What Fans Want (And Why They Can’t $eem to Get It)

batgirl birds of prey collin colsher
Recently, even the most respected online sources have been getting confused about what has been changed in the DCU due to “Rebirth.” For example, Greg Burgas at CBR thinks that all of Modern Age Birds of Prey has somehow been canonized. Where was that ever advertised or even remotely inferred? Here’s what we learn in Batgirl & The Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1: Babs became Oracle after Killing Joke, kept it a secret from Batman, and then organized a Birds of Prey team, the only confirmed member of which was Black Canary. It’s literally all right there. (Remember when some internet peeps somehow mis-read a Burnside Batgirl comic and mistakenly believed that Killing Joke was erased? Another case of “huh, what are people seeing?” I called those mis-readers out months ago. Just saying.) Moving on. Helena isn’t Modern Age Huntress. She’s New 52 Huntress, the former leader of Spyral, who knows everyone’s secret IDs. Comics Alliance has things even worse, totally not getting that Wally West is not Modern Age Wally West. It’s New 52 Triple W (White Wally West). “Rebirth,” at least so far, has NOT been a reboot or a bunch of reboots. It’s merely been a collection of jumping-on points. Although, the “Rebirth” issues function pretty poorly as jumping-on points since, one, so many comics journalists seem to be perplexed by them and, two, they continue directly from previous continuity-heavy arcs without much explanation.

Well over a month’s worth of “Rebirth” issues have been published thus far. I’ve read ’em. And guess what? THERE HAS NOT BEEN ONE SINGLE RETCON SO FAR. Nothing, not even slightly, has changed from the New 52. Nada. In fact, most of the “Rebirth” issues have solidified New 52 continuity and filled in empty gaps in New 52 history! The only time a reboot of any kind will happen (and this still isn’t a guarantee) is when the Dr. Manhattan plot-thread comes to a head. And that won’t be for a while, kids. Two years, they tells me. Oh, and for anyone claiming the “obvious,” that DC must be in a brand new rebooted universe because Amanda Waller gained a bunch of weight and went from skinny to fat overnight, I hardly think this stands as a trial-by-jury-case-resting-moment, your honor. Seriously, this is yet again more bogus story analysis from teh interwebz. And don’t get me started on Bleeding Cool, which is literally ALL bogus hot takes that don’t make a lick of sense any way you spin them. (UPDATE: There has been ONE retcon with “Rebirth.” But it’s minuscule AND it’s Scott Lobdell, so it’s barely worth mentioning. Jason Todd’s initial meeting with Batman has been changed from a pill-stealing affair back to the original Modern Age tire-stealing affair. Bear in mind, people, nearly all of Lobdell’s New 52 stuff had really funky continuity to begin with. This change is maybe the least noticeable since 2011.)

There’s a reason for the confusion, though. If you want to understand the über-narrative, you have to read ALL the stories that are published. And there are way too many. To know about New 52 Huntress, you’d have to be well-versed in Tom King’s long-running Grayson series. To know about the nitty-gritty details of New 52 Wally West’s return, you’d have to be caught up with six issues of Titans Hunt. DC, for a long while now, has been less about telling individual stories and more about building the over-arching world, more about expanding the sandbox. It’s a different beast and different mentality compared to Marvel, which is more character driven at its core. The very fact that I run such a complex and dedicated website dedicated to making sense of all this continuity muck should tell you something. The way DC Comics is structured narratively is either a red flag/warning sign, a bright and shiny Pandora’s Box that you just can’t help but open, or that welcoming sandbox full of your favorite toys. None of the options are easy. I think a lot of people want to be able to pick up a book here and there and get the gist of what’s happening. But the way DC is constructed, you really do need to read A LOT to get it.

And with that in mind, it’s no surprise that we always hear or read that fans are longing for a time when comics were easy or simple. But that’s not the real problem here. I don’t think fans really want simplicity. (Maybe they want less grim-n-gritty, but that’s a separate conversation.) After all, the 1940s were simple, and they don’t want the 1940s. Instead, the curmudgeonly fans always yearn for the 70s, 80s, or 90s. Last time I checked, comic book universes were just as confusing and time-consuming and complex in the Silver and Modern Age (if not more). The big difference: there were LESS TITLES. But it’s not about being able to compartmentalize or manage narrative. It boils down to economics. What people really want is to not have to burn a hole in their wallets.

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Even Burgas starts off by saying that his store credit is running low and he’s barely caught up with all the titles he needs to read to get the full picture. Burgas KNOWS his stuff inside and out. He’s got a mega-sized comic book brain. But when you have to spend a whopping wad of cash to get the whole story, it prevents even the most seasoned comics journalist from being able to properly engage with and then write about the stories. If Burgas can’t keep up, how the hell can the average fan. Capitalism is ruining comic books. We (the fans) don’t really want old comic book eras to return, either thematically or in actuality. And we don’t want simpler worlds and simpler characters. We LOVE the vast complexity of superhero comics. WE LOVE IT. The desire for something more manageable really is the desire for something more affordable.

batman iron man money fight collin colsher

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Harvey v Fairbairn: Color of Justice

collin colsher original 1980s frank miller art
The art of Frank Miller has certainly changed over the years. In the 1980s it was always highly consistent from panel to panel, containing a somewhat rigid form with stark line-work, which used prominent negative space and thick inking to evoke dark, noir-ish sentiment. Nowadays, Miller’s pencils are something much more freeform and inconsistent, more abstract and grotesque, containing an almost daringly flamboyant nonchalance. I think both styles are amazing. Miller is undoubtedly one of the great artists in comics history. And while some might label his more recent oeuvre negatively, I see it as an evolution of his style into something beautiful and fresh. Not many artists can (or try to) attempt altering their style in such a way, especially so late in the game. Yet, many people hate Miller’s art now. Maybe they are linking his gross racist politics and xenophobic beliefs to his art, but I’ve chosen to separate the artist from the man for the purposes of this stylistic analysis. There is something to their complaints, though. Miller’s recent work is hard to grasp. Could it really be… bad? Is Miller phoning it in? Or is there something else at play here?

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collin colsher superman supergirl picture frank miller sloppy art is it bad?

A few months ago, pro colorist and creator of the stupendous Bartkira Project James Harvey defended Miller’s new sloppy art style as I have, but went one step further in an attempt to silence the haters. Harvey claimed that it was DC’s lame color choices that have literally painted Miller’s new style in a negative light. Can color be that important of a factor, so important that it makes or breaks pencil-work entirely? Yes indeed, color is damn important. If you don’t think so, take a look at Emil Gustafsson Ryderup’s re-colorization of the Killing Joke movie and tell me I’m wrong. Back in the 1980s, Miller’s then wife Lynn Varley colored almost all of his projects, adding a subtle flair that breathed life into Miller’s characters and gave both depth and sophistication to his stunning pencils. But for Miller’s more recent publications, DC house colorists seem to have selected minimalism when something more garish and Warhol-ish might have better suited the inks and pencils. Similarly, with Miller’s recent works, DC house colorists seemed to go bananas with weird computerized layers when it might better have suited the covers to be toned down a bit. With this in mind, Harvey argued that Miller’s bold new style requires bold new coloring techniques that must equally be applied when appropriate. Harvey said that the only reason so many people think Miller’s new visual style sucks is because the poor coloring brings out the worst of it. Below are images (taken from Harvey’s Tumblr) of recent Frank Miller covers that show the contrast between Harvey’s own versions versus what DC actually published. Big difference, eh?

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Shortly after Harvey publicly displayed his Miller covers and gave the finger to wagged his finger at DC higher-ups, DC’s number one colorist extraordinaire Nathan Fairbairn, angrily weighed in on the controversy via Twitter, adding fuel to the fire.

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Beyond saying that Harvey was unprofessional in his critique of DC, Fairbairn pissed all over Harvey, going on to say that Harvey’s busy coloring overpowered the images, a big no-no in the professional coloring world. He also stated that legends like Miller and Neal Adams insist upon either old-school minimal coloring or the latest house-style background layering, no matter what.

In between brutally trashing Harvey, Fairbairn made some great points, which were especially insightful coming from such a respected industry insider. I love Fairbairn. He might even be a legend like Miller one day as he is certainly talented enough and has worked on the best mainstream titles with brilliant minds attached to them. But overall, his ranting list of complaints registers as petty and defensive, like someone toeing the Warner Brothers line big-time. I commend any creator that stands up to the corporate overlords, even if it is merely to make a suggestion or to try to change something teeny-tiny. Change is a good thing when it comes to the Big Two. If artists and writers don’t shake things up a little bit, this industry is dead in the water. Many fans think this industry IS ALREADY dead in the water. We need evolution and progressive thought.

Is Fairbairn right or wrong? Do busy colors overpower and ruin the integrity of the author’s original intent via pencil and inks? Last time I checked, the colors were just as important. Busy or not, overpowering or not, if it looks good then IT LOOKS GOOD. And in my humble opinion, Harvey’s covers of Miller’s recent stuff look DAMN GOOD.

