Sunday, 29 September 2013

East of West, Volume 1: The Promise by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta Review

I know the refrain from reviewers for Jonathan Hickman is that his Image, creator-owned stuff is better than his work-for-hire Marvel material but I have to say he’s very much up and down on both sides of the comic fence. For every great FF and Architects of Forever series you get a baffling title like his Avengers and New Avengers, and for every brilliant title like God Is Dead and Manhattan Projects you get an utterly dismal Nightly News and East of West.

I disliked East of West for so many reasons - it’s not much of a story and full of cliches, there aren’t many ideas and the ones Hickman uses have been done before and better in other media, the characters are moronic, and the entire concept of yet another end of world scenario from Hickman is just laboured and boring.

In East of West, an alternate world where an extra long American Civil War led to the creation of seven separate states that make up America. For some reason the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, in kid form, have shown up  minus Death who is for some reason a pure white adult gunslinger looking for his wife(!). The three horsemen set out to find Death to complete their group and bring about Armageddon. Or something like that. It’s Old West meets Star Wars meets Far East meets boring.

This is comic where I was constantly made aware of other media like movies, TV shows, and comics, I’d seen before being mined for material to make up this book. First off the four horsemen of the Apocalypse thing has been done to death since forever - making them kids is hardly a game changer, nor is making Death a pure white gunslinger (and I don’t mean racially, I mean every facet of this dude from his boots to his hat to his long white hair is alabaster white).

Then we have the whole divided states of America thing which is something hack writers like Harry Turtledove have made a career out of writing about plus there’s been this board game called Risk which has been around for decades which takes a similar premise. Death has these flashbacks from a time when he - Death - was somehow “killed”, or something, by a group of people whom he is now hunting down. That entire sequence and setup looks and feels just like The Bride’s story from Kill Bill. Then we have the look and feel of the world which by turns looks like that 80s kids TV show Bravestarr, Star Wars’ Coruscant, and 2000AD’s Missionary Man. Nothing about artist Nick Dragotta’s treatment of this comic looks at all original.

I just didn’t get the story at all - who Death is, whether he really is Death, ie. the natural state of living beings’ conclusion to life, or not. If he is, why are the other horsemen kids, and why is he at odds with them? Also why is he hunting down these men who wronged him physically when, seeing he is an anthropomorphic personification, he can simply emerge anywhere? He doesn’t need guns does he? And why does he need a wife? Death got married and had a kid? WTF!!! Oh and another thing that Death’s wife, Xiaolian, reminded me of was Talia Al-Ghul from Batman. And of course, being Asian, she spends her time tending to her lotuses in a zen garden called Tranquility (golf clap, Hickman).

Somehow the people of this world accept that the President and his entire cabinet have been systematically murdered (decapitated in nearly every instance) and have no objections to someone called Antonia LeVay who also looks like Maleficent from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, becoming the new President. Antonia LeVay - another golf clap, Hickman. “I need a villainess’ name… how about I take the famous Satanist Anton LeVay’s name and feminise it? Brilliant!”.

And if you can take all of this nonsense seriously, then the finale will really lose you. See, stories are interesting when there are stakes and our heroes have vulnerabilities - the first gives us narrative tension, the second also does this but also adds the creative element to creative writing. The writer has to figure out how the hero or heroes will overcome obstacles in the story. Well, when you have Death as the hero and his two ghost Indian shape-changing buddies, none of whom can be killed, and are ridiculously powerful that nothing can get in their way, then you’ve failed on both counts. Death and his two companions face an ENTIRE ARMY and take it out in a few pages without blinking. Using six shooters and magic animals, they decimate an entire army who’re shooting lasers, bullets, and all kinds of explosives at them and they’re barely scratched. Oh, now I’m really on the edge of my seat. If literally nothing can harm them and they’re invincible, then why should I care about this climactic battle when said battle will be so one-sided?

One final thing - this whole story is about the end of the world brought about by the Beast of the Apocalypse. Maybe it’s because I’ve read too many Hickman books where this has been the case, but I’m getting pretty tired of reading a Hickman comic where the story is about the end of the world. Hickman’s used this plot element so much, it’s become a joke. His Avengers books are about the Avengers stopping the end of the world - the same goes for his FF books, his Infinity mini-series, the Manhattan Projects, Architects of Forever, God Is Dead and now East of West, all of which are about the end of the world. Hearing about the end of the world is not interesting when every single book has the end of the world as the stake - it feels lazy and uninspired, like shorthand for saying “this story is important”. What must it be like to live in Jonathan Hickman’s mind where every single story has to be about the end of the world?

So that’s East of West, at least as I experienced it: dull story, cliched characters, and not a single original element in the entire five issues. Nick Dragotta’s art is the only good thing about it but I think I’ve about done with Jonathan Hickman for a while - there are only so many comics where doomsday is de rigeur that I can read and East of West pushed me past that limit. This is one seriously overrated and dreary comic.

