Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Walking Dead Volume 3: Safety Behind Bars

Title: The Walking Dead Volume 3: Safety Behind Bars

ISBN: 9781582408057
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2009
Artist: Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Collects: The Walking Dead #13-18

Rating: 4/5

Rick Grimes and his fellow group of survivors think they have found a possible safe haven in a well-defended prison that has a mass of fences and gates that can help to keep them safe and keep the zombies contained. There is lots of room in the yard for growing crops and rearing cattle so the group full of hope make plans for the future.

The prison itself has to be cleaned out of zombies first as it is choc a block with the undead in nearly every wing and there is the surviving inmates who have to be dealt with too.

After meeting the inmates and all the introductions are done it looks like the gang has a new home. Until that is a spate of murders happen and you are left trying to second guess yourself into thinking you know who it is doing them.

The minor characters are given more time to shine through volume 3, Carol and Tyreese seem to be stepping it up a notch in their relationship and Tyreese has to deal with some real serious issues. Allen spirals even deeper into depression and the rest of the group are worried that he might do something drastic to himself, them or even his kids.

There are also four convicts still in the prison which brings some conflict and understandably too as they were there first then all of a sudden here comes Rick Grimes and his lot to try and take over. It also makes you wonder that with the world changed so much are the sins and crimes of these criminals forgiven now that zombies walk the earth and if so which laws are they all ruled under and who decides?

Charlie Adlard is back as the artist and even though i wasn’t his biggest fan in volume 2 i have kind of grown to like him more after this. The prison has been drawn amazingly well and there are some MASSIVE zombie battles in here which just look damn impressive, with the majority of the book set in the prison a lot of it is dark scenes and i could imagine an abundance of darkness can ruin a black and white book like this, but that’s not the case here Charlie seems to be able to play well with it.

One of the things i love about The Walking Dead is that they are not just looking to survive but to live, they want to turn the prison into a home, farm crops and have some normality while still dealing with the zombie threat.

Where volume 3 differs from the previous two is that this is much darker, the serial killer story is very disturbing, and with some sick moments showing that other humans may be a whole lot more dangerous than the zombies. There are also a lot more psychological aspects of trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world and how each person dealing with the changes are different and cope in many contrasting ways.

In volume 3 the shocks come when you least expect them with a lot of misdirection. There is also a touching subplot of Carl’s love life which is quite beautiful showing the innocence of kids and how a child’s mind can work, for me it was a nice touch of hope stuck in the middle of madness that is the rest if volume 3.

The book ends with a cliff hanger of the two groups facing off against one another and it makes you wish you had volume 4 just sitting there ready for you to continue reading on.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Walking Dead Volume 2: Miles Behinds Us

Title: The Walking Dead Volume 2: Miles Behinds Us

ISBN: 9781582407753
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2009
Artist: Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Collects: The Walking Dead #1-6

Rating: 4/5

Miles Behind Us is volume two of the Waling Dead saga. Rick Grimes has been reunited with his wife and son and now acts as the leader of a small group of survivors just outside of Atlanta. In volume two, we see our small band take to the road in search of someplace safer to stay.

Miles Behind Us works very hard to ensure our survivors are miserable. Food is almost as scarce as zombies are plentiful. A few new members join the group early on stretching supplies even thinner. It is from this group that Kirkman takes the time in his dialog to warn that there are some bad people out and about in his zombie-infected wilderness.

The search for a place to call home is the dominate theme in this arc of the story. A gated community proves to be a mixed blessing, but through a tragedy, our heroes come across a farm that offers a brief respite.

There are a few subplots that Kirkman weaves into his tale. The pregnancy of Rick’s wife, Lori, is just one, and not necessarily a cut and dried certainty that it’s Rick’s. There are personal issues that all seem very real and unforced. Some offerings in the zombie genre seem to shoehorn conflict and villainy into the stories. Kirkman brings these sorts of things in, sometimes with something as simple as a panel drawn by Charlie Adlard that will be nothing more than a facial expression on one of the characters.

The story shows how frail we can be as human beings in the emotional department. The patriarch of the farm oasis has a nasty secret which eventually is revealed with disastrous results. Before long, Rick and company are on the road once more.

As with volume one, the story ends with a cliffhanger. There is a possibility that they’ve found a place to call home, although in a very unlikely locale. Fortunately for newcomers to this series, the wait for resolution is brief.

Miles Behind Us does a wonderful job of taking us deeper into the minds and personalities of the cast of characters. New faces are added while familiar ones meet their gruesome ending at the hands and teeth of the undead. By now, any reader of the series should be on the verge of addiction.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Walking Dead Volume 1: Days Gone Bye

Title: The Walking Dead Volume 1: Days Gone Bye

ISBN: 9781582406725
Price: $9.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2010
Artist: Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Collects: The Walking Dead #1-6

Rating: 4/5

Zounds to all you zombie fans! You know, I have seen a lot of zombie movies. I find something very heart warming abut the living dead's hunger for human flesh. So it takes a lot for a zombie story to stand out nowadays. Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead has gained a lot of fame and praise, even winning an Eisner of all things. I never thought I would see a horror comic win one of those. But, is this corpse fresh and ready for a feast or is it picked clean? Floss those gums because we are going to dig in!

The story is centered around Rick Grimes and his group of people, along with his wife Lori and son Carl, as they travel around America trying to survive on a day-to-day basis. The story opens with Rick discovering the undead in a hospital as he wakes up from a coma. From there the theme of survival is immediately introduced.

It is nice to see actual survival storytelling in the case of zombies. More often than not, we get a zombie story that lasts all of one night or a few days. The one thing I like a lot about The Walking Dead is that since it's an ongoing, we are never pinned down to one place or area. That is the one thing that hurts a lot of zombie movies for me personally.

I figure if a Zombie apocalypse hit Earth then the survivors would have to keep their smarts in order to keep moving. It's nice seeing Kirkman take that idea and applying survival skills, like hunting, into the story. This is exactly what survival horror is all about. Not every problem involves a zombie. Sometimes, they cannot find any food or their RV is low on gas.  Those problems are just as big, if not even bigger at times, than dealing with the undead.

One thing I have to praise is that the undead are actually called zombies in this series. I do not know why, but lately people seem to find the word "zombie" in a zombie story taboo. Like it's too silly or something to call the undead flesh eaters anything other then "Them" or "They" or "The Monsters." Zombies are zombies, dammit.  If the writer is going to ignore that then they might as well not even have zombies in the story.

In the first story arc, we actually learn a good deal about the undead. Kirkman has some smart ideas like zombies not attacking other zombies because of the smell of rotten flesh. Also, a really interesting concept is that the zombies can somehow be cured. Kirkman is not going with the blank boring undead and not trying anything new with them.

I have yet to read the rest of the series (the next few hardcovers are at the top of my order list) but I can only hope that Kirkman continues to use zombies in a more fashion than just having them stumble around and groan as they try to eat someone. Already, Kirkman has shown, early on in the series, the initiative to do something new and something that feels more worthwhile.

The first two story arcs are collected in this hardcover and both are great for starting off what is one of the most popular comics out nowadays. Kirkman builds up a great cast of characters and sets up the end of the world nicely. The reader gets that same feeling of doom and gloom that they should get from the zombie apocalypse, but without that generic feeling that others would give it.

The reason the Walking Dead works so well as a survival horror story is not simply because it has got the survival and the horror aspects down perfectly. The Walking Dead works so well thanks to its cast of characters. If the group was not as well developed and interesting to follow I do not think I would give a damn about this series and that is the key to liking any good story.

A good main character is needed, of course, but if everyone around him is bland or uninteresting then why bother? Rick is a great main hero for the series and he is definitely memorable. But, he is not really my favorite. That would probably be Dale. Such an awesome old man who is not afraid to say what everyone else may be worried about.

The characters are what make it all work so well and make it such a memorable read. Even the lesser developed characters are still fun to read and when they get their five minutes to shine they shine brightly. The cast does not always see eye to eye and there is plenty of death around them, not just the zombies mind you.

I hate to spoil it, but I will say this: People die.  No one in this group is any safer than the other person. Someone can die just as soon as they say their name. People in this group die. Some people you can say you saw coming other deaths, other deaths will shock you. No matter what, the group remains a strong cast and over time you feel the same pain from their losses as they do.

Every character death impacted me as a reader. That does not happen as often as I am sure people would like it to. It's easy to make a cast in a horror story and kill them off every now and then.  More likely than not, I simply will not care about the deaths. It's common really in a horror story to have a large group just to kill someone off and that happens often to the point where I feel nothing with their deaths.

That is not the case with Walking Dead. Every death has a ramification on the group and affects them each differently as time passes. Nothing is quite the same when someone dies and no one just moves on and acts like that person never existed. It is one of the strengths of any good horror story when you care about the characters enough to feel sad when they die.

Never once did I not mind a character death or not feel sad at the group's loss. Sure some of the people that die are not saints, and some of them are even characters I really did not like. But, rather than being that cliché horror movie asshole or jerk, they are still real people that died and did not deserve to die the usually cruel way that they do.

As more people succumb to the undead the more change you feel affecting the group. That is something the writer has got to do to make the reader care. If the group just moves on and act like no one has died and that everything is fine then it is hard to get the reader to feel invested in the characters or story. For that, I applaud the Walking Dead for its great character work.

There are a lot of moments I would love to spoil just for the sake of praising them.  In these twelve issues, Kirkman always succeeds in delivering twists and turns and makes each new story development as interesting or more interesting than the last one. Sure, we are not always dealing with the undead, but sometimes reading about these characters and their reactions is just as interesting as a zombie attack is to read.

The cast grows at times and it loses people at times. Newer characters in the second story arc like Tyreese are as well developed as earlier characters like Dale. I really grew attached to all these characters over time and found myself enjoying just about every moment involving them talking or doing something, even as mundane as just sitting around talking about random past stories makes for a good read.

With the magic of the internet, I was able to find out future plotlines when I checked sites like Wikipedia. I know who lives and who dies and that was one of the big reasons that kept me away. Since I had been spoiled on later events, I feared I would not be able to enjoy the story knowing who will be dying.

I am glad to say that is not the case at all. If anything, I can appreciate the early stories even more knowing who is going to die thanks to how well Kirkman develops the group so early on and makes me care so much about the characters.

I have to mention that one of the things I really love about this series is the black and white art style. I do not know if Kirkman wanted it in black and white in homage to "Night of the Living Dead" or not, but if he did then congratulations.

I love the black and white art style. There is something that is just so damn effective about it and I love how it works here. Both artists' styles look great in black and white and the effect is great. I cannot believe there are people that will not watch black and white films. There is something about black and white that I just love so much and in the case of the Walking Dead it adds a new layer to the series for me.

One thing that bugs me about this series is that I honestly cannot imagine reading it on a monthly basis. Most people tell me this series reads better in trades and I can see why. There is no pause in between issues to tell which is the start of one issue and the end of another.  Honestly, The Walking Dead reads perfectly like an actual graphic novel, not a collected comic book series.

I've been interested in reading Walking Dead on a monthly basis for a while now, but I think it is best left as a trade-wait. I will be picking up the rest of the hardcovers that are out right now.  This definitely seems like a much better way to read this series.

Aside from the great black and white artwork, both artists, Moore and Adlard, fit this title perfectly. Moore's style is more animated in nature so the transition from it to the more rough realistic type artwork that Adlard portrays is a little jarring at first. Adlard also relies heavily on shadows which Moore does not so that makes for another odd contrast.

Both artists are still great though and do a nice job. Moore draws superb zombies and Adlard is excellent at capturing emotion. While their styles may clash, both artists draw an amazing story and bring the stories to life in a nice fashion.

If I had one artistic complaint it would be that Adlard does have some rough patches here and there.  There are moments where I feel that Adlard's art was not quite finished before being inked or maybe the inking was too thin.

I have fallen in love with The Walking Dead. The characters and the story.  I am in deep and I do not want out. I will be picking up the rest of the hardcovers in the near future and, hopefully, I will get to review them all for you, perhaps next Halloween. If you want to get into what is one of the best survival horror stories ever then I highly recommend The Walking Dead. It will bite you and the infection will spread with every page that you read.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

X-Men: X-Tinction Agenda

Title: X-Men: X-Tinction Agenda

ISBN: 0871359227
Price: $24.95
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 1992
Artist: Jim Lee, Rob Liefield, Jon Bogdanove
Writer: Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson
Collects: Uncanny X-Men # 270-272, X-Factor # 60-62, New Mutants # 95-98

Rating: 2.5/5

The X-Men along with the New Mutants are ambushed on the grounds of the X-Mansion by highly trained and heavily armed soldiers. Several of their members are defeated and captured with X-Men leader Storm being among them. Cable and Forge join forces with X-Factor and devise a plan to rescue their teammates. They soon learn that their teammates were captured by soldiers of the slave island Genosha, which is being manipulated by a man who was once thought dead, but resurrected as a cyborg killing machine, the leader of the organization called The Right, Cameron Hodge.

The main antagonist, the Genoshans, do come off as a band of Neo-Nazi's, and their leader Cameron Hodge draws many similarities to Hitler. He's evil, mad, and just plain cruel. The character is very well developed, and the reader will have a very good idea on how he thinks very early in the arc. He's very sadistic and takes joy in the mutants suffering. The island of Genosha is also well developed, and mutants aren't just made into slaves, but they're also mind wiped of all memories, their heads are shaved clean, and they're given roster numbers for names. Some of them are even treated like dogs, by being used as trackers to sniff out fugitives. Magneto's hellish world of mutants becoming slaves for mankind, something he fought so hard to prevent has become a reality.

Cameron Hodge isn't only well developed in personality, but also as a legitimate threat. His cyborg body which has the appearance of a spliced spider and scorpion, proves to be quite formidable, as he gives the X-Teams a serious hard time. He even defeats a number of them during this story.

The writing has its moments mainly in the beginning and the story moves at a good pace. There are plenty of action filled moments, and some of the panels are just plain brutal; like Cable being nailed to a wall literally, and Wolverine suffering through an impalement. I thought the suspense was done rather well, because things did look pretty bad for the mutants, and one of them were even mercilessly killed. The writing also had its bad points with a poor plot device, that just seemed to come too much out of nowhere, and really didn't make much sense to me. At least the ending received a good amount of build up and the finish was pretty well done.

The artwork isn't even a mixed bag, since the bad clearly outweighs the good. Jim Lee does a sensational job on the X-Men issues, with some very clean lines, meticulous character designs and cool action panels. Unfortunately, the artwork found in the other two series are very bad, with X-Factor clearly being the worst. There are some atrocious and inconsistent character designs. Normally, if a story is very solid to me, then I can sort of ignore bad artwork. Sadly, it's near impossible to ignore some of this doodle.

One thing about crossovers, there's almost always something of relevance carried over. This arc provided several lasting effects such as; the New Mutants transition into a paramilitary team, when Cable would later turn them into X-Force, and their cold demeanor would soon reflect the prejudice world they live in. Wolfsbane becomes stuck in her werewolf form as a result of her brainwashing, and then leaves the New Mutants team to remain in Genosha. She would later go on to become a member of X- Factor which would soon be lead by Havok, after Cyclops returns to the X-Men with all of the original X-Factor members due to the events of the Muir Island Saga, and that arc would also be a new formation of the X-Men team, after they all pretty much disbanded in earlier issues.

X-Men: X-Tinction Agenda
is nothing I would consider to be classic material. In fact, I think it pales in comparison to the X-Men: Mutant Massacre, X-Men: Inferno, and X-Men: Fall of the Mutants. But it's still an entertaining read, and the ramifications clearly pushes this away from just an average filler arc. Recommended to X-Men and serious Marvel fans.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Experiences @ ECCC 2012

I know that Emerald City ComiCon ended quite some time ago, but I need to chronicle a few items that still linger from my experiences.

Brian Pulido-

I have been a huge fan of his writing since I picked-up my first copy of Lady Death in the mid 90's. I'm glad to have finally met the man behind the characters: Lady Death, Evil Ernie, Purgatori and a large number of other characters that made Chaos! a brand name so many years ago.

He had a panel to discuss his 20 years of publishing experience. When I arrived, there was only a handful of people in the room. Some of the minions were working on making sure that Brian was there and that the video camera was rolling at the beginning on the discussion.

Brian slipped into the room without anyone noticing... but me. He sat down and looked around for a bit. Nobody else recognized him, but when he noticed that I was looking at him and smirking, he shrugged his shoulders and came back to talk with me.

We had a nice 5-minute discussion before the minions arrived to get him ready to start the discussion he had signed-up for. I always appreciate having an opportunity to chat with writers and artists that I admire... especially when I don't "geek-out" on them. :) It reminds me of the times where I was able to have similar conversations with Fabian Niceza and John Romita Jr. when they visited the Portland Comic Book Show so many years ago.

Bill Willingham-

After reading the Fables series, I should have known that Bill was going to be an interesting man. When I arrived at his table to get a few of my books signed, there was a guy in front of me who was seriously "geeking-out". He asked bill if there was a limit to the number of books he would sign for a single person. Bill replied with an odd-ball number, and then the man proceeded to take out the entire Fables, Jack and Cinderella series of comics for Bill to sign.

An act like this could get someones head removed. Instead, I was willing to wait patiently... as were the hand full of people who were in line behind me. As he signed each book, Bill made casual conversation with everyone there. At one point, he gave people in line concession vouchers for being patient and waiting. I still have mine, since the lines were too long at the concession area when I did feel like using it.

Ben Templesmith-

I didn't realize that Ben was British, so when I asked him for his signature, I was taken back with his accent. Nice guy, but the one thing I want to touch on about my experience with him actually has to revolve around artist Tom Feister... who was supposed to attend.

You see, while Tom did most of the covers, Ben did some of the interiors. When I presented Ben with my offerings for him to sign, he was taken back by the issue where he did the interiors, but the cover was done by Tom. Here is an example of a Ben Templesmith cover:

And here is the same issue with the Tom Feister cover:

I'm sure you can tell the difference. Ben wanted to give Tom a piece of his mind (joking) for having a pink cover. He, begrudgingly, signed my copy of the pink cover. Next time I get to see Tom, I will ask him to add his signature to it as well and I will cherrish it. :)

As they say at the end of Looney Tunes... "That's all folks!"