As far as Miller, Adams, and all the other old codgers insisting on minimal coloring… I’m sure they all do. Fairbairn is probably right about that, I don’t doubt it. But this is where publishers and editors should step in! This is where the collaborative process should be more involved. Say what you will about the scripts, Miller and Adams are making wildly awesome books right now when it comes to the visuals. If they aren’t willing to fully commit to the wildness of their own illustrations, I think the art does suffer and does lack something. It becomes disjointed and awkward. But who am I (or any of us) to really say what should or shouldn’t be done? Once we cross that line, then we begin to take away or automatically devalue the artist’s true vision. Subjectivity comes into play as well. It’s not a 100% science we are dealing with, which leads to the heavy animosity that Fairbairn and Harvey both seem to carry on their backs.

In the end, though, I’m siding with Harvey on this one. I mean, his versions of those covers are dope as hell. Get a clue, all you corporate stooges at Warners and Disney. The future is now. And it’s not just a kaleidoscope of technicolor, it’s about widening the creative eye to apply color with as much careful thought and deliberation as the rest of the team that scripts, pencils, inks, letters, and does breakdowns and layouts. Fairbairn, as one of the brilliant leaders (and genuine visionaries) of the comic book world of coloring, should be embracing revolutionary shake-ups instead of feeling threatened by them. And even if we agree to disagree, surely a more civil dialogue between talented artists could spawn new paradigms, and that in and of itself would be beneficial to the medium. My hope, moving forward, is for all mainstream comic book creators and publishers to be open to at least acknowledging alternate perspectives.

wonder woman collin colsher james harvey

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Continuity Matters!

Often, superhero fans overlook comic book continuity as something that only hardcore fanboy nerds are interested in, something that “isn’t important as long as a good story is being told.” I’ve always disagreed. Continuity IS story. Without it, even in non-serialized narrative or a single short story, things fall apart. Rarely, however, do I think about just how important continuity is BEYOND simple matters of canon, storytelling, and reader comprehension. But continuity truly is more than just having a coherent timeline or “making sense of stories.” A lack of continuity in a shared-universe, as we’ll see below, has the potential to conjure up egregiously offensive sociopolitical, sexual, or racial trespasses.

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Batman #43. Alfred makes an impassioned and violent (kryptonite) plea to Superman.

In case you didn’t already know, Bruce Wayne was recently stricken with complete amnesia and lost all of his memories in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Endgame” story arc. Of course, this is comics we are talking about and any kind of loss always has a status-quo lever ready to be pulled at any moment. All of Bruce’s memories are conveniently stored in a failed cloning machine that he tried and failed to get off the ground. Here steps in Alfred Pennyworth—Bruce’s butler, yes, but for decades running, more of a legitimate father figure to him. Alfred is faced with a choice. He can have his son Bruce, for the first time ever, live a normal happy life with a loving wife and a job that gives back to the community—and with no knowledge of having been Batman. Or he can return Bruce’s memories so he can continue being Batman to protect Gotham, albeit with all the dark, tragic baggage that comes along with being an obsessed vigilante.

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Batman #43. “Let him live, Mr. Kent.”

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Batman #43. “Let someone else suffer…”

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Batman #48. Hear no evil.

Snyder’s Alfred (in Batman Vol. 2) emphatically decides that Bruce shouldn’t be Batman. His only focus is on making sure that Bruce never remembers and is able to live a happy life. He doesn’t care about Batman’s mission at all. Lee Bermejo’s Alfred (in We Are Robin), on the other hand, seems to have a primary focus on making sure that any void left behind, due to the absence of Batman, gets filled with a powerful force capable of protecting Gotham at any cost. This feeling is so strong that Alfred clandestinely organizes and supplies an army of mostly lower to middle class teenagers to become a gang of overnight superheroes. Now, one could argue that Alfred would want to do both of these things: protect the city, save and spare your son who has put in his time. These are both admirable things that surely can be done side-by-side. I totally concur. However, Snyder’s Batman only barely references We Are Robin in the most cursory fashion and not via Alfred at all. Likewise, Bermejo’s We Are Robin operates as if it has no knowledge of what is to come in Batman, featuring Alfred heavily, but failing to reference any of his thoughts regarding Bruce’s future. Therein lies the problem that causes things to get seriously messed up. Alfred’s dilemma is handled by two different writers putting out two different (but simultaneous) titles: Snyder in Batman Vol. 2 and Bermejo in We Are Robin. Alfred, while characterized nicely in both titles, clearly has a different mindset in each.

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Batman #49. Alfred makes a final plea to Batman before his return.

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We Are Robin #1. Alfred, meticulous war planner.

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We Are Robin #1. Alfred’s war, comprised of young people “of color.” No pun here.

When you merge the narratives of Batman Vol. 2 and We Are Robin together—and you should because they literally GO TOGETHER to tell the complete story—you have an Alfred who vehemently doesn’t want to put Bruce back in danger (in Snyder’s Batman), but who simultaneously arms and trains dozens of youngsters he doesn’t know to go into that very same danger zone (in Bermejo’s We Are Robin). The only other place on the web besides disCONTINUITY that has touched on the problems spawned by this brutal contradiction is the brilliant Tumblr blog “Next Stop: Immolation Station.” That’s just two sites (as far as I am aware), so it just goes to show that this aspect of continuity gets almost little to no attention even though it’s pretty damn important.

We Are Robin #2. Alfred, in disguise, coerces his newest soldier into fighting Bruce's war.

We Are Robin #2. Alfred, in disguise, coerces his newest soldier into fighting Bruce’s war.

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We Are Robin #5. Alfred’s propaganda machine sells the war.

Maybe you could play Devil’s Advocate and argue that Alfred’s mentality changed somewhat following both the death of Troy Walker and the “Robin War,” meaning that Alfred’s stance on how to act after Bruce’s amnesia changes due to the pressure he is under. But a major fact that nullifies the Devil’s Advocation is that Alfred covertly supports—and, by default, encourages—the former Robin Gang members, again many of whom are products of a very low socioeconomic class, all throughout Snyder’s entire run. This paints a very offensive picture, where a super-privileged White vigilante opts to step out of the line of fire and substitute Child Soldiers of Color instead. How was this seemingly glaring ugliness allowed to appear in the pages of DC Comics? As always, it has everything to do with bad continuity—with writers and editors not communicating with each other.

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We Are Robin #5. “I will guide you. Train you.”

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We Are Robin #5. Alfred’s vision of poor minorities fulfilling the violent dream that Batman has forgotten about.

The story of Bruce having lost his memories and Alfred deciding how to deal with it is a complicated tale that can be told from many different angles. Here we have two very distinct directions from two very different but clearly talented writers. Alfred is a beast of a certain nature in Snyder’s story arc whereas he is quite the opposite in Bermejo’s story arc. Snyder’s Alfred is the loving father figure with a desperate but pure heart. Bermejo’s Alfred is the stalwart defender of the city, dedicated to the cause of a fallen comrade. These two versions of Alfred are both correct versions of the character based upon what we’ve come to know over the course of decades. So neither Snyder nor Bermejo are at fault for highlighting those traits specifically. Snyder’s and Bermejo’s stories, when they stand alone, are actually both very compelling, especially when it comes to Alfred’s emotional plight. But when the two versions align as part of the same post-“Endgame” narrative, not only do characterization contradictions arise, something much more disconcerting occurs as well. Narratively speaking, the lack of communication between Snyder and Bermejo (and their editors) has turned the normally benevolent, paternal, and affable Alfred Pennyworth into a schizophrenic and deviously conniving Right Wing maniac. This hypocritical sick Army Dad needs to keep the fight alive at any cost and with any strangers that are willing (or persuadable), but he’ll be damned if it is his own kin’s flesh and blood being spilled out on the streets. But hey, Alfred’s an emotional fella who’s gone through a lot of shit, eh? Sheesh.

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We Are Robin #6. Alfred, badass leader of the new child soldier war, Michael Bay style.

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We Are Robin #11. Bruce is back, but here is confirmation that I’ve been boldly leading you this whole time whilst crying about him. (I also realize these captions seem to make fun of We Are Robin, but in all honestly We Are Robin is stronger than Snyder’s Batman IMO.)

But beyond bearing directly upon character development, narrative flow, and plot-holes, this is a prime example of just how important continuity really is when it comes to serialized storytelling. Bad continuity can turn something innocuous into something highly offensive i.e. racist, classist, sexist, etc… Bad continuity can even turn a great set of stories into an objectionable nightmare when combined. Continuity means responsibility and accountability when it comes to writing. CONTINUITY MATTERS!

And if you think “Continuity Matters” bears too clear of a resemblance to Black Lives Matter, you aren’t wrong. The parallel is blunt for a reason. Just as Black Lives Matter champions a world free of racial injustice, Continuity Matters—if imagined as an activist movement for comic books—speaks to the idea that there should be more accountability on the part of writers and editors to create a better world of fiction similarly devoid of racism and all the other evil isms. Obviously, the reality and gravity of Black Lives Matter far outweighs anything having to do with the far-less-sociopolitical and far-less-serious arena of the superhero comic. But anytime we can eliminate impediments to prosperity or oppression in any realm of life we make the whole world a better place.

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Rebirth: Zero Hour of the New Age

In 1994, DC soft-rebooted its line with Zero Hour, only six years after Crisis on Infinite Earths fully-rebooted the entire company. Despite containing some pretty heavy-handed changes, they were mostly cosmetic. And the alterations that were more serious would go onto be ignored by most writers and eventually revert back to status quo anyway.

