Comic Book Awards for February.

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In February we got our first taste of Marvel’s upcoming spring event, Avengers: Standoff by Nick Spencer. Written by Spencer with art by Mark Bagley, Avengers Standoff: Welcome to Pleasant Hill #1 comes as an enjoyable prologue to the event and its many series’ tie-ins. The thrilling setup differentiates this Marvel event from ones in recent years so here’s hoping the rest capitalizes on what it has built up. My regular titles maintained their pace for the most part this month. The Astonishing Ant-Man continues to be a highlight and I was treated to two issues of The Flash in response to the book’s tardy release last month. Aquaman #49 and Uncanny Inhumans #5 flopped big time in February – the scripts for both issues were under-par –  but the good news is that Doctor Strange #5 was a stellar dip into the weirdness and spectacular flare of the Sorcerer Supreme. Star Wars #16, Star Wars: Obi Wan & Anakin #2, Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor #4, and Invincible Iron Man #6 also made their way into my comic book pile this month.

But out of these nominees, which came out to boast an Comic Book of the Month Award? 

Cover of the Month Award: Uncanny Inhumans #5 

Cover Artist: Brandon Peterson 

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Artist Brandon Peterson holds to an distinct glossy, digital style. If you follow his work you’d begin to notice how vividly it pops from the page. You could say he’s an expert at making his work on the 2-D page look as though it was 3-D, even. Peterson provides the pencils and inks for the interiors as well as the entirety of the cover art to Uncanny Inhumans #5. The cover features a stunning face image of Black Bolt and within it is an image of the entrance to The Quiet Room, which is the focus point of the story in this issue. The white backdrop fits as a nice contrast to cap this cover artwork off.

Art of the Month Award: Doctor Strange #5

Pencils & Colors: Chris Bachalo 

Inks: Tim Townsend, Al Vey, Mark Irwin, John Livesay, Victor Olazaba & Jaime Mendoza

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Chris Bachalo has been contributing some of his best work I’ve seen in these last five issues of the ongoing Doctor Strange title. While I still dislike how his panel flow is somewhat disjointed, it also makes his artwork interesting to study. Bachalo is also one of those few professionals to do both pencils and colors, sometimes inking on occasion. His color work is what really shows in Doctor Strange #5, giving a nice layer of haunting atmosphere to many of the pages. This issue is big in scope and it’s the dramatic action sequences between Strange and his encroaching foes that make a lasting impact. The designs for this new tier of villainy, The Empiriku, add an extensive creep factor to the mix, too. By and large, this issue is the most visually complex comic book of February.

Story of the Month Award: Doctor Strange #5 (“Pound of Flesh”) 

Writer: Jason Aaron

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In recent years there’s been this theme of “paying the price” or a “cost” to Doctor Strange’s use of questionable magic at the heart of his character arc. You saw this brought forth especially during Strange’s exploits in the New Avengers series. Jason Aaron’s handle on the book thus far has emphasized that point a great deal, and in Doctor Strange #5 he explores it further. Wong, Doctor Strange’s loyal assistant and friend, has secretly orchestrated a system of magic conduits in the form of using real people to channel magic’s overwhelming “cost” (so, to explain, what the good Doctor should be experiencing after casting one black magic spell, the consequences of his actions effect the conduits instead). This is a side plot in light of the issue’s whole, but an important one that I think will have reverberations in future issues. The bulk of Doctor Strange #5 deals with The Empiriku making their way towards Earth to obliterate all the magic it holds, including its protectors and users. A global battle of magic ensues and the good guys come out on top…or do they really? What comes next beckons.

Issue of the Month Award: Doctor Strange #5 (“Pound of Flesh”)

Writer: Jason Aaron

Pencils & Colors: Chris Bachalo

Inks: Tim Townsend, Al Vey, Mark Irwin, John Livesay, Victor Olazaba & Jaime Mendoza

Cover: Chris Bachalo & Tim Townsend 

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The more I take time with Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo’s Doctor Strange #5, the more I can’t help but admire it. It was a tough pick between Avengers: Welcome To Pleasant Hill #1 or this for Issue of the Month, but this comic book issue emerged in sweet success after all. This is truly a fine comic book issue, no one could hope to deny that. It capitalizes on what’s come before – adding in a new, tasteful turn of desperation for the series – and Bachalo lets loose to interpret the script with provocative results in an outstanding fashion (pages 2, 16, 18, and 20 are just terrific). With a tinge of humor, a weighty dose of Doctor Strange spell casting action, and a notable tone of comic book class, Doctor Strange #5 is a recipe of charming resonance. 

