Kickstart Comics: The Philip Eisner Interview

Kickstart Comics: The Philip Eisner Interview

Pulled from

by EJ Feddes November 21, 2010



Our coverage of Kickstart Comics continues this week, as we interview Bad Guys writer Philip Eisner.  Eisner is a screenwriter by trade, with credits like Event Horizon and Mutant Chronicles, but he also really knows his comics.  Also, and this is a first in my short career as an interviewer, I think he threatens my assassination.  It’s a pretty great interview.

EJ:  Thanks for stopping by.  You’re known as a screenwriter, and this is your first comics work.  What motivated you to try out a whole new medium?

PHILIP: I collected from 1985 to about 1998.  Had to quit, cold turkey.  I was up to about $250 week, and that was before the slipcased $100 editions of Sandman came out.  I culled the chaff from my collection, but still have about 8 wooden boxes, sealed in plastic.  I have the original print runs of The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen; the original appearance of The Elementals in Justice Machine.  Damn near all of Sandman, including no. 1.  A lot of the Marvel Epic imprint that Archie Goodwin edited — I loved Alien Legion, and the craziness of Moonshadow and The Bozz Chronicles.

Now I just pick up the bound hardback volumes, 3-4 times a year.  They’re expensive as hell, but it’s very expensive for me to even pass by a comic book store, much less go inside.

So I’ve always wanted to do a comic.  I just never had an idea where it made sense to do the comic first.  Most of the time, I’m writing for hire on the movies, or I’m writing ideas on spec, and I’ve never heard of a spec market for comic scripts.

EJ:  I loved the way the rat and the scorpion would show up at key points in the story – was it scripted that way, or is that something the artist added?

PHILIP:  That was me.

I wanted to do a variation on the old “Frog and Scorpion” joke — how can you trust someone, when it’s to their advantage, if not their nature, to screw you over?  Which is the situation our “heroes” are in, to a certain extent.

I also wanted a way into the “aliens” ship, and I dislike omniscient point of views.  Rat and Scorpion gave the reader a specific way in, as well as having a little story of their own, to prevent those scene of John From becoming purely expositional.

EJ:  Some of the characters in Bad Guys seemed to have elaborate backstories that we saw in glimpses.  Did you come up with more history for any of them that didn’t make it into the book?  And would you ever revisit any of the characters, either in prequel or sequel form?

PHILIP:  We didn’t get into Tina as much as I would have liked — an 80 page graphic novel must be even tighter than a feature script.  Tina’s that fast ALL THE TIME, at least as conceived.  You know that one relative you have, who talks real slow, and you just wish they’d get to the point?  For Tina, that’s the entire human race.  She’s BORED out of her mind.  I was going to play with her being a drug addict, taking massive amounts of opiates and benzodiazepams just to approach normal speed.  We just didn’t have the page count to do it.

And The Russian.  It would be a ball to play with a character who’s the truth behind the legend of the guy I won’t mention because he’ll bite my face off, but begins with “D” and rhymes with “Blackula.”  And he’s in an excellent position to come back, to face his never ending battle against ennui.

I think our three survivors are all good for more stories.  And I’d love a prequel for Melvin.

I love Melvin.

EJ:  Usually when a writer sets up a new superhero universe, you can kind of go down the cast and see who each character is “supposed to” be.  This guy’s supposed to be the Hulk, that one’s supposed to be the Joker.  But the cast of Bad Guys really are originals, as opposed to stand-ins.  Are there any comic or movie villains who really inspired you?

PHILIP:  They’re original, certainly, but fit within comic book archetypes:  Black Knight is a gadgeteer, like Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne.  Melvin is a “tank,” like Colossus, or Ben Grimm, or Juggernaut; only insane.  Tina’s a speedster like The Flash.   The Geek… well, he’s got the body of Reed Richards, but not his brain.  Which makes sense, because if nothing hurts you, you don’t need to be smart.   Unlike Zen.  Zen’s the brain, like Lex Luthor, but was also inspired by Mark Salzman’s novel, The Soloist.

