Monday, September 28, 2015

John Carter: Warlord of Mars #11 - A Review

Things have gone from bad to worse for John Carter and Dejah Thoris. Their transport was grounded by a sandstorm, leaving them stranded in the wilderness. Then they were abducted by a gang of bandits turned grave-robbers, led by a rogue general of Helium with a grudge against Dejah's family. But could even greater dangers be in store for our heroes? In the wilds of Barsoom, almost certainly...
The story by Ron Marz and Ian Edginton continues to engage readers. Though John and Dejah are held hostage for much of this issue as the exposition unfurls, what little action exists proves exciting. And the exposition proves riveting, despite largely being set-up for one hell of a cliff-hanger.

The artwork remains equally impressive. Ariel Medel is one of the finest sword-and-sorcery artists working in the field today. Colorist Nanjan Jamberi does an effective job in subtly applying different tints and gradient effects to enhance the original artwork. And letterer Rob Steen's print is clear and efficient.

Batgirl #44 - A Review

The good news is that Batgirl has found the person responsible for killing several freelance techies and framing other people for the murders. The bad news is that the guilty party is an aspiring super-villain called The Velvet Tiger. And she's just as tech-savvy as Babs and armed with the tools needed to neutralize all of Batgirl's wonderful toys!

Brendan Fletcher and Cameron Stewart are to be commended for trying to expand Batgirl's rogues gallery as much as they've expanded her supporting cast of friends. A hero needs good villains to be effective and the revamped Velvet Tiger is shaping up to be a worthy arch-enemy for Batgirl. Ignoring the animal motifs, VT is just as smart as Babs and a dark mirror of what an evil Barbara Gordon might be like. Hopefully she'll be back for more fun in the future.

Am I the only one amused that Bengal is the guest artist on the same issue of Batgirl that introduces a tiger-themed villain?  Probably so. But Bengal proves a worthy substitute for regular artist Babs Tarr and the artwork for this issue looks amazing.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Doctor Who: The Four Doctors #5 - A Review

Ripped from time by a future incarnation of The Doctor, who had been driven mad by betrayal and bonded with the hive-mind race known as The Vrood, things were looking bleak for The Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors and their companions.  However, a twist of fate and a bit of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff have bought them the chance they need to escape the future Doctor's time-trap. Now if only they can work out how to set-up their escape without breaking all causality in the process...

The conclusion to Paul Cornell's latest Doctor Who epic is something of a headache to navigate. Despite this, it's an enjoyable Gordian knot most Whovians will enjoy unraveling. And Ninth Doctor fans can rejoice, for while their favorite Doctor doesn't quite take part in the action, Cornell reveals a fantastic reason for why he and Rose Tyler didn't show up in this adventure.

The artwork continues to impress, though Neil Edwards does seem rushed at times in this final chapter. There are some points where the inks are too heavy and the details a little indistinct - though this critic suspects the latter may be due to a printing error in his copy of the issue.  Regardless, there is more good than bad in this issue's visuals and it proves a wonderful conclusion to a great story. The Four Doctors is a must-read for all Doctor Who fans!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Muppets - Pig Girls Don't Cry - A Review

The Muppets has been a decisive show since long before the airing of its first episode. And that's ignoring the legions of long-time Muppet-fans who refuse to support any further Muppet projects on the grounds that they "sound wrong" or that Disney is corrupting Jim Henson's vision. There's also a boycott by One Million Moms, who complain that this new Muppet show is "perverted". And then there's the Muppet fans who question whether the core idea of the new show - a 30 Rock-style, behind-the-scenes comedy about the lives of The Muppets when they aren't performing - is the best way to present these classic characters.

Me?  I was somewhere in the middle of all of this.

I think One Million Mom's attempt to hold The Muppets up as pure, wholesome family entertainment is laughable at best. Apart from his creations for Sesame Street, most of Jim Henson's work was firmly aimed at adult audiences. Even his more family friendly projects, while safe for children, contained subversive humor and wink-and-a-smile jokes for the adults, such as Gonzo accidentally uncovering a man's affair and Janice making reference to living on a nude beach in The Great Muppet Caper. 