East of West Volume 1: The Promise

Avengers: Endless Wartime by Warren Ellis and Mike McKone Review

My review of Avengers: Endless Wartime by Warren Ellis went up today - read the full review here:

Wolverine and the X-Men #36 (Battle of the Atom #5) by Jason Aaron and Giuseppe Camuncoli Review

My review of Wolverine and the X-Men #36 went up today - read the full review here:

Friday, 27 September 2013

X-O Manowar, Volume 2: Enter: Ninjak by Robert Venditti and Lee Garbett Review

Ninjak attacks!
Manowar is back!
Second book rocks!
Not a bit shocked!
Valiant school DC
on how to do a reboot
It’s quality not quantity
Art over loot
Ninjak and Manowar team up to fight the Vine
‘cos aliens invading is crossing the line!
A ninja with a k, a warrior out of time
Them fools don’t stand a chance
It’s alien stomping time!
You sick for a comic?
This is your tonic!
Keanu Reeves was in Johnny Mnemonic!
Time to read the next one
‘cos Manowar is awesome
I gotta read ‘em all like it’s Pokemon season!
But one little thing, before I forget
Ah fuck it I forgot it

Just go read it!

X-O Manowar Volume 2: Enter Ninjak

Guardians of the Galaxy #6 by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli Review

My review of Guardians of the Galaxy #6 went up today - read the full review here:

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Wonder Woman, Volume 3: Iron by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang Review

Brian Azzarello’s take on Wonder Woman in the New 52 has been to really hit the Greek mythology angle hard so that his WW comics are full of Greek gods like Zeus, his wife Hera, and their many children, including illegitimate kids. It’s this latter that has been the driving force of the series so far. Zeus had yet another baby with a human woman which got snatched away as the vengeful Hera, intent on killing off any woman who sleeps with her husband, tried to kill both baby and mother. Wonder Woman stepped in, saving Zola (the mum) and has been helping her find her baby. But others are on the hunt to kill this baby before it grows up and fulfils its destiny - of destroying humanity!

The summary above is for the entire series, not just this book. We’ve had 3 volumes now of Wonder Woman chasing this baby and the storyline is starting to feel really stale. In comparison to Snyder’s Batman, Snyder has written a massive Court of Owls storyline, the Death of the Family storyline, and now Zero Year, while Azzarello has been stuck on the one storyline for the same length of time: WW chasing a baby while getting to know her strange dysfunctional family of gods.

It wouldn’t be so bad if Azzarello was doing new things with the plot but the story in this book doesn’t feel like things have moved much since the first book. Hera is now mortal – and that’s about it. Still chasing the baby. Still getting to know her brothers and sisters. I’m not criticising the writing (which is perfectly fine), I just wish Azzarello would finish up this storyline and move on to something more fresh and exciting. This storyline has never felt very interesting since the first volume, and now we’re on volume three and it hasn’t improved. At this point, I really want to see WW do something else, leave the family behind, the baby, and do anything – anything! - else.

But if the storyline is too static, the setup feels overfamiliar. The mythological content and the focus on bizarre family members who’re also gods feels too much like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Dream and his siblings are basically Diana and her siblings, their relationships basically the same, while Sandman also explored the mythological angle in its stories more originally and cleverly than Azzarello does with Wonder Woman. I get that people like these kinds of stories, but Wonder Woman’s a superhero, not Percy Jackson!

I liked the opening issue of a 12 year old Diana as she went on heroic quests to obtain valuable artefacts as tribute to her mother, then went into training with Ares, god of War because it shows Azzarello’s commitment to continue building up the character’s background. Plus the story is pretty good, showing Diana’s personality develop as she makes changes that show us why she’s heroic and not a villain - it’s good solid character building. Although I will say that later in the book when Orion slaps her ass, Diana whirls about and says “hey!” angrily instead of clocking him in the head, which she would do. It’s an uncharacteristic move that didn’t sit right in the story, even though it’s revealed later that Orion wasn’t just being sleazy.

An explanation for why Diana didn’t punch Orion for slapping her ass could be that Orion is Diana’s love interest, and therefore Diana let him get away with it because she fancies him. It’s not a massive stretch of believability as he looks like a Calvin Klein model and Diana is, well, a goddess. It’s just that it’s all so predictable – of course he’s the love interest, he’s handsome and smiles a lot. Zeus’ first child who stands around in the ice of Antarctica for much of the book looking scary and menacing, killing things, is the bad guy – again, predictable.

Wonder Woman is a character I would love to enjoy reading about if she only had a series I was actually excited about. Unfortunately, Volume 3: Iron, continues the uninteresting story of Wonder Woman, her extended family, and a doom baby as it’s done since Volume 1. Maybe it’s time for a new creative team and direction for the character?

