Monday, October 29, 2012

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 10/24

All Star Western #13
Story: Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Art: Moritat/ Phil Winslade

Clowns and Gotham City do not mix. Well, they do if you enjoy homicide and chaos.As Haly's Circus arrives back in Gotham, Jonah Hex, Tallulah Black, and Amadeus Arkham are called to look into a gruesome murder, and all hints point them to the circus. There they find it's more than just a clown that have gone insane, and that it seems like this madness is tied in with what they have already been hired to look into, the missing formula of Dr. Henry Jekyll. It seems that Jekyll's formula is tied in with the black diamond, the source of Eclipso, that has been popping up all over the DC Universe. What's nice is that none of that matters to the story at hand. What we have here is a suspense and action story, with killer clowns, man eating tigers, and a formula that makes men evil. Which in all fairness is pretty much any Tuesday in Gotham, no matter what era the story takes place. This issue also sees the return of the Barbary Ghost, who was featured in the back-ups earlier in the series, now entering the main story. While she didn't really interact with Hex and crew this issue, I look forward to seeing her more in upcoming issues. Speaking of back-ups, a new serial begins this issue, featuring Tomahawk, although this is a different version of that character. Here, he is a brave fighting with Tecumseh against the US forces after the American Revolution. It's an intense story, not sugar coating in any way the way the US treated the Native Americans. Interestingly, the US general who will be leading the army against Tecumseh and Tomahawk is "Mad" Anthony Wayne, who's last name was given by Bob Kane to his greatest creation and has been established as an ancestor of Bruce. I'm curious to see if this will all tie into the Watyne family legacy, or if its just a nice little nod. We'll have to see.

Batman Incorporated #4
Story: Grant Morrison
Art: Chris Burnham

Batman Incorporated has its first major throw down with the forces of Leviathan, and while things seem to work out in Batman's favor, there's much more going on here. I like that Morrison can actually take an all action issue and use it for some excellent character development. We get a really good sense of many of the members of Batman Inc who aren't Gotham residents, specifically the adversarial relationship between The Hood and Gaucho due to the issues between their countries, and a nice scene with Batwing getting back at the ninja Man-Bats for his near death fight with them in the "Leviathan Strikes!" one-shot. Batman had been left in a pretty precarious place last issue, but as ever, he's Batman and had his escape plan set all along. Morrison crated Damian, and writes him as such a perfect little brat with a broken soul underneath. When the revelation of who has been wearing the Wingman costume finally happens, you can see that Damian is both hurt and confused, exactly as ten year old would be, no matter how mature he pretends to be. The revelation makes perfect sense, and fits with some of what has been going on in the New 52. I wonder if Morrison had this planned even before the transition. The ending, the last panels, is something I didn't see coming. Poor Damian has been pushed around like a chess piece for so long, I wonder if these events will finally push him over the edge. Only time, and Grant Morrison, will tell.

Fables #122
Story: Bill Willingham
Art: Gene Ha

Fables is the second longest running Vertigo series currently running, and every time I think Bill Willingham is getting ready to wind the series up, he comes up with a new angle to play with. This issue starts out some years in the future, with an adult Ambrose Wolf working on his history of Fables. The story he tells is one of the old days in the Homelands before the war with the Adversary, when his father, the Big Bad Wolf was still the most terrifying creature in all the forests.Bigby gets himself into some trouble when he tries to eat a witch, and finds his destiny is to die in two days time. As we all know, this doesn't happens, but we get to see how destiny works in the world of Fables. More than just a fun and interesting story, this issue features beautiful art by Gene Ha. Not only are his people always great to look at, but he draws beautiful forests. And most of all, his giant wolf is out of this world. I can't wait to see what happens in the second part of the arc.

OK, folks, I'm an east coast boy, so I'm scheduling this sucker to be posted tomorrow and finishing battening down the hatches for the monster storm about to hit us. Stay safe, everyone, and you'll hear more from me once I'm out the other side.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Recommended Reading for 10/26: Locke & Key

The end of a month of scary recommended readings had to go to my favorite horror comic currently on the stands, and one that I think will stand the test of time as one of the greatest horror comics ever. Locke & Key, from writer Joe Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez, is a horror comic in a grand sense; its not just about the monster under the bed, but the horror of loss, of growing up, of betrayal. It has aspects of a coming of age story, as most of the principal cast are kids and young adults, but the older characters still experience their own growth. And its those characters that keep you coming back; as good as the plots are, and they're very good, Hill has crafted some of the most memorable characters I've read in a long time, and your heart soars and breaks with them.

I first discovered Locke & Key because I had read Joe Hill's debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box, and was incredibly impressed. It was amazing to see such a perfectly crafted first novel, and one that was so damn scary. I read a lot of horror, in novel, short story, and comic form, and to read a book that actually gives me the heebie-jeebies is quite a feat. And to see that this guy was starting a horror comic was something I had to check out.

Locke & Key opens with the Locke family returning to their family's ancestral home, Keyhouse, in Lovecraft, Massachusetts (no, nothing foreboding in that name at all). The family is shaken by the recent murder of their father and husband, Rendell, at the hands of one of his students, Sam Lesser. Nina, Rendell's wife, has taken her three children, Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode to start fresh at Keyhouse, which is currently only inhabited by Rendell's younger brother, Duncan. Or so it seems, because Keyhouse has many occupants, and they're not entirely human.

The Locke kids are the central characters of Locke & Key, and the central story is really about them growing up while discovering the secrets of Keyhouse. When the reader first meets them, each of the kids is traumatized by the death of their father in different ways. Over the course of the series, each grow as people, and Ty and Kinsey, who are both high school students versus young Bode who is in grammar school, have to grow up, not just to face the normal challenges of life, but to face the challenges of Keyhouse.

Tyler Locke, using the Giant Key

The secret of Keyhouse is, not surprisingly, keys. But not just the kind of keys you have on your keychain. Each of the keys has a special power, given to them by their composition from something called Whispering Iron. The keys are a wonderful device, allowing Hill to solve problems or introduce new plot elements without resorting to anything outside the world of the series because this extraordinary element is already set. Keys include the Ghost Key, which allows you to leave your body and float as a ghost, the Anywhere Key, that's door opens to anywhere you need to go, the Head Key, which opens the head of the person it is used on and allows personality traits and memories to be added or removed, The Gender Key, that allows you to swap genders, and the Omega Key, which opens a very special, and very evil, door.

When it comes to writing about series that are horror and mystery based, it's hard to do without spoiling anything, something I have commented about before. With Locke & Key it is even harder to do, because the mythology of the series is so brilliantly and gradually pieced out that the reader doesn't get all the answers until the fifth volume, and even then I think there might be some surprises left for use in the sixth and final. But suffice it to say, the story is not limited to Lovecraft in the present. Stories flashback to the American Revolution, to Rendell Locke in his own teen years, and the two one shots, Guide to the Known Keys and Grindhouse, show different previous generations of Lockes.

Kinsey Locke

While I can't talk to much about plot, I can talk about characters, and that's where Hill shines. Each of the Locke kids are phenomenal, three dimensional characters. Tyler, the eldest son, is a boy at the end of his adolescence and preparing to see where life will take him. Haunted at the beginning of the series by an off hand, angry comment that he made to Sam Lesser he believes caused the young man to kill his father, Ty arrives in Lovecraft by far the most detached. But over the course of the series, he not only grows out of that shell and begins to connect with people, but he takes up the role of guardian of his family, supporting his mother who has sunk into alcoholism after the death of her husband, and protecting his siblings from the dark forces that seek the Omega Key.

Kinsey, the only girl in the family and a few years younger than Ty, starts out trying to live life as if nothing has happened. But with the realization of the magic in Keyhouse and the dark events of the end of the first mini-series and beginning of the second, Kinsey makes a decision to use the Head Key to get rid of the emotions that hurt. For much of the series, this is what defines Kinsey, who is a track runner, and who runs from facing her own emotions. Without fear, she is headstrong, and more free to sharing the knowledge of the keys with her friends. Kinsey's growth has a lot to do with realizing that the bad emotions, the fear, the tears, the anger, are as much a part of life as the good ones.

