Hey folks, Ambush Bug here proudly presenting the first column in our seventh year at Ain't It Cool News! AICN Comics has had many contributors and many permutations, but we've tried hard throughout the years to give you no-bullshit, off the cuff, straight from the heart reviews and we promise to keep on doing it until they stop making comics. This week is a prime example of the stuff we've been offering you for the last six years. We've got a ton of reviews for you all to enjoy, some Indie Jones reads for those with a taste for independent comics, a few cheapies for those of you suffering from ADHD and in need of your reviews in short bursts, and don't forget THE SECRET TOURNAMENT OF INFINITE @$$-KICKERY which finishes up Round Two this week with a handful of winning submissions and four new fights!
On top of that, we are proud to welcome AICN Anime's Scott Green as our new manga representative for our Big Eyes For the Cape Guy section. Scott's been introducing you all to anime and manga in his own weekly column here at AICN for just about as long as this column has been running. He will be highlighting some of the best manga you cape guys should keep an eye on.
So thanks for sticking with us through the years. We’ve got plenty more reviews, interviews, Shoot The Messenger news reports, previews, and something we like to call @$$y goodness coming your way!
So without further ado, let's kick off our seventh year!
DC UNIVERSE #0
Writers: Grant Morrison, Geoff Jones Artists: George Perez, Doug Mahnke, Tony S. Daniel, Ivan Reis , Aaron Lopresti , Philip Tan , Ed Benes , Carlos Pacheco , JG Jones Inkers: Scott Koblish, Christian Alamy, Tony S. Daniel, Oclair Albert, Matt Ryan, Jeff De Los Santos, Ed Benes, Jesus Merino, JG Jones Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoLet’s start with what this was not:
It’s not a “primer” on the DC universe. It wasn’t supposed to be.
It’s not a “jump on point” for DC newbies. It wasn’t supposed to be.
It’s not a self-contained story with events that “make sense.” It wasn’t supposed to be.
Okay, well, maybe it could have been a little more of that last one.
Let’s get into it:
For anyone joining the world, already in progress, this IS the jumping on point for the latest CRISIS. It has all the makings of what COUNTDOWN was not, starting with, at the very least, some excitement. And a marked absence of Jimmy Olsen or Ray Palmer--three reasons to celebrate already.
What’s to love? The artwork, for starters. Where COUNTDOWN seemed determined to use artists of mostly generic quality, this is all top-notch stuff. Even the artists I didn’t immediately recognize, I will now be on the lookout for future works. It’s all THAT good.
What else to love? The vast multiverse-wide rumblings of a super story. We catch up to the Big Three playmakers in the DC Universe…or is that the Big Four? Is it too early to include Green Lantern in the club that normally only includes Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman? I think it IS too early, but I may have changed my mind by this time next year.
We also see more hints of the story that will hopefully resolve the LEGION OF SUPERHEROES-based threads. We get some Rogue’s Gallery stuff. Some Spectre stuff. A two page spread of the Rainbow Corps…
What’s not to love? Well, it strikes me as odd that any super-villains are chomping at the bit to unite under another megalomaniac, since that worked so well for them on SALVATION RUN.
Also, I’m not sure how I feel about Joker being turned into some sort of multiverse oracle. (Kind of ironic, since his actions CREATED the current Oracle.) I seem to recall Joker being used in similar fashion in COUNTDOWN, but I dare not go through those back issues, lest I fall asleep. At any rate, I think it’s the second time he’s been portrayed as having some special insight into the greater workings of the multiverse at large, and I just don’t buy it. If the only way this character can continue to be interesting and relevant is to make him into something he’s not, let’s just kill him for a while.
Or has that already happened? Batman says Joker’s been playing the same game since he “came back from the dead.” Is Batman referencing the overwritten prose-noir of BATMAN 663? I thought Mr. J was “only” suffering from a bullet to the face, not an extended dirt nap. I don’t mind parts of a story waiting to reveal themselves (we call it “build-up” and that is a good thing) but I hate feeling like I missed a story that was already told.
As far as build-up goes, that accurately describes the rest of the book. Again, that’s a good thing. And I feel like we’re building to actual events, not the anti-climactic non-events of COUNTDOWN. “Darkseid is dead.” Yeah, that’ll last. I mean, the only thing I really learned from COUNTDOWN is to beware any title that has the words “RAY PALMER” in it.
So like I said, the book doesn’t make sense—as a whole. But in its separate parts (except for the Batman part) it does. It makes, like, six or seven sets of sense, each one with its own storyline that starts here. On the whole, it’s an intriguing read with beautiful artwork. And a FLASH-y premise.
Finally, as a wise man shouted at me, it cost FIFTY CENTS, people! We’ve all paid more for less, so be grateful. Get it. Read it. Bag it.
Dante “Rock-Me” Amodeo has been reading comics for thirty-five years. His first novel, “Saban and The Ancient” (an espionage/paranormal thriller) was published 2006. He began writing for AICN Comics in 2007 and his second novel (“Saban Betrayed”) is due 2008. He’s often told he has a great face for radio.
THOR: AGES OF THUNDER ONE-SHOT
Writer: Matt Fraction Artists part one: Patrick Zircher (art) & June Chung (colors) Artists part two: Khari Evans (pencils), Victor Olazaba (inks), & Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugIf you're sick of all of the hype and hoopla involving Iron Man, the Hulk, and the Skrull Invasion, but still like Marvel comics, have no fear. There's still a few Marvel books out there that work on their own without forcing you to buy twenty other tie in books in order to understand them. THOR: AGES OF THUNDER ONE-SHOT is one of them.
Thor's monthly title has been consistently good and writer Matt Fraction writes a good companion piece telling a tale of a more youthful Thor set during the golden era of Asgard. In this book, Thor functions on the periphery of the events, but nevertheless plays a huge part in the story that unfolds.
