Sunday, December 8, 2019

Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons

Title: Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons

ISBN: 9781620107102
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: IDW/Oni Press, 2019
Artist: Troy Little
Writer: Jim Zub, Patrick Rothfuss
Collects: Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons #1-4

Rating: 4/5

One of the biggest crossover events in comic books last year was seeing Rick and Morty take on the world of Dungeons & Dragons in a four-issue arc. Penned by Jim Zub and Patrick Rothfuss with art by Troy Little and colors by Leonardo Ito, it was the pop-culture peanut butter and chocolate combo you never knew you needed until IDW and Oni Press gave it to you. After the initial release and all of the various different cover versions came out, it was decided that a couple of different hardcover editions would be released to different sources and retailers. One of those versions is the red cover, which was only made available to GameStop. But the thing that makes this edition so special is that it comes with a playable D&D adventure. With a second series on the way and WotC releasing their own Rick and Morty adventure sometime before year’s end, it seems only fitting to crack open the pages of this book and give it all a proper review.

So let’s start with the main portion of this book, which is the four-issue run of the original Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons comic. If you thought R&M was meta before you picked up this comic, you have no idea how meta the meta can get. This is fourth-wall breaking through multiple dimensions as the story examines what happens when Morty sees that D&D is being played by students at his school and he thinks maybe jumping in on the adventure might get him laid. When Rick gets wind of the sudden interest, instead of calling it lame, he is overjoyed that his grandson has taken interest in something he once played and decides to show him the ropes as only Rick Sanchez can. Of course, nothing goes as planned and everything about their adventure through the realms both virtual and real become a twisted look at the various ways the game is played and the personalities who come to roll a few dice.

There are parts of this book that are intrinsic to the fabric of D&D as a game and a culture. It shows off some of the best parts of what the game can be to people through the eyes of writers who are super passionate about it and the impact it’s had on their lives. Oh, and did we mention there’s a lot of emotional baggage here, too? Rothfuss and Zub manage to run the gambit through pretty much every geeky personality that plays the game, and much like the fellow characters you play at the table with, not all are complementary to what’s going on. In fact, there’s some heavy shades of darkness in these pages that took me back throughout the years to games I had played, people I played with, and scenarios I had experienced for better and worse. Plus, it’s nice seeing people like the ghost of Gary Gygax appear along with people like Satine Phoenix, Matthew Mercer, and Mazz. The comic is definitely one you need to read.

The book also comes with a few additions that fans of both series will absolutely love. First, the book has these specific character sheets for all of the classes the Smith family play as, along with a blank character sheet for you to make your own character with. These are fun additions that were also used as alternate covers and shows off a lot of the humor thrown into making each of them. What’s more, you can actually use all of these characters because (aside from some joke items here and there), all of their stats appear to be accurate to Fifth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. (Or at least as best we could tell comparing stats and bonuses in the Player’s Handbook.) Keep that in mind for what’s to come.

Speaking of alternate covers, every single one of them that were created for the series is here in their stunning glory for you to enjoy. Presented to you as fine works of art with the people responsible for their creation tagged at the bottom. Honestly, some of these should be prints for sale on IDW and Oni Press’ websites because the detail that went into a few of them are just amazing. Quality work from people who clearly have an appreciation for both franchises and their work should be featured much more prominently.

Finally, the last section of the book and the main reason we wanted to check it out for a review: the adventure! There is a full Rick and Morty themed adventure in the back of the book called The Temple of Glorb, which you can either use your own characters for or use the ones for the Smith family which we talked about earlier. (It’s fun either way, but it’s way too easy with the R&M people, so go with your own creations.) This one was put together by Adam Lee and is designed for 4-6 Level 1 characters. It is told and put together like a regular adventure you would find in D&D, complete with obstacles, a couple of maps, encounters, options for the DM, and enough references to make it feel like you’re also playing an episode of the show. I got to run through this with a couple of different groups who both knew the material and never watched the show, and everyone got some enjoyment out of it. It’s a short adventure, but you know what? It’s a good introduction place for Rick and Morty fans who are now interested in the game, and that makes it a winner to me.
credit//IDW Comics

Overall, this is basically the best version of the hardcover editions of Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons that you’ll want to get. And not just for the amazing cover drawn by Mike Vasquez on the front. This is an all-in-one book for anyone who enjoyed this run and wanted more out of it than just four issues. Sure, we’re getting more soon, but this is a great way to tide yourself over until it comes out. And it’s a hardcover, which by trade standards is a pretty awesome way to own a complete set for a special event. This is the complete package for this story in every planeshifting way possible.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

John Constantine: Hellblazer: Original Sins

Title: John Constantine: Hellblazer: Original Sins

ISBN: 1563890526
Price: $19.95
Publisher/Year: DC, 1992
Artist: John Ridgway, Alfredo Alcala
Writer: Jamie Delano
Collects: Hellblazer #1-9

Rating: 3/5

In the first story, a childhood friend of Constantine, who dabbles in magic and illegal drugs, accidentally lets loose a demon, Mnemoth, who infects humans with an insatiable hunger. And it’s spreading, growing stronger. To stop it, Constantine will have to travel from Liverpool to Africa, and then to America. He’ll have to enlist the help of a Voodoo Doctor, and avoid the ghosts of his past who literally haunt him to this day. In the second story, Constantine finds himself caught up in the unusual deaths of yuppies in Spitalfields near the East End and Liverpool Street station, a place where he never thought to find yuppies living, let alone dying. It doesn’t take long for him to run afoul of a horde of demons living in the area.

The third story finds Constantine searching for his lost niece, Gemma, with the help of his new friend, Zed; a woman he meets when he turns a street corner, who appears to have some skill with magic, and whom Constantine desperately wants to sleep with. Here, he meets God’s Warriors and the Damnation Army, two opposing forces who will resurface later. The fourth story sees Constantine drawn to a small town in Iowa who lost many of its young men in Vietnam, but, through a strange twist and more than a little magic, they are about to return home for one, tragic night. The fifth story, Extreme Prejudice, touches on a lot of hot topics including racism, homophobia, AIDS and more, and sets Constantine against local street thugs and a demon. In the sixth story, Constantine learns who Zed really is, and what the Damnation Army and God’s Warriors both want with her.

Last, you have a story balance from the pages of Swamp Thing. Constantine has a plan, one he hopes the Swamp Thing will accept and support. The balance of everything is at stake should he fail.

If you haven’t picked up on it yet, the stories in Hellblazer have an edge to them. Much more so than what you would see in the pages of a regular DC book—hence the Vertigo imprint. The art is dark and moody, setting the tone for the stories, which have just enough horror, just enough of a twist, to make you wonder. John Constantine drinks to excess, he smokes all the time, he sleeps around, he makes bad choices as often as he makes good ones. He is a complicated character. Not everyone will like him for the choices he makes, right or wrong. His world is bloody and violent.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Huntress: Crossbow at the Crossroads

Title: Huntress: Crossbow at the Crossroads

ISBN: 9781401237332
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2012
Artist: Marcus To
Writer: Paul Levitz
Collects: Huntress #1-6

Rating: 2.5/5

By opting to write a story which revolves around human trafficking in Italy as a result of the Arab Spring, Paul Levitz immediately engages the reader by placing Helena in a real-world setting that feels relevant. The presence of Chairman Hassan, a thinly-veiled Muammar Gaddafi, as the primary villain enhances this quality. But the story is hampered by a formulaic structure; each issue is usually book-ended with skirmishes between Huntress and the villains henchmen while the middle is devoted to providing exposition in the form of two Italian reporters whom Helena befriends. As a result, the entire narrative feels as if it could have been condensed and more time could have been spent fleshing out the characters. At the same time, the action scenes are so well executed that it is easy to understand why they figure so heavily into the story.

