Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Serial Squad!

This is a signed issue that I believe I picked up at a con, but I'm not sure which one. It's been sitting among the unread comics pile for quite some time.

Title: The Serial Squad!
Date: 2007
Publisher: Bad Place Productions
Writer: Paul E. Schultz
Artist: Paul E. Schultz
Letterer: Mike Indovina
Editor: Jonathan Hodges
Cover: Paul E. Schultz, Dawn Broadway
Back Cover: Jay Fife

Set during World War II, this 40-page (plus a "making of" essay) b/w standard-format comic is crammed with dieselpunk fun. The basic premise has a group of actors who play heroes in the movie serials recruited by the military to do an elaborate publicity stunt, accompanying a force of US Marines to take out a remote Nazi research station while a film crew gets footage of them "in character".

Of course, things go horribly wrong, and the actors, equipped with real-life versions of the gimmicks that they used in the movies, must take on the mission themselves, facing not only enemy forces, but forces from beyond Earth.

I love the slogan on the front cover: "World War Two just became a two-world war!".

This was pure fun all the way through. I'm a huge fan of the serials of the 1930s and 1940s, and the characters nicely nailed a whole range of serial archetypes, with influences ranging from Captain America to the Shadow to Nyoka to the Rocketeer, not to mention a significant nod to the work of HG Wells.

The book has a big cast, and it does feel crowded in places, and a bit rushed once the action gets going. I was left feeling like I wanted more time and space to get to know the characters better.

That said, this is an enjoyable fast-paced adventure with a clever concept and a good grounding in nostalgia.

Rating: 7.5/10

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Society's Ills #2

I bought this comic last summer from artist Lisa Cavalear at MASSive Comic Con in Worcester MA. I also picked up the first issue, which I reviewed here.

Title: Society's Ills
Issue: 2
Date: 2014
Publisher: Happy Kitty Studio (
Writer: Lisa Cavalear
Artist: Lisa Cavalear

Continuing the adventures of Lisa Cavalear's cast of antisocial anthropomorphic nerds, this issue has Hippy and her friends set up in Artists Alley at Web Sheeple Con.

After dealing with sexism and harassment from the convention staff the previous year, Hippy has arrived with a plan to sow mayhem among the con staff, cosplayers, and attendees. But once the chaos begins, it threatens to escalate out of control.

Unlike the first issue, this was a single plot. There were fewer individual laughs, but a bit more in terms of story. The theme of sexual bullying/harassment at conventions is an important one, and even in this sarcastic approach, there is some solid raising of awareness going on.

There is also plenty of silliness and even a bit of a romantic subplot. I did find some of the story elements a bit difficult to keep straight, but there were still enough jokes to keep things amusing.

Rating: 6.5/10

Monday, April 25, 2016

Batgirl #39

I have a small run of three Batgirl issues that I picked up last summer at Double Midnight Comics in Manchester NH (they happened to have some signed issues in stock!). I reviewed the first of them (#38) here.

Title: Batgirl
Issue: 39
Date: April, 2015

DC Comics

Writer: Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher

Artist: Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart

Colorist: Maris Wicks

Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher

Editor: Chris Conroy, Dave Wielgosz

Cover: Cameron Stewart

Batgirl discovers that a social media mob can escalate quickly, in this case turning into a good old-fashioned literal mob with torches and pitchforks (well, clubs and rolling pins anyway).

And as the world seems to be turning against her, Barbara begins to suspect that there is more going on with her internet presence than meets the eye. She's going to need help, and she's alienated the one friend best equipped to help her.

This was loaded with plot twists, some good action, a few high-five moments, and the continued really strong and diverse supporting cast. There turned out to be a lot more going on than I picked up on in the previous issue, and it all worked really well.

Looking forward to #40!

Rating: 7.5/10

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Detective Comics #575

Kiddo picked this one out for me to read today. This is probably the most valuable (not that that is saying much) and most historically important book in the stack of random unread comics. I think it's the oldest as well.

Title: Detective Comics
Issue: 575
Date: June, 1987
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Mike W. Barr

Penciler: Alan Davis
Inker: Paul Neary
Colorist: Adrienne Roy

Letterer: Richard Starkings
Editor: Denny O'Neil

This is the first installment of the Batman Year 2 storyline, which followed up on the historical reimagining of the Batman's origin in Batman Year 1.

With James Gordon now Commissioner of Police in Gotham, the Batman has the official sanction of the police department, and the newly-installed Bat Signal shines from the roof of police headquarters.