Wonder Woman Volume 3: Iron

X-O Manowar, Volume 1: By the Sword by Robert Venditti and Cary Nord Review

Aric is a 5th century Visigoth warrior fighting the Roman Empire who have driven his people from Dacia, their homeland (modern day Romania). During a fateful battle, he loses his father and wife thanks to his brash, immature tactics and later, while leading a rescue party, he encounters what he believes to be a Roman slave vessel only to discover it's an alien craft. The alien race - known as the Vine - abduct Aric and a number of his people, taking them to their ships to toil as slaves, cultivating their holy plants. And it's here that Aric discovers Shanhara, the legendary sentient X-O Manowar armour, one of the most powerful weapons in the universe, that has rejected everyone who has tried to wear it. Everyone - until it chooses Aric to bond with. Now after years of torture at the hands of alien overlords, suddenly the boot is on the other foot and Aric is one angry dude with one hell of a weapon to exact his revenge! But then Aric returns to Earth to make a shocking discovery...

This was the first series in Valiant's 2012 re-launch and is definitely my favourite of the titles I've read so far. I didn't read Valiant back in the 1990s so can't compare this one to the original series, but as it's a total reboot of the series, new readers needn't worry about jumping on with Book 1 - they start Aric's story all over again. This is also my first Robert Venditti book and I'm really impressed with his writing - the story could go a completely different direction under the stewardship of a less talented writer but Venditti's ideas and writing style have made X-O Manowar a hugely enjoyable read and a master-class in comics writing.

Conceptually, X-O Manowar is what you get when you give Conan the Barbarian Iron Man armour, though it appears semi-organic in assembly so Manga fans will spot a resemblance between Shanhara and the Guyver armour minus the hilarious breast cannons (but seriously Guyver is a super awesome series when you're a teenager). It's amazing that this book is just four issues because Venditti manages to put so much into them that it feels like you're getting more than you realise. The ambitious story of a Bronze Age character making it into a sci-fi story and becoming a superhero is a complicated one but Venditti breaks it down to the characters and it feels more personal and affecting as a result.

I also enjoyed the way he depicted the Vine - rather than lazily writing them as evil alien overlords with one facet to their personality, he gives them depth with multiple layers to their culture and society. For example, the fact that they have a strong religious foundation juxtaposed with their obviously militant approach to their endeavours could be a parody of the 21st century USA, but even if it's not, it makes a change for a writer to tackle the villain as being more than single-minded cartoons. Worshipping Shanhara, plants and fruit, and abducting other aliens and replacing them with their own, all speak to a more complex type of character than simply the arbitrary bad guy.

You also get some fantastic space superhero action once Aric bonds with the Manowar armour and takes on the Vine forces. Artist Cary Nord draws some outstanding fight sequences throughout, from the initial basic fighting between the Visigoths and the Romans, to the scenes between Aric and the Vine. Nord has won awards for his artwork on Conan the Barbarian so he's a perfect fit for Conan in space and it really shows in his work on this book.

X-O Manowar, Book 1: By the Sword is an excellent first book featuring first class storytelling, writing and art. Aric's story is a compelling one - what will the unsophisticated barbarian do with one of the most powerful weapons in the universe only he can use? I'm definitely on board to find out what he does next. This is an absolutely quality title that's well worth your time.

X-O Manowar Volume 1: By The Sword

Sex Criminals #1 by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky Review

My review of Sex Criminals #1 went up today - read the full review here:

Joker's Daughter #1 by Ann Nocenti and Georges Jeanty Review

My review of Joker's Daughter #1 went up today. Read the full review here:

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again by Frank Miller Review

Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again is rightly reviled by all Batman fans because of how terrible the book is on every level but made doubly damning because Frank Miller wrote two of the most acclaimed Batman books - The Dark Knight Returns and Year One.

The plot is a paranoid maniac's delight: the President of the United States is a hologram created by Lex Luthor and Brainiac who're essentially in control of America behind the scenes. Superman is still their lapdog because they hold Kandor, the shrunken Kryptonian city in a jar, captive, blackmailing him into doing whatever they want. And various other superheroes are imprisoned somehow - Flash is made to constantly run on a hamster wheel-like contraption that gives the US free, unlimited power, while The Atom is held in a petri dish. The only holdout is Batman - the book takes place a few years after The Dark Knight Returns and people still believe Bruce Wayne, revealed as Batman, is dead while he's actually been secretly working underground to build a Bat-army from the former Mutant gang. And with Carrie Kelly, who in this book has discarded the Robin outfit for a ridiculous leopard-like skin tight thing with rollerskates, calling herself Catgirl, by his side, the Dark Knight is ready to strike - again!

