Big Wow! 2014 Roundup

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Big Wow! is only an hour away from me, but I’ve never been.

Why? I don’t know. But this year, I saw what I’ve been missing.

Before the convention, I gathered some information on what I should expect from Big Wow! — I was told it was artist-friendly, a bit more intimate, and less frantic. I checked out the impressive list of attendees and guests — notably, at least for me, Bin Furuya of Ultraman fame and Kenpachiro Satsuma, one of several men who’ve donned the Godzilla suit. Greg Rucka who grew up in my city and Michael Lark — co-creators on my favorite modern comic Lazarus — would be on hand as well along with Humberto Ramos, Buzz, Joe Rubenstein, Mark Brooks, and Stephane Roux.

(The list was a lot longer than the ones I got to meet.)

I started off my first trip to Big Wow! by getting on commission lists before my buddy Joaquin and I walked the floor exploring booths, shops, and artist information. Joaquin came with me to be a second pair of hands because the delicate nature of comics means having to watch out for tape while bagging and boarding — or unbagging/unboarding — and doing things as efficiently as possible without damaging anything. I caught the commission/signature/grading bug at my first convention, and I’ve treated comic-cons as work as much — or more so — as pleasure. Not that I’m there to flip everything I buy, but I have goals I want to meet. Blame it on my obsessive-compulsive nature.

(By the way, I’ve yet to sell any of my sigs or commissions — and besides a few I had Desert Wind Comics do that were multiples and through an artist who was fine with it, I might be holding on to them all, or most of them, for a very long time before some hands me a $1-million.)

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Buzz

If I had to describe Big Wow! to a person who had never been there — it’s got a vibe unlike any other convention I’ve been to. It wasn’t as packed as WonderCon or Wizard World Sacramento when Stan Lee and Chris Hemsworth made their only appearances on a Sunday, so it was easy to snag an autograph or chat for a while. I had conversations with Norm Rapmund who was surprised to find San Jose was farther from Los Angeles than he thought and Buzz who told me he’d hook me up on a commission of Spider-Man. I got a commission from Buzz before at another convention, and I knew what kind of quality he puts into his work. When I picked up my Spider-Man commission, I was floored. Again.

Meeting Rucka was a little nerve-wracking, seeing as how he’s a former Salinasan. I didn’t know if it was a subject I was allowed to approach, but when the area in front of me cleared, and I moved forward to shake his hand, his friendliness opened the doors.

“Hello, Mr. Rucka. I’m from Salinas, too.”

A big smile spread across his face, and he told me how much it surprises him to find people from his hometown. And when I told him I see his father’s commercials — Mr. Rucka’s a lawyer — Greg seemed wondrous. “He’s still doing that?” he asked.

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Michael Lark

I told him Lazarus was my favorite current book, and then I got my issues signed by Rucka’s boothmate, Lark, who earlier delivered my commission. Lark seemed very sweet, and I thanked him again.

“Which commission did I do for you?” he asked.

“The Batman rising up in the rain.”

Between walking the floor, complaining about being hungry, and shopping, I went to check on Bridgett Spicer, Ace Continuado, Chris Arrocena, and Ray Zepeda, Jr. — fellow Salinasans who had booths. At one point, Ace and Chris let me man their table while they went to check out the convention. I’ve had dreams of writing my own comic for a while now, and I definitely liked the idea of one day being able to talk to comic fans from that side of the booth as a creator.

As for Bridgett — she shared a space with Betsy Streeter — they looked like they were having a blast. Their booth, renamed the Fun Booth, garnered plenty of attention.

“I’m definitely doing this again next year,” Spicer said.

“Better than APE?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” she said, nodding her head, furiously.

And while I was mainly there for the artists, I did have a chance to meet and shake Bin Furuya’s hand. There was an awkward mixup when I went to the wrong booth to get a ticket — Steven Skyler of Power Rangers Samurai graciously corrected my mistake, telling me: “This is a totally different booth.”

When I found the person handling tickets, the man in front of me in line bought 12 autograph tickets with his pick of 12 photographs. The ticket handler threw in a couple more photos which Mr. Furuya signed politely. For an octogenarian, Furuya looked great, and he signed cards and thanked each person after each signing. While I waited, I snapped a photo of Mr. Satsuma as he posed for the camera.

