Damn, is the year over already?

Crashing into December as I start this, and it’s becoming fairly obvious that if it’s not already done, it’s not gettin’ done before ’06. Having realized that always makes this time of year interesting, to say the least. Cause sooner rather than later, I’ll have to sit down and go over that massive mental list of things I wanted accomplished by year’s end, compare it to what actually happened, and then decide whether or not to feel good about myself. Suppose it is healthy to set one’s goals incredibly high, so if you even approach that mark, you’ll be cool, but honestly, if I only wanted to get halfway there, or 75% there, that’s what I would’ve said. So, when I told you all some time ago that I wanted books released in at least 9 of the 12 months, I really meant that shit. And by my count, things look a bit short…

Still, 7 of 12 ain’t too bad, and I did get a couple very handsome graphic novels outta the deal, so I’m not really complaining, but you know…I work hard for this, and at this, and I always want more than I have. Said it on several occasions, but I’m developing a taste for all this now, and it’s past time to force the issue, so with this next year, my personal benchmark is going to change a bit. The focus will shift to getting more creator-owned and personalized works into circulation, and I’m not setting a definitive number for the amount of books I want released. What I am doing is committing to the launch of three major projects in the next year, and looking forward, there are a few different possibilities that’ll help me stretch in some very interesting directions.

This week, in the interest of brighter futures, I’m going to go over some of my more “active” projects, and with any luck, you’ll be hearing much more about ’em in the months to come. Also, threw in a couple musical selections, and a quick review of a comic that actually managed to surprise me last week. Enjoy.


The God Complex-

The project that just won’t quit. It’s gone through a variety of phases, the lead character has gone through a few names, the book through a few artists, but time just can’t manage to kill it, despite best efforts. Intended to be my main focus in ’06, GC is really coming together, and we’re only a couple pages away from having the first slightly oversized issue completed. Still not quite used to receiving the pages, because this has been in development for so long, that seeing it finally put into a visual context is really beyond words. My artist is also alarmingly faithful to the script, giving me exactly what I’ve asked for, without altering a single beat or frame, though I’ve told him it’d be cool if he sees an appropriate opening for it. I keep expecting something to come back even a little different, but his adherence to what I’ve laid out is extremely flattering.

The series is really about secrets, and their impact on the relationship between Damon Cross and his girlfriend Kara Wells. Granted, Damon’s are a little more complicated than the typical white lies that have a habit of creeping into any relationship, but that hardly lessens their overall effect. At the end of the day, he’s still lying to a woman he claims to love more than anything. Because he thinks that if she knows what he really is, what he’s really done, she won’t be able to accept it. So, instead of trusting her to make that choice, he finds new ways to keep her from learning the truth about his seemingly unbreakable skin. Which will naturally lead to the question of how he got it, which means talking about The God Complex, and a chapter of Damon’s past that refuses to close.

The God Complex is nearly everything I love about comic books all blended together. Secret identities. Shadow conspiracies. Impossible action sequences. Unbreakable friendships. People in love. Unconscionable adversaries. Strong characters, some of which happen to be black.

We’re still “interviewing” a couple of colorists, which will be the final piece of this jigsaw I’ve been slowly assembling for years. Finally getting it out there will be the culmination of an incredible amount of hard work and patience, and it’s the personal mark I want to begin storming the gates with. As we approach the eventual release, I’m sure quite a few columns will be devoted to the slow, steady creation of this comic, so get used to seeing the name. This is, as they say, only the beginning…


The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury-

The first six pages are being drawn as I type this, and I’m intending to make this my first official pitch of the new year. Talked a little about this one around con season, but afterwards, progress slowed down considerably, while I wrapped up a set of new Marvel proposals, and artist/co-creator Lee Ferguson did a few of his own things. But Lee sent through a few page layouts recently, and judging by them, the finished products are going to look pretty incredible.

I’m almost done with the introductory script, which as usual, is a couple pages too long, and just from the overall structure, Miranda’s stories are going to prove a little more time consuming. Almost all of the issues will be completely self-contained, which is something I probably wouldn’t even attempt, if not for the bit of experience I gained on the FF Tales mini, but we will be including a regular back-up feature that’ll give everything a bit more space. Without giving it all away, the feature will allow me to “fill in the blanks” on scenes I have to cut short because of spatial constraints, and most importantly, it gives Jack Warning, the second lead character, a completely individualized point of view. Lee and I have this massive list of ideas and storytelling approaches that we’re intent on working into the series, and the depiction of Miranda’s young transcriptionist Jack, is highly integral to making things work, both from an emotional standpoint, and a mechanical one as well.

