Thursday, 30 January 2014

Miracleman #2 Review (Alan Moore, Garry Leach)

Black Widow #2 Review (Nathan Edmondson, Phil Noto)

Read my review of Black Widow #2 here:

Superior Spider-Man #26 Review (Dan Slott, Humberto Ramos)

Read my review of Superior Spider-Man #26 here:

Night of the Living Deadpool #2 Review (Cullen Bunn, Ramon Rosanas)

Read my review of Night of the Living Deadpool #2 here:

Comics of the week (29 January) and comics news!

I review the comics of the week and discuss the comics news of the week here:

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Elliott Smith's XO by Matthew LeMay Review

Elliott Smith was a musician and songwriter everyone who loves music should listen to. If you’ve never heard his music before, rather than recommend entire albums, have a listen to the following songs: “Miss Misery”, “Say Yes”, “I Figured You Out”, “Needle in the Hay”, “Between the Bars” and “Angeles” – incredible, right? And if you’re already familiar with his music, you’ll know how unique he was as a talent. Unfortunately Smith killed himself in 2003 at the age of 34 after a lifetime of depression and numerous problems with addiction. His legacy of music will live on forever though, especially his 1998 album, XO.  
Rather than focus on the gossipy side of Smith’s life like his drug/alcohol problems and his preoccupation with suicide, Matthew LeMay has chosen, very commendably, to focus on the art itself. Addiction in itself isn’t that interesting, especially in comparison to great art, and Smith himself wasn’t interested in expressing it in his music, looking upon the kind of self-pitying naval-gazing such song-writing celebrates as repulsively shallow.
This is the third 33 1/3 book I’ve read, the series which looks at and discusses seminal albums in bite-sized, dinky paperbacks. In The Pixies’ Doolittle, we see one of the most influential rock bands ever creating their best album and catch up with the band 20+ years later to discuss what the album meant and means to them. In The Beatles’ Let It be, we see the greatest band of all time in their last days but still producing amazing music, with that entire time period providing a fascinating story filled with many strong characters.
XO has no such compelling story. Smith was out of rehab (not for the last time) and was clean, throwing himself into his work, producing some of the finest music of his life. The recording went smoothly and everyone involved recollects their time in the studio fondly. And that’s it. Because of LeMay’s refusal to discuss Smith’s private life, most of the book focuses on his interpretations of the songs on the album, writing about them track by track, sprinkling them with details of Smith’s creative process and some technical details but essentially giving us his version of what each song is about and what they mean. Unfortunately, it’s not that gripping to read.
The book does highlight Smith’s talent as a lyricist, allowing for multiple interpretations and giving LeMay plenty of fodder to discuss the poetry of his words at length. And it is poetry, those lyrics are so unlike any you come across in any genre of songwriting - you can appreciate his work minus the music, just by reading the lyrics they’re that good. It also shows how much Smith cared about his art, spending years crafting songs, tweaking them year after year before committing them to record.

It was fascinating to see how “Waltz #2”, arguably XO’s best song, went from being a seemingly autobiographical story about his parents to a story that could be about anyone with some interesting dramatic characters. Conversely, it informed me how some songs on the record were written on the fly, with a song like Pitseleh being knocked out more or less in the studio. Pitseleh in particular is a song I’ve never really liked and the haste in which it was assembled partly explains my reaction to it as I feel it wasn’t as accomplished as other songs on the album. Smith also never played it live, probably believing it was unfinished or too incomplete a song and embarrassed to remind himself of it.
More than anything though is that the book emphasises how generally upbeat Smith’s music is, despite the tone of many songs. His whispered, seemingly personal lyrics about despondent characters, drug imagery, and assorted other connotations that most would interpret as the hallmarks of the depressed artist producing depressing work, are all misleading. Many of his songs aren’t necessarily uplifting but aren’t nearly as sad as some would say. LeMay tries to remove the shadow of Smith’s suicide from the music itself, saying that whatever Smith’s personal problems were, he consciously left them out of his work, and I think that’s a very true statement. There’s the art and then there’s the artist.
If you’re looking for a book full of stories of drug hazes and fights, you won’t find it here – instead you’ll find a thoughtful, though very dry, study of Smith’s album XO. While it’s not the most fascinating read, it underlines something about Smith I didn’t realise until I read this and that is that a satisfying, warts’n’all bio about him is likely to never appear. Partly because his family and friends won’t speak about him to anyone, but because, as LeMay asserts throughout, the most interesting thing about Elliott Smith by far was his music - nothing in his life quite compared to his art. So if you want to find out the kind of man he was, listen to XO, and Either/Or, and From A Basement On A Hill, or any of his albums – everything he was is in his songs, never to be caught in the pages of a book.

Elliott Smith's XO

Avengers Arena, Volume 2: Game On Review (Dennis Hopeless, Kev Walker)

The casts of Avengers Academy and Runaways are still in Murderworld, an intricate closed environment filled with deathtraps created by the villain Arcade, and the last man standing deathmatch a la Battle Royale/Hunger Games continues. Some characters died in the first volume, some more die in the second, and probably a few more will die in the third. Dialogue is spoken in between fight scenes. It is a non-comical comic. My edition was printed on paper.
The first volume didn’t blow me away but I didn’t hate it as much as a number of readers did. Yes it’s derivative and totally unoriginal but I hoped it would keep going further, becoming trashier as the series went on. Alas, it hasn’t and now I join the ranks of readers who despise this series. The problem is that it’s trying to seem like a real series with real characters and, because it’s not accomplishing this, it’s become a real bore to read.
One of the biggest obstacles this series has is how unknown most of these characters are going to be for anyone who hasn’t read Avengers Academy/Runaways (like me!). We get Apex’s backstory and I can only say: was laughter the desired response? I don’t know who Chase is but every time he transforms into a lamer version of Iron Man – Darkhawk! – it’s a big deal, and I don’t get why. Dennis Hopeless is trying to make you care about characters you don’t know who’re given the barest of background information in a story about them all dying – it’s not an approach that works or should’ve even been attempted.

