Sunday, May 31, 2015

Glory Volume 2: War Torn

Title: Glory Volume 2: War Torn

ISBN: 9781607067610
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2013
Artist: Ross Campbell
Writer: Joe Keatinge
Collects: Glory #29-34

Rating: 2.5/5

Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell’s “reboot” of Glory hasn’t received the plaudits that Brandon Graham and his rotating cadre of artist collaborators have on Prophet, but I’d contend that it stands as a very strong second place among the recent relaunches of various Extreme Studios properties. (Besides Prophet and Glory, other Rob Liefeld titles from the 1990s “Blood-Blood” era that have been revived in the last two years are Avengelyne, Supreme, Youngblood, and Bloodstrike.)

Keatinge has managed to streamline the eponymous protagonist’s somewhat convoluted continuity and focused her narrative on exploring Glory’s character and her relationships as well as her role as a reluctant soldier from another world, forced by circumstances to become the Earth’s protector from a catastrophic alien menace.

Ross Campell’s art is dynamic but never confusing, and he has a talent for rendering facial expressions and making even talking head sequences visually interesting. Campbell and guest artist Ulises Farinas—who contributes his line work in a number of key flashback sequences—turn in some impressively detailed action set pieces that wouldn’t look out of place in a Les Humanoids or Heavy Metal sci-fi epic.

In a December 2012 interview with Comics Alliance, Keatinge stated that the original intent was for his and Campbell’s run on Glory to last some 70 issues. For various reasons, that was truncated to 12 issues, leading to an abrupt climax and dénouement. All that being said, I wouldn’t have known from reading the comics alone that the creative team was caught somewhat by surprise at the radical abbreviation of their run.

Whether by design or by accident, I found the ending to their run to be particularly poignant and satisfying. Keatinge and Campbell’s Glory run is an excellent read, a sterling example of quality work-for-hire comics in the “indie” milieu, and should be sought out by those interested in both an excellently-realized, sci-fi-tinged revamp of a fringe super-character and a thoughtful interpretation of the tropes associated with the female superhero.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Glory Volume 1: The Once and Future Destroyer

Title: Glory Volume 1: The Once and Future Destroyer

ISBN: 9781607066040
Price: $9.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2013
Artist: Ross Campbell
Writer: Joe Keatinge
Collects: Glory #23-28

Rating: 2.5/5

Despite the many flaws of Rob Liefeld’s work, he can at least take solace in the fact that his concepts have been turned into modern classics by more talented creators. Alan Moore used Supreme for a post-modern take on Superman, while more recently, Brandon Graham and a host of artists have transformed Prophet into a unique space epic. Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell’s Glory, Vol. 1: The Once and Future Destroyer, another of the recent “Liefeld revivals,” provides a clever take on the concept of a warrior woman.

From the cover, you can immediately tell that the modern version of Glory is not a conventional heroine. Back when she was created, Glory was basically just a Wonder Woman copy in both her looks (white hair aside) and her origins (with the “twist” of being half-demon and half-Amazonian). She wore a skimpy red outfit and was often drawn in provocative poses. The new Glory is over eight feet of muscle with only the barest hints of curves. Her new outfit is essentially a red pair of overalls. Her hair, while still stark white, is now in a pair of long ponytails, giving her a surprisingly girlish look. Compared to other highly muscular superheroines, like She-Hulk and Power Girl, Glory is highly unique.

Glory’s new look is now more consistent with her new personality. Keatinge has altered her backstory, changing her parentage from mystical to alien. Normally, I would be against such a radical revamping of a character, but Glory was such a paper cut-out of a character in the first place that there was really nothing to lose. The new origin allows Glory to differentiate herself from Wonder Woman, and it also gives Campbell an opportunity to draw unique character designs, such as Glory’s “ugly cute” assistant Henry and various horrific monsters. However, Glory’s past adventures still happened, leaving her as one of the few World War II-era superheroes of the Image universe. This was a wise move, as it allows her interactions with Supreme to remain canon.

In the wider scheme of the book, Glory isn’t the central character. That role falls to Riley Barnes, a journalist and Glory super-fan investigating what happened to her disappeared idol. She is linked to Glory by mysterious dreams and a destiny that unfolds in a shocking fast-forward look into the future. (I was hoping that this was the same future in which Prophet takes place, but unfortunately, the dates don’t seem to match up.) It takes a little time to warm up to Riley, who starts out as a simple audience surrogate but who eventually becomes a key ally. It’s a welcome transformation to see Riley become an effective supporting character, even if she isn’t quite ready to become a battle-hardened warrior.

