Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Touching Story in the Middle of a Bloodbath

The Avengers: Initiative #27
Writer: Christos N. Gage
Artist: Rafa Sandoval
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Rating: 4 Stars

I know I've been kinda harsh on the Avengers books recently and I think I have a valid reason to be. The Avengers: Initiative has been an interesting book. The premise of the series spun out of the result of Civil War. It takes place on a base that is designed to train those who registered under the Superhero Registration Act.

The first 12 issues of this series were fantastic and, arguably, the finest of all the Avengers books at the time. Since then, the stories have been kind of hit and miss, but still well worth reading nonetheless. This particular issue, or I should say the first half of this particular issue, definitely threw me for a loop.

From the beginning you are introduced to a pair of loser thugs - Johnny Guitar and Dr. Sax. These two goons used musical instruments to commit their crimes. It is entirely told from the point of view of Johnny Guitar. He's telling his story to his daughter in a letter. He talks about how exciting it was to fight Dazzler (you know, when she looked good) and how he tried so hard to get to the big time in order to make a life for his daughter possible.

After a stint in prison, Johnny Guitar and Dr. Sax try to join a bunch of loser teams, but find they don't fit in anywhere. Just when they think their hopes will be dashed yet again, they are approached to join the Initiative. They take the opportunity to sign up and get trained. Upon graduation, they get the phenomenal news that they will be assigned to an elite black ops team.

Johnny's excitement is soon turned into dread as he overhears his commanding officers refer to him and his group as cannon fodder to soften up the enemy until the a-listers can get there to mop up the mess. He now is faced with the fear that he and Dr. Sax will likely die. In his guilt over his friend's potential death, Johnny injures Dr. Sax to prevent him from going on the mission his last words to his lifelong friend is to make sure his daughter gets his letter that details his life of crime.

This is Marvel at its best. Giving a weighty story about people who may not matter in the bigger picture of the universe, but still has a very significant role in someone's life nonetheless. This little story reminds me of an issue of Captain Marvel a few years back where he meets his time-displaced father. The younger Marvel knew that his father would die in horrible agony from cancer, but he couldn't bring himself to tell the truth about the future. The story ends with the original Captain Marvel in his final moments realizing he did not die alone.

I said that issue was the best single issue of any comic of that year. I don't know if Johnny Guitar's unfortunate tale of finally getting his shot at the bigtime is really quite as good as that ish of Captain Marvel but it certainly drew me in and made me really feel something. It's not common that a superhero comic book can punch you in the gut quite like that.

The second part of this issue covers the bigger picture of what's going on and really it's just a slugfest. Mind you, I don't mind slugfests, but it was a bit of a let down from the first part of the story.

I read on another site that the reviewer was disappointed in this issue because it followed a bunch of nobodies, has beens and never will bes. That might just be true, but I find it frustrating how people don't get that the story is bigger (and should always be bigger) than the characters within the story. If you want to read about people who matter to the Marvel Universe, read Captain America or Spider-Man, but don't mistake a well-written story about a forgotten character for belief that the series no longer has anybody or anything to go on about. The strength of this particular series has always been in the types of stories the writers can tell, not about who's starring in the book or what their importance to the Marvel U., as a whole, is.

That being said, I hope more superhero comics can tell stories like this. I think this is what Marvel has been missing and what Geoff Johns over at DC can do so well - giving us stories that go beyond one character punching another until the bad guys are stopped. I like that too, but a little variety never hurt anyone.

You're probably wondering where my post is about the big time comics news of the week - Disney's acquisition of Marvel Entertainment. I've sat on this news and gave it a real good thinkin' over the past few days. I've come to the conclusion that I don't think this will change anything Marvel does. I really, sincerely doubt Disney is going to mess around too much and cause their purchase to become a move that isn't as good as anticipated. If anything comes out of this it's that perhaps Disney will help Marvel get some more animated movies out there for us to enjoy. Plus, they do have 3-D technology. How awesome would it be to see some Marvel movies in Digital 3-D?

I certainly understand that people are worried. Let's face it, Disney hasn't exactly had a great track record in peoples' minds over the past 20 years or so. My only question to the people who are crying foul the loudest over this move is this...

"What are you going to do, stop buying comics?"

Yeah, I didn't think so.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why Blackest Night Is a Triumph

Comparing the Mega Events
Where others have failed, Blackest Night is a triumphant masterpiece

For the past 25 years, the biggest thing for either Marvel or DC has been to publish huge "mega events". These events always promise to create a new status quo for the publisher that usually turn out to be not to be that big of a deal or gets retconned out of history. Throughout this quarter of a century, Marvel has produced such events as Secret Wars, House of M, Civil War, and Secret Invasion among others. DC normally relies on titles that have "Crisis" in their title (Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour: A Crisis in Time, Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, and Final Crisis). All of these titles brought in several of the characters, if not all of them, into the story.