The fight sequences themselves are one of the series greatest strength's due in no small part to Marcus To's artwork. To expertly depicts the almost nonstop action sequences. Huntress practically leaps off the page as she battles thugs and corrupt policemen. Additionally, Naples and Amalfi are beautifully and accurately depicted and the level of detail is such that the reader never forgets that this story is taking place in Italy.

Unfortunately, this book is held back by its lack of the characterization. While the plot is fairly interesting, there is little to no depth given to any of the characters, which is especially strange considering that in Legion of Superheroes Levitz was able to develop a massive cast of characters in as little as a few panels. The reader is given no background information regarding Helena herself; this is especially problematic as this mini-series was published in the spring of 2012 and marks Helena Wayne's first appearance in the New 52, meaning that we are unaware if her established continuity holds up or not. For most of Crossbow, the reader is unsure whether Huntress is actually Helena Wayne or Helena Bertinelli.Thus, the final "reveal" that it is in fact Helena Wayne of Earth-2 is more or less meaningless.

However, there is a lot to like in what we are told about Huntress. The reader can appreciate the way in which she utilizes a host of gadgetry and tactically plans each encounter in advance rather than simply diving right in. This differentiates her from the some of her previous depictions and takes the character back to her roots as originally imagined by Levitz himself. Additionally, many of the captions show Helena's playful side; she quips about the calories in Italian sweets and admonishes gangsters for their terrible attempts at flirting.

It is obvious from these instances that Levitz has a firm grasp on the character, which makes it all the more disappointing that the reader isn't given more. Her intelligence, planning, and sarcasm are traits that are all shared by several other members of the Bat-family; there is nothing that specifically ties Huntress to the plot, so she could just have easily been replaced in this series by another hero. As Batwoman: Hydrology demonstrated, a series gains a greater sense of cohesion when the hero has a personal stake in the crimes being committed, and both Huntress herself and the miniseries as a whole would have benefited from such a connection.

The same lack of characterization also applies to the villains, who are mostly generic mobsters and Arab stereotypes. The antagonists utilize nearly every tactic in the villain's arsenal to draw the reader's ire -- frivolous murder, violence towards women, sacrificing the lives of subordinates in order to escape, etc. -- but fail to generate any interest. When Huntress allows the mafia boss Moretti to die in the fourth issue, it's difficult to care much because he simply isn't that compelling. It is possible that the lack of characterization for Chairman Hassan was intentional, and the readers are meant to project their animosity towards Colonel Gaddafi onto the Chairman. Even so, the best analogues those that are able to exist on their terms within the story while also referencing someone else. Chairman Hassan is not given sufficient space to be anything other than a stand-in for Muammar Gaddafi, and the miniseries suffers because of it.

Huntress: Crossbow at the Crossroads is by no means a poor story, but the fine artwork is ultimately held back by the poor characterization of both the series heroine and her antagonists. Overall, it still makes for a fairly enjoyable read, but it probably won't expand Huntress' fanbase. Given Power Girl's appearance on the final page, it seems as if the purpose of this miniseries was mainly to solicit interest in the World's Finest series that followed. Levitz is unquestionably a strong writer, and hopefully he can provide a more detailed take on Helena Wayne in his ongoing monthly series.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Justice Society of America: Black Adam and Isis

Title: Justice Society of America: Black Adam and Isis

ISBN: 9781401225315
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2014
Artist: Jerry Ordway, Dale Eaglesham, Fernando Pasarin
Writer: Geoff Johns, Jerry Ordway, Matthew Sturges
Collects: Justice Society of America #23-28

Rating: 2.5/5

The Justice Society of America is in tatters, and the future of the team and its members are in question.  When Black Adam makes a power grab at the Rock of Eternity, the JSA will have to hold together in the hopes of stopping him and the “Black Adam Family”.  Plus, a ghost from the past forces members of the JSA to experience the release of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima…and only the Spectre can save them!

Written by Geoff Johns, Jerry Ordway, and Matthew Sturges, Justice Society of America:  Black Adam and Isis is a DC Comics superhero collection.  Following the events of Justice Society of America:  Thy Kingdom Come—Book 3, the collection features art by Jerry Ordway, Dale Eaglesham, and Fernando Pasarin.  The issues in the collection were also collected as part of the JSA Omnibus—Volume 3.

I will say that Justice Society of America has always been a great soap opera comic book and this collection continues it.  The series is largely about families and the rifts and arguments between the family members.  Examples include Hawkman taking flight (pun intended) from the team and Al and Courtney’s requited love.  It is largely emotionally driven stories and characters which gives them more depth than some other comic book teams.

The two stories in this volume aren’t the most satisfying.  While I certainly like aspects of the “Black Adam and Isis” issues, I feel that the middle part of the series and the conclusion is too rushed.  The action suddenly jumps to Kahndaq, the Wizard is restored, Black Adam & Isis are stopped, and Billy and Mary are left in the lurch…it seems like a lot happened that wasn’t explained or expanded upon.

The second storyline likewise is rather confusing and needs clarification.  The Justice Society is pulled back in time (maybe) and faces the ghosts of war.  The story feels like it should have been a three issue storyline and developed more.  The villain could have been more rounded, and I wish that the Crispus Allen Spectre was more explored.

Justice Society of America isn’t always the best title, but I enjoy the characters and the story of the JSA so it gets more of a pass than other DC titles.  The issues of the collection still have some of the great Alex Ross cover art which makes them worth reading alone.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

George R.R. Martin's The Sworn Sword

Title: George R.R. Martin's The Sworn Sword

ISBN: 9781477849293
Price: $14.95
Publisher/Year: Jet City Comics, 2014
Artist: Mike S. Miller
Writer: George R.R. Martin, Ben Avery

Rating: 4/5

This is a spoiler-free review since the twists are so fun to discover along the way, just like in A Song of Ice & Fire, I wouldn’t want to ruin it for anyone. It picks up basically two years after the events of “The Hedge Knight” with Dunk and Egg now serving under Ser Eustace Osgrey. There are basically two storylines we’re following here: the present-day conflict between House Osgrey and neighboring House Webber as well as the First Blackfyre Rebellion, told in flashbacks.

The story is set roughly a hundred years before the events of A Song of Ice & Fire, so the Targaryens are still ruling Westeros. Just because of that fact, I’m already sold on this series since they’re my favorite House. There are tons of references to various Targaryens that can be traced (thanks to Google and Wikipedia) all the way to Daenerys. I particularly enjoyed the story of the Blackfyre Rebellion, which was mentioned in A Storm of Swords but we’re given more details in this book. If you don’t remember what the rebellion was all about, essentially Aegon IV legitimizes his bastards so when he dies, one of his bastards Daemon Blackfyre tries to seize the Iron Throne from the legitimate son, Daeron. The art is amazing and definitely adds to the story, leaving me wanting to see the Blackfyre Rebellion flashbacks on the show or as a mini-series.

The other plotline with Osgrey and Webber was interesting but nowhere near as exciting as the rebellion. I did like the character of Lady Rohanne Webber or the Red Widow. She reminded me of a mix between Dany and Ygritte, and not just because she’s a widow and has red hair. It’s her fiery spirit and general badassness that made me think of the comparison.

While I liked “The Hedge Knight” more than “The Sworn Sword”, the second prequel graphic novel is an enjoyable must-read, The third novella has been adapted into graphic novel form as "The Mystery Knight". I’m looking forward to it since I think Dunk and Egg will encounter my second favorite House in Westeros, the Starks.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

10 Years of Zanziber's Point of View


As I was writing my recent post about autographs, I realized that it has now been 10 years since I started writing this blog.

Loyal readers will have noticed that there have been many changes over the years. I've gone from simply posting reviews of trades to writing reviews of comic cons. It's also been over 6 years since I created Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer.

I know there have been lapses on my consistency with publishing my reviews, but I have always made it back to make sure I keep this going. I'm in a better place now, and will be able to make the time necessary to continue writing.

