Sunday, July 28, 2013

Nemo: Heart of Ice

Janni knows that her father cast quite the long shadow. Being the daughter of Captain Nemo could make you feel like you can never quite measure up, especially when following in dad's footsteps pillaging different lands.

Nemo: Heart of Ice is like a summer action flick: full of action, fast-paced, full of amazing things to look at. Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill have shown that at this point the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen stories can and will be about anything that they please. That being said, I found Nemo to be much more immediately enjoyable than the wild ride that was LXG: Century. Whereas that series was so ambitious and wide ranging, it was really nice to see everything so settled down for this latest graphic novel. This is not Alan Moore writing in the way that he usually does. You could almost suspect him of dialing it in but it still is a grand adventure story. 

Janni has a crew on the Nautilus just as her father once did. She is obviously full of ambition and decides that it is time to do something amazing. "It's about finding some purpose that's more than just piracy," she says. "Ready, the Nautilus...she's going back to the South Pole."

Unfortunately for Janni, others are chasing the Nautilus into Antarctica in order to sabotage them. What follows is a game of cat and mouse in a wondrous and newly discovered location in Antarctica. Some particularly nonhuman ancient buildings and artifacts are uncovered, but that doesn't mean that there are any concrete answers given.

Janni's mission of exploration does not end particularly well. Lives are lost, dangers are met, and by the end of it all it seems that Nemo's daughter is too rattled to try it all again. Sure, it is a realistic outcome, but I wish that Janni was stronger and that she could pick herself up again by the last page. I don't know what the next phase of plans is for the LXG tapestry, or if one even exists at this point, but I sincerely hope that we get to see more of the exploits of Janni. I really liked her character and her strength up until everything went awry toward the end.

Alan Moore let his artistic partner show off even more than in any previous LXG outing. I think it is safe to say that there were never more splash pages in one of their earlier books. Moore provides the space for O'Neill to dazzle with his great landscapes and dizzying alien monuments. Heart of Ice is a book that is thrilling just to look at, and if it is in fact a quick read, it is well worth the price to go back and pore over the illustrations.

Of course there are always some "guest appearances" in any book in the series, and this one sees a visit from none other than "She" from H. Rider Haggard's novel. It's probably just because I have fond memories of the novel that I was so glad the character was included in this comic.

Overall I found myself really hoping that there is more LXG in this style coming down the pike. This was a straightforward adventure yarn, and all of the excesses of Century have been whittled down.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Revival: You're Among Friends

“Don’t worry, Dana...I know you’re going to find out who murdered me.”

That isn’t quite a typical thing to be said in a conversation between two sisters. This is the world of Revival, or at least for right now just the small town in Wisconsin in which the dead just won’t stay dead. Answers are scarce in this book, but the first five issues of the series do a lot to ramp up the excitement for what is coming next.

Dana Cypress is a police officer in a pretty small and boring place. Things start to change as the town becomes known on national TV. Across the world people want to know what is going on in the tiny blip in the universe that is Wausau, Wisconsin. Some people who have died are coming back to life. Not necessarily as scary monstery zombie-like beings. Some are actually pretty harmless and “normal.” But events are certainly causing a stir. Dana suddenly has a lot to deal with as the cases grow and she is appointed to be in charge of them (thanks to her father who is also her boss).

Dana has done a lot to try and make herself look better in the eyes of dad. Ever since that teenage pregnancy things haven’t been too great. Now she’s the single mom and a cop and life has had its fair share of challenges. Then all of this starts happening, with people getting worried about the “revivers” in general and downright scared when some of them start causing problems. 

Arlene Dittman is one of those problem causers. Ever since she died she has been like a creature possessed, looking for some kind of child and raiding the maternity ward of the hospital to find the right one. This sort of thing is really not good for the citizens of Wausau.

Dana has a sister named Martha who was supposed to be dead. She can sustain any kind of injuries and heal right up. She hasn’t changed from her “living” persona and that is mainly just a matter of luck. 

The guys behind the curtain here are Tim Seeley and Mike Norton, and it’s pretty obvious that they are really excited about the chance to make a comic like Revival. It’s a big story with a lot of characters and plot movement and everything moves along very nicely. At this point, just one trade in, I really found myself wishing I had more to read. The tale of Dana and the revivers is only just getting started...

Friday, April 5, 2013

Star Wars: Darth Vader And The Ghost Prison

This was one of the darkest Star Wars stories I've ever come across.

It probably should have been an obvious assumption to make about a miniseries starring the Dark Lord of the Sith. Lots of death, lots of betrayal, secrets, Jedi not really sounding all too heroic...

The first issue is perhaps a little bit too much in the way of setup. Before Vader is even seen we are introduced to a character named Laurita Tohm, one of the Empire's first graduating officers. He's done a great job and is happy to offer his loyalty to the galaxy's newest superpower.

When Vader meets Tohm, there is a real Doctor Who-esque vibe to the scene. I had to wonder if it was deliberate. Tohm is our everyman, and he is about to go on a wild adventure with a mysterious and dangerous man. Does he even consider for a second that he might not go? Of course not. Vader shares some secrets with Tohm by reactivating some old holocrons stored in the abandoned Jedi Temple.

The mission that Vader takes Tohm on is to stop a threat that has emerged from within the Empire itself. The very man who trained the Empire's cadets wants to be the Emperor himself. Palapatine is poisoned; Coruscant is threatened, and Vader needs a solution to the problems.

That problem winds up getting solved with the help of the Ghost Prison. As a Jedi general in the Clone Wars, Anakin Skywalker had helped to fill the secret prison with many enemies of the Republic. Now the prisoners are the best chance that Darth Vader has for assembling a quick army to take care of the insurgence. It's a crazy plan maybe, but it sure does work. The prisoners are eager to do anything that will get them out of their cells, and defeating a rebellion is almost too easy for Vader and company.

Vader hates the Jedi for many reasons and the Ghost Prison is just one of them. His former masters locked people up with no real impetus to ever put people on trial. It was just a place to send people with no consequences. It was a place that was designed to be all but forgotten. All it took to run the facility was a single Jedi and a hundred droids.

Darth Vader is every bit as menacing as you remember him from the movies. He kills and kills and kills. It is all that he knows after all of the blood that was shed in the Clone Wars. He is loyal to the Emperor, but at all times he is looking out for his own best interests (see the story's shock ending to find out what I mean).

Although it has a slow opening chapter, the rest of Ghost Prison rolls along like any good Star Wars tale. Reading it all in one sitting, it really did seem like I was taking in a cool brand new SW movie.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ruse: The Victorian Guide To Murder

Ah, Crossgen comics. I was a pretty big fan back in the day when the company seemed to be really taking off. Come to think of it, Crossgen is probably a big reason for why I became so interested in comics from all kinds of different genres. Each of their books took on a different one.

Scion, Meridian, Sojourn, Way of the Rat...these were comics that I really enjoyed, and they each did their own thing while sharing the thread of "the sigils." It's really too bad that the company imploded like it did.

Probably my favorite Crossgen series was Ruse by Mark Waid and Butch Guice. Simon Archard was a great detective figure and his partner Emma Bishop also made the stories memorable. Wait a moment--why am I speaking of this comic in the past tense? Thanks to Disney's corporate takeover of Marvel, and Disney's preceding purchase of the rights to all things Crossgen, Ruse is still in existence!

Marvel seems to be "testing the water" on the viability of the Crossgen properties with miniseries. From what I can gather, it looks like other minis are taking a whole new approach to the Sigilverse, but I am very hapy to report that Ruse hasn't missed a beat. This is Ruse Volume Two as far as I can tell.

How did they do it? Well, having Mark Waid back to writing about Archard and Bishop is probably the most essential part of it. Guice is back as well, though sadly only on the four covers of the original comics reprinted in this book. Would the book have been a little better with more involvement from the other 50% of the creative team that made Ruse 1.0 a sight to see ten years ago? Yes.  Despite that, The Victorian Guide To Murder is a great continuation of a great comic that was an unfortunate casualty of an overly ambitious comic book company.

Just touching on Guice's replacements on art duties: Mirco Pierfederici handles the bulk of the work, and it's a little mysterious why the third issue has a different artist in Minck Oosterveer.  Mirco has a great art style for the book and Minck's is good but a little more cartoony. It's a little jarring to go between the different styles, but the quality on all four issues is very high.

As to the story, Waid packs an amazing amount of twists and turns into a collection that doesn't even hit the one hundred page mark. Lightbourne, one of Archard's greatest enemies, is unleashing his most ambitious plot for power ever, and Archard just barely solves everything in time. The stakes are high and losses are taken, but Simon Archard and Emma Bishop are still standing by the end of it.

Where it all started in 2001.

It's hard to decide which aspect of Waid's writing here is stronger. Is it the mystery/adventure plotline or the great characterization of Archard and Bishop? Their relationship is fresh; they are always arguing about how to go about their work while recognizing that they really do need to work as a team. There's no romance between them, and for all intents and purposes it appears that Simon Archard is not a man who has time for anything of that sort. They work together and Emma trusts him entirely, even when he sends her to be a fighter in an all-woman bloodsport. Archard's seemingly mad hunches do pay off, and by the way, Emma certainly holds her own in the ring.

After finishing the newest Ruse comics, I could only hope that there are more in the pipeline for 2012.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

iZombie: uVampire

One of the first posts that I wrote for this blog was focused on the first volume of iZombie, and here we are today taking a look at the second. Now of course I was going to be enthusiastic about a new comic that Mike Allred had a hand in, even if it meant a long length of time without enough new Madman material. I remember thinking that iZombie was a great new series that brought some freshness to the often stale tropes of horror stories. Zombies, werewolves, vampires, mummies, ghosts....iZombie is crammed full of all of those old creatures. But Chris Roberson and Mike are all about bringing characters out of those different kinds of creatures. This second collection helped to flesh out the stories of the various inhabitants of the iZombie world.

Scott (or Spot) the Were-Terrier is the first character to enter the spotlight. His parents tragically died and he wound up being brought up single-handedly by his grandfather. Maybe that sounds a little boring, but grandpa is the guy who voiced Mr. Chimps, the cartoon character who for all intents and purposes appears to be iZombie's Mickey Mouse. You'd think that the guy who does the voice of such a cheery cartoon character would be a cheery guy himself, but that really isn't the case at all. Mr. Chimps was just a way to earn some scratch and the old buzzard is at least a little bit ashamed of himself for the life he's lived. He's also not so proud of his grandson's proclivity for reading comics and just being a geek in general. So Scott is an embarrassment  until the day when "Mr. Chimps" himself dies in a hospital bed.

Another valuable life lesson learned from the story of Spot the Were-Terrier: approach what appears to be a dead dog on the side of the road with caution. Maybe try not to even touch it...that's what Scott did, and he was never the same again!

If I may add one final piece to the focus on this issue, I'd like to report that Scott's grandfather is actually alive and kicking again. His soul is now animating a chimp from the local zoo and he's being hidden away in Scott's apartment. So now he really is Mr. Chimps, and he's not too pleased. One lifetime as a cartoon chimp was enough for him, and now it's all become a little more real...

Moving on, Horatio and Gwen go out for a date. They pick a minigolf place as their destination, and things are going pretty well until Gwen starts having attacks again. Eating brains has some really nasty side effects. Marion has been dead for awhile, but now that a part of her has been digested by Gwen she's been really annoying the poor zombie girl.

