Sunday, June 26, 2016

Revolutionary War

Title: Revolutionary War

ISBN: 9780785190165
Price: $24.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2014
Artist: Rich Elson, Dietrich Smith, Simon Coleby, Rick Roche, Brent Anderson, Ronan Cliquet, Gary Erskine
Writer: Andy Lanning, Alan Cowsill, Kieron Gillen, Rob Williams, Glenn Dakin
Collects: Revolutionary War: Alpha #1, Dark Angel #1, Knights of Pendragon #1, Death's Head II #1, Super Soldiers #1, Motormouth #1, Omega #1

Rating: 2.5/5

Revolutionary War was a recent Marvel Event with a rather British feel to it – like the punch of a superhero connecting with the thwack sound of leather cricket ball on willow bat. An event set in the United Kingdom of Marvel Universe 616 and featuring a plethora of home grown UK Marvel talent both on the page and behind the scenes. Having kicked off the year with its launch in early January the series has just drawn to a close following the events of the eighth and final installment.

Recent Marvel comics’ in-Universe history has seen a relative resurgence in British presence. Cynically this may be seen as Marvel’s latest attempt at developing a more international market for its comics. But this is not necessarily a bad thing given that the Marvel Universe has traditionally paid more attention to the USA, outer space and fictional countries.

This resurgence, whatever its cause, has been able to capitalise on the critical acclaim of Paul Cornell’s 2008 series Captain Britain and Mi:13. Two years later as part of Marvel’s new direction in the Heroic Age Captain Britain was installed as an bona fide Avenger and would finally play a major role in Rick Remender's Secret Avengers in 2012, featuring a powerful scene where he single-handedly manages to get the edge on the Phoenix Force, and also with the Captain Britain Corps in Uncanny X-Force from that year.

Although, as you’d expect given that he has a great big Union Jack on his chest and the potential power to go toe-to-toe with the biggest Marvel heavy hitters, Brian Braddock has been the main way of symbolising the UKs representation in Marvel comics. Slowly, though admittedly retaining a direct association to Captain Britain, other characters have begun to make appearances such as Faiza Hussain in the Age of Ultron storyline and pupils from the new Braddock Academy in Avengers Arena in 2013.

And it is this showcasing of a wider pool of British superheroes that Revolutionary War sets out to do with aplomb. From characters that most Marvel fans will have likely come across before, like Captain Britain of course, to those with whom readers might be familiar. In fact the raison d’etre of Revolutionary War is to bring back the heroes featured in the early 90s by the now defunct Marvel UK imprint. As such we see the return of the likes of the Death’s Head, the Knights of Pendragon, Motormouth, Dark Angel and the Warheads.

The structure of the series clearly sets out to bring each character or team to the fore for their moment in the spotlight, almost like a ‘Britain’s Got Superhero Talent’ audition, with each of the returning Marvel UK heroes given their own specific issue, named accordingly. Captain Britain himself actually seems to be used sparingly here, featuring only in the first and final issues that bring everything together and raise the stakes.

Whilst this does mean that the series achieves its main goal of fully and fairly using its roster of Marvel UK characters it does sacrifice a little in the story. Obviously a first issue has to get some introductions out of the way, though in Revolutionary War we get additional introductory exposition in each of the following six issues. This can make the overall story feel a little disrupted at times, though it depends on which issue as some handle this better than others.

It is perhaps a little difficult to rate the individual issues against each other. Given that each opts to focus on slightly different themes despite the overarching story it makes a straight comparison between them less relevant. For instance the Death’s Head section is probably the more comic book action orientated. Though possibly the Super Soldiers and Warheads issues feel like they have little in them that reaches the highs of some of the other segments and thus are probably the weakest by default.

The most interesting theme that runs through Revolutionary War is the changing nature of Britain and Britishness, following on from similar elements in the previous Captain Britain and Mi:13 series. In the Knights of Pendragon issue, an issue that otherwise occasionally struggles with rushed pacing and unclear action, we actually get to look into the magical embodiment of the British psyche. This issue in particular takes great joy in visually and narratively mixing up the old and new elements of British identity such as the clichés of Arthurian legend with multicultural Olympians.

Although tied to the theme of a changing Britain another element that gets drawn out is the effects of ‘Austerity Britain’ on both the real country and the fictional heroes. Some of these reference unnecessary and unsubtle but on a couple of occasions the writers think of a twist that really nails the concept. The subject of inescapable debt and subsequent deals with the devil makes the Dark Angel issue a real stand out. Whilst the Motormouth issue later in the run looks at the domestic rather than magical repercussions. Despite not having been seen for the best part of 20 years Harley Davis has become in this one issue a really interesting character.

20 years ago Marvel UK finished and simply stopped, dropping the on-going saga of the battle against Mys-tech. The battle against the ancient, magical secret society planning on sacrificing the entire British populous to achieve immortality was never resolved – until now. Revolutionary War actually uses the sudden and unanswered end of the original arc as the central mystery to its own plot as Mys-tech, thought beaten, rise again.

Probably because the previous issues focus on specific characters it means that the overall story doesn’t progress quite as quickly as it might. The upside to this is that it strings the mystery out well but this doesn’t quite make up for the fact that this leaves the finale with an awful lot to do. Unfortunately to fit everything in the finale becomes a little rushed and doesn’t quite answer all the questions. One central character's appearance seems to be a continuity error. Given that in a previous issue another character had another such error ironed out it seems odd that the final would create an issue for another character if it wasn’t on purpose. The fact that this series has no definite or even likely sequel means it is a shame that issues like these couldn’t be wrapped up fully by the end. However all this is not to say the finale is a disappointment – there’s still plenty of action and some rather funny digs at more American-centric comics.

Overall this arc has been something of a joy for British Marvel fans. As well as the references that flesh out the world of Marvel 616 UK, the most obvious aspect is seeing some beloved old characters dusted off and thrown back in to battle. Indeed the final battle of a war that had been left unresolved. A glancing comparison could be made to Day of the Doctor as an example of a series returning to an unseen past, bring returning characters and setting things up for a new future.

Perhaps that is what is Revolutionary War is intended to do – pave the way for more development of Marvel’s British properties. Based on this outing there would be plenty of scope to see more of how Dark Angel manages her demonic pact, Motormouth’s balance of domestic and heroic chores and the prog-folk tinged adventures of the Knights of Pendragon or even the out and out action of Death’s Head.

Maybe a little constrained by the story structure Revolutionary War doesn’t quite hit the highs of Captain Britain and Mi:13. But this is a success. It has shown that there is plenty of future potential that can be mined from these characters and certainly left us with the expectation of more. Even should these characters not be picked up for further adventures they have been given the final hurrah they have been deserving of for all these years as well as giving modern Britain a fresh airing in the Marvel Universe proving that there is more to it that cricketing clichés. Although we can’t tell for certain yet whether Revolutionary War is a nostalgic insight to past characters or an introduction to reappearing heroes, it is certainly an arc worthy of reading for any UK Marvel Fan.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Superman: Red Son

Title: Superman: Red Son

ISBN: 9781401247119
Price: $17.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2014
Artist: Dave johnson, Andrew Robinson, Killan Plunkett, Walden Wong
Writer: Mark Millar
Collects: Superman: Red Son #1-3

Rating: 4.5/5

DC’s “Elseworlds” has always given us stories that ask the question “What if” in a truly compelling way that I feel Marvel never has been able to achieve. They allow us to see our heroes from a completely different perspective, not just by changing minor details, but by changing major details of the setting and the origins of the character. And yet, despite all of those changes they still manage to retain the mythos and preserve those characters to remain the heroes (or villains) we know and love (or love to hate.)

Mark Millar’s “Superman: Red Son” is easily one of the best “Elseworlds” ever published, even if it doesn’t officially brandish the “Elseworlds” logo. It asks perhaps the most introspective “what if” question of all:

What if Superman had been raised in Soviet Russia instead of the United States? What if the ideals the Man of Steel fights for is not “truth, justice and the American way,” but rather “Stalin, Socialism and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact?”

The result is not only an ironic take on an iconic American super-hero, but also a compelling perspective in the history of the Cold War.

The Superman of this universe was raised in a Ukrainian collective farm in Communist Russia. Over the intervening years, Superman becomes a member of Joseph Stalin’s inner circle and is used as a propaganda machine to bolster the Soviet regime. When Stalin passes away, Superman reluctantly assumes political power for a society that is too quick to accept a totalitarian dictatorship. Superman’s Global Soviet Union has eliminated war, poverty, disease, crime, poverty, and unemployment.

Historical Fact: Joseph Stalin’s birth name was actually Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili. He would later change his name to Joseph Stalin, “Stalin” being the Russian word for “Steel”. Thus, Stalin was the self-described Russian Man of Steel.

If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. The Russian Man of Steel is a living metaphor of the Orwellian “Big Brother” who can see through walls and overhear private conversations across the globe. Superman’s intentions may be good, but good intentions are not always rewarded with good results. His utopia comes at the cost of increased infringement on individual liberties. People are no longer in control of their own destinies. He implements a brain surgery technique that effectively lobotomized dissident citizens and converts them into obedient drones, or “Superman Robots.”

The Superman of “Red Son” also functions as an allegory for the arms race. With Superman championing as on the side of Soviet Russia, nuclear weapons and covert intelligence agencies become obsolete. Russia effectively replaces the United States as the new world super-power. The Cold War escalates to a metahumans armed race, as the United States struggle to establish super-powered figures of their own to counter the potential threat Superman poses.

Lex Luthor is a brilliant S.T.A.R. Labs scientist Hell-bent on destroying Superman; however, because the United States have hired him to find a way to neutralize the Man of Steel (via CIA agent Jimmy Olsen), that makes him an American hero. He creates Bizarro, U.S. government-funded attempt to duplicate Superman. He also creates a vast array of super-powered villains (Metallo, Parasite, even Doomsday) who in this universe are American-made superweapons fighting for the American cause. Luthor even successfully runs for President of the United States, basically turning America into a dictatorship, an active platform to openly attack Superman’s Soviet regime.

Make no mistake, however. Luthor is still a cold-blooded egomaniac, regardless of which universe he resides in. He arranges for Sputnik 2 to fall towards Metropolis, risking the lives of millions of innocent Americans, just to extract traces of Superman’s DNA to create a duplicate. He murders his entire research staff when he discovers that the Bizarro clone is more intelligent than he is. He collaborates with Brainiac to shrink Moscow (though he shrinks Stalingrad instead.)

Of course, those aren’t the only differences in this book. In this universe, no one is invulnerable to change.

Although Lois Lane is still a reporter for the Daily Planet, she is married to Lex Luthor. So even though there may be a mutual attraction between her and Superman upon first meeting each-other, neither of them are able to pursue a romance. Even though she is still as strong and independent as her mainstream counterpart, her loveless marriage to a neglectful and self-obsessed husband makes her a tragic figure, not to mention it highlights  on a personal level just how wrong everything in this universe really is.

Among Lois Lane’s (sorry, Lois Luthor’s) co-workers at the Daily Planet are Oliver Queen (who is often mysteriously absent) and Iris West Allen (whose husband is famous for being late.)

Pete Ross (or Pyotr Roslov) is chief of the KGB, as well as Stalin’s illegitimate son. Pyotr is jealous of Superman, whose presence has changed Russia’s power structure, turning his father’s attention away from him and effectively ending his chances of advancement.

Lana Lang (or Lana Lazarenko) is a childhood friend of Superman’s from the Ukrainian farming community he grew up on. Although she does not have a large role in this story, witnessing her family suffering through poverty prompts Superman to assume command of the country.

Batman, whose parents were gunned down for their pro-capitalist political dissidence, grows up to become a lone anarchist and freedom fighter against Superman’s all-seeing and all-hearing regime, whose actions inspire a resistance movement. In this sense, he has far more in common with the anarchistic terrorist/freedom fighter V from Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. Despite not being a multi-billionaire in this universe, the Dark Knight is nonetheless incredibly resourceful, one that constantly remains a thorn in Superman’s side.

Wonder Woman, apparently a slave to political fashion trends in any alternate universe, wears a red and black version of her fabulous wardrobe to mirror the colors of the U.S.S.R. (yes, I know, I’m being silly.) She is still an international ambassador for peace. Her role in the story may be relatively minor, however this instance I’m quick to forgive this; after all, this is a Superman story. She is mostly relegated to Superman’s sidekick and unrequited love interest. That Superman is oblivious to Diana’s feelings for him demonstrates that the more political power he assumes, the more disconnected he becomes with the rest of humanity.

DC Universe Fact: The world and continuity of “Superman: Red Son” is one of the fifty-two divergent realities officially considered as a part of the DC Multiverse. Its designation is Earth-30.

The best way I can describe “Superman: Red Son” is as a historical or geo-political Bizarro World. By making Superman Russian, Millar not only shows us a Superman from another country, but offers us a chance to look at what the world itself would have been like had Russia dominated the Cold War.

As a history buff, I find it fascinating for me to see how the political climate of this world has radically diverged from our own. In the United States, Richard Nixon won the 1960 U.S. presidential election, but was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, in 1963. He was succeeded by John F. Kennedy, who went on to become the first President to file for divorce. The United States is forced to grant independence to the state of Georgia, an ironic reference to the real-world Soviet State of the same name. There is also mention of secessionist movements in Detroit, Texas, and California, as well as “communist” terrorist attacks against the White House.

Meanwhile, in Russia, there are no references to Soviet interventions in East Germany (1953), Hungary (1956), or Czechoslovakia (1968). In fact, only the United States and Chile remain independent from the Global Soviet Union, and both are on the brink of political collapse.

Red Son does not follow the standard Communism = evil, capitalism = good formula. The story is color-blind in its political views, neither black nor white, but varying shades of gray. Superman isn’t automatically a no-good “Pinko Commie” just because he’s Russian; he’s still an altruistic benefactor who only wants the best for humanity. And even though Lex Luthor is using his genius in the pursuit of freedom from oppression, he is still an egotistical diseased maniac who cannot stand the thought of living in the same universe as Superman.

“Superman: Red Son” is a wonderful stand-alone story. It’s full of Superman mythology to keep the fans on their toes. By showing the story throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, it also offers a taste of nostalgia for the comic books of the old days. More than that, however, it’s a sociopolitical commentary on foreign policy.

Mark Millar does beautiful job writing a tightly woven story that spans several decades, from the moment Superman is accepted as Stalin’s right hand man to his final battle against Lex Luthor. He has created a vast and expansive universe, not only showcasing an alternate version of Superman or an alternate version of the DC Universe in general, but an alternate version of the political world in general.

At a first glance the artwork by Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett could be considered standard fare, but there are subtle nuances that actually compliment the history the storyline draws from. There are times when the book is channeling the spirits of Joe Shuster, Bob Kane, and William Moulton Marston (the first illustrators of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, respectively.) There are also times when they evoke Soviet-era propaganda posters. The art starts with a nostalgic Golden Age look, then gradually progresses towards a more contemporary style, as if to illustrate the passage of time in the story.

I would like to comment on the ending, but I cannot go into any details without spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t read this book. Suffice it to say, it is one of the most mind-blowing endings I’ve ever read in a mainstream comic book. And if you have read this book, then chances are you already know what I’m talking about.

As objective as I am trying to be, I honestly cannot think of anything bad to say about this book. This is truly a unique and exemplary form of comic book literature, comparable to Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, or Kingdom Come. It’s that awesome.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

What If? AVX

Title: What If? AVX

ISBN: 9780785183945
Price: $16.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2013
Artist: Jorge Molina, Gerardo Sandoval
Writer: Jimmy Palmiotti
Collects: What If? AVX #1-4

Rating: 1/5

What If has always been up there as one of my favorite comic series of all time. In recent years, mostly because of editorial tinkering, the books have become a pale imitation of what they once were. Eventually, What If only appeared every so often, usually corresponding with an event book. Cue What If Avengers Vs. X-Men, writer Jimmy Palmiotti’s take on what would happen if? Wait, there is no “if.” That’s the whole problem here, a lack of “if.”

Change is not always the enemy, but with What If, it is. First, the whole concept of the series was to take one element or one significant event in the Marvel Universe and change it. For example, What If Uncle Ben Had Not Died? What If Spider-Man Joined The Fantastic Four? What If Rick Jones Had Become The Hulk? Second, The Watcher appeared in the beginning of the story, explained the one thing that might have changed, and the story went from there. That was the set up. It was what defined What If.

With issue #1 of What If Avengers Vs. X-Men, there is no element that changes and no Watcher, it’s just a different story. Granted, this has been going on within What If for awhile, but it is still missed. Outside of those changes, the story here falls flat. Most of the blame can be laid at the feet Palmiott’s dialogue. It’s all exposition. The dialogue narrates the action instead of being part of it. Here’s what’s happening, here’s what we’ll do, here’s how this will go down. About halfway through the book, you realize Palmiotti is writing this like a children’s comic.

Almost as frustrating as the dialogue is the story itself. Palmiotti starts it with the Phoenix killing the Guardians of the Galaxy by blowing up their ship. Really? Why? From there, the story is pretty much exactly the original, until the Avengers get to Utopia. For some reason, Cyclops is totally laid back, sending Magneto to take care of business. Approaching the X-Men, Magneto announces he knows Wolverine is going to kill Hope. This unleashes an argument that allows nobody to act according to their character. Worst of all is Logan, who goes all berserker rage after getting punched ONCE by Namor. In his rage, Wolverine kills Storm, driving Magneto to blow up the Avengers ship.

The most disappointing thing is the lack of flow to the story. Palmiotti does things just to do them. He has characters act a certain way just to move his plot along. Too bad, because there are a lot of cool elements that could be changed here. What If Phoenix Wasn’t Coming For Hope? What If Wolverine Had Killed Hope? What If Cyclops Killed Hope? What If The Avengers Captured The Phoenix? The list is endless. Why Palmiotti’s lackluster story got the green light is beyond me.

Jorge Molina’s art doesn’t help the situation. Quite simply, he draws like he’s storyboarding a cartoon series. The art looks like it’s straight out of the animated Avengers series. Heads are weirdly shaped, expressions are silly or, at the very least, overly melodramatic. Combine that with how similar Molina pencils all the males facially, and you get a recipe for art that looks, for lack of a better term, goofy.

I suggest a new book. What If Avengers Vs. X-Men Was Way Way Better?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 1: Vader

Title: Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 1: Vader

ISBN: 9780785192558
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2015
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Collects: Star Wars: Darth Vader #1-6

Rating: 4/5

Gillen glosses over the three-issue action-packed opening of Aaron's Skywalker Strikes in the span of a couple panels, and it's indicative of the differences between the two titles. Vader has action, to be sure (including Vader swinging his lightsaber around Jabba the Hutt's palace in the opener), but rarely does Vader seem truly endangered to the reader. There is much, much more royal intrigue, in which Vader, the Emperor, various Imperials, and Vader's new allies joust with words to gain information or stature; the third chapter offers barely any Vader-action at all. The result is a comic that seems mature, devoted to a good examination of Darth Vader's role in his world, in which his superiors view Vader as just a "blunt instrument" of destruction even as he tries to be recognized for more.

I was happy to watch Gillen move Vader in and out of political trouble in the first two chapters, and I have mixed feelings about the introduction of Doctor Aphra in the third. For Gillen to bring an Indiana Jones analogue into Vader is very clever, and then too clever to the point of distraction. Aphra is scrappy, talkative, and chipper, a kind of Robin to Vader's Batman, but I felt at times Gillen was trying too hard to balance the book's dour anti-hero with too much cutesiness. Aphra only really started to work for me when Gillen addresses in an honest, chilling scene Aphra's understanding that Vader will likely end up killing her; there's something twisted there that redeems the comedy. Artist Salvador Larroca gets the faces just right as Aphra and Vader stare each other down here (Larrocca's work is overall fine throughout, though in the explosions I sometimes had trouble telling who was who).

Equally good and bad, I think, is Gillen's introduction of the homicidal droids Triple-Zero and BT-1. Obviously they're riffing on C-3PO and R2-D2 (if you want to take it far enough and the Wookie bounty hunter Black Krrsantan stands for Chewbacca, then Vader is Luke, and Aphra and Boba Fett are variably Han and Leia, and the whole cast is here). On one hand, I'd traditionally think Darth Vader needs droids about as much as he needs Indiana Jones, but on the other hand, Anakin Skywalker, we know, is the long-time owner of R2 and the creator of C-3PO, and so the presence of the droids plays into the "it's Anakin under there" aesthetic that underscores the whole story.

Indeed, though it's not so played up in reference to the droids specifically, the book is rife with Anakin flashbacks and references to the Clone Wars (and Clone Wars). This is the most work I've personally seen anyone do to align the characters of Anakin and Vader. Early in the book the Emperor specifically references that it's been about twenty years since the Clone Wars, so if we charitably age Anakin at 18 when he became Vader, that would put him at about 40 now. In the interactions between the Emperor and Vader, I could clearly hear Hayden Christensen's impetuousness, and it felt believable that this would be the pair's relationship two decades hence. As well we might see some parallels with Ahsoka in how Vader works with Aphra; there's also nicely subtle references to Anakin's technological and piloting skills.

The show-stopper, however, is the final few pages' "revelation," running parallel to Skywalker Strikes, that the Rebel pilot who destroyed the Death Star is Vader's son. One should definitely read Skywalker first, as the revelation is ominous and moving, and then read Vader, because it's even more affecting the second time when one then understands the extensive, demeaning gauntlet the Emperor has just put Vader through right before Vader finds out the Emperor lied about the circumstances of Padme's death and Luke's existence.

In Vader's subsequent statement to the Emperor that he "understand[s] us precisely," there's a vein of insurrection one can now see traveling all the way through to when Vader kills the Emperor in Return of the Jedi. In Return, originally, we thought Vader kills the Emperor because he has a change of heart about protecting his son; in Revenge of the Sith, we retroactively learn the Emperor lies to Vader about Padme, but that lie is never reconciled with Vader's generally unaffected knowledge that Luke is his son at the start of Empire Strikes Back. Gillen brings it all together exceptionally well, and I'm eager to see where this book goes as Vader fights from the inside to dispose the Emperor, not just for political gain but now also for reasons of his family.

Between Aphra, the droids, and then the cadre of Imperial cyborgs, Kieron Gillen's Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 1: Vader at times seems crowded , and at times it feels perhaps Gillen doesn't trust enough that Vader can carry the scenes alone. He can, and some of the best parts of the book are Vader on his own, and I hope that's the direction Gillen goes as the series continues. The Force, I have to say, is stronger with this book than its companion volume, and if I had to choose then this is the one I'd follow.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Star Wars: Lando

Title: Star Wars: Lando
ISBN: 9780785193197
Price: $16.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2016
Artist: Alex Maleev
Writer: Charles Soule
Collects: Star Wars: Lando #1-5

Rating: 4/5

Wait, Lando isn’t in it? Seriously?!

That was my reaction when I first heard the news that the beloved scoundrel of Cloud City would not be appearing in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Lando Calrissian, a silver-tongued scoundrel with a heart of gold, was a great character, and I was disappointed to learn that we wouldn’t get to find out what kind of life he had built for himself after the events of Return of the Jedi. Fortunately, though, Disney made the wise decision to team up with Marvel and bring the character to back to life in the five-issue comic miniseries Star Wars: Lando. And while it may not be quite the same as seeing Billy Dee Williams back on the big screen, Lando is a rock solid addition to the ever-expanding universe of Star Wars.

Written by Charles Soule, illustrated by Alex Maleev, and colored by Paul Mounts, Lando takes readers back to a time before the events of Empire Strikes Back, a time when the character got by exclusively on his wits and charm. In this series, he sets out to settle an old debt by stealing something far more valuable than he had imagined when he took the job. Unsurprisingly, things don’t quite go according to plan, leaving Lando and Lobot — you know, the silent dude with the cybernetic implants — in a real bad spot.

On the surface, the series’ central plot sounds predictable and ordinary. And that’s because it is. But while the planned heist may be the biggest thing going on in Lando, it’s not the most important, or even the most satisfying. Lando is really about the evolution of the character himself. The heist is nothing more than a vehicle for the kind of development that he never received in the original cinematic trilogy. In this series, we get to see just what kind of man he was before becoming a valued member of the Rebel Alliance, providing valuable context to the emerging dichotomy between Lando the scoundrel and Lando the hero. We’re also treated to a firsthand look at the relationship between Lando and Lobot, the latter of whom is far more talkative than you might have guessed. It’s always a treat to see secondary characters get a second chance to shine, and Soule certainly makes the most of the opportunity, expanding upon and adding to the deep emotional bond between the two men.

If there are any flaws with the writing, they can be found in the dialogue. For the most part, Lando’s personality is accurately reflected in the tone and tenor of his speech. However, Soule does try a little too hard at certain points in the story, inserting lines of dialogue that just feel a little too cheesy and forced. It’s not a persistent problem by any means, but it happens frequently enough to catch your attention. Other than that, the writing is as good as any Star Wars comic series you’ve ever read.

The quality of Soule’s dialogue and characterization is given a run for its money by Maleev and Mounts’ artistry, which is some of the best — and, more importantly, some of the most unique — I’ve come across in Marvel’s various Star Wars miniseries. Mounts’ color work gives the story a bit of a noir feel, especially in the early stages of the story. That’s not something I’m used to experiencing in a Star Wars comic, but it meshes perfectly with the overall mood of the story. Maleev’s illustrations are equally impressive, as his depictions of the characters couldn’t possibly be more lifelike. Perhaps the most striking feature of the artwork in Lando, though, is the masterful use of shadows and lighting to keep the readers’ eyes focused on the most important visual elements within each individual panel. Whether it’s a subtle grin flashing across Lando’s face or a blinking red light on a ship’s control panel, Maleev and Mounts make certain that the first thing you see in each new panel is what they want you to notice first.

In conclusion, Marvel’s Lando is clearly one of the best Star Wars spin-off series, if not the best spin-off series, that we’ve seen so far. Soule’s decision to focus more on character development and relationship building than shootouts and space battles is wonderfully refreshing, and Maleev and Mounts’ artistry is as good as it gets. I’d put this particular book in the “can’t miss” category.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection, Vol. 1

Title: Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection, Vol. 1

ISBN: 9780785197768
Price: $34.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2015
Artist: Val Mayerik, Tom Palmer, Dick Giordano, Dave Cokrum, Frank Brunner, John Buscema, Gene Colan, Alan Weiss, Ed Hannigan, Tom Palmer, Al Milgrom, Mike Nasser
Writer: Mary Skrenes, Steve Gerber, Frank Brunner
Collects: Fear 19, Man-Thing (1974) 1, Howard the Duck (1976) 1-16, Howard the Duck Annual 1, Marvel Treasury Edition 12, material from Giant-Size Man-Thing 4-5

Rating: 3/5

Trapped in a world of 1970s social satire, Steve Gerber’s iconic, and occasionally infamous, creation Howard the Duck still remains as prescient as ever. Finally back in print in an affordable format, today’s comic book-reading audience can enjoy the acerbic wit and zeal of a curmudgeon duck and his gal pal Bev Switzer. In this first collection, Howard meets the Man-Thing, gets transported to Cleveland, runs for president, and much more.

Gerber is joined by some of the finest artists that the mid 1970s Marvel Bullpen could offer, from co-creator Val Mayerik’s invention of the iconic character to the brilliant dynamism of Gene Colan.

This collection also offers an interesting historical insight into urban life in the 1970s, examining everything from hippies and lobbyists to Canadians and white supremacists. Gerber also took the time to criticize and examine the popular genres of American comics of the time, such as kung fu, horror and, of course, Marvel’s bread and butter, super heroes.

While some readers may have a preconceived notion of who and what Howard is, this comic offers instead a surreal, comedic and revolutionary series of stories that will satisfy any reader who dares.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Star Wars: The Original Trilogy A Graphic Novel

Title: Star Wars: The Original Trilogy A Graphic Novel

ISBN: 9781484737842
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: Disney Lucasfilm Press, 2016
Artist: Matteo Piana, Igor Chimisso
Writer: Alessandro Ferrari

Rating: 4/5

Star Wars: The Original Trilogy A Graphic Novel is the newest comic adaptation from Disney Lucasfilm Press; it is the latest evidence that Disney gets it. The work is proof-positive that Disney cares about the Star Wars brand by continually reinvigorating our beloved mythology in new and refreshing ways. The art is crisp, and has a style that features a manga-hybrid quality, but contains a spirit evoking the classic original Marvel adaptions. It is aimed at ages 8-12, but is suitable for all ages, and, as promised on the back cover, allows the reader to experience the saga in a way you never have before.

It appears that nine different artists contributed to the book, and while this is noticeable on occasion, it is not particularly distracting.For instance, the familiar mask of Vader is on the cover, and while it seems more alien than the film version, it still creates the appropriate amount of menace in context with the other characters. His helmet is more distorted, but fits in well with the iconic McQuarrie model recognizable by fans of the Original Trilogy. It’s a different method of expression, but it works. It maintains the essence of the Sith Lord, and so many of the other character designs create this atmosphere as well.

For instance, Lando Calrissian looks like a smooth-talking shyster, which is exactly as it should be. Herein lies the fun of this graphic novel. Whether you are an artist or not, the designs give you something to talk about. Nothing is done haphazardly, and is painstakingly created. The attention to detail in the work enhances the storytelling greatly, even down to the dialogue boxes. When Darth Vader speaks, it’s in black, which helps to capture the tone of James Earl Jones’ booming voice. This provides an excellent method of expression that is welcome, and adds greatly to the narrative.

The layout does this too; of particular note are the presentations of some of the more iconic action sequences. When Vader faces Luke Skywalker on Cloud City, or in the Emperor’s throne room in Return of the Jedi, it is easy to follow, and manages to escape some of the frenetic tropes that have become all too familiar in modern comic book storytelling. It would be easy to throw something like this together for a cash grab, but happily, this is not the case here.

The true test, however, is the dialogue. The book credits Disney Lucasfilm Press, with a manuscript adaptation attributed to Alessandro Ferrari, and does an admirable job of providing much of the dialogue , which we are as familiar with as our address and phone number. While it is true that not every line from the films is present (that would not work well in a graphic novel anyway), it is permissible in this medium, as dialogue and art combine to tell the story. The spirit of Star Wars is alive and well in Star Wars: The Original Trilogy A Graphic Novel, and I was pleasantly surprised.

All in all, it’s a nice compilation of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, and will leave you engaged and satisfied. The end of the book reveals, “Coming soon in the same series, all the other episodes of the epic saga!”, and after enjoying Star Wars: The Original Trilogy A Graphic Novel, I am more excited about this than I would have originally guessed.