Once again, I appreciate all who’ve checked out February’s edition of my annual Comic Book of the Month Awards. Check back sometime next month for the Comic Book of the Month Awards for March! Until then, hopefully you and I will continue to be reading and enjoying comics!

January Comic Book Awards

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It is a tad ironic that the new years’ general optimism is paired with the farewell to likely my favorite comic book run in my short but substantial history of reading comics. This refers to Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers/New Avengers/Secret Wars saga which began three years ago and is now concluded with Secret Wars #9. It’s never a good time when a beloved series ends, but this one in particular holds an unmeasurable amount of meaning to me on creative, literary, artistic, inspiring and even sympathetic levels, to say the least. I’ve been caught up in reading this storyline since its debut, as probably many others have, too, so I hope that puts into perspective just how poignantly bittersweet for me this is. Because it won every award, this edition of my Comic Book of the Month Awards for January 2016 will be a thorough overview of every layer of Secret Wars #9. But, before we get into how masterful a comic book it was, there are other books worthy of attention.

If Secret Wars #9 hadn’t swept this month’s awards, Uncanny Inhumans #4, The Astonishing Ant-Man #4, Invincible Iron Man #5, and Star Wars #15 would’ve been the top nominee picks, hands down. The fourth issue of Uncanny Inhumans, wrapping up the book’s opening arc, is squarely a fantastic issue. The pacing and panel-work reminds me of that classic superhero comic book style in many ways. The Beetle flew in to distract Scott Lang once more while he does his best (ever the trier) to protect his daughter Cassie from a wannabe super-villain in The Astonishing Ant-Man #4 and Madame Masque is beaten in a bombastic clash by an unlikely team-up of iron Man and Doctor Doom (now assumed “redeemed”). Star Wars #15 returns to exploring Obi-Wan Kenobi’s adventures on Tatooine during his exile and following up on Star Wars #7’s events. Mike Mayhew was absolutely an ideal choice for this issue and I hope as these issues centering on Obi-Wan release in the future that higher-tiered artists are brought in. The first issue of Star Wars: Anakin & Obi-Wan, Star Wars #14, Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Year Two #4 and #5, Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor #3, Aquaman #48, and Doctor Strange #4 also released. And, last but not least, Scarlet Witch #2 made its way into my pile only because Marco Rudy was the featured guest-artist of the issue (buy it!).
So what’s the big deal about Secret Wars #9, you might ask? Make way, make way…

Cover of the Month Award: Secret Wars #9 

Cover By: Alex Ross

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If you don’t know by now, Secret Wars #9 marks the end of every Marvel Comics Universe of the past 75+ years, with a new one emerging in its wake which combines remnants of future or alternate timelines and universes into one universe, including the original. With that said, we’re allowed one last glimpse of what has come before on Alex Ross’ sentimental cover for the issue. Surrounding the climactic clash of Mr. Fantastic and Doctor Doom are memorial-themed shards of legendary events and moments of the MU’s unforgettable past. Towards the middle-left records when Jean Grey first returned as The Phoenix, with a view of Asgard, the patriotic Howling Commandos, and Elektra’s gruesome death by the hands of Bullseye in close proximity. The top right corner is the classic image from Iron Man’s “Demon In The Bottle” storyline from the 80’s as a recovering Tony Stark looks at himself soberingly in a mirror, and we also can make out the Gamma-bomb detonation that turned Bruce Banner into the Hulk, the birth of Franklin Richards, a floating Attilan, Steve Rogers moments right after he’s taken the super-soldier serum, and others on this nostalgic, marvelous cover for Secret Wars #9. It’s relatively hard to miss, but you’ll notice the pure white outline of who appears to be Molecule Man dividing these pieces of Marvel’s history; Mr. Fantastic and Doom meeting at his chest and shoulders. This cleverly adds additional structure to it.

I’m very proud of Alex Ross for contributing his talent to Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars throughout all nine issues. He’s single-handedly brought so much value and weight with him being a part of this series and there is not one artist better suited, with all his ability and endearing classical style, to open up the final chapter of the Marvel Universe as we have always known it.