Another upcoming change is that I want to transition from a blog into a podcast. This has been somewhat challenging because of time constraints and my unfamiliarity with the equipment/software. My ultimate plan is to actually combine the reviews of opinions of this blog with the insights, reviews and highlights from my RPG4EVR blog. I think that this will provide a better outlet for me to express my point of view.

As much as I enjoy writing, there are just some times where it's difficult to find the right words to type to express what I'm thinking and it's easier for me to verbally express them. Once I have the podcast in place, my expectation is to provide at least an hour episode each week. I hope you will all enjoy what I come up with.

The past few comic cons I have been to, I have noted that I've dealt with some physical issues. This is a combination of my age couple with the fact that I haven't taken the best care of my body over the past 45 years. After my birthday this year, I decided to make an early New Years resolution that I'm going to start taking better care of myself so I can continue to do the things that I enjoy; going to comic events, playing tabletop roleplaying games, continuing my work raising money for the American Cancer Society through Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer and so many other things, I know that this will involve a lot of lifestyle changes, and I am typically against big changes. But I have realized that I need to make these changes for myself, and they will be of benefit to everyone that reads my words, supports my work and relies on me for one thing or another.

Thank you to everyone who has been reading for as long as you have. As of this writing, this blog has had over 160k views. I consider that a success, and it could not have happened without you!

Autographs from Artists/Writers/Creators


After reading the article posted by Bleeding Cool about Adam Kubert refusing to sign a comic, and the subsequent comments that I have been reading, I felt that I wanted to express my point-of-view on the matter.

When I was younger, our area had a comic book show where they would have bigger named artists sign for $0.25 each signature, and the collected money would go to charity. In these days, I received signatures from the likes of Fabian Niceza, John Romita Jr., and there were so many other notables from the 90's that made appearances.

I mention this because this was the beginning of my desire to collect autographs. I had no problem with that arrangement. Of course, we also didn't have things like eBay, CGC/CBCS or the internet either. I'll admit that while I collected these autographs for myself, I always kept the idea of being able to sell anything I received a signature on for the future.

I continue to collect autographs with this mindset, and I will explain why this is.

I don't have any children, and for most of my life, I have never had much of a desire to have any. So that means I have nobody to necessarily pass my collection on to when I leave this world. It's my intention that whoever is the bearer of my eventual estate have a relatively easy time in liquidating my collections should the need arrive. This is also why I work to get a certificate of authenticity for everything that is signed.

So I typically prefer to have items simply signed and not personalized. I have received some books that were personalized to me, but they have been rare. I have never regretted these personalized autographs, and I would never seek an autograph for immediate personal financial gain.

With that being said, I think it's fair to say that the only exception to my statement about immediate personal gain are books that I look to get signed for my non-profit, Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer. When I get an artist or writers autograph on one of the covers or blanks set to be auctions for #CBC4C, I make sure that they know up front.

At Rose City Comic Con this year, I actually had a chance to interact with Adam Kubert. I was getting a personal book signed and a few books for #CBC4C. Feel free to read about my experience here. I felt that he was very receptive to all the people that came to receive his autograph. There was one person ahead of me that I felt was only trying to get Kuberts autograph to make a buck, but that's only this mans opinion. Adam didn't balk at signing the items that this guy put in front of him, including a Marvel line-up poster that he had already received several autographs on it.


I support creator's right to refuse to autographs any item they feel like and I support Adam's decision to sign the comic provisionally. If I were in the situation where a creator suggested that they personalize what I have asked to have signed, I would be more than happy to accept. Even though it may mean a little inconvenience for someone in the future, I would cherish the experience.

Several years ago, at Emerald City Comic Con, I had an opportunity to meet Bill Willingham and get some of my Fables trades and single issues signed including my copy of Peter & Max. Willingham asked to personalize the autograph for Peter & Max, and I did not hesitate to accept. This was the same year that a guy in line ahead of me for Willingham unloaded a duffle bag full of Fables, Cinderella and Jack of Fables books for him to sign. If ever I saw a time where a creator maybe should have either suggested to personalize or decline to sign so many items for a single person, this was it.

In the end, I support whatever decision a creator takes when being asked for an autograph. If they feel that the person is just out to make a quick buck, and they don't approve. they should feel empowered to decline or suggest the autograph be personalized. There are many who are charging for autographs already, and even charging more if there is a CGC/CBCS witness present. If people want to try and make some money off of, they should be willing to pay for it.

George R.R. Martin's The Hedge Knight

Title: George R.R. Martin's The Hedge Knight

ISBN: 9781477849101
Price: $14.95
Publisher/Year: Jet City Comics, 2013
Artist: Mike S. Miller
Writer: George R.R. Martin, Ben Avery

Rating: 4/5

The Hedge Knight is set in Westeros, 100 years prior to A Game of Thrones, the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. The story starts out with Dunk the Squire of Ser Arlan of Pennytree, a Hedge Knight, burying his master. Ser Arlan died of what I’m pretty sure was essentially pneumonia whilst the pair had been between destinations. Ser Arlan had no heir nor any family at all, besides Dunk. These facts, combined with his strength, prowess, and training, convince Dunk to take Ser Arlan’s place. And so Ser Duncan the Tall, the Hedge Knight, is born. The Hedge Knight is half a story of Dunk and his rise to (true) Knighthood and half a story of his friendship with Egg. Egg is a young orphan boy that Dunk meets on his way to his first tournament. They don’t hit it off from the start. Egg wants to be Dunk’s squire, but is rejected by him. To be fair, he rejects Egg because he thinks that he’ll be better off without him, but he doesn’t let him in on that. Egg refuses to give up, though, and Dunk has no choice but to give him a shot at squiring. Together they will take on the Ashford Tournament and their friendship will grow along the way.

I really liked everything about The Hedge Knight. I’ll start with the story. It is reminiscent of the Heath Ledger movie, A Knight’s Tale. Imagine that movie set in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire and you’ll start to get a good idea on what this graphic novel is like, but it’s so much more than that. One thing that I particularly liked about the story is the setting. As I mentioned, The Hedge Knight is set 100 years before the first book in the series, which is cool for multiple reasons. The first and most obvious is that it lets us explore more of the lore and the world that George R.R. Martin created and from new aspects and perspectives. These aren’t the characters that you love and hate from the regular series, but the world will feel very familiar to you. All of the big Houses are there. This is a time when House Targaryen ruled all in Westeros, so they have a heavy presence, as you might imagine. The only House that I didn’t see was House Stark, but who knows what they were up to at that time. Familiar places will be referenced, but not seen. The Hedge Knight takes place entirely in Ashford and it’s surrounding areas. Fans will also recognize many names from the books lore, but this graphic novel brings them to life. There’s even a singing of “The Bear and The Maiden Fair“, which I thought was a fun touch. The other reason that I liked the setting was that it allows us to see this universe in a time when things weren’t as heavy as they are in the books. Of course, there is always conflict, turmoil, etc. No time is ever completely peaceful and quiet, but at least for this story, we get to see a (mostly) lighter tone brought to the series for once, which is a nice change of pace.

As far as characters go, there were some great major and minor characters in The Hedge Knight. Dunk is a likable guy. He’s strong, courageous, determined, humble, righteous, and a dreamer. Good qualities for a Knight and a classic protagonist. Dunk does have his flaws and he’s still got a lot to learn, but he’s the type of person who will improve himself as time goes on. His sidekick, Egg, is a smart boy and you get the feeling that there’s more to him than meets the eye. Egg is persistent and has a servant’s heart, though, and you can’t help but like him. Together, Dunk and Egg make a really fun team, and I can’t wait to read more of their tales. With this graphic novel taking place mostly during a tournament, there are people from all over the realm in attendance, which makes for a very diverse cast of minor characters. As I already mentioned the Targaryens ruled Westeros at this time, so quite a few of the minor characters are made up of their people, such as Prince Baelar, who was one of my favorites. A couple of other standout characters were Raymun Fossoway (Steffon Fossoway’s squire and Dunk’s new friend) and Tanselle the Puppeteer (Dunk’s Dornish crush).