I suppose if you’re an Avengers Academy/Runaways fan already then this obstacle doesn’t exist for you, but those titles were both very low-selling comics for Marvel so I can only imagine that the majority of readers picking this up aren’t going to know who’s who and why we should care about their deaths.
There are some fights but unfortunately not enough death. The one series where Marvel could deliver more on their superhero fights than just boring stalemates and they flub it! Even when a certain character does bite it, they come back to life later on! Meanwhile, the ones that do die have been minor blips in the series so far so I barely noticed they’d gone when they had. And when they’re not fighting ineffectively, they’re bumming around on the beach! Is the subtitle, “Game On”, referring to a game of friendly volleyball or something?
I liked the opening issue explaining how and why Arcade came to create Murderworld. He’s definitely gone up in my estimation as a more interesting character because of this series and I wish he’d play a bigger part in the book given that the alternatives are so dreary. But one good issue out of six ain’t enough to recommend this book. It’s definitely not shaping up to be a must-read comic.
Avengers Arena Volume 2 sacrifices the potential craziness and fun of the silly concept to deliver a maudlin, lo-fi, and very dull book. It’s a disappointing addition to a series that could’ve been much more enjoyable if it had been handled a different way. Maybe it’ll mean more to Avengers Academy/Runaways fans but to everyone who’s not, the story is unlikely to make you care about these characters nor make you want to rush out and pick up those other books.
Ho hum, I guess I’ll go read the third volume for completion more than anything…

Avengers Arena Volume 2: Game On

Monday, 27 January 2014

Wasteland, Volume 1: Cities in Dust Review (Antony Johnston, Christopher Mitten)

Set in a post-Apocalyptic world, something called the Big Wet has (ironically) left Earth a desert planet and wiped out civilisation. In its place are small scavenger towns scattered about defending themselves from the attacks of roving gangs of sandpeople (malformed humans). Ramshackle cities have sprung up and a new society has appeared with a new religion and a mad leader. After Michael, a scavenger, shows up in the town of Providens, the town is destroyed and the survivors head off to Newbegin, the nearest human city, for sanctuary.

Wasteland sounds mildly interesting but it’s far less so. The protagonist, Michael, is a very one-dimensional hero character – he’s the capable, tough loner who’s nonetheless helping out a group of vulnerable people. Han Solo minus the personality, basically. The others… well, there’s a tough female character who’ll probably wind up with Michael in later books. And then there’s…um…that guy…nope! That’s how interesting these characters are! The bad guy is like an anime archetype, at least on the surface – underneath he’s your usual tyrant whose power has gone to his head and he’s going a bit crazy, Caligula-style.

The whole book is basically walking – the group walking from their burned town to the city, so if you like Lord of the Rings, you’ll probably get a kick out of that. For some reason the “Big Wet” means we’ve all devolved into a hyper-religious pagan/superstitious society. The sandpeople are just Star Wars ripoffs. There’s something about different racial groups in the city being persecuted but really none of these things make me want to continue with this series. 

The art doesn’t help. I don’t have a problem with black and white art but some colour could’ve been useful in distinguishing between characters. They all live in the desert so mostly wear flowing, baggy robes which covers up their faces and obscures their bodies so they all look alike. That and the uninspired backdrop of sand and junk and it’s an unexciting and very dull comic to look at visually. 

I’m not a big fan of post-apocalyptic stories but even by those standards I think this book was very sub-par. It’s not doing enough to stand out from the others, and frankly it’s an extremely boring book. I didn’t care about any of the characters, their plight, this dreary world they lived in, or anything at all. Wasteland has its fans as it’s gone on for many volumes but I’m definitely not one of them.

Wasteland Book One: Cities in Dust

A+X, Volume 2: Amazing Review (Nathan Edmondson, Humberto Ramos, et al.)

The first A+X book wasn’t a masterpiece by a long shot but was a somewhat entertaining mish-mash of team-up short stories featuring one X-Man and one Avenger in a quick light-hearted romp. Some were adventures like Captain America and Cable defeating Bolivar Trask and his Sentinels in WW2, some were throwaway stories like Wolverine and Captain Marvel playing poker. There were a few crappy ones in there, a few good ones, and a few mediocre ones. The second volume has no such variety – it’s all complete shit! 

None of the stories here even remotely entertained and read like excerpts from larger, unimaginative stereotypical Marvel superhero stories. Iron Man and Beast fight a robot, Ice-Man and Thor fight an ice giant, Spider-Woman and Kitty Pryde fight the Absorbing Man…………….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…………………. There’s just no imagination here. 

I enjoyed a couple of very brief moments like in Hawkeye and Deadpool’s story, Deadpool uses Hulk-hand arrows (the same Hulk-hands you can buy in Toys’R’Us) and the Beast/Wonder Man story was ok as they got drunk and reminisced about the good ol’ days. But that was it and isn’t nearly enough to recommend this book. 

Also, this book is called A+X, meaning one Avenger and one X-Man team-up to help one another in the story but in the Magik/Thor story they’re about to throw down and Superior Spider-Man flat out beats on Cyclops – it’s AVX all over again!


And then in the Iron Man/Beast story, Hulk pops up at the end to help them win – so it was A+A+X! The writer of that one couldn’t even stick to the basic formula for a stinkin’ short story! 