Art of the Month Award: Secret Wars #9

Artist: Esad Ribic

Color Artist: Ive Svorcina 

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From reading interviews when promoting Secret Wars, writer Jonathan Hickman is very vocal on his love for Esad Ribic as an artist (having had a working history with him). They’re a formidable team when it comes down to the comic book page and the 34-page, extra-sized ninth issue for Secret Wars stretches Ribic’s unflinching commitment to the book. Now, there is a lot at stake visually when wrapping up a major comics event on this scale and you can tell Ribic’s interpretation of Hickman’s script is dead on from the outset. His pages consist of both traditional and, at times, unconventional panel work for the series. Page 16 is a classic example of this. The heart of the issue concerns the timeless struggle of Mr. Fantastic and Doctor Doom’s personalities and page 16 combines their faces into one complex, all-too impressive collage. Ribic does a crack job on the rest of the issue as well. While he has never had a hand for detailed pencils and inks, allowing brilliant colorist Ive Svorcina fill in what is lacking, his angles and proportions are gorgeous. The panels with no dialogue/narration are just as powerfully engaging as the one with dialogue/narration; an incredible feat for an artist to achieve.

Looking through Secret Wars #9, I couldn’t tell you what my favorite page is because there are so many. The optimism of the issue shines forth from Ribic and Svorcina’s work with beautiful results. Personally, with all the other art teams out there, I wouldn’t have chosen this particular team to close out Hickman’s epic run, but seeing how it has turned out to be this outstanding, I don’t mind one bit.

Story of the Month Award: Secret Wars #9 (“Beyond”)

Writer: Jonathan Hickman

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Secret Wars #9 is not your traditional final issue of a major comics event. You would imagine the conclusion of any major comics events to end in fireworks, and, while Secret Wars #9 does, it is more on an intimate level in the form of Mr. Fantastic and Doctor Doom’s impending encounter for the ages. The raging war on Battleworld takes a backseat to let these men, who have so much in common but, strangely, so little, too, go at each other in a bare-bones battle that I’ve been wanting to see since Hickman was writing Fantastic Four/FF from 2009-12. The issue begins as Black Panther, wielding an Infinity Gauntlet, and Namor confront God Doom in the midst of all-out devastation. But this soon goes sour for the men and, following a mythological-like quarrel between Black Panther and Doom, he heads off to confront Reed Richards. Meanwhile, Reed, along with The Maker (Mr. Fantastic’s Ultimate Universe doppleganger), enter Molecule Man’s isolated location and have a deceitfully planned falling out on The Maker’s part. Doom and Reed then meet at last and what transpires henceforth is a dramatically-charged fight of ideologies with fists. Hickman’s dialogue for these two characters is spot-on, brilliantly written and paced. It is the ultimate final battle in many respects. This isn’t where the issue stops, however. Without giving away how, the Marvel Universe rebirths for a new tomorrow and we see where some of our heroes (and a certain villain) end up. 

Throughout the span of Avengers and New Avengers has been this theme of the death of everything, touching on serious and depressing issues of mortality. Secret Wars #9 resolves these themes into probably one of Jonathan Hickman’s positive comic book issues to date in a truly, dearly phenomenal way.

Issue of the Month Award: Secret Wars #9 (“Beyond”) 

Writer & Designer: Jonathan Hickman

Artist: Esad Ribic

Color Artist: Ive Svorcina 

Cover By: Alex Ross

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By critically establishing the exquisitely stirring cover from the great Alex Ross, the powerful artwork from Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina, and genius storytelling from a creative crafter of the past decade, Jonathan Hickman, there isn’t much else left to point out from Secret Wars #9’s abounding richness. It is a multiple-award winning comic book and why has clearly been presented. The end to my favorite comic book storyline of all-time has concluded and what is next for Mr. Hickman in Marvel has yet to be unveiled. What we can now do is appreciate this long journey for what it is: a timeless treasure of superhero and comic book artwork and literature.

Before I wrap up, I would like to express my thanks and gratitude for writer Jonathan Hickman. If you’ve been following my blog the last year or so, you’ve likely noticed my diehard affection for his writing and adventures. This is is because I honestly consider him to be the best comic book writer of the past decade and possibly of all-time (for me, at least). From Nightly News, Secret Warriors, Fantastic Four/FF, Red Mass From Mars, East of West, Manhattans Projects, S.H.I.E.L.D., etc., he’s a constant overachiever in the business and has absolutely transformed the way I look at comics as a serious job and art form. HisAvengers/New Avengers/Secret Wars run of the past three years has been one of the most exciting, interesting, and enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had in reading comics.

All I have left to say is, “Thank you, Jonathan Hickman.”

And now thank you all for checking out my awards for January 2016 and be sure to check back sometime next month for February’s edition of my Comic Book Awards (what will I do without a Hickman-written comic in my pile?!) Until then, hopefully you and I will continue to be reading comics!

