04 February 2005

ménage à trois: 2/2/05

[One Marvel, one DC, both published the previous Wednesday, plus a random indie from whenever I feel like it, each reviewed quickie-style: 1 Minute=bad, 10 Minutes=good. Connections, if any at all, may be forced purely for the experience.]

A light week for the big two, highlighted by the already reviewed return of the Black Panther, and solid entries from the New Avengers (#3) and Adam Strange (#5), I've decided to break format completely and review a trio of comic book magazines instead. Fanzines are a crucial aspect of any hobby and their quality, or lack thereof, is generally an indicator of the maturity and sophistication of the hobby itself. With that in mind, judging from this week's trio of four-color groupies - Wizard #161, Comics Buyer's Guide #1602 and Back Issue #8 - comic books are in pretty good shape.

First up is the 800-pound gorilla of the industry, Wizard, and if looks were everything, it would be a consistent 10. Unfortunately, the fact that the main reason I bought the current issue was thanks to the Moon Knight VS. card that came with it, suggests otherwise. (And I don't even play VS.!) Not to say Wizard is all style, no substance, because that's not the case, it's just that more and more these days, I feel like I'm no longer in its target audience. Perhaps it's the inclusion of an insert promoting the acne medication Proactiv Solution that tipped me off? More likely, it's the drooling fanboy tone to most of the fluffy editorial promoting the latest events coming out of DC and Marvel, with little regard for anything else. Sure, there's Secret Stash, a page-and-a-half profile of a notable indie title, plus a half-page of blurbs on a handful of other indies, but that's only 2 out of 160 total pages! The majority of the articles are things like Wolverine vs. The World, two pages of fan favorite creators giving their two cents on the outcomes of Wolverine taking on the likes of Batman, Captain America and Optimus Prime. Entertaining, yes, but not terribly deep. Of course, the one thing Wizard has going for it is access, and when they take advantage of it, they work wonders. It's the SportsCenter of the comic book world, and as a result, it can also offer articles like the DVD-style commentary for Identity Crisis, 14 pages of Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales breaking down key scenes and plot points of their controversial, best-selling mini-series. That alone was worth the price of admission. Throw in the timely profile and interview of Will Eisner, who passed away just as the issue was going to press, and you get a well-rounded, if somewhat narrowly-focused package of comic book nirvana. It may be shallow at times, but it's always fun: 8 Minutes

If Wizard is the SportsCenter of comic books, than the venerable Comics Buyer's Guide is 60 Minutes. The former weekly tabloid underwent an extreme makeover last summer, switching to a monthly full-size magazine format intended to make it more attractive to both the avid collector and the casual fan, and presumably to better compete with Wizard. Mission Accomplished! (And not in that premature, staged photo op kind of way.) Nearly a year in, it's replaced Wizard as my primary fanzine, delivering a healthy 242 pages this month and offering meatier content for the more discerning comic book collector and fan. While Wizard is very good at what it does, CBG covers a much wider range of comics, with actual reviews as opposed to PR hype and creator-driven spin. A nine-page Batman feature covers the upcoming movie, breaking down the cast of characters and the actors playing them, referencing each back to the comic books, plus taking a look at the various Batman titles and where they're going post-War Games. Plus there's another three pages on the status of other DC movie projects like Green Lantern and Watchmen. That's TWELVE pages! Usually, the only thing anywhere near that long in Wizard is the hyped-up price guide in the back of the book. My favorite column is Andrew Smith's Canceled Comics Cavalcade, an honest look at recently canceled series with insightful autopsies and speculative causes of death. Several of the contributors stand out for their maturity and experience in the industry - including veterans like John Jackson Miller, Tony Isabella and editor Maggie Thompson - writing intelligent, in-depth columns and reviews. The presence of actual reviews, positive and negative, covering mainstream and indies, floppies and trades, puts it another step ahead of Wizard. Throughout the magazine there's a sense of history, too, with a healthy respect and reverence for the Silver and Golden Ages of comics that you never even get a hint of in Wizard unless it's the rare Eisner-type profile. There's people you date, and people you marry, and Comics Buyer's Guide is the marrying type: 9.5 Minutes

The indie of this group, Back Issue magazine, published by TwoMorrows Publishing, is the jewel of the bunch, "celebrat[ing] the comic books of the 1970s, 1980s and today." Every bi-monthly issue has a theme - ie: the Halloween issue, Super-Teams, or this month's Black Super-Heroes featuring, among other great articles, a tribute to Storm for her 30th anniversary. (Yes, it's not just Wolverine!) Benefiting from a similar editorial gravitas as Comics Buyer's Guide, editor Michael Eury puts together the hands-down best fanzine in comics today. All meat, no fluff. In this issue, there's in-depth interviews with talents ranging from Neal Adams and Denny O'Neil to Dwayne McDuffie and voice actor Phil LaMarr (John Stewart, Justice League Unlimited), plus Eury's own excellent, 12-page historical overview of "Blacks in American Comic Books." Back Issue represents some of the best, most accessible writing about comics being published. On top of the quality writing, there's also a wide range of black-and-white artwork featured in every issue, including everything from rough sketches to previously unpublished pages by a diverse group of artists. To stretch the metaphor to its breaking point, Back Issue is the fiesty grandpa full of stories to hand down to the grandkids, and a pocketful of Viagra for grandma's pleasure: 10 Minutes


Greg said...

Damn. I swore off Wizard, and I don't want to keep giving the piece of excrement that was Identity Crisis any more press, but 14 pages of breaking down key scenes and plot points ... I'm so tempted. Wizard=Satan!

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

It's worth it, especially when you factor in the Eisner article. There's some bonus scenes on line at wizarduniverse.com, too. Weird thing is the IC piece isn't even promoted on the front cover! It is on the spine, though.