Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Jon D. Witmer--writer, editor, keeper of comic books. Carbon dating the origin of his love for sequential art back some two decades, Jon now mines the varied gems of his collection. These are his memories from the longbox…

Peter Milligan – Writer
Michael Allred – Artist
Laura Allred – Colorist & Separator
Michael Allred & Blambot – Letterer
Axel Alonso – Editor
Joe Quesada – Chief
Bill Jemas – Pres.

Cover Date: May 2001

I can’t quite remember how it happened, but what’s important to know is that during the summer of 2001, I rediscovered my passion for comics and invested myself once again in collecting them heavily. And when I returned to Ohio State in the fall, it was within my first days on campus that I visited Discount Paperback Center, located at the corner of High Street and Chittenden Avenue. Sadly--and please do correct me if I’m mistaken--I’ve heard that the shop recently closed its doors for good, but I’ll always remember it for the hole in the wall that it was, and I mean that as a great compliment. Let me set the scene:

Marked at street level with a vaguely Spider-Man-in-his-black-outfit-looking portrait painted onto the wall of the building, a doorway led down a short flight of stairs into the subterranean shop. Inside, it was dark, it was cluttered, the walls were lined with the eponymous paperback novels, the comics were huddled in the middle, and near the register there stood a rack of vintage porno mags. In short, it was absolutely the best place to buy comics for a 20 year old in college. (A year or two later, the shop actually moved above ground, in the same building, into a two-room unit, allowing a starker delineation between the comics and the more “adult” fare. I was happy for the store’s apparent success, but my heart will always be in the basement.)

Without much idea of what had been happening in the various comic-book universes during my absence from collecting, once inside the shop I sought out those titles I’d enjoyed back in the day. A particular favorite of mine somewhere around the fourth grade had been X-Force, born from the pages of New Mutants and created by one of those figureheads of mainstream comics in the ‘90s, Rob Liefeld. Still associating his images with the title, you can imagine my surprise at discovering Mike Allred’s pop art illustrating a cast of characters I’d never seen before. Confused, I set the book down, purchased whatever other books I’d already decided on, and hurriedly made my exit.

Despite my first reaction, I was drawn to the book, intrigued by the wild mutation it seemed to have undergone, and when I returned to the shop the next week, I decided to dip my toes in the water, picking up the most recent issue, which at the time would have been a few numbers into the new creative team’s run.

It’s important to understand that I was concurrently taking a history of cinema class that had both introduced me to and made me fall desperately in love with the French New Wave, and particularly the work of director Jean-Luc Godard. After basking in the glow of films that were totally aware of and completely exploited the medium in which they existed, I immediately responded to Milligan and Allred’s vision of a super team motivated by fame and fortune, as though taunting the genre conventions that Marvel Comics has thrived on since its inception. And Allred’s art, with its deceptive simplicity and sort of inherent comicness (or, to borrow from T. Hodler over at Comics Comics, a bédesque quality), offers the perfect palette cleanser after Liefeld’s hyper-penciled grotesqueries.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to trace Milligan and Allred’s work on the title all the way back to #116 with Discount Paperback Center’s racks alone, but with the combined help of Columbus’ other comic shop, The Laughing Ogre; my favorite shop in Cleveland, Carol and John's; and eBay, I managed to complete the collection. And once I finally had #116 in hand, I was surprised yet again.

While I knew Cable and his cohorts would be long gone, I didn’t expect an almost completely different set of characters than appeared in the very next issue, #117. Only four characters make it from the first to second issues under Milligan and Allred’s direction: U-Go Girl (Edie Sawyer), The Anarchist (Tike Alicar), Coach (the team’s then-manager) and Doop (my favorite--yes, favorite--character in the Marvel Universe). Everyone else in #116’s lineup--Zeitgeist, La Nuit, Battering Ram, Plazm, Gin Genie and Sluk--winds up dead by the last page. Dead.