Comic Book Awards For December

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December’s dozen or so comics said goodbye to 2015 on good terms for me. The second-to-last issue of Secret Wars released, a highlight of the month, with all-out war progressing on Castle Doom. Even if the conclusion will be an extra-sized issue, I’m remaining on the edge of my skeptical seat to see just how Mr. Hickman plans to finally finish what his very first Avengers issue began a few years ago and additionally birth this “new” Marvel universe. I had a great time with the humorous, mystery-narrative driven Doctor Strange #3 by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo and the third issue of The Astonishing Ant-Man picked up where #2 left off, Sam Wilson as Captain America asking Ant-Man for some assistance amidst Lang’s unfortunate but always entertaining troubles. Part III of the Vader Down crossover came in Star Wars #13 with excellent art from the popular Mike Deodato, the 9th Doctor’s miniseries concluded with #5 (soon to return from Titan as an ongoing series) as he and his two companions – Jack Harkness and Rose – extinguished the fight between the Unon and the Lect, and Kang’s toll on Black Bolt’s son, Ahura, is fully realized by the surviving Inhumans (including Black Bolt himself) in the intense Uncanny Inhumans #3. The fourth issue of Invincible Iron Man proposes Mary Jane’s introduction into the world of Tony Stark, but she’s only teased by the end of the comic. Doctor Who: New Adventures With The Eight Doctor continues to be somewhat of an underwhelming book with its second issue, however, Year Two of the Eleventh Doctor is living up to be a wonderfully written Doctor Who comic book in almost all respects.

And so, out of these and other nominees, which comics received the Comic Book Awards for December?

Cover of the Month Award: Uncanny Inhumans #3

Cover Artists: Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten, and Justin Ponsor

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The cover for Uncanny Inhumans #3 – pencils by McNiven, inks by Leisten, and colors by Ponsor – is gripping. Former Inhuman king Black Bolt is roaring in anguish as spreading flames of fire terrorize his image and, despite the subject matter, it’s conveyed splendidly by the artists. I appreciate how close up and direct this cover is, and exactly because of that, it sells the thought of the torturous pain on Black Bolt’s angled face (this and his eyes slits of pure black to add dramatic effect). The prominent orange/red of the cover for Uncanny Inhumans #3 is vibrantly contrasted against the two bursts of bright white-blue coming from his antenna and mouth, also. Packing a real, impactful sonic punch, this is definitely the Cover of the Month for December 2015.

Art of the Month Award: Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Year Two #3

Artist: Simon Fraser

Colorist: Gary Caldwell

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It is my notion that those who critique comic book artists would likely agree with me in that penciller and inker Simon Fraser’s work is just shy of above average. From my limited experience of his artistic exposure, he is one of those artists that when you examine a page or panel he’s done, it’s simply fabulous, but then you flip the page or look at the following panel and then you all of a sudden wonder why a character looks like he or she was drawn in two seconds. Fraser has his moments, I should say, and while his lack of detail or accurate proportions hurts his style to an extent, it is also what enhances his style to better appreciate its own unique facets. He has been the strongest artistic contributor to the Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor comic book (rotating with Warren Pleece at times), and over the course of the series Fraser has exponentially grown on me. Providing Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor with arguably its best issues visually, along with colorist Gary Caldwell, Year Two #3 will be added to a top spot on the list. If you noticed, the issue alternates between one page splash pages and eight-panel pages throughout. The method works spectacularly for emphasizing key story points and this subtly opens up the structure of the comic in its entirety, making for such an enjoyable read. I’m not lying when I state these images that take advantage of the entire page (a.k.a. splash pages in comic book rhetoric) are some of the series’ most impressive to date and page sixteen may even give goosebumps to Whovians. Caldwell’s colorist abilities add to Year Two #3’s lasting result in essential ways with how he cleverly differentiates scenes and characters as well, leaving the panels with Alice and Squire with grey and purple values and the panels with The Doctor with a variety. Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor Year Two #3 is a comic book issue that you can tell was approached with shining confidence on an artistic, creative level.

Story of the Month Award: Secret Wars #8 (“Under Siege”)

Writer: Jonathan Hickman

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Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars was initially supposed to be an eight issue limited series. I do not know the behind-the-scenes reasons for why they extended it to a ninth issue, but because of what, and how much, is going in Secret Wars #8, I can positively understand the extension. War has reached Castle Doom and with it a sky scraper-sized Thing, opposing kingdoms of Battleworld, and, by the end of the issue, the ghoulish undead lead by Namor and Black Panther, who courageously wields the treasured Infinity Gauntlet. Hickman isn’t known for action-oriented issues, but Secret Wars #8 breaks that mold. Galactus, controlled by Franklin Richards, engages The Thing in a monumental explosive clash and the Thanos confronts God Doom that reaches an ugly, terrific ending for the tyrant. Without giving anymore away from this historic run, the majority of the issue is an abundance of epic combat that is balanced by parts of tension-filled dialogue and you’ll be dying to pick up Secret Wars #9 (which is out now!) in the aftermath.