Fraction creates a epic story involving golden apples, Frost Giants, and godly relations. What I liked about this story was that Fraction flexes his writing muscles by making this tale of the gods something we mortal readers can actually become invested in. Too many times, writers depict gods as infallable icons instead of actual characters. Here we really get to know the talents and faults of some of these legendary characters.
I especially liked the way Loki was depicted in this story. His mischievous ways are at the center of the story. He's not evil, out and out, but he does cause all sorts of trouble.
At first, as I read this, I was taken a bit aback by the way Thor is portrayed in this story. This certainly isn't the way Thor has acted since...well...he's never acted this way. But then I had a revelation that put things in perspective and I ended up liking way Thor was portrayed in this story. Remember, this happens before Odin becomes pissed and banishes him to Midgard to learn about humility and responsibility. Here, Thor is sort of a pompous and selfish jerk, only agreeing to save the day because his hobby seems to be collecting Frost Giant heads.
I was able to put this inconsistency in Thor's character together due to many years of reading THOR, but I'm not sure if your new reader might be a bit confused when approaching this title, especially after reading the current series. Maybe a line from the editor or something written by Fraction to say that this was a time before Thor was banished to Earth for his selfish ways might help a new reader understand why this Thor is a selfish @$$ and why he's so different from the noble warrior in his own monthly mag.
Aside from that, this was probably one of my favorite reads in the last week. Patrick Zircher is a name I have followed since his NEW WARRIORS days of the 90's. This issue shows that he's come a long way and gone down his own path to evolve into one of the most capable artists out there today. His art, along with Khari Evans (who takes care of the pencils in part two) is a gigantic reason why I am recommending this title. I usually don't mention colors in a review unless they stand out so much that I HAVE to mention them. And here I do. Both stories in this book are colored in a muted, yet gorgeous and full fashion. The tones and shades achieved in this issue are award-worthy. You won't find a better looking comic out there right now.
I was kind of perplexed that this is labeled as a ONE-SHOT and then a TO BE CONTINUED tag is adorning the bottom corner of the last page. Seems to me a ONE-SHOT should mean that it's a stand alone story, but in this instance, I'm glad there will be more stories featuring this creative team. THOR: AGES OF THUNDER is a bookend (or beginning in another sense) to JMS' monthly THOR book in that they both show entertaining aspects of the Thunder God before and after he's learned his lessons about humanity.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, reviewer and co-editor of AICN Comics for close to seven years. Look for his first published work in MUSCLES & FIGHTS 3 (AVAILABLE NOW!) from Cream City Comics.
ACTION COMICS #864
Writer: Geoff Johns Artist: Joe Prado Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Optimous DoucheTwo stories came out last week told from the viewpoint of an omniscient all knowing entity. The first, of course, is DC UNIVERSE 0, which was told by a character that can travel through time, parallel worlds and is somehow tied to lightning. I know the AP wire said this marked the return of Barry Allen, but personally I think DC is resurrecting America’s first super hero - Ben Franklin Man, who can oppress the masses with a wry smile and doddery.
The second (and far superior) deity-inspired narrative was found in this latest installment of ACTION.
I was expecting greatness from this book simply because the story oozed from the pen of Geoff Johns, but I wasn’t ready for the importance that this book would have on the entire DC Universe.
After the end of the tremendous six part Legion story that ended last month, and in light of the universe shake down in coming months, I was fully expecting this story to be nothing more than filler, perhaps “A Day in the Life” story or some one-shot of a second-rate villain wrecking havoc on the Daily Planet.
I was not ready for this issue to kick off the second most important event on the DC publishing calendar – LEGION OF THREE WORLDS (LTW). My cynical nature and history with comic books had me prepared to shell out my hard earned ducats for a series of one-shots and insipid overly bloated countups, countdowns or count Choculas to kick off this event. Well thank you, Mr. Johns, for not only writing an important book from a continuity perspective, but also for crafting it in your usual masterful fashion.
CRISIS connections aside, Johns once again delivers top notch goods from a characterization and story-telling perspective. The entire story is narrated from the perspective of the Time Trapper, who is being set up to be the chief foil in the coming LTW title. Johns could have taken the easy route. He could have emulated his lesser peers by making this villain just a pure embodiment of evil, complete with lots of hand wringing and mwahahaha moments. Instead he gave the character a true voice, complete with some ironically hilarious disdain for Batman.
Speaking of Batman, he truly gets raked over the coals in this issue. From his tête-à-têtes with Lighting Lad to his utter insignificance in the grand scheme of history, it’s clear where Johns’ superhero affinity lies. I’m OK with all of this, Batman is kind of douche when you think about it. Perhaps that’s why I’m less apt to chastise Miller for his work on ALL STAR BATMAN & ROBIN.
I can’t leave this review without a mention on Prado’s artistry, because for 99.99% of this book his pencils are a thing of beauty. I have never seen the phenomenon before where every scene is meticulously detailed and engrossing, with the exception of the main character. There are many different ways to render the Man of Steel, and I am far from being a fan of the engorged Kennedy jaw line that Clark Kent usually possesses.
However, for one brief moment before I bought this title, I thought I had mistakenly missed my comic shop, walked into Blockbuster and was looking at the jacket for the movie “Rocky Balboa”. For anyone that saw Rocky’s swan song a few years ago, you’ll know that Sly no longer looks like Sly. Instead he looks like Sly after getting face raped by a swarm of killer bees. He’s still in great shape for a guy his age, but let’s be honest: time takes its toll on all of us. If all I have to worry about is being a little paunchy in forty years I will consider it a blessing, but you know what, I’m not Superman. Poetic license is one thing, but to render Superman as paunchy with a schnozz that looks like it was broken, reset and then had two kryptonite dildos shoved in each nostril is not how Superman is supposed to look. This, however, is a nit, an insignificant faux pas in what was otherwise one of the best damn issues I’ve ever read of ACTION.
