Sunday, December 8, 2019

Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons

Title: Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons

ISBN: 9781620107102
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: IDW/Oni Press, 2019
Artist: Troy Little
Writer: Jim Zub, Patrick Rothfuss
Collects: Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons #1-4

Rating: 4/5

One of the biggest crossover events in comic books last year was seeing Rick and Morty take on the world of Dungeons & Dragons in a four-issue arc. Penned by Jim Zub and Patrick Rothfuss with art by Troy Little and colors by Leonardo Ito, it was the pop-culture peanut butter and chocolate combo you never knew you needed until IDW and Oni Press gave it to you. After the initial release and all of the various different cover versions came out, it was decided that a couple of different hardcover editions would be released to different sources and retailers. One of those versions is the red cover, which was only made available to GameStop. But the thing that makes this edition so special is that it comes with a playable D&D adventure. With a second series on the way and WotC releasing their own Rick and Morty adventure sometime before year’s end, it seems only fitting to crack open the pages of this book and give it all a proper review.

So let’s start with the main portion of this book, which is the four-issue run of the original Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons comic. If you thought R&M was meta before you picked up this comic, you have no idea how meta the meta can get. This is fourth-wall breaking through multiple dimensions as the story examines what happens when Morty sees that D&D is being played by students at his school and he thinks maybe jumping in on the adventure might get him laid. When Rick gets wind of the sudden interest, instead of calling it lame, he is overjoyed that his grandson has taken interest in something he once played and decides to show him the ropes as only Rick Sanchez can. Of course, nothing goes as planned and everything about their adventure through the realms both virtual and real become a twisted look at the various ways the game is played and the personalities who come to roll a few dice.

There are parts of this book that are intrinsic to the fabric of D&D as a game and a culture. It shows off some of the best parts of what the game can be to people through the eyes of writers who are super passionate about it and the impact it’s had on their lives. Oh, and did we mention there’s a lot of emotional baggage here, too? Rothfuss and Zub manage to run the gambit through pretty much every geeky personality that plays the game, and much like the fellow characters you play at the table with, not all are complementary to what’s going on. In fact, there’s some heavy shades of darkness in these pages that took me back throughout the years to games I had played, people I played with, and scenarios I had experienced for better and worse. Plus, it’s nice seeing people like the ghost of Gary Gygax appear along with people like Satine Phoenix, Matthew Mercer, and Mazz. The comic is definitely one you need to read.

The book also comes with a few additions that fans of both series will absolutely love. First, the book has these specific character sheets for all of the classes the Smith family play as, along with a blank character sheet for you to make your own character with. These are fun additions that were also used as alternate covers and shows off a lot of the humor thrown into making each of them. What’s more, you can actually use all of these characters because (aside from some joke items here and there), all of their stats appear to be accurate to Fifth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. (Or at least as best we could tell comparing stats and bonuses in the Player’s Handbook.) Keep that in mind for what’s to come.

Speaking of alternate covers, every single one of them that were created for the series is here in their stunning glory for you to enjoy. Presented to you as fine works of art with the people responsible for their creation tagged at the bottom. Honestly, some of these should be prints for sale on IDW and Oni Press’ websites because the detail that went into a few of them are just amazing. Quality work from people who clearly have an appreciation for both franchises and their work should be featured much more prominently.

Finally, the last section of the book and the main reason we wanted to check it out for a review: the adventure! There is a full Rick and Morty themed adventure in the back of the book called The Temple of Glorb, which you can either use your own characters for or use the ones for the Smith family which we talked about earlier. (It’s fun either way, but it’s way too easy with the R&M people, so go with your own creations.) This one was put together by Adam Lee and is designed for 4-6 Level 1 characters. It is told and put together like a regular adventure you would find in D&D, complete with obstacles, a couple of maps, encounters, options for the DM, and enough references to make it feel like you’re also playing an episode of the show. I got to run through this with a couple of different groups who both knew the material and never watched the show, and everyone got some enjoyment out of it. It’s a short adventure, but you know what? It’s a good introduction place for Rick and Morty fans who are now interested in the game, and that makes it a winner to me.
credit//IDW Comics

Overall, this is basically the best version of the hardcover editions of Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons that you’ll want to get. And not just for the amazing cover drawn by Mike Vasquez on the front. This is an all-in-one book for anyone who enjoyed this run and wanted more out of it than just four issues. Sure, we’re getting more soon, but this is a great way to tide yourself over until it comes out. And it’s a hardcover, which by trade standards is a pretty awesome way to own a complete set for a special event. This is the complete package for this story in every planeshifting way possible.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

John Constantine: Hellblazer: Original Sins

Title: John Constantine: Hellblazer: Original Sins

ISBN: 1563890526
Price: $19.95
Publisher/Year: DC, 1992
Artist: John Ridgway, Alfredo Alcala
Writer: Jamie Delano
Collects: Hellblazer #1-9

Rating: 3/5

In the first story, a childhood friend of Constantine, who dabbles in magic and illegal drugs, accidentally lets loose a demon, Mnemoth, who infects humans with an insatiable hunger. And it’s spreading, growing stronger. To stop it, Constantine will have to travel from Liverpool to Africa, and then to America. He’ll have to enlist the help of a Voodoo Doctor, and avoid the ghosts of his past who literally haunt him to this day. In the second story, Constantine finds himself caught up in the unusual deaths of yuppies in Spitalfields near the East End and Liverpool Street station, a place where he never thought to find yuppies living, let alone dying. It doesn’t take long for him to run afoul of a horde of demons living in the area.

The third story finds Constantine searching for his lost niece, Gemma, with the help of his new friend, Zed; a woman he meets when he turns a street corner, who appears to have some skill with magic, and whom Constantine desperately wants to sleep with. Here, he meets God’s Warriors and the Damnation Army, two opposing forces who will resurface later. The fourth story sees Constantine drawn to a small town in Iowa who lost many of its young men in Vietnam, but, through a strange twist and more than a little magic, they are about to return home for one, tragic night. The fifth story, Extreme Prejudice, touches on a lot of hot topics including racism, homophobia, AIDS and more, and sets Constantine against local street thugs and a demon. In the sixth story, Constantine learns who Zed really is, and what the Damnation Army and God’s Warriors both want with her.

Last, you have a story balance from the pages of Swamp Thing. Constantine has a plan, one he hopes the Swamp Thing will accept and support. The balance of everything is at stake should he fail.

If you haven’t picked up on it yet, the stories in Hellblazer have an edge to them. Much more so than what you would see in the pages of a regular DC book—hence the Vertigo imprint. The art is dark and moody, setting the tone for the stories, which have just enough horror, just enough of a twist, to make you wonder. John Constantine drinks to excess, he smokes all the time, he sleeps around, he makes bad choices as often as he makes good ones. He is a complicated character. Not everyone will like him for the choices he makes, right or wrong. His world is bloody and violent.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Huntress: Crossbow at the Crossroads

Title: Huntress: Crossbow at the Crossroads

ISBN: 9781401237332
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2012
Artist: Marcus To
Writer: Paul Levitz
Collects: Huntress #1-6

Rating: 2.5/5

By opting to write a story which revolves around human trafficking in Italy as a result of the Arab Spring, Paul Levitz immediately engages the reader by placing Helena in a real-world setting that feels relevant. The presence of Chairman Hassan, a thinly-veiled Muammar Gaddafi, as the primary villain enhances this quality. But the story is hampered by a formulaic structure; each issue is usually book-ended with skirmishes between Huntress and the villains henchmen while the middle is devoted to providing exposition in the form of two Italian reporters whom Helena befriends. As a result, the entire narrative feels as if it could have been condensed and more time could have been spent fleshing out the characters. At the same time, the action scenes are so well executed that it is easy to understand why they figure so heavily into the story.

The fight sequences themselves are one of the series greatest strength's due in no small part to Marcus To's artwork. To expertly depicts the almost nonstop action sequences. Huntress practically leaps off the page as she battles thugs and corrupt policemen. Additionally, Naples and Amalfi are beautifully and accurately depicted and the level of detail is such that the reader never forgets that this story is taking place in Italy.

Unfortunately, this book is held back by its lack of the characterization. While the plot is fairly interesting, there is little to no depth given to any of the characters, which is especially strange considering that in Legion of Superheroes Levitz was able to develop a massive cast of characters in as little as a few panels. The reader is given no background information regarding Helena herself; this is especially problematic as this mini-series was published in the spring of 2012 and marks Helena Wayne's first appearance in the New 52, meaning that we are unaware if her established continuity holds up or not. For most of Crossbow, the reader is unsure whether Huntress is actually Helena Wayne or Helena Bertinelli.Thus, the final "reveal" that it is in fact Helena Wayne of Earth-2 is more or less meaningless.

However, there is a lot to like in what we are told about Huntress. The reader can appreciate the way in which she utilizes a host of gadgetry and tactically plans each encounter in advance rather than simply diving right in. This differentiates her from the some of her previous depictions and takes the character back to her roots as originally imagined by Levitz himself. Additionally, many of the captions show Helena's playful side; she quips about the calories in Italian sweets and admonishes gangsters for their terrible attempts at flirting.

It is obvious from these instances that Levitz has a firm grasp on the character, which makes it all the more disappointing that the reader isn't given more. Her intelligence, planning, and sarcasm are traits that are all shared by several other members of the Bat-family; there is nothing that specifically ties Huntress to the plot, so she could just have easily been replaced in this series by another hero. As Batwoman: Hydrology demonstrated, a series gains a greater sense of cohesion when the hero has a personal stake in the crimes being committed, and both Huntress herself and the miniseries as a whole would have benefited from such a connection.

The same lack of characterization also applies to the villains, who are mostly generic mobsters and Arab stereotypes. The antagonists utilize nearly every tactic in the villain's arsenal to draw the reader's ire -- frivolous murder, violence towards women, sacrificing the lives of subordinates in order to escape, etc. -- but fail to generate any interest. When Huntress allows the mafia boss Moretti to die in the fourth issue, it's difficult to care much because he simply isn't that compelling. It is possible that the lack of characterization for Chairman Hassan was intentional, and the readers are meant to project their animosity towards Colonel Gaddafi onto the Chairman. Even so, the best analogues those that are able to exist on their terms within the story while also referencing someone else. Chairman Hassan is not given sufficient space to be anything other than a stand-in for Muammar Gaddafi, and the miniseries suffers because of it.

Huntress: Crossbow at the Crossroads is by no means a poor story, but the fine artwork is ultimately held back by the poor characterization of both the series heroine and her antagonists. Overall, it still makes for a fairly enjoyable read, but it probably won't expand Huntress' fanbase. Given Power Girl's appearance on the final page, it seems as if the purpose of this miniseries was mainly to solicit interest in the World's Finest series that followed. Levitz is unquestionably a strong writer, and hopefully he can provide a more detailed take on Helena Wayne in his ongoing monthly series.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Justice Society of America: Black Adam and Isis

Title: Justice Society of America: Black Adam and Isis

ISBN: 9781401225315
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2014
Artist: Jerry Ordway, Dale Eaglesham, Fernando Pasarin
Writer: Geoff Johns, Jerry Ordway, Matthew Sturges
Collects: Justice Society of America #23-28

Rating: 2.5/5

The Justice Society of America is in tatters, and the future of the team and its members are in question.  When Black Adam makes a power grab at the Rock of Eternity, the JSA will have to hold together in the hopes of stopping him and the “Black Adam Family”.  Plus, a ghost from the past forces members of the JSA to experience the release of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima…and only the Spectre can save them!

Written by Geoff Johns, Jerry Ordway, and Matthew Sturges, Justice Society of America:  Black Adam and Isis is a DC Comics superhero collection.  Following the events of Justice Society of America:  Thy Kingdom Come—Book 3, the collection features art by Jerry Ordway, Dale Eaglesham, and Fernando Pasarin.  The issues in the collection were also collected as part of the JSA Omnibus—Volume 3.

I will say that Justice Society of America has always been a great soap opera comic book and this collection continues it.  The series is largely about families and the rifts and arguments between the family members.  Examples include Hawkman taking flight (pun intended) from the team and Al and Courtney’s requited love.  It is largely emotionally driven stories and characters which gives them more depth than some other comic book teams.

The two stories in this volume aren’t the most satisfying.  While I certainly like aspects of the “Black Adam and Isis” issues, I feel that the middle part of the series and the conclusion is too rushed.  The action suddenly jumps to Kahndaq, the Wizard is restored, Black Adam & Isis are stopped, and Billy and Mary are left in the lurch…it seems like a lot happened that wasn’t explained or expanded upon.

The second storyline likewise is rather confusing and needs clarification.  The Justice Society is pulled back in time (maybe) and faces the ghosts of war.  The story feels like it should have been a three issue storyline and developed more.  The villain could have been more rounded, and I wish that the Crispus Allen Spectre was more explored.

Justice Society of America isn’t always the best title, but I enjoy the characters and the story of the JSA so it gets more of a pass than other DC titles.  The issues of the collection still have some of the great Alex Ross cover art which makes them worth reading alone.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

George R.R. Martin's The Sworn Sword

Title: George R.R. Martin's The Sworn Sword

ISBN: 9781477849293
Price: $14.95
Publisher/Year: Jet City Comics, 2014
Artist: Mike S. Miller
Writer: George R.R. Martin, Ben Avery

Rating: 4/5

This is a spoiler-free review since the twists are so fun to discover along the way, just like in A Song of Ice & Fire, I wouldn’t want to ruin it for anyone. It picks up basically two years after the events of “The Hedge Knight” with Dunk and Egg now serving under Ser Eustace Osgrey. There are basically two storylines we’re following here: the present-day conflict between House Osgrey and neighboring House Webber as well as the First Blackfyre Rebellion, told in flashbacks.

The story is set roughly a hundred years before the events of A Song of Ice & Fire, so the Targaryens are still ruling Westeros. Just because of that fact, I’m already sold on this series since they’re my favorite House. There are tons of references to various Targaryens that can be traced (thanks to Google and Wikipedia) all the way to Daenerys. I particularly enjoyed the story of the Blackfyre Rebellion, which was mentioned in A Storm of Swords but we’re given more details in this book. If you don’t remember what the rebellion was all about, essentially Aegon IV legitimizes his bastards so when he dies, one of his bastards Daemon Blackfyre tries to seize the Iron Throne from the legitimate son, Daeron. The art is amazing and definitely adds to the story, leaving me wanting to see the Blackfyre Rebellion flashbacks on the show or as a mini-series.

The other plotline with Osgrey and Webber was interesting but nowhere near as exciting as the rebellion. I did like the character of Lady Rohanne Webber or the Red Widow. She reminded me of a mix between Dany and Ygritte, and not just because she’s a widow and has red hair. It’s her fiery spirit and general badassness that made me think of the comparison.

While I liked “The Hedge Knight” more than “The Sworn Sword”, the second prequel graphic novel is an enjoyable must-read, The third novella has been adapted into graphic novel form as "The Mystery Knight". I’m looking forward to it since I think Dunk and Egg will encounter my second favorite House in Westeros, the Starks.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

10 Years of Zanziber's Point of View

As I was writing my recent post about autographs, I realized that it has now been 10 years since I started writing this blog.

Loyal readers will have noticed that there have been many changes over the years. I've gone from simply posting reviews of trades to writing reviews of comic cons. It's also been over 6 years since I created Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer.

I know there have been lapses on my consistency with publishing my reviews, but I have always made it back to make sure I keep this going. I'm in a better place now, and will be able to make the time necessary to continue writing.

Another upcoming change is that I want to transition from a blog into a podcast. This has been somewhat challenging because of time constraints and my unfamiliarity with the equipment/software. My ultimate plan is to actually combine the reviews of opinions of this blog with the insights, reviews and highlights from my RPG4EVR blog. I think that this will provide a better outlet for me to express my point of view.

As much as I enjoy writing, there are just some times where it's difficult to find the right words to type to express what I'm thinking and it's easier for me to verbally express them. Once I have the podcast in place, my expectation is to provide at least an hour episode each week. I hope you will all enjoy what I come up with.

The past few comic cons I have been to, I have noted that I've dealt with some physical issues. This is a combination of my age couple with the fact that I haven't taken the best care of my body over the past 45 years. After my birthday this year, I decided to make an early New Years resolution that I'm going to start taking better care of myself so I can continue to do the things that I enjoy; going to comic events, playing tabletop roleplaying games, continuing my work raising money for the American Cancer Society through Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer and so many other things, I know that this will involve a lot of lifestyle changes, and I am typically against big changes. But I have realized that I need to make these changes for myself, and they will be of benefit to everyone that reads my words, supports my work and relies on me for one thing or another.

Thank you to everyone who has been reading for as long as you have. As of this writing, this blog has had over 160k views. I consider that a success, and it could not have happened without you!

Autographs from Artists/Writers/Creators

After reading the article posted by Bleeding Cool about Adam Kubert refusing to sign a comic, and the subsequent comments that I have been reading, I felt that I wanted to express my point-of-view on the matter.

When I was younger, our area had a comic book show where they would have bigger named artists sign for $0.25 each signature, and the collected money would go to charity. In these days, I received signatures from the likes of Fabian Niceza, John Romita Jr., and there were so many other notables from the 90's that made appearances.

I mention this because this was the beginning of my desire to collect autographs. I had no problem with that arrangement. Of course, we also didn't have things like eBay, CGC/CBCS or the internet either. I'll admit that while I collected these autographs for myself, I always kept the idea of being able to sell anything I received a signature on for the future.

I continue to collect autographs with this mindset, and I will explain why this is.

I don't have any children, and for most of my life, I have never had much of a desire to have any. So that means I have nobody to necessarily pass my collection on to when I leave this world. It's my intention that whoever is the bearer of my eventual estate have a relatively easy time in liquidating my collections should the need arrive. This is also why I work to get a certificate of authenticity for everything that is signed.

So I typically prefer to have items simply signed and not personalized. I have received some books that were personalized to me, but they have been rare. I have never regretted these personalized autographs, and I would never seek an autograph for immediate personal financial gain.

With that being said, I think it's fair to say that the only exception to my statement about immediate personal gain are books that I look to get signed for my non-profit, Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer. When I get an artist or writers autograph on one of the covers or blanks set to be auctions for #CBC4C, I make sure that they know up front.

At Rose City Comic Con this year, I actually had a chance to interact with Adam Kubert. I was getting a personal book signed and a few books for #CBC4C. Feel free to read about my experience here. I felt that he was very receptive to all the people that came to receive his autograph. There was one person ahead of me that I felt was only trying to get Kuberts autograph to make a buck, but that's only this mans opinion. Adam didn't balk at signing the items that this guy put in front of him, including a Marvel line-up poster that he had already received several autographs on it.

I support creator's right to refuse to autographs any item they feel like and I support Adam's decision to sign the comic provisionally. If I were in the situation where a creator suggested that they personalize what I have asked to have signed, I would be more than happy to accept. Even though it may mean a little inconvenience for someone in the future, I would cherish the experience.

Several years ago, at Emerald City Comic Con, I had an opportunity to meet Bill Willingham and get some of my Fables trades and single issues signed including my copy of Peter & Max. Willingham asked to personalize the autograph for Peter & Max, and I did not hesitate to accept. This was the same year that a guy in line ahead of me for Willingham unloaded a duffle bag full of Fables, Cinderella and Jack of Fables books for him to sign. If ever I saw a time where a creator maybe should have either suggested to personalize or decline to sign so many items for a single person, this was it.

In the end, I support whatever decision a creator takes when being asked for an autograph. If they feel that the person is just out to make a quick buck, and they don't approve. they should feel empowered to decline or suggest the autograph be personalized. There are many who are charging for autographs already, and even charging more if there is a CGC/CBCS witness present. If people want to try and make some money off of, they should be willing to pay for it.