Femme Fatale’s a little harder to pin down.  She’s the “magic girl” like Jean Grey, but her power’s very subtle, until the big kiss…

I guess the short answer is, when you’ve been consuming comics as long as I have, there’s going to be plenty that’s familiar to readers.   The trick is spinning the characters 90 degrees.  Kinda of like John From.  We could have made the villains of the piece an alien species… but how many times have we seen that?  As Tina would say, “Bored bored bored bored bored…”

EJ:  If you were making a big budget Bad Guys movie, who would you cast?

There’s a LOW budget version?

That’s a dangerous question to ask a working screenwriter.

Any answer will piss off any actor I don’t mention.    It will also piss off any potential director, because casting is — for the most part — their responsibility, and they don’t need the writer mucking it up.

And this would piss off all the producers — Jason Netter and Samantha Olsson, and Dana Brunetti and Carter Swann.

And the next thing you know, Keyser Soze has killed me, my family, my friends, my friends’s friends, and my cat.

And you, for asking me the question in the first place.

That said, the advantage of casting Michael Clarke Duncan as Melvin is, he’s physically large enough to do the role without resorting to special effects.

Come to think of it, the same goes for casting Johnny Knoxville as The Geek.

EJ:  And now I’m frightened.  Finally, do you have anything else coming up that you’d like to tell us about, or am I unwittingly putting myself in danger again?

PHILIP:  I’ve worked in the film business too long to talk about anything that isn’t in production.  Until the director says “action,” nothing’s happening.

But there is a whole lot of nothing going on, and I look forward to talking to you about it when it becomes “something.”

EJ:  Well, we’d be happy to talk to you anytime!  Good luck with the book, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for that Melvin prequel.

Bad Guys is in stores now, and it’s great.  Check it out, and go find our friends at Kickstart Comics on Facebook.


Kickstart Comics: The Adam Freeman / Marc Bernardin Interview

Kickstart Comics: The Adam Freeman / Marc Bernardin Interview

Pulled from

by EJ Feddes November 19, 2010



We’re continuing our coverage of the Kickstart launch with another interview.  This time, Hero Complex writers Adam Freeman and Marc Bernardin took the time to answer our questions and talk about their great new superhero comedy.

EJ:  What brought the two of you to Kickstart?

ADAM:  We asked the agency to be reunited with our birthparents…

MARC: You can only look at your own face on a milk carton for so long. Seriously, Kickstart is the production company that’s shepherding our Monster Attack Network graphic novel through the Disney gauntlet — we trust the way they’ve handled things on that end, so when they said they wanted to make comics, we raised our hands.

EJ:  How did the two of you become a writing team?  How does that work – do you divide plot and dialogue, or is there a kind of hive mind in effect?

ADAM:  We have known each other since 5th grade, so as both friends and professional partners we have all the same references. If I make a puke sound he knows I’m referring to that kid Maurice in grade school that threw up Cheese Doodles every day, so yeah it kind of is a hive mind.

MARC: Which makes Cheese Doodles something of a touchy subject. We plot together — over the phone, email, IM — but we write separately. I’ll do a chunk, send it to Adam, he’ll do a chunk, send it back to me, and so on.

EJ:  Can you tell me about your influences?  I got a strong Giffen/DeMatteis JLI vibe from Hero Complex (which is about the best compliment I can give), without it being imitative of their exact approach.  Is that a book that you have some love for, or am I just subconsciously writing Captain Supreme / Booster Gold fanfic?

ADAM: I can’t think of a specific comic that I would cite as an influence on “Hero Complex.” In fact, for me personally, I find it very hard to name specific influences. If you’re doing original work from the heart I think your influences are a complete amalgamation of everything you take in. Comics, novels, film, TV, music and so on. I mean I am a huge fan of certain creators’ work — from Brian K. Vaughn to Robert Kirkman, but I can’t say I see any of their work in ours.

MARC: Ben Edlund’s Tick books — and animated series — have always been favorites of mine. They’re just filled with comic gold, while still maintaining the integrity of both the hero and his adventures. And, for that matter, Ghostbusters, which manages to be hilarious while also functioning as a perfectly valid supernatural mystery. It was very important to us that Hero Complex operate on both of those levels.

EJ:  Artist Javi Fernandez has some really nice “acting” moments.  The nine-panel grid where Captain Supreme applies for a loan is a good example.  Was that something you asked for specifically?

ADAM:  We just wrote it as a funny scene — a goofy combination of verbal and visual jokes — and Javi ran with it.