If someone is holding a gun to your head and gives you the choice between only reading DC UNIVERSE 0 and ACTION 864, pony up the $2.49 difference in price, buy ACTION and catch up on FINAL CRISIS in the actual pages of FINAL CRISIS.
When Optimous Douche isn’t reading comics and misspelling the names of 80’s icons, he “transforms” into a corporate communications guru. Optimous is looking for artistry help, critical feedback and a little industry insight to get his original book AVERAGE JOE up, up and on the shelves. What if the entire world had super powers? Find out in the blog section of Optimous’ MySpace page to see some preview pages and leave comments.
DAREDEVIL: BLOOD OF THE TARANTULA ONE SHOT
Writers: Ed Brubaker and Ande Parks Artist: Chris Samnee Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Sleazy GI’m not a lifelong fan of Daredevil, the way my cohort Ambush Bug is. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against the guy; it’s just that I’ve picked up his series sporadically on and off for the last 15 or 20 years, but I’ve only been a regular reader since the relaunch a few years ago. As a result, I’ve got some familiarity with his rogues’ gallery. I mean, in the Marvel Universe you’d have to be living under a rock not to know the Kingpin’s deal, right? But when it comes to The Owl or Gladiator or half a dozen others, I may know ‘em when I see ‘em and have the basics down, but I don’t necessarily know them as intimately as a lot of the other characters I read. Same goes for The Tarantula, and as a result I was a little hesitant to pick this issue up—was it going to just be another empty bit of backstory, the kind Marvel trots out far too often lately to milk me for an extra four bucks? Y’know, like that TAROT horsecrap I dodged even though I actually liked all the featured characters, thankfully?
Turns out, not in the slightest. I bought the issue for one reason: faith in Ed Brubaker. He’s written far more good than bad over the last half decade, and I decided to trust him here. As a result what I got was a one-shot that was long on character, laid the groundwork for a whole new storyline, and managed to give us a little insight into Daredevil despite being focused on a secondary former (future?) villain.
A quick run-down of the story is probably in order here: Tarantula is the former head of an Argentinian crime family. He fled his home country and former life, and has been living in NYC’s barrio as a neighborhood protector of sorts. Daredevil is cutting him some slack to see how he proceeds, the cops are turning a blind eye, he takes ill-gotten gains from villains and gives it to the needy, and he’s getting by day to day, feeling like he’s making a difference in some small way. Then his old crime family from Argentina comes gunning for him, because he’s apparently betrayed them and their honor by walking out on them. So he kicks the ever-luvvin’ shit out of ‘em, and he’s able to spin it in such a way that Daredevil lets him get away with murder. Whether that’s a sign that he’s coming from a morally strong enough place to sell Matt Murdock on it, or whether it’s because Matt’s continuing to slide ever closer to a moral precipice due to what he’s been through for the last year or so (in comics time), is yet to be revealed.
Seems pretty straightforward, right? Yet once again Ed Brubaker pulls it off. I’ve been dancing around a theory as to what makes Brubaker so good for quite a while now, and I think I’ve finally got my finger on it. Brubaker is praised from all corners for his talent with gritty street-level crime, and justifiably so, but that’s not what makes his stories work. Where his skill truly lies is in the way he can define a character and his internal conflicts so efficiently and intuitively. He can tell the reader more about somebody in a single issue than many writers can in an entire run, and he does it again here. He never wavers too far into the melodramatic; characters feel real, and so do their struggles. He manages it yet again: taking a second-string villain and remaking him as a flawed, vulnerable, relatable character who may end up on either side of the moral grey zone that is everyday life. The crime-y stuff is here, sure, but that’s not what makes this issue work: it’s the way you can sense the desperation, the repression, and the desire to rise above that defines not just this character, but everybody’s character. It’s who we all are, really, and that’s why it works: we’ve all been there in one way or another. We’ve all felt backed into a corner, we’ve all faced tough choices, and we’ve all wondered if we could keep going for just one more day or week. It’s that core understanding of the human condition that makes Brubaker’s writing click: even when writing about the worst sorts of people, he always gives you at least one POV character that you can relate to, and it’s the hook that gets you to care about a story full of terrible people doing reprehensible things.
I should mention here, in all fairness, that there is a co-writing credit on this book. I have no way of knowing how much of the work here is Brubaker’s and how much credit should go to his co-writer, Ande Parks. In my defense I can only offer that I’ve not read nearly as much of Parks’ work as I have Brubaker’s. The book feels so much of a piece with Brubaker’s past work that I’m giving him the lion’s share of the credit, but this is in no way intended as a slight to Mr. Parks. I’m willing to accept that he may have done quite a bit here, and will certainly be watching his future work more closely after this to see what he’s capable of.
I should also comment here on the art. It’s the strangest thing, really: usually a writer brings his style to everything he does, and artists have a general style they work in as well. Ed Brubaker, however, is one of the only writers I can think of who somehow seems to bring an artistic style along with him. From his later issues on CATWOMAN through to SLEEPER and GOTHAM CENTRAL and now DAREDEVIL and CRIMINAL, he’s worked with several different artists—and yet their work flows so well together it feels as if they’re collaborating. It’s as if he’s somehow found a handful of rotating artists who share a similar enough sensibility, so well matched to his writing, that the change from artist to artist is never jarring. Chris Samnee acquits himself very well here, and earns his place in Brubaker’s artistic lineup. The art meets the prerequisites of “moody” and “gritty”, of course, but it’s also dynamic and lifelike and brutal and, when necessary, even hopeful. I suspect part of the reason there’s a similar feel to Brubaker’s books even when pencilled by different artists is clutch colorist Matt Hollingsworth, an often underappreciated talent. If so, Brubaker would be wise to go all Kathy Bates on Hollingsworth’s ass and chain him to a table somewhere, forced to color everything he does for as long as possible.