By the same token, I think some of the more recent Muppet projects have forgotten the wink-and-the-smile, replacing innuendo with blatant crassness in an attempt to convince the Gen-X kids who grew up watching The Muppet Show that The Muppets have grown up with them. No film was more guilty of this than the direct-to-TV Christmas special It's A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie. If you don't remember it, don't try. Suffice it to say any movie with jokes about Pepe applying for a permit to license the Muppet Theater as a topless nightclub and Scooter working as a cage dancer in a dark reality where Kermit the Frog was never born make you wonder if the fact that Jim Henson's vengeful wraith has not returned from the grave to smite those responsible is definitive proof that there is no afterlife.

Alas, The Muppets is born of the same cynical spirit as that movie.  One can see the desperation in the poster advertising the show, as we see the original fab-four of the classic Muppets line-up, all using their cel-phones. Because what better way to show that The Muppets are still relevant in the 21st Century than by showing them using modern technology?

The problems with The Muppets run far deeper than that. They also run deeper than the "perverted" humor, like Fozzie speaking frankly about how his personal ad reading "Passionate Bear, Looking For Love" got a lot of wrong (for him) responses. Or Animal explaining why he can't go on tour with Imagine Dragons by muttering "Too many towns.  Too many women."

The core problem is that most of the main characters are twisted parodies of their former selves. This is most apparent in the case of Kermit The Frog, who describes Miss Piggy as a lunatic and laments that his life "is a bacon-wrapped Hell-on-Earth". While the occasional four-letter-word has been slipped into previous Muppet movies, there is something just-plain-wrong with Kermit The Frog saying 'hell'!

Something similar happens in the case of Miss Piggy. Granting that Piggy has always been a prima donna, she still cared about her friends even as she tried to steal the spotlight from them. This Piggy can't be bothered to remember the names of the people she's worked with for years and blatantly tells the show's guests that she's been a big fan for as long as they've had them booked.

One scene sums up The Muppets better than any other. At one point, Gonzo presents a sketch he wrote to Kermit - a Dancing With The Stars parody called Dancing With The Czars, with Rizzo as Catherine The Great Dancer and Pepe as Ivan The Terrible Dancer. Kermit declares that he hates everything about it.  A moment later, as his new girlfriend enters the room and tells a lame joke. Kermit tells her that she doesn't have to make jokes every time she comes into the writer's room before looking to Gonzo, Rizzo and Pepe and saying "God knows these guys don't".

Kermit may get exasperated with his friends but he is never mean-spirited.  Jim Henson's work may have been dark and occasionally twisted but there was a heart and a soul to it that is sorely lacking in this production.  The insensitive toad they call Kermit is no version of Kermit The Frog I want to know. And The Muppets is not a show I wish to watch.

Injustice: Gods Among Us - Year Four #21 - A Review

As Zeus declares war on all other religions and the United Nations ponders extreme actions against Olympus, the political pundits ask one question - where has Superman gone? The answer lies on the planet of Apokolips.  For it is there that Superman finds the true architect of his recent troubles... Darkseid, the New God Tyrant!

Brian Buccellato's script for this issue is a thrilling one. There's a good sense of balance between all of the players and it's gratifying to see the world's response to recent events after so many extended fight scenes over the past few issues. My only quibble lies in some of the character responses. I find it hard to believe, for instance, that Hippolyta and Billy Batson - both captives on Apokolips - would be so quick to abandon Superman as they escape through a Motherbox portal.  Harley might, but definitely not a warrior like Hippolyta or an idealist like Billy.

I have similar issues with aspects of the artwork by Tom Derenick.  Derenick is a fine artist and the action scenes of this issue, where Superman fights Darkseid, are spectacular. Yet there are some little background details that bother me, such as Billy Batson not seeming at all bothered by the cold of the Himalayan mountains where he and his fellow escapes arrive on Earth, despite being in a t-shirt and shorts.

Secret Six #6 - A Review

The secrets of six strangers forced together out of circumstance have been lain bare. The mysterious Mockingbird who tortured them for a year has been revealed as The Riddler. And "Big Shot" has been revealed as Ralph Dibny - a detective with a talent for stretching more than the truth.

