Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Game of Thrones Vol 1

Title: A Game of Thrones Vol 1

ISBN: 9780440423218
Price: $25.00
Publisher/Year: Dynamite, 2012
Artist: Tommy Patterson
Writer: George R. R. Martin, Daniel Abraham
Collects: A Game of Thrones #1-6

Rating: 4/5

Adapted by Daniel Abraham and lushly illustrated by Tommy Patterson, the graphic novel opens with an ill-fated ranging beyond The Wall of handful of the Night’s Watch and ends with Daenerys discovering bit by bit her own power and personal strength thanks to her new position within the Dothraki Khalasar. Volume One compiles the first six issues (out of what will be a total of 24 at 29 pages a pop) which cover the trials and tribulations of the Stark family of Winterfell, King Robert Baratheon and his manipulative Lannister kin, and the cruel fallen lord of House Targaryen and his enslaved sister who may not be as innocent as she looks. Where the books were split into sections — In the Seven Kingdoms, On the Wall, In the East — and each chapter devoted to a single character, Abraham and Patterson jump from different perspectives by color-coding the text blocks (Tyrion gets red, Arya goldenrod, Bran grass green, etc.). Comics are all about show don’t tell, and they’ve done a good job of it.

Abraham has worked with Martin before, both directly in adaptations of Fevre Dream and “Skin Trade” and indirectly with Martin’s ongoing Wild Cards series, and it shows. While it’s obvious that a lot of the first book was left out of the comic (a 720 page book becomes a 7200 page graphic novel if you illustrate every damn thing), what remains is beautifully written. Obviously the writing credits go to Martin, but by not butchering the text with a cut and paste job, Abraham has abridged the novel in a way that isn’t clunky or confusing. It’s easy to edit something down and cut out a seemingly quiet scene that holds the key to the rest of the story’s secrets, but by the end of it I could still follow the story and start guessing at future plot lines. Not even the characters lost personality; what was left unwritten about them came out in the illustrations.

Patterson has no Martin-related experience, but he’s worked extensively with studios as an illustrator, and that gives this comic much more of a cinematic quality. He isn’t playing with the medium here. There are no awesome comics moments. He really is an illustrator rather than a comics artist. Really, that was the only disappointing aspect of the book. I wanted to read a comics version of A Game of Thrones, not an illustrated novel. But disappointing doesn’t mean bad, just not what I was expecting. Patterson suffers a bit from the dreaded Liefeld syndrome, sometimes giving his men muscles waaay oversized for their bodies and women teensy tiny waists (see Khal Drogo and Daenerys as the worst offenders).

In the intro to the graphic novel Martin talks about how he used to read comics during the Comics Code’s heyday, and how there was a huge debate over whether or not Classics Illustrated were “a good thing, seeing as how they helped to introduce kids to ‘real literature.’ Others insisted…that these adaptations did violence to the great books they were based on, cheapened them, robbed the reader of the delights of the original…They were right, of course. But they were wrong as well.” That’s pretty much how I feel about reading the graphic novel of A Game of Thrones before reading the book or watching the show. In a way, I kind of feel like I cheated, like I’m reading the CliffsNotes version before struggling through the “real” thing. On the other side of the coin I feel like I’m reading something that stands apart from the book and show, something that exists in its own right and has its own artistic validity and worth. And trust me, this graphic novel is full of both of those things.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Groo: Friends and Foes Vol 1

Title: Groo: Friends and Foes Vol 1

ISBN: 9781616558147
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 2015
Artist: Sergio Aragonés
Writer: Mark Evanier
Collects: Groo: Friends and Foes #1-4

Rating: 3/5

Groo is the smelliest, ugliest, stupidest, unluckiest mercenary in the world – but he’s also the best swordsman in creation and far too stupid to be harmed. He is always hungry and wanders because most places he pauses in burn down, wash away or crash into rubble soon after his arrival.

He loves to fight and entire nations and navies reel at the mention of his name. Of course they do the same when they stand downwind of him too…

Produced in a unique traditional fashion by storyteller Sergio Aragonés, wordsmith Mark Evanier, colorist Tom Luth – with assistance from Michael Atiyeh – and letterer Stan Sakai (yeah, that Usagi Yojimbo guy), the Itinerant Imbecile’s adventures form one of the longest running comic book humor series in America and there seems to be no chance of stopping his creators as long as we keep buying these incredible, hilarious sagas…

Both in comic narrative and the infinitely tougher field of gag-cartooning, Aragonés has produced vast volumes of incomparable work. His darkly skewed sensibilities and instinctive grasp of the cosmically absurd, wedded to his anarchically meticulous drawing style and frankly terrifying professional discipline, have made his pantomimic doodles vibrant proof of the maxims that laughter is universal and one picture is worth a thousand words.

In 1981, after years working for Mad Magazine whilst also producing gags for DC’s horror titles (plus the occasional full strip), he joined with Mark Evanier (who writes lots of stuff and Writes it Good), Sergio crafted a madcap 4-page parody of Sword-&-Sorcery yarns as a contribution to Eclipse Comics’ Creators Rights benefit comic Destroyer Duck.

Following a second outing in Mike Grell’s Starslayer (#5), Pacific Comics launched Groo the Wanderer in his own title. After 8 issues (December 1982-April 1984) the troubled company folded but the unsinkable barbarian (that’s a joke you’ll understand later) resurfaced in the Groo Special one-shot from Eclipse (October 1984), before finding a home at Epic Comics: Archie Goodwin’s creator-owned corner of the Marvel Universe.

Aragonés had first devised his witless warrior in the 1970s but no publisher would take on the property unless he surrendered all rights – an almost universal situation in the comics industry until the advent of the Direct Sales market transferred power from companies and distributors to creators and consumers.

With ownership issues settled to his maker’s satisfaction, Groo bedded in for an uproarious 120 issue run at Epic – resulting in loads of graphic novel compilations – until the imprint died, after which the witless wonder moved on to Image and Dark Horse Comics. They haven’t sunk yet…

In fact, the latter (gluttons for punishment) have even let the bumbling bladesman loose with new 12-issue miniseries Groo: Friends and Foes; each issue revisiting one of the silly saga’s regular cast who had inconceivably escaped being slaughtered by the star. This tawdry tome is but the first of four trade paperback collections and this first compilation collects issues #1-4, finding the perpetually puzzled peripatetic poltroon meeting again merchant mariner Captain Ahax, who has good reason to dread the consequences…

That sinking thing? Among his other lack of abilities Groo cannot travel by ship. He’s not sea-sick or anything, it’s just that his mere physical presence on a nautical apparatus of any sort causes it to founder and plunge into the fearsome fathoms below. Knowing that fact and unable to get rid of the affable oaf, Ahax surrenders to fate and opts to replace the crew with drunks, sell his ship and even his clients’ cargoes. Then he over-insures the vessel, confident that at least this time when she goes down he’ll actually profit from it.

But this time his ship comes in, despite Groo constantly waving sharp objects about, an attack by pirates and Ahax’s own increasingly desperate efforts to scuttle his livelihood. Perhaps it’s the calming influence of the sweet little girl who befriends the woeful warrior’s adoring dog Rufferto? She’s a fellow passenger all alone, searching for her long-lost father…

As disaster finally strikes – far too late for Ahax – the smelliest, ugliest, stupidest mercenary in the world shambles off and soon encounters a band of gypsies who seem familiar. They ought to: they’re led by his calculating grandmother Granny Groo. How fondly the weary wanderer remembers the way she used to beat him and his sister Grooella before selling him. Of course, being the kind of kid he was, Granny had to sell him many times before it finally stuck…

Now that he’s become the most terrifying person on Earth, however, she decides on a different plan to get rid of him before he brings calamity upon them all: raffling him off to greedy villagers who think they might profit from “controlling” the most dangerous man alive…

Baffled Rufferto gamely sticks with his master and soon discovers that the little girl from the ship has joined the gypsies too…

When that brief debacle ends as all Groo gigs do, the dog and his hero head further inland and soon encounter a magic-blighted region controlled by old enemies and devilish witches Arba and Dakarba.

The female fiends have good reason to fear the innocently intruding idiot and decide to get their retaliation in first by conjuring up the scariest thing they can think of to destroy him. Sadly, a marauding 50-foot Groo – even backed up by a hundred normal-sized facsimiles – are no match for the sheer force of destructive stupidity the real McCoy can muster and the witches inevitably fail, leaving their noodle-nosed nemesis to saunter off accompanied by a little girl he thinks he might have met before…

Groo’s initial outings end after a frantic reunion with Legendary Hero and shameless fraud Arcadio whom our pack of peregrinators stumble across as he tries to train a brace of dragons. The crafty champion plans on using them to gull villagers into hiring him, but when good-natured Groo offers his help, the plan – and the villagers – soon go up in smoke…

Closing this inaugural volume is a quartet of wordless strips starring Rufferto and a captivating cover-gallery by Aragonés adding to the wonderfully wonky misshapen madness and grand display of confusions, contusions, conflagrations, conflicts, pratfalls, pitfalls, punch-lines and punch-ups…

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Vampire Tales Vol 1

Title: Vampire Tales Vol 1

ISBN: 9780785146445
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2010
Artist: John Romita JR., Pablo Marcos, Rich Buckler, Jesus Blasco, Esteban Maroto, Winslow Mortimer, Vicente Alcazar, Carlos Garzon
Writer: Gerry Conway, Ron Goulart, Don McGregor, Steve Gerber, Gardner F. Fox, Roy Thomas
Collects: Vampire Tales #1-3

Rating: 3/5

Vampires prowl the dark and the innocents are not the only victims.  In the dark, killers like Morbius and Satana the Devil’s Daughter push the boundaries of what is a hero…The nights are not safe!

Vampire Tales Volume 1 collects the Marvel magazine Vampire Tales which was part of the horror wave in the 1970s.  Like many of Marvel’s magazines the comic burned out quickly but had an interesting run.  The series is collected in three volumes, but uncollected in an all reprint Vampire Tales Annual #1 that contained the stories “The Praying Mantis Principal” (Vampire Tales #2) and “The Kiss of Death” (Vampire Tales #3) among other stories.

I’m a sucker for anthology series.  Vampire Tales is no exception.  I actually prefer the shorter more EC style of stories in the volume than the longer comic based volumes surrounding Morbius and Satana.  The short volumes are like little Twilight Zone episodes…almost all with predictable zingers, but they are still fun.  It is also good to see that Marvel kept in the articles (though dated) that talk of vampires and vampire films.

The Marvel magazines tried to be more edgy and darker than Marvel’s regular series.  This means for the most part, prostitutes, pimps, drug users, and other “dark” figures of the world instead of the lighter world of comics (the magazines weren’t regulated by the Comic Code).  They also as a result boast some great art and cover art.  The magazines were black-and-white but here, they also reprint the great colored covers.

The series does introduce Satana in Vampire Tales #2.  It is a short story simply called “Satana” and Satana is presented as more of a succubus than a vampire (Vampire Tales often strayed from the vampire theme).  Satana was created as a type of ying-yang to her brother the Son of Satan (Daimon Hellstrom).  While the Son of Satan rejected their father’s darkness, Satana embraced it…though she never really got to shine or develop since her limited appears were few and far between.

Vampire Tales Volume 1 wasn’t a big sell and can often be found at discount prices.  That is a shame since it probably hinders other Marvel magazines from receiving this nice treatment.  Tales of the Zombie was already collected in an Essential volume and Dracula Lives and The Hulk also found its way to other collections, but it would be great to see Deadly Hands of Kung Fu or Monsters Unleashed get full printing.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Vol. 1: The World According to Peter Parker

Title: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Vol. 1: The World According to Peter Parker

ISBN: 9780785140115
Price: $24.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2010
Artist: David Lafuente
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Collects: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1-6

Rating: 4/5

Marvel Comics, the long standing and beloved purveyor of superheroes and wonderment for countless generations founded the Ultimate line — an attempt to free characters like the Hulk, Deadpool, and others, from decades of continuity but more importantly to redirect them to a whole new, modern, and fresh start for the readers to experience. The Ultimate Comics line prospered but by very definition of prospering over time became not ‘new’ anymore.

And so, it was decided that the line would be relaunched. For Spider-Man comics, it went from being Ultimate Spider-Man to Ultimate Comics Spider-Man.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Vol.1: The World According to Peter Parker opens a fresh new read for Spider-Man fans. It picks up the aftermath of Ultimatum and entirely jumpstarts the current situation Peter is in. It also changes the way Spider-Man fanatics see Peter’s life and gives them a brand new excitement, a whole bunch of brand new characters, and a brand new story to follow and to keep track of.

It has been six months since the Ultimatum wave laid New York and a new chapter in the life of the teenage webslinger unfolds. The Daily Bugle is no more, the Kingpin has been assassinated, Parker works as a cashier at Burger Frog, Midtown High has another superhero roaming the halls, and surprisingly the people of New York adores Spider-Man and not think of him as a masked vigilante. Even the cops are asking for his autograph! Very unalike to the N.Y.P.D. cops who shot Parker on his leg in the 2012 film The Amazing Spider-Man.

But it’s not only how smooth Parker’s life is heading that is featured in this debut volume but also the rough paths he has to take and discover. His got some issues too: a new girlfriend earning all kinds of drama from the old one, Aunt May turning her modest Forest Hills home into a boarding house for wayward youths and an “electrifying” Mysterio causing havoc in the city and troubles for Spider-Man.

When Aunt May took Johnny Storm a.k.a. the Human Torch in their house, everything was not as it seems to be and definitely not normal for a normal house to shelter homeless teen superheroes. Parker even questions the whole super-friends-living-under-one-roof thing that he thinks will be suspicious to the neighbors. When it comes to doing the chores, Johnny doesn’t even do chores and plans to do the “Peter Parker/Spider-Man” thing which is to get a secret identity and go to school unnoticed while having a black hairdo. It was successful except for one person– MJ who instantly realized it was Johnny. Even when he spoke with an accent.

Kitty Pride and Bobby Drake (Iceman) were also accepted in the house and became part of the odd family. They too changed their get-ups and pretended to be Peter’s cousins. They all now go to the same school where Peter goes to.

What I like about this relaunch of a Spider-Man storyline is its abundance of realism especially to the headmaster of Parker’s school who had an issue with accusing Parker as Spider-Man before for the sole reason that he sees Spider-Man as a danger not only to the institute but also to the safety of the students. Centrally to the safety of the students. Even though most people see the webcrawler as a hero, he is still a bringer of fear and death because when he do heroic stuff, evil follows him wherever he goes. Even in school.

The comic brought realization that villains never stop at one point. They continue to do evil threatening everyone around Peter. Friends, family. Everyone. The villain in this book is at first I thought to be Electro (Ultimate) because of his static appearance but it was not-the-typical Mysterio who wears a green astrosuit but a sleek black leather outfit with his head ghastly blue.

One more epic matter in this new storyline is the mysterious hooded vigilante sweeping off crime before Peter could even retaliate. The cops give the glory to Spider-Man who had only just came to the crime scene where the hooded man finished off the criminals. In the end of the comic book, it was revealed who the mysterious man really is. Peter doesn’t yet know that he personally knows who the mystery cloaked man is. The coming volumes will surely be a thrilling adventure!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

X-Factor: Life and Death Matters

Title: X-Factor: Life and Death Matters

ISBN: 9780785126232
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2007
Artist: Ariel Olivetti, Dennis Calero, Renato Arlem, Roy Allen Martinez
Writer: Peter David
Collects: X-Factor #7-12

Rating: 3/5

This volume ties in with Marvel’s Civil War project, although were it not for the odd snippet of dialogue and the reproduced covers saying so, there would be little indication. It’s obviously not an event that greatly interested writer Peter David, and X-Factor’s participation is merely tangential, although a point of view is established. Their primary concern is the ongoing interference of the Tryp Foundation.

David particularly enjoys the narrative possibilities supplied by Layla Miller, the girl who knows stuff, primarily the relatively short term future. He frequently supplies her with oblique snippets of dialogue that only reveal their meaning several pages later. This could become tiresome, but David is clever enough not to over-play the game, yet for almost one entire chapter he has her sitting on the stoop passing a few well chosen words to those in the area. In another chapter she drops a complete bomb.

Other cast members are equally well developed, with Madrox learning elements of his past, Siryn refusing to process information most would consider traumatic and Monet for once being only the second most insufferably arrogant character featured. That’s because Quicksilver also drops by. A colleague of some current X-Factor members in a former incarnation of the team, he’s now able to restore powers to mutants who’ve had them removed, although not always with the desired consequences.

The dialogue is so crisp and the interaction so enjoyable that it matters little that there’s minimal traditional superhero action, although when it occurs, it resonates. Even revealing that a shocking and unpredictable ending comes from nowhere, yet is completely consistent, won’t make it any easier to see coming.

One tiresome aspect of both this book and the series as a whole is the seeming unwillingness of any artist to commit to more than a handful of chapters. It’s not that the artistic styles of Renato Arlem, Dennis Calero, Roy Allen Martinez and Ariel Olivetti are completely incompatible, but four artists for a mere six chapters? Really? The series continues with Many Lives of Madrox.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Grendel: The Devil Inside

Title: Grendel: The Devil Inside

ISBN: 9781569716045
Price: $12.95
Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 2004
Artist: Bernie Mireault
Writer: Matt Wagner
Collects: Grendel: The Devil Inside #1-3

Rating: 3/5

Grendel is a character who comes close to defying description. He's inhabited a number of people over time, and the only constants through these stories are his psychosis and distinctive mask. In this chapter of Wagner's multi-generational saga, Grendel possesses a down-on-his-luck stage manager in a near-future New York, and pushes him into a murder spree.

This tale, which originally appeared as a three-part miniseries in 1987, is a product of its time. Wagner's oblique script seemed daring and naturalistic then, but now comes off as coy. Similarly, some of his narrative techniques seemed groundbreaking at the time (e.g., the narrative captions displayed as handwritten journal entries), but now feel quaintly similar to contemporary works like Frank Miller's Batman: Year One and Alan Moore's Watchmen . Mireault's art ages better (with the exception of his design for the police detective, who sports a Flock of Seagulls haircut), retaining its "underground comix" edge and conveying a sense of a desolate, urban environment without sacrificing clean lines or clear storytelling.

Given Wagner's reluctance to resort to straightforward exposition, this isn't a book for casual readers, who will likely miss some of the resonance that Grendel aficionados will find rewarding. However, longtime fans will welcome this reprint of one of the more innovative chapters in Wagner's 50-plus–part saga.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch Classic Vol 1

Title: Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch Classic Vol 1

ISBN: 9780785145424
Price: $29.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2010
Artist: Mark Texeria, Larry Stroman, Javier Saltares, Chris Marrinan, Ron Wagner, James Palmiotti, Mark McKenna
Writer: Howard Mackie, Roy Thomas, Dann Thomas
Collects: Ghost Rider #11-20, Dr. Strange #28

Rating: 3/5

Ghost Rider continues to be a hot ’90s commodity at this point. The series really was taking off in its run and back issues were hard to come by.  I can remember paying $10 for number #1 (which was high for the time) and now it is possible to find it in the dollar bins at some comic book stores. A special glow-in-the-dark cover for Ghost Rider (2) #15 also became a big hit for fans and collectors.

Ghost Rider is faced with a new threat when he is found by Johnny Blaze, the original Ghost Rider. As Blaze tries to determine Ghost Rider’s real intentions, Ghost Rider battles the likes of Nightmare, Zodiak, Snowblind, Hobgoblin, Reverend Styge, and Suicide with the help of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange.

The stories in this volume calm down a bit and find more focus from the first ten issues of Ghost Rider volume 2 which were collected in Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch Classic 1. The arrival of Johnny Blaze as sort of a sidekick in Ghost Rider (2) #13 really does help the series in this string of issues by Ghost Rider having to prove he’s not Zarathos to Blaze. Blaze also signals the downfall of the Ghost Rider series which occurs in the next ten issues with the introduction of the Midnight Sons which really complicated the plot and added a lot of elements that turned off fans, but for here Blaze does work.

The villains in this volume still are kind of creature of the month with Ghost Rider facing off against name villains Nightmare and Mephisto, but introducing Snowblind and Suicide which never really caught on. Ghost Rider quest to capture Zodiak ended in issue #20 but the evil Deathwatch and Blackout are no shows (which is a bit weird if Mackie was trying to develop them as major players). Hobgoblin does fit with Ghost Rider style wise but mostly just feels like a reason for another crossover for Spider-Man.

The Danny Ketch Ghost Rider is definitely a product of the 1990s. He isn’t very relevant today and it is almost more fun to go back and read these issues to see how much comics have changed in a couple of decades. What once was “cool” is now “lame” but soon it might be retro and then everyone is happy…I just don’t think it is retro quite yet…but bring on Darkhawk and Sleepwalker!