comics, comics criticism, writing

The 2023 Urbane Turtle Year in Review

Well here we are. Another year in the books. Time for another best-of list. In year 1, the Pandemic Year, I looked back on the various media and stories that impacted me and got me through the global disaster. In Year 2, I counted down my favorite comics of the year. We are focusing again on the best comics of the year. Partially because it’s most of what I’ve consumed this year (my Goodreads has recorded 80+ comics, which doesn’t even account for ongoing monthly reading) but also because that’s where the focus of this site and my writing has really narrowed in on.

With some of the SEO bait out of the way (I do not know how SEO works) I wanted to reflect on this year, personally, a bit before we get into the list. It’s been an exciting year for your old pal Urbane Turtle. I can’t say it’s been a profitable endeavor, but it has been a prolific year with a mostly-regular weekly column, contributions on new sites, surreal interview opportunities, and even regular scripting for a YouTube channel.

I don’t know if writing will ever be a real career–but it has certainly become a vocation. And the thing keeping me from completely melting down about my general “professional life.” If you’ve been with me on this journey–whether you read everything (who are you??), read one thing, or shared something on social media (Especially the comics creators who have said nice things!!)–I thank you from the bottom of my heart. 

Personally, the most rewarding thing that started this year is the NO CONTEXT COMICS column. That’s an idea I had for a little while and wanted to see out in the world, so I just started doing it myself. It’s been a blast and introduced me to a lot of new creators and books I might have missed otherwise. I look forward to working on it every week. When reality gets in the way and I can’t get to it? It’s a gut punch every time! Especially when I’ve done the reading. I’ve not seen anyone comment on any of these and analytics don’t show much engagement, but I like it darn it! 

Too much preamble? Yeah, okay. Some final words before we get to the list.

In 2023, I have a few goals. I’d like to engage in a bit more fiction and prose, like this story. I’d like to take more photos. I’d like to see a more regular update schedule. UrbaneTurtle.com has seen some steady and small growth in audience, and I think I can make things even better in this next trip around the sun.

And, finally, I resolve to become a Ghost Rider Guy.

THE LIST

As I said before, I’ve consumed a lot of comics this year. And I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. However, I feel pretty confident in my picks this year. There are so many wonderful stories and creators out there in the industry–and even more outside the industry making webcomics and underground zines–that it seems impossible to do justice to the hard work and creativity on display every single week. I enjoyed so many books this year that will go unmentioned here. The business side of the comics industry may be questionable–with late payments and bankruptcies and corporate consolidation–but the creative energy is off the charts. Comics, more than ever, really are for everyone.

Continue reading “The 2023 Urbane Turtle Year in Review”
comics, comics criticism, dc comics, no context comics, writing

No Context Comics – A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read From the Week of 12/14

What’s up everybody? Twitter tells me that comic reviews are bad, folks. We don’t know how to write about art. So I guess you probably shouldn’t even be reading this.

But if you are reading, welcome to the regular column! We’re taking a look at 3 books I do not read! The only rules are that these books are something I don’t read every month, it’s not a number one, and (if I am aware of it before reading) it’s not an anthology.

Any comic I read right now has a lot to live up to…I’ve been reading Fullmetal Alchemist which is among the best comics I’ve ever read. I watched the original anime but this is my first time with the actual source material. Hiromu Arakawa can DRAW.

This might be the last No Context of the year. But here’s to many more! And more Urbane Turtle, in general. Viva la tortuga.

I Am Batman #16

DC Comics. John Ridley, Writer. Christian Duce, Artist. Rex Lokus, Colors. Troy Peteri, Letters.

I have not spent any time trying to understand what the deal is with I Am Batman or Jace Fox. It seems weird to me that there’s a mostly unrelated Batman in New York. I guess it isn’t unprecedented given Batman Inc. but seems weird. And after reading this issue I still don’t know how this fits in the larger world of the Batman mythos.

I see a rich kid who feels guilty, fighting some crooks. Ridley has plenty of words throughout this issue but it tells us very little about who Jace is or what he wants out of being Batman. There’s less Batman here and more Iron Man or, in DC terms, Green Arrow. Less justice and more atonement. Jace wants to make right having killed someone when he was young. 

