Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Constantine #5 - A Review

You really have to hand it to Ray Fawkes.  At a time when most monthly comics are "written for the trade", he still takes the effort to make every issue of the books he writes accessible to new readers on the off-chance it might be someone's first.  This is especially notable - and important - with a comic like Constantine #5, where the odds are particularly high that the issue will be picked up by readers who only bought it because it's a tie-in to the Trinity War storyline.

Those hypothetical new readers are in for a treat, for Fawkes is a skillful writer as well as a generous one.  The story is vintage John Constantine, as everyone's favorite magical conman steals the power of Shazam on the grounds that a teenager like Billy Batson running around with that much unchecked magic is dangerous with everything else going on in the world at the moment.  By sheer dumb luck, one of John's many enemies chooses this moment to attack him with a demonically-empowered minion and hilarity ensues.

Artist Renato Guedes has shown his skill in depicting the gore and horror of a typical Constantine story in earlier issues.  This book gives him the chance to show he's no slouch when it comes to drawing the usual superhero shenanigans.  Despite this, Guedes' typical shadowy mystique remains unchanged and the aura of mystery that usually shrouds this book remains even as John is forced into a pair of tights and reduced to punching monsters. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Latest News on Arrow, Amazon and a Flash TV Show!

SOURCE:The CW gives The Flash his own TV show, launched out of Arrow

So, here's the long and the short of it.

1. Barry Allen will be a reoccurring character on Arrow in Season Two.  No word on who will be playing him, though.
2. He's being put on the show in expectation of spinning off into a The Flash series next year.
3. Amazon - CW's proposed Wonder Woman series - is on-hold as "the script is not exactly what we wanted, and with an iconic character like Wonder Woman, we have to get it right."

My thoughts?  Generally positive.  We already knew they were planning on branching out into the larger DC Comics universe with Arrow.  A spin-off of some kind was inevitable and throwing an outlaw Ollie Queen against the by-the-book cop like Barry Allen would offer a lot of drama.  And bonus - if they decide to take the same idea used in JLA: Year One, you can have Barry as a love interest for Laurel.

I'm less pleased about the news that Amazon has been put on the back-burner in favor of them fast-tracking Barry Allen into a TV show.  Still, I am comforted that they are apparently determined to see a Wonder Woman show done properly and not rush it to completion just to do it.  Still, I can't believe a Wonder Woman show aimed at a youth demographic is as difficult as some believe it to be.  In fact, this teen librarian has just the idea on how to do it!

Just take the basic idea of the Silver Age - Amazon Princess sent into Man's World - and transpose it onto a Dirty Little Liars/The Clique style private school.  Diana is the new foreign exchange student - a daughter of some vaguely defined royal family - and you can have all the standard CW teen drama with Diana learning about American culture AND learning how to become the hero she will be someday as she deals with peer pressure, date rapists and bullying.  She graduates after a season or two and the show moves into a more traditional action-show starring the Wonder Woman we all know and love.

You can have that one for free, Warner Brothers! 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Hawkeye - Annual #1 - A Review

Sorry, Clint Barton fans! Once again your regularly scheduled comic book has been subverted!  For Hawkeye Annual #1 focuses upon Clint's sidekick/partner/something, Kate Bishop!

This issue is all about Kate striking out on her own in Los Angeles.  Without her mentor.  Without her team.  Without her rich dad.  Sadly, Kate is about to discover how difficult things can be when you're all alone and - suddenly - without resources.  For Madame Masque - whom Kate was not exactly gentle to in Hawkeye #4 & Hawkeye #5 - is out for revenge and has ample power to make Kate's life difficult.    

It's redundant for me to speak of Matt Fraction's writing on this series at this point.  Either you hate his knowingly smart subversion of the classic action movie cliches or you love them.  I love them.  I love how Kate isn't fooled for a moment by Madame Masque's attempts to win her confidence in disguise and is portrayed as being smart and competent enough to cope with a revenge-minded villain far more easily than she is sudden destitution and joblessness. 

I likened Javier Pulido's previous Hawkeye work to the second coming of Jack Kirby.  Seven months later, I stand by that statement, though this issue has little of the dynamic action that usually defines the term Kirbyesque.  Yet there is a smooth simplicity of function to Pulido's artwork that is reminiscent of The King and the book maintains a classic Marvel feel throughout. 

The Deep: Here Be Dragons #1 - A Review

The Deep: Here Be Dragons #1 is not so much a comic book as it is an artifact from another time and place - a hypothetical Earth 57 where Stan Lee had been asked by his publisher to craft a team of superheroes to compete with The Sea Devils rather than The Justice League.  And in fifty years time, when the preserved head of Alan Moore inevitably begins working on a League of Extraordinary Gentleman volume uniting all comic book heroes everywhere into one universe, we'll likely find The Nekton Family working alongside The Richards Clan and The Parrs to stop Namor and a resurrected Syndrome from unleashing an army of undersea monsters on the surface world. 

