Friday, December 9, 2016

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School

Brought home from our school library by the Kiddo.

Title: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School
Publisher: Amulet Books (a division of Abrams; series website at
Date: 2015
Writer: Jeff Kinney
Artist: Jeff Kinney

Jeff Kinney tackles the generation gap in the 10th installment in this series.

My son (age 8) brought this home from the school library. We'd read the first book, but are (for the moment, anyway) skipping the eight volumes in between. This wasn't a problem as this book was pretty self-contained.

The theme is the differences between generations, and it's manifested in a number of ways throughout the story. Middle schooler Greg Heffley has to deal with his mom wanting him (and the entire town) to take a break from electronic devices to connect with people the way her generation did. But at the same time, Greg's parents find themselves under the scrutiny of their own generation gap, as Greg's grandfather comes to live with them after the rent on his apartment is raised.

It all culminates in a week-long school field trip to "Hardscrabble Farm", a camp where the kids have to live without modern conveniences.

This was more enjoyable than the first book. The jokes were funnier, the situations more ridiculous and more creative, and the plot was more focused. Organizing the story around a central theme helped. I also thought that Greg was a lot more sympathetic in this story than in the first book. He legitimately tries to do the right thing much of the time, and he seems to learn a bit more along the way. The illustrations are fun, and do a nice job of enhancing the story.

There isn't really any new ground covered in terms of the generation gap issues, and there is still a lack of any decent female characters other than Greg's mother, but overall, I felt like this was a bit of a step up from the first book.

Rating: 5.5/10

Friday, December 2, 2016

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #1

Fourth comic out of five somewhat random recent releases that I got at Newbury Comics in Braintree MA during my short trip back to the US recently.

Title: Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures
Issue: #1
Date: 2016
Publisher: DC Comics / IDW
Writer: Matthew K. Manning
Artist: Jon Sommariva
Inker: Sean Parsons
Colorist: Leonardo Ito
Letterer: Shawn Lee
Editor: Bobby Curnow
Cover: Hilary Barta, Jason Millet

This is the "Incentive Cover" variant.

All-ages (animated series versions, basically) crossover featuring Batman and TMNT. The problem with these crossovers is the amount of setup involved in introducing the characters to each others worlds (and to each other). This comic suffers from that problem a bit, but at least makes a concerted effort to tackle it in an efficient way.

The story builds a bit slowly. The Turtles and the Batman do not actually meet face-to-face in this issue.

The basic scenario has a bunch of the Batman rogues gallery dumped into the Tuirtles' version of New York by way of an alien portal. Batman has an encounter with Two-Face that gives him his first clue that something is amiss. Meanwhile, the Turtles, who are familiar with the portal technology, battle Clayface in the New York sewers.

There's an attempt a a "shocking" ending bit, although it somewhat fails because it's actually badly out of character for the villains involved.

 There was nothing really awful about this story so far, but not much to get excited about either.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Mockingbird #5

Third in the stack of five recent comics I bought on my brief trip back to the US. These were purchased at Newbury Comics' Braintree MA location.

Title: Mockingbird
Issue: 5
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: September 2016
Writer: Chelsea Cain
Artist: Ibrahim Moustafa
Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Editor: Katie Kubert
Cover: Joelle Jones, Rachelle Rosenberg

I'd heard good things about the Mockingbird series and issue #5 happened to be the one in stock at the store I visited.

The basic idea here is that SHIELD agent Bobbi Morse is has been infected with a virus that gives her superpowers. Well, really it's the virus itself has superpowers and it lets her use them.

The virus also reanimates corpses into zombies, which is a problem because Agent Morse is in the SHIELD medical facility, which happens to have a good supply of donated-to-science bodies.

Also, Spider-Man (Miles Morales, I think) and Howard the Duck. No, really.

This was very witty. Good joke density too. It was absolutely loaded with snark, and the creative team didn't let the plot get in the way of opportunities for more snark. Seriously, there was an entire page devoted to Bobby going off on an illustrated tangential rant about bad ideas in history.

This was pretty entertaining, even if it was mostly a throwaway story up until a final plot twist that seemed like it was going to shape the direction of the story moving forward.

Did I mention there is a page of paper dolls that includes a severed zombie head?

Funny stuff. I enjoyed this.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1

Second of the five recent comics I picked up at Newbury Comics in Braintree MA during my quick trip back to the US.

Title: Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth
Issue: #1
Date: September, 2016
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Julie Benson, Shawna Benson
Artist: Claire Roe
Colorist: Allen Passalaqua
Letterer: Steve Wands
Editor: Dave Wielgosz, Chris Conroy
Cover:Yanick Paquette, Nathan Fairbairn

I had mixed feelings on the amount of time this issue devoted to origin-recapping. It's part of DC's "Rebirth", so it wasn't unexpected, and there were some insights that I thought were pretty good. But in the end, yet another retelling of the events of The Killing Joke felt unwelcome and I enjoyed this story more once I was past that part.

The story itself has Batgirl, having been operating for a while now in her return to the Batgirl identity (since the New 52), discovering that someone else has taken over the identity of Oracle, and is providing the information that Oracle used to deal in to the bad guys.

Black Canary gets recruited for the case, and Huntress soon returns, although for the moment she's not exactly acting as one of the good guys. There was also a lot of references to plot points that I wasn't familiar with as far as Huntress goes, but there was also enough direction to the main plot here that I didn't have a problem putting the backstory aside and just going with the flow.

The revelations at the end did a nice job of setting the stage for some big plot points to follow.