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DC’s summer Rebirth event is essentially the new Zero Hour. It is a soft reboot that will continue where the New 52’s continuity ends. Sure, it will attempt to appease some fans of the Modern Age by incorporating aspects of that era. But for anyone already deciding to treat the timeline as brand new, I think that is a ludicrous idea. We don’t even know for sure if anything from the New 52 will actually be fully changed (or erased). Let’s take a look at some of the early Rebirth announcements and predict how they will affect continuity.

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Batgirl’s recent Burnside history remains, as does The Killing Joke (don’t let anyone tell you otherwise). Rumor has it that her time as Oracle will be reinserted to appease fans. I personally think this is a bad idea, but if it is done it shouldn’t affect much New 52 canon. After all, there never was mention of her as Oracle, but there never was anything stating outright that she wasn’t either.

We know for certain that Superman will die before Rebirth, paving the way for Modern Age Superman—who already exists in New 52 continuity—to take his place. This, to me, is one of the most fascinating aspects of Rebirth. I’m looking forward to how this will be handled. While some might view it as an absolute return to ultimate status-quo by simply replacing a current in-the-works Superman with a previous and tested model, it actually is a truly radical departure from anything that’s happened with such a major player in comics before. The way some fans will view it—and the way I am choosing to view it—is that the main-line Earth-0 Superman (i.e. THE one true blue Superman) is being killed off and replaced by an alternate (read “secondary”) version of the character. As far as continuity and narrative both go, Modern Age Superman, while having a ton of history on his side, is still technically an alternate “copy” of the original. He’s an out-an-out doppelgänger. Hell, his banishment to the New 52 happened via Convergence and his kid was born in Convergence, which means the single biggest aspects of his life at the moment both came from something quite stupid and nonsensical. For many fans, especially newer fans, the one-and-only REAL Superman is being ditched for some alt-faker. And they ain’t wrong! This is a big deal. I wonder how long until the CORRECT Man of Steel (New 52 Superman) returns?

Moving on. Helena Bertinelli will supposedly leave Spyral to join the Birds of Prey. This might mean that Spyral becomes defunct before Rebirth. Stay tuned to Grayson to see what happens.

Speaking of Grayson, that series’ conclusion will determine exactly how Dick leaves Spyral, gains his secret ID back (via Somnus Satellite mind-wiping technology), and returns to his Nightwing persona for Rebirth.

Two-Face is returning, which means a resurrection from the dead. Or a retcon. Or a reveal that he never killed himself in the pages of Batman & Robin. After all, Tomasi and Gleason never showed the body after his apparent suicide. Tomasi did confirm Two-Face’s death in interviews, but as the old adage goes: “No body, no death.”

As far as other supporting characters around the DCU, most (if not all) are continuing right where the New 52 will leave off, with all of their New 52 histories intact. This goes for Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, Cassandra Cain, Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy, Wally West, Black Canary, and Donna Troy. For anyone that thinks Titans Hunt contradicts Donna Troy’s origin in the pages of the Finches’ Wonder Woman—where donna was seemingly formed out of clay by an evil occult ritual—they just aren’t getting it. Titans Hunt tells us that Donna was around as a hero before the Titans were mind-wiped from the collective memory of the entire world. Titans Hunt shows us what happened to most of the Titans from that point, but it very specifically does not show us what happened to Donna Troy. This is because she disappears. The occult ritual “birthing” scene in Wonder Woman isn’t actually a birth—it is a resurrection or summoning.

Terry McGinnis coming back to Batman Beyond should be interesting. Does he come back from the dead (“Batman Beyond THE GRAVE”)? Will Batman Beyond detail the canon adventures of Terry before his time-jaunt and death (in Futures End)? Or will Batman Beyond return to being an out-of-continuity title? Any of these things could happen.

The insertion of the old Justice Society of America into the history of the DCU proper is problematic. Will this be done with yet another mind-wipe explanation? That’s getting very trite. The New 52 has included various metahumans, supernaturals, and aliens involved in its WWII past—from WRAITH to Enemy Ace to the Creature Commandos to Sergeant Rock and company—but the JSA has never been mentioned. More specifically, the entire idea of the New 52 is that Batman and Superman were the first two legit superheroes, having taken influence from many things, but definitely NOT from the JSA, which never existed.

Wonder Woman is problematic as well. Rumor has it that she will be getting a new origin. Will it resemble her origin in the upcoming film? Or will it be a slightly tweaked version of her New 52 origin? After all, Greg Rucka, who was responsible for her New 52 origin in the first place, is returning to the title. I would imagine that he wouldn’t mess with his own prior narrative too drastically. Suffice to say, any change would likely require small caveats or tiny retcons that hopefully wouldn’t disrupt the history of the timeline too much. Another rumor attached to Rucka’s Wonder Woman is that it will occur ten years after the debut of the New 52 (i.e. ten years after the debuts of Batman and Superman). This would put the entire continuing DCU timeline in Year Ten, which is odd since 2016 is technically Year Nine. (Even Batman Vol. 2 #51, which is setting things up big-time for post-Rebirth has a character refer to Batman’s opening “Court of Owls” arc as having happened “five years ago.” Yes, “five years ago” was 2011, when “Court of Owls” was published and the New 52 began, but in narrative story-time, the “Court of Owls” arc happened four years ago. If this goes down as such, my timeline might need to be slightly adjusted. Is this the beginnings of a poorly-constructed sliding-timescale? Oof. I sure hope not. More realistically, this is likely more terribly bogus specificity in regard to the hallmark DC “five year” mentions that they love oh so much. Don’t do it!

I’m still convinced that Rebirth won’t act as a real reboot, erasing everything before to start from scratch, especially only five years after the New 52 began. But if I were to play Devil’s Advocate and support the idea that Rebirth is a full reboot, my argument would revolve around Wonder Woman and the JSA. We’ll see.

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No matter what, fanwanking comicbookpeople are always going to have their own headcanon and fanon. And editors and creators will be targeted for online assassination over and over again. Debates will surely begin and will surely heat up to boiling temperatures. The puzzle pieces will be scattered onto the sandbox floor. (Am I mixing comicbook metaphors?) Continuity conundrums will arise, but ain’t that half the fun? It’s been a while since these darn “graphic novels” were fun. I welcome the change and I’m excited for Rebirth. This could go a lot of ways and, for once in mainstream comicbookland, that is quite refreshing.

Before I say goodbye, let me close with an injection of truth serum. Not that I’ve been fibbing or sugar-coating, but my excitement for what is to come emanates from my usual cheery disposition and half-glass-full optimism. I mean, exactly how refreshing can a soft-reboot—so shortly after a full-reboot, led by Geoff Johns, and with DiDio and Lee still piloting the ship—really be? The “Lemonade” of corporate comics? Likely not. Big ideas tho. This team of leaders has cultivated strange times for one half of the Big Two. Shelly Bond gone—bummer. Eddie Berganza still around—huge bummer. Gerard Way’s in-continuity Vertigo-esque line—coming in the Fall and should be excellent. Something volcanic is stirring just under the surface. Until we meet again, ta ta for now.

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Batman & Robin Eternal: Series Review

Better late than never, disCONTINUITY brings to you a series review of Batman & Robin Eternal, the sequel to last year’s mess, Batman Eternal. With expectations low, Batman & Robin Eternal surely had to have been better, right? Let’s dive right in with reviewers COLLIN COLSHER and PARAMVIR SINGH RANDHAWA.

B&R Eternal #1

B&R Eternal #1


First, a look at the art. Despite being narratively awful, Batman Eternal has an edge over Batman and Robin Eternal in regard to art. While inconsistent, the first series featured a bunch of star artists doing their best illustrations from week-to-week. B&R Eternal‘s art was underwhelming, especially with Paul Pelletier, Fernando Pasarin, and Scott Eaton getting a lot of work. B&R Eternal is even more inconsistent and sloppy then Eternal One, especially towards with some of the fill-ins—multiple artists are filling in as early as issue #5, and it shows. But in the title’s defense, any time you have a weekly schedule to stick to, the art will always suffer. Overall, Tony Daniel, Roge Antonio, Alvaro Martinez, Marcio Takara, and Fernando Blanco shine as the best pencilers and I can’t complain about Gabe Eltaeb and John Rauch’s colors. I know Singh and I share the same thoughts on the art matter, so I won’t step on his toes more than I already have.

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B&R Eternal #18, art by Scott Eaton

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B&R Eternal #18, art by Scott Eaton (the ugliest Dick Grayson you’ll ever see)


The best way to describe the artwork of Batman & Robin Eternal would be: imagine Ludacris’ dog ate one of his diamond chains. In the dog’s crap you’re going to have mostly crap but there’ll be these diamond studs. Those studs are Tony Daniel’s pencils, which end up drowning in the midst of the terrible and inconsistent artwork usually given with this series. Remember Helena’s face during most of the St. Hadrian’s arc? She looked more like Bruce Banner than she did Helena Bertinelli.

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B&R Eternal #19, art by Paul Pelletier

Art can be improved for future weekly series if DC utilizes a “cyclical approach.” If they hope to make each issue’s art look polished, then they have to treat each issue like they would a monthly: the first issue of the month goes to one artist, and then the first issue of next month goes to the same artist as well. Of course this requires scripts to completed much faster and the only solution is that series should be completely planned out months before release. Writers and editors should not be contemplating a series’ conclusion while in the middle of writing issue #3—everything should already be planned out beforehand. This would make it easier on the artists. And say there’s a plot point that inadvertently gains traction; changing the series so that plot point gains more traction should not be difficult because you know where you can divert your story’s vision and where you cannot afford to sacrifice. To re-iterate, my suggestion for comic book companies, in regard to future weeklies, is to stop writing them like so much stuff you see on TV and instead start writing them more like most monthlies or films. Then the art would surely improve across the board.


