Comics

AICN COMICS REVIEWS: NOVA! DR. MANHATTAN! LOCKE & KEY! THE JUNGLE BOOK! & MORE!

Published at: Feb. 27, 2013, 9:02 a.m. CST

The Pull List
(Click title to go directly to the review)

Advance Review: THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES #1
NOVA #1
GREEN LANTERN #17/GREEN LANTERN CORPS #17/GREEN LANTERN: NEW GUARDIANS #17
LOCKE & KEY: OMEGA #3
THOR: GOD OF THUNDER #5
Indie Jones presents SPARKS (Graphic Novel/Film Review)
SWORD OF SORCERY #5
Advance Review: WITCH DOCTOR: MAL PRACTICE #4
ALPHA #1
Indie Jones presents MONSTER MYTHS VOL.1
DAREDEVIL #23
JUSTICE LEAGUE #17
NOVA #1
Advance Review: BEFORE WATCHMEN: DR. MANHATTAN #4


Advance Review: In stores this week!

GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES #1

Writers: Mark L. Miller (main story), Rob Patey III (back-up story)
Art: Jorge Marcado (main story), Bruce Mapa (back-up story) Publisher: Zenescope Entertainment
Reviewer: Lyzard


When I reviewed issue #4 of the original run of THE JUNGLE BOOK, I wasn’t exactly blown away. The series wasn’t bad, in fact I found Carlos Granada’s artwork to be bold and beautiful, but overall it just wasn’t my cup of tea. For a new storyline, I wouldn’t have expected an artist change, but this and the alteration in tonality was a pleasant change of flavor.

LAST OF THE SPECIES picks up right after the events of the first five JUNGLE BOOK comics. Though having won her own personal war against Shere Kahn, Mowglii has set Kipling Isle on its own path to conflict. Right now is the calm before the storm, but at any moment the jungle and its tribes could be at each other’s throats yet again.

Though Jorge Mercado replaces Carlos Granada as penciler, Liezl Buaventura remained on as colorist. This helps smooth over the transition from Granada’s detailed line work and environments, to Meracdo’s equally well done but more stylized and cartoonish (in a positive sense) character design.

The other change I noticed was in tone. I don’t remember the first series to be so funny. I’m not saying that this new JUNGLE BOOK is all humorous, but it is much more fun and lighthearted (mirroring the new artwork). But just before you think Zenescope is straying towards Disney territory, have no fear. There’s still plenty of excitement and darkness about. It is the balance, between the jokes and jeopardy that work so well in this issue.

This comic also features a short story co-written by Robert Patey III and Mark L. Miller, drawn by Butch Mapa. TIME IN THE SUN has the mongoose Rikki Tikki telling a tale that takes place prior to the arrival of the four humans. This short ties into the main story’s title, LAST OF THE SPECIES, a lament expressed by Baloo as the lone bear on the island. But it was not always that way, as the Bada Dar use to be an intimidating tribe. In Part I, the leader Badur is introduced along with his thirst for power. We can all guess where this hubris will take him. Artist Butch Mapa’s style resembles neither Mercado or Granda’s work on the series, mainly due to the lack of detail. The dialogue reminds me of the original JUNGLE BOOK comics, lofty and philosophical.

The combination of the two stories has garnered my attention much more than the original series. It is nice to see Patey get his wish for there to be more history with the animal tribe, a complaint he expressed in his review of the first five issues, and an alteration I feel does add to the story. Miller’s writing and Mercado’s drawings make an even better combo and I can’t wait to see what comes next from those two.

Lyzard is actually Lyz Reblin, a senior screenwriting major with an English minor at Chapman University. Along with writing for AICN, she has been published twice on the subject of vampire films.


NOVA #1

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Ed McGuinness
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Masked Man


Now I don't know about you, but I'm a big Nova fan. Something about a shiny star helmet and flying around so fast your legs disappear was cool to me when I was younger. Yup, I'm the proud owner of the original run of THE MAN CALLED NOVA- though I got them all from back issue boxes. I even picked up ROM #24, where Marvel retired Nova. I was mostly disappointed when Fabian Nicieza brought him back, and stole from the Green Lantern Corps even more by making the Nova Corps multi-planetary. Then I frick'n loved what Erik Larsen did with the character. More awesomeness in the ANNIHILIATION- then more let down with DnA's really boring run. So yeah, I love Nova and I'm quite picky about him.

So now Marvel has spent a year pimping this new book. It was almost enough to make me bored and stop caring. Writer Jeph Loeb has been a source of disappointment for me since his SUPERMAN/BATMAN days, and I'm soo not a fan of the ADD-challenged ULITMATE SPIDER-MAN cartoon. Seems like it was only a matter of time before I would hate this thing and start the 'We want Rich Rider Back' blog.

Well surprise, surprise, I really enjoyed this first issue of NOVA! Loeb did a great job of building a new setting for Nova--a near Spider-man knock-off just like the original by Marv Wolfman. You see, Richard Rider was totally a Peter Parker clone (minus the smarts) and Sam Alexander seems to be the same. And unlike in the cartoon, Sam comes off as very likable here. The supporting cast is very likable as well, if a bit cliché, but like I said, Nova has a history of copying Spider-Man. But the main point here is these are characters you can like!

Ed McGuinness's art is near perfect as always, though he still sometimes sacrifices story in the name of splash panels--like how page one is totally crammed with tiny panels so we can have a two-page spread on two and three. I would have been quite happy with easier to read panels on one and two, and then a cool splash page on just three. But still, great stuff from McGuinness as always.

So I'm very glad to see a good Nova book back on the stands--it's been a while.

