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The Two Guys with PhDs are back with another review episode, and on this one they explore three fascinating titles. They begin by discussing the much-anticipated recent release from Scott McCloud, The Sculptor (First Second). In fact, Derek and Andy begin their conversation with the very fact that this was a much-anticipated, and heavily reviewed, new book, and how all of that attention may be affecting the book’s reception. They speculate on the ways in which the artist’s prestige and reputation feeds into the expectations. Although McCloud has created memorable narratives — e.g., the Zot! series and The New Adventures of Abraham Lincoln — this is an author most famously known for Understanding Comics and the expository/instructional books that followed, Reinventing Comics and Making Comics. The guys question if the author can ever get beyond his reputation as primarily a theoretician of the medium, and if he can ever gain renewed recognition as a creator of innovative narrative forms. And both Derek and Andy feel mixed over the prognosis. Yet despite all of the extra-textual commentary, the Two Guys spend most of their conversation in a close reading of the text. Much of their talk centers on the book’s protagonist, David Smith, and the author’s possible attitude toward his creation. Does McCloud want us to see Smith as a heroic (possibly romantic?) figure, or are we expected to read the sculptor more critically and as a flawed artist? This is a question that remains unanswered, and perhaps it speaks to McCloud’s talents that the Two Guys cannot put a finger on an exact character assessment. They also discuss The Sculptor as not only as a creative treatise on art and its place in our culture, but also, and perhaps more specifically, as a commentary on the comics industry today. Theirs is not a gushing, unequivocal endorsement of the new graphic novel — there are already plenty of those out there — but Andy and Derek do see this as a serious new work and give it the full Comics Alternative treatment…spending a little over an hour discussing the text! Next, the guys look at two new number one issues from some of their favorite creators. Matt Kindt and Trevor Hairsine’s Divinity #1 (Valiant) is a beautifully rendered science fiction narrative that apparently rests just on the periphery of the Valiant University. This is the first of a four-part series, and Hairsine’s cinematic style is the perfect platform for Kindt’s complex storytelling. Both Derek and Andy love Matt Kindt as a writer/artist, but this time around they get their fix through his scripting only. They experience the same with Descender #1 (Image), written by Jeff Lemire and with art by Dustin Nguyen. Most times they discuss Lemire’s work — and the Two Guys have done this often — they do so by looking at him as a sole creator, but his new series with Nguyen demonstrates without a doubt Lemire’s developed writing chops. The first issue accomplishes what it sets out to do, establishing a premise and tone that will both frame and propel the first story arc. This is definitely not a title that encourages trade waiting. Indeed, with both Descender and Divinity, you’ll want to get every issue as soon as they come out.