Bode, the youngest of the Lockes, is only six years old. His sense of wonderment at the discovery of all the magic that lives in Keyhouse is different from that of his older siblings. For Bode, it's all wonderment. Even though it comes with darkness, like mysterious voices in the Wellhouse or shadow demons, its still fun to use the Ghost Key and sail around the house, or to get a peak at someone's thoughts with the Head Key. His sense of wonderment is charming, and often the spot of light in an otherwise dark book. He still has to grown up, though, and events at the end of the series might have just placing Bode as the one who will save everyone.

Bode Locke

The cast around the Locke kids are all equally well developed characters. Ad the point of view shifts from character to character issue-to-issue, supporting characters get their moments to shine. Nina, the Locke's mother, is a strong woman who was broken by the death of her husband and the attack made on her, and is having a hard time putting the pieces back together. Duncan, Rendell's brother, is a gentle, quiet artist who loves his family and tries his best to support them while surrounded by tragedy. We also get to see various townsfolk in Lovecraft, including Ellie, one of the few surviving members of the Keepers of the Keys (Rendell's friends) and her son, Rufus, who is developmentally disabled but who has certain special knowledge that helps his new friend, Bode. And finally, there's Zack. Or Dodge, if you prefer. Or the Girl in the Wellhouse. Dodge is the villain of the piece, and I'll let you discover exactly what he's about yourself.

The suspense that builds its way through Locke & Key is done so slowly that you can start reading it and feel fine, but by the end of the issue you realize you've broken out in a cold sweat and gooseflesh. Watching the monsters come after the Lockes, whether they are Sam Lesser, Dodge, or shadow monsters, is part of it, and Hill is a master of the craft here. But it's not all monsters. While Hill and Rodriguez don't avoid violence and gore, and use them to great effect, it's the psychology of horror that makes something really scary. The slow build as Dodge's plan to find the Omega Key reaches fruition is a different kind of scary. Watching Dodge worm his way into the Locke family's life, watching him play with them, it's creepy. Monsters are what we make of them, after all, and sometimes to scariest ones are just people. Although I'm not saying Dodge is entirely human either. You'll have to read to find out.

Gabriel Rodriguez, artists on Locke & Key, is one of the most impressive artists I've seen in comics in recent years. Hi style is distinct and he falls into that category of artists that I love: he draws amazing expressive characters. Faces and body language are important in comics, and in horror comics even moreso, since what is not said is as important as what is said. Each of the Locke kids are made even more real by how perfectly captured they are in each panel by Rodriguez. And his talent for monsters, for shadow demons, for the things in the heads of people when the Head Key is used, is second to none. When we first see the Head Key used, and see into Bode's head, it's an amazing scene, and I don't know how much of what was in there was in Hill's original script and how much was crafted just by Rodriguez, but in the hands of a lesser artist, it could have been just cute or amusing; Rodriguez makes it jawdropping. Rodriguez also does an incredible job of altering his style to fit the story. The Grindhouse one-shot, a classic, gory gangster/revenge yarn, is grittier. And the first issue of the fourth volume, Keys to the Kingdom, is dedicated to Bill Watterson, and features panels drawn in the style of his classic comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, and as someone who loved that strip, the homage is perfect and loving. Every time I open an issue of Locke & Key I don't know what I'm going to get, but I just know it's going to be excellent.

With one final mini-series left chronicling this generation of the Locke family, you still have time to catch up with the series. There's something in this series for everyone, whether it's a well crafted family drama or a jump at a particularly scary moment. Come on, step into Keyhouse and see what's waiting for you.

There are five volumes of Locke & Key available in hardcover, and the first three have also been released in paperback. In order, they are Welcome to Lovecraft, Head Games, Crown of Shadows, Keys to the Kingdom, and Clockworks. The final mini-series, Omega, will begin coming out in single issue in November.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 10/17

Star Wars: Agent of the Empre- Hard Targets #1
Story: John Ostrander
Art: Davide Fabbri

John Ostrander returns to the Star Wars universe with another tale of Jahan Cross, Agent of the Empire. The first Agent of the Empire mini-series was a great spy romp, following Cross as he got involved in a plot to use droids across the galaxy to conquer civilization. This time, the story seems more personal, as he will be working in some backstage political intrigue that will make him cross paths with his estranged father. But that's in the future of the series. This issue was an action packed romp that got readers who might not know Cross up to speed on who he is: the Empire's answer to James Bond. Set prior to the events of A New Hope, Cross attends a party on Alderaan, where he meets movie characters like Bail Organa and Princess Leia, and classic EU characters like Leia's best friend, Winter. With the appearance of the current Count Dooku, the nephew of the Prequel Trilogy villain, intrigue kicks into high gear. By the end of the issue, an assassination has occurred, and Cross has returned to Coruscant, where conversations with Armand Isard, head of Imperial Intelligence, and his daughter (and major villain of the Rogue Squadron comics and novels) Ysanne, begin to shake some of Cross's confidence in the Empire's beneficence. I've always said that the noble Imperial is a favorite Star Wars archetype of mine, and I feel Jahan Cross is a good addition to the ranks. Oh, and did I forget to mention the opening scene is a flashforward of Cross fighting Boba Fett? Yeah, you know that's not going to end well for someone.

X-Factor #245
Story: Peter David
Art: Leonard Kirk

With the final chapter of "Breaking Points," long time X-Factor writer Peter David sets the book off on its new course. Now, what exactly the new course is, I'm not sure yet, but hey, Peter David hasn't steered me wrong yet. "Breaking Points" has seen the rather large cast of X-Factor paired down slightly, and some characters, both those left behind and those not on the scene, changed. This issue really focuses on Havok, and gets him from the point he has been at in this series, as the soemwhat flustered co-leader of the team, to the point where he is in joining the Uncanny Avengers team. Much of the issue is a conversation between first Havok and Madrox, and then Havok and Polaris. Havok is confronted with a lot of the baggage he carries, especially in regards to his brother, Cyclops, and all that has happened with Cyclops over the course of Avengers Vs. X-Men. There is a poignant scene, where Havok and Polaris finally come to terms with their somewhat strained relationship, and although Madrox is clearly one of Peter David's babies, and Havok is a character that he might not have the same attachment to, he gives him a great sendoff with some dignity. Of course, that dignity is then somewhat undermined with the comedy stylings of Pip the Troll and a going away... present from many of his teammates. Aside from Havok, there is a major change ins status quo for Madrox and Layla, a new costume for Polaris, and Madrox actually putting his foot down versus his usual indecisive personality. Character is where Peter David's writing has always shined, and this issue is another great example of why X-Factor is one of the best books on the racks.

Young Justice #21
Story: Greg Wesiman
Art: Christopher Jones

With the animated series unfortunately on hiatus, it seems that I'll have to get my Young Justice fix in the comics. And fortunately, the comic series is as good as the show, with the stories intertwined as untold tales, and written by showrunner, series writer, and Gargoyles creator Greg Wesiman. This is the second part of a six part arc, taking place mostly about a month before the beginning of the season two "Invasion" storyline, but flashing back to five years earlier, about a month before the end of season one. In the present, many heroes and villains have been teleported off Earth by Brainiac, making his Young Justice debut, while much of the team is divided on separate missions: Nightwing and Wonder Girl are recruiting Blue Beetle, while most of the rest of the team is protecting the new leader of Qurac from possible attacks from Queen Bee. The issue does a great job of juggling all the plotlines, and still allowing the characters room to breathe. This doesn't feel like a Superboy trapped in space comic with a Miss Martian subplot, or a Nightwing recruiting a hero with a Batgirl subplot; it feels like a comic featuring the whole team. If you're going through Young Justice withdrawal like I am, you should check out the comic. Hopefully it will get us through to January...

Friday, October 19, 2012

Recommended Reading for 10/19: The Barr & Davis Detective Comics

There are certain runs on Batman titles that are considered legendary: O'Neil/Adams, Englehart/Rogers, Miller/Mazzucchelli, Loeb/Sale. But there are some that slip through the cracks, no matter how good they are. A personal favorite of mine was the short, seven issue run on Detective Comics by Mike W. Barr and Alan Davis.I'll be focusing on the first six issues, since the final one was the first issue of a four part story that Davis did not complete (it was, in fact finished by a then new talent named Todd McFarlance). But trust me, there's enough material in those six issues.

