Sunday, August 23, 2015

Fables Vol. 20: Camelot

Title: Fables Vol. 20: Camelot

ISBN: 9781401245160
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2014
Artist: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Russ Braun, Barry Kitson, Anrew Pepoy, Gary Erskine
Writer: Bill Willingham
Collects: Fables # 130-140

Rating: 4/5

With Fables closing in on its 150th and final issue, creator Bill Willingham has been slowly moving toward what looks to be an epic, and potentially disastrous conclusion to Vertigo's long-running series.

Fortunately, Willingham is aware that before you lay waste to a fictional universe, it's helpful to give your audience a breather of sorts. And so it is with Camelot, the penultimate storyline now collected in the 20th Fables trade paperback. Mainly serving to move critical pieces into position for the finale, readers are thankfully spared the bloodbath that has steadily removed beloved characters from the series like an outbreak of Spanish flu. Instead, the story focuses on the relationship that has arguably defined Fables from the very beginning: the Cain and Abel-style conflict between Snow White and her sister, Rose Red.

But the absence of devastating character deaths or a specific disaster by no means makes Camelot a filler episode. Big, challenging ideas are chewed over, among them redemption, whether or not one can fight fate, the nature of evil, the idea of just what 'home' actually means. But perhaps most important of all is one that in some ways is a radical departure from the series' manichean struggle between good and evil: the idea that two people on opposite sides of a conflict can both be right.

Opening in the aftermath of Snow White's victorious duel with Prince Brandish (who had just murdered Bigby Wolf), Camelot primarily follows Rose Red, now finally beginning to fulfill her destiny as a servant of the anthropomorphic spirit of Hope. Having spent the previous two storylines dithering, Rose Red has at last decided that she'll be the embodiment of the hope of redemption, and to that end, she sets about establishing a new order of knighthood. This new round table (and yes, the connection to King Arthur is explicit) is intended to champion the cause of second chances, and thus will be comprised of knights who themselves are in desperate need of their own.

Unfortunately, a serious and perhaps intractable conflict with Snow is provoked when Rose decides to make Brandish, (who survived his duel thanks to what amounts to the Fables equivalent of a horcrux), her personal redemption project. Taking him under her wing for what she describes as a crash course in how to be a decent person, Rose is told by an outraged Snow that if she doesn't relent and allow Snow to finish off Brandish once and for all, their relationship - which has been slowly and steadily improving throughout the series - is done. But Rose, who has come a long way from the selfish and self-serving wastrel she once was, is now devoted to principle, and a cause she believes in. Her decision severs the two with apparent finality, and sets in motion Fables's endgame.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Morbius: The Living Vampire - The Man Called Morbius

Title: Morbius: The Living Vampire - The Man Called Morbius

ISBN: 9780785183914
Price: $24.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2013
Artist: Valentine De Landro, Richard Elson
Writer: Joe Keatinge, Dan Slott
Collects: Morbius: The Living Vampire #1-9, Amazing Spider-Man #699.1

Rating: 3/5

One thing that struck me very much about this – not being a dedicated Marvel fan – was that by the end of volume #1 of the Living vampire series Morbius had, in his own words, died twice – perhaps he was just injured (to a degree where a normal person would be dead) but he mentions being a dead man and a dead vampire – so surely he should have become Morbius the undead vampire? No... I'm probably spoiling the concept of the character to even suggest it.

Rather than that we have Michael Morbius, sufferer from a rare blood disease who, whilst trying to cure himself, manages to transform himself into a living vampire. He has few of the disadvantages other than a sensitivity to sunlight (though he doesn’t burn up) and the bloodlust.

What’s rather nice about the series is that, despite the superhero universe, Morbius is no hero – and when he tries to do good he tends to make things worse. Part of me missed the early Vampire Tales stories where Morbius was faced with a demon cult and there was a definitive supernatural element. However by moving the story into the mundane, and by eschewing an “end of the world” story for something much more small town focused and actually corporate at heart, the writers managed to change focus and make the story more interesting for that.

Spider-man does make an appearance during the full story, as do some of the more famous super-villains in the escape from the Rift Spider-Man volume, and the Legion of Monsters cameo towards the end.

The artwork worked for me more through the Morbius comics than the Spider-man comic – but that was personal preference more than anything. The vaunted AR (where you can get extras on your phone by aiming an app at certain pages) never seemed to work for me however.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Walking Dead Volume 21: All Out War Part Two

Title: The Walking Dead Volume 21: All Out War Part Two

ISBN: 9781632150301
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2014
Artist: Charlie Adlard
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Collects: The Walking Dead #121-125

Rating: 4/5

(I realized that I missed this after I had already wrote my review for volume 22.)

“All Out War (Part Two)” is the harrowing ending to the long, bloody war between Rick and his civilization and Negan and his Saviors. Going into “All Out War”, I expected something similar to the conflict with the Governor many, many issues ago. In the end, however, Kirkman and company threw a pretty big curveball.

All Out War wasn’t necessarily about the brutality and the conflict between these two forces. It was more about re-establishing the universe that The Walking Dead exists in and giving the characters hope of living in a habitable world. It’s something Rick has been espousing for a while in these later issues. With the conflict’s conclusion, it seems like a distinct possibility.

There are some clever strategies used by both sides in this collection that makes for suspenseful and entertaining reading. However, some of the character arcs don’t really lead anywhere. The whole war, at times, feels like it’s bridging the gap between this man vs man world to the supposed new world order of man vs undead that the series seems to be heading toward. I’m not necessarily complaining. I’m all for taking the series in new, interesting directions and I approve of doing that with a 12-issue long war. I would have preferred some tighter character arcs and improved storytelling. However, if I’m wishing for those things 126 issues in, I’m heading for disappointment.

“All Out War (Part Two)” held my interest very well and provided a lot of appetizing action and general entertainment. Some of the character arcs didn’t lead where I wanted them to lead (or anywhere, for that matter) but the series is heading toward a nice change of pace that may well be welcomed. This trade is a must for any Walking Dead fan.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

East of West Vol. 1

Title: East of West Vol. 1

ISBN: 9781607067702
Price: $9.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2013
Artist: Nick Dragotta
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Collects: East of West #1-5

Rating: 4/5

I’ve had my eye on East of West for quite some time now and finally got a chance to read the first volume, which collects issues #1-5. Like the Hugo-award winning comic, Saga, East of West is an edgy science fantasy story. Loosely inspired by the Book of Revelation, it depicts the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who have reincarnated on Earth shortly after a new prophecy is given. Three of the Horsemen roam the countryside to fulfill the prophecy, but one renegade Horsemen — known simply as Death — is on a mission of his own.Traveling from city to city on a robotic horse, Death uses all means possible to find his wife and accomplish his goals.  Unfortunately, he’s probably humanity’s best shot at survival.

Weird westerns are almost a genre onto themselves and this series is as much of one as it is space fantasy. Following a meteor strike, borders are divided among the seven nations of America. We have characters that are vested in bringing about the apocalypse and others that have amassed large armies to defeat the horsemen and take over the world. The vast world takes a lot of time to develop and after five issues, I like the feel of where this is going, but there was minimal character development.

Unlike Saga, East of West has a serious and dark tone. Violence is abundant and the humor is sparse. But I love the general weirdness that slips into the comic, such as the strange talking eye that the barkeep must keep locked up in his metallic eye patch.

I will most definitely continue to read this comic to see where it is going. It is fast-paced and intriguing. The artwork is cleverly drawn and brings the SF-style western to life. As a fan of both original-content comics and science fiction, this comic is right up my alley. I’m hoping that we get a little more character and plot development in subsequent volumes, but I don’t feel it is premature to recommend that people give this a shot.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Spider-Man: Big Time

Title: Spider-Man: Big Time

ISBN: 9780785192107
Price: $5.00
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2014
Artist: Humberto Ramos, Neil Edwards, Stefano Caselli
Writer: Dan Slott
Collects: Amazing Spider-Man #648-651

Rating: 3/5

I like Spider-Man: he’s a great character and has an enduring quality.  After his reboot a few years ago we’re back with a single Peter Parker living on a shoestring budget working for a paper.  This story arc brings Peter to a new low and high.  First he loses his apartment and ends up begging for a spot with every friend he has until landing at Aunt May’s door.  Things look up in a new job at Horizon, a mash-up of Microsoft, Apple and IBM; basically Massive Dynamics from Fringe.  He’s rolling in dough and works at a place where he can express all his technical ideas and inventions into reality, along with cool new toys and a great place to hide his Spider-Man life.  Other character and story building items develop with the newspaper, Jameson and our extra-large supporting character cast.  A new Hobgoblin arises and lots of violence and action ensues.

A real focus on character development and dialog from Slott: it plays well and gets the reader involved.  No real prior knowledge of the existing Spider-Man story is required so this is a great point to jump in.

Humberto Ramos has a very unique art style and it creates a love ’em or leave ’em attitude: lots of hard lines, jagged angles and kinked hair.  It’s bold and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Edgar Delgado provided vibrant coloring throughout that gave every page a strong punch.

The book ends with two backup explanatory stories that didn’t fit anywhere visually.  They were much weaker than the main story and I’m not sure what they added.  For extras we’re provided some variant covers and two character designs from Ramos.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

It's Official... Rose City Comic Con
It's just been made official today. I'll be going to Rose City Comic Con to help cover the event.

I've already lined-up photography from {Chrysalis Rising Photographic Studio}, so you can expect that this latest comic con report will be filled with some great photos.

I'm also trying to arrange an interview with one of the guests. I'll keep the identity of which guest a secret to keep you all guessing and interested. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1: Cosmic Avengers

Title: Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1: Cosmic Avengers

ISBN: 9780785192091
Price: $5.00
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2014
Artist: Steve McNiven, Sara Pichelli
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Collects: Guardians of the Galaxy #1-3 & #0.1

Rating: 3/5

Fundamentally, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1: Cosmic Avengers is a collection of six stories, with five introducing the readers to the team members. The sixth story kick-starts plot threads for the series and introduces readers to the concepts needed going forward.

Beginning the this collection is issue #0.1 which gives the reader the origin of Star-Lord. It tells of how his parents, his mother a human and his father the leader of a galactic empire, met and the experiences that motivate Peter Quill (Star-Lord) to be the man he is. This was originally only going to be a short story but, luckily for us, was given a full 22 pages full of great character moments. Through clever pacing Bendis has been able to create a relationship that doesn’t feel forced. Even though it involves an alien it feels like it naturally occurs, which makes things all the more moving when it Star-Lord’s father has to leave. Even though Peter Quill is only a child, the reader sees the seeds of the man he will become through his morals, bitterness and a tragic experience. While these might be familiar in superhero comics, the way they’re presented feels fresh.

Issues #1-3 are part of main narrative of the story and introduce readers to many of the concepts that the series will deal with going on. The basis of the story is that through a mutual agreement with the galactic empires of the Marvel Universe the Earth has become off-limits to everyone who is not native to Earth. But by doing so has made Earth a target and it is up to the Guardians of the Galaxy to protect the Earth from these threats.

These issues are full of action with a mixture of science fiction gunplay, close combat and a sprinkle of ship battles. Artists Steve McNiven and Sara Pichelli do a wonderful job putting the action on the page with a mixture of large and small panels. The larger panels give the action a big budget feel, making it more exciting. On the other hand, smaller panels give each team member their moment without sacrificing too much the page count.

One thing I should mention is the inclusion of Iron Man on the team. While some are going to dig the idea, others might see it as a gimmick. Those not familiar with Guardians of the Galaxy might welcome the inclusion as it gives them a familiar character to work with. in my opinion, I think he gels okay with the team and acts as a good way to have concepts introduced to the reader. For those not big on the idea, don’t worry as he doesn’t stay in the series for very long.

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1: Cosmic Avengers features plenty of humor, with Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon mostly responsible for it. Mostly coming through dialogue, Star-Lord’s humor is mostly wit, while Rocket’s is more a black humor. While these are not laugh out loud moments, they do give the title a sense of fun.

I really enjoyed the addition of politics to Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1: Cosmic Avengers with the different alien races discussing what they should do with Earth. It gives an extra level to the story and it makes this science fiction story feel much larger, like it covers more of the universe.

Steve McNiven and Sara Pichelli’s art is great throughout, portraying real character moments, while still being science fiction. There one moment with Groot that I thought was fantastic, showing raw emotion on his face. This is something that I believe would not be easy to do with a giant tree alien. My only issue with the art would be Peter Quill’s hair in issue #0.1, which seemed to sit and move in an odd manner.

Also included in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1: Cosmic Avengers is Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers. This is a collection of four short stories that introduce Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon, Gamora and Groot to readers giving them a feel as to who they are and their motivations. While some elements feel like exposition, they definitely make up for that with character moments and a roster of fantastic artists. Michael Avon Oeming, Ming Doyle and Mike Del Mundo all do a fantastic job in bringing their character to life. One can only hope that they get to tell more stories with these characters and settings. The only issue with this is the placement of these stories, which would have been better suited to closer to the front than the back.

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1: Cosmic Avengers does a great job at introducing new readers to the characters and concepts. While this release has big action and humor, it is the quieter character moments that make the series shine. If you are looking forward to the Guardians of the Galaxy movie then this is the comic you should be reading.