Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Batman Inc #13 Review



The final Grant Morrison Batman comic came out today, Batman Incorporated #13 - and it was awesome! Read the full review here: http://whatculture.com/comics/batman-incorporated-13-review.php

Batman and Robin, Volume 2: Pearl by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason Review



The second volume of Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's New 52 Batman and Robin should really be called Robin as its almost entirely made up of short stories about Damian Wayne. But it's these brief, ineffectual vignettes that also makes this not as good as the first volume (pretty much the story of the New 52 second volumes) though it has its share of good/bad moments.

The first chapter is the #0 issue where we see Damian being born/raised by Talia Al-Ghul, a story readers of Grant Morrison's Batman series will already be familiar with. It takes Damian up to meeting his dad, Batman, for the first time and helps new readers understand why Damian is the way he is by showing Talia's questionable parenting techniques.

The second chapter sees Damian fight a Talon who's trying to assassinate a high ranking military officer. It's not a bad comic but I already read this issue in the Night of Owls book - the repetition is a bit annoying as others who read that crossover book might find.

The longest story arc here sees a new villain show up called Terminus, eager to battle Batman. While Batman doesn't kill, he is incredibly heavy-handed in dealing with his foes and so has amassed a number of enemies, the majority being low-level thugs, who bear the marks of their encounter with him. This is a neat idea executed terribly because the "villains" were nobodies, henchmen essentially, who're now hilariously deformed but are in no way more dangerous as a result.

One guy literally has Batman's boot print on his face for life because Batman kicked him so hard! Another guy has a batarang embedded in his brain causing him to sometimes lose his train of thought! Another person has a batarang stuck in her ear - not sure why she can't take it out, but there we go (I suppose it makes a cool novelty ear-ring). These guys made me laugh they were so silly which makes taking them seriously in any way an impossibility - but darn it if Tomasi doesn't try!

Terminus on the other hand is some generic bad guy with tons of expensive tech and a weird, debilitating illness (terminal illness = Terminus. Writing!). It's barely worth going in to because he's so forgettable and dies after a couple issues anyway. Terminus' main aim is to discredit the bat symbol by burning it onto peoples' faces, on the sides of buildings, etc. Flawless plan, right? It does lead to a parody of the excellent Dark Knight movie poster though. Talking of superhero movies, Snyder/Capullo's Iron Batman suit makes an appearance in this book in a scene reminiscent of The Avengers movie finale which is just weird.

Meanwhile Damian has decided to arbitrarily fight the other Robins (Dick, Jason and Tim) to prove that he is the best Robin of all. This storyline bugged the hell out of me the most. First off, I've grown to hate superheroes fighting superheroes after years of melodramatic, go-nowhere stories revolving around this common conceit - what, there aren't enough villains to go around? And also, it's so pointless. They fight, pages pass, the end. It's never worthwhile and is completely tedious to "read". But supes vs. supes is basically all DC does these days, probably for the lame covers, so we get a healthy dose of it in this book. Secondly, Damian has done this before. When we're first introduced to the character in Grant Morrison's Batman and Son, he beats up Tim Drake pretty badly. Since then, he's become a far more rounded character. He's developed in that he's become less arrogant, less psychotic, more empathetic, and a sense of nobility has arisen in him - at least in the Grant Morrison books. Tomasi crassly undoes the years of character building Morrison has given the character by taking his behaviour back to the start, having him fight each of the Robins, just because that's something he thinks Damian would do. Which he would - years ago like in 2006/07, but today? He's a different person. Not that you'd know reading this book.

The volume ends weakly on a zombie-ish storyline where some nothing bad guy group called The Saturn Club is supposedly resurrecting the dead. This dreary storyline is the lead-in to Joker's return and the Death of the Family Event. But the worst part of this sequence is the fill-in artist, Tomas Giorello, who draws Damian looking like a twentysomething midget! Seriously, Damian's face goes from babyfat-inflected (he's 10 remember) and child-like, to having adult contours. The transition between Giorello's art and Gleason's is jarring as you see twentysomething Damian suddenly morph back into child-like Damian in between panels! Horrible artistic choice to have Giorello fill-in on this title, he simply can't draw kids believably.

There was stuff in this book I liked - none of the issues are badly written and Gleason's art continues to be surprisingly good. Not surprising in that he's normally a bad artist but because he's not a well-known name - when you think Bat-artist, you don't necessarily think Patrick Gleason, but he's doing great work on this series to receive that recognition. The Talon issue was good, and there were moments in all of the issues that were nice touches (Bruce and Damian can't have an ordinary father and son heart-to-heart; because they're Batman and Robin they have to have their serious talks in space! Brilliant).

That said, the father and son moment at the end was really forced and came out of nowhere. It's why the book is called Pearl and felt, not just overly sentimental, but also like a con, trying to convince the reader that there's a heart to this book when it really hasn't earned any emotional payoff from the preceding pages. Bruce and Damian have had some touching moments but this was definitely not one of them though it looked like it really wanted to be.

Generally though, there are no strong, challenging villains in the book to make reading this an exciting read. Everybody Damian (and it is largely Damian) encounters is someone he can easily deal with. Maybe that's why Tomasi shoe-horned the stupid Damian-fights-the-Robins storyline in, to give him a challenge? The stories here are too short which makes me wonder if Tomasi had been told about Damian's death so that any longer story arcs would have been nixed to make do with disposable, irrelevant set pieces.

