Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sweet Tooth Vol. 3: Animal Armies

Title: Sweet Tooth Vol. 3: Animal Armies

ISBN: 9781401231705
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2011
Artist: Jeff Lemire
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Collects: Sweet Tooth #12-17

Rating: 4/5

Animal Armies, like the In Captivity, follows two major story arcs: that of Gus, at the Preserve, as his kindhearted nature begins to turn colder and harder at the injustices inflicted by very bad men; and that of Jepperd, who finds help from two women he’s helped before, and forms a questionable alliance with hyper-violent biker cultists attack the militia stronghold.

What I love (so far) about Sweet Tooth is that every volume in the series builds upon the prior book without jarring transition–and every volume in the series is better than the one that came before it. Such was true of In Captivity, as we learn the mixed–even honorable–motivations of characters like Dr. Singh and Jepperd. Such is true for Animal Armies, as Jepperd attempts to atone for what he’s done to Gus, by amassing an army of feral biker cultists who worship hybrids, and convinces them to take the militia by lying and promising them the hybrid children. Truly, Jepperd’s game in Animal Armies is to find the strange deer boy who worked his way into Jepperd’s desiccated heart, and find a way to help him.

That’s not to say that everything is all roses for Jepperd and Gus. In fact, it’s just the opposite. And this is very apparent in…

Poor Gus. AGAIN, seriously, poor Gus! In this third volume, he’s starting to mistrust humans, especially adult men, and especially those in power. Dr. Singh has lied to him about letting him go home, Jepperd lied to him about the Preserve. When soft-hearted Johnny, a janitor in the Preserve compound, gives Gus chocolate and tries to befriend the hybrids, Gus starts to show signs of wising up to his human captors. He starts to different, harder decisions – telling Johnny to leave them alone, telling Wendy to hold back when Buddy is attacked. Although these are small things, it’s darker foreshadowing for the future – because Gus already thinks of his father’s gospel as truth, and that he never should have left the woods to seek out others. That humans – especially men – are the monsters his father warned him about.

In this volume, we’re re-introduced to several characters – three humans that I enjoyed very much. Johnny, the janitor at the preserve and the brother of head-runner (and really bad man) Abbot, is an easy favorite. We first were introduced to his character as he helped Jepperd’s breakout in the months before. Johnny is ridiculed by the other militia men, beaten, and otherwise marginalized – but it’s clear that while he has a conscience and wants to do the right thing for the hybrid children (and for Jepperd), he also feels loyalty to his brother and wants to bring him back from the dark place in which Abbot now resides.

The other two standout human characters are Lucy and Becky – both women that Jepperd and Gus have met before in the brothel hotel, and who Jepperd remembers from the Preserve. Lucy was captured and experimented upon, her child cut out of her by Doctor Singh. And though she managed to escape the Preserve, her scars and desire for vengeance and blood (seen from Out of the Dark Woods) is a powerful thing. As is the bond between Lucy and Becky.

Finally…there are the hybrid children. Wendy and Gus deepen their bond in Animal Armies, and we get to see (and feel) more of Bobby. (There’s a particular scene when Bobby tells Gus that he makes him happy. I dare you to read it without feeling tugging of heartstrings. I DARE YOU.)

And…there’s Buddy. Silent, poor Buddy. Without a voice, without a family, Buddy’s story is the saddest of them all.

This volume is (almost) bookended by two scenes without dialogue, voiced over by Dr. Singh. The first, is Singh’s tapes, as he pieces together what he knows about Gus and the pandemic (and flirts with some terrifying hubris – dude, you’re probably gonna have to check that later in the series).

The second scene is when Singh discovers Gus’s father’s bible, and reads the gospel-like predictions he has for his hybrid son. Chilling and incredibly effective.

This third volume also continues the strange shared dream sequences between Gus and Jepperd – it’s clear now that both can see what the other is doing. Not only that, but also the pair seem to be following the words of Gus’s religious father. What’s up with that? I don’t know. I’m excited to find out.

To Alaska, we go.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

9/13 – 9/15: Rose City Comic Con Returns to Oregon Convention Center


Portland, OR (July 22, 2019) – The 8th annual Rose City Comic Con by LeftField Media, Portland’s premier pop-culture event, will unite 70,000 fans of comics, technology and science, television and film, custom art, over-the-top cosplay, and more at the Oregon Convention Center from Friday, September 13 through Sunday, September 15, 2019. The convention floor and panel rooms will buzz with hundreds of hours’ worth of programs including: celebrities and experts hosting panels and exclusive reveals; cosplay fashion shows; gaming tournaments; iconic pop culture memorabilia collections; and as always, a diverse array of activities for the whole family.


