2013 has been very good for me, as far as my life in comics. Another year of reviews, with 3/4 of next year already set to be posted. Some great comic book movies came out this year, and 2014 looks like it will be a bit epic. I was a little sad after reading that the Stumptown Comics Fest is going to be no more, but I'm excited to see what a local con can bring us in the form of Cherry City Comic Con. I was able to meet several great artists and started the Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer project (#CBC4C).
When I first started writing this blog, it was as a creative outlet. As long-time readers know, I've tried my hand at writing for comics, without much success. Some day, I may make another attempt. Perhaps 2014 is the year I make another foray. Only time will tell.
As much as I have posted lists of what I have yet to write reviews for, I realize that there is so much more that I have reviewed... and I do have a sense of pride for that. I just wish I could get the stack of "To Be Reviewed" trades off my chair-side table and on to the bookshelves where they belong. All in good time.
With movies like Iron Man 3, The Wolverine, Man of Steel and Thor: The Dark World, we had a generous offering of live-action comics. I know there are detractors for each of these movies, but I enjoyed each and every one of them.
Next year, we have the likes of Captain America: Winter Soldier, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Guardians of the Galaxy and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Looks like another MARVELous years for comic book movies. We'll see how it pans out.
I don't do much in the way of travel, and therefore don't attend many comic cons. In 2013, I wasn't able to go to ECCC, but I'm planning for a return in 2014. I was hoping to have a fan table to help promote Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer at Wizard World Portland, but due to timing and tight budget constraints, I'm not going to be able to attend all 3 days. I'll be able to make it for 1 day, and I hope that Groupon helps with that like they did last year.
After my experiences at my first Stumptown, I was genuinely looking forward to attending again. Even though there was a large Dark Horse presence and there were many vendors selling their Marvel and DC comics and trades, it still felt like there was an indy atmosphere. I felt that it helps that there were some artists and writers who have worked for or are working for the bigger name publishers, but there were more that weren't. Granted, I don't have a better concept of what it was like before the inclusion of larger publishers, so my feelings on this are a bit skewed. I'll miss not being able to go to Stumptown in 2014, but I guess the $$ I would have spent there will go to help fund #CBC4C or my trip to Seattle.
And as much as I don't mind going to Portland to get my fix of the con, I'm looking forward to having one in my backyard: Cherry City Comic Con! I hope that it goes as well as RCCC did in its first year. Though I'm not getting a table, if this is successful in its first year, I'll be seriously considering a table for 2015. My worst fear is that Cherry City will turn into the old Portland Comic Book Show.
At the end of July, I was inspired by the idea of The Walking Dead 100 Project for the Heroes Initiative and I came up with the Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer project. I started reaching out to artists who contributed with time and effort to putting art to blank comic book covers which were then auctioned to raise money for cancer research.
After the first few rounds of auctions for #CBC4C, I was contacted by eBay that I needed to follow a certain listing procedure in order to promote these auctions as charity fundraisers. Since that time, I have sent the American Cancer Society emails about getting officially endorsed as a fundraiser and have had to put further auctions on hold until I receive word from them and the information I need for eBay.
Here's to putting another year behind me, and look toward the year ahead.
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Sunday, December 29, 2013
Title: Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? (The Deluxe Edition)
Artist: Andy Kubert, Simon Bisley, Mark Buckingham, Mike Hoffman, Bernie Mireault
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Collects: Secret Origins #1, Secret Origins Special #1, Batman Black and White #2, Batman #686, Detective Comics #853
Back when DC Comics was overhauling and re-booting its fictional universe in the wake of its Crisis on Infinite Earths, they commissioned an imaginary "last Superman" story to say good-bye to the Silver Age Superman who was, essentially, being erased from continuity -- "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?", written by rising star, British writer Alan Moore.
Jump ahead two decades and DC has decided to do the same for Batman. In this case, there has been no reality altering event (or maybe there has -- I dunno), but in the comics Batman/Bruce Wayne had been supposedly killed off and DC was preparing to unveil a "new" Batman (Dick Grayson, the original Robin, assumed the pointy-eared cowl...though unlike some changes, no one is necessarily suggesting Bruce won't be back eventually). Giving the nod to Neil Gaiman, another British writer whose rise to fame occurred around the same time as Moore's, and serialized across Batman's two flagship series (Batman and Detective Comics -- just as the Superman story was serialized over Superman and Action Comics), we are presented with a "last Batman" story. And wisely, Gaiman keeps it isolated from continuity (even if Bruce Wayne does come back in a few months, this story has a timelessness about it).
This collection also includes a few short Batman pieces Gaiman has written over the years, only one of which I've read...but it was an amusing, self-reflective one from Batman Black and White.
The "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" story is a surreal affair as Batman finds himself looking down upon a bizarre funeral for himself -- staged in back of a dingy bar, where all his old friends and foes have assembled to pay tribute. Batman isn't sure what's going on, whether he's dead or what -- and is further perplexed when the stories people tell about his life -- and death -- don't match up with each other. The first issue features two longer tales, relating the lives and deaths of two different Bruce Waynes/Batmen, but once we get into the second issue, they're shorthand snippets, generally focusing on different ways Batman died. It's a little as if we're seeing a bunch of unused story ideas for various Batman Elseworlds comics that Gaiman never got to write.
It's a moody, quirky affair, beautifully illustrated by Andy Kubert who eschews much of the sketchy lines or cartooniness I sometimes associate with the Kubert clan, for a richly detailed and modeled style, nicely embellished by the inks and colors. The faces are realistic, while also being expressive. After all these years, Batman doesn't have a signature artist that should've been tagged for the gig (the way Curt Swan was an obvious choice to pencil the Superman story), so Kubert proves a nice choice. He even quirks his style here and there for certain scenes and characters, to deliberately evoke the style of other key Bat-artists, or to present different variations on the Bat-costume, without the changes being too obvious or distracting.