Overall, The Hedge Knight delivers a very fun and epic story filled with interesting characters, some of which you will come to love and to hate, just like in the book series.

As I mentioned above, The Hedge Knight, has a lighter tone than the A Song of Ice and Fire books, and so I think it was a good move on their part to apply a lighter tone to the art as well. They did a good job of it too. I had a feeling that it was going to be a lighter, more fun, take on the series from the art before the story. I thought they did good job at making it look just the right amount of realistic and not cartoony. Lighter tone/style works, but cartoony Game of Thrones? I don’t think so. I’m not sure what more I can say about The Hedge Knight‘s art, but I really did like it’s style.

The Hedge Knight is an exceptional graphic novel and a must read for all fans of the A Song of Ice and Fire series. It definitely measures up those books and fits right into the series. I loved it. Fans of the TV show will also thoroughly enjoy The Hedge Knight. In fact, I think they’ll enjoy it as much as fans of the books. The Hedge Knight offers a good opportunity to read a story in the Game of Thrones mythology, with a much lighter investment of your time and/or patience. I think fans of fantasy comic books can also enjoy this graphic novel, but fans of the books and the show will definitely get more out of it. As I said above, I can’t wait to check out the next chapter in the Tales of Dunk and Egg!

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Rat Queens Vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery

Title: Rat Queens Vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery

ISBN: 9781607069454
Price: $9.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2015
Artist: Roc Upchurch
Writer: GKurtis J. Wiebe
Collects: Rat Queens #1-5

Rating: 4/5

Meet the Rat Queens, a group of foul-mouthed badasses who brawl as hard as they party, and they do both with style. There’s Hannah, the spell-casting hot head; Violet, the beardless warrior dwarf; Dee, a divine sorceress who left the squid-worshipping cult that raised her; and Betty, the cute-as-a-button thief with a penchant for candy and magic mushrooms. Collecting the first five issues of the acclaimed new series, trade paperback Sass and Sorcery is a solid introduction to the group’s raunchy, sword-swinging escapades, and with a comic this fun to read, the larger dose is welcome.

While there’s no shortage of action, the personalities of the Queens drive the book. Writer Kurtis J. Wiebe has crafted a cast that’s rowdy, sarcastic and intensely loyal, like a magic-infused roller derby squad bashing its way through Middle-earth. It doesn’t matter if they’re fighting trolls, stabbing mercenaries or just angering the townsfolk, watching them interact with the world is where the fun is. That’s not to say that this volume is light on plot: someone has hired assassins to kill the Rat Queens, and they encounter some precarious situations as they try to uncover the culprit.

As engrossing as the plot is, Roc Upchurch’s art brings all of these personalities to life. His storytelling is dynamic, as characters often bound beyond panel borders, but he truly excels at facial expressions. He wields such minor mannerisms — a snarled lip, a dubious squint, a mischievous smirk — to massive effect. Whether it’s the crinkled eyebrows of a hangover, or Betty’s innocent smile spattered with troll blood, there’s so much expression in the pages you can almost forget that you’re looking at static drawings and word balloons.

Sass and Sorcery bounces seamlessly from gore to humor, sprawling action to small personal moments — sometimes simultaneously, and that’s what makes the whole thing work so well. In the end, the characters are built so strongly that you don’t just want to watch them raise hell — you want to grab a battle axe and join in.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Batman: Knightfall Part Three: KnightsEnd

Title: Batman: Knightfall Part Three: KnightsEnd  


ISBN: 1563891913
Price: $14.95
Publisher/Year: DC, 2000
Artist: Jim Aparo, Bret Blevins, Barry Kitson, Mike Manley, Graham Nolan, Ron Wagner
Writer: Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Jo Duffy
Collects: Batman #509-510, Detective Comics #676-677, Batman: Shadow of the Bat #29-30, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #62, Catwoman (Volume 2) #12

Rating: 3/5

The final volume in the three part Knightfall collected trade paperback series, following the excellent part one and the average part two, finds the original Batman, Bruce Wayne, prepare to take down his hand-selected successor John Paul Valley. Almost immediately after receiving the mantle of the bat from the injured Bruce Wayne, Valley (henceforth referred to as his other alter-ego Azrael, for clarity's sake) exhibited signs of extremism in his attempts to fight crime. By the end of book two, he had defeated Bane, but managed to stop just short of killing him, signaling that he might be alright as Batman after all.

Unfortunately, Azrael's conscious didn't stick. In the interim between part two and part three, he killed a criminal, which lead to the death of an innocent. When confronted about his dark turn by Robin, Azrael attacked the Boy Wonder. This leads to Bruce Wayne realizing that he had to defeat Azrael, as Valley's terror campaign on Gotham's underworld was the result of his mistake. There is an 8 issue gap between the two sets, at the interim series featuring Azrael as Batman, Knightquest, did not receive the TPB treatment. Unfortunately, this means that the reader misses out his decent into madness and darkness. Also, the sub-plot from part two involving Wayne and Alfred going to rescue Robin's father, with Catwoman stowing on board, is resolved in the interim and goes unmentioned. However, there's a good chance that those issues weren't that good, since Azrael is nowhere near as compelling a character as Bruce Wayne/Batman, so it's probably for the best that the series skips ahead to the story of him reclaiming his rightful position.

Before Wayne can take on Azrael, he first must regain his fighting edge. To do this, he enters into training with Lady Shiva in some ninja tales. This is the first half of the book, which alternately shows Wayne training and Azrael going nuts looking for the dead killer of his father. And it's kinda dull. Some of the fighting between Wayne and the ninja-types is fun enough, but the first half is definitely nothing special. The highlight of the first half is the interactions between Nightwing and Robin, especially when Dick Grayson returns to the Batcave, learning that you truly can't go home again.

The book picks up the pace once Wayne finishes his training and once again dons the traditional Batman costume (as opposed to the overly-stylised armoured monstrosity that Azrael wears as Batman). The shift is marked by issue twelve of Catwoman, thrown into the series to boost sales of Catwoman no doubt. But, it's a fun read, highlighted by the gorgeous art of Jim Balent. Then it kicks in to a multi-issue battle between the new and old Batmans. It's pretty good action, although for most of the first half of the set, Azrael is so far gone mentally that you have to wonder if he'd really be much of a challenge to the real Batman. I remember thinking that Nightwing could probably take him out. The writers must've also had that thought, because after it looks like a booby-trapped Batmobile kills Batman, Nightwing takes on Azrael one on one to avenge his former mentor.

He gives a good showing, but ultimately is beaten by Azrael for the same reasons Batman had trouble with him, the battle suit is too powerful, and Azrael has no concern for the lives of bystanders (unlike Batman and Nightwing). This leads to the final battle between Batman and Azrael, which brings the Knightfall story full circle. The two face off in the very place where Batman was originally defeated by Bane (which, in turn, lead to Azrael to become the new Batman), Wayne Manor. The battle was a little too talky for my liking, and a little unfulfilling in the way it finished up. But, in the end, the reader is treated to what they deserve: the one and only Batman victorious and ready to once again assume the mantle of the Dark Knight.