Comparisons to The Fantastic Four and The Incredibles are inevitable, despite The Nekton Family not having any superpowers.  Tom Taylor's story is reminiscent of Mark Waid's work with both the aforementioned super-families, focusing as it does on a family of explorers who investigate the dark places on the edge of the map labeled "here be dragons".  The characters are strictly stock - you've seen them all before in countless other family-friendly works, from the excitable genius son to the teenage daughter who longs for normalcy.  Thankfully, Taylor keeps things fresh with a healthy dose of humor as the action advances and parents will find themselves able to enjoy the story as much as their kids.

Were I asked to describe James Brouwer's artwork in a single word, I could only call it animated.  Brouwer's style is lively and cartoonish, leaving every panel looking like a still from some high-quality animated movie project.  This further adds to the sensation that this book has come to us from a world where Pixar Studios created an animated version of The Deep starring The Rock as the voice of Will Nekton. 

After reading this first issue, I think I'd like to see that movie.  But I'll settle for picking up the next issue of The Deep if that's all this Earth has to offer me.  I think kids of all ages with a love of adventure will enjoy it as much as I did. 

Doctor Who #11 (IDW Vol. 3) - A Review

Part Three of Sky Jacks continues smoothly from where Part Two ended, without pausing for a moment.  Trapped in a seemingly endless limbo on-board a steam-powered World War II bomber, The Doctor and Clara have solved the mystery of where they are and why they can't summon The Doctor's ship - The TARDIS.  Naturally, the answers (i.e. they're somewhere inside The TARDIS) just lead to further questions as our heroes quickly find themselves under attack and at the mercy of a new enemy. 

Fans of the show may complain that this story by Andy Diggle and Eddie Robson seems derivative of the second half of Series 7, with Diggle's new villainous mastermind seeming to be an ersatz copy of the main villain of that series.  While the similarities are there and this story has quite a bit in common with the episode Journey To The Center of The TARDIS, one can hardly fault Diggle and Robson for the similarities given that they must have had this story written months before the new series ever aired.  Taken on its' own merits, this is a crackerjack Doctor Who story with plenty of tension and humor to thrill and amuse the reader.

I've said before that I don't find the artwork of Andy Kuhn aesthetically pleasing.  That is not to say that it is bad - merely that as a fan I prefer cleaner, less-stylized art in my comics.  Yet I cannot deny that Kuhn's style with its' heavy inks and exaggerated characters is a perfect fit to the dirty, Steampunk aesthetic of Diggle and Robson's story.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Justice League Dark #22 - A Review

Something about Justice League Dark #22 clicked with me in a way that the previous chapters of The Trinity War didn't.  I have yet to put a finger on precisely what that something is, though I have pondered it as extensively as The Question himself seeking an answer.  Ultimately, I suspect it comes down to this being the first issue where all the characters are behaving like the heroes and anti-heroes I love.

Ignoring the New 52 origins of The Phantom Stranger (who is no longer a stranger) and The Question, this issue gives us visions of these characters as I think they should be in terms of personality and function.  The Phantom Stranger shows up promising aid yet offering little information save where to go next.  The Question shows up in the middle of a high-security facility to tell our heroes they're barking up the wrong tree and pointing them in the direction of the Secret Society of Super-Villains.  And then there's a host of smaller scenes (too many to recall completely) where the characters are allowed to be themselves and bounce off one another, such as when Wonder Woman manhandles an indifferent John Constantine and he, in retaliation, tries to magically entrap her.

The action of this issue moves briskly but smoothly.  Though there is some dissension between various heroes as to precisely what actions they should be taking, actions are still taken regardless.  No time is wasted on petty slug-fests for the sake of slug-fests and the focus on their respective goals is maintained throughout.

Jeff Lemire's love and knowledge of these characters comes through in every panel of this book.  More, this issue manages the neat trick of recapping the story thus far for those readers who might only be reading Justice League Dark and none of the other Justice League titles - something you don't often see in the third chapter of a multi-book mini-series!  Lemire also sets up the story for this month's issue of Constantine without breaking stride for a moment. 

Mikel Janin's artwork is, in a word, phenomenal.  The line work of this issue is clean with all the character designs crisp and distinctive, even in the long-range.  The inks are subtle - little more than division lines at times - with soft shading in the coloring being used to alter the visual tone of the character's faces.  I'm a fan of all the artists working on The Trinity War but if I had to pick the best of the series so far, Janin would be the winner.

Bottom Line - if you haven't given Justice League Dark or The Trinity War a try, this would be a fine issue to start with.  Good art.  Good writing.  Great character moments.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Nothing To Prove - New Geek Girl Anthem From The Doubleclicks

The Doubleclicks (pictured above with a far too excitable fanboy) have a new music video out today, for their song Nothing To Prove - a response to the idea of fake geek girls and the harassment of real geek girls by real elitist morons.  It's an awesome song, with an awesome video starring a lot of prominent geek icons as well as a goodly number of fans.  Check it out then check out their website for more great music.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Arrow Season 2 - First Look At Black Canary


And for those who missed the video the first time, click here.

Arrow - Season 2 Trailer!