Blackest Night is not an exception to this. BN went from being an event specifically for the Green Lantern line of DC to being a DC Universe mega event. A lot of concern over editorial interference began to surface when that announcement was made. After Final Crisis was released to a "love it or hate it" kind of reception, fans were understandably worried. Now just a few issues in, I think it's safe to say the worries and concerns have gone away.

Back in 2003, Marvel made plans for an event that was going to primarily focus on the Avengers, but would touch nearly every other character in and around the Marvel Universe. Avengers Disassembled was built up to in several books, but ultimately, came to a head in the pages of The Avengers. Of course, like any other event, promised a status quo changing story. Boy, did it. Brian Michael Bendis completely tore apart the Avengers so he could give them a new beginning of sorts. Old time favorites, like Scarlet Witch and the Vision (two of my all-time favorite Avengers), were changed forever. Other characters, like Hawkeye, were killed only to be brought back again very soon after the event was done. Disassembled proved to make the Avengers Marvel's top selling book, but the aftershocks of the event, and subsequent popularity, has left sour tastes in some of the older fans (such as myself).

For Green Lantern, the rise to popularity has not been the result of status quo changing events. Instead, it was a very well thought out and carefully executed plan by one of the best writers in comics, Geoff Johns. From the moment Hal Jordan was brought back from the dead, Blackest Night was on its way. Here is a breakdown of why I think Blackest Night has done what has been so difficult for other huge events to do - crossover and be a universally accepted masterpiece.

1. Planning that gave weight for this story to happen
As mentioned above, Geoff Johns seemed to be putting the pieces into place for this entire event the moment he started writing Green Lantern. Allowing Hal Jordan to come back to life opened the door for the other lanterns to be created. A prophesized "War of Light" would soon kick off when the Green Lantern Corps faced off against the Sinestro Corps (who had the power of the yellow light of fear). The planning for the Blackest Night event is akin to the planning that went into the granddaddy of all comics mega-events, Crisis on Infinite Earths. The planning for COIE began nearly 5 years before that story started. Everything from the story structure to the characters who would be created or killed was carefully and thoughtfully planned out step by step. Neither BN or COIE happened immediately following a few months of revelation or storyline. These took years to come to fruition.

2. Execution
When dealing with years of planning, a story has the opportunity to boil and marinate. This allows the universe around it to prepare itself for a storyline that is nothing short of kinetic. Johns was even responsible for some of the universe being ready for this type of event. When he wrote Infinite Crisis, he was able to kill certain characters that could later come back to play a major roles in Blackest Night. Characters like Superboy, Earth-2 Superman, Psycho Pirate and all the Teen Titans that got murdered are all going to play major roles in BN and some of the affiliated mini-series. Along with the ability to set up the story through other means than just the Green Lantern titles...

3. Horror!
It's no secret that horror is hot right now in comics. We've got oodles of zombie books on the shelves right now. Marvel Zombies was the first to really put superheroes in the heart of a zombie horror fest. Marvel Zombies was a little more light-hearted and was a fun "alternate reality" type of tale. Blackest Night, on the other hand, has some legitimately creepy scenes of zombies tearing people's hearts out of their chest. Then, you've got this guy, Black Hand, that is literally in love with death. Each page of the issues in the main series and surrounding minis and crossover issues crackles with eerie energy that really sucks the reader into the story. The creepy Black Lanterns are always lurking behind a bush or around a corner or something. They are really playing up the whole "these guys are monsters" thing. Also, you know a Black Lantern is around because there will be two characters talking to one another and suddenly you're given a panel with "Black Lantern vision" where you can see the emotional aura of the characters talking. When you see that panel, the shit is about to hit the fan for those characters.

4. A whole new Mythos that doesn't take a big ol' steaming pile on what came before
The greatest thing about the brand new Green Lantern Mythos is that it wasn't promised by DC Comics when Green Lantern: Rebirth hit the stands. Almost every great story builds upon the greatness of what came before but also creates its own niche in the character's history. What's most important is that it doesn't crap all over what other writers have brought to the stories of the past. I'd like to point out one story in which this kinda happened... Final Crisis. In my opinion, it crapped all over everything everywhere - especially a lot of things that came immediately before it (lead up that had no clue what to do because editorial didn't give them any direction) and a lot of what Jack Kirby (one of the greatest comics people of all time) did in the past. All it was was Grant Morrison retelling ideas from his own history of writing like it was a 7-issue greatest hits of me type of f-u to the people buying the comics. Oh, don't get me wrong, some people LOVED it. I obviously didn't, but that's because the story and this whole idea of the mythos of the DC charcter and what it means to be a story that was kinda like watching a Stanley Kubrick movie done by Stanley Kubrick who is writing it while going down on himself.