MARC: Javi consistently surprised us. For a guy we’ve never met, who lives in another country, he absolutely nailed the character moments. And those are everything in a humor book.

EJ:  How hard is it for you to transition between comedy and drama?  Hero Complex and Monster Attack Network are really, really funny, while a lot of your other work is just intense.  How do you go from something like The Highwaymen to Hero Complex with the 24/6 and “Nat King Mole”?

ADAM:  Marc and I have very wide and eclectic tastes — in everything we like.  I love Kubrick, I love Woody Allen, I love Zack Snyder and Judd Apatow. Same with music:  everything from classical to big band to hip-hop to rock. I just have always been very open to all different things. Hell, I love all kinds of food from Indian to Italian to Thai. Marc is the same (except for the food). Why limit yourself when there as so many people out there doing amazing work in every field? I am proud of the fact that the same guys who wrote a (hopefully) funny book like Hero Complex also wrote a gritty LA gang story like Genius and a monster story, a western, a buddy action-comedy. They represent all of our interests.

MARC: He’s right. I won’t eat mushrooms or curry. It is what it is.

EJ:  The scenes with Dorian at his high school reunion feel very emotionally genuine.  Did you have any traumatic reunion experiences of your own to draw from?

ADAM: Marc is the guy everyone loves. I am the guy who you either like or hate. I refused to go to our reunion because the handful of people I want to catch up with I already have, either in person or through Facebook. And the rest were pretty much assholes to me. Do I sound bitter?

MARC: I went to our reunion; we graduated from the same high school, in the same year. And it wasn’t so much traumatic as it was completely disappointing. You get this image in your head — put there by pop culture — about what a reunion is supposed to feel like. And reality fell amazingly short. It was like going to a wedding without a bride and groom, and where you sorta recognize all the people — except that they’ve all gotten wider and balder.

EJ:  Are there any plans to revisit the Hero Complex universe?  (Please say yes.)

ADAM: If readers, and Kickstart, want it, sure. I like these characters. It’ll be a challenge, though, because the hero has made his journey. I hate when a comic or film with a great premise that the hero rises above tries to recreate that magic. “You mean Rocky is stupid and poor again? Oh my gosh, how did that happen…”

MARC: We very consciously tried to deliver a complete story here. But I’m sure we could find new ways to ruin Captain Supreme’s life…

EJ:  Awesome – well, I’ll be looking for your next projects, whether or not they involve Captain Supreme.  Thanks for stopping by!

Hero Complex, like the rest of Kickstart’s great lineup is on the shelves now.


Kickstart Comics – The Joshua Williamson Interview

Kickstart Comics – The Joshua Williamson Interview

Pulled from

by EJ Feddes

Mirror Mirror HC

We’re continuing our coverage of Kickstart Comics.  Joshua Williamson, writer of Mirror, Mirror stopped by to answer some questions about his great new book.  He’s a busy man, so let’s get right to it!

EJ: I’m having a hard time writing an introductory question that is not “Do you agree that Mirror, Mirror is awesome?”  So instead, how about if you tell us what it’s about?

JW: I definitely agree that Mirror, Mirror is awesome. A lot of great people put a lot of work into putting together the best book possible.

Mirror, Mirror is about the search for the missing pieces of the evil Magic Mirror, from Snow White. You see at the end of the Snow White fairy tale we never learned what happened to the magic mirror, but in our tale you do.

Snow White knew that it was evil so she destroyed it and had its pieces scattered across the globe. She entrusted a secret group called the Huntsmen to keep track of it and hide it. Eventually the Grimm Brothers helped hide the pieces but left clues using their own fairy tales.

Two other members of the Huntsmen are Jessica and Carter Grim. Imagine if Lara Croft and Indiana Jones got married and had a kid. BUT that kid grew up to be a complete screw up. When his parents are betrayed by another member of the Huntsmen, Owen has to step up and find the mirror pieces before the bad guys do.

The art is by Lee Moder, with an awesome cover by Darwyn Cooke.

EJ: Who are your influences as a comic writer?  I might be crazy here, but it seems like there’s a little bit of Carl Barks in the pacing of Mirror, Mirror.  Is he somebody whose work you really looked at?

JW: I have two layers of influences, the film and TV kind, then the comic kind so I’ll list both.

