the creation of the book:

“I created ‘Boxcar Joe’ as part of a mini-comics class I took during the winter 2008 quarter at SCAD. Before this book all my minis were simple fold-and-staple deals. But after doing something like this, I have trouble going back to doing simple fold-and-staple books. After ‘Boxcar Joe’ every mini-comic I do now has to be handmade, crafty, and really play with and push the boundaries of what mini-comics can be. For me, the creation of ‘Boxcar Joe’ was a huge game changer.”

Check out Pranas T. Naujokaitis HERE: http://ghostcarpress.com/inkdick/

Comicbook Calendar

Hey 'clubbers!

Just throwing a few events your way as you plan your social calendars for the next few weeks.

If you know of or are planning any events, please let us help spread the word. And if you attend any of these events and would like to do a write up and/or take pictures please let us know and we'll post it up here at Write Club!

K

HOTWIRE Carousel at MoCCA on March 25th at 7PM.

The Brothers Timony Book Release Party for Nite Owls at Rocketship Comics on March 27th at 8PM.

Rabid Rabbits anthology release party at Bergen Street Comics on March 27th at 8PM.

Penny Arcade Signing at Kinokuniya Bookstore on March 30th at 5:30PM.

KGB Comix Reading held at KGB Bar on April 4th at 7PM.

The Art of Jaime Hernandez signing at Jim Hanley's Universe on April 9th at 6PM.

The MoCCA Festival will be held at the 69th Regiment Armory on April 10th & 11th from 11AM to 6PM.

Reinhard Kleist's Johnny Cash: I See A Darkness signing at Jim Hanley's Universe on April 14th at 6PM.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Comic Reviews: Week of Mar. 17

Comic Reviews: Week of March 17

Marvel:

Amazing Spider-Man #624: Max Fiumara does some impressive work in this issue as he captures the tenderness -- and the sadness -- of Joe Kelly’s story. This issue still sticks to The Gauntlet format: character before everything else. And the new Rhino we met a few issues ago? Gone. In fact, he’s now probably darker than ever before. I think I should have seen the change coming, but the writers did a great job of “weaving” so many different “webs” that I didn’t foresee this. In addition to establishing the characters for a new age, they’re establishing the new status quo for Spider-Man. This issue does less to resolve Peter’s issues than to compile them into one nasty, heart-wrenching pile. If not for the success of such DC heavyweights as Green Lantern and Batman, I think you’d hear more about Amazing Spider-Man. The journey continues to be one of the best out there.


Siege #3: I read recently that someone says Siege is a terrible series, partially because the Marvel solicits for the “Heroic Age” give away the ending, and partially because the urgency is lost on the changes coming our way. I disagree because knowing the end of a story doesn’t make the journey any less important. And, secondly, because to dismiss Bendis and Coipel’s work would be a sin. Bendis times the splash pages magnificently in this issue -- and there are some amazing full page scenes that, I feel, Olivier Coipel captured perfectly. That said, I could have done without the President/Chief of Staff expository explanations. They cheapened the overall effect of the piece. I understand why Bendis does this: there are somethings he needs to explain without coming out and just saying them. For this issue, however, it doesn’t work well. It feels lazy, and distracts from the artwork. The end of the issue, however, was a bonus. If you have any doubt that the Sentry is one crazy dude, look no further than the last page. We know that Marvel’s Heroic Age is coming, but getting there seems like the true point of Siege.

DC:

Green Lantern Corps #46: Occasionally, major things happen in a character’s universe, and these issues are revisited for the visceral impact they have. A few years ago, DC came under fire when Green Lantern Kyle Rayner found his girlfriend’s body stuffed in a refrigerator. Major Force was responsible for this incident in Green Lantern #54. The incident was so powerful that it forced a new term: “stuffed in the fridge,” a colloquialism that refers to a person dying a very gruesome death. Anyway, Peter Tomasi doesn’t forget this, and neither do the Black Lanterns. The revisitation of this scene gives insight in the the mind of the Black Lanterns, something that Tomasi and Johns have enjoyed doing during this whole series. The rest of the issue is filler and fodder for Blackest Night #8. I hate to say that this series has dragged on at this point, but I would like to see it come to an end. Green Lantern Corps has been a consistently strong title, and I’d like to see it once again operate independently from the Green Lantern universe. I think Tomasi has many stories to tell, and I’d love to see him given the opportunity to tell them.