The worst thing about this book by far is easily the art. The character designs are absolute garbage. Lex looks like a melange of Miller's Sin City characters Yellow Bastard and Marv, ie. ridiculously warped with gi-normous hands and a thick, grotesquely wide body that goes beyond cartoonish, while Brainiac looks essentially like a cybernetic frog! These are definitely the most awful visual depictions of these characters I've ever seen. Carrie Kelly's outfit is awful: a skin tight leopard outfit complete with cat-head ears and whiskers - with rollerskates?! Those are the worst offenders but going beyond character design, the pages are so poorly drawn, you won't believe this is the same guy who gave us some truly iconic panels from the 80s for characters like Wolverine, Daredevil and Batman.

Miller's still using the television pundit trope to explain plot points but whereas they were arranged in grid-like fashion in The Dark Knight Returns and said things that were relevant to the plot, in Strikes Again they panels are scattered haphazardly around the page and none of them are worth reading - they're just random idiots saying gibberish like "woah baby!" and "hubba hubba" around revealing shots of Black Canary and Wonder Woman. Women are going to hate this book the most as Miller presents every single woman here as an object. Hips jutting to the side, super-pouty lips, bum poking outwards - in every panel they're in! It's just so derivative, it's unbelievable - but there it is!

If the art is messy as hell, the story is handled just as poorly. Ideas are thrown in undeveloped and just left there. Black Canary hosts some kind of sex call in show on TV? The Joker is somehow alive but turns out to be someone from Batman's past who has, for some reason, chosen to dress like the Joker? Not to mention the plot is a libertarian's dream: Batman literally goes to war against the US government! Superman is presented once more as a one-dimensional boy scout while Wonder Woman is little more than an aggressive Superman groupie. I didn't know what to make of Green Lantern as he's just floating in space silently for most of the book while Elongated Man is a super-crazy nutball. The only consistent character was Barry Allen who remains as white bread as an old man as he was when he was a younger Flash. Why are Lex and Brainiac working together again? Why is Carrie Kelly Catgirl instead of Robin - and aren't rollerskates kind of useless if you're swinging everywhere on ropes?

And then amidst all of the chaos, 9/11 happened as he was creating the book and Miller decided to shoehorn that into the story too! So we literally have a 9/11 scene of citywide devastation, massive buildings falling down, that sits completely out of place with the rest of the story. It's just there because it happened and Miller thought he'd put it in his book. Because. Years later he would go on to make an even more polemical and nonsensical book with terrible art - which DC would see sense and deny him the use of their characters Batman and Catwoman - called Holy Terror, but that's another (godawful) story.

The Dark Knight Strikes Again is a remarkable book only for it being the product of a writer/artist who brought so much to the character only to return years later and produce such a terrible book for that same character - I don't think there exists a comic book where the original and its sequel are so directly opposite one another in terms of quality. When a book that's unreadable at best is also 250 pages long, it's an utter chore to get through, let alone make any sense out of. The Dark Knight Strikes Again is a book that, if you read it, you're going to wish hadn't struck again.

Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again

Monday, 23 September 2013

Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland Review

In 2009, Douglas Coupland’s short story Survivor was published in McSweeney’s 31 and featured a cameraman on a tropical island filming a Survivor-esque reality show who discovers that nuclear war has erupted in the outside world and that they, on this island in the middle of nowhere, could be the last remaining descendants of humanity, turning their survival reality show into a reality of survival. The story clearly stayed with Coupland because, 4 years later, he’s developed the short story into a full length novel: Worst. Person. Ever. And as good as the short story was, the novel is even better - in fact, I would say it’s the Funniest. Novel. Of The Year!

Raymond Gunt is a B-unit cameraman who gets a gig on the reality show Survival which starts shooting shortly on the small island nation of Kiribati in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Ray doesn’t know it yet but he’s about to instigate nuclear armageddon and it all starts when he picks a fight with a homeless man called Neal, and ends with a hybrid piece of cutlery.

Ray is also a despicable person who treats everyone like something he stepped in, thinks only of himself in every instance, and is a sleazy, hateful, miserable middle-aged man – and he thinks he’s a decent bloke. And actually as a protagonist, he is a fully engaging, completely fascinating person - even if he is a swine, you can’t help but love his misadventures. But I don’t want to make you think that he does anything truly heinous that goes too far because he’s endlessly likeable. Think of characters like Flashman or Blackadder - Ray is like them in nearly every way, bungling his way through things and somehow making out ok in the end. Kind of. Because Ray has hideously bad luck which makes for one hell of an entertaining read for us, the readers.

Ray’s lengthy journey from London to Kiribati consumes much of the novel as he and his faithful companion Neal (the former homeless man turned personal assistant) take numerous planes to reach the island – but pretty much everything that can go wrong, does go wrong for Ray and the disastrous travel arrangements become the stuff of classic comedy. I should also mention that despite being homeless, Neal is incongruously sexually attractive to all women.