SOURCE: #DCSDCC Arrow - Trailer exclusivo en San Diego Comic Con 2013


Conan The Barbarian #18 - A Review

Fans of action and high-adventure, rejoice!  Brain Wood's yellow lotus psychodrama has reached it's conclusion after three months.  And I for one couldn't be happier to wake-up from "The Nightmare Of The Shallows". 

Did you ever want to read a story about Conan having kids, growing old and dying after living a peaceful existence with Belit on a deserted island?  If so, then congratulations!  This issue has been written to your incredibly specific tastes.  For the rest of us, this issue has little to offer.  Wood is generally a good writer but this issue lacks the punch of the first two chapters as we only see things from Conan's perspective this time and there is precious little thrill in a story we know to be the result of a dream. 

At least the artwork of David Gianfelice and Dave Stewart continues to impress.  Gianfelice is an excellent visual storyteller and what little action there is in the issue is choreographed well.  Stewart's palette gives everything a vibrancy that defies the dream-like nature of the sedate story.  With any luck they'll have a chance to illustrate something more exciting in future issues. 

Batman '66 #1 - A Review

Riddle Me This, Reader.  What is old yet also new, never dull and dressed in blue? 

Give up?  It's the Silver Age Batman, of course!  For Messers Jeff Parker and Jonathan Case have brought him back in style with Batman '66!

Simply speaking, if you love the Batman TV series with Adam West and Burt Ward, you'll love this comic too.  The story of this premiere issue centers around The Riddler's latest crime-spree, stealing the works of a sculptor famous for placing hidden messages in his art.  The feline femme fatale Catwoman becomes involved in the hunt for The Prince of Puzzles as well, after a double entendre hidden in The Riddler's riddles sends the Dynamic Duo crashing through her new legitimate business - a go-go club called the Meow Wow Wow! 

Jeff Parker's script reads like something from the classic series in terms of plot and dialogue.  It's not hyperbolic for me to say this issue features everything you could hope for in a Batman episode.  It even features a celebrity cameo by another famous bat-man! 

The artwork of Jonathan Case is a perfect match for Parker's script.  Case captures the essence of Swinging Sixties camp, with the bright colors adding to the mod aesthetic. He also does a fine job caricaturing special celebrity guests Frank Gorshin and Julie Newmar along with the Dynamic Duo themselves.

Will the Caped Crusaders Clashes With Colorful Costumed Criminals Continue To Cheer The Cynical Starman?  Tune in next month to find out!  Same Bat-Time.  Same Bat-Book!

Justice League of America #6 - A Review

Justice League of America #6 is far less than the sum of its' parts.  This is not to say that the book is totally without merit - far from it!  Geoff Johns and Jeff Lemire give us many great character moments and some wonderful drama but all of this is incidental to the rather lackluster plot involving the so-called Trinity of Sin and Pandora's Box.

Honestly, this book would be much more enjoyable if Johns and Lemire were free to ignore the big epic battles between vaguely defined supernatural forces and just focused on letting the characters be themselves for a time.  Many of these characters are green and undefined, particularly in the case of the new Justice League members.  Throwing these characters we've had no chance to get to know and less time to care about beating each other senseless is nowhere near as interesting as watching a brief interaction between Wonder Woman and John Constantine. 

The Goddess of Truth and a magical conman being forced to work together?  Now, THAT is interesting!  I also have to give the writers credit for making Wonder Woman the main focus of this issue and letting her be the one to start investigating the case in earnest.  Diana rarely gets to take the center stage in these big events and I for one am glad to see her in the spotlight!    

The artwork of this issue is as uneven as the story.  DC Comics really needs to stop putting teams of multiple inkers to work on single books.  Doug Mahnke's pencils look decent enough from what I can tell but they are rendered quite differently depending on which of the book's four inkers are working on what pages.  Anyone who doubts the power an inker has on the final look of a book would do well to study this issue and learn the error of their ways.  

Injustice: Gods Among Us #27 - A Review

Injustice: Gods Among us continues to be more than your typical video-game tie-in comic.  Indeed, it's proving to be more than just a typical comic.  Tom Taylor and company have paradoxically taken a world where our favorite heroes are changing into something other than how we think of them and managed to distill the essence of what makes them who they are.

The action of this chapter is split between two separate scenes.  In the first, Superman and his loyal team of Justice Leaguers discuss the potential of Lex Luthor's latest invention - a drug that can give ordinary humans the endurance and damage resistance of a Kryptonian.  In the second half, the prodigal son Damian Wayne - disturbed by the implications of what his Justice League allies are planning - attempts to make peace with his father, Batman.  I shan't spoil the events that follow but suffice it to say it is not a happy homecoming.

Jheremy Raapack's style is well suited towards this story.  Raapack's command of shadow is masterful and he adds a layer of distinction as well as an aura of moodiness that leaves even characters standing in full light seemingly cloaked in darkness,  A visual metaphor for how our major players in this chapter are using deception in some form or fashion?  Either if it isn't, it looks wonderful.

Friday, July 19, 2013

False Alarm, Arrowheads! Caity Lotz NOT Cast As Black Canary! Katie Cassidy Still The Pretty Bird To Be!