Misc:

Joe The Barbarian #3 (Vertigo -- Morrison & Murphy): The allure of Grant Morrison’s fantasy epic has not worn off. Joe the Barbarian continues to be a fun read, a visual gem, and a comic book achievement. I’m reminded of Stephen King and Peter Straub’s The Talisman as I read this. It bounces between two worlds, Joe taking different roles in each, much like Jack Sawyer in The Territories. I think we’ve just been introduced to the major villains of the story, but it’s hard to tell. Regardless of Morrison’s erratic storytelling, Sean Murphy is the heart and soul of the series. If not for his humanity, I don’t know if the series would be as impressive as it is.



Fade to Black #1 (Image -- Mariotte and Serra): So now we’ve moved from Zombies to Cannibals in Image’s new comic, Fade to Black. The story is this: a group of actors and film crew members return to their encampment to find it desolated, the people they left behind torn apart. I don’t like that one of the villains had to ask the other for an explanation as to their purpose -- this I found to be lazy writing. It could have been something saved for a later issue, or a moment presented better than a character turning to one and saying, “Tell me again . . . make me understand”. Fade to Black’s introductory issue is nothing spectacular. There’s not much more to the characters than surface level descriptions and pithy, one dimensional actor dialogue. I’m not, however, writing the series off. I think there’s a lot of potential here. The characters are stranded (always a terrifying thought), and they’re faced with something that isn’t supernatural in its nature. It’s just a group of freaks who, in thoughts representing cults, support the belief of consuming human flesh to achieve enlightenment. I hope the first issue is the one that sets everything up before it comes toppling down because if there’s another “explanatory” moment in the next issue, it will be my last foray into Fade to Black.


American Vampire #1 (Vertigo -- Scott Snyder, Stephen King & Rafael Albuquerque): After the dismal disappointments that are The Talisman, The Stand, and the loathed Dark Tower series, I was excited to see Stephen King make his personal contribution to the world of comics. Before I get to his story, however, I have to laud Rafael Albuquerque for his art in this issue. It’s broken into two short and intertwining stories. You would think, however, that a different artist illustrated the first and second parts. The first part, however, highlights Albuquerque’s and Dave McCaig’s skill with ink. The second, in a completely different vein than the first, uses much more irregular tones, jagged lines, and rough pencils. So how does Stephen King do in his first true comic? He’s phenomenal! It’s very “King,” if that makes any sense. There are the standard King digressions, albeit in dialogue. But there’s still the skewed take on humanity that people will recognize from King’s novels. It’s full of rapists (a favorite trait King uses to single out his truly demented characters), psychopaths, murderers, and clowns (not literal clowns -- there’s enough scary things in this issue without overdoing it). I like where this series is going. King knows how to construct a story, and he’s definitely opened the door for several different plot threads, all of which (I hope) will be addressed by the time the series runs its course. The freedom given by Vertigo really allows King to work beyond the normal restrictions imposed by the bigger comic companies. I feel bad for Scott Snyder because he writes an equally creepy story that hearkens back to the innocent damsel whose naiveté gets her wrapped up in a world of violence and destruction, but he has to compete with Stephen King. Any publicity, however, is good publicity and his tale will be read as much as King’s. The story, eventually, will get to a band of vampires who derive their power from the sun, and while this idea is hinted at in this issue, it isn’t fully explored yet. Pick up American Vampire -- it’s a fun read, and the perfect forum for someone like Stephen King.

Comic Reviews: Week of March 17th

DC:

Batman #697:

This was the best issue in Tony Daniel's "Life After Death" arc, which is too bad since it was also the finale. The long-teased identity of the Black Mask is revealed, and without giving it away, I can say that it's familiar face, and not the biggest surprise. However, the real highlight here (other than Catwoman getting a sidekick) is Daniel's Dick Grayson. Daniel's art has always been impressive, but in this issue his writing is finally on par with the pencils. Especially in the last few scenes, it's clear that this story was really about Grayson coming into his own under the cowl, and not so much about the Black Mask. Unfortunately, the ending of the book feels like the beginning of the end for Grayson's tenure at Batman, which is a shame. I've heard it repeated elsewhere, but bringing Bruce Wayne back might be the worst thing to happen to the Bat-Books. Things are very interesting right now, and returning the Batman back to the status quo feels like a bit of step in the wrong direction. I have no doubts that the Return of Bruce Wayne story will be fantastic, but I have substantial concerns regarding what it will mean in the long run.