5. Really interesting characters created and re-created
Forget about all the different characters that have popped up with different color rings. As fascinating as they are, they aren't anywhere near as interesting as the characters who have gotten face lifts by Geoff Johns. Most notably, Johns has given the Guardians of the Universe a lot more personality and Black Hand a whole new backstory that doesn't take a steaming dump on the history of the character. For the Black Hand, Johns took a very brief origin and expanded on it and made him eerily attracted to death and decay. This was a character that was originally kinda cheesy and silly. Not to mention he blew his own brains out after killing his entire family to become the first Black Lantern. That's pretty hardcore for a superhero book. But nothing can top the greatest of all Red Lanterns and reason #6 for Blackest Night being so damn awesome...

I mean seriously. This guy is awesome and seriously pissed off. It also appears that Dex-Star has become something of a sensation all over the interwebs as well. There are people paying for commissions of little Dexy:
There are people drawing their own Dex-Stars:
So yeah... This guy's pretty awesome. The cat is also out of the bag (pun totally intended) about there being a big time fight in Blackest Night between Superman's dog Krypto and Dex-Star. Being a cat kind of guy, I hope Dex-Star messes up some Kryptonian canine ass!

I leave you now with Dex-Star's most endearing image - his first appearance. He's all like "look at me, I'm a cute and cuddly kitty cat!" And then, he's all like "blaaaagh... acidic blood in your face, bitches!"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Avengers, Undead Superman and Invincible - The Week in Comics 8/19/09

Blackest Night: Superman #1
Writer: James Robinson
Artist: Eddy Barrows
Publisher: DC Comics

Rating: 4 Stars

The wave of Black Lanterns spreads to Smallville. This time, the Golden Age Superman and Lois Lane (who both died in Infinite Crisis) have risen to stir up a poop storm of death and chaos. After pretty much wiping out the population of Smallville, they turn their attention on this world's Superman, Superboy and Martha Kent.

It turns out old Kal-L became a major dick in death. I mentioned that the population of Smallville has pretty much been wiped out and I wasn't kidding. But he doesn't stop there. He brags to our Superman about being better and kidnaps Martha Kent, promising that she will be reunited with her recently deceased husband. There's only way for her to do that - death.

In previous issues of the Blackest Night event, we have seen that Black Lanterns are able to see each target's emotional aura (which happens to be one of the seven colors of the other lanterns). Probably not to anyone's surprise, Superman represents all the different colors in his aura. Superboy changes often which plays to his teenage angsty personality.

My only question is this... If a Black Lantern sees fear in someone and that person craps themselves as a result of that fear, does the aura fade from yellow to brown? I guess it's a good thing that I'm not writing these books.

The Mighty Avengers #28
Writers: Dan Slott and Christos N. Gage
Artist: Khoi Pham
Marvel Comics

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

There's an Attilan Inhuman hiding out in China. He's known as "The Unspoken" because he was such a badass with a pretty checkered past, the Inhumans don't like talking about him. He makes no bones about having some plans up his sleeve. Unfortunately, only a couple Avengers are on the scene, but they have to deal with a bunch of pissed off Chinese heroes.

U.S. Agent and Quicksilver try to call in some help from their fellow Avengers, but that evil trickster, Loki (still in female form and disguised as Scarlet Witch), has intercepted the call for help and makes sure no one else knows about the call.

This book is much closer to what I like to see in an Avengers book. These guys are actually doing heroic stuff - unlike those chatty Cathy New Avengers. I'm a little put off by how confident Hank Pym is. Granted, the guy was a captive of the Skrull Empire for a long time and he did lose the love of his life. Perhaps he's got a new purpose in life, but it's kinda weird to see him be as smug as he has been.

At least this book doesn't have The Hood in it.

Invincible #65
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Ryan Ottley
Publisher: Image Comics

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Mark Grayson has a tough life... Well, maybe not that tough because he is a superhero with a smoking hot girlfriend, but he does have his fair share of crap too. His dad turned out to be a conquering alien sent to Earth to enslave the population and make sure we submit to his empire. He took on his dad and got his ass handed to him. Recently, a whole bunch of dopplegangers from parallel universes poored in and laid waste to the world. Even more recently, one of his dad's bretheren came to force the issue of Earth's subjugation. Mark decides to fight him, gets his ass handed to him and sees that hot girlfriend of his pretty much gutted (don't worry, she's not dead - she actually came back to life and gave herself bigger boobs - no kidding!).

Invincible might be the most intriguing superhero book on the shelves. It mixes elements of Spider-Man, Superman and the Hulk into an addicting read. It definitely shows that Robert Kirkman has a lot more in his bag of tricks than zombie stories.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Wonderland Never Looked So Good!

Escape from Wonderland #1 (of 6)
Writer: Raven Gregory
Artist: Daniel Leister
Publisher: Zenescope Entertainment

Rating: 3 Stars

Zenescope Entertainment is likely one of the smartest small publishers in comics. Upon hearing that, you might respond, "Please explain, Geoff." Okay, I think I will...