SOURCE: Arrow Boss Sets the Record Straight on Black Canary Casting (TV Guide)

The Pact's Caity Lotz has, in fact, been tapped for a recurring role on Arrow's second season, but she won't be playing Dinah Drake,

"There's been a bit of misinformation printed out there and what I would say is, yes, Caity Lotz is joining the show in a recurring role and we're really excited," executive producer Andrew Kreisberg tells us. "She's a tremendously talented actress. The character she's playing is really the beginning of the story of the Black Canary."

So... yeah.  Lotz's character is tied into how lawyer Laurel Lance starts to become The Black Canary.  Not actually Black Canary herself.

Well, that was a worrisome two hours, wasn't it? :)

Wild Speculations On The Casting Of A Third Dinah on 'Arrow'

SOURCE: CW's 'Arrow' Casts 'The Pact's' Caity Lotz as Black Canary

As the alter-ego of Dinah Drake, the actress will play a love interest for the hero.

The Pact" star Caity Lotz is set to play the Black Canary on The CW's "Arrow,"TheWrap has learned.

While the Black Canary will start out as a recurring role, Lotz is expected to eventually become a series regular, as her character will be groomed as a love interest for Arrow (Stephen Amell)

I was going to avoid commenting on this until the Arrow panel at San Diego Comic Con tomorrow. I read the above article yesterday and found it highly suspect. Ignoring what a grand slam it would be to actress Katie Cassidy, whom it had already been hinted would be taking on the Black Canary role in time, the rest of the article's facts seem way off-base with what has been reported before in regards to Summer Glau and her role on the show.

The Wrap article describes Summer Glau's character, Isabel Rochev, as "a Queen family friend and also a speculative love interest for Arrow." This flies in the face of every other bloody article about Glau's new role. More, the character of Isabel Rochev in the comics was a vicious corporate raider out to take over Queen Industries after having an affair with Oliver Queen's father, Robert. What little had been said about the character by the show's producers indicated that Glau would be a straight-forward villain in the same vein, plaguing the Queen family without a hint of romancing Ollie.

However, since The Mary Sue - who I've always found to be generally reliable about this sort of thing - is now running with this story, I thought I owed it to the public to speak on this matter in my capacity of one of the Internet's foremost Arrowheads and Black Canary experts by proxy. Because even though we'll probably get some kind of explanation for this tomorrow, there's nothing to stop us from making wild guesses today.

Here now, in no particular order of likeliness, are some possible explanations.

1. It's the Dinah Lance of Earth 2 and this will open up a whole new world for Ollie... literally.

2. Dinah Drake is Ollie and Laurel's daughter from the future, traveled back in time to ensure her birth given the likely strife between Ollie and Laurel as Season 2 opens. The romance rumors are totally false, unless Judd Winick has secretly begun ghost-writing the show.

3. "Dinah Drake" is hired by Laurel as a body double in much the same way Diggle sometimes acts as a second Arrow for Ollie. To Laurel's annoyance, The Hood starts to fall for her double.

4. Dinah Drake is Laurel's grandmother, who was fighting Nazis as Black Canary back in the 1940s. Ollie starts romancing her after an accident involving a contraceptive and a time machine.

5. Some mad scientist obsessed with Laurel Lance created an imperfect clone with Laurel's memories. The clone adopts the name Dinah Drake in honor of her mother and becomes Black Canary while Laurel starts fighting crime in a modified costumed with a hoodie as The Scarlet Canary.

Got your own crazy theory? Let's hear them in the comments!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Red Sonja #1 - A Review

That Red Sonja #1 should be as excellent as it is should surprise no one. How could it be anything but with the talent behind it? Gail Simone - the most fearsome and dangerous redhead in the real world of comics - weaves a tale worthy of The Nemedian Chronicles and Walter Geovani - no stranger to depicting the adventures of the She-Devil With A Sword - proves equally epic in his pencils and inks. 

Praise must also be paid to the tremendous team of artists, whose work graces the covers of this issue.  Thank goodness the digital edition gives you all of their work!  With a line-up including Nicola Scott, Amanda Conner, Colleen Doran, Jenny Frison, Fiona Staples and Stephanie Buscema, I'll be hard pressed to pick which cover to buy in the store.

After an unexpected opening which I dare not spoil, we open on familiar territory.  Bandits with more desperation than sense attempt to rob a heroically hungover Sonja - an act Sonja is willing to tolerate provided they don't do anything stupid and leave her to sleep it off.  After the inevitable conclusion is played out, Sonja answers the summons of the only king she holds any respect for and the tale begins in earnest.

Those familiar with Simone's previous work will find much to enjoy here.  The action scenes are well-paced  and Simone injects plenty of her wicked humor into the dialogue.  This may stun those fans of Red Sonja who are used to more serious tales but Simone knows - like Robert E. Howard said of Conan - that Sonja's life is one of gigantic melancholies AND gigantic mirth.  Yet there is drama as well and we see that Sonja is not the blood-thirsty man-hater so many characterize her as in her treatment of one of the bandits -a plague-stricken soldier forced into thievery to survive.   