I enjoyed parts of the book but found too much here that annoyed me to really say it's a great Batman book. If you're a Damian Wayne fan, you'll probably enjoy this but for those looking for a more substantial bat-book, I suggest checking out Snyder/Capullo and Morrison/Burnham's Batman books.

Batman and Robin Volume 2: Pearl

Tomb Raider Review



Remember the old Tomb Raider back in the 90s? Pixelated boobs, long braided hair swishing as our angular-featured heroine ran around caves shooting at wolves with her dual pistols? That was my first and last experience with Lara Croft though she's had numerous games and a couple of movies made since then. So it's quite a shock to the system years later to go from that experience on my old Pentium 2 to this latest Tomb Raider game on the Playstation 3. Tomb Raider has become one hell of a sophisticated gaming experience since then and a far better game than I'd expected!

Tomb Raider is a prequel to the first game and we are introduced to a young Lara on her first expedition, part of a larger group of archaeologists, whose ship is caught in a sudden and violent storm and runs aground onto a mysterious island. Separated from the group and injured, Lara must use her wits to gain new skills in foraging, weapons usage, and combat to survive, gather as many of the surviving crew as possible, and get off the island alive.

First off, and maybe best of all, the graphics in this game - my god, what a beautiful looking game this is! I'm not just talking about Lara herself, though she is that and her boobs have become less cartoonishly massive - it's no coincidence her chest is covered with her hand on the cover of the game, the developers want you to know the focus has shifted. But the environments are so well modelled from the shipwreck on the beach, to the spooky forests, to the snow-flecked mountainous temples, the developers have really put the effort into making this a visually stunning game. Each environment looks different with varying levels of light so the shipwreck beach during the day is absolutely gorgeous, a vista you wish you could step into even momentarily, while at dusk or night it becomes forbidding as the swinging lanterns creaking in the wind become foreboding and shadowy figures come out of the darkness to attack you. The camera angles accentuate the landscapes too. Generally its placed just behind and above Lara but switches when she is climbing to give you amazing perspectives on the scenery as well as hints as to where to go - brilliant. I could spend the entire review talking about the environments but I won't - suffice it to say they are incredible.

Gameplay-wise, this is a really fun game. Lara learns new abilities as she goes, like rock climbing and fashioning tools out of salvage, and as her experience levels go up she gains further abilities in combat, survival, etc. The weapons are quite limited as the developers obviously wanted a degree of realism even though really most of the game is a total fantasy. Your arsenal includes a pick axe, bow and arrows, pistol (singular), machine gun , and shotgun. Initially these weapons are quite poor to use but the more salvage you collect means you can upgrade the weapons to become more efficient, even adapting them to become more deadly. Lara's arrows go from ordinary to flame to grenade, she can get a silencer for the pistol, and even turn her machine gun into a RPG! The bow and arrows though - Lara's dual pistols do make an appearance towards the end but you'll want to use the bow and arrows the most. It's too much fun using them to shoot guys in the head with!

There are lots of tombs to raid, all of which become progressively more complicated, though none are impenetrable to understand and if you're really stuck, there are lots of helpful videos on Youtube. The game itself is actually quite easy. It's clear the developers want you to experience the game in full, whether or not you're a hardcore gamer or not, rather than keep you stuck in a single place for too long. If you play a lot of third person shooters, you won't find Tomb Raider a challenge, even on the hardest setting, but the game itself is so compelling with its constantly changing range of environments and setups that its really addictive and keeps you playing for longer as a result.

I had an absolute blast playing this and was amazed that this was the same franchise. Gorgeous graphics, great gameplay, a compelling story with great cinematics and voice acting, Tomb Raider ticks all the boxes in what I look for in good games. I finished the game at 76% completion and am now going back over the areas in the island to pick up the extras and gain all the upgrades, and it's still great fun. An excellent action adventure game, I highly recommend it. Square Enix have rejuvenated Tomb Raider and made the best game in the series as well as one of the best games of the year.

Tomb Raider

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Grant Morrison on his Batman finale, Wonder Woman: Earth One, and What He Really Thinks About Man of Steel


One of the greatest comics writers of all time, Grant Morrison, gives his views on the Man of Steel movie while also looking back on his 7 year run on Batman and his forthcoming Wonder Woman: Earth One book with Yanick Paquette. Read the full article here: http://whatculture.com/comics/grant-morrison-talks-batman-wonder-woman-and-man-of-steel.php

Sweet Tooth Vol 6: Wild Game by Jeff Lemire Review



Gus, Jepperd, and co. leave Evergreen for good and head to Alaska where they find out the cause of the Plague that wiped out humanity. The Militia catch up with them and a desperate final battle takes place.

That's about it for this book. The big reveal behind what caused the Plague which we found out about in Book 5 isn't built upon in this book so there's no larger mystery unearthed for readers in this book. That disappointing explanation in Book 5 is it. Jeff Lemire even has Jepperd tell Gus something like "it's not about what happened, but about what happens now". So he's saying not to worry about the past and how things got to this point - even though that's been the motivation for these characters for so long!! It's such a cop out.

Most of the book is Jepperd (who's essentially Frank Castle, that's how original his character is) and a few other dudes preparing their final stand against the insane militia hunting them down. Lots of fighting ensues with the end as predictable as ever - what do you think, do the bad guys win or lose? Exactly. And let's talk about these militia: they're looking for a cure to the plague and they're doing this by exterminating every hybrid they come across. How do these two goals correlate in any way? Nonsense.