This title could feature disposable but enjoyable stories like the first book showed but if anything this second volume reveals how quickly the concept has run out of steam. No wonder it’s getting cancelled – what a pile of poop!

A+X, Vol. 2 = Amazing

X-Men, Volume 1: Primer Review (Brian Wood, Oliver Coipel)

How many issues do you expect to find in a collected edition? For me, I’d say 6 is reasonable and anything above that is a bonus. For some of their hugely popular titles like Superior Spider-Man and All-New X-Men, Marvel have only bundled together 5 issues which is a bit cheeky but for Superior, you’re paying for quality over quantity. In adjective-less X-Men you’re only getting 4 issues. 4! They round out the book to 5 by including a reprint of a 1989 X-Men comic by Chris Claremont and Marc Silvestri which features Jubilee’s first appearance, and pad it out further with extensive artist sketches and variant covers. I just don’t think you’re getting value for money with this book, not least because it’s terrible. 

So let’s start with the title – this is the all-female X-men team which is for some reason simply X-Men, rather than X-Women. I don’t know, seems a little obvious maybe but it’s accurately describing the team’s makeup of only women mutants. I guess Marvel don’t want to differentiate too far from the branding but still, I feel it’s a missed opportunity, especially as you have to explain it’s the X-Men book that’s all-female which X-Women would adequately do instantly.

The story is that Jubilee is heading back to the school with a baby she’s rescued from an orphanage and named Shogo. She’s now a mum and wants to raise the kid in a safe environment so of course goes to the most attacked location anywhere in the Marvel U, the X-Men’s headquarters (which has varied over the years and is currently entitled the Jean Grey School)! There’s an all-female team made up of Storm, Rachel Grey, Psylocke, Rogue, Kitty Pryde and Jubilee and there’s a super-powerful alien who’s going to destroy the world, blah blah blah, my GOD do they have any other ideas than the END OF THE FUCKING WORLD!?!

There isn’t anything to talk about with this book because it’s your standard superhero garbage – bad guy shows up and one tedious fight scene follows another until the book’s over. There’s a minor pissing contest between Storm and Rachel Grey over why Storm’s the leader (yup, that cliché gets trotted out here) which Storm should’ve just answered with “See this Mohawk?” but she doesn’t and boring dialogue diffuses the non-tension. Jubilee remains one of the most famous X-Men thanks to the popular 90s cartoon, but also laughably one of the worst as her powers remain stupid (I think she’s got fireworks up her sleeves or something?). I’ve never cared about her character before and still don’t care about her now that she’s a mum, though there’s some question over that too as it’s implied she might’ve stolen the baby. It’s definitely not hers, but whatever.

Other than that, the 1989 issue is the usual bog-standard Claremont drivel, overstuffing the panels with useless exposition, having the characters describing their actions while the narrative boxes do the same. Boring dumb story that’s horribly dated and reads like a 10 year old wrote it after being walloped in the head with a sledgehammer? Check! I’ve never been Silvestri’s biggest fan and I certainly didn’t think his art here was any great shakes. 

Brian Wood’s creator-owned comics are very good and worth picking up – titles like Northlanders, Mara and Demo – but his work for hire stuff has been very poor, like Conan over at Dark Horse, and his X-men comics with Marvel. This one is by far the laziest, most uninspired mainstream comic I’ve seen him produce yet and can only say that it’s not even worth picking up, just walk on by – not that it’d take you long to read due to its brevity but there are way better comics out there.

X-Men Volume 1: Primer

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Young Avengers, Volume 3: Mic-Drop at the Edge of Time and Space Review (Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie)

Writing a review of a third volume in a series that’s been as consistent in quality as Young Avengers is really easy. If you haven’t enjoyed the previous two volumes then you’re not going to read the third (and final) volume to this limited series and if you have then you’re going to love this one like you did the other two. Simple as, really, but let’s do this anyway!

Hulking is trapped in Mother’s dimension - Young Avengers to his rescue! Meanwhile Mother’s Worst of All Possible Worlds Young Avengers from the Multiverse invade Earth in the Battle of Central Park!

The story concludes in much more than your run of the mill superhero punch-fest with Kieron Gillen throwing in another twist in the end revealing who the real baddie has been all along (not that surprising though given the character but still interesting). There’s also loads of very cool moments like Loki’s new appearance, a reference to Scott Pilgrim as Kate Bishop faces Noh-Varr’s evil exes, and Hulking and Wiccan are reunited. And while I’ve really enjoyed the way Gillen’s written the series and the characters, you’ve really got to give it up for the art in this book.

Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton give us some insanely cool images like the page of Wiccan’s magic bullets firing at the reader with each bullet being a panel and when Wiccan goes full demiurge, presented as the character walking across a landscape made up of multiple pages of the comic from previous issues! When he returns, dozens of Wiccan’s fall into one body! And when Miss America takes on the multiple evil Young Avengers, she pummels them like the comic book characters they are, their ink literally splashing onto her in lieu of blood.

But that’s only three of the five issues here. Once they save the world (and no, that’s not a spoiler - what, you thought they wouldn’t? C’mon!), they have a two-issue after-party, celebrating their victory, the New Year, and the end of the series! This was definitely my favourite part of the book on a purely visceral level, it’s just so fun and you never see superhero characters like this really enjoying themselves!

There’s not much to say about these issues: it’s the characters dancing with characters smooching in the New Year and others figuring out their own destinies and feelings. Plus: Broo is the dj! If you’re a fan of Wolverine and the X-Men you’ll be familiar with the character, and I loved seeing him here after the tough time he’s had over at Wolverine’s school (kid nearly died!).