Issue of the Month Award: Uncanny Inhumans #3 

Writer: Charles Soule

Penciller: Steve McNiven

Inker: Jay Leisten

Colorists: Sunny Gho and Java Tartaglia 

Cover Artists: Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten, and Justin Ponsor 

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With just the four issues released so far (counting the zero issue), Uncanny Inhumans has already taken pretty bold steps. If you’re unaware of the current happenings in the storyline, Black Bolt gave his son to the time-traveling villain Kang in the event of the assumed “end of everything” heralded by the incursions from other universes (read Hickman’s legendary New Avengers for clarification). Since existence did not cease to exist, however, Black Bolt wants his son back (and tries to retrieve him in Uncanny Inhumans #1) but Kang, as you could imagine, will not have that whatsoever. To punish Black Bolt for his offense, Kang has set out to obliterate the Inhumans from the timeline and has taken Black Bolt’s son, Ahura, as his apprentice, using him to massacre his own ancestors. Uncanny Inhumans #3sees the confrontation between the handful of surviving Inhumans and their allies – Black Bolt, Medusa, Beast, Johnny Storm, Triton, Iso, and Reader (my personal new favorite) – against Ahura, who has aged decades. With that platform, the issue becomes an engaging twenty pages of raving, intense skirmishes. It wouldn’t have turned out as powerful without Steve McNiven’s remarkable interpretation of writer Charles Soule’s script. His crisp pencils give the prominent moments of the storyline a concise sting of beauty. Jay Leisten provides helpful inks but the colors by Sunny Gho and Java Tartaglia at times conflict with McNiven’s sketches.Uncanny Inhumans #3 features an intense chapter in a story that carries with it a tinge of desperation and, in light of the final page, resonating tragedy. The book is heading in a good, dramatic direction that, if kept up, will evolve to become one of the best comic book series’ of 2016, guaranteed.

Thank you all for checking out my awards for the final month of 2015 and be sure to check back sometime next month for the first edition of 2016’s Comic Book Awards! 

I want to give an update and apologize for not posting my Comic Book of the Year Awards for 2015. I had every intention to do so before the year was over, but time was not on my side. They still may be posted in the near future (can’t make any promises), but I hope my monthly awards will be enough for the time being.

Thanks again,

~ Nandor Shaffer

1016 and all that

The start of a new year seems a good time to take a really long, backward look at history. I’m going to do this in one thousand year leaps. So today, here are a few things which happened in the year 1016.

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The start of a new year seems a good time to take a really long, backward look at history. I’m going to do this in one thousand year leaps. So today, here are a few things which happened in the year 1016.

Earthquakes hit Jerusalem and partly destroy the Dome of the Rock.
In England, Aethelred the Unready dies and is succeeded by his son, Edmund Ironside.

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Ironside defeats Canute of Denmark in battle in April and, in his turn, is defeated by him in October. Both young kings agree to divide England between them.
In November Ironside dies, possibly murdered, possibly by Eadric the Grasper, one of the greatest villains of English history. Interestingly, given the 14th century picture of Ironside to the right, he may have been murdered while sitting on the toilet.
Canute becomes king of England, adding it to his Danish lands which became the core…

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Comic Book Awards for November

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~Nandor Shaffer

Another month equals another wealth of comics on my desk. All-New All-Different Marvel marches on this November and all four of my new pickings are going strong with their second or third issues. I really enjoyed Tony Stark’s introspective look at himself in Invincible Iron Man #3, in particular. Brian Michael Bendis’ take on the golden avenger hasn’t let me down yet. Although the milestone 600th issue of Uncanny X-Men, also written by Bendis, was absolutely horrible, in my opinion. It’s interesting to me how the same writer can be finely attuned to a character(s) compared to others he leaves his mark on. I received a triple dose of Star Wars this month with the fourth and final issue of Star Wars: Shattered Empire as well as the eleventh and twelfth issues of the main Star Wars title, still written by Jason Aaron with impressive art from Stuart Immomen (whose talent might suit this book better than Cassaday’s work on the first six issues). Both Aquaman and The Flash’s plot developments disappointed me this month, unfortunately. Wonder Woman’s guest appearance couldn’t help the king of the seas and while it’s thrilling to see Zoom/Eobard Thawne’s debut storyline continue, it’s starting to falter and lose its appeal by the devolving script. I did pick up Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor #1 from Titan Comics and plan to finish the miniseries off when it concludes next year.

