Monday, November 11, 2013

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 11/6

All-Crime Comics #2
Story: Erik Warfield and Paul Grimshaw
Art: Steve Gordon and Gibson Quarter

I was late to the game when Art of Fiction released the first issue of All Crime Comics, so I made sure to jump right on the second issue when it was released. From a practical standpoint, you get more bang for your buck with All Crime than any other book on the market. It's at least 40 pages of color material, square bound and silver age size, and it's still only $3.99. In a market with shrinking page counts for more money, that kind of package needs to be given a mention. Under a cover by the always excellent Bruce Timm, we get the next story of Dodger, the master thief we met in the first issue of the series. There are plenty of master thieves in comics (I'll be talking about another one further down, actually), and we're only two issues into knowing Dodger, but the comic does a great job of letting us get to know him, particularly by having the middle chapter of each issue being a flashback to Dodger's past. And while this issue picks up where the previous one left off, and ends on something of a cliffhanger, it's a perfectly self-contained caper involving crooked feds, a private jet, and the World Cup. All Crime hearkens back to the best of pre-Code crime comics, and so if you're a fan of modern comics like Thief of Thieves or Parker, this is definitely worth checking out.

Amazing X-Men #1
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Ed McGuinness

More than Jean Grey or Professor X, the character whose death I feel has caused the biggest gap in the X-Men titles has been Nightcrawler. Nightcrawler was the heart, soul, and conscience of the X-Men, and no other character has been able to take up this role without coming off as preachy or hypocritical. And so while I'm not a huge fan of the revolving door of death and life in comics, I was glad to see Nightcrawler was returning in the new Amazing X-Men title. I also have to admit a degree of trepidation when I saw the story would involve Azazel, Nightcrawler's father from the almost universally reviled storyline, "The Draco." But Jason Aaron has done a great job in Wolverine & the X-Men of tying continuity together with his stories, and frankly, Nightcrawler fighting pirate demons in heaven is awesome. Aaron has Nightcrawler's voice down pat, with his sense of humor and adventure, as well as the heart that makes him such an amazing character. Meanwhile, on Earth, we see Firestar join the teaching staff of the Jean Grey School. The past couple arcs of Wolverine and the X-Men have not been as centered around the school, so it was nice to see all the teachers interacting there; I'd forgotten how much I like Warbird. Readers finally get something of an answer about the Bamfs that have infested the grounds since the first issue, and we see the X-Men pulled into a war in heaven. Aaron uses Firestar as a point of view character, so if you've never read a comic set at the Jean Grey School, you get a good introduction to everything. All this mixes with Ed McGuinness's bold, dynamic, and just a bit cartoony style, especially great when demonstrating Nightcrawler's acrobatic fighting style, to make for the best X-Men related first issue I've read in a long time. Welcome back, Nightcrawler, I hope you survive the experience.

Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time #10
Story: Scott and David Tipton
Art: Elena Casagrande

Prisoners of Time has been a whirlwind tour of the history of Doctor Who, which each issue focusing on one of the different versions of the wandering Time Lord, The Doctor. Issue #10 is the story for the Tenth Doctor, portrayed by David Tennant, who was my first Doctor, the first one I watched regularly at least, and I have a very soft spot for this Doctor. The issue finds The Doctor bringing Martha Jones, his human companion at the time, to 1950s LA to use the Griffith Observatory to get a good view of his homeworld. But quickly, things go a little sideways, as they are wont to do when The Doctor is around, as The Doctor and Martha wind up on a movie set of a sci-fi film where members of the cast and crew are disappearing. Pretty soon, a classic Doctor Who villain, one originating with the Second Doctor, are revealed in all their wonderfully goofy, classic Who splendor. Scott and David Tipton have done a great job of capturing the distinct voice of each Doctor, and he gives The Doctor a moment when he first confronts his foes in this issue that was so very David Tennant, I could hear his voice and picture exactly how he would move between panels. The mystery of the uber-plot of the series was solved last issue, but now we're building to the grand conclusion, and we tie into a scene from an earlier issue, bringing things full circle. It's a fun issue, similar to the best one off episodes of the series, and worth it for fans of new or classic Doctor Who.

