Friday, October 28, 2011

SHORT TAKES: Real fears and close calls . . . . .

CRIMINAL MACABRE: NO PEACE FOR DEAD MEN (Dark Horse)  Story: Steve Niles. Art: Christopher Mitten. Colors: Michelle Madsen. Letters: Nate Piekos of Blambot

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As in prior Cal MacDonald tales, the vampires and werewolves do not get along and the banter between them makes for some funny exchanges.  However, they have to work together to bring down Cal, the greatest threat they face as pointed out by a new presence - - Salem, the daughter of the oldest vampire ever (but not named) who wants revenge for Cal’s murdering of her master and pissing on his corpse.  Their new plan is to leave MacDonald alone but kill everyone who comes in contact with him, thereby driving him mad with frustration and pushing him over the edge.  Even his ghoul friend, Mo’Lock, begins to sense that Cal is depressed and trying to isolate himself from the rest of the world.

There are plenty of battles and situations in this one-shot issue, including an amusing scenario where Cal resurrects the spirit that inhabits his murderous Chevy Nova.  You’ll feel right at home with the art style of Mitten if you’re a regular partaker of HELLBOY or B.R.P.D.  If you are a fan and have been following the saga of CRIMINAL MACABRE (as I have) then you’ll want this issue.  It concludes with a major change and turning point, a prelude of things to come.  And follow Cal’s next adventure in DARK HORSE PRESENTS #4.

 IRON MAN 2.0  #9  (Marvel)  Nick Spencer & Joshua Hale Fialkov, writers.  Ariel Olivetti, artist. Ariel Olivetti & Jose Villarrubia, color art.  VC’s Joe Caramagna, letterer.

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I sincerely hope this book stays available for some time, and Marvel doesn’t give it the early yank.  They’ve certainly not done much to promote it.  The covers have been rather generic, usually just a drawing of Rhodey in the armor in different poses, or a scene not related to the story.   The momentum built by the original storyline (which has still to conclude) was rudely interrupted by a 3-issue Fear Itself cross-over.  Even though that story was really good, readers following the main story may have lost interest after a 3-month pause and not come back.

Those who have kept their patience and stayed with it have been rewarded.  The Death Of Palmer Addley storyline thrusts into high gear with this issue, and it’s a shocker.  In brief, Palmer Addley was a genius disgruntled government employee assigned to work on new weapons of mass destruction, etc.  He committed suicide rather than continue on.  Yet, since Issue #1 Rhodey has been globe-trotting to various catastrophic outbreaks  - -  all linked by the Kilroy-was-here type of message left behind at each site - - “Palmer Addley Is Dead”.   Rhodey and his intelligence team have  been scratching their heads trying to figure out how this is occurring so they have a chance to head it off.  The method and motives are beginning to be revealed with this issue - - - it’s very creepy and the absolute scariest thing I have read this month = scary, because it’s plausible – if not now, sometime in our future.  PICK UP THIS BOOK!   Nick Spencer is a creative deviant, and there’s no better example of that than right here. If you require additional incentive,  - - the color wash technique from Olivetti & Villarrubia is very cool to look at - - like painted art with a glaze over it.

WULF  #3  (Atlas/Ardden)  Writer: Steve Niles.  Pencils and Inks: Nat Jones.  Colors: Mai.  Letters & Design: Richard  Emms

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If you are sensing a theme to this column – it would be my attempt to do some quick reviews of books with dark or horrific themes as we approach Halloween.  What distinguishes WULF  from just another barbaric homage to Conan is its dark and horrific themes – plus it takes place in a modern setting.  Wulf has been displaced from his planet/realm of existence due to the machinations of a wicked sorcerer who, having decimated Wulf’s planet now seeks other worlds of conquest.

In following the trail of the evil Sanjon, Wolf was transported to modern-day Earth and formed a reluctant partnership with police investigator Sam Lomax (another resurrected Atlas character). Together, they follow Sanjon through space/time and end up back on Earth - - or is it?  Sanjon gets stronger as he siphons off power and energy from living beings.  He finds some competition from other alien parasites in this issue as they suck some of Sanjon’s energy away.

Steve Niles is scripting this book, and knows his way around darkness and also macabre humor.  I like the light touch in the relationship between Lomax and Wulf as Lomax tries to explain a very confusing modern world to the barbarian.   There are lots of double-page and full page panels to showcase the art of Nat Jones, which deserves the attention.  He’s got a fluid and uncluttered style that would fit right into the pages of SPAWN.  It’s the combination of art and otherworldly themes in WULF that are reminding me of that book.

There’s a neat confrontation with Sanjo which ends the book (and maybe one of the characters) and heralds the re-introduction of another favorite Atlas character on the last page:  IRON JAW.  WULF is a fun and entertaining diversion from the normal fare of super-heroes and barbarians.

THE STRANGE TALENT OF LUTHER STODE  #1 of 6 (Image)  Writer: Justin Jordan.  Artist: Tradd Moore.  Coloring: Felipe Sobreiro.  Lettering: Steven Finch.

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The source that inspired writer Justin Jordan came right out of classic comic books from the 1960’s.  What if those ads in those comics for body-building courses (that claim to turn puny nerds into powerful chick magnets in a few months) actually worked?  There is more than enough gratuitous violence, blood and guts in LUTHER STRODE to satisfy gore hounds.  The redeeming factor is the story line and the characters, both a little funny and empathetic lending a lighter tone to the proceedings.  You can see the transformation of Luther from an insecure introvert to a confident confrontational personality.  I’m not sure which of the two I prefer yet.    The art work and colors remind me of the same effect the art team had on the CHEW books - - they put a lighter spin on the circumstances, making it seem a little less grisly than it really is.

The main villain, The Librarian, is introduced (though he has yet to meet Luther Strode) and he is even more bloodthirsty and ruthless than Luther was as seen in the opening pages bloodbath.   This book may be worth watching.

GHOSTBUSTERS #1  (IDW)  Written by Erik Burnham.  Art by Dan Schoening. Colors by Luis Antonio Delgado.  Letters by Shawn Lee.

NOTE: GHOSTBUSTERS #1 sold out at the distributor level.  IDW has now scheduled a second printing of Issue #1, expected to hit comics stores on November 23, 2011.

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I thought the story would grab me before the art but the reverse is true. While the art is appropriately cartoonish in nature, there is far more detail and depth that you might expect to see in a “funny book” aimed at all ages.   All the familiar characters are back, including the Ghostbusters team who are quickly introduced in the opening pages as guests on a daytime talk show:  Dr. Peter Venkman, Dr. Egon Spengler, Winston Zeddemore and Dr. Raymond Stanz.   We also see gal Friday Ja’nine, the Ray Puft marshmallow giant,  and the Green Slime ghost monster - - this issue’s threat as he slimes an entire low-rent apartment building.

There’s a three-page sub-story with more serious art by Tristan Jones that deals with a newly-appointed PCOC (Paranormal Contracts Oversight Commission) to investigate whether the contracts between the City and Ghostbusters for their services are valid and legitimate.   Good fun.  Nice to see these guys again.

NEAR DEATH #1  (Image) Story: Jay Faerber.  Art; Simone Guglielmini.  Color: Ron Riley. Letters: Charles Pritchett.  Cover: Tomm Coker & Daniel Freedman.near death 

If you love a monthly dose of crime comics and can’t wait for each issue of Ed Brubaker’s CRIMINAL to arrive - - you’ll find plenty to satisfy your urges through Image Comics.  No other company (in my current recollection) is doing as much to showcase this genre as Image is. 