So there we are: from almost putting it back on the shelf to slathering it with praise in 34 pages, give or take, which says something about the quality of the work on display here. If you glanced at this one on the shelf last week and hesitated the way I did, go back and grab it this week. It’s well written, well drawn, action-packed, and kicks off a storyline we’re definitely going to see pay off in the main DAREDEVIL series down the road. If there were less one shots out there but they were all this well executed, I’d be buying a lot more of them.
GREEN LANTERN #30
Writer: Geoff Johns Artist: Ivan Reis Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Optimous DoucheAmidst his duties of rebooting the entire DC Universe with FINAL CRISIS and LEGIONS OF THREE WORLDS, Johns continues to build on the breakneck momentum he started with the SINESTRO CORPS WAR with this latest foray into the history of Hal Jordan.
I was a little put off with this first part of this series. I couldn’t buy into the whole concept of once again serving up a “very special” series recounting the turbulent times of Hal Jordan’s youth prior to becoming a green galactic defender. I wondered if there wasn’t some better way to rewrite history to accommodate the Blackest Night prophecy.
After all in the grand scheme of things, while noteworthy, Hal is but a mere zygote in the infinite history of the Green Lantern Corps. Wouldn’t we be better off with a deluxe soft cover a la “GANTHET’S TALE” to unfold the Alpha of this prophecy as we approach the Omega in regular continuity?
I realized, though, that my problem wasn’t with the fact that this was Hal’s story, it was how the Blackest Night material came across. It didn’t feel like it belonged, almost like I was reading two stories. All of the events surrounding the Blackest Night prophecy felt inappropriately bookended around the events recounting the indelible scars of Hal’s youth. I realize now that Johns was telling things from a linear perspective.
This issue takes the same approach, but it feels more integrated this time around. Rightly so, since this issue focuses on the final fateful flight of Abin Sur before he crash landed on Earth and bequeathed the ring to Jordan (actually the ring does the bequeathing, but allow me some poetic license). It was easier as a reader to buy into the prophecy during this issue, since it was all unfolding on familiar ground.
Speaking of familiar ground, I made the mistake in my last review of comparing this origin tale to EMERALD DAWN. While both titles share certain keystones of the series like Abin Sur crash landing on earth and Sinestro still being one of the most complex villains ever to grace the panel pages, Johns makes one quintessential distinction between “Secret Origin” and its predecessor. EMERALD DAWN gave us the “what happened”, while Secret Origin tells us the “why”.
This is the first time I’ve seen someone delve into the psychology of Abin Sur. Why is he in a ship instead of using his ring to fly? What was his compelling reason to come to earth in the first place? At one point, Abin Sur chuckled at the thought of a human taking on the emerald mantle: “He never thought he would see the day”. With that simple line Johns took an epic moment for silver and modern age fans alike and made it his own with subtlety and unwavering reverence.
Aside from the landing and the deeper explanation about the prophecy, the book follows the rest of the GREEN LANTERN canon a little too faithfully. I was really hoping to see a deeper exploration into the relationship between Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris; after all the two are locked in a passionate embrace on the cover. Also, Carol still felt like a corporate piranha, trying to make a way for women in the workforce by being overly bitchy and bossy. This worked for her in the 80s, but feels a little clichéd n 2008. After Johns’ great characterization of the Jordan brothers last issue I was expecting a similar treatment for Carol, although I’m sure if the story continues to form, the persona of Carol will be fleshed out in next month’s issue.
The art was once again top notch. Reis moves between rendering space and terra firma with deftness and unparalleled detail. I don’t know whose idea it was to have Hal be a limp rag doll when he first gains control of the ring and is learning to fly, but it was refreshing to see this “Greatest American Hero” take on learning to use new powers.
Once again a solid title, delivered by a brilliant creative team. I can only hope that this book remains flawless as Johns’ attention is diverted elsewhere in coming months.
THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST #14
Writer: Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker Penciler: Tonci Zonjic Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Jinxo“The 7 Capital Cities Of Frickin Heaven Part 7”. That is how you do it. What a great finish to a great run. For six issues Brubaker has spun an entertaining tale while at the same time setting the board for a major final battle, carefully introducing and placing multiple armies in position for this issue. Then he just has them beat the living crap out of each other. I sort of picture him like a little kid setting up an intricate battle arrangement of toy army men, taking hours, setting it up so carefully and then topping it off with a joyfully frenzied “battle” as he just smacks them all down. This is a joyfully frenzied smackdown if ever I saw one.
Tonci Zonjic’s penciling knocked me out too. Mostly. Very weird. About 99% of this book’s art I just loved. The shot of Iron Fist just after his fight with a train (ahh, crazy goodness) is awesome. Iron Fist, surrounded by flames, all in silhouette except for his glowing fists, tattoo and eyes. Stuff like that just kills me and most of the art is of that caliber. But then there are the panels like the one with Iron Fist flying straight out at the reader, his fist in forced perspective ahead of him that just sort of miss for me. When I first saw it I really didn’t right off get that it was his fist. I actually went, “What is going on? Is he holding a baby? Is that a bag of laundry? Oh. Fist. Got it.” It just missed a bit. But don’t get me wrong. Those moments are few and far between. With the stuff that followed right after that panel, all was forgiven. He’s given me this stuff, I’ll take a panel with a baby fist.
Speaking of baby fist, the new names for freaky martial arts move just makes me smile. Keep ‘em coming. If I may, might I suggest two: The Itchy Weasel Palm Of Minor Annoyance and Slow Paw Of The Lethargic Tiger. Clearly more suck ass moves than those named in the comic so far but, hey, not everybody can handle the Bastard’s Black Heartcrusher.
