Sunday, July 31, 2011

Getting ready to attend the Con?

This information provided via official press release . . . . .

Awesome Artists Added to the Baltimore Comic-Con!

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - July 29, 2011 - The Baltimore Comic-Con is happy to announce the addition of Josh Middleton, Adam Hughes, Tony Harris, and Francesco Francavilla to the line-up of creators appearing at this year's show. The show will be taking place the weekend of August 20-21, 2011 at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Josh Middleton broke into the comics industry in 2000 with his work on one of CrossGen's original fours series, Meridian, where he penciled the first six-issue story arc. In 2003, after contributing to Marvel's X-Men Unlimited series, Middleton signed an exclusive with the publisher and helped create the series NYX along with Joe Quesada. Moving on to DC Comics, he served as artist for the mini-series Superman/Shazam: First Thunder, and provided cover art for Vertigo's American Virgin and DC's Supergirl. Middleton's most recent work includes art direction for Warner Brothers Animation's Green Lantern: The Animated Series.

Adam Hughes Zatanna CoverAs far as cover artists working in comics today, Adam Hughes is among the very best. A 12-year veteran of Gaijin Studios, Hughes is most widely recognized for his pin-up style renditions of female characters, especially over the course of his long runs as cover artist on Wonder Woman and Catwoman. His most recent work includes a 2-page spread featuring Supergirl and Batgirl for Superman/Batman #75 in 2010 and covers for Zatanna (#13-16) in 2011, and he will be providing covers for DC's relaunch of Batgirl which begins in September. Hughes won the Harvey Award for Best Cover Artist in 2001, 2002, and 2003.

Breaking into comics in 1989, Tony Harris made a name for himself as the artist and co-creator of DC Comics' Starman. Also a member of Gaijin Studios, Harris left the Atlanta-based collective to form Jolly Roger Studios. His recent work includes wrapping up a 50-issue run on Vertigo's Ex Machina in 2010 and he is currently working on a project called The Further Adventures of the Whistling Skull.

Francesco Francavilla, who is currently wrapping up his run on Detective Comics, will be working alongside Scott Snyder on the upcoming Swamp Thing title (one of DC Comics' "New 52") starting this September. In additon, Francavilla is also the artist on Marvel's Black Panther: The Man Without Fear and is working on several short stories/anthologies at Archaia Entertainment.

"We are all very excited to add these four artist to the growing list of creators attending this year's Con," said Marc Nathan, show promotor of the Baltimore Comic-Con. "These guys helped to shape the look and feel of many modern comics and redefined those characters for a new audience."

Confirmed guests for this year's Baltimore Comic-Con include: Guest of Honor, Stan "The Man" Lee; Jason Aaron (Scalped, PunisherMAX); Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead); Nick Cardy (Aquaman, Teen Titans); Greg Capullo (Spawn, Batman); Cliff Chiang (Greendale); Frank Cho (50 Girl 50, X-Men: Schism, New Ultimates); Todd Dezago (Super Hero Squad, The Perhapanauts); David Finch (Brightest Day, Batman: The Dark Knight); Ron Frenz (Spider-Girl); Jose-Luis Garcia-Lopez (Wednesday Comics, Batman Confidential); Mike Gold (former DC Editor); Michael Golden (creator of Bucky O'Hare); Mike Grell (Action Comics, The Pilgrim); Brad Guigar (Evil, Inc., Courting Disaster); Steve Hamaker (Bone); Cully Hamner (Red, Red: Eyes Only); Marc Hempel (Sandman: The Kindly Ones); Dean Haspiel (The Alcoholic, Act-i-Vate); Jamal Igle (Supergirl, Zatanna); J.G. Jones (Doc Savage, DC Universe Legacies); Barry Kitson (Secret Invasion, Amazing Spider-Man); Laura Martin (New Avengers, Thor); Mark Morales (Fear Itself cover artist); Kevin Nowlan (Wednesday Comics); David Petersen (Mouse Guard); Brandon Peterson (Ultimate Vision, Strange); Craig Rousseau (Marvel Her-Oes); Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo); Walter Simonson (Thor); Jeff Smith (Bone, RASL); Nick Spencer (Morning Glories, Iron Man 2.0); Brian Stelfreeze (Wednesday Comics); Karl Story (DC Universe Legacies); Robert Tinnell (The Wicked West); Tim Truman (Hawken, Conan the Cimmerian); Neil Vokes (Flesh & Blood, Eagle: The Original Adventures); Mark Wheatley (Blood of the Innocent, Mars); and Thom Zahler (Love and Capes).

Save the Date! Baltimore Comic-Con 2012!

That's right! Mark your calendars now for next year's Baltimore Comic-Con, which will take place the weekend of September 8-9, 2012 at the Baltimore Convention Center, and we'll see YOU in Baltimore!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Please join me at Baltimore Comic Con

 

from the official Baltimore Comic-Con press release . . . . .

PLB Comics to offer convention exclusive cover of Gideon and Sebastian: Predators & Prey #1 at Baltimore Comic-Con

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - July 29, 2011 - PLB Comics will be offering a convention only exclusive cover of their newest offering,  at this year's Baltimore Comic-Con. The first in a series of anthology books featuring PLB's vampire hunting duo, Gideon and Sebastian features the talents of some of today's up and coming indie creators such as:  Nathan Thomas Milliner, Mat Shockley, Nikkol Jelenic, Josh Shockley, and James Dufendach. PLB Comics Gideon and Sebastian: Predators & Prey #1

Vampires don't sparkle! And you won't find an ounce of pixie dust or teenage romance in this hard hitting, wise cracking, vampire slaying bonanza! Follow the adventures of Gideon, The Vatican's greatest vampire slayer and Sebastian, a vampire who has traded his allegiance to the Vatican in return for a serum that sates his need for blood. See as this duo eradicates the vampire menace, all the while looking for the bloodsuckers that killed Gideon's family. Discover the secrets of the beautiful and deadly villainess Cassandra.

