Sunday, June 30, 2013

"The Ocean at the End of the Lane" signing in Portland, OR

On, what was, the hottest day of the year so far in Portland, the moment I had waited for all of my adult life had finally arrived. Even though the Crystal Ballroom was not ventilated very well, I and about 900 other fans of author Neil Gaiman persevered the heat for the opportunity to see, hear and meet the man himself. Even though the heat was uncomfortable, it was well worth it.

I was introduced to Gaiman's work in my senior year of high school when I picked-up a little comic book called Sandman. From it's pages, I was transfixed and enamored by his words. I feel it was at this point in time that the mantle of my favorite author had changed from Stephen King (who I had idolized since I was a child in 5th grade) to Gaiman.

Gaiman first read to us from his new book, "The Ocean at the End of the Lane". Chapter 3, to be accurate.

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Pages: 192
Price ( Hardcover ): $25.99
Publication Date: June 18, 2013
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-0-06-225565-5
Category: Fiction

While waiting to enter the Crystal Ballroom for the event, one of the employee's from Powell's stated that the copy of the book we would be receiving was "free", even though it was obviously covered by the price of admission.

I found Gaiman's voice to be very soothing, and helped me to set aside the uncomfortable heat.

After the reading, Gaiman fielded question that the audience had submitted before the start of the event.And once that was over, he read a chapter from upcoming children's book "Fortunately, the Milk". While I have no children of my own, I look forward to reading this book dedicated to father's.

Once the reading had completed, Gaiman took a break while the Powell's employee's worked to setup the signing area. Everyone was given a colored slip of paper in their copy of "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" with a symbol on it. This would denote the order in which people would be called to the signing area. Mine was a blue star, and even though I was there early, I still had to patiently wait for about 5 other groups of people to have their books signed first. It was good that they played music and I had friends to spend the time with.

Once my blue star was called to be signed, the moment I had waited for all my adult life was about to happen. I was finally about to meet one of my favorite authors. (I wish my other pictures that I had taken had turned-out, and that the best of which had turned-out better, but this is what I was able to salvage.)

Here are the latest additions to my collection of books and comics that have been signed:

As I labored to get to sleep, much later in the evening, I found myself thinking about my parting words to Gaiman. I've found that I have actually been saying the same thing to every author and artist (though altered a bit for artists) when they sign my books. I have to credit Kevin Smith's movie "Mallrats" for inspiring what I now consider my tagline: "You keep writing them, I'll keep reading them."

Cinderella: Fables are Forever

Title: Cinderella: Fables are Forever

ISBN: 9781401233853
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2012
Artist: Shawn McManus
Writer: Chris Roberson, Bill Willingham
Collects: Cinderella: Fables Are Forever #1-6, Fables #51

Rating: 4/5

Fabletown’s own James Bond is back with her second trade, Fables Are Forever. It’s a fast paced, action/adventure tale as our heroine goes head to head with one of the most notorious Fable assassins, Dorothy Gale. That’s right. You’ll never see Oz quite the same way again.

Now this is fun, almost distractingly so. The truth is I couldn’t read a chapter without a growing sense of gravitational cognizance. If you’ve ever watched a Warner’s cartoon, you’ll know what that is. Everything is fine until you look down. If you look down you’ll realize you’re standing in mid-air with nothing for support. Once that happens you can only fall. Obviously I had problems with the book.

Starting from least to worse, let’s look at that cover. Yes, it’s the Russian swimsuit edition, but more than that it’s the least interesting of the covers from the series’ monthly edition. Couldn’t Vertigo chip in for an original cover? After all, this is the edition people are going to be buying from now on.

Secondly, this isn’t a long story. Not really a book length one. They could have gone with that and given us a shorter book at a lower price, or they could have included some interesting extras, or they could have recycled a Cinderella story that has already been collected into a different trade edition and has most likely already been bought by Fables fans in both monthly and trade format. Guess which option they went with.

Finally, and most importantly, this book represents a major retconning of the Fables backstory. One done for no other reason, it seems, than to rationalize this story. As fans know the setup for Fables is that an evil Adversary has taken over all the fairy tale kingdoms and now there is a hidden community of fairy tale characters, who refer to themselves as “fables,” living in Manhattan. This community also supports a second community of non-human fables who live in a large “farm” in upstate New York. They are forced to live there because they can’t pass as human. Eventually, they do defeat the Adversary and another chapter of the story begins, but with Cinderella: Fables Are Forever that’s all given a major re-write. Now there are “shadow communities” of fables all over the world. In Russian, China, Burkina Faso. And the different communities are actively engaged in a Cold War, pitting one against the other. It’s easy to see how this benefits Cinderella. What’s a Cold Warrior without a Cold War? But this isn’t the first Cinderella Secret Agent tale and the others have been engaging and fun and placed entirely within the context of accepted continuity.