The end of the comic also has me very excited for the future of the book. During the course of this story there was a one shot issue that explored the history of the lastIron Fist. It was a quick pulpy run through his history showing off the various styles of adventures he was involved with as well as revealing his ever rotating cast of supporting players. At the time it played like an interesting diversion, a little color for the history of Iron Fist. But with the end of this saga I now see it was also likely intended to be a look to the past as a hint of what is to come in the future. I get the feeling the current Iron Fist’s adventures will follow a similar path. And, man, that is all good with me.
Jinxo is Thom Holbrook, lifelong comic book reader, and the evil genius behind poobala.com. He may appear cute and cuddly but if encountered avoid eye contact and DO NOT attempt to feed.
Writer: Joe Casey Artist: Derec Donovan Publisher: Image Comics Reviewed by: BottleImpI hate Rob Liefeld.
No, I shouldn’t say that… after all, I don’t know Rob Liefeld personally. He could be a really great guy. Maybe he volunteers at a soup kitchen in his spare time, or nurses injured kittens back to health. Or maybe he just likes to hang out, have a beer, and lend an understanding ear when one of his buddies needs to unload some baggage. So I’ll rephrase my opening statement.
I hate everything Rob Liefeld has done within the comic book industry.
I hate that he somehow managed to work as a comic book artist when he clearly has no grasp of anatomy, perspective, or graphic storytelling. I hate that his Extreme Studio at Image churned out artists who copied Liefeld’s ugly style. I hate that he and some of his cronies at Image were directly responsible for the Big Bust of the 1990s by overselling overhyped titles that failed to deliver (literally—the lateness of some of the early Image books makes Frank Miller’s ALL-STAR BATMAN & ROBIN look like a bi-weekly). I hate that he recycled the same old Wolverine and Cable clones over and over again in his work. And I hate that he hasn’t improved a bit since he first broke into comics, as one can see from the variant covers of this new series.
So why, you might ask, did I buy YOUNGBLOOD?
It was the art that first grabbed me. Donovan has a clean, slightly cartoony graphic style that really appeals to me. His page layouts are always easy to follow, and there’s some great usage of dramatic lighting and interesting angles that make the book a real treat to look at. It’s the polar opposite of Liefeld’s art, thank god.
But I guess I must begrudgingly give Rob Liefeld credit for the concept of YOUNGBLOOD: the superhero as celebrity. Other comic books have worked with this theme with mixed results—Mark Waid’s FANTASTIC FOUR comes to mind, as does Dan Slott’s all-too-brief THING series. The celebrity angle seems to work best when it’s played more humorously (as with THE THING). Now with YOUNGBLOOD, Joe Casey deals with the theme of superhero fame, but with a slight twist.
Celebrity isn’t what it used to be—not when reality television programs flood the networks and nobodies like Kim Kardashian can be given their own shows for nothing more than having a big ass and a sex tape, an unfunny douchebag like Dane Cook can be popular just because he makes a lot of “friends” on MySpace, and more people care about who wins “American Idol” than the Presidential election. YouTube and “Survivor” and “Big Brother” have changed how celebrities are made. You don’t need to have any special ability or talent, you just need to be out there for the public to see. And Casey has made the brilliant choice to have this incarnation of the government-run Youngblood team be followed constantly by a reality show film crew. Like the “celebrities” of today, the Youngblood team doesn’t actually do very much superhero-ing. Even their arch-enemies are packaged by the government to be in on the show, though as the story progresses we see that these villains have their own agenda, and may not be as controllable as National Security Council thinks.
Casey is also playing with the ever-popular “government conspiracy theory” angle. Last issue ended with Youngblood leader Shaft (not to be confused with Richard Roundtree or Samuel Jackson) shot by a scientist working for the CIA. Issue 3 opens with the rest of the team being told that Shaft was killed by a terrorist organization. It’s impossible not to make comparisons with the way our own government spins the truth, whether it’s the lies that sent our army into Iraq, the controversy surrounding the death of Pat Tillman, or any one of the number of U.S. Senators who have been found to have engaged in inappropriate activities. At the risk of sounding like a snobby intellectual, this gives YOUNGBLOOD a cultural relevance that adds a touch of realism, even as a subplot involving a strange alien woman continues to unfold.
Wow… never thought I’d put the words “YOUNGBLOOD” and “intellectual” in the same sentence.
Anyways, I’m really enjoying this series so far. If you can tamp down the bile that rises to the back of your throat every time you realize that some of the money shelled out for this comic goes into Rob Liefeld’s pocket, I recommend giving YOUNGBLOOD a go. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE #12
Writers: Dan Slott and Christos Gage Artist: Steve Uy Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoAnd thus ends one large chapter of The Initiative. Like its well-written (and now defunct) cousin, THE ORDER, A:TI managed an excellent mix of indie storytelling within the larger framework of the Marvel mythos. And for someone who doesn’t really follow indie books that much, I sure do like it when my mainstream books take on that indie feel.
Steve Uy’s pencils contribute to that. If you like the Luna Brothers’ books, I think you would like Uy’s stuff. I’m not sure how long he’s been around, but he has a barely-contained Manga flavor that younger readers should find pretty appealing. And it was restrained enough that even an old fart like me dug it. I still can’t tell Ultragirl from Cloud Nine, but hey, them’s the breaks.
This issue crunches almost the entire series into a tidy little snowball…and rolls it, innocently, down the ski slope. We see most of the heroes graduate in a scene reminiscent of the way they used to announce the new line-up of the Avengers back in the 80’s, when Henry Gyrich was a regular character in the AVENGERS book. We get to see Henry Gyrich receive an always-deserved comeuppance. We find that Thor Girl is still alive, and though all the burns on her body have been healed and all of her hair has grown back, she still has a band-aid on her jaw line. (Hey kids! Little known factoid: the jaw line is the slowest healing part of Asgardian physiology. It’s, uhn, why Thor had to grow a beard!)