Only two important riddles remain to be answered. Where is the diamond that one of The Six stole from The Riddler?  And can Big Shot's wife Sue, now a brainwashed pawn of The Riddler, be saved?

Gail Simone is to be commended for maintaining the mystery of this book for as long and as well as she did. I've been reluctant to reveal any of the secrets in my past reviews, which has made discussing them a bit of a challenge. Thankfully I think I can safely reveal a few things at this point and finally take the time to say this.

Thank you for bringing Ralph and Sue back, Gail. I've missed them. And I can't wait to see how their story plays out from here.

I've greatly enjoyed Tom Derenick's work on Injustice and am glad to see him getting a shot on this title for a full issue. Derenick draws very expressive faces so it is ironic that he should do so well with a title where most of the cast - and the ones most active in this issue - have masks that cover most of their faces. The action scenes are well played, however, and the only quibble I have with any aspect of the art is that I wish a darker green had been used for The Riddler's suit.  It's a little too sub-lime for my tastes. ;)

And with that bad pun, I encourage you to pick up Secret Six if you aren't already doing so.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Constantine The Hellblazer #4 - A Review

John Constantine's past is haunting him. More than usual and in a far more literal fashion. Try as he might and as much as he drinks, John can't rid himself of the memory of Veronica - the girl who got away and faded away into nothing as the magic she and John sought as young punks took her out of the world. Nor can John rid himself of the demon that stalks his every step, devouring the ghosts of the people he failed that normally torment him.

Again, I must praise this book for its inventive artwork. Vanesa Del Rey returns to illustrate the modern-day portions of the story with a dark grittiness well-suited to the world of John Constantine. The flashbacks are handled by Chris Visions, whose vibrant style captures John's wild past. Ivan Plascencia colors both sections with perfectly chosen palettes.

The story by James Tynion IV and Ming Doyle proves equally enjoyable. I particularly enjoyed the prose of John's description of how magic really works. And while it seems obvious in retrospect, I honestly found myself surprised by the issue's final page on my first read-through.  Well done, all.

Black Canary #4 - A Review

With all the people chasing after Dinah Drake's band-mate Ditto, it seems ironic that she should finally be kidnapped by Maeve - the former lead-singer for Dinah's band before they became Black Canary. But Maeve has motives beyond simple jealousy!  She's cut a deal with another figure from Dinah's past to trade Ditto for a chance to be special. But as Dinah hits the road to save Ditto, little does she realize that she has an unseen ally.

The script for this issue of Black Canary is somewhat lackluster, as Dinah doesn't really do anything apart from a brief scene where she stops a carjacking while searching for a lead on Ditto. Most of the issue is focused on Maeve and much as Maeve is nowhere near as interesting as she thinks she is, so too is her subplot dull as dishwater. And the idea of turning Maeve into a super-villain with the same powers as Dinah - as the end of the issue suggests - reeks of the worst kind of hackery. The white-clad ninja woman who saves Ditto from Amanda Waller is far more interesting and one wonders if we're about to learn about Dinah's younger sister the assassin in coming issues.

Pia Guerra proves a capable substitute for regular artist Annie Wu. Guerra's work on Y: The Last Man was amazing and she's in equally fine form here. Colorist Lee Loughridge also does a stellar job.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Injustice: Gods Among Us - Year Four #20 - A Review

As the gods themselves clash in the sea near Themyscira, Batman and his team try to evacuate the Amazon people to safety. But Artemis - general of the Amazons - is not one to run from a fight, even when the enemy is a wave of magical water horses that threaten to engulf her and her elite guard! And unbeknownst to all a greater manipulation than that plotted by Ares, God of War, plays out under their noses...

One of the more gratifying aspects of this series under Brian Buccellato's pen has been his willingness to shift the point-of-view away from the major players of the conflict between Superman and Batman. In this case, we get a wonderful scene of Artemis - the Amazon who briefly replaced Diana as Wonder Woman - reflecting on the battle around her and her responsibilities to her people. It is a brief moment but it is simultaneously powerful and grounding, putting the battle in perspective.