Brave and the Bold #32:

For a creative run that so far has turned out some of the best one-and-dones I've ever read, this was a great, but not amazing issue. I've never read an Aquaman story before in my life, and this is my book of the week, which is saying something. In changing up the style and telling a horror story of the sea, Straczynski once again proves that Brave and the Bold is the best superhero book currently hitting the shelves. After five solid issues of expert superhero storytelling, it's clear that Straczynski's writing thrives when he doesn't have to worry about continuity or crossover events. Time and again, Brave and the Bold has revitalized my interest in characters I had previously ignored (like Dr. Fate in #30) or never even heard of (like Brother Power in #29). This time it's Aquaman, due in no small part to Jesus Saiz's phenomenal art. As much as Straczynski is a master of the comic script, Saiz's control of the panel is stunning. The Demon is also great in this issue, although he plays a much smaller role than Aquaman. Hitting all the key notes of Lovecraftian fever dream (a delirious fisherman, grave robbing, and a Cthulu-type demon), this is an expertly crafted, imaginative comic, one that deserves a place in your collection.

The Bronx Kill (Vertigo Crime):

Though far from a crime classic,
The Bronx Kill is one of the more enjoyable, and addicting, graphic novels to be released under the relatively new Vertigo Crime imprint. The story follows Martin Keane, a semi-successful novelist who has spent the majority of his life running from his family's professional legacy of service in the NYPD. As a child, Martin's father brought him to the site of his great grandfather's murder, the Bronx Kill river, to try and inspire him to become a cop. As a grown man, Martin brings his wife to those same shores; in doing so, he unwittingly sets off a string of events that will unearth a dark family history and the truth behind his great grandfather's murder. Peppered into the story are prose excerpts from Keane's latest novel, and instead of distracting from or slowing down the main action, they reveal another layer to our frantic protagonist. Much of the Bronx Kill is spent slowly building an suspenseful atmosphere of fear and paranoia, in much the same vein as Hitchcock's better thrillers. Unfortunately, the build-up is better than the payoff, and the mystery is revealed a little too conveniently. Despite the unfulfilling reveal, the Bronx Kill is a definite page-turner: I was able to devour the book between four separate train rides in a single day, and it felt great. If you're a dedicated fan of the Vertigo Crime series thus far, I'd say pick it up; if not, find a friend who is, then steal it while he's not looking.

Marvel:

Dark Avengers #14:

In what is definitely one of the darkest issues in the series, we're reminded just how deeply sinister the Dark Avengers are, especially Bullseye. Lately, Bullseye has been regulated to the role of sadistic comic relief, which is part of what makes him so enjoyable. However, it was about time we were reminded of what makes him such a true villain: Bullseye delights in killing the helpless just as much as he does the super-powered. So while body count isn't as high as it's been in the past, his on-page murder of a female character will resonate with conscious readers for a long time. Other than that, this issue is an important companion to Siege, as it leads directly into the events of Siege #3. As Dark Avengers nears it's conclusion, I'm reminded that open-ended series are rarely as good as the shorter, more realized titles, such as this one. It'll be too bad to see them go, but something tells me we're in for one hell of a swan song.

Hercules Fall of an Avenger #1:

This issue was alright, but really felt like a bridge between Incredible Hercules and the upcoming Amadeus Cho seires. Here's what happens: a bunch of Marvel heroes stand around talking about why they loved the Lion of Olympus, and at the end a bunch of Gods show up to talk to Amadeus Cho about his destiny. The best part of the book is the fantastic Agents of Atlas back-up feature, wherein Venus and Namora take a trip to close out Hercules's remaining earthly affairs. The troubling thing about Fall of an Avenger is that after I finished it, I was left wondering if I really want to read an Amadeus Cho series sans Hercules. In a landscape of overly austere characters and dramatic absurdities, Hercules has always been a breath of brawny fun and the Marvel U is definitely going to be less fun without him. By spending the entire book reminding us of what makes Hercules such a fun character, Greg Pak sort of undercuts the upcoming Amadeus Cho book. I'm not going to count Amadeus Cho's series out just yet, because I have full faith in Pak's skills as a writer; but even still, I'm hoping that Hercules's absense will be short-lived.