Continue reading “No Context Comics – A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read From the Week of 12/14”
comics, comics criticism, no context comics, writing

No Context Comics – A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read From the Week of 11/9

October has been a whirlwind of a month with some intense emotional highs and lows and incredibly heavy workloads and alas, once again, this little website fell to the wayside. The Phillies made an improbable push to a mere 2 games from winning the World Series, which was tremendously exciting and soul crushingly disappointing. We lost my aunt, and spent time with family. The day-job has never been more demanding. It’s all I’ve been able to do to stay afloat!

Outside of this week’s comics I’ve been continuing my reading of early 80s Spider-Man, though I switched over to Spectacular and that is markedly less good than Stern and DeFalco’s top-notch work on Amazing. Black Cat just doesn’t work in these early years, too desperately clingy to Spider-Man as a defining character feature. I’ve also been catching up on the world of Batman, particularly Meghan Fitzmartin’s work on Tim Drake. Belen Ortega, who did the art on the Urban Legends Robin story? Superstar! Need to see more of them stat.

I’ve also gotten all caught up on IDW’s TMNT to prep for an upcoming interview, after being quite behind. The Mutant Towm story and status quo I find, frankly, to be dreadfully boring. But the last few arcs leading up to Armageddon Game have been excellent, particularly the story that introduced Venus. Shout out to letterer Shawn Lee, whose work on TMNT has been nothing short of incredible. Every issue he does something that stops me in my tracks. If there are “superstar letterers”, Lee is definitely one of them.

The Armageddon Game is shaping up to be an extremely fun event, too. The art on the event series is fantastic and they brought in CUDDLY THE COWLICK. What’s not to love?

Enough rambling…Onto the main event: The comic books I’m not reading! I somehow accidentally made this week’s column for MATURE READERS ONLY, so no kids allowed.

Continue reading “No Context Comics – A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read From the Week of 11/9”
comics, comics criticism, no context comics

No Context Comics – A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read From the Week of 10/5

The hard part about trying to run a website with no monetary incentive is how often things like a “real job,” or “making sure a child doesn’t starve,”  interfere with lofty goals and scheduling plans. So, generally, my brain is mush from a major crunch in the office and various illnesses and a virus parade, courtesy of my wife’s class of first-graders, and my son’s daycare. Essentially all I’ve had the energy to do is catch up on classic issues of Amazing & Spectacular Spider-Man. Where I have discovered that Denny O’Neil’s tenure is among his worst work, and Roger Stern is an all-time great. I’ll be back soon with more breaking news from the late 70s and early 80s.

All that to say–after a missed week last week, and a delayed tie-in to the new Tim Drake series (which I have still not had the chance to read) No Context Comics is back. It’s a fun week with many different feelings.

That Texas Blood #18

Chris Condon & Jacob Phillips, Creators. Pip Martin, Color assists

My favorite part of this column is reading books that are deep into a run. I have much less fun reading a number 2 or 3. Early in the runs books are usually trying to tackle heavy exposition to set up their concept or moving past the initial introductions of their number one. So it’s too soon to subtly catch people up but you don’t have enough information to understand what is going on. That’s not a rule but it is something I’ve already gotten a sense of. First arcs in particular have a rhythm that makes it extremely difficult to understand anything midstream. Many writers are also still feeling out their characters and vision.

But at 18 issues, a series has found its footing and a level of confidence in its storytelling and characters. After the first year, the world begins to feel authentic and lived in, even without heavy or explicit narrations.  Even a new reader gets a sense of the creative team’s voice and point of view. 

That confidence is evident all over this issue of That Texas Blood which sees what I assume to be a climactic and series-defining moment. Even without the context of everything that has happened to the two pairs of characters at the center of this issue’s murder mystery story, the weight of these events and relationships are excellently crafted. Writer Condon fills the scenes between the two seniors with unspoken emotion and relationship. Jacob Phillips gives the two a tender and subtly intimate physical relationship that speaks volumes about how these two relate to one another. They have both lived a life and, perhaps, are on the cusp of coming together to move beyond past pains to move forward together. 

I’m not sure why there is a blizzard in Texas, but the discordant weather provides an unsettling and eerie atmosphere, accentuated by the cool and muted colors. The warmth surrounding our apparent leads for this issue as they relax within the warmth of their home is a flickering thing, marred by tragedy and the crimson of bloodshed.

This is the kind of issue that gives you just enough information through its storytelling–both in script and art–to make the events engrossing while inviting readers to go back to understand more about its characters to fully appreciate. 

On its own, though, this is a great example of serialized comic book storytelling. It stands alone while no doubt being even more affecting with full context. It doesn’t punish someone who leafs through it on a whim by rattling off character names or summaries.  It presents an intimate portrait of its characters and an emotional fallout. Another to add to my list of books to go back and read.

Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty # 5

Jackson Lanzing & Collin Kelly, Writers. Carmen Carnero, Lines. Nolan Woodard, Colors. Joe Caramagna, Letters. Kaitlyn Lindtvedt & Alanna Smith, Editors. 

This issue really doesn’t work for me but it has very little to do with the structure of the story or the storytelling. I think Lanzing and Kelly do a strong job of presenting the stakes–both emotional and global–within the text of the issue itself. Carnero’s art is gorgeous and expressive. I just don’t like this plot. That’s not usually what this column is about, but I am going to go ahead and complain anyway.  I think it is silly and undermines Bucky Barnes to have him not a product of Cold War Russian espionage but actually a product of a centuries-old mystery war between a shadowy ur-government controlling world events.

Furthermore, it just contradicts years of Marvel continuity beyond just Winter Soldier’s elegantly simple story. 

I don’t think that we add anything by giving Bucky a physical manifestation of his brainwashing to shoot. But we lose plenty–Bucky being warped by the realities of war and violence. It removes an allegory for real world veteran trauma and pain. Men come back from war twisted and broken, unrecognizable to themselves and loved ones.

Perhaps it is an attempt to keep Bucky and Steve on opposite moral ends as Winter Soldier’s rough edges have been shaved off a bit over time. But it just seems tone deaf to what made Brubaker’s reinvention of Bucky compelling. “Secret cabal controlling world conflict” is also a bit tired as far as Marvel plots go. It is also extremely silly to say Captain America’s shield is actually a symbol for a secret cabal…It’s just the American flag.

Plot aside–and it’s a big aside–Lanzing and Kelly’s  storytelling mechanics work well here. The Marvel recap page is always appreciated by this writer, and the conflict between our heroes is both logical and seeded naturally from the very first page to make the final moment of the issue feel both inevitable and dramatic. 

Carnero gives the whole thing a cinematic flair with harsh lighting and dramatic lens flares. The final conflict, taking place in a hologram projection of a winter landscape, effectively reflects the motif of artificiality and gamesmanship that permeates the issue and, I assume, the whole arc.

I don’t know. If this “Five Points” plot works for you, great. It falls apart completely for me.

Poison Ivy #5

G. Willow Wilson, Writer. Marcio Takara & Brian Level, Pencils. Stefano Gaudiano, Inks. Arif Prianto, Colors. Hassan Otsmane-Elhauo, Letters. Arianna Turturro & Ben Abernathy, Editors.

I find myself tiring of the idea of villains becoming good guys. Not because I don’t believe in the idea of rehabilitation and second chances. No, I just think it diminishes the line because over time it seems like every supervillain slowly becomes a hero, thus dwindling down the hero’s rogues gallery and reducing the potential stories to be told with those characters as villains. It seems to happen any time a bad guy hits a certain threshold of popularity.


Poison Ivy, though? It’s hard to write her as a villain these days. Though her methods continue to be extreme, it’s hard to argue that the woman consistently trying to save the planet from manmade destruction, even using extremist ends, is somehow “the bad guy,” particularly when the target is often the rich or affluent, as has often been the case for Poison Ivy stories. It kind of sends the wrong message…We are on the precipice of global destruction from our wanton destruction of the environment, so painting the most prominent ecological advocate as purely a terrorist rings as tone deaf.

G Willow Wilson here does a strong job positioning Pamela Isley as conflicted by her more deadly whims and her own desire for personal growth. Using Batman as a physical manifestation of her conscience is a great way to show her own moral development. Batman believed in Ivy’s ability to make positive change, and now she hallucinates him as her better angel.

It also seems both inevitable and brilliant to connect Poison Ivy to DC’s concept of “The Green,” the sentient magic/science of the world’s plant life. It gives Ivy both a “higher calling” to redirect her energies from petty crime to true superheroics. I like how conflicted Ivy seems here between her own selfish desires and her yearning for justice.  I must admit to being largely ignorant of Ivy’s current origin story, but tying her into the Floronic Man and Swamp Thing helps to make her transition into a semi-mystical anti-hero feel logical. 

Wilson gives a good sense of Ivy’s internal struggle as well as the righteous anger she feels toward the Floronic Man even though I don’t know any of what has led up to this fight. One problem often facing villains-turned-heroes is who do they fight if not the hero they have started to help? Giving Ivy the extended world of nature-monsters to play in helps to solve that conundrum.

Like the other books this week, this story gives just enough information to be engrossing without being confusing or overbearing. With the help of the narration and the nature of this issue’s climactic confrontation, we get a lot of what we need to understand what is at stake and why Ivy is doing what she is doing. It’s a strong and confident script from Wilson, aided by the art from Marcio Takara and  Brian Level. Both artists imbue the characters with plenty of personality, and Floronic Man (in both human and monster form) is a positively frightening figure. 

I appreciate the clarity of vision in this issue from the creators, which overcame my biases against villain-turned-hero stories to tell a compelling, character-centric story.

comics, comics criticism, dc comics, marvel, Perspectives, writing

The Urbane Turtle 2021 Year in Review – The Comics

In 2020, in the first couple months of this Urbane Turtle experiment, I posted a Year in Review of some of the various forms of media that got me through a difficult year. I was very explicit that it wasn’t a “Best-Of,” and I did not limit it to any medium.

But after a full year as a semi-professional comic critic, I want to share with you my Top 10 comics from the year that was. There is not much in the way of ground rules for how books qualify for this list. They had to release new issues in 2021. I’ve spent the last 2 weeks catching up on a backlog of releases and am happy to finally share this with you all.

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Radiant Black volume 1 cover, art by Marcelo Costa. Radiant Black soars through the sky in a superhero pose.
comics, Perspectives, writing

COMICSXF Interview: Kyle Higgins Breaks Down the First Arc of Image’s Radiant Black

For ComicsXF, I chatted with writer Kyle Higgins about the first arc of Radiant Black. We got into his philosophy of superheroes and the responsibility to take risks he feels in writing an independent comic. Read the interview here.

comics, comics criticism, writing

Image Comics’ Ordinary Gods Questions Heroism and Mythmaking

Comics are often synonymous with superheroes; they dominate the industry whether you like it or not. Their myths and their tropes and their cycles of stagnation, reinvention, and their inevitable return to the way things Always Are. Heroes win, and more important than that: they are heroes. There is comfort in them; I am a fan of them. I don’t begrudge the status quo in and of itself. But often these demands and these cycles hide the hard truths of the industry that creates these stories, the way the corporate sponsors of these lucrative properties exploit and stifle the creators they rely on for their tentpole films and licensing initiatives. The heroes and gods are the myth, but the reality is as ordinary and petty and deflating as any other industry, with its dark secrets and interpersonal frustrations. While Ordinary Gods is not a superhero story, their dominance of the medium and the expectations readers bring to the comics reading experience are inescapable.

Ordinary Gods is a new creator owned series by the red-hot writer Kyle Higgins and artist Felipe Watanabe. Higgins looks to explore and unmask these ideals of heroism and take a harder look at the truth. It serves as a commentary not only on our human tendency for myth-making and hero-worship more broadly but also a metatextual commentary about the comics industry itself that channels his professional frustration of the work for hire system into a cosmic, eternal cycle of death and rebirth.

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