On their flight out to LA, Ray is booked in business class and Neal in coach but, after the first of many mishaps with customs, the tickets get switched and Ray winds up in a middle seat in coach between some Bunuel children - basically special needs kids who scream constantly. After enduring enough screams and clothing stains, Ray heads to business class where he finds Neal sat next to Cameron Diaz, sharing champagne and flirtations with her. This is the beginning of some superbly put-together misanthropic statements from Ray who calls Neal a “fecal-scented golem” and the stewardess who tries to throw him out “lady c**tly mcrazorpanties” leading to what you would expect would happen when you verbally assault a stewardess in a post-9/11 world. But in the next plane he does manage to get a first class seat, leading to this brilliant passage:

“As I settled in, a gratifying phalanx of the babbling poor began scuttling past, back towards the fartulent rabbit warren of coach. It was all I could do not to stick out my leg and trip these f**king losers, but knowing that I had the power to do so was all it took to make me glow inwardly and refrain…First class filled up bit by bit. Nice enough looking lot - most likely took a bath before coming to the airport; not on the dole or whatever it’s called in the States; haven’t yet sold their children to work in thrice-a-day stage showings of burro sex.”

If you didn’t enjoy that passage, this novel simply isn’t for you – Ray remains a prickly but fiercely eloquent narrator throughout the story who remains at odds with nearly everyone he meets and vice versa. With the one exception of Neal, who, despite consistent abuse from Ray, remains cheerfully upbeat and stands more or less alongside him. In fact their relationship and Ray’s vitriolic verbiage (“Neal, less than a week ago, your entire physical being resembled a dag hanging from a sheep’s a***hole.”) reminded me a lot of the TV series, Blackadder, with Ray as Blackadder and Neal as Baldrick (albeit a more sexually charged Baldrick though no less smelly). Which is to say that Coupland manages to replicate one of the greatest comedy couplings ever and actually make them as funny, if not more so, with fresh, unexplored scenarios and no limits on adult material.

One of these ingenious scenarios happens later on the way to Kiribati, when they approach a remote island in the Pacific controlled by the US Military called Wake Island. Ray is asked to close his blinds on the approach to landing and refuses, going so far as to say in Morse code: “try and make me lower my blinds you f**king American c**ts” which leads to a punishment that’s both cruel and unusual - re-enacting the angry dance from Billy Elliott in front of the entire island’s personnel (and includes a link to a Youtube video of that scene that I imagine will be useful for those reading the e-book version of this). 

Other highlights in the book include an amazing discussion on the merits of hypothetically having sex with either goats or sheep; a dare to steal a skin tag from an unsuspecting crew member; the mysteries of the red plastic; brilliant imaginary letters from Ray to the reader and The Gods; and a hilarious list of spam ingredients that include: unsold Shrek DVDs, broken dreams and kittens with mittens.

And speaking of spam, here’s a passage from the novel describing spam which I loved:

“I sat down on the floor and opened a sample can of God’s Meat with its little key. Its clear jelly bits soaked up a ray of sun coming through a plastic roof vent. F**king marvellous: like the beginning of the universe, really. Subtle beige chunks of tallow surrounded by pinkish grey mystery tissue: fine Roman marble!”

As much as I’ve talked a lot about the novel’s contents, it contains much, much more and these details are just the tip of an inspired comedy iceberg. I haven’t even mentioned how the teasing of a victim of Homeland Security by Ray inexplicably leads to nuclear armageddon or how a vintage t-shirt of The Cure and the misspelling of Harry Potter somehow become overly important plot points in the story.

Fans of Coupland will recognise his famous footnotes wittily explaining esoteric mentions by the characters, a plot device seen as far back as his first novel Generation X (which also riffed on an end of the world scenario), and Coupland’s humour from books like Microserfs, All Families Are Psychotic and jPod is here but amplified far beyond what you’d expect. This is a book where I was constantly smiling as I read it and literally crying with laughter in some scenes. 

Worst Person Ever has an amazingly unique narrative voice in Raymond Gunt who thinks things like “Christ, how do people manage not to shag their own kids?” when embraced by his attractive teenage daughter Emma (but importantly just thinks it and doesn’t do anything further so it’s ok to still like him). The rest of the varied cast are incredible from his viper-like TV exec former wife with a grudge against him, his self-involved, disturbing mother, the brilliant Neal, and a revolving door of female characters whom Ray tries (often unsuccessfully) to get off with at inappropriate times much to the disgust of their boyfriends.

It’s a superbly written story that’s well-paced and never boring, hysterically funny, and genuinely inspired. It’s a novel you’ll want to force on people, not for its message, or anything else beyond the fact that it’s so damn entertaining that it’ll make anyone want to put down every other form of media to consume it. Worst Person Ever isn’t just the funniest novel of the year, or maybe the best book of Coupland’s career, but is also the best novel of the year. Impending nuclear annihilation was never so much fun!

Worst. Person. Ever.