Do not doubt me. I am Groot. (Oops, wrong comic. Still works.)
Anyway, the characters we’ve been following are now split into several groups. Some went back to the Initiative to take part in graduation, assignment and then split into even MORE groups. Others have take off on their own, into the Old/New Warriors, but unofficially sanctioned by the man in iron. Both pro and anti-Initiative sets of heroes deserve to be followed, and I hope the book does exactly that.
So what’s left to cover? Well, we still don’t know what’s up with Trauma. We still don’t know if Slapstick is actually a homicidal maniac. We don’t know how the New/Old Warriors will keep an eye on The Initiative. We still don’t know if Yellowjacket is a Skrull (okay, maybe it’s only me that thinks he’s been acting preeeeetty Skrully) though we’re sure that Forgettable Man (uh, the guy who temporarily lost his hand) actually IS a Skrull, but loyal to Earth.
Or is that what he’s been brainwashed to think, until he looks at some old painting? (Oops, wrong comic again.) Time will tell.
One thing is for sure. When I saw Cloud Nine in her new uniform, oddly similar to the old Japanese live action UltraMan, and I read those last few lines regarding her new job…I felt sad. For her, and the other characters. Like living the dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, especially when it wasn’t even your dream to start with.
I think the costumes and the code names also gave the book more of that indie feel at the very end. Uy, or whoever designed those costumes, made them look like someone was TRYING to come up with “superhero” costumes. They look a little hokey, and I think that’s the point, though Cloud Nine’s costume is starting to grow on me. Maybe that’s because I’ve become attached to the character. I’m attached to many of the characters, in fact. I wonder why that is? Good writing is my guess.
I’m really glad the series did not end here. There are SO many more stories to be told. I’m looking forward to the next arc, but I’m really hoping we follow most of these old/new folks. This issue was a satisfying capstone to a year of excellent storytelling.
THE YAGYU NINJA SCROLLS REVENGE OF THE HORI CLAN VOL 1 & 2
manga by Masaki Segawa Story by Futaro Yamada Released by Del Rey Manga Reviewer: Scott GreenIf you're a samurai fan, there are a few quasi-factual swordsmen you should know. While these are historically documented personalities, gaps in the verifiable records have created the space for innumerable legends. To name a few especially prominent examples, there's Miyamoto Musashi, the renowned duelist who wrote THE BOOK OF FIVE RINGS, and supposedly invented the method for fighting with two swords simultaneously. Among other occurrences in popular media, he's been immortalized in the SAMURAI Trilogy with Toshiro Mifune, Eiji Yoshikawa's novelized biography and Takehiko Inoue's manga adaptation of that biography. There's Hattori Hanzo, namesake of the Sonny Chiba character in KILL BILL, supposedly shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu's ninja. And there's Jubei Yagyu, the inspiration for NINJA SCROLL's Jubei Kibagami, and the hero of the frequently adapted Futaro Yamada novel MAKAI TENSHOU (RESURRECTION FROM HELL, source of the NINJA RESURRECTION anime and the SAMURAI RESURRECTION Sonny Chiba film, among its nine film, anime and manga adaptations.) Historical evidence suggests that he served as fencing instructor in the courts of the second and third Tokugawa shoguns. After being expelled from the court, Yagyu disappears from the records for a decade, and modern myth making has taken the opportunity to fill this with the swordsman's exploits as a sort of covert trouble shooter/Edo Period James Bond.
THE YAGYU NINJA SCROLLS features Jubei Yagyu in an adaptation of a Futaro Yamada novel, by Masaju Segawa, the same artist who turned Yamada's Romeo and Juliet ninja death match THE KOGA NINJA SCROLLS into manga/anime BASILISK. In other words, it's the story of one of the principals of samurai legends, written by a luminary in modern pulp samurai fiction, adapted to manga by a person with a track record for bloody, salacious work. The results don't have the genius for strange and disconcerting details that Kazuo Koike's (LONE WOLF CUB) manga feature, but as slick, arterial spray spattered action goes, Segawa's Yamada adaptations have been peerless.
The manga opens with seven strikingly unusual warriors riding into town behind a strange procession: a trio of dogs, each leading a row of beaten, bound and gagged warriors. The men on horseback are the feared elite of the Aizu Seven Spears and their prisoners are the remnants of the Hori clan. Action then cuts to a meeting between Tokugawa Iyemitsu and his advisors to debate how to handle this politically incendiary death march. The Hori clan were vassals to the sadistic, deviant Kato Shikibunodho Akinari. In response to Akinari's violation of clan women, the Hori rebelled, and while Tokugawa could express little love for the rapist, mass murderer, the foundation of his state rested on the dominion of lords over their vassals.
Unfortunately for the politicians, the situation became more dicey when the Seven Spears dragged the Hori men to the Tokeiji Temple, a monastic refuge for women, including the surviving Hori women, and Princess Sen, a carry-over from the messy political/battlefield conflicts that set the stage for the Tokugawa regime. When all the dust settled, 23 of the temple's nuns were dead, along with the 21 Hori men, leaving seven Hori women living as nuns. Incensed by the violation of the temple, Princess Sen calls for Zen priest Takuan Soho, who in turn brings Jyubei Yagyu.
Young, brash, but already sporting his trademark missing eye, Jyubei Yagyu proved to be intrigued by the situation. Holding his own grudge against the Seven Spears, he agreed to train the surviving Hori women so that they can exact vengeance for the extermination of their clan and the desecration of the Tokeiji Temple.