1. They appeal to men and women.
I know. You're sitting there thinking, "How the hell can they appeal to women? Just look at the sexy Halloweeny costumes the chicks are wearing to the right of this paragraph." I didn't say they appeal to ALL women, but they do appeal to girls who like to dress up for their boyfriends. That, and girls who have tattoos. That, and the types of girls who are sexually liberated. You could very easily turn a classic phrase into "If she likes to read Zenescope, she likes to poke." (Sorry, I thought that rhymed better than it did.) What kinds of guys like Zenescope? Straight dudes. 'Nuff said.

2. Though, in many ways, similar, Zenescope's comics are better
than most horror flicks out there right now.
The Wonderland minis more or less spin off of Zenescope's flagship title, Grimm Fairy Tales. Both titles have very formulaic premises - girl dressed in impossibly tight and short clothing has a dick boyfriend or douche father, learns a lesson though some seriously batshit crazy situations, may or may not survive in the end, but, oh man, did she learn her lesson. Really, Wonderland works more off of a sleak and sexy kind of idea that Alice Liddle's family is cursed, but there are still some seriously batshit crazy tight clothes. I can already tell you the last four words in the last sentence is already better than any of the Saw movies. These books aren't rocket science, but every now and then, you come across something like Grimm Fairy Tales or [insert horror movie title here] and you say to yourself or the dude next to you, "Hey that wasn't half bad. I had fun and that one girl in the story was cute/hot/sexy/etc." That's how I feel everytime I read one of Zenescope's comics. And dammit, if it isn't addictive in a purely innocent and subtle way.

3. Good, consistent art.
Granted, they aren't hiring John Byrne, or George Perez or Jim Lee, but hey, the cover above was done by J. Scott Campbell! That's gotta be something to at least take a look at, right? On the inside, it's definitely geared toward getting a reaction in a guy's trousers (and sometimes a tattooed chick's panties - tee hee), but it's not Rob Liefeld-esque ridiculocity. It's pretty clean and, well, just pretty. I imagine the art editor sat in a strip club and had all the artists there and said, "Look at that girl on stage there... Everyone draw her and make sure it looks basically the same and make sure it is boner-ific." Well, maybe he wasn't in a strip club and he probably didn't use the word "boner-ific" but he probably did say "hard on inducing".

4. Convention presence.
What better way to get guys who are both under and over-sexed to your booth to look at your goods than having sexy booth babes dressing up even sexier as characters like Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood and Alice in Wonderland? I'm sure I could go further into this topic, but, really, do I have to?

Now, as far as their Wonderland minis (Escape is the third in this epic saga) are concerned, they are trippy and gory. Oh, like I have to mention it, sexy too. Alice's daughter, Calie, often finds herself nearly eaten by some kind of uber-monsterous version of one of the creatures in Wonderland on an issue-by-issue basis. She's covered by blood a lot of the time and this time, she carries a bitchin' axe. So, it's not too bad at all!

Between the Grimm Fairy Tales ongoing series and the Wonderland miniseries, I have to admit that Zenescope has my biggest guilty pleasure in comics. It's not quite porn, but it's definitely like watching Megan Fox movie - you don't give a shit what's going on as long as you can stare at her.

Speaking of Megan Fox, she might be one of those tattooed girls that would get into Zenescope's stuff. I mean, she had to probably agree to this:

Alright. That's it for tonight. Thanks for reading. Look for more comic goodness tomorrow!

Creating the Marvel Universe

The Marvels Project #1
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Steve Epting
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Rating: 4 Stars

Marvel is celebrating 70 years this summer. The centerpiece of the celebration is this 8-part miniseries that explores the beginnings of the age of the Marvel superheroes.

Written by one of my favorite scribes, Ed Brubaker, The Marvels Project shows some behind the scenes origins of The Human Torch and places the world climate in perspective. This is definitely a solid read and something that Marvel does really well with their characters and history.

Back in the 1990's, Marvel released another miniseries called Marvels. That story put the goings on in some of the most classic stories in a real world setting from the point of view of the normal people witnessing these Earth-shattering events. This book may very well be on par with Marvels by the time it is completed.

When I finished this first issue and had a chance to think about it, I began to think about something I hadn't before. Marvel and DC both have iconic characters, but they have very different approaches in handling their respective histories. Marvel relishes it's place in the real world, while DC seems to treat their characters as mythical beings of fantastical abilities (even for someone like Batman).

I've often wondered what the results would show if you poll every single person who buys a comic book and asked them if they prefer Marvel to DC. Would the results be skewed by how many comics a person buys in a month? Would it be skewed by gender or race or financial standing?