Gwen can't ignore it anymore and has to let Tricia (Marion's daughter) that mommy dearest regrets all of the awful things that she said to her girl when she started growing up and bringing boys to the house and rebelling. Gwen thinks that addressing all of this will make everyone feel a whole lot better, but she soons discovers a connection between Marion, Tricia, herself, and a family member of her own whom she had entirely forgotten about....things are getting weird.

It seems that Mike Allred needed a little break from the iZombie schedule (probably to work on that Madman stuff again!). Issue #12 features a guest artist, and it's not like when guest artists appear in a generic DC or Marvel comic, when all of a sudden the art gets really crappy for a month. Nope, not here in iZombie. The guest artist is Gilbert Hernandez, and speaking as someone who has never really read much Love and Rockets, the man is gooooood.

This issue puts the spotlight on Ellie the ghost. We get to see a little glimpse of what it's like to live in a graveyard with a community of ghosts...not surprisingly, they like to tell stories to make the time pass. Then Ellie tells her own story of how her father went away to the war and was never the same. He was always very withdrawn and only came to life when he was around his daughter. He didn't last long after Ellie got hit by a bus and died.

The neat thing that caps off this issue is when we learn that this whole story is taking place in the past. In the last few pages Ellie hears someone pounding on a coffin from underground. It's somebody who's "not dead yet," and that somebody winds up being Gwen Dylan. So it's nice to see how these two best pals met, and it winds up being a nice way to wrap up the collection.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Kill Shakespeare

For some people, reading Shakespeare is worse than torture. High school students everywhere groan about having Renaissance literature shoved down their throats. College students go even more in depth with the subject while Shakespearean experts share every detail that is stored in their heads. And then there are the people who actually like the stuff. People like the creators of this fine comic entitled Kill Shakespeare. 
In this story, characters from many of the Bard’s plays drop in and out of the storyline, all adding together to make a brand new thing from the centuries-old framework. 
I think John Layman was right on the mark in his comment that was printed as a pull quote on the back of this collection:
“A fantastic concept, cleverly executed with style and smarts. Lots of cool Easter Eggs for the literary-minded, but still plenty entertaining for the rest of us dummies!”
In this story, Hamlet can pretty much be considered the main character. He is familiar to all who have read the play in his name...he’s a sulky kind of fellow and he mourns the death of his father. Then things get a little wacky on us. He is recruited to do a special mission for a certain king named Richard III. Richard’s demand is that Hamlet find and kill a man named William Shakespeare. 
Shakespeare is a mysterious man and he doesn’t even show up in these six issues. He’s hiding somewhere, and it’s presented like he is the second coming of Jesus. People in this world believe in Shakespeare and there are many (like Richard) who see that as nothing but a threat. It’s not very well explained at this point, but I’m thinking that Richard and Co. like making their own choices rather than those prescribed by Shakespeare.
So yes, your enjoyment of Kill Shakespeare might have something to do with your general tolerance of the original plays and your familiarity and enjoyment of the many memorable Shakespearean characters. A high point of this book for me was when Hamlet and Falstaff hid in an inn while being disguised as women. The ruse didn’t hold up for very long and soon the two men were off traipsing through the woods in said disguises. Now would this be funny under any circumstances? Yes, but I always did like Falstaff and all of his blathering in the Henry IV plays. 
If I was to criticize Kill Shakespeare Volume One as a collection, I’d have to say that there’s not quite enough story yet. Not enough has happened. I was hoping we’d at least see Shakespeare since everyone’s out to kill the guy. But I’ll be patient and wait to see what happens next. I’m guessing that writers Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col are kind of new to this game so it’s easy to give them a chance, particularly when the book’s core concept is so strong. I like the art of Andy Belanger. His style is reminding me of Pia Guerra’s for some reason. Although the subject matter is vastly different between the two books, I’m seeing some shades of Y The Last Man here. 
Kill Shakepeare just has to be picked up to be believed (and perhaps even understood). It’s taken some pretty old stuff and turned it all into an exciting new story. Looking forward to seeing what happens next and which characters show up!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Jonah Hex: Tall Tales

Jonah Hex is not the kind of person you want to have anything to do with. That certainly includes anyone who is being hunted down by him, and sometimes it even affects the people who hire him. He’s just a dangerous sort of guy. Writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti have shown this time and time again, and each story is fun because there are so many people making big, bad mistakes when it comes to the man with the melted face. Issues 55 through 60 are collected in Tall Tales, which is kind of a milestone. When was the last time a western comic ran for more than five years?
As usual, a Hex trade has an assortment of stories and artists. Here are some of them:
“The Brief Life of Billy Dynamite” (art by Vicente Alcazar): A kid gets really mad when his father gets killed in his own bar. Little Billy takes over the family business, but trouble never really goes too far. Billy likes to get pretty aggressive with people who try to take advantage of him. Who would think that it would be easy to be a preteen bar owner though? Some jerks kill Billy in retaliation, but Jonah finally gets to the end of it all. All it takes is strapping a few men to trees upside down. Oh, and they also have dynamite connecting them all. The bounty hunter pushes the release and boom! No more trouble from these guys. Jonah doesn’t even care that there is nothing left of the guys to claim as a bounty. For a guy who’s always thinking of money, this means that he was pretty pissed at these outlaws.

“First True Love” (art by C.P. Smith): Jonah Hex had a pretty rough upbringing. His father left him behind with a hostile group of Apaches. He promised he’d come back but he never did. So Jonah was a slave to the Indians and always had to prove himself to the tribe. He had no trouble making enemies. Maybe the only good thing about the entire time he was trapped with them was the one girl who liked him and talked to him. She was Jonah’s first love, and he still visits her grave decades later.
“Tall Tales” (art by the one, the only Jordi Bernet): Two kids exchange stories about the legendary Jonah Hex.
“I heard he once killed ten men with the same bullet,” says one kid. 
“That’s horse manure!” 
The first kid is right...all it takes is some friendly ricochet off a couple of rock walls to kill nine men. Then a falling boulder takes care of the tenth. The next night the two kids are lucky enough to witness a battle between Hex and a bunch of gunmen. 
Walking home as the sun rises, the two boys know that they’re going to have a really hard time talking themselves out of this one. 
“Pa is gonna skin us alive.”
“He sure is. But after what we saw tonight, it’ll be worth every minute.”
Sounds like Jonah Hex has a couple of new fans.

“Every Bullet Tells A Story” (art by Giancarlo Caracuzzo): This story borrows a page from an old book of tricks in comics. I believe it was some Sgt. Rock story by Robert Kanigher that had an entire story narrated by one of the guy’s guns. Well, this story is narrated by a bullet. What is a bullet good for? Really only one thing usually. 
“I have one purpose. I have been cast for a singular destiny. To take life.”
Plenty of gunshots, blood, and death in this one.
“Blood Lies Bleeding” (art by Brian Stelfreeze): This was a good story, but really I’d like to share nothing more about it than the following exchange.
MAN WHO JUST WITNESSED THE MURDER OF A BUNCH OF PEOPLE: You and trouble are old friends. Ya just gunned down five lawmen.
JONAH HEX: Ah only killed three. This feller done the other two an’ he’s a wanted man, so that’ll be resolved betwixt him an’ the devil.
MAN: The devil? I think you are the devil.
HEX: Ah’m worse.
So that pretty much wraps up what’s going on in Tall Tales: the variety that everyone has come to know and love from the writing of Gray and Palmiotti and the top notch artwork from a whole bunch of different people. 

With DC’s New 52 underway, Jonah Hex has of course been cancelled. Its replacement is All-Star Western, keeping the same writers and featuring Jonah Hex in 1800s era Gotham City. After reading some solicitations I’m a little worried that it won’t be like the Jonah Hex series was. I bet that it will still be good, but I’m thinking that the series I’ve been hooked on for years is really coming to an end.