The artwork by Bruno Redondo and Juan Albarran remains as glorious as ever. The action is well-played as Redondo is given a rare chance to show off his skills in pacing a story solo. This issue features a larger number of pages with no dialogue than usual and Redondo does a fine job of letting the art tell the story.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Swords of Sorrow #5 - A Review

The Traveller has assembled her army, just as The Prince once called Charming has redrawn reality to merge various worlds into one great battlefield. Now - as Red Sonja, Dejah Thoris and Vampirella go to confront The Prince in his place of power - the rest of the assembled heroines must stay to fight an army of evil the likes of which has never been assembled! But are they all resolved to face the battle ahead of them? And are all of the so-called Women of Chaos committed to serving The Prince?

I find myself of two minds about this issue's script. Jungle Girl's sudden crisis of faith makes her a distinct point-of-view character in a book where most of the cast - due to the nature of crossover storylines - have had little chance for characterization beyond battle-hardened bad-ass or opportunist rogue. On the other hand, her sudden "But I'm just a girl"attitude seems contradictory to what we've seen of the character in this book so far and the Red Sonja/Jungle Girl tie-ins.

That said, I have faith that Gail Simone is building up something big for Jana in the final chapter and that the Jungle Girl will prove to be a true woman rather than the "jiggling jungle babe" Frank Cho established. Or maybe Dynamite Entertainment will be revealed to have licensed the rights to Sheena and we can get the true Queen of the Jungle for the final chapter?  A pulp fanboy can dream, right?

Whatever reservations I may have about the story going into the final chapter, I have no complaints about the artwork.  Sergio Davila's pencils and inks remain as fine as ever. The color art by Jorge Sutil further enhances the original art, crafting quite the set of pretty pictures.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Red Sonja/Conan #2 - A Review

Compared to the excellent Conan/Red Sonja series it was meant to follow-up, Red Sonja/Conan #1 was something of a disappointment. With its second issue, this mini-series has ceased to be a disappointment and developed into a full-fledged travesty. Not only does this comic not deserve to be mentioned in the same paragraph as Gail Simone and Jim Zub's earlier saga - it doesn't deserve to be on the same planet!

The artwork by Roberto Castro continues to be half-finished throughout. Yet the artwork seems even worse than last month's issue because of the misshapen and Cronenbergian appearance of most of the characters. The only character whom Castro appears to put any effort into depicting is Red Sonja and then only to ensure she has just enough circles covering her naughty bits to be considered decent.

The story by Victor Gischler proves equally lackluster. The humor of the previous issue has vanished completely. Worse yet, not only does this chapter break the classic storytelling rule of telling, not showing us the action - it has an enemy warrior describing events to Red Sonja that she already lived through and doesn't need to be told about!  The story gains nothing from this "As you well know..." perspective and readers will gain nothing from reading this book.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Injustice: Gods Among Us - Year Four #19 - A Review

Condemned to the prison plane of Tartarus (more like Tartar-ASS, given the way it smells), things are looking bad for Billy Batson and Hippolyta. Luckily, they've got an expert in escaping from prison with them - the ever-lovin', blue-eyed Harley Quinn!  Unluckily, they're being closely watched by the architect of their imprisonment - Ares!

After several issues of doom and gloom, it's a real treat to see an issue centering upon something as silly as the idea of Harley Quinn escaping from Hell. And yet, despite the humor of the concept, Brian Buccellato does not belittle Harley's competence while mining the situation for its obvious comedic potential. Quinn is a stone-cold badass in this issue and holds her own alongside the queen of the freaking Amazons in a brawl to say nothing of being willing to throw down with the God of War himself!

Would that the artwork equaled the concept!  Xermanico's work on this issue is uncharacteristically sloppy and the issue's action sequences suffer for it. The colors by Rex Lokus, however, remain a high point of the series as does Wes Abbott's lettering.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #15 - A Review

Anubis, last of the Osirans, stayed behind to maintain the gateway that allowed his people to pass on into a higher state of consciousness - his punishment for the sins of his father, Sutekh, who wished to destroy all reality as they departed this plane. But now he is ready to follow his people, though the way is broken. And it will take all of The Doctor's cunning and persuasion to stop Anubis from destroying all of reality in his attempts to reunite with his people!

