Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sandman: The Dream Hunters

Title: Sandman: The Dream Hunters

ISBN: 156389629X
Price: $19.95
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 1999
Artist: Yoshitaka Amano
Writer: Neil Gaiman

Rating: 3/5

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

Batman: Cacophony

Title: Batman: Cacophony

ISBN: 9781401224189
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2009
Artist: Walt Flanagan
Writer: Kevin Smith
Collects: Batman: Cacophony #1-3

Rating: 3.5/5

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

#CBC4C needs your help!

I want to thank every artist who has already donated work to our project as well as those who are currently working on their donations. Also, a big thank you to those who have place bids on our auctions to help raise money for cancer research. Without each and every one of you, this project would not have gotten this far.

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:

Any help is greatly appreciated. If you cannot donate, please spread the word.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Batman: Bloodstorm

Title: Batman: Bloodstorm

ISBN: 9781563891854
Price: $14.95
Publisher/Year: DC, 1994
Artist: Kelly Jones
Writer: Doug Moench

Rating: 2/5

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

Batman: Battle for the Cowl

Title: Batman: Battle for the Cowl

ISBN: 9781401224165
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2009
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

Rating: 3.5/5

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

4 years strong!

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.