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Ultraman #1 Signed by Bin Furuya

I sort of freaked out when I placed my Ultraman #1 — I can’t believe I had one in my collection — down in front of Mr. Furuya. I don’t know if he’s ever signed comics, and he asked me, “Doko, doko, doko?” as he searched for a place to sign his name. I opened the cover, and he signed it on the inside.

“You sure that’s where you want it?” the CGC witness asked, “You won’t be able to see it when it’s slabbed.”

I slapped myself.

“Can you please sign it here?” I asked Furuya pointing to the slip over the cover.

He did, and then he signed a small card that had a picture of himself with his arm cradling the Ultraman helmet that he was the template for.

“This is the only one in the registry,” Mike of CGC told me, “He never does these shows.” Checking the CGC registry now, I can see there’s only one that’s ever been graded at all. Mine would be the second to get a grade, but it would be the first to be graded for the Signature Series.

I scored commissions from Stephane Roux who told me to return during the last hour of the convention on Sunday for quick sketches. My coworker is the biggest Harley Quinn fan I know, and I wanted to get him something.

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Joe Rubinstein

I also received a Spider-Man from Joe Rubinstein — he holds the Guinness Book of World Records record for most inks over artists’ pencils — and I got an amazing Spider-Man for my Amazing Spider-Man #1 sketch cover. It was pretty much a Spider-Man weekend as I sort of shelved my Batman project to get various covers for my Amazing Spider-Man #1s. Ramos was the last commission I picked up — it seemed right to have the interior artist give me his own original for the outside.

I got a good number of souvenirs that I’m trying to figure out how to display without light damage. It’s a comic problem that I’m willing to take input on, so if you know of a way to show off CGC books without worrying about UV damage, please leave a comment.

Quin and I didn’t attend any panels until Sunday when we were reunited with a long-lost friend we haven’t seen in years. James and his son stopped by the convention and found us in line. It was great hanging out with the both of them — they were interested in action figures and other toys. James got a commission from Stefano Gaudiano, which seemed like a steal for what he got and how much he paid.

We ended the last day of the convention with a screening of the Batman Chronicles, hosted by Anthony Misiano with a Q&A panel at the end. Misiano made a great impression on me as he kept us entertained even when the projector and sound continued to malfunction. Instead of reacting to the problems with negativity, Misiano displayed a sort of humor and joviality that made a lot of fans, myself included.

The screening and Q&A ended 15 minutes after the convention was over, and I thought I missed my opportunity to get Josh a Roux quick sketch. James somehow got back in, and I chased after him. While Joaquin went to thank Ramos for a commission, I went to find Ace and Chris who were already gone. On the way back, I saw Mr. Roux talking with a few others. I approached him, thanked him for the commission, then asked if he had five minutes.

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Stephane Roux

“Sure,” he said, “Do you have a Sharpie?”

I took out a Batman #29 sketch cover and a gold Sharpie.

“This will be the first gold Batman I’ve ever drawn,” he said.

“Actually, my coworker is a huge Harley fan.”

“Well, this will be the first gold Harley I’ve ever drawn,” he told me.

One of the others that Roux was talking to said, “Check this out. You’re going to see some magic.”

“I saw some magic earlier,” I told him, “Roux did a commission for me.”

“Was it on the sketch cover?”

“Yes,” I said.

“That one was awesome,” he said. We both nodded at each other as we saw a familiar face appear on a once-blank page.

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Get Lifted — Lazarus #7 Review

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The correspondence page found at the end of the issue will tell you the creative team needed two extra pages for Lazarus #7.

After reading the issue, it’s plain to see why.

In terms of density, Lazarus #7 earns the title of heaviest issue of the series. Jumping from plot to plot, the events this issue are wrangled into a thick storyline wringing readers through an emotional gauntlet.

And it does it by bringing us even closer to the characters and seeting via flashback and sudden bursts of emotional and physical violence.

Dealing with a possible terrorist threat to her family, Forever Carlyle performs her duties by gathering intelligence and interrogating the lone suspect, Emma. Unable to get anything out of her — backed into a corner, Emma’s responds with, “There’s nothing you can do to or take from me that your family doesn’t already have” — Forever brings in her sister Johanna.