Marvel Universe Vs The Avengers by Jonathan Maberry and Leandro Fernandez Review

This is the third in Jonathan Maberry's Marvel Universe Vs books - the first featured The Punisher and was pretty good; the second featured Wolverine and was pretty terrible; the third supposedly features The Avengers though it mostly features Hawkeye and should more accurately be called Marvel Universe Vs Hawkeye. Plus it's the weakest, most boring one of the bunch.

If you've never heard of the Marvel Universe Vs books, they're all about some unknown virus infecting everyone in the world, particularly every character in the Marvel Universe, turning them into zombies that are less like the classic shuffling Romero zombies and more like a mix of 28 Days Later's RAGE virus zombies and Garth Ennis' Crossed. Each book is about the same zombie virus event but told from the perspective of the title character who's survived the initial craziness and winds up fighting their now-transformed former allies and friends.

It was interesting to read about the zombie apocalypse in the Punisher book partly because it was the first time we'd seen this event and the Punisher is a natural choice for anti-hero in that scenario. He's a predator and survivalist and because he's not superpowered, it was fun seeing how he'd take down the zombified heroes who still retained their superpowers. It was less interesting with Wolverine because it was the same scenario, told again with no variation, and Wolverine is essentially un-killable so it wasn't as involving to see how he'd take down the threats (one word: SNIKT!).

With Hawkeye, we're reading about the same zombie apocalypse for the third time with again no variation of the scenario, from the perspective of a bland hero - this Hawkeye is more classic purple design Hawkeye with none of the charm of Matt Fraction's rebooted character. Sure, he's horrified at the change in people, yeah he hates having to kill his friends, but we've seen all of this in the first two books and Hawkeye's perspective provides little insight into this fairly straightforward, already-mined-of-material event. The one difference is Doctor Doom's arrival claiming he has a cure which inevitably fails.

Leandro Fernandez's art is usually pretty good but looks very rushed in this one. The drawings lack detail, the character lines are sketchy, and there aren't any panels that stick out for better or worse - it's a forgettable story matched with forgettable art. If you want to read a better book featuring the zombie apocalypse in the Marvel Universe, check out the first book, Marvel Universe Vs The Punisher, and don't bother with the rest. Marvel Universe Vs The Avengers is predictable and boring - here's hoping this latest Marvel Universe Vs book is also the last!

Marvel Universe vs. the Avengers

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Legend of Luther Strode by Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore Review

I’m sure there aren’t many people picking up this one who won’t have read the first book in the series - The Strange Talent of Luther Strode - but if you haven’t, go and read that before reading this. This second book, The Legend of Luther Strode, starts off at a bloody sprint and keeps going faster and faster until the utterly mental whirlwind of red destruction that is the finale - there is no room for getting to know the characters or finding out what Luther and Petra are all about, it’s all just non-stop, eyeball burning action from start to finish and new readers are bound to be lost.

Legend takes place five years after the first book and Luther has continued his crusade against crime while the crooks he’s antagonising turn to shadier people to help them stop him. Petra has been hunting Luther down as he attempts to find redemption from the deaths of everyone around him he believes he caused in the first book. Meanwhile the strange group of similarly talented people Luther is now a part of - the kind of talents which allows someone to possess superhuman strength, speed, and resilience - are unhappy with Luther’s activities and send not one, but two characters in an effort to stop him.

If the first book was compared most often to Kick Ass for being about a highschool kid who becomes a superhero (an incorrect comparison anyway as Luther actually gets superpowers rather than a green and yellow scuba outfit - though Kick Ass is a very violent comic though also less so than Luther Strode), the second book has more in common with Dragonball Z - albeit for adults, definitely not kids - for its epic superpowered fights and near-constant action. And while superhero comics that mainly feature just action is something I usually dislike, writer Justin Jordan and artist Tradd Moore manage to create such original action sequences with such remarkable characters, and with actual life or death stakes rather than the usual draw-no-one-dies results of Marvel/DC superhero fights, that it’s genuinely exciting to read and almost impossible to put the book down until the fight’s over.

Luther’s somehow able to catch bullets in his muscles and combats an opponent’s knife attacks by sinking the blades into his fists! In one sequence where it seems he’s down and out, he spits out a tooth like a bullet at his enemy! The action in this book is just ridiculously awesome. That’s really the beginning of what you can expect to see here - just look at the cover. That’s the whole book basically! And the action gets more and more interesting as the story goes on.

Luther’s new enemies are an interesting pair. The Falstaffian figure Binder, one of the group of immortal-like superpowered beings like the Librarian from the first book who at first appears to be an enemy but also seems to be trying to help the troubled Luther understand what he’s become; and the pitch black, pure evil Jack. This dude is an S&M mummy Jack the Ripper cosplayer turned up to 11. What he does in the mall at the end is insane and gives the seemingly invincible Luther a helluva run for his money in this book, showing his vulnerabilities and coming close to killing both him and Petra at different times in the story. Both are terrific characters who’re hugely entertaining to see in action and all the while I was wondering whether Luther would beat them or whether they’d live to see another day or become an ally (this thought pretty much exclusively applies to Binder - Jack was never going to be redeemed).

