Thursday, May 31, 2012


On November 30, 2011, I started this blog, The Comics Cove, intending to write about comics-related topics.  While I've mostly written reviews about comics, I've also covered a number of topics: film and book reviews, comics conventions, costumes and cosplay, tropes and conventions in mythology, and discussions of specific heroes and villains.  Today, it gives me great pride to inform my readers that as of today, I've managed to write every day in The Cove for six straight months.

It hasn't always been easy.  I've had to make this a second priority, and it's meant curtailing a lot of activities I've loved doing in the past.  I don't play video games anywhere near as much as I used to, as writing takes up a good hour or so each day, usually in the evenings after work.  It's cut into date nights, outings with friends, and I've often had to plan ahead with my writing on occasions where I simply wouldn't have otherwise had time.  It's a logistical challenge at times, but it's given me a good handle on planning, time management, and keeping motivated.

For the reviews, I've covered a number of genres, though I know I've always clearly favored superhero comics.  I've also talked about novel adaptations, children's comics, strong girl characters, horror, historical, and fantasy comics.  I've taken discussion topics I've had with my friends and put my thoughts on them up here.  And, unbelievably, people have read them with some regularity.  A few intrepid followers have even posted reactions to my thoughts in the comments section, and for those I thank you!

One new project I've started working on is setting up a mini-studio for doing video reviews.  This is mostly due to inspiration from haydenclaireheroes, whose video reviews on ComicVine have been such a joy to watch, support, and comment on.  It'll be a long project, much like the costumes: I'm working on acquiring a wireless webcam, and assembling a good background and filming area on limited space.  I managed to acquire some good art for the backdrop from Comicpalooza, and I'm hoping to get the space set up sometime in the near future.

I started a fiction blog, which has thus far only received a couple entries in April.  For the record, I haven't given up on fiction writing, but have had to keep The Cove my priority while managing my time.  I will be writing more scripts and prose fiction, but it will have to be comparatively sparse to the robust output here for the time being.  I've recently seen some opportunities for submissions, though, and I'll be planning to put keyboard to computer for them in the near future.

It's all been hard work and great fun, and I intend to keep writing on The Cove for as long as people want to keep reading.  Please let me know if there's a comics-related topic, issue, or subject you'd like to discuss.  I'm always up for suggestions, and would love doing a response to anything my readers would like to discuss.

In the meantime, I'll keep writing.  If you keep reading, I'll be here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Comic Review -- Batman and Robin #9: Robin Hears a Hoo / Peter J. Tomasi, Lee Garbett, Andy Clarke, Ray McCarthy and Keith Champagne

Okay, this is a pretty awesome cover.  I don't know much about Damian Wayne's Robin--and so far don't like much of what I've learned about him--but something about this shot really makes me really root for him.  I'm not sure if it's the double under-hand grip on the swords, the fact that a boy of single-digit age is dauntlessly facing a trained adult assassin in sword combat, or the colors, composition and line work, but the effect is for me to just say that this cover rocks.  My biggest issue with it is that there's really no swordfight between Damian and the Talon in the pages of the comic.  Otherwise, great job there!

Robin receives Alfred's distress call and at first tries to join them at the Batcave.  Alfred reroutes him to a nearby target on the Court's hit list, General Benjamin Burrows, who Damian reaches just as one of the Talons takes out several of the general's men while they're on a training exercise.  They start to escape, but Burrows is injured, and Robin has to drag him to his command post.  When they reach his men, Robin tells them to set up a perimeter and commands them, in the style of a general, to repel the Talon with gunfire until they run out of ammo and the Talon manages to take them out.

Standing over the general, the Talon begins talking about how Burrows is actually the descendant of another man whose family he was supposed to have wiped out over 200 years ago--his hit on Burrows is a matter of personal fulfillment of his duty as the Court's assassin.  Before he can finish his task, Robin shoots him through the head with a grappling line, and strings him up on a tree branch, admitting that he and Talon have more in common than he'd care to admit.  Severing the hanging Talon's head with a sword, he escorts the limping general to safety, commenting that whatever it was, the assassin had actually died long ago.

This was an interesting introduction to Damian Wayne as a character for me.  I'd only seen snippets of him in previous comics, and I really hated what I'd seen.  He was a pint-sized, know-it-all, Mary-Sue character in a Robin costume who made for an unworthy successor to Tim Drake (I'll admit I'm biased here--Tim was my Robin, when I started reading Batman comics as a teen).  Here, he's presented in a less over-the-top manner, as a kid who's perhaps aware that he's grown up sooner than he should have, and acts more adult and matter-of-fact than I've seen him do in the brief glimpses I'd seen previously.

One of the most telling moments in the comic, for me, was how he started for the Batcave--showcasing both his loyalty to his father and his youthful impulsiveness--yet how he calmly and immediately accepts Alfred's orders, realizing that there's a larger picture at play as well as the fact that Alfred and Batman likely have things well in hand at the Cave.  It's scenes like this that make me like and respect a character more than fighting ability, or whatever knowledge the writers want to insert to show that he's smarter than the adult soldiers with whom he's arguing.  Good job on the characterization there, Peter Tomasi!

Artistically, I enjoyed Garbett's line work as well as Clarke's illustration of the Talon's monologuing--he actually did a pretty good rendition of George Washington.  Garbett must have enjoyed drawing so many decapitations and beheadings, as there were plenty to go around this issue.  It was therefore a fitting end to the Talon's "life" in this comic, when Robin took a sword to him.  He's also good at showing Robin's diminutive size against a larger foe and the adults around him, making his deeds and poise all the more impressive.  Kudos!

Overall, this was an action-packed and fairly intense issue, where a boy's wits are pitted against the assassin's fervor as he tries to protect his target from the Talon's wrath.  The artwork is good, the writing flows nicely and has some good character moments, and the plot is well executed.  Definitely worth a read for Night of the Owls and Batman fans, and not a bad stand-alone.  Highly recommended.

Oh, and by the by... I loved the title for this story!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Comic Review -- Batman #9: Night of the Owls / Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, and Rafael Albuquerque

This would be a slightly confusing cover if you haven't read this series up to now, with the Cylon-Batsuit staring out at you over what I assume is Wayne Manor.  It's exceptionally bad-ass if you know what's going on though, and the Talons caught in the reflections of the mask's visor actually look daunted.  This is why you do not mess with Batman, ever.  He prepares for everything!

Batman has picked up where he left off in the last issue, coming out of the Batcave's armory in a tank of a Batsuit designed to withstand environmental extremes.  He throws down on the group of Talons, taking a large number of them out before they overwhelm him... and then get trampled by Batman's dinosaur statue.  Batman heads out into Gotham, makes his way to Arkham Asylum (covered in Detective Comics #9), and heads to Lincoln March, who dies just after handing Batman a piece of paper.  Reading it, Batman tells Alfred he knows where the Court is... and that he's going to burn their house to the ground.

In a follow-up story, Alfred's father, Jarvis Pennyworth, recounts the story of his association with the Wayne family, and how he blames himself for the Wayne family becoming enemies of the Court of Owls.  He implies that, if Alfred has indeed read the letter, whatever Jarvis has done, Alfred likely knows what the cause is.

I've made no secret of how much I'm enjoying the Night of the Owls crossover going on amongst the Batman family of titles.  The last issue of Batman sent a shiver through me when I finally put it down, and the follow-up in Batman #9 continues to lay down the sense of epic, creeping dread that has been so expertly delivered in this series and the tie-ins to this story.  Now Batman has decided to actively push back, and as all Bat-fans know, things are about to get seriously ugly... for the Court of Owls.

One thing that is spot-on and which never falters is Batman's sense of confidence.  Whether it's commenting that he can simply play harder as he lays into the Talons or coolly knocking the last one out with the Batmobile as the Talon tries to escape, it never fails to impress me.  This is a guy who has looked into the abyss many times, and always makes whoever's on the other end blink first.

I was saddened by Lincoln March's death, but I'm also a little suspicious of it.  He hung in just long enough to gasp a message for Bruce Wayne to Batman.  I don't know if he's just a figure intended as a springboard of sorts for Bruce, or if he's faking his death and is somehow aligned with the Court, but I can't claim either would really surprise me at this point.  I really would have liked for March to have been an actual, live, genuine BFF for Bruce Wayne.  If anyone needs a civilian bromance, I'd say it's him.