The PLB Comics table will also feature the lovely and talented model Mel S., who is the inspiration for the series' villainess Cassandra. Mel will be in costume and posing for pictures and speaking with fans all weekend long.

With a price tag of only $3.00, Gideon and Sebastian: Predators & Prey #1 promises to be one of the most affordable branded convention exclusives available at this year's Baltimore Comic-Con. Past PLB convention exclusives have sold out within hours of a convention's opening and no less is expected for this premier issue.

To find out more about PLB Comics please go to: http://www.plbcomics.com or http://www.facebook.com/plb.comics

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

PREVIEWS: What’s new for Wednesday, July 27 and beyond

 

This is one of those weeks where I just didn’t get any advance looks / sneak peeks at any of the new comics coming out on Wednesday, July 27th - - - except for one book = THE VAULT (Image)

I wrote a long review (which it merits) of THE VAULT back on June 18, which you can locate to your immediate right in the BC REFUGEES ARCHIVES for June.  Here’s a quick reprint of my opening paragraphs:

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THE VAULT would read like a straight-up adventure tale of undersea exploration were it not for the two-page prelude that hints at much more dangers to come, and on an epic scale.  I am more than content with learning the details of the exploratory mission in Issue #1 and getting the background on the characters and settings.  The writing is engaging and the beginning of this quest has its share of suspenseful moments, especially when the reader knows that unknown danger and threats lie ahead (thanks to the prelude).  I can’t wait for this series to explode once the dark and supernatural elements come to the foreground.

To further whet the appetite, this promises to be a threat of mythological and Biblical proportions. The two-page opening prelude depicts an epic battle between bat-winged albino white angels and harpies-like webbed and clawing demons/devils.  An enormous dragon as well as Shiva, the goddess of death, lurk in the background as if orchestrating the activities of their dark minions. The only text is a small caption box containing the ominous prediction:  “This is the beginning of how it all ends.”

OTHER BOOKS THIS WEEK WORTHY OF YOUR INVESTIGATION:  Batman: The Dark Knight #4, Flashpoint: Project Superman #2 ( both DC); Deadpool Max #10  (Marvel);  Fly #2  (Zenoscope); Grim Ghost #3 (Atlas);  Hellraiser #3,  Traveler #9  (both Boom); Kirby: Genesis #2 (Dynamite); Spontaneous #1 and #2, Sixth Gun #13 (all Oni) League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Century 2: 1969  (Top Shelf).

Now, let’s venture beyond this Wednesday . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Here’s another good reason to visit your local comic shop - - - get yourself a free copy of DC COMICS THE NEW 52!  featuring a sneak preview of Justice League #1 by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee.

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While I’m a little bit wary and cautious about this latest bold move by DC - - I’m more excited that anything else.  It’s just not everyday that you find a comics company debuting 52 #1 issues in a single month.  What makes this different from a brand new publisher making such a bold move  (a la Image many years ago - - but even though they flooded the marketplace with new super hero titles for a few years I don’t think they ever debuted so many in a single month) - - - is that this is coming from a well-established company with a well-established core of characters.  What makes the re-boots (a word I believe they want to avoid in preference to a “jumping on point”) so intriguing is the creative teams that have been assembled.  I will sample but I’m not going to get stuffed and bloated trying  to eat them all.

What makes me a little cautious is that I don’t think DC is going to get many regular comics readers to buy all these books.  It would be nice to think that they will pull in some new customers who never tried DC titles before but I don’t think there can be too many.  (What self-respecting “comics fan” can say he has never, ever read a single DC book?)    I’m also a little bit weary because “THE NEW 52”  brings back memories of the weekly “52” series that DC published a few years back.  I started picking them up and enjoying most of the storylines until about 10-12 issues in when I became very disappointed.  However, like a true comics trooper I bought every single weekly issue until the end. I admit I’m a sucker for mega-events in super hero titles and long extended storylines across several titles.  From the recent SECRET INVASION through SEIGE and onto BATMAN: REBORN, FLASH:REBIRTH, BLACKEST NIGHT, BRIGHTEST NIGHT, FLASHPOINT - - - they all promised universe-shattering events and major shake-ups in some of their standard titles - - who can keep track?  Yet I still bought them.  I hate to admit it but I’ve stockpiled the SEIGE, BATMAN:REBORN, BLACKEST NIGHT, BRIGHTEST DAY series for a rainy day.  Guess I don’t need to rush anymore since most of the changes (in the DC books, at least)  can be ignored or forgotten since we’re starting over again!  In spite of all that, I remain excited to read some of these new DC titles.

Which is what makes DC COMICS: THE NEW 52! so valuable = it’s got a quick synopsis of what each title is about as well as a check list and release dates  - - - - your very own scorecard.  To make it just a little easier on your wallet/purse/savings account, DC is releasing just 12 or 13 titles each week in the month of September.  Don’t forget it kicks off the last week of August  (8/31) with the big debut of JUSTICE LEAGUE #1.  I really can’t gather too much of the story from the six-page preview here - - - but not too worry because the art is reason enough to pick this up.  Wow!

I really do hope that this works out for DC and they increase sales.  I also hope it occurs by bringing in new readers or making more regular readers out of current occasional readers - - and not by taking some business away from the other deserving comics publishers. This great art form deserves both new readers and more frequent readers.  And new #1 issues always brings people into the comics shops - - they sure need some support.