While the weak weekly week-to-week art left us feeling a little flat, Batman and Robin Eternal trumps Batman Eternal in every sense of narrative development. The first series was shit, constantly falling to pieces and shark-jumping, while this one holds together decently. It helps, of course, that the second series was half as long as the first. The same temporal-logic problems, seen in the original series, have crept up with B&R Eternal as well, though. It just doesn’t mesh with the other stories that are happening around the DCU, especially with Grayson and, to a certain extent, Batman—which is ridiculous because both of those series’ head writers worked on B&R Eternal.

I’m surprised that Snyder never lost some credibility with a bomb like the original Eternal, but I guess it is easy to pass blame when you are with a team of co-conspirators. Plus, he’s pretty beloved by fanboys. I was secretly hoping that Snyder would have lost some credibility after Eternal because then it would have exposed his general weaknesses as a writer and maybe lessened the power he had as a “main architect” of the Bat-line. But anyway, Eternal Two was hands-down way better than Eternal One primarily because it captured the Robin boys in a heartfelt way. And it did so within the confines of the tight New Age timeline. Cassie Cain and Jean-Paul Valley are back and Harper’s secret past is explained. Also Cullen Row and MIDNIGHTER in the Fam! The Bat Family is definitely swollen, but it feels RIGHT. Heart and charm both go a long way in comics. Well done.

My other favorite thing about B&R Eternal is that it functions as a direct sequel to Snyder’s “Zero Year.” The flashbacks from B&R Eternal are literally Snyder’s (et al) “Year One.” I dig it. If Snyder has been one of the main quarterbacks/architects of the New 52—and he definitely has been for Batman—then this was him attempting to shore up continuity and shut up the haters. I’ll admit, he really succeeds in this regard.

Mother is an excellent psychological foil for Batman in Year One—the person that is a catalyst for both the creation of more Bat-kids AND causing Batman to question his use of children on his own war on crime. (This last thing is something that was never explored enough in previous comic book eras, which I’m SO glad to see done fairly well in B&R Eternal.) Mother’s actions also help explain how/why, despite the timeline being so short, there could be so many young heroes and “intern” Robins. B&R Eternal very specifically shores-up shakier aspects of the new timeline, helping us to not only suspend our disbelief, but to buy into the idea that there might have been multiple Robins in only a few years.

HOWEVER, Mother as a current villain is weak. Year One, great, but Year Eight, not so much. My biggest gripe with B&R Eternal (besides the aforementioned continuity issues and some of the art, which I will get into below) is the creation of yet another decades-active super-villain that lurks in the shadows, operating a clandestine secret society. This has been done, and recently, numerous times. Mother uses brainwashed child soldiers; both Leviathan and Court of Owls did it. Mother nearly fucks up the world and nearly leaves Gotham in ruins; both Leviathan and Court of Owls did it. (Oh, not to mention, Snyder pens Mr. Bloom to do it immediately after Mother as well, and using a semi-brainwashed army of citizens too.) It is ludicrously trite (and boring). It’s just like the South Park episode “Simpsons Did It.”

B&R Eternal #9

B&R Eternal #9


I agree, Mother is a weak villain for Batman in his eighth year of operations, especially with the entire Family after her. In the flashbacks she worked, especially with the moral dilemma. I found that David Cain functioned as a better antagonist than she did in the main storyline and that’s kind of a surprising thing. He was a better threat, had more motivation and could have been turned into a villain of Shakespearian levels had more emphasis been placed on him. I personally would have had Mother be the villain for the flashbacks and Cain that of the main storyline, since that is where they both worked best. B&R Eternal also should have avoided the entire Gotham City is under attack… again. I can imagine living in Gotham, talking to somebody and saying, “Remember when Leviathan took over the kids? You think Mr. Bloom’ll do that too or is it too soon after Mother’s attack?”

B&R Eternal definitely has a better narrative sense than Batman Eternal because it does not have to insert filler issues, where story happens for sake of story. Instead it is able to use its shorter length to give characters nice arcs while also utilizing the past in an effective way (even though it fell apart around the end). While I still don’t really enjoy Tynion too much as a writer, he has certainly buckled down on improving the weak narratives that previously existed in most of his stories that weren’t three-page backup features.

B&R Eternal handled the concept of Batman’s child soldiers extremely well by pushing it away from what we see in The Dark Knight Returns and other Frank Miller stories, but while still respectfully referencing Miller’s work at the same time. I love The Dark Knight Returns—I still say it is one of the best Batman stories of all time. But here’s the thing, though: characters must evolve over time. Miller’s Batman was certainly needed and foundational, but many new stories today approach their narratives in either one of two ways: 1) continuing with a version of Miller’s Batman or 2) evolving the character into something fresh (as Miller himself was doing in the 1980s). B&R Eternal takes the latter route and does it well. B&R Eternal shows Batman struggling with the idea that the Robins he trains make him no better than, say, an African warlord who makes child soldiers fight for him. This is a thoughtful evolution of the character that is beneficial to both he and his kids, as opposed to what we see in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which did not evolve or grow its characters, but copied Miller’s ideas instead. I won’t lie, I really liked Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but you can clearly see Zack Snyder’s love for Ayn Rand in it all throughout and, from that, you can tell that his Batman is ripped out of the pages of The Dark Knight Returns. The idea of evolution is what makes the final scene in B&R Eternal so poignant to me; Batman rushing off into the night to stop criminals with the Robins. They are his Family as opposed to his soldiers—a thoughtful direction that does not devalue that which has come before it.

As for the portrayals of the main characters, I thought Dick Grayson and Jason Todd were both handled wonderfully. Tim Drake fell a little flat at times, especially his whole bit with Azrael. Reinventions of characters like Azrael and David Cain were done well for the most part—I mean I’d rather they have gone with Jean-Paul Valley’s original hairstyle, but that’s a minor point.

B&R Eternal #10

B&R Eternal #10


Batman & Robin Eternal made me understand the New Age more. And it even made me respect and believe in the New Age more. (The total opposite of Batman Eternal.) I’m still not a Scott Snyder fan, but Tynion, Seeley, and Orlando killed it here. Not sure how much Valentine, Lanzing, Kelly, or Brisson contributed. And not sure how much of B&R Eternal‘s “quality” can be attributed to Snyder. I’m sure Snyder was point-man and orchestrated many of the bigger story-beats, but from what I understand, Tynion, Seeley, and Orlando had a lot of input. No matter the case, B&R Eternal might be some of Snyder’s best work to date. I still say defiantly and adamantly that the dude has never written anything truly worth a damn on his own—and this includes his entire mind-bogglingly and undeservingly praised run on Batman for the past five years. But I digress. Singh usually knows more about how the writing work collaboratively functions on these team-authored weeklies, so I’m curious to see his opinion and learn what he knows about the distribution of story in B&R Eternal. What do you think, astute colleague of mine?


The way the story distribution was handled in B&R Eternal was probably better than it was handled in last year’s Eternal, but still not like it was handled during The New 52: Futures End—which I maintain would have become one of the best weekly series had it not ended like it did. I still got the nagging sense that each of these writers tried to tell their own story which often ended up being bogged down by the narrative. Again, Orlando and Tynion were not bogged down, but Valentine and Lanzig’s issues did not feel as connected as they could have been. Just like Batman Eternal, this was not the collaborative process that it could have been, but was much better than expected.

Since Batman & Robin Eternal focused on the Robins in the present and Batman in the past, this weekly series was given the breathing room to amount to more than just a prequel to Snyder’s next big Batman story. It became its own strong and independent story. While I would not call it a masterpiece, I would give it a strong B since it certainly was an enjoyable ride.

B&R Eternal #26

B&R Eternal #26

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Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize Winners Announced

So the Eisner nominations came out today. Ho-hum. But the REAL NEWS is that the Lynd War Graphic Novel Prize winners were announced today! I’m shilling a bit here since I was on the jury/selection committee for the Lynd Ward Prize, the most prestigious comic book trophy outside of the industry. (The Lynd Ward Prize is sponsored by the Center for the Book, Penn State University, and the Library of Congress.)

The overall winner this year is Unflattening by Nick Sousanis. Honor books are Displacement by Lucy Knisley and Russian Olive to Red King by Kathryn Immonen and Stuart Immonen. (I’ve admirably written about the first two before on this very site.)

From the official press statement release:

unflattening collin colsher

” “‘Unflattening,’” the jury noted, “is an innovative, multi-layered graphic novel about comics, art and visual thinking. The book’s ‘integrated landscape’ of image and text takes the reader on an Odyssean journey through multiple dimensions, inviting us to view the world from alternate visual vantage points. These perspectives are inspired by a broad range of ideas from astronomy, mathematics, optics, philosophy, ecology, art, literature, cultural studies and comics. The graphic styles and layouts in this work are engaging and impressive and succeed in making the headiest of ideas accessible. In short, ‘Unflattening’ takes sequential art to the next level. It takes graphic narrative into the realm of theory, and it puts theory into practice with this artful presentation of how imaginative thinking can enrich our understanding of the world.”

. . .

displacement lucy knisley collin colsher

The jury also awarded two honor books: “Displacement,” by Lucy Knisley, published by Fantagraphics, and “Russian Olive to Red King,” by Kathryn Immonen and Stuart Immonen, published by AdHouse Books. About “Displacement,” the jury said, “Lucy Knisley’s ‘Displacement’ is a perfect memoir comic. Her vibrant watercolor illustration humanizes the reality of caring for loved ones as they age with candor and grace. The narrative of her grandfather’s journal from World War II woven in with harrowing cruise experiences is a crucial touchstone, reminding us that her grandparents are so much more than what they can express to the outside world in the present.”

russian olive to red king collin colsher

About “Russian Olive to Red King,” the jury said, “Kathryn and Stuart Immonen’s ‘Russian Olive to Red King’ is that rare work of fine art that succeeds at cross-purposes; it is both successfully avant-garde and profoundly relatable. Stuart’s light, clean and deliberate artistic choices are the ideal counterpoint to Kathryn’s searing and devastating story of loss and grief, all of which leads to the novel’s formally upsetting and innovative coda.” ”

It was truly an honor to serve on this amazing jury. I look forward to working with Penn State and the Library of Congress again in the future.

On a side note, Knisley’s Displacement is Eisner nominated for “Best Reality Based Work” and Sousanis’ Unflattening is Eisner nominated for “Best Academic/Scholarly Work.”


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Mechanical Reproduction Beyond the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

How would Walter Benjamin react to entertainment media today? Sheesh. I think it’s safe to say that if you haven’t had an Infinite Crisis of Conscience in regard to the endless cycle of reproduction, reboots, relaunches, remakes, and copies, then you probably aren’t as deeply involved with comic books and comic book media as I am. (Or maybe you’re less jaded.) Corporate Capitalism owns everything we love. Corporate Capitalism sells us our hopes and dreams via the stories we love. And Corporate Capitalism has fleshed these story-worlds into complex narratives, expanded universes, official canons, etc… Should we beware? Are these things already damaged goods? Or are they still enjoyable and fresh, but soon to be soiled just around the bend, come the hundredth issue of the tie-in comic or 16th spin-off movie of the year? Over-saturation is a definite thing, folks. And you know what is even worse? When something you love becomes something you used to love, which then gets over-saturated even more. Disney, Warner Bros, Michael Bay, mega-budget cinematic universes, and network TV shows are all responsible and at the core of what makes rinse-and-repeat entertainment culture so awful. Let’s not even get into big studio rip-offs and remake films.

collin colsher comic book movie slate

Over at MindlessOnes.com, the astute Joel (aka “The Doubtful Guest”) and MaybeMazin have been writing a series of articles about this very subject, specifically about their relationship to Brandon Graham’s Prophet, one of their favorite ongoing comics (and one of mine too). Despite their positivity regarding Prophet, the Mindless Ones folks are very uncomfortable with how they feel about it because it hits a bit too close the idea of ongoing serial-narratives that have been endlessly rebooted into soulless cash grabs by big conglomerates, in their eyes possibly appealing too much to the lowest common neoliberal denominator. (Prophet itself is a continuation of an old Rob Liefeld vehicle.) While introspectively examining and reviewing Prophet, Joel’s piece takes on a stream-of-consciousness kind of vibe—quite normal for MindlessOnes—addressing these frustrations by using The Force Awakens and the banal repetition of superhero comics as primary case studies. The article states:

“All of this ‘To Be Continued’ / ‘See Previous Issue’ / ‘Gotta Catch Them All’ etc is not something that comes from artists – it’s something that comes from the market and from (oh boy) capitalism and it’s all just a trick to get us all to buy more stuff. In the same way smoking is frowned upon now – I hope that within my lifetime people start to realise how harmful stories that never end are: and how this ever delayed satisfaction is a spiritual carcinogenic.

I couldn’t have worded it better. Stories that never end are harmful because they are intrinsically linked to soulless capitalism, rampant consumerism, bastardization, and selling, buying, selling… But before continuing, I should state that I’m not 100% on board with this idea. I think there are long-form (corporate owned) serial stories that do work. Star Wars, in fact, works because Force Awakens, Clone Wars, and Rebels are not reboots. They are parts of a continual story that spans generations. This is the same reason Dragon Ball works or Adventure Time (or even pro wrestling, to a certain extent) works. Characters age, grow, live, then pass the torch onto new characters. In many ways, The Simpsons is more grossly capitalistic than Star Wars—I kid, I kid, but maybe not really? The MindlessOnes article fails to acknowledge (deliberately so), in both Star Wars and Grant Morrison comics (which the article targets specifically), exactly how these things deliberately and smartly play upon cycles of mythology. Maybe it isn’t pure Joseph Campbell and, sure, arcs get repeated and redone, but they get new faces playing the roles. And if done right, then the cycle is refreshing instead of stale and corporatized. Prophet succeeds by continuing its story in a way that barely recognizes the source material, which is a very very good thing. The Force Awakens recognizes its source material, staying so true to the original trilogy that it nearly copies it—but, paradoxically, this is a good thing too!

collin colsher star wars force awakens

That being said, I truly understand what Joel is saying, even if it is a bit dogmatic and defeatist. I simply just haven’t reached my threshold yet like he has. Or maybe I’m too stubborn. I desperately want future Star Wars to take bold risks and morph itself and evolve into something new and unrecognizable. For if it does not, then what is the point? So much of serial-media has failed me and left me feeling bummed out. For example, I’ve never liked a superhero movie or TV show in my entire adult life—not one! And I’ve disliked them for all the same reasons addressed above. Plus, I don’t think of superhero comics as storyboards, nor do I think that there has ever been a superhero movie that has been better than its source material. I challenge you on that! Yet, I am highly passionate about Star Wars and superhero comics, especially those written by Grant Morrison. I love ’em! Just find it odd that those two things are targeted specifically in the MindlessOnes article, when I feel like those two things are two of the final bastions of hope in the sea of corporate-run media horse-shit. If those start to get overly-grimy as well, then all hope is truly lost—at least in the corporate realm. But I guess that’s Joel’s point. Maybe those were the last two bastions of hope for him too. And now, in his opinion, they have fallen as well, leaving nothing but gloom and doom. Even though I still have faith, I admit, I do fear for the future of the medium I love so much. It’s hard to picture the same old shit being done for twenty-five more years and beyond. I would hate that. And for many, it’s already happened as far back as the 60s, 70s, or 80s!

I would encourage all comic book fans to speak with the almighty dollar. If capitalism is to blame (and it certainly is), then let’s stop buying in. Of course, America isn’t reading my website or MindlessOnes. America is watching Entertainment Tonight and FoxNews and choosing between the inane dichotomy of Clinton versus Trump, two sides of the same damn coin. We’ve got a long way to go.

george lucas howard the duck collin colsher rebirth dc comics

My personal anxiety, both as a writer and in direct regard to all of this, is also linked to criticism, which I have a hard time with. There’s analysis and theorizing, and then there’s criticism. The latter is empty, biased, hollow, and unnerving and can very easily hurt people—even more than capitalism sometimes! We live in a society where we are conditioned and brainwashed to question ourselves constantly—are we favoriting the right things, watching the cool shows, reading the right books? We want to fit in, yet we want to stand apart, and we don’t want to be hypocritical. I get it. You get it. Life’s a struggle. When are we allowed to just fall in love with something—no matter where or when or how it comes—with no strings attached? Hard to do these days. Humans have become walking talking profiles, complete with lists of favorite movies, tv, books, and food. We’ve become the sum of our parts. This dark, scary world we live in provides an environment where serial-storytelling itself gets easily bastardized. Serial-storytelling isn’t, at its heart, a bad thing, but we do need to change the way we interact with stories, and we need to lessen our solicitation of bad storytelling from bad corporations.

The Prophet article ends with, “It’s more about supporting original ideas and learning to be happy when a thing is just a thing. We don’t need expanded universes. We need less. … Maybe if we’re lucky – some people will appear who are as good at making films as the Prophet team are at making comics.” I understand his pain. I love expanded universes (I think?) for I am a librarian-at-heart and huge nerd to boot. But, yes, let’s calm down and chill out. We really do need less. Less of everything. This is about restraint. But corporations don’t show restraint and therein lies the problem. I would love it if DC published way fewer books a month. Quality would increase across the board, right? Or would the “good” books just get the axe first? Argh. And I would love if the comic book movie bubble burst today—it’s a nasty cycle, perpetuated by creators, producers, and Hollywood scum that I am either disinterested in or find unsavory. (To each his own. I’m not trying to tell you what’s good or bad from the pedestal of an elitist. Just my personal taste as a comic book scholar and film scholar—I’m tough to please!)

collin colsher rebirth dc

Despite this freeform rant and everything spewed-out above in such haphazard fashion, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thrilled when I saw the trailer for Rogue One. And I’d be lying if DC’s “Rebirth” announcements don’t have me over-the-moon with excitement. Like, I said, for better or worse, I guess I haven’t reached my threshold yet. But even Joel gave a glimmer of hope. Maybe we’ll “get lucky.”

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BatmanPresents.com’s Catwoman Artwork Giveaway

The Real Batman Chronology Project and disCONTINUITY have been kind enough to help sponsor a special contest/giveaway being held by BatmanPresents.com. Head over to BatmanPresents.com to enter to win an awesome 6″ by 6″ hand-painted and individually numbered original Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman (from the Tim Burton film) painting. Thanks to the artist Elvira for sponsoring and creating the art for this giveaway. You can check out her other pieces on her Instagram page: @evdb_art.


When BatmanPresents.com posted pictures of Elvira’s paintings on its social media accounts, there were a lot of people interested in buying them. I asked her if she would be kind enough to sponsor us and she agreed. I am a big fan of her work. Make sure you show her some love on Instagram @evdb_art.

All the paintings shown on her Instagram page are available for purchase and they are relatively inexpensive, starting around $50. She has many different Batman paintings, including Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Batman, and The Joker, to name a few. Definitely check them all out and contact her for more info. Catwoman is the first one she painted in the Batman line. It is also my favorite. I actually bought it and it’s hanging in my study as I write this! Don’t worry though, there are more available for purchase, each hand painted and original. Some feature the right side of her face and others feature the left. Collect one, or both, or a series! Be sure to “like” and share the paintings so that other people can enjoy the artwork. I think this is the most exciting giveaway BatmanPresents has had so far because of how unique and original the prize is!

catwoman giveaway

One of several ways to enter to win is by answering a question at http://batmanpresents.com/blog/catwoman-artwork-giveaway. Who is your favorite Catwoman? Julie Newman, Lee Merriweather, Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry, Anne Hathaway, Camren Bicondova, and more have all played Catwoman on the screen.

catwoman collin colsher

The giveaway runs from March 15, 2016 to March 31, 2016 11:59pm.
The contest is open worldwide—if I can ship it to you, enter! Must be 13+ to enter. Ships from the USA—shipped by moi. The winner will be selected on April 1, 2016, April Fool’s Day, by the rafflecopter random selector. Easy ways to enter, many chances to win. You can enter by answering the above Catwoman question at BatmanPresents.com, tweeting a message to BatmanPresents, or leaving a comment on BatmanPresents.com. You can tweet daily for additional entries.

The fine print: By entering the contest you agree to provide your email address and if you win your mailing address. We ask that you post a picture after you receive your prize on either the BatmanPresents Facebook page or BatmanPresents Instagram, to let everyone know you received it.

At the end of the giveaway we will tally up the results to see who the favorite Catwoman was.

Thanks everyone and good luck!

—Sefferino Ramos

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Best Print Comics of 2015, Part 2: Top Fifteen

And without further adieu, Collin Colsher’s TOP FIFTEEN PRINT COMICS OF 2015. Hope you agree! (Click here for the HONORABLE MENTIONS.)

tamaki supermutant
15. SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki (DRAWN & QUARTERLY)
Jillian Tamaki was a part of arguably the best comic of 2014, This One Summer. So it should come as no surprise that she’s back again in 2015. SuperMutant Magic Academy is hilarious and beautifully illustrated, telling the tale of a weird alternate version of a mashed-up Hogwarts-meets-Charles Xavier School. Tamaki is an excellent writer. If you aren’t paying attention as you read—because it’s easy to smile and laugh and get carried away in the non-sequitur humor strips of each page—you’ll miss the most amazing world being built and you’ll miss one of the tightest narrative continuities of the year. This is like the Adventure Time of comics (…well, besides the preexisting Adventure Time comics already out there)! Tamaki’s character development is second to none. Her motley bunch of teens are filled with life. She has essentially created an even more charming version of Gotham Academy (with way more heart), which is hard to do since Gotham Academy is one of DC’s best of 2015 for sure. And Marvel could do wonders putting this type of writing on a teen X-Men book of some sort. SuperMutant Magic Academy is a very moving, inspiring graphic novel that shouldn’t be missed!

trashed derf
14. Trashed by Derf Backderf (HARRY N ABRAMS PUBLISHING)
Derf Backderf is something of a cross between R Crumb, Harvey Pekar, and Peter Bagge—in other words, a true great in the comic book field when it comes to both gorgeous art and superb writing. Trashed is a rare insider look into the fascinating world of sanitation workers. It also doubles as a warning/social activist/environmentalist message, history text, and twenty-something coming-of-age gross-out story. You won’t be able to put this book down once you pick it up and you’ll never look at trash the same way again.

displacement lucy knisley
13. Displacement: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley (FANTAGRAPHICS)
Typically, graphic memoirs, autobiographies, and travelogues aren’t my cup of tea. However, the delightfully charming Displacement offers those things and so much more, and presented in a way that moved me to a place I didn’t think possible while engaged in the genre. Lucy Knisley combines a very personal chronicle of a trip on a cruise accompanied by elderly grandparents with imaginative renderings of her grandfather’s WWII journal to create one of the best of 2015. Her enchanting art—rendering all scenes with vivid color, detail, and allure—moves the story along at a flowing pace, all the while offering us insight into an interesting mind. Knisley truthfully (and boldly) explores what is like to interact with older family members, which gives us a chance to see into her soul, in a way. The complexity of growing old is profoundly examined, and even a cynic like me found myself questioning my own beliefs. A very powerful work—one that will make you really reflect—by an extremely talented author. To speak more about Knisley’s art: It is charming and lively, light-hearted yet somber all at once. There is a certain wild passion and love in this book, but with the calm steady hand of a much more seasoned creator. Knisley is very self-aware not just in the narrative delivery, but in how she constructs panels and conveys information visually as well. Like my other choices made for my Top Fifteen, this is a powerful book in both story and illustration. A+ material here. So much self-reflection, heart, and honesty.

sacred heart liz suburbia
12. Sacred Heart by Liz Suburbia (FANTAGRAPHICS BOOKS)
A debut graphic novel this powerful demands attention. And thankfully, Liz Suburbia is getting what’s due. With a very striking story that often leaves you dumbfounded, Suburbia does double duty with narrative and art, stylishly delivering a queer-punk coming of age tale but with a much, much darker and extreme edge. Her illustration is unique and gorgeous to boot—maybe the best overall art of the year.

sandman overture
11. The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman/JH Williams III/Dave Stewart (DC/VERTIGO)
Simply stunning. Gaiman is still the master storyteller and The Sandman is his gift and legacy to comics. Not only do the old issues of Sandman still hold up, this new title—a prequel no less—is a bold and exciting addition to the mythos. Combined with Williams’ innovate and psychedelic layouts and lush, dramatic illustration, Overture is the perfect intro (and conclusion) to the long epic of Morpheus. This narrative ouroboros left me with a big fat smile on my face, which only returns when I think of the tale right now. We’ll miss you Sandman, although, I guess, when dealing with the King of Stories, there are always more dreams to invent. I certainly wouldn’t mind more like this.

houses of the holy
10. Houses of the Holy by Caitlin Skaalrud (UNCIVILIZED BOOKS)
Small publisher Uncivilized Books had a lovely little year and Houses of the Holy was one of its best. Caitlin Skaalrud has created a visceral and commanding work—part fairy tale adventure, part exploration of the human psyche at its lowest emotional valley, Houses of the Holy operates on several narrative levels. It is cryptically poetic and slightly freeform, but at the same time it is cohesively linear, containing a strong sense of continuity, which ultimately explains the path our protagonist has walked throughout the story. The mise-en-scène in Skaalrud’s novel is littered with illustrative detail. Almost every page contains its own self-contained portrait, shaping Houses of the Holy into a truly incredible tour-de-force full of wonder, occult images, and heart-breaking sadness. There is a Charles Burns nature to Skaalrud’s grotesque imagery, but her’s is more metaphysical and mystical—more esoteric. The black-and-white on newsprint paper help add to the nightmarish quality of Houses of the Holy, making much of it a cross between a Henry Fuseli painting and a witch’s spell-book. And Skaalrud’s main character (there is only really one) has a Burns-esque style to her design, but with a sort of manga twist, further strengthening the idea of the bizarre, fantastic journey. There is an undeniable power in this book.

jupiter's circle
9. Jupiter’s Circle Vol. 2 by Mark Millar/Wilfredo Torres (IMAGE)
Would you believe another amazing prequel!? The daring follow-up to the already daring Jupiter’s Legacy—maybe actually less of a prequel and more of an extended flashback—was another Mark Millar success this past year. Again, no one dares attempt superhero stories quite like this—applying socialist commentary and real world scenarios to the superhero genre. There is political intrigue, historical fiction, racial tension, and much, much more in Jupiter’s Circle. This is how the abysmal Watchmen prequels should have been handled. With Torres picking up nicely where Frank Quitely left off with drawing duty, Millar weaves a tale in which we see heroes go out of their comfort zone to affect real change in society. You’ll never see Superman, Batman, or Captain America do what these characters do (even if you long for it every time you go into the comic shop on Wednesday). Picture the 1965 Watts Riots in LA, to use one of Millar’s examples. No author would ever put a mainstream hero on those streets of turmoil and have said hero fight against the real baddies. But Millar does it, having a Superman stand-in stand side-by-side with African Americans to oppose a corrupt, violent, and oppressive LAPD. (Millar has a more contemporary Superman stand-in take down Boko Haram in his other wonderful title of 2015, Huck.) There are strong sociopolitical and socioeconomic messages being delivered here and Millar never shies away from the lectern. And this is in SUPERHERO COMICS no less! Superhero writers should take notice—it wouldn’t be a bad idea for DC and Marvel to emulate some of the ideas occurring here (and in Huck as well). Jupiter’s Legacy is a refreshing series that shouldn’t be missed.

