Monday, July 6, 2015

Shahrazad #4

   This issue places the mysterious woman warrior named Shahrazad at the center of a classic action setting - a gladiatorial arena, fighting for her life against a series of opponents, each one more deadly than the last.

   At the same time, the mysterious man named Janus is evaluating her, somehow looking into her past life - and finding it goes back a lot further than he expected!

   So you get lots of action, some violent deaths, and some surprising plot revelations - all building up to next issue's wrap-up for the series.

   This series is being put together by committee - there are no less than five people credited for the story, and two of them - Kim Hutchinson and Kari Castor - getting "written by" credits.

   The art is by Mike Krome with colors by Nei Ruffino, and it's quite good, with interesting character and monster designs, and strong layouts - but it is a bit on the bloody side, so it's not really for kids.

   I liked this issue more than I expected - it looks like a straightforward action story (along the lines of Red Sonja), but the story is taking some interesting turns, and there may be more going on than we might expect.

Grade: B+

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Sunday, July 5, 2015

X-O Manowar #38


   Who doesn't like a wedding?

   (At least a comic book wedding.)

    As the cover indicates, this issue of X-O Manowar features the title character, a Visgoth warrior named Aric who is captured and enslaved by aliens, but escapes when he bonds with an alien suit of armor. He returns to Earth to find that centuries have passed.

   Now he's an established hero here, and he's rescued other time-displaced Visigoths and has set them up with a small country (territory?) of their own.

   So Aric's thoughts turn to his own future, and after some agonizing, he decides it's time for him to take a wife and start building a family.

   Of course, the tradition of weddings in comic books is one of two scenarios: either a terrible attack happens just before or during the ceremony, or nothing happens except for a lovely celebration of love.

   One of those happens here, but I won't say which - no spoilers, y'all.

   It's a good issue with strong writing by Robert Venditti and excellent art by Rafa Sandoval and Jordi Tarragona.

   It sets up some interesting possible futures for X-O, and offers some touching moments for the tender-hearted readers (which includes just about everyone who reads comics, am I right?).

Grade: A-

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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Will EIsner's The Spirit #1

   I've written before about my love for Will Eisner's seminal, legendary work on The Spirit, a hero who first started as a long-running comic book that was (believe it or else) inserted into Sunday newspapers in the 1940s and '50s.

   The character has lived on in reprints over the years since (including a magazine line from Warren, comic books from Eclipse, and Archive Editions from DC Comics), but his appearances in new adventures have been hit-and-miss, with the best being Darwyn Cooke's take.

   Now the character, happily, is back in a new series from Dynamite.

   Or is he?

   The premise of this opening story is that The Spirit has been missing for two years and is presumed dead.

   For this who came in later, the hero is former detective Denny Colt who almost died fighting a mad scientist and works with police as an "independent contractor" (of sorts) to catch the bad guys the law can't touch.

   But if you don't know anything about the character, this issue, written by Matt Wagner, does a terrific job of bringing you up to speed as it re-introduces the supporting cast, their relationship with The Spirit, and sets up the opening storyline.

   And yes, it includes Ebony White, the African-American sidekick who was (sadly) depicted in the manner of a racial stereotype in the original run. The new team fixes that, don't worry.

   The artwork by Dan Schkade walks a fine line between evoking Eisner's work with being too slavish - and without being too cartoony. It's good work, though perhaps it suffers slightly in comparison to the original work by Eisner, a master of creative layout, design and mood.

   It's great to see the character back in action, and here's hoping that the series continues to honor Eisner and his most famous creation (now celebrating his 75th year).

Grade: A-

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Friday, July 3, 2015

A-Force #2

   I really want to like this A-Force series, but with this issue, I'm struggling a bit.

   Located in the Secret Wars setting known as Battleworld, it focuses on a team of Avengers made up almost entirely of female super-heroes (the only exception is Namor, who is in here for some reason).

   Mysterious portals have appeared in Arcadia (the country where A-Force operates), and each one seems to bring a new powerful menace that only the members of A-Force can deal with.

   That's all well and good - but this issue doesn't really advance the story at all. The team fought a big, powerful menace last issue. This issue, they do it again.

   The art by Jorge Molina, Craig Yeung and Walden Wong is quite good, and I really like their character designs.

   But there are several odd disconnects in the issue, and I'm not sure if the blame goes to the writers (Marguerite Bennett and G. Willow Wilson) or the art team. For example, in one panel, a mysterious new character seems to transport several people - including Dazzler - out of harm's way. In the next panel, Dazzler is leaping into action with a different group of heroes.

   Characters who couldn't fly before (like Dazzler and She-Hulk) suddenly soar. And the last panel definitely leaves us scratching our heads.