Image:

Choker #2:

While the first issue left me a bit cold, Issue #2 doused those lukewarm feelings in gasoline and burned them to the ground. What changed? Well not a lot, but here's just a taste of what you'll get with Choker #2: super-juiced police, canibalistic freaks, poison coffee, batshit insane drug lords, an evil hand and severed testicles. If the series continues to be this weird, Choker will turn out to be the Grand Guignol comic that I'd hoped it would be. I can't wait to see where this story is going. Maybe I'm a bit caught up in my own excitement, so it might be too early to tell if the conclusion of the case will be as good as the ride, but right now that doesn't really matter. On top of the gleefully twisted art of Ben Templesmith, this issue contained some of the funniest dialogue I've seen in awhile. If you haven't already, now is the time to get your ticket to this wickedly demented, city-wide freakshow.

Misc:

The Green Hornet Year One #1 (Dynamite):

Matt Wagner writing Green Hornet one is like potatoes and gravy: it just makes sense. Delicious, delicious sense. Wagner's strength lies in writing pulp stories that don't take themselves too seriously, injecting a sense of atmosphere and fun that is sorely missed elsewhere. The 1930s gangster speak is a joy to read, as are the Green Hornet's one-liners. Like the cast of DC's First Wave, this is another pulp character I was completely unfamiliar with, and this issue makes me eager to know more. The narrative alternates between the present day 1938 and our duo's respective upbringings, making Green Hornet Year One the perfect series for my fellow uninitiated readers. Aaron Cambpell's art is a sight to behold, especially during the aforementioned Gangster scene. Wagner and Campbell make for a perfect comic book team, exemplifying all the best aspects of professional pulp storytelling.

The Muppet Show #3 (Boom Kids!):

Beyond a couple of slow panels tripped up by too many characters and too much dialogue, there's really nothing bad to say about the third issue of the Muppet Show. Roger Langridge deserves every Muppet fan's personal thanks for writing a series that effectively captures the spirit of the original television series without shoehorning the Muppets into a story other than their own. Langridge has given the original Muppet formula new life, and he deserves praise for his unparalleled ability to conjure up the character's original voices in the mind of the reader. In this issue most of the Muppets return to their newly renovated theater, while Gonzo and Fozzie travel back by more unconventional means. This real stars of this issue are Statler and Waldorf, who find that their heckling skills suffer greatly when there's no Fozzie Bear around. In the end, the balcony-bound duo even get a little bit of respect, making for one of the more satisfying and memorable final pages of the week.

Muppet King Arthur #3 (Boom Kids!):

Of all the auxiliary Muppet titles to come along (ie Muppet Peter Pan and Muppet Robin Hood), Muppet King Arthur has been the most enjoyable thus far. This issue sees the knights of King Kermit's court heading out on their first quest, and despite all their best efforts, we still don't know if they'll ever find a decent reuben sandwich. Writer Paul Benjamin does right by giving each main character their own time to shine, and there's a couple of hilarious image based jokes that legitimately made me laugh out loud while reading. Plus, I'm always happy to see Scooter. Before the end, there's even a bit of Muppet treachery on the part of an unlikely pairing of a patriotic bird and an under-appreciated frogling. But yet again, the best part of Muppet King Arthur is the A cover by David Peterson. They are simply a joy to look at, and even if I knew I hated the story, I still would've bought this issue based solely on the strength of Peterson's cover. Though it's still early in the year, I already know that these will make for some of my favorite covers of 2010.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Comic Reviews: Week of March 23rd

MARVEL:

Amazing Spider-Man #626:


The reimagining of Spider-Man's rogues continues!! In this issue, the new Scorpion makes an appearance, and Spidey's woes continue unabated. The most interesting part of the issue, however, came at the end. We're starting to see the puppet masters behind the gauntlet, and this is leading up to a pretty powerful villain reunion. I feel redundant posting these reveiws because I can't say enough positives about this series. Amazing Spider-Man has successfully redefined Spidey for the next age. If you're not part of the club already, you need to climb aboard. My only complaint would be David Gaydos's art. His rough edged take on Spider-Man is a bit much for this issue, especially considering the introduction of a new character. But it's a small complaint, and won't deter me from continuing the ride.


