Tor.com content by

Alex Brown

Pull List: Island and Phonogram

We all love comics, but sometimes it’s nice to get outside the mainstream, and what better publisher to do that with than Image Comics? This summer, the creator-ruled publisher released Island by Emma Ríos and Brandon Graham and raised from the dead Phonogram by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. Neither series could exist in the Big Two; they’re just too far from anything Marvel or DC or any of their subsidiaries are doing. Neither publisher has done anything in the way of a comics magazine in years, even though some of your favorite superheroes were born in anthologies (looking at you, Spider-Man). And while urban fantasy and magical realism are crowding the literary field right now, there are few mages in comics. So, if you’re looking for something new, exciting, and unlike anything else out there, you’re in luck.

[“Trust me: epic covered in sparklers and win-flakes.”]

Fear the Walking Dead, S1 E2: “So Close, Yet So Far”

The series premiere of Fear the Walking Dead last week smashed the record for best cable premiere ever, with more than 13 million people watching (albeit still shy of its parent property’s average viewership). With ratings like that, it’s safe to say we’re stuck with Fear whether we like it or not. And if last night’s episode is anything to go on, the ride won’t be so bad after all.

[“This doesn’t end.”]

Dread Wolf: Teen Wolf Season 5 Midseason Finale

Oh Teen Wolf, how did you go so horribly awry? The show has never been good at internal logic, but at least it was fun. It was a wild, bizarro ride that dragged you along whether you wanted it to or not. The fourth season was dire as all get-out, and while season five isn’t quite as bad as its predecessor, without a powerhouse forcing the characters into terrifying situations and desperate decisions the whole thing falls flat.

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The Dead and the Dying: Fear the Walking Dead Premiere

I like to consider myself a bit of a zombie nut, but even I’ll admit I approached Fear the Walking Dead with more than a little trepidation. Its very premise—the dawn of the walking dead pandemic currently plaguing Rick in Georgia—is an obvious cash grab, and given the ever-increasing ratings for its parent property, you can’t really blame AMC for wanting to rake it in while they can. More to the point, The Walking Dead isn’t exactly a beacon of quality television. Entertaining? Sure. Solidly crafted? Mostly. Sharp scripts? Eh. Well-drawn characters with interesting backstories and consistent personalities? Rarely. TWD is the kind of show that wants to be Breaking Bad but is either unwilling or unable (or, likely at this point, both) to put in the effort. It’s no wonder people were so anxious about drawing from the same dry well but with a shiny new bucket.

[“Nature always wins.”]

Wayward Pines Is Half Paradise, Half Lost, All Crazy Town Banana Pants

Welcome to Wayward Pines, Idaho, a small town with a big secret. After a terrible car accident, Secret Service agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) wakes in the town hospital completely cut off from the outside world. Everyone is aggressively pleasant and suspiciously welcoming, especially kindly Dr. Jenkins (Toby Jones). He butts heads with a hot-tempered ice cream enthusiast (Terrence Howard) and the moustache-twirling Nurse Pam (Melissa Leo) before running into the woman he was sent to rescue—his ex partner and part-time lover Kate (Carla Gugino). He’s shocked to find her a decade older and happily married to a toymaker named Harold (Reed Diamond) despite having only been missing a short while.

Soon Ethan learns the immutable rules of Wayward Pines: “do not try to leave; do not discuss the past; do not discuss your life before; always answer the phone if it rings; work hard, be happy, and enjoy your life.” With the unexpected arrival of his wife Theresa (Shannyn Sossamon) and son Ben (Charlie Tahan) and the sudden deaths of allies and a nemeses alike, Ethan’s moral compass is thrown out of whack. Monsters abound within and without the town, and it is up to the Burkes to uncover the truth before the lies destroy the town from the inside out.

[“Where paradise is home.”]

Pull List: Hawkeye

When I first pitched Pull List, I intended the column to look at the bad stuff as well as the good, but somehow it’s morphed into monthly love notes. Which means that this is the perfect time to talk about Matt Fraction and David Aja’s absolutely fan-flerken-tastic run on Hawkeye. It’s one of the rare few superhero comics I’d readily and without hesitation put near the top of my Best Of list. It’s that good. No, it’s that incredibly great.

[“Okay, this looks bad.”]

Pull List: Young Avengers

I wish I could trace back how Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Young Avengers first came into my life. A rec from the guy who owns the comic book shop I go to? Or maybe some random entry I came across on a list of must-read comics? No matter how it appeared, reading it is one of the best comics-related decisions I’ve ever made. There is nothing I don’t love about 2013 Young Avengers. It has just about everything: amazing art, fantastic dialogue, an exciting story, engaging characters, and is practically brimming with diversity. And what makes it the perfect Pride Month topic is that the team is literally the gayest superhero team in the whole of the Big Two. Not only that, but Billy and Teddy are quite possibly the most adorable couple in Marvel. It’s like they’re made for each other (hint hint).

[“I’m not going to spend the rest of my life in the phone booth. I’m not living a lie.”]

Pull List: Pride Month

June is, of course, Pride Month, and while it’s vital we remember Stonewall—or Harvey Milk and the Compton’s Cafeteria riots if you’re from my neck of the woods—how we as a culture conceptualize, express, and discuss LGBTQ issues is just as important. And since this is a column about comic books, that’s the medium we’re taking a crack at here today. Like just about every other minority group in comic books, LGBTQ people haven’t exactly had an easy go of it.

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Il Mostro: Hannibal Season 3 Premiere

It’s been said a thousand times before, but Hannibal is the best television show you’re not watching. And by “you,” of course, I mean the non-Fannibals who have stumbled upon this post and said to yourself, “Oh yeah, Hannibal, the show about that cannibal guy who threatened that Clarice chick with fava beans and a nice chianti.” Except no, this Hannibal isn’t your peepaw’s cannibal shrink. The vision Bryan Fuller (the auteur behind Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies) hath wrought is a lucid nightmare. His Hannibal is a macabre menace out to deconstruct love, trust, and hope, to shatter and pulverize our humanity, and to force us to redefine what precisely makes humans human, through psychological warfare and emotional torture. It’s an oasis in a desert of mediocre television, and you’ve never seen anything like it.

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Failed Expectations: Supernatural Season 10

Supernatural has been on for 10 years. Ten long, long years. Some of it has been fun, a bit of it incredible, and most of it grating, unfulfilling, and regressive. Season 10 wasn’t the worst thing ever created, but it was far from good. We need to have a heart-to-heart, Supernatural. Your fans, we love you, but you’re throwing away your best years on pointless distractions and meaningless philosophizing. You’re 10 years old now, you’re too old for this nonsense. If you want to stop re-enacting the past and grow up, here are 6 ways to do it.

Spoilers for season 10 ahoy…

[“Can you think of a worse hell?” “Well, there’s Hell.”]

Pull List: ODY-C

People have been retelling, reimagining, and recontextualizing the Odyssey ever since Homer figured out the easiest way to memorize long stanzas of poetry was through dactylic hexameter. James Joyce’s Ulysses is an obvious homage, as is the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the French-Japanese animated series Ulysses 31. Twelfth-century Irish writers tweaked the Greek classic into Merugud Uilix maicc Leirtis, Dante dabbled in Odysseus fanfic in his Inferno, and the great and glorious Margaret Atwood let Penelope tell her side of the story in The Penelopiad.

Now with ODY-C, it’s Matt Fraction and Christian Ward’s turn, and trust me, it’s the interpretation you’ve been waiting for.

[“Sing in us, muse / Of Odyssia / Witchjack and wanderer / Homeward bound / Warless at last”]

The (Welcome) Invasion of the Whippersnappers

The most wonderful time of year for comic book geeks is almost upon us. No, not the opening of comic book movie season, even one that includes premieres of the new Avengers world domination story, the awesome-looking Fantastic Four movie, or Batman and Superman Have a Pissing Contest while Wonder Woman Gets Bored and Goes Off to Save the World.

In a few short days, the first Saturday of May to be exact, is Free Comic Book Day! It is the day we give thanks to our ancestors for bestowing upon us this glorious medium by descending en masse on our local comic book shops and scrabbling to get everything on our wishlist. This year is also the first time Children’s Book Week and Free Comic Book Day are joining forces to help get kids interested in reading, which this librarian thinks is pretty darn great.

[“A great nation is a reading nation.”]

Bending Shakespeare

As a woman of color who spends an absolutely ludicrous amount of time reading fanfic, I’m a huge nerd for gender, queer, and racebending. I’ve read some amazing fem!Destiel, adore racebent Harry Potter fanart, and to the OP who first came up with the brilliant idea to cast Taylor Swift and Kristen Stewart in an all-girl remake of Grease, I love you. In a lot of cases, I tend to prefer the bent versions over the original canon. I mean, if you don’t think Lucy Liu is the greatest Watson to ever Watson, well, I’m here to tell you that you’re just plain wrong.

I’m also someone who grew up in the 90s, which means I was drowning in a sea of hormones and emotions during the peak of America’s Shakespeare movie adaptation phase. To this day the soundtracks to Romeo + Juliet and 10 Things I Hate About You are on my iPod…and I still have the original CDs, even if they’re too scratched to ever play again. Julia Stiles’ Kat made me fall in love with Shakespeare, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Romeo sealed the deal, Ethan Hawke’s Hamlet made me reconsider my life choices, and Mekhi Phifer’s O set my heart a’flutter once again. And now, with the magic of the internet and several streaming services with extensive catalogues, I can combine my obsession with Shakespeare with my passion for bending.

[“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.”]

Series: Shakespeare on Tor.com

Diversity and Inclusivity at WonderCon 2015

This year was my third year attending WonderCon, and while it’s not my favorite con (that would be Worldcon), it’s still three solid days of geeky fun. As always, I went with my best friend, and she and I went through our usual range of emotions: being bored on Friday; overwhelmed, annoyed, and slightly disappointed on Saturday; and pleased and totally satisfied by Sunday. Prolonged exposure to that many people is equal parts challenging and entertaining for a pair of friends that are basically the 32-year-old versions of Daria and Jane.

We switched from Comic Con to WonderCon a while back for a lot of reasons, but mostly because the former never felt as comfortable as the latter…

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The Walking Dead, Season 5 Finale: “Conquer”

Season 5 has had a lot of ups, but even more downs. Where season 4 looked to be turning the ship in the right direction, now we’re right back where we started with repetitive main arcs, stalled subplots, cipher personalities, and unresolved questions. Between Father Gabriel and Sasha’s descents into madness, Michonne and Tyreese’s recovery from violence, Rick and Carol solidifying their brutal plans, Glenn and Maggie keeping everyone from killing everyone else, and Abraham, Eugene, Rosita, and Tara, um, existing, The Walking Dead keeps on keeping on. Like the rest of the series, “Conquer” looked great and effectively teased out tension, but ultimately the whole thing just sorta sat there.

[“We had to stop being out there.”]

Pull List: Getting Emotional Over Bitch Planet

Originally, this edition of Pull List was supposed to be all Kelly Sue DeConnick all the time as a co-review of Bitch Planet and Pretty Deadly. And then I read issue #3 and curled up in a cuddle puddle with my pet rat and cried for half an hour. I don’t even know how to explain everything, all the emotions that Penny’s history flooded up inside me, and even if I could it’s far more than this post could sustain. This review is rambling and wandering, but if you could manage to talk about a series like Bitch Planet and not get worked up emotionally then there is something terribly wrong with you.

[“…and you bastards ain’t never gonna break me.”]

iZombie Gets Badass with Banter, Bodies, and Brains

Before the boat party from hell, Liv Moore (pun!) was a promising physician with a Type A personality and a studly fiancé. One night she decides to step out of her comfort zone and hang out with some work friends at a party when it all goes awry. A new synthetic drug called Utopia gets passed around and turns the users and anyone they scratch into zombies, including Liv. Five months later, she’s traded her job for a gig in the ME’s office, broken up with the man she loves, and gone into virtual hiding, too haunted by the terrible events of the recent past to even consider having a future. Because she doesn’t know how to tell them what she really is, she isolates herself.

Liv’s unhappy with her un-life, so she mopes around like an emo ghost and sneaks brain noms from post-autopsy corpses. Trick is, with every brain she consumes she sees flashes of the dead person’s life. Even worse trick is that if she doesn’t eat brains on a regular basis—or if she gets overstimulated—her baser, more violent nature kicks into high gear. When her supervisor discovers her deadly little secret, finding a cure becomes his prime directive. Suddenly a future doesn’t seem so impossible, and Liv decides to use her gift/curse to help Seattle PD solve unsolvable crimes.

[“What’s the worst that could happen?”]

Pull List: Women’s History Month

It’s tough being a girl in comic books. You don’t have a lot of options. The big divide is between being a superhero or a mundane, but that’s just physics. In reality your choices aren’t based in whether or not you have any powers but what kind of woman you are.

You can be the Romantic Love Interest—with the option of becoming the Wife if you can convince the hero to stick around or, if he dumps you, the Femme Fatale/Villain. If you are a Career Woman, you usually only do that while biding your time until the hero proposes or dumps the Sexy Girl. The Sexy Girl exudes sexuality and seduces other characters left and right. She functions under what should be sex positive behavior but is generally treated by the creators as a chance to get a woman as close to naked on the page as they can. She wears nothing but bikinis, revealing costumes so tight they look painted on, or outfits perpetually coming undone. Sometimes you can be the Lesbian, but most of the time that’s just an excuse for the writers to have you talk about all the sex you’re having and for the artist to draw you in a variety of titillating poses. In other words, you’re the Sexy Girl with slightly different window dressing.

[Things aren’t all bad, though.]

Pull List: Sex Criminals

Can this whole intro just be the lyrics to “Fat Bottomed Girls”? No? Fine. In that case, let’s talk about sex, baby. Specifically, sex involving bank-robbing, library-saving, relationship-ruining criminals as written by the kind of comics creators who do great work in the mainstream and off-the-wall-awesome work at Image Comics. This is the story of a fledgling relationship, of two young people struggling with the whole “adulthood” thing, of people who can stop time, of sex scientists and sex cops and sex criminals, of the ways we live and love and screw and screw up. So put down that street muffin, brimpers. This is about to get weird.*

*But not that weird. This review is totally SFW. Unless you click the links. So maybe wait to do that until you get home. Ok? Ok.

[“Anyway, so… Freddie Mercury huh?”]