What's interesting about THE YAGYU NINJA SCROLLS is that while, like BASILISK, it is another ninja deathmatch, it's also an exercise in asymmetric warfare. On one side, you have a collection of freakish martial artists matching the depths of NINJA SCROLL director Yoshiaki Kawajiri anime or Shaw Brothers movies (a one armed swordsman, a hulking strongman, a doughy man with a whip, ect). On the other side, you have a group of women forced to become nuns, then forced to ensnare the men who wronged them. Jubei states plainly that even if he had 100 years to train the Hori women, his pupils would still not be able to outmatch their foes. The Aizu Spears have already endured a lifetime of harsh training to develop skills that they are continuing to improve. In terms of physical ability, their adversaries are a moving target with a monumental head start. Instead, Jyubei declares that his training will focus on the art of war: "the Sun Tzu school, the Kung Ming School, Kusunokii Koshu, Sanada..."
This is a vicious variant of the classic brains versus brawn; a to-the-death competition of deceit and violence. By volume two, the mutual assault and battery nastiness has begun. The hit list starts with engaging the Aizu's Tessai, a short, old man, whose skills with a chain and sickle are enough to put Yagyu on the defensive. Yagyu and the Hori counter with a lethal A-Team sting that comes to bloody fruition on the streets of a red light district.
As with BASILISK, Segawa captures the violence in a dynamic, digitally inked style. Unlike manga that utilized detailed, concrete backgrounds, Segawa goes for loosely defined shading or blurs. This gives a depth of field, in which forms and modeled objects can seem to move around. Not only do movements and attacks rush and spring across the page, the choreography translates with perfect clarity. There are numerous great samurai fiction manga creators whose work needs to be parsed in order to determine who is doing exactly what when, but Segawa's action is always instantly discernable.
With Jyubei Yagyu quick to inform his students that in addition to sacrificing their lives, the effort will require that they sacrifice their virtue, the explicitly introduced prospect of the Hori using their bodies to ensnare their adversaries makes the premise of Kazuo Koike's LADY SNOWBLOOD look like a feminist work. This isn’t to say that the manga is as violently misogynistic as some. Most of the obscene material is treated as such, and is kept off the page. While Akinari's torture chamber is revealed, little is shown of its use. The manga's idea of tasteful modesty is illustrated by having a woman stripped, hung and beaten bloody, but only showing her back in an aftermath panel. As such, the manga is more sanitized than a Koike work, or Miura's BESERK, or even a Go Nagai work like his goofy KEKKO KAMEN. But, in exploitation media fashion, it does have a disconcerting problem with objectifying women. Between the pages of the Hori women reduced to weeping, with tears and mucus running down their faces, literally piles of naked women abused by Yoshiaki, and an Aizu visit to a human trafficker that demonstrated a particularly humiliating test to check for women's upbringing, if you are apt to be offended, THE YAGYU NINJA SCROLLS will accomplish it.
If you're a samurai action fan whose looking to expand your horizons, track down a copy of Hiroshi Hirata's SATSUMA GISHIDEN. It might be a hunt. You're not going to get the whole work since poor sales prompted Dark Horse to suspend it, but you will find a rewarding, artfully violence samurai manga. If you want a samurai manga that delivers on the blood and guts pulp, THE YAGYU NINJA SCROLLS can be relied upon to deliver it with fast and furious intensity.
Scott Green has been writing for AICN ANIME for close to seven years. If you like what you see here and love anime and manga, be sure to check out his latest AICN ANIME column here.
OUT OF THE GUTTER # 4
Written by: Too many people to list here. Published by: outoftheguttermagazine.com Reviewed by: superheroThe first thing I have to do with this review is publicly apologize to the writers of OUT OF THE GUTTER. The truth is that I was sent this book about a month or so ago and it's taken me a while to finish it. Life just kept me busy for a while so I wasn't able to really delve into the bowels of OUT OF THE GUTTER's pages. Part of the reason is because OUT OF THE GUTTER is an actual book, like with real words, and not a comic book. These days I don't get to read much prose because the fact is that about a little over a year ago my wife and I had our first child. It's the big reason you don't see me reviewing comics in the column as much as I used to. First time parenting is crazy stuff and I'm not able to pick up my comics in as timely a manner as I used to be able to, so getting around to reading and reviewing a collection of short stories was a nearly Herculean task for me. So I'm sorry for the delay in getting this review out. Hope you can forgive me.
The second thing I have to say, or at least repeat, about OUT OF THE GUTTER is that it is, in fact, a collection of short stories and not a comic. Okay, yes, there are pictures in the pages of OUT OF THE GUTTER which consist of mostly hysterical send ups of the type of ads you used to see in old comic books. The ads are truly clever and amusing but if you're looking for sequential artwork then you'd best go elsewhere because OUT OF THE GUTTER is reading of the text only variety.
Which brings me to the third thing I have to say about OUT OF THE GUTTER: it kicks some serious ass.
At this point I'm sure so many of you out there are saying, "But superhero, what the hell? Isn't this column about reviewing comic books?" To which I should say, "Shut yer pie hole and read this book!" You want to know why? Because if comic fans are going to just go apeshit over comics (and movies based on those comics) like Frank Miller's SIN CITY, Brian Azzerello's 100 BULLETS and Ed Brubaker's CRIMINAL then they owe it to themselves to pick up a read like OUT OF THE GUTTER.
In the past several years the comic scene has seen the resurgence of the crime genre and while many of those comics were inspired by the dime store pulp novels of yesteryear it's nice to see that the spirit of those books is still being kept alive by the crew behind OUT OF THE GUTTER. OUT OF THE GUTTER is the real deal when it comes to the modern equivalent of those seedy crime stories that brought about the great comic tales that so many comic fans have been flocking to in the past ten years or so. The work in the pages of OOTG is not for the weak at heart. It's gritty, non-compromising writing and just about every story is a compelling and sometimes disturbing read. It's an impressive feat being that some of the stories are only a couple of pages long at the most. In many ways even the flash fiction, which barely clocks in at two pages per story, is some pretty entertaining pulp reading. Which, again, says a lot to the quality of OUT OF THE GUTTER. Whether it's a two page missive or a twenty page short the writers of this collection really deliver the goods. It's full of tales of humanity gone wrong at its best and it's entertaining as all get out.