The stage is set for such a twist on page three, when the noodle-faced Sluk is blown to smithereens during a mission in North Africa (he’s quickly memorialized with an X-Force Café in Orange County), but a mission to save a boy band kidnapped by gunmen seems far from lethal at its outset. Nevertheless, in another twist on convention, even this issue’s narrator, Zeitgeist (a.k.a Axel Cluney), winds up literally eviscerated. This was a book where anything could happen, no turn of the page would be safe, the characters would face “real” consequences, and the promise of a comic-book resurrection was nowhere in the cards.

Reading this issue again, the boy-band element belies the comic’s age, as do some of the other pop-culture references here and through the rest of the series’ run. Nevertheless, the characters through the entire series pop off the page in a way I rarely find in mainstream comics where the “heroes” wear tights. Indeed, this is what I wanted--and still want--to believe Marvel (and DC, for that matter) is capable of. This wasn’t just re-treading the same old ground; this was giving the creators the freedom to really shake things up intelligently. (Of course, not everyone agreed, as evidenced in the heated debates that filled the series’ letters page. I could devote an entire post or more to said letters, but suffice to say they make it well worth tracking down the individual monthly issues as opposed to just buying the trade collection.)

After #129, X-Force was restarted as X-Statix, which itself went on for 26 issues. Milligan was responsible for the scripts each and every month, while Mike Allred would occasionally catch his breath and allow such luminaries as Darwyn Cooke, Duncan Fegredo, Paul Pope, Philip Bond, J. Bone, Nick Craine and Nick Dragotta to tackle some of the art duties. Throughout, however, Laura Allred’s colors remained a constant, and were the perfect complement to this comic book that was gloriously aware of itself as a comic book.

Thanks as always for checking things out here at The Danger Digest, and please check back next week, when we’ll wrap up our celebration of the blog turning two with a new installment of the old “Page and Panel” column. Yo-ho!

The complete “Memories from the Longbox” on The Danger Digest:
#1: X-Men #1
#2: The Flash #350

All images this post copyright Marvel Comics
Essay copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

BAG IT AND BOARD IT: Graphic Novel, Trade Paperback and Other Classy Collections Edition

Every week, Jon blows his rent money on comics. Here, he spills the beans on whether or not it was worth it. But to paraphrase LeVar Burton, don’t take his word for it--you should buy comics too. And then bag ‘em and board ‘em.

Huzzah, good readers--I say huzzah! The Danger Digest blog is now officially two years old! I’ve already done my brief think piece on how the site has evolved in that time, so I’ll spare the redundancy and move instead to the celebration. In honor of hitting the two-year mark, I’m going to briefly set aside Anything is Everything Else in order to revisit the columns I’d conceived for this site at its inception: “Bag it and Board it,” “Memories from the Longbox” and “Page and Panel.”

Evidenced by the title above, I’m kicking things off with “Bag it and Board it.” And as the italicized blurb (left as written two years ago) suggests, the column was intended to be a weekly review of new books--not a bad idea, albeit a bit derivative, considering how many other folks already do the same thing. However, despite the egregious amount of money I was in fact dropping on comics on a weekly basis, I only ever managed to put this column together once, for the week of August 1, 2007. I still have the Word documents in which I began drafts for a handful of other weeks, but alas, they’ve never known the light of day.

Anymore, there aren’t many monthly books I regularly read, so instead I’ll highlight the collected editions and whatnot that have graced my nightstand over the past two-plus months, the time since this blog was essentially resuscitated. And so, without further ado, here we go!

(Please note, this list is presented in alphabetical order except where multiple volumes of one series are presented; in that case, the volumes are presented chronologically. Also, credits are presented as they appear in the book.)

By Adrian Tomine

This is one classy way to collect a series of minicomics--in this case the first seven issues of Optic Nerve, which Tomine published himself during high school and college. That fact alone makes me wonder what I’ve been doing with the years, but the stories here collected remind me not to take myself too seriously. Tomine’s art goes through a marked evolution over the seven issues, but even the earliest, most raw pieces drip with enthusiasm for the medium, and their heartbeat should inspire anyone who’s ever considered telling a story in pictures.

