Monday, 1 January 2018

Goodbye 2017 (don't come back), bring on 2018!!

Well, it's January 1st and 2017 is over.

And all I can say to that is 'thank goodness for that!!'

In general, I don't think 2017 was a particularly good year for anyone and so it probably isn't much of a surprise that I too am glad to see the back of it (although mine was probably not as bad as it was for others).

This goes doubly so when it comes to my comics. 2017 saw a number of controversies hit the medium, with the hiring (and firing) of harassers, a doubling down on gimmicks like lenticular covers and an apparent culling of diverse comic titles .All of these things amongst others had really gotten to me by the end of the year as I've felt incredibly despondent about the comics medium as a whole and all of these reasons being partly responsible for my pull list (along with money) being decimated down from the opening six titles (itself an all time low) to just one.

Of course, my year wasn't all bad and this was down to three specific things. First up, there came the small comic I created back in April with my buddy Adobarin Ayoade (whose a really cool artist and needs to be checked out) which not only gave me a taste of what true comic creators do, but also gave me the privilege of appearing on the Longbox a Review comic podcast. Then, I got the privilege to finally meet in person my pal Matt Garvey when he came to a small press signing at my local comic shop along with a number of other creators. That was a good day as it gave my local community the chance to see how great small press is.

But, finally, what kept my year somewhat positive was the comics, specifically of the small press variety. During 2017 I got to read a fantastic number of small press comics, culminating in a lot of (although not as many as I had hoped to put out) positive reviews, reinforcing what I've known for a while that Small press is becoming where the quality is at. Of course, while mainstream had its problems, I still found some great books which made up for all the negative with titles like Lazarus, Star Trek Mirror Broken, Daredevil (after a rocky start), Autumnlands, James Bond and Black Science.

However, the best thing about this year came in just the final few days as, in response to a rather negative top '10' comics article which was posted, all I saw on Twitter right up until the wire was list upon list of fantastic comic books from absolutely every creator, reader and reviewer out there. This action (or maybe, more accurately, reaction) reinforced my love of comics after all the critical actions of the prior 12 months and made me think that, going into 2018, the new year might definitely be a better one.

So now we are into the new year, I have a lot of plans and resolutions I want to put into practice. First up, I want to rebuild my pull list and read more comic series over the year. I'm already putting this in motion with early year solicits including the introduction to the Terrifics, possible maintaining of Black Magick and the return of Black Science to go with Lazarus while also apportioning for a subscription to the Comichaus app for the main purpose of ensuring those great small press comics I review get the cut they deserve.

But while doing this, I also intend to refine my comic collection as it currently stands, spending more time re-reading some of the titles I already possess and selling on those which no longer appeal to me to other readers who may be interested. This resolution may be the toughest to implement as my time is limited enough but a lot of these books just sit there gathering dust and, given I need the space, it would be nice to go down memory lane and pass on to others if necessary.

Of course, reading comics isn't the only thing I want to do this year as I want to be a little bit more creative as well. This consists of a lot more writing as I would like to hit a target of 40 pipedream reviews through the year (which averages 3-4 a month) as well as 24 posts on this blog (2 a month) as a way of being a bit more consistent. My hope to do this not only allows for a consistent output but also helps maintain a bonus resolution I have to be more positive and shout out about more good comics.

Finally though, not only do I want to write about comics but I'd also like to try my hand at writing comics as well. The mini-comic competition I entered back in April, as well as all the creators I met in May and even back in February at True Believers, has given me bit of the bug and, while I'm most likely not very good, I have a tonne of ideas swirling in my head that maybe I should try and do something with. This is only an idea and, while it may not come to much, maybe it might be good for me to stretch myself a little, if not to fully appreciate what the creators of the comics I read go through and appreciate their work better.

So, I've rambled a little bit there but that's my thoughts on the year just gone a my plans for the year to come. I just hope that the rest of the comics world ends up as positive in 2018 as I'd like it to be.

But if last week's viewing of Star Wars the Last Jedi taught me anything, it's not a bad thing to hope.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Star Trek - The Next Generation: Mirror Broken

Last week turned out to be a bit of a Star Trek week for me. This was made up of the fact that, for my recent birthday, I received a 50th anniversary Star Trek build-a-bear which my wife aptly named Jean-Luc 'Pawcard' and I think is completely awesome.