DC:


Green Lantern #52:

I know some people complain about origins, but I love 'em. I can't get enough of the histories of things, and when Geoff Johns introduced the spectrum, I ate it up. People complained that it was a sign of DC running out of ideas and having to alter the universe to come up with new plots. My take on the whole story was more of "Why hasn't anyone thought of this before?!" There's clearly an untapped wealth of info out there, and now that Johns has renewed the Green Lantern universe, it looks like the biggest sandbox in DC. What I loved most about this issue was the way all the characters came together. This has been the entire point of the spectrum: they all come together. Here, we see them in action. Even Lex Luthor is an integral part of the story, and while I cringe when villains become heroes, Johns reminds us just as quickly that the villains are and will always be villains. Now I just have to wonder where Johns is taking us next? Blackest Night wraps up in a week -- and then Brightest Day starts! I, for one, can't wait.


Misc:


Nemesis #1 (Icon -- Millar & McNiven):

Nemesis claims to make "Kick-Ass Look Like S#!T". This is a pretty bold statement to throw out there, considering that the author is competing with one of his own creations. Kick-Ass is a damn good book, and I was excited to see Millar make such a claim. So, the question is a simple one: Is Nemesis better than Kick-Ass. The answer? No. A resounding no, in fact. See, Kick-Ass has something Nemesis lacks, and that's a round and relatable character. Dave Lizewski is a likeable guy. He reads comics, has the hots for a hot girl, and talks about his geekdom like a badge of honor. There's a lot going on with Dave Lizewski, and as a reader, you feel for him. Seeing him get injured is painful. This is paritally because of the incredible art work by John Romita Jr., but it's also because Millar has truly crafted a great hero. Nemesis is meant to be the antithesis to Kick-Ass, but if falls flat because it's main character, a Batman type who wears a white suit and sports some hefty weaponry, is as flat as a pancake. Millar introduces him as a badass. And then he shows us how he's REALLY a bad ass. And then he shows us how he's a HORRIBLE bad ass. The thing is, the villain has nowhere to go. If a writer gives a villain humanity, the villain loses his edge. Think of the Joker in The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan stayed away from explaining anything about the Joker's background, anything at all that could make him seem more than what he is: a force of nature. Harvey Dent is the true backbone of The Dark Knight. The Joker isn't the main character, and Nolan did a great job of having him pop-up again and again to introduce chaos, but not to take control of the movie. Nemesis is not this character. He IS the comic. So what does Millar do with him? If you make it so that readers see WHY he becomes a villain, they feel a connection, and then he's no longer scary. And this is the problem with Nemesis. He's a bad guy through and through. So, what now? He kills more people? He destroys more buildings? Okay -- this isn't anything we wouldn't expect. Another reviewer said this was like watching a Michael Bay movie, and I can't, personally, think of a more apt explanation. It's a lot of pomp, splash, explosions, and destruction. But it's heartless. And heart is the thing that makes a story work.

Unfairly Judged: Darksiders is NOT “The Legend of Zelda”

Like War, the heavily armored Horseman of the Apocalypse in Vigil’s game “Darksiders”, I found myself caught between the factions of Heaven and Hell, not quite sure who to believe. The arguments were sounded from both sides, like Poseidon's great horn calling forth the Kraken. Those against exclaimed: “It’s too much like Zelda!!” or “It’s a God of War rip-off!!” While those for, boasted: “It’s a solid action adventure game dammit!!” or “Joe Mad is my hero, and he made the best game in the universe!!”



And as War rendered his final judgment upon those who opposed him, I too must follow suit to exclaim proudly: Darksiders is a hell of a great game, Zelda be damned. Filled to the brim with intense action, solid voice work and unique, thrilling character design, the game is a visual feast for any player longing to witness the Apocalypse up close and personal. The controls are tight, if a bit clunky at times (the dodge could have used a bit more fine tuning) but they don’t detract from the overall experience.