So with the big battle over and done with and the cause of the plague revealed (several issues ago in the last volume but whatever, we get a redux in this book), all of which takes up the bulk of the book, what happens next? Think the end of Return of the Jedi. Yeah. The story jumps ahead a couple decades as we catch up with Gus and what happens for the hybrids and humanity next. The upshot of it that made no sense to me was that with humanity alive, there will always be pain, suffering, war, etc. Which kind of makes sense because the hybrids in this series have been gentle, kind, and hunted unjustly. Except Lemire drops the ball again by making the hybrids as bad as the humans. And then when the humans are gone and it's just the hybrids, war, hatred, all that bad stuff is magically gone. WTF?! Kumbaya...

And what about Dr Singh, the Dr Mengele of the series? His experiments on hybrids, his long-term religious insanity, is all forgiven in the blink of an eye and he suddenly becomes one of the most valued members of Gus' group. Whaaaaaaaaaat? So all that evil stuff he got up to is forgotten? His insanity is suddenly cured? Gee, that's awfully convenient!

The ending itself, which I won't spoil here, ties everything up in a nice, tidy bow. It's too neat, too pat. It's the equivalent of "and they all lived happily ever after...". BARF! And as if to further underline the overly-sentimental tone of the story, Lemire resorts to repetition in the script. The last chapter has Lemire repeat "This is (fill in the blank)" over and over, eg. "This is a story about a man and a boy", "This is a story about survivors", "This is a story about forgiveness", until the last pages which repeats "This is a story" over and over and over again. It's so badly written, it reads like a high school kid writing what he thinks is "deep" poetry!

But if the writing is lacklustre and uninspired, the art more than makes up for it. Lemire draws nearly the entire book in his wonderful signature style that's fitting for the final book in his series. The excellent Nate Powell joins him to draw a few pages of Doug, the militia leader's, history, adding his brilliant art style to the mix - it makes me wish he'd drawn the Matt Kindt-illustrated sequence in the last book. The art is the best part of the book but unfortunately can't save it.

Sweet Tooth started off quite well back with the first couple of volumes but it's been increasingly shaky these last few books until the wheels fell off the bus with Volume 5 and the wreck crashed with Volume 6. Maybe it's Lemire's workload that's caused this series to lose its vitality and spark of originality? After all, when he started in 2009, he wasn't that well known to those who don't read indie comics. Today, he's been the writer of Animal Man, Frankenstein, Constantine, Justice League Dark, Trinity War and a whole slew of other projects for DC, all of varying quality. With so much going on, it's understandable that his other projects would suffer, like Sweet Tooth did.

Maybe it's because he originally planned the series to be 20-30 issues and it wound up being 40, that the series has had so many ups and downs as Lemire stretches a far shorter story into a longer one?

Whatever the reason for the dip in quality these last couple of books, the series went from promising and original to downright miserable and boring. The "tragic" angle of the story became almost a parody of what tragedy is as every single page became a tribute to the dark side of human nature in an almost unrelenting tattoo of depression. Gus and Jepperd's journey became disjointed and then dull, culminating in a predictable and forced conclusion that wasn't convincing. Riddled with clich├ęs, little or no original characterisation, and poorly written, the series has been disappointing and unsatisfying. Lemire's best work remains Essex County, the book he wrote/drew before he got involved with Vertigo/DC.

Sweet Tooth Volume 6: Wild Game

Monday, 29 July 2013

The Mire by Becky Cloonan Review



On the night before an epic battle will be fought, Sir Owain, a knight, sends his teenage squire Aiden on a mission to deliver an important letter to a castle, far from the battlefield. But what is the real reason for Aiden's journey? And what does the letter contain?

In just 24 pages Becky Cloonan creates an enchanting world of magic and chivalry, recalling the stories of King Arthur, Prince Valiant, and George R R Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. It's a really well told story, paced nicely with utterly beautiful art throughout. The twist ending was something I'd guessed more or less from the start but Cloonan manages to throw in a rogue element to make the story seem that much more eerie and interesting.

I would say this comic contains better art and writing than entire Event series put out by DC and Marvel - The Mire is easily a more quality read than Blackest Night and Avengers Vs. X-men combined. And I bought this on Amazon UK for 38p - a 24 page digital comic for half the price of a chocolate bar! It's less than a dollar on Amazon US and Comixology, while Marvel and DC routinely charge three or four dollars for a 20 page comic. I say, support this artist for the next-to-nothing cost of this excellent comic and pick up The Mire today. It's well worth it and is a far better read than half the crappy, overpriced New 52 and Marvel NOW! titles crowding the shelves.

Comics Rule Everything Around Me, says Cloonan on the copyright page, and it's paid off with this comic - Cloonan deservedly won the 2013 Eisner Award for Best Single Issue or One-shot for The Mire. It's a brilliant comic and shows that Cloonan can not only draw great comics but can also tell a great story too. Here's looking forward to her first full length graphic novel!

The Sixth Gun, Volume 1: Cold Dead Fingers by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt Review



Post-Civil War America, the Old West. Missy Hume, a menacing woman with mysterious motives, hires Pinkerton agents to track down a valuable gun which belonged to her late husband General Oliander Hume, currently in the possession of a preacher. But the gun falls into the hands of the preacher's daughter, Becky Montcrief, who discovers the gun has supernatural powers and imprints itself to the first person who wields it after its previous owner passes - in other words, only she can use this strange gun. And bad people are after her.

Meanwhile, treasure hunter Drake Sinclair finds Becky before the newly resurrected General Hume and his gang of outlaw horrors do, all of whom possess a gun with magical powers. Drake and Becky must gain control of all six guns to keep the mad General from unleashing an unspeakable danger into the world.