8. Nanjing: The Burning City by Ethan Young (DARK HORSE)
War truly is hell. Nanjing: Burning City captures the true brutality and futility of war very dramatically yet realistically. With a slick combination of amazing art, wonderful lettering, and flair for storytelling, Ethan Young is perfect, detailing a terrible period in the history of humanity. The story of Nanjing during the 2nd Sino-Japanese War is a real-life holocaust, and Young captures the dour spirit of that tragedy by sculpting the ultimate tragedy via daring pull-no-punches sequential art. The complexity shown in Nanjing‘s narrative is unbelievably Shakespearean. You feel the loss and the pain of the soldiers and non-combatants in the beleaguered city of Nanjing, shortly before WWII. The moral dilemmas are evident and weigh heavily on multiple characters’ sleeves. And the layouts are gorgeous and impeccably thought-out. There are gut-wrenching moments of calm before the horrific storm, ghostly panels of silence that allow for reflection and contemplation. Nanjing is a definite book of the year candidate that should be on everyone’s Top Ten list. So striking—it floored me and left me feeling a sense of deep loss. It’s not often you interact with media and walk away feeling that affected. Young has done something heartbreakingly special here. His art is second-to-none. The stark contrasts and detail in every frame and panel create a living, breathing environment of terror. The layouts are exquisite. With subject matter such as this, the pencils and inks had to match it in order to give the story the justice it so rightly deserves. There is a classic style, yet with modern flair, with which Young deftly weaves the dire tale of Nanjing. Definitely some of the best (and most sophisticated) illustration of the year, hands down.

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7. The Multiversity by Grant Morrison et al (DC)
Grant Morrison and a team of the industry’s best artists continued telling DC’s best superhero story of the year. Picking up from what was without-a-doubt the best single-issue of 2014 (“Pax Americana”), The Multiversity drew to its epic conclusion. Only Morrison does superhero comics like this. Only Morrison does comics like this. Period. The meta-nature of this story is so over-the-top and out-of-this-world, it is almost hard to process let alone explain. It simply has to be experienced. When you (the reader) become one of the main characters in the story and that same story somehow also fits into the stringent continuity of a mainstream superhero multiverse—while also DETAILING A MAP OF THAT MULTIVERSE AND SETTING FORTH SPECIFIC RULES REGARDING THAT MULTIVERSE—then you’ve cultivated a once in a lifetime achievement. I truly believe that The Multiversity, along with Morrison’s Final Crisis, will go down as one of the all time most-important superhero comics in history. My only wish is that it also becomes one of the most influential as well. Unfortunately, few writers (if any) have been able to work in Morrison’s league and continue adding to what he has so generously brought into the sandbox.

6. Zero by Ales Kot et al (IMAGE)
So many critics loved Material, and there was so much hype for Wolf (which failed to meet its lofty expectations), that they forgot about Zero! The amazing series wrapped up with its final seven issues in 2015, and damn were they good. Highly ambitious (even for a Kot book) and powerfully provocative, Zero‘s sci-fi-spy-thriller-meets-beat-poet-mysticism themes knocked it out of the park in 2015. With a revolving door of top artists—including my personal favorite, the ultra-talented Ian Bertram—Kot was able to relate a lot of weird moods and funnel many challenging ideas into a tight narrative about the nature of violence. Add all of this to the kickass concept of William S Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg as multiversial explorers while tripping on psychotropic drugs? Can’t go wrong here.

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5. Mind MGMT by Matt Kindt (DARK HORSE)
Another long-running series comes to a delightful end. And what glorious meta-conclusion for Matt Kindt’s intensely satisfying series. Kindt’s watercolors and pencils are to die for and he truly understands how to use the comic book medium to its fullest potential. The big two could do wonders with Kindt’s brain power. His complex narrative—mixed with noir, conspiracy, sci-fi spy-trade, superheroism, surrealism, feminism, and much, much more—is the stuff usually only seen in dreams (or nightmares). Mind MGMT builds tension, breaks it, and leaves you awestruck. This series will be sorely missed. Thankfully, I have the trades to devour over and over.

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4. Silver Surfer Vol. 7 by Dan Slott/Michael Allred/Laura Allred (MARVEL)
Marvel’s best book of the year, two years running. It’s a shame that so much attention went to the all-star collaborative Star Wars books, which were heralded as superb but were actually not that great. Ditto for the attention Ms. Marvel received (meh, whatever) and ditto for the attention Secret Wars received (although Secret Wars was pretty dope). But amidst the hype machine that is attached to Disney’s House of Ideas, everyone forgot to put Silver Surfer up on the pedestal too! The Moebius strip issue should be on every critic’s best single issue of the year shortlist. Not many superhero comics will make you cry (both tears of sadness and joy), but Silver Surfer is the one. Slott’s inspired writing channels the stuff of all the great cosmic/space yarn-weavers—Gaiman, Moore, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jim Starlin, Mike Baron, Rick Remender, and more. Norid Radd is basically the new Morpheus—hitting all those same beats with charm and humor and humanity. And the Surfer’s galaxy is one that I want to know more about and have fun exploring—much more so than anything seen in other recent Marvel comics. Guardians of the Galaxy? Not so much. Best ice cream in the universe? Yes, please. All this good mentioning and I haven’t even gotten to the pure joy that is the Allreds. They are simply the best. You want style in illustration that tops all the rest? This is it. Nuff said.

Jason Little’s BORB is a poignant and incredibly sad story of a far-too-often marginalized people: the homeless in America. Gritty and highly detailed, BORB is at times hard to look at—so shocking and ugly that you can’t turn away. But unlike its brutal and unforgiving cousin Saint Cole by Ethan Van Sciver, BORB manages to be savagely violent without being insufferably cruel and soul-sucking. And unlike the offensively gory and misogynistic imagery of Josh Simmons’ awful Black River, BORB offers similar gore but with meaning, motivation, and a sense of respecting its victim’s backstory. The victim, in regard to BORB, is the novel’s main character—a destitute African-American homeless man living in a very realistic New York setting. Jason Little, through his protagonist and backdrop, expertly captures what it is like to be poor (and black) in an hard urban environment. However, the realism of the urban setting purposefully does not carry over into the narrative, which quickly swings into hyperbolic situations, detailing the man’s life in worst-case-scenario Itchy & Scratchy-esque vignettes. These vignettes give us pause to think: “Is this farce? Or is this a tragedy of reality?” Whether you are moved by this man’s tale or whether you are a rubbernecker, BORB grips you by the balls and doesn’t let you go until its story has been told, complete with big reveals at the end. Not to mention, the author’s own revelation that he was inspired to write BORB after seeing the plight of a homeless man in Brooklyn. Beyond Jason Little’s sharp, clean, pen-and-ink illustration, the author is also very aware of form in regard to the shape of BORB—it has a newspaper strip format that is very effective in conveying an old-timey feel. The illustration matches this feeling quite well. Little draws his characters in a 1920s/1930s Sunday funnies style, but the images, of course, are very modern, creating a powerful juxtaposition. Little’s lettering—an essential part of comics that is overlooked in most critiques—is very sharp and evocative, giving boldness to the limited choice of text used in the book. Little depicts the world of the homeless, from the perspective of the homeless, and it is through the stylistically simple word balloons and sometimes jumbled text that we are able to see through the eyes of the homeless and empathize with their plight.

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2. Dressing by Michael Deforge (KOYAMA PRESS)
Dressing’s complexity in narrative equals its complexity in art, which makes it hard to even describe. The short vignettes capture a dark existential (and often sexual) realm of subconscious, one rarely explored in comic art—and rarely in such bizarre form. This realm that Deforge seems to capture and display so well is one that is often hidden deep within our psyche, almost like acid trip memories or an examination of what it must be like to exist as an alien (from the alien’s perspective). Deforge is able to delicately muse about the spectrum of emotions related to the human condition via decidedly paradoxical non-human characters. This is incredibly hard to pull off, yet Deforge does it with relative (and jaw-dropping) ease. He is a chameleon, able to morph into whatever headspace he must in order to convey his message. Dressing’s art is gorgeous, a style often attempted in indie “comix” today, but here unmatched. Deforge’s visuals tell stories that often contradict the text in inexplicable yet pretty ways. The vibrant mostly-primary colors set an alarming tone and also serve, in some stories, to add to the narrative. Every panel contains so much arresting detail and each could easily be framed and sold as individual prints. These panels come together to form a brilliant tapestry of color, abstract shape, and design. Dressing—with its interstellar language, flirty fish, and erections that last forever—is a truly groundbreaking work, worthy of attention—and one of my overall favorites of 2015.

1. Unflattening by Nick Sousanis (Harvard University Press)
A religious experience, a spiritual awakening. These terms can both describe what can happen while reading Unflattening, which is the first ever comic book published by Harvard. This is the story of why comics are important, not just as an art or literary form, but as a way of understanding the world in which we reside. Beyond the philosophical ramifications of this exploration into visual thinking, author Nick Sousanis has created a dense, multi-layered, and domineering successor to Scott McCloud’s seminal works, Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics. Not only that, but Sousanis has also deftly and succinctly taken some of the most heady philosophical, psychological, and scientific concepts—from Arnheim to Bakhtin to Marcuse to Copernicus and a hundred more—and whittled them down into a tapestry that is both unbelievably complex yet easily understandable for the layman. How Sousanis has achieved such a herculean task still escapes my complete grasp, but his expert ability to compartmentalize these ideas and intermix them with his gorgeous art helps his case tremendously. (To actually speak as to how Sousanis pulled off this amazing feat, one should be informed that Sousanis developed Unflattening from his doctoral dissertation for Teachers College Columbia University. Sousanis’ concept was to create a “thesis-as-comic.” I wish everyone was skilled enough and had the desire, passion, and talent to turn their dissertations into comic books!) There have been several attempts to adapt Edwin Abbot Abbot’s Flatland (in literature, film, and TV), but I haven’t seen one in comics, nor one so thoughtful and precise. And from that relative starting point, Sousanis takes us on a journey through human history and the human mind. This highly innovative journey is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Sousanis’ art is meticulously laid-out and beautifully illustrated. The research done for most dissertations usually takes years. Add the time it must have taken to draft, plan-out, and draw that dissertation into a comic book masterpiece—it must have taken quite some time. Because of this fact, something akin to Unflattening will likely never be replicated. Unflattening isn’t just informative, a science, philosophy, math, or psychology text, nor is it a re-hashing of “sequential art studies” with the addition of intensive academic research—Unflattening is also a guidebook for life. It is about how we think about the world, see the world, and live in the world. Sousanis wants us to “unflatten,” to live, to learn, and to grow as humans. Will I walk the same path after reading this book? Honestly, probably something similar. But I will tell you one thing, I’ll definitely take a left turn instead of a right next time I’m walking to work. And my eyes will be wide open, wider than they were before.

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Best Print Comics of 2015, Part 1: Honorable Mentions

It’s that time of the season again! And I’ve read more comics this past year than ever before. Not to mention, I have been honored by being invited to serve as a jury member for the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize, an annual award sponsored by the Library of Congress, making it the most prestigious graphic novel award outside of the industry. Comics have been treating me well as of late, and here are the ones that affected me the most—aka my favorite print comic books of 2015. First, the HONORABLE MENTIONS.

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Material by Ales Kot/Will Tempest/Clayton Cowles/Tom Muller (IMAGE)
That handsome baby-faced devil Ales Kot always has multiple titles on my Best Of lists, and for good reason. His boldly cool, highly-refined, and sophisticated insights into modern culture, politics, race, and society are peppered throughout all of his works. And Material is no exception. This feels like high art, but at the same time registers as unafraid blue-collar “activism via the weekly comic magazine”—a very personal, whip-smart, lefty-perspective social commentary that more mainstream comics need. However, truth be told, while I really like Material, when I first read this title, it was higher up on my list, but upon further readings, it slid back to the Honorable Mentions. Material is an undoubtedly an important work, but it feels like a sloppy first draft and can be pedantic, especially in regard to its pseudo-scholarly citations that ostensibly come from the pedestal of yuppie-hipster privilege. But that aside, I truly wish there were more Ales Kots out there. Looking forward to more material—(hopefully a bit more polished)—from Material in 2016.

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Nemo: River of Ghosts by Alan Moore/Kevin O’Neill (TOP SHELF)
I hope that old jerk Alan Moore, no matter what he does with his angry life moving forward, continues to write League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics. It’s simply what he does best these days. River of Ghosts was a superb addition to the ever-growing universe of the League. The mind-blowing sequence that mashes-up Billion Dollar Brain, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Boys From Brazil, Dr. Goldfoot, AND Stepford Wives is some 110% serious next level brilliance. No matter what I think of the guy’s views on the comic book industry, there’s no denying that Alan Moore is the legendary genius of comic books. And I would be grossly negligent if I didn’t mention Kevin O’Neill’s top notch art, which is likely the best it’s ever been. Any opportunity to consume O’Neill’s illustrations shouldn’t be missed.

Nameless by Grant Morrison/Chris Burnham/Nathan Fairbairn (IMAGE)
Morrison and Burnham teamed-up again to bring one of the strongest and strangest (and goriest) comics of the year. This is all of Morrison’s black magick, voodoo, and occult wizardry working overtime. Good stuff for hardcore fans and the uninitiated as well. If you want a good sci-fi story with Cthulhu elements, tarot, and some of the purest evil-imagery ever recorded in a comic book, this is the book for you. The art combo of Burnham and Fairbairn, as always, produces the best illustration and color you can get in sequential art today. Their tarot card design is sickening cool. Highly recommended.

Huck by Mark Millar/Rafael Albuquerque/Dave McCaig (IMAGE)
I loathed Zach Snyder’s completely out-of-touch colorless Man of Steel. Millar not only loathed it, but felt so traumatized as to write a response in the form of the lovely and powerful Huck. This is the Superman as socialist hero comic book story that I love and understand. Part of me thinks that Millar might be putting out his best work now that the DC Cinematic Universe is getting started. But seriously though, he might want to take a look at his own stale movie brand too… we could see some positive responses on the other end as well.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan/Fiona Staples (IMAGE)
What more is there to say about Saga other than it is still great. The longevity of this title is something else. To stay relevant and consistent for so many years is a testament to the greatness that is the collaboration between Staples and Vaughan, who both know how to create thrilling page-turners. In a year where Vaughan also put out the acclaimed Paper Girls and Private Eye (both of which fell quite flat for me), Saga is definitely Vaughan’s darling baby, and it shows. On a side note, Private Eye, even if it’s story leaves something to be desired, does have some of the best illustration of the year by Marcos Martin. So, honorable mention for Marcos Martin.

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Grayson by Tom King/Tim Seeley/Mikel Janin/Jeremy Cox (DC)
Grayson—along with other post-New 52 titles like Batgirl, Prez, Midnighter, Omega Men, and Gotham Academy—has become a critical darling. (All of these titles deserve the praise they’ve gotten—except for Batgirl, which sucks.) For my money, Grayson tops them all. The John le Carre/Len Deighton-meets-sci-fi-weirdness of Grant Morrison’s final Batman run continues, albeit with a radical departure from the safety zone that is keeping fan-favorite Dick Grayson in his status quo as costumed superhero. Who would have thought that Borne Identity Grayson would work so damn well? And don’t get us all hot and bothered about Janin’s ability to adequately display the sexiest male character in all of comic-dom.

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aama Vol. 3-4 by Frederik Peeters (SELF MADE HERO)
I anxiously waited for the third and fourth volumes of aama to be released in America this year, and when they dropped, my high expectations were absolutely met and then some. Like the previous two installments, Peeters continues his deft illustrative style and conjures up some dark, sci-fi shit in the vein of Jodoworsky or Frank Herbert. Killer comics right here that are not to be missed.

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Lose #7 by Michael Deforge (KOYAMA PRESS)
Michael Deforge has quickly risen to the rank of legitimate genius creator when it comes to comic art. And as he’s done in the past, Lose #7 brings us more Deforge greatness. Capturing different perspectives and navigating the confusion and complexity that goes along with human interaction in the 21st century, Deforge, in Lose #7, also brilliantly captures the un-affected un-influenced nature of what it is like to be a child experiencing the world for the first time—albeit bizarrely with a fully developed (and contradictory) adult mindset already set in place. This is undeniably one of the best comix of the year.

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Jaco the Galactic Patrolman by Akira Toriyama (SHONEN JUMP)
The long-awaited US release of the Dragon Ball prequel, which Toriyama himself has claimed to be his best work ever. And I’ll be damned if it isn’t (or doesn’t come close). The legendary master, whose name should probably be listed alongside Hayao Miyazaki and Osamu Tezuka, brought the delightful Jaco into the world of Dragon Ball and I couldn’t have been happier about it. His characters-design and ability to balance humor and action are both still on-point. It feels as if he’d never stopped doing Dragon Ball manga at all.

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The Surface by Ales Kot / Langdon Foss / Jordie Bellaire (IMAGE)
Psychomagic, the universe as a hologram, Spider Jerusalem, anarchy, Philip K Dick, Stanislaw Lem, Grant Morrison’s Invisibles, polyamory (maybe), The Matrix. Take all of these things and put them in a blender. Add psychotropic drugs. Add the contents of all human experience and memory. Add one Ales Kot. You’ve got yourself The Surface. A kind of sort of follow-up to Change, Kot gives us something rarely seen—outside of Grant Morrison comics that is. But this comic is unique in how honest it is. Kot puts himself in the story, but with surprisingly less hubris than one would expect from such a metafictional writerly act. It’s hard to be a writer and to expose one’s self so boldly. And it’s even harder to acknowledge that difficulty within one’s own narrative (and at the ostensible expense of one’s narrative, to boot)! The young but talented and highly sophisticated Kot clearly is heavily influenced by the best (and coolest) things in reality/unreality, and it’s fun to watch him process/struggle against these heady concepts with the turn of every page. I can see Kot in a decade’s time—having fully found himself—prying open third eyes, giving us new spirituality, a new visionary dream—the key to accessing a new way of human existence/experience.

And now, Collin Colsher’s TOP FIFTEEN PRINT COMICS OF 2015…

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