Out of these and other nominees, which comics received the Comic Book Awards for November?

Cover of the Month Award: Uncanny Inhumans #2

Cover Artists: Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten, and Justin Ponsor

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I’m a pretty big fan of Steve McNiven’s work (Civil War, Old Man Logan, Uncanny Avengers). Even if I’m not buying the series he’s currently working on at the time, I can’t help but take a look through the comic just to satisfy my appreciation for his crisp, spectacular art. Thankfully he’s on the Uncanny Inhumans title for the time being and I look forward to every issue even more because of that. I wouldn’t say the cover for Uncanny Inhumans #2 is McNiven’s best cover offering by a mile, but what draws me to it is the perspective of the shot emphasized by Kang’s lurking, amused stare at those before him as he jabs the spear he’s wielding into the Inhuman device on the ground. How Black Bolt, Human Torch, and Medusa’s faces are erupting and crying from the residing cracks furthermore add to this image. This is also a great symbolic precursor to what transpires in the issue itself, which most comic book covers fail to do.

Art of the Month Award: Invincible Iron Man #3

Artist: David Marquez 

Color Artist: Justin Ponsor

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Did I have a fun time reading Invincible Iron Man #3. The first issue of this series took home the award for Art of the Month last month and this issue does in November for the majority of the same reasons. Marquez and Ponsor deliver on many levels. The slower, dialogue-heavy moments of Tony and Amara Perera come across just as great as the battle scenes between Iron Man and Madame Masque in this issue. The combination of both artists make for such a clean, pleasurable outcome and with how this book is looking I’m already becoming possessive of Marquez for this title, as I hope he doesn’t abandon the book in the recent future (by the looks of it, he’s jumping off after #5, however).

Story of the Month Award: Secret Wars #7 (“King of the Dead”)

Writer: Jonathan Hickman

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Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars has been notably absent in the last few editions of my Comic Book of the Month Awards. With Secret Wars #7, the sluggish pace of the last couple of issues meets its timely end. Survivors of the final incursion were transported to separate areas on Battleworld by the magic of the now deceased Doctor Strange (Secret Wars #4) and from this dispersion these heroes/villains have convinced inhabitants of Battleworld that God Doom is not at all who he states to be, that there is room for doubt. This converges into an all-out war in the midst of Castle Doom and leads to an action-packed, engrossing chapter in this series. The only criticism I have would be how easily it seemed some of the population of Battleworld were convinced to turn on Doom, but it’s no substantial concern whatsoever. There is a nice touch of humor in Secret Wars #7 as well, a side to Hickman you usually only see in his creator-owned material. Overall, this issue capitalizes on what the series has been building to in fantastic ways, and with only two issues left, the epic end of Doom is surely nigh.

Issue of the Month Award: The Astonishing Ant-Man #2 

Writer: Nick Spencer

Artist: Ramon Rosanas 

Color Artist: Jordan Boyd 

Cover Artist: Mark Brooks

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You don’t even have to be an Ant-Man fan to appreciate the smarts inherent in this title. The Astonishing Ant-Man is a comic book to watch out for in all respects and issue two of the series is consistently a joy to read. Last issue, we learned that Scott Lang has ended up back in prison (poor guy) and we’re still on the outs of how that actually happened. We’re not given the answer in The Astonishing Ant-Man #2, but casually we’re getting a better hint as to what lead to his unexpected imprisonment. As the cover suggests, this issue mainly focuses on Scott’s relationship issues with his now ex-girlfriend, Darla Deering (a.k.a. Ms. Thing). They had gotten together when the Fantastic Four assigned a new FF team to protect the world when they decided to go on a family trip across the universe (more backstory can be found in Matt Fraction’s lame run on Fantastic Four/FF). This issue brings some closure to their relationship and does so within a humorously clever plot. The creative team of Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanas is at its peak inAstonishing Ant-Man #2 through and through to the excellent final page and pages eight and nine show off some of Rosanas’ most creative work in the series. There is truly no ongoing Marvel comic book I could recommend more than The Astonishing Ant-Man as of this moment.