But the Batman was not the first vigilante to stalk Gotham's streets, and it appears that after a twenty-year hiatus, the Reaper has returned to Gotham, handing out death to any criminals who have the misfortune to encounter him.

And when the still-inexperienced Batman confronts the Reaper, he barely survives the encounter.

Now, the Batman is forced to consider how far he is willing to go in escalating the violence of his own campaign against crime.

The Reaper is a great villain, older and more skilled than the young Bruce Wayne of this series, and completely ruthless in his crusade against crime.

Wayne's thoughts of using a gun do seem a bit silly, as it seems unlikely that a pistol is going to make that much of a difference against the Reaper, but the gun, of course, is really just symbolic. And it does make for an awesome image on the cover.

Jim Gordon and Doctor Leslie Tompkins are solid in their supporting roles here, and the newly-introduced Rachel Caspian is an intriguing addition to the story.

This doesn't have the initial kind of impact that Batman Year 1 did, but it's still a very good Batman story.

Rating: 7/10

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Stardust Kid #1

From the random unread comics pile, picked out by the Kiddo. I am guessing I originally bought this because you really can't go wrong with Mike Ploog's art.

Title: The Stardust Kid
Date: May, 2005
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Artist: Mike Ploog
Colorist: Nick Bell
Letterer: Dave Lanphear

The Stardust Kid tells the story of Cody, a boy about to turn 13, and his friend Paul, a boy who is, well, not what he appears to be.

This was a really nicely-written urban fantasy with a strong cast of characters and a take on ancient magic that was both familiar (evoking J.M. Barrie and Lewis Carroll) and refreshingly original.

Almost all of this issue was setup and introduction of characters, and it got a bit wordy in places, but it was looking to build a strong foundation, and I felt it succeeded. It will be very interesting to see where things go from here.

Mike Ploog's artwork is always brilliant, and this was just another example of how great he is. He has a flair for both the ordinary details that bring out personality in characters, and the large-scale fantasy images the deliver the sense of woner.

Rating: 7.5/10

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope Volume 3 (Hardcover Library Edition)

The library at the school where I work has a surprisingly extensive collection of Star Wars graphic novels, much to the delight of my son, who brought this one home today. He previously brought home Volumes 1 and 2 of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, which I reviewed here and here.

Title: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Issue: Volume 3
Publisher: Lucas Books, Dark Horse Comics, Spotlight
Date: 2010
Writer: George Lucas, Bruce Jones
Penciler: Eduardo Barreto
Inker: Al Williamson, Carlos Garzon
Colorist: Cary Porter
Letterer: Steve Dutro
Cover: Dave Dorman

My first experience with Star Wars was not the original film in the theater, although I did see it somewhat late in its initial release. My first Star Wars experience was with the Marvel Comics adaptation of the film, and specifically, with the third issue, since I had missed the first two.

This new adaptation (also volume 3) covers almost the exact segment of the film: The flight from the Death Star to Yavin and the opening moments of the final battle with the Death Star.

In terms of story, this has some great interactions between Luke, Han, and Leia, plus some of the truly iconic Star Wars visuals ("Lock s-foils in attack position!"). There is a surprising amount of character development in these scenes, considering the frantic pace as the Rebel Alliance prepares for impending doom.

The artists do a good job with the characters. They look like the actors, which is not always the case in movie/TV adaptations. Facial expressions and body language are effective. The initial space battle between the Millennium Falcon and the TIE fighters falls short of capturing the pacing and action of the scene, but the lead-up to the final Death Star battle looks pretty good.

Dave Dorman's cover is gorgeous, and his three bonus pin-up pages look great too.

I still feel like a hardcover edition of a single issue of a comic is a bit of a waste, but library editions are odd beasts, and this does have the advantage of being durable when bounced around in my son's bookbag.

It was fun to see a new take on this story in the comics medium.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Poison Elves #62

From the pile of unread comics, here's a random issue of Poison Elves, the fantasy series that boasted the longest ears in comics.

I'm starting a protocol with this review of linking the Wikipedia entry for any publisher that is no longer in business.

Title: Poison Elves
Date: 2000
Publisher: Sirius Entertainment
Writer: Drew Hayes
Artist: Drew Hayes

Two experienced elves are escorting a younger elf on a journey when a hunting horn sounds in the distance, and the group quickly realizes that they are the ones being hunted. And the hunter is something magical and very dangerous.

About half of the issue consists of dialogue between the younger elf and his two guardians, who are not exactly thrilled with his attitude. There is a lot of posturing, which feels right, given the circumstances, and when the posturing breaks down, there is a good ring of truth to the dialogue. Still, the characters don't really come off as likeable and there is not much hook for me as a new reader coming on board at this admittedly random spot.

