Monday, September 1, 2014

Arrow: Season 2.5 #1 - A Review

For all that it did right, the previous Arrow web-comic was frequently limited by its need to tie into each week's story-line. Thankfully, there is no danger of that in Arrow Season 2.5 - a series which has been designed to set the stage for the many changes that have been promised as Season 3 starts. Indeed, the comic opens up with what seems to be an illustrated version of the new opening for the show!


Fans of the show will be pleased to find that this comic adaptation of the popular TV series features the same snappy banter and adrenaline-fueled action sequences.  This shouldn't be a surprise given that the script for this issue was penned by Arrow executive producer and current X-Men writer Marc Guggenheim!  The story focuses on Oliver Queen and Roy Harper as they attempt to take over a plane full of drugs in mid-flight and ends on an epic cliff-hanger.


The artwork by Joe Bennett and Jack Jadson doesn't quite equal Guggenheim's script.  Bennett's artwork is largely excellent but his pencils seem sloppy and rushed in some places, with some panels lacking the detailed line-work of other panels on the same page.  Likewise, Jadson's inks are skillfully applied throughout most of the book but there is little an inker can do to enhance lines that aren't there.

Despite this, fans of the Arrow series would do well to check this book out, even if they aren't usually comic readers.  The artwork is great in 9 out of 10 panels and the thrilling action of the story more than makes up for the occasional shortcoming in the artwork.  Highly recommended.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #2 - A Review

I read this issue of Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor the day after the premiere of the second episode of the Eighth Series of the Doctor Who TV series. I mention this because - as those who have been reading my reviews of the new series so far may have noticed - I have not been overly fond of the new series so far. And while I have been able to articulate some specific flaws in each episode, there's been something larger wrong that I have been unable to put words to. At least, that's how I felt until I read this book and the problem suddenly became clear to me.


When I read a Doctor Who story, I expect to see something I've never seen before. The first two episodes of Series 8 have given us nothing but more of the same-old same-old. This story, by Nick Abadzis, is truly original in every respect

I shan't spoil everything here but suffice it to say Abadzis introduces a frightening new villain with a most unusual method of traveling. Abadzis also introduces such concepts as the Psychosphere - a part of the Earth's psychic landscape most people can't perceive directly. And Abadzis also captures the diction and dialogue of The Tenth Doctor perfectly, right down to the occasional bad pun.


By the same token, artist Elena Casagrande does a prefect job of capturing David Tennant's distinctive likeness. But a Doctor Who artist must be capable of much more than simple caricature work and Casagrande makes the grade here as well. The other humanoid characters and exotic alien creatures are equally well depicted and the action of the story flows naturally from panel to panel.

All in all, this comic will be a welcome treat for any and all Whovians. The artwork is great. The story is engaging. If you're any kind of fan of The Doctor, you should give it a try.

All New Invaders #9 - A Review

If Invaders #9 has a weak point, it's that there is very little that actually happens in this issue.  Oh, there are battles aplenty in the background but these are not the focus of the story.  The main purpose of this book is to bring Captain America into the fight and to allow our villain to explain just what the heck a Deathlok is and how he has acquired a collection made up of "all of them".


That being said, this issue accomplishes both of those goals with style.  In a time and place when most authors are content to let blurbs on the credits page tell readers the story so far, James Robinson still follows the old Stan Lee edict that every comic should be written as if it were someone's first.  Robinson seamlessly fits this exposition into the narrative through The Winter Soldier giving Captain America a SitRep on what is going on and the villain of the piece - who loves hearing himself talk - explaining how he assembled his army of extra-dimensional cyborgs.


Steve Pugh matches Robinson's quality script with his amazing artwork.  While the combat sequences of this issue are somewhat limited in scope, Pugh still manages to depict them with amazing detail given the relatively minute focus in each panel.  Action fans may be disappointed but fans of great artwork won't be, even if this issue features a slightly higher amount of talking head scenes than usual.

Doctor Who, Series 8 - Episode 2 - Into The Dalek

THE QUICK, SPOILER FREE REVIEW

I am reminded of a line from my favorite comic series of all time, Starman - a line spoken by Oscar Wilde as he visited America.  "I've found there is much to admire in America.  However, on closer examination, I find that everything admirable has been imported from somewhere else."  

That is Into The Dalek in a nutshell.  There are good elements to this episode but almost all of them have been stolen from other, better Doctor Who episodes.  Capaldi does a fine job trying to sell it but even he can't fight the inertia that keeps this episode from going anywhere.



THE PLOT

En route to meet Clara for coffee, The Doctor slows down long enough to rescue soldier Journey Blue from The Daleks and return her to her ship.  Faced with a death sentence for invading their secure facility, The Doctor is temporarily spared so that he can tend to a patient captured by the soldiers - an injured Dalek who has somehow developed a capacity to appreciate beauty.

Can a Dalek be reformed?  The Doctor is skeptical but it's a question he'd like to answer.  Much as he would like a solid answer to a question that has apparently consumed him since his regeneration - Am I A Good Man?


THE GOOD PARTS 

* The opening scene before the credits is a good one and Peter Capaldi's talking down a soldier by firmly and politely (but with a bit of sarcasm) insisting that he will not be talked to in terms that involve orders or do anything because a gun is pointed at his head is perfect.  We're still getting a feel for this new Doctor and this is a great scene which lets us know that this is not a Doctor who suffers fools gladly but neither is he actively cruel towards them.

* Danny Pink - another teacher at Clara's school, who has been teased as having a big role to play in the coming series - is introduced quite effectively.  His background as a soldier who has returned home to become a teacher is an interesting counterpoint to the theme of the episode - the idea of change and someone who was trained to kill becoming a creator and nurturer.  If only Clara had been given this kind of depth when she was first introduced...

* Cliche as the "being-shrunk-and-going-inside-something's-body" troupe is (Classic Who already did it with The Invisible Enemy), the idea of exploring a Dalek from the inside is interesting enough and the Dalek Antibodies are delightfully sinister.

* The line "I AM NOT A GOOD DALEK.  YOU ARE A GOOD DALEK." is a great one, though it was shamelessly cribbed from the Series 1 episode Dalek.  If only Daleks had thumbs, so that Dalek could give The Doctor the snaps before rolling off.


THE PROBLEMS 

* If Deep Breath was Steven Moffat stealing from his own stories to create a "best of" Doctor Who episode, then Into The Dalek is Moffat looting the rest of the series' history.  Virtually every element of this episode has been utilized before and utilized far better in other Doctor Who stories.  An exploration of The Doctor being no better than his worst enemies morally?  Dalek from Series 1.  The Doctor's bias against soldiers for what they represent?  The Poison Sky and The Doctor's Daughter from Series 4   The concept of a broken Dalek turning good?  Moffat's own Asylum of the Daleks from Series 7!  I could go on, but I think that's enough to make the point.

* Granting that the series has always had an anti-authoritarian vibe and The Doctor has never had much use for military thinking in general, a lot of the anti-soldier talk here seems a bit over the top.  I can see what the writers are going for, drawing parallels between the human soldiers, The Daleks and The Doctor all being united in their common hatred and refusal to question the efficiency of that hatred.  But what they are trying to say and what they actually say are worlds apart in content and tone.

* The soldiers on The Aristotle are remarkably shallow even by the standards of soldiers in a Doctor Who story.  Journey Blue in particularly is woefully underwritten and could have benefited from some of the time used to develop Danny Pink.  And don't think we didn't notice the feminine/masculine colors being used as ironic contrast to the characters and their roles with Blue being a female soldier and Pink being a male teacher.

* I challenge every Rose Tyler hater out there who has dismissed her character as the biggest Mary Sue in history to watch this episode and make a convincing case that Clara Oswald isn't much worse in that regard, as we see an ordinary school teacher start crawling around inside a Dalek's brain and start pulling random things to unblock its memories without getting electrocuted.


THE FINAL VERDICT

Uninspired and a little bit dull at points, Into The Dalek will serve only to remind the fandom of stories that utilized the same story elements far more effectively.   Quite possibly the most generic Doctor Who story ever.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Ten Best Moments From Injustice: Gods Among Us - Year Two (So Far)

I haven't written a lot of reviews of Injustice: Gods Among Us - Year Two despite it being one of my favorite series right now.  I feared I was growing repetitive in describing my love of Tom Taylor's writing and how well he has developed the base concept of a rather simple video game into a complex tale that has given some of my favorite characters the best portrayals they've had in years.  To that end, I've decided to showcase my ten favorite moments from the series so far, in the hopes that this will explain what I feel unable to articulate in an original manner.


1. Ollie And Dinah Forever.


As Seen In: Injustice - Year Two #1

It's no secret to most of my regular readers that I'm a big fan of Green Arrow and Black Canary.  Yet few writers in recent years have managed to write them effectively as a couple on those rare occasions they've been portrayed as a couple.  At best, they're written as sitcom fodder with Ollie as the bumbling dad and Dinah as the long-suffering mom.  At worst, they're outright hostile to one another and seem to survive purely on fantastic make-up sex.  Taylor is one of the few who writes them as a real couple who truly love each other. And nothing better showcased that than the first scene of the first issue - a flashback in which we see Dinah defending her man's honor against the bikers who were flirting with her, much to Ollie's amusement.


2. "You want me to say something?"


As Seen In: Injustice - Year Two #1

In the Injustice game, it is revealed that Green Arrow was the first hero to die in the rebellion against the tyrant Superman.  Taylor revealed the exact specifics during Injustice: Year One and began exploring a question that the game left unanswered - how did that world's version of Black Canary react to the death of her lover at the hands of Superman?

Not well, to put it mildly.

With that one sentence, after Superman approaches her following Oliver Queen's funeral, Dinah Lance makes it clear that no quarter will be asked or given in the coming conflict.  And we learn just how powerful Black Canary is and how very painful a sonic scream is to a man with super-hearing at point-blank range.