It will be interesting to see 12 months from now just how many of these 52 titles have made it to Issue #12.  ( I plan to keep my copy of DC COMICS: THE NEW 52! easily accessible and use it just like a scorecard to keep track - - look for my report here in 6 months and 12 months). 

As for me, I’ve narrowed it down to 9 titles to start out with.  I’ll be following these books for at least 3 issues and make my decision from there:  ACTION COMICS, ANIMAL MAN, AQUAMAN, BATMAN, BATMAN & ROBIN, BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT, BATWOMAN (yes, I’m bats!), FRANKENSTEIN AGENT OF SHADE, and JUSTICE LEAGUE

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Books I Read: Captain America by @MarkWaid

A nice consequence of the Captain America movie book push is that the bulk of the Mark Waid and Ron Garney (later Andy Kubert) run on the character is now collected. (There's one more volume coming in October, featuring Waid's intended version of Cap #14 for the first time.) Waid's is some of my favorite work on the character but I haven't read most of it since it was first released, so I was excited to experience it again.

Captain America: Operation Rebirth: It's hard to articulate now how much of a departure these issues were from what had gone before. I'll get to the Mark Gruenwald years, which were wonderful in their own way, in another post, but suffice it to say that Cap had spent the last year in increasingly bulky suits of armor trying to stave off his own death from super soldier serum poisoning. The book was a complete blank slate, with the main character presumed dead and his supporting cast (mostly Avengers and employees) gone. Waid, as far as I know, didn't know his time on the book would be limited because of "Heroes Reborn" but he sure wrote like he thought he was on borrowed time. He did his Red Skull story first instead of building up to it, having Cap resurrected by his greatest enemy and confronted by Sharon Carter, the love he thought was dead. (That doesn't seem like a big deal now, but at the time she had been gone for decades.) There's even a Bucky flashback! Ron Garney's art brought a new dynamism to the book, as seen in the double-page spread above. Not to mention "Man Without a Country", one of the greatest explorations of Steve Rogers' character culminating in no less than the saving of a President. The concluding story of Sharon Carter's return to Vietnam -- is it Vietnam? hmm it doesn't seem to say in the story so let's just call it southeast Asia -- is also very good. Every Cap fan should own this volume.

Captain America: To Serve & Protect: Having heaped all that praise on the previous volume, I have to say that as a complete package I actually like the story in this one a little better. It spans the whole book (reprinting Cap #1-7), and it's a perfect little exploration of Cap's iconic status. Waid drops Cap in Japan after "Heroes Reborn", where he finds that his year missing presumed dead has made him a worldwide phenomenon. His handling of a terrorist plot in Japan, against Garney's great backdrops of the country and of Cap's history on film, sets off global Cap-mania, which he deals with for the rest of the book. Then, Waid starts #2 with one of the coolest shield tricks ever, and promptly drops the shield in the ocean in a great wordless four-page sequence by Garney. As if dealing with global fame and the loss of his (figurative) right arm wasn't enough, a Skrull impostor puts Cap's meaning to the world to the test long before Skrull impostors were fashionable. (Normally, I wouldn't give this away since it's meant to be a surprise in the story, but Skrull Cap is right there on the back cover.) However, some of the art in this book is a little shakier than the ones on either side of it. The transition from Garney to Kubert happens here, and even though the issues in-between are done by Dale Eaglesham and Scott Kolins their work here shows little of the genius they would later demonstrate.

Captain America: American Nightmare: This volume's more disjointed than the others. The "American Nightmare" story is complete in issues #9-12, but #8 is part 2 of the "Live Free or Die" crossover with Avengers, the 1998 Cap/Iron Man and Cap/Citizen V annuals are included (both written or co-written by Kurt Busiek), and #13 is a standalone story. "American Nightmare" is the logical next step in Waid's exploration of what Cap means to the world, as villain Nightmare uses people's emotions about Cap (the "American Dream") to gain a foothold in the waking world. (Again, this should be a surprise reveal but Marvel's book dept. put Nightmare on the back cover so I feel comfortable discussing it.) Andy Kubert's art captures the creepiness of the nightmare realm and the possessed in the waking world perfectly. Kubert's work is dynamic in a different way than Garney's was, and I love his facial expressions (see the faces of Sharon and the trapped construction worker above, for example.) I haven't really mentioned the Cap/Sharon relationship: their banter throughout all these books is terrific, and I like the little milestone Sharon reaches at the end of the Nightmare story. (Though of course she won't admit it.) The Cap/Iron Man annual is good, with a level of tension between Steve & Tony that we rarely see again until "Civil War". I'm sure I've read this annual reprinted recently, maybe in the Iron Man/Captain America trade from a few weeks ago? I love Busiek & Mark Bagley's "Thunderbolts" work, so the Cap/Citizen V annual was fun for me, but is really more essential to the "Thunderbolts" saga than Cap's (though there are some nice WWII flashbacks with Bucky and the original Citizen V.) The political story in #13 by Waid and guest artist Doug Braithwaite is quite good, so don't miss it tucked all the way in the back behind the annuals.

Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty: This secondary title ran for a while to give Waid and (sometimes) Garney a chance to explore some of Cap's rich history. The Sharon Carter story in #1 (also included in a "rough cut" version with just Garney's pencils) is probably the best, but I also really enjoyed Waid's takes on the Invaders and on the early Iron Man/Cap relationship. Also, the retelling by the Human Torch of the story from his 60's solo series where he met a fake Cap is a hoot. ("Meanwhile, in the arctic" is perhaps the funniest line ever in a Captain America story.) A few of the issues are by other writers: I liked the Roger Stern and Brian K. Vaughn stories, but I thought James Felder's was an incomprehensible mess. This is an oversized volume, which would have been nice for all these reprints, but I'll take a better look at Garney's art anywhere I can get it.