It's probably safe to say that the results would like show more of an even split. Both offer the thrills and chills of our modern day mythological gods in a serialized manner. But if anyone asks me what the big difference between the two are, it's pretty easy for me to explain.

Marvel tends to publish slightly more "mature" topics. They have moved away from the "sunshine superhero" type of story. For better or worse, realism is Marvel's m.o. DC is the home of the biggest icons in the industry - Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. They are the archetypes of the entire industry. No one reads Superman to see him deal with street level kingpins or struggling being a socially awkward person. We want to see Superman fight a big, bad robot or some ridiculously powerful badass and saving all our hides.

DC exists on a different plane of reality as well. Metropolis, Gotham, Star City, Coast City, Keystone City and all the other large cities that play home to the heroes of the DCU. Sure, New York City and Washington, D.C. and other real-world cities exist, but DC's whole schtick is to give each hero a city that plays to each heroe's strengths and purpose. Hell, they even have a multiverse to better deal with their 70+ years of continuity.

That being said, Marvel rarely tampers with their characters' origins. They will retcon certain storylines as needed, but for the most part, reading the first issue of Marvel Comics or issue #31 of The Amazing Spider-Man will give you stories that are canon to the Marvel U. without needing to know what Earth-2 is or Earth-3 and so on. Yes, Marvel has a multiverse as well, but it's meant to be more of a fun, "let's see what happens if..." type of thing. For the most part, Marvel is one universe, and it just so happens to be our universe.

Now, to get back on track of what I was talking about, The Marvels Project, like most other Marvel books that deals with origin or real world reaction to heroes, looks to be entertaining and educational. Marvel wants you to care about the original Human Torch or know how Namor (the Sub-Mariner) became such a douche. They don't use their characters like DC, they use them in terms of historical recollection and fondness. This book allows the reader to see the world change just like those denizens back in the 1930's. I've always been a fan when Marvel turns the calendar back to look at their earliest heroes because I don't need to know that this world the story takes place in is actually a whole another universe. As much as I know about DC's multiverse and enjoy those stories, it's nice to not have to think or worry about what Earth my book takes place on.

Thanks for reading. I'm a little behind, but I still plan on doing a write up of some books I got at the Chicago Comic-Con and Escape from Wonderland #1. I'll try to get another blog up tonight.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Heroes Reborn

Ultimate Comics: Avengers #1
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Carlos Pacheco
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Rating: 4 Stars

Earlier this decade, Marvel Comics was still recovering from bankruptcy and looking to find new readers in anyway they could. The problem was, despite having some of the most recognizable characters for older kids and adults, their readership had plateaued and the people buying comics were getting older. The culprit of the loss of new, young readers were video games and forty years of plotlines and continuity.

Marvel launched what they called "The Ultimate Universe". The first hero in this new universe was Spider-Man and the whole new imprint from Marvel was geared toward younger readers. From the start, the characters were taken back to their roots and made younger and more identifiable with the age group they were looking to attract.

Each book released under the Ultimate imprint retold the origins of the heroes, but kept with the bare basics of each character. Peter Parker was a high school kid again struggling with the everyday angst of teenage life before being bitten by a genetically altered spider. Bruce Banner was getting closer and closer to his accident that would turn him into the Hulk. Tony Stark was a drunk, Captain America was still frozen in ice and a younger, hipper, sexier Fantastic Four were on their way to gaining powers in an accident.

Gone was all that Spider-Clone stuff and the early 60's threat of chemical, atomic and biological weapons. Even the X-Men would more closely resemble a lineup from one of their movies. The Ultimate Universe now had the keys to a car that can re-write histories and re-introduce characters kids wouldn't likely know.

Characters in this new universe were no longer tied down with long standing feelings or hatred. Many were even given new ethnic backgrounds - Janet Van Dyne (The Wasp) was an asian girl, Nick Fury was a Samuel L. Jackson knock off, but still a total badass. Later, we find Thor, it's completely uncertain if he or anyone could prove his status as a God of Asgard, hooking up with a young, naive blond who called herself Valkyrie (a known character from the 70's in the regular Marvel U.). Scarlet With and Quicksilver were a little less secretive about their incestual attractions to one another.

After a year or two, The Ultimates came out as this universe's Avengers. One twist was that the Ultimates were actually employees of S.H.I.E.L.D. (this was long before the Superhero Registration Act was even a gleam in the regular Marvel U.'s eye.

The original run was written by Mark Millar and drawn by Bryan Hitch. A later arc was penned by Stan Lee. The art was almost cinematic and you can tell that Mark Millar is an Avengers fan. The Ultimates was action-packed and intelligent. Two of the greatest Avengers stories of all time were the first two arcs of Ultimates.

The Ultimate Universe did have a major problem though. As they were trying to gain those younger and newer comic book audiences, video games got better and even more attractive to the average pre-teen. It became harder for people jump into stories as the arcs got bigger and more convoluted. Before long, the great experiment, more or less, came apart at the seams.

Just recently, the mini-series Ultimatum changed the course of the Ultimate Universe forever. Magneto finally lost his marbles and wreaked havoc across the planet killing many heroes including Wolverine, The Wasp and Thor. This event reset the Ultimate Universe...

Ultimate Comics: Avengers #1 brings Mark Millar back to the same team he helped mold. The start of the issue takes place three weeks after Ultimatum. After a mission went south, Captain America went rogue. He's a bit pissed off after being beaten up by this universe's Red Skull. But he can take a beating like a man, what really got him pissed off is what the Red Skull told Cap - "I'm your son."

This first issue was pretty much all action so it was extremely quick read for a $3.99 book, but moving on from here, this Avengers book might be better than all the others combined. Mark Millar gets something that Brian Bendis doesn't - The Avengers are the world's best team for taking on big threats. Also, I'm beyond glad that there is no "Ultimate Hood" to come into this book and lame it up.

Thanks for reading. Throughout the weekend, I'll return with that long ago promised review of The Marvels Project #1 along with reviews for some books I got at the Chicago Comic-Con and Escape From Wonderland #1 (which will likely be as much of a guilty pleasure as the title it spun off from - Grimm Fairy Tales).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Walking with the Dead

The Walking Dead #64
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Charlie Adlard
Publisher: Image Comics

Rating: 4 Stars

Halloween. Dawn of the Dead. The Shining. What do all these movies have in common? Sure, they are horror movies. But what makes these so loved and special? All three had an eerie sense of realism to them. Maybe you're saying, "Unstoppable killing machine, zombies and haunted hotels don't seem all that real to me." You're probably right about that, but these movies all have something a little more underlying than just those fantasy elements.

For Halloween, the unstoppable killing machine is nothing more than a man-child with deep rooted mental issues. Though made in the late 70's, how often have we seen the same homicidal issues in kids over the past 15 or 20 years? In Dawn of the Dead, the story revolves around the actions of survivors trying to stay safe and alive while the world around them falls apart. Child abuse and insanity brought on by cabin fever is the driving force of the horror in The Shining.

Robert Kirkman touches on the same things that Carpenter, Romero and King/Kubrick did for the movies listed above in his series The Walking Dead. This is a series about people trying to survive a zombie epidemic while trying to keep themselves from tearing each other apart in tense issue after tense issue. They've manage to survive the shit hitting the fan and killing a lot of the earlier supporting cast, a crazed "governor" of another camp of survivors attacking them to take over a prison where the cast has kept themselves safe, and inner conflict that caused so many to blame the deaths of loved ones on each other.

In the current story arc, "Fear the Hunters", there's another group of survivors that are watching them and waiting to make their move. When they do, a beloved supporting character from the earliest issues finds his own leg on the menu for these crazed, yet eerily charasmatic, "hunters". Even more heartbreaking, but gratifying, we find out that he has been bitten by a zombie prior to his capture. His meat is more tainted than mad cows.

The Walking Dead nearly single handedly brought back horror in comics and made Robert Kirkman an overnight A-list writer. Like it or not, we wouldn't have the very entertaining Marvel Zombies or even Blackest Night without The Walking Dead. This is a very engrossing read. Each and every character of the main group, lead by former cop Rick Grimes, is someone you can relate to and care about. When they feel angst or dread, you can feel it too. And when they finally meet their end, you can't help but feel it in your heart.

Now, for a disclaimer... If you only want to see rampaging zombies eating people in an Uwe Boll manner, without much regard for the characters (none of these characters being particularly large breasted or slutty), then you may not be able to grasp this series. There are far more pages and issues of the survivors interacting than there are of rampaging zombies. If you are bored by character exposition and dialog, don't bother trying to get why this series rocks serious ass.

As a side note, it has just been announced that The Walking Dead will be turned into a television series on AMC. I can only hope that the series developer Frank Darabont (director of The Shawshank Redemption) can bring the same levity to the series as Kirkman has. I also hope the series finds a wide fan base.

If you've yet to start checking this series out, the trades for the earlier issues are easy to find and not terribly expensive (I think all of them are still under $15 at your local comic shop and probably cheaper on Amazon or eBay).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Blackest Night All Up In Your Face!

Blackest Night exploded this week. I decided that I wouldn't just cover one of the issues, but all three stories that hit the stands this week.

First up, Blackest Night #2 (Written by Geoff Johns, Art by Ivan Reis)...

In this second issue, all sorts of hell is breaking loose as more crawl out from their graves to terrorize the living. Most notably, Aquaman and Pariah (from the classic Crisis on Infinite Earths story) rise to take on family and the magically inclined respectively. Even The Spectre isn't immune to the power of the black rings as the "Spirit of Vengeance" becomes a giant Black Lantern.

