Sunday, October 15, 2023

Zanziber's Point of View - Final Post

To all our regular readers and followers of this blog, this will be the final post to Zanziber's Point of View in this incarnation.

As mentioned before, in 2024, this blog will be combined into my other blog; RPG4EVR. Both will be combined into a single vision known as The Nat 20.

Thank you for all the support you have given this blog and I hope you enjoy the next stage in evolution. We'll see you in 2024.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Invincible Vol. 7: Three's Company

 Title: Invincible Vol. 7: Three's Company

ISBN: 9781582406565

Price: $14.99

Publisher/Year: Image Comics, 2008

Artist:  Ryan Ottley

Writer: Robert Kirkman

Collects: Invincible #31-35

Rating: 4/5

Volume seven of Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley’s ongoing superhero story opens with the new domestic arrangements introduced during A Different World at Mark Grayson’s house bedding in. Mark is also  Invincible, being of mixed human and Viltrumite parentage and as his moniker suggests, is an impervious superhero, righting wrongs, biffing bad guys and aliens and is a sometime associate of the Guardians of the Globe.

After a trip to an alien planet Mark returns and presents his human mother with an addition to her household, courtesy of her estranged husband, the Viltrumite, Omni-Man. He left the Earth after a fairly definitive father/son disagreement although they have subsequently made up. So given this slightly fraught home situation, Mark does what any normal young male would and leaves his mother carrying the baby whilst he heads off to Africa with his girlfriend to stay with his ex. All perfectly normal behavior.

Elsewhere, following the curtailed trip to Africa, Invincible’s girlfriend Amber meets a guy in the library that may provide him with a neat solution to the girl-next-door vs beautiful-superheroine dilemma; within the Guardians of the Globe, Robot’s master uses Rex Splode’s DNA to have a new body cloned by the permanently bickering Mauler Twins; and their previous employer, Angstrom Levy pitches up again and exercises his beef against Invincible. In an effort to exact his revenge he tumbles Mark through various alternate realities until Mark finally resolves the situation, possibly permanently and thereby marooning himself in another dimension. His rescue, courtesy of an alternate Guardians of the Globe throws in another complication when the alternate Atom Eve helpfully informs him that she has always loved him. Now there’s a plight that training from an all-powerful alien father can’t help you with. This leads to an interesting section discussing relationships with Invincible’s tailor who also supplies a potential method to defeat the forthcoming invasion of Earth by Viltrumites. You don’t get that in Top Man. In another scenario that proves how far-fetched the whole thing is, the government provide a tutor for the new member of the Grayson household, demonstrating their concern and care.

There are numerous storylines in Invincible and Kirkman’s skill lies in deftly interweaving them in and out of each other setting up potential future shenanigans. If he hadn’t made such a success of comics, you could quite see Kirkman writing for Eastenders, but the thought does allow for Atom Eve shouting out to a battling Invincible “Leave it Mark, that multi-limbed, death-ray wielding, alien octopus just ain’t worf it!”. Sadly, it’s not terribly likely. Yet even the most unlikely situations here, calling for the wholesale suspension of disbelief, have some form of hook and end on some form of cliffhanger that compels you to tune in again to see whose the baby is. Actually, in this volume, that’s not so far-fetched.

Ottley continues to depict the ongoing saga with bright, clean and sharp art that faithfully reflects the plot and it’s hard to imagine how another approach could work in this straightforward and linear story. The inclusion of issue 4 of The Pact at the back of the book, featuring Invincible and written by Kirkman but with his Super Dinosaur collaborator Jason Howard providing the art tends to prove the point. It might seem out of place, but given the way the Invincible story arcs break down, this would have been a very slim volume without it. Invincible is still recommended but you do need to start at the beginning to make sense of it.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Invincible Vol. 6: A Different World

 Title: Invincible Vol. 6: A Different World

ISBN: 9781582405797

Price: $14.99

Publisher/Year: Image Comics, 2017

Artist:  Ryan Ottley

Writer: Robert Kirkman

Collects: Invincible #25-30

Rating: 4/5

In Volume 6 Mark Grayson aka Invincible, born of an human mother and a superpowered Viltrumite alien father, continues his development as a superhero and growth into adulthood. He has had a fair bit to contend with: his dad came clean about being an advance scout for a civilization bent on taking over the world; not loving his mother; nearly kills Mark in an epic father/son squabble and finally abandons Earth never to return. It could put a kink in anyone’s day really.

Mark endeavors to carry on a normal life by attending college (albeit sporadically) and being paid by a ultra top-secret department of the US government to use his powers for good along with a group of heroes called the Guardians of the Globe. His normal routine is thrown off-kilter when he is approached by an alien insect masquerading as a cartoon hero dog (to make the approach less strange and threatening, obviously) and then taken off-planet to save another world.

Here he once again encounters his Dad who has taken over the world of insects based on the fact that he is for all intents and purposes immortal. Especially when compared to the lifespan of the alien insects only being nine months. He also learns that his previous way of fitting in and acclimatizing to an alien culture has been repeated and this leads to further complications which will run and run.

Back on Earth, Robot of the Guardians is taking DNA samples from Rex Splode and passing them on to a creature that has briefly appeared previously and will soon take a more active role in the superhero group. The group en masse fight off another intergalactic foe that has materialized and manage to defeat them, only for the aftermath to show no signs of the tumultuous battle to save the Earth. Spooky.

Elsewhere, our second favorite twins, the Maulers, are doing what they do. Namely, bickering, killing each other and cloning themselves. And then finding themselves offered gainful employment by Robot.

Robert Kirkman’s story shows no sign of flagging, as new twists and turns are added to the plot on a regular basis. And this gives a clue to his approach: it’s really just a soap opera with spandex and aliens. This isn’t a criticism, Kirkman utilizes the device of many well fleshed-out characters, a plot that moves at breakneck pace and keeps on supplying developments that come out of the blue yet are consistent with the personalities he has created. Artist Ryan Ottley has fun with a fight on the Mantis planet that reflects its extremely gory and violent course, which is given a pink wash to reflect the copious amounts of blood shared around. Otherwise the art continues to possess a sharp, no frills approach that keeps the story motoring along.

Oh and there’s a great gag about the conflict of being a collector right at the start that neatly encapsulates every completist’s Catch-22, whether in comics or any other form.

There’s still no allegory or allusion, just a well-told story that continues to grip. Recommended.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Rose City Comic Con 2023 - My Experiences

September 22-24, 2023
Oregon Convention Center
Portland, Oregon

Another year and I have been blessed by the comic con gods to be able to cover Rose City Comic Con again. I am so thankful for the opportunity to come back every year and provide my loyal readers with my thoughts and experiences. This will make 8 years of being able to cover Rose City Comic Con for this blog.

Day 1 - Fortunately, we arrived at the convention center early enough to score a parking spot in the underground parking area. I remember last year we had to park at the Rose Garden parking and walk-in. For my aging body, that wasn't the greatest of starts, but as you can tell from that posting, I was able to make it through the event just fine. And, either as a testament to my endurance, stuborness or masochism, I am here again this year.

Last year, they had us go to the main registration/will call area to receive our badges. Without any information to the contrary, we made our way to the opposite side of the venue to get our badges. Unfortunately, we were informed that there was a special "press room" where we needed to go for our badges.

So we headed about halfway back to where we started after taking the elevator up from the parking, and were met with a dark and empty room that was labeled "Press Room". There were a couple of stacks of press badges, a pile of the standard-fare lanyards, but absolutely no staff pressence.

I took the initiative to stop a member of staff that was escorting a group of volunteers to see if she could help. She was able to radio in to let someone know that there wasn't anyone tending to the Press Room and left one of the volunteers to stay behind in the room with us. At that time, there were 2 other member of the press also waiting for their badges.

I think it took about 20 minutes before someone "official" arrived from the PR team to pass-out badges. Even though we had been provided emails with QR codes so we could confirm our identity, we were simply asked who we were and what outlet we were with. So with that, we go our badges and made our way to wait for the doors to open.

Getting into the con floor was easy and I appreciated that there wasn't a queue we were forced to stand in prior. I remember having to stand for a very long time at a few other events and if that happened here, that would have easily put a damper on my experience.

The first order of the day was to find the CBCS Comics booth because I had decided to bring a couple of comics to be graded. When we arrived, it seems that the electricity to their booth had not been plugged-in yet, so there was a short wait while that was fixed and their computers were had a chance to boot-up. Unfortunately, due to the wi-fi they were using, they weren't able to access their site to be able to check-in my order, but they provided me with a receipt and the process has now begun. I look forward to seeing how the comics grade because they are both grails in my G.I. Joe collection.

The rest of the first day was primarily spent getting the lay of the land. I didn't have anything to get signed by anyone, but was eager to see if there were any vendors who had anything I was looking for. Truth be told, that list is fairly small these days. This past year I have purchased 2 of comics on my grail list, 1 Funko Pop from that grail list, and flew to Georgia to get some of my G.I. Joe comics signed by Larry Hama, Sgt. Slaughter and a couple other voice actors from the cartoons.

As I am writing this portion on the 2nd day, I think that my primary focus for things I want to purchase are some carded action figures (AEW, Star Wars & G.I. Joe specifically), but I didn't see any of the vendors who had what I was looking for. There was 1 vendor that did have some of the Super7 G.I. Joe figures, but unfortunately I had all of the figures that had to offer. Last year, I remember seeing several vendors with these types of figures, but unfortunately didn't have the budget to affor to purchase what I would have liked. This year, I have a larger budget, but the supply is all dried-up. Such is life, I guess.

I did start looking for cheap graphic novels & trades to add to my collection. My "to read" pile is starting to dwindle, and I need to add more variety. While I didn't see too many vendors offering cheap trades, I will make another effort to look on day 2.

Day 2- We got here early so my photographer could get in line for Karen Gillian and Arthur Darvill autographs as he is a HUGE Dr. Who fan and has been collection autographs from several of the key cast on their related Funko Pops. Fortunately, he was able to get in queue early, but the line for Karen was enormous. He got it line just before 10am, and at 11:30am I received the text that he had accomplished the first of his 2 autographs.

After doing a little writing, I decided that I wanted to hunt-down at least 1 of the items I saw yesterday that caught my eye. After a few minutes of searching, I finally found the booth for Modern Artifice. They had a bunch of great dice sets and several of the new World of Darkness books for the 5th editions. They also has some wonderful looking blank journals with clan/sect symbols on the covers. Though I am a die-hard Tzimisce fan for Vampire: The Masquerade, this Tremere tome felt like it needed to be in my collection.

I did come with a couple of trades to get signed by Kelly Sue DeConnick, but she seems to be elusive to find at her table.

Between when I first sat down to write earlier today, and now, there has been a HUGE influx of people. I am extremely thankful to the con for providing several places in order to sit and relax from the vicissitudes of the day. If every event had available seating like this, I think I may take more intiative to attend more of them.

As in years past, Wild Bill's Olde Fashioned Soda Pop has a presence. This year, they have 2 areas and they are places strategically in a couple corners of the venue. I remember that when they were located on a more main aisle that this caused a huge traffic jam around their area. The areas they are in this year are also where the concentration of tables and chairs are.

I took another walkabout to see if Kelly Sue was at her table and in doing so, came across Cosmic Money Comics where they have 50% off trades. I thought I had checked them out on day 1, but found the remaining volumes of The Walking Dead that I needed to complete my collection. 7 volumes for under $60 was a deal I could not pass-up. Due to this sidetrack, I failed to get back to Kelly Sue's area before I needed to sit, relax and write some more.

I started feeling hungry, so in my search for a place to sit, I decided to see if I could find somewhere to get food that didn't have a large line. Unfortunately, that ended in failure before I found a place to sit. The smell of sausages are making my stomach churn with hunger, but I needed to sit before other parts of my body decided to start letting me know how they felt.

In past years, I also remember seeing a large area devoted to Lego creations. This year, nothing. This may be due to expanding their exhibitor area. Not sure, but it is missed. I was also thinking that I didn't hear or see the Unipiper on day 1. In my walkabout after hitting Cosmic Monkey, I happened to hear his piping.

All in all, I enjoyed the event like I do every year. I'm looking forward to next year.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Invincible Vol. 5: The Facts of Life

 Title: Invincible Vol. 5: The Facts of Life

ISBN: 9781582405544

Price: $14.99

Publisher/Year: Image Comics, 2015

Artist:  Ryan Ottley

Writer: Robert Kirkman

Collects: Invincible #0, 20-24

Rating: 4/5

Mark Grayson is an everyday American kid, who’s just started at college, feeling his way into adult life. He does have a few additional idiosyncrasies to contend with though; he has superpowers courtesy of his Viltrumite father and he works for a ultra-top secret government department located beneath the Pentagon.

The ongoing plots continue to develop and expand, starting with Atom Eve renouncing crime-fighting to use her pink superhero powers for good in lesser developed countries, along with hints at a possible relationship that as a teenage boy, Mark hadn’t spotted. Mark starts college and meets an arrogant fellow student who turns out to be a psychotic villain playing with the boundaries between life and death. Much like Higher Education everywhere. Angstrom Levy, with the help of the Mauler Twins, completes a device to allow him to harvest the knowledge of his alter-egos in all the parallel universes that exist cheek by jowl with our own.

The function of this device works beautifully, but unsurprisingly leaves Angstrom both physically and mentally twisted and convinced that Invincible is the cause, despite the superhero taking a near-lethal battering from multitudes of Mauler Twins.

The breakneck pace of the previous volumes continues, deftly directing new plot threads including, Mark’s, ahem, move into adulthood, which is handled as delicately Summer (The First Time) by Bobby Goldsboro. We also have his mother’s descent into, and way out of, an over-reliance on alcohol, possible shenanigans with the Robot member of the Guardian group of superheroes, and the career path of a returning member of the NASA trip to Mars. The volume also contains a lengthy diversion into the story of Allen the Alien. Allen’s initiation into more friction-based adult areas also takes place, but is followed by an incident which is thankfully rare here in the real world. Included as extras are ‘Origins’, short pieces on the, well, origins, of superheroes Monster Girl, Rex Splode, Dupli-Kate, the Immortal and Atom Eve, which are mildly diverting and help to shed light on some of their motivations.

The art of Ryan Ottley works perfectly with Kirkman’s story in that it’s simple, direct, occasionally angular and leaves no room for doubt or confusion. It’s a story with no illusions, allusions or pretense of commenting on anything of any great depth. That’s not a criticism, merely an observation. The story barrels along with great confidence and verve and clearly has greater things to come. Recommended.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Invincible Vol. 4: Head of the Class

 Title: Invincible Vol. 4: Head of the Class

ISBN: 9781582407784

Price: $14.99

Publisher/Year: Image Comics, 2012

Artist:  Ryan Ottley

Writer: Robert Kirkman

Collects: Invincible #14-19

Rating: 4/5

This continues the story of Mark Grayson born of Earth and Viltrumite parents, who’s inherited superpowers including invulnerability from his father. Mark is Invincible, and along with other more human superheroes, flies about the world righting wrongs, often of extra-terrestrial origin. The first three volumes deal with Mark gaining his powers, leaving school for college and enduring a cataclysmic family breakdown. Unlike other tales of marital discord, the government steps in to support the Graysons and provides Mark with federal approval and endorsement. The payback is that Mark is directed by Cedric, the head of a really top secret government agency also directing human superheroes who have passed auditions for the reconstituted Guardians of the Globe.

Invincible undertakes various missions for Cedric, visiting the bottom of the ocean to marry the Queen of Atlantis – escaping by use of his wits as well as his strength – and off to Mars to ensure a manned craft returns safely. Most of them do and although he counted them all out and counted them all back in again, they are not all necessarily who they appear to be. In the meantime Angstrom Levy, an evil genius (and with a name like that, suspicions linger that any other career path was always a non-starter) is collecting versions of himself from alternate dimensions with the help from the permanently bickering Mauler Twins. If Oasis hadn’t so glaringly failed to conquer the USA, you would be forgiven for thinking they had been inspired by the Gallagher brothers. Mark also graduates from school and encounters some justifiable questioning from those nearest and dearest to him. Added to the mix are a collective of super-villains whose leadership changes are inadvertently facilitated by Invincible and the Guardians.

In Head of the Class Robert Kirkman continues Invincible’s story at a breakneck pace, and the skillful fusion of many disparate plot strands demonstrates Kirkman’s confidence in the world(s) he has created. Artist Ryan Ottley displays a similar sense of fun with the new heroes, villains and aliens that are so assuredly introduced. Invincible continues to show a real swagger and surefootedness in taking plots off in unexpected directions, keeping the story fresh and moving forward. This volume also helpfully highlights the disadvantages of snacking in the vacuum of space, which is a public service that few graphic novels provide.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Invincible Vol. 3: Perfect Strangers

 Title: Invincible Vol. 3: Perfect Strangers

ISBN: 9781582407937

Price: $12.99

Publisher/Year: Image Comics, 2012

Artist:  Ryan Ottley

Writer: Robert Kirkman

Collects: Invincible #9-13

Rating: 4/5

Perfect Strangers continues the story of Mark Grayson, son of extra-terrestrial superhero Omni-Man and a human mother, who has recently acquired his new powers courtesy of his Viltrumite heritage. In the previous books Mark enjoyed the sort of childhood that would be the envy of many teenagers: a stable, loving home, doing well at school and the added bonus of invulnerability and the ability to fly. This world accepts superheroes as a normal part of everyday life and news items often feature them rescuing hapless folk caught in some catastrophe or dispatching some bellicose aliens intent on global domination.

Unfolding events pick up on the content of Eight is Enough, wherein the problems of the Guardians of the Globe, and the unmasking of the perpetrator, dominate and will clearly reverberate through the series. It also plays havoc with Mark’s domestic world, and all these seismic changes play out against his burgeoning love life and the complications that entails. With a seeming inevitability, the government’s toppest secret agency manages to muscle its way in to the story and Mark’s life, and this is a continuing plot device as the series progresses.

Co-creator and penciller Cory Walker has now left the title, his place seamlessly taken by Ryan Ottley who settles in for a twelve year run. The only discernible difference may be a slightly finer line, but even that is debatable. When a section from Family Matters is replayed, this time with the truth rather than the story that had been first told, panels are repeated with a more menacing tone to suitably reflect the darker content.

Despite a bleaker story, or perhaps because of it, the jokes stand out more clearly and there is a superb visual gag with a comic writer in chapter two that’s worth the price of admission alone. Somehow, the referencing of other sci-fi characters (in this case Star Trek: The Next Generation) in this iteration becomes a welcome riff rather than a jarring intrusion. A previous bit player Allen the Alien (yes, really) makes a welcome reappearance and will become a regular supporting character.

In Perfect Strangers Robert Kirkman takes the story on and develops the sharper edge previously hinted at, which bodes well for the rest of the series, which continues in Head of the Class. Thoroughly recommended.