Learn more about the Masked Man and feel free to critic his own comicbook endeavors at www.Toonocity.com


GREEN LANTERN #17/GREEN LANTERN CORPS #17/GREEN LANTERN NEW GUARDIANS #17

Writers: Geoff Johns/Peter J. Tomasi/Tony Bedard
Art: Doug Mahnke/Fernando Pasarin/Aoron Kuder
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: The Writing Rambler


So here we go: “The Wrath of the First Lantern” is upon us. Instead of boring you with my own GREEN LANTERN cheerleading section throughout three different reviews, I’m going to give it all to you right here in one emerald-colored package. In all honesty, there’s no reason to separate reviews for these three stories. Sure, they have different writers and artists (well get to that in a minute), but realistically these three issues are the first 3 parts of the” Wrath of the First Lantern” story and actually do flow together as one tale, unlike the jumbled mess that was “The Rise of the Third Army”. Already this feels more like a real GREEN LANTERN event than “Rise of the Third Army” tried to be. The start of this story and the release of the first Lantern Volthoom basically explained to us that the whole “Third Army” storyline was a waste of our time. As a fan, this definitely pisses me off because DC had no problem taking my money for this last “event” and the payoff was simply them saying “Okay, so there was really no point to all that but now we’ve really got something special for you”. Sometimes I feel like I’m in an abusive relationship with DC Comics, but just when I’m ready to walk away they do something sweet to win me back. This “Rise of The First Lantern” event seems to be that sweet nothing being whispered in my ear.

Despite my annoyance about the whole “Third Army” ruse, I find myself generally excited for the “Wrath of the First Lantern” story. Already in these three issues I’ve seen that something big is about to happen, and we even started off with some nice backstory for the Guardians as well.

Probably the biggest news revolving around this event is that this story will be Geoff Johns’ final run on GREEN LANTERN. It’s been pretty much a decade of Johns and his team shaping and directing the whole GREEN LANTERN universe, and I can’t imagine them not wanting to go out without a bang. I know at some point in the future I’ll probably be back here professing my love for the years that Johns has given us on GREEN LANTERN, so I won’t waste your time doing it now.

Let’s get to the basics of what going on in the GREEN LANTERN world in case you’ve been out of the loop. Simply put, the Guardians have lost it and are full blown evil. They are trying to destroy all of the Corps, not to mention purge the entire universe from having any emotion. In their madness they have released the First Lantern named Volthoom, who is weak but apparently will have the power to reshape space and time when he fully recharges his mojo. The Corps are busy doing their best to fight back. Hal and Sinestro are apparently dead, while newly christened Green Lantern Simon Baz is off trying to find them in the afterlife. John Stewart is trying to bring Mogo back to life (He blew him up a while back, so I imagine that will be an awkward convo if he succeeds). Kyle Rayner is a super-powered White Lantern for some reason, and Guy Gardner is…well, he’s being Guy Gardner. Yeah…I think that covers it.

So with that background out of the way, we’re ready to embark on this one big storyline before those who have guided GREEN LANTERN for so many years finally say their goodbyes. These three issues start off with a bang and really get the story going by showing us who Volthoom is and what type of power he is really wielding. The story starts in GREEN LANTERN 17, and sticks to the script as far as what we’re used to from Johns and company from a storytelling standpoint. Where the story actually gets fun is in GREEN LANTERN CORPS 17 and NEW GUARDIANS 17. These two books are used solely to show us the type of power that Volthoom has up his sleeve as he picks apart Guy and Kyle, respectively. I think it was a great decision to not jump back and forth to other side stories in these issues and instead focus on Volthoom really getting inside the Lanterns’ heads and manipulating their lives to show them different variations of themselves, should he decide to unmake the universe.

Visually the books are as exciting as the stories being told, and though NEW GUARDIANS 17 is the least of the three, it still holds its own, and that says a lot when you have Doug Mahnke consistently knocking it out of the park with his work on the main GREEN LANTERN title. Volthoom’s power emanates through each book, and all of the art teams involved should be proud of the job they’ve done starting this story off with some strong visuals.

It’s been a while since the Green Lantern books had one all-encompassing enemy that actually seemed like he could mean trouble for the entire DCU as a whole. Even at their worst, the Guardians have never really come off as a threat. If handled correctly, Volthoom should become a villain up there with the likes of the Anti-Monitor and Darkseid. I’m hoping with Johns at the lead and solid backup work from Tomasi and Bedard the next three months that this story spans will be one of major payoff for fans who have been there over the past decade that this whole Geoff Johns run has played out.

You can follow The Writing Rambler on his blog here and follow on Twitter @Writing_Rambler !


LOCKE & KEY: OMEGA #3

Writer: Joe Hill
Artist: Gabriel Rodriguez
Published by: IDW Publishing
Reviewed by: BottleImp


The waiting really IS the hardest part.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention—perhaps getting your Keyhouse fix through each inevitable trade collection rather than on a serialized basis—LOCKE & KEY is coming to an end (“In 4 issues, it’s all over!” proclaims the blurb above the IDW logo). I’ve followed the series nearly from its beginning; I too was one of those trade paperback collectors, but once I finished the first volume I knew I’d want to read this comic month-to-month. Well, not quite month-to-month, seeing as how there have been several long stretches of time between story arcs and even sequential issues. Gaps such as these would ordinarily make me lose interest in most comics…but what Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez have crafted here is so goddamn good that the waiting only serves to heighten my anticipation of the next amazing issue, and this one is no exception.

Hill and Rodriguez are taking their time building up to the Locke family’s final conflict with the demon-possessed Dodge (currently inhabiting the body of Bode, the youngest of the clan), and this issue is one of those “calm before the storm” moments. The pieces are slowly coming into place, the characters are playing their parts, and the shit is gradually piling up. Hill carefully crafts a slow burn of ominous tension and dreadful apprehension, punctuated by small, sharp stabs of action and horror. Perhaps the most disturbing moment comes right at the start of this issue, as Dodge (in the body of a seven-year-old boy, remember) uses the Shadow Key to attack Nina Locke, Bode’s mother. Nina is assaulted by the shadow monsters, has wine forced down her throat—is essentially violated by someone using the body of her youngest son to do so. Though LOCKE & KEY hasn’t skimped on blood and gore, it’s the more psychologically charged moments like this one that give the series is most thrilling moments of true horror.