These are some of the final pre-Crisis Batman stories, and although that doesn't hugely matter, it does mean they are some of the final stories not in the shadow of Frank Miller's legendary Batman: Year One. The Batman in these stories is a bit lighter, able to smile, and while still a dark knight, is not someone that the non-criminal element of Gotham would be terrified of. He is also a bit more of a father figure to Jason Todd than the more dire Batman of the post Year One era. More than that, this Jason Todd is still the sort of Dick Grayson redux he was before he was given his new origin and attitude. The stories aren't as hokey as some of the early Silver Age Batman stories, as a matter of fact they get very dark in places, but there's a sense of fun to them that has been lost in times since.

The first two issues of the run are a two part story that feels like house cleaning from the previous few years of Batman stories. Catwoman had pretty much reformed here, and had not only developed a serious on-again/off-again relationship with Batman, but knew his identity. In a move that hearkens to the current "Death of the Family," Joker decided Catwoman shouldn't be with Batman and is better as a villain, and hire mad scientist Doctor Moon, a character who hasn't appeared in some time but was an 80s and 90s mad science fixture in the Bat- and Super- titles, to use a CAT scan device to change her mind. By the end of the story, Catwoman is a villainess again and does not know Batman's identity. The Joker plays a dark game here, and he truly leaves a wounded Batman. Batman himself savagely beats the Joker, and comes close to taking the Clown Prince of Crime's life. Batman might smile at Robin and quip, but Barr's Batman is still a  force to be reckoned with.

The remaining four issues of the run are single issue stories, although the last two tie together. Issue 571 is probably my favorite Scarecrow story of all time, and arguably the best (it also allows me to stick to something a Halloween theme with this week's recommendation, since what villain is better for Halloween then Scarecrow?). In "Fear for Sale," the Scarecrow develops a drug that does the opposite of his usual fear toxin. Instead of making someone afraid, it strips away all their fear. When Batman is exposed, he begins to act reckless, and a nervous Jason attempts to stop him. The way Jason was written after his new origin, a reckless Batman would have been something he was all for, but here he does his best to stop Batman from rushing headlong into the Scarecrow's death trap. In the end, though, Batman has one fear that the Scarecrow's toxin isn't able to block, and it is using that fear that Batman overcomes to toxin and defeats Scarecrow. That fear? The death of Jason, something that plays more into the last couple issues of the run and is oddly prescient for Jason's well known fate. This story has also been adapted for the latter episodes of the classic animated Batman series under the title of, "Never Fear."

"The Doomsday Book," Detective Comics #572, was one of the first back issues I ever bought. That cover, with my two favorite detectives of literary history, was something that just grabbed me. And the story inside was something different from the comics I was used to reading. It was a double sized anniversary issue, and was a series of interconnected stories that all tied together in the end. It also featured two chapters featuring characters who were new to me, but had a history with the title; Slam Bradley, the PI who first appeared in Detective Comics #1, and the Elongated Man, who had a back up feature in the tile back in the 60s. The story features a "lost" Holmes story, the descendant of Professor Moriarty, and a last minute save by the great detective himself. Barr is a huge fan of mysteries, as evidenced by his Batman stories and his 80s play fair mystery series Maze Agency, whose issues I am still attempting to track down, and this issue is a love letter to many a great detective stories.

"The Mad Hatter Flips His Lid" is a strange little throwback to the classic Batman TV series of the 60s. The Hatter design here is that of the 60s and the TV show, the chubby, hat obsessed and gimmick using version, not the Lewis Carroll obsessed version who was first introduced and disappeared until the mid 80s. Here, after being released from Gotham State Prison, the not truly rehabilitated Hatter goes on a crime spree based on hats, and the issue contains some truly groan-worthy puns. When Bruce Wayne, "throws his hat into the ring," (I told you the puns were bad) for city council, Batman prepares his trap. But the Hatter has deadly razor brimmed hats that he unleashes by remote control, and while Batman is able to stop him, the Hatter shoots Robin. The boy falls, and Batman beats the Hatter senseless. This is the last appearance of this version of the Hatter, and Robin's shooting is a cliffhanger for the final issue of the run.

"My Beginning... and My Probable End," is probably the most significant issue of the Barr/Davis run from a historical point of view. It was released the same month as the final issue of Batman: Year One over in Batman, and tells the story of Bruce Wayne's childhood and youth. It doesn't contradict anything Miller writes. but serves as a compliment, giving details Miller doesn't focus on. What's more important is how these details are revealed. With Robin wounded, Batman rushes him to Leslie Thompkins clinic. Here, Bruce spends much of the issue talking to Leslie. While Leslie had been introduced as the kindly woman who was there for Bruce the night his parents were shot, this is, as far as I know and correct me if I'm wrong, the first appearance of Leslie as the tough doctor, the pacifist who serves as the voice of the opposition to Batman's more brutal methods. The issue has touching moments between Bruce and Leslie, and when Jason wakes up after his surgery, we see a Bruce who is caring in a way that he is not really allowed to be in issues after this.

As great as Barr's scripts are, a run is only elevated to legendary by the marriage of story and art. Alan Davis's art works beautifully with the stories. His touch is light, creating smooth looks to his characters and allowing for Batman to be menacing one page and smiling and joking with Robin the next. There's a reason Davis is considered a great, after all. His Scarecrow is excellent, all gangly limbs and contorting joints, and his Leslie is wiry and tough, but still maternal. The run also introduced Profile, an underworld information broker who hangs out at an underworld pup, Mcsurley's. Profile was never really used again, hut he had a great, unique look, a sort of modern fop look that stood out in the grimy bar, and I think Davis giving him that look is what has made him stick in my head all these years.

The final Barr/Davis issue was the beginning of Batman: Year Two, a strange story featuring Batman using the gun that killed his parents and teaming up with the mob and Joe Chill to stop the return of a Gotham vigilante called the Reaper, whose design is visually striking and about five years ahead of its time; he looks like something every Image creator wanted to draw, with a skull head, red body armor, and long scythes on both hands that ended in maces and had concealed guns built in. While the story was not as memorable as the previous six issues, I have to give Davis credit for his Reaper design.

This entire run has just been collected for the first time in a deluxe hardcover, Legends of the Dark Knight: Alan Davis. It contains all six of the issues discussed here, plus the first part of Batman: Year Two, the follow up Reaper story, "Full Circle," and a short Batman: Black and White tale, "Last Call at McSurley's." Unfortunately, the hardcover was misprinted and recalled. A new printing is due shortly, and I suggest you give it a try.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Three Advance Reviews of Comics You Should Check Out

One of the best things about going to a comic convention is the swag and the chance to get stuff you can't get anywhere else. This year, between the Diamond Retailer Breakfast pack and wandering Artist's Alley, I found three exclusive comics, previews and variants of comics that haven't been released yet that I want to get the word out for early. I'll remind my loyal audience of them when they get closer, but for now, here's a little sample of things to come.

Bedlam #1
Story: Nick Spencer
Art: Riley Rossmo

Bedlam is the new Image Comic from Nick Spencer (Morning Glories, Thief of Thieves, Ultimate Comics: X-Men) and Riley Rossmo (Proof, Cowboy Ninja Viking). It's the story of Madder Redd, a serial killer and master criminal very much in the Joker model. The first issue opens with Madder Redd slaughtering all the visitors at a museum before being confronted by The First, his heroic enemy. Flash forward and Madder Redd has been captured by the police and is being interrogated. But is it really Madder Redd? It seems that the man the police has is a fake, and the real Madder Redd is living as a fairly ordinary man named Fillmore, who is constantly at war with his previous, darker self. The story of Madder Redd's transformation is still being pieced out, although there are flashbacks that begin to explain it, and he has not lost all his cunning. It seems he now has a drive to help, and so he is looking to aid the police in taking down other killers. The series has Nick Spencer's trademark mysteries, giving the audience only as much information as they need to keep them coming back. This isn't a bad thing, and the series is a little more straightforward than his other current Image Series, Morning Glories. Riley Rossmo draws a great horror comic, and this is horror in the tradition of Silence of the Lambs. His design for Madder Redd is creepy, and his scenes of Redd in action are great. Bedlam #1 will be released in two weeks on Halloween.