FILM/TV: Joss Whedon, Aaron Sorkin, Quentin Tartintino, John Carpenter, and Shane Black.

Now onto the comics: Growing up I was a fan of Jack Kirby, Peter David, Frank Miller, Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Alan Moore and James Robinson. Really, James Robinson, Peter David and Grant Morrison were the top three. Those guys shaped a lot of what made me want to write comics. When I go back and read their work I find that it still holds up and I want to copy their techniques. When I got older I started to look at a lot of Geoff Johns and Brian Michael Bendis comics. I studied scripts and comics by both guys religiously and obsessively. I was fascinated by the decisions they made in their writing. In fact, while I was writing Mirror, Mirror, I was taking a comics writing class taught by Bendis.

I do like Carl Banks but I discovered him through different methods. I was a big fan of DuckTales as a kid, and loved the movie version.  Treasure of the Lost Lamp – such a great film! Also I loved the Indiana Jones movies, eventually I read an article about how much Raiders of the Lost Ark was based off Carl Bank’s Uncle Scoorge work, so I started looking into that. The stuff was amazing. So yes Carl Banks is in there.

EJ: How much research did you do into fairy tales?  For example, I just Googled Peter Stumpp now and was surprised to find out that he was a real person.  Is he commonly believed to be the source of the Big Bad Wolf, or is that connection something that you created?

JW: I did a lot. Read all of the Grimm fairy tales and did research on their origins and different versions. I wasn’t able to fit in as much as I wanted to but still found room for some of the cooler aspects.  One of the running themes in the book is that all myths, fairy tales and fables started off somewhere in some kind of truth. So I looked into what that truth could have been.

The Peter Stumpp – Big Bad Wolf connection was pretty loose, but it is out there. Not a common belief but a suspected one. Stumpp was insane. People should really Google him to see how nuts he really was. The guy thought he was given powers by the devil.  The trial itself was coined “the Werewolf Trial”

I really wanted a touch of authenticity to the story and things like this, plus the Cinderella slippers were things I added to do that.

EJ: How did you get paired with Lee Moder on MIRROR, MIRROR?  Had you worked with him before?

JW: I hadn’t worked with Lee before but had always wanted to. I’m a big fan of his work at DC, especially Legion of Super Heroes and Stars and STRIPE. Jimmy Palmiotti set it up and I couldn’t be happier. When I got the call that he was going to be the artist was extremely excited. Lee really took the script and made an amazing comic. He really made it sing.

EJ: If you could write any ongoing comic character, outside of the ones you’ve created, who would you choose?

JW: That’s tough, but still easy.  I’d have to say Green Arrow followed by Batman, then followed by The Punisher, followed by…  I mean really, there are a lot of characters I’d love to write. The list is long, but Green Arrow is at the top. Green Arrow is my favorite super hero and I’m dying to write him.

EJ: Oh, man.  I would read the heck out of a Williamson/Moder Green Arrow book.  I see that you have another Kickstart book coming out in January – what can you tell us about that one?

JW: Endangered is my next book with Kickstart and I’m super excited about it. People are going to love it. The art by Juan Santacruz is amazing!

After space hero and pilot James Conner is kidnapped by a group of evil beings called the Decay, his ship goes to get his two sons to have them save the day. One son, Chris, has been training for this day, while the other, Mike, has been kept in the dark about this side of their father’s life. Before the two brothers can save their father they must finish his last mission, which is to save a young woman who is the last of a dying race… which also happens to be the only person who can defeat the Decay. It’s like The Last Starfighter meets Star Wars.

For the most parts it’s about two feuding brothers trying to get along long enough to save a girl, their father and then the universe. Maybe in that order.

EJ: That sounds awesome!  And thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

JW: No problem, EJ!  It was my pleasure – thanks for having me on your site.

EJ:  You’re always welcome ‘round these parts.  I’ll be watching for your new books, and also reminding people that Mirror, Mirror is in stores now and that they should buy it.