Ghosted #5
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Goran Sudzuka

The initial arc of Image's supernatural caper series, Ghosted, ends with more than one explosion. Night has fallen, the ghosts of the Trask Mansion are on the warpath, and Jackson Winters, master thief, and the rest of the team seem to be thoroughly screwed. But Winters is damned clever (pun entirely intended), and he has an ace up his sleeve. The origins of the curse of the Trask Mansion comes to light, and once you know what it is, it makes perfect sense. All the pieces set up over the first four issues work together to make this issue a satisfying conclusion. Rusak, the psychic whose loyalties have been in question since the end of the first issue shows her true colors, and turns out to be far more the mercenary than I had imagined. Winters's secret is revealed, exactly what has been haunting him from that last caper before he went to jail, and I like that it's not simply survivors guilt; that would have been too pat an answer for a character who is as complex as Winters has been portrayed. And Markus Schrecken, the millionaire who funded the expedition to steal the ghost from the mansion, well he gets exactly what he has coming to him. The issue ends with a great set-up for the second arc of the series, once that it seems will tie in to that last, botched casino robbery. Image has launched a lot of great new series over the past year or so, each of them with a very distinct feel. Ghosted impresses me as one of the most genuinely scary comics I've read in a while, and pulls off a very capable caper while sending chills up your spine. The trade of this first arc will be out shortly, and if you haven't tried it before and like either horror or crime comics, you should check it out.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Birth of the Comic House and the Rebirth of The Middleman!

So, while I'm really trying to get back on the old schedule of weekly updates, today there will only be this brief post. You see, today I am closing on my house. Why am I telling readers of my comic blog about boring things like real estate, instead of superheroes and monsters? Well, because part of this whole home buying process has been finding a way to store my whole collection in one place to have better access and be able to write more and better posts. So stay tuned for some posts about renovation and the changing of a freestanding garage into a comic house, where all my comics, graphic novels, trade paperbacks, and lots of collectibles will be stored. Oh, and there will be plenty of pictures, before and after. I'm excited, anyway.

And one more note! Just about a year ago, I write a recommended reading for The Middleman, a love letter in comic book form of sorts to pretty much everything I love. It's smart, funny, and has heart. If you haven't read that piece, go and do it and then come back here. Once you've read it, check this out. Sunday marks the end of a crowd funding campaign, aptly titled The Crowd-Funded Franchise Resurrection, to not only get all the previous Middleman graphic novels back in print, but to create a new one that ties the comics and TV continuities together! I've made my contribution, and usually wouldn't hock stuff on here, but I really love this book and believe it should be back in print. The goal has been reached, so it's gonna happen, but the more they make, the closer they are to making even more Middleman. And for $20, you get the new story, "The Pan-Universal Parental Reconciliation" with a book plate signed by the creators. It's a sweet deal, and if you haven't read the comics and only know the characters through TV, here's a chance to make them all available again so you can get more Middleman and Wendy Watson. So, here's the link again, read what Javi has to say, and see what you can give: Sands of Zanzibar, Dubby, the Middleman is back!

And be back here Monday for your regularly scheduled reviews.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 10/30

Five Ghosts #6
Story: Frank J Barbiere
Art: Garry Brown

After a few months off after the initial arc, Five Ghosts is back with a tidy and fun little one off. Fabian Gray travels to Japan to answer a summons from an old flame of his, to aid her in stopping a clan that is moving in on her family's lands, and to retrieve a mythic sword, the sword of Masamune, which she tells him is made from the same Dreamstone material that gave Fabian his own unique powers. It's a story of samurai action, with beautifully choreographed fight scenes, betrayal, and Fabian using his powers in some cool ways. It's cool to see more about Fabian's backstory; at one point he gets out of a trap that was crafted to stop him from summoning the ghosts that grant him his abilities, and he points out that he was the world's greatest thief before any of that happened. Little bits like that add to Fabian as a character and make him more well rounded than just being a vehicle for the stuff that happens when he calls one fo the ghosts. Artists garry Brown fills in for regular artist Chris Mooneyham, and does an admirable job of it. His style is different than Mooneyham's, but still creates a great pulp atmosphere. If you haven't tried Five Ghosts yet, this is a perfect issue to try out, and if you're a fan of the pulp atmosphere, you'd be doing yourself a favor.

Guardians of the Galaxy #8
Story: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Francesco Francavilla

Guardians of the Galaxy has been a pleasant surprise since its reboot. I was a very big fan of the last incarnation of the book, the one written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, and featuring a sprawling cast that included most of the current members, plus a bunch of others, including Adam Warlock, my favorite Marvel character of all time, and Cosmo, a telepathic Russian dog. So the streamlined team was a worry, since I felt one of the things that I enjoyed about the last series was all the different relationships; although the new series did still include Peter Quill, Starlord, a character Abnett and Lanning spent a lot of time fleshing out, cosmic mainstays Drax and Gamora, and fan favorites Rocket Raccoon and Groot. The stories so far have been fun, and the characters read like themselves, if slightly Bendis-ized versions. This issue begins Guardians' crossover with Marvel's big Summer/Fall event, Infinity. The main Infinity series has been ok, if a bit lacking in focus in my opinionso it's nice to see a crossover that has a nice tight focus. The Guardians have been contacted by Abagail Brand, the head of SWORD, the Earth organization in charge of dealing with extraterrestrial incursion, asking for them to free her from Thanos's forces on The Peak, the Sword space station headquarters. There's some great action scenes, as Starlord and Rocket infiltrate the Peak, free Brand, and go to try to retake the station. But the highlight of the issue is some great character work at the beginning. With Thanos making trouble again, Gamora, who was raised by Thanos, confronts Starlord and Drax about exactly how Thanos and Starlord escaped being trapped in a collapsed dimensions together, and how Drax is alive again. She gets little answer, and Gamora's anger at Starlord, and her own decision to go storming off to confront the father figure who has haunted her for her entire adult life, not to mention killed her on at least once occasion, does a lot to further develop her character and the reactions of the others helps flesh them out. Add the usual incredible art by the busiest man in comics, Francesco Francavilla, who draws a particularly great Rocket Raccoon, and you have a book that is living up to it's concept and its pedigree.

Itty Bitty Hellboy #3
Story & Art: Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani

If only every comic could get Itty Bitty, I think we'd have much happier fans. After Tiny Titans and Superman Family Adventures, I didn't expect Art and Franco would next move to the macabre world of Mike Mignola's Hellboy, but not terribly surprising, it's still a joyful and amusing romp. Every issue is packed with humor and fun little character beats. This month's issue of Itty Bitty Hellboy opens with Hellboy preparing his favorite dish, pancakes (or "pamcakes" as he calls them, which readers of regular Hellboy comics know saved him from becoming evil), with the help of Liz Sherman's fire powers. Hellboy gets Baba Yaga to make one of his pancakes gigantic using her magic, and before you know it, everyone is asking Baba to make something huge. She banishes Hellboy and his friends to Hades, and the demons rally around Hellboy, only to have him use his pamcake making skills to keep them from destroying Earth. Lobster Johnson and Lobster Smith, his pet Lobster, dig their way out to try to help the world. And Roger the Homunculus finds a little love with Baba Yaga and Hecate. I can't really do the issue justice, since so much of it is about the punchline to the wonderful set-ups Art and Franco come up with, and the adorable visuals. I've said something like this with eveything I've ever reviewed by Art and Franco, but if you're looking for a change of pace from the usually grim and grity comics of today, you couldn't do better than trying out Itty Bitty Hellboy.

The Sandman: Overture #1
Story: Neil Gaiman
Art: JH Williams III

I wish I could type an approximation of a squeal of delight, because that would be the only thing that could do this wonderful comic justice. Neil Gaiman's The Sandman is one of the touchstone comics of the modern age and possibly of all time, and it is my favorite piece of longform graphic storytelling.  New work from Neil Gaiman is something I always look forward to, and this past year has been an embarrassment of riches, between The Ocean at the End of the Lane, his first novel for adults in years, two new childrens' books, Chu's Day and Fortunately the Milk, and now a return to the world of the Endless, with a story set before the first issue of The Sandman. Dream, or Morpheus if you'd rather, the protagonist of The Sandman, appears in this issue as he did in the many flashbacks that took place before his imprisonment in the first issue of the series; he is imperious, cold, and callous, something made clear in his tone when addressing Lucien, the librarian of dreams, a character who is a loyal retainer who Dream dismisses with barely an acknowledgment. The tone of Dream is chilling, as he prepares for war, something we saw a couple times over the course of The Sandman, and any reader familiar with it knows this can only mean trouble. Gaiman has lost none of his feeling for the characters that we know and love from The Sandman. It's interesting to see the Corinthian, the nightmare serial killer with mouths for eyes, again, and to see exactly what made him slip out of the Dreaming and into the waking world in the time of Dream's imprisonment. We also meet some new characters, including George Portcullis, a dreamer who manages Dream's London office, and Gaiman uses him to demonstrate the malleability of identity in dreams; identity was one of the themes often played with in Sandman. The final pages reveal something about the Endless and Dream that will hopefully be as surprising to the reader as it is to Dream himself.

Gaiman has often said he writes for his artists when he is working on a comics projects, playing to their strengths, and this issue is a perfect example of that. I've loved JH Williams III's work since Chase in the 90s, and his work has grown exponentially over the years, and this issue is a masterpiece. His use of nearly entirely two page spreads, his frightful Corinthian, the alien world at the beginning of he issue and it's population of sentient flowers, are all drawn in exquisite detail. Williams draws a Death who is especially beautiful, and the soft look he gives her stands in sharp contrast to the harsher lines he uses to draw her darker brother, Dream. The issue is a feast for the eyes, and I hope that the eventual collection is in landscape format to allow the art to be appreciated in its entirety by those who want to read the story in that format. When a creator returns to a legendary work there's always the concern they will have lost whatever it was that made that work something special. I am glad to say none of the magic that made Sandman has been lost over the intervening years; go, read it, and plesant dreams.