One mystery begins to surface in this second issue - some of the dead will not rise if they are in a state of peace. I suspect we will get more as to why that is in upcoming issues. The big payoff is the final page where we see a macabre Justice League comprised of the zombified Martian Manhunter, Firestorm, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Elongated Man and Sue Dibney. They are looking to increase their ranks by killing and resurrecting Hal Jordan and Barry Allen.

Next, in Green Lantern Corps #39, the resurrection of all the honored dead in the Lantern Crypt is fleshed out (sorry for the pun, it wasn't intended) from Blackest Night #1. This issue aslo gives us some samplings of other things taking place around the galaxy. This issue plays directly from other arcs in the GL Corps book. The biggest return in this issue is Jade - former lover of Kyle Rayner and daughter of the Golden Age Green Lanter, Alan Scott. If you remember my earlier review of Blackest Night #1, I mentioned that love seemed to be a big part of the story. If that is the case, then Jade's resurrection and confronting Kyle Rayner definitely plays into that idea.

In Blackest Night: Batman #1, Deadman teams up with the new Batman and Robin (Dick Grayson and Damien Wayne) after he was unable to keep his own corpse from rising from the grave. This issue more directly plays off the aftermath of Alfred finding Bruce Wayne's grave desecrated once Barry and Hal take the fight with Martian Manhunter into downtown Gotham in Blackest Night #1. Dick's parents and, former Robin, Tim Drake's parents are revealed as Black Lanterns.

All in all, the entire Blackest Night event has been everything DC promised and more. During a tough economic time for collectors and the very mixed reception of Final Crisis, comic fans have needed this type of action oriented story. I would dare say this story is truly the third of the Crisis series (following Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis). It's at least more of the type of Crisis we all hoped Final Crisis had as far of a story.

Big blockbusters from the comic industry need to be able to fulfill the promise of a great story with lots of chills, thrills and drama. It's very likely what makes this story so great is the buildup from all of what Geoff Johns has written since he took over the Green Lantern series.

I will rant later about the downfall of the big event stories in another blog entry. I definitely have to say that this mini-series seems to have serious ramifications with well thought out ideas and logical plotting. It may be hard to jump right in if you aren't up to speed with what's been going on with the Green Lantern series, but for those who are aware (even in general), this is a huge event that is paying big dividends for the reader.

Ratings: Blackest Night #1 - 5 Stars; Green Lantern Corps #39 - 4 1/2 Stars; Blackest Night: Batman - 4 1/2 Stars.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chicago Comic-Con Reflections

Well, another year has come and gone. I have many questions, but I also have some good memories. This was my seventh trip to Rosemont, IL. Each year had something great to remember and this one wasn't an exception. However, this year is leaving a bittersweet taste in my mouth, that I will get to in just a little bit. So, let's start with the great parts of this year's show:

1. With the lack of major publisher presence, Artist Alley was the place to be for signatures and sketches.
There were some great creators hanging out and willing to chat with you about their projects. I've read on some message boards that some felt people were being pushy, but I didn't really experience that. Most of the people who got my attention and asked me to check out their stuff were kind and pretty cool to talk to. Also, the bigger name artists were there always hanging out and singing books, so it was easy for me to get signatures on stuff done by Shane Davis (Rage of the Red Lanterns artist), J.G. Jones (Final Crisis artist and 52 cover artist) and Jim Cheung (Young Avengers artist). Most of the weekend, J. Scott Campbell's (Danger Girl creator) line was a bit too long for me to want to wait in, but I knew I could have and gotten siggies on his stuff too if I wanted.

2. People in costume!
There were many great costumes this year. People really worked hard to look good and it really showed. Each person was very kind when asked to have their pictures taken (besides, why dress up if you don't want your picture taken?)

3. George Perez sketch... finally!
'Nuff said.


1. The lack of Marvel and DC booths
I mentioned this before at the start of the convention, but there are some really big questions swirling about now. First of all, I read that Marvel originally had a booth and backed out. They asked for a refund and was not a fan at all of how Wizard Entertainment handled that. Not sure if Marvel has yet to receive that money or not. This has people wondering if Marvel is done with the Wizard shows for good. Word on the street is that both Marvel and DC have signed exclusively to begin appearing at the new convention in Chicago, C2E2, and if that is the case, have we effectively seen the end of the WizardWorld shows as they once were? The lack of Marvel and DC's presence really hurt the panels at the convention as well. The panels scheduled weren't the comic creators talking about what they are working on as much as it was a guy from one of the publishers talking about stuff coming up, so details on that stuff could be sketchy (I'm not sure about that because I didn't want to find out first hand).

2. NOTHING going on at the Wizard booth itself.
Okay, there were some signings going on there, but they used to have a wheel that let people win prizes. You used to be able to go there and renew your mag subscription and get goodies for doing so. If there weren't signings going on, there wasn't much of anything happening there. There was more going on at the GenCon booth and that isn't even the same convention peoples! Which leads me to my next, and most worrisome critique...