There’s another major human in Glory’s orbit: Gloria West, with whom Glory once shared a body during Alan Moore’s very brief run with the character. Exactly what happened to split them up has yet to be revealed, but Gloria serves as a mother figure to both Riley and Glory. She too joins the fight later on, a trait that really endeared her to me. It’s clear from the beginning that something terrible has happened to Glory, who is fighting the evil influences in her genetics. A few key flashbacks show that quite a bit of Glory’s “Image edginess” and anger issues can be traced back to her evil father, Silverfall. All the same, we get a revelation about Silverfall and his motives that makes it unclear whether his aim to abduct Glory is an evil plot or just the actions of a caring father.

Even with all of Keatinge’s changes to Glory’s character, it’s Campbell who really makes the book shine. There’s no cheesecake art or lustful, spine-shattering “boobs and butt” poses -- a nearly impossible feat for a book where the three leads are all female. Even Birds of Prey and Captain Marvel can’t avoid some "fan service," but the characters of Glory have been designed to be almost aggressively “anti-fan-service.” Campbell does have a bit of a problem with drawing Riley cross-eyed, and this, along with a bit too yellow of a color palette,  makes her look like an Asian caricature at some points, but it’s a flaw that gets worked out as the story goes on.

There’s quite a bit of gore, and while Invincible has desensitized me to Image’s love of blood and guts, there are a few scenes that actually use violence effectively. This is especially true with the flashbacks to Glory’s time with Supreme and the flash-forwards to a dark future. It helps that we’re following Riley, who is as shocked as the audience is at all of the violence going on around her.

Keatinge and Campbell’s book is part of a broader trend of Image’s newer books to have stronger writing and better art. It’s an impressive change for a company which many (myself included) once derided for the quality of its work. They still have to improve their ability to meet deadlines, but Glory doesn’t fall prey to that issue.

For only ten dollars, you get six issues in Glory: The Once and Future Destroyer, making it almost a must-buy in a world where $25 Marvel hardcovers contain only five issues. Despite the association with Liefeld, the Glory contained within is almost entirely a new character, keeping only the good parts of her old self and reinventing the rest.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Star Wars

Title: The Star Wars

ISBN: 9781616554255
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 2014
Artist: Mike Mayhew
Writer: J. W. Rinzler
Collects: The Star Wars #1-8

Rating: 2/5

The Star Wars is a weird comic. I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way, although the book has its far share of issues. I more mean that, as someone who’s seen the Star Wars movies an unhealthy number of times and has in the past been steeped in the Star Wars lore in and out of the movies themselves it’s very different.

The Star Wars is an adaptation of George Lucas’s first draft screenplay for what would, eventually become Star Wars the film. Interestingly, there are a handful of elements in the book that would also pop up in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as well, and there are even one or two visual designs that seem like they would be at home in the prequel trilogy, though whether those are just nods by the creative team that adapted the book or actual parts of the original script, I don’t know.

This being a weird version of Star Wars aside, how does The Star Wars work as a comic? It’s a mixed bag. The script by JW Rinzler is fine for the most part, but there’s a lot of stiff or clunky dialogue. Some of that dialogue feels right at home in the kind of pulpy, fantasy story that is being told, and really, more even than the movies, The Star Wars is fantasy, not sci-fi, through and through. It just happens to take place in space. That said, there were other times when the dialogue was inexcusably poor. When characters yell “for freedom!” it always comes off as goofy instead of quaint.

The story itself also has some issues, mostly in the last act. The book ends similarly to the movie in that the Death Star (although it isn’t given that name in the comic) is destroyed by a group of rebel starfighters, but Princess Leia and Jedi Annikin Starkiller, still on board the “space fortress,” make a harrowing escape during its destruction that doesn’t pay off. There’s also a Sith named Valorum (bonus points if you recognize the name) that switches sides and helps Annikin and Leia escape because the Imperials don’t fight with honor… or something. Another Sith had no problem showing up at the beginning of the story and killing Annikin’s kid brother, so Valorum’s change of heart doesn’t really make any sense.

And after the Death Star, or space fortress I guess, is destroyed, there’s literally a one page version of the “everyone gets medals!” scene at the end of Star Wars the movie and some wrap up text. And that’s it. It adds up to an ending that feels messy and unsatisfying. I don’t know how much of the blame for that falls at Rinzler’s feet or if it’s due to the original script, but a good adaptation should know how to work around that kind of stuff.