Tradd Moore’s art continues to impress, bringing Jordan’s hyper-violent script to lavish life with a mix of panel layouts ranging from the traditional 9-panel grid for talking scenes to wide panels for the action, and a mixture of dynamic shots for different fights. I love how he presents situations to the reader, knowing when to pull back and show the layout of a room or floor of a building before zooming straight in for a close up on the action. It involves the reader a lot more if they know what the scene layout is like, especially when the characters use it in the close-ups - so few artists know how to involve the reader in the action! It’s also refreshing to read an action comic that eschews splash pages that tend to get overused in superhero fights - the only splash page here is the one where Luther finally kisses Petra. The art and colours are really something. I’d compare it to another comic if I could think of any artist whose work comes close to Moore’s style but I can’t - the man is an original.

Jordan’s script is incredible. Fresh and energetic, imaginative and mysterious, he gives out enough story to sustain the book before gleefully plunging into the most insane action you’ve ever seen. Luther remains a fascinating character, brooding and troubled but not overly so and not without reason, given the events of the first book, whose quest for redemption is engaging and sympathetic. Petra is a great character too and I love that she plays a big part in the finale - she’s not superpowered like the other main players but it doesn’t stop her standing by her man, guns in hand, ready for the last stand. That last shot in the book is indicative of the story - it’s not about Luther, it’s about Luther and Petra.

Luther Strode is such an entertaining comic. If you enjoy dark stories with hyperviolence - and I mean it, if you’re at all squeamish or dislike overly bloody material, stay the hell away from this book! - then you need to get down with this one. It’s just great, it really is. Art, writing, characters, story, it’s all here and it’s all quality. Luther Strode is one of the best original comics to appear in the last couple of years and one of the jewels in Image’s crown. Read it, guys, you won’t regret it!

The Legend of Luther Strode

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Sixth Gun, Volume 4: A Town Called Penance by Cullen Bunn, Brian Hurtt and Tyler Crook Review

The Sixth Gun is one of those rare titles that, so far, four volumes in, hasn’t had a single bad book - hell, I’m not sure I’ve read a single bad issue! Volume 4: A Town Called Penance picks up Drake’s story as we find out what happened during the train heist of the last book. Drake is captured by some former accomplices from the bad old days and taken to their underground city/hideout to be tortured into giving up information on the guns’ location. Meanwhile the Sixth Gun has shown Becky where Drake’s being kept and is on her way to free him - but the town she shows up in is full of strange, physically warped people and a mean sheriff with a secret, and it looks like Becky’s going to have to fight her way in and out to save Drake!

The setup in this book is just so good: a mystery town - called Penance no less! How Old West is that? - in the middle of nowhere with freaky, disfigured people and an air of supernatural, Lovecraftian menace. Who doesn’t want to read a story with that setting? Bunn keeps the tension up as Becky discovers a rival group to those in Penance and begins unravelling a more sinister purpose to the town’s existence.

And let’s talk about Becky - if the last book didn’t convince you that she is the badass of the series, this book will. There’s an entire issue that’s silent - no words - where Becky storms the underground bandit stronghold singlehandedly and not only saves Drake but completely kicks the bad guys’ asses! And that’s after she shoots several bundles of dynamite in the air as they come zooming towards her! She’s so damn cool, I love how Cullen Bunn has portrayed her, especially in this book where she’s wearing Drake’s bowler while she’s doing all of this.

Once again, Brian Hurtt’s artwork is flawless. His interiors of the bandits’ stronghold are breathtaking and the action is seamless - he carries that silent issue completely and pulls it off masterfully. You understand everything that’s happening in the issue and follow Becky’s plan perfectly.

Kirby Hale makes a brief reappearance in the Tyler Crook-drawn final issue and continues his doomed storyline with Becky. Also making a welcome reappearance is the oracle hanging tree from the first book. While I don’t feel as strongly about Crook’s art as I do about Hurtt’s, it’s still first class artwork - whether it’s Hurtt or Crook, Bunn is always paired with an incredible artist in this series.

The fourth book is maybe the series’ most action packed yet and is another compelling addition to this excellent comic. The Sixth Gun is tremendous fun, and if other subgenres like sexy vampires are exhausted, the series shows how fresh and exciting the supernatural western subgenre is. Let’s see more great books in this vein!

The Sixth Gun Volume 4

Infinity #3 by Jonathan Hickman, Jerome Opena and Dustin Weaver Review

My review of Infinity #3 went up today - read the full piece here:

Friday, 20 September 2013

The Sixth Gun, Volume 3: Bound by Cullen Bunn, Brian Hurtt, and Tyler Crook Review

Drake, Becky and the Brotherhood of the Sword of Abraham are escorting General Hume’s locked coffin back to the Brotherhood’s fortress but the General’s wife, the witchy Missy Hume, is mustering her dark forces to save her husband once more. Meanwhile Gord Cantrell heads to his former master’s home to find a way to destroy the guns - and face some personal demons.

