Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dark Wolverine Volume 1: The Prince

Title: Dark Wolverine Volume 1: The Prince

ISBN: 9780785139003
Price: $24.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2009
Artist: Guiseppe Camuncoli, Tommy Lee Edwards
Writer: Daniel Way
Collects: Wolverine #73-74, Dark Wolverine #75-77

Rating: 3.5/5

The story of Daken Akihiro, better known as Dark Wolverine, is an intriguing one, filled with half-truths, misconceptions and allusions that leaves us with only more questions. Is Daken really as evil as his father, Logan, believes? Is he a bad guy? What are his motives? While these questions aren’t exactly answered in “Dark Wolverine: The Prince,” which is a collection of issues 75-77 in the series and issues 73 and 74 in “Wolverine,” the series is an absolute blast to read through and prove that Akihiro, just like his father, is the type of character worth digging your claws into.

Co-written by Marvel vet-Daniel Way and novelist Marjorie Liu, the trade has a sneaky feel to it, as you never quite know what to expect. With sprinkles of Machiavellian quotations in between the dialogue, which mainly consists of the inner thoughts of Daken, as he hatches his master plan, this trade has the feel of a novella, rather than a comic book.

That’s anything but a problem though, as this character is as deep as a tortured soul in a work by Poe and as brash as a Hemingway hero. Simply put, after reading these issues that comprise this trade, you’ll be running to find the next one. As cool as James Bond and as tough as his father, Daken is a walking oxymoron- a philosopher and student of life that refuses to use his intelligence when in combat, a manipulator with a heart and a lover without a soul.

If anyone ever wondered if “House of M” was worth it in long run, the birth of this character has to be a huge selling point.

With a fresh spin and tons of potential, “Dark Wolverine” is a series worth keeping your eyes on and “The Prince” is living proof of that.

Away from the writing however, the art, done marvelously by Guiseppe Camuncoli and Tommy Lee Edwards is both a tribute to the old Wolverine comics of yesteryear [one panel in particular shows Daken, in his father's costume with an olive from a martini in his mouth- the resemblance here to papa claws is uncanny] while being chic and savvy enough [using tons of color and huge panels for action scenes] to attract new readers. This, coupled with covers by Adam Kubert and you have a great looking book that compliments the solid writing beautifully.

Because of the level of the writing and polish in the visuals, regardless of one’s affinity for Marvel’s most popular character or not, any fan of the medium owes it to themselves to check out this trade. Full of original thought, sexiness and pizazz, it’s a rare treat for anyone sick of the same old characters in the industry today.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Title: G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Rating: PG-13
Production Company/Year: Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Skydance Productions,
Hasbro, Di Bonaventura Pictures, 2013
Director: Jon M. Chu
Writer: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

Rating: 3.5/5

After the disappointment that was G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, I wasn't quite sure if I actually wanted to see this movie. Before Rise of Cobra, I was psyched due to my childhood love of G.I. Joe and I didn't want to get betrayed again.

After they pulled this movie from it's original June 2012 release date to make it 3D, I really had my doubts. I felt that if it couldn't stand alone with its story and FX without the addition of 3D, it would be another letdown. After the awesomeness that was the Avengers movie, I understand why the execs for this movie decided to push it to a 2013 release.

After all my initial misgivings about this movie, I decided to go and watch it anyways.

Though much of the original cast didn't return for this sequel, and Channing Tatum as Duke didn't last very long, I think that may have been for the better. There was not much mention to what actually happened to people like Scarlett, Ripcord, General Hawk, Heavy Duty, Baroness and Mainframe.

I appreciated that it looked like the writers actually had read some of the original comic books. Fans of the original Marvel series should appreciate the Arashikage Mind-Set being used and a great homage to the "Silent Issue". There is a great deal of ninja action packed into this movie, but thankfully it doesn't go overboard and introduce the Ninja Force. (Read the later issues of the original run of Marvel's G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero series to understand that reference.)

