Jason Aaron

Southern Bastards #1

Southern Bastards #1 - Image Comics; Aaron & Latour

Southern Bastards #1 – Image Comics; Aaron & Latour (2014)

I used to read comic books as a wee one. I had a bunch of 1970s issues that I read and then re-read until they burned into my skull. If I concentrate I can still picture the frames and stories in my mind. I feverishly collected G.I. Joe and Ghost Rider comics through the 80s and early 90s. I let comics fall out of my life for awhile for a variety of reasons. But in 2005 I picked up a copy of Ghost Rider. Thus started the avalanche… again.  Well, this is good and bad. And I like different comics for different reasons. Mostly, its pure entertainment and fun, which is good. But the best thing about picking up comics again is comic book creator Jason Aaron.

I think this guy has loads of talent and I have tried to buy the titles/volumes that he has been associated with. He’s become a lot more popular and recognized in the last few years and he is well-deserving of this. But even in his earlier works, he was a great creator. One of the reasons that I know Aaron is good at this stuff is that a number of his titles are in settings I actually dislike. He has characters that I hate. And he also has storylines that I would normally avoid. But time after time I am drawn to his stuff and I enjoy the heck out of it.

I have thoroughly enjoyed Aaron’s work:  Ghost Rider, Scalped, Wolverine, etc. All of these titles are infused with a deep Alabama understanding. Setting is a major component to what Aaron writes. And he consistently authentically portrays that “Southern” (for lack of a better word) culture, counter-culture, stereotype, and worldview. I’ve been meaning to read his newest title, Southern Bastards, for some time. Finally, I picked up a copy of issue #1. And it was entirely as expected:  settings and characters and storylines that I grimace and cringe at – meanwhile seeing the depth and awesomeness to the whole thing. And now I am craving issue #2.

This title has artwork by Jason Latour, who is also a born Southerner. I think the two creators work very well together – the art and the story are presented really well. Sometimes I feel there is a disconnect between writer and artist. Whenever that happens, I know because I find myself focusing solely on the art or the words. In this issue, I think the two parts are basically seamless.

This “sequentially-published graphic novel” is not for everyone. Definitely R-rated. Definitely not for the squeamish or for the superhero fan. Like many of Aaron’s stories, this title seems to pierce the heart of a deeply-southern small town. This isn’t pseud-refined antebellum English colonial stuff. This is backwoods, BBQ-loving, isolated country. The kind of place that has more churches than commercial businesses and focuses on high school football. The opening page artwork has a dog relieving itself on the outskirts of town.

But if you can get past the gritty and grisly stuff, the story seems very realistic.  And there is a depth and substance to the story beyond the frames of violence. Aaron always produces stories about people who are conflicted, stubborn, and while sometimes simple, are never simpletons. After you read the first issue you do not know where Aaron will go with the story, but you suspect it will involve baseball bats, pick-up trucks, town corruption, and characters taking a good hard look at their inner man.

Earl Tubb (Image Comics)

Earl Tubb (Image Comics)

We meet Earl Tubb in the cab of a U-Haul style truck as he drives into what seems to be his hometown – where he grew up. Immediately, we are given to understand he has not been there in a long, long time. Earl has conflicts right after eating his BBQ lunch. He runs into an old “acquaintance” who recognizes him. He stops that scraggly character from being beaten to death. Throughout, we are shown that Earl has issues with his deceased father, who’s grave he visits.  Earl has a USMC tattoo and he is a big, towering sort of chap. After finishing this issue, yeah, I want to know more about Earl – Aaron has made me care about Earl. Even if I hate his putrid little southern town…

4 stars

The Incredible Hulk #6

Incredible Hulk 6

The Incredible Hulk #6; Marvel Comics

I did not subscribe to The Incredible Hulk series when it started. I was skeptical because though Jason Aaron is my favorite writer, I was unsure that he and Hulk were a good match.  I loved the World War Hulk event that Marvel Comics ran in 2007.  In 2008, the Hulk title was released under the writing skill of Jeph Loeb. I collected the first fifteen issues of that series. I also collected the Skaar series (twelve issues). But when She-Hulk ended and turned into She-Hulks and then there was the Fall of the Hulks, I kind of got really lost.  Hulk got really confusing and I just gave up on what was happening. The last I had read was Incredible Hulk #601.

But then it’s Jason Aaron. And I actually went on Twitter and asked him directly if I needed any of that background or if a reader could just pick up issue #1. He answered me saying that readers could easily just pick up the first issue. Now, sure, I suppose Marvel could make him say that (sales and such), but I think Aaron is a pretty straight shooter. So, I grabbed issues #1 and #2 and read the heck out of them. I really loved the artwork.  The storyline seemed unique and to have a lot of potential, but I was not sold on the matter. I needed to see more about where Aaron was taking the character in order to really want to read along on a monthly basis. Hulk and Banner have been separated. Of course, Aaron does not really tell you how or why any of this occurred until issue #5. Which is okay, because I trust in Aaron and I was willing to read four issues without having that question directly dealt with.