The other reason, however, is because the New Comic Book Day of that week saw the release of the final issue (well, at least I think it is) of Star Trek the Next Generation: Mirror Broken by IDW with help of writers David and Scott Tipton and a writer J.K Woodward. Now, as it is over, I thought I would not down my thoughts on the series as a whole (something I'd been wanting to do since after issue 1).
Star Trek TNG: Broken Mirror #1-5 (plus the FCBD issue)
The Mirror Broken series was something which appealed to me from the moment I learned about it on Free Comic Book Day back in May as it focused on the ever intriguing Star Trek mirror universe. This particular story focuses on the Next Generation crew as they come together in the wake of a Terran empire on the brink of eradication to execute a daring plan; to commandeer the most powerful starship in the imperial fleet, the I.S.S Enterprise. This five issue arc (plus the FCBD prelude) follows Jean-Luc Picard, who is very different to the man fans know, bring all of the well known characters together to gain control of his fateful prize and use it to take the fight to the Empire's enemies, be it with or without the Approval of his masters.
From the moment I saw the cover of that free issue last May I found myself intrigued by this series, mainly due to my love of the mirror universe depicted in Deep Space Nine. However. while I was drawn in due to nostalgia more than anything, that first issue was incredibly engrossing. Indeed, the rest of the series was equally enjoyable for me as the Tipton brothers (?) have created a story which I think pulls in the tropes of the series it is based on while giving it that unnervingly dark and twisted slant which I always thought made the mirror universe so compelling. I didn't find it a perfect story as the first issue proper felt a little bit slow to get off the mark but I loved how the series progressed and moved through the 'heist' arc and into the more space battle-sequel issues at the end.
What really gave me a kick though we're the characters. Admittedly, while the characters utilised were the majority of the cast from the show (Worf didn't make it back because he's a bad guy), they were nothing like those who I grew to love over seven seasons and four films. However, despite their more aggressive, calculating almost pirate like natures, the Tipton's really seemed to nail down all of these characters perfectly, with their essences really shining through despite their changes and their voices being heard in my head as I read their respective dialogue. I could believe this could be a lost episode of the series proper just on that alone.
The cover of the FCBD issue
which, admittedly, is what got
me on board with this series.
One of many pages proving J.K.
Woodward should draw Star Trek
Comics on a regular basis.
But J.K Woodward's art here is absolutely 'whoa!!!' and do I love it to the nth degree. The art in every issue is just completely gorgeous and its realism really helps sell to me that I'm reading that lost TNG episode, helping sell me on its connection. However, almost every panel has the dark, unsettling vibe going about it, from the subtle differences of the characters looks to the off-kilter colours by Woodward and Charlie Kirchoff, which helps sell me on the warped, 'through the mirror' concept of the book. But what really stands out for me comes from Woodward in the final two issues as he draws some truly epic space battle scenes, filling the pages with immense numbers of starships and giving them an almost Original Series aura which are hauntingly beautiful to me.
If there is one downside to this series it is simply the number of questions I have about the universe as a whole which now need answering. I know have some many questions in my head;
When did this take place? Before or after the DS9 mirror universe episodes?
If after, does that mean there's some time displacement as the characters all look younger? Or if before, why did Mirror O'Brien not mention the supposed imperial resurgence which will no doubt occur beyond this episode?
Also, where did the cloaking net come from as cloaking technology doesn't exist in this universe?Finally, why are peaceful names like 'Stargazer' and 'Utopia Planetia' used by this militant organisation instead of something more fitting?
At this point, I think I'm just making holes where none need be required. But hey, I'm a fan and its what I think about.
Regardless though, while I've never been interested in the Star Trek comics before, Broken Mirror has been a truly incredible series and one I'm glad I took a risk on. All I can hope for now is that the question mark which came on the last panel with 'the end?' is implying a follow up series because I will gladly come back for more of the same.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Going unlimited?

It's been quite a while since I've written anything here. This is down simply to time, or rather a lack of it. Lots of work, family and preparing for Christmas has meant that my five hours free time a week has been reduced to two (if I'm lucky), for which I've prioritised reviews for Pipedream Comics over anything else.

