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In this issue: a graphical understanding of Jonathan Hickman, a Q&A with Portland's newest comic shop, and aligning comics by Pokemon Go teams

Agent of the End Times: A Graphical Understanding of Jonathan Hickman's Work

I don't know if you know this, but Jonathan Hickman's a guy who likes his information displayed visually. It's kind of his thing. His latest opus with artist Tomm Coker, The Black Monday Murders, is maximum Hickman in that regard. It pairs a beefy, engaging read with iconography that adds a ton to the story. It's unlike anything else in comics. I love it.

He's also the anti-Star Lord, as he's a writer with a plan. I mean, for real: the dude's got schemes. When he builds and destroys and rebuilds and re-destroys worlds, lives, our hopes, etc., he's not going to do so in whimsical fashion. No sir. He's going to meticulously make it rain other planets or murderous horsemen of the apocalypse upon us the way Rajon Rondo crushes children in Connect Four: systematically and mercilessly.

Because of that (and many other reasons), any Hickman comic is as close as comics can get to guaranteed greatness. But not all Hickman comics are created equal. That's why we're celebrating the arrival of his aforementioned new book and the upcoming series he's writing and drawing at Image, Frontier, by breaking down his works visually, like so.
Hickman's library of works are broken into four quadrants, considering each by length of run and whether it falls heavier on the building or destroying side of things. Of course, let's be honest: one of the things that makes Hickman such a fascinating writer is how well he builds and destroys within the same project. He likes to have his cake and eat it too. That said, most of the time his projects fall heavier on one side of the ledger.

As you may have noticed, a bunch of books are missing. For this exercise, I'm just looking at his comic I started with - The Red Wing at Image - onwards, and only an array of core selects. In short, I played favorites, mostly towards the books that are complete and at least entirely scripted by him. So let's look at the quadrants and what they're comprised of.

"The HFZ" Quadrant

You may have noticed that the bottom left quadrant - or the marriage of a short run comic with destruction - is empty. If you're a Hickman fan, you probably know why: if he's going to destroy something, he's going to take his time. Savor it. After all, you gotta feel it when there's a loss, and his preference is to bring the pain over a long span, whether you're talking his creator-owned work or his Marvel titles. That's why the bottom left corner is The HFZ, or "The Hickman Free Zone."

Comics included: none
The "Burger Time" Quadrant

The top left quadrant is where a short run meets with building things up. It's a sneaky great spot for Hickman, as it's mostly an area that builds from elsewhere, letting him focus on pure payoff. It's a quick, delicious experience, kind of like Molecule Man's favorite time: Burger Time.

Comics included: The Red Wing, Secret Wars, FF

The Red Wing: My first foray into the mind of Hickman is included in this section, even though it's a dead split between build and destroy. It really is pretty balanced between those two spectrums. I mean, it was a sci-fi time travel story that basically looked at life in a cyclical, Rust Cohle sort of way. How could it be anything but that? Still, I gave it a slight lean towards building for cleanliness purposes.

Secret Wars: This may be the biggest surprise as a "builder" book, but hear me out. First off, it begins with Doom building a whole new world and ends with Reed Richards (and friends and family) peacing out for a bit so they can build all kinds of other new worlds. Second off, it works off everything else Hickman did in his time at Marvel. And I mean everything. It's the seminal proof that long (LONG!) plans can work, even if Secret Wars itself was a short-ish story. So sure, there's a whole lot of destroying of things - like Doctor Stranges and Thanoses - but it's still a builder.

FF: This glorious title is the reflection of Fantastic Four, and it's about the hope the future offers in many ways. Hickman loves his reflections in his Marvel work - Reed 616 vs. The Maker, FF vs. Fantastic Four, Avengers vs. New Avengers - and this is Hickman at his builder peak.
The "Maker-Ville" Quadrant

While East of West's Archibald Chamberlain is no doubt Hickman's favorite character - I will accept no other answers - my guess for his favorite for-hire character is The Maker from his Ultimates run (amongst other things). Hickman clearly enjoys writing him, and in a weird way, I could see The Maker's master plan from The Ultimates being aspirational for Hickman's writing: how can I destroy things using methods that take a long time, but faster? Build a dope dome that speeds up time, of course. That's why Long x Destroy = Maker-Ville.