3. Is something going on with Wizard that us readers don't know about?
The magazine hasn't really been up to snuff the past few years. It supposedly got bigger, but we didn't really get much more than what we used to get before. Wizard has laid some people off due to either lower sales or bad economy, but it certainly seems like what made the convention so awesome the past few years also got the axe. I can tell you the exact moment the magazine started its steady descent in quality. Back in 2004, there was a big storyline happening in The Avengers known as "Avengers Disassembled". The mystery villain causing all the bad stuff to happen was a mystery that would not be revealed until the final part of the story arc. That final issue came out one week after Wizard hit the streets. Wizard revealed the villain to be Scarlet Witch, one of the longest running team members in Avengers history. The surprise ending was no longer a surprise. Some of this could be Marvel's fault for shipping the issue late, but some of the blame could go to the magazine for having story that detailed the ending and could have still been read before the final issue came out (think about subscribers who might have gotten the magazine in the mail before they could go to the comic shop or the people who do online subscription for the comic and bought Wizard at the grocery store before getting the comic in the mail). Things seem to be getting progressively worse at the magazine since.

Overall, I don't want to be a hater of the convention. I had a great time despite not doing all the things I would have liked to have done at a con. My only question is whether or not I will go to a Wizard convention again. This kinda seems like a fitting close to this chapter. Perhaps C2E2 will give me the type of con I prefer and I will still be attending a show in Chicago after all. Good thing I have some time to think about it.

Thanks for reading. I will be writing a lot of reviews this week. I have a couple books that I picked up at the convention that I'd like to review. Plus, there are some big books coming out this week too, so count on seeing a Blackest Night #2 review along with Ultimate Comics Avengers #1 and Walking Dead #64!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Chicago Comic-Con Finale

I didn't stay for the whole day, but my fiance and I did pick up some good stuff in Artist Alley and snapped just a couple pictures. First up, I got another character drawn as one of the emotional spectrum lights from Green Lantern. This time I opted for Homer Simpson and spun the wheel. Here's a picture of the result...
Also, I managed to find Ray Park (Darth Maul, Snake Eyes) at his booth and snuck a picture of him.
Last, but not least, I got a couple pictures of Christopher Knight (Peter Brady) and his wife, Adrianne Curry. I have to say that he didn't do too badly with her.
When I have a chance, I'll sum up and review all my thoughts and feelings of the 2009 Chicago Comic-Con. It was certainly interesting.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

2009 Chicago Comic-Con Saturday

Just wanted to throw up some more pics from the Con. Enjoy!

(Yes, the above picture is Jake Busey. If you don't take his picture, his dad will come for you.)

Here's the type of picture that will get an engaged man un-engaged real quick:
I had to take a picture of Rob Liefeld. For a guy who can't get enough of pouches on the people he draws, he surprisingly has a lack of them on his own clothes.

This is Kristanna Loken that, if I've learned anything from Terminator 3, can increase the size of her boobs to keep from getting traffic tickets.

If it weren't for the Green Lantern group, this would have been my favorite group of customed attendees for today:

Apparently, if you buy one of those muscley costumes, you can still get a hot girlfriend (that just goes to show you how much I know):

Yeah, I think Supergirl has been well covered throughout the con:

What a bunch of Jokers:

Doesn't look like ol' Billy Dee is telling this guy to "fuck off"?

There were two highlights to my day. One highlight was a great idea orchestrated by these guys from Unshaven Comics:
For a minimal charge (and it really was minimal for original art), you can request a fully inked and colored drawing of any character you wish. But, as an added bonus, they had a wheel with each of the eight different lantern colors from
Green Lantern. After telling them who you wanted, you spin the wheel and whatever you land on would be how the character is drawn. So, I asked for Brock Sampson. Here's my drawing of Brock, the baddest mofo on Adult Swim, as the embodiment of (of all things) HOPE as a Blue Lantern:
I guess hope comes with a free ass kicking these days.

The other highlight was more than just a highlight of the day, or of the year. It, as a comic book collector and huge
Avengers fan, is likely the greatest highlight of any convention experience I've ever had. On Thursday, I had already met George Perez, my all-time favorite artist. He was attending with The Hero Initiative asking for donations for their very worthy cause. The deal was each day, 10 to 12 lucky people would win the opportunity to get a sketch from him for a $100 donation to the foundation. Yesterday, I didn't get my numbers called. Today, I was the first winner - a moment that helped me forget all the frustration from my first WizardWorld experience in 2001 (long story short, everyday I tried to get a sketch and everyday, I was twarted mostly by dealers who had access to lines before the attendees could get in through the door). Here's Mr. Perez at work on my sketch:
And here is the finished product: