Author: Van Jensen

Review: ‘Hazed’ by Mark Sable and Robbie Rodriguez

I was talking to Alex Robinson recently about a new book he’s doing about teenagers, and he said it was more challenging than he expected to write scenes with teens, because he wanted them to be as real as possible – not like the Hollywood stereotype.

In their new graphic novel Hazed, writer Mark Sable and artist Robbie Rodriguez head in the exact opposite direction. They start with the Hollywood cliche and give it a good shove further along into self parody.

The story follows suit, a mix of Heathers and Mean Girls with a dose of amphetamines. Ileana is a high school girl who hates the role sorority girls take on at college (as she sees it), but after going to college she decides to join a sorority and tear it apart from the inside.

This involves plastic surgery (extreme!), while those not picked for the sorority literally kill themselves (even more extreme!). The point that Sable wads up and crams down our throats is that sororities are awful institutions, unintentionally transforming women into image-obsessed sluts.

There is some kernel of truth to that, although the sorority girls I knew through college were nothing like the "sorostitutes" (my term) of Hazed. While the book is an interesting excercise in excess, it’s disconnection from reality (and some poorly constructed plot points) puts it in the company of Thomas Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, another book that failed in its aspirations to pull back the curtain on collegiate misbehavior.

You can read the first chapter of Hazed at MySpace Comics.

Review: ‘Little Vampire’ by Joann Sfar

There are three stories in the new Little Vampire collection from First Second ($13.95). In the first, the little vampire makes friends with a living boy, Michael. In the second, the two overcome a bully. In the third, they protect a pack of dogs.

If those sound simplistic, they should. The stories spun by the French cartoonist Joann Sfar are quite basic in structure, making Sfar something of a European corollary to James Kochalka.

Inevitably, though, Sfar’s stories take on a rich feel, their depth created in a thousand little interactions among the characters and in the seemingly endless details scratched into the margins of panels.

Those details might strike some parents as shockingly severe. The monsters inhabiting little vampire’s home are more frightening and gruesome than cute (think Beetlejuice or Nightmare Before Christmas). And their actions mirror that ugliness.

One monster is obsessed with poop and even pushes around a wheelbarrow full of it (which eventually becomes a minor plot point). In the story of the bully, the monsters actually kidnap and eat the bully that has terrorized Michael (acting out MIchael’s dark fantasies). The story then becomes about using ghostly powers to return the bully to life.

Sfar uses those types of complications to add another layer to the rote tradition of story as parable, twisting cliches in ever more unexpected directions. He doesn’t treat children as innocent or naive, putting his many children’s books more in the tradition of the original fairy tales, not their Disney-fied reincarnations.

Was Fredric Wertham a Villain?

In David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague, as well as in most other books about the golden age of comics, Fredric Wertham is used as an antagonist, that stuffy pseudo-psychologist who decided comic books made kids do evil things and helped topple the industry.

Wetham wrote the best-selling Seduction of the Innocent, which purportedly proved that the violence in comic books pushed some children toward misbehavior. He later testified against comics in the senate hearings that served as a tipping point in the crusade against funny books.

In a new article on Slate, Jeet Heer argues that the treatment of Wertham as "a real-life bad guy worse than the Joker, Lex Luthor, and Magneto combined" isn’t completely true, and doesn’t give enough credit to the good work Wertham did with children and minorities.

It’s a good companion piece to The Ten-Cent Plague (my review of David Hajdu’s book can be found here), but there are a couple of unfair jabs at Hajdu for demonizing Wertham, though Hajdu actually did a pretty thorough job of showing Wertham’s benevolent history. And, for that matter, Hajdu didn’t treat comics as blameless and innocent, which Heer insinuates.