I was hesitant about seeing Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in this movie since his movies have been fairly hit-or-miss, IMHO. I think Johnson's performance was good and held the film together. I know that he has recently returned to wrestling in an effort to better promote his movies.

Ray Stevenson's portrayal of the Cobra saboteur Firefly was excellent, although I think that the motorcycle that split into separate rocket pieces was a little out there. Since I just finished reading the stories in the TPB's involving Firefly as a ninja, I was glad to see that the writers didn't take it that far for the character.

Whoever designed the costume for Snake Eyes in the original (Rise) movie should be very ashamed of themselves. Whoever designed the costume for the current incarnation of Snake Eyes should be commended. This was true to the Snake Eyes I remember as a child and what I've seen in the TPB's. This costume made my inner child very giddy.

Another aspect of the original comics was to promote the toys. I'm glad that this movie didn't have to sink so low as there is only a single reference to a named vehicle: the HISS tank. The new HISS tanks are a better concept that the original ones from the comics or the cartoons. I didn't feel that I had to suspend my understanding of reality to belief what I was seeing.

Of course, the ending was very open for a sequel, so I expect a final installment of the G.I. Joe series will come to us in 3-5 years.

One other side note... There were promo posters in the lobby of the Regal theater I went to. Here's what they look like on the front:
On the back of this poster, they are already promoting the release of the Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital combo that can be preordered at Walmart. I just had to laugh when I saw that.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Walking Dead Volume 16: A Larger World

Title: The Walking Dead Volume 16: A Larger World

ISBN: 978160706553
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2012
Artist: Charlie Adlard
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Collects: The Walking Dead #91-96

Rating: 4/5

The 'Walking Dead' series has had far more ups than downs so all I had to do was hope that volume 16 took things back on an upward path rather than the other direction. It's a slow path upwards but 'A Larger World' does start to move things in the right direction again.

Supplies are growing dangerously low in the settlement and the surrounding area has been picked clean of anything useful. Trips further afield are in order and one such trip reveals that Rick's community isn't the only one trying to survive. New encounters invariably mean new problems to solve though and Rick and his friends must face up to some tough decisions if their community is going to make it through the winter...

'A Larger World' has similar problems to the previous volume in terms of just how safe the characters all are. There's a big walled settlement for shelter and even the weakest character has killed enough zombies for that not to be an issue either. A little bit of the tension is missing then but Kirkman sidesteps this rather neatly by throwing the wider setting into sharper focus. There's a whole new world out there and Kirkman shows us the potential here for new tales yet to come.

If there's a problem here it's very much that all these tales are 'yet to come'. 'A Larger World' is all about setting things up for future volumes so be prepared for not a lot to happen at times. Balancing this out though is the air of menace that Kirkman builds up over the course of the book; 'A Larger World' isn't just filler, things are being laid in place that promise something explosive in the very near future. This is what I'm after and I don't mind waiting a little bit longer if I know it's coming.

There are also more developments, on the personal front, for our band of survivors and it's all credit to Kirkman that he keeps things becoming too much like a soap opera. These are people learning to feel again, after some traumatic events, and I think Kirkman captures that perfectly.

Like I said then, it's a slow road but 'A Larger World' sets the plot back on an upward trajectory. I’m all excited again about seeing where the series takes us next.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Walking Dead Volume 15: We Find Ourselves

Title: The Walking Dead Volume 15: We Find Ourselves

ISBN: 9781607064404
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2012
Artist: Charlie Adlard
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Collects: The Walking Dead #85-90

Rating: 3.5/5

After the events of ‘No Way Out’ (Volume 14) the community is trying to rebuild itself and look to make itself stronger for a safe future that Rick really wants for Carl. Will Carl see that future though? He’s in a coma and showing no signs of waking up. There are also ominous rumblings from longer term residents that the arrival of Rick and his band has spelt nothing but trouble for them. They were safe before but now they’re dying at a tremendous rate, Rick and his friends have to go... one way or another.
Will Rick be able to deal with all these new developments though? Rick is reaching his limits and cannot live with what he has become...

Long term readers of the ‘Walking Dead’ series will notice that there’s a well-defined pattern to how the story plays out. Rick and his friends get settled, start to make a life for themselves and then it all comes crashing down in a series of violent events that will leave at least one main character eaten by zombies. Pieces are picked up and the whole thing starts all over again. This is very much what ‘We Find Ourselves’ is, a transitional piece where everyone gets a chance to take a breather before they start again. This time though, this approach doesn’t work nearly as well as it has done in the past.

The bottom line is that there is no real sense of danger to give the plot any urgency whatsoever. In the past, transitional books have been driven by the fact that zombies are still out there, often quite literally snapping at the heels of the survivors. Rick and his band have to find shelter before they can begin to recover.

This time, the gap in the wall is filled in and... That’s pretty much it. A small group of zombies is picked off with almost contemptuous ease and the one or two others encountered have been frozen, its winter, so can be picked off even more easily. You’re probably thinking that’s ok though; after all we have a rebellious faction within the community itself that should make for an interesting turn of events. That rebellious faction has potential but this is wasted by the fact that Kirkman not only uses them too soon but clearly doesn’t give them a brain cell to share between them all. They are also taken care of far too easily (having never really had to fight for survival like Rick and his friends) and the status quo resumes too smoothly for my liking.

The story really needs the walls of the community to come crashing down, in order to spice things up, but at the same time the logical step for the survivors is to make those walls even stronger so they can settle down and live. It’s an interesting conundrum for the series and one that suggests to me that the ending can’t be too far away now, however it turns out.

In the meantime, Rick’s introspection (and having to rebuild his relationship with Carl) doesn’t quite balance out the fact that nothing is really happening here. I get that you can’t have zombies all the time but you’ve got to replace it with something that keeps the story vital and interesting. There’s very little of that here; just hints for the future that don’t match what has gone before.

‘The Walking Dead’ hasn’t let me down, on the whole, so I am more than willing to be proved wrong as the story continues. Right now, things just felt a little lackluster (including the artwork), like the story was just marking time instead of actually doing something. That doesn’t bode well for the future but, like I said, I’m willing to be proved wrong.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

Title: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

ISBN: 1563893428
Price: $14.95
Publisher/Year: DC, 1996
Artist: Frank Miller
Writer: Frank Miller
Collects: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #1-4

Rating: 3.5/5

Frank Miller changed the rules and wrote the Batman story no one else would write.

Sure, people had written stories before about an aging Batman. Usually, they were cute tales about the retired and happily married hero beaming proudly as the former Robin takes his place in the cape, and his young, blond son became the new sidekick.

But Miller did something a little different. With The Dark Knight Returns, first issued in collected form in 1986, he redefined the genre of comics forever. As Alan Moore, himself an innovator in the genre, wrote in his introduction, Miller "has taken a character whose every trivial and incidental detail is graven in stone on the hearts and minds of the comic fans that make up his audience and managed to dramatically redefine that character without contradicting one jot of the character's mythology. ... Everything is exactly the same, except for the fact that it's all totally different."

In the first of four chapters comprising the series, Miller introduces us to an aging Bruce Wayne who's been retired as Batman for 10 years and is obsessed with his own death. Commissioner Gordon is still around, but he's being forced to retire from the police force on his 70th birthday, one month away. And Gotham City is going to Hell, the victim of a heatwave and a massive upswing in violent crime.

Then we learn of the release of reformed criminal Harvey Dent, the former district attorney who became Two-Face when scarred with acid. A leading psychiatrist vouches for Dent's new found mental stability, and a top plastic surgeon has finally restored Dent's face to normal. But then Dent disappears and a new crime wave begins.

And suddenly, witnesses are reporting a large, bat-like creature attacking crime all over the city. For a while we get glimpses -- a boot, a glove, a crippled criminal -- interspersed with news reports and man-on-the-street interviews with people debating the existing of Batman.

Our first glimpse of the hero, leaping after a getaway car, sets a standard for dramatic artwork which helped to remold the look of comics in the years since its first release. Although Miller was assisted in the art by inker Klaus Janson and colorist Lynn Varley, the overall look of the book is his own -- and he did a tremendous job with it. There are better artists out there, but Miller's bold, sometimes repetitive presentation borrows some visual ideas from film-making and, coupled with the text, provides a new style in story art.

It is also during this first chapter that Miller remakes the moment that made Batman. Sure, the basic story is the same -- heading home after seeing The Mark of Zorro, the young Bruce Wayne watches his parents brutally gunned down by an alleyway hoodlum -- but the details, down to the pearls falling from his mother's broken necklace, have been copied and recopied by countless Batman artists since.

Chapter two gives us a different sort of criminal -- no less colorful than the Jokers, Penguins and Two-Faces, but far more real to many contemporary city dwellers. The Mutants, as the gang has been called, is made up of young anarchists with a thirst for violence and no concept of innocent bystanders. They kill for fun, for kicks ... and they have the weaponry to make it hurt. In a way, these kids are more evil than all the plots and machinations of Batman's usual costumed foes.

Again with the splashy full-page entrance ... Batman's attack on the insane Mutant leader is visually awe-inspiring. The battle which follows is a heart-stopper. And the rematch ... oof.

This chapter also introduces the new Robin, an acrobatic girl sold on legends of the old Batman. Her entrance into the action is a surprise, more to the Batman than to the readers, but she makes a noteworthy addition to the ranks of Robins who've worn the gaudy costume.

Chapter three -- the Mutant threat is over, but the former gang members have splintered into violent pockets. Some continue their reign of terror on a smaller scale, while others become the Sons of the Batman, a vigilante group for whom there is a very thin line between criminals and victims.

Growing turmoil in Gotham mirrors a global crisis in Central America. One man is called upon to handle both -- and let me give you a hint, he's faster than a speeding bullet.

In the past, Batman and Superman were often paired as good friends. In the new DC universe, writers have followed Miller's lead -- the two heroes with such drastically different approaches are respectful allies, not pals. There are walls between them that even Superman can not leap.

In this portion of the story, the conflict between Superman and the Batman begins to grow. Superman is acting under federal orders to stop the vigilante, but his efforts are delayed when international events go nuclear. To make matters worse, the Joker -- long held quiescent in Arkham Home for the Emotionally Troubled -- escapes, leaving hundreds dead in his wake.

And the Batman wonders how many deaths he's responsible for, simply because he never put a final stop to the Joker's ruthlessness.

The third chapter is the real climax of the series, with the final conflict between the Batman and the Joker digging more deeply into the heart and soul of these characters than any writer has ever done, before or since. A priceless moment: Batman, wounded and in pursuit of his foe, pauses to admonish a small boy for his language. Priceless!

The police, now led by a young, anti-Batman commissioner, are an additional stumbling block in Batman's path.

Throughout The Dark Knight Returns, Miller takes a step away from the standards in comic-book crime. There aren't so many of the grandiose schemes, full of costumed bad guys, outlandish props and corny mayhem, which marked so much of Batman's prior history. Instead, we have people who've turned to crime as a means to end -- money, power, cheap thrills -- and the casualness with which some of them kill is like a bucket of cold water. This isn't four-color fantasy, this is real life, lifted from the newspaper and replayed on the pages of a comic book.

And this Batman, too, is different. He's not afraid of violence, he uses it as a weapon against his foes. Unlike the standard comic-book Batman, he will occasionally employ firearms in his fight, although he still draws the line at killing. And wait 'til you see Miller's rendition of the Batmobile.

The public reaction to the Batman's return is also a cold dose of reality. A vigilante in the real world wouldn't receive the black-and-white response usually seen in comic books, from the 100 percent adulation given DC's Superman to the distrust and hatred pointed toward's Marvel's various X-groups. The debate over the rights and wrongs of the Batman's methods, played out in TV broadcasts scattered throughout the book, shows a broad range of public mindsets, from outrage to acclaim -- and support from some folks whose praise Batman would probably loathe to be associated with. And there are people inspired by the Batman -- and not all of the results are positive. And when a new gang emerges, feeding on criminals....

Another hit of reality -- doing what Batman does, especially at his age, hurts. He's not a young man anymore, and muscles, lungs and even his powerful heart can only take so much. Miller doesn't soft-pedal that aspect of heroing -- his characters don't take a near-mortal blow in one panel and act perfectly healthy on the next page.

Throughout the book, the broadcast media takes a beating. I can't say it's not well-deserved.

Miller inserted some clever cameos into the storyline, including the pre-Crisis Lana Lang as managing editor of the Daily Planet in Superman's Metropolis, broadcasting mogul James Olsen and a very Reagan-like U.S. president, painted with a broad brush of satire. There's an almost-David Letterman and a nearly-Dr. Ruth. Former Catwoman Selina Kyle now runs her own escort service. (Before recent revisionism, Kyle was a prostitute before she was a thief.) We learn where Diana (Wonder Woman) and Hal (Green Lantern) have gone. Oliver Queen, the former Green Arrow, makes the best entrance of all, leaving more questions than answers in his wake but adding a necessary edge to the climactic conclusion.

It's touches like this which push Miller's work even further beyond the pale.

The final chapter begins with a near-Apocalyptic Gotham. Superman, for all his vaunted power, apparently isn't as clear on the physics of nuclear explosions as we'd like. He deflects the bomb, but the otherwise harmless explosion blankets the city in artificial night and artificial winter. Panicked residents riot over food and guns, and a powerless jet falls from the sky. The scenes as Batman gallops through the city on horseback, gathering followers to control the outbreak of mass hysteria, would make an incredible movie sequence.

But finally, Superman returns, as we know he must, carrying a federal order to stop the Batman. What follows is a clash of titans worthy of the legends both characters have generated over the years. To say any more would ruin the ending ... so, if you haven't read this one yet, do so. You won't be sorry.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

When I Was Younger...

Growing-up, I remember that we only ever had a single comic book show around my area: the Portland Comic Book Show. It was promoted by a group called Second Genesis. It was great back then. They were able to bring in some great talent for signing, and the bigger talents would charge $0.25 per autograph which would go to support a local charity. It was great!

Over the years, I'm not sure what happened. The talent wasn't as big of a draw, even though they were able to get several of the local talent... which was good. It became to be known more as a flea market than a reputable comic book show. In more recent years, several of the show's were cancelled due to scheduling conflicts around other events that take place in the same area. If there's a scheduled NBA game, then there couldn't be a comic book show. Even though both events were in separate venues, they are too close together and share parking.

Three times that I can recall, my city actually had a comic book show. A few of the local artists were invited, but they were primarily a flea market show as well. The first of these shows is where I first met Randy Emberlin and decided I wanted to take-up inking. You can read about my experiences as an inker here.

Over the course of the past 10 years, it seems like comic book shows have now given way to conventions and there are more available. Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, Stumptown Comic Fest, Rose City Comic Con and Wizard World in Portland. I'm not trying to imply that I'm unhappy, but where did they all come from? Will Oregon see additional comic book related events in the future?

I for one hope so.

Since the inclusion of a convention center in Salem, I have wondered if it would ever draw something of interest like a comic con or some other pop culture related event. To date... never. If I had the experience, know-how and money, I would endeavor to make this become a reality.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Batman & Superman: World’s Finest

Title: Batman & Superman: World’s Finest

ISBN: 1401200826
Price: $19.95
Publisher/Year: DC, 2000
Artist: Dave Taylor, Peter Doherty, Graham Nolan, Tom Morgan
Writer: Karl Kessel
Collects: Batman & Superman: World’s Finest #1-10

Rating: 2.5/5

Karl Kesel's Batman & Superman: World's Finest is not the best of the Superman/Batman team-up miniseries (I reserve that honor for Dave Gibbons and Steve Rude's World's Finest). It does, however, does have an interesting premise in aligning the disparate events of the Superman and Batman worlds into one cohesive story, especially the death of Jason Todd with Superman executing the Phantom Zone criminals, and "Reign of the Superman" with "Knightfall."

Sterling Gates's new World's Finest takes a similar approach, bringing together the current "Batman Reborn" and "New Krypton" storylines. I wouldn't venture there's anything earth-shattering here, but the book is big on fun and Gates gets all the characters' voices right; for those of us who enjoy understand how the DC Universe coincides, this is a satisfactory excursion.
[Contains spoilers]

Notably, Gates ducks some of the easier team-ups at the start of this book, choosing to pair Red Robin with the Kryptonian Nightwing rather than with Superboy, and absenting Mon-El altogether in favor of the Guardian with Robin Damian Wayne. I might've liked to see Batman Dick Grayson's response to his new Nightwing namesake, but I appreciates that Gates follows up on a small but poignant scene from Kurt Busiek's Superman run, remembering the impact Tim Drake had on Superman's adopted son Chris.

While the story feels maybe mildly incomplete without Mon-El, the Guardian is the better fit of the "Metropolis characters" to pair with Robin because of his previous friendship with the Newsboy Legion. I liked that Gates didn't feel compelled to have the Guardian or Robin learn anything, but rather part mistrusting one another, not unlike Superman and Batman have in the past.

Further, after Peter Tomasi's general mis-characterization of Damian Wayne in Blackest Night: Batman, I had some concern whether Gates would get Damian's ten-year-old assassin brattishness quite right; he does. As a matter of fact, I specifically read World's Finest as the "next appearance" of the Stephanie Brown Batgirl after Batgirl Rising, a book in which Damian is a key player; no doubt Gates can write Batgirl, given that he ably handles Supergirl month in and month out, but whether Bryan Miller's distinct Batgirl/Robin interplay seems much harder to duplicate. Gates delivers, however, and even adds his own touch in a funny end panel where Supergirl lectures Damian for calling Batgirl names. As I mentioned in my Batgirl review, there's a way in which the "Batman Reborn" characters are more of a family than they have been previously, and I like this familial aspect a lot.

There is not, at the end of World's Finest, any deep meditation on the nature of the Superman or Batman families or their differences. If anything, whereas everyone claims to miss Bruce Wayne, Superman notes he and Dick Grayson's first "world's finest" team-up with the implication that Dick is perhaps easier to work with than Bruce, and the reader knows it's true -- one wonders if that's something Bruce will have to deal with, not being the "favorite" Batman, when he returns.

As the Super-titles are Gates's bailiwick, World's Finest ends with a connection to "New Krypton," and really not at all with "Batman Reborn" -- which is fine. I'm not sure either series will actually pick up on World's Finest, but it's enough that World's Finest ties in to something both in terms of the characters and the plot; the best team-ups, in my opinion, forward the series of all the characters involved, and World's Finest does that sufficiently as far as I'm concerned.

Rounding out this collection are a DC Comics Presents Superman/Robin Dick Grayson team-up from 1981, and Action Comics #865 by Geoff Johns, from 2008. The latter is a prime example of what Johns does for comics; while other writers might have scratched their heads (or started from scratch), Johns offers a fairly simple story that returns Toyman Winslow Schott to his roots, preserving and at the same time overcoming the violent Dan Jurgens story that saw Toyman kill Cat Grant's son Adam.

This is one of two previously uncollected issues from Geoff Johns's recent Action Comics run -- included here because of the Toyman's role in this story -- and I appreciate that DC gives it the light of day; only, I wish they hadn't left off the last page. That page features Cat Grant just before Superman: Brainiac, and while it wasn't relevant to World's Finest per se, I would have liked DC keeping it for the issue's overall historical value.