Joe Madureira brings his unmistakable talent to create some of the coolest digital creatures, whether you consider yourself a fan or not. Demons, Angels and everything in between look fantastic. Major kudos must be given to Vigil’s animation team. The denizens of Darksiders are beautifully animated and as a result the in-game dialog scenes are a blast to watch. It’s as if Don Bluth, in full on “Secret of Nimh” mode, were given the keys to a demonic 3D kingdom, the animations have that wonderful life to them. If you plan on playing the game, please pay special attention to Vulgrim, the demon merchant. Vulgrim is brought to live so vividly that he oozes greed and treachery. He’s a fantastic character and just one of many visually stunning beasts you’ll encounter.

The game also gives you a healthy amount of collectibles and upgrades, but they never overwhelm. I’m big on that. We don’t need everything AND the kitchen sink. The chances of me buying every single sword upgrade AND learning the textbook set of moves required to use them, is probably never going to happen. There’s a perfect balance struck in Darksiders that gives you just enough. I’m also a big fan of how Darksiders utilizes a single button prompt to finish off an enemy. We’ve all been trained by God of War to be on the edge of our seats when it comes to finishing off a baddie after a series of well timed button prompts (which takes a few tries to master, am I right friends? C’mon, be honest!) Darksiders simplifies this perfectly. When you see the “B” button (I’ve played the Xbox360 version), simply press it once, and you’re treated to a wonderfully gory in-game animation of War dispatching his foe. Personally, I loved this! Not only does it take off some of the stress when battling multiple enemies, it makes you look like what a Horseman of the Apocalypse should look like: A bad ass! When you swing the Chaoseater from monster to monster for a quick kill, It helped propel the combat forward like a steam engine. More importantly, it was FUN to do.

I’m a little unsure as to why a game that’s been compared to the Zelda series should be looked at like it’s the mutant twin we need to lock away in the attic when we have company. Since when did Legend of Zelda corner the market on dungeon exploration and puzzle solving?? Who says other IP’s can’t delve into the same territory? Darksiders is able to do this successfully while creating a world that feels expansive and fresh. It takes situations that we’re all familiar with and makes them its own. Why is that a such crime? Shouldn’t we be celebrating the fact that a game like Darksiders has successfully integrated these ideas into a world worth visiting?

Personally, I celebrate the more darker territory the game mines. I’m a bit tired of hearing that a story and/or dialog may be trite because “we’ve seen this all before.” Isn’t the main crux of almost every Zelda game the quest to rescue Zelda from Gannon? I mean, c’mon Zelda, time to dummy up. I think you’ve been hanging around Princess Peach a little too long! Mario and Link are TIRED, man! In all honestly though, when it comes to story there’s A LOT we’ve ALL seen before. “Nothing is created from the void” and almost everything is inspired by something else, oftentimes successfully. At times it falls flat on its face, but at the very least you have to admire the fact that someone tried, no? I don’t think it’s fair to grab the torches and head to the Monster’s Dark Castle screaming for its head JUST because a game shares similarities with others.

You can tell that a lot of hard work went into Darksiders by folks just like us. During my time with the Darksiders I didn’t connect what I was doing at any time with game property A or game property B. I just enjoyed the experience. I simply saw that the people over at Vigil LOVE games just as much as I do. They’re gamers through and through that wanted to make something fun and epic for all of us to share, and I for one, am glad they did.

At the time of writing this, NPD posted a “behind the numbers” for January 2010 with Darksiders taking the 10th spot with 171.2K units sold. I’m happy to hear that Darksiders is selling decently, despite the overly critical response it’s gotten. It’s an original property that deserves to be expanded upon and solid sales will only help give the Darksiders team a chance to do that. As we’re all aware, a successful game affords the developers that opportunity to take those gambles that they may have wanted to do initially, but were hesitant to. Those of us who enjoyed the game will benefit as a direct result. With such a solid first outing by Vigil, I’m beyond excited to see what they’ve got in store for us in Darksiders 2!

Until then I’ll have the Chaoseater at the ready. Razor sharp, glowing red with enhancements, and hungry for the souls of the damned: Demonic and Angelic alike. The other three Horseman ready to ride by my side, weapons unsheathed and ready for battle!

Please, please, please check out this game if you haven’t already. It truly deserves your time.