I've praised Walter Geovani's depiction of Red Sonja in the past and I suspect I will continue to do so for many issues yet to come.  His Sonja is beautiful yet looks every inch the warrior rather than a Sports Illustrated cover girl who just happens to be carrying a sword.  More importantly, Geovani is an amazing visual storyteller and the action of the issue flows naturally from panel to panel without any confusion whatsoever.

If you've never read a Red Sonja comic before, now is the time to rectify that mistake.  With this issue, Simone and Geovani have crafted the perfect starting point.  A world of adventure is waiting. Will you heed its' call?

Green Lantern Corps #22 - A Review

Two issues in to Van Jensen's run on Green Lantern Corps and I'm still satisfied that my favorite book in the Green Lantern family of titles is in good hands.  My main concern remains the same as it was last month - that a tight connection to the other Green Lantern books would limit Jensen's ability to focus on his own characters and storylines as more and more pages are given over to crossovers.  This seems a legitimate concern given that the plot thread involving the rings of the various Lantern Corps failing (first seen in Green Lantern) continues throughout this issue and the final page of the issue seems to hint at events in New Guardians.

Thankfully, these moments are few and far between and the best parts of the book involve John Stewart taking a group of newbie Lanterns under his wing.  He we see a side of John Stewart that hasn't been seen in a while - John the Leader and John The Teacher..  Given that my first exposure to the character came back in the days with John was leading The Darkstars and acting as a mentor to Kyle Rayner, it was like old times to see John put in this role again.  I'm also gratified that Van Jensen has given Fatality her own storyline to pursue, giving us the first chance in a long while to see her as a warrior and not a love-sick young woman.

Bernard Chang's artwork is as wonderful as ever.  I've sorely missed Chang's work on Demon Knights of late and his detailed smiled proved a perfect match for the aesthetic that a Green Lantern book demands.  The only complaint I have about the art lies with colorist Marcelo Maiolo, who has given Fatality a far lighter skin tone than she should have.

Hawkeye #12 - A Review

For the third month in a row, Hawkeye focuses on someone besides Clint Barton.  And for the second time in as many months, Francesco Francavilla replaces David Aja as the book's artist.  And for the first time in this book's run, I find myself wishing it was a more typical superhero title.

Matt Fraction tells a different kind of story here, focusing on Clint Barton's older brother Barney and his run in with the gangsters terrorizing Clint's neighborhood.  A number of flashback scenes are intercut into the narrative, showing the two brothers as children and how Barney began teaching Clint the skills he would use as Hawkeye.  We also see how this story ties in to the adventures of Clint Barton's dog from last month, which itself tied into the Kate Bishop story in Issue #10.  Perhaps this will pay off eventually but the whole affair seems like so much padding to me at this point, as we tread water until Clint finally confronts his enemies.

Thankfully, the artwork of Francesco Francavilla is far more effective this time around than in Issue #10.  The panel placement seems far more natural and the story is much easier to follow.  There's also far less splash-pages than in Francavilla's last outing - a change that plays far better to Francavilla's strengths.

In the end, even a lackluster issue of Hawkeye is not that bad and this remains one of the best books on the market.  I just think it will be better read in the trade-paperback collections than the monthly books given the slow pace Fraction has adopted in recent months.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Demon Knights #22 - A Review

Little happens in this, the penultimate issue of Demon Knights.  What little does happen only occurs to set up the big battle to come in the next issue.  There's very little action, apart from one sequence during the end and an attempted mugging of our heroes that barely lasts one page and stretches the definition of the term "action sequence".  At least the scenes of Vandal Savage dealing with his giant captors are amusing but a far cry from the wit of Paul Cornell. 

The art this month is vastly improved by the absence of inker Wayne Facher.  Chard Hardin inks his own pencils for the entirety of this issue and the difference is obvious and welcome.  Hopefully Hardin will have a new monthly gig waiting for him when this title comes to an close. 

I must tip my hat to writer Robert Venditti in one respect.  Though this series is coming to a close, he still writes each issue in a way that would be accessible to any new readers picking this book up for the first time.  Would that I could still recommend this series to new readers!  Truly, this title was one of the best books of The New 52.  It will be missed. 

Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer and the Great Puppet Theater - A No Flying, No Tights Review

For the benefit of those readers who had not had the good fortune to read the first volume of Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer (or those, like me, who hadn’t read the original book in a while) this second volume begins with a performance, staged by the titular Great Puppet Theater. They tell us the real story of Pinocchio and how he never became a real boy but did live happily ever after with his father, Gepetto. At least, he lived happily ever after until the night when vampires came to their home and killed the old toymaker. Thankfully, as a bloodless wooden puppet, Pinocchio was uniquely suited for the life of a vampire hunter. Aided by The Blue Fairy and Master Cherry (the carpenter who originally found the magic wood that Gepetto later shaped into a puppet), Pinocchio protects his home village from the vampire menace.

We soon meet The Great Puppet Theater in the flesh – er, wood – as the story begins in earnest. Made up of the other puppets made of living wood whom Pinocchio encountered in his original journeys, the troupe of wooden players have been seeking their lost brother since they, too, had had an encounter with vampires and since their master, the showman Fire-Eater, was killed. The troupe happens upon Carlotta, Pinocchio’s only friend, who has also been looking for Pinocchio ever since he and his entourage left their village in search of a mysterious Master Vampire that – legend has it – rules over all of the blood-sucking undead. Eventually family and friends are reunited and the quest continues, leading up to a stunning cliffhanger.