So if you're a fan of the aforementioned comics or you've loved the pre-code EC crime comics like SHOCK SUSPENSE STORIES and CRIME SUSPENSE STORIES do yourself a favor and pick up OUT OF THE GUTTER. While crime comics are a great read it's still a thrill to actually be able to delve into the pages of a truly corruptive piece of fiction like the kind found within the covers of OUT OF THE GUTTER.
Discovered as a babe in an abandoned comic book storage box and bitten by a radioactive comic fan when he was a teenager, superhero is actually not-so mild mannered sometime designer & cartoonist, Kristian Horn of Los Angeles, California. He's been an @$$hole for three years. Some of his work can be seen at www.kristianhorn.com.
DUNGEON: MONSTRES, VOL. 1: THE CRYING GIANT
Written by Johann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim Art by Mazan & John-Christophe Menu Published by NBM Reviewed by Stones ThrowOkay, I’ve been reviewing here for a good few months now, I’m more or less used to receiving hate mail and the occasional review copy through the letter box. What I’m trying to establish here is that I’m not the type to be wowed by the privilege of being sent a graphic novel and eventually feeling guilty enough to type up four hundred to eight hundred words on the experience. Nevertheless, when this baby dropped on the floor of what I call my abode, many questions were raised. Not least how the hell did they get my address? I don’t remember any recent emails, and I’m fairly certain the Nigerian general I’m in correspondence with hasn’t been networking that much. Secondly, why is AICN Comics’ only British @r$ehole the first port of call for a New York publishing house reprinting translated French graphic novels?
Beyond those initial perplexions, a quick flip through landed me on the back cover of this paperback and confirmed my suspicions: this is some kind of cute, long-running French fantasy series set in its own magical world, populated by a host of enchanting, humorous talking animals etc. etc. Now, I sat through all three LORD OF THE RINGS films, I think I’ve had my fill of this stuff. I wouldn’t want to knock anything without considering its own endemic merits, but from my experience, this kind of thing is fine for 11 year olds who want to draw up charts of timelines and collect trading cards or what have you, but by the time you hit puberty it starts to lose a lot of the ol’ appeal. I mean, what would you say if I told you this collection opens with the story of a chicken trying to get rid of an enchanted sword who gets embroiled in a band of monsters’ efforts to survive an especially harsh winter, and in particular, one monster called John-John who gets cut in half but survives, the two halves forming a co-existent relationship?
Well, yeah, I guess I’d say that sounds fairly awesome, too, but it’s the sort of thing that could easily slide into overly dense silliness, or get too wound up in its whimsical world. It doesn’t! (Jeez, couldn’t see that coming, could you?) I’m gonna put that down to the fresh, intelligent humor of Trondheim and Sfar that keeps things rolling forward and gives all of the characters personality that you wouldn’t normally associate with trench coat-wearing chickens or halved, egg-shaped monsters. Example: William Delacour, the chicken, is the hero of the first chapter. He’s sort of a Jack Sparrow or Han Solo type, a smooth-talking rogue with just enough of a reckless side to end up in the kind of situations he has to sweet-talk his way out of. You’d have thought something with a name like “Sword of Destiny” would be right up his alley, huh? (Yeah, I think the rhetorical question structure to reviews is a good way to go.) Wrong! Right at the start, the talking belt that accompanies the sword directs him to “an inexpensive inn nearby”, knowing full well the monsters cooped up inside are looking for a lodger to eat to avoid starving to death.
What’s perhaps most impressive (and probably the least likely to be replicated in a native English-language comic) is that none of the humor undercuts the bizarre reality of the world or the occasional moments of genuine emotion. Believe me, you’ll be surprised at how often you find yourself chuckling, and you’ll feel the pain when John-John’s wife (a squid on a stick) tells the newly-divided monster she doesn’t want to sleep with the two of them. Translation to English impacts the storytelling surprisingly little. If anything, it enhanced the deadpan humor, with the characters all talking in a slightly stilted manner—probably in the original French for all I know.
Much of the comic is truly hallucinatory, in the best way possible. In a swordfight with a pirate (a dog, I think), Delacour agrees to cut off his own head rather than be killed by someone else. Of course, you never expect him to go through with it, but then Mazan draws the self-decapitation in a hilariously understated manner, pulling back for a wide shot rather than a shock close-up. (Don’t worry, folks, the Sword of Destiny only kills with one side, which is why John becomes John-John. The chicken’s head gets stowed in a bag, and he headlessly continues as guide to the monsters.) The crew stop off at an astronomy in the mountains run by an ox, a centaur and a goat wearing purple robes, stunningly drawn by Mazan, an artist who acquits himself admirably with both denser pages and the big panels. The second half changes over to the equally talented Menu. If anything, I’d have to say I preferred Mazan over the second half’s thicker lines and more traditional cartooning style, but both do great work and the coloring changes subtly to account for the differences in style. To this untrained eye, both artists would be more expected to be seen on underground comix type stuff than mega-selling, kid-friendly French series, but that’s what helps keep the reader’s attention and sell the situations and comedy.
Yeah, I realize I used words like “talking chicken”, “Jack Sparrow-type”, “centaur” and “kid-friendly”. I swear I’m not going soft. But at a time when I’m increasingly disillusioned with the standard fare at the local comic shop, it’s a joy to discover something that’s weird, alternative and wholly populist all at once. Turns out there’s a whole new world of comics out there just waiting to be discovered. It’s called “French”. DUNGEON isn’t a comic that’s obsessed with being unlike a comic or replicating what’s already been done better. It’s just telling inventive new stories with the medium.
Now if I could just find out where they got my name and address, I’d be set.