And this is why the series is able to hold onto my interest in spite of the seemingly endless waits between each issue, when a lesser title would have fallen by the wayside. Joe Hill knows how to write for the serialized medium of comic books; he balances careful character development with the advancement of the plot and foreshadowing of what’s to come, while remembering to include enough action to keep each issue from being too talky. Gabriel Rodriguez, as always, brings the Locke family and their friends, enemies—and even the inanimate Keyhouse—to brilliant life with his striking artwork.

So yeah, we’re still waiting for the forces of Good and Evil to come to their ultimate clash. But as long as Hill and Rodriguez keep up the drama, excitement and characterization that mark this issue, I think that I’ll be able to enjoy the wait.

When released from his bottle, the Imp transforms into Stephen Andrade, an artist/illustrator/pirate monkey painter from New England. He's currently hard at work interpreting fellow @$$Hole Optimous Douche's brainwaves and transforming them into pretty pictures on AVERAGE JOE, an original graphic novel to be published by Com.x. You can see some of his artwork here.


THOR: GOD OF THUNDER #5

Wrier: Jason Aaron
Artist: Esad Ribic
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche


I never gave a rat’s ass about Thor, or any Avenger for that matter. My best friend in junior high first turned me on to muties, and there my heart stayed for 25 plus years to come.

That best friend and I recently connected after far too long, and after the obligatory “this is my life” banter we inevitably fell right back into our 12 to 18 year old selves . We started talking comics and there we stayed for almost 4 hours.

He has remained pure to the mutie cause, oly dabbling into those Marvel NOW titles that are half-breeds of muties melding with “whatever else makes people special” teams like UNCANNY AVENGERS.

“Gavin, you’re missing out on THOR!” I exclaimed.

Of course, like any good geek he cornered me into rationalization. And I’m weary this week over the upcoming death of Robin. Not weary because he’s dying, but weary because it’s finally revealed he’s a slow kid. He totally missed when he was supposed to die back in BATMAN #17.

Sorry--oh yeah: THOR. So, my rationalization becomes content repurposing for all of you evil shunners of THOR’s goodness.

Through death, Aaron has captured Thor’s indomitable fortitude to protect life. He has given the character an essence the Avenger plebeians like my friend and I had never seen before. Now, I have read what are considered to be watershed AVENGERS books over the years; if I got paid for this gig it would be called an occupational hazard. Most of them lost me after my required reading was done, and not one of them made me feel that THOR was worth sharing my precious annually declining comic reading time at night. To quote ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING, “Thor’s gay!” Or if not gay, since we all know that kid would be curb-stomped by stilettos for saying that these days, THOR has been at least the stereotypical fratboy foreign exchange student: ”Grog, Girls, Smash, Bro!”

I scoffed at first at the antagonist’s name, Gorr the God Killer, until Ribic’s dewy pencils lulled my cynical synapses into a hypnotic trance. Seriously, other than that one moment of lapse in willing suspension of disbelief, this series has sucked me in and comes as alive as a 4800FPS movie in my head. Ribic gives clarity through a Vaseline lens. I know this sounds nasty, but it’s not.

Of course Aaron gets marks for the pacing of the individual series, and it is fast; every issue satisfyingly whisks by. But more importantly, the enormity of this story set against the ongoing series is monumental. To kill off an entire universe of gods, and thus ancillary characters for your protagonist to interact with, makes this not just a reboot, but more so a reboot to the ass. Most writers take at least a year to build to these kinds of consequences for a character’s universe. If this is truly of only issue #005 of this book, and Marvel is committed to filling those front end zeroes for the long haul, the second arc will have to come shipped with a die-cut Fleshlight to increase pleasure, and the third arc will form a symbiotic umbilical cord to your brain.

Yes, THOR is that good.

The choice to play the title in three time periods was also a very warm welcoming for newbies to the Nordic side of comics. In olden times, I got to see the douchey fratboy Thor I met in AVENGERS, but at least he was in battle instead of in a house. It made it better somehow. There was also no getting tripped up in too much Asgardian lore for now, since the only time we are there is in the distant future where an ancient Thor, the last God, fights to hold the throne against Gorr’s assault, and also a wee little bit of time in present day to research the origins of the fallen Gods throughout the universe. Trust me: THOR is better served to the uninitiated without too much talk of the Rainbow Bridge out of the gate.

This issue finally brings the dance of ages to close quarters between Thor and Gorr in all three time periods. I’m going to use a little bit of STAR TREK logic here and guess that there’s a reason Gorr grows progressively harder to kill as time passes, because next issue is Gorr’s origin.

Speaking of insight, Aaron also uses this issue to give us insight into Gorr’s God boner by finally letting Thor take a rest from delivering the POV. Here we finally see Gorr’s grand plan’s unveiled, and to be honest, I kind of like what he was saying. The best villains always make you feel some kind of empathy. Yes, sure he’s killed millions of Gods and now he’s laying waste to three versions of Thor; of course he’s bad. Yes, but he also has a cause that has been on the lips of atheists for years: “why should man be controlled by Gods?”

God slayer, liberator from cosmic destiny or simply just a bastard, I don’t care. I want more Gorr and THOR stat!

Optimous Douche has successfully blackmailed BottleImp to draw purty pictures for his graphic novel AVERAGE JOE coming out in 2013 from COM.X. When not on Ain’t It Cool, Optimous can be found talking comics and marketing on robpatey.com and just marketing on MaaS360.com.


SPARKS (graphic novel)

Writer: Christopher Folino
Arists: JM Ringuet, Tyler Endicott
Studio: Catastrophic Comics/Sideshow Productions

SPARKS (film)

Directors: Christopher Folino, Todd Burrows
Writer: Christopher Folino
Starring: Chase Williamson, Ashley Bell, Clancy Brown
Reviewer: Lyzard


Walking the streets at San Diego Comic-Con, passing by all those exclusive parties, you can tell there has been a massive change in the comic industry. The Hard Rock Hotel is booked by studios, the rooms filled with movie and television stars and industry personnel who never even step foot into the convention center. Disney’s purchase of Marvel was just the most obvious sign of late that comics and film will remain inextricably linked at the hip, like bickering Siamese twins. Fans of the comics will cry out over the injustices done to their favorite characters, while oblivious studio heads will scream at their underlings over why films like SUPERMAN RETURNS and THE SPIRIT failed. So is there anyway to appease both fan bases? Those that venture to the comic shops on Wednesday and moviegoers that still can’t pronounce Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir?

SPARKS, a graphic novel written four years ago by Christopher Folino was recently adapted by the creator himself. The adaptation represents a potential solution for the inevitable conglomeration of comics and film. Instead of your favorite book being picked up and mutated into an unrecognizable product by a third party, the writers and artists themselves can bring their tales to life on the big screen. We’ve already seen well-done web series of some of our favorite superheroes, but creator-made feature films have yet to break through. Is SPARKS the start of this new trend?

From my perspective, it seems obvious that Sparks became a motion picture. Catastrophic Comics was formed by actor William Katt and indie director Christopher Folino. The song “Too Wonderful for Words” that appears throughout the comic was used in Warner Brother’s Bogart-Bacall picture, DARK PASSAGE. SPARKS is a love story in more ways than one. Beyond the romantic entanglements that Ian Sparks finds himself in, the comic is ode to the films of the 40s from the hard-boiled detective flicks like Humphrey’s THE MALTESE FALCON and the post WWII sci-fi pictures filled radioactive catastrophes.

The comic begins in 1920 when a meteorite crash in Rochester, New York kills most within a ten mile radius. Many of the initial survivors die from radiation, except for thirteen who develop unique mutations. But our hero, Ian Sparks, was not one of the thirteen. He’s more a Batman than a Spiderman… except without the money… fighting skills… and superior intellect. Okay, so the only thing Sparks shares with the Caped Crusader is he saw his parent’s die before his eyes and used this, and with some help from his elderly guardian, as the impetus to turn himself into a savior for others. But a super he is not, which is where The Lady comes in. And as any good femme fatale, she is at the center of Ian’s downward spiral. Battered, beaten, and supposedly murdered, Ian Sparks waltzes into the Chronicle to record his tale, a convoluted trip down memory lane with detours including Japanese scientists, crooked cops, and pesky problems from the past that never seem to die.

All the great superheroes face an identity crisis, but the graphic novel telling their stories shouldn’t. You’ve got some dark elements in the beginning, but nothing too graphic or stomach-churning. Later a few unsavory scenes pop up. Then comes the halfway point and the graphic novel delves deeper and deeper into the darkness, not just with violence but heinous sexual transgressions as well. This tonality shift parallels with how information is dealt out in the numerous flashbacks. SPARKS is a story where the picture isn’t clear until you have placed in all the puzzle pieces. Slowly, the flashbacks fill in more and more of the gaps. The mood of SPARKS does the same, slowly building into this tale of various forms of debauchery, revealing a very different story than one began with. Just as I was left turning the pages back to see if I had missed something after each flashback, I also wondered why the mood kept shifting so frequently and abruptly.

A streamlined version of the plot was to be expected from a ninety minute adaptation. I was right and any hang ups I had while reading SPARKS were made much clearer in the film. That was the trend. There wasn’t an entire lack of subtly, but the film was much more overt in dropping hints. Then there were the times I wish the film had remained subtle, and oh too many times there were.

Inevitably, being an indie production (and by this I mean a true independent motion picture and not from one of those subsidiary studios) quality is going to be an issue. Sacrifices have to be made due to budgetary concerns and this quite evident with SPARKS. It is easy to make an argument for digitized backgrounds. They worked so well in SIN CITY and the visual style has become associated with a comic-look, whatever that means. However, melding the real and the CGI effectively is what separates films like 300 from web-series to TV show SANCTUARY. The difference goes beyond money, but the use of stylization. Placing a character in a bright red hoody, next to others dressed in black, and a clearly CGI made backdrop will only draw attention to the disconnect. Too often was I distracted by the visuals, both the computer-generated imagery and the tactile designs.

Regarding fidelity, I try to care not whether an actor visually matches the book. The casting in Sparks wasn’t exactly what I imagined, but the wide array of actors does make up for the lack of diversity of character design in the graphic novel. The diversity in acting style on the other hand... let us just say there is a difference between acting in homage and parody with the supporting cast occupying both camps. Looking at the main characters, the talent pool is much more consistent.

Ian Sparks is surrounded by strong women and the same goes for the lead actor, Chase Williamson. Ashley Bell is a much better Bacall than Chase as a Bogart, complete with the enticing saunter, husky voice, and sultry demeanor made all the more dangerous to men by her hell of a back kick. Where Bell plays the aggressive heroine, Marina Squerciati’s Dawn is a pillar of emotional strength. Her interactions with Williamson make him better, unlike his pairings with Bell and Clancy Brown where they overshadow him.

I get a bit intense when it comes to adaptations, yelling at my friends about medium specificity and how you should only judge the book and film based on the quality of the sole product. But seeing as they inevitably continue along after my tantrum, complaining about the color of Katniss’ hair, I know I’m in the minority of those trying to judge separately. So, gun to my head, between SPARKS the graphic novel and SPARKS the film, who wins out?

