Thursday, December 24, 2015

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Shutter Volume 1: Wanderlost

Title: Shutter Vol 1: Wanderlost

ISBN: 9781632151452
Price: $9.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2014
Artist: Leila Del Duca
Writer: Joe Keatinge
Collects: Shutter #1-6

Rating: 3.5/5

Joe Keatinge’s Shutter is about Kate Kristopher’s attempts to find her identity, lost among the many memories she has of her father before his death. In that sense, it’s a traditional comic where the narrative follows the protagonist throughout the mysteries of her life, the comic slowly spiraling out to include her family and the reasoning for such a secretive background. But along with that tale of finding out who Kate Kristopher really is, Shutter Vol 1.: Wanderlost is also about a triceratops, and lion people, and ghost ninjas trying to kill Kate. It’s all so chaotically coherent that Keatinge’s series has already landed a place in the hearts of many readers.

Part of that is Keatinge’s quick launch into madness. Shutter begins with a young Kate exploring the moon with her father, a sentiment that she’s held onto for sometime. It was a point in her life when things began their forward movement toward adulthood, and growing up with her father allotted her some insane Indiana Jones-style adventures. The science fiction of exploring the moon isn’t so out of this world – because now we’re going to start launching luxury rockets into the stratosphere – especially for a comic book, but it quickly becomes apparent that Shutter ain’t operating on the standards of reality that we know.

Keatinge’s world-building feels incredibly natural, helped along by Leila Del Duca and Owen Gieni’s artwork that often allows double-page shots of the environments. There are so many odd creatures, both bystanders and bounty hunters, but Keatinge makes it work with a passion for letting loose and allowing things to take shape without the need to explain every detail. The first issue alone encompasses a fight with a robot, ghost ninjas, police officers in hovercrafts, and a lion gang, and it’s just the sort of explosive introduction needed to hook the reader quick.

Besides all the action, though, Keatinge finds time for character exploration, even those that don’t have a huge role in the series. Obviously Kate is a big part of Shutter, and Keatinge uses flashback, along with some very interesting paneling choices, to capture her memories of her father. More than that, though, are the multiple jumps to other characters. Shaw and Exland, the two lion bounty hunters, are given a lot more room than I thought; in one scene, after Shaw is told to wait in the car and he instead enters a record store, Exland murders everyone in there to make it look like a robbery. Keatinge doesn’t skimp on the brutality of his story despite the often cartoonish tone, and it’s a real treat.

While Shutter‘s story isn’t incredibly original – and you’ll certainly see shades of Saga in both narrative drive and conceptualization of the issues – it’s the nuances behind it that really make it a fast-paced read. Kate’s family is all sorts of messed up, and in the later issues of Wanderlost Keatinge takes time out of the action to have a family reunion. It is Kate’s siblings that want her dead, siblings she didn’t even know she had, and the shock of finding out that the dad who literally flew Kate to the moon was hiding lots and lots of secrets is palpable.

Shutter is definitely one to watch through a lens, particularly because of Del Duca’s detailed and original layouts. It may seem a bit familiar at the outset, but Keatinge certainly shows that his series is more than just a knock-off of popular adventure tales. Allow the magic of Shutter‘s world to work on you, and you’ll find yourself landing in a fantasy place where the sights are just a bit skewed, but still similar to our cutthroat reality.

With the loss of any new Fables trades, I think I can easily add this to one of my new favorite series to read.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Grendel Omnibus Vol 1: Hunter Rose

Title: Grendel Omnibus Vol 1: Hunter Rose

ISBN: 9781595828934
Price: $24.99
Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 2012
Artist: Matt Wagner, Tim Sale, David Mack, Duncan Fegredo, Mike Allred, Guy Davis, Teddy Kristiansen, Ashley Wood, Mike Huddleston, Dean Motter
Writer: Matt Wagner
Collects: Grendel: Devil by the Deed 25th Anniversary Edition, Grendel: Black, White & Red #1-4, Grendel: Red, White & Black #1-4, Grendel: Behold the Devil, Comico Collection, Decade: A Dark Horse Short Story Collection, Dark Horse Extra #49-50, Dark Horse Maverick 2001, Liberty Annual 2011

Rating: 3/5

Matt Wagner created Grendel for the now-defunct Comico Comics in 1983; he later took his creation to Dark Horse after the failing Comico attempted to claim the title as one of its assets. The concept is still full of life thirty years later; Wagner will be writing and drawing a crossover with The Shadow later this year. I call Grendel a concept because there’s really not one central character. The “Grendel” name is given to a variety of main characters over centuries; it’s a dark force and possibly a demon from Hell if some of the stories are to be believed.

With all that said, the person most commonly known as “Grendel” is Hunter Rose, the original holder of the title. Grendel Omnibus Vol. 1: Hunter Rose collects Rose’s story in the way Wagner wants to tell it ... and as a result, the original story from 1983 isn’t collected here. Wagner has called it a rough draft and its events are portrayed here in a story called “Devil by the Deed," which you should skip if you’re unfamiliar with the material. Instead of a regular story, “Deed” is an illustrated plot summary told in the form of a biography of Hunter Rose; some of these fragments were used in previous Grendel stories and later assembled here.

To replace that “draft," Wagner created three mini-series: Black, White and Red; Red, White and Black; and Behold the Devil. The result is, in essence, an anthology book telling one story from numerous angles. It’s a fairly daring experiment in sequential art. Once you read the three mini-series and re-read “Devil by the Deed," the entire tale of Hunter Rose mostly makes sense. There are a few flaws; the primary one comes in the form of Rose’s adversary, Argent the Wolf, a werewolf who still feels out of place despite Wagner’s best attempts to inject more mysticism into the story. Some of the nearly fifty individual stories could have been moved around to clear up the timeline.

These flaws are offset by two great strengths. One is that Hunter Rose is an absolutely fascinating anti-hero in the literal sense of the term. Rose has morals; he’s very protective of his young charge, Stacy Palumbo, and he never turns down the opportunity to kill pedophiles. Of course, Stacy is in his care because Rose killed her treacherous mobster uncle after said uncle tried to betray him to Argent. As Grendel, Hunter Rose controls New York City’s crime scene through terror and a ruthless efficiency, sometimes recruiting rival gangsters and other times taking them out with his unique fork weapon. Regular people are just chess pieces for him to move around. If you’ve ever tried to find a comic book version of Nietzche’s concept of the √úbermensch, Hunter Rose would be a good place to start.

The other great strength in this Grendel omnibus is the sheer volume of artistic talent involved. Wagner, a personal favorite artist, really shows off his skills in Behold the Devil with a masterful use of the page space. As two of the mini-series’ titles implied, the black and white artwork is joined with occasional and well-planned splashes of red. This only rarely feels like a gimmick. In “Devil’s Vagary," the entire color concept is modified so that some scenes are done almost entirely in red with black line work and white details. “Devil Dreams” confines the red solely to a hallucination of a god of death to amplify the anguish Argent goes through. Many of these stories add detail to minor characters from Behold the Devil.

While Wagner writes every story collected here (along with nearly every Grendel story every published), he only draws a few of the tales in BWR and RWB. He’s instead joined by one of the greatest assemblages of comic book artists this side of SDCC’s Artist Alley. If you have a list of favorite indie artists, you’ll likely find three or four of them within these pages. Phil Hester gets to draw the crucial chapter wherein Barry Palumbo betrays Grendel; it makes me long for a crossover with The Wretch. BWR features Tim Sale, Michael Allred, David Mack, Duncan Fegredo, D’Israeli, Paul Chadwick, and Chris Sprouse. RWB has Jill Thompson, Cliff Chiang (with John Workman on letters!), Jim Mahfood, Kelley Jones, Stan Sakai, Zander Cannon, Darick Robertson, and Ashley Wood. And that’s only about half of each roster!

Matt Wagner tailored his stories to work with each artist’s style. Teddy Kristiansen’s scratchy pencils in “Devil on My Back” add a true sense of unease to a tale of Hunter Rose’s childhood and the origins of his villainy. Stan Shaw uses caricatures and inventive type-setting to tell the sordid tale of Rose’s literary agent in “The Devil’s in the Punctuation." To explore Rose’s rise in the mob, Wagner and Timothy Bradstreet use fake news reports interspersed with silent, black-and-white panels. Tom Fowler illustrates the fall of an adversarial senator with careful calligraphy and what look like political cartoons. This is immediately followed by Andi Watson’s “Devil’s Karma," told entirely in haiku. A personal favorite, “Roulette du Diable," matches the dark deeds of Grendel to Stacy’s actions while bored, with Dan Brereton’s art carefully accented with red and pink.

These two mini-series are separated by what could be the greatest “It Gets Better” comic ever written. Remember, kids: homophobia is inefficient, and inefficiency makes Grendel want to stab people. This story was the most recent until the announced crossover with The Shadow. I really hope Dark Horse can get Matt Wagner to do some more Grendel work, especially with the departure of the Star Wars license. If nothing else, Grendel Omnibus Vol. 1: Hunter Rose packs an incredible amount of value, with the smaller pages keeping the crispness of the lines for the most part. Just be prepared to do a little mental (and online) work to put the entire story together.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Constantine Vol 2: Blight

Title: Constantine Vol 2: Blight

ISBN: 9781401247478
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2013
Artist: Aco, Szymon Kudranski, Beni Lobel
Writer: Ray Fawkes
Collects: Constantine #7-12

Rating: 3/5

In the last volume, Constantine struck a blow to the Cult of Cold Flame, and now they've both usurped Constantine's magical inventory and are killing rival magicians. Constantine is attacked by Sargon the Sorceress, who seems about to land a killing blow -- until she and Constantine go to bed together.

It's here that Fawkes begins to approach Constantine's mature comics roots. The scene causes the reader no end of difficulty, on one hand because of the implication that Constantine has been forced to have sex with his captor, and on the other hand for the equal implication that Constantine is in fact manipulating events himself to his own ends. In the first issue, artist Szymon Kudranski's art is nicely shadowed and atmospheric, though the characters -- Sargon especially -- tend toward a dead-eyed, far-off look that feels a bit sloppy. The second issue, however, gains a breath of fresh air with artist Aco's (ACO's?) distinct figures and rounded lines -- somewhere between Michael Lark and Frank Quitely -- which make both story and art feel strong, and it's at that moment the reader sees a Constantine series that could really go somewhere.