Fans of the first volume hoping for more of the same will not be disappointed, as this sequel features more of what makes this series so amusing – slapstick and sarcasm in equal measure, as Pinocchio throws out increasingly insulting lies in order to make his nose grow so he can break it off into a stake. Yet Van Jensen’s scripts continue to build beautifully upon the original premise, further fleshing out the world with the addition of The Great Puppet Theater and its colorful cast of characters. Based off the archetypes of both the Commedia dell’arte and classic Neapolitan puppetry, the stock personalities of the troupe’s members do not make their antics and arguments any less entertaining.

Dusty Higgins’ artwork has evolved along with Jensen’s scripts. I noted in my review of the first Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer that Higgins’ work resembled that of Jhonen Vasquez of Johnny The Homicidal Maniac fame. The puppets and vampires still sport a similarly stylized look, but there’s a subtle softness to Higgins’ human characters this time around. Indeed some of the panels featuring Caroltta are downright mangaesque.
If you own the first Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer book, you owe it to yourself to pick up this equally excellent sequel. And if you don’t own the first book, you should get it immediately along with the rest of this series. I consider this series a must-have for any serious Young Adult Graphic Novel collection.

Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer, vol. 2 — Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer and the Great Puppet Theater
by Van Jensen
Art by Dusty Higgins
ISBN: 9781593622039
SLG Publishing, 2010
Publisher Age Rating: (13+)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Batman #22 - A Review

When I first heard about Batman: Year Zero, I must admit a part of me rolled my eyes.  Aren't we all familiar enough with the origins of Batman by this point that we don't need to retell them anymore?  What more can possibly be said? 

Plenty, it turns out.

Scott Snyder avoids the usual traps by focusing not on Batman and the villains he fights but on Bruce Wayne before he even conceived of the idea of a Batman.  The conflict here is not between Batman and the mysterious Red Hood gang - it is between who Bruce Wayne is becoming and who Bruce Wayne should be.  This conflict is beautifully summarized by Alfred, who makes the point echoed by so many critics of the superhero genre - couldn't Bruce Wayne do more good with his fortune than through vigilante justice?  

The stylized artwork by Greg Capullo and Danny Miki remains as strong as Snyder's scripts.  Capullo has a unique sense of aesthetics and design, which is given free reign to play throughout the issue.  Perhaps the best example of this is a sequence where an ancient Eygptian board game becomes the panels for a circular conversation between Bruce Wayne and a pre-Riddler Edward Nygma.  

The back-up story, with art by American Vampire artist Rafael Albuquerque proves equally skilled and enjoyable.  Co-written with collaborator James Tynion IV, Snyder tells another brief tale of a young Bruce Wayne's travels around the world. This time, the young Wayne is learning the fine arts of mechanical engineering with an ex-Soviet scientist who also teaches Bruce an important lesson on the value of creative thinking.

World's Finest #14 - A Review

If there's a book that has gone downhill faster than World's Finest, I'm hard pressed to think of it at the moment.  Once blessed with two great artists - the legendary George Perez and Kevin Maguire - this series now has a single art team after months of rotating through several.  Sadly, the team of Robson Rocha and Wayne Facher is the worst of all possible combinations. 

Rocha's figures are unique in that they manage to be awful in different ways from panel to panel.  On one page, Power Girl can be drawn as a neckless mass of muscle while later sporting a neck so long one might think her part giraffe! Noses, eyes and even the basic shapes of faces are rarely consistent from panel to panel  Facher is similarly inept, half-inking some figures and foreground details while leaving everything else on the page undefined.  There are some points where, if I didn't know any better, I'd swear Facher used a black Sharpie marker tooutline the individual characters!

The malaise of the series' artwork seems to have infected the writing.  Nothing much happens in the on-going plot until the final pages.  Paul Levitz seems to be in a holding pattern, as if padding things out for the inevitable trade paperback collection or just biding his time until cancellation or a crossover with Earth 2 - whichever comes first.  Honestly, if it weren't for the fact that Previews promises a new art team next month, I'd consider dropping the book here and now.  As it is, this book is still on thin ice.

Justice League #22 - A Review And A Rant

Remember when super-heroes fought super-villains in the big crossover events?

Seriously.  When was the last time we had a big event book where the heroes fought actual villains rather than other heroes?  And no, alternate universe versions or alien clones of themselves don't count, Flashpoint and Secret Invasion fans.  It's been a while, hasn't it?

I have no objection to heroes fighting other heroes but it seems like that's all the heroes do anymore.  Have we come to the future Mark Waid predicted in Kingdom Come where the villains are underground running the world in secret and the heroes are fighting turf wars over who gets to protect what?  Reading Justice League #22, it's hard to argue that we haven't.

While the plot does feature some random bits involving the Trinity of Sin (i.e. The Question, The Phantom Stranger and Pandora), the main focus of the issue is upon the inevitable battle between The Justice League and the newly formed Justice League of America.  Inevitable, at least, in the eyes of Amanda Waller, who create the JLA specifically to counter the abilities of the original Justice League should they ever work against the interests of the USA.  When the entire Justice League travels to the enemy nation of Kahndaq after newbie hero Shazam crosses the border, Waller sees her chance and sends the JLA in to enforce America's embargo.  Hilarity ensues.   

Thus far, Trinity War seems to be DC Comics' answer to Avengers Vs. X-Men -  a violent free-for-all born out of disagreements that could be solved in five minutes if the characters weren't written like complete imbeciles because that is what the plot demands.  While it isn't out of character for Amanda Waller to see The Justice League as a threat to the nation she serves, it seems uncharacteristically short-sighted for "The Wall" to send a group largely made of untested newbies like Vibe, Stargirl and the new Dr. Light into the field against a more experienced enemy.  Superman charges into battle against Shazam without trying to find out if the other hero instigated a battle with the Kahndaq Army - a question you'd think Superman would consider given that he and Wonder Woman were fighting the same army several issues earlier.  And if there was any doubt that the New 52 version of Billy Batson did not have The Wisdom of Solomon, this issue obliterated it.

Ironically, the only thing that makes this story tolerable and indeed prevents it from being  Avengers Vs. X-Men Starring The Justice Leagues  is same thing that makes it so aggravating - the writing of Geoff Johns.  Johns succeeds where Bendis and Company failed by evoking real ethos in a series of short scenes amid all the strum und drang.  Whereas it was hard to find sympathy for either the fascist Captain America or the single-minded Cyclops, one can't help but feel Billy Batson's guilt and admire his determination to do the right thing even as he goes about it in the worst way possible. 

Where Johns fails is by falling into the same trap of manipulation that turned off so many comic readers when Brad Meltzer pulled it in Identity Crisis.  With a single issue, Meltzer was able to do what so many writers had failed to do and make Ralph and Sue Dibny into something beyond a joke - characters who had earned their seemingly accidental place in The Justice League.  He then destroyed the miracle by setting us up to care about Sue and Ralph only to kill one off and turn the other into an shell of their former self.  Johns does the same thing here, sacrificing the brilliant conceit of turning Dr. Light - perhaps the most hated villain of the past 10 years of DC Comics - into a loving family-man, moralist and would-be hero.  There's no small irony that Dr. Light is the one who pleads for peace and tries to get everyone to discuss their differences before his sudden and grisly death, which triggers the superhero smackdown we were promised. 

Rest In Peace, Dr. Light.  We Hardly Knew Ye. 

The artwork by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Oclair Albert is as good as one might expect.  I haven't seen a bad issue yet from Reis in the past year, be it on Aquaman or Justice League.  But in this case the artwork is like a candy shell on a rabbit pellet.  Sure, it may look good... but it will leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Despite this, I will attempt to finish this crossover so that you, my readers, do not have to.  Not that I have much choice with it dominating so many of the books I read on a monthly basis.  Still, I will endure even as I wonder how two writers I enjoy so much can create something that leaves me so disgusted.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Batgirl #22 - A Review

In a perfect world, Batgirl #22 would easily win every award it is possible for a single-issue comic story to win.  Bold words, I know.  Yet I cannot think of any single story that has provoked such a full gamut of emotions within me for quite some time.  Sorrow.  Joy.  Fear. Anger.  This book conveys all this as strongly as any Greek tragedy.

The issue centers upon Barbara's date with Ricky - a reformed thug she first met and saved as Batgirl after he lost his leg during a run-in with a more violent vigilante.  The relationship between Babs and Ricky is played off well and Gail Simone does a fantastic job of showing how the two feed one another's need for a companion in a short span of pages.  The introverted Babs needs someone who can get her out of shell as much as Ricky needs someone who understands his disability and can show him that it isn't the end of the world.  This story is as inspiring and life-affirming as any image of Superman flying through the sunny skies of Metropolis.

That alone would be enough to make me recommend this book, for there are precious few books even in the superhero genre these days that seem to encourage this kind of optimism, much less revel in it.  We also get a long overdue scene between Jim Gordon and Batman - both mourning the loss of their sons - that is easily one of the most emotional scenes I've ever seen in any medium.  Yet Simone gives us darkness with the light as well, with an ending that will hit you in the gut like a young Muhammad Ali.

The artwork of Fernando Pasarin and Jonathan Glapion equals Simone's script in quality.  Pasarin's figures are well-designed and proportioned, with what little action this issue contains being well-paced and well-choreographed.  Glapion's inks are always perfectly suited toward the story, with light inks utilized for well-lit night clubs and ballet studios and heavy shadows for the dark alleys and rooftops of Gotham.

To sum it up in three words?  Read This Book!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Van Von Hunter, vol. 1-3 - A No Flying, No Tights Review

And so it was in ancient times (or maybe it was three years ago) that an evil prince of distant lands did threaten the once-peaceful Kingdom of Dikay. But in the darkest hour, when all seemed hopeless, a hero emerged – a bold champion who hunted all things evil and slew them in the name of goodness and decency. With his beautiful companion by his side, he destroyed the evil prince’s cursed artifact, drove back the assembled armies of darkness, and forever banished the dreaded demons back to the hells from which they’d come.