That isn’t to say that the book is all bad, however. The art provided by Mike Mayhew with colors by Rain Beredo is consistently great. It strikes a beautiful balance between a pencilled and painted look that actually reminded me a bit of Adam Hughes; a giant complement if you’re unfamiliar with his work. As a result, even when the story goes off the rails, the visuals keep you hooked. The art team also did a great job of balancing the familiar look of the movies with some of original concept designs and new visuals unique to this comic.

The Star Wars isn’t very successful on its own. The dialogue is borderline bad at times and the story almost completely falls apart at the end. Even the fantastic job the art team did on this book can’t entirely redeem it. However, The Star Wars is a must have for fans of Star Wars in general. It’s a really fascinating look at what could have been, even if in some cases you’re glad it ended up being pretty different.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Hellboy in Hell Volume 1: The Descent

Title: Hellboy in Hell Volume 1: The Descent

ISBN: 9781616554446
Price: $17.99
Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 2014
Artist: Mike Mignola
Writer: Mike Mignola
Collects: Hellboy in Hell #1-5

Rating: 4/5

Mignola is back in the driver’s seat, Dave Stewart’s coloring is off the charts great, and the story itself is the perfect Hellboy blend; funny, serious, and with references to all the classics, plus some monsters getting punched in the face.

At the end of the ongoing Hellboy series, Hellboy was claimed as a descendant of King Arthur and therefore rightful king of Britain. He then fought a dragon, Baba Yaga plucked out his eye, and he was killed. That’s literally all you need to know to pick up this book, and you absolutely should. It’s fitting that the perfect spot for Hellboy to have an existential crisis and some adventures is in a Hell that’s been abandoned by its demons.

The opening arc of this book is a solid attention grabber, with some murders that probably shouldn’t have happened proceeding to happen. Towards the end, it moves towards single-issue stories of the like that Hellboy is renowned for; re-tellings of myths and legends, bargaining devils, wandering ghosts, that old chestnut. For a book that’s so full of decay and a sense of an ending, Mignola and company make it feel like a new beginning when it all looks like it’s going to crumble.

I have to single out Dave Stewart. This guy is the literal glue holding all the titles together, and now he’s taken the flagship, flipped it on its head and makes it work. After so long coloring Hellboy in shades of fiery reds and maroons, he manages to turn Hellboy in Hell into a work of grey tones, including the titular character. The Right Hand of Doom has never looked sadder than it does when it’s cracked and greying, and that sense of tragedy permeates the whole book.

In a lot of ways, this was a book that had to happen. Reading Hellboy for a lot of years, you knew he had to die, you just never knew how. Now, it’s happened, but his quest remains. He still has a Right Hand of Doom, he still has obligations which are left to our imaginations. But in a very literal sense, the sketch section at the back of the book (which is delightfully extensive) has Mignola sketches for days. He’s been doodling this book for probably five years, and we’re just now getting to peek in.

I want to find flaws in Hellboy in Hell. I want to say it seems lazy, or that it’s a clichéd tactic for a writer, or that the art isn’t up to snuff, but if I said any of those things, I would be a filthy liar, and I should be stoned in a public square. This is Mignola and company at the top of their games, and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

Friday, May 8, 2015

My Thoughts On: Suicide Squad

I have to admit that I really didn't have any strong feelings earlier this week when the group picture of the Suicide Squad was released. To be honest, I've never really read any of this series so I didn't have a vested interest in what all the characters were supposed to look like.

There have been so many people that have had some very adamant feelings of whether or not the like the characters cinema look. So many people are having some specific reservations about how Harley Quinn looks. A thought struck me this morning, and that's why I'm writings this.

What does it matter what the characters look like? When DC has failed in their movies is when they screw-up the voices. Should I remind people of the failure that was the voice of the dreaded Bane from The Dark Knight Rises?

And I know that there are quite a number of people that didn't like the voice that Christian Bale chose as his "Bat-voice" for the Dark Knight trilogy. This didn't bug me as much as Bane's voice did.

What struck me as I was waking-up this morning is the fact that I have a strong opinion about how they portrait the voice of Harley Quinn.

Since 1992 when we were originally introduced to Harley in "Batman: The Animated Series", we've had an iconic voice associated with the character. I know that when I read her lines in a trade I hear that voice. It's been so popular that I feel that it is the template of what she should sound like.