We already know from this vantage point that Johanna’s intentions for her family are traitorous, and we get a good look at why she’s gone undetected for so long. As the good cop to Forever’s bad, Johanna tempts Emma with a lure of fame and serfdom.

 

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In those scenes, we get the political and military wings of the Carlyle Family. Forever, as the armed hand, sees what a bit of diplomacy can do, especially from one so treacherous as Johanna.

We also get to spend some time with the displaced Barrets. With about a week to go before Lift selection, the family camps out somewhere in Wyoming.

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The scene brings to mind the best elements of a Western — wide open spaces, the unfiltered relationships between travellers, the fear of the present, the hope for the future, and the ugliness of humanity that threatens peace.

Lazarus continues to be pull-list worthy, and the creative team deserves that Eisner nomination for Best New Series.

Greg Rucka’s world continues to reveal itself, warts and all, from the Family peaks to the Barret valleys. The major event is the Lift, and all paths look to be crossing there. It’s a testament to Rucka’s writing prowess — there’s no direct threat and imminent threat just yet, just the possibility of one, and we feel the tension and paranoia on the Carlyle side because it all feels very familiar.

The writing could have easily gone the path well-traveled with the Barret tragedy, but instead of drudging up emotion and preying on our sympathies, Rucka gives us just enough to play the rest of the details in our own minds.

The Barret scene also shows how perfectly matched the visual team is with the story. Michael Lark and Brian Level on art and Santi Arcas on colors get down to the nitty and gritty with profound fluidity. In one issue, we’ve gone from the sci-fi and sanitary dwellings of the Carlyles to the dirt and debris of the Wild Wild West, and not once did it feel like the two couldn’t exist in the same world.

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The last page reveals the Lift is in reach, but at what cost? A lot of comic stories rely on that tried and true method of leaving readers with a cliffhanger, and Lazarus puts a twist on that by giving readers a glimpse of hope to go along with that bitter taste left in our mouths from the scenes previous.

Some keep their eyes on the goal, waiting for it to be achieved. What makes Lazarus so sweet is the journey itself — the lives of the characters and the state of the world they live in. The questions are just as important as the answers, and the experience is enriched because of it.

Lazarus #7 (2013)
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Words: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark and Brian Level
Colors: Santi Arcas
Letters: Michael Lark and Brian Level

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The Lives of Others — Lazarus #6 Review

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Anyone who’s connected to Greg Rucka through his Twitter or his Tumblr knows he has a keen interest in politics and current affairs.

After diving into Lazarus #6, it’s very clear that Rucka’s interests in things outside of comics has influenced the world of Forever Carlyle for better or worse.

And my opinion is — it’s for the better.

Lazarus has consistently pushed the envelope with mature storytelling that has expanded bit by bit to explore politics, social inequalities, and the day to day lives of realistic characters living on both ends of the economical ladder. From the top of the food chain (Carlyles) to the bottom rung (Bobbie and the other Waste), Lazarus isn’t a title filled with caricatures kicking around cliches. Lazarus, like great science-fiction novels, works because it takes something we know, repackages it, then gives us a microscopic view of it that gets our brains working.

That doesn’t mean each reader will come away with the same meaning or walk through the same thought process, but the fact that it’s provoking — Lazarus isn’t a book you should be reading while you’re doing something else. It demands your attention because there’s so much going on within each page.

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With Lift season in full swing, members of the Waste caste look forward to being selected for work. Being a part of the Waste caste doesn’t mean someone’s absolutely destitute — Bonnie Barret and her clan own land, pay taxes to their governing Family, and eke out an existence.

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Last issue, a storm wiped out the Barret house and crops which forces Bonnie to ask the Carlyle Family for assistance. Help comes at a price, and Bonnie’s clan makes a decision to head for the Lift, giving up their land rights.

Meanwhile, another group of Waste break into the Family Carlyle storage, stealing two acetylene canisters. The thieves don’t know there’s a Lazarus on watch, and Forever gains information that will set her on a trail to discover what the Waste are up to.

The two parallel stories moving forward concern Forever’s journey to make her Family proud while the Barrets head to Denver to get work. Both work for family, but the contrast is that Forever as an agent works on the outside, hoping to be received. Bonnie, on the other hand, struggles to maintain a livelihood that secures a future for her brood.

