Sunday, February 23, 2014

Daredevil Volume 7: Hardcore

Title: Daredevil Volume 7: Hardcore

ISBN: 0785111689
Price: $13.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2003
Artist: Alex Maleev
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Collects: Daredevil #46-50

Rating: 3.5/5

The seventh volume of Bendis's Daredevil series brings his central story to a close, while opening up new possibilities for the future. Daredevil is dealing with the public revelation of his identity as blind attorney Matt Murdock when his greatest enemy, the Kingpin, returns from the grave to rule over New York City again. With him, he brings two of the hero's greatest enemies, the unstable Typhoid Mary and the crazed Bullseye. But this time, Daredevil decides to end these conflicts once and for all.

Bendis writes this series as though it is a film; the Kingpin's return and rise to power are straight out of a movie like Scarface : bloody, glib and dramatic all at once. His pacing is superb, as the Kingpin and Daredevil run parallel courses, building tension until they finally collide and battle through an entire issue at the book's conclusion. If Bendis is writing a film, then artist Maleev is drawing one—each panel is like a still from a movie on paper. When this works, as in the kinetic fight scenes, it's thrilling and grandiose, but it's less effective for tender moments, such as the romantic subplot involving Matt Murdock and a new girlfriend who's also blind. Hardcore is engrossing and broad enough in theme and character to absorb fans of Daredevil's adventures from both the silver screen and the comic books.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Saga Volume 2

Title: Saga Volume 2

ISBN: 9781607066927
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2013
Artist: Fiona Staples
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Collects: Saga #7-12

Rating: 4/5

Saga Vol. 1 left off on a completely new direction for the book. Not to say I didn’t enjoy the first volume ─ I loved it ─ but I was a bit wary of how the next volume would proceed. Without spoilers, Vaughan shifted both the location and cast of the story, and those had been the most working elements present. But not to worry. Saga Vol. 2 picks up where the first volume left off in stride, and Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples weave another fantastic tale, without losing the minuscule character moments that kept readers enthralled the first time around.

In Volume 2 we’re treated to the same illustrious cast from before. Marko, Alana, Hazel, The Will, Lying Cat, Prince Robot IV, The Stalk, Izabel, and newcomers Gwendolyn, Barr, Klara, Slave Girl, and D. Oswald Heist are all beautiful in their own way. Let us not forget that we’re only twelve issues into this story, and I’m already capable of discussing these characters by name. You know how you see a movie, and then when you tell someone about it, you say, “Yeah, Emma Stone’s character was fantastic.” Well, if Emma Stone played Izabel in the Saga movie, we would call her Izabel.

In the last review, I highlighted the previous major characters, so now I’ll go into the new ones. Barr and Klara, Marko’s parents, provide some interesting changes to the series construction, as they serve mainly to flip the three-person familial element upside down. Barr is something special, though, and his slow-burn bonding with Alana is something to think about, even after reading. Izabel, introduced in the last volume as a trash-talking teenage ghost, is probably my favorite human character ─ Lying Cat, waddup ─ and if you need a laugh, she’s there for it. Slave Girl, I presume, will be explored further in the next volume, as will D. Oswald Heist, though their brief arcs are nothing to disparage. All in all, Vaughan exceeds at what he did so well in volume one: building characters with enough hilarity and sadness, and with which we can’t help but empathize.

Fiona Staples is even better in volume 2. She was fantastic in volume 1, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of that story revolved around introducing these characters and opening up this fantastical world to the reader. In Volume 2, she gets to stretch her style a little more, and an increase in action and mind-bending twists allow for a bigger showcase of her diverse talents. Staples’ lengthy arsenal is her biggest strength. There’s an anthropomorphic mouse and seal that are adorable. There are demons with upside down heads that are chilling. She does these transitions seamlessly, all while creating facial structures that endow characters with gritty emotions, and it’s all done with absolute perfection.

The only nitpick would be the last collected issue. No spoilers, but it’s underwhelming, and I was left a bit confused as to why Vaughan chose that direction. The series is taking a hiatus between volumes, so it was odd to see issue 12 focuses on a character we’ve never even been one-on-one with. The cliffhanger is solid, though, and I am excited to see where it goes.

Like the last volume, Saga Vol. 2 is a must buy. Yes, it’s not kid-friendly, and some images are incredibly NSFW, but there is nothing like Saga on the stands. The epic storytelling of Star Wars, the comedy of Thursday night NBC, and the subtle brilliance that made Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina something to talk about. Why would you not buy it? Go! Now! Buy it, man. Jeez, why are you still listening to me?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Saga Volume 1

Title: Saga Volume 1

ISBN: 9781607066019
Price: $9.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2012
Artist: Fiona Staples
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Collects: Saga #1-6

Rating: 4/5

Saga’s been the talk of the comic town since it first hit stands back in March 2012, and rightly so. Praise had been pretty much unanimous for this Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples series, with many reviews comparing its scope and magnanimity to epics like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Though Saga does borrow from specific science fiction and fantasy tropes, it’s by and large its own beast. From the shocking first page to the charming final cliffhanger, Saga Vol. 1 is a crash course in comic storytelling, written and drawn by two of the finest creators in the industry. It’s absolutely marvelous.