Sadly, the series never did reclaim the energy and brilliance of the first part of the series. Largely, I think this is because Jean Paul Valley just isn't that interesting a character. I think DC wanted to shake things up and get some attention by bringing in a new Batman and give him a new costume, and slipped a bit along the way in creating a good character. But, while flawed, it was still a pretty decent story that did an excellent job in showing that Batman is more than just a well-trained vigilante with lots of wonderful toys. Which is important, since I think some of the portrayals of Batman over the years have gone a little too dark. Yes, he is the Dark Knight, but he's not the Dark Avenger. Knight implies an honor code to Batman's dealings, and the series as a whole did a great job in examining it.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Batman: Knightfall Part Two: Who Rules the Night

Title: Batman: Knightfall Part Two: Who Rules the Night 


ISBN: 1563891484
Price: $14.95
Publisher/Year: DC, 2000
Artist: Jim Aparo, Bret Blevins, Klaus Janson, Kelley Jones, Graham Nolan
Writer: Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant
Collects: Batman #498-500, Detective Comics #664-666, Showcase `93 #7-8, Batman: Shadow of the Bat #16-18

Rating: 3/5

The second part of Knightfall collects the issues directly following the breaking of Batman and lead into Jean Paul Valley's transformation into a meaner, deadlier Bat. Think of this as Azrael: Year One, with Batman's successor, the former Azrael, taking on the mantle of the Bat.

They say power corrupts and this book proves it. Given the role of Batman, Jean-Paul quickly descends into vigilante madness. Using "The System," which was implanted into his mind by the Order of Saint Dumas, Jean-Paul can perform incredible physical feats and perform complex engineering tasks -- like designing a bat-suit that's more like battle armor. Bruce Wayne worked all his life to become Batman. Jean-Paul got brain-washed to earn his skills. Obviously this is a Batman that just won't do.

As Jean-Paul gets more aggressive, he and Robin split and we're all left hating the new Batman. The purpose, it seems, is to make us clamor and hope for a replacement that isn't an asshole. That's really not what I'd call top-notch writing. As the story plays out, jean-Paul is essentially building himself up through experience so he can face Bane and take him down. As he improves, so does the suit as "improvements" turn it into an ugly piece of work.

On the one hand, we get to see what life might be like with a different Batman, but it's all too obviously manipulated. We never really get a chance to see Jean-Paul as anything more than a jerk with a somewhat questionable background who has no business being Batman.

Had DC the courage, they would have let Dick Grayson come in. Imagine the conflict when Grayson (who would certainly do things a little different than Batman) holds his own as the Dark Knight only to have Wayne healthy and ready to return to the role. How can Dick not give up the suit, but then, what if the city is better for having him. What if Tim Drake prefers Grayson? Now instead of a somewhat forced conflict, you have some real drama that builds on the history of Batman.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Rose City Comic Con 2019 - My Experiences

https://rosecitycomiccon.com/
September 13-15, 2019
Oregon Convention Center
Portland, Oregon

I have been attending this great event since its noble beginnings back in 2012 when it was in a small hall at the Lloyd Center Doubletree Hotel and there were over 4,000 people trying to fit in the venue. I remember pulling up to the hotel and there was a large line waiting to get in.

Since 2015, I have been fortunate enough to be accepted as a member of the press for RCCC. I have watched as this con grew from those original four-thousand to now an expected 75k people attending over the 3-days. The official attendance numbers over the years are as follows:
  • 2013 - 18,000
  • 2014 - 25,000
  • 2015 - 32,000
  • 2016 - 42,000
  • 2017 - 64,000 (first year as a 3-day event)
  • 2018 - 58,000
Rita Upton of {Chrysalis Rising Photographic Studio} and myself waiting to get in on day 1.
There have been a few changes this year over the previous. In the past 4 years I have been a member of the press, I have had the opportunity to get onto the show floor at least 30 minutes before it opened to the general public. This has always helped so that I can make some connections with artists and creators before it gets very busy. It's also helped to be able to get a lay-of-the-land without the thousands of other people. This year, we were told that we would only be allowed in during normal show hours. While this was a little upsetting, it didn't really mater to me until about 15 minutes after the show was to open when they finally let us in. While waiting, I had the chance to converse with a few other members of the press who also expressed their dislike for the change.

I would also like to point-out that when we received our badges, the experiences wasn't the same as years past. I remember speaking with Paula Brister directly before the event when I had questions. This year, my pre-show questions remained unanswered until I was face-to-face with Mikala Rempe (Senior Publicist, Linda Roth Associates). While she told me that the information about not being able to get into the show early was in one of her emails, I have scoured them and found nothing. This is the first time I could really feel that the event was less locally run and more corporately run.

But enough of that. Let's get into the show.

DAY 1-

The layout of the event was the same as the past years, which works very well for a good flow for people. Considering that Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, WA has boasted attendance numbers over 80k since 2015, I think that RCCC should seriously consider a larger venue within the next 5 years.

My first objective of day 1 was to get in line for "Weird Al" Yankovic. His first signing was to begin at 1:00pm or 1:15pm, and since we weren't let in until around 1:15pm, I felt the need to bypass everything to get to the media guest area, that was on the far side of the floor from where we were. Fortunately, I got a decent place in line and didn't have to wait for too long before Al showed-up. it was pretty great that Funko even sent a small crew down to present Al with the same Funko Pop Vinyl that I was about to ask him to sign for me. They also took my photo, which I asked them to email me a copy, but haven't seen or received it yet.


Now I'm not sure who was in charge of getting the guests to where they need in a timely manner, but from what I saw and heard from over the weekend is that they were lacking. There were several people commenting how they were rushed through a photo op because of timing or that one of the guests didn't arrive to their signing until very late because of a panel running long. I would hope that in the future, whoever is responsible for scheduling guests and managing their time will give a 30 minute gap (at least) between obligations so that there's enough time to get from one side of the event to another. More on this issue when I cover day 2.

Since creating Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer, I have always tried to include picking-up covers from contributing artists that are attending RCCC. This year was no different. My first visit was with one our newest contributors, Don Nguyen. Check-out Pablo the Gorilla.

Don Nguyen and I.

It's always great to meet-up with the different artist who have helped me make #CBC4C possible, and I love meeting new artists. My next visit was with Ron Randall. Please check-out Trekker.

Ron Randall with his latest donation to #CBC4C.

After meeting with Ron, I worked on acquiring a few personal autographs for my collection. I had brought things for Kelly Sue DeConnick, Adam Kubert and Terry and Rachel Dodson. Unfortunately, Kelly Sue and Adam weren't going to be at the show until Saturday and the Dodsons were only attending on Sunday. This makes me wish that this was published somewhere before the show. This would have saved me time packing books on Friday that I wouldn't be able to get signed until Saturday. More on this later.

One of my favorite things about going to RCCC is going to the I Like Comic booth because they always bring a load of trades at cheap prices. This is when I get to load-up on more trade to be able to read and review; and usually many that I would not have thought to purchase previously so as to expand my horizons. Unfortunately, they didn't bring any this year. They brought boxes of their back issues and many of their graded comics. I can fully appreciate the reasoning behind this because they have higher prices... and we do live in a capitalist society... I had to walk away from the area disappointed.

Another item on my list that I must do every event is stop off at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund booth. As much as I appreciate and support what they do, I love the selection of signed trades they have to offer. And when I saw The Walking Dead: Here's Negan signed by Charlie Adlard, I had to get a copy.


After checking-out a few other areas trying to find a good buy for trades, my body told me it was time to head home for the day. I stopped over at the RCCC merch area to pick-up some of the Rick and Morty blank covers for #CBC4C.


DAY 2-

Saturday's are always bigger at RCCC, and this day was no different. Even though we got up to the Convention Center plenty early, all the on-site parking had already been filled. We had to park over at the Moda Center, which is about a half mile away from the event... a walk that I was not planning on having this early in the day.

We were able to get in the press access area easily enough, and waited for the doors to open. My friend and I had guests to go get in line for, so we went our separate ways. He went to get ready for Billie Piper, while I went to queue for Wil Wheaton to get this Star Trek cover signed.

Art by Sydney Walton. Cover donated to #CBC4C.
 This is where the day started to go very negatively for me.