In the spirit of jamming, Jamie McKelvie is joined by a number of super-talented artists who take turns drawing different pages: Annie Wu, Christian Ward, Emma Vieceli, Becky Cloonan, Ming Doyle, Joe Quinones, and Jordie Bellaire. Again, the art in this book rocks!

Loki remains effortlessly charming despite (and, yes, because of) his villainy and his pages here are a nice lead-in to his solo series, Loki: Agent of Asgard. And the book ends in the most perfect way possible: Miss America kicking a hole in reality as the Young Avengers head off to get breakfast. Well, that’s not really the end-ending, I don’t want to spoil the last page, but if you’ve loved these characters like me, you’ll feel a lump in your throat when you see it.  

Young Avengers has been one of the best Marvel NOW! titles so it’s sad to see it end, just one year after it started, though it has the distinction of intentionally ending rather than being cancelled - Gillen and co. planned it for a limited 15-issue arc only. That said, I’m still going to miss the adventures of these young heroes and look forward to the inevitable hardcover collection of all 15 comics. Young Avengers has been an amazing series and the third volume is a suitably epic finale. Celebrate it’s awesomeness here!

Young Avengers Volume 3: Mic-Drop at the Edge of Time and Space

Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks Review

In Chuck Klosterman’s delightful book on villains, I Wear The Black Hat, the pop culture critic writes that he sometimes wishes he could just write “I LOVE THIS” or “I HATE THIS” when reviewing certain works of art and leave it at that, not (entirely) out of laziness but because teasing out the reasoning behind it dilutes the purity of his visceral reaction. I’m tempted to just say for this book “I LOVE THIS x 1000!” and it’d be true but probably not that informative!

Maggie is about to start her first day of high school after being home-schooled for years. She’s also the youngest of her siblings making her the last to start high school in her family – her twin brothers, Lloyd and Zander, and oldest brother Daniel, all having started years earlier. Her mother’s left the family for some reason, her dad’s been promoted to police chief of their small town and everything’s changing. Oh and she’s also haunted by a Victorian ghost…

Like a lot of First Second books, Friends With Boys is marketed as a young adult book and the high school subject matter is certainly appropriate for that demo, but, also like a lot of their books, this one can be enjoyed by adult readers as well. On the surface, it’s a wonderful coming-of-age story with loveable characters told in a compelling style, but there’s also layers to the story that can be appreciated.

Coming-of-age stories tend to focus on identity, which is the case here. Maggie is finding out what kind of person she is by moving away from the safety of her family home into the wider world of the public school and making friends outside of her brothers, while her twin brothers are struggling with establishing their separate identities from one another. When Maggie meets Lucy and Alistair, brother and sister with classic punk looks, Alistair is learning things about himself having recently split from the volleyball team because they mocked his sister’s different look to what is conventionally considered looking “normal” and is reconciling his past with who he is now and who he wants to be in the future.

Friends With Boys is such a captivating read because its story is character driven and Faith Erin Hicks has such a strong grasp of character that everyone in the book is fascinating, you can’t help but keep turning to pages to find out what happens next. Daniel, the wise and friendly older brother who’s already becoming an adult; Alistair, the handsome troubled young man and his quirky and charmingly guileless sister Lucy; and of course Maggie herself, our amazing heroine. Maggie makes friends, she learns about the complexities of friendship, and she learns something of the world and herself by the end. It’s a simple but elegant story that transcends labels like young adult.

Hicks captures the feel of being in high school with its regimented classes, various cliques, teen anxieties over appearance, and other aspects, though the absence of mobile phones and any mention of social media suggests the setting of the story is probably sometime in the 90s or earlier. Her drawing style is of the manga school, so it’ll appeal to fans of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim.

I would say stories about teenagers isn’t usually my bag and especially comic books about young adults drawn in a manga style. I’m thinking of O’Malley’s Lost At Sea which featured teenagers so twee and precious about everything they did and said that I just wanted to punch every single one of them each time they opened their hipster mouths! Hicks’ book is along similar lines superficially but vastly different in its treatment of the characters as much more realistic with the characters behaving in a way that wasn’t trying so hard to show them as cool but as people awkwardly revealing their personalities and worldview to others in a way that felt sweet and genuine.

Speaking of realism, yes there is a ghost in the book. It’s an interesting choice that gives the book a magical realist flavour but also acts as a metaphor for the absent mother (Maggie is “haunted” by her missing parent and doesn’t quite know how to deal with it). Part of Maggie’s character arc is realising why her mother left and coming to terms with how she feels about it. This aspect of the book is probably the most remarkable in how its handled. The reader is given barely any information and has to read between the lines to figure out why Maggie’s mum left them. It’s so subtle and yet asks the reader, presuming they are younger, to think for themselves and put themselves into an adult’s shoes - why do you think a grown up would to this? Hicks is asking the reader to think about the situation as much as she is making Maggie think about it.

I’ve seen some reviews which complain about how unresolved the ghost thread is, and I think those readers are missing the point. This book isn’t about the ghost, nor is it about tying up every story thread - it’s about Maggie completing her character arc, which she does. And if we continue with the theme of growing up, isn’t part of growing up realising that life isn’t like a story and that mysteries remain whether we want them to or not?

Friends With Boys is a heartfelt and compulsively readable story of growing up with a number of different emotions artfully woven into it. There’s stuff here that grown-up readers will appreciate as it gives us something more to think about while reading, but younger readers will find it gripping too. It also contains the most important quality a book should possess: it’s really, really fun to read. It’s got a great story, a wonderful cast of characters, and the writing and drawing are both first class.

I know I definitely read too many Marvel/DC books so I can get jaded about comics because so much of their output goes from crap to mediocre, but then I read comics like Friends With Boys and something clicks in my brain. Oooooooooh, I remember - THIS is why I love comics! If a book like this can pierce the cynical-but-ever-hopeful shell of this reader and - what’s that odd sensation? Oh it’s a feeling! How unexpected and pleasant! - yes, make me feel things while reading it, then it’s a special book that’s worth seeking out.