Comics included: New Avengers, Fantastic Four, Secret Warriors

New Avengers: Nothing shows off Hickman's destructive powers better than his New Avengers run. The whole series is basically about an Illuminati of superheroes and their fracturing relationships as they destroy parallel world after parallel world (for their world's greater good, of course). It's Hickman treating Marvel's other earths like redshirts and using that as fodder for human drama. It's genius.

Fantastic Four: This might have been the toughest call. This run has its fair share of building (especially in the sense that all Hickman books are builders), it also has a ton of darkness to it. Between killing Johnny Storm (ish), the Council of Reeds, and other assorted peril, many of the run's biggest moments were destructive (seemingly, at least). And FF was built at least in part to operate as the yin to this book's yang. That's why I think it falls ever so slightly on the destroy side.

Secret Warriors: Its basic purpose was Nick Fury* using a team of expendable(ish) young heroes to destroy Hydra and its rival organization Leviathan, and he did it by employing the cloak and dagger tactics the character is known for to keep them and everyone around them moving in the same direction. It led to S.H.I.E.L.D. being reborn, but not without casualties. That said, besides The Red Wing, it's the Hickman book that you could most argue finds its way to homeostasis by the end. The road there is so littered with bodies that it still falls on the side of destruction, though. This book is living proof that you gotta crack a few eggs to make an omelette. But what an omelette this is!

* Weird post-Original Sin wrinkle: he was probably a Life Model Decoy. I guess. Comics are weird.
The "Solve(d) Everything" Quadrant

On the flip side of "Maker-Ville" in the top right corner - Builds x Long - you have the Maker's mirror, and that's Reed Richards' plan to fix everything. And because he's not a dirty rotten cheater like his Ultimate universe counterpart, he does it the right way (most of the time) because he wants to build something rather than tear it apart. That's why this section gets the designation "Solve(d) Everything," even if Fantastic Four itself doesn't fit.

Comics included: East of West, The Manhattan Projects, Avengers

East of West: You might have been surprised to see East of West in this quadrant. I mean, it's literally about the apocalypse. How could it be a builder? Because East of West - in a very weird way, despite its constant backstabbing and duplicitous maneuvers - is filled with the building (and rapid disillusionment) of alliances. And the book itself requires so much depth to its world building, it offsets the whole apocalypse thing. Or at least to me. It's my chart, dang it.

The Manhattan Projects: This book is about what would have happened if the people involved with the Manhattan Project were able to just keep doing their thing with limited government oversight. You know what they'd do? Build a whole bunch and get weird while they're at it. And oh boy, do they, even if plenty of what they build is destructive.

Avengers: While it isn't quite the full reflection FF is to Fantastic Four, Hickman's Avengers run is really about the aspirational glory of The Avengers as much as anything. Avengers as myth, if you will. Sure, there's a lot of destruction in there, but it's in service of building and enhancing the mythology of the team. And it works well, even if New Avengers is doing what it can to balance the ledger in parallel.

Comics are for Everybody: A Conversation with Books with Pictures' Katie Proctor

Front of Portland's Books with Pictures comic shop
Comics are for everybody. It's an excellent sentiment you can wear on a shirt or positively share when the comics internet gets weird again. But for some, it isn't just that: it's a way of life.

A good example of that is Katie Proctor, owner and operator of Portland's Books with Pictures, a comic shop that opened this summer with the explicit purpose of being inclusive and giving fans of all varieties a safe place to buy and enjoy comics. It's a tremendous looking shop that is specifically welcoming to the types of readers that most often feel left behind, and as a comic fan and aspiring retailer myself, I love what Proctor is doing. So I had to chat with her about the experience so far.