Hit-man Markham gets shot up badly trying to complete his assignment and just manages to come crawling to the doorstep of a sympathetic veterinarian.  (Ever notice how much emergency medical work that vets get in movies, television and comics?  Maybe there’s an underground economy here that I’m not aware of.)  During the operation, Markham almost dies and has a near-death experience that convinces him to change his ways.   He starts out by returning to the contract work he failed at and rescues the target, someone who was under the care of Federal Marshalls as a protected witness. He sneaks her away and sends her packing with enough money and supplies to start over again on her own.

This gets him into trouble with both his former criminal bosses/clients as well as federal prosecutors and law enforcement and makes him a marked man.  NEAR DEATH sets things up at a quick pace in very readable fashion and gets to the end sooner than you’d like.  Have to come back for me.

The art and shading/colors are very appropriate for this type of tale.  If you forget what book you’ll reading, you’d almost think you were looking at some pages from CRIMINAL.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER SEASON 9 #1  (Dark Horse)  “Freefall, Part One”  Script: Joss Whedon. Pencils: Georges Jeanty. Inks: Dexter Vines. Colors: Michelle Madsen.  Letters: Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt.  Cover: Steve Morris.

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I’m not even a casual reader/viewer of Buffy fare, but I picked this up on a lark - - - just in case I was missing something excellent and didn’t know about it.  For a book that I presume is aimed at a teenage/young adult readership – this is pretty good stuff.  Who knows Buffy better than Joss Whedon, anyway?  I’m amazed that he continues to write several comics series while helming the production of the upcoming blockbuster AVENGERS movie at the same time!  (Can’t wait to see that one, btw.)

I doubt that anyone who reads comics or follows the fantasy/horror genre through movies and television is totally unfamiliar with the world of BUFFY, but SEASON 9 is a book that anyone could pick up and start fresh with.  The short summary on the contents page brings everybody up to date and says it all:

“With the destruction of the seed, the fight against Twilight was brought to an end, and magic’s connection to our earth was severed.  No more Slayers will be chosen.  No more Slayer army.  No more gang:  Buffy’s a waitress in San Francisco; Dawn and Xander are attempting normal domesticity; Willow is struggling with the loss of her powers.  It’s a new (ish) world, but there are still demons and vampires to slay - - - even as their popularity with the masses continues to grow - - and  Buffy is on point to do what she has always done . . . . . She is the Slayer.”

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: SEASON 9 begins as a transition point, a stage of relaxation after what has just been accomplished and before what is to come.  As a consequence, Buffy is a little off her guard and decides to “party”.  And Issue #1 is like a “party” issue - - it’s a bit of fun, it reminds me of a good Archie book with the dark stuff added and a little more sexual awareness than you see in Riverside.

It starts with Buffy waking up in a strange bed and without most of her clothes on. She doesn’t remember a thing as she meets up again with old friends and associates.  She gets confused about her work shift.   There are some interludes with darker moments interspersed in between the fun that hint at threatening things to come, and an ending page that brings a chuckle as a demon emerges to remind Buffy that “it’s time to pay!! - - - - - your student loan! . . .”  I’m thinking this isn’t about college tuition but more likely for services rendered in training her to become a Slayer.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

PREVIEWS: What’s new for Wednesday, October 26, 2011?

THE VAULT #3 of 3  (Image, October 26 release)  Story SAM SARKAR.  Art GARRIE GASTONNY.  Color SAKTI YUWONO.  Cover GARRIE GASTONNY & BAGUS HUTOMO

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The story of THE VAULT (so far) wraps up this issue with an ending that leaves us wondering if the creature is dead, down for the count, or just temporarily trapped in the depths of the ocean.   Issue #3 doesn’t dwell long on theories as to whether the grisly winged skeletal creature is a creation of heaven or hell - - it just gets right to the action.  The explorers thought they had escaped the monster and left it on the island, but a dangerous squall threatens to divert their ship right back to land.  Doesn’t matter   -- the creature has stowed away on board (as you might suspect) and proceeds to take out expedition members one at a time - - until it gains enough confidence to attack the entire group in one bloody battle.   The only thing that has a chance at stopping it are some artifacts, the same rod and seal that when removed freed the creature from entrapment.  THE VAULT ends with a very creepy conclusion, a satisfying horror tale that will make a good movie (an announced Johnny Depp production) and provide some real scares the same way that the ALIEN movie did.  

PLANET OF THE APES #7  (BOOM!)  “The Devil’s Pawn, Part 3”  Writer, Daryl Gregory.  Artist, Carlos Magno.  Colorist, Nolan Woodard.  Letterer, Travis Lanham.

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What I like most about this series is that it is very fresh and creative, in spite of being based on the original movies/television/novels, etc.  It’s may be the best comics adaptation of licensed science-fiction material for your time and money right now.  The writing is dynamic.  The art is gorgeous.   Issue #7 opens up as the city heads towards violent civil war.  Both sides are gathering weapons and support.  The new ruler of the apes makes her first speech to rally the populace in support of her decision to take the battle right to the human settlements, and it’s an impassioned call to arms worthy of the inspiring speeches of the former Lawgiver, although the purpose now is war rather than peace.  The humans make a pact with both a suspicious religious cult to get advanced weaponry and an unscrupulous arms dealer for the rest.   Small skirmishes erupt this issue in re-training camps and elsewhere as things come to a boil. I suspect the next one or two issues will be combat intensive.

OTHER NEW BOOKS WORTH A LOOK ON 10/26/2011:  ALL STAR WESTERN #2;  AQUAMAN #2;  BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT #2;  DAREDEVIL #5;  FLASH #2;  FLY #5;  HAPPINESS IS A WARM BLANKET, CHARLIE BROWN TPB;  JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #2;  KIRBY: GENESIS #4;  RED SKULL #4 of 5;  RED WING #4 of 4;  SPACEMAN #1 of 9.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

BOOKS: a glorious overview of comics’ place in mythology

 

SUPERGODS (WHAT MASKED VIGILANTES, MIRACULOUS MUTANTS, AND A SUN GOD FROM SMALLVILLE CAN TEACH US ABOUT BEING HUMAN)  by Grant Morrison  (Spiegel & Grau / Random House)  445 pages, hardcover, July 2011

I’m not sure if Morrison intended for that subtitle to be there,  or if it was a last minute add-on by the marketing department.  Regardless of who takes credit for it - - it certainly creates some reader expectations, expectations I’m not sure the book is equal to meeting.

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What SUPERGODS does succeed in doing is take the reader on a journey through the  history of comic books , focusing on four key periods as defined by Grant Morrison (Golden Age, Silver Age, Dark Age, Renaissance), and selecting critical titles that best represent each period.  For each period, Morrison includes details on how it had an impact on him as well as what stage of his writing career he was in at that particular time.