The end of that issue, however, intersects Constantine with the climax of Trinity War, and then the next issue picks up in media res in Blight. Again, Aco lends a wholly needed touch of class and maturity to the proceedings, but the issue essentially involves Constantine and his new magical crew battling the giant-size Blight monster across Central Park, almost Ghostbusters-esque. Fawkes does not acquit Constantine badly here, and again Aco really steals the show, but it feels like the kind of big, bombastic superhero story that doesn't befit the Constantine character, and it's miles away from Constantine going to bed with Sargon to infiltrate the Cold Flame.

Equally problematic is that all of Blight turns on Constantine being considerably (and quite vocally) in love with Zatanna, and desperate to save her from the Crime Syndicate at all costs. I don't claim to be a Hellblazer expert, but it seems to me that Constantine with one clear, altruistic goal is not Constantine at all. Take, for instance, Fawkes's own story of Constantine and his sidekick Chris foiling Sargon in Constantine Vol. 1: The Spark and the Flame, in which Constantine quite knowingly sacrifices Chris's life for the greater good; Constantine might have felt bad afterward for doing it, but he didn't regret it. Even as Blight is a fun team-up of DC's mystical characters, it stems from Constantine acting out of character, and that nags at the reader through all eighteen parts.

The next issue, with art by Beni Lobel, serves mainly to take up space in the Blight crossover, with a recounting of Constantine's already-introduced traveling companions. Shortly thereafter, Blight itself rather unexpectedly changes its focus from the Blight monster to a conflict between the new Justice League Dark and villains Felix Faust and Nick Necro. Though there are sizable Blight-gaps between the Constantine issues -- and between the book's final two issues are no exception -- they involve Constantine being captured by Necro at the end of one issue and still imprisoned in the next (despite some shenanigans in other issues) such that the final issues give the illusion of being more apiece than the rest.

John Constantine's magical internship under Nick Necro was a big part of Jeff Lemire's final Justice League Dark storylines, largely unremarked on so far in Constantine, so it's interesting to see Fawkes make it "canon," so to speak. Lemire's suggestion in Dark of Constantine as an impressionable kid in New York learning magic with Zatanna at the feet of Necro, supposedly just five years ago, felt a bit pat; Fawkes nicely deepens it, hearkening again to the mature roots, by suggesting what we all assumed, that Constantine and Necro had been lovers. Here again, the first issue of the sequence has Aco's strong art, whereas in Lobel's closing issue, at times Constantine and Necro look so alike that I had to re-read pages to know who was who. The conclusion is a strange mix of Constantine kissing Necro set against Constantine fighting a zombified Earth-3 Sea King who looks like the 1990s hook-handed Aquaman -- again, a little bit Vertigo, but also superhero antics where Constantine doesn't quite fit.

I'm a sucker for a crossover and a shared universe, and there's a rich tapestry between J. M. DeMatteis's Justice League Dark and Phantom Stranger, and Ray Fawkes's Constantine and Pandora. To an extent, it's entirely worth the price of admission to Constantine Vol. 2: Blight's for me to see Constantine talking to the Scottish Terrier that conveys the voice of God from Phantom Stranger, or to see the Stranger and Constantine's momentary confusion over how coincidentally each has mistreated a boy named Chris. There's only so much of Fawkes's Constantine left until it's cancelled and relaunched with Convergence, but I'm in for another volume to see at least if the first two chapters of this book are representative of where Fawkes really intends to go with the character.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Constantine Vol 1: The Spark and the Flame

Title: Constantine Vol 1: The Spark and the Flame

ISBN: 9781401243234
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2013
Artist: Renato Guedes, Marcelo Maiolo
Writer: Ray Fawkes, Jeff Lemire
Collects: Constantine #1-6

Rating: 3/5

The New 52 John Constantine first appeared in Peter Milligan's Justice League Dark and I was significantly underwhelmed. Trash-talking Constantine might have bullied some of his teammates, but there was hardly the roguish anti-hero the legends spoke of. Fawkes and Lemire, however, know what makes Constantine great (or terrible, in the story, but great as a character to read) and they bring it in the first issue. Constantine recruits young friend Chris on a quest for pieces of a magic compass, and then literally sacrifices Chris so that Constantine himself can escape from Sargon the Sorceress. Indeed that's what Milligan's Constantine was lacking -- Constantine letting one of his allies die so that he could live for the "greater good."

The "greater good" is a constant theme, especially in this book's early issues. In the fourth chapter Constantine argues with rival magician (and, as I understand it, constant Hellblazer foe) Papa Midnite, both that Constantine stealing from Midnite was an effort to help "protect" him from other enemies and also that the two should stand together against those enemies. Earlier, Constantine had run afoul of the Spectre, but managed to avoid his death by convincing the Spectre that Constantine is the lesser of two evils -- that the evil Constantine does is less than the evil he ultimately helps prevent. There is an arrogance to Constantine here, that if he does something wrong it must actually be right, that's eminently appealing in a character irrespective the universe.

Constantine's explanation to the Spectre is hardly an apology, to be sure, as not an issue later Constantine causes a monster to put out an old man's eyes, again to defeat his foes. If Fawkes and Lemire mean us to understand Constantine holds any guilt over his actions, it's only subtly, in the fourth, quieter issue, in which Constantine's "day off" reveals he really has no friends to speak of. (One can't help but see Dotty, Constantine's landlady, in this issue as akin to Una Stubbs's Mrs. Hudson in Sherlock, and it's not a far stretch to see some of Constantine in Benedict Cumberbatch's character and vice versa.)

That Constantine generally takes place in New York and not London is most likely a writer's conceit, though the idea that Constantine couldn't have his adventures in London and still run afoul of the globe-spanning Justice League seems like overthinking it. Nevertheless, in the three-part initial "pilot" story, the writers do take us to London and show why Constantine can't be there -- that the city itself has cursed him. If such explanation was necessary, I thought this fairly clever. The London issue also offers some good horror elements; the DC Universe proper doesn't tend to do horror well, always conflated as it is with superheroes, but the sub-London of hanged bodies was pretty disconcerting.

I know Fawkes mainly from a couple issues of Batgirl that I felt were too formulaic; I was bound to change that opinion with with the first four chapter of Constantine that Fawkes wrote with Lemire, but I do note that the final two issues by Fawkes alone are the least strong of the book. I appreciated that the sixth issue brought back Chris in ghostly fashion; I expected that storyline was done with the third chapter, so I was genuinely surprised to see it brought back up again. However, the chapter has by my count over a dozen pages of less interesting characters, like the villain Tannarak or Constantine's bartender fighting werewolves and demons, and only three or four pages actually featuring Constantine. This is a trend I sensed a bit in Fawkes's Batgirl, focusing on characters other than the book's main character, and I hope that's curbed in future issues.

The fifth chapter is the Trinity War tie-in issue, amusingly called (for an old JSA fan) "Stealing Thunder," and teaming Constantine with Shazam nee Captain Marvel. I remember the classic LEGION "War of the Gods" issue where Marvel fought Lobo, and the humor of the issue was seeing Marvel's extreme innocence contrasted with Lobo's sheer filthiness. Geoff Johns's new Shazam is quite a bit more of a brat than previous incarnations, and so there's an amusing but different interplay with Constantine, in that they're both jerks being jerky to one another.

The issue is problematic only because, as a Trinity War tie-in, it appears to have relevance to the Trinity War storyline, but ultimately the set-up turns out to be a misunderstanding and the issue factors into Trinity War not at all. That's bad for Trinity War, but the upside is that if you accept that Constantine and Shazam walk into a bar in the middle of the Trinity War goings on, there's not much more you need to know to enjoy the issue from a Constantine perspective.

Constantine Vol 1: The Spark and the Flame was, for me, better than it could have been, and I consider that a win though I understand others might feel more strongly. Between Constantine and Phantom Stranger, I think DC's doing fairly well with the "Dark" corner of the New 52, and I'm looking forward to the next collection of each.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


I have been a fan of the John Constantine character for many years. I like that even though he was based in the Vertigo "universe", he would occasionally make appearances in the DC universe (pre New 52, of course). And when DC decided to pull him into the DC universe with the cape and mask crowd, they even gave him his own team; Justice League Dark.

They were trying to make him more "mainstream" after the failed attempt with the Keanu Reeves movie back in 2005. With the relative success of DC's Arrow on The CW, and their attempt to bring Flash to TV as well, DC wanted to try and get Constantine on board as well.

When I heard that it was going to be on NBC, I was very skeptical. I didn't believe that NBC had what it takes to bring John Constantine to live better than Reeves' failed attempt earlier. When I saw Matt Ryan as Constantine for the first time, I thought "He looks the part." When I heard him as Constantine I thought "He sounds the part." After the first episode I was convinced that Matt Ryan was John Constantine. This was the role that he was made for.

When Constantine went on its Winter hiatus, speculation grew about whether NBC would call for a full season or even opt for a second one. That's when I first saw the following image pop-up on my Twitter feed:

I don't know how many times I made posts on Facebook or tweets across Twitter with the hashtag #SaveConstantine, but I do recall tweeting before every west coast broadcast of the latest episode to try and garner support. As we all know... that didn't work as well as we would have liked. There was a glimmer of hope that Constantine would be picked-up by a cable network that could continue the story and include more of the elements of John Constantine that NBC left out for public consumption. That has apparently went down the drain.

Then Stephen Amell gave us hope when he suggested that Constantine might appear in season for of Arrow. When I saw the episode of Arrow with Matt Ryan reprising Constantine, it warmed my heart... but I still want more. With the occasional crossover between Arrow/Flash, and the idea that there could be a crossover between Flash/Supergirl, I hope we can see Matt Ryan again in the DC universe shows.