Don’t know if science fiction titles are really going to be the next big thing in comics, but this serves a slightly different master than something like The God Complex, and was designed to make the both of us work a little harder. Lee wanted to draw something completely unlike anything he’d done before, and I wanted to write something that afforded me the same opportunity. Miranda’s adventures progress at a quicker pace, and with their own signature intensity, which makes certain demands of the people and cultures she’ll encounter on a regular basis. Which in turn makes certain demands of me, to basically keep up with her, and to continually come up with new characters and new worlds that’ll give her some new intellectual or physical challenge. Then throw them away every month, and repeat the cycle, while somehow making it all look easy.

But I really think she’s worth the additional effort, and that under the right circumstances, you’ll come to agree with me. So, when the pages are finished, I’ll have them lettered up, and make formal pitches to a few indy publishers, in the interests of giving the stands THE book of the year. Figure it’s the least I can do…


No Outlet-

This one, I have to admit I’m not that anxious to finish. It really started with a street sign of all things, something I saw on the drive to work, that just got stuck in my head, and snowballed from there. I’ll get lucky like that sometimes, a strange image or phrase gets me thinking in a certain direction, then grafts itself to an overall mood, and before long, I have to get it all down.

At this point, I’m really approaching it as a sort of open-ended OGN, jotting down random scenes and emotional beats, with only a general idea of where it’s ultimately headed. Because the themes behind it are so intensely personal, it only gets worked on when I’m in a particular frame of mind, and naturally, it’s one I do my best to avoid. The story is really about frustration, that space between crushing disappointment and blinding anger, where you feel trapped right on the edge of making a dream true, but for one reason or another, you’re kept just far enough away from it. Two steps forward, three steps back and to the side. “No Outlet” given a much larger distinction and scope, until it becomes almost a physical and spiritual adversary, to someone’s inevitable success.

Focuses on two young dudes that want things much bigger than themselves, but are continually blocked from it, by the city they’re desperate to escape. Without getting too supernatural with it, the consciousness of the town actively works to prevent anyone from ever leaving it, in the pursuit of something better. Those foolish enough to even attempt a “breakout” have failed miserably, often ending up in even worse positions than the ones they started in. But that’s all in the past. Things are different now. These two guys are special, always have been, and together they discover the very simple reason they’re constantly held back. Then much heightened drama ensues, as the two young men declare war on an adversary without a detectable face or pronounceable name. They know it’s there, they can feel it all around them, subtly yet obviously intruding on everything they’ve ever wanted. Until one of the guys has this idea, a way both of them can possibly escape, that he’s confident no one else has tried yet. It only takes one final sacrifice, but seriously, he’s already spent the last few years of his life handing himself over to his ambitions, at the cost of nearly everything else. What’s one more, in the grand scheme of things?

Intend to pick at this until it’s wrapped up, which hopefully won’t take too long, because at some point in the near future, I probably won’t need to write this particular train of thought out of the system. Right now though, it feels very necessary, and I can’t deny the cathartic nature of it. As with anything, I suppose we’ll see…


JUST-

Admittedly, the longshot of the bunch. This project is somethin’ that was quickly developed with a talented artist several months back, as we fired e-mails back and forth over a period of weeks. Main thrust is to examine contemporary issues of race and class, using superheroes as the storytelling vehicle. It’s probably the closest thing to a “statement” book that I’ve ever tried, so the execution has to be fairly precise to keep people from ignoring it outright. Because to some folks, that’s the initial reflex, to pick things apart by critiquing exactly how it was written, or why it was written, when they’re really attempting to discredit the message, by refusing to even acknowledge it. So, the trick becomes saying what needs to be said, but doing it in a way that isn’t quite as overt, even though there’s definitely a personal soapbox in full effect. Imagine if Black Like Me and The Black Column somehow turned into a six-issue mini, and the result would be JUST.

Now, if you’re into that sort of dialogue, you should dig it, but if hearing me “preach” is nails on a chalkboard, then you need not apply, because then we’ll both end up frustrated, and who wants that? Despite the concern of advancing some discussion, it’s a really tight superhero tale with a nice high concept, but it might not happen because of timing issues. The co-creator works pretty steadily in the industry, and this would likely be a situation where we’d work it around other projects, so we’ll see. I keep coming back to the character designs, and the five pages of script that gets things rolling. The supportive response to the column from last month has me thinking the idea is a little more viable, and that it’s got something really important to say. And it might be time for people to hear it.