Thank you all for checking out my awards for November and be sure check back sometime next month for December’s Comic Book Awards! I do want to add that I’m not positive if I’ll be able to provide my Comic Book of the Year Awards for 2014-2015 due to time constraints. It’s a very time-consuming process as you would imagine going through all of my comics from the last year, but I’ll see what I can do. At the very least, I may be able to pick the winners but giving my reasons may have to be cut. In any case, hopefully you and I will continue to be reading comics into the next month and everyone have a Merry Christmas!:)

Comic Book Awards for October

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~By Nandor Shaffer

If you are a regular comic book reader, you’ve by all means become aware of Marvel’s obsession over relaunching a series. Frankly, you can’t make it through a year without seeing comic titles renumbered back to their “first issue”. Keep in mind this is a comic book companies’ way of drawing in and compensating for new or on-the-fence readers, but for veterans, including myself, it can be a nuisance, albeit a minor one. This year, the latest push from Marvel comes in the form of their All-New, All-Different Marvel line which launched just this October. As a whole I wasn’t all that excited for the offerings this ploy would bring personally (and still find it odd that Marvel didn’t wait until the conclusion of Secret Wars to launch it), and there are many reasons for why. But, fortunately, there were a few books I was looking forward to that debuted, however — Doctor Strange, Invincible Iron Man, and Uncanny Inhumans. These three titles will be added to my monthly purchases indefinitely for the foreseeable future. The other comic book titles I picked up this month were the regulars, Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor and Ant-Man merely taking on fresh headings as Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor Year Two and The Astonishing Ant-Man. The second and third issues of Star Wars: Shattered Empirereleased as well, with its fourth and final issue coming out in November.

Out of these potential winners, which comics received the Comic Book Awards for the month of October? And did my pickings from All-New, All-Different Marvel prove to have any merit? The verdict is barely a few scrolls down…

Cover of the Month Award: Invincible Iron Man #1

Cover Artists: David Marquez & Justin Ponsor

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It’s uncommon to see the kind of cover design artist David Marquez delivered for Invincible Iron Man #1. I’m partial to binding comic book covers such as this one and so when I catch sight of them I’m always delightfully impressed. Not only is it impressive in how an artist goes the extra mile, but when the front-to-back cover image turns out to look as dramatically sensational as this, there are no complaints or critiques to be had. Blasting off of the Stark Tower roof from the back cover, the golden Avenger Iron Man shoots his latest suit of the classic red and gold armor into the forefront, modeling a heroic pose in flight. While Iron Man absolutely grants the piece its strong presence, the striking detail Marquez gave the cityscape below is jaw-dropping. His handling of the shifting perspective from back to front is just excellent, and every rooftop and skyscraper is equally abounding with acute attention. You can even make out the bustling traffic on the city streets. Finally, I love the way New York City blossoms under the heels Iron Man, the figure-ground relationship presented to balance each other out. In artistic terms, this cover is edgily close to invincible.

Art of the Month Award: Invincible Iron Man #1

Artist: David Marquez

Color Artist: Justin Ponsor

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David Marquez and Justin Ponsor provide the interior artwork together as well for the first issue of Invincible Iron Man, and if the cover art is any indication, this book looks just as fabulous on the inside. Marquez and writer Brian Michael Bendis have worked together on some issues of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and All-New X-Men, so I’d imagine they have a comfortable team system. I say that because their smooth collaboration seems apparent in Invincible Iron Man #1 (pages 4-6, especially) with how the comic flows nicely itself. I did have one or two instances where I wasn’t quite sure which panel followed which due to the connecting panel layouts, so that is a concern, but the majority of the comic is perfectly fine in that regard. This being my first comic drawn by Marquez, I found his style to fit the character well, and the moments where Tony Stark’s sleek, new Iron Man armor is featured are indeed where he and colorist Justin Ponsor shine. Sponsor’s rich, radiating colors are really what make the book stand out. Madame Masque will be a recurring character in this storyline and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her mask look as gleaming or vibrant before, which enhances the character’s appearance in a notable fashion. Also, the new Iron Man suit design is a nice touch. A fun part of Iron Man’s character is evolving his suit every now and then, and I’m fond of this elegant iteration.

Story of the Month Award: Doctor Strange #1 (“The Way of the Weird”) 

Writer: Jason Aaron 

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At last, the wait is over. The Sorcerer Supreme has his very own ongoing comic book series. I’ve been wanting a Doctor Strange book for at least three years now (when I started loving the character) so holding the first issue of his comic is surreal. I wondered for the longest time how a title starring Stephen Strange would be in the current comic landscape. What epic stories about heaven, hell, demonic spirits, and black magic could be told? Where would these stories take the good Doctor on an individual level? I didn’t get exactly what I expected from Doctor Strange #1, but what was given was more than enough. One thing I became worried about when I heard Jason Aaron was on board to write Doctor Strange was that he might bring an overabundance of humor or, shall we say, corniness, to the book, not taking it very seriously, as he did at some points during his runs on both Wolverine and Thor: God of Thunder. It’s too early to tell from the first issue alone, but its tone left me with a positive aftertaste.