Now, the twice-peaceful Kingdom of Dikay is safe. Apart from an epidemic of amnesia that has clouded the minds of most of the citizens of Dikay as to precisely what happened during this epic battle between good and evil, most of the people are healthy, happy, and content. Yet even now their savior stands ever watchful for signs of evil’s return…mainly because it’s really difficult being a hero in a twice-peaceful kingdom and he’s incredibly bored. Then one day he happens to notice that his next door neighbor – a barmaid whose amnesia is so severe she can’t remember her name or anything of her life three years ago – looks an awful lot like the beautiful companion he lost three years earlier…

So begins the tale of Van Von Hunter – one of the funniest American manga I’ve ever read and one of the best parodies of the fantasy genre I’ve seen in any medium. Imagine Slayers as written by Mel Brooks and you might just be able to grasp the sheer hilarity of Van Von Hunter. There’s a lot of referential humor, with several characters who are obvious parodies of established characters and archetypes from other fantasy manga and Japanese role playing games as well as a lot of gags about the fantasy genre in general.

For instance, The Evil Prince is quite clearly mocking every effeminate ineffectual villain in manga history – think Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII as played by James from Pokemon. There are also numerous jokes about such staples of the fantasy genre as impractically large (but cool-looking) weapons, a group of elves corrupted by dark magic who now use their magical baking powers for evil, and impractical armor like plate-mail bikinis.

Thankfully, the humor isn’t limited to gags that only fans of the fantasy and manga/anime genres will appreciate. The situational humor and characters are amusing enough on their own terms. From the wizened old man who is determined to narrate the action of his surroundings no matter what the facts are or who is listening to the crazed king of Dikay (who laughs at his advisors and seeks advice from his jester), this series is full of memorable characters whose antics will leave you laughing out-loud.

Long out-of-print, all three volumes of this hilarious series are once again available through Tokyopop’s website. It is rated T for teens 13 and up, due to some mild cursing, excessive comedic violence, and sexy sorceresses in scanty armor.

Van Von Hunter, vol. 1-3
by Ron Kaulfersch
Art by Mike Schwark
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9781595326928
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781595326935
Vol. 3 ISBN: 9781595326942
Tokyo Pop, 2005-2006
Publisher Age Rating: T (13+)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Astro City #2 (2013 volume)

Fans of Damage Control would do well to check out this month's issue of Astro City.  As Dwayne McDuffie answered the oft asked question "How DO they repair all the damage to the buildings after super-villain attacks so quickly?", Kurt Busiek answers the question of how one would go about contacting a superhero in your time of need.  After all, the Superfriends' Trouble Alert can only handle so much and it's not like Batman has a Bat-Site where he'll take on work as a consulting detective for any case that interests him. 

Enter Marella Comper - the latest hire for the call-center of the superhero team The Honor Guard.  When super-villains are trashing your neighborhood or you think you've contracted Venusian Bird Plague, who are you going to call?  Well, yes - The Honor Guard.  But who is it that handles the call and decides if they need to call in the cavalry, the cops or the CDC?  Marella or one of her co-workers - that's who!  This issue follows Marella as she learns the ropes and comes to value the small but important role she has in helping the world's greatest heroes do their jobs.

I'm kicking myself for not having found this series sooner.  The scripts are well-written.  The interior art and covers are amazing.  I have no excuse for having waited as long as I did to give this series a shot.  If you haven't visited Astro City yet, do so immediately.  You'll be glad you did. 

Injustice: Gods Among Us #26 - A Review

Injustice #26 is about chess - literally and metaphorically - with the action of the issue centering upon two debates.  In the first, Lex Luthor - having just created a pill that can temporarily give an ordinary human the strength and durability of a Kryptonian under Earth's sun - argues with The Kents over Clark Kent's state of mind and the necessity that, some day, some one may need to use Luthor's creation to stop Superman from going over the edge.  The second subplot centers upon Superman and The Flash, giving a whole new meaning to the term "speed-chess" as they play a few games at super-speed while arguing over where they draw the line in their efforts to provide security for the people of Earth.


Writer Tom Taylor does an amazing job of taking the dark setting of Injustice and expanding it into something that is uncomfortably like the classic DC Universe we know and love.  Superman and Flash playing chess at super-speed is the sort of thing one would only expect to see in an old Justice League of America issue yet Taylor makes the conceit and the obvious symbolism work.  The interaction between Lex Luthor and The Kents is nice too, leading me to wonder if this was a universe where Clark Kent and Lex Luthor remained friends after Lex left Smallville to seek his fortune.

Despite this issue lacking any big action sequences, artist Tom Derenick keeps things interesting.  One wouldn't think a series of panels depicting two people playing chess could be exciting - particularly when the only hint of movement in the background is a slight change in the position of the character's arms and a minor shift in the light reflecting on the window.  Somehow, Derenick manages this feat with surprising subtlety and the artwork elsewhere in the issue is similarly skillful.