In January 2016, Fox is going to have their new show Lucifer. I haven't read too many of the Lucifer trades, but I think John Constantine would be great popping-up there a time or two. This would be right up Constantine's alley.

Let's keep some hope alive and help to #SaveConstantine.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Harley Quinn: Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes

Title: Harley Quinn: Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes

ISBN: 9781401216573
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2007
Artist: Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, Craig Rousseau
Writer: Karl Kesel
Collects: Harley Quinn #1-7

Rating: 3/5

Superhero comic industry conventional wisdom has long held that supervillains simply didn’t work as the stars of their own titles.

In the good old days, this was due to the fact that villains generally had to get punished for their crimes at regular intervals, and apparently it was somewhat frustrating to end every single issue with your lead either being hauled off to jail or seemingly killed in an explosion or something (The classic example of supervillain comics being untenable is probably DC’s 1975 Joker, which lasted just nine issues).

I assume supervillain comics—or at least ones of the ongoing, monthly variety—are still really hard to make work, even if there’s less of an emphasis on good-always-triumph, crime-never-pays morality in super-comics. Nowadays, the most popular villains have motivations that make them poor leads: A comic about a villain robbing banks and avoiding capture might be rather thrilling, but how do you do a comic about a character’s whose goal in life is to, say, kill his archenemy?

Harley Quinn seemed an even more unlikely lead for her own ongoing monthly in that she was created to be The Joker’s henchwoman/moll/love interest. If doing a comic about a crazy, killer clown-themed villain seemed difficult, how do you do one about a crazy, killer clown-themed villain romantically obsessed with another, crazier, killer clown-themed villain, a relationship that can most charitably be described as abusive?

I don’t know. But in 2000, writer Karl Kesel seemed to have figured it out, making the then-new-to-the-DCU character into the star of her own monthly comic, one that lasted some three years and 38 issues (Well, Kesel himself only handled the first 25 issues, but still!)

The first seven issues of the title were collected and released in a 2008 trade paper back entitled Harley Quinn: Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes (Title sound vaguely familiar? It’s supposed to).

Back in 2000, Harley Quinn was familiar to Batman fans from Batman: The Animated Series (for which Paul Dini and Bruce Timm created her), and the various DC comics set in and around the “animated continuity” (Most notably 1994’s excellent special, Mad Love, by Dini and Timm). In late 1999, she was officially introduced into the DC Universe continuity, in a prestige format special which gave her an origin and superpowers. A few appearances in a few books later—this was around the time that the Bat-books were involved in the big “No Man’s Land” storyline/status quo—and BAM! Solo book.

Kesel’s approach was to keep things admirably light and fun. The Joker is still a psychopathic serial killer surrounded by hardened criminals and lunatics (like our protagonist), but Kesel established a tone similar to that the animated series that spawned his star.

A great deal of the violence is implied, talked about or otherwise danced around (One henchman has his head blown off, but the wound is obscured by someone standing in front of his body, rather than earning a detailed splash panel). The Joker and Harley are genuinely funny—even if occasionally just corny funny—and there’s not a whole lot of effort into making the book realistic, or dwelling on the sort of real world concerns that can destroy comic book stories. (You know that The Joker ogn? This is absolutely nothing like that).

Basically, Kesel writes as if he were writing the characters from and episodes of the animated series, only setting it in DCU continuity.

The book similarly benefits from its structure, which is a bit of a beaded-necklace of done-in-ones (or two’s), with connective threads holding them together.

The first issue begins with Harley and The Joker at their more-or-less default setting. She rescues him from Arkham Asylum and they begin a crime spree together, with him trying to bump her off and she eventually taking him down in self-defense. By the end of the first issue then, she’s Joker-less on her own.

From there she tries being second banana to Gotham’s next biggest supervillain (Two-Face), hosts a party for female supervillains, starts her own gang to break her pet hyenas out of the zoo, pulls off a heist at The Finger Warehouse (seen in Neil Gaiman and company’s Riddler story from Secret Origins Special #1) and, in the books only two-part story, attempts to rob Wayne Manor—at the same time The Riddler and his gang attempt to rob it (And with the Bat-people all busy, Oracle’s forced to call in then-Justice Leaguer Big Barda to save the day).

While Harley’s starting over as her own first banana in these stories, a foe she makes in the first issue has assembled a team to track her down and catch her for him, and Kesel imbues these characters and Harley’s gangmembers with strong personalities and individual voices (even the least rounded of them have a distinct character trait or tic to call their own).

It makes for interesting reading, but it’s the tone Kesel establishes that makes the book sing. It’s serious without ever being too serious, light-hearted and funny without ever being zany; it takes place within the greater DC Universe without being obsessed by continuity, and perhaps most remarkably given the general trend of Batman books over the last few decades, it’s fun and exciting rather than grim and gritty.

I think Kesel’s plots and dialogue probably could have established this well-balanced tone with different artistic collaborators, but the fact remains he has rather ideal ones in the form of Terry and Rachel Dodson.

The volume opens with about a half-dozen pages of perfect Bruce Timm homage (I actually checked and re-checked the credits to make sure that these pages were actually Terry Dodson working in the “animated” style, the aping of it is so perfect), so the book literally moves from the animated universe into the DC Universe.

The Dodson’s working in a perfect compromise style between cartoony and serious—the art is round, smooth, somewhat flat and devoid of unnecessary filigree, but the character designs are never too terribly exploded or exaggerated.

The worst you can say about the Dodson’s designs here are that all of the women are built just like Harley Quinn, but that’s certainly an effect they were intentionally going for. While there’s little of the out-and-out fan service and exploitive posing seen in the current Harley Quinn book, Gotham City Sirens, there’s an awful lot of cheese cake, of the wholesome, good girl variety.

I didn’t read this series at all when it was originally being released—I think the Our Worlds At War special guest-starring Jimmy Olsen and featuring art by the likes of Paul Grist and Amanda Connor and an issue guest-starring Martian Manhunter I found in a fifty-cent bin was the extent of my exposure to the title before now—but I was pleasantly surprised at how accomplished it was.

A large part of that surprise was due to the fact that it seemed like Kesel actually wrote a better Harley Quinn than Harley’s creator Paul Dini did (Since he started writing DCU comics regularly, Dini reformed Harley into a Catwoman-like bad girl hero). That, and I was surprised to see the Dodsons drew almost every page of this issue, save a handful near the end that Craig Rousseau penciled (in the animated style, inexplicably). When the Dodson’s became the “regular” art team of DC’s relaunched Wonder Woman title in 2006, they drew only the first four issues, and those took about seven months to come out…but then, I guess there were all sorts of problems with that Wonder Woman relaunch.

At any rate, Harley Quinn: Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes—great stuff. I’d love to see DC continue to collect the series for a while, if only because that would be the easiest way for me to find out what happens next. Failing that, I’m sure all of these are in fifty-cent and $1 bins somewhere.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Eugene Comic Con (EUCON) Experiences

When I heard that someone was working on another comic event for Oregon, I was thrilled. When I learned that one of the first guests that was going to make an appearance was going to be Larry Hama, I was ecstatic! I reached-out to the director, Royce, and he happily provided me with press passes for his first event.

The day before the event, I learned that Larry Hama wasn't going to be able to make it due to health concerns. As my loyal readers know, I primarily go to these events to expand my autograph collection. I had already gotten everything I own from Randy Emberlin and Ron Randall signed, so I made the decision that I was going to EUCON without the usual autograph agenda. I think that helped me to enjoy myself more.

When I arrived, there was a HUGE line of people waiting to get in. It was incredibly fortunate that the weather had decided to be nice for Saturday. I tried to find any event volunteer to help me with some questions outside, with no luck. Fortunately, we easily made it inside and got our wristbands. (I found out later that if we had arrived when the doors opened, we might have been able to receive a great looking bag from Dark Horse.)

The Lane County Event Center is small compared to other similar events that I've attended, but the layout was well designed. Even though there were a large number of people attending, it never felt as crowded as Rose City Comic Con or Emerald City Comic Con.

Since my autograph collecting was being put on hold for this event, there was an exclusive Deadpool variant that was being offered by one of the vendors; Dr. Hogan-Berry's Extraordinary Emporium. That was my first stop, and now I have the both Rob Liefield variant covers and the print that came with.

As with any event of this nature, I also wanted to make sure to stop by some of the wonderful artists that have contributed to my non profit; Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer.

Photo courtesy of {Chrysalis Rising Photographic Studio}

At EUCON, artists AnnMare Grove, Shawn Cruz, Ron Randall, Randy Emberlin and Randy Kintz were all in attendance for the inaugural event. From the feedback I received from everyone, the energy was positive all around. I heard the exact same message from other who attended.

My only problem with the entire event would be the MC. I'm not sure why people feel the need to have someone talking loudly into a microphone in a confined space would be a good thing. Another issue I have with the MC is that his voice had so much bass in it that it made it incredibly difficult to hold a normal conversation. My recommendation would be to either not have an MC, or at least limit the time they are actually on the microphone.

I did also manage to pick-up a few new prints for my collection from Mercenary Studios.

I was also fortunate enough to find a few trades to add to my collection. Good thing too since I'm starting to run out of them to read and review.

All in all, the event was great, and I'm looking forward to next year. Depending on how things go over the next year, maybe I'll work to get a table for Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer.

The best thing that happened was something I hadn't planned on at all. It seems as though my best friend and photographer was a huge fan of "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan. I have never seen her geek-out so much before. She decided that she would get an autograph and photos from him.

While we were standing in line waiting, the guy just in front of us purchased the last 2 pieces of 2x4's that Duggan brings with him to sign. When we got up there, Rita asked if he happened to have any more to sign. His assistant checked behind the curtain, and there was 1 last piece. It was fate telling us that this was meant to be. It was a great feeling to meet him.

I want to extend a big "THANKS" to Royce for allowing me the opportunity to come and review the event. I wish EUCON continued success over the years. Here is what was posted about the number of attendees for the first annual event. It can only go up from here!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Civil War

Title: Civil War

ISBN: 9780785121794
Price: $24.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2014
Artist: Steve McNiven
Writer: Mark Millar
Collects: Civil War #1-7

Rating: 3/5

In the comic world, every now and again, there are events. These are stories when it involves most of that universe's characters, and there are usually big events that change everything, or set a new status quo. For example, DC has had several "Crisis" book, these titles were massive events with universes, realities and character's lives on the line. In these events, we saw the destruction of the multiverse, the death of Batman amongst others, and other just massive events. Naturally, Marvel has had it's fair share. Like Secret War, where the heroes were at war against each other and casualties were taken, it was also the first appearance of the black-suited Spiderman. So, needless to say, event comics are big deals.

In 2006, Marvel launched a story called Civil War, which promised to pit Marvel's heroes against each other over their ideals, and nothing would ever be the same. Marvel delivered this, and it started out strong, but teetered out to a rather surprising conclusion (not the best though).

The story starts off with a group of young superheroes, The New Warriors, trying to make a name for themselves, try to take down some powerful super villains. This results in a massive explosion that takes out a neighborhood, including an elementary school while class was in session. We see the superheroes show up immediately to help with the clean up. This event was the last straw, and now the public and government have had enough of the superheroes and want them to go away. Tony Stark, getting a wake up call, negotiates with the government and after long discussions, they reach a conclusion. The Superhuman Registration Act would go into effect, forcing all superheroes to reveal their secret identities and become agents of the government, their workers essentially.

Iron Man, with Mr. Fantastic and Yellowjacket by his side, lead the push for the Act, realizing this was the only way superheroes would be allowed to legally do what they do. While Captain America leads the resistance of heroes who believe this Act takes away their rights and makes them simply tools of the government who have to obey their every command. The 2 sides clash over their ideals, bringing in a lot of big superheroes to take sides.

Ok, let's break down what went wrong. Now my first point is something Marvel messed up with their recent event, Avengers vs X-men: both sides were not given a fair chance. What I mean is, it was clear after the first issue, who Marvel has villainized and who has made who they want to win. If you want to make a compelling hero vs hero story, make both sides believable. Make people torn between choosing which heroes they want to follow, have both sides have equally just arguments that you can get behind and understand their points. Civil War does not do this.

It is clear after Captain America's argument with Maria Hill in the first issue, that Captain America's resistance is in the right, and that the side of registration will be the bad guys. Now, registration was a bad thing, and it should not have gone through, but if you really wanted fans to pick sides and get behind the conflict, the registration side should have been more than Iron Man working for the jerky government and doing what ever it takes to take down the resistance, no matter how despicable the methods. So the whole story, you are cheering for the resistance, and it just becomes another good vs evil story, not a compelling war.

Next, humanity. What. the. heck? Seriously, humanity looked like a bunch of ungrateful jerks throughout this story. Yes, the bombing was a horrible thing, and they shouldn't just sit back and take it on the chin from the supers like that, but come on! The humans come down REALLY hard on the heroes, you know, the ones who protected their worthless butts time and time again from certain destruction. I'm all for them saying that the heroes should train the younger and inexperienced heroes to prevent this kind of recklessness, but they wanted to go away for good!  You know, in a world where Doctor Doom or Red Skull could destroy them all in an instant. Because getting rid of their protectors makes sense. Even when that didn't go through, they wanted them to become soldiers of the government and reveal their secret identities, which Spiderman foolishly did. It was just incredibly frustrating to see the people being such unreasonable and unrealistic jerks. I almost wanted the heroes to take a vacation so that Galactus could come eat the planet or something.

The worst human amongst them, was Mr.s Sharpe. She was a mother of one of the children who were lost in the bombing. Yes, this woman lost so much in the attack, and she is unstable. However, this woman was downright annoying. She goes after Tony Stark at the funeral and blames him for everything. She became the focal point of Tony supporting the Act, forcing the downfall of Tony (more on that later.) Why this woman?! It would have made more sense if Tony showed support towards all of the families, or if he did speeches for all of the lost children. However, Mrs. Sharpe and her un-called for attacks on Tony, were right next to Tony at conferences, he even brought her on the Helicarrier. Every time she was on the page, I groaned, because I just hated her existence. I know she was supposed to represent the grieving families, but it could have been handled better.

That brings me to Tony himself. My gosh, why did Mark Millar (writer of this story) do this to you? It didn't seem like Tony was himself. Sure, he has been shaken up about everything, but he has gone through worst in his past, and still seemed like himself. Tony was so willing to take down his former teammates and lock them away forever. We saw moments of hesitation, like when he offered Daredevil freedom if he joined his cause, but then we saw him willing to cave in Captain America's skull. Tony was one of the reasons it was hard to get behind the registration, because Tony and his fellow partners, Mr. Fantastic mostly, were just asses who didn't care about past experiences and friendships/relationships, because this Act was now everything. Nothing else mattered. Mr. Fantastic almost ruined his marriage because he was excited about their plans to imprison the resistance and ruin what superheroes stood for. What a couple of jerks. They were even willing to enlist supervillains like Bullseye and Venom to get the job done. Villains they know would have no problem killing anybody. That was the biggest WTH moment of the book. Matt Fraction would go on to write Iron Man a little over a year later and redeem him, but Iron Man in this book was such a disgrace of the character. Even worse than Iron Man 3, yes that is possible.

Captain America and the resistance are not completely innocent either. His reaction to The Punisher's involvement was a little unnecessary, but it wasn't out of the realm of possibility.

Last complaint, the ending. Marvel has a reputation of butchering the endings of their event stories, and this is no exception. In the final battle of the story, we are getting the ending we want. There are cameos we wanted and seeing the good guys come out on top. Then...the humans...interfere (without spoiling anything), then in like 2 pages, the story abruptly ends without a lot of resolution other than, everything still stinks. We were building up such a big story with big resolutions, and the story flatlines. One side loses, one side wins, it just happens, and it is such a let down. Now I wasn't mad about the ending and think that it ruins anything, but it just stopped and I think it could've gone on.

Minor note: where was the Hulk, Ghost Rider and Moon Knight? They were featured in the advertisements, and Hulk and Ghost Rider don't just blend in the background.

Now for I did like, the art is beautiful. The characters and facial expressions are fantastic and highly detailed. In the battle scenes, they were impressive. Cloak is a teleporting character who uses his...cloak... to cover people and move them, these effects were stunning. I also really liked Spiderman's new Iron Spider costume, that was incredible. Also, when people took a hit or punch to the face, it showed. Iron Man and Captain America laid the smackdown on each other, and they looked it. The art had a serious and sort of dark tone to it, which was fitting for the story.

Also, Captain America was great in this story. He didn't accept flak from anyone, and he was the strongest character of the book. He was willing to take in people from Tony's side, and didn't want to fight. While Tony and registration hunted them down like dogs, you know what the resistance did? They stayed underground and still fought crime, capturing super villains and saving people. AND THESE ARE THE ONES THE PEOPLE WANT TO LOCK UP OR GO AWAY?! That is severely illogical and a blatant disregard for sanity. Captain America stayed a consistently great character and led a faction of characters that continued to shine in the face of the rest of the world being schmucks. 

The battles are also great. Intense and sometimes downright gritty action happens several times and it is great to see. It isn't typical over the top comic action. This seemed like explosive, gritty street fighting, and it was awesome.

Overall, past all of the complaining, I do enjoy Civil War. While the argument was one-sided, it was still great political drama, and it spoke out against how the government does things. The art is gorgeous and the characters are incredibly strong. Captain America was the best part of the book, and it was a strong read. It is just a shame that there were so many flaws with the story. Iron Man is one of my favorite heroes, but in this book he was written as the antagonist, a position I never wanted to see Tony in. I recommend reading Civil War, because not only was it an enjoyable read, but it set a big status quo, in other books after it. This was like the equivalent of reading Harry Potter 1-6. You get a lot of set up and change, you will just have to read what comes after it to get the resolution.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Cable and X-Force Vol. 1: Wanted

Title: Cable and X-Force Vol. 1: Wanted

ISBN: 9780785166900
Price: $17.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2013
Artist: Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Salvador Larroca
Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Collects: Cable and X-Force #1-5, Marvel Now! Point One #1

Rating: 3/5

It’s apparent that for the Marvel NOW! initiative, the X-editors couldn’t figure out what format to use for X-Force. On the one hand, Rick Remender’s weirder and more continuity-laden Uncanny X-Force had been a hit. On the other hand, readers were clamoring for the return of classic X-Force characters, especially since Cannonball and Sunspot had been upgraded to Avengers. As a result, they made an interesting decision: “Let’s try both and see what happens." Unlike the multiple Avengers titles, there’s not a wide enough readership for multiple X-Force books, so there was a sense that only one format would survive. Dennis Hopeless and Salvador Larroca’s series won, at least in the sense that the books merged into a team led by Cable after a crossover. The first volume is Cable and X-Force Vol. 1: Wanted.

While Uncanny X-Force had the star power of Storm and Psylocke, it also shared them with Astonishing X-Men, Adjectiveless X-Men, Wolverine and the X-Men, and the other books based out of the Jean Grey School. The idea of a private X-assassin team operating out of a children’s school stretches the suspension of disbelief too far. This has been a problem that Uncanny X-Force struggled with ever since its launch a few years back with the all-black outfits. Conversely, Cable and X-Force is a covert team of mutants with questionable pasts and a desire to stay away from the main teams.

A second advantage Cable and X-Force had over Uncanny X-Force was in its character selection. Where Uncanny went with unusual choices like Spiral and Puck just to keep fans interested, it’s clear that Cable knows exactly who he wants for his team and why. Domino is an obvious choice, but fixing Forge’s brain and having him become Cable’s technical support was a very cool move. The same goes for recruiting the X-Club’s resident mad scientist Dr. Nemesis -- a character left out in the cold a bit with Beast’s involvement in All-New X-Men. Hopeless used the momentum of Avengers vs. X-Men’s sales to bring in readers by having Colossus and Hope (Cable’s adopted daughter) get involved.

Colossus illustrates one of the weaknesses of the book. It’s not that the character choice was a bad one; his post-Phoenix Force regret and need for absolution is in character. But his involvement interferes with the constant flash-forwards and flashbacks that Hopeless uses to set up the team’s unusual situation. The book begins with the Uncanny Avengers catching the team in what appears to be a slaughter of innocent factory workers. By the end, we know who the truth, catching up to what the Uncanny Avengers are seeing ... and then the final issue in the collection skips forward again to an uncertain point. This is where the Colossus issue comes in: he was a crucial part of X-Force’s infiltration of the factory, but we never see the infiltration happen. I have a feeling that this was intended to be a six-issue arc instead of five and the change came too late for Hopeless to revise his plotline.

I’m a little split on how Cable acts in Cable and X-Force. Hopeless does nail his characterization as a weary warrior with a heavy dose of PTSD, but he also changes Cable’s power set and gives him a new mechanical arm instead of a techno-organic one. I gave up on Cable and Deadpool because they kept screwing around with Cable’s powers so I’m always a little nervous when this kind of thing happens. On the positive side, the idea of giving Cable precognition is a creative one, especially when it’s clear that it’s indicative of a bigger change. A proactive X-team with a psychic leader who can tell when and where exactly to strike is something that X-Force should have had long ago. There are some other minor quibbles I have with the characterizations; Domino seems too eager to restart X-Force, while Hope seems overly emotional.

One last choice put Cable and X-Force ahead of Uncanny X-Force from the start: the art team. I have nothing against Ron Garney, but as someone who misses Invincible Iron Man dearly, it was a treat to see Salvador Larroca and Frank D’Armata creating the artwork here. D’Armata in particular sets up some clever color work, illustrating flashbacks with bluer tones compared to oranges in the present. There are moments when the art seems washed out but it works for a war-heavy comic. Larroca really gets to let loose in depicting “The Girth,” enormous zombies created by a food-borne virus. They look horrific on their own, and it only gets creepier as they combine.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

6 Years Now!

Another year in the books, and I'm still here!

I remember that in the first year of writing my blog, I was very enthusiastic and would post multiple reviews at a time while I was bored at work. This was before I learned how to schedule my posts so that I could sit at my computer for a few hours every few months and write several reviews for the coming months.

Over the course of the last year, my resources have been stretched, and that means that the availability of new trades to review was limited. A couple of months ago, I finally got a new job and now have the resources to continue to get new trades... but this new position does not afford me the luxury of having spare time to write during the week, and also finds me with limited energy on the weekends.

Never the less, I am undaunted and will continue to provide my weekly reviews and occasional editorials.

2015 has been a year of ups and downs for me. Here are the ups, so far:
  • I was allowed press/media access to both Cherry City Comic Con and Rose City Comic Con! I hope that my telling of the experiences I had will inspire you to join them for their events next year.
  • This was the first year for Northwest Comic Fest in my hometown, and I was fortunate enough to have received a free booth for my non-profit work for Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer.
  • Later in the month, I will be going to the first ever Eugene Comic Con (EUCON) with press/media credentials. I'm looking forward to seeing what Eugene has to offer us.
  • With my new job, I've been able to re-open my subscription box at my LCS.
  • There have been 2 articles written in the local newspaper about my work for Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer, and it has increased our visibility dramatically. To date, we have now raised $3450 for the American Cancer Society!
  • I was able to finally meet the man whose writing brought me into comic books to begin with; Larry Hama. The best thing is that I get to see him again at EUCON. 
  • I was asked to do a review based on a script from a series I've been dying to see come to live for several years. In a little under 6-months, the new Black Suit of Death Kickstarter campaign will start, and I hope that this time we'll be able to get it fully funded!
This time last year, we were over 42,000 page views. Today we stand at close to 69,000! Thank you so much for all your support!

In the next year, I'm planning on expanding my coverage some more. I've been asked to do a few reviews on some indy comics as well as a children's book. These will not take place of my regular trade reviews, but rather add to the depth of my writing for this blog. I look forward to also providing you with additional updates on how Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer is going.

As I look forward to 2016, here are my hopes and predictions:
  • At the 2016 edition of Cherry City Comic Con, I hope to not only bring you a review of the event, I hope to also have a table or booth there to help promote Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer.
  • I'm looking forward to seeing what may come from another year for both Northwest Comic Fest and EUCON.
  • Due to a scheduling conflict, I wasn't able to attend the first Emerald Vally Comic Fest. I hope to change that for 2016.
  • Rose City Comic Con was huge this year, and I predict it will be even bigger next year. I hope that I will continue to be graced with media badges for next years event.
  • I submitted an application to Emerald City Comic Con for media/press badges, but unfortunately that request was denied. With the 3 and 4 day passes already sold out, I'm not sure if I'll be able to attend. Time to play the waiting game.
  • I send a request to Wizard World for media/press passes for Wizard World Portland in February. I haven't heard anything from them yet, and I will continue to press forward on this front. It's been too long since I've been to WW Portland, and I'd like to see what has changed.
As I also collect other items related to my fandom of comics, I think I'll be occasionally posting photos of my collection, which rage from posters to glasses to action figures.

Thank you for 6 great years so far, and here's to hoping that the next years will be pleasant for one and all!

iZombie: Dead to the World

Title: iZombie: Dead to the World

ISBN: 9781401229658
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2011
Artist: Michael Allred
Writer: Chris Roberson
Collects: iZombie #1-5, The House of Mystery Halloween Annual #1

Rating: 3/5

It’s hard to assign a label to this work: on one hand it’s teen angst title as they work through the social awkwardness and on the other it’s a monster title.  The opposite of Buffy I’d be willing to suggest.  We’re introduced to a world where the undead and arcane appear everywhere but are presented as the boy and girl next door.  Everything is tongue and cheek, including a werewolf that turns into a terrier lycanthrope and an undead hunter that just wants to get a life.

The characters are quirky and easily likeable in this off framework that’s established; what’s not to like about an attractive zombie who works and lives in a graveyard to keep herself on a steady diet of brains?  Dialogue is fast and snappy, coming off whitty and original like everything about this series.  Sustainability comes from our lead Gwen’s ability to absorb a dead person’s memory when she eats their brains: this will lead her on a regular series of mystery adventures and allows for a long running ongoing series.

Art is solid Mike and Laura Allred.  Mike presents clean lines and thick outlined inks while Laura gives her muted and slightly blurred colours.  Great looking character design and right up their alley; odd monster type characters are the norm in their creator owned Madman.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Fables: Farewell

Title: Fables: Farewell

ISBN: 9781401252335
Price: $17.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2015
Artist: Lee Loughridge, Steve Leialoha, Mark Buckingham
Writer: Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges

Rating: 4/5

“Fables” #150 begins by jumping a head in time and we see that our narrator is Ambrose Wolf, the child prophesied to “judge the rest”. He’s a writer (naturally) and is working on what he refers to as the last volume of his history of the Fables in the Mundy world. This takes us to New Camelot, where Prince Brandish has defeated Lancelot in combat and in typical Brandish fashion, he’s gloating about it. Flycatcher decides to take things into his own hands and challenges Brandish to another combat based on charges he brings up against him with the power he holds in Haven. The core of this story is two fold, Bigby is still feral and Rose Red is still bent on destroying her sister. On top of this, “Fables” #150, that also acts as the final volume of the series, is full of one page final stories for almost the entire cast including the final fulfillment of all the Wolf children’s prophecies.

The last arc of “Fables” found Snow White and Rose Red fighting each other and what we learned was that this was always going to be their destiny. They were from a very magical line and all groups of sisters in their family eventually fought each other to the death to completely own the magic. Snow and Rose are next and Rose Red has pulled out all the stops to defeat her, including using Bigby Wolf as a weapon. Fabletown was also being divided into two camps with Totenkinder taking the side of Rose Red and Cinderella taking the side of Snow White and this too was something that needed to be wrapped up.

Willingham and Buckingham wrap things up very neatly and Totenkinder and Cinderella have one of the most brutal fights in “Fables” history. These two women were undeniably the warriors of Fabletown but worked in very different ways. Totenkinder was about loyalty to people and Cinderella was something similar to Captain America in that her loyalty was always to Fabletown itself. Both of their different skill sets are on full display, with Buckingham creating some of the best action heavy artwork he’s done in the entire series, and their endings pack a huge emotional punch that while sad, is still very fitting for the two of them.

Bigby’s faceoff with his family could have ended in disaster and it would have arguably ruined the ending as a whole and this is where the almost too tidy feeling of the wrap-up works. He spent so much of the later part of the series killing and all it took was for Connor to stand up to him and begin to fulfill his fate as a hero to make Bigby snap back to reality. I won’t like and say that I didn’t want Bigby to make it out of this unscathed but this happens almost too easily.

When you look back at what’s happened in the series thus far, everything was always going to end up right here with Rose Red and Snow White facing off. From the first issue of the series, they were at odds and even when things were good, there was always something lingering in the background. Snow always thought of herself above her sister and as Rose became more powerful, more loved and more responsible Snow became more defensive. Her power slipped away and Rose became more resentful towards her sister for how she felt. Willingham and Buckingham planted the seeds from the beginning and the payoff ties into a bigger theme that “Fables” has played with a bit before. War is ugly, war is oftentimes pointless and people die needlessly. That’s what ultimately happens in the conflict between Rose Red and Snow White. It wasn’t only about them and so many other characters died because of their fight. Beast, Ozma and more died fighting in what was their conflict but unlike real wars, intelligence and compassion won. Many people will call how their fight ends anti-climactic and they may say that these death ultimately meant nothing but it’s a statement about what these fights do to people. It also acts as a great illustration of how these two characters aren’t perfect but eventually get to the right place and do their best to try and fix things before it goes too far.

Mark Buckingham is as important to the success of “Fables”as Bill Willingham and maybe even moreso. “Fables” has been a fantasy book from the beginning even if the tone changed depending on the storyline. “Fables” #150 features Mark Buckingham doing some of his very best work from the panel layouts to the backgrounds. Buckingham lays out a lot of the pages in his main story with long columns and there’s a sense of urgency because of it. This story is almost over and there’s a lot to get to so the art moves across the page quickly. Buckingham however doesn’t rush his craft and each column is detailed so nicely with some of the action overlapping into the next panel. The fight between Cinderella and Totenkinder is something right out a disaster movie with massive explosions and a real sense of danger. It’s a gorgeous sequence that reminded me of the final battle in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 because it was a visual representation of the ending and a new beginning for these characters.

There are a few huge splash pages throughout the main story that are absolutely breathtaking because of how grand they are. Buckingham features some of the characters in big close up scenes on these pages with detailing done from their hair to the finer points of their armor. Their facial expressions, especially in the eyes are full of emotion and in Rose Red’s case in her huge moments, the feeling of determination comes right through. There are a couple of splash pages featuring some of the giant creatures of The Farm and he takes his designs to the next level. With some of these characters on Rose Red’s side of the “war”, they come off far more menacing than usual. The backgrounds on every page give us the proper setting and nothing ever feels very static in that sense. So many artists do this weird thing where action seems to take place on just a color block without any context. Buckingham takes the time to build every single scene. The final pat of the book “The Last Snow and Bigby Story” features a massive gatefold that is easily the greatest thing Buckingham has drawn.

Lee Loughridge on colors with Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy and Dan Green on inks are vital to the success of this book. The inkers add a nice amount of depth to the pencils and never overdo it, allowing Buckingham’s pencils and designs to shine through. Loughridge, one of the best colorists working, does a wonderful job with light, fluffy colors that aren’t at all too much. Even the golden avatar of hope isn’t overwhelmingly yellow and the explosions in Fabletown are layered in a nice way that makes it feel a bit more authentic and cinematic.

“Fables” #150 is a massive book coming in over 100 pages that features multiple artists working with Bill Willingham to tell the final stories for many different characters. I won’t go into every single one, because if I did this review would go on forever, but none of them are truly pointless. Each one adds something to what happens next for this world of characters because the story doesn’t end when Rose Red and Snow White end their fight. The world changes in a huge way thanks to the destruction of Fabletown and each of these stories shines a small light on what came next. We also get the final say on each of the Wolf children and how they meet their fates. Mike Allred, Joelle Jones and Aaron Alexovich are some of the artists who’s pages stand out the most because of their very unique styles.

The final couple of pages will undoubtedly bring a tear to the eye of all “Fables” fans because of its focus on the most important romance of the entire series. Bigby Wolf and Snow White get their day in the sun and they get a happy ending. It’s not easy for them to get to but for someone like me, who rooted for them since day one, the last line of dialogue between them moved me. It was beautiful and spoke to so much more than just their love.

Where does “Fables” rank in the history of comics? I don’t know if that answer is known to us just yet. There’s no question that it has a firm place as one of the best fantasy series comics has ever seen and it’s won many Eisners but as far as the pantheon of comics goes, I don’t know. Now that it’s all said and done, there will be a group of readers who will decide that by borrowing trades from their local library the way I did. They will fall in love with it and they will determine where this book ranks among everything else.

“Fables” ended up being a piece of the history of these characters but what we learned from them will stay with fans forever. “Fables” in many ways taught us about the passage of time, loss and being able to live with all of it in a healthy way. People come and go, life moves on but we will always have the memories of the moments that mattered most. Prince Charming’s heroic sacrifice in the Homeland, Flycatcher’s journey to becoming a King, Boy Blue’s death, Snow White’s leadership in tough times, Cinderella’s constant sacrifices for Fabletown and even Dare’s death that ultimately saved his sister all mean something to the readers in ways that can’t be forgotten. These things shaped so many of us as comic readers over the last 13 years and this final volume is for us. I’ve never experienced a time where “Fables” wasn’t on my monthly pull list and it’ll be a tough adjustment but I couldn’t think of a better way for the series to go out.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Fables: Happily Ever After

Title: Fables: Happily Ever After

ISBN: 9781401251321
Price: $17.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2015
Artist: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, Dan Green, Eric Shanower, Tony Akins, Shawn McManus, Nimit Malavia, Jae Lee, Terry Moore, Russ Braun, Chrissie Zullo
Writer: Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges
Collects: Fables #141-149

Rating: 4/5

This is the 21st volume (the 2nd to last) in the Fables series. It did an excellent job of continuing the whole Rose versus Snow storyline that has been ongoing. It also did a great job of wrapping up the stories of many other random characters throughout the series.

Rose Red has started her round table of knights in what she believes is a positive (but a bit misguided) way to rule the Fables and is determined to hunt down and kill the monster Bigby has become. Snow White has long ruled Fabletown and ends up throwing down against Rose Red to save the Fables’ way of live and to save her husband. There is a high body count in this volume as hero after hero falls to the claws and teeth of Bigby.

Additionally throughout there are some “Final Story of So and So” parts. These parts tell the last story of Sinbad, or the Frog Prince, or whomever…and give us us a quick look into where these characters are and what they are doing.

I really enjoyed this volume. The struggle between Rose Red and Snow White is pretty epic. I loved that Snow finally got her kick-butt armor and sword to mirror Rose’s. We also finally get to learn the origins of how Rose and Snow ended up in Fabletown.

The artwork for this series continues to be well done and easy to follow, so I really enjoyed that was well.

Overall I thought this was an excellent continuation of the Fables series. I just got volume 22 and am eager to see how everything wraps up. This has been a wonderful (and incredibly long-running) urban fantasy graphic novel series that I have really enjoyed.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Walking Dead Volume 22: A New Beginning

Title: The Walking Dead Volume 22: A New Beginning

ISBN: 9781632150417
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2014
Artist: Charlie Adlard
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Collects: The Walking Dead #127-132

Rating: 3.5/5

A New Beginning jumps right into things by introducing some new characters – though one never really knows how long they’ll last in this comic series. Thankfully for this group, they’re saved by Jesus, Rosita, Eugene, and several other heroes on horseback…except it turns out that these ‘heroes’ led the horde of zombies right into the newcomers.

That said, I thought it was a bit silly how much Rosita was beating herself up over having done so – it’s clear that some time has passed and that it’s been a while since they found new people, and they were just trying to lead the horde away from their three communities – Alexandria, The Hilltop, and The Kingdom.

That’s right, I said three communities. Just as Rick promised Negan in the end of All Out War (Part Two), the “good” people are rebuilding. They’ve set up a barter system and scheduled patrols of the main paths between their settlements; they’re farming and transplanting fruit trees, building mills and training people in skilled jobs.

Meanwhile, a lot has changed for the main characters as well. Carl has grown up a lot, though now he’s more annoying teenager than annoying child. Rick still walks with a cane thanks to Negan snapping his leg, but he’s got a hook attachment for his arm. He and Andrea are still together, but they’ve reached a point where Carl is referring to her as “Mom”.

Yet through all this, it’s still unclear how much time has passed since the end of the Negan War. The best marker is probably Maggie’s son Hershel; she was still pregnant at the end of Volume 21, and now the boy is speaking – at least minimally – so I think it’s safe to say that at least a year has passed. The problem is, I don’t think readers should have had to wait to see ‘baby’ Hershel before even being able to figure that out on their own. Perhaps outright saying “One year later…” was unnecessary, but there should have been better markers, earlier on.

It’s been a while since Carl’s storyline was quite this frustrating, but now that Rick has allowed him to move to The Hilltop to work with the blacksmith, I’m hoping that we’ll see some changes in Volume 23. The fact that Carl was visiting Negan and telling him things that he obviously wasn’t telling Rick was a bit too contrived, and I have a bad feeling it’s going to come back to haunt him.

Negan may be locked away, and the new group – Magna and crew – may not have believed his lies, but it’s never a good thing when a Big Bad is still alive at this point. Especially when the writers really wore that story down to its bare bones.

Speaking of the new group, they seemed okay at first, but it was still a bit predictable that they almost immediately started causing trouble. Of course the goal of the comics is to keep people reading, and that’s one of the downfalls of reading the volumes – with so many issues published in one book, readers don’t really get a break from the constant developments.

One interesting thing to note, though, is that Magna and the others were on the road for seven months and claimed not to have seen another living human in all that time. I suppose when one takes that into account, it’s a bit easier to understand how they think Alexandria – and Rick Grimes – are too good to be true. However, I think they’re a bit in over their heads, ‘capturing’ Andrea for questioning like they did…especially after the panels where Rick and Carl had to fight zombies on a supposedly clear road, leading to a beating via cane when the patrolman responsible showed up. Rick may be healing physically, but there are clearly plenty of underlying issues with him, and I think it’s safe to say that Magna doesn’t want to be on his bad side.

There are other problems afoot, as well. At the moment the rebellious kids at The Hilltop (although it seems that only the other kids are aware of the situation) seem to be less important than Hilltop resident Marco’s tale of “whispering” zombies, especially when it turns out that he was right, in a way. Maggie is the leader at this community, and when Marco returned alone she sent some of her best men out to find his co-patrolman Ken, whom he’d left behind. What these men found definitely eclipses the fact that Magna doesn’t trust Rick and that Sophia is having to fight troublesome teenage boys – because The Walking Dead brought in a hell of a new gross factor at the end of A New Beginning – there are people out there who wear zombie-skin suits.

Volume 22 was mostly what I’d hoped for in a post-Negan-War story. Yes, Negan himself may still be alive, but it seems that at least for now he’ll remain as a background problem as Rick realizes that they haven’t built paradise yet. (And, let’s be honest, probably never will.)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Batman: No Man's Land Volume 4

Title: Batman: No Man's Land Volume 4

ISBN: 9781401235642
Price: $34.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2012
Artist: Roger Robinson, Sergio Cariello, Paul C. Ryan, Dale Eaglesham, Damion Scott, Rick Burchett, Jim Balent, Scott McDaniel, Greg Land, N. Steven Harris, Pablo Raimondi
Writer: Dennis O'Neil, Chuck Dixon, Devin Grayson, Greg Rucka, John Ostrander, Jordan B. Gorfinkel
Collects: Batman Chronicles #18, Batman #572-574, Detective Comics #739-741, Legends of the Dark Knight #125-126, Azrael: Agent of the Bat #59-61, Catwoman #75-77, Batman: Shadow of the Bat #93-94, Nightwing #38-39, Batman: No Man’s Land #0, Robin #73

Rating: 2.5/5

Volume 4 is a rather sloppy finale to the No Man’s Land saga. It never quite builds enough momentum and often repeats plot points over and over again verbatim because the story was told in multiple titles that are all collected here. That gets pretty annoying pretty fast. However, volume 4 also features some of the very best chapters that this epic had to offer like a devilishly clever Joker attack, Two-Face’s kangaroo court, and the reconciliation between Batman and Jim Gordon that is one of the most memorable moments the two characters have shared in their entire history.

Okay, so first I should probably address my claim of this book being “sloppy” and one of the best examples of that I can lay out on the table begins with Volume #3. The previous book ended with a cliffhanger about Tim Drake gaining fame as the innocent boy lost in Gotham City. A missing person’s case. He’s all over the news and it’s put No Man’s Land back in the headlines. What could possibly happen next? Well it’s never addressed again until the second to last chapter of Volume 4! That issue, Robin #73, shows the rescue operation to bring Tim Drake back to the mainland and reunite him with his father. It’s not a bad episode, it’s actually pretty fun. However, it took us 483 pages to get to that point and in the meantime we’ve already seen a chapter that shows Tim Drake having dinner with his pop and that would be pretty confusing to someone reading this story for the very first time.

Another instance of sloppiness is how Batman: No Man’s Land #0 is tossed into the center of the book and totally breaks the tension created by the previous chapters. This segment about Huntress back when she was disguising herself as Batgirl doesn’t belong here. Instead, it would’ve been more fitting back in volume 1 or 2 when these events were pertinent.

But the biggest problem is the repetition. You see the same exchange, dialogue and all, between Catwoman and Batman not once, not twice, but three times back-to-back-to-back. And later on there’s a catastrophic explosion that you have to watch play out twice, but sadly, even though it has greater impact on the story in the 2nd telling you don’t care because you already know it’s coming. There’s no surprise there. If anything, you’ll be confused (I was) because you would’ve thought that this event happened days ago in the story.

Those are all pretty big structural problems, but lets talk about the story itself. What is going on in NML #4. Well, Gotham is trying to recover. The government is on the verge of lifting the No Man’s Land blockade and Lex Luthor has his sights set on taking over most of Gotham’s real estate (although I’m sick of seeing this guy pull real estate schemes in the movies, this instance actually fits quite well). Do I like the Superman connection? No. Not really. I would’ve been happy with some other Gotham related character doing the deed. Reminding me that Superman exists destroys my suspension of disbelief. I addressed this in the other reviews when Superman came into play, but come on… after watching the Death Battle episode recently with Goku vs. Superman, the idea that Superman couldn’t clean this whole mess up in 2 seconds is ridiculous (I know they try to make the point that a quick-fix can’t solve Gotham’s problems, but in this volume Luthor offers exactly that, a quick fix, and everything works out fine).  Thankfully there aren’t too many extended DCU references in this work. Dr. Fate gets mentioned once, but unlike previous volumes the Teen Titans never visit and nobody writes another inept Superman into the tale just to make Batman look better.

Speaking of Batman, he’s not really in this book very much. In fact, for most of No Man’s Land he’s standing over Oracle’s shoulder or showing up to a fight at the very last minute before telling his team what needs to be done next. So it could be argued that No Man’s Land is actually more about the bat-family than it is about Batman himself. However, the moments where we actually see Batman, those are easily the best and it starts with the very first chapter about Leslie Thompkins. Leslie is a shamefully underused character in the New 52 so it’s great to see her used so well and so often in all volumes of No Man’s Land. There’s a tender moment between Bruce and Leslie here and it brought back fond memories of Batman: The Animated Series, which also utilized Dr. Thompkins beautifully. When will we finally see this character on film? Nolan’s films seem to have given some of her characteristics to Rachel Dawes, but I want to see the kindly old lady, dammit. Other than Batman and Leslie, another character who shines in No Man’s Land is Commissioner Gordon. When talking about great Jim Gordon stories we often hear Batman: Year One get thrown around along with Black Mirror and maybe Gotham Noir (which is alright until you think about the twist and then that whole book falls apart). But really, No Man’s Land deserves to be on that list and ranked quite highly. Gordon stayed in Gotham when Batman didn’t. He also helped hundreds of people survive, fought wars, was destroyed by how the rest of the world saw him and rose back from that to become an even greater hero figure.

As you know, The Dark Knight Rises and Batman: Arkham City borrow pretty heavily from this saga and if you loved the hospital scene between Bruce and an injured Jim Gordon in “Rises”, you’ll adore Legends of the Dark Knight #125 “Falling Back” as much, if not more. Personally, I think this is an instance in which the comics did it better. For one, Gordon wasn’t dazed from medication and actually got to speak to Batman man-to-man about how abandoned he felt. This is not only an emotionally powerful segment, but it breaks down the Batman/Gordon relationship nicely. There are two other great Gordon chapters, but I’ll only go into one of these because saying what the final one is could spoil things for someone who has never read these comics.

Two-Face’s kangaroo court. Out of all the stories that cut out Batman entirely, this is the one that function the best. Not once did I get bored or wish I was watching Batman do whatever he does when not bossing everyone else around. No, the drama of Gordon being put on trial was more than enough. It’s not only a good story for Jimbo, but we see plenty of Renee Montoya and Two-Face is at his craziest.

As for the other characters…

Nightwing and Oracle have a story of their own here as well. A two-parter that dives into their romance too, which was fun to read since it’s something that’s hardly been addressed in the New 52. Seeing the damaged Barbara push away Nightwing is heartbreaking stuff.

Azrael hangs out with Batgirl and the two of them seem to be the only ones who try and keep the peace in this town anymore. In fact, Batman sends Azrael after the Joker. THE JOKER! I don’t know why Batman put so much faith in Jean-Paul Valley in the 90’s but he did. Once again, Nightwing is overlooked and all hope is put into the guy who was raised in a bizarre Christian cult that trained him to be a killing machine.

Lucius is probably the one working the hardest and causing the most change because he’s the one on Capitol Hill doing everything he can to bring Gotham back into the embrace of the United States. It’s odd though to see Batman hiding his identity from Lucius, though. After the Nolan films and the recent Batman Incorporated stuff it feels like Lucius should absolutely know who Batman really is under the mask. It would make life a lot easier on Bruce.

Catwoman is fighting robots, gets her origin story elaborated on (it’s a lot better than the New 52 issue #0 version), and plays games on Penguin and Lex Luthor. These chapters can be skipped, really, especially the stuff that repeats beats from Azrael’s comics.

And the Joker… The writers behind No man’s Land never really found anything for Joker to do. Instead they seem deadset on not letting him do much of anything simply so they could save him for the climax. They even go so far as having Bane and Mercy (henchgirl from Superman: The Animated Series who made her comic book debut in No Man’s Land vol. 3) go on a mission to track down and kill the Joker and they actually have him. 100% could kill him, which was what they were sent to do mind you, but suddenly Mercy decides to just let him go because “He got the message.”

Thankfully, when Joker does show up again the the final quarter of the book we get some pretty fantastic scenes. The battle between Joker and Petit’s forces is easily one of my top 3 moments from the entire saga and a must-read.

Other villains don’t get quite as much attention. The focus is instead on Lex Luthor and Batman’s plan to use him to save the city and then kick him out before he can take control of it. It’s a good plot line but I wish someone like a Roland Dagget type character would’ve been used instead so it would’ve been a pure Batman story without the distraction of knowing it exists in a world where magic and super powered heroes are an option.

The saga doesn’t exactly end in epic fashion. It instead closes in tragedy and the notion that help is on the way and the worst is over. The cleaning-up of Gotham happens very quickly and that didn’t sit too well with me after all the struggle witnessed in previous chapters. It didn’t feel natural. What it felt like was DC said “That’s enough of the dystopian stuff, make everything normal again.” and so it was.

There are a few diamonds in all of this rough, but overall Volume 4 is yet another horribly unbalanced read. No Man’s Land is one of the most awesome concepts for a Batman story but it appears as though the creatives behind the scenes were not well coordinated in what the saga would ultimately be. Batman is hardly in this book, the ending arrives far too abruptly, and after 4 whole volumes worth of buildup that can be pretty unsatisfying. Still, there are some must-read chapters here. Greg Rucka’s segment about Batman asking for Gordon’s forgiveness is one of the best Batman stories of the past 20 years and the tragedy that befalls one of the book’s heroes near the end is deeply saddening.

I used to think that No Man’s Land was a classic but after reading it all these years later and really analyzing it I’ve found that I’m more in love with the idea of No Man’s Land than I am the actual book. If anything, I’m now wanting to go back and read the novel by Greg Rucka again, which was what exposed me to No Man’s Land in the first place. From what I recall it focused more on the true Batman characters and Superman and Azrael entirely. Perhaps what No Man’s Land needs is a remake. Studios do remakes of TV shows and movies all the time, so why not a comic book arc? There is something truly captivating here in No Man’s Land but the comics collected in these 4 volumes barely scratched the surface of a premise that ignited the imagination of an entire fanbase.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Rose City Comic Con 2015 Experiences

In the ever-expanding duties of this blog, I was fortunate enough to garner media passes for this years Rose City Comic Con. In the past, I've posted my personal experiences at conventions from around the pacific northwest, and I feel like I came-up a little short somehow. For RCCC, I think I figured out what I was lacking and I was able to fill that void. Unless otherwise noted, the photographs are courtesy of {Chrysalis Rising Photographic Studio}.

The Friday before RCCC, I drove-up to pick-up our media badges. I felt on top of the world when I met Paula Brister and she them to me. Sure they had a typo, but these made me feel legit after writing this blog for almost 5 years. Also, I was glad to be able to have brought my friends to help and take photo's. I think this will work well for future events.
Photo taken by John.
2015 was the 4th year for Rose City Comic Con, and I've been there for every one of them. From the beginnings at the Double Tree Portland... which had around 4100 attendees... to this years event where they had over 30,000! You could really feel the increased numbers this year. In years past, I've always been able to find a parking space on site. This year, we got there around 10:30am and the parking at the Oregon Convention Center was already full.

This is where the worst part of the event came in for me. We found a parking lot a couple blocks away, but they were doing some serious price-gouging for the weekend of the event. Where it was originally posted (I later learned) that parking was normally $3/hour or $9 for the day, that was covered-up and the machine was charging $5/hour with a 5 hour maximum. Also, when I bought our first 5 hours, it said that the ticket expired in less than an hour. Fortunately we didn't get towed or ticketed. I hope that the city would do something to make sure that things like this don't happen for future events... or this may be common for event weekends at the convention center. Who really knows. I didn't let this darken my day.

The first thing on our list of things to do was to was to go to the CBCS booth an get a witness for the covers we were picking-up and getting signed for Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer. CBCS donated 10 of their services to our cause. I had never used their service before, and had never had a witness for autographs I've gotten for my personal collection, so this was a new and unique experience for me. I am so thankful to both CBCS and especially Steve Paulus for making this an easy experience. I'll definitely be recommending them to anyone in search of comic book grading services.
Several months before the event, I had connected with a handful of artists who were going to be at Rose City to see if they would be willing to donate to our cause and help raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Our first stop would be to Phil Hester. Unfortunately, Phil had taken ill and was unable to make the event. We marshaled our forces and carried on to the next artist.
At this years Free Comic Book Day event at my LCS, Tony's Kingdom of Comics, I was officially introduced to Gary Martin and asked him if he would be interested and willing to donate a cover to help us out. He agreed and we provided the Mega Man artist with a Darth Vader blank to work on. What he produced blew my mind.

As a fan of the Fables series, I was giddy with joy when our next new contributing artist agreed to do a Princess Leia cover for us. I have met Chrissie Zullo before at a few other events to have my personal items signed, and have have always been a huge fan of her work. I knew that her art would look wonderful on a cover for CBC4C.

When I was getting ready to go for the event, I thought that it might be nice to ask get the pair of Will Eisner's The Spirit covers signed since both Matt Wagner and Dan Schkade were going to be there. They both liked the idea of CBC4C and also the art that graced the covers I was asking them to sign. Thankfully, this helped to fill-out the void that Phil Hester left.

The first of 2 big experiences for me was next on our list. I had collected a number of covers from G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero from a few of our contributing artists, and the idea was to have Larry Hama sign them all and they would be submitted to CBCS. Several months ago, I even posted an artist challenge for classic G.I. Joe cover recreations especially for Hama to sign. Unfortunately, due to a variety of circumstances, those covers didn't arrive at our offices before RCCC. We did have enough covers to manage to fill the 10 services that CBCS had offered, though.

When we arrived, there was a small line waiting for Hama to return to his table from a panel he was speaking at. By the time he returned, the line stretched around half the entire table area. While not surprising, Hama had a 2 autograph limit. Unfortunately, we had brought about 5 covers for him to sign for CBC4C and it wasn't until after the covers were submitted to CBCS that I thought about handing 2 off to each of my friends. Lessons learned for future events.

Unfortunately, the photo of Hama that was taken at RCCC did not turn-out well.
As many of my regular readers know, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is the comic that brought me in to collecting comics. Later in the event, once my "duties" for CBC4C were officially done, I had Hama sign the very issue that my father had bought me over 30 years ago. Yes... I have kept it, and it's in great condition. Now that it's signed, it is now the personal prize in my collection. I was so awe-struck meeting him that I didn't even get a chance to tell him how much his work has meant to me. Fortunately, I will have another chance in November when we go to EUCON.

Next up was the 2nd of the big experiences that we at CBC4C have been building-up to for RCCC. When I received word that I would be getting media passes for Rose City, I also submitted a request to do an interview with Wil Wheaton. Unfortunately, Wil was not giving any interviews. No problem. Shortly after it was announced that Carrie Fisher was going to be in attendance, I submitted a request to see if CBC4C could get a special signing for a few covers by Carrie Fisher and Wil Wheaton. Unfortunately, that was not to be had either. Due to our level of financial resources, we could only do one of the autograph sessions. We chose Wil Wheaton.

Read bellow about why we don't have a personal photograph of Wil.
Getting a photo of Wil Wheaton signing the cover we received from artist Scott Carola was one of the primary reasons for having a photographer. When we came to the line for Wil, one of the henchmen informed us that no photography was allowed in the celeb area unless you had a "PRESS" pass. Upon hearing this, we each presented our "MEDIA" badges. The henchmen informed us that it would have to be specifically branded "PRESS" to be able to take photographs. This was a huge letdown for us, but I appreciate following the rules. I do wish we could have caught the expression on Wil's face when we presented him with the cover to sign.
Cover by Scott Carola.
His eyes lit-up when he saw this cover. I lost count how many times he said "Wow!" I gave him the information about CBC4C and let him know a little about Scott. I think the most telling part about how much he appreciated the cover came from his autograph. For the prints that he signed from people in front of us, he signed his name and circled it a couple of times. Pretty large signature. It took Wil a couple of minutes of admiring the cover before he finally decided to sign it at the lower left corner without the extra flourish. I can't wait to show you the final signed cover when it's returned from CBCS.

Our last stop for covers being sent to CBCS was with Batman `66 artist Jeff Parker. When I originally contacted him, he was enthusiastic about donating and even mentioned he had some blanks available. We originally stopped by his table earlier, but he mentioned how he actually needed to draw the cover and asked if we could come back later. This was not a problem, and I was happy with what Jeff provided.

Once we dropped-off the covers for CBCS, there was one last stop for my work for CBC4C at RCCC. I finally got to meet on our long-time contributing artists, Martin Sabala Jr.

Photo from Martin Sabala's Facebook page.
Martin has been a wonderful supporter of CBC4C since our meager beginnings in 2013. It's always great to be able to meet face-to-face with people who have helped make CBC4C the success it has become. As a testament to his continued support, Martin donated 2 more covers to us.

With my "duties" for CBC4C being done, now it was time to take-in the rest of the show. As I had previously mentioned, we came back to Larry Hama's table a couple more times to have most of my personal issues of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero signed. I really wished I had thought of giving my associates/friends the other CBC4C covers to have signed when we had the chance.

First was to get the rest of my personal comics signed by Larry Hama. It took a few trips, but we managed to get most of what I brought. The rest... and some carded action figures... will have to wait until November. (FYI- The photo's from here on out are taken by me. That's why they're not of better quality.)

The sketch cover in the middle is a work I commissioned from Randy Emberlin at Cherry City Comic Con in 2014.

That copy of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is the very same copy my father bought me when I was a kid. I have to admit that I felt very honored to have it signed by Larry Hama. These really made my day!

At the final Stump Town Comic Fest in 2013, I met Ron Randall. He introduced me to his character, Mercy St. Clair aka Trekker. I bought his Image #1 issue as well as the Trekker ashcan and gave it a look. I was hooked! It was my quest to find, and add to my collection, every issue of Trekker and her appearances. This meant several issues of Dark Horse Presents as well as a couple mini series. I even bought the trade paperback and the omnibus.

When I saw Ron in August at NW Comic Fest, I told him I was only a few issues away from completing the Trekker collection. Thanks to using Comic Collector Live, I was able to procure the remaining issues to complete my collection... and everything now has been signed by Ron. These are a treasure in my collection.

I will also admit that I some times have a speculative eye when picking-up comics. For instance, I don't collect Invincible, but I had my LCS put a copy of the issue 100 covers for me. It sparked my interest and I thought I'd add this to my collection. Now they are signed by artist Ryan Ottley.

Along with Ryan's cover for The Walking Dead issue 100. This is another great example of my speculative attempts at buying comics. They don't happen often, but they do happen.

The single comic I purchase at RCCC this year was from an artist named Ben Hansen. What drew me in was a G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero cover he had depicting Snake Eyes with Darth Maul, but it was this Star Wars cover that nearly took my breath away when I saw it.

Ben presented some great art at his table, and in the back of my mind I knew I wanted him to possibly be a contributing artist to CBC4C. So I asked, "Have you ever done work for charity before." His response was "Nobody has ever asked." Without thinking twice I said "Not any more." I provided him with my card and gave him the lowdown on CBC4C. I hope that we can make things happen in the near future.

While I was looking around in the artist area, I came upon the table for Gene A. Guilmette from Road Less Traveled Press. He asked me "What's 'Zanziber's Point of View'?" I informed him that I do weekly reviews of trade paperback and graphic novels. His response to that was "Have you ever reviewed a children's book?" Of course I haven't, but then he presented me with this...

As he explained it to me, Between Here and the Lint Trap would have been the type of book I would have loved to have read, or had read to me, as a child. I offered to buy the copy he handed me, but he informed me that he would appreciate the review. Stay tuned for it in the near future.

Things that I noticed specifically about the con:
  • I think the fact that there's a growing number of attendees every year and the parking at the convention center being full early is a testament to the popularity of this annual event.
  • Even though there were a large number of people. I never felt crowded as I did at the last Emerald City Comic Con I attended a few years back. I really hope it stays that way.
  • There was a moment where a woman had lost her daughter in the crowd. In a matter of maybe 10-15 minutes, mother and daughter had been reunited safely. Kudos to all the involved Henchmen and attendees.
  • I love how they have the areas marked off where you can see them. i.e. Section 600. Artist Area B. This made the floor easy to navigate to where we needed to go next.
As always, I wish I had done more. I've devoted my time to acquiring new autographs for my collection over getting new trades, comics or going to panels. Speaking of which... it wouldn't have been a northwest comic con without stopping at the I Like Comics area to pick-up some new trades to review... at 70% off! Unfortunately I didn't get as many as I would have liked, but I was being really picky. Next time... I won't be.

I didn't realize until I got to my hotel that the Ghost Rider trade is actually a volume 2. Now I need to get volume 1 somewhere.

That's it for my time at this years event. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, and I'm already looking forward to next year!