I guess I'll just have to wait and see. Even her brief "appearance" in the TV show Arrow had the voice down just right, IMHO.

Monday, May 4, 2015

FCBD @ Tony's Kingdom of Comics

This was the first Free Comic Book Day that I felt like I got much accomplished rather than just hitting my LCS for some great books and signatures. As always, I spent it down at Tony's Kingdom of Comics and Collectibles... and he outdid himself this year!

It helped that the Radio Shack that was located next door to Tony's shop had gone out of business, and he was able to utilize that space for several artists like Shawn Cruz & AnnMare Grove from Corrosive Comics and Ryan Alonzo of Alonzo Art... all 3 of whom are contributing artists to Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer. Also, Tony was able to display a number of different silent auction packages which included so many items donated by either Tony or local businesses as well as Cherry City Comic Con, Northwest Comic Fest and Rose City Comic Con!

As always, Tony also had an area for food donations to the Keizer Community Food Bank and the proceeds for the silent auctions are going to the Shriners Hospitals for Children. There was also an area setup for people to take their pictures with members of Star Wars Oregon and the Portland Superheroes Coalition.

Of course, the one thing that really draws people into any Free Comic Book Day events are the free comic books. Tony had that covered in spades, including a donation of trades from his friend at Things From Another World.

On top of all this, Tony also had comic book artists Ron Randall and Gary Martin in store to sign. I was fortunate enough to pick-up a copy of Gary's book "The Art of Comic Book Inking" which I have wanted for years and we're going to try and connect to have Gary on-board as a contributing artist to Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer as well.

Ron, on top of all the Trekker comics and his latest work on Convergence: Catwoman for him to sign, also had his latest contribution to the CBC4C cause. I'm incredibly happy to have found so many supportive artists in the local area. And... so you're not frustrated with wondering what Ron's cover looked like... here you go:

Casey Ocupe also was supporting FCBD as well as making sure to spread the word about this years Northwest Comic Fest in August. He was selling tickets to Comic Fest as well as his signature masks.

On the Wednesday preceding this years event, Tony contacted me an suggested that I could setup a table to help raise money for Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer. Even though I had other plans for the day, I made sure that I could take advantage of this great opportunity to help continue to spread the word about CBC4C and hopefully raise some money to get us ready for our table at NW Comic Fest in August.

When I was leaving the store, I wanted to make sure to touch base with Tony to let him know that I would try to make it back before the store closed to pick-up the brochures, business cards and donation jar. He informed me that his intentions were to keep the donation jar in the store in hopes of being able to generate additional resources for our cause.

I'm not too proud to say that Tony's gesture nearly brought tears to my eyes. Tony has been the greatest supporter to our cause and I only hope that I can measure-up to what he has done for CBC4C and the entire community.

For the time that I was able to spend down at Tony's this FCBD, I could feel the positive energy from everyone. I saw a lot of familiar faces alongside new faces. It felt good to be a part of it all and I can only imagine what will be in store for next years event. I'm already counting the days.

Thank you Tony!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

John Constantine, Hellblazer: Black Flowers

Title: John Constantine, Hellblazer: Black Flowers

ISBN: 1401204996
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2005
Artist: Jock, Lee Bermejo, Marcelo Frusin
Writer: Mike Carey
Collects: Hellblazer #181-186

Rating: 3/5

This collection of Constantine sees Carey setting his own skewed stamp on the iconic street wizard with a collection of tales that gently move the series towards a spectacular climax to celebrate the comic’s then impending bi-centenary. Carey’s greatest strength is his meticulous forward planning and many seeds are planted here to compliment those already scattered in the previous volume Red Sepulchre.

First up is The Game of Cat and Mouse, illustrated by Jock, which sees Constantine running for so much more than his life from Spectral ‘messengers’ through the secret parts of London. Lee Bermejo provides chilling art for the eponymous Black Flowers as the wizard gathers allies and information whilst purging a sleepy hamlet of some unwelcome dead visitors who’ve broken out of the local insane asylum. Fan favorite Marcelo Frusin provides pictures for the final tale Third Worlds as Constantine and his companion go traveling, encountering some old acquaintances – most notably the Swamp Thing – whilst preparing themselves for the latest Armageddon Hammer to fall.

Hellblazer is consistently terrifying and hilarious by turn, and John Constantine is probably the best anti-hero ever written. Carey and friends are consistently creating a grim, chilling, engrossing and uproarious horror romp. The least you can do is consistently own these collections. A vote with your wallet just means they’ll keep on doing it, right?