G-Man: Coming Home #1
Story & Art: Chris Giarrusso

In all my posts talking about all-ages comics, I am ashamed that I forgot to mention G-Man. Created by Chris Giarrusso, who Marvel fans might remember for his Mini-Marvel strips, G-Man is exactly what the tagline of the series says, "The Superhero Adventure of a Kid and his Magic Cape." G-Man, along with his big brother Great Man and the rest of their friends, all young heroes, have action packed adventures that are at times real nail biters, but never leave the realm of something the whole family can enjoy. This isn't a full story, but the first chapter of the upcoming G-Man original graphic novel, Coming Home. The story picks up from the end of the last G-Man story, Cape Crisis, but does a great job of getting new and lapsed readers up to speed. The first chapter not only reintroduces G-Man and his friends, but expands the world by introducing the Thunderfriends, a team of grown up heroes.Giarrusso has built a whole world of new heroes and crazy situations that are fun, entertaining, and exciting. The first two volumes of G-Man are readily available, and while no release date is shown on the comic for the third volume, be sure that I will let you know.

Helheim #1
Story: Cullen Bunn
Art: Joelle Jones

While the The Sixth Gun, the current ongoing from Oni Press by writer Cullen Bunn, is a great example of a tried and true comic genre, the weird western, his new series, Helheim, comes from a much less tread path: the weird Viking story. A tribe of Vikings are at war with a witch and her undead servants. The series introduces its young protagonist, Rikard, the son of the leader of the Viking group, as he, his father, and some allies flee the creatures that serve the witch. They arrive back at camp, and after defeating the monsters, head into camp... as Night Creatures, the most evil servants of the witch, spring from the forms of the downed undead. In the ensuing battle, Rikard is killed, which seems like the end of the story for our hero. But he has been seeing visions of his older self looking sadly on, so there's more to it. And when Rikard's father goes to Brea, Rikard's lover and a witch in her own right who, according to him, is the reason their enemy keeps attacking, he gets a nasty surprise I don't want to spoil. It's a great set-up for the series, and I'm looking forward to where Bunn is taking it. If you've been enjoying The Sixth Gun, or liked Brian Wood's Vertigo viking opus Northlanders, you should check out Helheim when it launches in March.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Busy Week for Comics on TV

So, this past week we saw the debut of two TV series (one a series premiere, one a season premiere).

I thought season two of The Walking Dead was not as strong as the first one. What should have been one arc in a season with multiple acts took up much of the season with very little payoff. And I think the series, and new showrunner Glen Mazzara, wanted to address that right off the bat. The teaser for the debut episode, "Seed" was silent, with the survivors making their way through a house, killing some walkers (although in all fairness since they're already dead, I don't know if there's a better term then killing), and digging for supplies. There's no excessive talking here, no hemming and hawing; it's all action. And I think the destroyed walker count in this one episode exceeds the entirety of last season.

Not to say that the whole episode is action. There's still the strife in the Grimes family, with Lori unsure about where she stands with her husband and son. Daryl continues to walk along the outskirts of the group, taking part in the action but not in the day to day life. Rick is acting like a leader, giving orders and holding the responsibility close to him. And, hey, even T-Dog is doing stuff. The episode felt balanced, giving something for all the members of the cast something to do.

The prison is an excellent place for the survivors to go, with its high walls and strong defenses, and has a creepy air that works well for a zombie story. As the survivors attempt to clear the prison of its dead inhabitants, the darkness and winding corridors add a level of claustrophobia and intensity that you didn't get in the more open expanses of the farm.

The highlight of the episode for me was the first full appearance by Michonne, the sword wielding zombie killer played by Danai Gurira. She only had a couple scenes, but her sword play and total badassery made me happy. Michonne has been a favorite of mine in the comic for a long time, and she has been translated to the screen perfectly. Her scenes with Andrea show her to be caring as well as a hardcore killer, and she walks around with chained zombies, so I couldn't ask for more.

As for where I feel the season is going, well I doubt I could be happier. The appearance of the prisoners makes me a little nervous about the expanding cast size, but we'll see where that goes. Seems like Herschel will be picking up some of the plotlines that were left in the void by the early death of Dale, and I like how tough Maggie is getting; it seems she might be picking up some of the tough female character quotient left by Andrea not being as tough as she is in the comic.  Michonne and Andrea are looking like they/re going to be running into the Governor and Woodbury first, so I'm curious to see where they go and how they meet up with the rest of the survivors again. This was a good episode with a lot of promise; I hope the series continues on this path.

I admit to going in to Arrow, the new series featuring Green Arrow, with a bit of trepidation. Superheroes and TV don't always translate. And while at times Smallville, the CW's previous DC Comics adaptation flew like Superman through the skies, there were times it moved much more slowly and felt like a show that would be on the same network as Gossip Girl and 90210; lots of angst and not a lot of superheroics. I also know Green Arrow can often be presented as Batman-lite, and frankly he was in his early days in comics; he had an Arrowcar and Arrowcave, for pete's sake!

Fortunately, the series premiere did a lot to alleviate those fears. The pilot if both full of action, good character beats, and some knowing winks to the comic reading audience. The pilot starts out with Oliver Queen, the man who will become Green Arrow, being saved from the island he has been stranded on for the past five years. He returns to Starling City, where he begins taking up his quest to right the wrongs of his corrupt mogul father by taking out a list of men who are equally corrupt. He's not the same bleeding heart liberal he is in the comics, but he is looking out for the little guy.

Stephen Amell does an excellent job as both Oliver Queen and his mysterious alter ego, who does not have a name in the series yet. He plays the cocky, arrogant rich guy one moment, and the intense vigilante the next. It's interesting that the series creators chose to give him a family, a mother and sister. This does a nice job of separating him from Batman. He is not an orphan, but has these connections that give him something else to fight for. Whoever Amell's stunt double is also does an impressive job. The way he moves and the way he fights aren't like you usually see among TV and movie superheroes. His movement over rooftop isn't acrobatic, but more like an animal stalking it's prey, moving on all fours, and his fighting style involves arms and legs, choking out his enemies instead of trying to knock them unconscious with fists.

The other members of the cast also do an impressive job. Oliver's mother and sister, played by Susanna Thompson and Willa Holland respectively, both have their rich affectations but are hiding secrets. Colin Donnell plays Tommy Merlyn, Ollie's ne'er do well best friend. He seems like a wastrel, and something of a slick operator, but comic fans will recognize his last name and know that he has a future in villainy. But the highlights of the supporting cast are the Lance family. Laurel Lance, Ollie's once and probably future girlfriend is played by Katie Cassidy, of Supernatural and Harper's Island fame. Here, she is a crusading attorney working for legal aid. She serves as a voice the down to earth and the common man in Ollie's world of privilege. She doesn't take any of Ollie's arrogance, and puts him in his place, even though she doesn't realize most of it is an act. Hopefully, we'll watch her transition into her own heroic identity before the series is over. Her father, Detective Quentin Lance, is a tough cop who seems to be a good cop in a corrupt town who also has his problems with the rich Queen family. He is played ably by Paul Blackthorne, a favorite actor of mine best known for playing Harry Dresden on the shirt lived television adaptation of The Dresden Files.

There were several clever references for the DC buff to pick up beyond Merlyn's appearance. On the island where Ollie is found, a mask that belongs to Deathstroke the Terminator is seen. The head of security of Ollie's target is Dracon, a villain created by Judd Winick during his run on the comic series. And two incidental characters are named Diggle and Grell after creators who have a history with Green Arrow in the comics.

I was interested to see that the creators of the show have no problem with having Ollie take the life of a villain. Ollie snaps the neck of a thug who discovers the new uncanny physical skills he picked up on the island, and he seems to have no problem slinging arrows that seem to put goons down for good. The comic Ollie isn't a killer, and the couple times he has killed have taken their toll on him. However, I accept that this works within the world of the show; the Oliver who came off that island is a predator hunting game that is deadly. He feels he needs to put them down before they do the same to him and others. How this will affect him, and his perception by the public and the police, is something I hope the series addresses.