I LOVED THIS x 1000!

Friends with Boys

Friday, 24 January 2014

Morbius, The Living Vampire: The Man Called Morbius Review (Joe Keatinge, Rich Elson)

Spider-Man vampire villain Michael Morbius escapes the Raft, Spidey’s version of Arkham Asylum, and decides to lay low in a small town called Brownsville - there he becomes the downtrodden’s champion against the street gangs that rule the place. 

A Morbius mini-series seems like a really weird choice to be a part of the first wave of Marvel NOW! launches (they went with Morbius over Black Widow, Ghost Rider, Silver Surfer and a dozen others?!) but it’s surprisingly ok, for at least half of it. Too many Marvel NOW! titles have as its premise, the end of the world, with the stakes being the death and extinction of everything and everyone, blah blah snore. In Morbius, he’s basically a bum, living on the streets and eating garbage, and the entire premise is this homeless vampire has to save this miserable little town from a guy who looks like a Road Warrior extra. I appreciate those surprisingly low stakes and prefer them over yet another tedious end of the world storyline (Jonathan Hickman, I’m looking at you!). 

I also like that Morbius isn’t even that good of a hero – besides the unheroic act of killing people, he’s also really vulnerable to bullets. The number of times he gets shot in the chest and has to spend several pages recovering was comical to me. The action scenes played out like this: Morbius sees injustice. Morbius fights injustice. Injustice shoots him in the chest. Injustice escapes. Morbius lies in the dirt in pain. This happened a few times and made me chuckle at its repetition. Spidey ain’t got nothing on poor ol’ Morbius, lying there with adamantium bullets in his chest – he’s not mumbling some crap about “that old Peter Parker luck”! 

He’s also something of a tragic figure – he was trying to cure his childhood disease when the cure he created turned him into a vampire, forcing him to kill to survive. He doesn’t want to kill, he doesn’t want to be a vampire, but he’s trying to do some good in his situation nevertheless. It’s that classic Bruce Banner setup (and if we’re totally honest, DC’s Kurt Langstrom/Manbat) which I like as it makes him a more complex and interesting character. 

Things take a turn for the worse in the second half. It’s like the Marvel editors saw the low sales for Morbius and decided Joe Keatinge’s take on a homeless vampire in a Podunk town wasn’t going to fly anymore so they decided to make the series a generic Marvel comic. Superior Spider-Man is shoved in for no reason, there’s a plot about some devastating weapon AIM have stolen, and I totally lost interest in the book. At least it was doing something different in the first half, even if it was kinda weird and un-Marvel-like – the second half is just cookie-cutter Marvel comics. 

Morbius the Living Vampire isn’t a must-read but among the good and bad of the Marvel NOW! books, it’s definitely somewhere in the middle. It’s an interesting anomaly with some good moments, showcasing a character who rarely gets a turn in the spotlight (which wouldn’t turn him into dust, by the way!). Don’t expect much with it and it’ll surprise you.

Morbius: The Living Vampire - The Man Called Morbius

Snapshot Review (Andy Diggle, Jock)

Jake Dobson, a comic book store clerk, finds a cell phone on his way to work inside of which are numerous photos of a murder victim. This sets off a sequence of events where Jake is pursued by crazy hitmen, the police, and a secret organisation of nutters who have a fetish for pinkie fingers. 

A comic from Andy Diggle and Jock, the creative team behind Green Arrow: Year One, should be all kinds of awesome and, disappointingly, it’s not. It’s a story that starts promisingly but ends up becoming a contrived b-movie thriller. 

Jake’s your basic everyman reacting the same way anyone would, horrified at the dark world of murder and high level secrets he stumbles upon, but really he should’ve been killed several times over in the story. We’re supposed to believe a comic book store clerk can somehow outwit multiple professional assassins? At a certain point, Jake getting lucky over and over again becomes tedious. 

The story itself goes from odd and somewhat mysterious, in a good way, to utterly confusing and ultimately forgettable. There’s this group of bad guys after this other group and there’s a secret organisation and everyone’s got their pinkie fingers cut off, and… at a certain point I just stop trying to follow it, it just wasn’t rewarding enough. 

Diggle’s gone the route of Morning Glories, piling on intrigue after intrigue until it gets too complex and the reader has no idea what’s happening in the story. It’s fun for a while and then when you realise the writer has tangled himself up in the various plot threads and is unable to align them in a way that makes sense, it starts to get frustrating until you just plain give up. Unlike Morning Glories though, Snapshot is mercifully limited to 100 pages only. 

Jock’s art is pretty good here but the black and white approach to this story might not have been the best approach here. Certain panels like the one with the dead bodies in a car upside down were hard to decipher no matter how much I looked at it and some colours would’ve helped differentiate between the shadows and the blood, both of which were presented as pure black. 

I wanted to like this but ended up just flicking through the last third, bamboozled to the last. What does the final page mean? How did Jake survive all that madness at the end? I didn’t care. Snapshot is an overly complex lacklustre thriller with good art.

7th review on Nudge

My 7th review for the Nudge Network went up today. Read it here:

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Batman #27 Review (Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo)

Read my review of Batman #27 here:

Hawkeye #16 Review (Matt Fraction, Annie Wu)

Read my review of Hawkeye #16 here:

Harley Quinn #2 Review (Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner)

Read my review of Harley Quinn #2 here:

Chew #39 Review (John Layman, Rob Guillory)

Read my review of Chew #39 here:

Comics reviews and news for week of 22 January 2014!

Comics new and I review the comics of the week here:

Monday, 20 January 2014

Fran by Jim Woodring Review

Jim Woodring’s carnival of the fantastique aka his latest creative vision, Fran, is another marvellous and enchanting comic set in his extraordinary world of The Unifactor. In typical Woodring fashion, Fran is billed as both a prequel and a sequel to his last book, 2011’s Congress of the Animals, and actually manages to be both! You can read Congress first, then Fran, or vice versa, or just Fran – all variations work! 

Woodring’s long-time character, Frank, gets a girlfriend, Fran, whom he met in Congress of the Animals. Their relationship hits a rocky patch when Fran won’t tell him about her life before she met him. This being a silent comic, ie. wordless, the sequence ingeniously plays out with Frank putting on a movie projector on his head and displaying the images on a white sheet. Fran refuses to do the same, gets annoyed, breaks the machine, and she and Frank have a bust up with Fran walking out on him. After a while Frank realises his error and goes after her, taking him on a journey of crazy backgrounds and weirder people. 

It’s hard to describe Woodring’s comics to people unfamiliar with them. Using words like crazy and weird can be off-putting as new readers might think it means his work is abstract and unapproachable but while his imagery is certainly strange and bizarre (in the best possible ways), he’s such a good cartoonist that his stories are absolutely easy to follow. The meanings of the stories are ambiguous, utilising a dream logic and feeling unanchored from reality but they’re no less fascinating to read and enjoy. The scope of his imagination is simply astonishing and his Unifactor world is breathtakingly unique. 

One thing you can say about a Jim Woodring book is that you never know where the story’s headed because one second Frank’s painting a picture and the next he’s chasing a little mummy to an underground cave of treasures. And that’s just part of the setup! He also has one of the best “Author’s Note” sections on the inside cover that I’ve ever seen. Anyone who loves comics should experience Jim Woodring at least once but from my own experience you’ll come back again and again – it’s too good not to read.


Thor, God of Thunder, Volume 2: Godbomb Review (Jason Aaron, Esad Ribic)

Yea and I did look upon thy second tome of Thor, God Of Blunders, and I was not well pleased to see logic and common sense has forsaken this story and Scribe Aaron is determinedly taking thine piss! 

Ok I’m gonna stop talking like that because I can’t keep it up. But yeah, this one isn’t good. I did read the first volume and had numerous problems with it, but fans of the series told me, no dude, you’re only seeing half of the complete story - you’ve got to read the second volume to get how awefrikkinsome it is! So I did – I’m an open-minded guy always on the lookout for awefrikkinsome comics – but unfortunately no, it wasn’t better. In fact it was worse because it made less sense than the first volume! 

The story is: a madman called Gorr is killing gods left and right giving him the name The God Butcher. He’s built a bomb to kill all of the gods and is determined to set it off, destroying every single god that ever was or will be. Only Thor can stop him - all three of him, past, present and future! 

The stuff I liked: as you might expect from having three different Thors showing up, time travel is a factor, and I hate time travel, but Thor does acknowledge the inherent stupidity of time travel as a storytelling concept. I also liked that present Thor and future Thor got drunk and drove their space boat - galactic drunk driving! – which was funny. I liked Thor’s granddaughters who’re crazy and cool and should get their own series, plus Thor swinging two Mjolnirs is all kinds of awesome. And lastly, I liked the godbomb itself. 

The godbomb, when detonated, will explode through time killing every god who ever lived or ever will. While it’s so out there conceptually, nuts and over the top, I like that about it. In a story about Thor fighting a time travelling monster through time and space, this doomsday device should be as weird and crazy as it is - it’s a Marvel comic after all! It’s like Jim Starlin himself came up with it. 

That’s the good stuff and it’s mostly little things. The bad stuff is to do with the bigger aspects of the story. Oh, and fair warning – spoilers ahead. 

One of my problems with the first book was that Gorr (Gorr = gore, and he’s a butcher, geddit?) didn’t have a motivation for doing what he was doing. Well, in the first chapter of this book we see it. Why would a man want to kill a god? It’s because he believed in them and they didn’t answer his prayers and let his family die. In other words, bad things happening to good people. Oh, boo hoo! Can you get more clichéd? How many times have we seen a man lose his faith and turn against it? Like Jason Aaron’s version of Thanos’ origin, recasting him with a serial killer mindset, it’s unoriginal and deeply unimaginative. 

For some reason there’s a lot of Christian imagery in a book without any Christians. I get that many people in real life believe in the Judeo-Christian god, but we don’t see him (or any Earth deity besides Thor) in the story – so why all the Christian imagery? Gorr crucifies gods left and right (Jesus’ death), he allows his god-slaves to rest on the seventh day (the Creation myth), Thor dies and is resurrected three days later (like Jesus), and there are three Thors (the Holy Trinity). It’s a contrived idea because these things would mean something to many readers but nothing at all to any of the characters in the book – why is Gorr so enamoured with the Christian religion above all others? We don’t know, but we do know he’s obsessed with Thor – so why don’t we see any references to the Viking religion? 

What is a god? Is it just a being with superpowers like Thor who is worshipped by lesser beings – are the X-Men gods? Why do gods need to be worshipped? Why is this concept of a god universal to billions of star systems in the universe? This is inherently a humanistic concept isn’t it? And why is there a God of Bombs? Are bombs sentient? Do they worship Shadrak, the God of Bombs? Did he give himself the title? What makes him a god? What makes any of them a god? There must be varying levels of powers, so Thor is obviously a god to humans but what about other alien races to whom he might be less powerful and therefore not a god? In a story where there are literally a billion gods, are they all of the same power level as Thor? If not, why are they considered gods?