Both the graphic novel and the movie have their faults, and comparing the two only heightens each of their weaknesses. The comic tells the story much better visually, while the film presents a clearer plot. I easily preferred the characterization of Ian Sparks in the book, but Ashley Bell’s Lady was much more dynamic than the original. In the end, it is just easier to say that SPARKS the movie is sort of like its protagonist. It isn’t a super film, but it gets the job done.

The graphic novel comes out on Amazon March 1st, to coincide with its premiere at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose (repeating on the 2nd and 5th of March). The digital copy is $15 and the paper $20 + s/h. For those outside of California, SPARKS will next appear at the Omaha Film Festival March 9th and then at the Chicago Film Critics Festival between April 12-14th.






SWORD OF SORCERY: AMETHYST #5

Writer: Christy Marx
Artist: Aaron Lopresti
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Masked Man


Did you know that in the original run of AMETHYST, some 30 issues, Amethyst brandishes a sword on the cover five times--usually held in celebration? In six issues of the new series she has wielded a sword in combat on every cover except for the one where she is unconscious. Not sure what that means--the comic is called SWORD OF SORCERY--but on some level I feel this could parallel my feelings on the new series in general.

Although I never read the original 12 issue maxiseries, I did read all 16 issues of the regular series of AMETHYST, and to be honest I don't remember much of it, aside from liking it, so I decided to flip through a few issues and see if I could remember why. The original series was much more a fairy tale. People still got killed and all (like any good Grimm's tale), but Gemworld was a way more fantastic place back then with sorcery and magical creatures everywhere. With all the evil warlords and the ongoings in the courts of the 12 Gem Kingdoms, AMETHYST was an exciting fantasy book.

Now six issues in with the New 52 Amethyst, despite the hard work of Christy Marx and Aaron Lopresti, it has yet to rise above the basics of its story. We've got the typical medieval times, lots of sword fighting, and kingdom intrigue with magic powers up for grabs. But instead of being interesting, it just is. I've often said that how a story is executed is often more important than what the story is. And this is the case here, as the execution fails to make any of the characters or plotlines interesting. Even with a couple of bald-headed assassins and the reveal that Amaya's grandfather helped kill her dad, it all comes across as dull. It just seems to go to the obvious place each time: Amaya stabs it with a sword (or throws magic spikes in it).

AMETHYST isn't bad book; I'm just hard pressed to find a reason to read it.

How's the new STALKER? Well, I never read the original by Steve (I created Spider-Man too) Ditko, so I can only comment on what I've read: after two installments it's even more boring than AMETHYST. Mind you, it took three installments of BEOWULF before I started to dig it, so I might be too quick to judge here, but the story of a warrior having an empty immortal life because of a deal with the devil, who decides to protect the pregnant girl the devil wants him to kill—yeah, I almost fell asleep just writing that. Let's just say I need something more than the typical loner anti-hero in leather chatting with the 'too cool for school' devil at the local bar.

As a fantasy fan, I was really happy to see DC bring back characters like Amethyst, Beowulf and Stalker, but so far it's all just been a dull paint by numbers experience.


Advance Review: In stores this week!

WITCH DOCTOR: MAL PRACTICE #4

Writer: Brandon Seifert
Art: Lukas Ketner
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug


Brandon Seifert really seems to be hitting his stride with his mystical medical madcappery ridden comic WITCH DOCTOR. This second series introduced us to the Surgeons, Dr. Morrow’s bosses, a competitive femme fatale and former flame Dr. Macabrey, and an arch nemesis Dr. Nostrum. But all of those fun and original characters aside, that’s not the thing I love the most about WITCH DOCTOR.

My favorite aspect of this book is the way Seifert seamlessly schmelds medicine and mysticism. Be it an Ivy Drip which is a vine that hooks to an arm much like an I.V. or an electroshock helmet which channels crystals into one’s chakras, there’s some twisted genius in the way Seifert gives scientific meaning to magic an magical meaning to medical science. Each invention, cure, and treatment the good Dr. Morrow pulls out of his medical bag has me astounded by the ingenuity of the idea and giggle with glee at how fun it all is.

The story so far involves Morrow being infected by a Strigoii desease (which is kind of like vampirism, but not) and using every medical and magical trick in the book to cure himself. All the while, former flame Dr. Macabrey helps him out reluctantly, while having her own alterior motives and Dr. Nostrum, the one behind the infection, has devious plans for all of Morrow’s medical team. As this six issue series winds down to what looks to be a pretty dramatic conclusion, this issue is full of more action than previous ones, while never letting up with the fun banter and ideas.

Lukas Ketner continues to dazzle here with gritty renditions of all forms of monster and medical devices. Delivering on the right side of cartoony to convey the laughs involved, he keeps things dark and twisted enough to maintain an air of danger and the macabre. Much like the dark art of Eric Powell on THE GOON, Ketner is able to convey humor and horror in a manner that acknowledges both without taking away from either. It’s harder than it looks, but Ketner does it with ease in every issue.

I really can’t recommend WITCH DOCTOR: MAL PRACTICE #4 and the rest of the series enough. It’s got a lot of comic booky fun and doesn’t forget its horror roots. If you’re looking for the right blend of action, horror, and humor, WITCH DOCTOR: MAL PRACTICE is what the doctor orderer…

Yeah, that’s right, I said it.

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over eleven years & AICN HORROR for two. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be available on iTunes and soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK last year from Zenescope Entertainment & look for his exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81 released August-December 2012. Mark will be writing GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES to be released in February-June 2013. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.


ALPHA #1

Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art: Nuno Plati
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Henry Higgins is My Homeboy


Retry.

Introduced in a recent story by AMAZING SPIDER-MAN writer Dan Slott, Alpha is an interesting idea. Peter accidentally giving some punk kid the potential power of Superman but not the empathy to use it properly sticks Peter back into a mentor role. Some of the aspects of Alpha were done well, but the ultimate execution (including a tidy little conclusion) was somewhat lacking. His return in his own miniseries gave me hope for a new take on the character, but it’s not off to the best of starts.

The biggest problem with this issue is that, despite what Slott and Fialkov wish, Alpha just isn’t that interesting of a character to read. Fialkov is following the characterization Slott gave him of a short-sighted teen who regularly abuses his powers, but doesn’t do anything interesting with him. It’s an obvious arc for these kind of characters, but there’s nothing to make him stand out from the crowd of teens stuck with powers. Even his more unlikable traits are bland. There’s nothing wrong with having a flawed hero, but he still has to be engaging. Eric O’ Grady from IRREDEEMABLE ANT-MAN was an incredibly selfish man, but he had enough character and charm to be worth reading. Alpha’s just boring, not having any real notable characteristics. He’s just sort of there, with the story happening around him, not because of him. For example, Otto-As-Peter is infinitely more entertaining as the new mentor to Alpha. Committed to righting all of “Peter’s mistakes”, Otto-As-Peter- is fun, interesting, and helps elevate the book (which is sort of the opposite of what’s going on in the main book right now). Little touches here and there may be creative, but for the most part, it’s just a standard story with a subpar lead.

Plati draws a good high school-aged cast, keeping the proportions realistic and the acting consistent. The colour work especially is inventive and memorable, but it can only do so much.

I wish ALPHA was better. The art is well done, and it’s clear that Fialkov has some good ideas (trying to change identity and the domino mask are both good little beats). But at the end of the day, when the title character is as interesting as wet cardboard, there’s only so much you can do.


MONSTER MYTHS VOL.1

Authors: John Lupo Avanti and Chester Westward
Illustrator: John Lupo Avanti
Publisher: COM.X
Reviewer: Mr. Pasty


I was excited to see MONSTER MYTHS come across the shit-pile I call my desk. Then I popped it open and saw it was in black and white and lost some of that excitement. I understand that many of today’s offerings are void of ink, but I’m a spoiled, whiny bitch and I like to see pretty little colors in my comics and graphic novels. That doesn’t downgrade the illustrations by John Lupo Avanti, which are perversely fascinating, but I did struggle in a couple of panels trying to discern the text, which is often presented in varying fonts, depending on the mood of the character or the particular situation that’s unfolding.

Speaking of those situations, we have sort of a FISTFUL OF DOLLARS type of story, where a man is beaten and gets his revenge by pitting the Greasers against the Socs. But in this book, we have taco trucks! Seriously, who doesn’t love tacos? Anyway, I really enjoyed the spunk that MONSTER MYTHS has, because Avanti, along with Chester Westward, clearly wrote this from the heart. It’s kind of a shame that Avanti’s preface works against him, robbing the reader of the wonderment that comes from stumbling in blind. I’m not sure I would classify his explanation of the inspiration behind MONSTER MYTHS -- clearly a personal project -- as “spoilers,” but it might have been better served as a postface. It also could have benefited from a second look from the editors, considering the grammatical errors in the opening paragraph. Fortunately, there aren’t any within the actual story, but it was strange to see such glaring mistakes, especially when a character in the book is teased for not knowing how to spell. Weird.

Is MONSTER MYTHS a book I would recommend? That depends. If you’re the type of comic book reader that enjoys superheroes in tights and villains who can bench-press an aircraft carrier, you might want to hit the longbox or the comics rotisserie at your local 7-11. However, if you want to transport yourself to a strange but ultimately satisfying world populated by bizarre characters coming to life through a tight narrative and memorable visuals, give this one a look. One thing I can guarantee is that it won’t be like anything else you’ve read this year. As crowded as the shelves are these days, that’s definitely a good thing.

Web heads who can’t get enough of Mr. Pasty’s word vomit are encouraged to watch him operate as Nostradumbass over at MMaMania.com here. Love, hate and Mafia Wars requests should be directed here.


DAREDEVIL #23

Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Chris Samnee
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey LeeM


You know a creative run on a title is something special when after a so-called “lull” those involved come back with something as fun, heartfelt, and brutally dramatic as the past two issues of this comic. To put that opener another way, I really was pretty wishy-washy on the Coyote arc that just ran its course in this book. It was a vicious return – in both some good and bad aspects – to the overburdened darkness that plagued this book before the hiatus that lead to this new series. I did highly appreciate some of the elements of the past handful of issues in regard to the dark side of things, namely the mind games being played with Matt and his most personal of memories, but there was just too much of that angst and in-fighting between him and Foggy that smacked of what dragged this book and the character down just a few years ago. Now I’m just hoping Waid and company don’t take any interaction with Foggy out of the comic book world.

I personally feel the relationship between Matt and Foggy is one of the best constants in mainstream comics. There are tons of relationships that make the comic book world go around, mostly in the form of marriages or other interpersonal relations, but the brotherly bond between these two always teemed with some kinetic energy that the great DAREDEVIL runs always channeled. Those two together always portrayed that (relatively) carefree carousing that brings a smile to the face of any red-blooded comic book reading male (and I would assume most of the females, of course) who reads the book. That’s why this particular issue is so beautifully bittersweet.

After last issue’s bombshell that Foggy potentially has cancer I feel this issue was a perfect mix of “I should have known it would be like this” and “I can’t believe this is where we’re at” as the boys take to the town in “style.” I figured that, given how dour things were just a couple issues ago as Matt battled with his sanity, things were going to be grim and then some, and we get our moments of this – I appreciate the “calm before the storm” so to speak as Matt and Foggy gallivant about town. The absolute worst news in the world could be coming down the pipe and they’re swinging from the rooftops, throwing discretion to the wind, and trying to be men (well, slightly grown up boys) about what is looming over their heads. It’s touching at the time as these guys who have grown up and essentially gone through hell together do what they can to keep it together in the face of something neither has encountered or could have expected and is the perfect setup for the horrifying (yet, yeah, kind of predictable) moment that falls like an axe at the end of this issue.