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Tommy Lee Edwards
Letters: John Workman

This was actually the first comic I’d picked up in a while, and boy did it scratch the itch, proving to be exactly what I needed to push me headlong back into sequential art. A child of--and consequently a sucker for--the ‘80s, I was immediately tickled by the time period, but Millar’s story will ring true for anyone whose childhood was propelled by his or her imagination. Furthermore, Edwards’ art is utterly engrossing, and I give the man a lot of credit for finding a unique way to represent Toby’s side trip through the actual Marvel Universe.

Writer: Paul Dini
Penciller: Dustin Nguyen
Inker: Derek Fridolfs
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letterers: Travis Lanham, Steve Wands, John J. Hill, Jared K. Fletcher

This collection of the Detective Comics story, which originally spanned issues 846-850, proves a fun Batman romp in the ultra-capable hands of Paul Dini, and an interesting--although not a fascinating--look beneath the bandages of the relatively recently introduced villain Hush. The story has its highlights--my favorites are Alfred kicking ass in three consecutive panels and Rexy’s brief appearance--but the obligatory reestablishment of the status quo in the final chapter left me unsatisfied. The artwork holds a lot of treasures, though, in particular the subtle use of reflections and shadows, underlining the “mirror images” of Bruce Wayne and Tommy Elliot.

By Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Colors by Val Staples

I’d read the first two Criminal story arcs in individual issues, and it was nice to experience this story in one volume, although I missed the letters and essays that backed up the monthly book. Brubaker’s love of the crime genre shines yet again in this story, presented from a different point of view in each of the three chapters. It’s not exactly Rashomon, nor is it supposed to be; instead, each character’s story serves to fill in the overarching puzzle, and the final picture is everything you’d expect from a book called Criminal. Phillips’ art is as dark as ever, perfectly matching the story’s tone and bathing the characters in shadows to wash away the light. The book’s only serious offense is not listing Staples alongside Brubaker and Phillips--his colors are brilliant, the final nail in the characters’ coffins.

Writer: Bill Willingham
Pencillers: Mark Buckingham, Jim Fern
Inkers: Steve Leialoha, Jimmy Palmiotti, Andrew Pepoy
Colorist: Daniel Vozzo
Letterer: Todd Klein
Original series covers: James Jean

Every time I return to Fables after being away for a spell, I ask myself why I ever took a break from the book--a few pages in and I’m once again in love with the entire cast of characters. That said, “Arabian Nights (and Days)” isn’t my favorite collection to date, although King Cole’s return to form was wonderful to witness. “The Ballad of Rodney and June,” the last two chapters of the book, feels rather tacked-on here, although it makes for a fine short story, and the ending is especially poignant--not a word I commonly associate with wooden soldiers.

Writer: Bill Willingham
Pencillers: Mark Buckingham, Shawn McManus
Inkers: Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, Shawn McManus
Colorists: Lee Loughridge, Daniel Vozzo
Letterer: Todd Klein
Original series covers: James Jean

Now, this volume just might be my favorite. It opens with Mowgli, in search of Bigby, sharing vodka with a Russian captain; then Bigby spends the middle wreaking havoc in the Homelands; and it all ends (more or less--there’s the final chapter with something of a throwaway story featuring Cinderella in the Cloud Kingdoms) with Bigby and Snow White getting married. That’s what I call a story.

Writer: Bill Willingham
Artists: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Michael Allred, Andrew Pepoy, D’Israeli, Gene Ha, Joelle Jones, Barry Kitson, David Lapham, Joshua Middleton, Inaki Miranda, M.K. Perker, Jim Rugg, Eric Shanower, John K. Snyder III, Jill Thompson
Colorists: Lee Loughridge, Laura Allred, Eva de la Cruz
Letterer: Todd Klein
Original series covers: James Jean

About two-thirds of the way into this volume, I finally caught up with where I began reading Fables in individual issues--it sure makes a lot more sense now. I actually began reading the series a few years back because of Mike Allred’s contributions--I’ll devour any book bearing his name--and then stuck around for a while because I was so impressed with everyone else’s work. As a book, this volume suffers from having too many short stories that never really unite satisfactorily; of course, Willingham and co. are working toward goals within the ongoing series, but this collection played better in individual issues.