All in all, I think Arrow has some promise. There are some mysteries laid out that I'm looking forward to seeing payoff, and the cast does a good job. We'll have to wait and see if the series winds up going on for years like Smallville, or folding like Birds of Prey did after a short time. Early signs point to a longer run, and I will be staying tuned for it.

On a final note, this past weekend, Cartoon Network decided to preempt it's DC Nation block of cartoons in favor of reruns of other cartoons. Until January. Young Justice, part of that block, is probably the best action cartoon on TV today, and the successor to the great Timmverse DC Comics cartoons of the 90s and early 00s. I would suggest if you are a fan, to tweet @cartoonnetwork with the hashtag #DCNation to let your voice be heard. I know, serious first world problem here, but still, you don't stand between a man and his cartoons.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 10/10

Batman #13
Story: Scott Snyder/ Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Art: Greg Capullo/ Jock

That was... Wow. It's been a year since the Joker last appeared, and had his face removed by the Dollmaker, and his return is everything I could expect from the beginning of a great Joker story. The Joker is a character as malleable as Batman, changing with the times and the need of the story, something Grant Morrison played to great effect in "The Clown at Midnight." But Snyder's Joker is not Morrison's changing man, nor is he Chuck Dixon's manic supervillain. No, Snyder's Joker is a figure of terror, the perfect compliment to the Dark Knight. The Joker spends the issue slowly moving the game pieces, Batman's ally, into position, so he can begin his campaign against them. Snyder pays homage to classic Joker stories, with nods to the first Joker story, but is telling a tale of his own. The use of Harley Quinn, both in the main story and in the back-up focusing on her, establishes her relationship with the Joker, which is very different than the frustration and seeming affection he showed her in the animated series. Harley is just a pawn to the Joker, someone to be used and disposed of, just like everyone else, in his campaign against Batman. The issue is filled with scenes that make the skin crawl, especially Joker's assault on Gotham Central. He murders the police officers around Jim Gordon while taunting him, leaving him frozen in fear. The art, both by series regular Greg Capullo and the backup by Jock, is stellar. The faceless Joker is both revolting and frightening, a shock despite the image being leaked, when under the pens of these two talented artists. "Death of the Family" begins with this issue, and I haven't been this excited for a Batman story in a long time, and that's saying something. Welcome back, Mr. J.

Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #13
Story: Matt Kindt
Art: Alberto Ponticelli

Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. has been a fun, horror tinged book since its debut as part of the New 52, and has been loosely attached to the excellent Swamp Thing and Animal Man series, but now with "Rotworld" the book is tying more into the worlds of the Red, Green. and Rot, the forces that govern nature. The zero issue of Frankenstein established the relationship between the creature and his mad maker, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, but this issue sees Dr. Frankenstein's return, this time as a servant of the Rot. Frankenstein received a garbled message from S.H.A.D.E. as the Rot begins conquering the world, and then is contacted by the Red and sent to Metropolis to retrieve the Soul Grinder, Dr. Frankenstein's device thet created the monster. The issue is full of awesome action, of Frankenstein fighting horrible monsters, and I have seen very few artists who can draw a creature as creepy as series artists Alberto Ponticelli. If you haven't tried Frankenstein yet, this is a good jumping on point, and the perfect time of year to see a monster who is a hero fight even bigger monsters.

Halloween Eve
Story:Brandon Motclare
Art: Amy Reeder

I love Halloween comics; ok, in all fairness, I love everything Halloween. So I was curious to check out this Halloween themed one-shot from Image. The story is a simple enough one: Eve works at a costume shop, and she doesn't like Halloween. As a matter of fact, she doesn't seem to like much of anything or anyone. But when she's left alone at the shop after hours on the night before Halloween, she gets sucked into Halloween Land, where it's always Halloween. She comes back with a new perspective on life. It's pretty much The Wizard of Oz with a Halloween twist, which is intentional and made even more clear when Eve winds up dressed as Dorothy at the end of the story. The story lives on how it is told, not so much the story itself, and the creators hit a home run with that. Writer Brandon Montclare makes Eve tough without making her unlikable, and surrounds her with an oddball cast. But artist Amy Reeder is the star. Her style has grown from even her time on Madame Xanadu and her far too brief stint on Batwoman, mixing the ability to draw expressive faces and body language with beautiful and detailed backgrounds. It's a fun comic that sets a great tone for a good Halloween.

Point of Impact #1
Story: Jay Faerber
Art: Koray Kuranel

While I'm still missing Near Death, it's good to see Jay Faerber getting right back up on the metaphoric horse with this new crime mini-series from Image. Point of Impact looks to be a traditional murder mystery, with the story starting with the body of a woman being thrown off the top floor of a building. Over the course of the issue, we meet the people who filled her world: Mitchell Rafferty, her reporter husband; Patrick Boone, her lover; and Abby Warren, an acquaintance of hers who happens to be the detective in charge of the murder investigation. Mitch comes home to another mystery, as someone ransacks his house and steals his dead wife's laptop. The story is already laying out clues, and I'm hoping that by the end the mystery will have played fair, meaning you can see all the clues and actually figure out the mystery. Koray Kuranel does a great job with the art,with clean lines that work really well in the black and white of the series. On a side note, this was a great week for crime comics in general with the second issue of the new Stumptown series, which was just as excellent as the first issue.

So, that's the end of this week's reviews. But have no fear, ladies and gents, your loyal host has a surprise in store for you. I'm on vacation this week, and so I intend to update quite a bit; if all goes well once a day for the week. Stay tuned for talk about this past week's comics on TV, some advance reviews of previews I picked up at NYCC, the first of a new feature about uncollected or underrated series and runs, and your usual recommended reading on Friday. It's gonna be fun.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Recommended Reading for 10/12: Tomb of Dracula

After the Comics Code was loosened back in the 70s, comics companies were able to start using all the things that were forbidden to them under the more draconian edicts of the code; these are the ones that many believe were put in to shut down EC Comics, the parts that limited the use of classic monsters like werewolves, zombies, and vampires. While werewolves are by far my favorite monster (hopefully I'll get a piece on the history of the modern werewolf comic in before the month is out), the best of the 70s Marvel monster comics was definitely the one starring the vampire. Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan's Tomb of Dracula is a gothic masterpiece of elaborate storytelling and great character.

Tomb of Dracula takes place in the present, which at the time was 1972, and the series follows the adventures of a reawakened Dracula and the band of vampire hunters who seek to destroy him. While the vampire hunters are given about as much page time as the Lord of the Undead, have no doubt this series is Dracula's first and foremost. His enemies come and go, but Dracula is the thing that holds the series together.

One of the most impressive aspects of Tomb of Dracula was the impressive runs by the creators. All seventy issues were pencilled by Gene Colan, master of light and shadow, who passed away recently. While the first six issues had different writers, with two each written by greats like Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, and Gardner Fox, with issue seven Marv Wolfman took over, and remained with the series until the end. This allowed Wolfman to build subplots that paid out not just over months but over the course of years, rewarding long time readers with appearances by allies and enemies of Dracula who had not appeared for long stretches of issues.

Dracula himself follows very much in the classic mold of the original Bram Stoker novel. Dracula is a smart, calculating, and suave monster. He spends the series killing and feeding as he needs and making his plans to rule the night and the world. He preys upon women mostly, seducing them and the feeding, but he is not above turning men to serve his evil needs, or to make them into new Renfields to serve his purposes in the day. This is no angsty vampire like we see in so much of pop culture now. Dracula is a killer and he revels in his own power and cruelty.

Over the course of the series, Wolfman has Dracula confront all manner of other supernatural threats. Not only does he confront such other Marvel supernatural luminaries as Dr. Strange and Werewolf by Night (another great series, but one that never quite reaches the heights of Tomb), he also introduces his own brain in a jar villain, Dr. Sun, a mad scientist who wants to use Dracula's power in his own bid to conquer the world, and who would show up in another Wolfman series, Nova. Other issues featured Dracula confronting haunted houses, zombies, spirits, demons, and cults. Dracula defeats them all.