Cheers,
Mooch

Monday, March 22, 2010

Single Issue Spotlight: PunisherMAX Butterfly By Valerie D'Orazio

More often than not, knowing a bit about an author's personal history greatly enriches both the reader and the reading. Such is the case with Valerie D'Orazio and her recent PunisherMAX: Butterfly one-shot. For those who are unfamiliar, it's time you looked her up. She's a fascinating woman, and her perspective will make you think deeper about your relationship and dedication to comics. Knowing a bit about Miss D'Orazio's history in the comic books industry adds a deeper layer of significance to PunisherMAX Butterfly. After all, the first comic book material she ever wrote was a Punisher pitch she sent to Marvel at the age of about 13. So, yeah, Valerie D'Orazio writing a PunisherMax one-shot as her grand return to comics is a pretty big deal in and of itself.

But even without this real world context, Butterfly is a phenomenal read. The story of a dissociative hit woman and her attempt to connect with the world via a tell-all manuscript, Butterfly, like so many other good crime stories, focuses on the protagonist's professional and existential crises. Abused and molested at an early age, Butterfly's ability to live outside of her mind is severely handicapped. Throughout her adolescent and adult life, she makes a series of failed attempts to feel anything other than anger, disgust, or apathy. Even in her manuscript, Butterfly struggles to convey a relatable story.

Granted, she is a hired killer, but that's not the real issue. Her editor explains that the manuscript lacks plot and structure, before advising her to write using the same step-by-step process she uses when killing. On both points he's right, but for the wrong reasons. What he sees as her failure is actually a reflection of his own: he cannot understand because he cannot relate. This is where the Punisher comes in. Chapter 13 of Butterfly's manuscript, which she is told is the most important chapter, details the first and only time she saw Frank Castle in action. It's during this encounter that Butterfly, for maybe the first time, feels genuine fear. Confronted with another deeply dissociated, homicidal personality, Butterfly feels briefly human. Needless to say, this complicated psychology is the stuff of fantastic crime fiction and must-read Punisher tales, and D'Orazio's exploration of these troubling character types through a female foil is refreshingly profound.


Beyond the criminal goodness of Butterfly, there is an underlying theme about the dangers of honest expression. Rather than feeling shoehorned in, this secondary thread is expertly woven into the narrative. By the nature of her manuscript, Butterfly is exposing the world to it's own dangerous truths; and not only is she revealing the world for the nasty place it can be, but in writing her story she also exposes herself to the murderous wrath of her employers. The fact that Butterfly is a woman in a traditionally male role makes this an even more pointed power struggle. One has to wonder if some of the conversations in the book were tweaked from D'Orazio's own experiences in the industry, but we'll save that speculation for another time. Without exploiting the sexual undertones of this conflict, D'Orazio shows that the suppression of truth can lead to a dangerous alienation from reality.


Finally, it should be said that in keeping with our month-long series on women in comics, this review purposely focused on Valerie D'Orazio and the themes of PunisherMAX Butterfly, largely ignoring artist Lawrence Cambpell. For the record, Cambpell's art is every bit as good as D'Orazio's writing, and it adds yet another layer of quality to this already incredible comic.

Write Club Funnies! - The 'clubber Returns


* first person to leave a comment correctly identifying the movie quote wins a prize!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sub*Text Saturdays

Welcome to Sub*Text Saturdays, where I abduct your mind for a short trip through the alternative awesome of the internet with some Pics, Flicks, Vids & Lit. You may just be rolling out of bed ready to wake'n'bake, or maybe charging your cell while waiting for your friends to swing by before you hit the pub, or perhaps you've just come home from last call, stumbling & mumbling but somehow able to pop open your laptop.

No matter the state of your consciousness...enjoy the Alt.Ent that is Sub*Text.

K

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PICS

Hiya
From Another Very Long Year by Stu Horvath

***
FLICKS
You could go buy/rent Ninja Assasin which came out this past week, or you could watch a GOOD ninja movie:

Scott Adkins keeps it real, he keeps it simple, he keeps it real simple in...

NINJA


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VID

Neon Trees - Animal
This song is good, the video is great.

Thanks to Boston Scott for the heads up.

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LIT

SHAMANSPACE by Steve Aylett


What if god were found to exist? What if revenge were possible? Competing groups of occult assassins race to exterminate the creator, with young gun Alix the favorite. But conflict among the Edgemen sends Alix in pursuit of renegade shaman Quinas and a psychic splinter group. Waging multidimensional war, the edgemen travel through sidespace to confront at last the source of evil and hit back at a toxic universe even at the risk of ending it.