If Gorr is able to time-travel whenever he wants to, why not travel to when Thor was a baby and kill him then? Why wait until there are three adult, fully powered Thors to fight (and defeat) him? The god-slaves have somehow secretly built their own bomb without Gorr knowing about it? When past Thor throws this bomb at the Godbomb, he suddenly appears on the ship with present and future Thor – how?! 

But probably the most damning plot hole in the book is at the end when present Thor is killed but brought back to life by future Thor. This is why I hate time-travel stories: if present Thor died, future Thor would’ve died as well, right? They’re the same person after all. Future Thor should’ve disappeared rather than stuck around for three days, giving him the time to raise present Thor back from the dead. 

I really tried with this story but I honestly don’t know what people love about this comic. Verily it is terribly overrated!

Thor: God of Thunder Volume 2 - Godbomb

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Fables, Volume 1: Legends in Exile Review (Bill Willingham, Lan Medina)

Rose Red is dead – who killed her? It’s up to Bigby Wolf, Fabletown’s gumshoe, to track down the killer.
What I really like about the first volume of Fables is that it doesn’t read like a first volume of a multi-volume series - it reads like a standalone book. I’m sure Rose Red plays a big part later on but this book is concerned more with the done-in-one murder mystery than it is in explicitly detailing to the reader all about the world of the series, etc.

The genius of this approach is that Bill Willingham introduces the cast of the series, gives us their characters and their situations within the self-contained story, so it manages to do everything a first volume should while also presenting itself as a standalone book, meaning everyone from casual readers looking for a good story to those who’re in for the long haul can get something out of this first volume.

I’m not usually one for crime dramas/police procedurals, and the reveal at the end isn’t at all original, but the story in this first volume is an entertaining whodunit thanks to its colourful cast. Our grizzled (and he is grizzled!) detective is Bigby Wolf (aka the Big Bad Wolf) who, along with Snow White, Deputy Mayor of Fablestown and sister of Rose Red, sets out to bring Rose’s killer to justice.

Rather than meeting a series of nondescript characters during the investigation, you’re introduced to someone you’ll remember from your childhood in each scene - it’s Beauty and the Beast! Is that… Bluebeard? Jack - like Jack and the Beanstalk? Willingham’s taken their character and twisted it just so, so that they’re familiar but new at the same time. We’ve seen it done numerous times before (probably most famously by the Shrek movies) but it works in this comic because of Willingham’s strong characterisation and inspired writing.

Lan Medina’s wonderful designs help in realising the characters. They look like you’d expect to a degree so they’re recognisable when you first see them but have just enough nuance to them to make you look closer. I especially liked the jaded talking pig who returns from the farm to the city to crash on Bigby’s couch - Bigby owes him after blowing his house down!

And when you’re wondering how what when etc., Willingham provides just enough background information on how the Fables came to live in our world so that it’s sufficient for readers to enjoy this book alone with room to explore it further in later books – again, ingenious! I’m sure some readers will feel the brief section on The Adversary wasn’t enough but I’m also sure it’s explored more in the dozens of other books that follow this.

It’s taken me a while to get around to picking up Fables but I’m glad I did. It’s enjoyable, original, and this first volume is a fine place to start giving the reader a good taste of what the series is about and a decent murder mystery too - I’m definitely on board for the second volume! If you’ve been putting it off because of the abundance of cheesy fairy tales with a 21st century post-modern take in pop culture, put those fears aside and give Fables a shot. 

Fables Vol 1: Legends In Exile

Friday, 17 January 2014

Message To Adolf Part 1 Review (Osamu Tezuka)

You’ve probably heard the rumour that Hitler was part-Jewish thanks to a distant relative – the shock, the irony! etc. The rumour’s long been debunked but comics legend Osamu Tezuka took the idea and ran with it in his massive 1300+ page book, Message to Adolf, with Part 1 clocking in at a whopping 650 pages! It sounded like an interesting comic, especially with Tezuka behind it, but disappointingly, it wasn’t – in fact, I ended up hating it. 

Our story begins during the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games when Japanese journalist Sohei Toge receives an urgent call from his brother about a dire secret he has to tell him (but not over the phone!) and, when he goes to meet him, he discovers his brother has been murdered! Hot on the trail of his brother’s killer, Toge finds out his brother had papers proving Hitler had Jewish relatives and therefore made him part Jewish – such a revelation would bring about the fall of the Third Reich! Meanwhile in Japan, two young Germans boys, both called Adolf, one of which is Jewish, are torn apart when the non-Jewish Adolf is sent back to Germany to be taught at a Hitler School. And all the while, Nazi Germany is gearing up for the war to end all wars…

Let’s start with the premise: it’s extremely flimsy. Some paperwork that somehow proves that Hitler’s grandparents were part Jewish would bring about the fall of the Third Reich? Take Obama (and, without getting too political, I actually like Obama and don’t think he’s a secret Muslim socialist from Kenya who’s also the Antichrist) and the matter of his birth certificate. Even after he produced it, showing he was an American citizen, look how many idiots refused to believe it was real. Even if a Japanese newspaper printed this bizarre paperwork, would enough people in Germany see it AND believe it to be true, so much so that they would overthrow the Fuhrer? I’m not convinced. 

And if they – the majority of the German people - did overthrow the Fuhrer, what then? By their very actions, they would prove that they still hated Jews, so much so that they killed their beloved dictator for having 1/16th Jewish blood, and the march toward war and the Holocaust would likely still happen. Another high ranking Nazi official – Goebbels maybe – would take over and WW2 would continue forward. The whole point of this book seems utterly futile! 

The premise bothered me but not nearly as much as the characters. When they weren’t loathsome, they were stupid, and I mean REALLY stupid, like how-the-hell-did-they-dress-themselves-this-morning stupid. 

Take, for example, the Jewish Adolf character. Through a series of events, he winds up with the papers and, being just a kid, should probably hand them over to a trustworthy adult like his dad who also happens to be an important figure in the Jewish community in Japan – perfect, right? Except idiot Adolf gets all bashful and cryptically tells his dad to look at these papers when he’s got time as they’re important. The dad, of course not fully understanding their import, doesn’t get around to looking at them and, through a bizarre sequence of events, ends up going back to Germany and straight into a concentration camp! Idiot kid Adolf could’ve stopped all of that if he’d just told him – “Dad, Hitler’s Jewish and these are the papers to prove it.” Simple, right? They were sat at dinner with no interruptions, one sentence, done – AND he’d have saved his dad’s life! 

Another example of moronic characters is the Gestapo goon chasing Toge whose name is, and I’m not joking, Acetylene Lamp. After somehow tracking down Toge from Berlin to a small mountain road in rural Japan, he’s driving alongside the bus carrying Toge and decides to drive ahead of the bus and wait for Toge in the next town. Now, after such a feat as to track down Toge to this very specific location, wouldn’t he rather make sure not to let him out of his sight by driving behind the bus until it arrives at its destination AND THEN grabbing him? But no, he drives ahead giving Toge the chance to escape, which he does. IDIOT! 

These are just two examples of every one of these characters behaving like twits but I could go on and on about scenes that just played out like a child wrote them (that retarded shootout sequence!). Simple decisions escape them as they bumble around foolishly, making bad choices, one after the other. The Nazi characters on the other hand are character-less – they’re just one-dimensional bad guys. And while there wasn’t anyone in the cast I particularly liked, I hated the protagonist the most: Sohei Toge. 

At first he’s your generic hero – good looking, upbeat, idealistic and he’s fighting for a good cause, to avenge his brother’s death and bring about the downfall of Hitler. 

And then he rapes a woman. 

Whaaat?! Yup, before the first 100 pages are over, he’s beaten up and raped his brother’s German girlfriend. Oh and the girl kills herself shortly afterwards. I’m not going to list the qualities that makes the main character of any story sympathetic, but the one quality you wouldn’t expect to see would be a tendency to sexually assault women. That scene not only made me hate the protagonist instantly and made me indifferent to the many challenges he has to overcome, but it was a warning sign that I should’ve just closed the book there. Then again, how many main characters commit a rape in the first act? I had to read on. BIG mistake! 

But I did finish it. I struggled with the last 200 pages but I got there in the end and that says something – this book, while dislikeable on so many levels, is readable and that’s thanks to Tezuka’s prowess with the comics medium. He knows how to tell a story so that it’s beats are just so, fast or slow when it needs to be, with scenes flowing nicely into one another and the art is generally good too. While reading a 650-page manga isn’t the same as reading a 650-page prose novel, not least in terms of time commitment, I have abandoned shorter books for being unreadable and I kept going with Message to Adolf Part 1. That’s about all I’m going to give this one though. 

Tezuka tries to make his poorly constructed story have an emotional atmosphere by shoe-horning in tragic events like war, discrimination, fascism, and so on, even plopping in historical events to set the time, but it’s ineffective here. Sure, WW2 and everything that led up to and during it were awful and moving, but here it sits awkwardly alongside the bad fiction, flat and separate from the story, like a b-movie director ineptly using stock footage in-between his poorly filmed scenes. Also, Tezuka doesn’t even seem to quite grasp the Nazi/Jewish situation – it was a racially motivated prejudice, but he presents it here as religious based, that is, if the Jews converted to Christianity the Nazis would have left them alone, which couldn’t’ve been more wrong. 

Message to Adolf Part 1 is simply an overstuffed book. Non-Jewish Adolf’s father gets his own storyline which is a murder mystery but it’s never resolved as everyone involved dies and disappears and none of it matters anyway (not to mention how unconvincing it was for a white supremacist openly marrying a non-white). Too many story threads are set up that never go anywhere or are even relevant to the plot. There are too many contrived coincidences in the story, too many moments that are done to make the plot seem to work rather than make sense in themselves – Jewish Adolf’s father having to suddenly go back to Germany for instance – for it to be even halfway convincing as a grown-up story, despite it’s mature subject matter. 

This book shows Tezuka’s limitations as writer. He’s unable to create even semi-realistic characters and everything from the core premise to the execution, to many key scenes didn’t make any sense at all. The writing itself is very sloppy with characters literally saying what they’re feeling because Tezuka doesn’t seem to know how else to do it – a beautiful bar owner falls in love with rapist Toge (women are constantly throwing themselves at him in this book – probably because he’s a superhero. The dude caught up to a train despite being shot and running uphill!) and when he’s talking with a younger woman she says “I love him, I must make sure he doesn’t fall in love with that girl and go away with her. He must stay with me here” (I’m paraphrasing but you get the idea). Tezuka’s writing in this book is amateurish at best, which is surprising given that this book was written at the tail end of his career, after literally decades of working in the comics medium! 

The dialogue is just bad in general. The Japanese style of melodramatic declarations and over-emotional, hammy even, physical gestures to get across a cheesy line is acceptable in most manga; in a supposedly serious historical fiction like Message to Adolf, Tezuka really should’ve left that stuff out to give the story more weight. Sometimes less is more, and more restrained scenes are infinitely more powerful to the reader – abandoning that for cartoony scenes disrupts the tone and takes away the potential artistic merit of the book.

I just about made it through Part 1 but I won’t be picking up Part 2 to see how it all ends. If you’re looking for a good Tezuka book, try Buddha instead of this drivel.

Message to Adolf, Vol. 1