And throughout, the dialogue and phrasing is quite good, the lines clever, quirky, yet not self-consciously so. And I say this as someone with no particular affinity for Gaiman in general.
It's interesting to contrast the Batman and Superman stories. With Moore's Superman -- involving a final showdown with all of Supes foes, in which many friends and enemies were dead by the end -- a violent, "big fight" tale wasn't exactly my idea of the appropriate cap for the Superman legend. Yet Gaiman takes Batman, the prowler of the mean streets and battler of killers and psychos...and presents a strangely gentle, lyrical tale that, in a way, is meant to present a sublime acceptance of mortality -- ala The Death of Captain Marvel -- rather than a bloody final battle with an arch foe. That might seem a strange thing to say in a story presenting multiple deaths of Batman...but it never feels gratuitous or graphic. In fact, given how many writers like to perceive Batman as the dark, grim, even brutal avenger, when Gaiman has Batman reflect on his self-imposed mission, it's: "I protect the city. I rescue people. I investigate crimes. I guard the innocent. I correct the guilty." Nothing about "vengeance" or "punishment".
The story itself may be intended to evoke a 1970s Batman multi-issue arc, in which various villains recounted conflicting tales of having killed Batman. And one of the reasons Gaiman may have avoided the "Batman vs. all his foes" plot is simply because it's already been done, often, and often quite effectively (albeit, with Batman surviving) -- in Detective Comics #526, Batman #400, and Batman: Hush among others. And of course, over the years there have probably been more than a few "imaginary" Last Batman stories, so it's hard for Gaiman to come up with anything that isn't just one more variation on a sub-sub-genre.
I have some mixed reactions to the story. As often happens, the intriguing hook of the beginning (what's happening? what is the explanation for this surreal scenario?) is inevitably kind of let down by the explanation. And the two longer "what if...?" stories told in the first issue are the more developed (even if Gaiman confuses the -- very good -- 1976 movie "Robin and Marion" with the actual Robin Hood legend). Once we get into the second half, the stories are brief snippets, before we segue into the final act of the story as Batman learns the answers and confronts a mysterious woman who had been accompanying him. It can seem a bit protracted. Ironically, I had remarked that in Moore's Superman tale he was maybe hamstrung by his limited amount of pages...Gaiman may have been hindered by having too many pages to fill.
But there is a genuine power to Gaiman's tale -- even flipping through the pages, I find myself curiously misty eyed. Gaiman walks a fine line between sentimentality and saccharine. And he gives one of comicdoms grimmest heroes a bittersweet sendoff that is hopeful and sad at the same time, providing the character something he rarely had in life...a sense of peace ~ "Home is the sailor, home from the sea...and the hunter, home from the hill". And in the end, the point of the various tales, the different versions and faces of the Batman with which we are presented, is to nonetheless expose a core truth of the man, and his character -- no matter the superficial changes in the legend.
It tells us why he is, and always was, THE Batman.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
Title: Batman: A Death in the Family
Publisher/Year: DC, 1988
Artist: Jim Aparo
Writer: Jim Starlin
Collects: Batman #426-429
There's a lot of baggage that comes with this story (which I hadn't read when it was originally published over a decade ago). It raised a lot of eyebrows among the general public as to just what sort of people were writing comics these days. This was not simply because those writers killed off a well-known supporting character (although the original -- better known -- Robin, Dick Grayson, remained unscathed) , or the fact that the character in question was a kid (entertainment in the murder of a minor?), or even the brutal manner in which he was killed. The controversy stemmed from the fact that DC left the decision as to whether Jason lived or died up to the fans who could phone in their votes. In other words, the Batman readership -- many, one assumes, kids -- were encouraged to decide whether a character lived or died. Not since the days of the Roman Coliseum had the world experienced such a questionable spectacle. And the fact that the person in question was a fictional character didn't tend to mute the disgust many felt toward DC Comics. Adding to the situation was the fact that the vote to kill Robin didn't pass by a huge margin -- a lot of fans actually voted to keep him alive.
As I said, there's a lot of ethical baggage that comes with this, but I'll put it aside (for the moment) and concentrate on the story as just that -- a story.
Surprisingly, this turns out to be a pretty decent read.
The first two issues of this four issue story were double-sized, meaning it's actually a solid, six-issue epic. Those double-sized issues are broken evenly into 22 page chapters and one can't help inferring that DC had originally planned it as six regular issues but, maybe feeling they couldn't sustain the publicity machine over six months (after all, the story was a publicity stunt) decided to make it four months.
The story has Jason Todd discovering that his birth mother is still alive and might be one of three women, all of who are currently living in various parts of the middle east and North Africa (absurd coincidences play a big part in the ensuing activities -- you either swallow them, or you might as well not read the book). Meanwhile, Batman is hot on the trail of the Joker who is also winging his way to the middle east (I warned you about coincidences). The story is, therefore, comprised of a few smaller stories -- their quests for the first two women lead Batman and Robin into adventure and intrigue involving terrorists, but also turn out to be wild goose chases. Ultimately, you know the third time will turn out to be the charm. But because all stories take place in, roughly, the same geographical area, and the Joker weaves in and out, the result is a story that has the feel of a single epic, while being comprised of three or four smaller stories. Along the way, Superman even crops up in a supporting part for an issue or two.
Part of the saga's strength is the removal from Batman's usual Gotham City stomping grounds. The middle eastern setting adds a fresh ambience to the saga, and there's a clear attempt to imbue the series with a grittier, real-world edge, as the Joker eschews his usual comic book activities of jewel heists and the like in favor of branching into the world of terrorism, or hijacking famine relief supplies he figures he can sell on the black market. As the saga moves into its climax, global politics become central to the story, leading to a showdown at the U.N. Though I wasn't as comfortable with the idea of Batman breaking up a kiddie porn ring at the beginning (nothing graphic, of course).
Writer Jim Starlin tells the story well, with a good blend of mood, introspection, and action. The only other Bat-tale I'd read by him from that period -- The Cult -- had left me disappointed, but this is decently written, with good characterization and dialogue. Jim Aparo, a guy who will no doubt go down in comic book history as one of the definitive Bat-artists, acquits himself quite nicely. Aparo is right at home, and his style is dynamic and comprehensible -- there's nary a picture or scene anywhere that you need to read twice to figure out what's going on. His teaming with inker Mike DeCarlo works very well. I had previously had my reservations about Aparo's looser style from the period, and felt DeCarlo's rigid, geometric inks weren't the most appropriate for him. I don't know if I've mellowed, or whether this is just better work, but the art is particularly strong -- curiously, DeCarlo's inks don't even look like DeCarlo's usual style. There's also a touch of the influence of comic strip legend, Milton Caniff, that I'd never recognized in Aparo's art before (though I realize it was there all along).
Of course, just because this is trying for an edgy realism doesn't mean it altogether succeeds. There's some simplistic plot progression and lapses in credibility -- even silliness (I mean, just what did the Iranians intend in the climax?). And one gets the feeling Starlin probably didn't do a whole lot of research on the region, or his topics. There's an intriguing plot twist late in the saga, involving Diplomatic Immunity, but it pushes credibility. But then, comics have also (I believe) misunderstood the legal definition of Insanity for many, many years, so legal technicalities are not something you should learn from a Batman comic. There I go, referring to "comics" again, as if it's the only medium with such problems, when in fact all of my above criticisms could be applied to many a respected movie or novel, as well.
Set in the Arab world, peopled by terrorists, it could slide into offensive clichés, but (maybe because of innocent Arab taxi drivers and hotel clerks) you don't really come away feeling Starlin is trying to paint all Arabs as bad guys...any more than the Joker and his goons represent all Americans. At the same time, the portrayal of Iranians later in the story as just cardboard, illogical villains certainly seams xenophobic (whatever one may think about the Iranian government, then or now). And when Batman at one point refers to an Iranian generically as an Arab, Starlin seems to be blurring the distinction between a government...and a race.
Another qualm is that once Jason learns he has a "real" (read biological) mother, the way he just seems to forget about his dead mother -- the woman who raised him -- seems cold and insensitive.
Emotionally, the story doesn't really succeed as well as it should. Granted, I wasn't that familiar with Jason Todd, so his death didn't strike a personal chord with me. But although Jason's death, part way through, sends a vengeful Batman after the Joker, comic writers like Starlin seem more comfortable with emotions like anger or revenge, rather than the more powerful, and heart-wrenching emotion of...grief (O.K., now I do mean to single out comics writers). Neither Batman, nor Alfred, really act like they've lost a member of their family. Though, ironically, given that Jason was killed precisely because a lot of fans didn't like him, I didn't find him an unsympathetic character here.
But, despite its short comings, despite my moral qualms and my cynicism, A Death on the Family turns out to be a highly readable saga -- one that boasts some atypical, even complex plotting and plot turns. Compared to some other "stunt" stories (The Death of Superman, for one), this holds up as a story, regardless of its mythos shaking significance. I even thoroughly enjoyed the old fashioned, pre-computer, single tone coloring. I like modern comics with their rich, shaded palates, but sometimes they can be a bit cluttered and overwhelming.
That's the story considered apart from the ethical questions. Considered with the ethical question, it remains a highly questionable excercise, as does the excessively brutal manner in which Robin was killed -- comics, too often, have become a mediumm of excess. And it's made all the more distasteful by the way DC Comics (here represented by a closing editorial by Bat-editor Denny O'Neil) constantly refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of their detractors' views, and refuse to accept responsibility ("it wasn't our fault, blame the fans"). Though one can sympathize with O'Neil, who acted as front man on the whole enterprise, but has repeatedly claimed he voted to keep Robin alive! Adding insult to injury is a quote on the back from O'Neil saying it would be "sleazy" to bring back the character. Though Jason remains deceased, DC and O'Neil conjured up yet another Robin (Tim Drake) just a few issues later.
Originally published as one of those economical TPBs DC used to put out on conventional newsprint paper for a fantastically modest price, it has since been re-issued as a more conventional TPB...with an appropriately inflated price tag.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Title: Serenity: Those Left Behind
Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 2007
Artist: Brett Matthews
Writer: Joss Whedon
Collects: Serenity: Those Left Behind #1-3
Joss Whedon's television series Firefly led into the movie Serenity, but that lead was over a broken and unlit path. Along the way, some characters vanished, others faded and a few loose ends tied themselves off without any explanation. Serenity: Those Left Behind sheds light on the path that brought the Firefly crew to the point of the movie's opening scenes.
Serenity: Those Left Behind is strictly a fill-in story, covering material that won't matter or make any sense to series newcomers. But for fans of the sadly abbreviated series, it's a treat, serving as something of a season finale. The art is straightforward and focused on the story.
Will Conrad does an excellent job of capturing not just the actors, but the characters, with every expression and gesture recognizable. The dialogue and story by Brett Matthews and series creator Joss Whedon are unsurprisingly faithful to the spirit and canon of everything that's gone before. And for those who've seen the movie, there's a nice nod towards what's coming next.
Firefly was clearly envisioned as a television series, and even the most faithful comic adaptation can't take the place of the actors, musicians and animation that were part of the series' feel. But Serenity: Those Left Behind is an entertaining chapter in the lives of the galaxy's most outclassed smugglers.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Title: Batman: The Long Halloween
Publisher/Year: DC, 1998
Artist: Tim Sale
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Collects: Batman: The Long Halloween #1-13
There are a handful of iconic Batman stories, and The Long Halloween is counted proudly among them. This landmark tale written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by Tim Sale captures a side of Gotham that no other story has accomplished.
Taking its lead from Frank Miller's classic Year One story (which, while never so dramatic as The Dark Knight Returns, has far more staying power), The Long Halloween revolves around the untouchable Falcone crime family and the efforts of Gotham's justice triumvirate -- police Capt. James Gordon, crusading district attorney Harvey Dent and, of course, the Batman -- to bring crime lord Carmine "The Roman" Falcone to justice. Their task is hampered by the appearance of a serial killer, dubbed "Holiday" by the media for his propensity for killing on, you guessed it, holidays, who systematically takes apart the Falcone empire.
This dark and noirish story avoids the gimmicks employed by so many Batman writers, instead concentrating on the grim and often frustrating task of following leads, searching for clues and, at times, suspecting friends of terrible crimes. Besides a crackerjack murder-mystery, Loeb has written an exemplary Batman and has set a new high in his characterization of Gotham's peculiar population. Interactions between Batman, Gordon and Dent, as well as his trusty butler Alfred and a colorful array of villains from the Joker, Riddler and Scarecrow to Poison Ivy, Mad Hatter and Solomon Grundy, simply spark with energy and highly believable dialogue. Batman's relationship with Catwoman -- as well as Bruce Wayne's relationship with Selina Kyle -- are particularly well handled with a one-two combination of sensuality and menace.
Sale's art is sometimes not to my taste, and yet for this story it is dark and twisted perfection. (OK, I'm not sure what he's doing with the Joker's teeth, but I suppose he can slide on that one artistic quirk.)
Mystery lovers may squawk because the reader is never actually given enough clues to solve the crime, and the final twist seems to come out of nowhere. Still, The Long Halloween is a classic story that belongs in the permanent collection of every Batman fanatic and deserves to be read by anyone with even a passing interest in the Bat.
Saturday, December 7, 2013
Though I'm nowhere near behind on having reviews ready... at the time of writing this, I have reviews scheduled to post at my regular Sunday timing up to June 15th... but I have a sizable stack of trades that I've read but haven't written the review for yet. I thought that if I had a list of what is in that stack, it might help to motivate me to get to work on them.
So, without further ado... the list (listed in the order they are stacked):
So, without further ado... the list (listed in the order they are stacked):
- Ghost World
- Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom
- Venom vs. Carnage
- Hellboy: The Midnight Circus
- Azrael: Angel in the Dark
- Harbor Moon
- Ghost: Painful Music
- Dark Reign: Accept Change
- Dark Avengers: The End is the Beginning
- Marvel Mangaverse Vol. 3: Spider-Man - Legends of the Spider-Clan
- Wolverine: The Brotherhood
- Spawn Origins Collection Vol. 1 & 2
- Ghost/Batgirl: The Resurrection Engine
- Cobra: Son of the Snake
- Spider-Man's Tangled Web Vol. 4
- Star Wars: General Grievous
- Spider-Man vs. Venom
- John Constantine, Hellblazer: Black Flowers
- John Constantine, Hellblazer: Chas - The Knowledge
- Constantine: The Hellblazer Collection
- Classic G.I. Joe Vol. 15
- G.I. Joe: The Best of Snake Eyes
- G.I. Joe Vol. 4 & 5
- G.I. Joe: Origins Vol. 3 & 4
- G.I. Joe Dreadnoks: Declassified
- G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero Vol. 2
- G.I. Joe: Special Missions Vol. 3
- G.I. Joe: Cobra Vol. 1-3
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 Volume 1: Freefall
- Lady Death: The Reckoning
- Lady Death: Origins Vol. 1
- Witchblade Deluxe Collected Edition
- Spike Vol. 1: All Together Now
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Here we are, coming to the end of another year. 2013 has been a huge year from me personally, with the addition of Twitter and the Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer (#CBC4C) project. Here's the outlook on the comic con's for 2014 thus far:
Stumptown, but I wouldn't mind attending again. Hopefully I'll be able to fair better than this in 2013. Next time around, I'm going to be more open-minded about supporting the indie comic scene.
I submitted an application for a fan table to help promote Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer at Wizard World Portland. Due to my current funding capabilities, if I am denied for the table, I may only be able to attend for a single day. I already have a room booked, so now I play the waiting game. Last year, I was able to attend a single day because Groupon came through with a great deal. Either way, I'm looking forward to the chance of attending and connecting with some additional artists for CBC4C.
I already have my room booked and my train tickets purchased. I'm going to have to wait until after the holidays to buy my ticket. I missed Emerald City Comic Con 2013, but I don't want to miss 2014. Because of baggage restrictions, I'm debating about if I should bring blanks along for artist to help with CBC4C, but I'll have business cards and (hopefully) flyers/brochures.
2014 will bring a new convention into the Pacific Northwest in the form of Cherry City Comic Con right in my own back yard. I'm going to give as much support to this con as I can, though I won't have a table. I've already purchased my ticket for the weekend, and I'm looking forward to seeing what's going to be put on. With any luck, we can help make this as much of a success as 2012's inaugural Rose City Comic Con. Buy your tickets now!
I intend on attending Rose City Comic Con again in 2014. I wouldn't miss it for the world. I'm hoping that I'll also be able to get a fan table to help promote CBC4C. Even if I'm not able to get a table, I'll have business cards and flyers/brochures.
All year long!
I know it's not a comic con, but I thought I'd add a little something about the Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer project. As you can probably tell from above, I intend on promoting CBC4C wherever I go. I'm looking forward to making new connections with artists who can help support the cause, and I'd love to be able to meet some of the current artists face-to-face. I appreciate everyone who has helped this project become successful. What I'd like to ask from each person who reads this is to like our Facebook page if you haven't already and share it with at least 1 person.
To any vendors who will be attending any or all of these conventions, I have a simple request...
Bring lots of different TPB's and GN's and give us a good discount and you'll have my attention and my patronage.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
Publisher/Year: DC, 2008
Artist: Lee Bermejo
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Every superhero needs a nemesis and The Joker has served Batman well over the years. His white face, green hair, psychotic grin and manic laugh have remained something of a constant, making his visage almost as iconic as Batman’s cape and cowl. But he’s also prone to reinvention, with each generation making a darker, more disturbing Joker. Alan Moore’s crippling rapist in 1988′s The Killing Joke became a low water mark in his evil career though. And while Azzerello and Bermejo provide him with a nasty looking carved-in grin, and paint him as a murderous, psychotic bully, he doesn’t quite stoop so low in this violent reworking.
He is, however, a ruthless gangster. Finding himself freed from Arkham Asylum on the grounds that he’s cured (and thus falling into one of superhero comics’ eternal problems – why aren’t these guys just sent straight to the chair?), The Joker returns to Gotham to retake his position as king of crime. In his absence, characters like The Penguin and Two-Face have muscled in on his territory – foolish mistakes they’ll live to regret, as The Joker re-takes his slice of the action, along with a bit more for his trouble. In other words, The Joker isn’t cured – he’s as bad as ever. Now there’s a surprise. Someone at Arkham’s going to lose their job.
All this is seen through the perspective of one of The Joker’s henchmen, Jonny Frost, who quickly rises into position as his right-hand man, second only to silent and undoubtedly deeply disturbed lap-dancing girlfriend Harley Quinn. It’s Jonny’s voice we hear throughout the book, as he learns the ropes of dealing with The Joker and boasts that, through his close bond with the master criminal, he has finally become someone of note.
Azzerello’s take on The Joker deals far more with the politics of crime than we’re used to seeing. We see how he deals with his rivals and why there could never really be a collective union of super-villains, with so little honor amongst these thieves. Bermejo’s darker, grittier take on this pantheon of villains is a stunning job, taking the characteristics that make them who they are and grounding them with contemporary fashions and henchmen. His Gotham is dark, brooding and lawless.
The story is flawed only by its eventual and begrudgingly necessary adherence to the cycle of the superhero story which, while tempered with a different perspective, is necessarily still locked into this three act piece. If you can cope with this, however, we’re sure you’ll agree that the voice Azzerello gives The Joker is a definitive fit we’re likely to hear again. At least until the next time the character goes through a reinvention.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Title: Sandman: The Dream Hunters
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 1999
Artist: Yoshitaka Amano
Writer: Neil Gaiman
This book is not a graphic novel. Rather, The Dream Hunters is a beautifully illustrated and exquisitely written story of ancient Japan involving magic, love, sacrifices and, of course, dreams. Taken from an ancient myth, this magical retelling is both a Sandman story and a freestanding work all its own, without needing reference or background in the Sandman universe.
The story begins, as so many stories do, with a wager. A badger and a fox wager that whoever can roust a pious young monk from his temple shall have the temple for a home. Despite their efforts, the monk is not fooled, and eventually the wager is called off. The fox goes to the monk and apologizes, an unprecedented move for the fox. The monk is accepting, and the two become friends.
The fox learns of danger to her new friend, the monk, and is determined to save him from almost certain death. Indeed, she travels to far inner spaces, and manages to save the monk from the subtle spell that has been cast upon him. However, the monk is as stubborn as the fox and his own efforts to save her are as just as strong. He travels to the dreamlands in order to bargain for her life, and is beset by dangers of all sorts, without losing his resolve. The ending is unexpected, bittersweet and revealing all at once.
Yoshitaka Amano's illustrations are a variety of media, ranging from etching on gold, to watercolors, oils and pencil sketches. Each illustration is a marvel to be admired on its own as well as adding to the story. I was lucky enough to view his exhibit, which included original paintings for this book, and they are incredibly magical works on their own.
Neil Gaiman's wordsmithing whisks the reader off to a completely different milieu, without leaving us floundering for some sort of context. I especially enjoyed a cameo of two characters from The Dreaming comic book series, and was thrilled to learn that they were actually part of the original myth that this story was based upon.
In all, the experience of reading this book left me trembling on the knife-edge of tears and laughter. I found it to be an emotionally moving experience and highly recommend this book to everyone whether they have previously enjoyed Gaiman's Sandman stories or have never read anything by him at all. Reading The Dream Hunters was a magical experience to be savored.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Artist: Walt Flanagan
Writer: Kevin Smith
Collects: Batman: Cacophony #1-3
When the Joker is sprung from Arkham Asylum and left to run murderous riot in Gotham City, it seems like the Clown Prince of Crime is up to his usual tricks. But what Batman assumes to be an accomplice turns into something altogether more sinister – a new villain on the scene who seems intent on using Batman and The Joker’s inevitable tussles as an opportunity to trap Batman.
The key element of interest here is that the story is written by Kevin Smith and is his first stab at taking on DC Comics’ iconographic Dark Knight. The Joker is a good match for his talents, as Smith has The Joker unleash a barrage of snappy one-liners that veer towards Smith’s traditionally ultra-crude cannon without being wholly consumed by it. He also manages to provide the character a malicious, nasty streak without going too far into nitty-gritty details of his crimes.
Smith writes the mysterious third man as a near silent mute, mirroring his films’ Silent Bob character. This helps maintain the mystery of the character above and beyond his place in the plot – even by the end of the book we know virtually nothing about him.
However, Smith is surprisingly reverential to the Batman mythos, portraying the hero as a calm, measured man with a mission to keep the impossibly imbalanced Gotham on as even a keel as possible, using violence where necessary but clearly not relishing that aspect of his persona. You might have expected Smith to take this further – to out violence Christian Bale, to take The Joker’s madness further than Heath Ledger, or to try and go darker than Christopher Nolan. Perhaps it’s Smith’s own hardcore comic fan status that keeps him on this more subtle, less cinematic path, but it’s a welcome refrain. The violence is bone-crunchingly modern but it’s kept to the main characters, at least in terms of what is shown rather than what happens off-panel.
Despite all this Cacophony isn’t a great Batman story. Perhaps it’s because Smith himself argues in his introduction that he’s already writing something better. Perhaps it’s because it’s only a collection of three issues and it feels like there’s much more story to tell. Or perhaps it’s because it seems like Smith hasn’t finished with his silent villain quite yet. Whatever it is, Smith’s first Batman story isn’t going to go down in history alongside the greats, but I remain intrigued to see where he might take the Caped Crusader from here.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
The next stage of our project is to broaden the exposure of our cause. I've been promoting #CBC4C on Twitter, Facebook and several comic book message boards, but I feel that the message can be spread further.
To that end, I have already submitted an application for a fan group table for Wizard World Portland (January 24-26, 2014). In anticipation of being accepted as well as continuing this at future comic cons (namely Rose City Comic Con, Stumptown and the new Cherry City Comic Con), I need help with funding this stage of the project, and you can help.
To date, this project has primarily (95%) been funded out of my own pocket. I need help with signage for the table/booth area as well as brochures and informational flyers. The goal will also go towards expenses like transportation. Any excess will go straight into the donations to the American Cancer Society.
I have a GoFundMe campaign already started where you can donate to help us out. Here's the link:
Sunday, November 10, 2013
Publisher/Year: DC, 1994
Artist: Kelly Jones
Writer: Doug Moench
The second in the Elseworlds vampiric Batman series, this stunning tale is the ultimate test of the Batman's vow never to take a life. What happens when he can no longer control his appetite for blood?
The ending might leave some readers shocked but it's well worth it, and appropriate for the story. Those who might take issue with the final pages might do well to remember that in a sense, Batman has changed fundamentally from what he once was and is some other sort of being altogether. In short, don't look a gift horse in the mouth. If you can get past the not-so-shocking but still juicy ending, you'll realize that Doug Moench has served up a wonderfully written dark fantasy that takes the Batman mythos right to the edge and over it without once appearing ungraceful or faltering even a little bit. As Elseworlds stories go, it's damn near perfect in the way it is completely unafraid to dance up close and personal with some rather disturbing images and yet never loses the feel of being a completely accurate Batman story.
The Batman's mystique is so pervasive and ubiquitous that it lends itself to a number of gothic, iconic images, none more so than that of the ultimate creature of the night, the vampire. The thought of combining the two images in the heart and soul of a man who is himself one of the greatest of hunters is a thought almost too delicious too contemplate. The treatment alone, no matter how awful, would have been worth a look. Moench wrote a story that struggled under the weight of the idea in the first volume, Red Rain, but has found its stride from the first page to the last in Bloodstorm. Moench has the bit in his teeth with this story and doesn't intend to let the reader off easy.
The atmosphere is very Blade-like as Batman becomes both a truer version of what he is, a creature of the night, and a more tortured human being because of his conscience. The inner struggle quickly becomes an outer one as Batman has to grapple with whether or not he is inflicting evil upon his city simply by existing.
This existential quandary is the heart of the action: the Joker has taken over the legions of the undead and is forming an army to, naturally, wipe out the Batman, as if to prove the theory that Batman creates chaos by being who he is, as opposed to stopping it, which is the vow his life is founded on. At some point the hard question has to be asked, and the answer won't be easy for a fighter like him.
Another familiar face, Catwoman, plays an important role as a beautiful were-cat who aids the Batman. Her role is unhappily cut short. This comic has the feel of a monthly title to it. She truly fills out the role of helper in the manner she might originally have if Batman, when they first met, had ever allowed her to fight by his side. There are no Robins in the universe, so the role of teammate falls to the woman who almost had the job in the first place, and it fits her like a furry purple glove.
Kelly Jones, of Sandman fame, turns in beautiful gothic art that commands the eye at every page. John Beatty adds stark touches with a heavy hand on the lines, creating brooding, splendid images that carry the mood of the story perfectly. It's a must have for all Batman fans.
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Title: Batman: Battle for the Cowl
Artist: Tony S. Daniel, Dustin Nguyen, Guillem March, ChrisCross, Jamie McKelvie, Alex Konat, Mark McKenna
Writer: Tony S. Daniel, Fabian Nicieza
Collects: Battle for the Cowl #1-3, Gotham Gazette: Batman Dead? #1, Gotham Gazette: Batman Alive? #1
Batman: Battle for the Cowl is something of a bridging book. The Batman that generations of fans know and love – the alter ego of Bruce Wayne – has disappeared and presumed dead, after the events of Batman R.I.P. This has thrown Gotham City into turmoil, as everyone from the smallest of crooks to the maddest of super-villains see this enormous gap in law enforcement as a license to grab what they can.
The remaining sidekicks and superheroes, particularly Robin and ex-Robins like Dick Grayson (Nightwing), are left wondering whether they should take over the mantle of Batman. However, while these guys are deliberating on their worthiness to wear the cowl, someone else has taken the opportunity, clearing Gotham’s streets with a brutal and deadly force that would make Bruce Wayne turn in his grave. Who this is and what they’re up to is part of the mystery of this book.
Short and sweet, this pivotal moment in recent Batman history takes up only three of the five chapters in this collected edition but it’s expertly paced, well written and nicely illustrated. Although there are lots of supporting characters they’re fairly incidental, and it’s the bigger names that get top billing. There’s a swelling feeling of youth stepping up that gives the book a real feeling of new beginnings and lifts these characters well beyond their accepted side-kick status.
The supporting material that bulks out the rest of the book is two chapters originally published to book-end Battle for the Cowl – here they’re both presented afterwards. Along with its companion volume, all of this could probably have been brought together to make a good, solid chunk of a book, though I suppose the slimmed down two-volume version at least means you don’t have to buy extra background material if you don’t want it.
So this ends up being an above average superhero tale, despite the fact it doesn’t even contain the Batman we know and love. As an introduction to the next episode in Dark Knight history, however, it’s a solid piece of work. Batman is dead. Long live Batman.
Friday, November 1, 2013
Another year has gone by, and I have yet to run out of reviews. Since joining Twitter last year, I've picked-up over 280 followers and have started to share older reviews through #ThrowbackThursdays. You can follow me at @ZanziberPOV.
This is a screenshot of my very first post, announcing myself to the world:
The reviews on the Borderlands Games website are all gone. I wish I had kept them because I'd love to post them on my RPG4EVR blog for role playing games. Lesson learned because I have copies of ever single review I've posted here archived on one of my external hard drives.
As for pitching a weekly article to the local newspaper, I haven't gone down that road... and I doubt I ever actually will. I think the biggest reason behind that decision is because I would prefer to keep myself accountable to just me.
The website stats seem to suggest that there are more people reading Zanziber's Point of View than last year. At the time when I wrote this post, the counter was at 18,795. :-)
I'm working on a project to raise money for the American Cancer Society. I call it "Comic Book Covers For Cancer" (#CBC4C). The idea stems from a project that The Hero Initiative ran this year with artist covers for The Walking Dead #100.
As you can see from that website, these covers raised a considerable amount of money. I'm working to start small with local artists to raise money for cancer research. This will also help to promote each artist's name and work.
Each artists would donate their work on some various blank cover comic books that I will provide. In turn, I will auction off each completed comic book with the proceeds going to the ACS. With each comic sold, I will include artist information and a certificate of authenticity.
A special shout-out to my LCS; Tony's Kingdom of Comics. Tony is the best "comic book guy" in the local area. He is also my biggest sponsor for #CBC4C! Without him, this would be a difficult task.
As I've posted before, there is a simple way to support this blog. I have an affiliate membership through Lone Star Comics. If you click on the link (located below) and make a purchase, I will receive a % of your purchase as store credit. This is the closest thing I have to a sponsor right now.
I appreciate those of you who follow my reviews and those who have helped by making purchases through my affiliate link. I hope that the coming year provides as much fruit as the past years offered. As always, I'm open to suggestions and requests for reviews.
Here's to another year of reviews. Enjoy and thank you for your continued support.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Title: Batman vs. Predator
Publisher/Year: DC, 1993
Artist: Andy Kubert
Writer: Dave Gibbons
Collects: Batman vs. Predator #1-3
Predator, the big-screen alien hunter licensed to Dark Horse, made a leap into the DC Universe and Batman's Gotham City in this highly successful crossover tale. Appropriately grim and gritty in its art, Batman vs. Predator is a monumental showdown between champions.
But the Predator doesn't make a beeline for the Batman, of course. Seeking the most powerful prey, it first targets the city's celebrated prizefighters before setting its sights on crimelords and politicos (and one hapless junkyard dog). Soon, however, it realizes where the real power in Gotham lies -- the Batman.
The Batman usually makes crimefighting look easy, but he's more than met his physical match here. Severely injured in the first round, Batman is helpless as the Predator cuts a vicious swath through Gotham's powerful elite. The alien beast eventually focuses its attention on one of the city's best take-charge kind of guys, Commissioner Gordon -- and that threat signals Batman's return to the ring.
The tale laid out by Dave Gibbons, illustrated in vivid darkness by Adam and Andy Kubert, is a masterpiece of the genre, one of the best company crossover books I've read. More than a decade after its initial release, Batman vs. Predator is still at the top of its game. Prepare yourself for a fight to remember.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
With the recent release of The Walking Dead #115, I wanted to get some of the blank covers for use in the Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer (#CBC4C) project.
Within 30 minutes of making the decision to procure more blank covers, I had placed orders with Things From Another World, Midtown Comics and MyComicShop (aka Lone Star Comics). I thought this would be an ideal time to critique each service. All orders were placed on Friday, October 11th.
Within 30 minutes of making the decision to procure more blank covers, I had placed orders with Things From Another World, Midtown Comics and MyComicShop (aka Lone Star Comics). I thought this would be an ideal time to critique each service. All orders were placed on Friday, October 11th.
- The order I placed for #CBC4C was for 5 copies of The Walking Dead #115 (bagged and boarded).
- I received confirmation on October 14th that the package was shipped.
- I wasn't able to use the track # provided to find out where this package was.
- Received October 17th. (To be fair, TFAW is less than an hour away from me... but I did not drive to pick-up the order.)
- I placed an order for 3 copies of The Walking Dead #115 for #CBC4C.
- I tried for 5 copies, but either they didn't have the inventory or there was a set limit on how many I could purchase.
- There was no additional charge for bagging and boarding.
- I received confirmation on October 14th that the package was shipped.
- The tracking for this package said that it was projected for delivery on October 21st.
- Received October 19th.
- I was able to order 1 The Walking Dead #115 and 2 copies of Wonder Woman #19 (bagged and boarded).
- The up-side is that I was able to use the remaining credit that I had accumulated.
- I received confirmation on October 17th that the package was shipped.
- On October 21st, tracking indicated that packed would be delivered on October 23rd.
- Received October 22nd.
Sunday, October 20, 2013
Title: X-Treme X-Men Vol. 2: Invasion
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2002
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Writer: Chris Claremont
Collects: X-Treme X-Men #10-18
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2002
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Writer: Chris Claremont
Collects: X-Treme X-Men #10-18
While the first volume of X-Treme X-Men had its qualities it felt a lot like Chris Claremont wasn’t entirely sure where to go with what he’d written, like he’d put himself into a corner. The idea of the diaries was good in theory but the villain Vargas was just too ill defined to be taken as a true threat and the plot kept veering off in directions it didn’t need to go in. Thankfully Claremont’s decision after tying up things in Australia was to put that plot on the backburner and limited himself to the much more direct plot of an alien invasion. Which drastically improved the quality of this arc.
Having linked up with the team after dealing with the events in Australia, Gambit approaches Storm apparently knowing something about a jewel in her possession as they lay low. Well no sooner can you say the words “MacGuffin” than it’s revealed the jewel is key to an invasion and as is Gambit. As both are taken by the invasion’s advanced guard, the X-men pursue the kidnapper to Madripoor, arriving just in time to be trapped inside as it’s cut off from the world by a force-field. With legions of technologically advanced troops storming the island nation, the X-Treme team find themselves as Earth’s only line of defense against an unknown foe. Seven mutants against an armada capable of enslaving entire dimensions.
As with before, Salvador Larroca’s art remains consistently excellent from beginning to end. While there are definitely some problems when it comes to one action flowing into another, they’re still beautifully drawn and inked. Even for characters which have been around for decades this is the best they’ve looked in a long time. The only time it ever has any problems is with the character of Lifeguard (yes they do make fun of the name) with a changing appearance, but that could easily be put down to her powers.
The story itself has much more of the focus, pacing and concentration upon the action which Volume 1 lacked. While there are breather moments in combat and quiet bits, these are installed at key points within the plot and you never feel they’re out of place or getting in the way of things. Many actually offer some surprising moments of characterization such as one newly activated mutant beginning to regret his choices and asking if the X-Men’s lives are “always like this?” It adds moments of humanity which tend to be missing in a lot of stories or are mishandled by certain authors (Millar, Bendis, looking at you) even if it can come across as slightly hammy at times.
Unfortunately at the same time it could be argued that it sometimes moves too fast. There is a very abrupt beginning in which we have information both delivered via flashback and as events move, which doesn’t seem to gel very well. While it goes a considerable way to get the story moving quickly the start can be jarring at first and is unlike something you’d expect in a modern comic.
For the majority of the book the action with the X-Men trying to stem the tide really works well. You get a sense of the sheer power and scale of the invasion very early on. While only running battles are seen rather than full blown engagements, the local military is thoroughly beaten down every time and the victories the X-Men make never seem to do enough impact. Well, at least up to the point where Rogue cuts loose, but explaining that bit would ruin one of the story’s major highlights and shows just why the X-Men are quite capable of taking on alien invasions without serving as backup to the Avengers.
The 80s style writing continues here, giving it the same sort of clunky charm the last book had but it feels far more appropriate and as if the style is being used well. Some noticeable flaws remain such as many newly introduced characters being ill defined, especially in light of how strongly the main team-members are written in this. While the recently introduced Lifeguard and Slipstream actually come off well, many of the similar villains seem extremely generic or we are given little more than a name. This is especially unfortunate because the main villain, Khan, has an interesting idea behind him and feels like he could have been truly fleshed out into an interesting reoccurring villain or at least someone who could be remembered for a few years. When much what little of his motivations the comic delves into are revealed, he comes across like some lesser version of Warhammer 40,000’s Emperor, leading his forces on a continual crusade for unity. It’s just a shame a lot of this is put to one side to emphasize upon a possible relationship with Storm.
The final thing to truly note is that the arc actually ends on something of a positive note. While it’s made clear that their victory is a costly one, and affected some of those involved more than others, it doesn’t try to crush any feelings of positivity to make what happened feel as grim and pyrrhic as possible. The comic still makes it clear there’s been a victory and their adventures will continue rather than endlessly beating the heroes into the ground and trying to make the universe darker and darker at every turn.
This isn’t an arc I’d recommend to everyone but if you’ve got some basic familiarity with the franchise and are willing to ignore a few unexplained details this is an okay read. While definitely not something to seek out at all costs it’s definitely worth picking up at least once, reading over a few hours and then (probably) forgetting about it. If you’ve disliked how the X-Men have been portrayed as villains constantly of late and how Marvel seems to be trying to force every single last outcome to an event to be as bleak as humanly imaginable this one might be worth looking up.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Publisher/Year: Image, 2013
Artist: Charlie Adlard, Rafael Albuquerque, Kristin Allen, Gabriel Ba, Art Baltazar, Ben Bates, John Beatty, Jon Bogdanove, Dan Brereton, Steve Bryant, Talent Caldwell, Daniel Campos, Richard Case, Anthony Castrillo, Victor Castro, Ron Chan, Matthew Clark, Ryan Cody, Nelson DeCastro, Mark Dos Santos, Kevin Eastman, Cat Farris, Walt Flanagan, Tony Fleecs, Autumn Fredrickson, Jenny Frison, Agnes Garbowska, Chris Giarrusso, Ian Glaubinger, Ben Glendenning, Sina Grace, Rob Guillory, Fred Hembeck, Christopher Herndon, Edwin Huang, Chris Ivy, Casey Jones, Ken Jones, Derek Fridolfs, Joe Jusko, Tim Kelly, Sam Keith, Tom Kelly, Dale Keown, Karl Kesel, Leonard Kirk, Scott Kolins, Rich Koslowski, Peter Krause, Andy Kuhn, Steve Kurth, Ken Lashley, Jeff Lemire, Steve Lieber, Menton Matthews III, John McCrea, Ted McKeever, Mark McKenna, Mike McKone, Shawn McManus, Rodolfo Migliari, Albert Morales, Chris Moreno, Marat Mychaels, Todd Nauck, Mike Norton, Ryan Ottley, Tony Parker, Don Perlin, Khoi Pham, Sean Phillips, Whilce Portacio, Gordon Purcell, Tom Raney, Jason Reeves, Paolo Rivera, Darick Robertson, Jimmie Robinson, Gabriel Rodriguez, Tone Rodriguez, Scott Rosema, Riley Rossmo, Hainanu Saulque, Alex Saviuk, Stuart Sayger, Tim Seeley, Sajad Shah, Skinner, Andy Smith, Mark Sparacio, Fiona Staples, Arthur Suydam, Ben Templesmith, Ty Templeton, Mark Texeira, Mark Torres, Jim Valentino, Michael Walsh, Jonathan Wayshak, Doug Wheatley, Shannon Wheeler, Charles P. Wilson III, Marc Wolfe, Jim Zubkavich, Chrissie Zullo
This is the project that inspired me to begin the Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer (#CBC4C) project, so when this trade was released I had to have it.
This is a collection of all the covers from The Walking Dead 100 Project for the Hero Initiative. They were able ro raise over $111k for the Hero Initiative. My hope is that I can raise some decent money for cancer research.
These covers are wonderful to look at. If you couldn't afford to purchase the originals, you can have this trade in your collection. My plan is to collect the artists signatures in my personal copy.
For more information about Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer, please like us on Facebook.