3. Where WERE The Guardians When Krypton Died?


As Seen In: Injustice - Year Two #5

When word of Superman's actions reaches the planet Oa, Ganthet of the Guardians of the Universe takes it upon himself to travel to Earth to plead with Superman to abandon his current actions.  Superman agrees to a meeting but then asks Ganthet to answer one question honestly after Ganthet cites the infinite wisdom of The Guardians as reason enough for Superman to heed his words.  It is a question that Ganthet does answer honestly and the answer leads to Superman telling him to get off his planet.

This scene is a powerful one.  But more importantly, it shows Taylor's talent for asking questions that have rarely, if ever, been addressed in recent comics... such as why was the destruction of Krypton - a disaster that was the sort of thing The Green Lantern Corps was founded to prevent in the first place - allowed to happen?


4. Barbara Gordon's OTHER Secret Life.


As Seen In: Injustice - Year Two #6

With Gotham City being the first city on Earth to "benefit" from the instillation of one of Superman's armies and the GCPD now redundant, Jim Gordon turns to his daughter for answers.  He reveals that he knew about her secret life as Batgirl and guesses that she must have some way of getting a hold of Batman.  Barbara says that she does but then she reveals that while her father figured out a lot, he didn't know everything... as a panel slides aside to reveal The Birds of Prey, who were in the middle of a strategy session when Jim Gordon came into the building.

It's nice to see The Birds as envisioned by Gail Simone back in action and Taylor writes all of the heroines involved quite well.  But it's also gratifying to have it confirmed that Jim Gordon knew damn well who the vigilantes in his city were and that his daughter was one of them. Taylor balances the humor of the scene as well as Jim Gordon's righteous anger perfectly.


5. Harvey Bullock - Bad Ass.


As Seen In: Injustice - Year Two #10

Harvey Bullock is a hard cop in a hard city.  He's a slob and a jerk but he's doesn't play games with the law.  And even after the GCPD is all but shut down by the presence of Superman's army, he still patrols the streets because his badge and his oath mean something to him.  At least, they mean enough for him to put himself between a pair of love-birds breaking Superman's curfew and the Super Soldier ready to go Judge Dredd on them.

Is Bullock's stand futile?  Of course.  And he knows it.  And yet, this scene is the quintessence of the series as a whole - morality versus security.  It symbolizes that there is a difference between Law and Order and that Superman's quest for peace has become so absolute that even lawful policemen have no place in The New Order.


6. All The Small Things.

As Seen In: Injustice - Year Two #11

It's always been my contention that any Green Lantern could match Superman - not necessarily through raw power but through sheer creativity.  That certainly proves to be the case here as one of the smallest of Green Lanterns - the squirrel-like Ch'p - is able to neutralize Superman's brain through sheer force of will.


7. Girl Talk.


As Seen In: Injustice - Year Two #13

Another of the interesting questions raised but unanswered by the Injustice game is how Harley Quinn goes from being The Joker's henchwench to one of the most trusted leaders of the resistance against Superman.  Taylor started Harley on the path to redemption in Injustice - Year One with an unlikely good deed by Green Arrow turning Harley's heart.  This issue - which starts off with a fight between Harley and Black Canary - turns hilarious and then touching as a pregnant Black Canary begs for a time-out from the fight to deal with a sudden bout of morning sickness and Harley begins to wax nostalgic about her own pregnancy.  If you are a fan of Harley Quinn, you owe it to yourself to read this issue if you don't read any other issues of Injustice.


8. Harley IS Practical, In Her Own Way...

As Seen In: Injustice - Year Two #15

Okay - maybe there's ONE more issue Harley fans upset with her current direction in The New 52 should pick up, if only for the scene where Harley sneaks into the hospital where Black Canary is giving birth to deliver a care package of gifts for the baby... including a baby-size muzzle.

Why?  The panels above say it all.


9. The Charge Of The Light Brigade.


As Seen In: Injustice - Year Two #15

Guy Gardner has always gotten a bad rap as a Green Lantern and I think Taylor has done a great job of showcasing all of the better points of Guy's character throughout this series.  Yet while Guy gets a lot of awesome moments and funny moments, nothing quite tops the ending of issue 15, where he calls ahead to tell Black Canary that The Guardians are sending a Brute Squad to take Earth back from Superman and his new found allies in The Sinestero Corps.

Dinah asks if he thinks they can take the planet without blowing it up.  Guy admits that he isn't sure, which is why they are bringing their own.  And then we pull back to see Mogo The Living Planet bringing up the rear of a gigantic crowd of Green Lanterns!


10. Jim Gordon - Earth's Greatest Hero


As Seen In: Injustice - Year Two #20

Watching Jim Gordon go from honest cop to freedom fighter over the course of the series is one of the more satisfying subplots of the book.  His fight with Cyborg in this issue - another symbolic battle between Man versus Machine that repeats one of the common reoccurring themes in the series - is one of the best so far.  But nothing quite matches the end in which Jim Gordon - a common man pushed to uncommon ends - looks down on the world he is trying to save and bids his daughter and spiritual son Batman farewell.


Think I missed a moment?  Have a favorite I left out?  Let me know in the comments.