Saturday, June 30, 2012

Batgirl #10 - A Review

Gail Simone has a magical ability to fit a lot of information into a relatively short space.  Issue #10 of Batgirl has a LOT going on but it is so well paced you won't notice how quick the ride was until it is over.  Over the span of this issue we get numerous scenes of Batgirl in action, the introduction of a new menacing billionaire baddie, an awesome scene of Lois Lane being Lois Lane (i.e. asking the billonaire baddie all the wrong questions) and an all-too-relevant to today's political climate character-building scene where Barbara Gordon and her activist roommate bond over a discussion of the impracticality of noblesse oblige.

But it isn't all conversations over coffee about the rich getting richer while throwing pennies to the peasants.  The focus of this book is strictly upon the action and most of its' pages are devoted to Barbara Gordon's investigation into a new gang of metahuman vigilantees - one with far harsher methods of dealing with petty criminals than The Bat Family.  They prefer rusty bear traps to boomerangs and falls off of high rooftops to incarceration. 

Artist Alitha Martinez illustrates all of this ably.  Martinez has a command of character expressions second only to the great Kevin Maguire and a dynamic, active style that perfectly portrays both the action sequences and the quieter character scenes.  This book is as well-drawn as it is well-written.

If you aren't reading Batgirl yet, this is the perfect issue to jump on with.  You won't regret it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

DramaCon Vol. 1 - A No Flying, No Tights Review

SOURCE: Bring it Back! Dramacon, vol. 1

Not one hour into her first convention and the excitement has already started to wear off for Christie. An aspiring manga writer, Christie hoped a weekend vacation at the local anime and manga convention would prove to be a lot of fun and help to bring her and her artist boyfriend Derek closer as they sell the comic they made together. But running an Artist Alley booth proves to require a lot more work than Christie thought! And she winds up doing most of it as their friends disappear to explore the convention and Derek flirts shamelessly with every girl with big boobs in a cosplay costume.
 The one bright side to the first day is Matt – a sensitive cosplayer at the booth next to theirs, who wears sunglasses all the time and proves to be the shoulder to lean on that the shy Christie needs to survive. Can Christie find the confidence to pursue her dreams of Manga stardom? Can she separate herself from the artist/boyfriend she never saw herself apart from? And is it possible to love someone who you might never see again after tomorrow?

The premiere manga of Nightschool creator Svetlana Chmakova, the first volume of Dramacon lends itself well to recommendation on several levels. On the surface, the book is a simple romantic comedy, yet it shifts suddenly and naturally into a more serious romantic story later on. And more than anything else I’ve ever read on the subject, Dramacon perfectly captures the essence of what attending a convention is like. Indeed, I believe the book can serve as something of an educational guide for those who would like to attend an anime and manga convention, but want to know a little more about what it is like first. It also shows the reality of many a professional artist and what their lives at conventions are like.

Despite this educational angle, what truly makes Dramacon stand out is its sympathetic characters. You really feel for Christie as she begins to realize just how much of a jerk her boyfriend is, but also understand her desire to try and put up with his lecherous ways for the sake of the book they created together. Matt too, is an interesting character that male readers may find themselves connecting with as we learn more about his troubled past.

Svetlana Chmakova is a skilled artist, who has a unique, dynamic style that shatters the more static conventions of traditional Japanese manga. Chmakova switches between the standard manga look and chibi style with ease, offering up several moments of humor where miniaturized versions of the main characters scream their thoughts over the conversations held by the more traditionally drawn characters. In the later sections of the book, the art becomes more thoughtful and looks like a more traditional shojo manga as the drama becomes more centralized.

Dramacon is a must have for any library’s young adult graphic novel collection. The series is rated T for Teen and rightly so, as the series contains a good bit of fan-service, a frank explanation as to just what Hentai anime entails, and various other adult situations as dealt with by teenagers.

Dramacon, vol. 1
by Svetlana Chmakova
ISBN: 9781598161298
TokyoPop, 2005
Publisher Age Rating: T (13 )

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel, Vol. 1 - A No Flying No Tights Review

SOURCE: A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel, vol. 1

Lord Eddard Stark would be content to rule over his lands and stay with his wife and children in Winterfell for the rest of his days. But Eddard Stark holds only one thing more important than his family; duty. So when Robert Baratheon – ruler of the Seven Kingdoms – asks him to take on the title of The Hand of The King, Eddard Stark could hardly refuse even if King Robert were not his oldest and dearest friend. But enemies from within and without already plot against Lord Stark and his family. And as fate separates them all and delivers strife to an already troubled land, they will all have to learn how to play the game of thrones… or die.
 Given the popularity of the original novels among fantasy fans and the critical acclaim earned by the HBO television series, a graphic novel adaptation of A Game Of Thrones was unsurprising. What is something of a shock is how well the script by Daniel Abraham captures the spirit of Martin’s original text. Abraham quotes from the books where appropriate and generally has a good sense of which scenes from the novel should be included and which ones should be cut, knowing that there are certain moments that cannot be translated well into a visual medium.

There are some scenes where more text boxes describing the mind-set of the characters might have been helpful but these moments are few and far between. A far larger problem is the editing of this book or – more precisely – the lack thereof. The text is full of misspellings that have somehow gone unnoticed through the printing of the original monthly comic and now this hardcover collection.

I am of two minds about Tommy Patterson’s artwork. He captures the essence of most of the characters well and presents a clearly defined design for each one, so there is little confusion as to who is who though they may look similar. Patterson also gives us many beautiful images, capturing certain key moments of the novel perfectly. On the other hand, Patterson leaves much to be desired as a visual storyteller with the graphic novel offering little sense of natural flow from panel to panel. There are also numerous moments where the writing and the artwork do not match up at all, such as one panel where the text describes a woman forcing a smile to her face when the artwork depicts her frowning.

Despite these problems, I would still recommend this graphic novel adaptation to any fan of the original novels or the television series as well as recommending it as an addition to any library’s graphic novel collection. While some readers may quibble about how many of the characters look different from the actors on the TV show or how things don’t look precisely how they pictured them, this book still makes for an interesting study in how differently a story can be adapted into multiple media. If nothing else, the introduction in which George R. R. Martin discusses the ways in which works are adapted as well as the history of American comics and graphic novels is worth reading.

Before I close this review, let me give you all one final note about content. This graphic novel does not skimp on the adult content found in the original novels or the television series. There are beheadings, impalements, naked people of both genders, depictions of incest, frank discussions about whores, brothels and lots of other horrible things that most people would not want their young children exposed to. You have been warned.

A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel, vol. 1
by Daniel Abraham (Adapter), George R.R. Martin
Art by Tommy Patterson
ISBN: 9780440423218
Bantam , 2012
Publisher Age Rating: (Adult)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Demon Knights #10 - A Review

I'm not sure what else I can do at this point to get those of you who aren't reading Demon Knights to give it a chance.

Oh!  I know!  How about I show you the greatest opening page in recent memory in any comic book ever?

This issue opens up in the middle of the action as our heroes are, indeed, attacked by a giant sea-serpent being piloted by pirates.  Hence the phrase "pirate sea serpent".  If that doesn't pique your interest even a little, I don't know what else might.

Perhaps if I were to tell you of the base concept of the book?  Demon Knights is a fantasy epic set in the medieval past of the DC Comics universe, centering upon the exploits of a group of adventurers forced together by circumstance.  Most of the characters are original though some faces may seem familiar, though the character may act much differently than we are used to seeing them act in the modern day.  Vandal Savage, for instance, is a jovial barbarian mercenary rather than a dour world conqueror.  Savage is still as outrageous and amoral as ever but writer Paul Cornell carries him off as a more villainous Conan The Cimmmerian, "with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth."   Profiles of the full team may be found in my previous review of the earlier issues.

At present time, the band has been dispatched to go to Avalon as part of an effort to revive an apparently deceased Merlin.  Naturally there is more than meets the eye to the famous wizard's death but with a party including  Merlin's former scribe (Sir Jason O' The Blood), Merlin's former pet demon (The Demon Etrigan) and Merlin's former star pupil (the sorceress Madame Xanadu) it is believed they have a better chance of finding Avalaon and Merlin's spirit than anyone else.  Of course that is before they learn of a taint filling the lands around where the waterways to Avalon once flowed - a taint that seems to come from where Camelot once stood!

Every issue thus far has been illustrated by the incomparable Diogenes Neves.  Neves' has an eye for detail that is second to none and I am hard pressed to think of any artist who could match Cornell's scripts so well.  Neves is equally capable of drawing both the dark and spooky moments, as in the above scene detailing the darkness afflicting the land as well as the more traditional fantasy action sequences that make up much of the first half of this issue.  Inkers Oclair Albert and Julio Ferreira also deserve praise, for taking such a light hand with shading Neves' pencils and allowing the original artwork to shine through.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - this book is a must read for all fans of fantasy in specific and quality comics in general.  Anyone who loves comics will love Demon Knights!

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Trials and Tribulations of Miss Tilney

Aimed primarily at working-class teenagers, the typical penny dreadful recalled the exploits of famous explorers, infamous criminals and other men of action who lived a life your average young man could only dream of.  Printed cheaply with limited lurid illustrations, the Penny Dreadful was the pulp fiction before pulp fiction.  Indeed, one could argue that the Modern comic book evolved directly from the Victorian penny dreadful . Dusk Comics continues this legacy with their new graphic novel series, The Trials and Tribulations of Miss Tilney.

Our heroine is one Miss Henrietta Tilney - a writer for The London Post  Growing bored with her assigned duties authoring an unspecified column, Miss Tilney requests a real reporter's assignment.  Her editor agrees to let her investigate a series of murders, apparently committed by the famous hunter Lord Beowulf Harwood and his companion, Dr. Charles Plum.  Sent off to interview the accused murderers in their prison cell, Miss Tilney is surprised when Lord Harwood spins a tale of his innocence involving dark magic and a sinister conspiracy.  Even more surprisingly, Miss Tilney believes the unlikely tale and allows herself to be drawn into the duo's attempts to escape their imprisonment!

The greatest problem The Trials and Tribulations of Miss Tilney possesses is that our title heroine is a passive character who is barely in the book that bears her name!  Apart from a bit of blackmail used to secure the release of the two accused murderers, Miss Tilney doesn't take an active role in the action of the story.  While this is realistic to the time period, it also makes the supposed main character seem like a bit player in what is meant to be her story.  Presumably this may be addressed in the second and third chapters of this storyline? 

That being said,  I enjoyed this book immensely and this story is a fine example of the penny dreadful form.  But the fact of the matter is that the real star of the book is the dynamic Lord Beowulf Harwood.  Indeed, this graphic novel concludes with a nine-page text-story detailing Lord Harwood's misadventures romancing a Maharaja's daughter.  This story, to me, was the highlight of the book and writer David Doub may do better to focus upon writing prose stories rather than graphic novel scripts.

The artwork is primarily provided by Sarah Elkins, whose cartoonish style - while skillful - does not seem appropriate to the  the darker tone of the story.  For the most part, her illustrations are canny though they are somewhat ruined by the increasingly odd placement of the dialogue balloons as the story progresses.  On some occasions the balloons are meant to be read from top to bottom.  On others they seem to progress from left to right.  It is a small detail but it does make some panels tricky to read.  Colorist Danielle Alexis St. Pierre provides the artwork for the flashback sequences and I can't help but feel that this series would be better served with her as the main illustrator.  

Fans of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series or Ruse will find much to admire in this series, as will fans of H. P. Lovecraft and Arthur Conan Doyle.  Despite some odd quirks in the artwork and my suspicion this book would be more accurately titled The Harrowing Happenstances of Lord Harwood, I did find this book to be a rollicking read.  It is currently available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Batman #10 - A Review

In my review of the Batman Annual, I said that while Scott Snyder's writing is technically proficient I still did not enjoy the story that he told.  I find myself in a similar state of mind regarding Batman #10.  As before, it will be all but impossible for me to discuss this issue and my problems with it without a heaping helping of spoilers.  So if you haven't read the issue yet, know this - Batman is, as it was before, well-illustrated and well-told even if I find the latest plot-twist to be somewhat repetitive in the wake of other recent events.  It is worth reading, if only to form your own opinions on a story that is already sparking some intense conversations. 

Now, if you fear no spoilers, read on.

Can we all please agree on a ten-year ban on any more stories involving a lost friend or family member of Bruce Wayne, who is part of some secret society or conspiracy, coming out of the woodwork to make Batman's life a living hell?  It was done with Bruce Wayne's childhood best-friend Tommy Elliot in Hush.  It was done more recently with a character who may or may not have been a not-quite-dead Thomas Wayne in Grant Morrison's Batman run.  And now, in what turns out to have been a nod to both Grant Morrison's Earth 2 and an old World's Finest storyline, we find that the leader of the Court of Owls is Bruce Wayne's long-lost brother Thomas Wayne Jr.

I'll spare you the details save to say that this revelation is something of a shock and the pages leading up to it are well-paced and thrilling.  But the idea that this new "Owl Man" is a long-lost Wayne brother smacks of the worst kind of melodrama, even if there is a precedent for it.  At this rate, I wouldn't be shocked if it was revealed that Alfred hired actors to play the part of super-villains in order to keep his young master away from real, dangerous criminals and that Alfred himself was The Joker.  Don't laugh - Neil Gaiman put forth that idea in "Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader?" and it has just as much pedigree as World's Finest #223.  Besides, the back-up story - involving a tale of Alfred's father's time as the Wayne Family butler - has hinted at some dark secret that Alfred has been hiding from Bruce for years involving The Court of Owls and his own mother's conflict with them.
Is this issue worth reading?  Absolutely.  While I detest this "twist", I must admit that the writing around it is well-crafted.  And the artwork is - as always - some of the best we've seen on any Bat-book in years.  Greg Capullo was born to drawn Batman and the back-up story artwork by Rafael Albuquerque employs the right sort of grotesque distortion.  Whatever else I may say about this book, it is not dull and it is not bad.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Green Lantern #10 - A Review

Issue #10 starts right in the thick of it, with Hal Jordan still trapped on the planet Nok.  The good news is that Sinestro, who is Hal's only way off the planet, is no longer brainwashed by the power of the Indigo light of Compassion.  The bad news is that neither are any of the gang of ruthless murderers, criminals and other assorted low-lifes who make up the Indigo Tribe.  

This issue is a poor one for new readers to jump in on but it is an amazing conclusion to what has been an epic chapter in Geoff Johns' on-going revamp of the Green Lantern mythos.  Despite the revelations of the Indigo Tribe being laid bare in previous issues  Johns still delivers a number of surprising moments even as he continues to explore the theme of redemption.  Chief among these is Sinestro's arrogance faltering for a moment as he actually admits that, for once, his way might not be the correct one.  

Doug Mahnke continues to wow the audience with his impressive pencils.  This issue seems to be more lightly linked than previous issues, subtly emphasizing the theme of the issue, vis a vis the lightening of hearts and the world not being quite as dark as we thought.  Truly one of the best books DC Comics has to offer now.  

Earth 2 #2 - A Review

The second issue of Earth 2 is light on action and heavy on set-up.  This is to be expected given that James Robinson is having to build an entire world from the ground up.  Thankfully, while what few moments of action exist are brief, Robinson does find a way to keep things interesting - particularly for those of us with a little knowledge of the original Earth 2 and the heroes of the JSA.

Case In Point: This issue not only shows us the fate of Michael Holt following Mister Terrific #8 but it also introduces us to Terry Sloan - a.k.a. the original Golden Age Mister Terrific.  Shockingly, he seems to have been expecting Michael Holt.  And, even more shockingly, his intentions seem to be less than benevolent.

Cliche as it may be to say this, "Everything old is new again".  Robinson may be utilizing the same names and gimmicks as he did his classic Golden Age miniseries but the devil is in the details.  Jay Garrick is still the hero known as The Flash but the whys and wherefores are completely different.  Originally, Jay Garrick gained his super-speed through an ill-defined college chemistry experiment involving "hard water".  This time, with a tip of the hat to Grant Morrison's theories that modern day superheroes fill the void left by tales of heroes and gods, Jay Garrick is literally elevated to the status of a living god by a dying Mercury.

And speaking of big changes, I am going to address the elephant in the room.  Yes, Alan Scott - the man who will be Green Lantern - is revealed to be gay in this issue.  And no, it's not really a big deal.  Nor should it be. His sexuality has about as much bearing on this issue as whether or not he is left-handed.   There is no big sex scene.  No shocking revelation.  Just one kiss and a hug.  That's it.   

As always, Nicola Scott's artwork is excellent.  I've been a fan of her work for a while now and she's one of the few artists who can get me to buy a book regardless of the writer or the characters involved.  You can only imagine how overjoyed I was when I found out she'd be the monthly artist on this, a title I was looking forward to since it was announced.  I don't think I need to say anything more about her art, other than to point to the above scans and say again that you should all be reading this book.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Action Comics #10 - A Review

Grant Morrison's scripts are usually chock-full of ideas but for the first time since he started on Action Comics, this is not to the benefit of his script.  Don't misunderstand me - I loved this issue as I've loved the entirety of the series since the start of the new DC Universe.  Morrison is one of the few writers I feel truly gets the heart of Superman and has made a true effort to do something new with the character. 

The problem is this issue does so much to play with the ideas of who Superman and Clark Kent are while setting up various future plot points that it winds up devoting very little time to its' nominal plot - a hunter named Nimrod attempting to track down and assassinate Superman.  Compared with the spectacle of Superman confronting a child killer the cops won't touch, Superman attempting to find a pair of hamsters a new home (don't ask) and a Justice League meeting where Superman all but outs Batman's secret identity completely by accident while nagging the team about becoming a greater force for social justice (Superman/Green Arrow team-up soon?  Please?), the more mundane plot involving Nimrod can't compete... even when his job is blown following the apparent death of Clark Kent.

I've said before that I always felt Rags Morales was one of the most underrated pencilers that DC Comics employed and that it was a fine thing to see him on a monthly book.  At the risk of being repetitive, I'm saying it again here.  Really, I cannot stress strongly enough how much I like Morales' work on this book.

The back-up story by Solly Fisch is as enjoyable as ever, depicting a number of Clark Kent's associates and friends paying tribute to their colleague after his apparent death.  I can't say a lot about this story without revealing some substantial spoilers.  I will say that if it weren't for the mid-book credits, you'd never have known this was a separate story, so seamlessly does it blend into Morrison's narrative style.  Cafu's artwork on this section is also complementary of Rags Morales' style, offering a shadowy and more detailed look at the characters that is fitting of the introspective tone of the tale.  

This is a lackluster issue of Action Comics but even a mediocre issue of this book is better than the best days of most other comics.  If you aren't reading this book, you should be.  Even if you aren't a Super-Fan, you owe it to yourself to give this book a shot as Grant Morrison isn't writing your daddy's Superman.  Heck, he's not even wriitng your older brother's Superman.  This is Superman done right, for the 21st Century..

Thursday, June 14, 2012

World's Finest #2 - A Review

 World's Finest #2 delivers more of the quality storytelling and amazing artwork that we saw in the first issue.  Paul Levitz continues both concurrent stories from the previous issue - one set in the present day which features Power Girl and Huntress tracking down a radiation-empowered super-villain and a flashback which shows how the two heroines came to establish themselves in new lives and new identities on a strange new Earth.

As before, the art duties are split between master artists Kevin Maguire and George Perez..  Maguire, who for my money draws the best facial expressions in all of comics, handles the flashback scenes with his usual skill. By contrast, Perez handles the modern scenes with his usual highly-detailed, high-action style.  Most books would be lucky to have one artist of such caliber - to have two such artists makes this book a special one indeed.

You actually could jump in on the series with this issue.  But why should you when your local comic shop probably still has a few copies of World's Finest #1 left?  Either way, whether you start with Issue 1 or 2, you should be reading this book.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Batman Annual #1 (2012) - A Review

It is a rare thing for me to come across a comic which is technically well-executed  yet leaves me wanting to throw it against the wall because of the story it tells  The last story I can remember having such a reaction to was Identity Crisis - a mini-series which had many wonderful character moments but ultimately proved to be horrible due to some ludicrous action sequences (i.e. Deathstroke takes on the entire Justice League single-handed), many gratuitous deaths and a climax that revealed the reader had no real chance of solving the mystery that was meant to be the core of the plot.  Yes, Identity Crisis was one such story.  Batman Annual #1 is another.

There will be spoilers following this paragraph so if you wish to be surprised but still want to know what I thought of the book, let me say this.  This book is surprising.  It is shocking.  It is well written and the artwork is wonderful.  Yet I fully intend to pretend this story never happened in my own personal mental continuity because the main conceit of the story is too far at odds with how I feel certain characters should be portrayed.  You have been warned.  Now read on if you wish to know the fine details.

First Snow, as this story is titled, details Mr. Freeze's activities during the Night of Owls.  We find out that it Mr. Freeze's technology was used by the Court of Owls to preserve and revive their Talon assassins.  Armed with the knowledge that his theoretical formula for reviving the cryogenically frozen works, Freeze escapes from Arkham Asylum and makes for The Iceberg Lounge.  His mission?  Recover his weapons and his cryogenically frozen wife, before getting revenge on the man who turned him into what he is today.

The artwork by Jason Fabok is quite lovely.  If I may wax poetic, it is crisp and clear as a cool winter's day.  The palette chosen by colorist Peter Steigerwald is perfect, full of muted blues, pale grays and off-whites throughout - all the colors of winter.  Every page in this book is a treat to look at.     

There are many wonderful scenes here, too.  Freeze's brilliant escape from Arkham Asylum is a wonderfully well-paced action sequence.  And Freeze's interaction with The Penguin is a treat, playing up the quite menace of both villains to good effect.  But everything starts to fall apart in the flashback sequences in which we learn who the heartless mogul responsible for ruining Victor Fries' life is... Bruce Wayne!    

Is it unbelievable Bruce Wayne, given the way he usually carried himself as a buffoon in the early days, would be so hands-on in running his business?  Yes.

Is it unbelievable that Bruce Wayne, as a business man, would turn his nose up at a revolutionary procedure for saving lives that could make his company millions... just because it wasn't what he was looking for?   Yes.

Is it unbelievable that Bruce Wayne, as a person who lost his loved ones through tragedy and knows full well the lengths one can go through to try and save others, would be so unsympathetic to someone who was driven to extreme measures in the name of saving a life?  Yes.

Thankfully, this turns out to be a fake out.  Or does it?  The final pages, in which Batman confronts Freeze reveal something shocking about Mr. Freeze's past.  Something that is meant to drive him from the realm of sympathetic villains and anti-heroes and push him firmly back into the collective of unreasoning Arkham Asylym inmates but only serves to make Batman into an even greater monster.


Even if we accept that the previous scenes are the imaginings of a mad Mr. Freeze and that he is an obsessed stalker who has been kidnapping the same cryogenically frozen woman with the hope of curing his "lost love"... how does this justify any of Bruce Wayne or Batman's actions?

The only word we have that Mr. Freeze isn't trying to save his wife comes from Batman.  Freeze's shrink at Arkham certainly seems to believe that Freeze is a married man trying to save his wife and that sort of delusion is precisely the sort of thing they would try to cure first.  And even if Nora Fields isn't any relation to Mr. Freeze, she had a family that froze her wanting her to be cured of the condition that threatened her life..  Who is Bruce Wayne to deny her a chance at life, even if her cure comes at the hands of an obsessive stalker?  There's nothing to stop him from taking Freeze's work and trying to use it to help others.  Nothing, save his own greed and disinterest.

Many Batman stories have suggested that, on some level, Bruce Wayne is as crazy as the villains he fights.  But to my knowledge no story has ever seriously suggested that Bruce Wayne was as callous as the criminals he has devoted his life to fighting.   With this story, Scott Snyder has done the impossible and the unthinkable - he has turned Bruce Wayne into a hypocrite and a being more cold-hearted than Mr. Freeze.

It is a well-written story and I hate it all the more for that.

If anyone needs me, I'll be rewatching Heart of Ice.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Batgirl #7-9: A Review

Batgirl has surprised me more than any other title in recent memory.  I wasn't sure what to expect with the first issue and every issue since then has found little ways to astonish me.  By way of a for instance, Batgirl #7 made me realize how much I miss Gail Simone writing Black Canary.

Dinah Lance is strictly here in a supporting role but the brief interlude makes it clear how very important she is to Barbara Gordon as a friend and mentor, even if we're still unsure exactly what their relationship in the past may have been.  The second act of the book has Barbara going to Dinah, nominally to spar and test her combat skills but really to unload on someone about the recent craziness in her life (i.e. the mom who abandoned her wanting to make peace).

The art for this scene is handled by guest artist Alitha Martinez, who partners up with regular penciler Adrian Syaf.  For the next two issues, Martinez handles the more thoughtful, domestic scenes while Syaf handles the action.  This proves to be a bold choice that helps to subtly separate the scenes as the story progresses, with Martinez's softer, more cartoonish style offering a humorous contrast to the darker, dynamic scenes illustrated by Syaf.

The action of both #7 and #8 deals with Batgirl's attempts to track down a new masked robber - a connoisseur of sorts who calls himself Grotesque.  And it is Barbara's pursuit of the baddie and his henchmen into the sewers that leads to another surprising revelation.  Namel, that one of Grotesque's hired goons is one of the men who was backing-up The Joker on night Barbara was paralyzed!  

Much of Issue #8 focuses upon Barbara's attempts to sort out her feelings regarding this thug even as she struggles to bring Grotesque to heel.  As before, Martinez and Syaf take turns on the art duties, though this time Martinez seems to focus on a subplot that I will not discuss here.  Suffice it to say, it will probably take center stage in future issues and prove to be quite exciting.

Issue #9 is a tie in with the Batman: Night of Owls storyline but the story hardly breaks Simone's stride.  Much like the recent Nightwing title, this issue shows us the origin of the unfortunate soul who would become one of the Court of Owl's Talons - monstrous assassins brought back from the dead and rendered near invulnerable.  More, we discover another connection to the Court of Owls and the circus in which a young Dick Grayson grew up. 

While this is interesting stuff as far as the crossover goes and Simone gives us a cute yet disturbing introduction involving an aspect of the Pacific Theater in World War 2 that is rarely discussed, the real heart of the issue is centered upon James Gordon and his daughter as they fight two different battles in the same war.  Commissioner Gordon is ordered to sit idly while war wages across his city, lest his daughter and the people around him be hurt.  For a while, that threat is enough to stay his hand but - when push comes to shove - Jim Gordon is a good cop.  And as he races through a swiftly disintegrating police station to try and turn on the Bat-Signal, Batgirl fights her own battle to stop the assassin sent to kill her father.

I know several of you old-school Birds of Prey fans have been reluctant to give this title a chance.  I understand your reluctance, believe me.  I had my reservations early on, too.  You love Babs as Oracle.  So do I.  But the thing you have to realize is that Barbara Gordon is Barbara Gordon.  Whether she's in a wheelchair or not, whether she's cartwheeling across a rooftop or sitting on top of five mainframes... she is still Barbara Gordon.  She is still the same super-genius spitfire we all love, no matter what the costume, the name or the gimmick. 

Give this book a shot.  I think you'll be surprised.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Green Lantern: The New Guardians - 52 Catch-Up

I haven't written anything about New Guardians since my review of the first book because this title is very difficult to review in a monthly format.  To say the story here is decompressed would be putting it mildly as most of the series thus far has seemed like one big extended fight scene, with a plot twist at the end of each issue changing the dance card for the next fight.

I'm not convinced this is entirely the fault of writer Tony Bedard, who has written many great character-analyzing stories in the past  Indeed, his first issue focuses upon Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and retells his origin within the context of the New 52 universe.  The problem is that the vast majority of our protagonists early on are either one-dimensional (the vengeful Sinestro Corps drill-sergeant Arkillo, the ever-optimistic Saint Walker) or largely incapable of normal speech (the Orange Lantern Glomulus, the Red Lantern Bleez).  There's not much for the readers, particularly new ones,  to latch onto in terms of personality and this series lacks a lot of the emotional punch of the other Green Lantern titles as a result.

The plot kicks off as Kyle Rayner is attacked - first by a series of rings belong to the other Lantern Corps then by various members of the other Corps who have come seeking the stolen rings.  Unable to convince Bleez (Red Lantern), Munk (Indigo Tribe), Arkillo (Sinestro Corps) or Fatality of the Star Sapphires (a.k.a. Yrra Cynri, though this name is never used, though she says she is no longer Fatality) that he is not responsible for the theft, things are looking grim for Kyle until the arrival of Saint Walker - first of the Blue Lanterns.  The two of them escape and plot a course to Oa, hoping that the Guardian Ganthet - who helped to start the Blue Lanterns and chose Kyle Rayner to be a Green Lantern - might have some answers.

A quick note about the art.  Regular penciller Tyler Kirkman is joined on issues #2-4 by current Green Arrow penciler Harvey Tolibao and the cohesion of the book suffers for it.  Ignoring my own personal dislike for Toliabo's style which has already been discussed in some detail in my Green Arrow reviews, the two artist's styles do not mesh at all and the designs for various characters look completely dissimilar from page to page.  Consider Kyle Rayner in the above scan (Tolibao) and in the one below (Kirkman).

Issue #3 opens with Kyle having been possessed by the rings and suddenly lashing out at The Guardians.  The rest of the Corps members arrive shortly thereafter and another fight ensues between the Lanterns and the Guardians.  This continues until the arrival of the one party conspicuous in his absence - Larlfleeze, a.k.a. Agent Orange.

He joins the fight in opening half of Issue #4, claiming  that someone tried to steal his ring too.  Having disguised one of his Orange Lanterns - the Slimer-like Glomulus - as a power ring, Agent Orange let it follow the other captured rings while his slave - the former Guardian Sayd - tracked the power that was stealing the rings in the first place to a gigantic orrery in space.

Reluctantly, the assemble band of "New Guardians" as Agent Orange calls them agrees to investigate the orrery, as the party splits up to investigate the differing worlds making up the gigantic solar system model.  They discover several amazing things, such as an entire planet of Tamaranians (i.e. Starfire's race) and another world claiming to be Okaara - the world where Fatality trained as a hunter and warrior years earlier.  Perhaps most astonishing, however, is a temple depicting Larfleeze as a monster called "The Beast" - sworn enemy of The Archangel Invictus, whom the temple is devoted to.

In Issue #6, Invictus himself shows up and begins beating seven kinds of hell out of the team.  For a moment, it looks as if Saint Walker's desperate attempt to use his ring to relieve Invictus of whatever burdens he has might prove effective.  Alas, it turns out that whatever Invictus is, he is far beyond the ability of a Blue Lantern ring to manipulate.

Thankfully, he is all too eager to tell his story to our heroes before they die.  Thus Issue #7 opens with Invictus explaining his own history with Agent Orange and how - millions of years ago - Agent Orange was responsible for undoing all of the good works his people attempted to bring about in the Vega Star System.  If that sounds vaguely familiar, it should - Vega is one of the few systems Green Lanterns are not allowed to enter and the place has become a wretched hive of scum and villany as a result.

Trapped outside the universe after Agent Orange turned his own followers against him, Invictus is newly returned and constructed the gigantic orrery as a means of restoring Vega to its' former glory... as soon as he is done destroying the current inhabitants and Agent Orange himself.  In the middle of all this discussion, it is revealed that for all of his power Invictus is unable to take a power ring away from it's wielder.  This too leads our team to realize what most of the readers had already guessed - Agent Orange was lying his crooked yellow teeth off.  Eventually a truce is reached and Invictus agrees to let the group live if they will accomplish one task - Kill Agent Orange.

As Issue #8 begins, the team is split once more, as everyone parts ways to head to their respective homeworlds and recharge their rings.  The rest of the issue is not as action heavy as previous ones, mostly focusing on plot details as it sums up what we already know of the plot in this book and explains recent intergalactic events to those few people who are reading this book but aren't reading the main Green Lantern title. 

Chief among these events are Sinestro's rejoining the Green Lanterns and shutting down the fear-empowered army that bore his name.  These events are recanted to Arkillo by The Weaponer of Qward, who gives Arkillo a new yellow power ring and battery that will act independently of the old Sinestro Corps Central Power Battery.  We also learn from the Star Sapphire commanders that someone in this universe had to be working to help Inviticus escape... but they have no idea who.   

Issue #9 primarily focuses upon Saint Walker and the Blue Lanterns as they defend their home base from an invasion of Breach soldiers, a.k.a. The Outer-Space baddies responsible for creating Jamie Reyes' armor in Blue Beetle and for the first time in months, Bedard seems to be writing up to his usual standard.  The action sequences of The Blue Lanterns are excellent but what really sells the story is Bedard clarifying the powers of the Blue Lanterns as the story progresses.  The Breach, for instance, take the Blue Lanterns seriously as a threat even though they are thought to be the weakest of the various Lantern Corps.  While it is true that they lack the overt offensive capabilities of most of the other Corps, The Blues are far from helpless as Saint Walker demonstrates.

Kirkman's prowess as an artist is proven in this issue as is the skill of the coloring team.  It would have been all too easy for this issue to become a muddy mess of blues, since the Blue Lantern uniforms and the Breach Soldiers uniforms look fairly similar.  Still, inker Batt manages to keep things separated and Kirkman's designs are distinctive enough to be differentiated  from a distance despite having the exact same palette.  Thankfully, carefully applied glow effects mark the Lanterns easily enough.

Can I recommend this comic?  Yes, but only if you are already a fan of the Green Lantern mythos.  Ironically, this book is not newbie friendly despite the amount of pages Bedard's devotes toward trying to explain everything to new readers.  Bedard's also at his best when he is focusing on individual character conflicts rather than on epic action sequences, as the two most recent issues have shown.  This book has taken its' time getting warmed up but it's finally turned into something worth reading.  And Kirmna's pencils, as ever, make it something exciting to look at.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Supergirl #7-9: A Review

As I've noted before, the new Supergirl title has proven to be one of the best books to come out of the original New 52 line-up.  The three issues released since my 52 Catch-Up review of the first six books have continued to uphold the same high level of quality in terms of both writing and art.

Issue #7 concludes the storyline started in Issue #5, with Kara Zor-El facing down a foursome of Worldkillers - sentient biological weapons created on Krypton.  This issue is noteworthy in that it confirms what had been hinted at in the previous issue - that Kara has completely accepted her status as a hero and the responsibilities her new-found powers have given her.  More importantly, the combat scenes show that Kara is more than dumb-muscle and has a natural head for strategy despite her relative inexperience as a warrior.

Issue #8 picks up on the heels of #7, with Kara facing down an ungrateful military platoon that is naturally scared about this young woman who defeated four monsters, single handedly, when their own weapons could do nothing.   Luckily Kara seems to have gained one supporter - a strong-willed, outspoken Irish woman named Siobnah, who has unusual powers too... including the ability to understand any language.

George Perez is the guest artist on Issue #8 and - while I am a bit biased in saying this as a Perez fan - I am hard pressed to think of a better artist one could hope to have had draw this particular issue.  The action moments early on and in the final pages are drawn well enough but the heart of this issue centers around two young women - both of whom have come a long way and are trying to rebuild their lives - getting to know one another and establishing a friendship that they both sorely need.  Perez is well known for masterfully drawing these slower moments while still infusing them with energy and this issue shows why his reputation as one of the grand masters of American Comic Artists is so well-deserved.

Issue #9 brings back artist Mahmud Ashar on pencils and inks. The sudden shift from Perez's style to Ashar's couldn't be more timely.  Ashar's darker inks and more stylized designs better suit this particular issue and it's decidedly disturbing story.

As the issue opens, we find  that Siobhan's dad is not as dead as previously imagined.  More, we discover that both father and daughter are infected by a magical curse that has transformed them both into creatures not unlike the banshees of Celtic Myth.  Of course Celtic Myth says nothing about male banshees but if they are anything like Siobhan's father, the Celtic Bards might not have gotten a chance to tell the tale after running into one.

The issue ends on a cliff-hanger, as The Black Banshee uses his magic to "unlock" Kara's energy, making her into a greater danger to the innocents watching the battle than the two banshees.  This leads Kara to make a faithful choice and a hero's sacrifice.  Or so it would seem.  Given that there's an Issue #10 coming out shortly I think we can safely assume Kara will emerge safe if not unscathed.  But it will be fun to see just how she manages it.  

Again, I say this is one of the best books DC Comics is publishing right now and one of their best-hidden secrets.  I'd suggest picking up the single issues on Comixpedia now, as the first print-trade of this series will not be out until September. You won't regret it.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Aquaman #7-9: A Review

In the 45 years since his creation, Black Manta has been many things.  An abused child driven to hate the sea after being trapped on a boat. An autistic man who found comfort in the texture of water while being tortured in Arkham Asylum by an incompetent psychiatrist.  A Black Separatist who wanted to form a new nation, free of the White Man's oppression under the sea.  And even a half-man/half-fish monstrosity.  But despite all this, there's one thing Black Manta has never really been - threatening.  Small wonder then that having established Aquaman as the badass as should be with his first story arc on this title, Geoff Johns should use his second story arc to build upon the background of both hero and villain and turn Black Manta into a villain worthy of the King of the Seven Seas.

These three issues move smoothly through four different story-lines.  Two are set in the modern day DCU.  Two are told in flashback.  In the first storyline, we focus upon Black Manta himself as he hunts and kills a series of superheroes - all of whom apparently draw power from Atlantean artifacts and all of whom were once part of an unofficial super-group called "The Others".

 The second arc focuses upon Aquaman, who was - not surprisingly - one of The Others.  He joins forces with Ya'Wara - a jungle-queen style heroine who was also a member of The Others -  and the two begin to track Black Manta.  This greatly annoys Aquaman's wife Mera, who doesn't seem to wholly believe that the only connection Aquaman and Ya'Wara ever shared was a telepathic one.

The third arc, depicted in flashback, showcases the adventures of The Others in the past.  We see exactly how Arthur and his fellow heroes used to work together and how they were all united in their efforts to stop Black Manta from exploiting the power of ancient Atlantis.  We also see how much Aquaman has changed in six years times, becoming much less savage and kinder in aspect - a scary prospect for those who remember that Aquaman is one of the few who can out-gruff Batman.

In the fourth arc, Mera is told of Aquaman's  life on the surface world as a child by Dr. Stephen Shin - a doctor to whom we have already been introduced.  We learn a little more of his background with The Curry Family and how he came to be hated by Aquaman mixed up with Black Manta.  I'll spare you any more details than that.  Suffice it to say that those familiar with how Geoff Johns rebuilt the Green Lantern mythos from the ground-up will not be surprised at how well Johns is beginning to do the same for Aquaman.

Ivan Reis continues to impress with his pencils, fitting more fine detail into several single panels than many artists attempt over whole pages.  He is ably assisted by inkers Joe Prado, Oclair Alber and Andy Lanning, whose work further refine Reis' pencils without becoming overly dark.  Colorist Rod Reis also deserves special praise, particularly for the sequences where he uses a water-down palette in conjunction with lighter inks in the flashback scenes showing Aquaman's childhood.  The effect seems to perfectly suggest the past without resorting to sepia tones or black-and-white imagery.

If you aren't already giving Aquaman a shot, now is the time to come on-board.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

New Arrow Trailer - Deathstroke Part Of The Show?


The CW has released another trailer for Arrow.  This new one shows off a bit more of the supporting cast and explains some things that weren't clear in the original synopses of the show, such as Ollie and Dinah apparently having been an item but Ollie cheating on Dinah with her sister.  I can't say I'm too thrilled about that.  But I can cope so long as that is the end of it, when it comes to Ollie's cheating heart.        


What's really interesting about this trailer is what we briefly see at 3:23. 


Could Deathstroke be involved in the accident that nearly killed Oliver Queen?  Could he have taken Slade's eye and mask in revenge?  Either way, it's one more reason to check thiis show out this fall.     

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A-Kon 23 Cosplay Pictures

I didn't get nearly as much time at A-Kon 23 as I would have liked, having been sidelined by work most of the weekend.  What time I did spend there was mostly devoted towards my work with Amber Does Dallas - the premier REPO! The Genetic Opera & The Rocky Horror Picture Show andshadowcast of Dallas.

Still, I did get manage to snag a few good cosplay pictures before the costume contest started.  My thanks to the cosplayers who generously agreed to pose.

Lara Croft

Zero Suit Samus

Black Cat