Explaining Saga to a friend is akin to relating a surreal DalĂ­ painting realistically. In a tale of star-crossed lovers, Vaughan weaves multiple arcs around the fate of a couple, Marko and Alana, and their young child ─ the narrator for the story, providing a creative means of necessary exposition,  while also implementing some of the strangest characters fiction has ever seen. Marko is a liberal-mouthed, horn-headed man from a moon called Wreath, while Alana is a hard-nosed, wing-strutted woman from a planet called Landfall. These two worlds have been at war for some time, and serve as the Montagues and Capulets of the story. But like Romeo and Juliet, Marko and Alana find each other, fall in love, and have a baby, leading to representatives from both sides hunting them down. And then the strange ones appear.

There’s a bounty hunter, The Will, freelanced to hunt for the couple with his cat, Lying Cat. No really, she’s called Lying Cat. Why? Because she can sniff out lies, duh. There’s Prince Robot IV, who is really just a gray man with a TV for a head. A member of the Robot Kingdom, which has strenuous ties to Landfall, Prince Robot IV is also forced to find the lovers. Along the way we meet a spider woman, a monkey man, and a ghost missing half its body.

It’s funny to think about how ridiculous these creations are, but in truth, they’re some of the realest characters I’ve ever encountered. From page one, Vaughan supplies Marko and Alana’s relationship with such a beautiful disquietude that you can feel their need for escape. The reader opens to Alana in labor, Marko’s head hidden between her legs, and no one thinks, hey, why does that guy have horns? It’s the love that comes off the page, and when Marko steps back and says, “You have never been as beautiful as you are right now,” it’s not corny. It’s real. The Will’s a loner, and the emptiness of space seems to ring true in his eyes. Prince Robot IV’s a victim of shell shock, as remnants of the war appear on his screen. Vaughan’s knack for deep-rooted characters is nothing new; he did it in Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, and Pride of Baghdad. But Saga’s different. The characters in Saga feel like the friends you make in dreams from which you refuse to wake.

Fiona Staples was not just the right choice for this book, she was the only choice. While Vaughan built the Saga world on these outstanding, fantastical ideas, Staples built it on the tiniest details. From the shading on both planet’s surfaces to the grotesque beauty of Marko and Alana’s freshly received daughter, the level of detail here is unparalleled. Much in the way Star Wars is memorable not just for its stories, but also for the look and feel of its worlds, Saga has a look and feel all its own. It’s truly a testament to Staples’ pencils that there is no Marko and Alana without her. In another artist’s hands, it would feel contrived and ineloquent.

Saga’s worth the hype. It’s epic in scope, but brimming with hilarity only found in the most irreverent sitcoms. The characters are memorable, the situations are unforgettable, and in the end, it’s a book worth reading not once, but over and over again.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Ultimates Volume 1: Super-Human

Title: The Ultimates Volume 1: Super-Human

ISBN: 0785109609
Price: $12.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2002
Artist: Bryan Hitch
Writer: Mark Millar
Collects: The Ultimates #1-6

Rating: 4/5

In the world of the Ultimates, Marvel Comics' reimagination of its superhero history, the Nazis (with a little outside help) were the first to develop a hydrogen bomb. They failed to win the war only because Captain America managed to sabotage the prototype, a mission that ended in his own apparent death.

Flash ahead 55 years, when industrialist/inventor Tony Stark, creator of the Iron Man armor, is working to build a government-sponsored superteam with the aid of S.H.I.E.L.D. head Nick Fury. His team includes Bruce Banner, whose previous attempts to reinvent Captain America's super-soldier serum led to the creation of the Hulk; physicists Hank and Janet Pym, who alter their sizes according to their needs; and the Earth-loving Thor, who is possibly a god and possibly a nutcase, but whose prowess with a hammer is inarguable.

The discovery of Captain America, still breathing and suspended in ice, gives the project the kickstart it needs. All that remains is a villain to fight -- and someone on the team knows where to find one.

Like Marvel's Ultimate remakes of Spider-Man and the X-Men, the Ultimates have significant differences from the mainstream Avengers on whom they are modeled. Captain America, for instance, is a little more Ramboesque, and his pal Bucky -- more publicist than sidekick -- survived the war and aged at a natural pace. The Pyms have no magically adaptive costumes, so -- unless they have time to change after shrinking or growing -- they go into battle naked. Thor is more aloof from his fellow heroes, more new-agey in attitude and chummy with the normal folk who adore him. Banner harbors strong, subconscious libido issues along with his secret rage, and Janet learns that sometimes the worst villain is at home.

The franchise, which has been growing stale, has a fresh start to build upon. Now, where's volume two?