The Sixth Gun series continues to be a thrilling delight and, three books in, shows no sign of slowing. In this book alone we have a daring train heist, a giant mummy, and a fortress breakout and that’s not even counting the emotional upheavals in Gord and Becky’s stories! Early on Drake gets separated from the group so the characters we follow in this book are mostly Becky and Gord and we’re also introduced to a new character - Asher Cobb, the giant mummy.

The book contains what readers of the series love best: wild west action and dollops of supernatural craziness thrown in. Asher Cobb’s story is tragic and mesmerising, almost Shakespearean in some details, drawn by Tyler Crook as series regular artist Brian Hurtt sits out one issue. You’ve got zombies attacking a speeding train and ghosts aplenty - I really want to talk about details in the book but don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t read it.  

I’ll say that Gord gets some much needed character work while Becky continues to be a brilliant heroine who manages to get herself out of some pretty sticky situations with her wits and her gun. Drake’s fate is a tantalising one as all members of the group are scattered but it looks like it’s up to Becky herself to save him and, given her practicality and skill shown so far, I’d say she’s more than capable of saving the man damsel in distress. And of course Brian Hurtt’s art again is absolutely incredible. The sequences at the estate of Braxton Bell Hood were just amazing: haunting and desolate one minute, colourful and bursting with life the next - Hurtt is an artist who is so versatile, he can do it all and do it all with such panache and vision, it’s unbelievable. If I see his name on a book, I’m picking it up - The Sixth Gun has made me a fan of his for life!

The Sixth Gun, Volume 3: Bound is another fine book in the series that won’t disappoint readers - and if you’re not reading this series, guys, check it out, it is a straight up awesome comic. 

The Sixth Gun Volume 3: Bound

The Glorkian Warrior Delivers A Pizza! by James Kochalka Review

James Kochalka is an absolutely brilliant artist. I’ve been reading his work for years having been introduced to it via his online daily diary strip, American Elf, (which he unfortunately discontinued after 31 December 2011) where he recorded his day-to-day existence in one to four panels, drawing himself and his wife Amy with elf-ears. He’s written and performed some amazing music with his band James Kochalka Superstar and as a solo artist, releasing several records, but my favourite is his record, Spread Your Evil Wings And Fly,  which contains some really great pop songs like “Britney’s Silver Can” (the chorus of which is simply “Justin Timberlake” over and over), Why Is The Sky Blue? and the title track.
He’s also a really prolific artist who has written and drawn numerous other comics besides American Elf like Pinky & Stinky, a comedy about two spacefaring pigs, Monkey Vs Robot, a silent deathmatch style comic between a monkey and a robot (which also spawned a sequel), and the hilariously expletive-filled superhero parody-turned-internet cartoon, Superf*ckers (google the Superf*ckers theme song for a catchy burst of sweary pop, which Kochalka also wrote and performed).
In recent years Kochalka’s turned primarily to comics for young readers producing his hit series of Johnny Boo books, Dragon Puncher (incorporating photos of his children and cat into the comic), and, most recently, Glorkian Warrior Delivers A Pizza.

Glorkian Warrior is a computer game character he came up with along with some game developers a while back for a retro platform game and here he is in his very own book. Glorkian Warrior is a cheerfully idiotic alien with a talking backpack who’s his best friend and can shoot lasers. Together they spend over 100 pages trying to deliver a pizza, despite not offering a pizza delivery service. If that premise seems flimsy, you haven’t read Kochalka before. He can turn a minimal concept like pizza delivery into a completely engaging, adventure-filled story that’s enormously fun to read and features some of the most colourful and attractive art any comics reader could wish for.
One of the best things I love about this book, and really every James Kochalka book I’ve read, is how effortlessly easy he makes writing and drawing comics seem. His storytelling has this beautiful flowing quality to it that just radiates creativity. Glorkian Warrior and his backpack bounce happily from one situation to the next with Kochalka able to take anything that comes their way from fighting a monster to feeling lost to reacting to weather, and weave it masterfully into a narrative that never once bores, loses its momentum or feels contrived and out of place.
Tonally, Kochalka’s gentle humour and characterisation is appropriate for young children to read and enjoy but I’d recommend it to adult readers as well who simply love well-crafted comics, and Glorkian Warrior really is a well-made book. As enjoyable as the story is, the Twilight Zone-esque ending is so brilliantly conceived that it brings the chaotic book together into one cohesive whole. It’s a really inspired finish that belies the overly-simple beginning with Glorkian Warrior lying on his couch staring at his feet.
As much as I miss American Elf, its absence is easier to take so long as James Kochalka keeps making comics, especially books like this. Glorkian Warrior is a gloriously entertaining and fun comic by an artist at the peak of his craft.

The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza