Monday, November 30, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 11/25

The Fade Out #11
Story: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser

The penultimate issue of Ed Brubaker's serialized novel about corruption and decadence in old time Hollywood, The Fade Out, shows off everything great that this combination of creators can do. The issue is a mix of action and character, and fills in one of the last holes in the web of characters, giving us some details about the relationship between our block screenwriter protagonist, Charlie Parish, and the murdered movie star Valeria Sommers. The issue opens with the story of what happened between Charlie and Valeria, and in a book that can be so sordid, the scene of tenderness, of two people who are both so lost connecting and simply being there with and for each other, stands out all the more starkly in its beauty and tragedy. From the end of that scene, of Charlie standing in the surf as the sun rises, we cut to night at a diner, where Charlie is talking to his writing partner (or recently the blacklisted writer he's been fronting for), Gil Mason, who he tells his theory of exactly what is going on, a tale of FBI blackmail, molestation, and murder. But the two writers have no proof, so they head out to the ranch of Al Kamp, the figurehead of Victory Studios, hoping to use his dementia to get him to confess to the horrors he did to Val and other child stars. But these guys are writers; they're not cops, P.I.s or any other kind of professional, so when they sneak onto Kamp's ranch through a dark forest beautifully drawn by Phillips and colored ominously by Elizabeth Breitweiser, they find a mostly empty house, a corpse, and one last guard, leading to a chase through the woods, a gunshot, and a gutpunch of a last panel. One issue left, and I can't wait to see the ending of what has become my favorite work by the tremendous Brubaker/Phillips team.

Ghostbusters Annual 2015
Main Story: Erik Burnham
Art: Dan Schoening & Luis Antonio Delgado

After a couple crossover mini-series, one with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and one with their own animated counterparts, the Ghostbusters go back to doing what they do best: busting ghosts. The opening tease has one of the creepiest moments I've seen in a Ghostbusters comic, with a woman waking up with... well, that would be telling, and horror so depends on the surprise of it, I don't want to ruin it. The Ghostbusters, still repairing the firehouse after their confrntation with the god Proteus, are called in by the NYPD detective equivalent of Harvey Bullock to look into the woman's case, and find a specter in her house dressed in a tall hat and cape carrying an hourglass. They blast the ghost, which explodes, and things seem normal for a few pages. But if you looked at the cover, you know that the threat is the Sandman, so it doesn't take long for Ray to realize something is wrong with his friends, and when his spirit guide, the Blues Brothers clad John Belushi, reappears (every time this happens, it's great!), he confirms that he's in a dream, so it's up to Ray to travel through the dreams of his friends and free them. Peter's dream in a memory of a scene from the original Ghostbusters movie, made considerably weirder by Ray taking Dana Barrett's place, and Peter is happily sprung from this. Winston, though, is aware he's in a dream, dreaming of his wedding to Tiyah from the previous ongoing, the wedding that was wiped from reality to stop Tiamat from destroying the world, and we see an anger in Winston that he hasn't vented in the real world, a weariness of how being a Ghostbuster has affected his life, and I wonder if this is going to payoff in the future. Egon is also aware that he's in a dream, remembering the time he traveled into Janine's subconscious to save her and knowing this feels the same, and it turns out his refusal to sleep is what called the Sandman to the team. The guys are able to save Egon at the last minute from a horrible fate, naturally, and everything works out. There are also a series of short strips at the back of the issue, little one pagers that give a spotlight on different characters, not just the Ghostbusters, but Janine, Louis Tully, Slimer, and a couple others. They're all a lot of fun, but the highlight is the final one, a four pager that explains why Peter gave up the talk show he had during Ghostbusters 2. This is a great, continuity light story that sets up some future stories and will let those who haven't been reading all of IDW's Ghostbusters comics know what they're missing.

Groot #6
Story: Jeff Loveness
Art: Brian Kesinger

After their long and winding path, Groot and his buddy Rocket finally arrive on Earth in the final issue of this mini-series, which I frankly had forgotten had been their goal the entire time after all the space hijinks. And getting their, they check off the things the different Guardians gave them on a checklist of stuff to do on Earth. And as you might imagine, it's not like your average tourist to-do list, although they do check out a rock concert and watch a movie. I also have to give creators Jeff Loveness and Brian Kesigner credit: the battle between Groot and Rocket and a bunch of C- and D-List villains is great. Rocket's, "Well, I just shot a Dinosaur-Man in a loincloth. I'm having a great time," is definitely quote of the week for me. And Kesinger's X-Men from when Kitty told the boys to go party with the X-Men are great. Teen Scott and Jean's awkward chat is charming, and Kesinger's style has a very cartoon sensibility; it reminds me of the character style from certain Disney films (which makes sense, since a little bit of research shows he worked for Disney for years). His Groot and Rocket are wonderfully expressive, with charming facial expressions that tell stories all their own; it's important to have an expressive lead when all he says is one sentence over and over. That does change when Groot gets into a telepathic conversation with Jean Grey, and relays his origin to her. We've known a bit about Groot and why he's no longer welcome on Planet X, but as far as I know, this is the first time we've heard this whole story, and it ends with a heart-tugging scene as Groot goes and does exactly what he came to Earth to do, and meets an old friend for the first time in years. The Groot mini-series has been a delightful all-ages adventure across the galaxy that winds up reinforcing its themes about friendship and loyalty in a perfect way.

Itty Bitty Hellboy: The Search for the Were-Jaguar #1
Story & Art: Art Baltazar & Franco

It's always a good day when Art and Franco are back with another fun all ages book. This time around Itty Bitty Hellboy and Liz Sherman are heading out to the island of the Rogers with a bag of underpants, since there's only one pair of those metal underpants on the island. It's a strange and hilarious set up for a story, and it works perfectly in the absurdly adorable universe that I feel all of Art and Franco's comics are set in. All the rest of the gang are there, with Rasputin and Kroenen looking to photograph the mythic were-jaguar, Lobster Johnson and his lobster partner, Smitty chasing the villains, and Abe and his little sister Eve out swimming. And we get the first appearance of Itty Bitty Kate Corrigan, who looks to be a slightly older kid. There's stuff with Roger (the original Roger) and his brothers getting underwear, the villains and the Lobster getting caught up in trees, and the were-jaguar popping in and out of panels. It's just an absolutely fun comic, and I'm looking forward to seeing where Hellboy and his friends go after this issue.

Rick and Morty #8
Story: Zac Gorman
Art: Zac Gorman & Ryan Hill 
Back-up Art: Marc Ellerby & Ryan Hill

Nothing is EVER as it seems in the multiverse of Rick and Morty. What looks like a simple Christmas story is going to be anything but. We've never gotten a Rick and Morty Christmas episode since the show has aired its two seasons in the summer, so the comic is filling in that gap with this, the weirdest Christmas story I've ever read. And that, friends, is a compliment. Off an alternate Earth where Christmas is Blumbus, where Santa is instead Mr. Chimney, and there;s an extra tradition called the Blumberflarg, and if you've ever seen or read Rick and Morty, anything they run across in these alternate worlds is going to end poorly for one or the other, and probably the one is Morty.In this case, after arguing about whether Blumbus is nice or creepy, Rick goes off to drink and Morty literally bumps into melody, a pretty girl who feels bad Morty has no one on Blumbus and invites him back to her place. While Rick runs eventually finds an open bar, and starts drinking with a morose holiday drunk, Morty goes back to Melody's house and seems to be in the middle of a Mlumbus miracle, as her family thought she was dead and Melody has come home. Things get progressively weirder for Morty, with everyone being extra nice, and as Rick finds out that a Blumberfarg is a teen boy who is brought home, mated with and then eaten by the family, Melody puts the moves on Morty, which her family has no problem with. It's the hilarious reaction of Morty, as he begins to piece together exactly what is happening, that's the highlight of the comic. Only the timely intervention of Rick and a new friend keeps Morty from being eaten with a nice ghost pepper sauce, and as is often the case, that safety doesn't last. The final page of the main story sees a happy ending for the lonely drunk from the bar, undercut by the fact that he'll be having nice Blumberfarg leftovers with his family. The backup sees Rick thrust into the plot of A Christmas Carol and learning absolutely nothing, which makes perfect sense if you know Rick. So Merry Blumbus to all, and all a good night,

Robin Son of Batman #6
Story: Patrick Gleason
Art: Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, Tom Nguyen, & John Kalisz

Before heading back to Gotham for next month's "Robin War" crossover, Damian Wayne has one final stop on his tour to seek redemption for all the things he did during the Year of Blood, the trials he went through to prove himself a worthy al Ghul. The opening flashback shows his trip to Bialya, where he took the Scepter of Kings, and found a little red bat creature. After killing its family and not seeing any anger in the creature, we see a crack in Damian's harsh facade, and he takes the creature that will become Goliath home with him. In the present, Talia makes easy work of Bialya's current ruler and with the Scepter sets herself up as the country's new ruler. When Damian awakens from the abuse he took the previous issue, he and Talia talk, and he asks her the question readers (well at least me) have been waiting for him to ask: "Why did you kill me, mother?" Talia's answer isn't exactly satisfactory to Damian, as Talia herself is unsure since her resurrection removed the madness from her and put it into a marble that she gives to Damian, offering him the option to return it to her and slay her in revenge for his own death. But after a conversation with Nobody, the daughter of the villain that Damian killed who bore the name before her, about exactly what he's been doing, and that the R he bears now stands for redemption, a beautiful sentiment that shows exactly how far Damian has come. He isn't the child assassin he was in his first appearance, or even the brat he was at the beginning of Batman and Robin. He has earned the name Robin, has earned the Wayne name. And the final pages see him be forgiven by Nobody, who through her time with Damian no longer thinks of herself that way, reclaiming for herself her own name, Maya, and then he removes the chains that have held Goliath, freeing his loyal monster. It's fascinating to have read Damian from his first appearance and see exactly where creators have gone with the character. And as he sets off , having forgiven his mother, it's a new beginning for Damian. This first six months of his title have taken Damian away from home, so now it's time for him to head back to Gotham, and we'll see if he is ready for the city, or vice versa, next issue.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Step Into a Wider World: Favorite Star Wars Tales Stories

Dark Horse presented a lot of different comics over the many years it had the Star Wars license. Some are seminal and important works to the EU (Dark Empire, Tales of the Jedi), and some are always going to be on my list of favorite Star Wars stories (Rogue Squadron, Tag & Bink, pretty much anything John Ostrander wrote). But there's a special place for the Star Wars Tales anthology. It was a quarterly anthology series that ran for twenty four issues, featured some stories that were intended to be in continuity and some that were clearly outside it, and allowed a lot of Dark Horse's regular Star Wars creators to do shorts featuring side characters, while other stories had top tier creators doing their first or only Star Wars stories.

I had wanted to do a feature on my favorite stories from this series, and I originally was going to do ten, but found there were just too many, so instead I'm going to talk about twenty stories. Each entry will be short, so don't worry it won't take you all day to read this. I'm also focusing on issues one to twenty, since the editor changed after issue twenty and the series started to be more in continuity Star Wars stories, more tied into the bigger publishing plan.

Mara Jade: A Night on the Town (Star Wars Tales #1)- What better way could you imagine kicking off your brand new Star Wars anthology than with a story from the man who jumpstarted Star Wars publishing? Set early in her known continuity, "A Night on the Town" is a tale of Emperor's Hand and future wife of Luke Skywalker, Mara Jade, one of the best female characters in or out of Star Wars continuity. Created by Timothy Zahn for his novel Heir to the Empire, Mara is a tough, smart, and powerful character, and she shows it here, dealing with crooked Imperials, Rebels, specifically tactical genius Crix Madine (for those of you not big Star Wars people, he's the bearded guy leading the briefing with Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar in Return of the Jedi). Zahn wrote a lot of Mara shorts for various Star Wars publications, and this one is one of my favorites, full of action and espionage, the hallmarks of a great Mara story.

Skippy the Jedi Droid (Star Wars Tales #1)- One of the clearly non-canon stories, "Skippy the Jedi Droid" tells the tale of a force sensitive droid on Tatooine, as he makes it through various trials and travails to be on the Lars farm and chooses to blow his own motivator, knowing through the Force that it is important Luke Skywalker takes R2-D2 instead. It's a silly story, full of quirky humor and lots of visual gags (like Bender, Crow, and Tome Servo in he Jawa sandcrwaler) and inside jokes, along with a comment about how the gravity of dual suns would theoretically make any planet near it uninhabitable. If you're a reader of this blog, and have read some of my recommendations, that type of humor might sound familiar, as this is the only Star Wars story ever written by one of my favorite writers, Incredible Hulk and X-Factor legend Peter David.

Extinction (Star Wars Tales #1-2)- One of the few multi part stories in Star Wars Tales, "Exctinction" is the tale of Darth Vader hunting down one of the last Jedi, the Dark Woman, a character introduced in the monthly Star Wars title that would one day be renamed Republic. Featuring appearances by Palpatine and Mara Jade, the battle between Vader and the Dark Woman is gorgeously drawn by Claudio Castellini, and Ron Marz writes a great story, one that ends with a Force Ghist Dark Woman confronting Vader for a memorable exchange.

Deal with a Demon (Star Wars Tales #3) & Bad Business (Star Wars Tales #8)- Before their was Hondo Ohnaka, there was Vilmarh Grahrk. If you're more familiar with Star Wars in other media, TV specifically, you might know Hondo as the roguish pirate with a soft spot for Jedi. A similar character was created by John Ostrander, Vilmarh Grahrk, Villie for short, who was one of the major supporting characters in the adventures of Quinlan Vos, a character you'll be heroing about a few more times before the month is out. Ostrander, along with his regular collaborator Jan Duursema on the first, wrote two Villie shorts for Tales, both involving Villie at his most scoundrely, helping princesses for the money. But as opposed to another famous scoundrel who fell for the princess, Villie is really just in it for the money. These stories do show how much Villie will eventually change thanks to his interactions with Vos, but they're mostly great comedy, with Villie finding his way in and out of all sorts of problems in the most selfish way he can, always maintaining that Villie ego.

A Death Star is Born (Star Wars Tales #5) and Force Fiction (Star Wars Tales #7)- Kevin Rubio is probably best known in Star Wars fandom as the man who wrote and directed the pioneering fan film Troops, but he also wrote some great Star Wars comics, all drawn by Lucas Marangon. Two of those are the tales "A Death Star is Born" and "Force Fiction." Two more out of continuity comedies, as pretty much all of Rubio's works are, these two do a great job of mixing established character and conuity with comedy. "A Death Star is Born" show Grand Moff Tarkin and some of his design team bringing the Death Star plans to the Emperor, where all of the somewhat odd quirks of its construction that allow for an easy escape in A New Hope are called out, and the rivalry between Vader and Tarkin is on display for a great choking joke. "Force Fiction" places Yoda and Mace Windu in a diner discussing whether or not to train Anakin Skywalker. It's obviously a parody of the diner scene in Pulp Fiction, which of course also starred Samuel L. Jackson, and features some very funny dialogue along with all sorts of cameos in the diner patrons, but also features some very incisive dialogue about the nature of the prophecy about the Chosen One bringing balance to the force.

Jedi Chef (Star Wars Tales #7)- One more straight up comedy, and then some more serious fare, I swear! Starring Jedi Council members Plo Koon and Micah Giett (Giett is a comics creation, who was on the cou ncil until shortly before Episode I), it sees the two Jedi trying to save a famous chef from a Hutt, and it turns into a cook off! Parodying the then very hot TV show Iron Chef, the story sees Giett in a competition to beat Corpo the Hutt's cook droid in a battle of the chefs. I loved Iron Chef, so the story stuck in my head, and features some great gags as the not too great chef Giett tries to prepare his dish while Koon sabotages the droid's meal at every turn. Just plain fun.

Outbid But Never Outgunned (Star Wars Tales #7)- For some, what I'm about to say is blasphemy: I've never been a big fan of Boba Fett. He's not a bad character, but I feel he gets overused, when there are any number of other interesting bounty hunters in Star Wars. "Outbid But Never Outgunned" however is a great story and might be my favorite Fett story. In it, Fett finds himself being blackmailed by a businessman who says he has something that Feet wants, and if Fett doesn't pay up, it goes to the highest bidder. Fett goes on his usual ruthless path to take out the man blackmailing him, and is joined by another bounty hunter, a woman named Sintas Vel, with whom Fett clearly has history. Drawn by Mike Deodata, his first Star Wars work years before his current work on Vader Down, it's a stunningly beautiful action story, and ends with a revelation about Fett that would become hugely important in the later novel series Legacy of the Force.

The Secret Tales of Luke's Hand! (Star Wars Tales #8)- Ok, maybe one more straight up comedy. When young Anakin Solo, Han and Leia's youngest son, is having a hard time sleeping, Han goes in to ask him what's wrong, and he asks why Uncle Luke always wears a glove. When Han explains that Luke lost his hand in a fight with Darth Vader, he begins to conjure a story of the hand wandering the galaxy, fighting Vader's hand and the Emperor's foot. I've written before that I'm an uncle to two young nieces, and though they're growing now, when they were little they loved to hear me tell them stories made up on the fly, usually starring Felix, my cat at the time, who in the stories was a secret agent (in real life he was a lump of fur), so this one touches a chord for me. It's also charming to see Han Solo in such a domestic scene, not being chased through the galaxy but just being a dad.

Resurrection (Star Wars Tales #9)- The only story that takes up nearly an entire issue and it deserves every page. Long before The Clone Wars cartoon, when the idea of a resurrected Darth Maul was just fan talk, this story came out and pitted Maul against Darth Vader in a lightsaber duel for the ages. Resurrected by Prophets of the Dark Side, agents of the Emperor, Maul has been set to replace Vader, as the Prophets feel Vader is not worthy of being Palpatine's apprentice. Maul taunts Vader, saying he is unworthy, that a former Jedi could never understand the purity of hate it means to be a Sith. And when Vader falls before Maul (SPOILERS if you don't want to know exactly how this ends), Vader stabs himself with his lightsaber to reach his opponent, and as Maul dies, asks Vader what he could hate enough to give him the power to defeat Maul. Vader's reply is only one word: "Myself." Released before Episodes II and III, Ron Marz's statement of Vader's feelings are prescient, and the art from Rick Leonardi, who would go on to draw the General Grievous miniseries and one of the Vader solo miniseries, is some of the best of his long career.

The Princess Leia Diaries (Star Wars Tales #11)- Riffing on The Princess Diaries, this story tells of a young Princess Leia on trips with her adoptive father, Bail Organa, and her time in the Imperial Court as a young girl. It's narrated diary style by Leia, naturally, and shows that she was always the rebellious, stubborn kid with the tough streak we know from the movies. It's a good story, but why does it make this list? Because in it, Leia drops a water balloon on the head of Grand Moff Tarkin. It's a silly moment, but one that, for some reason, completely stuck in my memory. It's also the first of two Leia stories by Jason Hall on this list, but I didn't group them like some of the others because the two are tonally very different. The second will appear later on the list, so keep reading.

Ghost (Star Wars Tales #11)- "Ghost" is pretty much everything I would want from a Star Wars Tales story. It is written and drawn by Jan Duursema, who worked with John Ostrander as artist for most of his work and co-plotter for Dawn of the Jedi. It features a young Han Solo on a treasure hunt. There aren't a lot of comics that feature Han in his pre-Chewbacca days, and while this one's canonicity is ambiguous, even in the new Legends concept, it's a great story. Its full of action as young Han is on a treasure hunt, and he runs across a being very familiar to fans of Star Wars comics: Ostrander and Duursema's greatest Jedi creation, Quinlan Vos. The meeting between two favorite characters is a treat, and add in some of my favorite Duursema art, how well she captures both a slightly older Quin and a much younger Han, and you have a real highlight of a story.

Sandstorm (Star Wars Tales #15)- I'm following up the previous story, featuring a young Han Solo, with a story about a young Luke Skywalker. After a fight with Uncle Owen about not knowing anything about his father, young Luke runs away and gets caught in a sandstorm, where he meets another young Tatooine orphan, a boy called Annie. As the two travel through the storm, they encounter all the horrors of Tatooine: womp rats, sand people, and even a Krayt Dragon. Readers knowing who Annie is, whether a manifestation of the Force trying to teach Luke something, or something Luke summoned from the Force himself, get to see exactly how similar young Luke was to his father, how hungry for a greater universe. And seeing Owen's reaction when he hears of what happened, I felt a little more sympathetic to the gruff old moisture farmer who was trying to keep his nephew on the farm for one more season.

The Other (Star Wars Tales #16)- If someone asked me for a story that was a great intersection between the Star Wars novels and the comics, I would choose "The Other." The time between Return of the Jedi and the Legacy comics is a period with comparatively few comic stories; yes Dark Empire and Crimson Empire are in there, as are the Rogue Squadron comics, but other than those and a few mini-series, most comics take place in the distant past, the prequel era, or during the classic trilogy, and because of this, there aren't a lot that directly address continuity. "The Other" is the second Princess Leia tale by Jason Hall, and tells a story of an older Leia, who saves her children from an Imperial assassination team using her then burgeoning Force abilities with ruthless precision. But when she sees her own refelction, and sees a vision of herself as another Darth Vader, she stops. Maybe it's because Luke had training from full Jedi, or maybe because of his own brushes with the Dark Side, Luke rarely seemed to consider his own fall. But Leia, in this story and in the later novel, Tatooine Ghost, really considers what it might mean for her, or her children, to bow to the Skywalker legacy. It explains why Leia stopped training to be a Jedi, why she sent her children away, in a far more satisfactory way than any novel ever did, and unwraps another facet of one of Star Wars most loved characters.

Heart of Darkness (Star Wars Tales #16)- "Heart of Darkness" is an interesting story in that its a continuity band-aid that proves to be a great story in its own right. Written and painted by Paul Lee, with art assists by Brian Horton, it tells the story of Minch, a member of Yoda's species, chasing a dark Jedi onto a swamp planet and defeating him in a cave. This story is actually drawn from Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire, and featured Yoda slaying the Dark Jedi and inadvertently creating the cave that Luke would one day make his vision quest in on Dagobah, but the script for Revenge of the Sith established that Yoda had never been to Dagobah before, so Lee crated a new member of his species (who shares a name with one of Yoda's names in early drafts of Empire Strikes Back), and puts him through the ringer, having him fight the Dark Jedi and have his own brush with the Dark Side. Beautifully drawn, it's a striking story that moves beyond what felt like a story simply there to fix a hole in continuity to an exciting piece of the history of the Star Wars universe.

Revenents (Star Wars Tales #18)- Star Wars doesn't tend to do thrillers or horror stories. There are a few here and there, but generally, the Star Wars galaxy sticks to mash-ups of fantasy, sci-fi, and Westerns. One of the better exceptions to this rule is the thriller "Revenants," where a shuttle Han Solo is flying is shot down over the junk world of Raxus Prime by Slave 1, and Solo spends weeks hunted across the world by a seemingly unkillable Boba Fett. Han fights his way across the moon using is wits and making jury rigged weapons to help him survive. Han Solo might be down, but he's never out, even against the character who might just be considered his archenemy The story ends with a nice twist, and while at the time it seemed at odds with the current events in the New Jedi Order series of novels, it was eventually referenced in a cool way in a novella by Karen Traviss.

The Lost Lightsaber (Star Wars Tales #19)- While I often like to maintain my personal picture of what characters from novels look like, it's always nice to see one make their first appearance in a comic. This story, which features a young Jedi attempting to recover the lightsaber of Darth Vader, which has been stolen by Dark Side adepts to make a powerful weapon of the Dark Side is the only comic appearance by Ben Skywalker, son of Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade. It's a fun story, but it always sticks in my head for that reason, as Ben was a character who didn't have a lot of personality at the time (he was developed in later novels in the Legacy of the Force and Fate of the Jedi series)

Into the Great Unknown (Star Wars Tales #19)- "Into the Great Unknown" is another story like "Resurrection" that could really only happen in comics or animation, one of those fan wish fulfillment stories, outside of continuity, although this one has a darker ending than most fans would expect. Han and Chewie are piloting the Falcon and forced to make a blind hyperspace jump, crashing on a planet where Han is sadly killed by natives. Over a century later, an archaeologist arrives, looking into tales of a great beast, clearly referring to Chewbacca. The archaeologist finds Han's corpse and finds it oddly familiar. The archaeologist is referred to as Dr. Jones, and its clear that this is Indiana Jones, making this the only sanctioned Star War/Indiana Jones crossover, although boy that's a downer of an ending. Still, it does stick in the memory.

Melvin Fett (Star Wars Tales #20)- If I could recommend any one issue of a Star Wars comic to a comic fan who doesn't do licensed comics, or mainstream comics in general, it would be Star Wars Tales #20. The issue features stories by various important independent creators, including Gilbert Hernandez, Jason, Peter Bagge, Tony Millionaire, and a couple favorties of mine, Rick Geary, of the Treasury of Victorian Murder series, and creator of Monkey Vs. Robot, James Kolchaka. While any of these odd and eclectic stories could make this list, and I waffled between Geary and Kolchaka for my pic, I went with Kolchaka's "Melvin Fett" about Boba's incompetent cousin, who accepts a bounty to kill Jar-Jar Binks, and winds up instead shooting a Jar-Jar sippy cup. None of these stories are what you'd expect from Star Wars, but all of them have the flair of their creators, and show that the world of Star Wars is wide enough for all sort of interpretations from "A certain point of view."

So, I'm curious, my fellow Star Wars fans: What are your favorite stories from Star Wars Tales? Do they crossover with mine? Do you think I'm out of my mind for picking one of these stories? You can reply here, on Twitter @mattlaz1013, or on The Matt Signal Facebook page. I'd love to hear your opinions.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 11/18

Bizzaro #6
Story: Heath Corson
Art: Gustavo Duarte  & Pete Pantazis with guest page from Tim Sale & Dave Stewart

Bizarro and Jimmy Olsen's road trip ends with quite a bang, an issue full of guest stars, guest artists, and some really heartfelt moments. After last issue when Bizarro found out Jimmy was travelling with him to produce a photo book of the trip, Superman's imperfect clone left Jimmy in the Nevada desert and headed back to Metropolis. While Jimmy is quickly captured by Queen Tut, the nemesis he and Bizarro made back in issue one, seeking revenge for Bizarro hypnotizing her dad, King Tut (the pharaoh of used car sales), into thinking he's a chicken, Bizarro meets Superman. This is the first meeting between Bizarro and Superman in the new continuity of the post-Flashpoint DC Universe, an d it's a very different meeting than you'd expect. No blows are exchanged, and Bizarro simply gets to talk to Superman, the conversation starting with a beautiful splash page by Time Sale in his Superman for All Seasons mode. The Superman who appears here feels like the wiser, more worldly and friendly Superman of the pre-Flashpoint world (there's even a joke about the missing red trunks), and his conversation with Bizarro about friendship and Bizarro listens and understands, heading out to save Jimmy when Queen Tut threatens Jimmy on national TV. During the battle, all the friends Bizarro has made, from bounty hunter Chastity Hex, to Kilowog, to Zatannam to a pair of FBI agents that look suspiciously familiar if you followed a certain '90s TV show about the paranormal, come in to lend a hand, even Colin the alien chupacabra, who returns from space. It's a big, silly, exciting action comic, and ends with Bizarro and Jimmy reconciling, working on the book together, and arriving at Canada to the nicest bum's rush you've ever seen (they're Canadian after all). With the adventure over, the pair return to Metropolis and whatever adventures might remain in the future. Bizarro was one of the best mini-series that came out of the most recent DC wave of titles; it was fine, all ages fair, and I hope that we get another adventure from Bizarro and Jimmy soon. By the way, I considered writing most of this revue in Bizarro speech, but after two sentences, I wanted to smack myself, so I could only imagine how you would have felt. You're welcome.

Harley Quinn #22
Story: Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti
Art: Chad Hardin & Alex Sinclair

Harley Quinn is one of those books that is so consistently good that it sometimes falls off my review radar because it's hard to find something new to say. But this week's new issue is such a perfect example of everything that's great about this book, it's a good time to call it out. After an adventure in Hollywood, Harley is returning home with a bunch of new acquisitions, courtesy of Deadshot's stolen credit cards, only to find plenty of problems waiting. Zena Bendemova, Russian femme fatale and nemesis of Sy Borgman, the geriatric cyborg who lives in the retirement home that Harley works at in her day job, has been resurrected by her grandson, and she has sworn revenge against Harley and Sy. Plus, Harley's current boyfriend, Mason, is in jail for manslaughter and has a hit out on him in jail. These are the kind of things Harley has to deal with on a day to day basis. After being attacked by some of Zena's amazonian warriors (amazonian with a small a; they're big and tough and female, not from Paradise Island) in a fight scene that is equal parts funny and brutal, Harley gets home to find out about Mason and the fact that Zena, or since Harley doesn't know she's back from the dead someone who is working out Zena's vendetta, has kidnapped Sy, Harley has to divide and conquer. She splits up her Gang of Harleys, taking some to save Mason and leaving the others to track down Sy. That's a lot to happen on one issue to begin with, and its interspersed with Harley getting some revenge on rude construction workers,  a scene of Mason narrowly averting being murdered, and Harley having a sweet talk with a nice man she met on the plane back from L.A. Writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti have created a wide and diverse cast for Harley, from her gang of Harleys to the tenants of her building and the people at her nursing home, and we get to see a little bit of everyone in this issue, which never feels overwrought or busy. It's a great comic, and if you're reading a title like Deadpool and haven't tried Harley Quinn, you should really jump on now.

Orphan Black: Helsinki #1
Story: John Fawcett, Graeme Manson, Heli Kennedy, & Dennis Tipton
Art: Alan Quah, Jeffrey Huet, & Chris Fenoglio

IDW's first mini-series based on the best sci-fi show (and a contender for best show period) on TV right now, Orphan Black, filled in little details about the backgrounds of our principal clone cast. This new series tells the story of events hinted at in the most recent season of the show, the wiping out of a group of clones in Helsinki. It's a completely different cast from the show, so all bets are off on who will and won't survive, and since the story comes from the show's creators, this is official canon. Our principal clone this series is Veera Suominen, a teenage clone with burn scars in her face we met briefly at the end of last series. When Veera finds the uncle she has been living with had spying devices in her room and the name of two other girls on his computer, she runs away to find the nearest of those girls and expose her uncle's child pornography operation. Of course, readers know he's really monitoring them for the cloning project, but Veera doesn;t know that, and so she heads to find Niki Lintula, who lives nearby. To do this, the socially isolated Veera, a girl who's scars make her stand out and who has been home schooled to keep her away from other children, infiltrates Niki's scool. It's heartbreaking to see Veera try to interact with other kids and freezes up when doing it, and to see what happens when she sees Niki, who is a flawless, blonde version of herself. The issue doesn't have a lot of the science fiction and action that are a part of Orphan Black, but it succeeds in being a strong study of a character, really getting into Veera's head in a way that TV can't, with a story narrated exclusively by her. It also succeeds in capturing the atmosphere of Orphan Black, with a sense of disconnection and paranoia as a clone begins to understand so much of what she believes about the world isn't right, multiplied in this case tenfold by Veera's isolation. It's a strong start to the series, one that looks to add an important chapter to the overall mythos of Orphan Black.

Star Wars #12
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger, Justin Ponsor

Back when he was writing The Authority, Warren Ellis talked about widescreen storytelling in comics. He was talking not just about page layouts with big panels and lots of action, but a certain way stories should be told, with those same sensibilities in mind. If there is any comic that should have that kind of thinking, it's Star Wars, the movie franchise that defined modern widescreen movies. The last part of the second arc of Marvel's new Star Wars series is a widescreen story, packed to the gills with action and adventure. We get a small battle between Han, Leia, Chewie, and the bounty hunter Dengar, followed by a huge battle in Grakkus the Hutt's arena with monsters and stromtroopers that ends with a visually stunning moment or two that I don't want to give away. I know some purists will be bothered by that moment, but it's one of those things that I have to get past my inner fanboy and embrace my inner child, what it would have looked like if I was a kid see certain characters doing something that you never saw them do in the movies that is just plain awesome. I want to see more of Grakkus, a Hutt who doesn't mind getting his hands dirty, and Sgt. Kreel, the stormtrooper undercover in Grakkus's operation. But mixed in with all the action, we get some nice character moments for Princess Leia and Sana, the woman claiming to be Han Solo's wife, so the issue isn't a wall-to-wall actionfest. Add in a last page cameo from Darth Vader, and you get a comic that any casual Star Wars fan would love, and one that does some nice things for us diehards. This week also saw the release of the one-shot that kicks off the first Marvel Star Wars crossover, "Vader Down," which is also an excellent comic and a great jumping on point if you want to try out some Star Wars comics before The Force Awakens.

Wrath of the Eternal Warrior #1
Story: Robert Venditti
Art: Raul Allen & Patricia Martin

When we last saw Gilad Anni-Padda, the Eternal Warrior, at the end of Valiant's Book of Death event mini-series, he was, well, dead. This issue shows readers what happens when Gilad dies, but before he returns from the dead, and after seeing the fields of the Deadside filled with monsters,we see where he awakens, and it is not what you might expect. Gilad arrives in a heaven of his own making, with his wife and children waiting for him and excited to see him. But they all know that it's only temporary. Leena, Gila's wife, is especially saddened by the fact she knows Gilad will be leaving them again sooner than they'd like. The issue is mostly an idyllic domestic scene, with Gilad playing with his children, eating a fine dinner, and lying with his wife. I'm curious to known a little more about Gilad's heaven, as the children clearly have different mothers, and I wonder if these are all the children Gilad has fathered in his six thousand years of life; also I am curious to see what more wwe will learn of Kalam, Gilad's eldest child in this realm, who spends his days stubbornly shooting arrows into targets Robin Hood style, splitting arrow after arrow. Is he . Gilad is so often portrayed as this unstoppable, resolute force, the fist and steel of the Earth, that it makes for  very different scene to see him not only with his family in a place where he doesn't need to fight, but more to see how tired he seems as he tell's Leena of his most recent "trip." And to think that Gilad and his family views this afterlife as his true home and the world of the living as the place he goes on business trips makes it even sadder than Gilad knows that he must return. And as the issue ends and he hears the voices of the monsters that exist in the Deadside waiting for him to begin his trip back, we know that it isn't a simple thing for him to just will himself back to life. Robert Venditti's script is excellent, but Raul Allen's art takes it to a whole other level. He draws both the agrarian beauty of Gilad's farm haven and the nightmare of the blasted Deadside with equal adeptness, and his Gilad in particular is expressive; you can see in his eyes all six thousand years he has lived. Eternal Warrior was my favorite character from classic Valiant, and I've enjoyed his other series and his appearances in other titles, but the first issue of Wrath of the Eternal Warrior feels like the beginning of the series that this character deserves, a blend of magic, history, and character. If you've never read a Valiant title before, this is the time to start.

And because we know you can't get enough, Dan Grote reviews this week's new Deadpool...

Deadpool #2
Story:  Gerry Duggan
Art: Mike Hawthorne, Terry Pallot, & Val Staples

Something is rotten in Deadmark. More on that later.

The first issue of the all-new, all-different adventures of Wade Wilson & Co. set up all the players on the board, both new and old, but this issue focuses largely on Deadpool’s new team of mercenaries, who have grown tired of running pro bono missions and generally doing more good works than good-paying ones, “like we’re Santas that bring justice,” per Terror.

To teach them a lesson, DP sends them on a paying gig in which a landlord aims to evict to the decent, hard-working tenants in his building so he can turn the units into condos. Suddenly, some of the mercs develop a conscience, and we see what they do with their ill-gotten gains.

While they all begrudgingly wear the same costumes and are obsessed with getting paid, the creative team is doing a good job of making each member of Deadpool’s Heroes for Hire a distinct personality. Slapstick, who should be another irritating source of comic relief, a la Deadpool or Madcap, is completely miserable but still looks like someone sprayed silly string all over the Joker’s head and then drew him into an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Madcap is obsessed with hats and speaks in his now-trademark Courier New balloons, while all the other Deadpools speak in Wade’s classic yellow balloons when the masks are on. Solo is the handsome one in the James Bond/Jason Bourne vein and among the earliest to develop a conscience, with Stingray, the former Avenger and lone Deadpool capable of flight, not far behind. Foolkiller is the most hardened of the lot, still money uber alles in the face of everything. Terror, the human organ harvester, appears to be the same way, then gives his cut of the inappropriate-eviction gig to the wife and son of an abusive man whom he proceeds to beat the living crap out of.

Issue’s end returns us to Deadpool HQ, where we sadly are forced to say goodbye to a member of Wade’s now-former family. I won’t say who, but I will say that someone is pretending to be the real Deadpool, the one in the black-and-red suit with the hood whose fashion sense I so highly praised last time around (seriously, get on the POP variant, Funko). Who the impostor is is not revealed, but it does have something to do with the truth about who killed Deadpool’s parents.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go pour some sizzurp on the concrete for [redacted].

Friday, November 20, 2015

Lost Legends: Classic Star Wars- The Early Adventures

Welcome to Force Fridays here on The Matt Signal! For the next few weeks, we'll be featuring Star Wars related columns leading up to the release of The Force Awakens! It's an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan, and I'm hoping to spread some more excitement.

A long time ago (1979 to be exact) in a galaxy not at all that far away, there was very little Star Wars content out there. Just the original movie, a movie adaptation, the first Star Wars original novel, Splinter of the Mind's Eye, and very earliest of the Marvel comics. It seems strange now that, if you were a fast reader and dedicated, that you could get through all the Star Wars content in existence in a weekend, but it was possible,

The late 70s was still a time where comic strips were a vast media power, with numerous genres filling pages of daily and Sunday papers, and so having a strip was a big deal. And in 1979, Star Wars graduated to the big leagues with its own daily strip. Full of wild stories and fascinating new characters, as well as work form some big names in the strip and comic book world, the strips were lost for years, until ion the early 90s, Dark Horse started reprinting them, cutting up the panels to lay out on a comic book page, and coloring them all. They were released in a few different series, but the one we'll be talking about today were called The Early Adventures, which were released as a nine issue mini-series, and feature the work of comics legend Russ Manning.

Manning is a big and important name in comics, but isn't as big as a Stan Lee or Jack Kirby, so for those of you who are more casual fans, a little background. A master penciller, Manning is best known for his work on Tarzan, both for publisher Gold Key and for the Tarzan comic strip, as well as European original graphic novel about Tarzan. He was also the artist credited as creator of Magnus, Robot Fighter, a hero in the future who fights rogue robots (sort of like a bladerunner but he needs only his fists) for Gold Key, a character who, while not in constant publication, has seen numerous revivals over the years from such companies as Valiant, Dark Horse, and most recently Dynamite. Manning is important enough that an award has been named after him, the Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award, given out at the Eisner Award ceremonies at San Diego Comic Con, whose recipients feature so many top talents it would be take far too much space here, but a couple with links to Star Wars include Star Wars: Republic, Legacy, and Dawn of the Jedi artist Jan Duursema and Edvin Biukovic, who pencilled the adaptation of Timothy Zahn's The Last Command and some of the early X-Wing: Rogue Squadron mini-series.

The nine issues of early adventures start with a three issue arc, and then continue with six single issue stories. The thing that impressed me about these stories is how well they hold up to modern Star Wars stories. There are some canonical glitches (the mining world of Kessel shown to be a lush paradise, for instance), but those are found all over early Expanded Universe (EU) stories. What's exciting is how Manning captures the spirit of Star Wars, the mix of action and humor, while introducing many concepts that feel very Star Wars. There are also some completely insane concepts, like the Empire encoding secret data in a virus that shows up in the infected person's eyes, but that's still less nuts than anything in the Lando Calrissian novels, which include the Silly Rabbit Constellation and Lando meeting an alien who looks suspiciously like Big Bird (both not terrible things, just completely insane), so I'll take it.

The opening three-parter really shows off what Manning is doing with the Star Wars universe (I'm going to continue to address Manning as sole creator on these stories, even though it has been revealed over the years that many were ghost written by either Archie Goodwin or Steve Gerber. I don't know who wrote what, and the comics are credited solely to Manning, so I'm sticking with that). Luke, Leia, C-3PO, and R2-D2 have been sent to Vorzyd-5, the Gambler's World, to contact a high ranking official who is sympathetic to the Rebellion. Sent to stop them is Blackhole, one of Darth Vader's operatives, who appears only as a shadowy figure with patterns of starts shifting on his body, and his black armored stormtroopers. On the planet, Luke and Leia make their way through a series of encounters with Blackhole and his men, while the droids are chased by a teen gang who for some reason really want a droid. The two stories intersect at the end in a pretty brutal confrontation between the stormtroopers and the gang.

Manning really gets the look of Star Wars right throughout the story. Vorzyd-5 feels like a planet you would have seen on the big screen of the Prequels, when technology could keep up with the mind of an artist. It's full of billboards, big lights, and all kinds of crazy creatures. And the shifting stars on Blackhole are a very cool visual that I would love see someone try to capture in Star Wars: Rebels, say casting him as one of Vader's Inquisitors. Storywise, we see that Luke is still new to using the Force and the galaxy at large, as he draws a little too much attention in one of the casinos by his "luck" which is a subconsious manifestation of the Force. There's a well drawn and exceptionally silly sequence where Threepio and Artoo stop at a a weapons store to get upgrades to protect themselves if they ever run into that gang again, and basically in an almost Pink Panther sequence, wind up doing exactly that through a series of mishaps with the weapons they're testing; it's a bit over the top for Star Wars, but is well choreographed and pretty funny,

Missing from this first story are two of Star Wars most famous characters: Han Solo and Chewbacca. These very early EU stories often omitted Han and Chewis since Harrison Ford's contract did not include sequels, and it was in doubt if he would be appearing in any future Star Wars films. This story replaces them with two local rebels, Paxin and Falud, who are a dark haired human and his big shaggy sidekick, although the sidekick more resembles a large bipedal badger than a big apeman. Fortunately, Han and Chewie would start appearing after this story, and with goof effect.

The highlight of the series for me is issue five, "Princess Leia, Imperial Servant." After narrowly escaping an Imperial attack on her ship, where a Rebel pilot sacrificed himself to save her, showing Lei'a import to the Rebellion, she crash lands on a world that is controlled by the Empire, and has slave mines pulling the highly explosive megonite from the ground to be used as a weapon. To make matters worse, when she hides among the workers, she is picked to be the servant of the woman who runs the mines, the wife of Grand Moff Tarkin, the man who commanded the Death Star, who has a deep hatred for Rebels and who believes they are out to get her. Lady Tarkin is holding an Imperial Diplomatic Conclave, gathering high ranking Imperials from around the galaxy, including Darth Vader himself. Leia must use her wits, and the help of two disreputable miners trying to escape with some megonite themselves, to contact the Rebellion and escape before Lady Tarkin or Vader discover her.

This story is important as it is one of the first Leia solo stories, if not the very first. Leia isn't a damsel in distress anywhere in the story. Sure, she has to contact Han Solo to get her off Lady Tarkin's world, but that's classic spy thriller stuff, waiting for the exfil, something spies both male and female have to go through. And sue, the serving girl outfit is a bit slinky, but it's way more covered than the Slave Leia outfit. Even when being menaced by the two crooked miners, Leia doesn't quaver, says one has no brains, and gets them to help her get to the communications device. Leia is also completely combat competent, blowing up one guard with some megonite to hide her contacting of the Rebellion, and wielding a blaster better than any other character as she escapes. Also, I love the design for Lady Tarkin, with the black and white Cruella DeVille hair and these wide eyes that absolutely scream paranoia.

The final issue of the series features an early appearance by Boba Fett, and is actually one of my favorite Fett stories. It doesn't have the years of baggage that often way Fett down, and instead sees Fett and Luke teaming up, Luke having crashed on an ice planet fleeing Imperials and Fett on a bounty run for Darth Vader. There are wild natives, an Imperial spy on the run, and the entire classic Star Wars cast on a big adventure together. It again spotlights Manning's art, mixing his great handle on high tech backgrounds and more natural backgrounds, as we see both the ice world and the high tech the natives have claimed as their own.

The other four stories are also enjoyable, including a story of a weather machine controlled by the Empire, a lizard man kidnapping children to lure out the Rebels, the first of innumerable stories about Luke returning to Tatooine, and a diplomatic mission to convince weapons makers to stop selling to the Empire. These weren't the only Star Wars strips drawn by Manning, but often finding these old strips and the original art and proofs is not easy, and so they were the only ones Dark Horse published from the Manning era.

For those of you newer to the blog, this column is a Lost Legends, which means the comics I'm talking about are currently out of print in singles and trades (digital is harder to tell, and so I'm talking print exclusively). The nine issues aren't hard to track down, and can usually be found in dollar bins at conventions and stores. There are also twenty issues of Classic Star Wars from the Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson era strips, and a mini-series that was the strips that adapted one of the best early Star Wars novels, Han Solo at Star's End. I'm hoping Marvel gets around to reprinting these sometime in the future, or better if Lucasfilm publishing contacts one of the publishers who of high end strip reprints, and gets the complete series represented in the original form. If you're a Star Wars fan who's curious to see what the early days of Star Wars publishing were like, I can think of few better examples then these Russ Manning strips.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thursdays With Wade: Revisiting Joe Kelly's Deadpool Part 11

Today’s reading: Deadpool #14
Story: Joe Kelly
Art: Ian McDaniel and Anibal Rodriguez

After watching Wade alienate himself from his entire supporting cast during the two-part “Drowning Man” story, he spends issue #14 still buried under T-Ray’s magic snow in Golden Gate Park. With him out of the way, we’re free to explore everyone else’s reaction to Wade’s dark turn.

Let’s start with the two people who’ve perhaps suffered the most because of Wade: Weasel and Blind Al, who are currently stuck in The Box.

Al, of course, is no stranger to The Box, having spent plenty of time there as Wade’s prisoner. Weasel, though, is a first-timer. It’s dark, and there are sharp objects everywhere. Al says the best move is to be perfectly still, don’t make a sound, and maybe Wade will let them out when he returns. That said, the door is unlocked. All they have to do is walk out. So why doesn’t Al seem keen on leaving?

Al relates a story, probably the best monologue of the run:

“I had a buddy once, from my union days, Tommy Mulroom. Sweet guy. Made his own brandy and rolled his own cigarettes. Never saw his face, mind you, but I just knew he was a looker. Voice like silk. Tommy lived in Maine, bred Chinooks for fun after he retired from the job, had 16 of the critters. Maine, Weasel … 2,788 miles as the crow files. … I’d been with Wade for two years, and the mouth-breather was getting sloppy, careless. He gets called off to Guadalajara for a whack-job that’ll take at least two weeks. The window of opportunity cracks open. Instead of scrambling for the border, figure I’ll head for Tommy’s. Deadpool didn’t know him. … Plus, Tommy knows people who know people. … He can get me papers, put me underground … whatever I need. Takes me a day just t’fumble my way out of the house. I make it to the door with a few scratches and a bruised hip … and the sense I can’t go on. But soon as I feel the sun, that glorious sun, I don’t feel any pain, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to get away from the monster that keeps me in the closet. Usin’ a couple a’ tricks I picked up in the Girl Scouts, I manage to score enough cash t’start the trek ’cross country. … I train it out to Arizona and crash for a few days. Sun poisoning, touch of the flu. Have a fever dream about Tommy, where he takes me in his arms and reminds me not to sleep too long. Arms like cannons, body built like a brickhouse, the strongest guy I’ve ever met … Leave ’Zona, train t’Tallahassee, then it’s a fast and loose road trip direct to t’Maine with some college kid on a break. He digs the intrigue, the fake names, the cloak and dagger. I let him call me gramma … I call him Tommy. A cheap comfort, but what the hell, I’m old. … We hit Tommy’s place at sundown. Kid takes an extra second to hug a crazy old bird and leaves. Nice. I smell brandy cookin’ in the back. Tobacco makes the air tangy … smell of life. I start practicing my collapse into Tommy’s arms, and I’m about to the ring the bell when it hits me … the whining. Tommy’s dogs, the chinooks. Big dogs shouldn’t make sounds like that … begging sounds … then the door opens on its own … slow. The air spills out … wet … and I hear his voice. Gravel and gasoline. Wade says, ‘Watch your step, Alfred. Tommy made no-no in the house.’ The SOB found me. To this day, I don’t know how he did it … but there he was. With Tommy … What was left of him. Such a big man … The sounds that came out of him … they didn’t fit such a big man. … We just left him … with the dogs. … With all my hope. That, my friend … is how you build a prison.”

As if we needed any more fuel for the Wade’s a Bad Dude fire at this point.

But Al insists Wade has a good side. He did save her when he was under orders to kill her, after all. That’s how she became his prisoner in the first place. But his time in The Box has convinced Weasel of the opposite, and he skips town, taking a few of Wade’s weapons for protection. And Deuce the Devil Dog, whom Al never liked anyway.

Weasel and Al aren’t the only ones figuring out what to do next, though. At the interdimensional offices of Landau, Luckman & Lake, Zoe Culloden is wallowing in the sorrow of having wasted her time trying to groom Wade for the role of cosmic savior, so much so that she can’t even enjoy being sexually harassed by her co-worker, the hideous precog Montgomery, who comes bearing potentially good news about the supposed lost cause that is Wade Wilson. More on that in a few paragraphs.

Then there’s Gerry the Bum. Gerry visits the unconscious Wade and tells him he had to let T-Ray work him over, to teach him a lesson. “Now you know you can’t piggyback on someone else’s dreams. You gotta use your own two feet if you wanna walk the path to redemption,” he says before walking off.

It is at this point that Wade comes to, looks around, grabs the bottle of booze Gerry left behind and says, “I’m such a colossal jerk.” Which instantly summons Zoe, because we’re at that point in the movie where the hero has hit rock bottom, and he is now ready to begin his training.

Noticeably absent this issue is pretty much every artist who has worked on the book since its inception. Ian McDaniel becomes the new official penciller with #14, after a group of fill-in artists, including Pete Woods, Shannon Denton et al, replaced Ed McGuinness. The fill-in artists were generally doing their own spin on McGuinness, but McDaniel’s style is much darker, matching the tone the book has taken since “Drowning Man.” Even comic relief characters like the Hellhouse’s Fenway and C.F. look less comical under the new art regime.

While we’re mopping up after “Drowning Man,” a pair of interludes give us a glimpse at the next big arc. A heavily armored man is hunting for Deadpool and wiping out past associates, starting with a French Canadian mechanic we’ve never seen before.

Whoever this new guy is, Wade’s last antagonist isn’t done with him yet. T-Ray shows up at the Hellhouse to announce to the other mercs that he has defeated Deadpool, threaten them a little, then announce he’s taking a vacation. But he’ll be back, “to teach him some more truths about life.” (Everyone is forever trying to teach Wade lessons. What exactly about Deadpool screams “eager student?”) And T-Ray does return later on, with one hell of a retcon that will go on to be largely ignored.

Next time on Thursdays with Wade, Deadpool makes his first visit to the offices of Landau, Luckman & Lake, and we see more of the man hunting for Deadpool. See ya there!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 11/11

Airboy #4
Story: James Robinson
Art: Greg Hinkle

Airboy has been a comic that I've been unsure how to classify and write about. After a well received first issue and a problematic second, the third issue was almost ignored critically, and this conclusion arrives a couple months late. It's part war hero comic, part introspective look at a writer's life, part deconstruction. It's not unique in its conceit of "creator meets the character he's working on" but is told from the point of view of the creator more than the character. After three issues of acting like a selfish ass, James Robinson, writer and one of the principal protagonists, and his artist Greg Hinkle, dragged along on this insane, possibly drug induced ride, are now in the comics of the character Airboy, and have been sent (well, forced) on a mission behind Nazi lines to blow up a bridge. It's good to see that Robinson, even in this life or death situation, still paints himself as a near-complete jerk. He and Hinkle start off commenting on how cool the SS uniforms they're wearing look (they were designed by Hugo Boss, after all), and we flashback to him doing coke with one of Airboy's colleagues before setting out. There, Robinson comments on how much he feels like his career is lost, and calls out the projects he did in Hollywood that were disasters (in all fairness, I really like Comic Book Villains, the movie he wrote and directed. I own a copy, and it introduced me to the excellent actor Donal Logue). Hinkle does a great job drawing the wreck of the city and the Nazi war-robots as well as Airboy's plane, showing off skills beyond much of what he's had to do throughout the series. The end of the surreal aspect of the comic has Robinson make a good choice, a hero's choice, but when he arrives home, he's still stuck in the same cycle of drugs, self-pity, and self-loathing that he was in on page one of issue one. It's Hinkle in the end who calls Robinson out on his b.s. in a way that gets him to listen. What's great is he doesn't come down on him about all the stuff that happened in what seems more likely a drug induced haze, but all the things that Robinson can change, and gives him a glimmer of hope that people still respect his work (I know I do). The end is a hopeful one, one where the protagonist makes the choice to break the cycle. If you know anything about addiction and self-loathing, you know that might not be a permanent change, as it's a daily battle, but the final images, of Airboy comics in color in a haze of discarded cocaine symbolizes to me Robinson coming out of the haze he was in. I've stuck with James Robinson's work through what he clearly considers a doldrums of his creative output, and I'll continue to stick with him, and I hope that the strength of Airboy is a sign of great things to come.

Batman #46
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, & FCO Plascenia

Things feel like they're coming to a head in Scott Snyder's current arc of Batman. We're getting Batman meeting the villain, Mr. Bloom, Duke Thomas out and learning secrets, and Bruce Wayne engaged to Julie Madison. That's a lot of big changes, and I'm going to touch on each plot separately. The opening fight scene does a lot to make it clear that Jim Gordon is growing into his role as Batman. His plan to take down Mr. Bloom, while not successful, is clever and well in line with what you'd expect from Batman. And the rapport he's building with Julia Pennyworth is not only great character development for both of them, but it's smart; the original Batman never worked alone, and Gordon is really learning to work with his team. And again, I come to more and more like Geri Powers as she stands up to Bloom; I still don't trust any Powers very far, so I'm not sure of Snyder is setting the reader up to like her before a face/heel turn or if he's just slowly building her to be a good character against expectations of everyone who knows the Batman Beyond continuity. Whichever he's doing, it's working. Following the battle, there's a scene with a hall of Batman armors like something out of Tony Stark's dreams. Even after everything that went on in the previous issue between them, Jim is able to present Geri with a plan and goes after Bloom alone; so Jim hasn't completely lost his lone wolf mentality, but he has a plan and Julia in his ear. But it's not going to be that easy.

While Jim is dealing with Bloom's frontal assault, Duke Thomas continues to search for answers about Bloom, now sneaking into the Iceberg Lounge to find information that Penguin might have. Snyder continues to do great things to build Duke up as a competent, clever crimefighter. His entry into Penguin's office, and his knowledge of Penguin's methods, show he's clearly done his homework. And his surprise about the identity of Bloom makes me think he's a character we know already, and not just some new villain, but Duke doesn't make it out easy, as Penguin and a group of Gotham's more unusual mob bosses catch him, and he has to use some quick thinking and tech to escape. But the escape doesn't look clean, and we'll see what becomes of him next issue.

And Bruce. Oh, Bruce. He's so damn happy. It's absolutely killing me. The scenes with him and Julie, and the scene with him and Liv, a little girl at the Fox Center where he works, are painfully sweet. The coloring on those pages is even warmer than the rest of the issue, keeping things in a happier place. And the happier he gets, the harder the fall is going to be,

Thematically, Snyder is calling more clearly on the idea of symbols and how much the symbol of the Bat means to Gotham, and whether the idea of what Jim, Geri, and Powers Inc have done destroys that symbol, as Bloom believes, or has reclaimed it for the people. as Geri does. And as readers, knowing Bruce will be back, we're left to wonder what it will mean when he returns.

Descender #7
Story: Jeff Lemire
Art: Dustin Nguyen

Descender returns for its second arc with a first issue that takes everything from arc one and adds all sorts of twists and turns. Android TIM-21 has just encountered his twin TIM-22 and a group of robots who have come to save him on the planet Gnish. The robots are interested in TIM, and only TIM, but the robot insists on bringing his organic companions, UGC agent Telsa and his maker DR. Quon, along so they can help him find his human "brother" Andy. I'm curious to see if these robots are remnants of the robots destroyed after the Harvester onslaught, the attack of giant robots on the inhabited worlds, or if they have a deeper connection to the Harvesters. One way or the other, they have no love for organic beings, as they kill the ruler of Gnish with no compunction and for the reason of sewing chaos; it's benign looking TIM-22 who does the deed at the order of his "father," the robot Psius. The introduction of a robot world, or at least a resistance, is an interesting deepening of the mythology established before, adding another aspect and faction to the universe. The robots agree to take Telsa and Quon to get TIM to come with them, which is interesting; if they have a TIM of their own, why so desperately search for this one, unless their reasons aren't the same as everyone else's, the connection of TIM to the harvesters, or unless their TIM is not the same as TIM-21. But taking those three does, to use D&D parlance, split the party, leaving Bandit, the robot dog, Driller, the drilling droid, and Telsa's associate Tullis behind. And all of that only takes up half the issue. The other half follows a robot bounty hunter coldly going about his business. He destroys nonthreatening robots that were helping a colony survive without any compunction, and is clearly set up as a major threat. And when he goes back to the guy who provides his bounties and finds out about TIM, he tears off after him. And when he arrives at the mining colony where TIM was and finds a survivor of the crew who tried to destroy TIM, he reveals his identity. It's a major twist, one I don't want to give away, but it sets the trajectory for TIM's journey down a much darker path. And all of this plot with Dustin Nguyen's art, which continues to be the best of his already string career, lush, gorgeously colored, and beautifully designed. Descender is a story about what it means to be alive and "human," and the new path TIM is on will test his robot spirit and see how much "humanity" he has.

Star Wars: Chewbacca #3
Story: Gerry Duggan
Art: Phil Noto

Sometimes a fun comic comes along, and you just miss out on reviewing it. That has happened, and I intend to remedy that right now. Gerry Duggan and Phil Noto's Chewbacca mini-series has been excellent all the way through, and it's been getting better with each issue. Having crashed on the planet Andelm IV, Chewie has spent the past couple issues working to liberate slaves from a gangster with the help of Zarro, a young escaped slave herself. Now trapped in the mines with Zarro and her father, Chewie has to avoid killer beetles and other hazards to get out with the slaves. Duggan does a great job of letting other characters speak with Chewie without giving him speech bubbles; everything out of Chewie is a Wookiee roar. With that being the case, Noto's work on Chewie is even more important, letting the Wookiee's body language and facial expressions do most of the communicating. The sequence where Chewie has to climb through a narrow passage, digging at it to make it wider, so he can drop a rope down to the trapped miners, is one of the most visually striking scenes I've come across in a comic lately. Outside the mine, the designs of the various aliens  and character are equally engaging, from the gangster Jaum, who exists in a suit with a clear helmet to allow him to breathe to his right hand Shistavenan (the werewolf people), to Sevox, and old man whose body rejects cybernetic implants so he's designed a way to see through the eyes of his droid. Great concepts from Duggan and excellent execution from Noto. I like that the stakes of the mini-series are so comparatively little, not the fate of the Rebellion but just a small group of people, but it still feels so big because Zarro, her father, and the others are interesting characters and the reader cares, and that, as a former slave, Chewie is invested; he could have left any number of times, but he stays because it's the right thing to do. Chewbacca is one of the most noble characters in Star Wars and this mini-series spotlights all of his best qualities.