Issue #6 was a good issue that explained many of the threads in the previous issues. It also contains lots of battles and action. The dialogue is also very good – as is to be expected from this particular writer. The cover was done by Leinil Yu. Overall, it’s an okay cover, nothing in it makes me want to say it’s gonna make it to this year’s top ten covers.

The interior artwork is by Whilce Portacio.  For the first three issues, the artwork was Marc Silvestri’s and I think that that art was superior to Portacio’s.  In fact, I felt like Silvestri and Aaron had a really good product together – the frames of Hulk were striking and unique. Together, they were able to establish a Hulk that was different than ye olde Hulk, which I think is what Aaron was striving for. In issue #6, Portacio’s art is similar to what Silvestri was doing, but it seems a little less “finished” than the early issues. Nevertheless, I really like the framing on most of the pages. I like the close up shots of faces and I definitely appreciate the last page of the issue! Still, I would rather see Silvestri’s art.

Amanda Von Doom costume

Amanda Von Doom drawn by Whilce Portacio

My biggest complaint about this issue is the costume/uniform that Amanda Von Doom is wearing. Not all of it, but just her. . . . . boob shields. Okay, so we can easily see that Amanda Von Doom is wearing a one-piece outfit that is mostly blue. The sleeves roll up exposing her forearms and the collar covers her neck. But there are a couple frames that make me think that Portacio is not really drawing the costume…um… correctly. If the material of the outfit is absolutely skin-tight, this explains why in this particular frame, we are able to see Von Doom’s navel. But yet, the folds on her back show that it is not really skin-tight at all. And then there are these “boob shields” that sort of just hang out on the outfit. How are they on there? I mean, does this material really take the soldering/sewing of such “shields” onto boobs? And what purpose do these serve – obviously, just to draw attention to Von Doom’s boobs. But her shirt does not even seem natural for showing off her boobs. I don’t know how to explain it; there’s just something really bizarre looking about her costume. Now, I am not usually one to make too much of a fuss about female characters because I know all the reasons artists draw them the way they do.  One learns to accept some eye-rolling silly female outfits in comics. But this one? This one is just crappy.

One of the things that I like about this issue’s writing is how Aaron focuses on the choice-making that Hulk does. This Hulk is not just a brute who takes orders or who gets angry. It seems Aaron wants to show us that Hulk is an autonomous, initiative-taking, choice maker. This makes the story have a lot more depth than just showing us that things happen or that the Hulk battles enemies. It makes the story interesting, which is one of the reasons I buy and read comics.

4 stars

X-Men: Schism #1

X-Men Schism

X-Men Schism #1 cover

The first point I’d like to make here is that this miniseries/mini-event was written by Jason Aaron who is my favorite comic writer. I mention this because I admit that I am slightly biased in my review because, well, Aaron rocks and I want to see him succeed and be writing comics for a very, very long time. Yep, total fanboy loser here and not caring!

This mini-event called Schism is a five-issue limited series involving the X-Men.  There was a four-issue miniseries entitled Prelude to Schism that was released prior to this series. I did not buy it or read it, but I know that it focuses on four major leaders of the X-Men community and their role as leader.  However, I did read all of the X-Men series volume that started in 2010 as well as the Wolverine 2010 volume. So, I was up-to-date with those before reading this first issue of Schism.

Now, as is my usual method, let me discuss the cover. I did not get any variants, just got the standard first printing issue.  And I am disappointed.  The artwork for issue was was drawn (interior and cover) by Carlos Pacheco. The main reason that I am disappointed is because the cover is just an adjustment of a scene from the interior art.  In other words, this is no special exciting cover.  And that is disappointing because this Schism event was really publicized as a big deal; so not having a truly separate piece of art for the cover somewhat belies that sentiment.  That being said…. the frame in the interior of the comic that is similar to the piece shown on the cover is absolutely fantastic. It’s exciting, active, and entirely without words. No dialogue or exposition, just a two-page centerfold spread of Cyclops and Wolverine destroying Sentinels.  Pacheco’s art here is fantastic – it really should be made into a poster and plastered on all the X-Men fans’ walls. It’s fun and classic-feeling to see these two X-Men taking out the baddies without any cluttering words, just good old head-popping battle.

