Sunday, March 30, 2014

Kick-Ass 2

Title: Kick-Ass 2

ISBN: 9780785152460
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2013
Artist: John Romita Jr.
Writer: Mark Millar
Collects: Kick-Ass 2 #1-7

Rating: 3/5

If you only know Kick-Ass from the movie, you don't know Kick-Ass. The comic is a whole other animal, and neither the relatively light mood nor feel-good ending of the film were taken from the original pages written by Mark Millar and illustrated by John Romita Jr. Frankly, I'm not sure how much of this sequel book can even make it to the movie screen -- it's brutal, vicious stuff. Some of the characters, so easy to like under those warm Hollywood lights, have pretty awful things happen to them here, and you might walk away from this book a little sick to your stomach.

That said, it's a sure bet that, if ordinary people in the real world suddenly started dressing like superheroes and tackling villains the way they do here, then this is probably the sort of thing that would happen to them, as well as those around them. Crooks in the real world don't play by comic-book rules.

In Kick-Ass 2, our hero Dave (Kick-Ass) was being trained by 11-year-old Mindy (Hit-Girl) to be a better street fighter -- until she got grounded by her stepfather, who has an unreasonable bias against having his daughter out on the front lines killing criminals. Now, Dave is living the dream -- a member of Justice Forever, a group of like-minded heroes who want to help people however they can.

But then the former Red Mist -- I won't utter his new code name here -- comes back with an army of thugs and a thirst for revenge, and things turn really ugly very fast.

This book is well written and well-drawn. It's a pleasure to read in part because it's not like many other titles on the market -- certainly, you won't see these sorts of developments in an Avengers or Justice League book. Be warned, though, it's not for kids.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

John Constantine, Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits

Title: John Constantine, Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits

ISBN: 9781563891502
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 1996
Artist: William Simpson
Writer: Garth Ennis
Collects: Hellblazer #41-46

Rating: 3/5

For those unfamiliar with series, it deals with the character John Constantine, a trench-coated Liverpudlian transplanted to London who dabbles -- quite successfully, usually -- in various arcane arts. He deals with demons, consorts with angels, argues with ghosts and generally involves himself in supernatural goings-on that sane people should avoid. If he sounds like someone who'd be fun to know, bear in mind that most of the people he calls friends seem to end up dead ... often under horrible, and likely quite painful, circumstances.

Constantine is also a chain smoker. It was, perhaps, an affectation of early artists; it looks suitably atmospheric to have him lighting up in tense moments or tossing his smoldering butts in the face of danger. But smoking, as we all know in this enlightened age, has its price. And in Dangerous Habits, Constantine -- not yet 40 years old -- learns that he is dying of lung cancer.

Suddenly, his magic doesn't seem quite so magical. Walking life on the edge is one thing, but knowing you're about to be pushed over that edge is another.

The manner in which Constantine approaches his condition, and the method by which he eventually attempts to change it, is at times a white-knuckled page turner. It's also funny, and heart-warming, and annoying. There are times you want to give John a good belt to the jaw, and there are times you want to shake his hand and buy him a pint.

Ennis' writing is incisive and passionate, witty and deep. He gives us a Constantine who is at the same time fiercely self-reliant and extremely needy, indestructible and vulnerable, equally insensitive and loyal to his friends. The small touches (like another passenger's breakfast while crossing the Irish Sea and Constantine's final salute to his unwilling benefactors) give the story a kind of breadth rarely seen in comics. And Ennis' presentation of Satan (in various incarnations) and at least one earthbound angel are ... well, somewhat startling.

There are two particularly memorable, emotional subplots in this collection. One involves Matt, an aging fellow cancer sufferer, and the other introduces us to Brendan, an Irish wizard of sorts and a friend of Constantine's who, above all else, loves a good pint of Guinness. (Well, he is Irish, after all.)

Of course, comics are ultimately a graphic medium, and the finest story is lost without solid artwork. Although Ennis' writing would later be better paired with artist Steve Dillon (in later runs of Hellblazer and the even more disturbing series, Preacher), this run was handled admirably by William Simpson. The characters are just to one side of looking perfectly realistic, their facial expressions are vivid and evocative, and the backgrounds are suitable for whatever setting Constantine finds himself in, be it grungy downtown London, rural Ireland or various points of Hell on Earth. Inkers including Mark Pennington, Tom Sutton and Malcolm Jones III completed the picture, making this all in all an engrossing read.