Volume 1 of the Sixth Gun series, Cold Dead Fingers, opens up like a gunslinger emptying his barrel in a duel - the action and characters come shooting out in quick succession. Cullen Bunn does a great job of getting the story going quickly and keeps the momentum up throughout the book, introducing you to characters and their world seamlessly. And while the chase story in the Western genre has been done to death, it really works well here because of the horror element thrown into the mix.

Bunn sets the scene nicely giving the book the convincing atmosphere of the Old West with town names like Brimstone and a cast that include the likes of preachers, cathouse owners, Pinkerton agents, and Civil War castoffs. He also subverts Western staples with the horror angle so that when the familiar sight of a hanging tree is introduced, it turns out to be an oracle where the hanged souls are forever bound but can see the future.

Also, the iconic six-shooters that are required for every Western become something other in this book. They're still weapons but are super-powered weapons. The six guns have six individual powers, such as one gun that has the power of a cannon, so when fired it has the impact of a cannonball instead of an ordinary bullet. Or the gun with the power of pestilence, rotting the flesh of everything its bullets touch.

Brian Hurtt's art in the book is really pretty. Cartoony in appearance at first glance, Hurtt believably conjures up the horrors on the page, drawing action really well and getting the period costumes and settings right. He draws both genres in this book superbly.

The Sixth Gun is a perfect mash-up of western and horror wrapped up into a highly entertaining comic. Where does the series go next? I don't know but after this excellent start, I'm saddled up for more!

The Sixth Gun Volume 1

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Delphine by Richard Sala, Northlanders Vol 7: The Icelandic Trilogy by Brian Wood reviews



A young man and woman fall in love while at university but her father’s poor health drives the girl, Delphine, back to her hometown to look after him. The two never meet again but later on the man (he remains nameless throughout) decides to reconnect with Delphine and heads to her isolated small town in the middle of nowhere to catch up and hopefully reconnect. But when he arrives and wanders the empty streets of the town he notices strange people - a ghastly looking man grinning and selling mouldy apples, a funeral attended by witches, an insane cabbie, a creepy man and his demented mother, and a horde of small, ugly men following a ghostly, beautiful woman. Somewhere in this nightmare is his beloved Delphine and he is determined to find her. But will he even escape this town let alone find her...?

This might be my favourite out of Richard Sala’s books. I’m a big fan of his work and, aside from (the incredibly hard to find at a reasonable price) “Maniac Killer Strikes Again!”, I’ve read them all and “Delphine” is his best, most solid effort to date. An exploration of fairy tales and their symbolism, this book has the best elements of horror and fairy tales mixed in with Sala’s own unique drawing style and strong storytelling sense. There’s pieces of Hitchcock, Angela Carter, Poe, Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, ETA Hoffmann, and Charles Addams throughout this book, returning the original fairy tales of Perrault and Grimm to their dark roots, infusing them with macabre moments of horror. 

Sala’s choice of a sepia colour palette adds to the suffocating atmosphere of inescapable horror as our hero, ostensibly Prince Charming, goes from one nightmarish scenario to another, escaping a random beating by witches to a terrifying house in the dark forest inhabited by a woodsman with a terrible secret. And as day turns to night, the monsters come out to play and Sala really turns up the terror. Those familiar with fairy tales will recognise Sleeping Beauty, the wicked stepmother, the importance of apples, the dwarves, the woodsman, the frog, etc. and Sala has a wicked time playing with all of these elements to craft a wonderfully gothic horror story. 

Sala’s work sometimes mixes horror and comedy to produce some entertaining books especially the ones featuring the heroines Judy Grood and Peculia, but in “Delphine” Sala ditches comedy and writes this as straight horror - and succeeds completely. There are so many panels that are genuinely scary, like the funeral during the day - somehow witches and fiends in the daytime is more scary than at night. But at night-time? The haunted mirror in the dark room - wow. That creeped me out big time! 

“Delphine” is an amazing horror fairy tale written superbly and draw with impeccable skill by one of the most underrated comics creators out there. Fans of horror comics, and comics in general, need to pick up a Richard Sala book immediately - his work is too good not to. But read “Delphine” in particular as it’s a book which showcases his enormous talents at their finest. A remarkable achievement.

Delphine


*




The year is 871 AD and Val Hauker arrives on the shores of Iceland with his wife and son, escaping the monarchic tyranny of Norway. Iceland is uninhabited and barren, a naturally beautiful but harsh environment to begin a new life – and a dynasty. His son, Ulf, will begin the ruling family, the Haukssons, and the book tells their brutal and violent reign in Iceland over 4 centuries from their auspicious beginnings to their rise in power and their eventual downfall.

The final book in the brilliant “Northlanders” series (saga?) is a fantastic Viking version of the Godfather! The rise and fall of the Haukssons is really exciting reading, from the vicious child beating that opens this story up, we see Ulf become the battle hungry Viking brutally laying the bloody foundations for his family to become a major power in the fledgling land. 

Jumping forward to 999 AD we see Ulf’s descendants Mar and Brida Hauksson, brother and sister, and how they’ve developed the family’s land and held on to power. Mar leaves Iceland to pillage the coastal towns of England leaving Brida to maintain the family’s position. If you like strong female characters, you’ll love Brida. Beautiful but intelligent with an iron will and physically the match of any man, she proves to be a formidable figure in the Hauksson clan – but she faces the most imposing challenge of her life when Christianity comes to Iceland and more and more of the Icelandic people abandon the Old Gods and begin to convert. Including her brother. 