The art and the plot both improve during the hunt sequence, which does a good job of building tension. The huntsman is frightening and formidable.

This was my first time reading this series, which I've heard good things about for many years. I didn't feel like it really left me wanting to read more, but there was some good artwork and the dialogue felt natural.

On a minor note, and something I seldom find myself complaining about, I didn't like the lettering in this issue. I felt it was unnecessarily difficult to read in several places.

Rating: 5.5/10

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Marvel Adventures: Free Comic Book Day 2008

Kiddo picked this one out for me to read from the stack of random unread comics. It's another 2008 FCBD book, this time from Marvel.

Title: Marvel Adventures: Free Comic Book Day 2008
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: May, 2008
Writer: Jeff Parker, Paul Tobin
Penciler: Alvin Lee
Inker: Terry Pallot
Colorist:Wilfredo Quintana
Letterer: Nate Piekos
Editor: Nathan Cosby, Mark Paniccia

This is from Marvel's all-ages line, and features Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, and Ant-Man battling the Mandarin in Peru. The fight eventually ends up in Machu Pichu (of course!), and there is an encounter with a sentient giant ant. Oddly, Ant-Man has been somewhat awkwardly dropped from the story at this point, possibly because he might have been just a bit too useful in giant-ant-based scenarios.

Mandarin shows up, and in one of the most unexpected moments I've experienced in a comic in a while, Spider-Man demands that everyone "take the fight outside" so as not to damage the precious archaeological site... And Mandarin is totally cool with that idea! Ha! I love it!

When the battle does resume, it's actually a pretty good fight. Mandarin is set up as a very even match, even against three Avengers, and the battle is fun with a good logical flow.

All of the giant ant stuff felt silly, and there were random ancient magical artifacts that were only marginally important to the story, but this was still an entertaining book.

Rating: 6.5/10

Leave it to Chance #8

From the random stack of unread comics. Lately, the Kiddo has decided to choose the comics for me to read and review, and this is the one he picked out for today.

Title: Leave it to Chance
Issue: 8
Date: February, 1998
Publisher: Image Comics (under their Homage brand)
Writer: James Robinson
Penciler: Paul Smith
Inker: George Freeman
Colorist: Jeromy Cox
Letterer: Amie Grenier
Editor: Jonathan Peterson

Leave it to Chance is like an updated (and more scrappy) Nancy Drew set in a magical city.

In this issue, Chance Falconer encounters the Phantom of the Mall, in a not-so-subtle play on the Phantom of the Opera story. Chance knows that her father, police detective Lucan Falconer, is losing his patience when it comes to the dangerous adventures she finds herself in, so she tries her best to leave the Phantom case to the professionals. But when one of her best friends becomes the target of the Phantom, Chance needs to take action.

Chance is always a fun character, and her interactions with her friends were great (bonus points for a Hellboy reference!). The detective story presented here is fairly straightforward, and the inconclusive ending was a bit lacking in satisfaction.

Still, Chance and her friends facing down danger was awesome enough on its own to make this a fun story.

Rating: 6.5/10

Monday, April 18, 2016

Maximum Ride: The Manga: Free Preview

I have a lot of Free Comic Book Day 2008 comics in my stack of random unread comics. Here's one from Yen Press.

Title: Maximum Ride: The Manga: Free Preview
Date: 2008
Publisher: Yen Press
Writer: James Patterson, NaRae Lee
Artist: NaRae Lee
Letterer: Abby Blackman

I've actually already read and reviewed everything in this book, as it was reprinted in 2011, with some additional pages, plus previews for two other James Patterson adaptations in a manga-format preview volume that I got at New York Comic Con that year. My review of that volume is here. The only thing completely new to me here is the cover, which look great.

This is adapted from bestselling author James Patterson's prose novel series. Adaptation and art credits go to NaRae Lee.

Opening with a dream sequence involving the lead character, a winged girl, being chased by mutant-looking bad guys, the story then moves to a group of young characters sharing an isolated house in the mountains. They are all winged people, it turns out, and they all have additional superpowers, some of which are shown and some hinted at.

The whole thing had a very X-Men or New Mutants vibe to it. It did a good job introducing the characters, although this version ended things just as the action sequence was beginning.

I could have done without the fart joke, but otherwise, this was a pretty well-handled introduction sequence, especially considering the fairly large cast and the limited page count. NaRae Lee's artwork is lovely, and it will be fun to see what she can do with more flying sequences, of which I am assuming there will be plenty.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Afterlife With Archie #8

This is one of the comics I picked up during our visit home last summer. Not sure which comic shop I bought this from. I visited a bunch of them during that month or so.