Instead of developing the Fable universe further, it just raises a lot of questions—Why are these fables at war with one another instead of joining against their common foe, the Adversary? Why haven’t we heard of any of this before? Aren’t all fable communities “shadow” communities?—questions that all seem to have the same answer: now, they’re just making stuff up. I don’t know, with all the talk of creator’s credits and the Avenger’s movie maybe we can blame this on Stan Lee too. After all, he’s the one who taught comic readers that continuity was important.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe

Title: Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe

ISBN: 9780785164036
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2012
Artist: Dalibor Talajic
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Collects: Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe #1–4

Rating: 2/5

So in this trade, our good ol' buddy Wade Wilson decides to go on a killing spree against everyone. And when I say everyone, I mean the entire Marvel-U. Deadpool takes on a mission, sent from god himself, to kill all of Marvel's superheroes and villains. That's right, the Merc with a Mouth goes toe to toe with Spider-Man, The Hulk, Thor, Wolverine, and even decides to go against the Fantastic Four and The Avengers. Yeah, it's safe to say he's a nutcase trying to take on everyone on his lonesome, but Deadpool does a pretty good job in wiping out all of our favorite characters.

It starts of great. Deadpool is shown slitting throats, beheading and stabbing a lot of A-tier heroes to death. It's an awesome sight to behold. The cover explicitly says "Parental Advisory! Not For Kids!" and as you can tell, that's because this trade is pretty gory. We all know that Deadpool is a violent psychopath, but when you remove the censors and have him as the title character, you get some really gruesome deaths (and some, being terribly funny). Not to mention any names, but Deadpool, at point blank range, shoots the face of one of Marvel's most iconic heroes (literally turning one side of his head into ground beef), and leaves him on the street to rot. It's pretty damn ruthless. Of course, there's no way Deadpool is able to do some of the things he does here (specifically against Thor and Hulk), but with a little deus ex machina, anything is possible.

The Deadpool humor is still here, as he breaks the fourth wall makes a couple of pop-culture references, but none of the jokes really hit the mark. And speaking of the fourth wall, it is that unique ability that causes Deadpool to go on this crazed rampage to annihilate all of Marvel. A third voice in his head convinces him that everyone he knows are nothing but puppets, and someone out there is pulling the strings. And since Deadpool is the only one who knows that he's in a comic book, he must go and find his answers. Yeah, this sounds like something that can only happen in a Deadpool storyline.

Unfortunately, while the book starts off at a full-throttle, it begins to lose its steam as it draws closer to the finale. The first time we see Wade beheading our heroes and shooting bullets into their faces, the shock of it all gets to us. But by the time we reach the end, none of the kills make much of the same impact anymore. Even the final battle against Taskmaster wasn't satisfying enough. Then, by the time the last issue reaches its final pages, I was at a complete letdown. I don't want to spoil anything, but I will say I predicted how this was going to end (as I'm sure many of you would too, as long as you understand Wade's acceptance as a comic book character), and while it was a fitting conclusion, I was hoping it wasn't going to finish the way I thought it would. Cullen Bunn did a decent job in writing, but he couldn't quite hit it home.

As for Dalibor Talajic's artwork, I thought he did a fine job. He doesn't get too much detail into the panels though, as most of the pages are filled with a more simplistic look, but it does keep the pages turning and it works well with the story being told. He also changed up Deadpool's outfit a bit, which I kind of liked. The covers for the individual issues, on the other hand (done by Kaare Andrews), were fantastic.

Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe gives a unique spin on everyone's favorite self-regenerating mercenary, but while this series had a lot of potential, it fell short from being something great. I'm sure Deadpool fans will get a kick out of this four-issue series (which include some impressive fatalities), but as an avid fan of Wade himself, I thought this to be a bit disappointing.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Marvel Mangaverse Vol. 4 – X-Men: Ronin

Title: Marvel Mangaverse Vol. 4 – X-Men: Ronin

ISBN: 0785111158
Price: $13.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2003
Artist: Makoto Nakatsuka, Hiromi Nakatsuka
Writer: J. Torres
Collects: X-Men: Ronin #1–5

Rating: 2/5

The Hellfire Club, aka the yakuza or something, want to recruit Jean Grey [the slutty redhead as seen above] to their organization of evil. The X-Men intervene and save Jean from certain death. Emma Frost, the evil slutty blonde trying to recruit Jean convinces the city that the X-Men are monsters. This sends the city into hysteria so the local police chief starts using human piloted robots to hunt down those damn mutants. Gundams? No, Sentinels. Mansions are blown up, villains are killed, etc. etc. To be honest, the storyline is as if the writer threw a bunch of elements of X-Men in a blender and wrote what resulted from that blender.

The crappy artwork itself is just only a minor thing in a long list of complaints that can be leveled against this book. But we'll start off with the obvious, which is of course the artwork. Let's get one thing straight here people. Manga, basically evolved to look like the shittiest form of art possible because the artists are expected to turnout several hundred pages of this stuff per week. Not because it's supposed to represent a culture, not because it's somehow "cool" or "artsy". It's just mass produced tripe that Japanese artists churn out to grace the weekly magazines for people to read on the daily two hour train ride to school and work in Tokyo. At least most of it is, as there are always a few gems to be found. Sadly X-Men Ronin is not one of them. Oh sure, it's got the gratuitous cleavage and borderline pedophilic material to make it look like a manga. It has no sense of human proportion. It's got the ol' "saucer-eyes" look. But compared to the standards of what makes manga bad, even this is below those standards.

This book was obviously not written by somebody who writes for comics! The writing actually comes off more as if it were written by one of those aforementioned otaku that like to write yaoi (slash fiction) based on their favorite anime shows and was picked off of by Marvel for sounding "really Japanesey". It physically hurts me whenever I have to read through the poor dialogue and the the insistence of making everything sound like if it came off of some ninja movie. In fact, by the end of the series, it all just turns into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but with people with special powers and a guy with a really long tongue in the role of Splinter in place of anthropomorphic turtles and rats. The X-Men as a "masterless clan" who fight for the "honor" of all mutants? WTF indeed.

The only thing that could save this comic now would be for one of them to sprout tentacles and you know...

The characters seen in X-Men Ronin are not similar to the X-Men heroes and villains in any way, shape or form. Often, characters will switch personality, power, gender, or moral compass for little to no reason. If you're doing an X-Men story, you do not make Toad an old Japanese sensei who guides the young X-Men. Toad is a sycophantic lackey, not a wise old man with a long tongue. That's certainly not the only massive character change, though; for example, take Emma Frost's henchmen, Iceman, Pyro and Colossus. Iceman and Colossus are obviously out of place because they've never been shown as evil, except that shit storyline in the 90's where Colossus joined Magneto for some poorly explained reason. Not only that, Iceman looks like the bastard child of Jack Frost and Colossus doesn't even have metal skin - from the art it appears his skin becomes rock upon transformation. I want Colossus, not the Thing! And Pyro is still somehow the strangest departure of all - first of all, Pyro's British instead of Australian, and most importantly, Pyro's now a girl. Because scantily clad Jean Grey, Storm, Emma Frost and Tessa weren't enough! They needed a female Human Torch in a leather bra! Oh, and, the best for last: Xavier is evil.

You could certainly take my complaints of character differences as nothing more than fanboy bitching, but my opinion of it is that if you're going to make an X-Men story, why bother making one if you're not going to use anything resembling the characters? For several of them, the only similarity they have with the original are the powerset, and even then that's dicey. None of the characters in their manga forms display any bit of personality, old or new. Storm and Jean are in this solely to draw in the sex offenders crowd; Cyclops is a case of 'nice house, but nobody's home'. Toad is Master Splinter. In fact, the only person who shows even a bit of personality not from the 'manga stock personalities' is Wolverine, and even then, how hard is it to write Wolverine? All you need to do is have him pop his claws a few times, say "bub" and be a dick to Cyclops.

Some of the costumes are stupid. Okay, that's not accurate - all of the costumes are stupid. The worst offender would have to be Cyclops. The real Cyclops hasn't had much luck in terms of costumes - from his original blue and yellow togs to his Jim Lee costume that contained too many Goddamn pouches that never seemed to hold anything. He's never had a very good costume. But compared to his costume in X-Men Ronin, his blue and yellow condom outfit from the Kirby days looks good.  He's wearing red blocky armor with a laser pointer helmet. How much lamer can you get?

Is this worthy X-Men material?

X-Men stories, well, the good ones at least, are about persecution and hatred against outsiders. This story does indeed portray the pseudo X-Men as outsiders, but does not adequately display the message of the X-Men. The X-Men at best serve as characters relatable to minorities, whether black or Latino or gay, or just people who don't 'fit in' and are treated poorly as a result of it. Ronin sort of does that, but it's completely uninspired. It's nothing more than cookie cutter X-fare with manga storytelling. The bizarre amalgam of X-Men characters and stock manga characters make much of it feel unfamiliar other than the 'yes, people dislike mutants'. Plus, there's no Magneto. You can't have the X-Men without Magneto! But then again, considering how they fucked up everything with these characters, maybe that's a good thing.

Is this worthy Manga material?

One thing that this series takes seriously is trying to make itself as mangafied as possible. Even the Sentinels are no longer just plain giant robots. They've become stock manga piloted mechs. But this is where we enter into the eternal debate about just what makes something manga. It's been agreed that everything that comes directly out of Japan can be classified as "manga", while everything else that adheres to the style, but is not produced in Japan is "manga-esque". I guess Marvel knew this, so that's why they went so far as to hiring a Japanese manga artist to do the artwork. But this does not make it manga. In fact, I don't even know what Marvel was thinking about when they decided to go with their Mangaverse line of mangafied comics. This obviously will not sell in Japan and the manga reading public in the U.S. is normally not into super-hero type comics or even any type of western style types of comics or storytelling for that matter. This is really just an attempt to cash in on the lucrative "otaku" fanbase market in America. I think Marvel should be smart enough not to follow in the steps of Todd McFarlane. He was the first one to whore out to the "mangawave" style of comics, and look where most of his stuff ends up in now. That's right. In the quarter bin in the back of your local comic book dealer.

A bizarre mishmash of X-Men and manga, the miniseries is unlikely to satisfy the X-Men fan or the manga fan. Read only if you're a diehard X-Men fan who needs to read every story.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Fables: Inherit the Wind

Title: Fables: Inherit the Wind

ISBN: 9781401235161
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2012
Artist: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Shawn McManus, Andrew Pepoy, Dan Green, Rick Leonardi, Ron Randall, P. Craig Russell, Zander Cannon, Jim Fern, Ramon Bachs, Adam Hughes
Writer: Bill Willingham
Collects: Fables #108 - 113

Rating: 4/5

The premise of Fables lets its creators use any mythos, any tradition, any narrative, and mix and match as necessary, and Willingham and his illustrators continue to show that these possibilities are indeed endless. While the long arc of the story continues in this book -- movingly along very snappily and satisfyingly -- the real delight is that what that Oz, Dickens, and highbrow narrative theory all climb around on top of each other in a squirming puppy-pile of greatness.

If you've been following the story for all these volumes, then you can rest assured that the Fables are really cracking along -- but you can also be assured that you'll find all the characteristic funny asides, meandering mini-tales that are there for the sheer exuberance of the thing, and sly asides are not set aside for mere plot.

I'm told that this story definitely has an end, but it's hard to imagine. As Fables subsumes literally every other story ever told, and as Willingham shows no sign of boring with his creations, I can easily imagine reading this until Willingham breathes his last (and may that day come a very, very long time in the future). If he keeps writing them, I'll keep buying 'em.

Friday, June 7, 2013


The following was posted by Brian Pulido via the Lady Death Universe Facebook page:

Thanks for your inquiries regarding the hiatus of the Lady Death monthly series published by Boundless Comics (an imprint of Avatar Press). Unfortunately, we don't know when the Boundless series will return to the comics at this time.

We can assure you however, that Lady Death will return.

We apologize for this interruption. We truly understand that it totally sucks and we promise to keep you updated as further information becomes available.


Brian Pulido
As my regular readers know, I am a long-time fan of Lady Death and Brian Pulido. I look forward to whenever Lady Death returns.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga

Title: X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga

ISBN: 0939766965
Price: $14.95
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 1991
Artist: John Byrne
Writer: Chris Claremont, John Byrne
Collects: The X-Men #129–138

Rating: 3.5/5

Chris Claremont's run on Uncanny X-men is one of the most praised and loved comic runs of all time. In fact, Chris Claremont's X-men books are the only X-men books I have ever consistently read and enjoyed. Perhaps his best known X-men story is "The Dark Phoenix Saga". This 9 issue epic chronicles Jean Grey's eventual descent into villainy, as the dark force within her transforms her into the Dark Phoenix. Joining Chris Claremont is artist John Bryne, who brings a dynamic and vibrant look to the book without sacrificing human emotion.

The story begins when the X-men are kidnapped by the Hellfire club (making their first appearance here) and, to their surprise, betrayed by Jean Grey. Jean is under the influence of a mind controlling mutant known as Mastermind, who convinces her she is living in the 18th century.

It may sound strange and silly, but it actually works to such a degree that her "flashbacks" into the 18th century are often somewhat frightening and sinister. What makes them so effectively creepy is the fact that each time Jean slips into the past, she is suddenly put into a kind of fugue, wherein she believes that she is in love with a "Sir Jason Wyngarde" and apparently a queen of the shadowy and menacing Hellfire Club. The visions of the past are made more believable by the fact that Jean herself is actually scared of what's happening (she doesn't know why she is suddenly being whisked away 200 years to the past) and at first tries to fight the urges she has in them, but eventually gives in the temptations of the visions.

Jason Wyngarde himself (actually Mastermind in disguise) is extremely foreboding and mysterious in the first couple parts of the saga. At first, readers don't know who Wyngarde is or why he is doing this to Jean, making him all the more frightening.

After the X-men come into conflict with some lackeys of the Hellfire club, including Emma Frost in her first appearance, they decide to take the fight to the Hellfire Club.

They infiltrate the Club's party, only to realize too late that it is trap and they are captured by the Hellfire Club's inner circle, a small group of elite and powerful mutants that swiftly take down the X-men. The inner circle is an interesting group of villains that work very well as a group.

Each has a specific power set that work differently in taking down a member of the X-men; one member, for example, can become stronger after being punched or hit with kinetic energy, he is put against Colossus. The circle is also interesting in that we get to see the circle bicker with each other, one member even plots to bring down the current leader and take over the club for himself. These various aspects serve to make the club very interesting and entertaining to read.

This saga contains the classic "Wolverine: Alone" issue in which the Hellfire Club defeats every member of the X-men and Wolverine must try to take down the entire club and rescue his friends on his own. Note that this issue came out before the current over saturation of Wolverine that currently exists. This issue was made before Wolverine was established as a major badass, and it is a joy to see Wolverine tear through Hellfire guards before he was the invincible and overused character that he is today. The panel of Wolverine saying "Now it’s my turn!" is easily one of my favorite panels in all of comics and still gives me goosebumps every time I read it.

Of course the X-men do manage to take down the Hellfire Club and free Jean Grey from Mastermind's spell, but this is just build up to what the story is really about. They free Jean Grey, but Mastermind unintentionally loosed the Dark Phoenix. Jean finally succumbs to the power of the Phoenix and, in an emotional craze, sets out to destroy not only the X-men, but much, much more.

Dark Phoenix is quite possibly the most powerful and sinister villain that the X-men have ever faced, but what makes her such a great villain is how tragic a character she is. Jean Grey tries doesn't want to hurt her friends, but she knows that there is nothing she can do to stop the Phoenix from destroying them. Even while Phoenix fights against the X-men, threatening to kill them all, it is evident that she is conflicted and fighting her own emotions.

One scene that always stood out to me is when Jean Grey visits her parents and sister. It is clear that Jean loves her parents and doesn't want to hurt them, but she can't help but see that deep down they fear her, and so she angrily confirms their fears by threatening to obliterate them with her power. The Phoenix is shown as being a source of ultimate and divine power, and power corrupts, thus Jean Grey is corrupted.

The X-men's own conflicted feelings towards Jean(destroy or save her?)make them just as well characterized and just as interesting as all of the other characters in the book. Their battles with Phoenix are fantastic even though she vastly overpowers them, and the physic duel between Professor Xavier and Jean Grey is nothing short of epic.

All of this leads into the tragic and awesome final showdown between the X-men and the Imperial Guard on the dark side of the moon. The build-up to this battle is done wonderfully, with each member of the X-men(some not even wanting to battle)preparing in their own unique way for what will probably be the most important battle of their lives.

The battle itself is fantastic as well. Each X-man puts up a tremendous fight, but the X-men are ultimately doomed to a battle they can't win; exemplifying perfectly the underdog nature that has always been inherent of the characters.

The ending of this book should come as a surprise to no one, but I still won't spoil it just in case you haven't read it and have no prior knowledge of X-men continuity.

The story, or saga, actually has three main parts; the first in which the X-men rescue Kitty Pryde and some of their own from Emma Frost after they are kidnapped, the second in which the X-men battle the inner circle of the Hellfire Club, and the third in which the X-men battle Jean Grey herself, now Dark Phoenix.

Each part is fantastic, consisting of thrilling action, character progression, intriguing plot points, and deep themes. Even the Watcher, who I usually dislike, is used well here, and his final monologue is a perfect way to end the saga.

Overall The Dark Phoenix Saga is one Classic Comic that is definitely worth your time and cash. A must read for any X-men fan, Marvel fan, or all around comic fan.