Family-friendly pavilion Rose City Jr. powered by the Toy Association returns with even more playful events planned to educate and entertain kids of all ages and parents alike. University of Oregon will return to the convention this year with more large scale programming for students and faculty to interact with attendees.  Department of English Professor Ben Saunders, Director, Comics and Cartoon Studies Minor, will return for programming this year. Fans can also catch the school’s beloved Puddles The Duck on the convention floor. Beer lovers can also get a taste of the local scene at Ninkasi Brewing Company’s beer garden on site.


Those who want to kick off the festivities a little early can take in a Portland Thorns match versus the North Carolina Courage for Rose City Comic Con Night September 11. This package includes a ticket to the match and an exclusive Rose City Comic Con + Portland Thorns T-Shirt.


In addition, esteemed comics publishers ONI Press and Dark Horse Comics will return to the convention. Attendees will have the opportunity to stop by their booths for special announcements and exclusives.


With Rose City Comic Con 2019 hosting more energetic programing, more globally recognized talent, and presenting more exclusive previews and announcements to attendees than ever before, it continues to grow into a standout annual destination – and unite fans at one of the largest pop culture events in the country.



WHEN: Friday, September 13; exhibit hall hours 1pm – 8pm

   Saturday, September 14; exhibit hall hours 10am – 7pm

   Sunday, September 15; exhibit hall hours 10am – 5pm



WHERE: Oregon Convention Center

      777 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd

      Portland, Oregon 97232


Screen Stars:

Comic Guests:

Fans and attendees can keep up with Rose City Comic Con’s social media channels as guests are added to the show line up.


TICKETS: Daily and full weekend passes are available. Badges purchased before July 25 can be mailed to a provided address, saving convention goers time from waiting in line. Prices will increase the door.
  • Friday Only Admission: $35
  • Saturday Only Admission: $45
  • Sunday Only Admission: $40
  • 3-Day Weekend Pass: $75
  • 3-Day Premium Pass: $139.99
  • Kids Admission: $15. Valid for kids ages 3-10. Valid for full weekend or any day individually

WEBSITE: https://rosecitycomiccon.com/ is updated regularly with new guests, exciting exhibitors, and special programming.


SOCIAL MEDIA:

    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RoseCityCC/
    Twitter: @RoseCityCC
    Instagram: @RoseCityCC


About Rose City Comic Con
Founded in 2011, Rose City Comic Con quickly became Portland’s largest and most diverse comics convention. Building from the strong, independent creative community in the city and combining well-known creators, celebrity guests, and cosplay enthusiasts in a family-friendly atmosphere, RCCC brings together a variety of passionate fans in one epic weekend.

About LeftField Media
LeftField Media, LLC is an events company focused on developing face-to-face events in a range of communities rooted in contemporary culture and shared passion. LeftField was formed in 2014 by Greg Topalian (President, LeftField Media) and is now owned by Topalian and Clarion Events Ltd. With a keen sense of the evolving needs of businesses and their consumers, as well as new opportunities created by change, LeftField takes a clean slate approach to its work. LeftField’s portfolio includes Awesome Con (awesomecon.com), Washington D.C.’s Comic Con; Rose City Comic Con (rosecitycomiccon.com), in Portland, O.R.; Big Easy Con (bigeasycon.com), in New Orleans, L.A.; and Anime NYC (animenyc.com), a Japanese pop culture festival in New York City. LeftField Media is headquartered in historic Trumbull, C.T. (leftfieldmedia.com).

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Sweet Tooth Vol. 2: In Captivity

Title: Sweet Tooth Vol. 2: In Captivity

ISBN: 9781401228545
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2010
Artist: Jeff Lemire
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Collects: Sweet Tooth #6-11

Rating: 4/5

A cross between Bambi and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, SWEET TOOTH tells the story of Gus, a rare new breed of human/animal hybrid children, has been raised in isolation following an inexplicable pandemic that struck a decade earlier. Now, with the death of his father he’s left to fend for himself . . . until he meets a hulking drifter named Jepperd who promises to help him. Jepperd and Gus set out on a post-apocalyptic journey into the devastated American landscape to find ‘The Preserve’ a refuge for hybrids.

In this second volume, Lemire explores the heartbreaking story of Jepperd and how he went from a devoted husband to the ruthless mercenary he is now. Meanwhile, Gus is captured in a camp with other hybrid creatures where he meets Dr. Singh, a scientist studying the plague that’s wiped out so much of the world. By traveling more into Gus’ past, Singh will learn more about the plague, as well as clues at how some of it might relate to Gus and his father.

In Captivity follows two major story arcs: that of Gus, as he learns a little more about his world and his unique roll in it; and that of Jepperd, who reflects on his past, his choices, and the howling rage inside.

If Out of the Dark Woods was the introduction to Lemire’s strange, post-apocalyptic world, In Captivity broadens that world, and its players, immensely. In book 1, we readers only know what Gus knows: the world is full of bad people, some kind of sickness has taken over, and that sickness is somehow tied to animal-hybrid children (who are the only ones immune to the plague). Naturally, any remaining scientists would want to experiment on the immune subjects, right? In that light, In Captivity puts a whole new spin on animal testing. Basically, all of the ugly things one imagines humanity doing, humanity does – pregnant women are abducted; their babies are tagged, categorized, experimented upon; and any human-hybrid children have huge bounties placed on their furry heads.

Gus, unfortunately, discovers this the hard way.

Poor Gus. Seriously, poor Gus! I kept thinking this while reading volumes 1 & 2, as he’s duped again and again, not just by Jepperd, but by Dr. Singh and others at the Preserve. And, to some unknown extent at this point, by his own father, who has clearly lied to the boy since his infancy. As we dive into Gus’s memories, all of this becomes painfully clear.

This is also the first time that Gus meets other children – all hybrids, like himself. There’s the pig girl Wendy, who is as clever as Gus (though younger, and her hybridity is more pronounced than Gus); there’s the groundhog named Bobby, who can speak only in stunted grammar and basic sentences; there’s the silent Buddy.

All we know of these children is that they have no homes, and little hope, despite Gus’s optimism. As Wendy tells Gus, once they come for you, you don’t ever come back.

It’s hard not to ache for these characters, and want them to survive and succeed and escape this horrible place…

But what’s so fascinating about In Captivity is that while there certainly are Bad People – the militia, for example, is shudder-inducing – there are characters who are nuanced, layered creatures with shades of gray. Take, for example, Dr. Singh, who is bone-weary and dedicated to finding a cure for the disease that will claim all of humanity.

Or, take a more powerful example: Jepperd.

At the end of Out of the Dark Woods, I despised Jepperd – even though you know he will betray Gus, it doesn’t make the betrayal any more palatable.

But in In Captivity, we learn why he betrays Gus. We see who Jepperd was, what he sacrificed, and how he has become the man he has become.

I don’t want to spoil it, but I found his arc incredibly moving. We learn about his wife, their unlikely match, and how much he loved her. We also witness Jepperd’s mental collapse – his fragmented memories, his repetition in words, eerily (and beautifully) reflected in Lemire’s mirroring artwork.

And by the end of In Captivity, we see Jepperd come to a conclusion and revelation of his own… which can only mean trouble for the folks at The Preserve.

I cannot wait to see what happens next – and what it means for the straggling survivors in Gus and Jepperd’s broken world.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Manhattan Projects Vol. 1

Title: The Manhattan Projects Vol. 1

ISBN: 9781607066088
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2012
Artist: Nick Pitarra
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Collects: The Manhattan Projects #1-5

Rating: 4/5

How to review a trade paperback without giving away the plot? The Manhattan Projects is a bonkers mix of science, conspiracy, aliens, Nazis and cannibalism. It is geek heaven, with geek heroes and geek references and all the stuff we all love. It is inventive, has more imagination than most mainstream science fiction films and books, plenty of grizzly gore and yet doesn’t take itself so seriously that you can’t just enjoy the ride. Which you will…

Ok, so maybe a bit more is required to explain this collection by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra. This is the opening; part 1 if you will. I suggest you discover the rest for yourself.

In our universe, the Manhattan Project was the research program that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II. The project was under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves, who plays the same role in this alternative history. Robert Oppenheimer also plays a pivotal role in both reality and fiction. In Hickman’s universe, the team is made up of Einstein, Fermi, Feynman and other famous scientists.

Our story starts with Groves recruiting Oppenheimer and informing the latter that he has free reign for his projects. He also explains that the atomic bomb project is only one strand of science under investigation. More ‘fringe’ sciences are the real mission. While Groves is showing Oppenheimer around the facility, they are attacked by Japanese robots sent by psychic Buddhist death-monks, which highlights the point nicely. The good Doctor dispatches the robots in a highly quirky and relevant way. This introduction is weaved in with Robert’s childhood, growing up with his evil twin, Joseph (not real) and younger brother, Frank (real). This jumping back and forth through time is a key feature throughout the edition, as people aren’t what they seem, and our protagonists’ back-stories explain the present to the reader. It is not a spoiler to say that Joseph becomes a serial killer, as this happens very early on in the book.

We move over to Germany, where Hitler is interacting with a scientist who has a robotic arm. Then it gets really bizarre: alien visitors; dead scientists and American presidents playing important roles; and traveling between parallel universes. Suffice it to say that there is enough on every page, and in almost every panel, to keep any science-geek or science fiction fan interested.

Praise must go to Hickman, whose imagination has leaked onto the page. Best known for the Image Comics series The Nightly News and Pax Romana, as well as writing for Marvel, his writing is sharp and witty and packed full of nods to classic science fiction and the formative days of modern physics. The characters all have great personalities, caricaturing their real world equivalents. However, you could probably know nothing of the scientists such as Fermi and Daghlian and still get a sense of how they interacted within the real world. There is a little history lesson sneaking into the story.

The artwork by Nick Pitarra is, for my taste, slightly odd. Everything has a slightly grainy, rough feel to it. It is interesting, however, and fits the story and characters well. Each real world character looks like he should, and the aliens are truly alien. The gore, when it occurs, is suitably nasty without feeling exploitative. His style is original and flawless and definitely gives you the sense that this is not the world we live in. He’s also worked with Hickman on Marvel comics and they clearly complement each other well. As for everyone, art is a personal experience. To make it clear, there is nothing wrong at all with Pitarra’s work. It suits the story and matches the imagination of Hickman’s story.

I can’t wait to read more from The Manhattan Projects.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Latest Update

Today, I came to my blog to start writing and scheduling some new reviews when I find that everything I had previously scheduled from around February to today are gone. So many reviews are missing, I before today I had not kept copies of them anywhere but on here. That's obviously going to change now.


Along with several months worth of reviews, it also seems that my write-up on how Wizard World Portland from this year was... so I will have no re-write that as re-post it as well.

I apologize that I didn't catch this issue sooner. Please continue to watch this space for new posts weekly.

I am also still working towards transitioning into a podcast format, and will make sure to post the information once I have everything setup.

Thank you for your continued support.

-John

Sweet Tooth Vol. 1: Out of the Deep Woods

Title: Sweet Tooth Vol. 1: Out of the Deep Woods

ISBN: 9781401226961
Price: $12.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2010
Artist: Jeff Lemire
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Collects: Sweet Tooth #1-5

Rating: 4/5

There’s a certain sense of intimacy that comes through whenever an independent comic creator handles both the art and writing duties on a comic. When Eisner-nominated Jeff Lemire (Essex County Trilogy) moved to Vertigo, these indie sensibilities thankfully remained intact in The Nobody, an eerie homage to The Invisible Man. Sweet Tooth is no different; it’s a post-apocalyptic oddity that feels at home beside Vertigo’s best, but still bears the personal touch of an artist whose intention is to tell an enchanting story rather than appeal to the mainstream.

In a near future where much of humankind has fallen to a mysterious illness, bizarre boy/deer hybrid Gus resides in the center of Nebraska State Wilderness Sanctuary with his protective but ailing father. He’s repeatedly told never to stray too far from their cabin, as Gus’s kind has been hunted to near extinction. But when Gus’s father inevitably passes away, Gus is taken from his serene habitat by drifter Tommy Jepperd, whose intentions are ambiguous until the final few pages of ‘Out of the Deep Woods.’

Lemire masterfully introduces this barren landscape to us through Gus’s broken narration. Gus is an innocent child whose view of the world is so narrow that when he finally leaves the park he’s as clueless to what dangers civilization holds as us readers. What caused this virus? What caused the survivors to give birth to mutant hybrids shortly after the virus struck? And, crucially, why does Gus’s father tell him that he was born before the virus? There’s never the sense that Lemire lacks a grasp on the haunting epic he’s telling. He’s a confident enough storyteller to let the narrative unravel in its own time.

Gus’s narration itself is superb. So many comic book writers attempt to capture the mindframe of an illiterate freak/mutant/animal/robot, and the result seldom rises above embarrassing child-talk. Lemire writes Gus as someone who is not stupid but new to the world; the ruined Nebraska still induces a sense of wonder in the horned boy, and his trust in the sinister Jepperd is so wholesome it almost hurts.

Lemire’s art is also quite unique, depicting a world that is seemingly empty but always treacherous, sterilized yet chaotic. Other than a group of masked marauders Gus and Jepperd briefly encounter there’s little in the way of clich├ęd imagery that has propped up post-apocalyptic fiction ever since A Boy and His Dog and Mad Max.

So, a great start to what looks to be another classic Vertigo series, then. Jeff Lemire pretty much delivers the perfect introduction to Sweet Tooth’s world. Lemire himself has described this series as “Bambi meets Mad Max”, but ‘Out of the Deep Woods’ shift in tone actually reminded me more of David’s journey in Spielberg’s A.I. than either of those movies. Only without Jude Law and the dumb aliens, hopefully.