The issue (event) starts out with Wolverine arriving on the X-Men island, Utopia, with his uniform in tatters and with arrows and throwing stars actually sticking out of his flesh.  He looks rough.  I read some other reviews and people did not quite understand these frames – why does Wolverine look like this?  Honestly, it’s all contained in the recent issues of Wolverine.  He was fighting the Red Right Hand and it got pretty messy for him.  Sure, he wasn’t wearing the same costume, but it IS comics and that IS a different comic title. Anyway, I just assumed that this mess is due to that storyarc in the Wolverine title. (Which, by the way, Jason Aaron is also writing.)

Most of the next chunk of the issue deals with the interactions between Cyclops and Wolverine.  There are some really nice frames of both writing and art.  Some readers did not like the interactions between Cyclops and Wolverine. Some felt that Wolverine was out of character or that the interactions were forced.  Honestly, I have to disagree because I feel Wolverine’s responses were very sensible based on his recent adventures in the Wolverine title. For 17 issues in that series, Wolverine has been punished and beaten and tortured especially by people throwing his mistakes and troubles in his face.  I mean, literally, he went to hell itself.  So, Wolverine probably is going to feel a bit of guilt and remorse and treat Cyclops with a bit of respect.  Not to say that Wolverine is some sort of happy chum.  He is quite grouchy here, too.

Kid Omega’s entrance…. yeah… really… lame and laughable. However, I feel that the reader was supposed to realize how lame and laughable it was.  I do not feel it was supposed to be an entrance of some really slick badass.  Like most things in the real world, major catastrophes start because some dumbass did something ridiculous.  Kid Omega’s telepathic compulsion enacted on all the government leaders was really cool, though. And I admit it did make me wonder how that would be in real life. Aaron, you are such a cynic!  But also, most importantly, Aaron references “The Revolution Will Not be Televised.”  That is so cool. Back when all the Occupy Wherever started, I was listening to that song thinking it was so apropos. [For the record, I do not support Occupy Anything.]  But kudos to Aaron for working that gem into a comic book!

For some reason, and contrary to all likelihood, I have taken a fondness to Emma Frost – and NOT because she runs around like a naked Hooters girl.  Something about her uppity, bitchy attitude has been amusing in recent X-titles (LOL – even that is punny!)   Anyway, I liked her and Storm in this issue. They were supporting roles, but somehow done quite well.  Cyclops (whom I never liked) has always been a whiny, annoying, jerk. So, even though he’s trying to act all leader-adult-bitter here, I still don’t like him.

However, there are some excellent awesome frames in this issue – again without words – wherein we see the Sentinels of various countries.  China, Egypt, Russia, Paris. And these frames are awesome. Really. Pacheco gets a gold star! Excellent artwork.

Overall, the villainous plot and the mastermind is a bit ridiculous and absurd. However, it is the first of five issues and I am willing to wait and see how this plays out before I am going to make a judgment on the villains. I am skeptical, but it’s too early to start a critique.  And I am quite interested to get reading the rest of the miniseries. This did not get awesome ratings from many readers/reviewers whom I usually trust.  Frankly, I don’t know what they were looking for if they didn’t find it in this issue. Sometimes, it’s too easy to just be negative right out of the gate, I think.

4 stars

Scalped: vol 1- 3

I’ve said it before, Jason Aaron is the best writer that Marvel has, and he is definitely in the top ten writers currently in the industry. I loved his Ghost Rider stuff (excepting issue #25).   Then I loved his Wolverine: Manifest Destiny miniseries (4 issues).   The Wolverine: Manifest Destiny miniseries was pretty damn close to perfection, in my world. Best 4-issue miniseries ever. Aaron has another series being published by Vertigo Comics. According to Wikipedia:  “Vertigo books are marketed to a late-teen and adult audience, and may contain graphic violence, substance abuse, frank (but not explicit) depictions of sexuality, profanity, and controversial subjects. Although many of its releases are in the horror and fantasy genres, it also publishes works dealing with crime, social satire, speculative fiction, and biography. Each issue’s cover carries the advisory label “Suggested for mature readers”.  I usually avoid Vertigo for these reasons – not that I am at all opposed to gore and mayhem, its just, well…. my life has/had enough of that in it and I don’t always like a lot of “rough” in my entertainment.  On the other hand, when I am certain of a high-level of quality and am expecting the gore and mayhem – I can adjust to accept a limited amount of it in my world.  I’ve followed the reviews for Aaron’s Scalped series for several years now, and the reviews have been very impressive.  Average customers as well as comic book industry leaders (let’s call them) all have given a heckuva lot of praise to Scalped.  The fifth tradeback for Scalped was released on October 27th, 2009, the seventh tradeback in March of 2011.