Nick Abadzis' story emulates the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who, for good and for ill. His story has captured the richness of the Whovian universe but this chapter piles on the technobabble to a degree some fans may find off-putting.  Additionally, most of the many subplots this series possessed come to a screeching halt, with most of the supporting players standing around and doing nothing as The Doctor talks the antagonist off the ledge.  The conclusion is competently told but somewhat unsatisfying.

The artwork seems similarly rushed at times. I've enjoyed Elena Casagrande's work on this series but there are several points where the artwork seems unfinished and the background details are lost.  The book does not look bad but it's not up to the usual level of quality I've come to expect from this team.

This Damned Band #2 - A Review

It was another wild drug-fueled, post-show party and that was not unusual for the band known (currently) as Motherfather.  Satan himself showed up wanting to hang out, which was rather unusual. And now in the wake of his departure, all of the bandmates are arguing - as a documentary films - about changing the art for their next album in honor of their new friend.  Except for Kev, who apparently thinks he just sold his soul to Santa.

This tribute to the golden age of sex, drugs, rock and roll and artistically motivated Satanism continues to impress and amaze. This book is incredibly funny, which is to be expected with Paul Cornell writing. The script goes beyond mere mockumentary humor, however, with Cornell satirizing the entire culture of classic rock and offering up a healthy portion of character-based humor as well.

The artwork by Tony Parker and Lovern Kindzierski is equally varied.  Parker changes up the artwork based on the perspectives of the band-mates, with Kev's drug-fueled haze represented by cheerful Tezukaesque imagery. There's also a number of brilliant poster-worthy prints on the interior and exterior covers. Even the band's emblem on the back cover is brilliantly designed!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Doctor Who: The Four Doctors #4 - A Review

In a far future, a probable Doctor driven mad by loneliness allowed himself to bond with the alien hive-mind known as The Vrood.  Now, as part of a plan to ensure that his past comes to pass, he has captured Three Doctors and one companion in order to assure his timeline becomes the accepted one. Two of The Doctor's companions remain free but are their destinies already set in stone?

The artwork on this series continues to impress. This is some of the finest work Neil Edwards has ever produced from the character designs of the cast to the layouts of the action sequences. And the colors by Ivan Nunes prove the perfect finishing touch.

As for the story, he plot thickens further in this latest issue and it does so in some truly surprising ways. I must say again that Paul Cornell has truly outdone himself with this series. Next week's conclusion cannot come fast enough!

Plutona #1 - A Review

It is a world of super-heroes and super-villains. But this is not their story. This is the story of four pre-teens whose friendship (if it can be called that) is based more on proximity than common ground and the search for a lost younger brother that leads them to a horrifying discovery.

I must confess dissatisfaction with the above summary. It tells you about Plutona #1 in only the broadest of terms. Yet that is the only way I can describe this book without giving away the game. The only way to truly appreciate this book is to go in blind as I did. To say more, even in comparing it to a classic work of literature it demands comparison to, would be to deny you of one of the best reading experiences I've had in some time.

I can say this much.  What Jeff Lemire, Emi Lenox and Jordie Bellaire have created here is immediately and obviously special. And you'd be a damned fool not to pick this book up immediately.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Injustice: Gods Among Us - Year Four #18 - A Review

Poseidon is determined to save the World of Man from Zeus' control and a massive tidal-wave stands poised to destroy the Amazon island of Themyscria. As Batman and his allies try to evacuate and Lex Luthor monitors the activities of Ares, a new player enters the battle-field. Another sea-king who stands ready to fight the gods themselves to defend the oceans from harm...Aquaman!

Aquaman is probably the most disrespected superhero in popular culture yet serious comic fans know that he's a far cry from his portrayal on Superfriends.  Brian Buccellato's script is a love letter to the awesomeness that is Aquaman.  There's also a respectful amount of equally awesome ass-kicking involving his queen, Mera, as the two of them take on the God of The Seas and more than hold their own.

The artwork is equally entertaining. Mike S. Miller's thin-inked style proves effective in capturing the aquatic environments that dominate this issue. Though the art does appear rushed in a few panels, the fight scenes are incredibly well-blocked and the panel flow works well despite a number of unusual layouts.