Dan Grote goes back to WW2 to spend some time with Cap, Bucky, and the Howling Commandos in Captain America:White...

Captain America: White #4
Story by Jeph Loeb
Art by Tim Sale

“You know better than anybody that underneath this uniform, I’m just a man who can make mistakes.”

World War II Captain America stories are a dime a dozen, it’s true, but there’s something about a young, fallible Cap, less the symbol of freedom and liberty all other heroes measure up to and more a hero in the mighty Marvel manner, that makes this one seem fresh.

The Steve Rogers of Captain America: White makes mistakes, is filled with doubt, a master combatant but not a seasoned veteran, still a skinny kid from Brooklyn in his own mind. Put simply, he’s not Marvel’s answer to Superman. He’s also preoccupied with Bucky, the young ward he trained and brought to war with him, and wracked with guilt every time his sidekick ends up in harm’s way.

This particular mission finds Cap, Bucky and the Howling Commandos deep in Nazi-occupied France, where top SS-ers the Red Skull and Baron Wolfgang von Strucker are currently overseeing things. Aiding the Howlers is a group of French freedom fighters, led by a woman named Marilyne who will have none of Cap’s white-hat, Americo-centric patriarchy. “It is the French who will free France!” she tells him at one point.

It is also the French who will betray France, as one among their number, a purple-clad, pointy-mustached man named Olivier Batroc – an ancestor of everyone’s favorite Leaper – sets them up to be captured by Strucker while the Skull plots mayhem elsewhere.

Cap’s sexual inexperience remains a theme, as a request to Marilyne to fix the straps on his shield is played for its innuendo, while Bucky and Reb Ralston, the youngest Howler, peep the action through a keyhole. When Cap realizes he’s being watched, he gets spooked and throws his shield through the door, giving Bucky a black eye. Cap apologizes, using the line at the top of this review, but the damage, both physical and emotional, is done. Bucky believes Cap has lost faith in him, and so he goes off to fight the Skull on his own, instead getting captured and strapped to all manner of explosives.

Now, the reader knows Bucky survives this one. This isn’t Baron Zemo’s rocket that turns Steve into a Capsicle and Bucky into a Soviet-sponsored killing machine with a cybernetic arm. But for Cap, at this point in his nascent superheroing career, this is his worst nightmare given form, the idea that the only person with whom he shares any sort of bond could die.

Yes, White is a pure nostalgia trip: a Silver Age-style story set in the Golden Age by a creative team best known for its ’90s work. But if you’re a fan of old Marvel, of Steve Rogers as Cap and pre-Winter Soldier Bucky and a Nick Fury that was essentially a John Wayne-meets-Patton homage, it’s a trip worth taking.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Recommended Reading for 11/13: Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi

One of the first recommended readings I ever wrote on this blog was for Get Jiro! a graphic novel that combined gangsters, dystopia, and culinary criticism from one of the world's most famous chefs and culinary critics, Anthony Bourdain, and his cowriter Joel Rose. A couple weeks ago, a new book starring Jiro, the sushi chef who you do not want to mess with (or order the California Roll from) was released, and it's a very different book than the first.

While the original Get Jiro! was very much about a world where food was scarce and chefs and food magnates controlled the world, a very sci-fi concept, the new volume, Blood and Sushi, is much more of a mob story, a story about revenge, as well as about a young man finding his place in the world. And that young man is Jiro. Set years before the original book, this volume takes place in Jiro's native Japan instead of Los Angeles, and tells the story of how Jiro came to learn the art of the sushi chef and why he had to leave Japan. I'm loathe to use the word prequel, since that has certain unpleasant connotations; consider it instead a well crafted origin story.

The Jiro that readers meet in this book is still a quiet and thoughtful man, but instead of a master chef, he is a young Yakuza lieutenant, working for his father who is a powerful local boss. The crew Jiro works with is headed by his elder half-brother, Ichigo, who is as different from Jiro as night is from day. Ichigo is all loud words and action, reveling in the blood and carnage of the Yakuza. As heir father observes, Jiro is a minimalist, an artist, while Ichigo is a maximalist, believing more is always better.

While Ichigo relishes his Yakuza life, Jiro wants something very different, so after days of carnage and bloodshed, something that there is plenty of, Jiro takes his leave from his brother and their compatriots and secretly goes to his other life. In this life he is not the boss's son, but is instead an apprentice sushi chef to a demanding master chef. He also has a girlfriend, Miyako, a woman of half-Japanese and half-Italian ancestry, who works in an Italian restaurant. It is through his talks with these two characters that Bourdain puts in most of his discussions of culinary arts and culture, especially one memorable exchange from Miyako about the similarities between Italian and Japanese cuisine; something I never had thought about before but is absolutely fascinating.

What really grabbed me about this book was how different its view of Jiro was than the first one. The older Jiro was a ronin chef, masterless and wandering, practicing his art. He was the calm eye of the storm that revolved around him. This second volume is much more a character piece. The Jiro here is a lighter soul, who despite their differences jokes with his big brother and cares for him. He loves Miyako. He respects both his father figures, his biological father and the chef who is his mentor. An slowly, over the course of the book, much of that is stripped away, giving the readers hints of the Jiro to come.

The true inciting incident of what will change Jiro's life is the death of Boss Joji, and underboss who was cheating Jiro and Ichigo's father. With Joji dead, Ichigo moves into his territory and makes a brutal show of force to everyone who would pay protection to Joji, including Jiro's master. We don't see the beating that Ichigo inflicts, but a scene at another restaurant is more than enough to tell us what it was like. The fact that the book pulls no punches with its violence but keeps that scene from the readers eyes is enough to make at least me imagine it is even worse than how the master describes it.

If his master swearing that he will one day kill the man who did this to him, who is Jiro's brother, wasn't bad enough, it turns out that Miyako's flighty roommate, Kame, is dating one of Ichigo's crew, and when she sees Jiro's Yakuza tattoos, she tells her boyfriend about the sushi chef named Jiro who has Yakuza tattoos. And after blabbing it to half the town, the boyfriend goes to Ichigo, who kills him, after eating a delicious meal togeher, to keep word of this dishonor from spreading and then tells his father, who sends him to retrieve Jiro.

The view of Jiro's father is interesting and heartbreaking, as he angrily tells Jiro he must stop, that he should not be serving those below his station, and shocks Jiro by telling him that it is Jiro who will inherit his criminal empire, not the more enthusiastic Ichigo, since Ichigo is a thoughtless ball of murder, while Jiro can plan and think. But this is he fatal decision for Jiro's father, who tells Ichigo exactly this after Ichigo proposes a business venture involving tainted fish, and I don't think any reader is surprised when Ichigo kills his own father to claim the empire for his own. And with that act the die is cast; Ichigo summons Jiro to help them avenge their father against the other clan that "killed him." During that bloody encounter , Jiro learns the truth, and Ichigo spins it to look like it was Jiro who killed their father, sending his soldiers to, "Get Jiro!" The bloody climax leaves one brother dead and the other on his way to America, leaving behind the woman he loves. There are a couple twists in those last few pages that resonate, and the tale of revenge and family has all the marks of a great tragedy.

While this new volume doesn't delve into the changes to this near future world as deeply as the previous one did, instead more focusing on gangsters than chefs and food, their are still hints of it, and it directly effects the plot. We see that fishing is now limited, since most of the fish pulled from the sea are radioactive and lethal. It is these fish that give Ichigo the idea that leads him to the idea that causes the rift that forces him to kill his father, and reminds readers that this is a darker future than the world we live in, if not by much.

The original Get Jiro! had art from Langdon Foss, whose hyper-detailed work gave readers a view into this strange near-future world. This new book, which has a very different feel to it, has an equally different artist, one made for it. Ale Garza's art is heavily influenced by manga, and so a tale of Japanese murder and revenge is well suited to him. His action scenes blur with chaos and blood, but still are easy to follow, and his character designs are strong. Even with such a different art style, the character the two books share, Jiro himself, is still easily recognizable. And the food looks absolutely delicious.

It's not every day you run across a graphic novel that seamlessly blends action, sex, social commentary, and food together. Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi succeeds in creating a tragic tale that adds to the original book and stands perfectly on its own. Now, if you'll excuse me, writing this has made me hungry and I think I'm getting sushi for lunch.

Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi is available at better comic shops and bookstores everywhere.