I considered the subtitle of SUPERGODS and considered how I might try to answer it:  “What can masked vigilantes, miraculous mutants, and a sun god from Smallville teach us about being human?”   That’s a monumental task, indeed.  So I’ll start small and keep it personal:   Comics and superhero tales taught me how to read at an early age, and then accelerate my vocabulary and improve my reading comprehension level well beyond my elementary school grade.  It did the same thing  for my two sons.  My parents read comics to me until I was old enough to read them myself, and there was some family bonding in that process.  I took up the same practice and introduced my sons to comics first by reading to them.  Comics led me to an interest in mythology, science-fiction and fantasy literature. I developed an appreciation for fiction and reading from the launching platform of comic books.  When comics in the 60’s began to write about heroes who were younger and closer to my own age I empathized with those characters much easier and felt a certain kinship.  Some of my personal values and principles were developed from lessons learned in comic books.   Can comic books actually have the same impact on societal development that mythological heroes and legends did in ancient times as they were passed on from generation to generation, and even used in such a way as to explain the whole world and universe around them?    That’s a huge stretch of speculation  - - but I can see a thin thread of connection there.  No need to prove it to me, Mr. Morrison.  That’s like preaching to the choir. 

So I don’t expect to see SUPERGODS added to the curriculum for next semester’s religion, philosophy, socialism, American history or ethics courses.  SUPERGODS is certainly not Morrison’s masters thesis on the subject.  And that’s a good thing.  It’s a much more entertaining read in this form.

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SUPERGODS is one man’s vision and interpretation of the meaning of comic books in today’s society. When that man is Grant Morrison you can expect certain things, and this book delivers on all of them:

1) It’s a wide-screen, high definition, cinemascope big picture view of each era’s importance to the over all genre.  Unlike some superficial treatment that focuses more on microscopic facts/details and reads like a history book, SUPERGODS always points the way to the bigger meaning and spells it out.

2) Like everything Morrison creates, this book is infused with a big dose of his persona.  Morrison sometimes approaches his subjects in SUPERGODS from unusual directions and perspectives - - but that’s what we’ve come to expect.  Not everybody will like it every time, but it never fails to interest or intrigue.

3) The level of writing is advanced, and superb.  If Morrison wasn’t such a great comics creator, he’d have an equally successful career as a comics reviewer, observer, or commentator.

4) He does attempt to answer the big question that is the subtitle of this book, but not in a chapter by chapter fashion, and he certainly doesn’t try to beat us over the head with his conclusions through constant repetition or factual evidence.  Rather, as in most of his writing, he lays it out and leaves it to the reader to draw some of the conclusions.

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If that isn’t enough to encourage someone interested in comics history and its’ place in history there are some additional bonus items that make SUPERGODS the captivating read that it is:

1) This is probably the closest thing to an auto-biography of Grant Morrison that is likely to ever see print.  I learned a lot about the man himself from SUPERGODS, and it helped me to appreciate his writing more once I discovered some of the vast subjects he has investigated and explored.  My, what a long, strange trip it’s been.  Better you than I, Mr. Morrison.  Some of his experiments with drugs, mysticism, and the dark arts would have turned many into blathering idiots. The result on Morrison is that it helped shape his world view and made him a better writer.

2) It also outlines a clear chronology of Morrison’s progression as a comics writer and puts his works into historical context with what else was being produced at the time (mainly in the Dark Age and Renaissance periods).

3) When he does editorialize, it’s always entertaining and often enlightening. I could cite many examples and pad out this review but I’d rather use the words Morrison chose to conclude the final chapter:

“Superhero stories are sweated out at the imagined lowest levels of our culture, but like that shard off a hologram, they contain at their hearts all the dreams and fears of generations in vivid miniature.  Created by a workforce that has in its time been marginalized, mocked, scapegoated, and exploited, they never failed to offer  a direct line to the cultural subconscious and its convulsions.  They tell us where we’ve been, what we feared, and what we desired, and today they are more popular, more all-pervasive than ever because they still speak to us about what we really want to be.  Once again, the comics were right all along.  When no else cared, they took the idea of a superhuman future seriously, embraced it, exalted it, tested it to destruction and back, and found it intact, stronger, more defined, like steel in a refiner’s fire.  Indestructible.  Unstoppable.  The superheroes, who were champions of the oppressed when we needed them to be, patriots when we needed them to be, pioneers, rebels, conformists, or rock stars when we needed them to be, are now obligingly battering down the walls between reality and fiction before our very eyes. . . . . . . . . . .   There’s only one way to find out what happens next . . . . . . . . . . “ 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Books I Read: DC Universe Legacies


DC Universe: Legacies HC stands as the last official history of the old DCU. (I asked Len Wein on Twitter if he knew that when he was writing it, and he said "No, though there's something sweet about that in a melancholy way.")

Wein tells the story from the point of view of a young boy in Metropolis' Suicide Slum, who later grows up to be a police officer. Similar to "Marvels"' Phil Sheldon, this gives Paul Lincoln the excuse to be present for major events without seeming contrived. We follow Paul and his family through the decades, with Scott Kolins drawing Lincoln's present-day framing sequence in his painted style.

The book covers from the introduction of the JSA to just before Ted Kord's murder at the beginning of "Infinite Crisis". This isn't a big retcon book; everything plays out pretty much the way it did before. One notable exception: instead of using the version of Superman's first appearence from Mark Waid's "Birthright" or Geoff Johns' "Secret Origins", the scene is straight from the first Christopher Reeve movie. ("Don't worry, miss. I've got you." "You've got me? Who's got you?")

The art is simply fantastic, drawn by huge names appropriate for each era: Andy & Joe Kubert, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez & Dave Gibbons, George Perez, Jerry Ordway, Dan Jurgens, Jesus Saiz, and even more in the backup stories: Walt Simonson, Frank Quitely, Bill Sienkiewicz, Gary Frank, etc. It's well worth the money for the art alone, although I did enjoy the way the stories were retold a lot.

Somebody put some thought into this collection and separated the backups from the main story so that you can read the history uninterrupted. The alternate covers, which tie into each backup story, are also in this section which is another nice touch. The backups focus on heroes that weren't part of the main narrative, like the original Seven Soldiers of Victory, the Challengers of the Unknown, DC's war heroes, Orion & the New Gods, etc. My favorite is the Seven Soldiers story drawn by J.H. Williams III both in the style of Sunday newspaper strips and of the original JSA stories where the team would split up and have separate adventures. My least favorite is the Legion story. It's always awesome to see Keith Giffen draw these characters, but the story is a deliberate farce, which I didn't think worked in this context.

One of the backups is an Atom/Shining Knight story by Brian Bolland, which leads me to another legacy of the old DCU: Bolland's new coffee table book Cover Story: The DC Comics Art of Brian Bolland. Maybe Bolland will be part of the New 52 in some way, but for now he stands as a beacon of the old DCU, having drawn some of its most iconic covers. Not just an art display book, Bolland shows his process in pencil sketches and multiple essays about why things were designed a certain way. This is a must-have for fans of Bolland's work.

Another old DCU artifact worth noting is the recent $7.99 reprint of JLA: Age of Wonder, one of the last Elseworlds published, because writer Adi Tantimedh just reminisced about the making of the book ("How I Wrote The Steampunk Justice League") in his Bleeding Cool column in two parts.

PREVIEWS: What’s new for Wednesday, October 19, 2011

ZOMBIES, NINJAS and DUCKS

KEY OF Z #1  of 4  (BOOM! Studios)  Claudio Sanchez and Chondra Echert, writers.  Aaron Kuder, art.  Covers: Nathan Fox and Tony Moore

Can there ever be enough Zombie Literature?  