The Takeover-

Honestly, I keep trying to leave this one alone, but the longer it just sits there, the more guilty I feel about it. Like The God Complex, it’s something that was started ages ago, but it hasn’t gotten that constant attention Damon Cross has over the years. It’s a conspiracy thriller, a love letter of sorts to the X-Files, and the great influence it had on me, but married to the supervillain genre. Trouble is, that since I started putting it together three years ago, a new villain-centric book is springing from Previews a few times a year, with no signs of slowing. What happens is that I’ll see that, and back away from the whole project, until I can read the actual title, and convince myself that my own take still has something significant to offer. On the other hand, the success of books like Wanted, Villains United, etc., really sets a precedent for the overall theme of The Takeover, installing a few reference points within the marketplace. Something that can quickly be pointed to as an example of what the book might be about. And the opportunity to see what’s already out there, allows me to adjust and refine, which can never be a bad thing.

This was the first real “team” book I’d attempted, and the characters and their interactions continue to be the main attraction. There are five really distinct personalities at constant play, and anytime I put different combinations of them in the same room, something really cool happens. Their individual motivations and secrets all crash together, and create new relationships, new tensions, and more drama. They all appear to be working on the same side, but that isn’t nearly enough fun, especially when the series is built around the danger of the unknown. Which begins and ends with the characters really. Everyone is deeply flawed on at least some primary level, as no truly normal human being would ever endeavor to “take over” the world, no matter the justification. But like any decent villain, they believe their actions are just a necessary evil, to make the world into something different than it is now. Whether or not they’re actually right is the main issue.

The artist who originally helped me bring this to life has since moved on, which means I’m in the market for a new collaborator, and just from the pitch and script for the oversized first issue, I already have a publisher interested in giving this a serious look. If anyone knows of any good artists, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line, but I’m determined to stay on this until it sees release, because it’s definitely one of the most intricately plotted things I’ve done, and ultimately, I’m sick of all the material just chillin’ out on the hard drive.

Okay, enough about me though. As promised, here are a couple CDs that have been trapped in my player recently, and my pleasant comic book surprise of the last couple weeks…


Right About Now (Talib Kweli)-

Over the last several years, Talib Kweli has been connected to a number of essential Hip-Hop releases. I mean, first you got “Blackstar,” which gave cats proper notice that Kweli and fellow MC Mos Def were two of the most skilled lyricists to enter the game. Then, you got the classic “Train of Thought” album, created alongside production wizard DJ Hi-Tek, which remains as potent today, as it was on the first day of its release years ago. After that, you need to talk about “Quality,” which proved that even without his usual partners, he could still thrive on his own considerable merits. Unfortunately, his most recent effort, “The Beautiful Struggle,” was honestly more struggle than beautiful, and trapped in that eternal dilemma I’m sure affects every artist at some point…underground roots vs. mainstream accessibility.

While I’m not sayin’ Struggle marked a headfirst dive into the mindless realm of pop music, with no concern for the tone and scope of his previous material, you could feel what the overall intent was. The Black Eyes Peas for instance, abandoned Hip-Hop and haven’t looked back since, in the successful attempt at “broadening” their audience, and Struggle seemed to be experimenting in the placement of Kweli vocals over a different kind of beat. Something that wouldn’t feel terribly out of place inserted into an airplay rotation, or in the local club. Whatever the case, it’s easily the worst disc Kweli has offered up, and probably made people a little nervous about the direction the MC looked to be heading in.

Luckily though, Right About Now, branded “The Official Sucka Free Mix CD,” is more of a back-to-basics Talib Kweli. There is a bit of gloss here and there, but it doesn’t overwhelm the artist’s main strengths, in the pursuit of a Top 20 radio jam. The usual Kweli formula of lyrical content, delivery, and wordplay is in full view here, and while it doesn’t overtake any of his previous gems, there’s a strong showing here. Because it is a mixtape, the overall sound is somewhat unbalanced, but the songs are good, which is the least we’ve come to expect from him over the years. And even the most casual Blackstar fan (which doesn’t apply to me, as I’m heading to a concert at the House of Blues on Friday night) will get a spark out of hearing the duo properly reunited on Supreme, Supreme.

Now, hit us with another classic Kweli. We know you still got it in you.


The Mouse And The Mask (Danger Doom)-

Had this for weeks, but it ended up on rotation again, because of the Kweli guest spot on track 6. Now, MF DOOM is certainly one of the underground’s more unique artists, but some extended time with he and Madlib’s “Madvillainy” gave me a greater appreciation for his very unorthodox style. On the production side of things is Danger Mouse, who made a name for himself with that Beatles/Jay-Z mash-up album awhile back. Even with his handling every single beat on the album, he keeps things distinct, the sampling and instrumentation varying wildly from track to track. Still, there’s an overall consistency here, some of it by the relative design of the album, yet enough of it owed to the skillful execution, that it easily stands out amongst Hip-Hop’s recent output. It’s so consciously different that it almost has to, and the only thing I regret is that I’m not more familiar with the Adult Swim roster of characters, because the album is “sponsored” by the programming block, with guys like Space Ghost and Master Shake stopping by for quick cameos during the interludes. Despite that very minor complaint, it’s an incredibly successful blend of elements that really have no business working so well together.

And there’s actually a song on here called Vats Of Urine. Maybe it’s just me, but that title alone was enough to guarantee at least one good listen.


Black Panther #10 (Reginald Hudlin/Scot Eaton)

Here’s the story of me, and Reggie Hudlin’s BP run thus far. Thought the first three issues were pretty tight, an incredibly well crafted “primer” for what the Panther was all about, hidden within a great overall story that was focused on yet another ill-advised Wakandan “takeover” scheme. I liked the historical weight of it, the little additions to T’Challa’s origin, and the exact train of events that led to his father’s death, and his eventual ascension to the throne. Four & five slowed the arc’s momentum on initial reading, but six came through and wrapped the entire thing in an exciting bow, as five chapters of building slammed together in action movie type fashion, with the final confrontations and timely character moments familiar with that particular brand of storytelling. Was easily my favorite issue of the new series, until the House of M tie-in hit, which I loved, primarily because it showed T’Challa interacting with heavyweights like Apocalypse and Black Bolt. Don’t know if the events in that book really count, but clearly, it advanced Hudlin’s overall theme for the revamp, that BP’s history and standing make him one of the most important characters in the Marvel Universe. I wasn’t feelin’ the X-Men crossover in the slightest, though the re-introduction of Storm into Panther’s life was probably the main development there.

Right now though, we’re at issue ten, and the scheduled Cage appearance, which I’ve been anxious to see since Hudlin’s initial interviews. Even then, after his very brief interpretations of both personalities, it sounded like putting them together would be interesting. While it’s hardly fair to judge an entire story arc, from this issue alone, what I can say is that this tenth issue is the best of Hudlin’s tenure thus far. With the foundation firmly in place, he’s free to allow Panther to roam a bit, and really showcase what kind of response his presence dictates to the remainder of the MU.

The issue kicks off with a quick re-telling of Cage’s origin, and binds him to Panther with an emotional thread I hadn’t really expected, that of adulation. Carl Lucas looks to King T’Challa as an inspiration, a man who commands a level of power and respect that Lucas can only imagine, even after a prison experiment grants him superhuman strength, and circumstance gives him the chance to punch his way out of his sentence. Hudlin stays close to Cage’s main history, but he finds room to contribute new ideas and perspectives, while making it all fit into recent continuity. He somehow makes it completely logical that a hero with Avenger status, would play bodyguard on the weekends to the Hip-Hop elite, and that this very ordinary gig would ultimately lead to him coming face-to-face with his idol. Foregoing the usual misunderstanding between heroes, Hudlin goes straight to business, effectively putting them on the path of the inevitable team-up, but the initial connection between the two is what I was most impressed by.

This is undoubtedly a Black Panther story, one that advances some of the plot points established in the opening arc, while building up new ones, but it’s the Cage depiction that’s really of note. The idea he’d admire Panther, as essentially the “ultimate” black man, gives their relationship an entirely new angle, casting Cage in what I’m assuming will be somewhat of a sidekick role. But based on what we learn in this issue, just the opportunity to hang out with the dude would probably be more than enough for him. And that just strikes me as really, really cool…


Okay folks, think that’s more than enough for now. As always, watch this space for further updates, and everybody have a really good holiday. Hopefully, the next year will prove even more interesting than this one was…

B

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