Of course, with a series headlined by a villain, there are also always heroes for them to fight. There are various characters who pop in and out of the series, including bumbling writer Harold H. Harold, and the silent giant Taj Nital, but there are a few who make up the principal cast of hunters. Two are descendants of the cast from the original Stoker novel. Quincy Harker is the son of Jonathan and Mina Harker, the victims of Dracula's depredations. While old and wheelchair bound by the time of the series, Quincy's brilliant mind and never ending supply of gadgets makes him Dracula's most formidable foe.

The other heir to a name from the novel is Rachel Van Helsing, descendant of legendary vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing. Rachel is possessed of a rage that gets her in over her head. Quincy is the rational one, Rachel is always charging in head first, with a bloodlust for the undead that almost equals that of Dracula for the living.

The final member of the regular cast of Tomb was Frank Drake. Frank was a descendant of Dracula himself who found out at the beginning of the series he was the heir to Castle Dracula. Frank was the one who inadvertently awakened Dracula to begin with, and it cost him the life o his fiance. Drake is the audience  perspective character, the one who gets to ask all the questions the reader would. He is not an experienced hunter, and while over the course of the series he learns to, he is never as dedicated as Rachel, never as full of rage. He is the most emotional, the most unsure of himself; in many ways, he is the most human.

There are two other character, though, who were introduced in the pages of Tomb of Dracula who became recurring characters and important characters around the Marvel Universe. One of those was Hannibal King, the vampire PI. In his first appearance, Tomb of Dracula #25, he is investigating vampires for a client, hunting the vampire who turned him, Deacon Frost. The whole issue is narrated in classic gumshoe fashion, from King's perspective, and it is not revealed he is a vampire until the last page. It's a great twist, and is one of my favorite issues of the series.

For those with a knowledge of the Marvel Universe, or maybe Marvel movies, the mention of Deacon Frost should tell you who the other character was, the most famous alum of Tomb of Dracula: Blade. Blade is, well, pretty much Blade. He is the Shaft of the vampire hunting crowd, with wooden knives and a no nonsense attitude. He recurs throughout the series, sometimes working with Harker's crew to hunt Dracula, sometimes fighting him on his own, and sometimes hunting other vampires. He eventually works with King to fight Deacon Frost, the man they both blame for their conditions.

While all seventy issues of Tomb are great, there are some highlights. Tomb of Dracula #32 is probably my favorite issue of the series. In it, a weakened Dracula decides to make his final run at Quincy Harker. Harker leads Dracula into a house that he has boobytrapped, and the king of vampires must make his way through a gauntlet of traps designed to destroy him. The issue is an intense battle between the two foes, and ends with what seems to be a definitive ending to their rivalry. It's a well orchestrated series of events, and is an exciting page turner.

Towards the end of the series, Dracula becomes the leader of a cult that mistakes him for the devil, and he takes one member to be his bride, a woman named Domini. She is the only person who is ever able to get any true human emotion out of Dracula over the course of the series, and through mystical ways they have a child, Janus. Janus grows quickly to adulthood, unnaturally so, and becomes an agent of heaven, an angel of sorts, whose life is dedicated to destroying his evil father. The story is notable for how clearly plotted and long form it is. This is around the same time as Chris Claremont was doing similar work on Uncanny X-Men, and was something different from what was done before. Even classic Marvel, with its lengthy subplots, treated the series as one or two or even three part stories connected by common characters. This was a novel spread over issues, with one long story. It seemed like Wolfman had an end point in mind and was working towards a planned endgame.

The final arc on the series was a sadly truncated one, but felt like it had potential to be one of the best. Dracula, made human again, was seeking a way to regain his powers while a new vampire, Torgo, had claimed his place as king of the vampires. Through the course of the series, Wolfman had found different ways to limit Dracula's power at times, but to see a truly human Dracula having to fight his way through legions that he once ruled was different. To see the ever confident Dracula in a position of weakness was jarring. In the end, of course, Dracula regains his powers and defeats Torgo, but the series had been cut two issues before it was originally supposed to, so the last issues were tightly packed and felt somewhat rushed. Still, it was exciting, and the series ended with one final confrontation between Dracula and Harker. The series was eventually continued in the Tomb of Dracula magazine, one of Marvel's black and white magazines, which are also good, but the series proper has a wonderful ending.

Aside from the engrossing stories, the art on Tomb of Dracula is something equally excellent. Gene Colan is a legend, one whose art plays beautifully with light and shadow. His Dracula moves in a swirl of cape through the night, almost part of it. He draws excellent creatures, monsters that ooze and snarl and send a chill up your spine. I read the entire Tomb of Dracula in Marvel's Essentials, and Colan's arts reproduces stunningly in black and white, with his heavy lines creating great contrast.

While Tomb of Dracula clearly takes place in the Marvel Universe, and has aspects of a superhero comic, it is at its heart a horror comic. The atmosphere is that of a gothic novel, with moors and monsters, and a protagonist who is not a hero. It's a series that reflects the coming of the anti-hero to Marvel, a series that is headlined by a character like Dracula served as a precursor the Wolverine and Punisher getting their own series. But none of those characters have the same dark charm as Dracula. While Dracula has starred in various comics since, none are quite as memorable as Tomb of Dracula.

The complete Tomb of Dracula is available in four Essential volumes, collecting the entire series as well as various tie-ins and the issues of the magazine. Marvel has also released four color trades collecting the first 32 issues.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 10/3

Detective Comics #13
Story: John Layman
Art: Jason Fabok & Andy Clarke

Detective Comics has had a rocky time since the New 52 started. It started out solid, but quickly meandered, with new villains who weren't fleshed out and a love interest who was equally a cipher. I'm happy to report that John Layman's first issue puts the book right on track. The Penguin has gotten quite a bit of use in the past year, but I really enjoyed how he is portrayed here. Penguin's jealousy over being passed over and look on by Gotham as a crook has been a part of his character for years, but Layman puts that front and center. Penguin's plan to make his own name bigger than Bruce Wayne's, and to take out Wayne in the process, and how he plans to keep Batman busy, are clever; this isn't a waddling Burgess Meredith Penguin, but one who would fit in well in the Nolan universe. I also enjoyed Layman's take on Batman. He's clever and is able to think one step ahead of Penguin; the Batman in the book is suited for it, as he is a detective, putting evidence together to beat his foes. He also has levels, thinking about donating to charities that deal with the injuries he inflicts on he enemies and caring about his mother's memories. The backup features focuses on Ogilvy, Penguin's new right hand man, going on the caper that facilitates Penguin's plot in the main story with a new hire. It's a little crime story, abut what it's like to be a rank and file crook in Gotham; the flipside to Gotham Central. Jason Fabok's art has improved leaps and bounds from the first time I saw his work on the first volume of Batman: The Dark Knight; he's developing his own style separate from David Finch, who his early work strongly resembled.

Legends of the Dark Knight #1
Story: various
Art: various

The original Legends of the Dark Knight series was the first series I collected starting with the first issue, and so I have a soft spot for the series, and was curious to see what this new anthology of digital first stories would bring. The first issue had three stories, each of which was an excellent Batman short. The standout was "The Butler Did It," from Lost creator Damon Lindelof and Jeff Lemire, who I have encountered mostly as a writer. A story of Batman's early years, it presents a cocky young Bruce being put into his place by Alfred. It's a dark little story, but one that ends reminding us of the bond between Bruce and Alfred, and that everything Alfred does in the end is for Bruce's good. "All of the Above" is a Batman versus Amazo story on the JLA watchtower. It's one of those stories that shows that Bruce's mind is his greatest weapon, one that could allow him to stop any of the more traditionally powerful members, and its J.G. Jones art is stunning. The final piece, "The Crime Never Committed," comes from Star Wars scribe Tom Taylor and Secret Six & Earth 2 penciller Nicola Scott. The story of Batman preventing a desperate man from committing a crime is tight and clever, another good story of Batman as detective. I love a good short comic story, and I hope each issue can provide just as many good shorts.