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Some will say never; while others crave no more after getting their fill.  Me, I’m about 3/4 tank full on zombies right now after watching the Season 1 final episode and Season 2 opener of THE WALKING DEAD on AMC TV and then sampling several zombie movies during their Fear Fest which runs every day  through October.  That just means it’s time to read about them for awhile.  I’ll always welcome another addition to the zombie offerings as long as I receive a good story and/or good art.

KEY OF Z starts off promising and looks to deliver  a good story through it’s 4-issue run.  The art is already great, and reason alone to keep an eye on this book.  The style of artist Aaron Kuder is very creative, will remind you a little of Moebius and Quitely, and make you catch your breath with some of its more subtle touches and details.  Kuder is definitely somebody to keep the spotlight on.

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Writers Sanchez and Echert certainly didn’t impress me based on their past credentials. They previously worked on the ARMORY WARS and KILL AUDIO titles for BOOM! (haven’t read them) and are associated with the rock band COHEED AND CAMBRIA (haven’t listened to them). What impressed me are the script skills I see on display here in KEY OF Z #1.  The book begins with a very heart-warming scene that instantly makes a connection between most readers and Nick Ewing, the main character.  And the verbal exchanges between Nick and Eddie Alvarez , the other regular character come across as real and sincere rather than clich├ęd and forced.

KEY OF Z is a post-apocalypse tale set in New York City a few years from now.  The city has sustained a plague of zombies and the survivors form gangs/clans  (Yankees Lavoe and Jackson Mets) and live together in two compounds (both using sports stadiums).  Both of these gangs has a dictator in charge and utilize street/thug methods in attempting to further establish and fortify their compound.   The back-story hints at a third group that was more of a religious/Christian gathering led by a motivational speechmaker named Atwater. They made Madison Square Garden their home base, but the storyline implies that they are no longer in existence and/or Nick went his separate way from them.   KeyofZ_01_rev_Page_6

 

You’ll find scenes and setting that will remind you of DMZ and WALKING DEAD comics, and THE WARRIORS movie.

Nick lost his family in a Christmas eve tragedy. Both story and art work together in an at first warm and peaceful, family atmosphere which quickly morphs into a violent , bloody mob scene on the streets.  Here is where the art of Kuder will make you stop and take note, especially the beautifully detailed panel where the onrushing police car is seen in the pupil of Nick’s eye.  Nick now lives alone and apart from both gangs.  He bands together with Alvarez, when he  narrowly escapes with Nick’s help from a reluctant gang assignment that went wrong.  Alvarez needs rescued a second time as the book reaches the final pages.

The advance information hints at Nick possessing an artifact that gives him power.  Based on the title of this series, the Christmas gift Nick received, and the item at the pitcher’s mound on the variant cover - - I’m guessing it’s a harmonica.  Guessing a little more and thinking that Nick will mesmerize the zombies by playing the harp - - a la the Pied Piper of Hamlin.  Guess I’m coming back next month to see if I’m right.

SAMURAI’S BLOOD #5 of 6  (Image / Benaroya)  Owen Wiseman, story.  Nam Kim, Matthew Dalton & Saki Yukon, art.  Jo Chen, cover.

If you’ve been reading my previous reviews of SAMURAI’S BLOOD, then this may begin to sound like a broken record to you . . . . . .

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Currently SAMURAI’S BLOOD is my #1 candidate for Best New Series of 2011 and Issue #3 is the front-runner for my Best Single Issue Story of 2011.  The reasons are multiple:   1) Art that is not only breath-taking to view but that is perfectly in sync with the storyline and helps to enhance and embellish the impact the writer intended;  2) a history lesson of feudal Japan is enmeshed into the story which provides education and entertainment at the same time;  3) a better understanding of Eastern philosophy and the Samurai code of honor  runs throughout the books in narrative captions as the story drives home its points;   4) it’s a marvelous part of a trio of debut efforts from a small company (Benaroyo) that is beginning to attract big attention; and  5) while it’s best appreciated as a whole it’s a tale that can be enjoyed in parts. You can pick up any single issue of this book and still catch on.

Issue #4 represented a defining mid-point in the storyline, as our trio of fugitive clan members also survive their initial trials, growing in the process while beginning to doubt they have what it takes to see their mission through and become who they want to be.  It’s the learning curve of life.  They get a splash in the face of hope in Issue #5 with the re-introduction of a powerful character who will help guide them the rest of the way.

Flashback to Issue #1 and the destruction of Aiwa village.  All did not perish who remained behind. The last man standing was revealed to be Koga Iemutsu, who when surrounded by invading Samurai dispels them all away with his words, planting seeds of doubt and much fear in their minds.  He is the fabled “Edo Ghost”.  As one solider expressed it:  “Gods do not die. They only wait.”

From there, Iemutsu walks a slippery slope of deception, presenting himself to the enemy camp as a mighty ninja and pretending to be there to assist the local warlord in ascending to Shogun ranking.  Not fully trusting him, the warlord assigns Araku to shadow him.  Everything has consequences.  Ieumutsu’s evasive actions led to the very capture of Yuko in Issue #2.  As the captions teach us:  “Kago Iemutsu was accustomed to directing the rivers currents . . .. And so he had forgotten that a sword raised to strike may cut things of which the main wielding it is unaware.”

The themes for Issue #5 are redemption, fate, and honor versus vengeance.

More gems of Samurai wisdom from Issue #5:  “Put two of anything  in a cage for long enough and one of them ends up dead. . . . And sometimes for some men of great pride and great power, even the whole world is too small of a cage to live in together.”

The Edo Ghost succeeds in his deception, makes a powerful ally, and gets the choice assignment from the suspicious warlord to recruit a young street fighter, Haniya Toshimitsu,  to lead his men in battle.   And thus is Iemutsu re-united with his son Katashi.  Their conversation leads Katashi to thoughts of abandoning his samurai quest and to take on the ninja mantle as his father did.

Iemutsu says “between honor and vengeance, I choose vengeance.  If you cannot give up the pretensions of the samurai, then take this dagger and open your stomach, as you know you must. . .  If your blood burns inside you, as mine burns within me, then return to your family.   Our vengeance is at hand.”  Katashi makes his choice.

Nest Issue:  The Righteous Vengeance of Clan Sanjyo.  Seems like the concluding Issue #6 is going to be a blood bath.  Be there !

DUCK TALES VOLUME 1: RIGHTFUL OWNERS  TPB (KaBOOM! Studios)  Warren Spector, writer.  leonel Castellani, Jose Massaroli, Ruben Torreiro, Magic Eye Studios, art.

As a way to introduce younger readers to comics – you just can’t go wrong by offering them a Disney comic.  It’s been that way for decades, since the beginning of WALT DISNEY COMICS & STORIES from Dell, and Boom! Studios upholds that legacy by maintaining the same quality of writing and art.  Their entire line of young reader books is outstanding.

DuckTales_V1_CVR

DUCKTALES: RIGHTFUL OWNERS TPB is a great introduction to the world of money-hoarding Scrooge McDuck and his assortment of characters including aviator Launchpad and Huey, Dewey and Louie – his mischievous trio of nephews.  It’s the museum opening celebrating the fabulous collection of treasures and artifacts acquired by Scrooge during his history of adventurous travel.  The story open with a tour of the museum and a little trip/summary down memory lane before it gets into high gear, as various agencies conspire to steal and/or return these treasures to their original homes.   I only had time for a short preview of this book, but it’s a great introduction and should provide great fun for adults lucky enough to read this to their young nieces and nephews.