The Jarvis Pennyworth storyline kicks off an interesting and potentially very vital look at the relationship between the Pennyworths and the Waynes, and seems to center on a secret they are keeping from the family they serve.  I'm eager to see what happens next, as the Pennyworths' influence over the Waynes, while subtle, must not be for nothing, and the sinister nature of whatever information they've concealed from them doubtless holds a vital link to the Court.  More, please!

I've said plenty about how much I love Capullo's artwork in this series, so I'll only say this time that he maintains his usual high standards very well.  I saw a lot of hate for Albuquerque's artwork in last issue's additional story, and am more than a little puzzled.  While I admit it's a different style than Capullo's, it's very beautiful and fitting to the tone of the stories.  I can't help feeling people are punishing the artwork simply for not being Capullo's, and I don't think that's right.  Albuquerque's artwork is sinister, evocative, and an excellent fit for the tone of the Night of the Owls storyline.  I for one hope to see more of it!

Overall, this is a strong continuation of this storyline.  I continue to bow to Scott Snyder's take on the Batman mythos, as well as the evocative and striking artworks provided by Capullo and Albuquerque.  If you haven't read Night of the Owls, do yourself a favor and start.  I think this will go down as one of the classic Bat stories.  Highly recommended.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Reflections on Comicpalooza

As you can see from the pictorial posts from the last couple days, I was at Comicpalooza this last weekend, and had a wonderful time meeting the fans, creators, and professionals that came to Houston to show off our vibrant comics and pop culture scene.  Aside from taking a bunch of pictures of people in costume, I was also there in a professional capacity as a librarian, working the Houston Public Library booth on Friday and giving a presentation on libraries and their benefit to the comics industry with several co-workers.  Both experiences were fun, and I'm looking forward to doing it again next year.

I bought a couple of art items from local vendors as well, as I'm very eager to support Houston- and Texas-based artists and creators in the comics industry.  Some of the vendors I patronized this year were:

  • Tentacle Kitty, a monstrously cute creation from Houston, according to their website.  They had cute posters and other arty things on their table, featuring their mascot.  Check them out for ultra-cuteness!
  • Mark Nasso, whose Land of the Rats I reviewed and enjoyed recently.  Mark creates his own comics here in Houston, and had an excellent Wolverine print that I had to have.
  • Miguel Zamora, an artist based out of San Marcos.  His prints were excellent, and after my younger sister bought one of his Harley Quinns, I got a Nightwing/Batgirl and a Spider-Man from him.
  • After Twilight, a comic published in Houston, set in Houston, about a dystopian future.  The protagonist is a librarian, so I can't wait to read it!
  • Brass Comics, another local publisher, composed of Bruce Small and Zach Q.  Each creator had a comic I picked up, and can't wait to read and review.
  • A few titles from CCP Comics, which is based in Austin.  I talked with the artists and creators for a bit, and was impressed with the quality of their products and happy that such a publisher was only a little ways away from Houston!
I bought wares from several other tables, but can't currently find contact information or cards for them.  Hopefully I can correct this soon.

I also spoke with some of the creators as an aspiring professional, particularly about gaining exposure for my work and finding an artist for it.  I've had lots of positive and challenging experiences working with artists on my comic, and it was good to have other creators give their perspective, experience, and advice on how to forge ahead.  I got lots of good advice and made a couple of prospective contacts among them, and hopefully they won't be too annoyed to hear from an aspiring comic script writer in the near future.  I hopefully at least made a good impression!

This was the first time I went to a con with even a semi-developed idea of what I wanted to get out of it.  I'm proud to say that I accomplished most of what I set out to do, and look forward to attending other cons in the future, as time, finances, and energy allow.  For now, thank you, Comicpalooza!  I enjoyed you this year, and look forward to 2013!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

More Comicpalooza Pictures!!!

Today was the last day of Comicpalooza, and also makes for the last bit of self-allowed laziness in my writing for a while.  It was both cause of celebration and sadness as things came to a close, but I'm eager for next year's event, and am excited at the possibility that I might expand the professional and fan opportunities I've touched upon at this year's convention!

Anyway, enjoy these last pics of costumed con-goers from today.  Good-bye, Comicpalooza 2012.  It was a blast!

Mr. George Takei himself!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Comicpalooza Picture-rama!!!

I haven't played Assassin's
Creed, but I recognize the look
immediately.  Not a bad fan effort.
This will be both an enhanced and slim post.  There's plenty of pictures, but not much that I'll be writing tonight.

I figured I'd take a few choice pictures of all the excellent costumes and looks that people have put together for today's trip to Houston's comic convention, Comicpalooza.  It was quite the feast for the eyes, as it seems every geek, nerd, dork and dweeb from Houston was there, and in proud form.  I unapologetically count myself among their number!

I've been here all weekend so far, in both a professional and fan capacity.  The presentation about libraries and the comic book industry went well, and there were plenty of interested hangers-on afterward who wanted to talk to me and my co-panelists.  It was a nice feeling. :)  We worked the HPL table afterwards, and helped customers register for library cards and showed that the library carries plenty of graphic novels.  We got quite a few applications, which was wonderful.

The Doctor was there, along
with his wife, the TARDIS. :)
After that, I had purchased a 3-day pass, and wandered to all the various events and exhibits at the con.  As you can see below, there was plenty to see, and my phone actually ran out of power from taking so many pictures, among other reasons.  Take a look and enjoy the images!

I was particularly struck by two things: first off, the costumes looked great.  Everyone obviously put their passion and effort into their presentation, and there were so many people asking and posing for pictures that it was very heartwarming.  Also, everyone in costume was very accommodating and cheerful about posing for pics.  There was nothing but happy reactions to picture requests, and I think that says a lot of good about this particular culture of Houstonites!

Possibly very amusingly, I'm looking forward to the day when I can be the big geek someone stops and asks to take a photo with or of.

Come on, Nightwing costume...

Wonderful Codex costume effort from a photogenic con-goer!
Possibly more pictures for tomorrow's post!

Insane he may be, but this Deadpool was very eager to pose for

There were many exhibits, but I thought this Tentacle Kitty booth was particularly adorable-yet-disturbing.  

Contrary to public perception, Rorschach turned out to be
completely gracious and polite in public.

A Dalek and K-9 display... :)

Cap and Iron Man!

A completely silent, but totally expressive Portal Companion

The most awesome Harley Quinn at the con today!  Not only
did she look the part, but she was completely in character, with
the voice and everything!

An excellent Riddler costume!   Disagree?  Play Arkham City!

A bird's-eye view of the exhibits from the second floor of GRB!

And a corresponding look at the stage floor!

Friday, May 25, 2012

GN Review -- Sense and Sensibility / Jane Austen, Nancy Butler, and Sonny Liew

While this isn't the first graphic adaptation of an established novel that I've read--The Last Unicorn and The Alchemist come immediately to mind--it is certainly the first one I've read of a novel that by far predates the twentieth century.  Jane Austen is an author whose work I haven't consciously tried to avoid, but who I wasn't at the time sad to have missed.  Having seen several films adapted from her works, I now feel like I should have read them, as the characters are enjoyable.  With Sense and Sensibility, I finally get that chance.

Sense and Sensibility, at least in this version of the story, is about two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, two young ladies who are at or nearing marrying age at the time their father passes away.  Despite his wishes, their half-brother John, at the hard-headed behest of his domineering and materialistic wife Fanny, abolishes them, along with their mother and younger sister, to comparative poverty on a meager cottage out in the country.  Out in the countryside, having to make new lives for themselves, the sisters endure parallel adventures in love, heartbreak, and happiness as they each try to navigate the murky depths of courtship.

Elinor, who is an intelligent, chiefly intellectual woman, governs her passions to such a degree that Marianne, who is younger, more expressive and passionate, wonders if she has any feelings at all.  These differing personalities of course influence the kind of men each courts, and while Elinor handles her disappointments with quiet acceptance and deliberate introspection, Marianne wears her heart on her sleeve, at one point falling ill in despair over a failed romance.  Despite their different personalities and approaches, the sisters Dashwood love one another, and support each other as best they can when the other needs it.  When their fortunes finally take a turn for the better, they learn that perhaps their extreme approaches could do with a little more balance between the passion of love and the sensibility of logic.