Writers: David Michelinie & Bob Layton
Artists: John Romita Jr. with Carmine Infantino
Inker: Bob Layton
Colorists: Ben Sean, Carl Gafford & Bob Sharen
Letterers: John Costanza, Irving Watanabe, Jim Novak & Joe Rosen

After years of reading and hearing about this story, I finally took the plunge and picked up this hardcover Premiere Edition. I was rather surprised to discover that Tony Stark’s renowned battle with the bottle was wrapped up in a mere nine issues, but I was impressed all the same with the storytelling--even with such off-spine story points as Iron Man fighting first against and then alongside Namor. In other words, there’s plenty of fat here, but the essential story satisfies nevertheless. Plus, Romita’s Iron Man simply cannot be beat.

Iron Man #225-231:
Plot/script: David Michelinie
Breakdowns: Mark D. Bright
Plot/finishes: Bob Layton
Letters: Janice Chiang
Colors: Bob Sharen & Nel Yomtov

Iron Man #232:
Script/plot assist: David Michelinie
Plot/Pencils/Colors: Barry Windsor-Smith
Inks: Bob Layton
Letters: Bill Oakley

Although this is a staple in the Iron Man canon, the premise is dubious, and the execution suffers from having Tony Stark dressed in perhaps the most ridiculous-looking armor Iron Man has ever worn. Fearing that his technology has and will again fall into the wrong hands, Stark sets out to shut down anyone wearing armor, be they good or bad--only he doesn’t explain himself to any of the good guys, and consequently comes across as a rogue and a jackass. There’s almost the stuff of a good cop drama in there, but it’s never fully realized. The final chapter, though, makes for a fascinating fever dream of a comic.

Writer: Len Kaminski
Pencilers: Kevin Hopgood, Barry Kitson & Tom Morgan
Inkers: Andrew Pepoy, Bob Wiacek, Mike DeCarlo, Chris Ivy, Brad Vancata & Steve Mitchell
Colorists: Mike Rockwitz & Ariane Lenshoek
Letterers: Michael Heisler, Chris Eliopoulos & John Costanza

This book has everything that was wrong with comics in the ‘90s: a weak plot dependent on often dicey artwork, ridiculous characters who all think they’re the cat’s meow, painful references to contemporary pop culture, steps in Rhodey’s haircut, and a prologue involving aliens from the future who worship Tony Stark. In short, it’s a pretty good time, in an opening-a-time-capsule-and-breathing-stale-air kind of way.

Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Adi Granov
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Randy Gentile

This is a fun, fast read that nicely updates the Iron Man mythos. However, Tony Stark’s use (or, arguably, abuse) of nanotechnology to make his suit literally a part of himself either makes perfect sense or is even more ridiculous than having him carry the armor around in a briefcase--I just can’t tell which. Also, it disturbs me that Adi Granov draws Tony Stark to look like a goateed Tom Cruise.

By Michael Kupperman

I picked this one up for 4-Playo, “the amazing foreplay robot,” and then just had to stick around for Snake’N’Bacon, Fireman Octopus and Porno Coloring Books. These are mind-bending absurdist comics at their absolute zany best. And what’s more, it’s all for Pagus! Ha ha ha ha ha!

Written and drawn by Scott McCloud
Lettering: Bob Lappan
Plot assist (issues 26-36): Ivy Ratafia

This book is everything a collected edition should be. Throughout, McCloud offers notes that place the Understanding Comics author’s early work in context; the story can stand on its own without the notes, but the peek inside McCloud’s continually evolving creative process is illuminating, to say the least. His page layouts reveal his insatiable urge to experiment with the comics form, but already he had the discipline to keep the flare in service of the story--at least for the most part. Also, the story “Autumn” nearly brought my heart to a stop.