Staunchly religious readers might be uncomfortable with some aspects of the book, and they may find their beliefs handled at times in unflattering ways. Then again, the occult nature of the Hellblazer series should probably keep those readers away in the first place.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Oddities in the collection

I've noted in the past of my previous desire to have an X-Men collection, and I'm still working to complete my Marvel G.I. Joe collection; but recently I've been thinking about a couple of odd characters that I loved from my childhood and how I'd like to collect their appearances.

The first of which would be Howard the Duck. I was first introduced to Howard from the movie back in 1986. I had a couple posters and a few of the comics when I was younger, but they are since gone and I'll have to start from ground zero.

The other is Peter Porker aka Spider-Ham. My introduction to Spider-Ham was through the "What the?!" series. I remember having a few issues of "Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham" and enjoying the heck out of them.

I used to have a collection of Marvel "Groo the Wanderer" as well, but I'm not sure I'm going to try re-collecting them just yet. I once had a few of the "Cerebus the Aardvark" trades, which I am sorry to have parted with. I don't think I'll ever collect the individual issues, but I'd love to get the trades again.

Do/Did you have any oddities in your collection? I know there are some who collect nothing but specific characters rather than titles.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Pre-ECCC 2014

I wasn't able to go to ECCC last year, and I really regret missing being able to finally meet certain talent that I've been a huge fan of for years. This year, I'm looking forward to meeting some artists that I never thought I'd ever get to meet... since I limit myself to comic cons in the Pacific Northwest.

This year's planning has been a bit hectic for me because of some personal setbacks I've suffered. Fortunately I have been able to overcome and am looking forward to also promoting Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer. I have already connected with a few artists that are donating their work to the cause, and hope to possibly connect with some additional artists. One thing I'm looking forward to most in being able to tell Brian Pulido that his idea for the Hero Initiative inspired the project.

Due to Amtrak limiting carry-on baggage to 2, I'm not going to be bringing my laptop with me to Seattle this year... which means that my day-of positing and pictures will be limited. I have an iPad this year, but I'm still working on my picture taking skills with it. I'll probably take more pictures with my digital camera over the iPad for this reason, which means I'll need to wait until I get home before I can post them. Look for my postmortem the first week of April.

With the recent addition of Jim Lee to the guest list... granted he's only going to be there for 2-hours on Friday, and it will be ticketed... I realized that I don't have as much Jim Lee issues as I would like. I found 2 issues I'll try to get signed, but I'm not going to hold my breath... especially since the con opens at 10am and I won't be in Seattle until noon.

A bit of a quandary hit me while writing this, and I pose this question to collectors: If you collect TPB's and GN's like I primarily do, do you take them to get signed, or do you just have your single issues signed? For me, I really only take my single issues to get signed. I do have a couple of my trades signed, but my OCD for collecting makes me keep them in bags with boards. If I were to bring my trade to get signed, I would need extra baggage and possibly someone to help transport them at the con. Since I'm no longer married, I don't have that luxury any more. :-D

For instance, Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham will both be attending, and I have all the Fables trades. Granted, this would be a far cry from 2012 when there was a guy who brought every single issue of both Fables and Jack of Fables... but I wouldn't want to do something like that to either Bill or Mark, especially considering that I would only be a single person during the entire 3-day long con.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Solomon Kane: The Castle of the Devil

Title: Solomon Kane: The Castle of the Devil

ISBN: 9781595822826
Price: $15.95
Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 2009
Artist: Mario Guevara
Writer: Scott Allie
Collects: Solomon Kane #1-5, “The Nightcomers” from MySpace Dark Horse Presents June 2008

Rating: 3/5

Mike Mignola provides a fine cover for the collection of Scott Allie and Mario Guevara’s Solomon Kane miniseries, which is designed to resemble an old movie poster or trashy paperback cover. It’s a fine cover, but somewhat unfortunate in how poorly it reflects the contents.

Those too are gorgeous, but in a completely different style, making this a graphic novel particularly difficult to judge by its cover (Speaking of covers, when originally published as a miniseries, this one had a lot, and the collection includes them all, including a fine one by Joe Kubert—who Dark Horse should try and convince to do a whole story—and others by Mignola and John Cassaday).