 

OTHER TITLES WORTH EXPLORING THIS WEDNESDAY: 

BATMAN #2,  DARK HORSE PRESENTS #5,  DEADPOOL MAX 2 #1,  FEAR ITSELF #7,  FREAKANGELS: VOLUME 6 TPB,   H P LOVECRAFT: THE DUNWICH HORROR #1,  HELLRAISER #5,   JUSTICE LEAGUE #2,  WARRIORS THREE: DOG DAY AFTERNOON TPB,  WONDER WOMAN #2.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

PREVIEWS: What’s New for Wednesday, October 12, 2011?

BLUE ESTATE #6 OF 12  (Image)  “Point Of No Return” Story by Viktor Kalvachev & Andrew Osborne. Art by Viktor  Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, and Nathan Fox.  Cover by Viktor Kalvachev.

All of the loose ends begin to come together in this issue, as we learn more of the connections between the large group of characters in  BLUE ESTATE and how everything in this book in related to everything else (like the social game “Seven Degrees Of Kevin Bacon” played out in an infinite loop).  I could see this storyline continuing for several years.  It’s comforting to learn that there are 12 issues planned (at least for the first volume) so there will actually  be some kind of ending or resolution.

BlueEstate#6_Cover

It looks like the page one re-cap and character family tree (showing the connections between them) is going to be a regular feature - - and I certainly welcome that. You definitely need help keeping all the balls juggling in the air at the same time – and this helps.    As I read through BLUE ESTATE (one trade paperback and two monthly issues) I keep looking for a character that I can at least empathize with  -- it gives me something to care about as I watch what happens to them.  So far, as soon as I start to feel even just a little bit of affinity with a character, they do something to betray the trust in the following issue.  I was rooting for Rachel Maddox for two issues , and now she appears to be just as devious, scheming and selfish as every other character in BLUE ESTATE.  Maybe I’m going to cheer on her brother, BILLY DUCHARME, instead.  He certainly seems to be in a bad situation, and perhaps just a victim of circumstance.   One thing that almost every character in this wants is some other character’s money or status.  And every other character has ties to either the Italian mob or the Russian mob.  Also, more than one character is engaged in what they are doing because they want to earn respect from their fathers.

So, what could I tell you about BLUE ESTATE #6 without spoiling the story for you?  Well, this issue is concerned with  faulty real estate deals, hostage and ransom – now to a revolving cast of money holders, a private eye’s surveillance on a supposedly cheating wife that isn’t everything that it appears to be, a supposedly caring AA sponsor who’s really after several other things, to name just a few.  That’s only a sample/teaser. You’ll want to try the main course for yourself.

OTHER BOOKS WORTH CHECKING OUT ON WEDNESDAY:  BATMAN AND ROBIN #2; BATWOMAN #2, FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. #2; GREEN LANTERN #2; VICTORIAN UNDEAD VOL 2: SHERLOCK HOLMES VS. DRACULA TPB; WARRIORS THREE: DOG DAY AFTERNOON TPB; ELRIC: THE BALANCE LOST #4; HAPPINESS IS A WARM BLANKET, CHARLIE BROWN GN; HELLRAISER #6.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Randomizer - - October 7, 2011

SHORT TAKES

BRILLIANT  (Marvel/Icon, July 2011) 

brill 1     brill 2

I wasn’t sure I liked the beginnings of this creator-owned series by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley on the first reading.  I just wasn’t feeling any connection to it and didn’t care much for the characters.  One month later I pick the book up again for a second read  - - while waiting for a troublesome 5-page memo to successfully fax from my home office. The slow progress of the fax actually gave me more time to spend on the book - - and I found myself warming up to BRILLIANT. Even though the principal characters are all younger than my sons  I found myself relating to them a little and ended up feeling that, as a slice of life look at modern college students,  it was pretty accurate.

BRILLIANT is grounded in reality, at least for now, and hints (at first) at supernatural or arcane undercurrents within and then opens up to matters of a science-fiction or super-powered nature.  Brainy college students (astrophysics majors, etc) decide to work together to decipher how super powers can be created.  We are introduced to this by way of a character, Albert, who returns to campus after a one-year absence to find things have really changed while he was gone.  When the group leader, Amadeus, decides to have a rooftop meeting to introduce their project and invite his participation, we learn some of the details at the same time that Albert does. The premise is a little flimsy but at least Bendis made an effort to come up with a rationale that led these students down this path.

The visual zoom-out panels on the last page reveal the rooftop group is gathered around an all-terrain vehicle.  It also shows how high they are- - at least fifty feet or more from ground level - - and with no visible means of getting that vehicle up there. Perhaps they have already uncovered some of what may be science-based powers.  (One of the members refers to a satanic source earlier, so I’m not certain about this).  It does appear that at least one member of the group has - - as leader Amadeus is very generous to his friends and paid for this party-like gathering . You find out his source of income in the beginning of the story. No spoilers here.

Bagley does his always magnificent job.  It’s the subtle things that draw me to his work  - - his art is never flashy - -but just perfect in its details and scope.  Always the right angle of view. Always the right body posture. Always the right facial expressions. As if he always knows exactly the best way to get the message of the story and character reactions across.

 

CRIMINAL MACABRE / THE GOON: WHEN FREAKS COLLIDE  (Dark Horse, July 2011)

cal-goon 1 cal-goon 2

The first meeting of Cal McDonald and The Goon is written by Steve Niles and drawn by Christopher Mitten.  Niles, the creator of Criminal Macabre, seems to know his way around Eric Powell’s The Goon character and is spot-on in his adaptation.  Mitten’s style is similar to Mike Mignola and is well-suited for the large amount of small panels per page.

There’s a lot of story to cover in one issue.  I’m also not sure how much Powell had to do with this book. He’s listed on the credits page as “farts and negativity”.  However, that may just reflect the dark humor nature of this book.  If you like your horror to be a little funny, you will love this one-shot (although the end hints at  a sequel/continuation).  This was the most fun I’ve had reading a comic this summer, and I’d love to see more.

In an older version of Chicago that exists on a dimensional plane, vampires and werewolves are the crime gangs and battle each other for supremacy.  One side recruits Cal McDonald.  One side recruits The Goon.  They pound on each other for awhile until they figure out the scam and join together to rid Chicago of monsters.  Hellboy makes a funny one-panel appearance.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thank you, Steve Jobs . . . . . . . . . . . . .

from the official press release . . . . .

 

STEVE JOBS COMIC BOOK BIOGRAPHY TO PAY TRIBUTE TO HIS LEGACY 

jobs

Steve Jobs was nearly as iconic as his company logo. His legacy is that of an innovator, risk-taker, a visionary and a genius. With his recent passing, BLUEWATER PRODUCTIONS along with PAPERLESS PUBLISHING decided to publish the upcoming special edition biography comic book as an e-book available this week on the NOOK and Kindle.


The standard print issue, announced last June, will be released on schedule in three weeks. In respect for Jobs' lifetime of achievement and his brave fight against pancreatic cancer, BLUEWATER has pledged a portion of the issue's proceeds to the American Cancer Society.


“Jobs' vision and business acumen revolutionized the world,” said writer CW Cooke “Between he and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, you would be hard pressed to find someone with greater influence over how we communicate, interact and do business over the last 30 years.”


STEVE JOBS, FOUNDER OF APPLE” offers readers a unique insight into the Apple CEO’s legendary drive to the top and his continuing fight to stay there.