Title: Afterlife With Archie
Date: July, 2015
Publisher: Archie Comics
Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Marv Channing, Phil Seuling
Artist: Francesco Francavilla, Gray Morrow
Letterer: Jack Morelli

The variant cover here is a tribute to The Shining, as is the abandoned hotel setting in which this issue takes place. In addition to the Shining, references to A Christmas Carol, plus a whole variety of horror stories an films are scattered through the story.

Archie (post-zombie-apocalypse version) is recounting the story of the death of one of his group of survivors to Jughead, while Jughead pours root beer floats from the supplies found in an abandoned Vermont Hotel.

Later, on the way to the survivors' impromptu Christmas celebration, Archie's mom tells him an old story about a bargain made with witches and a curse placed on the town of Riverdale.

This was all really fun. The classic horror stories were worked to their fullest extent. The familiarity of the characters meshes well with the intensity of the emotions and the seriousness of the horror scenario. There is a lot going on here, but I never felt lost.

Backup story reprints three one-page comic "Essays" on zombies, voodoo, and dragons from Chilling Adventures in Sorcery, published in the 1970s. Short on fact, as is typical of this sort of "nonfiction", but an amusing bit of nostalgia.

I can see why this series has been praised by so many readers. I'll definitely look for more issues of this during this summer's trip home.

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Arcana Presents Free Comic Book Day 2008

Another FCBD edition from the unread comics stack.

Title: Arcana Presents
Date: 2008
Publisher: Arcana
Writer: Sean O'Reilly, Scott Sanders, Grant Chastain, Adam Gallardo
Artist: Clint Hilinski, A.T., Camilla D'Errico, Pedro Delgado, Todd DeMong
Colorist: Steve Whitmire, Josh "Bee" Perez
Editor: Eric Bell

Free Comic Book Day anthology from Arcana in 2008. Four stories here, with just a little bit of story to introduce each one.

First up is Kade, a tale of a demon-hunter attempting to track down the "first demon" in India during an unspecified time period in the past. Kade stands in a crowd, who are understandably staring at him. Let's just say he stands out, just a bit. But it soon becomes apparent to him, that not every bystander is what they appear to be. The segment ends just as things are turning violent.

The second story is a b/w manga-influenced story called Burn. It opens with a cyborg boy standing among ruins and dead bodies, before moving into a flashback. Apparently a lot happened in the space of two hours, but the segment ends just as the destruction is beginning, with just a bit of a hint that a new advancement in artificial intelligence may be involved in the coming mayhem.

The third story, The Gwai, involves a species of intelligent furry monsters living in the Canadian Woods. When a mother Gwai and her child encounter a pair of hunters, tragedy ensues. This had an interesting art style that reminded me of classic Warner Brothers cartoons. The setup was something we've all seen before, but it did leave me curious to find out more about the Gwai.

Last up was 100 Girls, with a runaway teen with mutant powers telling her "origin story" to a friend. Once again, the setup was pretty familiar, but there was an interesting twist at the end that suggests there is more going on here than at first meets the eye.

This collection hinted at some good potential in the stories, although none of the teases were so good that I wanted to run out and find the full book. Still, a fairly effective offering with some nice artwork throughout, and a good variety of stories.

Rating: 5.5/10

Friday, April 15, 2016

Thieves & Kings #42

I have a consecutive run of three issues of Thieves & Kings, beginning with #42 in the random stack of unread comics.

Title: Thieves & Kings
Issue: 42
Publisher: I Box Publishing
Date: 2003
Writer: Mark Oakley
Artist: Mark Oakley

Thieves & Kings is one of those series that I've been meaning to check out for years. The art is absolutely gorgeous, and the setting looks intriguing.

That being said, issue #42 is probably not the ideal jumping-on point for a complex fantasy epic with a big cast of characters and painstaking worldbuilding.

But you know what? This was still awesome.

From the intense magical battle that opened the issue to the "quiet moments" that occurred after a several month time-jump, to the emotional character-building dialogue in the ending scenes, every bit of this was really good. And this was a random issue in the middle of the series.

Great artwork and great characters. Consider me hooked. Looking forward to the next two issues, and I'll be on the lookout for the trade paperback editions so I can read the story from the beginning.

Rating: 8.5/10

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Star Trek: The Next Generation Annual #6

From the stack of random unread comics.