Those minor points aside, Heer’s piece summarizes the crux of the battle over comics and gives a fitting assessment of Wertham’s role. Heer writes:

The guardians of childhood face a difficult balancing act: They have to let kids give imaginative rein to their more destructive emotions while also protecting the young from genuinely harmful words and images. With his blunt language and crude simplifications, Fredric Wertham made this balancing act harder, not easier. If he had paid more attention to comic books, Wertham would have realized that he was following down the path of villains like Lex Luthor and Dr. Doom, who start off with good intentions only to become prisoners of their own blind arrogance.

‘Watchmen’ Compared: Movie vs. Comics

‘Watchmen’ Compared: Movie vs. Comics

The biggest question regarding the currently filming adaptation of Watchmen has to be how it will compare to the original comics series, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. The comics are some of the most highly regarded works ever created, and so the filmmakers face the task of not only making a quality movie, but also of appeasing fans of the book.

A new report over at Slashfilm takes some new photos from set locations and puts them next to Gibbons’ original art, so fans can decide for themselves how close director Zack Snyder is hewing to the source material. The locations include:

  • Dr. Manhattan’s lab
  • Dr. Manhattan’s apartment
  • Rorschach’s jail cell
  • The Comedian’s apartment
  • Mason’s Auto Repair
  • and the New York City streets

In other Watchmen movie news, ComingSoon has some video from the set, which you can check out right here.

The Weekly Haul: Reviews for April 3, 2008

A big week, with Marvel kicking off the summer event season with Secret Invasion #1, which earned a separate review. Plenty of other comics came out, with a couple of princes but way too many frogs.

Book of the Week: Omega the Unknown #7 — This issue earns "instant purchase" status for the amazing Gary Panter cover (seen at right) and his interior pages depicting a comic as drawn by the hero of the story (wrap your brain around that one).

So we learn a little more about the history of the invading aliens and how they began their essentially nanotech-style war on humanity (and other alien races before that). Back in the present, Omega remains caught in the Mink’s maze and unable to join the fight against the robots. He does, however, catch a rat to eat. I don’t know if that’s better or worse than when he ate a bald eagle in an earlier issue.

Titus, the seeming Omega protege, and friends end up sneaking into the Mink’s base to bust out Omega, only to make a pretty alarming discovery that I won’t spoil here.

This series is big and crazy and reckless, but I still get the sense that writer Jonathan Lethem is very much in control of the story.

Runners Up:

Action Comics #863 — Both in this series and in Green Lantern, Geoff Johns is pulling an interesting trick by going a ways into the past to develop upcoming big events. And while all this time travel and Legion of Superheroes stuff could just be an excuse to show off Johns’ mastery of continuity, this manages to be much more, with a slobberknocker of a fight and some classic teamwork. By the time it was over, I was more excited about Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds than I was about Final Crisis.

Nightwing #143 — A mysterious villain is nefariously reviving dead villains on his secret island base, then escapes in a rocket when Nightwing and Robin defeat him. Sounds like something right out of James Bond, albeit without the beautiful women and cocktails. Somehow it works really well, probably because of the great interplay between Dick and Tim, two characters who should work together more often.


Review: ‘Secret Invasion’ #1

Review: ‘Secret Invasion’ #1

The first issue of Marvel’s big [[[Secret Invasion Summer Extravaganza Skrullfest ’08]]] (or whatever they’re calling it) is here, and there’s just too much to talk about for it to fit in my Weekly Haul reviews roundup. So let’s break this one down between the good, the bad and the ugly. And, be warned if you haven’t read it, spoilers lurk below.

The Good:

First, let me just say how happy I am that Marvel let Brian Michael Bendis continue his partnership with Leinil Yu, who is quickly becoming one of my favorites. His art has a uniquely nervy feel, and it would’ve been easy for Marvel to peg someone more “safe” for their big event. And while I like Yu’s work better when it isn’t inked, his inked work in [[[Secret Invasion]]] is still quite good.

Another strongpoint is the barrel-full of action, making this issue the complete antithesis of the yawner of an opener to House of M. Things develop quickly and the final pages are bang-bang-bang with big reveals and bigger reveals. In a sequence of just a few pages the SWORD base explodes, the negative zone is unleashed in NYC, Iron Man is taken out, Reed Richards is taken out, the “other” heroes show up and a Skrull army says hello.