Captain America: Man Out of Time: I was against this idea when I first heard of it: a "modernized" retelling of Steve Rogers' first days out of the ice. Partially because Joe Casey somewhat went over that territory in "Earth's Mightiest Heroes", and partially because dating Steve's return makes whole sequences of Cap history that touch on real world history (Nixon, Watergate, etc.) problematic. But then Mark Waid was announced as writer and, as established above, he "gets" Cap like nobody else. So I was stuck, because Waid has earned a lot of trust, especially on this character. And wouldn't you know he delivered the best thing he's written for Marvel in years. (Keeping in mind that I haven't seen Dardevil #1 at the time of this writing.) Steve's disorientation in the 21st century is both understandable and heartbreaking, and Waid has a spin that makes Cap literally a "man out of time" in that "Why didn't I think of that?" way that his best writing has. Jorge Molina's art delivers every emotional moment that Waid's script requires. My only quibble is that Marvel always likes to (obliquely) depict the current president, but clearly Obama can't have been in office when Cap was thawed because that would mean all of Avengers history took place in the last three years. So ignore that, but otherwise this book is a must buy.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

PREVIEWS: What’s new for Wednesday, July 20, 2011?

Marksmen#1_SDCC_Cover      ADAMWEST2

MARKSMEN #1  (Benaroya Publishing / Image Comics, July 2011  $1.00 introductory issue)  Story: David Baxter.  Art:  Javier Aranta, Garry Leach & Jessica Kholinne (of Imaginary Friends Studio).  Cover: Tomm Coker.

The short notes are that MARKSMEN is a post-apocalyptic science fiction adventure.  That brief description may be enough to attract those readers who apparently can’t get enough of this type of story.  Those four words alone have spawned a sub-category of futuristic tales in the science fiction genre.  Those four words alone may cause others among us who have sampled more than their fair share of post-apocalyptic science fiction adventures  to groan and utter “oh no, not again” under our breath before dismissing and avoiding MARKSMEN.  I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen.  I empathize more with  the latter reader type mentioned above, yet I read MARKSMEN  in spite of that.  After all, that’s what I’m here for.  I’m glad I did because this book has a lot going for it.  The attractive asking price to sample issue #1 may prompt more readers to at least give it a chance.

MARKSMEN opens without benefit of a summary page or text background and gets right into the action - - the exploration of the devastated ruins of Apache Junction, Arizona by an armored soldier on horseback.   The exact year in which MARKSMEN takes place is not indicated anywhere within the issue.  The current gasoline prices ($3.69 gallon for regular) seen on the partially-smashed sign in the ruins of a former Shell gas station seem to hint that the destruction may have begun in more modern times.  It’s not possible (at least so far) to determine how many years have passed since then.

I received some pre-solicit information from Benaroya that gives more background and explanation of what exactly occurred.  But those details cannot be discerned from reading Issue #1.  Maybe they will be revealed a layer at a time in future issues.  I certainly don’t want to spoil anyone’s detective work - - so I’m only going to refer to events that can be understood from reading Issue #1.

Here is some of the excitement to behold in issue #1:  a visit to New San Diego, one of the few surviving cities to be rebuilt by scientists and heavily fortified and guarded; the bold exploits of Sergeant Drake McCoy as he seeks to obtain some needed computer tech from an apparently abandoned complex; a band of ruthless cannibalistic nomads; an opposing and friendly band from the city of Lone Star who seek to warn New San Diego of the troubles ahead;  conflicts between scientists and preachers (church and state;  oil powered technology versus sun & nuclear powered technology; faith-based communities ruled by a few versus standard organized communities fueled by cooperation and optimism - - and how both can build a following and then inspire and persuade them into action;  politics of government - - and politics of the bedroom; jealousy among officers and power struggles; an organized force to protect New San Diego with a strict military structure; and a driven Duke and his chief officer Deacon who seek to lead their blindly-following congregation on a mission of conquest and death to all non-believers.   Couple this with art that recalls some of the best illustrated science-fiction comics from Epic, Heavy Metal and other sources.  The art team have done a fantastic job with this book from exquisite facial expressions to intricate details and a fine use of depth and shadows, dimension and scale. Add a generous sprinkling of action, along with vivid decapitations and severed limbs and you have a book that should engage the readers and keep them turning the pages.

This is the third Benaroya title I have featured in as many weeks and there’s a good reason why:  Quality - - in both story and art.  While RED SPIKE, SAMURAI BLOOD and MARKSMEN do not share a linked universe and actually take place in different periods  (present, past and future respectively) there is a commonality to these books.  Each title offer a great action-adventure on the surface level plus plenty of layers for those who appreciate more depth and detail. The art is equally above average and worth more than one look.  This leads me to proclaim Benaroya as the small publisher to watch for 2011 - -  “the little company that can be bigger”.  The partnership with Image Comics to provide mass distribution has really jump-started their July 2011 debut of titles in a big way.  I expect to see more awesome works in the future.

THE MIS-ADVENTURES OF ADAM WEST #1  (Bluewater Comics, July 2011)  Reed Lackey, writer.  Russell Dauterman, penciler.  Kamui Ayami, colorist.  Jaymes Reed, letterer.  Created by Adam West and Darren G. Davis.  Covers by Matt Bellisle (A), Russell Dauterman (B), and Lipe (C ).  Cover A pictured above.

Back in 2009 I previewed several books from Bluewater Productions and dubbed them the “little comic company that could” - - praising them for acting as trailblazers for the return of biography to the comics medium.  The success of these books helped finance their exploration of comics in many other genres: science fiction, fantasy, horror, etc.  They also were one of the first comics companies (along with the late Virgin Comics and others) to offer writing assignments to acknowledged fiction authors as well as Hollywood script writers.