Anyway, Aaron is also writing the Punisher Max title for Max Comics. Max Comics is an imprint of Marvel Comics (like Vertigo is an imprint of DC Comics) and, like Vertigo, Max publishes the more adult comics. You know, the violent, bloody, cussin’ sort… as opposed to the goofy adventures of Franklin Richards or something. (Please note!!!! N.B.!!!!  I also love all of the Marvel Adventures comics.) ANYWAY, Aaron is the writer for the re-launch of the Punisher Max title that Tim Bradstreet and Garth Ennis made so popular throughout the 2000’s.   Well, I’ve already said that I keep the “adult” in my entertainment to a bare minimum. But I’ve also said, I can accept it when its expected and purposive. For example, Frank Castle the Punisher is a bad dude. He’s gritty, grimy, merciless, gun-toting, mob-slaying, avenging, human-bad-ass. In other words, it makes sense for the Punisher to be an adult title. In fact, one can justifiably ask:  “should there be Punisher titles that aren’t “mature audiences” rated?”

Why do I like Aaron’s writing? Well, I don’t think he’s a match for every title/character. He probably shouldn’t write Spider-Man, but he is definitely the correct match for things like Punisher, Ghost Rider, and Wolverine. Why? Because those characters are not capes in the ilk of Superman or Thor.  Aaron lives in Kansas City, but he’s really from Alabama.  He writes with an Alabama style. This has no meaning to you unless you have lived in the South.  Nevertheless, his style is distinctive. Aaron listens to things like classic rock, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, etc.  and it shows through in his writing. When he writes, his stories have this unique flavor to them. Reviewers call it a “hillbilly” flavor.  I don’t think that’s accurate, because this is not redneck / hick stuff.  Aaron’s writing is deeply relevant, smoothly expanded, and carefully studied. But whatever you want to call it, it is very unique in the comic industry and it fits perfectly (and charmingly) with the particular characters that he writes. I like that his stories are so unique and so far, I have ranked everything that I have read by him quite high.

Scalped Vol. 1

Scalped Vol. 1 cover

When I read (January 2010) the first volume of Scalped, I really had no idea what to expect. This was good because I feel that I approached it with no expectations – good or bad – and just let the writing and art do their job.  I was slightly taken aback by just how “mature audiences” it was.  Immediately, I realized that while I was familiar with Aaron’s writing, the artist was someone I was not sure about. Straight away, though, this artist’s work blew me away. Really. Its excellent.  The main character, Dash Bad Horse was written well enough for me to have an emotional investment in his story – and the art deserves a fair share of that. The storyline was decent. I wasn’t immediately on the edge of my seat or anything. Generally, I wouldn’t select a noir-esque crime story set on an Indian reservation as a red hot priority read.

The artist is R. M. Guera, but the colorist is Lee Loughridge. While I love the pencils for this series, I have to tell you, I think this colorist is stealing the show. Rarely do colorists get much praise, I think, but its done so well in this series, that I cannot help but attribute some of the success to Loughridge.  This volume “Indian Country” collects issues #1 – 5 from 2007.

Scalped Vol. 2

Scalped Vol. 2 cover

I finally got the second volume of Scalped (“Casino Boogie”)  in May 2011.  I read it immediately. It was very good, but somehow just not as good as the first volume. These collected issues focused a bit on a few other characters and the events of the Casino that is built on the reservation. I don’t think there was anything wrong with these issues, it just did not resonate with me as much as the first volume did. I still enjoyed it quite a bit and it was still the original and unique storyline that the first volume introduced me too. Of course, the art was still fantastic and meshed perfectly with Aaron’s writing.

I talk about the art being good, but its hard to explain why its so good. First of all, and most importantly, the art does not clash with the story – in fact, in places it tells the story.  Artwork that is incongruous with the writing will kill a graphic novel / comic.  Second, the coloring is perfect. The usage of shadow, darkness, and this particular color palate is exactly what one would expect to color a run-down reservation in the plains. The usage of browns, oranges, and reds draws the reader in so that you can “see” the events. Third, facial expressions, body posture, etc. – the characters are drawn exceptionally well. In all three volumes, its sometimes striking how accurate, telling, and perfect Guera illustrates the people in the story.

This volume collects issues #6 – 11, which brings us to the 2008 issues.

Scalped vol. 3

Scalped vol. 3

In July 2011, I got the third volume of Scalped (“Dead Mothers”).  If the first volume is in media res and introduces us to the gritty crime world we can expect, and volume 2 tells us some background and gives us some perspective, then the third volume is all about the psychological and emotive reality of the characters. Its full of irony and attitude. In this volume, all the connections surrounding Dash Bad Horse and Chief Lincoln Red Crow come to a head and the reader is swept along in Aaron’s cool storytelling.

The artwork in this volume is even better than in the first two. Clearly, Guera and Giulia Brusco (colorist) are a perfect match for Scalped. I cannot think of another series in which the art is as striking as in these issues. This volume collects issues #12 – 18.  This volume is the clincher – here you know you are going to read the rest of the series no matter what.

5 stars