Graphic Perception: Rift Raiders

Graphic Perception: Rift Raiders

Pulled from

Review by Stewart R

Writer: Mark Sable
Art: Julian Totino Tedesco and Juan Manuel Tumburus
Kickstart Comics $14.99

The pairing of Mark Sable and Julian Totino Tedesco impressed me last year with brooding, conspiracy malarkey in the terrific Unthinkable for Boom! Studios and so any opportunity to grab more of their collaborative efforts must be taken when they arise. Luckily for me Kickstart have managed to reunite the duo to spin a tale of adventurous time travel as four orphans discover that their parents are actually alive and well and hidden throughout time. With the knowledge that their families are out there trapped somewhen the plucky group of teenagers set out to steal precious antiques and items from days gone past that could be the key to their parents’ freedom.

Stories involving or focusing squarely on chronological navigation can sometimes get bogged down by the ‘science’ behind it all, or can linger too long in one particular epoch, changing the feel of the story to that of a period piece and treating the whole journey more as a secondary point to the events taking place in the current setting. Sable manages to avoid these pitfalls by clearly detailing the mission at hand and ensuring that the hopping between eras is swift and fleeting which is certainly needed to keep the momentum in a self-contained 96-page book. Time (and page space) is of the essence they say...

He also opts to throw the reader straight into the action without any need to use page after page of back story to explain just what sort of characters Dodger, Myles, Layla and Sikes are; their reactions and interactions during the adventure are enough to tell us what their individual motivations and traits are and once again it helps to keep the story on track. To this end we do end up with a certain familiar group dynamic: the greatly talented but roguish protagonist, the brainy kid with steadfast morals, the feisty female with deadly skills and the begrudging companion with a dubious grasp of ethics and a thirst for power, but this familiarity is a help more than a hindrance to the plot and their characters are strong and rounded enough. Certainly the strained, almost antagonistic relationship that Dodger has with his parents is captured nicely and proves a refreshing change to the usual sugary, familial mold dotted throughout many a comic book tale.

The easiest thing to spot throughout Rift Raiders is that Sable and Todesco are placing the focus squarely on fun with some neat set pieces and a decent amount of humour dotted throughout the white-knuckle ride - the result of taking a lackadaisical approach to the loss of two prehistoric eggs is a particular highlight. Whether he's rendering partially completed pyramid tombs in ancient Giza or Zeppelin war weapons gliding over New New York, Todesco has certainly altered his art style to fit the lighter, fantasy-based antics contained in Rift Raiders compared to the darker, realistic feel that he captured in Unthinkable. There’s a younger, animated style on show and combined with Tumburus’ vibrant colours it makes for a pretty book indeed. Todesco’s ability to alter and adapt his style highlights him as a rising talent in the industry and definitely one to watch over the next few years.

While the positives are mounting up here there are a couple of niggles within Rift Raiders. Occasionally it feels that Todesco is cramming too much on one page in order to get the best impact out of the next and the big villain of the piece, Casimir, isn’t featured enough for my liking. However, I put these points down mostly to the limited format; had this been a new ongoing comic series Sable could have easily spun things out and delved into character development a great deal more and lingered further on the ramifications that time-travel could potentially have for those involved, but for a self-contained adventure graphic novel everything we readers require is right here and contributes to an enjoyable read.

If you fancy a change from the superhero and noir crime genres and feel like grabbing a slice of time-hopping fun then this is probably one of the first places you should look. It’s certainly a positive start for a new publisher in the industry, helps to highlight the breadth of work that these creators can produce, and hopefully promises great things to come from all involved. 7/10


A Beautiful Gory Display — Kickstart Comics

A Beautiful Gory Display — Kickstart Comics

Pulled  from
by EJ Feddes November 17, 2010

As I write this, I’m in Belgium.  Yes, this is relevant.  At Carrefour, which is sort of the Belgian equivalent of a Super Target store, I saw something that really surprised me.  In the Books and Magazines section, there’s an entire aisle devoted to comics.  They’re books, what we’d call graphic novels over here, with complete, stand-alone stories.  In some cases, there are multiple books devoted to the same character but without any indication of a serial nature.  There’s no “you have to read that one before you read this one” – it was just a big wall of choices appealing to casual readers and with production values that impressed even a lifelong comic reader.  And people were lined up at that wall – people with carts full of groceries were stopping to pick up Blacksad and IR$.  Nothing would make me happier than to see this same scene in America.


Well, it’s not going to happen overnight, but there’s progress.  New publisher Kickstart Comics debuts this month with four original graphic novels that will be distributed both in comic book shops and in mainstream outlets like Best Buy and Wal-Mart.  Kickstart Entertainment has been around for some time, with involvement in many TV projects (including the Amazing Screw-On Head, which you should definitely buy on DVD as soon as possible.), and now they’re getting into comic publishing.  This is exactly what the market needs.

Managing Editor Samantha Shear told us, “We think that these books appeal to both comic fans and a more mainstream buyer.”  It’s a smart strategy – it’s hard to get comics to the audience that’s not already buying then, and getting them into mass-market outlets is incredibly important.  People want to be able to buy everything in one trip, and that’s an uphill battle that traditional comic publishers have to fight.  They’re producing something that maybe one or two specialty stores in town is going to carry, which almost eliminates the possibility of casual readers.  And by releasing books that the comic shop audience will enjoy, they’re building an invested audience.  I’m going to tell people to pick up Hero Complex because I loved it, and hopefully they’ll listen because they can get it when they get their groceries or the new Call of Duty game.  If the books are available and the quality is high, it’s the best possible thing for the comics industry.

Having received review copies of Kickstart’s first four releases, I can confirm, the quality is indeed high.  They are putting their best foot forward with really strong, appealing work.  The creative teams, both established talents and relative newcomers are impressive – I can’t remember ever seeing a new publisher with such a strong launch.  And with folks like Jimmy Pamliotti and spunkybuddy Larry Young, both of whom are known for quality work and spotting new talent, on the editorial staff, it really bodes well for their future releases.

We’ll be bringing you interviews with some of the Kickstart creators soon, but today, we’re reviewing their first four releases.  Thanks to Samantha Shear for the review copies and for taking the time to talk to us!

Mirror, Mirror – This book is probably the most “movie ready” of Kickstart’s initial offerings.  I’m not a professional pitch guy, but I think if I could get a meeting with any big producer and told them “National Treasure only with fairy tales instead of American History”, brother, that’s a movie that would get made.

Mirror, Mirror is set in a world where fairy tales have a basis in fact, sometimes largely symbolic, sometimes quite literal.  (One character is a direct descendant of Snow White’s wicked stepmother.)  It deals with a plot to reconstruct the magic mirror (from “Snow White”), and the secret society, the Hunstmen, that’s spent centuries making sure that doesn’t happen.  When a couple of adventurers are killed for one of the mirror shards, the responsibility to keep the world safe falls on their son, college dropout Owen Grimm.  Owen and Sally Prince (the protégé of an injured Huntsman) decode a series of clues and travel the world to find the last few shards and avoid Mason, the rich nut who wants the power of the mirror for himself.

It’s a lot of fun, and I really like the approach the story takes to fairy tales.  There’s a scene set at the grave of Little Red Riding Hood, and we get just enough backstory to make it seem plausible that the story was based on a real person – a wolf didn’t actually put on her grandmother’s clothes, but the broad strokes of the story are based on historical fact.  It’s a cool approach that doesn’t get bogged down in unnecessary detail.

The storytelling here is really wonderful – not only does it set up the rules of their world, but it introduces the characters and sends them on an adventure that spans the globe without ever losing control.  A whole lot happens between the covers, and the pacing is just perfect.  There are fight scenes, ancient traps, magic, and still somehow, there’s time to get to know Owen and Sally.  Mirror, Mirror moves along at a fast pace, but it doesn’t feel busy.  It’s great story structure, and it’s so much fun to read.

I was not familiar with writer Joshua Williamson, but the man really knows how to tell a story.  (On the strength of Mirror, Mirror, I sought out some of his earlier work, and it’s also great.) He sells the premise wonderfully, and even succeeds in making us like Owen, who starts out as a privileged jerk.  I do know artist Lee Moder’s work, though.  He drew the much-missed Stars and STRIPE for DC a few years back.  I liked his art then, and this looks even better.  He’s amazing with facial expressions, and he does an excellent job choreographing the action scenes.  Moder can draw a page of people talking and have it look as good as the scene where the magic mirror awakens and things get all crazy.  Oh, and the cover by the great Darwyn Cooke is absolutely gorgeous.  If I saw it on the rack with no information, the cover alone would have guaranteed that I’d take a look.

Mirror, Mirror is a fun book, and the execution lives up to the irresistible premise.  It’s clever and satisfying, and I really enjoyed it.  From a storytelling perspective, it’s incredibly impressive – in terms of the pacing and character work, it’s just amazing.

Bad Guys – I knew I was going to like this one by the end of the first page.  It opens with that old fable about the rat and the scorpion.  That may not seem promising, because that’s been overused in recent years – I think it was the second time that fable had been invoked this week in my entertainment choices.  But then there’s a fresh twist and it makes a completely different point than the usual.  So right away, I was sold.

As the title indicates, this is about villains.  Our narrator is Femme Fatale, a woman with luck-based powers, but there’s a whole group of nasty SOB’s involved.  (My favorite is the Executioner, an ax murderer with a split personality.)  It’s set up like a standard superhero universe, with stand-ins for guys like Superman and Iron Man.  But everything changes when alien invaders appear and promptly slaughter all of the heroes.  That leaves the villains as Earth’s only hope.  It’s like the Dirty Dozen, only Charles Bronson can blow things up by pointing at them.  Which, again, makes for a pretty darn good pitch.

If you’ve read as many comics as I have, you’ll go into Bad Guys thinking you know where it’s going, but nothing plays out quite like you’d expect.  The villains aren’t the sketchy but reasonable types – several of the characters don’t really care whether or not Earth survives.  It takes some convincing to get them on board with the plan.  And the invaders aren’t freakish horrors from another planet.  They’re human beings from another dimension’s Earth.  They’re callous businessmen, traversing reality to drain parallel Earths of their resources.  Somehow, that’s creepier.  Their leader has an excellent scene where he tells a delegation of Earth’s leaders just how insignificant they are.  “You are not special.  Not you, not your kids, not your country, not your planet.  I can kill you, and there’s 800,000 more of you.”

I really loved this book – villain stories are always a favorite of mine, and the ones in here are just vicious.  When your point-of-view character cheers to see her nemesis torn apart on live TV, despite what it means for the safety of the planet, you’re dealing with some real reprobates.  I wish there were more stories about these guys – Zen especially could use more backstory.  In his appearance here, he’s a really compelling villain and it’s kind of a shame that there aren’t more stories about him.  That’s right, I liked the characters so much that after one book, I already want spinoffs.

This is writer Philip Eisner’s first comic work, but it doesn’t feel like a first-time effort.  The storytelling is smooth, the characters are well-developed and some of the dialogue is fantastic.  (I would buy a book that was nothing but the lead villain telling people how insignificant they are.)  I’m going to be watching for anything else he writes in the future.  The art from Augustin Padilla is perfect for the story – he’s excellent in his use of shadows and his depictions of carnage.

I really liked Bad Guys, and it put the two creators firmly on my radar.  That’s two for two from Kickstart!

Hero Complex – Fun Fact – my favorite comic series ever is Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ run on Justice League.  It was a near-perfect blend of comedy with action, bringing us superheroes who maybe weren’t ready for the big time, but tried pretty damn hard.  That spirit is alive and well with Hero Complex.

Hero Complex brings us Captain Supreme, and immensely powerful and upright hero.  Unfortunately, he’s also a bit of a dork.  Unlike Eclipse, a darker and cooler hero, he doesn’t do product endorsements or make money off merchandising.  And so poor Captain Supreme, a sweet-natured guy who warns citizens about the dangers of alcohol consumption after busting some criminals, can’t make ends meet and is in danger of having his hideout repossessed.

Geniac, his well-meaning sidekick, thinks that it’ll help for Warren Sherman (Captain Supreme’s secret identity) to go to his ten-year high school reunion.  And that leads to some awkward parental conversations, unrequited crushes, mistaken sexuality, and long-simmering rivalries coming to a head.  It’s hilarious, action-packed and well-observed.

What I love is the way there are so many different kinds of comedy in here.  There’s super-hero satire, with Captain Supreme having to deal with villains like Dutch Oven (Yes, he’s planning to release poisonous gas.) and fending off a lawsuit from Superman for copyright infringement.  I think my favorite joke in the whole book is about how Aquaman sold his international rights.  But there’s also a very funny story about relationships here – Warren wants another chance with Veronica, his high school crush.  So Warren’s in competition with her rich and perfect boyfriend while still trying to maintain his secret identity.  I love the Clark Kent vibe here, because writers Adam Freeman and Marc Bernardin develop Warren so well – he’s a guy who has an easy solution in front of him, but it wouldn’t be the right thing to do.  He can’t compromise his morals, but it’s hard for him to make that choice.  There’s a real emotional resonance in this story.