The book jumps for a final time to 1260 AD where Oskar Hauksson, channelling his ancestor Ulf’s violent nature and lust for battle, finds that the violent behaviour and aggressive attitude that worked in the 9th century has a completely different effect in the 13th now that Iceland has developed from a few scattered colonies into more sophisticated towns.

The episodic structure of the narrative works really well as we see society advancing through the ages technologically and culturally but Wood is careful to make the focus of each story action and character development. The attention on character and story has been the approach Wood’s taken in each of the books in this series which is why they’ve been such excellent reads. Rather than feeling too far out of the modern reader’s experiences, Wood’s Viking characters have relatable personalities and goals (successful careers, family protection, challenging tradition, love and death and the pursuit of happiness at all costs) that has made reading the “Northlanders” series feel contemporary in spirit. While applying 21st century sensibilities to characters living hundreds of years in the past might seem contrived, there really isn’t a way into the mind of a Viking to make them seem authentic that doesn’t feel false. But by writing them like human beings today faced with the challenges they faced back then, it’s really brought the story to life in a way that seems as real as it can be for what it is: the universal and timeless story of the human experience.

I think the book length stories in “Northlanders” have been the best like “Sven the Returned” and “The Plague Widow” so I was glad to see the series ending with a feature length story rather than a collection of shorts – but I wasn’t glad to see the series ending at all! Like each book in the series, it can be read as a standalone piece despite the “Volume #” next to the title but I highly recommend all 7 books in the series, each one is utterly brilliant.

And, sadly, that’s it for “Northlanders”! Cancelled before its time. It really was an excellent series and I could’ve read a new book each year forever, it’s just a shame there weren’t enough readers out there who felt the same way. The good news is Brian Wood is the new writer on “Conan the Barbarian” which is basically “Northlanders” with a main character and feels like a very natural transition for him, so I’ll be picking those up to sate my appetite for stories featuring medieval lunatics with swords. But these 7 books remain, and what books they are! I urge anyone who’s yet to discover this series to pick up one of these books and take a trip to the frozen lands of the north to meet the bloodiest, craziest, and, most realistic Vikings caught on paper by a modern comics master.

Northlanders Volume 7: The Icelandic Trilogy

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Shadowman, Volume 1: Birth Rites by Justin Jordan and Patrick Zircher review



Jack Boniface is a young man trying to find out who his parents were and why they left him as a child, abandoning him with only a strange medallion. Now living in New Orleans after drifting for a few years, he finds out that his parents were criminals and out of anger throws his medallion into the sea. Little did he realise the medallion was protecting him from supernatural dark forces that have been looking for him for years. With his protection discarded, those dark forces are on their way to claim Jack’s untapped power for their own – but also racing to his side are the forces of good to reveal his powers to him and show Jack that he is… Shadowman!


This is my first experience with the character of Shadowman and only my second Valiant book but I understand the company and its characters go back to the 90s and have a rich history. What brought me to this title was Justin Jordan, a writer whose work on The Strange Talent of Luther Strode blew me away with how good it was. Jordan remains a solid bet as Shadowman is another superbly written book.
On the face of it, this is the kind of story that feels generic and ordinarily would have me rolling my eyes or checking to see how many pages were left before I could drop it and move on, but because Jordan is such a brilliant writer, he turns this story into something I really cared about. It’s uncanny because a dark and supernatural story where the superhero is dressed like death and wielding a scythe isn’t what I’m looking for in comics but in the hands of this talented writer? It’s exactly what I want.
Moreover, there was a lot about the story I didn’t quite get, like what the Deadside is – is it heaven, hell, purgatory, another world? – or who Shadowman is – is he Death? What is the relevance of the Loa? Does he have other powers besides the scythe? Talking monkeys? – or background characters’ motivations, his parents’ backgrounds, etc. Not coming away with a strong enough impression of any of these would ordinarily bother me and make me mark it down, but the book really draws you in and involves you in the world in such an immediate way that those things didn’t bother me in the slightest. Justin Jordan is that good.
Paired with superb artist Patrick Zircher, who makes the story look really good, and you’ve got a great first volume that’s accessible for new readers like me who don’t know the character at all but also for anyone looking for an interesting horror comic. Valiant is schooling DC on how to do supernatural comics right - Shadowman is what Constantine or Justice League Dark should be. Graphic demonic violence, an excellent cast, great writing and art, Shadowman, Volume 1: Birth Rites is a brilliant comic.

Shadowman Volume 1: Birth Rites

Friday, 26 July 2013

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Hawkeye Annual #1 by Matt Fraction and Javier Pulido review



My review of Hawkeye Annual #1 was posted today. You can read me gush over the latest Hawkeye masterpiece here: http://whatculture.com/comics/hawkeye-annual-1-review.php

Top 5 Essential Wolverine titles, Tomorrowland #1 review



It's a Wolverine-themed post today!

Top 5 Essential Wolverine books, list can be read here: http://whatculture.com/comics/the-wolverine-5-essential-books-you-must-read.php in time for this week's Wolverine movie release, if you want to bone (claws) up on your Wolverine reading.

Also posted my review of Tomorrowland #1 by Paul Jenkins (writer of Wolverine: Origin), here: http://whatculture.com/comics/tomorrowland-1-review-paul-jenkins.php

Wolverine: Covenant by Cullen Bunn review



I like Cullen Bunn a lot, his Deadpool Killology has been great and I hear his Sixth Gun series is awesome (I have Vol 1 on my to-read pile), so I was looking forward to his take on Wolverine. Unfortunately, it's not very good despite the many interesting elements thrown in.

Wolverine was hired by a mysterious group of ambiguously aligned individuals called the Covenant in the 1930s to assassinate a powerful psychic - except he let her go. She turned into glass as her dreaming spells were too dangerous if she were alive - years later and those dreams have turned into nightmares that could mean the end of the world. The Covenant approach Wolverine to once again track her down and finish the job but others are on the trail like Elsa Bloodstone, daughter of one of the members of the Covenant - will Wolverine get to her in time?

The story feels like both Bunn and Wolverine on autopilot. Wolverine snickts his way through kung-fu masters, killer robots, all of which should be fun but read quite flatly, until the weirdly magical plot resolves itself. The story doesn't seem very well thought out and despite the repeated end of the world murmurings, doesn't really convince the reader of any urgency or danger.

The artwork is so-so, it's neither terrible enough to distract from the story nor great enough to really impress. It's the Marvel house style of competent and overly polished digital artwork that'll serve just about any character. The colours feel a bit muted lending a rather drab aura to the already lacklustre story.

There's also a one-shot issue of Captain America and Namor set in WW2 where the two encounter the Covenant and fight the Kraken, which isn't bad but, like everything else in this comic, feels run-of-the-mill and strangely uninvolving. The artwork is a lot better in this issue though.

Despite Wolverine being a hugely popular character, he doesn't have many great books written about him - Jason Aaron and Mark Millar are basically the two who've written the best books about him. I hoped Cullen Bunn was going to join that elite group of writers but based on Wolverine: Covenant, that's not the case. A forgettable, trite comic.

Wolverine: Covenant

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Top 1% Goodreads


Goodreads sent me an email today informing me I'm in the Top 1% of reviewers on their site. Thanks to everyone who likes my reviews, and if you want to read more of them check them out here: http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/5759543-sam-quixote

The email:

On behalf of the Goodreads team, I want to say thank you. You’re in the top 1% of reviewers on Goodreads! Your many thoughtful book reviews help make us a vibrant place for book lovers.
And our community has been growing! We now number more than 20 million members on Goodreads.
Every day readers from all over the world are connecting over a love of books. And our 25 million reviews – including yours – are a big part of that conversation.
Thank you for your support of Goodreads, and keep reading! I’m looking forward to seeing what you think of your next book!
--Otis

Monday, 22 July 2013

Deadpool Kills The Marvel Universe by Cullen Bunn review


Daffy, mad, bizarre, almost experimental comic featuring the Merc with a Mouth, Deadpool. Lots of fun, very gory, very funny, and an excellent comic. Full review here: 

http://whatculture.com/comics/deadpool-kills-the-marvel-universe-review

Deadpool Kills The Marvel Universe

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Friday, 19 July 2013

Sin Titulo by Cameron Stewart review


Alex Mackay visits his grandpa at a nursing home only to discover he’s been dead for over a month! He begins looking through his grandpa’s leftover belongings and chances upon a photo of the old fella with a mysterious blonde wearing shades. As Alex looks deeper into the identity of the lady and what her relationship to his grandpa was, his journey will take him down a very twisty rabbit hole and possibly even another dimension – but will he survive?

I was looking forward to Cameron Stewart’s Sin Titulo as I love his art from books like Jason Aaron’s The Other Side and Grant Morrison’s Batman, but was apprehensive as great artists rarely make great writers. Such is the case with Sin Titulo except it’s not badly written, it’s just that the storytelling is so scattershot that it makes reading this a flummoxing experience and I think it’s because Stewart’s not a good enough writer (yet) to make all the pieces fit in a way that works best.

Stewart keeps things lively by chucking in lots of David Lynchian quirks to the plot as Alex follows a repulsive male nurse from his grandpa’s nursing home to discover a strange building filled with rooms in which are a telephone and monitor upon which the mysterious blonde lady with shades appears. The story is peppered with flashbacks from Alex’s childhood (many of which Stewart says are autobiographical) as he recalls his parents fighting the night he injures himself falling down the stairs only for his abusive father to take his frustration out on his alcoholic grandpa who’s dozing nearby. Other memories include a childhood nightmare monster hiding behind the furniture and the time an older woman in the office he worked in propositioned him during an office party.

The haunting image of the idyllic empty beach where stands a lone tree repeats through the text as Alex meets other characters who are also familiar with the scene despite it appearing only in his dreams. Other odd images like the blindfolded butler, the blackouts, the coincidence following coincidence, the character who explodes for no reason(!), and the warping between realities all make Sin Titulo an interesting read but frustratingly hard to get a handle on. So many storylines never go anywhere and moments in the plot make no sense, like Alex – injured- leaps out of a four storey window and lands in a bush unharmed only to coincidentally meet a man who turns out to be the husband of the mysterious blonde woman and relentlessly draws the beach and tree scene.

The problem with setting up so many bizarre plot threads and characters reveals itself when Stewart tries to explain some of them in an effort to tie the story together into something cohesive and meaningful. He does this via a character similar to the Architect at the end of the Matrix Reloaded where one of the last scenes in the book is just an extra-long speech where Alex asks a question and receives a long-winded explanation. The final part of the book is unbearably overburdened with exposition while the final page itself is anticlimactic and forgettable.

The book reminded me of the kind of stuff Charles Burns is doing at the moment with his X’Ed Out series which are weird and wonderful books that make a chaotic kind of sense. The reason I don’t feel the same way about Stewart’s book is that there are simply too many plot holes that make me think that Stewart lost his grip on the story at some point and couldn’t quite recover it after. It’s not that I didn’t understand the story entirely – the “life is what you make it” line at the end pretty much sums it up - but I think if one were to study the book more deeply, that it wouldn’t make much sense purely because so much is unexplained to the point that entire sequences don’t add up. Couple that with the depressing story filled with miserable, angry people and the unimpressive conclusion, none of which make the prospect of repeat readings necessary to figure out if there are deeper meanings, and Sin Titulo becomes much less than the sum of its parts.

I’d say it’s worth a look if only for the great art and sense of mystery as the bizarre plot unfolds, just don’t expect to come away understanding much – if not all – of what transpired. Sin Titulo is interesting at times but is overall an unsatisfying and obtuse read.

Sin Titulo

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson review



The Reverend William Stryker and his eugenics-themed team of Purifiers set out to rid the world of mutants in a self-righteous fascistic campaign that has apparently entranced the general public. As Stryker prepares for his Nuremberg-rally-esque speech at Madison Square Garden, he manages to capture the Professor and use his psychic powers to nullify the rest of the X-Men.

God Loves, Man Kills is an embarrassing early 80s effort from Marvel as they allegedly attempt to address racism in this book. It's embarrassing because of the ham-fisted way Chris Claremont goes about it - the bad guys are cartoonishly bad while the question of racism is never really addressed in any meaningful way. It's like reading a child's attempt at writing a grown-up book.

Stryker is the crazy fire-and-brimstone preacher/demagogue that is the go-to archetype for hack writers when they want to portray a contemporary American villain type and I'm sure most Christians would be disgusted to even be considered on the same side as this lunatic. He's so one-dimensional that you can't take him seriously even for a second so that his character completely scuttles the story all by himself.

The X-Men meanwhile somehow find Stryker's Purifiers a challenge - they're just conventional henchmen with guns - but only because there wouldn't be a story if they didn't. It's such a contrived setup, written in Claremont's trademark exposition-everywhere style which weighs down entire panels with unnecessary thought bubbles telling you what's happening on the page if you're too stupid to understand from the drawings.

Moreover, this kind of book is totally pointless - the X-Men were created out of the civil rights movement. The story of the X-Men has always been a metaphor for black people or any oppressed group in society. Writing something as on-the-nose as God Loves, Man Kills is redundant because every X-Men story deals with prejudicial hatred and what being an outsider is like.

It's a waste of time talking about how someone like Stryker could gain the kind of prominence that he does in this book - mostly because he couldn't, not in the 80s, not now, not ever - or that any large group of people could consider him in the least bit credible - the resemblances to Hitler are too similar, deliberately so - instead, God Loves, Man Kills is too stupid to even discuss sensibly as its too extreme.

About the only good thing the book has going for it is that it partially influenced Bryan Singer's X2, the best X-Men movie to date, though Singer turned the story toward a gay rights focused direction (the contemporary civil rights struggle) and jettisoned the right wing Christian nonsense making his story far better in the process. It's also worth noting that Magneto's philosophical viewpoint is explored which would go on to define the character in the years that followed

Brent Anderson's art is just ok - it's very dated thanks to the characters' outfits while the X-Men themselves look very thick for some reason (not stupid just overly solid). The danger room sequence in particular is a laughable attempt at injecting excitement into the story (remember this is supposed to be about racism) and only serves to underline how limited the artist's imagination was in conceiving such clunky "futuristic" apparatuses. I suppose there is a kind of charm to those desk-sized computer designs. Also if you're a fan of Astro City, Anderson's style isn't as accomplished there as it is here (though to be honest I'm not a fan of his work in AC either).

God Loves, Man Kills is a really overrated book that's hopelessly dated, badly written, poorly conceived and executed, and does nothing to memorably or intelligently talk about racism ("it's bad" is about as deep as it gets). Granted, a couple of its ideas went on to become developed in more interesting X-Men works but it's not enough to salvage this sloppy, stupid mess of a comic.

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Justice League of America #6 (Trinity War #2) review


My review of Justice League of America #6 (Trinity War #2) by Geoff Johns and Jeff Lemire went live today - I did not like it. To find out why, read the full review here: http://whatculture.com/comics/justice-league-of-america-6-trinity-war-2-review.php

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Make Good Art, Battling Boy reviews


Make Good Art is the transcript of Neil Gaiman's commencement speech at the University of the Arts, Class of 2012. It's an inspiring message of encouragement to artists everywhere to keep doing what you want to do, no matter what, and contains some nice ideas and quirks that only Gaiman could conjure up to make it a memorable talk.

The whole thing is worth reading as its kind of an instructional manual to creativity by being anti-instructional. If you don't know it's impossible, it's easier to do, he says at one point, which is both strangely poetic and true. He tells you how he became the successful writer he is today - by writing. If you want to be a writer, be a writer, and keep writing. It's a simple message, one that many writers have stated before, but it's worth hearing again for anyone not doing it but still wishing they could become writers.

He talks about the lessons learned through the years, of dealing with failure, and to never do anything for money. His first book (I think it was on Duran Duran) was written because he thought it would be a commercial success, and was anything but. At least when you make something you love, even if you don't get paid, you've still got the art left. I also really liked the story he told about someone asking him for advice on doing something (I forget the particulars) and the solution was to tell her to pretend she was the kind of person who could do that. That's pretty brilliant. There's also a poignant moment when he reveals the best advice he ever received (from Stephen King no less) - but I'll let you discover that gem for yourselves.

A quick note about the presentation of this book - I generally like Chip Kidd's designs but the way he's formatted the speech in this book makes it less readable than it would be if it were simply straight text, which I would've preferred. Instead it's got varying fonts, colours, and sizes that I suppose takes the message of creativity on board but makes reading it a less pleasant experience. Alternatively, if you haven't the cash for this book, the speech is also on Youtube and Vimeo for free so you can watch Gaiman give the speech instead (recommended).

Make Good Art is a short but delightful message of art, choices, and the courage to do both - whatever happens, an artist makes art, whatever happens, you should make art too: so do it. Well worth a read for anyone really but especially for those who might need a good kick up the bum to get creating, whatever form that takes.

Keep going towards that mountain.

*




I feel like Battling Boy should his own 80s kids cartoon theme music.

Battling Boy! Battling Boy!
Fighting monsters ‘stead of playin’ with toys!
Battling Boooooooooy!

He’s a space prince come to save the world
There a Batman character who’s also a girl
The boy’s got a cape that’s big and red
He’s basically young Superman - yeah!

Battling Boy! Battling Boy!
Nothing rhymes with Battling Boy!

(To the tune of something awesome and ‘80s rockin’ with a montage of Battling Boy punching bad guys and then looking sheepish in the final shot)

Paul Pope’s Battling Boy sorta reminded me of 80s kids cartoons but the similarities in this book go beyond those shows and mines references across the cultural spectrum from the 1960s Batman show to the Golden and Silver Ages of comics. You have Battling Boy who lives in the Hidden Gilded realm (basically Asgard) and whose dad is unnamed but is pretty much Thor. As part of his coming-of-age ritual (he’s a pre-teen) he has to undertake a “rambling” which is where he’s taken from his home to another world on his “turning day” and made to overcome obstacles to prove he’s a man (kind of like Hercules’ Labours). Thor takes Battling Boy to a city called Arcopolis that’s under siege from crazy monsters and he’s left with a suitcase of interesting magical objects and a red cape that makes him look like a young Superman.

There’s also a Batman-ish figure in Arcopolis called Haggard West (a tribute to Adam West?), a cross between Batman and the Rocketeer and whose car is called the Westmobile(!). The main villain of the book is Sadisto, kind of like the Joker but looks like the Grinch wearing a ninja outfit with a hint of Mumm-Ra. But despite the numerous references to more familiar cultural figures, Paul Pope manages to make Battling Boy feel fresh and his own thing.

Pope captures what being a boy who discovers he has superpowers really well. First off BB really seems like a boy – his personality is at times overconfident which leads to mistakes, innocent, which leads to situations he doesn’t want to be in, and he can become scared and run back to his dad for protection (like he does when he faces his first monster). Being young, he’s not as articulate as he would like to be and his natural politeness makes it hard for him to communicate how he truly feels – in one brilliant scene when Arcopolis’ mayor is trying to use BB as a political tool, BB becomes frustrated and wordlessly scrunches up a metal paperweight with his bare hands before remaking it anew. It puts across his unique strength and otherworldliness while also letting them know he will not be their puppet all at once. 

One of the most inspired choices Pope makes is giving BB a dozen t-shirts with animal totems on them, with each shirt bestowing BB with that animal’s attribute, eg. King Lion or Curious Orangutan or the Sly Silent Fox. It’s similar to Bravestarr’s powers (“Strength of the Bear! Speed of the Puma!” – there are those 80s kids cartoon references again!) but work really well here as we see BB figure out how to use these powers, failing to control them at first but slowly learning to.

The book is fleshed out further with the excellent character, Aurora West, the daughter of Haggard West, the Batman/Rocketeer figure of Arcopolis. Haggard dies early in the book and, as a subplot to BB’s main arc, Aurora, though only slightly older than BB, begins training to become the new hero of Arcopolis. So this book contains the origin stories of two heroes in one, both of whom are loosely analogues of arguably the two most famous superheroes in history. It’s fantastically realised and fun to see, especially if you’re a superhero comics fan like me.

In terms of the audience for this book, Sadisto is kind of a disturbingly drawn figure and his unsettlingly vague mission of abducting children for an unknown purpose (it’s implied they are abused) might make this not the most appropriate read for younger readers, but I think it’s alright for young teens to pick up and it’s definitely sophisticated enough for adults to get a lot out of it too.

I just wrote a lengthy list of things I loved about this book and, though they’re harmless observations that won’t spoil the book for you, I deleted it anyway because I want the little touches Pope throws into the mix to be as much a pleasant surprise to me as they will be to you. 

Combine the many small but brilliant touches into the 12 Labours of Hercules-esque storyline, the characters of Battling Boy, Aurora West, and Sadisto, and Pope’s AMAZING art, and you have one helluva book. As much as I’ve written about this book, there are lots of other things I haven’t mentioned – Battling Boy contains multitudes. If you love superhero comics, you’ll really get a lot out of this but even if you’re not well-versed in superhero stories, it’s still a really fun story that anyone can enjoy. For me, I think it’s the best work Pope’s done yet, and is one of the most enjoyable and original superhero stories I’ve read in ages. I had a blast and look forward to Vol 2 as BB and Aurora West team up to take down Sadisto and the remaining monsters of Arcopolis.

Battling Booooooooy!

Make Good Art

Battling Boy

Tuesday, 16 July 2013