[Interview] Ben McCool – Whippin’ Up Comics!

If you’re a regular passenger on Spaceship OL, chances’re pretty good that your a bit of a comics fan. And if that’s the case, you’ve probably seen the name Ben McCool poppin’ up over the last few years. Unless, of course, you’re a genuine turkey. But let’s assume that this is a turkey-free zone, shall we?

The writer of MEMOIR and CHOKER (amongst others), Ben McCool has quickly established himself as a burgeoning force of nature in the sequential art ecosystem. Yes, it’s true that a viscous oil of staid storytelling may pump through the veins of the comic medium. But McCool takes a stab at narrative resuscitation by mainlining a cocktail of novelty, originality, daring, and genuine entertainment directly into the heart.

Yes, I am a fan of Ben McCool.

In fact, I recently found myself sending the British-born scribe a set of questions that I’d conjured up during a moment of half-inebriated super-confidence. To my delight, McCool pleasantly responded! What a gentleman! Hit the jump to check an exchange which includes an exploration of the comic book career path, some insight into what inspires creativity, the sharing of a truly filthy haiku, and plenty more!

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Variant Covers: Recommendations and Apologies

The Batman

Yeah, welcome to Variant Covers! I’ve been slacking like a fucking asshole. I have a thick ass stack of stretchy-limbs, sociopaths, mutants and blind dudes with nunchucks to catch up with. Float me this week and I’ll float your boat. Instead of previewing what is coming out this week, I’m going to give you the lowdown on the shit I heartily recommend you check out, if not follow with an insatiable ass-lust.


Choker #3

Choker is the demented love child of Blade Runner and super-vulgarity. It’s super profane, super gritty, superly super. It’s a detective story at the peak of expletive-laden blood-soaked awesomeness.


Daredevil #502

Daredevil. Oh, do I love thee. One man’s internal struggle with his demons made literal, as the bro attempts to control the Hand. This is going to end in tears. Or maybe it already has. Like I’ve said, I haven’t read the latest issue. Inorite? Fuck me.


Fantastic Four : Awesomeness Defined

Fantastic Four:
Jonathan Hickman is fucking fantastic. Puns ahoy! But seriously. I don’t read enough comic books that can intertwine the intergalactic with the heart. Or really, I don’t read any besides this.


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Images & Words – Choker #3

Choker 3

[images & words is the comic book pick-of-the-week at OL. equal parts review and diatribe, the post highlights the most memorable/infuriating/entertaining book released that wednesday]

Spoilers Ahead. Forreal.

Images & Words is once again taking a stroll through the streets of Shotgun City. It’s a futuristic slum, a place where even impressive technological advances cannot push against the tide of mediocrity known as the human condition. A diseased corpse wrapped in LED lights. It is a sociological ecotone, a convergence of possibility and failure that is bound to bewilder any visitor.

And it couldn’t be any more beautiful.

This is might be why I love Choker so much. It seems to be that the stories I become most invested incorporate the setting as an integral component of the narrative structure, as opposed to arbitrarily settling for any location. Sometimes the setting is so important that it becomes the crux of the story, such as with the island in LOST or the eponymous ship of Battlestar Galactica. Other times, settings make subtle suggestions that readers pick up on without even knowing it; the barren dunes of Tattooine reflect Luke Skywalker’s inexperience, whereas Death Star 2 represents the chipping away at Darth Vader’s once impenetrable heart of darkness.

So as I walk through Shotgun City, my visitor’s map is pissed on from a fourth-story fire escape, I just laugh. “Wow, that old lady’s got great aim!” And then I notice that her impeccable shot can be chalked up to night vision goggles and a laser-guided rocket-catheter. What a fucking world this is!

To be fair, maybe it’s inappropriate of me to pass off my hallucinations, my romps through fictional elseworlds, as a comic book review. But once you’ve consumed enough caffeine to reach Omega Level, reality and fiction become interchangeable terms, travel guides and reviews become synonymous, and definitive concepts are forfeited in favor of the indefinite but undeniable. And so, I pour more Rockstar Recovery into my system, gaze up at toppling skyscrapers of Shotgun City, and continue my trek.

Making my way through the dense concrete jungle, I learn all sorts of tidbits about its inhabitants. For instance, it turns out that some employees of the Shotgun City Police Department are eligible for Man Plus, a procedure that endows participants with superhuman strength. That is, of course, when it goes according to plan.

Unfortunately, Detective Johnny Jackson’s operation did not go quite so smoothly. As he was informed after awaking from surgery,

Those impervious to the enhancement properties have instead cultivated some very undesirable results. Manifestations of pre-existing conditions I’ve seen before, though not to this extent…But then I’ve never before encountered a genuine case of alien hand syndrome, let alone a transmutation of it.

Ah, so I see…that’s why Jackson’s left hand occasionally tries to shoot him in his sleep or choke him to death. It’s all making sense!

My daytrip also finds me overhearing explanations for the misandry of Flynn Walker, Jackson’s surly partner. Jackson’s associate Royce Davies provides some gory details;

I mean, you heard about her husband, right? Catching him in bed with her sister and best pal…? There’s even rumors that her mother was in on it. Pretty fucked up, huh?

With that being said, Walker’s rage comes in handy from time to time. Combined with her Man Plus, this unadulterated aggression helps her fend off a bunch of Marilyn Manson-looking teenage attackers…who can fly. I see her take out these gothic avengers, these outsiders who declare that “It’s all different now: the bullied have become the bullies. And we’re really, really in the mood to hurt people.”

Right before I board my bus outta Shotgun City, I see a fucking freakazoid tearing people limb from limb at the police department. Hell, even Walker and her aforementioned abilities can’t lay the fucker out. I suppose Johnny Jackson might have to step up to plate, so hopefully I can see him do something wonderful during my next visit.

Choker #3 is entitled Down These Mean Streets a Bastard Must Go. I agree. If you like comic books and have yet to visit Shotgun City, consider yourself at a disadvantage. Go buy this goddamn comic.

Variant Covers: Keep It Secret, Keep It Safe

Secret Avengers #1

If this ain’t Variant Covers, then I’m fucking lost. Welcome to the weekly column where I haphazardly stare at the release list of this week’s comics and pick out the titles I’m sweating. Most of them it’s the usual shit! But who cares. It’s summer time, and the living is easy. Or at least I don’t feel bad for sweating through my shitty t-shirt for once, since I can just blame it on the weather and not my glands and caffeine addiction. After that fourth energy drink of the day I’m literally slathered in crevice juice. Crevice juice.

Secret Avengers #1
As I mentioned last week, we’re entering the Heroic Age. And no Age would be complete without seventeen Avengers titles to back it up, would it? So without having read them all, I’m going to blindly and foolishly tell you this: if you’re only going to read one Avengers title, pick this one up? Ed Brubaker has consistently rocked out on both Dardevil and Captain America through the years. The answer to the trivia question, “Who could bring Bucky back to life and not have it suck” will always be Eddie. And then there’s Daredevil. I can’t remember a more tortured and nuanced dude than Matty, and Brubaker took the reins from Bendis back in the day and it was a seamless transition.

So no, I don’t know what the fuck is going on in this title. Coming off of Siege, Steve Rogers ain’t no American captain anymore. Instead he’s dubbed some bullshit like “America’s Top Cop” (he’s Nick Fury), and apparently these are his Avengers that are also a secret. This is your on-ramp to the title, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be the same as every other first-issue of a JLA or Avenger’s title these days: just the means through which the team comes together. For better or worse.

Around the Marvel Universe, there’s some other legit stuff dropping you might want to check out. For starters, there’s Fantastic Four #579. And if you read this column even semi-regularly, you’ll find me throwing rope over Hickman’s rendition of Marvel’s first family all the time. Buy this comic book, share it with your friends. Incontrovertible proof that Reed Richards can be more than a douchey guy in the Fox movie. I promise. Then there’s the latest issue of Thunderbolts, which has Luke Cage running the team.   And Juggernaut? What the fuck?


The Juggernaut, Bitch!

Speaking of Cain Marko, what the fuck is that guy up to these days? Besides being on the Thunderbolts, apparently. I remember when I was growing up Juggernaut seemed so fucking cool. I mean, he was a guy who could run a lot, and smash stuff with his head. As a kid, this was precisely what I spent most of my time doing. Running into shit, and smashing my head. The idea that it would make me a bad ass, and not make girls laugh at me as my size 15 feet tripped was comforting.

Also, where’s my Juggernaut/Juggalos cross-over? This seems like an untapped brand, right here. What happens when the Juggernaut becomes a Juggalo? It seems like it almost makes too much sense. Let’s get this shit done!


Sense and Sensibility #1

Sense and Sensibility #1
I’m pretty sure that if this comic book doesn’t feature zombies, no one is going to read it. Sry, yo! No seriously, who in their right fucking mind is going to buy this comic book? Academic geeks like me? Natch. I just spent five months reading British women’s literature from this time period. I have no desire to see this novel drafted panel by panel. Girls? Double natch. They’re all iCarly and shit. They don’t need to walk into the creepy comic store dungeon with their father and pick this up. So uh, who exactly? Completionists? Pedophiles? Maybe.

Is this some sort of reverse cash-in? With Pride and Prejudice and Zombies making everyone go fucking bananas, did they think that maybe slipping out another Jane Austen book in comic form, sans zombies, could drum up some interest? Who knows. I had to listen to the professor from said class drone on and on about how misogynistic P&P&Z despite the fact that a) half the class was female and b) they had dug it. So if anything, I’ve learned something about Sense and Sensibility from this exercise: if it’s not being misogynistic, it’s going to be too boring for people to pick it up.

(Don’t hate on me, I actually enjoy Austen.)


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Images & Words – Choker #2

Choker 2

[images & words is the comic book pick-of-the-week at OL. equal parts review and diatribe, the post highlights the most memorable/infuriating/entertaining book released that wednesday]

Spoilers Ahead. Forreal.

The second issue of Choker has hit stands and my nerd-tummy is churning and bubbling… With excitement! The first issue pushed the reader right into Shotgun City, the neo-slum that makes Blade Runner’s Los Angeles step back and say, “Hrm…Maybe I’m not so ugly. Let’s go buy jeans so the boys notice our butts!” Alongside, Detective Johnny Jackson, the reader is thrust into a search for Hunt Cassidy, the sociopathic drug dealer referred to as a prince among bastards.

As one would expect, the narrative continue to develop in this new installment. Jackson is still down on his luck, the bad guy is still at large, and Shotgun City is still a shithole. But we’re starting to get glimpses into the reality of the terror at hand, realizing just how worse for the wear the cast of characters are.

For instance…the black glove on Jackson’s left hand? It slips off while he’s sleeping to reveal a mangled, disgusting mess. A mangled, disgusting mess that grabs a gun and tries to shoot the hero until he can stab it with a sedative. Shit’s bizarre/I fucking loves it.

This second issue of the McCool/Templesmith collaboration also introduces a saucy female partner for Johnny Jackson. Her name is Kara Thrace. Whoops, my bad! I mean to say that her name is Walker. But really, if you’re familiar with BSG’s resident lady-badass, then you certainly know Walker. When we first meet Starbuck, she’s drinking space-booze and trading insults with the boys. When we meet Walker, she’s smoking a butt and telling another officer that she’d “rather be molested by clowns” than sleep with him. Starbuck asserts herself, punching Tigh in the mouth and proving that a man can’t keep her down. In place of fuzzy dice, Walker hangs her ex-husband’s nutsack from her rearview mirror. Oh, and they both have short blond hair, personality-defying good looks, and a sick jacket.

But don’t think I’m complaining. Because the fact is that sometimes using tried-and-true archetypes works. Walker is the tough-as-nails woman that Johnny Jackson is going to have to deal with. And, in a not uncommon twist, Walker is working for the slimeball that hired Jackson back in the first place. So we have to spend some time trying to figure out who exactly this femme fatale is going to play — her new partner, her corrupt boss, both of them? Again, standard crime story fare, but it’s working!

Once again, Templesmith’s art is the absolute fucking balls. His line art is top-notch, but it’s his work with tones and colors that elevate Choker to the plateau of visual ecstasy. As I read the comic, I find myself feeling as though I’m lost in some sort of bleak neon nightmare. There is a general gloominess afoot, and the occasional splashes of light are only used to sparingly highlight an impending horror. Take, as an example, the first splash, in which a pack of hillbilly cannibals reveal themselves from the shadows — only their ravenous, drooling faces receive full color.

In terms of visual structure, it’s worth noting that dark gray ink clouds often stretch themselves across the page. Effectively, this helps to blur the otherwise rigid divisions between panels. So while the paneled sequence remains clear to the reader, a subtle sense of narrative obfuscation is presented. Which is useful, considering that Choker is a crime-mystery, slowly revealing itself over the course of six issues.

I’m not exactly sure where Choker is leading. But I’m going to follow.


Warren Ellis — I want you to read this shit and look at the sexy art. And then I want you to take your beautiful, fish’n’chips snatching fingers and put them to a keyboard. And then, I want you to finish Fell.

Images & Words – Choker #1


[images & words is the comic book pick-of-the-week at OL. equal parts review and diatribe, the post highlights the most memorable/infuriating/entertaining book released that wednesday]

Sometimes impulse purchases work out for the best. Other times, they don’t. This week, I’d like to share a story in which tossing down four bucks for an unfamiliar product ended up being a good idea.

A damn good idea.

Just like every Wednesday, I walked into the comic book store looking forward to snagging all sorts of goofy shit. Again, I know how ludicrous these books can be, but anticipating their release helps get me through the week. Reading them, on the other hand, helps me forget about the week altogether. Clearly, it’s a marriage made in Escapist Heaven. So it goes without saying, I picked up all of my favorite books that feature body builders with super powers, mind-numbing exposition and overly-sexualized women.

In addition to this mindrot, I also snagged Choker #1. Originally slated for release two weeks ago, the first issue of this six-part series comes out swinging. What we find out in this first issue is that over-the-hill private investigator Johnny Jackson is finally being offered a chance to regain his position on the city’s police force. Of course, this means he must appease the insidious chief of police by tracking down Hunt Cassidy, the man he locked up years ago.

Does this seem like another Crime Story Paint by Numbers? Sure. But Choker pulls it off, setting the story in the quasi-dystopian Shotgun City. Perhaps taking a page out of Spider Jerusalem’s playbook, Jackson has these kind words to say about his city:

Jesus. This place stinks worse than my office.

Devo-fucking-lution, how we’ve embrace you.

We’re living in one big melting pot of futility and folly, and somehow it continues to flourish.

There’s not a thing I can do about it.

Not anymore.

Mutiny has ravaged the ship and we’re slowly sinking. Not even the sharks will want to eat us.

Maybe I’m a sucker for a pessimistic, pissed-at-the-world detective. Maybe I think it’s an archetype I’ll always fall for. Maybe I just wish I could be one myself (a detective that is).


And while writer Ben McCool’s script certainly places Choker within the world of interesting narrative, it’s artist Ben Templesmith that cannon-launches it onto Mount Bad Ass Comic Book. This guy has done a ton of sick shit, such as 30 Days of Night and Warren Ellis’ (unfortunately delayed) Fell. However, I really think that Templesmith is upping the ante with his new series, and the readers are going to reap all the benefits.

Thus far, the artwork of Choker is nothing short of inspiring. Templesmith’s neat & tidy approach to panel layout keeps the story moving without the necessity of pausing to ask What the fuck is going on? With that being said, the contents of these panels are quite atmospheric in nature, creating a dark world that always seems to be clouded over. Templesmith then creates a balance, as he paints Shotgun City with vibrant neon colors. As a result, he generates a sharp urban contrast between progression and regression that harkens back to Bladerunner.

Choker #1 has proven to be the best four-dollar investment I have blindly made this week (and yes, I’ve made a few). Even without any text, this book would be worth your cash money. In a way, the fact that the story McCool has begun to unveil is actually rad, well that’s just icing on the cake.