I found where Wil Wheaton's area was, and there was already a short line of about 12-15 people. For those who have attended comic cons in the past, you know that there is typically (what I have found common, at least) a taped path in a zig-zag formation to help form the queue. Even though it would seem common sense to follow the taped lines, there were some people in line behind me that thought the line was straight down the left side of the area. There wasn't a huge issue, it just made things a little frustrating when the line would occasionally progress forward.

Add to this frustration the fact that I was standing in line for over an hour, and at that point Wil was about 45 minutes late. This is when I learned from the henchman who was "working" the area that there would be no cash or credit sales at the table. The only way you could receive the autograph (that I had been waiting for) was to have pre-purchased. When I looked on my phone to make the purchase, it showed me that the only availability would have been in Group 3, and the time for that group was already 15 minutes past. On top of that, there is an 8% surcharge for purchasing online. The fact that I was only able to budget enough money for the actual autograph and now they were informing us about this kind of pissed me off, so I left the line. It didn't help that my good ankle was beginning to bother me from all the standing around for nothing. I would hope that for future events, changes like this would be posted where you could see them, preferably before getting in line.

After that fiasco, I needed to go sit for a while as the next item on my to-do list was getting autographs from Adam Kubert and Kelly Sue DeConnick, and they were both going to be at their respective areas at the same time. I also took some of this time to hit the Oni Press area as I have been interested in getting the Rick and Morty vs Dungeons and Dragons trade for a while. I also picked-up volume 1 of their regular series.


When I arrived at Adam Kubert's table, there was already a line waiting, and he wasn't scheduled to be there for another 10 minutes. So I queued. Again, I would like to point out that there are people in this world that don't understand the meaning of a line... and some that don't really care, it seems. In the time that it took for me to get in line and finally get to see Adam, there were more than one individual that was trying to circumvent the concept of a queue. My frustration was at a boiling point, but it is not my job, nor my responsibility, to teach people common courtesy in attending events of this nature. I abhor conflict, so I stew and write about it later.

In the line ahead of me was a man with a stroller. I thought nothing of it at first, except when I noticed he had 2 dogs in it. He also kept going through a large selection of comic he had, asking others in line if "he did the art for this". It was simple to see that this was not a fan of the work that Adam has put in over the past 30+ years, but rather someone looking to try and score some cash on his autograph.

When I got closer to the front of the line, that was when I overheard that Adam was charging $10 for autographs. This was counter to what I saw the day before at his table.


This changed things for me, but only a little since I had saved some extra money from not being able to get the autograph earlier from Wil Wheaton. When I got to Adam, I mentioned to him about my work with Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer, and he obviously wanted to help in some way. He asked if I was going to back on Sunday, but unfortunately that was not in the cards. He then offered a donation of some of the signed prints.



Original art donated by Mike Hatfield

Signed prints donated by Adam Kubert.

After this great meeting with Adam, my next intention was to visit with Kelly Sue. I have been collecting her autograph on her works for years, beginning with her run on the Dark Horse title Ghost. This is what brought her to my attention, and when I get a chance to see her again, I take the opportunity. Unfortunately for me, when I arrived at her table, there was a line about an hour deep and my ankle was not going to allow me to stand for that. Fortunately, since she and her husband are both Portlanders, I knew that there would probably be a good chance of being able to see her again in the near future.

Before going back to sit and rest, I stopped by the Hero Initiative booth. I always stop by to give me support for their cause. It it wasn't for them and the different 100 projects that they have done to raise money, I would not have been inspired to start Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer. After having my copy of the Walking Dead 100 Project for so long, and not being able to add any new signatures to it for quite some time, I thought I would pick-up a new book to start again.


While I was giving my body some rest, I thought I would tweet a photo of the prints that Adam Kubert had donated to #CBC4C and thank him publicly.

My tweet.
The response received from Adam. :)
Considering how poor the wifi signal is inside of the convention center, this made my day.

During the course of the remaining time at the event, my friends and I shared a wonderful experience from Wild Bill's Soda. I had seen them at past events, but dismissed them for one reason or another. I'm glad we got this mug/cup, and look forward to drinking from it again at future events.


I ended up paying more attention to people talking about their experiences for the rest of the event; good and poor. I have also noticed that there were many people venting their frustrations online after the event. We live and learn, and I hope that we can work to make RCCC 2020 even better. I look forward to being there myself.

To those who read this post, I would welcome you to share your personal experiences in the comments section. If you can provide some constructive criticism for things that may not have gone well for you, perhaps the management of Rose City will take notice and work to make improvements where they can.

Batman: Knightfall Part One: Broken Bat

Title: Batman: Knightfall Part One: Broken Bat


ISBN: 1563891425
Price: $14.95
Publisher/Year: DC, 2000
Artist: Jim Aparo, Jim Balent, Norm Breyfogle, Graham Nolan
Writer: Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon
Collects: Batman #491-497, Detective Comics #659-663

Rating: 4/5

In the 90's, DC comics shocked the industry with two unthinkable events. Superman died and Batman was broken. Interestingly enough, both were defeated by brand new foes. But where Superman was felled by an unstoppable force who simply tore through the DCU, Batman was defeated in a much more convincing and painful manner.

Bane, who in this book is a brilliant strategist and evil bastard, sets loose all of Arkham Asylum, gives them weapons and lets them run wild. While Batman fights against utter chaos, Bane sits and waits, watching his prey. He waits until Batman is completely drained, until he can barely stand, until he no longer wants to stand. Then he strikes. The battle is one-sided. Batman has nothing left, he knows he is dead. But instead of being killed, Bane does one worse -- he breaks Batman's back and leaves him like waste.

Knightfall Part One collects the run of Batman and Detective comics that begin with the Arkham breakout and end with the broken bat. A story such as this certainly has a chance to become an epic, but in retrospect, Knightfall doesn't resonate years later.

There are some great things about Knightfall Part One. Bane's plan is brilliant and executed flawlessly. The Batman's own ego ends up being part of his downfall. Running a gauntlet through Arkham's worst can make for some inspiring reading, but oddly enough, the majority of enemies Batman faces most people have never heard of -- Zsasz. Amydala, Firefly? Sure, a few classic baddies show up, but a lot of screen time is devoted to bit players.

More frustrating than anything is the complete exclusion of Nightwing in any way. Batman plays it tough and says not to call on Dick Grayson, but it's impossible to believe the Grayson, having heard about the massive breakout, never shows up on his own or bothers to even call. No, that's not possible, because it would ruin the story, would destroy Bane's plan. Instead of incorporating Nightwing into the story and into Bane's plans, he's shut out. As a long-time Batman fan, I don't buy it. And when you're going to crack Batman's back, you really do need to cover all bases.

Despite some shortcomings, Knightfall Part One is an enjoyable read. However, you should be warned that this trade doesn't explain why Bane hates Batman nor does it show the events leading into Knightfall. These events are crucial, because when Arkham inmates are sprung, Batman is already weak from some previous incidents.

If you are eager to read some books that are still a big part of Batman continuity, Knightfall Part One is a good choice. And really, if you are any kind of Batman fan you owe it to yourself to see how Batman's will was broken (which is much more interesting than cracking his back). The despair in Batman's face and his crumpled body language before his battle with Bane makes this a rather unique instance in Batman's history -- the one time where he loses it all.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Superman: Earth One Vol. 2

Title: Superman: Earth One Vol. 2


ISBN: 9781401231965
Price: $22.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2012
Artist: Shane Davis
Writer: J. Michael Stracynzsk

Rating: 4/5

Superman: Earth One Vol. 2 continues where the first volume left off; shedding light on the transition of Clark Kent into Superman.  The first volume re-imagined the creation of Superman in an updated world (as did Man of Steel No. 1 by John Byrne in 1986) and gave readers a look into the "why" he chose to don the symbolic "S" on his chest.  The second volume depicts his battle with Parasite, a serial-killing super-powered human that gains strength as he steals energy from humans, electrics, cars and even Superman himself.