Title: Star Trek: The Next Generation Annual
Issue: 6
Date: 1995
DC Comics

Writer: Michael Jan Friedman

Penciler: Ken Save
Inker: Sam de la Rosa
Colorist: Rick Taylor

Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Margaret Clark

Written by multi-time Star Trek novelist Michael Jan Friedman, this is the second part of a crossover with 1995's Star Trek (original series) Annual. The basic setup is that various key individuals have been abducted by the time-traveling Devidians as part of a plot to manipulate the timestream. Among the abduction victims are Spock and Data, along with a fun selection of fan-favorite characters from various points in Trek history.

Rescue missions led respectively by Picard and Kirk are underway, while another powerful force, the mysterious Aegis, are also involved in the altered timestream..

Friedman shows as good a grasp of the style and interactions of the Star Trek universe as one would expect, given his impressive credentials. The flavor of the story is spot-on, and there are some fun alterations to continuity for the sake of the altered timeline.

It was also fun seeing the versions of Kirk, Spock, and crew in their older incarnations from the era of the films, rather then the original TV series.

The climactic battle is hindered by a mechanism that keeps the two rescue parties slightly out of synch in time with each other, limiting communication. This is fine, but the way it's depicted visually in the comic medium just doesn't work all that well. The silent and essentially faceless Devidians don't make for very interesting villains either. There is a lot of talk about how dangerous they are as foes, but when they actually show up, they just engage in a shootout with the two rescue parties, and the battle is over quickly and anticlimactically.

The Aegis then perform a bit of deus-ex-machina, which, while not very good plot, is at least well in flavor for Star Trek, and timelines are arbitrarily restored to status quo.

This definitely captures the essence of a Star Trek story; it's just not one of the better Star Trek stories.

Rating: 5.5/10

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Strange Girl: Free Ashcan Edition

From the pile of random unread comics. I'm guessing I got this because it was free.

Title: Strange Girl: Free Ashcan Edition
Date: August, 2006
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Nick Stakal, Eric Nguyen, Jerome Opena, Harper Jaten

Standard comic format here. "Free Ashcan Edition" just indicates a small page count (10 total; five of story and five sketchbook pages), and the fact that it's a giveaway.

The story portion is a first-person recap of the action from issues 1-9 of the Strange Girl series, as told by the title character Bethany Black. Essentially, a Christian-flavored apocalypse has occurred, with much of the population raptured away by God, while Earth is given over to the demons, who get right down to the business of enslaving, torturing, and killing those "left behind".

Bethany, discovering she has a talent for demon magic, survives by making herself useful to one of the demon lords before eventually escaping and striking out on her own.

Unfortunately, all of that is told in a wordy recap that really doesn't do the job of selling the product that it needs to. Show, don't tell, please! Bethany's voice is uninteresting, and she never quite manages to convince me that I should care about her or her world. I guess I need more of a hook than just "Hell on Earth".

The artwork looks good, but the small panels don't help matters. The emergence of the demons from cracks in the earth during the apocalypse really needed to be epic-sized. Space limitations really hurt matters here.

In fact, the best thing in this book was the sketchbook section, in which artist Nick Stakal was allowed a bit of breathing room while showing off concept art for his run, which starts with the 10th issue of the series.

That's not enough to convince me to jump on board with this story, though.

Rating: 4.5/10

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith Voume 2 (Hardcover Library Edition)

Another item that the Kiddo brought home from the school library.

Title: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Issue: Volume 2
Publisher: Lucas Books, Dark Horse Comics, Spotlight
Date: 2010
Writer: George Lucas, Miles Lane
Artist: Douglas Wheatley
Colorist: Chris Chuckry
Letterer: Michael David Thomas
Cover: Dave Dorman

This is the second volume of Dark Horse Comics' adaptation of Episode III. My son brought home the first volume in this series from his school library a few weeks back and I reviewed it here.

This issue focuses heavily on the political intrigue within the Republic and the conflicts that are beginning to tear Anakin Skywalker's loyalties apart. The dialogue builds on this idea nicely, with all of the forces around Anakin manipulating him, and the persistent voice of Chancellor Palpatine sowing doubts about the nature of the Jedi Order in Anakin's mind.

When the book finally returns to some action scenes at the end, the battle between General Grievous and Obi Wan Kenobi feels rushed although the art does make some good use of larger panels, especially in the opening moments of the fight. The climax of the battle could have been given more space and more attention, though, and a cut back to Palpatine and Anakin hurts the impact of the scene.

The artwork is generally faithful to the film, and this issue contained some of what I thought were the stronger script elements. Adapting a film into multiple comic book issues is challenging, but I do think the pacing of this volume could have been improved.

Rating: 5.5/10