Muppets #4
Story & Art: Roger Langridge

And this is it: the final Muppets story from Roger Langridge. The issue is the perfect coda to everything Langridge has done with the Muppets, mixing classic bits with the warm heart that he puts into his work and fits so beautifully with the Muppets. It's Christmas at the Muppets Theater, and Miss Piggy wants a kiss and a ring from Kermit, and is trying to find him the best Christmas present possible. Gonzo's latest stunt has destroyed the Theater's new fridge. And a wild Christmas Pudding is on the loose. Mix that in with a Pigs in Space and a Swedish Chef, and you get some perfect Muppet chaos. I am going to miss Langridge in these characters, and with the end of Snarked as well, I just have to keep my ear to the ground for whatever is next from him. I know I won't be disappointed.

Uncanny X-Men #19
Story: Kieron Gillen 
Art: Dale Eaglesham

In the same week we get the end of Avengers Vs. X-Men, an issue I had a lot of problems with, we get this gem, "The Passion of Scott Summers." The issue is a travel through Scott's mind, covering the same period of time as the last two issues of Avengers Vs. X-Men. it's chilling to watch Scott fight with the Phoenix Force, to try his best to stay master of it, and fail so utterly. Memories of his life, of the times the Phoenix has effected him, dance through his mind as he fights the assembled Avengers and X-Men. He's not a completely mad monster, but a man who was trying to do what he truly believed was best and has been corrupted by something outside himself; the road to Scott's hell has been paved with good intentions. In the end it is his contact with the Phoenix Force, and with apparently Jean Grey's spirit, plus his own pain, that stops him long enough for Hope to finally put a stop to all this. In the end, when he finds out that new mutants are being born, he feels like he has done what was right, that the ends have justified the means. That is not to say he does not have regrets; the look of pain on his face as he realizes he has killed Charles Xavier is poignant. But he has done what he has set out to do, and he will take responsibility for the end results. Dale Eaglesham does a tremendous job mixing the chaos of the Phoenix battle with Scott's more pleasant memories. The final scene, between Scott and the Beast is written beautifully, but Eaglesham puts the right touches to it to really make it pop off the page. My final note on this issue, and the whole event, is something I'm borrowing from Comics Alliance. I hope someone makes these shirts, because I'll be first in line to buy them.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Recommended Reading for 10/5: The Dresden Files- Welcome to the Jungle

For the month of October, my favorite month of the year, all my recommended readings are going to be horror and supernatural themed. And to start with, I'm hitting on an original comic book story set in the world of one of my favorite series of novels.

Harry Dresden is more than your average private investigator. He also happens to be a member of the White Council of Wizards. As Chicago's only practicing professional wizard, Harry gets called in when things that go bump in the night are bumping, and he's the thing that bumps back. But your average, everyday person thinks that Harry is a nut, so it's not like he has a lot of allies. But he's your hardboiled detective at heart, and so he's willing to do what needs to be done to protect his client, any kid or damsel in distress he runs across, and to make sure evil knows that if they come to Chicago, they have Harry Dresden to answer to.

Welcome to the Jungle is an original comic story set before the first of The Dresden Files, the New York Times bestselling novels by Jim Butcher, that tell Harry's story. The Dresden Files are urban fantasy, mixing fairies, vampires, demons, and other monsters with the private eye genre. It's a great introduction to the series, since you don't need any foreknowledge of the series or any of its usual players, and you get a fun mystery.

When a guard is mauled at the Chicago Zoo, the police are quick to assume that the killer is Moe, the zoo's alpha gorilla who seems to have escaped his cage. But Lt. Karrin Murphy, head of Special Investigations, the department that investigates things that don't fit anything normal, thinks there might be more to it than that, and so she calls in her best consultant: Harry Dresden.

What follows is a great example of what you get from The Dresden Files. Harry has twenty four hours to figure out who or what really killed the guard before Moe is put down. He meets Willamena Rogers, the beautiful primatologist who is sure Moe is innocent. And a crew working the zoo who aren't all that trustworthy. By the end, Harry has faced demon dogs and hags, and learned that it's really a bad thing to get in front of a raging gorilla.

The story itself is pretty simple, and nowhere near as complex as the novels. The mystery is pretty easy to figure out, at least in the whodunnit aspect. The what of it is a little more mysterious, which is part of the pleasure of urban fantasy; there's usually far more of a motive than just jealousy or money.

People meeting Harry Dresden for the first time will get a good feel for who he is. He's clever, a guy who is actually a good private investigator as well as a wizard. He is a master of that craft too, having some pretty powerful skills, although he himself admits he has a lot to learn. But what is Harry's defining characteristic is his heart. Harry is the defender of the underdog. Because pretty much no one believes Moe is innocent, Harry is even more inclined to save him. The hardluck hero started with the classic detectives of the 30s and 40s, and Harry proudly carries on that tradition, always short on money and unlucky at love. He's the kind of guy who can't resist helping a woman who looks like she needs it. That's a classic private eye behavior, but like all private eyes, you know it's not going to end well; she's either going to turn out to be the villain or she's not going to get what he does and not be able to stay with him. To top it all off, Harry has a quirky and irreverent sense of humor, always willing to poke fun at himself or to toss a jibe at his foes, no matter how clearly superior to him in strength they are. Gotta love a guy who's gonna die with a snarky comment on his lips.

Aside from Harry, Welcome to the Jungle introduces three of the other important figures in The Dresden Files mythology. Karrin Murphy is Harry's police contact, but she's more than that. She's one of the few people Harry trusts, and one of the even fewer people in Chicago that believes in Harry. She's a good cop, a tough cop, but knows there are things that she doesn't understand. She doesn't cut Harry any slack, but their banter masks a mutual respect.

The other two characters you meet are Harry's two... roommates of sorts. One is Mister, Harry's cat. Mister is a giant grey monster of a cat, thirty pounds of cat. The other character is Bob. Bob is a spirit of air, who lives in a skull in Harry's basement. He works as Harry's adviser and all around encyclopedia of magic. So, basically, he's a talking skull who likes to read romance novels for all the good bits and can pull apart pretty much any spell and tell you its component parts in under two seconds. To say Harry has unusual living arrangements would be a bit of an understatement.

The art on the series was provided by Adrian Syaf, who has since gone on to higher profile work for DC, including the New 52 launch of Batgirl. He's got a good clean style, and did a great job of capturing characters I had been reading about and had very solid pictures of in my head. He also draws some really creepy creatures, which is helpful in a world like the one Harry inhabits, where there's something creepy and slimy around pretty much every corner.

The Dresden Files novels are my favorite ongoing series of novels right now. They're full of great characters, action that doesn't stop, and a wicked sense of humor. My wife and I stuble over each other trying to read the new volume when it comes out (this year, we've decided two copies are the way to go). I can't recommend the series highly enough, but if you want to get a taste before investing in a series that is fourteen books and counting, Welcome to the Jungle is the way to go.

Welcome to the Jungle is available in hardcover at pretty much any comic retailer. If you enjoy it, the first novel in The Dresden Files, Storm Front, has been adapted into a graphic novel and is available in two volumes, while the second, Fool Moon, is completeing its run in single issues this coming Wednesday. The new novel in the series, Cold Days, will be released on November 27th. If you prefer your superheroes to your wizards, series creator Jim Butcher wrote a Spider-Man novel for Marvel back when they were releasing original novels. Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours is still available at most bookstores.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 9/26

Batman Incorporated #0
Story: Grant Morrison & Chris Burnham
Art: Frazier Irving

As #0 issues go, I think Batman Incorporated got one of the best. Many of the zero issues were really out to try to smooth over some continuity issues created by the New 52 or to detail brand new origins for existing characters. But Batman Incorporated #0 really works to not only set the stage for the ingoing, but to flesh out some of the existing characters. If you were a reader who came into this series fresh with the New 52, you now have met many of Batman Incorporated's members, seen how Batman recruited them, and gotten a feel for their different attitudes. Especially important was sare the scenes with Batman recruiting the new Dark Ranger, the Batman of Australia. This is a new character, one who hasn't really appeared in more than a panel or two before this, so getting to know him means, I assume, he will play an important role later. I liked watching his burgeoning relationship, albeit a long distance one, with Squire, the partner of England's Knight. Squire is a spitfire, a great character, and she provides a great sounding board for Dark Ranger. Frazier Irving is an outstanding artist, and his style, with it's heavy shadows and beautiful darkness, is well suited for Batman. The only thing I didn't get but was hoping for was an appearance by Cassandra Cain as Black Bat, Batman of Hong Kong; but I figured it was a long shot. A guy can hope that she might pop up before the series is out though.

Happy! #1
Story: Grant Morrison
Art: Darick Robertson

It's been a while since Grant Morrison stepped back into the kind of comics that made him famous. He's been working on Batman and Superman for so long, you can forget this is the guy who made his bones writing The Invisibles, Flex Mentallo, and the trippiest run on Doom Patrol probably ever. Happy! is is new creator owned series from Image, teaming with Transmetropolitan and The Boys artist Darick Robertson. What starts out as a noir, with four mobster brothers looking to take out ex-cop-turned-hitman Nick Sax, quickly turns into something very different as, after waking up from near fatal gunshots, Nick starts seeing a flying blue horse named Happy who claims to be an imaginary friend and needs Nick's help to save his master (owner? maker? You get the idea). Morrison is clearly working tongue in cheek with both the noir genre and the gritty comics of today. The two brothers who are talking at the beginning curse so liberally that they are a parody of the profane mobster. Happy stands out so much against the dark world that Nick exhibits that it's jarring, and I think it's supposed to be that way, similarly to how Batmite stands out against the world of Batman in Morrison's run there, although even more striking. Darick Robertson is an artist whose style is realistic, but who does a wonderful job of peppering in bits of sheer unreality, be they the sci-fi elements of Transmet or the supes in The Boys. Happy the horse is charming and amusing, and looks really out of place surrounded by mobsters in a hospital. Choosing to set the story at Christmas makes for certain overtones that come with all Christmas stories; ideas of hope and redemption most prominently, even if the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is never portrayed quite as cute as Happy. I don't know if this story is going to wind up being a tale of Nick's redemption by saving the girl from whatever danger she's in, but I'm along for the ride no matter what.

Justice League Dark #0
Story: Jeff Lemire
Art: Lee Garbett

Justice League Dark came out of the gate as a solid comic, despite its somewhat awkward title. But when writer Jeff Lemire took over with its second arc, the series really started firing on all cylinders, not only having a great supernatural feel but a wicked sense of humor. This zero issue details the New 52 history of John Constantine and Zatanna, and introduces a new character, their mentor Nick Necro. Necro is clearly a proto-Constantine, the man John models his eventual behavior after, for good or ill. Ok, this is Constantine we're talking about; it's mostly ill. John and Zee study under Nick, and watch his eventual descent into madness hunting for the fabled Books of Magic; that Nick will turn out to be the Big Bad of the current arc of Justice League Dark will probably surprise no one when it's revealed. Seeing Constantine, a character who has existed solely in the Vertigo side of things for so long, interacting with the DCU has taken some getting used to, but I've come to really enjoy it, and to see a young Constantine giving in to some of the instincts that an older one would deny, like the urge to run and help a clearly unbalanced mentor who, shock of shocks, betrays him, is something the older Constantine of Hellblazer of even JLD would never do. But a Constantine, no matter the age, is the bastard of all bastards, and anyone who gets close to him is probably on their way to a messy death. The lessons learned by Constantine in this issue, ones about control and about who really has power, are things that are key to his character, and it was a great ride to see him learn them. Consider it, "The Portrait of the Mage as a Young Bastard."

The Punisher #16
Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Marco Checchetto

Writer Greg Rucka's tenure on The Punisher ongoing comes to a close, and it does so in a way that nicely ties up all the loose ends. I'm not a huge Punisher fan, but I am a huge Rucka fan, and read the series with quite a bit of interest. I wrote a piece about Batman and his use as a plot device in Batman: The Animated Series, and I feel like Rucka has pretty much been doing that this entire run. Garth Ennis did that for much of his run on the MAX Punisher series, where the mobsters, victims, and other characters were the focus, but Rucka's Punisher is a force of nature, who spoke fewer lines over the course of the run than most lead characters do in a single issue. This series has really be the story of Rachel Cole-Alves, a marine whose family was killed in a mob scuffle and has become a sort of apprentice Punisher. Rachel's story wraps up this issue, with her finally reaching a breaking point, and realizing she isn't the force of nature that Rucka's Punisher is. It's a heartbreaking scene, Rachel guilt ridden over the death of an innocent during the final battle between her, the Punisher, and the super crime syndicate The Exchange, and watching Punisher quietly taking the police out of the equation to allow her the chance to live. One of Rucka's other supporting characters, Detective Ozzy Clemons, factors in to the end of Rachel's story, and he is given his own satisfying ending. In October, Rucka's Punisher: War Zone mini-series begins, which promises to be much less intimate, and more over the top crazy. But I think someday, this will be looked at as one of the best Punisher runs ever, and I'm glad I read it.

The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror #18
Story: various
Art: various

Ah, it's that wonderful time of year again. The leaves are changing, there's a cool breeze, and Homer is going on a killing spree. Yes, just like the TV series, Bongo Comics releases a Simpsons Halloween annual each year, collecting various short pieces. This year's is chock full of some great horro/comedy. The first story, an Evil Dead/Cabin in the Woods parody, comes from The Houghton Brothers, creators of Reed Gunther. Gerry Dugan and Phil Noto riff on Rosemary's Baby. Jim Valentino does a Rashaman-esque take of the regulars at Moe's trying to remember how the Bride of Frankenstein makes her entrance. And Chris Yambar tells a tale of Bartman entering Springfield Asylum in a tale neatly parodying the Arkham Asylum video game. There's nothing heavy here, nothing to sit around and contemplate. But if you like The Simpsons or a comic that's going to give you a good chuckle, give this one a shot. Oh, and on a side note, if anyone out there has, or knows where to get, a Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror #1, let me know. I've been looking for that for, well, eighteen years now.

Talon #0
Story: Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Art: Guillem March

The first title in the new DCU to feature a completely new character began this week, and I was pleased to see it. The lack of new characters headlining books was something I was surprised by with the New 52, and although the concept of Talon comes from Scott Snyder's "Court of Owls" story in Batman, Calvin Rose makes his first appearance here. The reader gets everything they need to know about Calvin in these pages: his history before coming to Haly's Circus, his training with the Court of Owls, and his abandonment of his duties. There are mysteries left about his past, but they seem to be flavor more than essential, which is fine, although who knows what might be important later on. What we see is a character with a certain set of skills, an escape artist who now must use those skills to escape not just from a strait jacket, but from the men who are hunting him. Snyder and Tynion have proven how well they work together in the back-ups on Batman, and this issue only further cements it. Calvin has a great voice; he doesn't sound like a recycled Bat character. I do have a feeling we'll get a similar vibe to the early issues of the Azrael series, a mixture of adventure and secret societies, which I'm looking forward to; the first two years or so of the Denny O'Neil Azrael ongoing were great comics. But whether I'm right or not, I think the Bat-family has an interesting new addition.

Wolverine & the X-Men #17
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Mike and Laura Allred

Oh, Doop. Nothing quite like a floating green potato man to save the day. This issue of Wolverine and the X-Men steps back from the ongoing plots of X-Men fighting Avengers and the machinations of the new Hellfire Club to tell a one off story of exactly why Wolverine has recruited Doop, former X-Force/X-Statix member, to hang around The Jean Grey School. Doop is Wolverine's secret weapon, to look for threats against the school and stop them before they can attack. This includes dealing with zoning, Nazi bowling clubs, teaming up with Howard the Duck, and internet trolls. It's a hilarious issue, with each predicament Doop gets himself involved in seeming to be more ludicrous than the last. The scenes of Wolverine recruiting him, including Wolverine having to put on a one man show of what he thinks Cyclops would be like with a claw in his head were unreal and amusing, and Doop's dinner with Sabretooth ends about as well as you would expect. Doop co-creator Mike Allred is on art duties this issue, and I could think of no one more perfect for the job. Allred's sense of the absurd is second to none, and he draws all these bizarre scenes with a straight face, for want of a better term, while still making it seem odd and off kilter. Even if you're not an X-Men person, this is a great comic, one that plays with all the weirdness that this medium does so well.