Stracynzski does an excellent job of adding his own touch to the Superman franchise.  He has taken the Perry White character and developed him into a mentor for Clark Kent the journalist, as opposed to sticking to the tough boss we've seen in past comics.  He has also made the Superman story even sexier--enter Lisa Lasalle, Clark's redheaded next-door neighbor who is so hot she might have superpowers of her own.  While Lisa is Clark's love interest for this storyline, Lois Lane is also mentioned in the book--Lois is investigating Clark's past to uncover his secrets.

Shane Davis and Sandra Hope have phenomenally drawn this comic.  The book is edgy and colorful and both Parasite and Superman look tremendous--although, at times, Superman does look almost villainous with those red eyes.

The battle scenes in Earth One Volume 2 may seem short-lived and quick, but their point is made and drawn beautifully.  But, the main focus of the book is to explore Clark Kent's mind and give readers a look into his past and what went into his becoming Superman.  The book does this very well.  Readers are drawn in by Clark's human feelings, which were developed by his life in Smallville.

Stracynzski, Davis and Hope creatively modernized Superman like no other previous attempt has managed. I highly recommend this comic book to anyone who enjoyed "creation of" and "evolution of" superhero storylines in the past, as this one is right up there with the best and well-deserving of your hard-earned money.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 1

Title: Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 1


ISBN: 9781401271503
Price: $16.99
Publisher/Year: DC/IDW, 2017
Artist: Freddie E Williams II
Writer: James Tynion IV
Collects: Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1-6

Rating: 4/5

Instead of just trading on nostalgia or phoning it in, James Tynion IV takes the time to tell a genuinely interesting story.  The plot, at times boilerplate though it may be, actually unfolds at a believable pace. Things aren’t rushed, which makes the stakes feel real, and there’s enough action to punctuate the story without feeling derivative or tiresome.

Put simply, the story finds the Ninja Turtles in Gotham City, teleported there by the Shredder’s experimental dimensional transporter.  In a race to get home, and beat the Shredder there in the process, the Turtles team up with Batman to discover how they can get back.  There are several genuinely shocking twists along the way, not the least of which is when Shredder purposely destroys the portal that would take him home just so he can trap the Turtles in this dimension.  It was unexpected and great for that very reason, and it worked well with Tynion’s “ticking bomb” scenario: because mutagen doesn’t exist in Batman’s universe, the transformative ooze is slowly leaving the Turtles’ bodies.  Eventually, they’ll revert to being simple turtles… or worse.

The way the collection unfolds the story is interesting, in that it all flows as a single narrative.  There aren’t any chapter breaks or indications that an issue is ending or beginning, which makes for some seamless storytelling.  In that regard, I quite enjoyed it, as it felt like one whole story rather than six smaller chapters.  The price that was paid for that is a lack of credit pages, though, which are often just as much an artistic expression as the story itself.  It would have been nice if they had included the “unedited” title pages, even in the cover gallery at the end.

As good as the storytelling and plotting are, it’s the characters that truly shine.  No joke, this was the book that actually sold me on Tynion being the right man for the job on Detective Comics.  There’s tons of heart and humor, and the title characters feel like unique individuals.  Even secondary characters like Damian, Alfred, and Casey Jones make an impression in their small roles.

Some of the Turtles get more of a focus than the others, especially Michelangelo and Raphael.  Considering they are the emotional core of the group, that’s not really surprising; Mikey is each and every one of us, all wide-eyed and in awe of the world of Batman, and Raph is his usual tempestuous self.  Because of that, he’s central to the best scene in the book.

After storming off in a fit of rage, Raphael is intercepted by Batman.  Bruce takes Raph to Crime Alley, hoping to see that he truly empathizes with their situation.  It’s dialogue-heavy, yet there isn’t a single word that feels out of place.  When far too many people speak instead of listening, Batman reaches out to Raphael for understanding.  It’s a beautiful, quiet scene, and one that elevates the whole story in its effectiveness.

There needs to be some sort of technological expositor, so of course Donatello does the heavy lifting there.  As for Leonardo, he’s an unfortunate blank slate.  His stoic leadership isn’t much of a match for Batman’s more commanding personality, and he’s the first to feel the effects of the dissipating mutagen.  Leo does have the thankless role of the straight-laced leader, so his getting the short end of the stick isn’t exactly surprising, but disappointing just the same.

What’s nice about reading the series as a whole is seeing Freddie Williams’ pencils evolve and improve.  Strong as the storytelling was, the first issue was pretty rough from a visual standpoint: from the odd bodily proportions and the unclear perspectives, the look was just off.  Thankfully it got better as the story went along, to the point that it was genuinely good artwork overall.  I’m thinking animals and other beastial characters are his strong-suit, as the Turtles look consistently great.  Even from the start, when Batman looked a little weird, the Ninja Turtles were illustrated marvelously.  That skill pays off, too.

As bonkers as it gets at the end (and really, Batman’s Turtle-Bat armor still looks so incredibly silly), the book earns its ending.  Tynion took the time to tell the story he wanted, moving at a deliberate pace and focusing just as much on character as he did on the plot.  That makes the inevitable showdown between Batman and Shredder all the sweeter, with a brilliantly rendered fight that carries genuine weight.

Even veering into silliness, the story remains tonally consistent to the end.  Making a story where the Penguin turns into a literal penguin a genuinely moving experience is no mean feat, and suffice it to say this creative team accomplished that goal.

A massive cover gallery and sketchbook are included.  The gallery contains every cover and variant, along with some pencil drafts, and the sketchbook has some nice breakdowns of the character designs.  My personal favorite is the study page that shows the Turtles in proportion to Batman, along with detailed descriptions of the Turtles’ different head shapes.the cake.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness

Title: Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness


ISBN: 9780785127437
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel/Dynamite, 2007
Artist: Fabiano Neves
Writer: John Layman
Collects: Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness #1-5

Rating: 3.5/5

I thought Marvel Zombies was a trip—but this crossover is something else. For those who have not read the prior volumes, the basic rundown is in a parallel universe to the normal Marvel Universe, all our beloved Superheroes still exist…but as hunger-crazed denizens of the undead. Instead of using their superpowers to protect and serve, the zombies lured innocent victims into their chomping jaws, until they had exhausted the entire food supply on the planet, finally resorting to…other techniques to gain sustenance.

Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness picks up following Ash’s story arc in Army of Darkness #13. I have not had the pleasure of reading any of the Army of Darkness comics, but I didn’t find myself lost with this graphic novel–basically, if you have seen the Evil Dead and/or Army of Darkness films, you should be fine. Ashley Williams, boomstick and chainsaw wielding S-Mart clerk and deadite banisher, lands in a New York City dumpster. Immediately, he is harassed by a deadite baglady (yes, a deadite baglady) who warns Ash that Earth 2149 will soon be destroyed. Ash, showing the finesse and lady skills that only Ash can, responds by punching deadite bag lady in the face. Soon, however, Ash realizes that he should have listened to the bag lady, and tries to enlist the Avengers for help. Once again, Ash’s particular brand of communication skills prove wanting, and lead the Avengers to think he’s a complete nutjob. Soon after, however, chaos ensues when Ash turns out to be right–when he crash landed in the dumpster, a zombie version of The Sentry came with…and has been hard at work, making more deadite Avengers.

With superheroes zombified, Ash takes matters into his own hand and decides that finding the necronomicon is the only way to end the reign of deadites. He runs into a few familiar faces (Spidey, the Punisher), but ends up hooking up with Dazzler and Scarlet Witch (naturally) to find the nasty book of the dead. More chaos, universe bending/time travel occur, more superheroes make appearances, and best yet–fans of the Marvel Zombies franchise get some questions answered concerning Reed Richards and how the zombie infection took hold (there is some cool role reversal stuff going on with Doctor Doom), and the origin of the infection.

