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

http://rosecitycomiccon.com/
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.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Brightest Day Vol 3

Title: Brightest Day Vol 3

ISBN: 9781401232177
Price: $16.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2011
Artist: Ivan Reis, Ardian Syaf, Joe Prado, Patrick Gleason
Writer: Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi
Collects: Brightest Day #17-24

Rating: 2/5

By the second chapter of Brightest Day Vol. 3, Deadman Boston Brand has already been usurped by the White Lantern and forced to seemingly kill his fellow heroes. Hawkman and Hawkgirl fall first, then Aquaman two issues later, the Martian Manhunter an issue after that, and Firestorm enters the mix right after. That is, in the concluding book, Brightest Day sets up its pins and knocks them down with alarming swiftness. If the earlier volumes seemed to plod along, to their detriment, but also give a good mix of stories to their benefit, the third volume's focus is more singular, and it's the most cohesive of all three books.

The Lantern states outright that its interest is not in the characters' conflicts -- the Aquawar, Firestorm vs. the villain Deathstorm, and so on -- but rather in the characters' emotional growth; as each character has an epiphany, the Lantern whisks them away. This unfolds in deus ex machinas, like the Lantern rescuing Firestorm Jason Rusch's father from the Deathstorm in the span of a word balloon, when Rusch and co-Firestorm Ronnie Raymond had spent the better part of a couple issues attempting the rescue themselves. The Lantern may not be invested in the story, per se, but the reader is, and these quick conclusions are disappointingly brusque.

Writers Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi have explored life in all its contradictions in Brightest Day and we're meant to understand here that life is neither convenient nor fair -- as when Hawkman loses Hawkgirl and Dove loses Deadman, all for the purposes of the White Lantern -- but the reader might have cause to feel cheated. That the Deathstorm conflict and Martian Manhunter's fight with D'kay, among others, ultimately count for naught in the book's climax makes one wonder if Brightest Day couldn't have been shorter, or else what was the purpose of a number of storylines that simply fall by the wayside.

There are, of course, new DC Comics series now starring almost every character featured in Brightest Day. Whether Aquaman and Hawkman's stories follow directly from the events of Brightest Day remains to be seen, but we know that Firestorm's does not (explicitly, at least), and long-time Firestorm fans must be disappointed by the character's decades-long saga ending on a cliffhanger (or a strange Flashpoint reference, I'm not sure which). Brightest Day acts like it's another cog in the wheel; in the same way Blackest Night lead to Brightest Day and Sinestro Corps War lead to Blackest Night, so too does Brightest Day suggest more to come. Given that there's not more to come, at least for some iterations of these characters, I might have preferred more conclusion.

It's entirely possible I might be more over the moon about the end of Brightest Day if I hadn't already known about the appearances of Swamp Thing and John Constantine, or if I didn't know both characters now have DC Relaunch titles of their own. No doubt Swamp Thing's appearance in Brightest Day #23 was a breath-taking moment, and Constantine on the last page of the book equally shocking. Unfortunately, when you know what's coming, there's flash here but not much substance. The last page of Blackest Night featured the White Lantern, an ominous, mysterious image; a splash page of Constantine cursing is not really so exciting, when you're already over the excitement of Constantine's return, as Constantine actually doing something might be. (Jim Shooter's got it right that this is a tease, not a cliffhanger.)

Two related points: First, it would be a fallacy to say that all comics work the same in periodical and collected form; rather, some stories lend themselves to one and some to the other. The third volume of Brightest Day's single- or two-issue stories and its successive conclusions (of sorts) was probably much more satisfying in single issue form, where Aquaman's "Aquawar" unfolded over a month rather than sandwiched between the Hawkman and Manhunter wrap-ups. There's some business going around now about how spoilers enhance enjoyment of a story, but I'm skeptical of that -- I venture I'd be much more enthused about the end of Brightest Day if I hadn't known what was coming, and perhaps even didn't know that Swamp Thing and Constantine would each be appearing in loosely-related series following after. In this case, I think the Brightest Day series held more impact for the reader in original form than as a collection after the fact.

Second, despite knowing what was coming, I've been considering why Swamp Thing and John Constantine's appearances still caused me so such glee, when I've only had limited exposure to each. I'm a late-blooming fan of DC's supernatural characters -- Sandman, yes, but I wasn't much for Fate or Primal Force, not until Bill Willingham's Day of Vengeance and his Shadowpact series. Shadowpact, for the first time, made DC's magic fare accessible to me, perhaps largely because Willingham used Blue Devil and the lovable Detective Chimp and more traditional-type villains. Constantine and Swamp Thing, by inference only, seem more accessible supernatural characters of this type, grounded in Earthly horror and not Atlantean wizardry. That they are formerly of Vertigo also helps; Vertigo has a modernity that DC heroes have often lacked, and to bring that spirit into DC is something I soundly applaud. I can't attest to being a fan of these characters, but I'm glad they're here, story spoilers notwithstanding.

The third volume of Brightest Day is ultimately a sound read, and I did enjoy the characters' victories and feel sad at the tragedies within. It serves effectively as "Rebirth"-type story for the main characters, streamlining and defining especially Firestorm and Aquaman (the stand-out star of this series). These successes, however, only leaves the reader wanting more, and that's where the book fails. Brightest Day ends with the tag "The Beginning," when in fact this is really more of the end, and I'd have liked to see more acknowledgment of that in these pages.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Maus: A Survivor's Tale: Book II: And Here My Troubles Began

Title: Maus: A Survivor's Tale: Book II: And Here My Troubles Began

ISBN: 0679729771
Price: $14.00
Publisher/Year: Pantheon Books, 1991
Artist: Art Spiegelman
Writer: Art Spiegelman

Rating: 4/5

It sounds like a sick joke: a cartoon history of the Holocaust in which the Jews are mice, the Nazis cats, the Poles pigs, and so forth. And it would indeed be grotesque if Art Spiegelman didn’t draw the life of his father, Vladek, with such defiant grace. The anthropomorphic animals are there for a reason, as Spiegelman is the first to admit: They give the artist and his readers the distance necessary to absorb horrors almost beyond imagining.

Those new to what has become Spiegelman’s life work should go back to the first volume of Maus (1986), which contains chapters originally released in the new-wave comic Raw. The earlier book follows Vladek through his early years in Poland — his romances and marriage, the gathering Nazi threat, his imprisonment in labor camps — leaving us on the doorstep of Auschwitz as if to pause for breath. Maus II drags us inside, but while parts of the book are exceedingly grim, this is no parade of atrocities. Instead, it’s an astonishingly rich portrait of survival through wit and luck.

One of Spiegelman’s finer points is that, in a sense, his father didn’t survive — at least not as the clever, urbane Vladek we meet in the first book. Framing the Auschwitz segments in Maus II are scenes set in modern-day New York, in which Art cajoles his ailing father (he died in 1982) into recording his memories. Here, Vladek is a bitter and needy old man, a neurotic hoarder who may have driven his wife, Art’s mother, to suicide. It’s not a flattering picture, nor is the artist’s portrait of himself as a rebellious son torn between coming to terms with his father and keeping him at arm’s length.

But Maus is not about rounding off the edges of the past. It’s an attempt to understand a man and his place in history through small, evocative drawings. Spiegelman’s mice are no Disney concoctions — their blocky solemnity defies cuteness. They’re intentional abstractions, meant to put off pathos until we can take in the details of what happened. Then, and only then, are we allowed to get closer. At the very end of this brilliant memoir, Spiegelman prints a photo of his father in 1945 — and with one devastatingly simple step leads us back into the world of man.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

52: Volume 1

Title: 52: Volume 1

ISBN: 9781401213534
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2007
Artist: Keith Giffen, Eddy Barrows, Chris Batista, Joe Bennett, Ken Lashley, Shawn Moll, Todd Nauck
Writer: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid
Collects: 52 #1-13

Rating: 2.5/5

The first collection of 52 works especially well as a trade paperback. In part because the weekly book offered only twenty pages instead of the standard twenty-two, the writers pack each chapter full of short scenes with plenty of information--sometimes, multiple plotlines are forwarded in separate panels on the same page. This makes an already sizable trade paperback feel even longer.

Though the authors knew they had fifty-two weeks with which to tell their story, there's no sense of decompression here, nor does any issue seem rushed. The pacing of the book only becomes uncomfortable, actually, in the rare points when it seems the authors tried to write against the book's type--an extended fight scene between Steel and his niece, for instance. Even here, however, the change in pacing functions to give the scene emotional resonance.

In using chracters with similar emotional conflicts, the writers give the disparate plotlines a cohesive feel. Renee Montoya has turned self destructive in the aftermath of her partner's death and her failure to take revenge, and the story opens with Ralph Dibney suicidal over the death of his wife, while Black Adam turns his anger over his family's death outward against the nations of the world. Steel struggles to be a true hero in a more dangerous world, while Booster practices heroics for his own personal gain. Booster's materialism, however, may hide true altruism, while Lex Luthor's professed altruism is certainly a cover for something darker. At the end of the book, Montoya leaves for Kahndaq, undoubtedly to meet Black Adam; I imagine the emotional similarities will generate interesting dynamics when all the characters, Seven Soldiers style, finally meet.

52 offers a very representative slice of what life is like on DC's post-Infinite Crisis "New Earth." The final issue offers a team-up of Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Metamorpho, and Zauriel, coming together to help out Elongated Man; earlier in the story, Steel joins Dr. Mid-Nite at a hospital set up specifically for meta-humans, and Alan Scott makes a military-like courtesy call to the wife of the missing Animal Man. I'm not sure we would have seen such camaraderie among the heroes just a few years ago.

These kinds of touches reinforce the tone of the DCU post-Identity and Infinite Crisis, where the heroes live in a rich community of other heroes, and face danger not unlike policemen and fire fighters. Though the tone, overall, may be unrealistically cooperative and optimistic, it's a welcome change from the "grim and gritty" years. In removing Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, 52 also shows the rich tapestry of the new DCU Universe, from the inclusion of lessed-used characters like Zauriel, Whisper a'Daire, and Intergang, to the apparent Xavier/Magneto friendship between the Metal Men's Dr. Will Magnus and the villain T. O. Morrow.

In lieu of the "History of the DC Universe" and other back-up features that originally ran with 52 the trade instead offers two page "Behind the Scenes" looks at each 52 chapter, usually commentary by one of the writers followed by a piece of script or an art breakdown. I enjoyed these very much and wouldn't mind seeing them in all trade paperbacks, though the stories here are richer because of 52's frenetic publishing pace.

What was especially interesting were the mistakes that the authors point out (Batwoman's unintended debut, the wrong Gotham Central officer drawn in), and that--in this day and age of trade paperback revisionism, as writers and artists use trade paperback to correct their mistakes--have been left in the trade (along with others that the writers don't mention, like Ralph Dibney's amazing disappearing, reappearing beard). Not only does this allow the trade reader to experience some of the pitfalls of a weekly series just as the weekly readers did, but it gives the whole thing the feel of watching a live episode of your favorite TV show.