Rucka’s scripting is sharp and to the point. Each scene reminds us about the location, the stakes, and the possible repercussions that could dramatically change not just the lives of the characters but the world at large.

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That sort of scope keeps Lazarus interesting because a slight shift in direction at the bottom can lead to gigantic ramifications at the top.

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Rucka’s partner in visual rhyme is Michael Lark, and it’s difficult to envision Lazarus with anyone else’s artistic interpretation of this distopian future. There are two pages with just one caption for all of its 10 panels that should be studied by potential comic artists. It’s sequential storytelling by a master of the craft that sets up Forever’s security detail that puts her on the trail of the thieving Waste.

And if Lark’s absence upsets the title by measure and miles, Santi Arcas’ colors would be sorely missed as well if there was a change in the guard. The tones of Lazarus are its soil, it’s environment, it’s life. The creative team of three have a synergy that’s producing one of the best comic books being released, and anyone looking for a story that’s packed with emotion and meaningful plotting should get on board.

Now.

Lazarus is comicdom’s Martian Chronicles with its personal touch and real-world perspective. These characters live and breathe as if they were taken from living constructs. This is a series not to be missed unless you’re only about capes and spandex.

Lazarus #6 (2013)
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Words: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark and Brian Level
Colors: Santi Arcas
Letters Michael Lark and Brian Level

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System Shock: Lazarus #4 Review

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Last issue ended with a bang — literally — and writer/creator Greg Rucka doesn’t pull any punches with an intense pickup on action and drama in Lazarus #4.

Forever Carlyle and counterpart Joacquim Morray had a moment to watch the sunset, but their respite was just a calm before the storm. Missiles from a Carlyle chopper sent in by Forever’s brother Jonah rained down on the location sending both Forever and Joacquim into physical shock.

As Bethany and James monitor Forever’s stats back at the main compound, her body begins to patch itself up as Jonah’s team lands to finish the job.

Readers get a front row seat into what being a Lazarus entails as Forever painfully rises and meets the challenge, mercilessly and efficiently taking down all of her attackers. Besides enduring a physical battle while practically rising from the dead, Forever takes care of business knowing full and well the circumstances surrounding her betrayal — she claims right as commander of the Carlyle forces to order the men to stand down — and she has the wherewithal after the fight to make sure relations with the Morray family are maintained.

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Credit Rucka for moving deftly back and forth between the action sets and the chaos inside the Carlyle compound where the two scientists work blind and behind the scenes. Losing a Lazarus could mean losing the war, and a surprise attack like this one can shift the balance in one particular party’s favor. That notion isn’t lost in the brisk pacing of the issue’s plot, and Michael Lark’s pencils — Brian Level contributes — don’t smudge over the details with an eye for composition and cinematic details that don’t lose focus on the main points. Santi Arcas’ colors do their part in separating panels by atmosphere and lighting — and the subtle shades, while not being overtly flashy, have a grounded palette.

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No stone is left untouched — Rucka gives panel time for the other members of the family, including Malcolm who looks worse for the wear now that his family has begun to tear itself apart from the inside. Whether the expression on his face shows guilt or worry remains to be seen, and as complicated as it could be, Lazarus as a title works because its creative team works with a sharp and precise edge not unlike the blades the main character carries.

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Those sublime cuts can be found in the details. In the heat of battle, gunfire erupts hitting any and everybody — Lazarus and soldier. While it could be argued that this is violence for violence’s sake — it all serves a purpose, and the scenes account for the various layers and dimensions.

After all the attackers are finished off, Forever and Joacquim part, and the scene is the heaviest of all. Seeing what Joacquim is literally made of at this point, Forever sees what the future may hold for her as a Lazarus, and their time together has ended for the foreseeable future. Forever goes to confront Jonah only to find a beaten and battered Johanna.

If the first story arc gives us a fair glimpse of what it’s in store for Jonah — vengeance will be swift and painful. There’s a big and compelling picture that’s loaded with emotional turmoil and urgency, and the overall professional quality of the book makes it one of the best comics being released.