As far as classical novelists go, I've heard that Austen is definitely one of the more pithy and readable authors out there, and if this adaptation is any indication, what I've heard is certainly true.  While there's not much of the action most comic readers would expect to go with the medium, there's certainly a lot going on, right from the get-go: a father passes away; a headstrong daughter-in-law moves in and makes herself the new mistress of the house; the wife and daughters of the father are essentially evicted; and they are moved to a smaller, comparatively dingy cottage.  Anyone who's ever had to depend on another family member's prosperity or fortunes for their livelihood should be interested in this story, as it's the story of how one's fortunes can change very quickly, often depending on more than just the individual.

The characters were also very memorable, particularly the sisters.  Both at times bordered on ridiculousness with their extreme personalities, and I found myself identifying with each of them as I remembered various points of my own life.  I also liked the character of Willoughby, the dashing young man who seems to good to be true--and eventually is proven to be exactly that--and Colonel Brandon, who I almost immediately visualized as being played by Colin Firth in some adaptation for film.

Artistically, I found myself enjoying Sonny Liew's alternately realistic and cartoony drawings.  I felt like they really complemented the tone and period of the setting, and they reminded me somewhat of the caricature-like political cartoons that often grace the political sections of newspapers.  I don't immediately know if they were around at the time, but they lent a convincing air to the tale that I appreciated.

Overall, Sense and Sensibility was a refreshing break from the many superhero comics I find myself reading these days.  The characterizations are memorable, as is the artwork, and as an introduction to Austen, I found it accessible.  I don't know how thorough it is--and Jane Austen fans, feel free to enlighten me if you want--but I did enjoy it.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Comic Review -- AvX VS #2 / Steve McNiven, Kieron Gillen, John Dell, Salvador Larroca, Morry Hollowell, and Jim Charalampidis

I like the illustrations on this cover.  Colossus looks out of his mind with rage as swings at a nimble and no-doubt quippy Spider-Man, while Gambit and Captain America both look like serious business as they struggle against one another.  While I'm not crazy about the large title in the center of the cover, it does make for a nice divider.  Not bad.

These two match-ups go a little more in line with what I expected in terms of an outcome, with plenty of action, name-calling, and destruction, along with a peppering of more AvX Fun Facts.  Though they eventually end up proving pointless within the context of the larger story, it's fun to see these match-ups with some detail and dynamics, as opposed to the brief gloss-overs you tend to see in the larger story.  A fight will start, and then move to another fight, and so on, before getting back to the main story, and such a sprawling narrative really needs a companion series like this, where things can really get exposed a little more in-depth.

Gambit may be one of my favorite X-Men, but watching him get his butt kicked by Captain America was actually very satisfying.  Theirs was actually a good fight, and Gambit got in an especially clever move by charging up Cap's uniform and making it explode while it was on him.  While I was a little surprised at how quickly Cap got up from that, I wasn't at all surprised when it came down to a fistfight, and Cap royally beat the crap out of Gambit.  I mean, for pure melee combat, there aren't many heroes that I think could stand toe-to-toe with Captain America.

And while I'm a big Spider-Man fan--you've seen my picture, right?--I'm not too surprised about how the Spidey-Colossus fight turned out, for two reasons.  First, Spidey was very cocky and presumptuous towards Colossus-Juggs, which is never a good way to go into a fight.  I don't know enough about Colossus since he acquired Cyttorak, but I'm betting he's even tougher than Cain Marko's Juggernaut.  So I'm willing to concede he may have an edge over Spidey.  Second, though, I don't think they'll do an issue where there are two Avengers or two X-Men wins in the same issue.  Just not gonna happen, as you'd risk alienating Avengers or X-Men fans.

When Cap won, I figured Spidey was going to lose.  And so far, my logic's worked.  We'll see if it stands up over the run of these issues.

Artistically, I like Dell's art in the Cap/Gambit match-up better than Larroca's in the Spidey/Colossus fight.  It's more realistic, less cartoony, and nowhere near as overdone.  Cap and Gambit both look like actual people within their uniforms, and while Spidey looks good in his story, Colossus looks too extreme, particularly with his facial expressions.  It's not bad art, but there was a noticeable difference between the two.

It almost makes me wonder how they would look if the artists would switch stories and draw their own versions of the others.  That'd actually be kind of cool to see, now that I think about it.

Overall, I am enjoying this mini-series, and can't wait to see more match-ups.  Are they great storytelling?  No.  Are they witty?  In places.  Are they full of action and destruction as two heroes beat the snot out of each other?  YES.  And that's what this series promises.  Successful delivery.  Highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

This Week's Adventures In Comic-dom

So, it looks like I'm completing a resolution I hadn't even consciously made for this year.

I think I remember at some point, telling myself that one of my goals in life was to be able to attend comic book or pop culture conventions as more than just a fan, as someone who has at least the slightest shred of authority and/or community in the comics world.  I figured that, eventually, when if I ever manage to get some comics written and published, this would be the reason it happened.  In the mean time I'd work on attending as a fan, making connections, and so on.

It turns out, in some small way, that I'm already going to be doing the expert thing.

For those of you who don't already know, Houston will be playing host to Comicpalooza, which is in its fifth year (I believe), and has grown significantly with each passing year.  I've been to all but one of them, including the first year, which was way out on the northwest side of town in a small strip mall.  Now it's at the George R. Brown Convention Center, its third year in this venue, and attendance is expected to be in the many thousands.

I will be attending all weekend this year, and can't wait to see all the celebrities and cosplayers, the writers and illustrators, both famous and struggling.  I've met and worked with a few of them already, and will hopefully lay the foundations for working with others in the future.  But unlike previous years, I won't just be attending as a fan and an annoying chatty guy looking to rub elbows with the people who make the comics industry work.

I'll be attending as a presenter.

This Friday, on the first day of the convention--heck, during the first couple hours of the convention--I and three other comic book-inclined librarians from the Houston Public Library system will be giving a presentation entitled, "Barbara Gordon and You: The Library's Role in the Comic Book Industry."  It's an hour-long panel about how libraries can benefit the comic book industry in various ways, and vice versa.  Essentially, we'll be discussing how libraries benefit the various communities associated with the industry: the publishers, the reading public, creators, schools and academic institutions.

My section--which should last all of 10 minutes, if I'm lucky--will talk about how libraries have, do, and will continue to benefit creators.  It's something I have a little experience with, as I've moderated panels at both the library and at Teen Book Con that have been about graphic novelists, their contributions to the field, and how they got their start in comics.  I've therefore gotten to work with some pretty remarkable individuals, and aside from my librarian work with customers, have a little perspective on what they would consider helpful and positive about libraries.

Does this mean I will stop pursuing my dream of writing comics?  Hardly!  One of the big reasons I want to go to Comicpalooza this weekend is to network with artists and see if I can find a collaborator or three for my comic.  I've had good and bad experiences working with artists, but there's no reason not to try again, and this is the perfect environment to get a partner and see what we can do.

But in the meantime, I at least get to say that I'm attending in at least a semi-professional capacity.  And this makes me smile a little in my soul. :-)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Comic Review -- Avengers vs. X-Men #4 / Jonathan Hickman, John Romita, Jr., Scott Hanna, and Laura Martin

I know I've been pretty critical of this series, but I must admit I like this cover.  It says, "Get Hope."  We've got the young lass on the run, the Phoenix getting nearer, and two teams full of heroes hot on her trail.  It sells the issue pretty well, and Jim Cheung's pencils here really make it look pretty.

Wolverine, who has done a hilariously admirable job of surviving in the Antarctic since Captain America marooned him there last issue, is picked up by Hope Summers, who tells him he's the only one she trusts to finish her off if she can't control the Phoenix--but, she stipulates, she deserves a chance to try.  Wolverine reluctantly agrees, and as the other teams fight each other while trying to track Hope down, he raids  the A.I.M. Worldworks and helps her secure a shuttle to the moon.  Once there, she is confronted by the Avengers and the X-Men, who threaten to start fighting over her fate once more, until Thor comes careening into their location.  He's been hit hard by the Phoenix Force--which has just appeared to all of them.

It's too late.  For better or worse, the Phoenix is on hand.  If it's gunning for Hope, it will probably get her.

Things finally got a lot more interesting in this issue.  I'm not sure if it's due to Jonathan Hickman's deft handling of the material or if there was an emergency editorial meeting that mandated things actually get more readable, but either way, this issue is a marked improvement over what's come so far.  Hope's seeking out of Wolverine for the reason she ostensibly ran away--that he was willing to kill her--was unexpected, and makes me a little more willing to give the girl a chance in the hero department.  Up until now, she's just been a badly written teen, full of snot and noise at all the wrong times; now, she's shown a real willingness to own up to how big all this Phoenix business is, and I do like that.

The beginning of this issue had me in stitches, for two reasons.  First, seeing that Wolverine killed a polar bear and used it as a gory overcoat was nothing short of hilarious.  And of course, Hope using beer cans as bread crumbs to lure Wolverine to her aircraft was a tension-breaking touch of genius that showed that Hope--along with Hickman--knows how to motivate the tough-talking mutant.  Brilliant.

The montage of fight scenes between the two teams as they work their way around the world in search of Hope felt a little obligatory and really did little to add to the story except remind you to BUY AVX VS FOR THE FULL STORY OF THESE FIGHTS.  While I intend to do so--the writing in the first one was better than the writing I'd seen in the first three issues of this main series--I think it's worth saying that this kind of blatant salesmanship is a little insulting to the reader.  If you want to make these fight scenes important to the main narrative, I'm all for them, but for fate's sake, MAKE THEM RELEVANT.

Finally, there's the artwork.  I don't think I've made any secret that I'm not fond of John Romita, Jr.'s artwork for something this expansive and wide-ranging, so I'll stop crowing as much about it for a while.  I will say there's been some moderate improvement in various scenes, particularly the ones where he's just focused on one or two characters per panel.  I really did like the partially shadowed Wolverine at the A.I.M. base after he's just gotten done slaughtering a bunch of bad guys.  His renditions of Hope are also pretty good in some places as well.  It's like when he's just got a little to concentrate on, he does decent.

Overall, I'd say this issue is worth picking up.  The writing is engaging, the artwork is a little more palatable, and things really appear to be coming to a head.  Highly recommended.

Monday, May 21, 2012

GN Review -- Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer and the Great Puppet Theater / Van Jensen and Dusty Higgins

My memory of the first volume of Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer is a book that had a good premise, but that ultimately felt underwhelming due to that premise wearing thin quickly.  There were a lot of twists and turns that I saw coming, jokes that were overused, and a plot that I'd seen too many times in other works.  It wasn't a bad read, but I couldn't help feeling that it could have been more.  I'm pleased to say that its sequel, Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer and the Great Puppet Theater, delivers a much more engrossing narrative and really ups the stakes in a positive way.

Having slain his creator-turned-vampire Gepetto in the last book, and now having to ally himself with a friend who's now a vampire, Pinocchio coldly continues his quest, his anger threatening to consume him.  When he and his comrades are overwhelmed by a large group of vampires, they are rescued by the wooden puppets of the Great Puppet Theater, who have met him before.

They begin a hunt for the vampire who turned Gepetto, trekking across Italy to find him, but have more than a few significant obstacles to overcome, from the interpersonal dramas within the ranks of the theater puppets to Pinocchio's distrust of Cherry's vampiric bloodlust.  When a tragic turn of events deprives Cherry of his life, his fairy friend Canpenella turns him into a real boy, making him a liability in a fight.  Canpenella dies as a result of the spell, and soon after, Carlotta is kidnapped and taking to sea by the vampires, who are in league with the villainous Fox and Cat.  Despite a dogged pursuit and valiant fight aboard the vampires' ship, Pinocchio and his puppet friends are left adrift at sea, their fate uncertain as the vampires escape with Carlotta as their prisoner.

Taking another turn at the darkly irreverent humor that made the first book so popular, Van Jensen and Dusty Higgins deliver a worthy tale that combines adventure, dark fantasy, and just enough laughs to keep things from getting to gritty and serious.  And believe me, there are some fairly serious twists and turns in the narrative.  Pinocchio's unabated bitterness and anger at his station in life is made explicit, and they are ultimately the cause of several big turns for the worse.  On the other hand, you have the hilarious personalities and squabbles of his puppet brethren, as well as the occasional wordiness or idiocy of the vampires everyone fights lightening things up from time to time.  It's a delicate balance to maintain, and these gentlemen pull it off nicely in this volume.

Dusty Higgins's artwork does an excellent job of supporting the narrative.  It's dark and gritty, with expressive undertones that make plenty of room for the story's humorous moments.  While it does look a little rushed or indistinct in some places, there are many more where it truly shines.  Pinocchio's fight with Cherry is both vicious and heartbreaking, and the ship to ship fight between the vampires and Pinocchio's forces is exhilarating to behold.

Overall, if you liked the first book, I'm pretty sure you'll like this one even more.  It's got a lot going on, packing character drama, adventure, humor and dark fantasy in one enjoyable package.  Highly recommended.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Comic Review -- Manhattan Projects #2: Rocket Man / Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra

The simplicity of the covers in The Manhattan Projects seems to be a point of contention among readers, collectors, and reviewers.  While I won't personally be giving them any art or design awards, I don't see any reason yet for this series to go out of its way with the covers.  The cover, in many ways, makes its case up front, with just enough insignia art to grab your attention and signal the foreboding and uncertainty of the series, and a quick summary of what the issue is about.  I think as long as they vary the insignia designs, they do what they need to for now.

Where last issue's focus was primarily on Dr. Oppenheimer, who in actuality turned out to be the real Oppenheimer's sadistic cannibal twin brother, the focus of this issue is the comparatively normal but still quite remarkable Richard Feynman.  Young, brilliant, and with more than a touch of narcissism, Feynman is given the unenviable task of flying to Germany to recruit Nazi scientists, where he runs into the only remaining one, Wernher von Braun, perhaps their most brilliant rocket scientist.  After a brief verbal sparring match where Braun tries to convince a disbelieving Feynman that they are one and the same, Feynman narrates that he brought Braun to America, where he helped get us to the moon... and years later, even further than that.

It's so easy to get lost in the fascinating story Hickman writes in this series, and he details the characters' personalities so vividly that it's easy for me disregard some of the questions that arise, like whether or not Braun actually had a mechanical arm (he didn't, which saddens me a little).  History's never been a huge strong point for me, so I always have a lot of questions about the characters in the stories here, but I definitely appreciate the artistic license Hickman takes and applies to each of them.  Braun is a "man of tomorrow," and Hickman explains how the fictitious injury Braun feared would make him less of a man is reversed into a theme that at least loosely fits with his designation as the titular "rocket man."

There's also the brief depiction of the other scientists, where we see brief snippets of their personalities.  Oppenheimer is seen as both brilliant and psychotic in his appearance, as he ponders with the other scientists the dilemma of whether or not to add the Nazi scientists to their collective think tank.  Einstein is in forced seclusion, and has a bitter badass streak that makes you wonder just what he's doing here and why he was put in seclusion.  It's quite the interesting discussion, and sets up the premise that we'll be seeing others with their own stories down the line.

Nick Pitarra's line work and visual depictions continue to delight, as he clearly has no problems with detail work and character expression.  Feynman's narcissism, idealism, and occasional idiocy are as deftly portrayed through his facial expressions as Braun's confidence, intelligence, and awesome mechanical arm are conveyed.  There's not much in the way of action, which is also where Pitarra excels, but he does a great job with what he's given in this story.

Overall, I have to say this is a fun series.  I'm generally not into this kind of thing, genre-wise, but Hickman is really telling a good story, and Pitarra draws it well.  I'm definitely in this one for the long haul.  Highly recomended.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Comic Review -- Amazing Spider-Man #685: Ends of the Earth, part 4: Global Menace! / Dan Slott, Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba, and Edgar Delgado

While I like the idea of this cover--Spidey and the two gorgeous superheroines Black Widow and Silver Sable posing all badass on a rooftop--it seems to fall flat.  The line work is good, and the composition's not bad, but it doesn't really seem to fit with the level of intensity the narrative demands.  The casual-ness of the rooftop scenario suggests they're in NYC, which is clearly not where the action takes place.  I also think Spidey should be depicted in his current costume now, and that the colors could have been a little more vibrant.  It's not bad, but it left me wishing it could have been more.

Spider-Man, Silver Sable, and Black Widow have taken out Sandman, but the odds are even more stacked against them.  Doc Ock has turned the world against the heroes, stepped up production of the parts for his lenses, and called out super-villains to help defend his factories.  Even S.H.I.E.L.D. tries to arrest them after they defeat the Rhino in North Korea.  Only Horizon Labs is working along with them, and Spider-Man reluctantly allows Sable to torture Sandman to get more information about Doc Ock's plans.  The remaining members of the Sinister Six, meanwhile, wonder if they should simply take the money Ock got for them and go their separate ways, but decide to remain with Ock when he demands they see the mission through to the end.

Spider-Man makes a counter-call to any and all superheroes who are willing to trust him, pleading for assistance in hindering Ock's plans, to which there are a number of responses across the world.  He and his team tackle a base in Symkaria, where they find a wealth of bad news: the factory is abandoned, Ock's satellites are finished, and he is about to implement his plan, which is not the friendly one he advertised to the rest of the world.  Bitter at his impending demise, Ock uses the satellites to deep-fry the world like he did in his first demonstration, starting with the portion that's currently facing the sun.  He intends to take the world with him when he dies.

Well, I have to admit that I'm a little disappointed that Peter turns out to be right about Octavius, but I can't say I'm very surprised about it.  Doc Ock has typically been a very spiteful and petty character (though there have been exceptions to this depiction), and I would imagine having to finally face down the endless maw of his impending death wouldn't do much to improve his disposition.  I think Slott took a good handle of the reins with this portrayal of him, and has set up a denouement that makes me want to see how Spidey can possibly beat him this time around.

I also like the scale on which Spider-Man is set in opposition to the world, thanks to Ock's manipulations.  He, Sable, and Black Widow are alone, with only Horizon Labs and a handful of heroes across the world agreeing to trust and help them.  It really ramps up the drama and the action, forcing Spidey to desparate actions like "acid-boarding" Sandman for information and using a pretty vicious detonation against Rhino.  Ock has clearly thought about the lengths to which he must go to finally beat Spider-Man, and at present, it looks like he's succeeding.

You REALLY think he didn't kiss
her back? (from ASM 679)
On a minor note, it looked like Silver Sable was about to admit she had feelings for Spider-Man, and while I wasn't a fan of the idea in the midst of a high-stakes global struggle, I was also let down that Peter essentially shut her down for Mary Jane.  I've always had issues with how Marvel ended their marriage, but I've never been a huge MJ fan, and have often felt that Peter should have a significant other who could hang in superhero circles (which is why I was a fan of the Black Cat's reunion with him).  Sable would definitely fit this bill, and I have to admit I was kind of wanting it to happen.  Oh well.

Artistically, things continue to look good, though I do wonder about some of the panels.  It seems some of the details get minimized or glossed over as Humberto Ramos continues to churn out page upon page upon page during this run.  It's not enough to make the issue look bad, though perhaps not as good as other issues I've seen leading up to this one.  Note to Marvel: please don't overburden your artists on your flagship titles.

Overall, this has been a good story, and I'm eager to see how it ends.  I'm not sure how much is left, but it feels like we're approaching the endgame soon--if not next issue, then the one after.  The story is compelling, and the artwork is good.  Highly recommended.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Comic Review -- Detective Comics #9 / Tony Daniel, Sandu Florea, and Szymon Kudranski

I like this cover a lot.  Batman is taking on three Talons and holding his own, when just a few issues ago in his self-titled series, he was having a hard time with just one.  The colors and composition make for an intense, dynamic action sequence that strongly ties in with the Night of the Owls event for this issue.

In this installment of the Night of the Owls, Batman has taken the fight to the Talons, specifically the ones that have come after Jeremiah Arkham in his own Arkham Asylum.  When the doctor realizes his facility really is under attack, he makes a deal with one of his patients--Roman Sionis, the Black Mask--to protect the asylum.  Black Mask does so, but Batman realizes what he's doing and shuts him down quickly.  Realizing Arkham had been in league with Black Mask, Batman knocks him out and takes him off the island, intent on dropping him somewhere he'll be safe on his way to the next target.

This being my first foray into Detective Comics since the New 52 relaunch, there's probably a lot of details I'm missing in this review.  One of the first things I noticed was how very much the look and details of this Arkham Asylum are modeled after the awesome video game Batman: Arkham Asylum, from the look of the facility to the inclusion of security guard Aaron Cash, a character I knew from the game.  I could have my details mixed up, of course, but my first intro to that character was from that video game, and he will forever be associated with it in my eyes.

While this is obviously one chapter in the wide-ranging and fast-paced Night of the Owls storyline, it carries the feeling of a task without any real weight.  Daniel does a fine job of writing it, to be sure, but it seems Batman is making one stop on the way to another--which, to be fair, he is.  Arkham, to my thinking, would be a fairly low-priority target for many reasons, not the least of which is that he's always been portrayed as a naive or corrupted, if not outright insane administrator.  Frankly, I'd be more focused on saving the mayor, the police commissioner, the city comptroller... many others would take priority over Arkham.  But that's just me, and obviously Batman is a better man than I am. :)

Artistically, I have to admit, Daniel has quite a bit of talent, handling both storytelling and penciling duties with a delightful aplomb.  His illustrations are wonderfully detailed, and about as realistic as you can get in comics while still maintaining a hand in the grotesquely fantastic.  Arkham's designation as a mental institution is played up in its dinginess and desolation, from the orange uniforms of its patients to the bare, almost decaying appearance of various rooms.  Great work.

Overall, this is a good read in the Night of the Owls saga, though its necessity to the rest of the story won't be determined until the whole thing is said and done.  The artwork is great, and the telling of it from Arkham's perspective makes for an interesting narrative device.  Batman fans will definitely enjoy it.  Recommended.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Comic Review -- Batwing #9: You Have Been Judged Unworthy / Judd Winick, Marcus To, and Ryan Winn

Interesting cover, with a dynamic composition and a breathtaking angle.  Batwing's struggle with this Talon emphasizes how dangerous these assassins are, with Batwing defending himself from a vicious assault from above.  The artwork is nice, and makes me want to see what happens in the pages within.

We open with a conversation between the members of the Court of Owls, who are talking about retiring Alexander Staunton, presumably the Talon featured in this issue.  David and Matu, meanwhile, have come to the Batman, Inc. headquarters to get some upgrades for the Batwing armor.  Lucius Fox invites them to a gala the corporation is hosting, and David reluctantly attends.  He has a difficult time hiding his disdain for a corrupt African politician, but is reigned in my Fox, who tells him that sometimes personal sacrifices have to be made for the greater good.

It isn't long before the gala is marred by a gasoline fire, prompting David to find and don the Batwing armor.  Alfred's call for help against the Talons goes out to Matu, who relays the information to David, who arrives just in time to distract Fox's Talon from murdering him.  They fight, and David gauges the Talon's regenerative abilities while they do so.  Finally determining that extreme measures are needed, he blows the Talon's arms off by using explosives designed for blowing locks.  When he's congratulated by the politician he'd expressed disdain for earlier, he punches him out, telling Fox that that is how they compromise in Africa.

I'm unfamiliar with Batwing and Batman, Inc., so this storyline is yet again expanding my horizons in that way.  David Zavimbe's depiction as essentially an African, black version of Batman is interesting, and the fact that he works with an organization that essentially supplies gear and upgrades to the Batwing armor gives him (at least in theory) the same access to technology that Bruce Wayne has.  I also like one similarity he has with Batwoman, which is essentially the close immediate assistance of a second party, in this case Matu Ba.  Like Kate Kane's father, he relays information and aide to him essentially in real time, making him by design more of a team player than Batman would be.

David certainly seems to share Bruce's obsession for crimefighting work and defeating opponents.  He's very smart about observing his opponents abilities during their fight, and applies that knowledge liberally to end situations as quickly as possible.  He tests several limits of the Talon's endurance, and finally has no problem blowing off Staunton's arms to end their encounter when he sees how formidable his opponent truly is.  It makes for a familiar feel to a Batman character with a fresh appearance.

Artistically, I think Marcus To brings a steady sense of realism to his depiction of the characters.  He's as good at drawing them in civilian garb as he is at outlandish superhero costumes, and his action scenes are for the most part pretty good.  Occasionally things look a little rushed or minimal, usually during action shots from a bit of a distance, but I can forgive these in relation to the amount of outstanding work in this issue.  Excellent job!

Overall, I enjoyed this outing, and not just because it's another Night of the Owls story--though to be fair, I'm loving this event.  I enjoy the portrayal of Batwing so far, and his intelligence, prowess, and determination.  The action is great, the art is good, and the characters are intriguing.  Definitely a must read for Night of the Owls fans, this story is seriously making me consider adding Batwing to my pull list.  Highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Comic Review -- Brody's Ghost: The Midnight Train and Other Tales / Mark Crilley

I've only read the first volume of the main story of Mark Crilley's work, Brody's Ghost, but having worked with him in the past at Teen Book Con, the cover to the related one-shot Brody's Ghost: The Midnight Train and Other Tales immediately caught my attention, and I picked up the issue.  The composition certainly does a good job of selling the series premise, it being that there's a guy named Brody, and he can see ghosts and has one that is guiding him through the world.

This collection, as best I can tell, doesn't really further the plot in the main series, but instead serves as a group of humorous filler and character pieces.  In the titular first story, Brody uses his training to stop a group of thugs from robbing a woman on the subway.  In "The Scene of the Crime" Brody unwittingly gets into a scuffle with the husband of a murdered woman when he goes to the site of her murder to look for clues.  "The Test" shows Brody during a small portion of his training, and how his senses have developed to superhuman levels despite all of his complaining.  Finally, "The Big Game" shows the antagonistic relationship between Brody and his ghost, Talia, whose ability to shatter glass is used to bully Brody into leaving his friend Gabe to go investigate a murder suspect instead of watching football on Gabe's new flatscreen television.

The stories are alternately humorous and poignant, giving the reader shades of the characters of Brody and Talia, and to a lesser degree Kagemura, Brody's spectral sensei.  They all seem to enjoy tormenting one another in their ways, but there is an undercurrent of respect and even a little affection with it.  While it is of course helpful to have read the main series--indeed it's probably essential to have read some of it to have any real investment in these characters--the stories can stand alone, and do a serviceable job of serving as introductions to their personalities and motivations.

There is almost no mention of the main series' plot--Brody's purpose is to help Talia find the Penny Murderer so they can apprehend him and she can pass on into heaven.  It's an interesting omission, one that is probably aimed at readers unfamiliar with the series so as not to overburden them with a lot of exposition in a single-issue one-shot.  I personally think that's a smart move, as it gives the comic the opportunity to just focus on developing their personalities, which come off clearly and demonstrates Crilley's knack for witty humor.

Artistically, Crilley's manga-influenced style works well for the story, allowing for plenty of expression from his characters without delving into the overdone and silly.  His depiction of a futuristic, run-down city as the backdrop for his story also works well, and the fairly simple line work in his style keeps things accessible and memorable for the reader.  It does a good job of setting up the visual presentation for the main series, suggesting correctly that Crilley knows both how to tell a story and draw it in a way that will intrigue the reader.

Overall, this is definitely a wonderful companion piece to the main series Crilley has put out.  As a standalone, it may initially cause wonder and/or confusion as people unfamiliar with Brody's Ghost question what it even is, but if they give it a chance, they'll find accessible, humorous stories, clean, crisp artwork, and exposure to a larger story they'll enjoy.  Recommended.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Comic Review -- X-Men #28 / Victor Gischler, Will Conrad, Guru eFX

While I'm these days more than a little sick of Skrull covers, I will say that this is one gorgeous cover.  Of course, I'm also probably a little biased in favor of just about anything Will Conrad does.  The dark tones and foreboding leers of the Skrullified X-Men makes even the presumably light-hearted presence of Spider-Man take on an air of intensity and desperation.  Very well done.

We start off with Pixie teleporting a man into the Baxter Building to steal something from the Fantastic Four, because of a bluff he told her that they have Franklin Richards held hostage.  The Fantastic Four quickly subdue him, and the X-Men show up to take Pixie and the Skrull away, after pointing out that the Skrulls are accomplished shapeshifters and never had Franklin.  They go to Horizon Labs, looking for something in their equipment, when Pixie figures out that the "X-Men" she's with are the same Skrulls who sent her to the Baxter Building in the first place.

After they subdue and gag Pixie, we find out that these Skrulls are soldiers from the Secret Invasion, trapped behind enemy lines after the war was over.  They're looking for a way home, and are raiding high-tech facilities looking for a captured Skrull ship so they can do so.  Horizon Labs, however, is the second home and workplace of Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man, and he happens to see what's going on and surprises the thieves.  The fight moves to the sidewalk outside of Horizon, where one of the Skrulls activates their ship--a War-Bringer, a ship of destruction.  As the Fantastic Four and X-Men arrive on the scene, Pixie, Spider-Man, and three of the Skrulls look on in horror as a drone marches out of the ship, intent on destruction.

This is my first real exposure to the character of Pixie, and since we've just seen Jubilee's departure from the X-Men for at least a little while, it's hard to avoid the feeling that the writers just can't bear the thought of not having a young inexperienced team member for the others to watch over.  Pixie certainly fills that role in this story, berating herself for making a series of presumably rookie mistakes in front of her "teammates" and several other superheroes.  Still, it's understandable that she'd be deceived by experienced Skrull soldiers desperate to get home--deception is what they're good at, after all.

I also like the use of guest stars in this issue, as it fits well with the plot.  The Baxter Building and Horizon Labs are logical-sounding locations to house Skrull equipment, and make the FF and Spidey's appearances credible and relevant.  Being a Spider-Man fan, I wish he'd been used a little more, but it looks like he'll get more mileage in the next part of the story.  Everyone's characterization is spot-on when given the opportunity, from Spidey's quips to Reed and Susan and Ben's dialog and reactions.

Art-wise, I can't help but enjoy Will Conrad's work.  It's realistic and distinctive, and he seems to instinctively know the most recognizable look for each character and delivers it in a consistent, beautiful package with each illustration.  I remember once saying that if I could draw like anyone, it'd be Jim Lee.  I'd say if anyone else could share the stage with him, it would be Mr. Conrad.  Everyone and everything in this issue just looks fantastic.

Overall, I'd say this makes for an interesting start to a multi-part storyline that has plenty of promise.  The setup is amusing and intriguing, the art is fantastic, and the resolution is one I actually care about and want to see in the next issue.  Highly recommended.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Comic Review -- X-Men #27 / Victor Gischler, Jorge Molina, Salva Espin, and Guru eFX

This is a pretty decent cover, though whether it works or not depends on how central you think Jubilee is to the team and the comic.  While Psylocke, Storm, Colossus and Domino all look pretty badass as they square off with Lord Deathstrike and his mercs, her absence is telling, given that the story has basically centered around her and her struggles with vampirism.  You could also say it's symbolic, given the ending of the issue, though I'll elaborate on that later.  In the meantime, I do think this is a nice cover.

Jubilee faces off against Kodo's assassin in a swordfight, and does all the heavy lifting on the banter and smack-talking end, as Lord Deathstrike is completely silent, and expressionless behind his mask.  Meanwhile, Warpath, Domino, Deadpool, and the Forgiven have succeeded in driving off the assassins that had come to kill them, and make their way back to Kodo and the other X-Men.  Unable to best Deathstrike in sword technique, Jubilee allows him to run her through so she can get close to him and, with sword sticking through her back, headbutt him hard in the mask, leaving him prone.  She nearly decides to drain him of blood then, but is stopped by a plea from Kodo and Storm, and spares his life.  He bows to her, teleports away, and leaves Jubilee to decide what her path should be now.  Electing to stay behind with the Forgiven, she vows to learn as much about being a vampire as possible, so that she may do the most good.

This was a good end to the arc I came into a few issues ago, and while I'm not very pleased about Jubilee's departure from the X-Men--she belongs there, as far as I'm concerned, and always will, mutant or not--it's an understandable one, as the Forgiven clearly have much they can teach her.  I think the parallels between these vampires and the X-Men are also noteworthy, in that both are hated and feared by the larger majority, despite the fact that they try to protect both.  So I will give my blessing for her departure, though I hope to see the day she returns home to her real family.

I also like the way the X-Men and the Forgiven have come to a kind of understanding of one another, through Jubilee.  They may not necessarily like one another, but they are more alike than they initially realized, both have had the opportunity to test and respect the other's combat prowess, and they both care for the teenager with the vampire complex, Jubilee.  It leaves the door open for possible future collaborations and storylines, and makes for the kind of relationship you might see in the real world between groups who respect one another: a silent kind of agreement or understanding, without extreme dollops of rage or love that we often see between super-groups in comics.

Also, I have to give props to how Jubilee handled combat with the mysterious Lord Deathstrike (though I do have issues with his name--is he related to Lady Deathstrike?  If not, find another moniker, please).  She clearly didn't have his level of skill, but decided to take a (normally) mortal blow to get close and finish the fight her way.  It was a badass move, and one that drives home the idea that you shouldn't mess with the teenage vampire girl when she's protecting an ally.

Art-wise, Molina continues to deliver a satisfactory rendition of the characters and the action, this time with some help from Salva Espin.  I can't tell who did what and where--it looks pretty much like what I've seen from Molina--but the overall result is a worthy blend of action, drama, and vampiric teenage rage that works for this installment.  One minor nitpick has to do with Jubilee's coat getting shredded during her fight with Lord Deathstrike, and then it being all fine and whole at the end of the issue.  Unless they have extras in the X-Jet, I don't see how this would be possible.

Overall, this was a fun, decent, if not particularly noteworthy romp through the dramas of the X-men and their world.  The story is fun, the artwork is good, and we see the departure of Jubilee for a while from the ranks of the X-Men.  Recommended.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

GN Review -- Locke and Key, v. 2: Head Games / Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

While it isn't my intention to just constantly review titles that aren't for children--it's coincidence, I swear!--it really is noteworthy to mention Locke and Key again for its sheer narrative appeal.  I recently got a hold of volume 2, entitled Head Games, and figured I'd put it in the pile of Things That Will Eventually Be Read and Reviewed.  Then I opened it up to glance at a few pages, and ended up sitting down to read the whole thing over the course of a little over an hour.

It was that good.

This arc of the Locke and Key saga focuses on the Head Key, which Bode finds at the end of the previous volume.  He shows he siblings, Ty and Kinsey, how it can be used to add and remove things to and from one's head--literally.  Suddenly you have the ability to learn any subject or skill instantaneously, or to remove bad feelings or fears.  Keeping this a secret proves too big a task, and Ty brings two classmates, Jordan Gates and Zack Wells--who is actually the evil entity Dodge, who's managed to switch to a male body with the help of another of Keyhouse's keys.  Jordan freaks out and runs away, but Zack-Dodge feigns awe and wonder, and gets the siblings to trust him before secretly using the key to manipulate those around him who might figure out who he is.

I have to give props to Joe Hill, who is proving highly adept at taking multiple plot threads and weaving them together in support of a larger narrative arc.  Dodge, who seems to have gotten away scot-free at the end of volume 1, turns out to have more than a few problems keeping anonymous, and must permanently stop the snooping of an old professor who has pieced his secret together.  This story takes up the entire first part of the narrative, complete with background on the professor, his relationship to Dodge and Rendell Locke, and his own concerns about what "Zack" might mean for the Locke kids.  It's a fascinating tale, the events of which help touch off the episode of the Head Key.

There are also plot threads involving Duncan Locke, who it turns out is gay; homophobia, directed at Duncan and his boyfriend by the ignorant townsfolk where he currently lives; Ellie Whedon's travails in keeping Dodge around as her "nephew," when it's made explicit that she had once been Dodge's lover; Kinsey's desire to not feel bad feelings; and Ty's desire for normalcy and companionship.  All of these elements have a part to play in shaping the overall narrative, and Hill handles them all in a way that fits together wonderfully.

While there's plenty of action and grim adventure in this story, there's also a sense of impending dread that permeates the entire narrative, and you get the idea that this is a saga that will continue to develop, shift, and change as the stakes get higher and higher for everyone.  The Locke children are basically set up as the protagonists, and the slippery Dodge is obviously the main antagonist, even though they don't realize it yet.  It makes for compelling reading, with plenty of murder, mayhem, and malice sprinkled throughout.

Gabriel Rodriguez continues to knock it out of the park with his art on this series, rendering characters, settings, and details in a clear, at times viscerally expressive style.  He takes things a step further by putting down his process to drawing the pages of Locke and Key in a detailed essay and exhibition.  It's highly educational and insightful, and gives a good idea of how involved the process of penciling, inking, detailing, and editing just one page of a comic can be.  Throw in the fact that most comics are twenty-two pages every month, and it really hammers home the message that there's more to drawing comics than picking up a pencil and doodling.

Overall, I would currently rank Locke and Key as one of the most compelling comics out there, adult or otherwise, that leaves you wanting to know what happens next when you finish each volume.  Head Games has definitely maintained this feeling, with tight storytelling, great artwork, and a cliffhanger that leaves you wondering what will happen now.  Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

GN Review -- Avengers: The Children's Crusade / Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung

In continuing my exploration of the Scarlet Witch's recent past, I've skipped ahead to more recent developments, which are nevertheless surprisingly connected to some of the events I saw in Avengers Disassembled.  I was a little surprised to see that this was told mostly from the standpoint of the Young Avengers, who had apparently come about soon after the Disassembled story arc.

During a pitched battle with a group of overpowered zealots, the Young Avengers defeat their opponents only when Wiccan's powers seem to augment beyond his control.  Several Avengers witness this, and remembering all too well how powerful Wanda was, bring him and Hulkling to their headquarters for observation.  They eventually bust out of their new "home" with the help of their teammates and embark on a quest to locate the elusive Scarlet Witch, who Wiccan suspects is his and Speed's mother.  They end up enlisting the aide of Magneto, who may therefore be their grandfather, and travel to Latveria, where they suspect she is in hiding.

When they prove successful in locating her, there are still a number of complications they have to deal with.  First and foremost, she is about to marry Doctor Doom, who seems to be shielding her from her past memories, and also may be intent on keeping her nearby because she's so potentially powerful.  Iron Lad takes them to the point in time just before Jack of Hearts explodes in front of Avengers Mansion, and snatches Scott Lang to bring to the present, much to his daughter's delight.

The rest of the Avengers show up, as do a large group of the X-Men, who then start to argue and fight over Wanda's fate and who should decide it.  In the chaos, Cassie is killed by an over-powered Doom, who soon burns out from the power he stole from Wanda and escapes.  The X-Men decide to leave Wanda alone after an impassioned plea from Wiccan, and she decides to take some time to figure out what she will do with her life now.  The Young Avengers disband, but not before Captain America tells them that they will always be considered Avengers, whether they continue to be heroes or not.

Obviously, there's a lot going on in this story, which at times feels a little out of hand in terms of focus.  In addition to the main plot involving the Scarlet Witch, you have a sub-plot that's still very significant involving Iron Lad--who is apparently Kang at a younger age--saving Cassie Lang's dad, Scott, from his original death in Avengers Disassembled.  There are guest appearances from Doom, Magneto, the Avengers, the X-Men, X-Factor... it can get a little confusing to keep it all from spiraling out of control.

There's also more suspension of disbelief required to read this story than is usual in a superhero comic, mainly because of the involvement of magic and magicks as plot devices for the characters.  Apparently Speed and Wiccan are the "children" Wanda created before Avengers Disassembled, as they look remarkably similar to one another, and to Magneto and Wanda and Quicksilver, and their power sets mimic those of Magneto's children.  It's a very flimsy premise, and essentially one you have to decide to believe simply for the sake of allowing the story to continue.  I was willing to do so, but I will understand if many readers have a problem with this plot point.

Still, for all the events going on, it never really feels clogged or blundering, and Heinberg actually manages to juggle the multiple plots as well as could be expected, managing to infuse them all with feeling, value, and enough action and drama to keep you turning the page.  Wiccan is ultimately the main protagonist, and his quest to find Wanda is genuinely rendered.  Wanda, when finally found, is given plenty of room to shine, and the magnitude of her crimes against both the Avengers and the mutant population is explored in depth.

Art-wise, this is a great story.  I've seen Jim Cheung's work before, but I have to say that he's really got a talent for rendering superheroes in clear, dynamic fashion, and he has no problem with scale.  Be it just a couple of characters or twenty five in a panel, everyone looks marvelous.  Action scenes flow effortlessly, and everyone looks distinct, even if you take away the iconography that would be associated with their powers and costumes.  Very good work.

Overall, I think this is a great story, perhaps a little too big and unwieldy in places, but overall a good telling of the Scarlet Witch's return to the world at large that she helped create, for better or worse.  The believability factor is easy to gloss over in light of the rest of the action and drama, but some readers may feel cheated by it.  Still, the narrative flow really carries the reader through the action in some places, and the artwork is a wonder to behold.  Definitely a must-read for Scarlet Witch fans, Avengers completists, and anyone who enjoys comics primarily featuring teenage superheroes.  Highly recommended.

Friday, May 11, 2012

GN Review -- Avengers Disassembled / Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch

After reading Avengers vs. X-Men #0, I was astounded at how good the Scarlet Witch's tale was, and the urge to understand what had led her to that point became paramount.  I did a little searching, and decided a good point to start reading up about her recent history was Avengers Disassembled.

What unfolds is essentially the worst day ever in the history of any superhero team I've yet read.  Tony Stark, while at the U.N., suddenly is overcome with a sensation of drunkenness and threatens the Latverian ambassador, embarrassing the U.S. and causing him to have to step down.  The deceased Jack of Hearts shows up at Avengers Mansion briefly, then explodes--taking out a good portion of the grounds and killing Ant Man.  Then Vision arrives in a Quinjet--and crashes it into the already mounting wreckage.  She-Hulk freaks out in response, and starts to lose herself in her rage, tearing Vision apart before she can be put down.  And then there's a sudden invasion of Kree aliens, who start shooting at the heroes at the Mansion and the surrounding area and cause the death of Hawkeye before mysteriously disappearing.  All in the span of probably a couple of hours.

A visit from Dr. Strange reveals why so many bad things have been happening to them.  The Scarlet Witch, who at one time had had "children" she essentially created out of thin air, blamed the Avengers for their disappearance, and with the nature of her powers having driven her gradually more insane, she was manifesting some of their worst fears to destroy them.  Captain America tries to explain the situation to Wanda, but she doesn't want to hear it and continues to lash out with her powers.  With Strange's help, they are able to stop her, and she is taken away by her father Magneto, who vows to help her recover in any way he can.

Iron Man has one final bit of bad news, however.  The fallout from his spontaneous drunken episode at the U.N. has caused massive PR and financial crises in his company.  The foundation that he made to support the Avengers can no longer support them, and with the government pulling out any backing due to the embarrassment of the U.N. incident, they simply can no longer afford to exist as a team.  The teammates are forced therefore to disband, and they share recollections of some of their favorite moments from the Avengers history before going their separate ways.

Wow.  The Scarlet Witch is a lot like Eric Cartman.  Do not piss her off, ever.

I've known of the fact that she's supposed to be this uber-powerful member of the Avengers, having probably gleaned it from other stories and what I've observed or heard about from the fallout of House of M, which I also still have yet to read.  But since this story occurs before that one, I'm figuratively seeing her sheer power and imbalance through a mostly unadulterated and clear lens.  She seems mostly unaware that she's even doing the things she's inflicted upon the Avengers, which is extra cause for concern.  She can summon world-ending scenarios without even having to concentrate on them.

It seems the crux of all Wanda's trials and tribulations stems from a very simple but powerful desire--the desire for motherhood and children--transposed against the heartbreaking reality that she is not able to do so.  This desire caused her to use her powers--knowingly or not, I don't know--to create "children" that were, eventually, taken away from her.  Seeing her teammates as responsible, her resentment grew over time, and, with her sanity dwindling, she began to lash out at them without even fully realizing it.

So, it's hard not to pity her, too.

The action of the story is undeniably cataclysmic.  When I have a bad day, that's a problem already.  When my entire family or co-workers have a collective bad day, it's usually tragic.  This is super-powered tragedy, magnified on a cosmic scale and then given a shot of tragedy steroids.  The Avengers' home is totaled.  Several of their friends are killed, one directly by one of their own.  They lose the funding and government support they'd enjoyed until now.  And it was all orchestrated by one of their closest teammates.  It's hard not to walk away from this arc without having had to pick your jaw up off the floor several times, and I salute Bendis for his storytelling acumen here.

Artistically, I can't help but salute David Finch's work.  His characters are detailed, expressive, and work well for the genre and medium.  The action is dynamic, intense, and keeps you turning the page to see what happens next.  The round robin of art done by various artists in the finale also make for a noteworthy collection of styles and colors as the team's most memorable moments are revealed, highlighting how the looks and makeup of the team has changed over the years.

Overall, this is a compelling read, and definitely a must-read for anyone interested in the recent history and current goings-on in the world of the Avengers, and much of the Marvel Universe.  The storytelling is splendid, the artwork is great, and it's simply a pivotal story for a character who seems set to once again play a pivotal role in the upcoming events.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

GN Review -- Amazing Spider-Man: Matters of Life and Death / Dan Slott, Fred Van Lente, Stefano Caselli, Humberto Ramos, and Marcos Martin

I don't think I've made any secret that Spider-Man is one of my favorite, if not my absolute favorite, comic book superhero. I've read a lot of the more recent story arcs, particularly after the lamentable One More Day, and have to admit I've found the treatment of the web-slinger to be pretty admirable since then. One volume that deserves mention in that group is the collection by Dan Slott and company, titled Matters of Life and Death.

There are several stories included in this collection, starting with the Revenge of the Spider-Slayer arc, where Alistaire Smythe tries to wreak vengeance on NYC's mayor, one J. Jonah Jameson, by using an assembly of insect-based villains--many of whom have a personal connection to the mayor--to kill everyone Jonah holds dear. Of course, Spider-Man gets involved, pitting him against the Scorpion and Smythe's minions, and calling on him to make a significant sacrifice, which even then may not prove to be enough.

We are then shown a story of the new Venom, the one joined to Flash Thompson, who has volunteered to bond with the unit for a total of 20 covert missions. The bonding gives him use of his legs, many of the same powers Spider-Man has, and quite a few other abilities. He uses his gifts to save an international banking magnate, learning that partnering with the Venom symbiote comes with quite a few risks of its own.

Two other plots encompassed in this volume are the funeral of Marla Jameson, wife of the mayor, prompting a personal psychological crisis for Spider-Man, and the Human Torch's death, which has effected Peter greatly and requires more than a little reassurance from the rest of the Fantastic Four. Several stories show the relationship Spidey and the FF had with the Human Torch, and at the end of the arc, Spider-Man is offered the Human Torch's place on the Fantastic Four.

I personally found this collection to be a delight to read. Spider-Man's relationship to J. Jonah Jameson has always been an antagonistic one over the decades, and it's fun to see the stakes amped up now that Jonah's blundered his way into political office. It's also telling to see that Jonah, while constant in his dislike of the wall crawler, is nonetheless willing to use him to divert or mitigate damage, suggesting that he knows deep down that Spider-Man is a good guy. He'll never admit it, but at least he has the werewithal to not blame Spidey for the most significant tragedy that occurs in the story, showing he has at least marginally matured over the years.

This is also the story arc where Spider-Man loses his very powerful Spider-Sense, which has an enormous effect on how he uses the rest of his powers. I remember reading about this, and am not sure how long the effects last or have lasted, but it's one of those questions I've pondered and would have loved to write. I'm happy to finally see the arc where it happens, and can't wait to see more about how he adapts to this loss of
one of his most reliable senses.

Finally, I really enjoyed the Human Torch story arc. I have issues with how Johnny was killed off and then brought back to life so quickly, but the time of his passing has not let me down in conveying a profound sense of loss. The stories Spidey and the FF tell about him are funny, touching, and make clear that Johnny was more than a friend to Spidey--he was family as well. My favorite story is the one the Invisible Woman tells, as it does an excellent job of conveying Spidey and the Torch's collective ability to torment someone with their combined sense of humor.

There are plenty of other good stories and scenes in this volume that are noteworthy and significant, including Marla's funeral, Spidey and Jonah quietly insulting each other during a public ceremony, and Flash's current life paralleling Peter's in many ways. It's all done well, and worthy of reading!

Artistically, there are a number of different styles playing on the different stories in this collection, all of them wonderful. Stefano Caselli brought a fun, detailed, and dynamic visual sensibility to the Smythe storyline, while Marcos Martin's style in the Marla Jameson funeral story was sparse, expressive, and packed an emotional wallop. Humberto Ramos is in his usual top form in the Venom storyline. All in all, the art is excellent collection of several different styles.

Overall, this is a highly enjoyable and well-told collection of stories. Spider-Man fans will definitely want to read this, as will anyone who wants action-filled, dramatic stories with good characterization, excellent myriad art styles, and excellent narrative exploration. Highly recommended.