The story stars Conan creator Robert E. Howard’s wandering Puritan warrior character, who resembles in appearance, attitude and capacity for violence the more popular Conan extremely closely, but has somehow never caught on in comics adaptations the way Conan has.

Dark Horse’s Conan editor Scott Allie has adapted this story from a fragment by Howard. The action is set in Germany’s Black Forest, where Kane meets bandits, a monstrous wolf and a traveler of questionable character before journeying to the titular structure.

It’s a castle built upon a ruined abbey, ruled over by a mysterious lord and his more mysterious Persian bride and full of some rather dark and terrible secrets, of a supernatural, or perhaps paranormal, variety.

I found the story took a little too much time to get going, and am glad I read it in trade rather than in its original serial format, as I probably wouldn’t have wanted to read the second issue after the first, let alone the rest of the series. There’s some extremely cool stuff in the book, but Allie doesn’t frontload it, so the folklore-meets-horror aspects (of a variety that should be familiar to Dark Horse’s many Hellboy readers) don’t appear until the second half of the story, or with much force until the climax.

Guevara’s a fine artist, but Dave Stewart’s painterly color art gives the images a milky, gauzy, almost blurry appearance that took me some getting used to. It looks comparable to the publisher’s earlier Conan comics, but I found it rather jarring after turning from the Mignola cover, and I generally prefer harder, darker lines and flatter, more comic book-y coloring.

It’s a very, very violent book, as befitting a Howard-derived comic, although it’s occasionally hilariously so, as when Kane stabs a foe and his organs start to seep out immediately, as if they were spring-loaded by a special effects guy.

At one point, Kane cuts a guy’s face off with a sword, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a comic or movie, despite all of the comics and movies I’ve seen involving dudes fighting with swords.

Among the foes Kane turns his sword on in this story are a werewolf and monstrous, man-eating “angels.” The former changes shape from image to image, fluctuating between a huge wolf and a more humanoid wolf, which is an interesting take, and, incidentally, the first dramatization I’ve ever seen of the legend of an aristocrat who could turn into a wolf by using a special garment with knowledge learned from the devil. The latter bear many wings and many mouths, and they use all of their mouths when devouring victims, leading to still more rather gory scenes.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Status of Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer (#CBC4C)

We've had some great success over the last couple of months for our auctions, and we've been able to raise over $300 for the American Cancer Society. For that, I am extremely thankful for everyone's support.

We've been fortunate enough to have several great artists to help #CBC4C become successful, and to them I give a well deserved "Thank You!" Without you, none of this would be possible.

We're currently at a bit of a crossroads right now.

  1. We're still waiting to hear back from several artists who we've sent cover to in September through December. I'm hopeful that everyone has been on-the-level, but the pessimistic side of me says that there have been at least a couple of people who may have taken advantage of this project. I really can't say one way or another.
  2. Because we're waiting to hear back from so many artists, our inventory of finished covers has been depleted from the auctions and we don't have many new covers to offer. Because of that, we'll probably be continuing to schedule only 1 series of auctions per month while we continue this project.
  3. Because of a personal setback in my employment status, I can no longer afford to ship blank covers to artists at the moment. As I've said from the beginning, this has been funded out of my own pocket (minus the donations we've received) for everything. I'm thankful to have received donations of blank covers, artwork and funding from several people.
As more covers become available, I will continue to post them to our Facebook page (Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer) and I'll make sure to schedule auctions to continue to raise money for ACS because this is cause I believe in.

If you can make a monetary donation to #CBC4C, we have a GoFundMe setup so you can make them. With every donation received we can continue the #CBC4C project and raise $$ for cancer research.

Recently, I saw a piece on the local news about a 3-year old boy who was battling cancer... and was given a short time to actually live. Only a few days later, he died. Here is a link to where you can read about this boy:

When I heard the first story, my initial reaction was that no child should have to fight for his/her life like this. Every $ that we can help raise for the ACS can help make this hope a reality.

Thank you for reading this. I hope that you will share/re-tweet/pass this along to others. The more people who know about the #CBC4C project, the greater the possibility of raising more $$ for cancer research.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Walking Dead Volume 18: What Comes After

Title: The Walking Dead Volume 18: What Comes After

ISBN: 9781607066873
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2013
Artist: Charlie Adlard
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Collects: The Walking Dead #103-108

Rating: 4/5

I’ve spent plenty of time talking about how The Walking Dead is better read in trade format, as opposed to one issue per month. The way the series is usually paced, it helps when dealing with some of the second and third string characters, who we sometimes don’t see for months at a time when we’re reading the issues as I come out. This book, however, is the exception to that rule. Leave it to Kirkman to prove me wrong.