Dense language that pokes at your brain and demands attention, poetic babbling and grand posturing, with overly ambitious metaphysical ideals.
A novella worth tracking down, a writer that bears further investigation.

Introduction by Grant Morrison

Friday, March 19, 2010

Five Choice Books of Small Press Expo Book 4: MOTRO

by Max Evry

It is fun to imagine the whir of hundreds of printing presses and, yes, Xerox machines working tirelessly in the days and hours before the Small Press Expo kicks off each year. The two-day celebration of independent comics in Bethesda, Maryland attracts the many brave souls who put their hearts, minds, and cold-hard cash into getting their cartoon visions out to attendees.

With so many titles to choose from, it can be difficult to tell the wheat from the chaff. Is it a beautifully drawn title, or merely one with a nice cover? This series will shine the spotlight on five authors who represent the most promising emerging talents on the indie comics scene, including exclusive interviews where they discuss their process, their inspiration, and their joy in creating these works.


“MOTRO” by Ulises Farinas

The work of Ulises Farinas can be described in many ways, except perhaps “easily describable.” Visually his art is cut from the same cloth as past generation’s masters of intricate, detailed ligne claire, namely Moebius, Geoff Darrow, and Seth Fisher. In fact, it should not surprise anyone one iota if he were pounding out work for mainstream publishers in only a few years time, but to speak with him about it, or see the work itself, you may get the impression that this is not his goal…his goal is MOTRO.

That’s “MOTRO” in all caps, as he so kindly pointed out. We’ll forego any simple explanation of plot or who the young warrior boy Motro is, but we can tell you that the bearded Farinas himself is literally a character in it, along with a host of other strange creatures and hallucinogenic landscapes. Although there are several print editions, it is HIGHLY recommended that you check the work out online to experience it yourself.

What was your inspiration for "MOTRO", both conceptually and visually?

ULISES FARINAS: “MOTRO” is actually one aspect of a larger universe that I've been creating for the better part of the last 5 years. I've named it the New Elegant Universe, and it's sort of a mirror to our reality, but with almost every mythological, metaphysical, philosophical surreal thing I enjoy and imagine stuffed into it. “MOTRO” was created almost on a whim, when I decided I wanted to write my own hero's journey epic, influenced by “He-Man,” the “Beastmaster” movies, and the Arnold Schwarzenegger “Conan” movie.

What roles do psychedelia and meta-narrative play in your comics?

FARINAS: I've always loved the Ray Harryhausen stop-motion films, and I wanted a story that expanded that stylistic genre into a more personal narrative that addresses both being a viewer of B-movie classics and being a creator. Meta-narrative is what I consider the hidden over-story of “MOTRO,” whereas the actual adventures of the boy named Motro is what keeps the story moving. The character of Motro has some very limited understanding that his world isn't exactly what it seems to be, and his hero's journey is coming to terms with that. Exactly what is a hero's journey, if the hero becomes metaphysically aware? That's what I want to answer with this epic.

How does your work with the online Act-I-Vate comics collective give you freedom you wouldn't have by going through more conventional means of distribution?

FARINAS: The goals I have for “MOTRO” have fundamentally limited any means of conventional distribution. For American comics, 120 pages is considered a "graphic novel," but I disagree. 120 pages using the comics form, mostly condenses to a few hours of reading at most, and should be called a novelette. I seek to write a hero's journey that doesn't skip 40 years to get to the ending, and really explores a character's loss of innocence and slow soul death that would occur in anyone fighting to survive. This can't be done in 120 pages. I’m not sure how many pages it would take, but I want to write it as long as it has to be. Publishing online doesn't give me any firm deadlines and artificial constraints. Although I enjoy someone reading my comic as it’s created, the internet and ACT-I-VATE gives me the freedom to create in the long term, while I focus on more immediate projects that are more "economical."

You told me you are only 23-years old. How long have you been doing comics and what are your ultimate goals in terms of your career in the industry?

FARINAS: I've been drawing narratives since before I can remember. I literally do not remember a time where I wasn't drawing. My main focus in writing and drawing has always been the desire to have some ability to create life. I know that sounds insane, but the act of creation, of any creation, I think makes you more human and more sane, and it's been that constant need to create that has kept me relatively sane.

Check out Ulises Farinas HERE: http://ulisesfarinas.com/