The 32-page issue, penciled by Chris Schmidt (with cover art supplied by DC artist Joe Phillips), will be available in comic shops, bookstores and various online venues including Amazon. The current release date noted on Amazon is incorrect. The standard version of the book will be available on October 27 as well as on Comixology. The special e-book edition, co-published by PAPERLESS PUBLISHING, will be available for download on the NOOK today and the Kindle tomorrow.


The special e-edition of the book will include respectful reference to his passing and summarize the incalculable impact he had on modern society. This is not included in the print version.


“His innovations command front page news, speculation of his health affects the stock market. Not bad for a college dropout” said BLUEWATER  president Darren G. Davis. “His story, and that of Apple, is epic. I'm surprised it took us this long to publish a proper, balanced biography of him,” said Davis.
“Steve Jobs was my hero, he changed the way we all live today.  This book will not only celebrate him, but portions of the proceeds will go to The American Cancer Society in his honor.  He will be missed greatly.” explained Meghan Kilduff, Publisher of PAPERLESS PUBLISHING.

According to BLUEWATER, the impetus to publish the Jobs biography was based on the demand and success of BLUEWATER’s biography comic featuring Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook published last spring.  The expanded graphic novel edition is also exclusively on the NOOK and Kindle.

About PAPERLESS PUBLISHING:

PAPERLESS PUBLISHING was founded by Objective Entertainment's Jarred Weisfeld and is a full service e-Book publishing house. Meghan Kilduff has moved over from Objective Entertainment to be the new company's Publisher. PAPERLESS PUBLISHING is looking to publish both fiction and nonfiction in all genres. They  plan to publish over 100 titles in the next year.
For more information, visit http://www.paperlesspub.com/


About BLUEWATER PRODUCTIONS:

BLUEWATER PRODUCTIONS  is one of the top independent production studios of comic books, young adult books and graphic novels. Its extensive catalog of titles includes the bestsellers “10th Muse” and “The Legend of Isis” ”BLUEWATER  publishes comic books in partnership with entertainment icon William Shatner (“TekWar Chronicles”), legendary filmmaker Ray Harryhausen (“Wrath of the Titans,” “Sinbad: Rogue of Mars,” “Jason and the Argonauts,” et al) and celebrated actor Vincent Price (“Vincent Price Presents”), Additionally, BLUEWATER  publishes a highly successful line of biographical comics under the titles “Female Force” and “Political Power.”  BLUEWATER  aims to unite cutting-edge art and engaging stories produced by its stable of the publishing industry's top artists and writers.
For more information, visit www.bluewaterprod.com.

 


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

PREVIEWS: What’s New for Wednesday, October 5, 2011?

Several  mini-series I’ve been following have new issues this week:

RED SPIKE #5 OF 5  (Image/Benaroya)  Story:  Jeff Cahn.  Art:  Mark Texeira, Salvador Navarro, Ifansyah Noor.  Cover:  Mark Texeira.

RedSpike#5_Cover

I thought last month’s cover with it’s imagery of the Lincoln Memorial busting up was dynamic - - - I think the cover to Issue #5 of RED SPIKE actually tops its.  Nice work by Mark Texeira with a subtle tip of the hat to the style of the 1960’s mens’ magazines cover style.  The impact  impression/indentation in the concrete wall is the topper.

The first story arc comes to an end here, as we learn that no one leading secret military projects or in the federal government overseeing them is free of corruption (not that any of us are surprised by that!).  Colonel Moyer gets his day in front of the Senate investigating committee on the Red Spike project and bolts out of the hearing in an angry hissy fit.  He’s determined to protect his pet project and go down fighting if he can’t save it, regardless of anyone else who gets swept up and damaged by his actions.

Things come to a head rather quickly, as the rest of the back story on project Red Spike is revealed and the threat to break it up is thwarted and apparently over for now.  Good soldier Matt seems the only member of the adrenaline-augmented Red Spike team left to carry on.  The last several pages hint at the future and things don’t seem too safe at all. 

The art team does an incredible job this issue.  There are plenty of facial close-ups and the expressions of intensity, anger, fear and outrage are spot-on perfect.  Hope you were along for the ride. It was worth it.  Bring on RED SPIKE Volume 2.

MARKSMEN #3 OF 6  (Image / Benaroya)  Script: David Baxter.  Art: Javier Aranda, Garry Leach & Jessica Kholinne.  Cover: Tomm Coker.

Marksmen#3_Cover

If you enjoy G.I. JOE you will love this issue of MARKSMEN.  There is more than enough military choppers, armored vehicles and jeeps, orbiting platforms and tech around to satisfy.  The Trojan Horse maneuver of the fanatical would-be conqueror Duke comes off as planned and his forces gain access to the inside of fortress New San Diego.  Some key personnel are taken hostage after sufficient damage to New San Diego’s high tech is suffered.  Drake learns some truths about his heritage, and is dispatched to head up the rescue/recovery mission.

The scope and scale of the military forces on both sides as artistically portrayed by the art team is just perfect.  It’s mostly an all-action issue and a fun and quick read.  For those craving a little more, there is some nice interplay between the forces of faith-based religion versus hope-based science that whet the appetite for more conflict.

THE RINSE #2  (BOOM! Studios)  Written by Garry Phillips.  Drawn by Mark Lanning. Colors by Darwin Moore. Cover by Paul Azaceta. Letters by Steve Wand. 

TheRinse_02_CVR

There’s just not a whole lot I can say about this issue without being a real spoil-sport for your fun. You will enjoy this book, provided you like your crime stories told in a similar fashion to the way the  master (Ed Brubaker) tells them.  This is on a  par with the best of the CRIMINAL series, but provides insight into the world of a very professional and high stakes money launderer  (a subject I don’t believe Brubaker has touched on very much). 

Master money launderer Jeff Sinclair may have made a big mistake when he agrees to hide a middle-aged sad sack of a casino employee and help move the money he stole from the mob owners through the usual back street channels.  Things get complicated when the employee’s girl friend shows up, who just happens to be the wife of a prominent member of the mob family.  Things get complicated even further when the IRS agent Della Dash  (great name!)  gets aggressive and ramps up her investigation into possible tax evasion by Sinclair.  And some psycho nut job with a vendetta is out there trying to get his revenge and take out some of the major players.  The two enforcers the mob dispatch are also nut-jobs and very dangerous and brutal in their methods.

I’m also reminded of the way that the excellent television series BURN NOTICE provides insights via narration.  Captions and thought balloons narrated by Sinclair give similar insight into the ways of the money laundering world.  THE RINSE is a good book, and worth checking out.

OTHER BOOKS WORTH A LOOK  THIS WEEK:  ACTION COMICS #2, ANIMAL MAN #2, CALIGULA #4 of 6, iZOMBIE #18, MORIARTY #5, NEAR DEATH #1,  ROGER LANGRIDGE’S SNARKED #1, STRANGE TALENT OF LUTHER STRODE #1, SUPERIOR #5 of 6.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Comics I Read: DC New 52 Week 4


I thought the final week of new DC books was a good one. Again, the art is incredible across the board, and I have to shout out to all the colorists as well. A lot of these books rely on a specific color palette to really make the art pop, and the results show there's a lot of thought being put into that.

All-Star Western #1: No matter what Jimmy Palmiotti says, this isn't the same "Jonah Hex" book. It's the same Jonah Hex character, and I liked the addition of the urban Gotham setting, of Amadeus Arkham as the psychologist who finds Hex defies analysis, and the lush art of Moritat ("Elephantmen", "The Spirit"). However, I know of at least one fan of the previous series who didn't like the changes. Personally, I'm looking forward to more, plus the upcoming backups by other great creators. (This is a $3.99 book because it has extra pages.)

Aquaman #1: Really great, and surprisingly subtle. Ivan Reis' art isn't flashy here (though he's certainly capable of that), but so much of Geoff Johns' script depends on Aquaman giving the right look to somebody and Reis' faces are just perfect. I think this would be a mainstream hit, if there was a way to get people to read it. Easily my favorite of the three books Johns is writing. (I'm "hooked"! HA!)

Batman: The Dark Knight #1: I haven't read any issues of this since the previous #1, but it doesn't look like you need to know anything from that run. David Finch's Batman still looks great, but I'm still not into the writing (even with help from Paul Jenkins). Like Detective, this ends with a change to an existing Bat-villain that can't possibly stick. Nothing particularly wrong with this book, but no compelling reason IMO for it to exist either.

Blackhawks #1: My "meh" book of the week. Basically Mike Costa was hired to create a G.I. Joe/SHIELD hybrid, which he delivered competently (down to the nicknames) but I didn't care much about anybody in it. Which, given that Costa's "Cobra" from IDW grabbed me immediately, is not a good sign. (I've only read the "Cobra" issues that Christos Gage was involved in, but I'm told the issues Costa wrote on his own are just as good.) Nice to see artist Graham Nolan back in mainstream comics, though. (Well, arguably, the Phantom newspaper strip is more mainstream but you know what I mean.)

Fury of Firestorm #1: A complete reimagining of one of my favorite characters, which I'm fine with because the previous pairing of Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond didn't work for me because the jock vs. genius dynamic was messed up by the fact that Ronnie was an experienced superhero. I liked both Ronnie & Jason here, and I'm glad that Gail Simone and Ethan Van Sciver aren't afraid to go into the racial tension between them. This is another book that depends heavily on "acting", and Yildiray Cinar nails those scenes as well as the big superhero stuff.

Flash #1: I knew this would look gorgeous, and it sure does -- the double-page splash is especially awesome -- but the question was could Francis Manapul write? It turns out he can. (Yay!) I really liked the story that Manapul and co-writer (and colorist) Brian Buccelatto came up with. Loved this book before, and I still love it now. I have to admit, though, that I'm more upset that Barry & Iris aren't together than I am about Lois & Clark.

Green Lantern & The New Guardians #1: I thought spending the first few pages recapping Kyle Rayner's origin was an odd choice. Yes, he's the focal point of this book, but his origin is basically a guy in an alley giving him a ring, so I thought those pages could have been better used to explain all the ring colors. That said, I liked the mystery that Tony Bedard sets up and I look forward to seeing it resolved. Tyler Kirkham's art suits the book well; he can draw all the space stuff well, and there's a touch of whimsy in it too. (Like in Kyle's ring constructs.)

I, Vampire #1: This probably would have been the biggest surprise like of the New 52 for me, except that creators like Gail Simone have been praising it online for weeks. I'm kinda done with vampires in general, honestly, but I liked Josh Fialkov's love story and that he's not shying away from the fact that his vampires live in a world with Superman and the Justice League. Andrea Sorrentino, another name I'm unfamiliar with (according to his blog he's been drawing "X-Files" & "30 Days of Night"), provides some delightfully moody art. (Praise to the colorist here too.)

Justice League Dark #1: Another book that pros have been praising online for weeks, and I don't quite get why. I thought it was a good start, but I'm not blown away yet. Still, the conflict is interesting and there are a lot of great characters involved, so I'm in for the first story arc for sure. I can't find any previous credits for artist Mikel Janin beyond the "Flying Graysons" Flashpoint mini, but I really like his work here.

Savage Hawkman #1: Another reimagining, presumably because the previous Hawkman history was thought to be too confusing. Personally, I thought what Geoff Johns boiled it down to -- "Egyptian prince & princess continually reincarnated through time by alien technology" -- was clever and easy to understand, but whatever. The book isn't unsuccessful: I like Tony Daniel's writing much better here than in "Detective", and of course Philip Tan's art is really great. It's too bad we never got to see what James Robinson was planning; at least he's always trying something interesting even when it doesn't quite work (*cough* JLA). Anyway, I liked this enough to read an issue or two more, but I'm not in love with this yet.

Superman #1: There's a lot of story in this issue, but it's more about Metropolis than Superman. I'm not sure the casual reader will be as interested in the print-vs-online news debate as George Perez seems to be, but I liked it and I'm interested in all the new supporting cast. But I still don't feel I have a handle on who this new Superman is yet. (Clark Kent is a little more fleshed out, which is good, but there's still a lot to learn about him too.)

Teen Titans #1: I liked this a lot, actually. It suffers a little bit from the same complaint I had about Justice League #1 -- the whole team isn't in it -- but this isn't the flagship of the relaunch, so I think it works anyway. Tim Drake is well in character -- his "Look what you started, Bruce" moment is priceless -- and Brett Booth made the new Red Robin costume look much better here than it did in the pre-publication art. The concept works best if this is the first set of Titans ever, which the book implies it is, and we'll try not to think about how Nightwing can be the same character if that's true. (More on that later.) As predicted, the last page of this book is the same scene as the end of Lobdell's Superboy #1 but surprisingly from a different point of view.

Voodoo #1: Now here's a book that takes place entirely in a strip club, and yet I thought that was entirely appropriate for this character. Great story by Ron Marz, which I'm pretty sure is connected to "Grifter" (although the tie is pretty subtle so far). Sam Basri's characters are sexy without being oversexed, and he's able to do creepy when the story calls for it. The twist on the last page grabbed me for sure, and I liked this book enough that it even makes me want to go back and read all those Witchblade issues by these guys that I missed. The biggest pleasant surprise of the New 52, even though I was prepped to like it by Marz in Baltimore.

***

Dan DiDio has said on his Facebook page that it's been decided that there haven't been any Crisis events in the new DCU. His reasoning is good, but, really, you're just thinking about this now? (There's a reference to the original "Crisis" in Hawk & Dove #1, so this is definitely a new concept.)

I said to someone over the weekend that the one New 52 criticism that I started to agree with is that they should have gone "all in" and rebooted everything to avoid all this talk of what history still exists. Hearing what DiDio says now, though, I think it's less that and more that I'm bothered that between all the writer & artist changes and the fact that they didn't think through the timeline beforehand, it looks like they're figuring a lot of things out on the fly. (And yet, there are rumors of micromanagement as well.) In the real world, publishers, retailers and fans all need this relaunch to work, and it's a little scary that they're making it up as they go along. End of rant. In general, as you've seen, I'm pretty happy with the new books overall: this is more of a topic of discussion and not so much a major complaint. If this experiment is still a success six months from now, nobody will care about this minutia. (Thanks to DC Women Kicking Ass for the Facebook images; I have a friend request in to DiDio's page but it hasn't been responded to yet.)

***


My Marvel pick this week is Ultimate Spider-Man #2. I won't say that I actually like this book better without Peter Parker in it, because that would probably make my little fanboy heart implode, but let's just say it's damn close. Terrific stuff -- the scenes between Miles and his dad in this issue are both heartbreaking and inspiring -- and you can start #1 without knowing anything that went before. (Bendis & Mark Bagley's Brilliant #1 was also a great start.)

Favorites this week: Flash, Aquaman, Firestorm, All-Star Western. Looking forward to next week: Huntress (preview here), Avengers 1959.

If you're interested, you can go back and read my thoughts on the Week 1Week 2, and Week 3 books, and I'll be back soon with my list of titles I'm going to keep following plus a last look at the old DCU via "DC Universe: Legacies".

Sunday, October 2, 2011

DC NEW 52: THE FLASH and GREEN LANTERN

I have to admit that I’m very pleased with the quality of THE NEW 52 books that I’ve picked up so far.  They haven’t all been favorites - - but there are no duds (and thanks to Jeff’s reviews I also know which books to avoid).  I also recommend both of these books.  I haven’t quite decided yet if I’m going to start following them but I do intend to pick up Issue #2 of both.  So, Mikes’ DC 12 remains the same.  NOTE:  As you might expect, I’ll be revealing some of the storyline in these reviews - - so don’t read this if you don’t want part of your fun spoiled for you.

Flash 1           GL 1

THE FLASH #1  (DC,  9/28/2011 release) Story by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato.  Art by Francis Manapul.  Colors by Brian Buccellato.  Letters by Sal Cipriano. 

This particular Flash is Barry Allen, my favorite version.  (Wally West is #2 for me.)  It doesn’t appear to involve many changes from the Old DC version to the New 52, at least so far.  It is cool that we’ll now have more stories to look forward to with Barry Allen as Flash.  One definite change is the role that Iris West will play in this new version.  She’s an aggressive investigative reporter (a la Lois Lane) who relates to Barry more for the news leads he can supply her as a member of the Central City Police science lab.

On his first date with Patty (Barry is still shy), some commando-garbed thieves break into a technology symposium that they are attending.  Barry sneaks away to change into his Flash costume and in the ensuing pursuit (they still get away) the Flash falls off the building rooftop with a robber attached to him.  He uses his powers to whirlwind propel the thief back into the building through a glass window, and then cushions his own fall beneath the street level into the sewers.   (The panel placement and art on the page where this occurs gives a really creative view of the action). 

The Flash does recover the “portable genome re-coder”, which was one of the items the thieves were interested in.  I have a feeling this object will play a future role in this storyline.   There are consequences to this incident which deals with the question of how responsible super-heroes are for their actions and the moral implications when someone dies - -- the person Barry tried to save by forcing back into the building.   It gets further complicated when the mask is removed to reveal someone that Barry knows from his college years.   Hats off to Manapul and Buccellato for starting off with a gutsy story that will be sure to raise lots of questions  (in spite of the surprise ending, which could provide an escape clause for Barry’s actions). 

When skimming through the pages before deciding to pick this up, my first impression was that the art was sub-par.  It’s not - - it’s just a different style that as I took time to study it I began to appreciate more.  I like the subtlety and little touches that Manapul adds.

GREEN LANTERN #1  (DC,  9/14/2011)  “Sinestro, Part One” . Writer: Geoff Johns.  Pencils:  Doug Mahnke.  Inks: Christian Alamy with Tom Nguyen.  Colors:  David Baron.  Letters: Sal Cipriano.

I like this book for much of the same reasons that Jeff mentioned in his earlier review.  I’m not totally immersed in the Green Lantern universe (very complex) but I found this story very easy to follow.  Writer Geoff Johns covers a lot of ground in this first story, but in a very fluid and smooth manner. I like the writing here much better than in JUSTICE LEAGUE #1.   The art by Doug Mahnke is some of the best I’ve seen in the NEW 52 books, and is very dynamic.  The inks and colors also really “pop” off the page. A beautiful book to inspect. 

The cover indicates that the Green Lantern featured in this book is Sinestro (at least for now), which comes as a shocker.  The Guardians feel that Sinestro needs a chance to redeem himself, and have appointed him a Green Lantern.  My favorite Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, is back on Earth without GL powers and also without his former job responsibilities.  He still thinks and acts like a Green Lantern, and can’t let go of his feelings of responsibility to save anyone in peril (he makes a mistake here that results in embarrassment).  He’s not happy. And, he really crushes any romantic opportunity with Carol Ferris (one of my favorite scenes).

Sinestro, on the other hand, has an opportunity to prevent calamity, and comes through.  But it doesn’t make him happy.  I enjoy this story for the same reasons that Jeff does - - - both of these characters are miserable and how they resolve their issues is what will make this story interesting and entertaining.   Sinestro finds Jordan and wants to make an offer - - - a “deal with the devil” indeed.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Comics I Read: Augmented Reality

"Augmented reality is changing the way we view the world -- or at least the way its users see the world. Picture yourself walking or driving down the street. With augmented-reality displays, which will eventually look much like a normal pair of glasses, informative graphics will appear in your field of view, and audio will coincide with whatever you see."
-- from "How Augmented Reality Works" at HowStuffWorks.com

Augmented reality isn't just science fiction: smartphone apps like Yelp and Google Goggles can scan the view from your phone's camera and superimpose useful text on the images. But of course these comics take the idea to a sci-fi level that doesn't exist yet.


Warren Ellis' SVK: This being a Warren Ellis book, the augmented reality device here is part of a secret government conspiracy. Thomas Woodwind, former spy, is called back in to recover the stolen device which, it turns out, allows the user to literally see others' thoughts. The gimmick is that the thoughts are printed in invisible ultraviolet ink, and the book comes with a little black light flashlight to reveal them. The story itself isn't groundbreaking, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and loved "discovering" the thought balloons with my little flashlight. My only quibble is that I wish the light had been a bit stronger so I didn't have to hold it so close to the pages. (With a sample size of one, I unfortunately have no way of knowing whether that's typical or if I just got one with a weak battery.) The first printing of SVK sold out fast, but a second printing is available at getsvk.com. The book isn't cheap, because of the gimmick and because it has to be shipped from the UK, so I can't recommend it on a value basis but if you like the innovative idea and can afford to support it I don't think you'll be disappointed.


Vision Machine: Writer Grek Pak's ("Incredible Hulks") take on this in his Vision Machine graphic novel is more global and science-fiction-y. From the back cover:

In the year 2061, Sprout Computers releases the iEye, a pair of glasses that allow you to effortlessly record, edit and add special effects to everything you see -- and instantly share it with the world.

Pak's main characters are three film students, who each have different takes on the technology and use it for different purposes with varying degrees of success, and Liz Evers, CEO of the corporation that invented the iEye. In the first third of the book, the potential of the technology is explored, and then Pak brings in various factions of big business & government who have their own ideas about how the technology should be used.

Even though I thought the story got a little confusing figuring out what all the different groups wanted towards the end, this is really well thought out and thought-provoking stuff that rewards multiple readings.

The art is by R.B. Silva, who's now drawing Superboy for DC. I didn't recognize his name when I wrote about Superboy #1, and I'm embarrassed that I also forgot that he worked on the "Jimmy Olsen" special that I liked so much recently. He captures both the fantastic and the mundane aspects of the story equally well, and a lot of times scenes are easier to understand because each of his characters has a distinct look.

Produced under a grant from the Ford Foundation, Vision Machine is available digitally for free at visionmachine.net. If you want a hard copy, Grek Pak shipped some trades to retailers over the summer so your local store may have it. If not, he sometimes gives away signed trades at his official website in exchange for a charitable donation and he presumably will have copies at conventions for as long as they last.