Lazarus #4 (2013)
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Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Michael Lark and Brian Level
Colors: Santi Arcas
Letters: Michael Lark

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Family Ties: Lazarus #3 Review

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On paper, Greg Rucka’s world isn’t very different from ours. In Lazarus, a western gem hidden in a sci-fi thriller, a small few control a majority of the world’s resources and wealth, while a larger group of educated and trained individuals works to keep society running. The rest of humanity fights over the scraps, unable to organize and create an ecosystem that benefits everyone.

Rucka’s first two issues put forth the the idea and the driving forces behind the plot — the basis of the families and the notion of their representatives, the Lazarus. Issue #3 takes a giant step forward by bringing into play the other chess pieces that could figure largely within Rucka’s realm and builds on the growing tensions within the Carlyle Family as Forever Carlyle parlays with the Morray Family to combat a growing and personal threat.

Last issue, Forever’s unstable brother Jonah and his twin sister Johanna were seen working behind the scenes to undermine the Family’s patriarch, Malcolm. Their desire for war proved too much for their father to bear, causing him to send the one child he can trust into the Morray’s domain somewhere in Mexico.

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Caught behind enemy lines, Forever allows herself to be brought in for questioning, and she meets an old acquaintance — the Morray Lazarus Joacquim. The two reminisce over old times, and Forever admits he’s the only one who has ever truly understood her. It’s an interesting discussion that gives insight into what it’s like to be the face and force of a Family. Because they’re tasked with so much, Lazaruses have money and technology poured into them to keep them in top shape. The richer the family, the better the Lazarus — at least from a technical standpoint, and though Families may send occasional squads into harm’s way, the Lazaruses do and take the most damage.

But what money affords for the physical, it does not help with the emotional aspects. Forever’s trip to see the patriarch of the Morray Family might be a meeting of dire consequences, but it also connects her with humanity by putting her in the company of a familiar face — or rather, a friend.

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The meeting with Joacquim’s uncle goes well for both families, but it doesn’t go well for Jonah. As discovered by Malcolm, Jonah has been working against his own kind, and Forever negotiates an immediate end to the Morray’s secret partnership with traitor. Things are about to get heavy as the Carlyle Family plans to purge the sickness within, but before Forever returns home, she and Joacquim are attacked.

It looks like Jonah might get a war after all.

Lazarus so far has been a great series that has so far laid brick upon brick onto its world with a cast of characters and a social structure that provides meaningful structure. There’s a sense that Rucka has taken deliberate steps in creating an immersive world for readers that’s, at once, easy to understand from a social point of view and complex enough to support a deep and plot with threads connecting story elements. Momentum has steadily built up for meaningful action pieces, but Lazarus isn’t this summer’s silly action comic — it’s an intelligent thriller with complex perspectives on themes of family, wealth, power, and greed. It’s to comics what Game of Thrones is to television, and while Lazarus has taken measured steps to keep its cast list, so far, short in comparison, there’s enough of a foundation to bring in more elements later on.

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Right now, the set is staged for a great story, and Rucka’s pacing allows artist Michael Lark room to breathe with great characterization processed through visuals. Lark has a knack for creating storyboards that convey what needs to be seen with precise timing. As far as sequential art goes, if one were to cover up the text bubbles, they would still be able to follow the storyline, and the synergy between art and text creates a forceful comic that tickles the brain after it impacts the eyes. It’s a huge credit to Lark’s true-to-the-story artwork and Rucka’s direction.

The choice to bring Santi Arcas in for colors is also a brilliant one. Arcas gives Lazarus a natural earthy look that skimps on flash. The brown and rusty colors define a world of squalor and lowliness. Though the rich are comfortable and living above the masses, the human world is in pain, struggling for basic needs.

Lazarus is a title that demands a serious look, and there’s an emotional depth to the characterization that makes Forever Carlyle a future superstar in the comic book world. She’s efficient and ferocious, and she doesn’t need to talk about it. Actions speak louder than words in Lazarus, and Forever is the kind of girl that brings a knife to a gunfight.

What everyone doesn’t know is that the odds are on her.

Lazarus #3 (2013)
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Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Michael Lark
Colors: Santi Arcas
Letters: Michael Lark
Additional credits: Stefano Gaudiano and Brian Level

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