You can read that brief conversation below, and you can find Books with Pictures on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Your new shop opened this summer in Southeast Portland, and it's a city known for having a lot of good shops (amidst its litany of creators and publishers). What made you want to open your own shop, and beyond that, what made you want to open one focused on not just comics, but inclusivity?

KP: Because comics shops have such a strong history of being alienating, exclusive spaces, I feel it's important to create a space that isn't just neutrally "open for business," but that explicitly reaches out to non-traditional geek populations: women, kids, people of color, people of diverse genders & sexualities, and says, "This space is designed for you. You are welcome here." And then backs that up with selection, events, and customer service. Opening Books with Pictures was the outgrowth of a lot of conversations that shifted from "Here's what someone ought to do in comics retail," toward a realization that that was something I was well-positioned to do. 

One of the things I love the most about the look of the shop is how bright and open it is. Comic shops have a stigma attached to them of being cluttered and dark, but Books with Pictures looks to be the opposite of that. How important was it to get the look right to fully underline your message of inclusivity?

KP: The design of the shop was crucial for me. I wanted to make a space that was browsing-friendly, good for kids, and clean-feeling. We feature our $1 first issues near the front of the store as a sort of "tasting menu" and try to have enough signage so that newcomers never feel lost. I also believe that the unconventional feel of the shop gives me a chance to present material in a new light. People who are used to seeing superhero comics as foreign and complicated are more at ease, and that lets me introduce Black Panther as a story about competing philosophies of good government, or Ms. Marvel as a coming-of-age story. Changing people's expectations of what a comic shop should look like lowers the barrier to getting them into some really good stories.
The shop has already hosted a signing with Kelly Sue DeConnick, a concert, and has a regular comic creators meet up (shown above right). How important are events and community building to your plan?

KP: We have a weekly creator group, a bi-weekly book club, and a monthly knitting circle (third Sundays) and women's gaming night (first Mondays). In addition, we have a regular slate of signings, classes, readings, art shows, concerts, and other events. We're planning to start a Wednesday night lecture series in the fall. So far, our event planning has been about saying yes to organizers with ideas for events that they'd love to do if they had the right venue -- and bringing those groups together has been a critical part of building our community. Ultimately, I am much less interested in whether any single event brings in revenue, and much more excited about providing a space for people to make and enjoy art and fandom together. I'm confident that that is the support that is going to sustain us in the long term.

Running a comic shop by all accounts is a fun but tough job. What have been the biggest surprises about the experience so far, both from a positive and negative standpoint?

KP: To say that I am surprised by the community support we've gotten wouldn't be quite accurate -- I was confident that there was a need for a store like this one when I started. But I am so gratified by the fact that, only three months in, people come to visit the shop from all over the city -- and make it a stop on their visits to Portland from all over the world. I know that comics retailers who I know through the women's comics retail group The Valkyries send their traveling customers in from Berkeley, Seattle, and beyond. Kelly Sue DeConnick also often includes us on her list of recommendations to visiting comics fans, and the Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men podcast, which records video reviews here on Wednesday nights, also sends their fans in to visit.

In terms of challenges, it has been a long time since I've worked a daily retail schedule, and I'm surprised by how completely I can get interpersonally exhausted while working the counter. My last job included a lot of solo time in front of a computer, and so I was craving social interaction when I started the shop. I didn't anticipate that after a few 11-hour shop shifts, I'd reach the end of the day wanting solitude, a whiskey, and a Netflix binge -- but that's definitely the case, some nights. 
Books with Pictures' Deep Geek Reading Group
Lastly, everyone sees the Diamond sales lists on what sells and what doesn't. But every shop is different in terms of what its customers actually want. What comics are doing well in your shop so far, and what ones are you personally excited about recommending to customers?

KP: Our bestseller list is the best indicator I have that we are meeting our mission. Our bestsellers in single-issue comics/zines include Princess Leia, Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur, Squirrel Girl, and Melanie Gilman's gender memoir zine, Nonbinary. In book sales, our top performers are Saga, Bitch Planet, Squirrel Girl, Paper Girls, The Wicked and the Divine, and Lumberjanes. Anthologies that put diversity front and center, like Beyond, Broken Frontier, and Fresh Romance, also continue to perform exceptionally well for us. I want to underline that those are the literal best-seller lists, not "which diversity-centric comics work best for you?" Bitch Planet sells better than Batman here. Squirrel Girl outperforms Superman, and Nonbinary sells more copies than Civil War II -- a lot more. I'm blown away by this, and so grateful to the customers who have helped me make it happen.

I'm excited about something new every week, and my regulars know that I always have some new #1 issue to show them. Lately, I have been thrilled about Backstagers, the magical boys' drama story from James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh, and Jonathan Hickman's new financial horror mystery The Black Monday Murders. Wonder Woman is, hands down, my favorite thing to come out of DC Rebirth so far. Black Mask is putting out some really exciting new titles, and both Jade Street Protective Services and Kim & Kim have me at the edge of my seat for the next issue. I'm fiercely loyal to Squirrel Girl, A-Force, Ms. Marvel, and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur; I adore Lisa Hanawalt's new book Hot Dog Taste Test; and handing Natalie Riess's Space Battle Lunchtime to kids is one of my favorite pastimes. Also, the Choosing Sides stories from the Civil War II event have so far brought shorts about Damage Control, the Young Avengers, AND Power Pack, so clearly somebody at Marvel editorial knows the way to my nerdy little heart. 

When Worlds Collide: Aligning Comics by Pokemon Go Squads

While its peak has already passed, there's no doubt about it: the Pokémon Go craze has been pretty bananas, and it will probably be here for a while longer. And as someone who has existed on both sides of the fad - tut-tutting jerkface hater and general enthusiast - I understand why it's been such a big deal as well as why it's dropping off. It's strangely fun and it gets you outside, but as the weather turns and you get into higher levels, the outdoor part is less fun and leveling becomes a grind.

But as a Pokéwalk enthusiast, I know it's still big - you can still see the hordes in downtown Anchorage, Alaska cursing at their 7,000th Drowzee - and see why anyone could get addicted. Including comic characters.

I mean, come on. It can't always be Galactus attacking or some other sort of crisis, can it? They need down time, and I'm not talking about Niantic's servers. You know some of the superheroes out there would be downloading the game and warring for ownership of the Baxter Building gym. But how would they align in the three team breakdown of the game - Mystic, Valor or Instinct? That's what we're figuring out today, as I'm breaking down which character in comics would be the team leader and the nine other characters we could see joining them on the squad.
Team Mystic's leader, Squirrel Girl
Art by Lucas Elliott, who is on the web, Twitter + Tumblr
Team Mystic

What's their deal?: STEM for life 

Leader: Squirrel Girl

Why she's the leader: This one is kind of the most obvious. Mystic is all about the science-y, brainy types, and who would run the show better than the binary-counting, problem solving queen of all comics, Squirrel Girl? While there would be a power struggle with Lex Luthor, Squirrel Girl would obviously take control with her abilities to defeat anyone AND her sheer enthusiasm for the game (you know Doreen would be all about it).

Her squad:

Lex Luthor: Team Veep; constantly searching for the right 'Mon to unseat Doreen
Black Panther: silent, deadly, somehow claimed all of Wakanda's gyms
The Flash (Barry Allen): constantly accused of playing while driving; can't hatch any eggs
Kate Corrigan (B.P.R.D.): plenty of access to rare monsters; wishes she had less
Ms. Marvel: first hero to literally catch them all; still loves Pikachu best
Reed Richards: hasn't returned to Marvel U because he's busy playing with Franklin
Tim Drake: the Bat-family nerd; got everyone else into it
Tony Stark: pretends to be too cool for game; quietly level 26
Woden (The Wicked + The Divine): permabanned first week for creating Pokévision

Team Valor

What's their deal?: Strength and training is their jam

Leader: Captain America

Why he's the leader: To get this gang of powerhouses to keep moving in one direction, you need someone who is more than a man but still has dat dope poke hook up. Who better than Captain America, an inspiration to Valor members everywhere who also has access to Quinjets.

His squad:

Forever Carlyle (Lazarus): Cap's lieutenant; Valor above all
Aquaman: has the Magikarp hook up; actually made it to 400 candies
Batman: catches and releases Zubats; mostly finds Gastlys
Captain Marvel: real reason for Civil War II stance is to control flow of rare Pokémon
Gert (I Hate Fairyland): mostly collects Pokémon to let them lose in gym battles
Hulk: the strongest one there is; desperately wants a Mewtwo
Mark Grayson (Invincible): decided his constantly stressful life needed a hobby
Saya (Deadly Class): lives at a 'stop; forces classmates at sword point to lure up
Wonder Woman: Themyscira is a haven for rare Pokemon

Team Instinct

What's their deal?: Trust your gut when it comes to the 'Mons

Leader: Ripley (Lumberjanes)

Why she's the leader: Ripley's an enthusiastic kid who is all about going wherever the winds take her, so naturally she'd be the clubhouse leader for the best fit as Team Instinct's leader. I mean, her life is all instinct, all the time. While Rick Grimes views her as weak and contemplates unseating her, Wolverine's backing helps her lead. Definitely the most fun team.

Her squad:

Wolverine (Logan): team enforcer and Ripley's best pal
Black Widow: Team Mystic double agent
Hawkeye: just likes to hang out, man; created a trick arrow to play long distance
Hellboy: constantly frustrated by having to play one-handed
Nightwing: Tim got him into it; constantly haunted by judgmental Zubats
Rick Grimes: thinks game addiction is a return to zombie world; gets hooked in process
Scott Pilgrim: doesn't really know what he's doing but loves that it's free
Tony Chu (Chew): knows a cibovenator, aka a human Pokévision
Yorick Brown (Y the Last Man): super happy Nidorans come in both genders

So which squad would dominate?

Despite able squads for all three teams, the comic book world reflects reality: Team Mystic's got it on lock. Sure, Instinct and Valor make occasional in-roads, but thanks to Squirrel Girl's leadership and the capability of the brains on her squad, Mystic finds a way. I might be a little biased, of course - Doreen's my girl and I'm #TeamMysticForLife - but you know they'd make it happen.

However, it is important to note that one area's gyms are always unclaimed: Latveria. Doctor Doom bows to no man, and with his faithful Arcanine in tow, he dominates all comers. Team Mystic? Team Instinct? Team Valor? Bah. Team Doom, more like it.

The Latest from Off Panel

#55: The More Things Change with Oliver Sava

AV Club's resident comic critic Oliver Sava joins the show to talk DC's Rebirth, Marvel Now, the cycle of line refreshes, Valiant as an alternative, how he approaches his writing, his current Mount Rushmore of comics, and more.

Download Direct
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#56: I'm a Business, Man with Joshua Williamson

The writer of The Flash, Nailbiter and the upcoming Frostbite at Vertigo Comics, Joshua Williamson, joins the show to talk the experience developing, promoting, launching and maintaining a comic series.

Download Direct
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#57: Imperial Phase with Kieron Gillen

Writer Kieron Gillen joins the show to briefly talk Darth Vader before diving into an extended conversation about The Wicked + The Divine, how the team works, risk taking, their recent reader survey, what's next, and more.

Download Direct
Listen on SKTCHD
Listen on iTunes
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Next time on The Crossover: a game of overrated, underrated and properly rated, determining the best comic costume ever, and revealing the Overwatch Rage Scale
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