I also got a kick out of the little details Bendis wrote in. For instance, every Skrull reveal is foreshadowed throughout the book by the art. Every character who is shown only in complete black outline somewhere in the issue turns out to be a Skrull. Well, aside from Sentry and Wolverine, who haven’t been outed yet.

The Bad:


Jeff Smith’s ‘RASL’ Sells Out

Jeff Smith’s ‘RASL’ Sells Out


Good news for Jeff Smith, as RASL #1 is going back to press.

Smith mentioned that the first issue has sold out in a blog post about his trip to Las Vegas for ComicsPro, the second annual meeting of direct-market comics retailers.

We immediately learned that most retailers were sold out of RASL #1, and had been for weeks! During the Cartoon Books presentation I announced that RASL #1 would be going back to press. The new printing, which will sport a new color logo (and a price on the cover of the book!) will be offered through Diamond soon. Our intitial orders for #1 were 20,000 and we printed an extra 4,000 which we blew through the first weekend.

If you haven’t yet read RASL and want to hear a little more about it before picking up a copy of the second printing, my review is right here.

For those who care about things like first editions, good luck finding a copy. The stores are cleaned out and there are hardly any copies on eBay.

Ben Stiller Takes on ‘The Return of King Doug’ Graphic Novel

Reuters just reported that Ben Stiller’s production company, Red Hour, will partner with Dreamworks to produce a movie adaptation of the graphic novel The Return of King Doug.

I’m guessing many of you are thinking, "Wait, I’ve never heard of that book." And you probably haven’t, since it hasn’t been released. Once again, more evidence of the ridiculous popularity of comics properties in Hollywood right now.

The story says King Doug the graphic novel is set to come out some time next year. It’s so far off, in fact, that I can’t find any mention of it at publisher Oni Press’s Web site. The only description I can find of the project is that it’s a fantasy.

No word yet if Stiller will star. He’s currently working on a Night at the Museum sequel. Tropic Thunder, his next movie, comes out in August.

‘Cul de Sac,’ the Comic Strip You Need to Read

I had all but given up on newspaper comic strips in recent years. My favorites (Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, Peanuts, etc.) had disappeared and every new innovative comic appeared online, not in the funny pages.

Then a friend pointed me to Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson of the Washington Post. Like many of the great strips, Cul de Sac features a young central character (Alice, in this case) who simultaneously looks at the world with the dreamy innocence of youth and the cynical sensibilities of an adult.

That balancing act is consistently funny on a daily basis, as Thompson finds the most creative ways to point out the lunacy of the world from both children’s and adult’s perspective. My favorite strip might be the one below, in which Alice’s brother opines on the world of comic books:

So, I have a new newspaper comics strip. Maybe the "funnies" page isn’t dead yet. Or maybe it is: I read Cul de Sac online.

War Machine Details Emerge for ‘Iron Man’

War Machine Details Emerge for ‘Iron Man’

In a new interview with SuperHeroHype, actor Terrence Howard gives an inside look at the filming of this summer’s Iron Man, as well as more than a few hints for the future of the franchise.

Howard indicates pretty clearly that his character, a military man who’s initially skeptical of Tony Stark, will eventually take up the white and gray armor. In fact, when asked why he took the role, Howard simply answered, "War Machine."

To get a good sense of what’s in store for his character, Howard said:

You read the comic book? If you read the comic book then you kind’ve know what happens. But you’ll still have to wait ’cause ya’ll ain’t taking away my next two movies.

Howard also said that while he wasn’t a huge comic book guy, his father was:

It was funny, I call my father because he used to be a big "Iron Man" fanatic and he loved the War Machine aspect of it. I asked him, "When you were reading it, did you have any idea that inside your loins you’d have the one putting that on?" [laughs]