To be fair, I almost didn't write this post as the day I am writing it is Black Friday and my local comic shop has a terrific sale. This is a sale which, amongst other things, is seeing some terrific looking trades going for as little as a fiver, some of which (notably Kill or be Killed) really caught my eye on their Facebook feed.

However, I decided not to go, partly because of the money (I don't have any), the space (I don't have any of that either) and partly because it's almost Christmas (I tend to limited by purchases after October).

The main reason however, and the main focus of this post which I really wanted to write about, is that I'm seriously considering giving this whole Unlimited, Netflix style comic subscription thing a shot.

This is a convenient time to be considering it in fairness because just this week saw the release of the Comichaus App. This App is a digital subscription service created by British (well, I think British) comic book publishers Comichaus which offers a wide range of (mostly) British small press and indie comics in one place. Now, what makes this different to others is that they are very open about the fact that their income is split evenly, with 50% going to the company for costs and (hopefully) profit while the other 50% is given to the creators of these comics (in theory, based on what books are most viewed at any given time).

Now I've got to say, with all of this information (and more which I've no doubt neglected), I'm intrigued.

But this isn't all I'm considering at the moment. As everyone no doubt is aware, Comixology created Comixology Unlimited last year. Essentially the same idea, Comixology Unlimited is different in the fact that their library is more than likely ten times larger that Comichaus', with the likes of Image, Marvel, Dark Horse (I think?) and many other big publishers all offering (most of) their comics for a set monthly fee (although not DC as I don't think they are in on it yet), including older comics from the Silver and Bronze age (or at least that's what I've heard).

So, as with the Comichaus App, I'm very interested in the idea, now more than ever.

The reason for my sudden interest is that in the last year real life has come to impact my comic reading life. Bills are more, food is more, fuel is more but my wages are less, meaning I have less disposable income. Also, as we are all very much aware, comic books are getting increasingly more expensive as the average single issue is at the $3.99 mark (or £3.60 in the Queen's money) while a trade borders the £15-20 mark (don't ask me what that is in dollars). A combination of both this things has essentially seen the money I earmarked for comics whittled down to practically nothing and my pull list decimated to a single, solitary book (which I can't even afford to pick up at the moment) with any other comics being what I'm fortunate to review.

Therefore, these subscription services are starting to look very appealing to me as spending £10 (which was my comic budget until a couple of months ago) would allow me to join up with both Comichaus and Comixology and still have a little bit left over to put towards that single remaining single issue in my drawer. This would also mean two additional points of note; that I would be able to read significantly more comics than what the subscriptions costs would get me otherwise (I'd guess three comics, if I was lucky), and also (mainly over at Comichaus) that many of the books I review which are fantastic I could re-read and the creators would receive a royalty they so richly deserve (and I am unable to provide any other way).

Of course, there are downsides to entering into these services. The one big concern for me is that, at the moment, I can buy books and leave them for months before reading them (I have a Hawkeye trade and a Ninjak trade which prove that point). However, by joining up with either of these services, I need to commit to reading at least three books a month in order to ensure I'm getting my money's worth (because Accountants focus on that sort of thing). This may not seem like a big ask but I assure you it might just be given my seemingly lack of free time at present.

The second is a little more vague in its specifics and that is the fact that Comixology is now owned by Amazon so would I have to commit to merging my accounts for both or some similar thing (something I've avoided thus far). To be honest, I was happy with Comixology being more independent from their parent company and do fear if an combination of my accounts would occur then, should I shut down unlimited to return to my standard account, would I lose all the comics I bought up until that point (something I, quite cynically, would expect of Amazon). It's most likely a silly thing to worry about and more a by-product of my paranoid mind, but it is there and is still a worry.

Regardless though, despite these niggles, I do think that writing this has helped me see that the rewards do outweigh the risks. This seems especially the case in regards to Comichaus whose more independent nature, not to mention more indie library made by people I've actually met and deserve to be read (not all pro comics I can say that about) makes more appealing to sign up to.

Therefore, while I might mull over Comixology a little bit more, I think I will give Comichaus a shot and use it as a test case as to whether 'Netflix for comics' is up my alley.

All I have to do now is find the money to pay for it every month.