The book has a nice look to it, and it makes a good effort to incorporate a lot of the continuity and flavor that has been put into Batgirl over the last few years.

Rating: 6.5/10

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Jessica Jones #1

Last week I got the news that my Grandmother passed away. She was 92 years old, and my only living grandparent. I made a quick decision that I needed to be there for the wake and funeral, and bought a ticket to head home. This was last Tuesday. I flew out from Ho Chi Minh City just before Midnight on Wednesday, and through the magic of the rotation of the Earth, arrived in Boston on Thursday afternoon. Wake was Friday. Funeral was Saturday. I left Boston for Vietnam on Sunday morning and was back at work on Tuesday. The rest of this week has passed in a bit of a jetlagged haze, which I am now finally somewhat recovered from.

During the brief trip home I got to see a lot of family members and celebrate Nana's life together with them.

I also managed to catch a showing of Arrival, which was not released in Vietnam (loved it!) with a friend, and met up with a bunch of friends at the South Shore Plaza in Braintree on Saturday night for dinner.

Since I got to the mall early, I also visited Newbury Comics and bought a somewhat random selection of five recent comic releases, which will be featured in my next few reviews.

Title: Jessica Jones
Issue: 1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: December 2016
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Michael Gaydos
Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Cover: David Mack

I know almost nothing about Jessica Jones. I completely missed her earlier appearances in Alias and other Marvel titles, and I've never watched the TV show. Really all I know about her is what little I've read from reviews of the show, which was quite popular with a lot of my friends.

So I saw the second issue of this series (from Marvel's "Marvel Now" soft reboot) in the "new releases" section at Newbury Comics, and also saw that they had #1 in stock, so I figured I'd check it out.

Sound decision so far. This was really good on a lot of levels.

The characters, Jessica especially, make sense. There is a gritty feel to the story, but it's still grounded in the full-fledged Marvel Universe. It has a snarky sense of humor, including the occasional in-joke, but the pacing is such that the jokes enhance, rather than detract from the overall story.

That story begins with Jessica being released from jail and trying to get back to work. She's got a case that may involve parallel universes and Spider-Man, or it might just be a husband who has gone a bit crazy and a wife who wants to find out why.

And she's also got some personal problems that are showing up at her doorstep in the form of costumed heroes for hire.

The story had excellent pacing, and most importantly for me, it served as a really good introduction without having to retell an origin or over-explain. By the time I was done with this issue I felt fully invested in the story.

Looking forward to reading #2.

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Chronicles of the Tal Nor Volume 1

This is a comic I backed on Kickstarter last year.

Title: The Chronicles of Tal Nor
Issue: Volume 1
Publisher: T. Perran Mitchell / 534 North
Date: November, 2015
Writer: T. Perran Mitchell
Artist: Kelsea Jewell
Letterer: T. Perran Mitchell
Cover: Rebecca Silver
Editor: Rose Petrecz

This is the variant edition with (lovely) cover art by Rebecca Silver.

The Tal Nor are an order of law-enforcers in the fantasy realms of Wynset. They function a bit like the Star Wars Jedi in that they are independent of politics and generally respected by all. Well, except by the bad guys.

In this case, the bad guys are some manner of humanoid creatures who have enslaved the population of a village and put them to work in a hidden mine. Tal Nor agent Sophie has located the captives and decides to take out the bad guys solo rather than waiting for backup. Bad idea.

Most of the rest of the book involves Sophie trying to get out of the trouble she's gotten herself into while her Tal Nor friends attempt to mount a rescue.

The action proceeds at a good crisp pace, and there's a nice flow to the dialogue. The characters' manner of speaking has a modern (as opposed to medieval fantasy) vibe, but what it lacks in flavor it makes up for in expressing the relationships between the characters and making them sympathetic.

Kelsea Jewell's watercolor artwork has some hard-to-follow moments, but it works well in the key spots where it needs to, and has a couple of really great scenes and sequences.

Writer T. Perran Mitchell isn't afraid to let Sophie take a beating, and she comes off a lot tougher in her vulnerability than she would if she were simply an invincible fighter. This story left me convinced that Sophie is tough, and made me want to cheer for her.

It will be interesting to see where this story goes from here. There was plenty of room left to expand on characters who had small parts in this first issue.

Rating: 7.5/10

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Wolverine: Origin of an X-Man #1: Free Comic Book Day 2009

Back to the unread comics stack! This is from Free Comic Book Day 2009.

Title: Wolverine: Origin of an X-Man: Free Comic Book Day 2009
Issue: 1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: May 2009
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Gurihiru
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Editor: Nathan Cosby

This is an all-ages Wolverine book, featuring a story that is a direct prequel to Wolverine's first Marvel Comics appearance (in The Incredible Hulk #181-182).

The story has Logan on his first mission for the Canadian government, being dropped into a remote fishing village that has come under the sway of some powerful unknown entity. The situation is a complete mystery, and the military has lost contact with a commando team previously sent in to investigate.

The story does a nice job of slowly unraveling the mystery as Logan encounters an escalating series of threats in the village. The actual explanation turns out to be pretty clever, and writer Fred Van Lente does a nice job of crafting a good one-and-done story that wraps up its own loose ends in a satisfying way.

The character of Logan is definitely toned down for the all-ages audience, but Logan's snarky personality and his headstrong confidence are definitely on display.

This was a decent introduction to the character of Wolverine, and a good complete story for those already familiar with him.

Rating: 7.5/10