This is a complete win-win scenario–if you love Ash J. (G.) Williams, you will be pleased, and if you like some black comedy with your Marvel heroes, you’ll be pleased. Heck, if you just like zombies, you’ll be ecstatic. This crossover has everything a fan could want. The writing is hilarious and captures the perfect blend of slapstick comedy with wonderfully disgusting zombies going to town on their unlucky colleagues. Another cool plus–as with the first graphic novel, this release contains more zombified classic covers (Ash included, naturally).

I didn’t think there could be much topping the hilariousness that was Marvel Zombies, but this volume takes the cake.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Secret Invasion: Amazing Spider-Man

Title: Secret Invasion: Amazing Spider-Man


ISBN: 9780785132707
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2009
Artist: Marco Santucci, Mike McKone
Writer: Brian Reed, Mark Guggenheim
Collects: Secret Invasion: Amazing Spider-Man #1-3, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1

Rating: 2.5/5

Tie-ins can be tricky things to write, because you have to tether your story into the core issues without stepping all over them. The tie-in Amazing Spider-Man issues during Civil War did a nice job of inserting Peter into the main story, replicating what parts they could of the main issues but also adding other layers of depth to Spidey's tale where Civil War chose to focus on other characters. It's a good blend and, together, the main Civil War story and the Amazing Spider-Man issues help tell a rounded story about the Web-Slinger. These issues are...not as good.

Written by Brian Reed with art by Marco Santucci, the first issue begins with a splash page explaining pretty much everyone the story’s going to follow: new red-headed hero Jackpot; a Super-Skrull with the combined powers of six of Spider-Man’s enemies (Rhino, Venom, Lizard, Electro, uhm…well, that’s honestly all I can tell from any of the images); Daily Bugle owner Dexter Bennett; Daily Bugle employees Robbie Robertson and Betty Brant; and police officer/Spider-hater/Peter's roomie Vin Gonzales.

The problems with the story begin immediately, and one caption on this page even acknowledges that fact. Highlighting Robbie Robertson, the caption claims he’s a “one-time street racer, which is not something anyone knew before today.” When a writer gives a character an ability they never possessed before because a situation demands someone have that specific ability, it’s called “plot convenience.” Acknowledging it as a plot convenience within the story doesn’t help make it any better, sorry.

The tale follows Jackpot confronting Dexter Bennett at the Daily Bugle offices because of libel printed against her in their paper, when a Skrull shows up disguised as Spider-Man looking for the actual Spider-Man. Not sure what the point of the disguise is, but he soon reveals himself as the Super Skrull and starts fighting Jackpot, screaming about wanting to know where Spidey is (hint: it’s the Savage Land, but nobody knows that). From there, Jackpt battles him and helps staff members of the Daily Bugle—Bennett, Joe Robertson, and Betty Brant—escape with Joe’s convenient driving skills. Oh, and Vin Gonzales joins them, seemingly out of nowhere.

At the same time, we’re treated to Harry Osborn and his girlfriend Lily Hollister, who themselves get attacked by various Skrulls masqueraded as Doctor Strange and Giant Man, except they’re still Skrulls, just dressed as superheroes. This part’s actually cool, in a visual sense, since it shows us what these aliens would look like if they combined with our favorite heroes. It’s a clever idea that, visually, looks really neat. Artist Leinil Francis Yu does a fantastic job crafting these Skrull/superhero mash-ups in the main Secret Invasion story, and the event is worth taking a look at if only for his illustrations and the big brouhaha at the end, which brings together all our favorite heroes against a Skrull army. This part of the story I do enjoy.

Stakes get raised as Harry and Lily are separated in an accident that Harry presumes has killed his girlfriend, and Jackpot is snatched away from the rest of Spidey’s supporting cast by the newest Goblin-foe, Menace. They battle in the air as the Super-Skrull nears the car. Now, this is one decent aspect of good writing in this miniature story arc: the Skrull believes one of these people is Spider-Man—and was initially drawn to the Bugle—because they all carry Spidey’s scent. This is a really good idea, considering they’ve all interacted with Peter Parker a lot—Betty is his friend, Bennet his former boss, Robby his editor, and Vin his roommate—and so of course all carry traces of him (which does make one question how well they all shower). Cool as this is, the Skrull can’t do anything about, as Jackpot kills two birds with one stone by directing Menace’s Goblin glider into the monster. Menace is gone, but the Skrull is left still standing. Another fight breaks out between the two, and Jackpot finally stops the rampaging monster by driving him into a freezer, where he’s turned into a popsicle.

Spidey finally shows up at the end of the story, to congratulate Jackpot for beating the Skrull. He also makes an appearance as Peter with his friends, where it turns out everyone’s okay, even Lily, who wasn’t actually killed. Now, one can argue this is Jackpot’s “baptism of fire” story, which if it is, then it’s fine. She does something heroic on her own and comes up with the win. Cool. However, it’s just told in a really clunky manner, with too much coincidence and forcing together of plot points and characters to feel coherent. I guess it just seems weird to hide this kind of story within the pages of a crossover tie-in, rather than in the main ASM line of stories itself. Granted, we’ve had one other tale focusing on her at the beginning of Brand New Day, but for a new character who’s supposed to be mysterious and is intended to make fans wonder “Is Mary Jane a superhero now?” it’s kinda sad she gets sidelined like this.

Jackpot returns for the next story in this volume, which is Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, by Marc Guggenheim and Mike McKone. Until I started writing these blogs, I never realized how much Guggenheim did with these stories, and it almost disappoints me that he wasn’t handed the reins to write ASM as a solo act when the Brand New Day era was said and done. While I’ve read better writing in comics, he seems to be very passionate about Spidey and probably would’ve had some good stories to tell. This story is definitely better than the Secret Invasion tie-in, centering on Jackpot as she investigates a corrupt mogul named Walter Declun. Peter Parker, after an interview between Declun and Betty Brant, is suspicious of him too, but he’s even more suspicious of Jackpot, since a secret identity she gave him earlier, “Sara Ehret” turned out to be false. Breaking into her apartment, he comes into conflict with her before learning the truth: there is a Sara Ehret who got powers and should’ve been a hero, but decided not to be one, so the fake Jackpot bought her identity and started injecting herself with drugs to replicate her powers. Spidey, being the hero he is, stresses the dangers of drugs and delves into Declun, finding a connection between him and a supervillain named Blindside. He attacks the villain and is, ahem, blindsided by the guy and his supervillain girlfriend Commanda until Jackpot rescues him. Unfortunately, she’s touched and blinded by Blindside, and the chemicals he releases when his uses his power mix with the ones in her system and kill her. Cause that’s how science works, yep.

It’s not a terrible story. I really like the idea of someone wanting to be a hero so bad they purchase a heroic identity in order to do it, even though I can’t condone the drugs. And while I’m glad Jackpot’s story got fleshed out through the Secret Invasion issues and this Annual (considering how packed with subplots the regular ASM issues are already), the revelation of who she is and her sudden death seem quick. The story would have worked better if, somehow, it could have been included in the main tales. Admittedly, that stuff is packed to the brim already, but her inclusion in the stories more often (maybe further team-ups with Spidey) would have added a lot to her character. Granted, the story ends with Spidey giving the real Sara Ehret the opportunity to adopt this identity and become a hero on her own, which she will do, and that’s a great way to end it. However, it just seems that a story that began with “Hey, let’s have a red-headed hero who calls herself ‘Jackpot’ and really, really seems like Mary Jane with powers” turned into “Let’s have this hero turn out to be someone completely different because plot twists.” If Jackpot was more prominent in the Spider-Man world and didn’t just die like she did, it might have been a quality idea. Sadly, this seems like the real first misfire for the Web-Heads: a character with a lot of potential who doesn’t go anywhere, except for under the ground.