There we have it, friends. If you’ve read any of the above and would care to share your own thoughts, please make use of the comments section--I’d love to hear either why you agree or disagree. And look out for more of this column at some point down the road. I doubt it will become the weekly forum I once imagined, but I’ll try to update you all on the “classy collections” I’m reading every couple of months or so.

And again I say huzzah!

All images copyright their respective publishers. Text copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


When Jon D. Witmer sits down to draw--always with pencil, often with pen, and only with blood, sweat and tears in a metaphorical sense--he dives deep into the ocean of ideas and influences swirling throughout his brain. The result: these one-page idea pieces known as Anything is Everything Else!

Based on actual events!

Yes indeed, last weekend I made a fateful trip to Swain’s art store in Glendale, where I picked up some Copic and Pitt markers, Micron pens (my favorite since the old college days), a kneaded eraser and, of course, the infamous ink compass. Looking at my spoils upon my return home, I was briefly overwhelmed by the sense that I had to use everything right away to ensure my hard-earned money wasn’t spent in vain. Now, with this drawing behind me, I can say for certain the cash was well spent, although it’s going to take awhile before I know what I’m doing with the markers. (As for the ink compass, made by Staedtler, it was definitely worth every dollar.)

Inspired of late by minicomics, in particular the first seven issues of Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve (recently re-released in a terrific boxed set), I decided to go vertical for a change and work in the “traditional” minicomic 8.5”x5.5” size. This decision ignited a serious conflict in my heart of hearts as to whether the format disqualified the piece for the Anything is Everything Else moniker--after all, I’d gotten used to that series’ horizontally oriented 8.5”x6” yellow pages. However, as I sat scribbling potential titles, the realization dawned that Anything is Everything Else was born from my desire to experiment with comics, and that meant not restricting myself to any one particular page size, shape or orientation. After all, this is for the Web, so let’s shake things up.

Once again, thanks for taking a look, and please do come on back next Wednesday, when we’ll be celebrating The D.D.’s two-year anniversary on Blogspot. It’ll be a hoot!


The complete Anything is Everything Else on The Danger Digest:
#1, #2, #3, #5, #6

All contents this post copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


When Jon D. Witmer sits down to draw--always with pencil, often with pen, and only with blood, sweat and tears in a metaphorical sense--he dives deep into the ocean of ideas and influences swirling throughout his brain. The result: these one-page idea pieces known as Anything is Everything Else!

Many thanks go to my girlfriend for inspiring this week’s episode; she casually asked a few weeks back if I would draw her sometime, and that germ of an idea was enough to lead my mind maundering down the path seen above. (I should also offer my apologies to my girlfriend, as this doesn’t really look like her.)

As the clock ticked down to my deadline, I sacrificed a few details, like the bowtie and smoking jacket that should be Walter the Dog’s trademarks. And, although I’d scripted the patterns that would appear in the background of each panel, the plan changed once I got into the actual business of drawing. For example, I’d intended to continue the use of lines, as seen in panel four, by running diagonal lines across panel six--the diagonals were supposed to underline how weird things were getting once Walter got his bubble pipe. Upon reaching that panel, however, I wasn’t comfortable with how the diagonals might look with the “bu-bloop” sound effect, and so instead I went back to the black rectangle from panel one, this time centering it around the woman’s head to suggest the blanket on her thoughts that leads to the final panel. (As for the dotted backgrounds, I really just liked how they looked.)

Let me know what you think, and bonus points for spotting the one ice-cream cone that’s not like the others. (Not an intentional decision on my part; in my rush to finish, I simply failed to notice this detail.) Check back next week for whatever’s next to spill out of my brain and onto the page…


The complete Anything is Everything Else on The Danger Digest:
#1, #2, #4, #5, #6

All contents this post copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest