Sunday, January 26, 2014

Batman: The Killing Joke – The Deluxe Edition

Title: Batman: The Killing Joke – The Deluxe Edition

ISBN: 9781401216672
Price: $17.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2008
Artist: Brian Bolland
Writer: Alan Moore
Collects: Batman: The Killing Joke, Batman: Black & White #4

Rating: 4/5

Since the very beginning, the Joker was there.

Batman's long-time nemesis has been, at times, a light-hearted prankster. Occasionally, he was a grim and murderous clown. More often, he's a maniacal psychopath without a recognizable moral code. He kills, or plays harmless tricks, on a whim. The only constants are his garish coloring, his unflagging smile and his obsession with the Batman.

But how did the Joker become who he is? Where are the roots of his madness? For those answers, ignore the trite origin given Jack Nicholson's Joker on the big screen. Instead, pick up Alan Moore's masterpiece, The Killing Joke.

This isn't a frivolous comic book by any stretch. Following on the heels of Frank Miller's grim The Dark Knight Returns, Moore's story sets a new standard for Joker tales. And it's not always an easy read -- the criminal's easy attitude towards death and his brutal actions towards several principal characters will make most human beings cringe a little while reading it.

It's all in the name of proving a point -- in this case, the Joker's theory that anyone could go mad if they had a really bad day.

The Joker's own background is explained through a series of flashbacks, excellently framed within the main storyline of the book. The images as old and new scenes merge and segue are well executed -- this would have been a brilliant model for the first Batman film.

The pre-Joker -- we never learn his name -- is a budding stand-up comedian. He's not very good at it, however, and he worries how he'll support his young, pretty wife and their baby, due in three months. So he reluctantly agrees to one criminal act, posing as the leader of the Red Hood gang to lead the real criminals through a chemical processing plant, where he once worked as a lab assistant, to the neighboring playing card company, which the gang intends to rob. (With this story, Moore very neatly pulls together several key elements of the Joker's origin as hinted at in early Batman tales. But Moore's version gets better and better.)

On the day of the crime, the nervous young thief-to-be is told by police that his wife was electrocuted in a freak accident. As if that shock wasn't enough, his partners in crime refuse to let him back out of the heist. So, already half-mad with grief, he proceeds as planned ... only to run into the city's new crime fighter, the Batman. His partners are killed and the faux Red Hood takes the only escape open to him, through the bubbling chemicals and into the river outside. The chemicals, as we all already know, had a major impact on the man's complexion.

The story is simple enough, but Moore builds the events with a dramatic flair matched by Brian Bolland's excellent art. Bolland in this book delivers some of DC's most definitive versions of the Batman, the Joker and Commissioner Gordon.

The Joker's very bad day is vague in his own memory. He knows something happened to drive him over the brink, but he no longer recalls exactly what it was. "Sometimes," he tells the Batman, "I remember it one way, sometimes another. ... If I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice."

So to prove his point, the Joker, newly escaped from Arkham Asylum, selects Commissioner Gordon. The unfortunate bystander in the plan is Gordon's daughter, Barbara, also known as Batgirl. She is shot in the stomach, severing her spine, stripped and violated in unimaginable ways (thankfully not directly shown to the reader), and left to die ... which she would have if not discovered by a friend joining her for an evening yoga class. As it is, we are told, she will be paralyzed for life.

Gordon, meanwhile, is brutally beaten and degraded. His senses are assaulted with a wild array of strange sights and characters, and he's forced to view photos of his daughter's plight.

The Batman, meanwhile, is tearing apart the underworld in an attempt to find his friend. He needn't have bothered; the Joker issues him a personal invitation to witness Gordon's final humiliation. But the commissioner is made of sterner stuff than the Joker believed, and the Batman isn't in the mood for jokes.

It's here we learn that the proper sound to make when hit over the head with a large piece of wood is "HHUT," and the realization you're about to be punched very hard by an angry vigilante is "FUHHH." The appropriate response to being knocked through a wall is "UNNF."

The interaction and character development in this book is some of the finest DC has ever produced, and the artwork is a credit to an excellent tale. The complex relationship between hero and villain, and the inevitable path it must follow, has never been explored as well as Moore has done here, and his (the Joker's) discourse on the human condition is thought-provoking, to say the least. The only flaw in the entire book is on the very last page; given the circumstances, and knowing what the Joker has done to both Jim and Barbara Gordon, I don't believe the Batman would have found the joke even slightly funny.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Beast of Wolfe’s Bay

Title: The Beast of Wolfe’s Bay

ISBN: 9780989010405
Price: $17.99
Publisher/Year: Evensen Creative, 2013
Artist: Erik Evensen
Writer: Erik Evensen

Rating: 3/5

We've all heard the legends. Sasquatch. Yeti. The abominable snowman. Wendigo. Some people believe, and others haven't seen enough evidence to prove of their existence. Perhaps the Beast of Wolfe's Bay is one of these urban legendary creatures.

This was not my typical sort of graphic novel to read. As you could probably tell from my previous reviews, I have tended to stay within a certain few genre's from Marvel, DC, IDW, Dark Horse and Image. But when Erik Evensen contacted me for a review, I couldn't pass-up the chance. As much as I like reading within my own "comfort zone", I appreciate the occasional request (for the record, this would actually be the 2nd in 4 years) for a review that is outside my normal reading habits. I can honestly say, I wasn't disappointed in reading this book.

The primary characters of Winifred Roth and Brian Wegman work well together. I could easily see these characters brought into additional stories in the future. Wegman is paleoanthropologist who seems to find himself in a professional rut and can't seem to find a way out. Winifred is a tried-and-true nerd who happens to have a PhD in folklore. Not your typical Mulder and Scully team, but they get the job done.

We begin this book with the mystery of 2 deaths and no real suspects. With this in mind, I want to let you know that it seems that Evensen designed this book to be acceptable to readers of a younger persuasion... which is another reason why this wouldn't have come up on my normal reading list. While there is the implication of gruesome death, you never see anything. The "worst" scene of violence and "gore" is when one of the creatures get several fingers blown-off by a rifle shot.

There are several references in this book that speak to my inner-geek. Star Trek and the Hitchiker's Guide are 2 pieces that are referenced that come top of my mind. There is an oddly placed debate between 2 of the supporting characters, Dr. Humphries and Chief Deputy Asher, about Data from Next Generation. I'm not entirely sure why Humphries is even debating as he's constantly coming down on Winifred and Brian for being nerds. It's seems too out-of-place, but I enjoy the debate nonetheless.

At the end, Brian seems to become more accepting to Winifred's myths and fairy tale beliefs that he was at the beginning. I guess that's one of the major reasons why I could see them together in another story.

The story and art kept me interested from cover to cover. After reading this book, I have already added other books that Evensen has published to my Amazon wishlist. This is a light read, and I would recommend this graphic novel to anyone. This is a great way to break away from whatever superhero, sci-fi or horror trades you're currently involved in. Give it a try and you'll see for yourself.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Comic Con Schedule for 2014

As it sits right now, it looks like I won't be attending Wizard World Portland this year. That is unless I actually win one of the VIP contests I've entered into.

There's not too many artists I was really looking forward to seeing in Portland that I would also see in Seattle in March for Emerald City Comic Con, so this isn't as big of a disappointment as it could have been. Don't get me wrong, if all things were aligned to where I could make it to WW PDX, I'd go without hesitation. I took a look at the panels, and I am regretting missing some of those. I will be focusing on ECCC, though.

At the end of March, you can see me in Seattle for Emerald City Comic Con. This will be my 4th time going, but I wasn't able to make it last year... I'm really regretting not being able to finally meet Larry Hama. There's still time for more artists to be signed for ECCC, so hope is not dead.

Unlike years past, I have decided not to take my laptop with me. Amtrak has decreased their carry-on's down to 2, so my sacrifice is my laptop. BUT... this year I will have my new iPad with me. As I'm not all that savvy on taking photo's with it right now, I'm going to be working on that over the next couple of months in hopes of bringing you some great shots and additional information from ECCC this year.

May is going to be a very busy month for me personally. I have friends and family who have weddings planned for that month, plus the inaugural Cherry City Comic Con May 10-11. As I've mentioned before, this is in my hometown, so my overhead costs (travel & hotel) are negated. I've been keeping an eye on their website, and it looks like it's shaping-up well.

My last comic con for 2014 right now will be in September with Rose City Comic Con. Loved going last year, and I'm already making plans for this year.

If you see me at any of these conventions, feel free to say "Hi". I'd love to meet those of you who have helped me keep this blog running for the past 4-years.

Again, I just want to give a big THANK YOU to everyone who has helped to support me on this project.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Batgirl Volume 1: The Darkest Reflection

Title: Batgirl Volume 1: The Darkest Reflection

ISBN: 9781401234751
Price: $22.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2012
Artist: Ardian Syaf
Writer: Gail Simone
Collects: Batgirl #1-6

Rating: 3/5

After Barbara Gordon was gunned down by the Joker, fans of Batgirl gave up the idea of ever seeing her don the cape and cowl as the greatest female superhero again. Leave it to DC Comics to find a way to miraculously heal Gordon and give the wheelchair-bound character the ability to walk again.

The publishing giant took their New 52 reboot as the perfect opportunity to get the most famous Batgirl back in the game after being confined to helping the Dark Knight and his many family members behind the scenes as the technologically proficient Oracle. "Batgirl Volume 1: The Darkest Reflection" collects the first six issues of her new adventures.

"Batgirl Volume 1: The Darkest Reflection" is made up of two story arcs. The first one pits the superhero against a revenge-seeking nemesis named Mirror. She must stop the villain from killing people who lived through tragic events. Mirror doesn't believe in miracles and plans to play the role of Reaper. Batgirl goes up against a killer calling herself Gretel in the second tale. Gretel uses her power over the minds of men to force them to do her bidding.

Gail Simone is no stranger to penning tales about the females of Gotham City. Her work on Birds of Prey led to the job of writer for Batgirl. She gives Barbara Gordon the emotional layers the character deserves. They help to get you attached to her and invested in the stories. Simone successfully brings Batgirl back and shows her to be a vital part of the Bat-Family.

Ardian Syaf's penciling adequately provides the images to accentuate Simone's words. His illustrations aren't anything unique but bring the story to life in pictures favorably. Syaf's art is strong visually and pleasing to the eyes.

Fans of Batman's extended family will be pleased to see Batgirl back in action. "Batgirl Volume 1: The Darkest Reflection" shows her in fine form and ready for hand-to-hand combat. Her excitement shines through every page of this book and proves contagious as you discover a craving for more adventures.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

IDW G.I. Joe TPB Reading Order

As you know, I am a HUGE fan of G.I. Joe and was thankful when IDW acquired the rights to publish new work. As a fan, I like to be able to read everything in the order it was meant to be read. I've been remiss on my reading and got lost of where I was, so I began looking for anyone who had collected a reading order for the trades.

It took me a while, but I was finally able to get a reading order for those trades. I want to thank shanecdavis from the IDW message boards for compiling this list.

1. G.I. Joe Vol 1 [G.I. Joe #0-6]
2. G.I. Joe: Origins Vol. 1 [G.I. Joe: Origins #1-5]
3. G.I. Joe: COBRA Vol. 1 [G.I. Joe: COBRA #1-4, G.I. Joe: COBRA Special #1]
4. G.I. Joe Vol. 2 [G.I. Joe #7-12]
5. G.I. Joe: Origins Vol. 2 [G.I. Joe: Origins #6-10]
6. G.I. Joe Vol. 3 [G.I. Joe #13-17, G.I. Joe: Helix Special]
7. G.I. Joe: Origins Vol. 3 [G.I. Joe: Origins #11-15]
8. G.I. Joe: Hearts and Minds [G.I. Joe: Hearts and Minds #1-5]
9. G.I. Joe: COBRA Vol. 2 [G.I. Joe: COBRA II #1-4]
10. G.I. Joe Vol. 4 [G.I. Joe #18-22]
11. G.I. Joe: Origins Vol. 4 [G.I. Joe: Origins #16-19]
12. G.I. Joe: COBRA Vol. 3 - Serpent's Coil [G.I. Joe: COBRA II #5-9]
13. G.I. Joe: COBRA Vol. 4 - The Death of COBRA Commander [G.I. Joe: COBRA II #10-13, G.I. Joe: COBRA Special #2]
14. G.I. Joe Vol. 5 [G.I. Joe #23-27]
15. Infestation Vol. 1 [G.I. Joe: Infestation #1-2]
16. G.I. Joe: Origins Vol. 5 [G.I. Joe: Origins #20-23]
17. G.I. Joe - COBRA Civil War Vol. 1 [G.I. Joe (vol. 2) #0-4]
18. G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes - CCW Vol. 1 [G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes #1-4]
19. G.I. Joe: COBRA - CCW Vol. 1 [G.I. Joe: COBRA (vol. 2) #1-4]
20. G.I. Joe - CCW Vol. 2 [G.I. Joe (vol. 2) #5-8]
21. G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes - CCW Vol. 2 [G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes #5-8]
22. G.I. Joe: COBRA - CCW Vol. 2 [G.I. Joe: COBRA (vol. 2) #5-8]
23. G.I. Joe - COBRA Command Vol. 1 [G.I. Joe (vol. 2 #9-10, G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes #9, G.I. Joe: COBRA (vol. 2) #9]
24. G.I. Joe - COBRA Command Vol. 2 [G.I. Joe (vol. 2) #11, G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes #10-11, G.I. Joe: COBRA (vol. 2) #10-11]
25. G.I. Joe - COBRA Command Vol. 3 - Aftermath [G.I. Joe (vol. 2) #12, G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes #12, G.I. Joe: COBRA (vol. 2) 12, G.I. Joe: COBRA Annual 2012]
26. G.I. Joe - Deep Terror [G.I. Joe (vol. 2) #13-17]
27. G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes / Storm Shadow Vol. 1 [G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes & Storm Shadow #13-17]
28. G.I. Joe: COBRA - Son of the Snake [G.I. Joe: COBRA (vol. 2) #13-16]
29. G.I. Joe - Target Snake Eyes [G.I. Joe (vol. 2) #18-20, G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes & Storm Shadow #18-20]
30. G.I. Joe: COBRA - Oktober Guard [G.I. Joe: COBRA (vol. 2) #17-21]
31. G.I. Joe Vol. 1 - Homefront [G.I. Joe (vol. 3) #1-5]
32. G.I. Joe: The COBRA Files Vol. 1 [G.I. Joe: The COBRA Files #1-4]
33. G.I. Joe: Special Missions Vol. 1 [G.I. Joe: Special Missions #1-4]
34. G.I. Joe: Special Missions Vol. 2 [G.I. Joe: Special Missions #5-8]
35. G.I. Joe Vol. 2 - Threat Matrix [G.I. Joe (vol. 3) #6-11]
36. G.I. Joe: The COBRA Files Vol. 2 [G.I. Joe: The COBRA Files #5-9]

Now to go through my collection, get them in their proper order and get to reading.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Batman: Venom

Title: Batman: Venom

ISBN: 9781401233839
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2012
Artist: Russell Braun
Writer: Dennis O'Neil
Collects: Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #15-20

Rating: 2.5/5

Distraught by his failure to save a little girl's life, Batman begins using super-steroids designed by her scientist father -- which prove addictive and make Batman overly aggressive and unstable. After shaking off the effects, Batman pursues the scientist -- and his partner, a rogue general -- who are using the drugs as part of an unsanctioned experiment to create super soldiers.

The art for Venom is an unusual tag team, with two of the greats -- Trevor Von Eeden and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez providing layouts and finishes, respectively, and the (to my mind) lesser known Braun the pencils. The result is striking, realist art, though Von Eeden's layouts are maybe not as eclectic as you might expect from him. It's the sort of art that in service of a great, down-to-earth tale would really enhance it. This is a "human" Batman -- who looks like a guy in a suit, more than a mysterious creature of the night.

Unfortunately, the story doesn't live up to the art.

Denny O'Neil is, to my mind, a problematic figure in comics. He's definitely something of a giant, generally respected -- I believe -- both by peers and fans. And I'll admit, I've read some memorable stuff by him (mainly Green Lantern comics)...but my visceral reaction to seeing his by-line is a certain un-enthusiasm. Too often his plots tend to be simplistic, his dialogue unmemorable, and his characterization one-dimensional. And Venom falls squarely into that category.

The premise has potential: Batman developing and then overcoming an addiction. In fact, I had some vague feeling I'd read that O'Neil himself had had a drinking problem long ago, in his youth. If true, you might expect a penetrating insight into the mind of the dependent. But I just didn't really feel we got that. In fact, O'Neil might've been better to have spared a few pages to showing us Batman as a genuinely more effective crime fighter using the drugs -- so that we can understand why he might rationalize their use. Instead, he starts taking the pills...and then we jump three months to when he's basically an uncontrolled vigilante, hassling thugs for no reason.

As in his inaugural LOTDK story arc, Shaman, O'Neil seems to like playing around with time in a way that, in one of the regular Bat-titles, it would probably mess up continuity. The downside is, the numbers don't always add up. At one point there seems to be a five month gap where it's unclear what Batman was doing all that time. Or, even more peculiar, when faced with an obligatory death trap, the stated time frame goes from 24 hours to three days in the space of a few panels!

But the problem with Venom -- and, indeed, many of the longer LOTDK story arcs -- is it just doesn't justify the length. The Batman-addiction thing only takes up the first half of the story, and the plot overall is pretty simple and straight forward. And the villains are one-dimensional, so-evil-they-ooze, bad guys. Maybe O'Neil's sense of morality means he can't bring himself to try and humanize villains, but in a 126 page saga where the villains and their conversations take up an awful lot of page time, we need something more than just constantly cutting to them being evil and sleazy. It's not like mad schemes to create super soldiers are exactly a radical concept in fiction (even Alfred refers to it as "trite" at one point). Nor are the occasional supporting characters any better fleshed out -- the few that arise existing just enough to further a plot point.

In fact, the whole thing seems just a touch...tired. Admittedly, maybe it was fresher at the time (though I doubt it), but it seems you can scarcely pick up a Batman story without it involving Bats being driven "out of control", becoming a more brutal, undisciplined crime fighter. That's the problem -- as I've alluded to before -- with the current vision of Batman as a kind of limited personality type...there's only so many things you can do with him. Perhaps more disturbing is that, even though it's meant as a "criticism" of his actions, writers do it so often, one can't help thinking they kind of enjoy a vicarious thrill writing Batman this way. As well, the basic story is pretty humdrum. After Batman shakes off the drugs, and we're moving into the final confrontation, there's little to really intrigue or excite. There are no twists or turns we're anticipating as the whole thing trundles along predictably.

And there's a looseness and implausibility to the plotting. The very catalyst for the story -- Batman's failure to save the girl -- itself isn't really explained. Why did the scientist arrange the kidnapping and murder of his own daughter? Simply to ensnare Batman in his plans? But how could he know Batman would fail, or that Batman would come to him afterward, or be so emotionally distraught he'd take the drugs -- and why, if you're trying to test super soldier drugs, would you use a guy who's already the most fit guy in Gotham? Part of the story is showing how Batman loses his judgment when he takes the drugs...but in order to have him take the drugs, he has to act like a complete dork to begin with, not apparently noticing how really odd the father is behaving!

There's a kind of emotional vacuum in Venom -- and, indeed, a lot of modern Batman stories. So determined to write Batman as this one-note obsessive, writers like O'Neil fail to give us a complex human being. And O'Neil's bled much of the warmth out of the surrounding relationships -- Alfred now makes a lot of tart wisecracks (that aren't that funny), rather than seeming like he has a real relationship with Batman, and James Gordon insists that Batman keeps their relationship purely business. And, as noted, for a story that (at least at first) is very much intended as a character study -- I didn't feel we got any real convincing insight into Batman or addictions.

Still, I'll give O'Neil props for the climactic death trap -- ludicrously elaborate deathtraps are a staple of comics, but here, O'Neil both justifies it (the villains have a goal in mind) and comes up with a reasonably clever solution as Batman has to think his way out of it (you could almost use it in school textbook: Billy has to apply 800 pounds of pressure to point A, but...).

For continuity buffs, this also introduces the drug Venom that would later fuel the villain, Bane, though strangely, the name Venom is used nowhere but in the title!