Once again they dare to venture out on a limb with this offbeat book featuring an actor best known for his role as Batman/Bruce Wayne in the campy 1960’s television series and several action B-movies, etc. THE MIS-ADVENTURES OF ADAM WEST is both different and quirky, and a fun read.  The basic premise lends itself easily to multiple wild and varied storylines/settings in future issues.

As the story opens a disgruntled Adam West bemoans the current state of city life and yearns for the simpler times when the lines between heroes and villains weren’t so blurred as they are today:  “This city has grown tired of heroes.  Corporate greed, corrupt politics, celebrity scandals. We have no one to trust anymore. . . . . . In my day, heroes didn’t sell short their convictions for a chance at power or fame.”

A courier interrupts to deliver a package and receives a lecture about quality television as West name drops a number of classic series, none of which the messenger recognizes until he sees the Batman mask on display.  In a funny moment, West begins to brag on his experience on the Batman tv show only to learn this person was referring to more recent Batman movies:  West retorts:  “He was the Caped Crusader long before he was the Dark Knight.”

The package contains an amulet and when Adam puts it on following a discouraging meeting with his agent (who wants him to take on more “edgy” roles) he is transformed into a younger version of himself beginning with a James Bond like secret agent referred to as Dominic Cane. Cane has a beautiful and suspicious companion and seems to be engaged in an attempt to save a Senator from assassination.  After a nearly fatal car crash and a later battle with commando-like hit man, he comes face to face with the only person who knows he is Adam West - - - for a very good reason.

It’s weird, like a “Twilight-Zone episode” as West refers to his situation, and very entertaining. It will be fun to continue reading and learn in which direction this book turns next. 

OTHER BOOKS DEBUTING THIS WEEK WORTHY OF INVESTIGATION:  Conan: Island Of No Return #2; Criminal Macabre/The Goon: When Freaks Collide; Daredevil #1; Iron Man 2.o #7; Logan’s Run: Aftermath #3; Locke & Key: Clockworks #1;  Red Skull #1 (second printing); Sergio Aragones’ Funnies #1; Soldier Zero #10; T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #9; Witchdoctor #2.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

FLASHPOINT explorations and samplings – part one

WARNING:  THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN HERE.  I’m not sure how many people will make the effort to get every single one of these Flashpoint-related titles - - - there’s just  too many.  I’m excited about DC putting out 52 #1 issues (likewise, 52 new starting points) in a single month, but also discouraged by the required commitment of time and money.  I’m getting the core Flashpoint limited series and some select titles and will summarize them here.  In doing so, I’m bound to give away some plot details but that may be essential to helping you make a purchasing decision.  If I save you time, money or help decide whether or not to pick up something new . . . then I’ve done what I hoped to do. And, if you’re not going to read any of these books you’ll at least know something about what happens.

THE SHORT AND SWEET COMMENTARY:  I was surprised as well as shocked by some of the changes and major events that occur during this super-saga.  There is some tampering with some core characters that is bold, different and also somewhat refreshing.  I’m not a diehard DC purist but I assumed that some of their icons would be untouchable.  What I’m not sure about at all is if this is really permanent or just another spin on the DC universe similar to what Marvel did with their ULTIMATE titles.  I haven’t seen any evidence to confirm the changes are occurring  in the Earth One DC where most of the former titles take place.  Not making a specific statement about it leaves DC an escape hatch / way out just in case the readership objects too loudly or rejects the changes.  Let’s start with the big opening salvo here . . . . . . . .

FLASHPOINT #1  of 5  (DC Comics, July 2011 cover date)  Geoff Johns, Writer.  Andy Kubert, Penciller.  Sandra Hope, Inker.  Alex Sinclair, Colorist.  Nick J. Napolitano, Letterer. 

flashpoint 1

I usually approach every one of Marvel and DC’s “universe-changing big events”  with caution but end up reading a fair share of them.  I start out deciding to wait several months and find out if the story is worthwhile - - and then possibly purchase the trade paperback edition.  But time and again I’ll visit the comic store and hold #1 in my hand, flip through a couple pages for a quick scan, and end up buying it.  IT’S THE ART !!!  That sucks me in every time.  It is the sole reason that I decided to go with the FLASHPOINT series.  The pencils by Andy Kubert are some of his best work, and after the team of Hope / Sinclair/ Napolitano finish it off with inks, color and letters it is wonderful to look at.  No disrespect is meant to Geoff Johns, one of the best super-hero writers out there.  If it wasn’t for the dynamic art, I wouldn’t be reading this title.

Barry Allen has been working long and hard hours and apparently falls asleep on the job.  When he is shaken awake by his lab partner, Barry finds his world changed in several ways. Captain Cold is a hero in this reality - - Captain Marvel is Captain Thunder - - Barry’s mom is alive and well - - Iris Allen is Iris West - - and the Flash is unknown. So is the Justice League and Superman. But everybody knows about Batman - - - except he’s not the same Batman that regular DC readers know.

This is a mean, gritty, ultra-aggressive Batman who does not hesitate to use torture and other fatal threats to suspects in order to obtain information on the Joker’s whereabouts.  He seems to finance his night work through the proceeds of Wayne Casinos.  He flat-out refuses Cyborg’s invitation to join a large assemblage of heroes and villains to band together against the aggressive and separate global conquest campaigns being waged by both Aquaman and Wonder Woman.  He doubts that Cyborg’s assembled group could work together without killing each other, and this seems to break the team apart before it can even be formed.

Barry (who is aware of Batman’s origins) gets to Wayne Manor and then into the Bat Cave where he is nearly killed when Batman discovers him.  The issues ends with a shocker, as Barry finds out that Bruce Wayne died during that infamous Wayne family encounter with a Gotham street gunman many years ago.  Batman is his father - - Thomas Wayne. 

That is a big pile of changes to lay on a reader in the opening of this five-issue epic.  Johns pulls it off nicely, building the suspense and holding our attention as the story jumps between Barry (who apparently has no powers here) and Batman/Thomas.  I like it.

FLASHPOINT #2 of 5  (DC  Comics, August 2011 cover date) - - same art team as above

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Holy crap!  The art gets even better in Issue #2.  You have to see this! 

A band of seemingly “pirates” sails too close into the water-logged ruins of Paris, runs aground and their leader (Deathstroke) meets the end of Aquaman’s trident.   Meanwhile, Barry is still trying to explain who he is to Batman and is getting the crap beaten out of him (along with broken fingers).  He wonders if he’s on a parallel world until he comes to the grim realization that his memories are changing and he’s aware of current events (Aquaman floods Europe, Wonder Woman blitzkriegs London) so “this is real.” When he tries to show Batman his costume ring, out pops the yellow Reverse-Flash outfit.  Batman decides to work with Barry because he hopes he can somehow change the world back so that his son Bruce Wayne lived and Thomas Wayne died.   In a nice homage to the original Frankenstein movie, Barry tries uses electricity to restore his speed powers.

 

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There are some very neat features in the back of this issue.  The Flashpoint World Map shows how the planet has changed and who is in power/control of each area, with some interesting surprises = Alaska is the “land of the dead”; the Sea Devils are back (can’t wait to see them again!); Black Adam has his own protectorate; and Brazil is Nazi-occupied. There are also single page entries showing costume changes, alterations, and designs for several characters.  My favorite is the Thomas Wayne Batman outfit.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

PREVIEWS: What’s new for Wednesday, July 13, 2011?

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SAMURAI’S BLOOD  #2 of 6  (Benaroya Publishing / Image Comics)  Story:  Owen Wiseman.  Art:  Nam Kim, Matthew Dalton.  Colors:  Sakti Yuwono.  Cover:  Jo Chen.  Release date July 13, 2011.

SAMURAI’S BLOOD escorts the reader through a tale of flight and revenge in feudal Japan and adds enough details of early Japanese culture, social mores, philosophy and the honorable traditions of the samurai to fill a notebook.  Much of this detail is described in the captions which helps flavor the main story rather than interrupt it . It’s a nice effect, and best appreciated by going through this issue once without reading the captions, and then include them on the second reading.  I’m on my third go-around and I’m still picking up more detail and finding new things to renew my appreciation.

As issue #1 ended, the three young Samurai-in-training obey their elders and flee the massacre of their clan in order to return and exact revenge at some future date.   Issue #2 begins one week later as they gather outside the gates of Castle Sanjo and debate what course of action to take.

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Headstrong Katashi, who has accepted his new role as servant/protector/samurai to Jin and his sister Mayuko, suggests storming the gates after dawn when the guards should be tired and more vulnerable.  Jin advises against this, and states his preferences:  “No. A headlong rush is never toward justice.  We will retreat to the city and wait for our path to open.”  Katashi responds:  “I would rather die than retreat a single step.”, to which Jin replies:  “There we are lucky you serve me instead of the reverse.” 

There are internal and external conflicts.  There is self-doubt and much questioning of the path forward. There is trial and much error.  Leadership is questioned.  These are three young people thrust into a role without preparation and before their training is complete.  Left to their own inclinations, they hesitate and stumble.  Each of the trio fortunately makes it to the end of the issue still alive, but not without changes and compromises that affect the character of each individual. 

The SAMURAI”S BLOOD implied in the title is not alluding to the violence to occur and blood to be shed in this mini-series  (although there is plenty of each, and vividly portrayed.)  SAMURAI’S BLOOD instead refers to the Samurai tradition, as Katashi especially is not sure that he has samurai’s blood in his veins and is capable and fully prepared to do what he must do in his new role/responsibility.  He follows Jin’s direction, and this seems to be leading him down a path that strays from the samurai principles.

During events in this issue, Mayuko  is captured by Araku (the right hand man of Lord Gakushi, who ordered the elimination of their clan in Issue #1) and ends up being forced into servitude as a geisha.  Katashi conceals his true identity and poses as  Haniya Toshimitsu,  a “second son” unsatisfied with his prospects and traveling to seek his fortune and reputation.  They fall in with a wealthy villager who introduces them to the brutal and fatal combat games that are wagered on.  They are further introduced to a suspicious man who offers to improve “Haniya’s” skills as a fighter, and now Jin assumes  a new name as well.  His plan is to get Katashi noticed by Araku, who has returned to the village to recruit new soldiers for Lord Gakushi,  and who will then unwittingly provide their access to the inside of the castle.

After months of heavy training, Katashi grows impatient with Jin’s plan and suggests disguising himself in order to kill Araku without being identified.  Jin discourages this plan and gets him to agree not to attempt it.   As the captions reveal: “The third virtue of the samurai is obedience.” . . . . .  “Small disobedience is the father of great regret.” . . . . . “It destroys the exchange between master and retainer.”  A short time later an appropriately garbed ninja fails in an assassination attempt on Araku and during his escape is felled by an arrow, which drops him off the high wall into the river. Meanwhile Jin has maneuvered himself into Kinjo house, the exclusive playground / party house of the wealthy, where he sees exactly what has happened to his sister.

SAMURAI’S BLOOD is an engaging story that challenges the reader to follow all its intricacies and threads.   It is definitely worth the effort and will reward those who give it a serious reading.

OTHER BOOKS RELEASED 7/13/2011 WORTHY OF INVESTIGATION:  BATMAN THE DARK KNIGHT #3; FRANKENSTEIN AND THE CREATURES OF THE UNKNOWN #2 of 3; HELLRAISER #3, LADY MECHANIKA;  RED WING #1; SHERLOCK HOLMES, YEAR ONE #5; CAPTAIN AMERICA #1; and KULL THE HATE WITCH trade paperback.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

PREVIEWS: What’s new for Wednesday, July 06, 2011?

RED SPIKE #3 of 5  (Image Comics, release date 7/06/11)  Story: Jeff Cahn.  Art: Mark Texiera, Salvador Navarro & Ifansyah Noor.  Cover: Mark Texiera.

The close-up battle on the cover of Issue #3 might give the impression it will be an all-action issue featuring a knock-down, drag-out fight between two equally matched and fierce warriors.  Actually, there’s a lot more of substance and back story in this issue that neatly fills in some of the details behind Project Red Spike but still leaves a lot left to be uncovered.  However, that evocative cover really pulls you in with a brilliant depiction of both fighters connecting with face punches, the  blood flying as they confront each other with angry eyes and open-mouthed outrage.  You would expect no less when two macho mens’  berserker rage is surgically adrenaline-augmented and their combat training kicks in.

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Red Spike operative Greg Dane has fled the home base after some corrective surgery fails to control his ever-growing psychotic impulses.  It’s up to brother operative Matt Cutler to locate him in the metro D.C. area and return him to base, unharmed if at all possible.

There are several flashback scenes from ten, five, and two years back that shed more light on some of the major players in this program, especially Colonel Moyer who has been there from Day One.  (After last issue, I wondered which of the two warriors witnessed a parental murder-suicide at an early age, and now I have a better idea of who).   Matt wonders what was the trigger that caused Greg to break and worries that the Red Spike surgery may eventually cause his own system to revolt in similar fashion.   Col. Moyer reassures him that Greg’s problems don’t stem from the Red Spike program, which leads Matt to wonder why someone with Greg’s background would be recruited for the program in the first place.  Moyer’s answer that he knew his late father and felt personally responsible for his future welfare is not entirely convincing.

When Matt and Greg do finally meet up, it’s for a revealing conversation before it progresses to fight and pursuit. Greg shares something he has kept to himself regarding a third Red Spike operative no longer with the program and this further increases Matt’s uncertainty.  The final fight scenes, especially at the Lincoln Memorial where a famous landmark gets damaged, are very well done as is the art throughout this issue.  I really can’t detect what scenes were drawn by which of the three artists, and that makes for a seamless flow that keeps things moving - - despite the amount of dialogue and data that gets exchanged in the panels.   If that wasn’t enough Greg’s love interest Margaret is starting to rebel at Project Red Spike, and Senator Coughlin gets enough new information to get himself appointed to investigate the project.  I expect Issues 4 and 5 to dramatically wrap up the first (I hope there are more) Red Spike story line / mission.

MICHAEL MOORCOCK’S ELRIC: THE BALANCE LOST #1  (Boom Studios, release date 7/06/11). Writer: Chris Roberson.  Artist: Francesco Biagini.

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  During my more youthful days, I spent many hours reading with relish the fantasy exploits of various barbarian heroes, beginning with Conan and moving on to others. Not long after, I discovered the various works of Michael Moorcock and his creation = Elric of Melnibone.

I always considered Elric the “thinking man’s Conan”, for along with the fantasy elements and savage battles there was Elric’s self-doubt, inner turmoil and psychological conflicts to enhance the storylines.  It was never about just one man surviving in a savage land - - Elric was about one of several Eternal Warriors tasked with defending the world and maintaining the balance between Law and Chaos.  I reviewed the Free Comic Book Day preview of ELRIC: THE BALANCE LOST back on May 1st for BC Refugees and had this to say about it then:

Writer Chris Roberson has already demonstrated his ability to adapt and create new works from classic genre literature  (DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?: DUST TO DUST mini-series/prequel) and I definitely expect the same high quality and attention to detail with his handling of  Elric, the philosophical self-doubting reluctant adventurer from creator Michael Moorcock.  The highly literate Moorcock  raised the bar for sword and sorcery epics with these stories back in the 1970’s.

With just 12 pages to work with in the FCBD edition, Roberson capably lays the foundation and touches on the main points of this epic,  managing to entertain us at the same time while whetting our appetite for more by hinting at a bigger picture/universe.  Roberson plans to incorporate elements of Moorcock’s greater creation, the Multiverse.   Here there are similar heroes to Elric  (Eternal Champions) all taking different stances /approaches to the infinite clash between Law and Chaos, and the balance of the universe.   I can’t wait to see how he handles Corum and Hawkmoon, as well as the dream-plagued Eric Beck of more modern times.

A quick summary of the main points for the uninitiated:  Elric is the albino prince/emperor of Melnibone, a fantasy world amongst the Multiverse, who is physically linked and partially nourished/strengthened by the use of his black blade Stormbringer, which steals the souls of all he slays.

I’ve just finished reading ELRIC: THE BALANCE LOST #1 and I’m even more excited about the prospects and future for this new series.  Roberson has taken the base formula of the legend of Elric and uses it as his launching pad to explore the Multiverse of Michael Moorcock.  In this first issue, he flashes back and forth between Elric, Corum Of The Scarlet Robe, and Dorian Hawkmoon.  They’ve always been linked indirectly and now events occur that will require all of their energies combined to prevent disaster for all the Multiverse. 

Roberson’s linking device exists in the form of a brand new character created by Roberson: Eric Beck.   The introduction of Beck into the mix adds a more current-day base for events and further spices  the cauldron of  mixed soup that Roberson has brought to the dining table. 

Eric Beck is a game designer troubled by very strange and vivid dreams that seem real.  He dreams of Elric, Corum, and Hawkmoon.  Eric himself is internally in turmoil, reluctant to admit to the existence of a twin brother who is grabbing headlines as a political candidate from the militant Law Party that is working to defeat the Progressive Party in a coming election.   Beck himself seems more attuned to the Progressive Party, and this should lead to a Law/Chaos conflict in his world as well.

The art by Biagini is consistently awesome, and slightly varies in style depending on whether he is depicting events in Elric’s world or elsewhere.  It’s a small but productive touch that further enhances the story-telling.    Get your dose of modern-day thinking man’s sword and sorcery adventure with ELRIC: THE BALANCE LOST.  Highly recommended.

OTHER TITLES RELEASING ON JULY 6TH WORTHY OF INVESTIGATION:  Fear Itself #4 (Marvel), Flashpoint #3  + Superboy #9 (both DC), and Stan Lee’s Starborn: Volume 1 (Boom Studios, and also written by Chris Roberson).

Friday, July 1, 2011

Books I Read: Captain Ameri-Quake, Part 1

We're nearing another Marvel movie, so the Mighty Marvel promotions department is once again filling shelves with appropriate books. (There aren't a lot of new X-Men books, though, presumably because that's a Fox movie that only profits Marvel indirectly.) Here are my brief impressions of some recent Captain America releases. More to come later, but I'm behind in writing about the rest of the books I've got on hand and it seemed like an appropriate weekend to have Cap on the blog.

Captain America Omnibus: Collecting the earliest Silver Age cap solo stories by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko from Tales of Suspense #59-99 and Captain America #100-113. As with the Thor volume I didn't reread these stories now for time reasons and because I've read them multiple times, but if you don't own copies of or haven't read this material I highly recommend it. Even at full list price ($99), which you probably won't have to pay, this is a pretty good deal for almost 50 issues of classic comics. (The Steranko material alone is almost worth the price of admission if you haven't seen it before.)

Ultimate Captain America HC: The Ultimate Universe version of Captain America is a very different character than the familiar Marvel U Cap. Frankly, I'm not sure I like him very much as a person but I do find him interesting. Jason Aaron's story here goes much deeper into what makes Ultimate Cap tick than has been done in The Ultimates, as he's faced with the Vietnam-era super soldier the government tried to replace him with while he was presumed dead. (It's a character with a Marvel U counterpart, but not the one you expect.) I especially liked the ending, which works on more than one level. Ron Garney, one of the great Cap artists of all time, turns in some of his best work here. If you can handle the mental adjustment from the Cap you're probably used to, then I think you'll like this a lot.

Iron Man/Captain America TP: A selection of 20th century Iron Man & Cap team-ups under a gorgeous Jimmy Cheung cover. Steve and Tony are at odds in most of the stories, so they might as well have called it "Iron Man vs. Captain America" (I'm a little surprised there's not any Civil War material included, actually.) None of the stories are particularly memorable, except for a Stan Lee/Don Heck story from Tales of Suspense #58 (just before the Omnibus starts) and a Mark Waid/Ron Garney classic from Sentinel of Liberty #5-6 (which is available in the complete Sentinel of Liberty volume).

Captain America vs. The Red Skull: Another anthology, featuring just what it says on the tin. Most of these stories are pretty good, as the Skull is Cap's ultimate villain and so writers often did some of their best work when using him. I could have  lived without the 1940s Cap #1 reprint and the Tales of Suspense stories from the Omnibus, but otherwise this is good (but not outstanding) material.


Captain America by Jack Kirby Omnibus: Collecting the Cap stories from Jack Kirby's return to Marvel in the late 1970s. I hated hated hated these stories as a kid, before I knew who Jack Kirby was, so I was especially interested to see how they held up today now that I'm appreciative of Jack's work. "Trippy" is not a word I use very often, but I think it perfectly describes these stories. I had fun rereading them, but boy do they jump from one idea to the next really fast. Kirby creates a secret society within American society that gives him the freedom to do wacky monsters and technology, and also has the nice side effect of making the stories a little less dated. It's still obviously '70s, though, and Jack's attempts at doing black culture were probably progressive at the time but a bit embarrassing now. Overall, though, I'm glad to have this collection but I'm not sure I'd recommend it to anyone other than a Kirby completist.

Captain Britain: Birth of a Legend: I'm including this because the middle third of the book is a storyline that includes Captain America and the Red Skull. These are the original Captain Britain stories from before Alan Moore and Alan Davis took over. At the time, they were presented as an 8-page weekly serial written by Chris Claremont (later Gary Friedrich) and mostly drawn by Herb Trimpe. The serials tend to go on a long time: the Captain America one is so long that one of the later chapters ends with "Next: Finally a conclusion!' and then goes on for three more weeks. I'm the target audience for this book because I love the Captain Britain character -- I actually used to own a few original issues reprinted here that I found at a flea market or something -- but unless you are too (or you're a Captain America completist) these stories aren't really good enough for me to recommend this book at this price. (But if you can get it cheap, go for it because they are fun.)

Captain America: The Fighting Avenger: Reprints the first and only issue of what was supposed to be an ongoing all-ages series similar to "Thor: The Mighty Avenger". It's not quite as good as the "Thor" book, but it's a fun well-written take on the character and worth reading. The rest of the digest-sized book is taken up by some Cap-featuring reprints from some of Marvel's other all-ages book. I wish the Thor/Cap Free Comic Book Day issue had been included, but this is a nice package especially for younger kids who enjoy the movie or the Avengers cartoon.