Monday, March 30, 2015

Arrow: Season 2.5 #16 - A Review

For the third time in his life, Oliver Queen finds himself faced with a sadistic choice. Two women he cares about are threatened and the villain will only let one live. Can Oliver Queen get out of this without losing yet another loved one? And even if he does, can he and his allies escape the clutches of the new Brother Blood?

Marc Guggenheim faces an uphill battle with his script for this issue.  Most fans of Arrow are well aware which of the core cast have survived to see Season Three, so the drama that opens this chapter is not that urgent.  Yet Guggenheim finds other ways to thrill us. And - to his credit - he allows Oliver to be called upon his double-standards regarding his own past as a killer and the differing standards he holds for his allies individually.  We even get a neat nod to what MIGHT be going on elsewhere in the DCTV Universe and who Ollie might know that we're not allowed to mention for legal reasons.

The artwork adheres to its usual high standard.  Penciler Joe Bennett perfectly captures the likenesses of the cast though some of the expressions are a bit odd, with Huntress smiling far more than she ever did on the show. And inker Craig Yeung manages to shade the original art without obscuring it, though the world of Arrow is a place of deep shadows and dark secrets.

Star Wars: Darth Vader #3 - A Review

Darth Vader is not accustomed to things being kept secret from him nor is he used to being kept on a tight leash. Nominally under the command of Grand General Tagge, Vader has his own agenda to pursue. Chief among his goals are tracking down the Force-strong Rebel pilot who destroyed the Death Star. But even one so mighty needs followers to do one's bidding - a fact that leads Vader to seek out the rogue archaeologist and robotics expert Dr. Aphra.

Unfortunately, this issue falls flat compared to the first two. There are some good moments but these are few and far between.  The biggest problem is that there is very little of Lord Vader in this issue, with most of the action focused on our introduction to Dr. Aphra.

The nod to Indiana Jones is mildly amusing but does little to distinguish Dr. Aphra as a unique character. Thus far she comes off as a more talkative Lara Croft or River Song. This lack of originality extends to the other two characters introduced in this issue, who might as well be called Evil Threepio and Evil Artoo for all that it matters.

At least the artwork remains enjoyable, even if the script for this issue is weak. Salvador Larroca and Edgar Delgado perfectly capture the look of the Star Wars universe. Unfortunately the cover by Adi Granov is the worst sort of gratuitous cheesecake, with Dr. Aphra looking far too young to be a doctor and posed in a stance that leaves her legs spread wide as she gropes her thighs.

Red Sonja #15 - A Review

Bewitched by a sorcerer's death curse, Red Sonja has lost all capacity for forgiveness.  Even the smallest of slights is enough to send the She-Devil of Hyrkania mad with rage. To save the lives of countless innocents, Sonja has burned her hands and destroyed her sword grip.  Alas, the brother of the wizard who cursed her is out for revenge on all those responsible for his brother's death.  So who will save the villagers now that Red Sonja cannot?

Mark Twain once said that "the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great". By that definition, this story has proved Sonja's greatness as a hero. Gail Simone's script sees Sonja playing the hero, not through daring swordplay and cunning, but by acting as an inspiration to other people. It is an interesting change of pace from the usual barbarian adventure story and very well written.

Walter Geovani continues to display why he stands foremost among the finest artists working in comics today. For my money, Red Sonja has never looked so good as it has under Geovani's pencils and inks.  He is well-matched by a trio of colorists (Adriano Lucas, Alex Guimaraes and Marco Lesko) who keep their palettes uniform, so one does not see the usual tell-tale signs of three artists at work, with a sickly blue tint shadowing the outdoors scenes and the indoor scenes done in warmer, more comforting hues.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

John Carter: Warlord of Mars 2015 Special - A Review

The Warlord of Mars and his queen are newly returned home from an adventure on another world, with little on their minds but rest and taking comfort in one another. Alas, it is not to be. For the Morgors of Sasoom haven chosen this night to invade Barsoom! And to retake their world, John Carter and Dejah Thoris must travel the stars again in search of allies... however unlikely they may be.

I have mixed feelings about the script by Robert Place Napton.  This issue draws upon the setting of Edgar Rice Burrough's Barsoom quite well and Place takes care to explain various minutia (i.e. who all the various leaders are, what race lives on what planet, etc.) for those who have not read all of the original stories, both through the dialogue and the caption boxes. At the same time, I have to wonder if it was really a good idea to do such a continuity-rich story with the monthly John Carter: Warlord of Mars comic only recently rebooted and many newer readers ignorant of who Bandolian and Ul Vas are.

The artwork is similarly conflicted. Rod Rodolfo's original art is clear and serviceable enough. Yet his inks obscure more of the pencils than it enhances in some panels.  This is particularly vexing given the bright colors used by colorist Nanjan Jamberi, which seem at odds with Rodolfo's heavy inks.

Despite these flaws, the John Carter: Warlord of Mars 2015 Special is an enjoyable enough read. However, it is better suited to those who have already traveled to Barsoom rather than new readers, who would do well to check out the monthly series.

Conan/Red Sonja #3 - A Review

Circumstance and the will of a revenge-hungry nobleman have forced Conan and Sonja together again. The mad king and his minions are quickly dispatched, but it is a battle Conan takes no joy in. And as Sonja seeks the source of the once boisterous barbarian's sorrow, another old enemy watches and waits for his own chance at revenge upon the two warriors...

This issue sees the team of Randy Green and Rick Ketcham take over the penciling and inking duties respectively.  The style is different than that of Dan Panosian, who provided the artwork for the first two issues, but no less enjoyable.  Green's figures are well drawn and his panel placement well thought out.  And Ketcham perfectly shades and defines the original art.

I am fast running out of ways to praise the writing of Jim Zub and Gail Simone. This issue featured a number of honest surprises and at least one moment I am unashamed to say left me howling in disbelief. If I say nothing else, let me say this much -  This is the Conan and Red Sonja team-up the fans have been waiting for!