   I think the series has tons of potential - strong art, lots of great characters, new and interesting heroes - but it needs to move forward, and it needs to keep its characters straight.

Grade: B

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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Secret Wars #4 (of 8)

   The most vital ingredient to every good superhero story (other than a hero, of course) is a great villain.

   And Marvel has (arguably) one of the greatest villain in the history of comics - Dr. Doom.

    The problem with every villain is that he has to lose at some point - and that diminishes him to some extent. Doom avoids this by being the ruler of his own country, and by being smart, powerful, capable and... well, awesome.

   But in recent years, Doom has been diminished a bit through overexposure, and through a series of defeats at the hands of lesser opponents.

   Secret Wars is fixing all that, because it gives Doom a chance to show why he's so formidable. While an army of heroes (Avengers, Illuminati and the Cabal) were dealing with the collision and destruction of alternate Earths, Doom was looking for the cause of the cosmic event - and, along with Dr. Strange and the Molecule Man, confronted that power - the Beyonder (or was it the Beyonders?) - and claimed that power to preserve a crazy-quilt version of the Earth.

   And now he rules over Battleworld as a god.

   But, as we see in this issue, not everything is under his control, and he finds himself facing old enemies - and a new threat.

   It's great to see Doom back at the pinnacle again, in a terrific story by Jonathan Hickman, with amazing, powerful art by Esad Ribic.

   We're halfway through this series and it's packed full of amazing concepts and plot twists galore. Oh, and quite a few shocking surprises. So far, it's the best comics "event" in years!

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

New Comics Day

   Here's what I picked up at the comics shop today - another light week for me:

- A-Force #2 - Who is the woman covered in stars?

- Justice Inc. #2 - Chasing a ghost.

- Princess Leia #5 - A daring rescue!

- Secret Wars #4 - Doom confronts a new enemy - and his oldest opponent.  

- Spirit #1 - What happened to the Spirit?

   And that's it!

The Classics - Parts Unknown #1

   There are comics that seek to educate, to tackle vital social issues and enlighten the reader.

   This is not one of those books.

   Instead, Parts Unknown was created to be the equivalent of a "B"-movie, the kind that you'd see on a Friday night at the drive-in theaters of my youth.

   It's raw, crude, violent... and a heck of a lot of fun!

   Created by writer Beau Smith and artists Brad Gorby and Randy Clark in 1992, the series featured two police detectives - the beautiful (and tough as nails) Maria Lucci and the rough-and-tumble Spurr.

   Their careers take an unexpected turn when they stumble onto the strangest kidnapping ring ever - a group of murderous lizard-like aliens planning to conquer the Earth for two reasons - one, to reap organs (and skin) from humans - and two, they want to (how shall I put this?) have their way with all the world's women.

   So you can expect lots of death and destruction, women in distress (or barely staying in dis dress), and lots of fun dialogue.

   Politically correct it ain't, but it is - assuming you're a fan of this kind of rude, rambling and raucous adventure (and who isn't?) - a heck of a lot of fun!

   (And why in the world the SyFy Channel hasn't made this into a movie by now, I have no clue. Sharknado has nothing on the mayhem in this series!)

Grade: A-

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mercy: Shake the World

   You will find few writers in comics who will challenge the reader more than J.M. DeMatteis (and yes, that's a good thing).

   Now back in print is Mercy: Shake the World, his graphic novel with artist Paul Johnson (originally published as part of DC's Vertigo line).

   It's that true rarity in modern comics - a story that's filled with hope and a positive view of life.

   The story could easily have gone in a different direction - it uses some classic horror tropes to set up the focus on the mysterious woman (or force of nature) known as Mercy.

   The story is told from an unusual point of view - that of a man who is in a coma, and finds his spirit floating through a dreamlike world.

   He is drawn to others who face pivotal moments - a married couple who are about the split apart; an elderly woman who lives with the literal ghosts from her past; and a young man facing a traumatic - and possibly life-ending - change.

   Where most writers would take the easy way out (perhaps a grim and gritty analysis of the dark side of the spirit) but DeMatteis makes it an exploration of the spirit, a message of love and hope - it's inspired work.

   Johnson's art is a perfect match for the story - evocative painted images that convey the story while keeping a unique artistic vision. From the stunning beauty of Mercy to a myriad of strange, twisted environments and the raw emotional experiences of the characters, he captures it with a flood of pages, any one of which would look great framed and hanging on the wall.

   I should add that this story isn't for everyone - there are no superheroes, no capes, no city-shattering fights between godlike figures - but you will find a thought-provoking story that is surprising and moving.

Grade: A

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