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Welcome to What’s Actually Good (In Comics), the column where I look at what’s currently out and what soon to hit the shelves, as well as a bit of news on the side to push up the word count. In this issue, I manage to spell J. Michael Straczynski’s name right in a review of his newest book, The Twelve, and rant about David Lapham’s brilliant indie work instead of the book I am supposed to be looking at. What the hell am I talking about? Stick around, heroes, and find out!

J. Michael Straczynski has been producing comics off and on for 20 years now, writing for Marvel most recently. Some of you might recognize his name from shows like Babylon 5 (he created it) as well as choice episodes of The New Twilight Zone, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, as well as the best detective TV show in history, Murder, She Wrote (oh, yes). I have been enjoying his work in both mediums for over a decade, so I was a little uneasy when I found out he was leaving Amazing Spider-Man, top-selling, inglorious and clusterfuckish as the final arc was.

He’s leaving Spidey to create a new book called The Twelve, published by Marvel. The first hit stores just a few weeks ago.

The story goes that during World War II, 12 Golden Age heroes are tricked and suspended in time by Nazis and are now revived in our modern age. If this sounds familiar that’s because more or less the exact same thing happened to Captain America except, we have cryogenic chambers in lieu of nuclear rockets and the arctic. It seems the American government did a wonderful job misplacing their heroes during the second Great War.

Each character is from the Golden Age, and most were originally published by Marvel when they were actually known as Timely Comics. The characters themselves are all fairly unique – some have super powers, others don’t – and while we haven’t been given the chance to see much character development, what been there seems like it could be fun, as each character has begun conforming to a different classic stereotype (i.e. the mysterious one, the heroic one, the smart one, the strong one and so on). The Phantom Reporter, an un-powered member of the group, narrates each issue.

Chris Weston does a great job on pencils. He captures the heroes’ different features and characteristics perfectly, and his art develops the characters as much as the dialogue. The larger splash pages are particularly striking, and it will be interesting to see the heroes once he has added his modern touch to their costumes. The cover from Kaare Andrews mimics an early pulp magazine and again fits perfectly with the book’s tone.

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There is a certain allure to the mystery men of past, and Straczynski has captured them perfectly in what looks to be party mystery and part adventure. The book will probably take the same path as his Supreme Power did and question the role of the hero under the government and in today’s modern society. But this time he has some genuinely old fashioned ideals to play with, and that’s where the drama will develop. It’s a classic tale of the man out of time, except there are 12 of them.

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An up and coming book worth mentioning comes from a creator whose origin is firmly based in a fantastic indie book, and who more recently has found himself taking on the mainstream market for both DC and Marvel. The writer is David Lapham of Stray Bullets fame, and his new book is called Young Liars.

It mightn’t be prudent of me to look forward to the new book based on Lapham’s old work, but Stray Bullets is just so goddamned good. One part crime series, another part character study, Stray Bullets is a complex look at many different (generally criminal) characters over a period of three decades. The crimes themselves take a backseat to the effect they have on the perpetrators and victims. Despite the huge cast and long timeline, everything is connected in both large and small ways, and chances are you will notice a casual reference to a character or event in another story. The series is self-published under the indie label El Capitan Books and has achieved an almost cult following. Sadly the book had to be put on hold so Lapham could pick up some mainstream work to, well, feed his family, but the good news is his patience and ours has paid off in the form of the new ongoing Young Liars. Cool beans!

Young Liars tells the story of Sadie Dawkins, who due to having a bullet being lodged in her brain is an adrenalin junky accompanied by guitarist and compulsive liar Danny Noonan. They travel across Europe with their friends in search of a painting, all the while being hunted by contract killers sent by Sadie’s father. It’s going to be action-packed and insane, hopefully containing the complexities of character that made all of Lapham’s previous work so strong. Lapham himself in an earlier interview said, “Originally, this was supposed to be my ‘action book.’ No thinking, just a crazy girl with lots of bullets flying. Like Amy Racecar [a character from Stray Bullets] but more real world. Of course, since then I’ve added in midgets and castration, so the book’s gotten way more sophisticated.” I agree: Midgets make every book more sophisticated, and it sounds like fun for the whole family to me. Look for it on the shelves around March 5.

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In other news, while Warner Bros. has pulled the Justice League movie due to the writer’s strike, it seems Marvel is intent on destroying their movie franchises the old fashioned way if this rumor is in any way correct. Jason Statham as Namor? How is he in any way good for the role? Namor needs to be European looking – that is, sexy. Not like that … thing. However kudos to Marvel for coming to an agreement with the Writers Guild. Just don’t make that movie. Please.

Moving to videogames, it seems that Marvel and EA have jointly broken their agreement. Something about EA not going the in the direction that Marvel wanted or something. The way I see it, the less chance of another game like Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects, the better.

Recently, Keith Giffen wrote an interesting little treatise on continuity. He argues that continuity and consistency are different things, and that continuity is actually more rigid and limits creativity and thusly also limits good stories. He is a great writer and his point is well made. Check it out here.

The role of women in comics was recently discussed at an American university, obviously featuring Wonder Woman as a focal point. It’s definitely something that bears discussion, and you can’t help but think of Gail Simone’s website, Women in Refrigerators, where she outlines all the women who have died in Superhero comics in an effort to expose the “damsel in distress” trend. I hope this topic and others are brought up more often in academic circles. The analysis of comic books, specifically Superhero comics, as a literary form is something we need more of. Simone is currently writing Wonder Woman and just finished a long run on Birds of Pray.

Now excuse me while I wrestle with my shell shock and cry a little over the last issue of Y: The Last Man.

Stick around in two weeks, when I discuss the tragic tale of the doomed comic book The Order, as well get overly excited for Bendis’ next big Marvel event, Secret Invasion. All that and the usual claptrap! See you then!

What’s Actually Good (In Comics) appears in this space every other Thursday. Collect each issue. They will be worth more if kept in plastic.

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