There’s so much good stuff here.  Warren’s parents are deranged versions of Ma and Pa Kent (“This tastes like horse piss.  And yes, Rhoda, I know what horse piss tastes like.  I was in the war.”).  There’s a hilarious sequence where Warren tries working for his father as a party entertainer.  It ends badly.  And there’s a laugh-out-loud bit where Captain Supreme applies for a loan in the middle of a bank robbery.  There are so many funny scenes here, but they don’t get in the way of a solid emotional arc.  Warren’s a guy that you’ll care about, even as his situation gets worse and worse.

Bernardin and Freeman wrote a fantastic script, and artist Javi Fernandez executes it perfectly.  He does an excellent job with facial expressions and subtle acting – you’ll see some great body language in here.  Fernandez brings out the emotion in each scene incredibly well.  And his pages are just fun to look at – it’s such nice work.

I absolutely adore Hero Complex – it’s the funniest superhero story I’ve read in a very long time, with instantly appealing characters and a giant heart.

Rift Raiders – I’m sure there’s a better, more professional way to say this, but Rift Raiders is a freaking hoot!  It’s a time travel adventure with great action scenes, appealing characters, and a twisty, satisfying plot.  It’s an absolute blast all the way through.

Dodger is a teenager who happens to be the world’s greatest thief.  His parents are treasure hunters with a secret – they’re time travelers.  An accident pulls his parents into the timestream while Dodger ends up at a home for wayward youths.  From there, it quickly turns into an adventure when Dodger meets nerdy Miles and the sadistic Sikes and the time travel plot thickens.  Toss in Layla, the greatest warrior of all time (She trained with Shaolin Monks in 1560, Mohammed Ali in 1975, and Wild Bill in 1876, among others.), and then everything gets awesome.

Our heroes meet up with a man known as “The Fence”, who can reunite the kids with their parents, if they retrieve artifacts strewn throughout history, and from there, the plot just takes off, and I’m going to avoid spoiling any further twists.  There are alternate futures, betrayals, future selves meeting their present selves, and suspicious motives throughout.  It’s crazy fun.

There are so many great ideas in this story.  I love that the kids have to replace the artifacts with copies so as not to alter the past.  Of course, you know that will go horribly wrong at some point, which just takes the story in another fun direction.  Rift Raiders is a big, sprawling story that pinballs from one concept to another.  It’s a crazy sprint through the timestream that doesn’t stop to take a breath.  It jumps from Civil War-era steampunk exoskeletons to sentient dinosaurs to a stopover in Arthurian England.  And the whole time, the characters are rock-solid and well-defined, keeping even the most insane scenes grounded.

I’ve got a soft spot for time travel stories, as long as they bring something new to the table.  Season Five of Lost, Bender’s Big Score – I love those.  And man, I love Rift Raiders.  It’s got the severed head of Medusa, Excalibur, and “the war machine that time forgot” all in the same scene! Writer Mark Sable figured out where the top was, and then just went straight over it.  And I mean that in a good way.  Some of my favorite comics have this “how many awesome things can I get on a page” vibe to them, and that’s what’s happening here.

Rift Raiders reunites Sable with artist Julian Totino Tedesco, his collaborator on last year’s Unthinkable.  I really liked that series, as well as the Two-Face miniseries that Sable wrote.  Tedesco’s art is very cool – his faces have a caricature quality to them (just check out the Casimir, the lead villain), and he really knows how to stage an action scene.  Anybody who can draw war-blimps and the Dino-Reich on the same page is a force to be reckoned with.

It’s a fun, crazy ride.  And as I said, a freaking hoot!

Kickstart’s first four books, which are hitting stores this week, are solid hits all the way through.  There’s not a weak one in the bunch, and I surprised myself with just how much I liked them.  These people are doing good work, and it’s exactly what the comic industry needs right now.

In the next few days, we’re going to be presenting interviews with the writers of these four books – they’re a bunch of swell guys, so come back and check them out.  And go buy their books!