Shortly after Glenn’s brutal, merciless murder, Rick and his camp find themselves at the mercy of his murderer Negan, and his gang the Saviors. For perhaps the first time since the zombie apocalypse began, Rick finds himself in a state of submission…or does he? Either way, one person who isn’t backing down is Carl. When Carl stows away in one of the Saviors’ vehicles, he sets himself up for a deadly confrontation. And unlike his father, Carl isn’t afraid to confront Negan face-to-face.

Carl being trapped with the Saviors made almost every book in this issue pretty hard to close. Negan had been established as such a heartless killer. And despite his bravery, Carl is more vulnerable than ever. Kirkman and Adlard essentially put an infant in front of an oncoming train for a few months, and made us watch as the train came closer and closer. Interestingly enough, what Negan ends up doing with Carl raises more questions about the leader of the Saviros than answers.

But I love the Negan character. He’s turned out to be just what I hoped he would: The perfect shot in the arm for the series. Though he’s tremendously easy to hate, in a bizarre way he’s also very likable. He’s almost like the Joker, in that he somehow makes you chuckle at the most inappropriate times. For instance, there’s a scene where he forces Carl to remove the bandage over the gaping hole where his right eye once was. Negan’s reaction of astonishment and awe is actually child-like in its own right. With a grin on his face, he refers to Carl’s face as disgusting and cross, and actually asks if he can touch the wound. This reaction reduces even usually tough and reserved boy to tears. Seeing Carl’s tears, he abruptly backpedals. “Oh, damn. Look..holy sh** kid. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…” The idea that this madman, who just five issues ago beat a man’s skull in with a baseball bat, is shaken by a child’s tears, is amusing in a very dark way. Negan’s balance between juvenile and sadistic behavior makes him difficult to read. That, of course, makes for a great villain.

I’ve been enjoying the new characters Kirkman and Adlard have introduced is to in the last 15 to 20 issues. For a while there the older characters, (Rick, Carl, Andrea, Michonne, Glenn, etc.) were the only ones I found myself caring about. But Jesus has proved to be a nice addition to the series, and pretty bad ass when you get right down to it. His stealth and fighting skills, combined with his desire to earn Rick’s trust have made him very likable. There’s also Dwight, a member of Negan’s crew who is nicely expanded on in this book. At the very least, the mutilation of his face makes him very distinguishable from anyone else in the series.

Then there’s Ezekiel, who is without question one of the most memorable characters the series has seen. Mind you, I’m saying that and he’s not even in this book for an entire issue. He plays the role a merciful medieval king, joyfully commanding his knights, armor and all. He also has a friggin’ tiger as a pet. To say the least, this is different from anything Kirkman and Adlard have given us before. In this case, different is very, very good. At minimum, we know we’re eventually going to see somebody get mauled by a tiger! Question: If an animal eats a zombie, does it contract the contagion? If so, I’ve got three words for you: Zombie friggin’ tiger!

For a while there, I was seriously concerned The Walking Dead had peaked. But it seems the series just needed to get its second wind, which began with issue 100. The book is exciting again, which thankfully ensures it will continue to have a nice, long life. Or…death? Undeath? You get the idea.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Daredevil: Visionaries

Title: Daredevil: Visionaries

ISBN: 0785107371
Price: $19.95
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2000
Artist: Joe Quesada
Writer: Kevin Smith
Collects: Daredevil Vol. 2 #1-8

Rating: 3.5/5

The eight issues collected in Daredevil Visionaries: Kevin Smith are the first eight of Daredevil vol. 2, and they serve less to reintroduce the Daredevil character as to salute him with a sort of medley of fictional themes. Thus we get writer Kevin Smith's twist on every ringer other Daredevil writers ever put the long-suffering hero through, including woman trouble, suicidal urges, lawyeristic mea culpa’s and, of course, a Secret Villain out to Ruin Daredevil's Life. (Where would Daredevil be without the villains that obsess about him enough to destroy him, over and over again?)

And it's all fabulous, because Smith knows exactly what he's doing. The very clichés he employs here in these eight issues are fodder for commentary from him through the characters, and also serve as an opportunity for him to shine by wringing freshness out of stale situations. Often when a villain is out to ruin a hero's life, the hero acts as if it has never happened before; unless continuity comes into play, the hero will exhibit almost complete amnesia about similar situations. Smith is different; he allows Daredevil to muse on the relative effectiveness of the villain at work in Visionaries with the clear-sightedness of someone who remembers his past and can critique it.

The story arc found in Daredevil Visionaries: Kevin Smith spends much of its time in and around the Catholic Church, as Daredevil deals with a mysterious baby who has suddenly landed in his lap. The baby might be the returned savior, or might be the old Son of the Morning, or might be none of these. But people seem willing to kill on all sides, and soon the hero is teetering at the edge of his sanity, tempted to slay a child that might be Satan himself.

Smith, a sort of star guest who came over to write Daredevil after writing and directing Dogma, brings to this comic much the same irreverent humor and genuinely loving keen eye for Catholic detail as that film. In his comic, however, given more time and more characters, Smith provides a more layered and human story. Smith is genuinely interested in questions of faith, and puts meditations on faith in every character's mouth. Daredevil himself is a lapsed Catholic who still inclines towards belief in the mysteries. His mother is a nun, whose only shame is her son, a relationship Smith explores with expert precision in a scene between the two, as mother and son tiptoe around one another, dispensing equal parts rage, shame and adoration.

Daredevil's girlfriend, a DJ named Karen, has just broken up with him for one of those delightfully meaningless reasons that I'm sad to report actually exist. Hers goes something like: 'You love me even with all my faults, which is a very good and generous thing, so I must leave you.' Or something. Anyway, she's outta there and Matt Murdock, the attorney who is Daredevil, wastes about five seconds before he's calling Natasha the Black Widow, an old girlfriend. (This is another dead-level accurate Smith detail.) Natasha here is sexy, sarcastic and not a little bit slutty, although she does have the decency to point out that she'll drop Murdock for Tony Stark any day. Natasha, Smith tells us, has 'embraced the baggage that comes with being human.'

Smith spends a little time with the other side of Daredevil's life, that of attorney Matt Murdock. As someone who actually went through law school, I've always enjoyed the idea of a lawyer so brazen as to go out and commit crimes every night, as Daredevil certainly does with all his trespassing, destruction of property, assaults and batteries. Technically an attorney is an officer of the court, with a higher level of responsibility not to misbehave. I can assure you Murdock flirts with disbarment every time he dons the little red horns. (There's a story I'd love to see, if not write.)

But Smith uses the attorney aspect well: Foggy Nelson, Murdock's partner, is accused of murder, only to have the senior partner (Foggy's mom, no less) fire him rather than bring shame on the firm. At first we can't imagine such a horrible betrayal, but Smith has the senior partner point out that the firm must represent many clients, and any shame Foggy brings on the firm may reflect badly on their clients in court. And lest we think she's just being mean, we're reminded that attorneys have taken a vow to zealously represent their client's interests opposed to each other's. She has fired her son, and ethically, the argument goes, she can do nothing else. There's a lot more to explore here, but Smith has hit on the basic horror of the law: not that it forces you act to like a monster, but like a machine.

It's so refreshing to read Smith's work on Daredevil, which invents little and yet explores the places Daredevil has already been with such freshness and even joy. There's a tongue-in-cheek feel to the whole work, as if Smith can't help but give to his characters the sense that this story, this tragedy, this villain, this fight, is exactly how life for them is supposed to be. Matt Murdock will always be an attorney who feels sorry for himself despite being surrounded by the most beautiful women in the Marvel Universe, and he will always have arch-enemies who seek to destroy him in grand, operatic gestures. In fact, the whole plot of this story arc is actually a comment on one of Frank Miller's. This is a thoroughly post-modern Daredevil.

Visually, Daredevil Visionaries: Kevin Smith reminds me of The Insider in its use of visuals to punch up a story that often stays far clear of action. Most of the action here is strictly dialogue, as characters stand around in various spots across the city. Consequently Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti give us the most fluid, dynamic dialogue scenes ever, from as many angles as possible, always with the suggestion of breezes to keep tiny parts of the art, hair, clothing, etc. Moving. It's an exciting style.

Daredevil Visionaries: Kevin Smith is a work by a writer who knows his comics and also knows how to drag the world beyond them back into the Marvel Universe. The result is a post-modern treat, and not one to be missed.