Mr. Aaron does a good job introducing Doctor Strange with the action-packed opening pages accompanied with backstory narrative told from Strange’s perspective. This issue acts a terrific introduction to the character, familiarizing you with what kind of threats he faces and his distinct mindset. At the same time, it sets up a larger plot Jason Aaron is building up to (there’s a short story that pertains to this at the end of the issue, too). I can tell it takes a few steps in the cheesy, somewhat streamlined, direction, but, as a whole, a giant leap into the right direction for the Sorcerer Supreme. The important thing is that there is now a Doctor Strange comic book and its first issue was superb. Here’s hoping it can keep itself above the dreaded cancellation waters.

Issue of the Month Award: The Astonishing Ant-Man #1 

Writer: Nick Spencer

Artist: Ramon Rosanas 

Color Artist: Jordan Boyd 

Cover Artist: Mark Brooks 

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There have been so many times I’ve wanted Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanas’ Ant-Man to receive either the Story of the Month or Issue of the Month Award. It never has (though close at times)…until now. The Astonishing AntMan #1 is an adequate first dip into Scott Lang’s tangled life, however, it’s basically Ant-Man #7. The “astonishing” adjective is purely there to spice things up for the title’s all-too-soon relaunch (thanks for that, Marvel). With that said, please pick up those past six issues (plus the Annual) if you can before you read this. It’s not totally essential, but you’ll be extremely happy with yourself if you do ASAP. Cutting to the chase, I love, love, love the Ant-Man comic. The light-hearted humor is the best of any comic book I’ve ever read in all my years of reading comics and the stories are so much fun to read. The Astonishing Ant-Man #1 carries the same playful charm of the issues that have come before it: Scott Lang is still struggling to get his life stable on a day to day basis, the dialogue/narration will have your mouth hurting from how much sincere laughing you’ll be doing, and at the end of the comic, you’ll say to yourself, without a doubt, “that was good”. 

Ramon Rosanas’ part in making the comic as brilliant as it is cannot be understated. His simplistic form contributes to the simple, but clever, storytelling to an indispensable degree. To top The Astonishing Ant-Man #1 off as Issue of the Month is the exceptionally stylized cover by Mark Brooks. Villains accompany Ant-Man, whom curiously has his fingers crossed behind his back. Scott Lang has a shady history in the comics, so what this cover may be hinting at for the future of the series is intriguing. What is the not-so-lucky Ant-Man up to? The surprising final page of the issue may give you a hint.

Turns out All-New, All-New Different Marvel made a good impression, I’d say. Thank you all for checking out my awards for October and be sure check back sometime next month for November’s Comic Book Awards! Until then, hopefully you and I will continue to be reading comics!

Book Blurb

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One of the things I noticed is that not many indie authors have a book blurb. A book blurb is often a single image with the author’s book, a snazzy background, and a bit of text on the story or quality of the novel. It is a great way to advertise your book and its far more eye-catching.

Perhaps the reason few authors have them is because it can be complicated or expensive to make. Having worked in the printing industry for years, I have acquired some skill in Photoshop and design.

Not to be confused with an expert, I am handy and deft with putting together a fairly competent book blurb. I am willing to help others for a fraction of the cost of other sites. My basic book cover, background image, and text you provide is just $10. I then will give you a a 300 dpi jpg and the psd if you desire (original image quality will determine true dpi).

If you are interested, please send me an email at: clay pyramid @ gmail.com [remove the spaces].

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The Tome, 2nd Edition

Available today on Amazon, my 2nd edition of The Tome is available for 99 cents.

Wild Bill Coyote never played a hand of poker unless his back was to the wall, except the time when a kid put a bullet through his brain. Jim Jason wasn’t going to make a similar mistake, as he nestled himself in the corner of the Wallace Terrence Library gazing across the large open atrium. Jim Jason harassed, berated, and bullied at school never thought he would be able to exact revenge against his fellow students. Then one day he finds an ancient book, the tome. The many varied short stories whisper to him, telling Jim how to get even, to take what he wants in the world. He realizes the power on the yellowed pages and focuses all his lusts and desires onto the one girl he wishes to have. What are the costs for this power to bend time and the minds of others?

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You can buy the book here:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00OX15778