What I really appreciate about this issue is that despite the obvious heavy matter at hand, Waid and Samnee take time to establish the next step of their “let’s fuck with the horn head” journey. While Matt and Foggy are coping with dire straits, the forces that transpired to drive Matt insane before are now transpiring to fight fire with someone who is launching toxic chemicals at convicts like water balloons in order to try and duplicate what made Matt Murdock into a future “Man Without Fear” (a moniker definitely being tested with this current arc). It’s a perfect break in the flow of the drama, too. Instead of being hit in the face with the dread last issue left us with, we set up the next float of the “antagonize Daredevil” parade in a somewhat humorous manner. The dire elements will creep in later, and we need to get a laugh where we can. This is what this title needs to be. Darkness is a part of the game - literally and figuratively - with this character, but there needs to be that occasional wisp of whimsy to avoid dragging the book down like was happening at the end of the last volume. Waid had me scared with the tone of the previous arc; he honestly still has me scared, potentially in tone and developmentally where this arc may go given my investment in the Nelson and Murdock duo, but considering how well he and his dynamic partner Chris Samnee nailed the balance in this issue, my fears are significantly more aligned toward my emotional ties to these characters. This really is just stellar material, and some brave new ground for two characters that have experienced more than their fair share of it in the annals of comic book history.

Humphrey Lee has been an avid comic book reader going on fifteen years now and a contributor to Ain't It Cool comics for quite a few as well. In fact, reading comics is about all he does in his free time and where all the money from his day job wages goes to - funding his comic book habit so he can talk about them to you, our loyal readers (lucky you). He's a bit of a social networking whore, so you can find him all over the Interwebs on sites like Twitter, The MySpaces, Facebookand a blog where he also mostly talks about comics with his free time because he hasn't the slightest semblance of a life. Sad but true, and he gladly encourages you to add, read, and comment as you will.


JUSTICE LEAGUE #17

Writers: Geoff Johns
Artist: Ivan Reis with Paul Pelletier
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Masked Man


The “Throne of Atlantis” has come to its conclusion, and it proves once again that Geoff Johns can write a mean Aquaman story. A Justice League story? Well, the jury is still out on that one.

So, yeah Johns did a bang up job with this story and it came to a nice conclusion, ending with the big showdown between (soon to be) Ocean Master and Aquaman. Then there was the reveal of why Vulko started the whole mess, which was pretty cool, I must admit. Instead of revenge or anything like that, Vulko decided to start a war between Atlantis and the surface world just to get Aquaman to claim the Atlantean throne again. Totally crazy, but it fits with what Johns has set up with Vulko. And that's the thing about this story arc, as I mentioned when it started: it all works because of Johns' good work in AQUAMAN. But as for it being a good Justice League story, well, I see this like the BLACKEST NIGHT crossover. It was a good Green Lantern story that the Justice League guest starred in, and this was a good Aquaman story that the Justice League guest starred in. Aside from Batman declaring JL pride in this issue, for the most part the League acted like the untrusting boobs they have been since issue one. They got in Aquaman's way, had to be saved by Aquaman, and finally helped hold back the Reach before Aquaman saved the day. So not to impressed with the Justice League here. But since the overall story was good, I hope the JUSTICE LEAGUE can continue to be so.

If I had one pet peeve in this issue it was Ivan Reis' layouts. Yes, his figures, backgrounds and splash pages were totally awesome. But lots of pages had panels crammed with tiny figures, which lacked impact. If the figures you are drawing will be printed as the size of your thumbnail, then they are too small to be the subject of the panel. He also had an exploding bus appear out of nowhere, which leads me back to what I said: just a lot of poor layouts in this issue. But I'll face facts--this book looked frick'n great!

So what does the future hold for the Justice League now? Well, as we saw on the final page (and in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1) two new teams are forming based on the Justice League's @$$-kicking ability in this story: The JLA and the Secret Society of Super Villains. Not to mention the Justice League wants to beef up its ranks (is that because Green Lantern and Flash weren't in this issue?). Could this be the start of the Trinity War that DC has been hinting about since 2011? Either way, I think I'll give my beloved Justice League a few more issues now to see if it will improve, or if it will go right back to the 'no thanks' pile.


NOVA #1

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Art: Ed McGuiness and Dexter Vines
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Mad Mercutio


This is no Richard Ryder wearing the helm in this issue. It looks like we will be treated to a new Nova incarnation in the form of Sam Alexander. We are being set up with a coming of age story that happens to involve the power of the Nova Corps, and so far…it’s pretty good.

I really enjoyed the art in this issue, but then again, I’ve always been a fan of Ed McGuiness and Dexter Vines. McGuiness has a very solid and cartoony art style that I’ve enjoyed ever since I first saw his art on the DEADPOOL series years ago. It looks like it is going to be a good match on this series. The art team seems to be able to pull off the everyday events that take place in Carefree, Arizona, whether these events take place in the high school, out on the street, or in the Alexander household, and then do a total switch to the far out cosmic adventure. A major aspect of McGuiness’s work that I’ve always enjoyed is that you never get lost or confused by the artwork. That’s saying something, considering the scenes of space adventure that this issue presented. I wouldn’t call his artwork simple, but there is a certain modest use of lines that makes his art so appealing. One thing of special note about the art for this issue involves the first few pages. Instead of the opening pages of a comic, it looked more like the intro to a cosmic movie. This, of course, works well when you are getting ready to get involved in one of those larger-than-life space operas. It was a great way to start the issue, and the momentum carried on through the whole story.

Was anyone else a fan of the 70s NOVA series? I enjoyed it. I enjoyed how it was billed as a new Spider-Man for a new generation. You know, that whole teen protagonist in a crazy adult world trying to figure things out as they go sort of thing. It looks like they have gone back to that same premise for this series. I must confess that I only had a passing knowledge of the character since I have not actively read his exploits since he first appeared in the 70s. I did not pick up the NOVA series from a few years ago, so I do not know if the main character’s dad, Jesse Alexander, has ever been mentioned in the Nova mythos before. It looks like Jesse was a great Nova, but “retired” to raise a family. He has become an alcoholic, however, with a son that doesn’t respect or believe in him. The story that is told is twofold: we have the Alexander family struggling with an alcoholic father and then we have flashbacks that show Jesse as a great Nova. Sam, of course, does not believe any of it until his father goes missing by the end of the story and Sam is paid a visit by Rocket Raccoon and Gamora. Looks like ol’ Sam is being tugged along in his dad’s wake again.

While not what you would call a brand new premise for a story (are there any brand new premises?), it does look interesting, and the art is great. I’m also a sucker for a coming of age story, so I’ll be with this one to see how it plays out.


Advance Review: In stores today!

BEFORE WATCHMEN: DR. MANHATTAN #4

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Adam Hughes
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche


While there are still a few BEFORE WATCHMEN stragglers left to cross the finish line, I think we’re safe to declare the front runners and those that have valiantly moved us through the time before a time that never was. There frankly were no losers, in my opinion; even MINUTEMEN, which I didn’t give a good goddamn about, was a very well-crafted comic book. I respect those that ideologically objected to this series for purity of the story or in fear of offending Alan Moore’s beard, but please shut the fuck up already. We know, you object, but ultimately those objections mean nothing. The series still happened, comics have still continued, and the band plays on and on and on. This isn’t merely heady chiding on my part; more a purposeful segue into the infinite uncontrollable possibilities that were DR. MANHATTAN.

Despite my fervent enjoyment and subsequent defense of BEFORE WATCHMEN, I will cast one thorny barb: most of the tales were mired in a sameness of structure that was more than expected at the outset. After all, these were prequels and the human experience is what it is: I am born, I grow, I live, I die. Even DR. MANHATTAN, a being who scoffs at the constraints of time, needed to come down to our mortal plane to tell his tale of infinite possibilities. Now, where ol’ Doc zigged when every other story zagged is that his timeline was an infinite parallel stack cascading to equally infinite destinations, if he so chose.

WATCHMEN, the original source material, remains revered to this day because it encompassed the spectrum of human experience in 9 panel layout. BEFORE WATCHMEN was merely a taffy pull of that original human resonance: SILK SPECTRE the human heart, COMEDIAN our lizard brain, OZYMANDIAS our civilized frontal lobe, RORSCHACH our fear, and DR. MANHATTAN the desire of all of us to find God within ourselves.

So where does God begin his tale? Anywhere he damn well pleases. Again, though, for our understanding, JMS started the story with Osterman as a boy learning the watch making trade from his father. We all know, of course, this is simply an analogy for the celestial mechanics that would one day allow him to rematerialize after his atoms were dispersed across the cosmos. This story lingered the least amount of time in “this is your life,” and the most amount of time on what could have been. Using the Schrodinger’s Cat theory to explain there are infinite possibilities until they are perceived, we spent the first three issues of this series with Dr. Manhattan perceiving and changing the events that turned him from geek to God. What if he never got to become a physicist and simply a watch maker – meh, boring, reset. What if he never forgot his coat in the tachyon (or whatever the fuck he was working on) chamber? A nice life, if not pedestrian. What if he never tried to slide his big blue hand up SILK SPECTRE’S costume? And on and on and on. I love a good “What If?” tale, and each issue of DR. MANHATTAN played the concept to the fullest.

Ultimately, though, each scenario always led to the same place – the world devouring itself. Tempering human aggression seems to be even beyond the control of God. Of course, this can lead us to even further speculations about a random universe versus a pre-determined course, but let’s save that ye olde theological debate for the TalkBacks and comments. So yes, DR. MANHATTAN ends where we expect it to – again, folks, it’s a prequel. However, I do believe DR. MANHATTAN was unique in taking us one small step further than WATCHMEN, but this could be my lack of remembrance since it’s been close to fifteen years since I reread the book.

After the squid has attacked, after Rorschach is dust:
Ozymandias: “But you’ve regained an interest in human life.”
Manhattan: “Yes, I have. Perhaps I’ll go create some.”


And away Manhattan goes to a galaxy far far away; and like Q at the end of “Star Trek”, he makes the first amino acids make sweet sweet love to other acids to form the beginnings of new sentient life in the galaxy.

While that’s the end of the series, I should mention an interesting convention JMS played with halfway through the issue to get us there. Like when Batman lost his mind so many months ago, JMS makes the pages go topsy-turvy to reach the finish line. When Doc goes to tell Ozymandias of his wonderful journey into infinite possibilities we see the inception of their partnership to create a fuel source independent of the nasty nuclear annihilation side effect. Here we go Hebrew, Memento, whatever you want to call it, as we count backwards through the events of WATCHMEN that led to New York becoming calamari’s lunch and their last fateful meeting when Osterman tells the Earth to take a flying leap. I’m sure JMS had a specific intent in mind when doing this page flipping, but I think it best left to reader interpretation as to why this happens. Personally, I see it as a way to shift the point of view from Doc’s infinite possibilities to Ozy’s oh-so-human perception of how time passes. Also, it’s a countdown akin to that famous clock that struck midnight from the original WATCHMEN. Finally, life doesn’t simply beget life. Death and entropy are an intrinsic part of the cycle…or are they?

DR. MANHATTAN gets the award for the most thought-provoking of the BEFORE WATCHMEN titles and the most original use of structure. Adam Hughes was able to keep pace with a complex topic and surpassed his past accomplishments with the reverse page order in the back of this issue. It’s a shame this one was only a four-parter.


Editing, compiling, imaging, coding, logos & cat-wrangling by Ambush Bug
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G

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