Monday, May 30, 2016

Marvel Free Previews: Secret Wars

Not technically a Free Comic Book Day book, this was a freebie that was widely available last summer. I'm not sure which store I picked it up in.

Title: Marvel Free Previews: Secret Wars
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: 2015
Writer: Jason Aaron, Felipe Smith, James Robinson, Sam Humphries, Brian Michael Bendis, Charles Soule, Dan Slott, Peter David, Skottie Young, Chris Sims, Chad Bowers, Scott Koblish, Jason Aaron, Marc Guggenheim
Artist: Chris Sprouse, Juan Gedeon, Steve Pugh, Alti Firmansyah, Mike Deodato, Leinil Yu, Adam Kubert, Greg Land, Skottie Young, Chris Sims, Chad Bowers, Scott Koblish, Mike del Mundo, Carlos Pacheco

I didn't pay much attention to last year's revival of Secret Wars. It seemed to involve a ridiculous amount of books, even by the standards of modern mainstream comics crossover "events". I did pick up this handy free preview, though.

So, from what I can tell from this, Secret Wars is basically a ten-year-or-so run of What If?, all released in the space of a few months and all connected by some vague attempt at continuity, with Doctor Doom as the main villain.

This book previews the following titles:

Thors: It's a bunch of versions of Thor functioning as Doom's police force in a story that's, well, a police procedural. Silly. Oh, and it has Beta Ray Bill. So even more silly.

Ghost Racers: Like NASCAR except all the drivers are versions of Ghost Rider. Also, Arcade is in this one. Not sure how this is supposed to be entertaining.

Age of Ultron vs. Marvel Zombies: Okay, you're just trolling us at this point, right? Tigra seems to be the lead character here. Zombie-Kingpin makes for a disturbing visual.

Star Lord and Kitty Pryde: This one was fairly entertaining. In addition to the title characters, Gambit is prominently featured, as well as an odd take on Drax.

Guardians of Knowwhere: Drax (different version than above) and Angela fight for pretty much no reason inside a (not a moon) space station made from a Celestial's head.

Civil War: No, not THAT Civil War. Although the basic theme is there. Cap and Iron Man each rule half of North America. Stark is Lawful Good; Rogers is Chaotic Good. And speaking of good, this preview was actually really good. First story in this book that I'd actually be interested in reading.

The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows: Peter Parker is married to Mary Jane and they have a young daughter. This looked like fun. Sense of humor with heart. Presented in black-and-white for some reason that I can't fathom.

Future Imperfect: Hulk has a beard. And calls himself the Maestro now. Nothing much happens in this preview.

Giant-Size Little Marvel: A v. X: Basically a toy commercial.

X-Men '92: Okay, this was hilarious. In classic early-90s X-Book style, the X-Men head to the local mall in Westchester so that Jubilee can whup them at Lazer Tag. Third winner from this batch. Let's see how many more we get.

Weirdworld: As you might expect from the title, this was incoherent. The art was lovely, and the final page (revealing the "map" of Weirdworld) was awesome.

Squadron Sinister: Squadron Sinister kill Squadron Supreme in one of those superhero-battle-where-characters-actually-die scenarios, and none of the characters are anyone we care about. It doesn't help that the good guys and the bad guys are both rather blatant knock-offs of the Justice League. Which may be the point; I'm not up on my Squadron-Whatever history. Oh, and some random person gets their arms ripped off. Because... I'm not really sure. To remind everyone that the bad guy is a bad guy, I guess.

Mrs. Deadpool and the Howling Commandos: Okay, at least they chose to end on a high note. Deadpool mixed with 1970s Marvel monster comics is pure magic. This should have been the entire crossover. The "Secret War" could have been between the writing teams, pitting their various "What If?" scenarios against each other, and this totally would have won.

So, that makes thirteen previews. I found four of them entertaining, two for decent-quality story (Civil War, Renew Your Vows), and two for ridiculously over-the-top entertaining concepts (X-Men '92, Mrs Deadpool). I'll also half a vote each to Weirdworld and Kitty Pryde/Starlord, which at least looked like they had some potential.

The bad news is, that's still only 5 out of 13.

Which amounts to (after generously rounding up):

Rating: 4/10

The Amazing Spider-Man 275

One of the older books in the random to-read stack. No idea where I got this one.

Title: The Amazing Spider-Man
Issue: 275
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: April, 1986
Writer: Tom DeFalco, Stan Lee
Artist: Ron Frenz, Josef Rubinstein, Steve Ditko
Colorist: Nel Yomtov
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Editor: Jim Owsley

From right in the midst of the original black-costume era, this story pits Spider-Man against the Hobgoblin, but more importantly, it pits Peter Parker against his own self-doubt.

It also includes a complete reprint of the original Spider-Man origin story by Lee and Ditko from Amazing Fantast #15 in 1962. In this case, the retelling of the origin is framed as a flashback related to Mary Jane Watson by Peter Parker, who is seriously questioning his second life as Spider-Man.

There is also a major soap-opera going in with Flash Thompson (presented here, disturbingly, as a domestic abuser), Sha Shan, Betty Leeds, and Ned Leeds. It is complicated, and melodramatic, and before the issue is over, the lives of these characters will collide with the lives of Spider-Man and Hobgoblin (well, it's hinted that there may already be a connection there).

Peter Parker's concerns about collateral damage, and his own failings, felt very real, and the discussion with Mary Jane about whether he should continue on as Spider-Man had no real straightforward answers, and writer Tom DeFalco did an especially good job of acknowledging Mary Jane's very mixed feelings.

Hobgoblin, meanwhile was in classic villain mode, operating as an enforcer for the Rose, who is preparing to challenge the Kingpin for control of New York's underworld, while really obsessing over his next encounter with Spider-Man.

It takes a while to get to the action, but once it gets going, the fight between Spider-Man and Hobgoblin is excellent.

This issue has a lot going on, most of it very good, a little bit of it cringe-inducing (Flast Thompson's scenes). The reprint is shoehorned in somewhat awkwardly, but it's hard to complain about getting one of the  greatest comic stories of all time as a backup feature, no matter how many times I've read it.

Rating: 7/10

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Lost Nova: Altar Stone

Second review of the night. This is the second of two consecutive Lost Nova issues that I bought from the artist last summer at ConnectiCon. I reviewed the first of these here.

Title: Lost Nova: Altar Stone
Publisher: Lost Nova
Date: 2014
Writer: Stephanie B.
Artist: Stephanie B.

Fourth issue of this series, reprinting the webcomic. As mentioned in the previous review, the main webcomic site was down, but the comic is available at a mirror site.

The plot gets thickened quite a bit in this issue, as Vera's ship arrives in port, carrying Pyrena, the young runaway. Vera wants to get a look at a newly installed altar stone at the elvish city's church, but a racist priest is having none of letting any of the crew near the altar.

Vera resolves to get the look she wants the hard way: by breaking into the temple.

Pyrena has some great moments in this issue, including a hilarious reaction to the proposed act of breaking-and-entering, and a highly amusing argument on the merits of a salmon-roe crepe (I'm with Pyrena on this; salmon-roe crepe sounds awesome!).

Good worldbuilding in this issue, and a nice picking up of pace as far as the plot goes.

Rating: 7.5/10

Lost Nova: Euryale

It's crunch time. We head back to the US for five weeks, leaving in eleven days. If I'm going to get through this stack of unread comics, I'll need to pick up the pace, so I'll be having some multiple-review days coming up.

This book and the one that follows were purchases I made at ConnectiCon last summer. I reviewed the previous installment of this series here.

Title: Lost Nova: Euryale
Publisher: Lost Nova
Date: 2014
Writer: Stephanie B.
Artist: Stephanie B.

This is the third volume, collecting the webcomic of the same title. As of this writing, the main webcomic site was down, but the comic is available at a mirror site.

Pyrena continues to adjust to shipboard life, helping with the cooking and attempting to help with the ship's magical navigation, while Vera and her crew plan their next move.

Pyrena's awkwardness is on full display as she tries to find her footing among the rough company she's fallen in with, and has to deal with their possibly-unrealistic expectations of her.

This was definitely a transitional story, but the character development continues to shine.

I also absolutely loved the cover art. Just gorgeous.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, May 23, 2016

Archie #666

From the unread comics stack. I got this issue at a comic shop in the US last summer, just on the notoriety of it being the final issue of such a long run.

Title: Archie
Issue: 666
Date: July, 2015
Publisher: Archie Comics
Writer: Tom Defalco
Penciler: Dan Parent, Fernando Ruiz, Tim Kennedy
Inker: Rich Koslowski
Letterer: Jack Morelli
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Editor: Victor Gorelick

An epic run comes to an end with the 666th (with a few offhand references to "the end" as the only acknowledgement of the infamy of that number) installment to Archie. This is an ending, but only for the purpose of rebooting the series.

The story here is that Archie has racked up 666 detentions, and it's finally about to get him expelled from Riverdale High. As the news spread, Archie's friends reminisce on the well-intentioned mayhem that has accompanied Archie, and they make plans to try to save him from having to finish high school across town.

There were a couple of sly references to some of the alternate-timeline Archie books that Archie Comics has put out lately, but otherwise, this story was bland nostalgia with a few sentimental moments.

The format of the book leans heavily on short flashbacks and light on new plot. That being said, the simple story was well executed and did a nice job of capturing the essentials of what makes Archie and his friends such enduring characters.

Rating: 6.5/10

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Thieves & Kings #44

I asked the Kiddo to pick out my next comic to read from the stack, and he chose the issue of Thieves & Kings that immediately follows yesterday's review. So here goes!

Title: Thieves & Kings
Issue: 44
Publisher: I Box Publishing
Date: 2004
Writer: Mark Oakley
Artist: Mark Oakley

Interesting essay about dreams, superpowers, and originality to start things off. Then a prose segment about a girl named Leahanna who served a witch queen and fell in love with a prince.

From there, a scene with Heath comforting a frightened boy who is being sent to sea by his parents to avoid conscription into the army.

But the real focus of this issue is Kim, who is dealing with anger and feelings of inadequacy, and those feeling are brought to a boil during an intense conversation with Lady Soracia. The dialogue is great, weaving between questions of past lives, predestination, and dark powers, with the very worldly concerns of friendship, jealousy, and the difficulties of being the third person in a relationship.

Good cliffhanger ending too, and lovely artwork as I have come to expect after sampling just a few issues of this series.

Rating: 8/10

Thieves & Kings #43

From the random stack of unread comics: I have a short run of three Thieves & Kings issues, of which this is the middle book. My review of #42 is here.

Title: Thieves & Kings
Issue: 43
Publisher: I Box Publishing
Date: 2003
Writer: Mark Oakley
Artist: Mark Oakley

This issue contains two stories. The first is longer and contains an extended prose segment. It involves Heath and Kim helping a boy with a bedwetting problem. Well, that is what his overbearing mother describes it as. Heath suspects something quite a bit more sinister is going on, and soon uncovers the source of the boy's nightmares.

This leads into the extended prose segment, telling the background story of the mysterious magical being at the heart of the boy's troubles. The prose storytelling was a smooth read, and I didn't find it interfered with the overall pace of the comic.

The second story concerns a rebellion of sorts by a group of clockwork soldiers. It's played a bit more for laughs, and requires more of the reader in terms of familiarity with ongoing storylines. As a result, I didn't get as much out of it as readers who have been with this series from the beginning probably would.

Still, it was fun, and the artwork continues to be amazing throughout the book.

Rating: 7.5/10

Friday, May 13, 2016

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope Volume 2 (Hardcover Library Edition)

Another volume from my school library's extensive Star Wars graphic novel collection, brought home by the Kiddo.

Title: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Issue: Volume 2
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
Additional Art: Adam Hughes, Matthew Hollingsworth

This volume, adapting the original Star Wars film, begins with the Death Star's arrival at Alderaan, and covers all of the subsequent action that takes place aboard the Death Star, up to the Millennium Falcon's escape into space.

With the addition of Princess Leia to the combination of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, the snappy dialogue gets upped a notch, as Han finally has someone who can match his snark. The comic script is hit-and-miss with this, keeping some of the best lines, but noticeably cutting others for space. It's effective in terms of keeping the pacing of the action, but serious fans are going to want to read every good line.

The action feels a bit choppy within the limitations of the graphic novel. The Stormtroopers never seem like a major threat to the heroes, although that's really the case in the movie too.

This volume makes better use of occasional bigger panels than some others in this series, but still suffers from the limitations of trying to get all of the action into a limited page count.

Eduardo Barreto and Al Williamson do a nice job with the look of the characters, and their work of the setting and scenery of the Death Star is spot-on. Dave Dorman's cover is fantastic, and the extra pin-up art by Adam Hughes and Matthew Hollingsworth is a nice bonus.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Gekiga! Drawn & Quarterly Free Comic Book Day 2008

Drawn & Quarterly's book from 2008's Free Comic Book Day.

Title: Gekiga! Drawn & Quarterly Free Comic Book Day 2008
Date: 2008
Company: Drawn & Quarterly
Writer: Seiichi Hayashi, Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Artist: Seiichi Hayashi, Yoshihiro Tatsumi

This book hits a really interesting subgenre that doesn't normally get much attention: Japanese underground comics from the 1960s and 1970s.

Two excerpts are included here, both taken from longer works that Drawn & Quarterly has reprinted and translated.

First up is Seiichi Hayashi's Red Colored Elegy, originally published in the 1960s. The story centers on a comic artist and his girlfriend as they face a time of political and personal turmoil. This excerpt involves the main character's reaction to his father's death. The artwork is haunting and stark, and the dialogue sparse. The whole thing had a very lonely and hopeless feel to it, which left an impression despite the fact that I lost hold of what was going on in the last few pages.

The second excerpt is from Yoshihiro Tatsu's Good-Bye, which tells the story of the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing through one man's obsession with a photo he took in the ruins. Excellent artwork, with a more traditional look, and a very strong sense of plot. This one really hooked me, and I'm intrigued with where it is heading.

This was a good effective preview book, and a fascinating look at some early manga.

Rating: 7.5/10

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Moth: Special Edition (FCBD 2008)

Yet another 2008 Free Comic Book Day book from the stack of random unread comics.

Title: The Moth: Special Edition
Publisher: Rude Dude Productions
Date: May, 2008
Writer: Steve Rude
Artist: Steve Rude

Narrated from the point of view of the main character's brother, this issue recaps a bunch of previous stories of Jack Mahoney, circus-man turned costumed bounty hunter.

There isn't a coherent plot here, or rather there are bits and pieces of many plots that serve to introduce a big cast of carneys, mobsters, bounty hunters, bikers, thugs, ninjas, assassins, superheroines, and some kind of were-lion monster. I was intrigued by the characters, but somewhat put off by the jumping in and out of stories.

The two consecutive poop jokes that the book started with didn't help matters as far as my own personal preferences go (although I will admit that they were above-average poop jokes).

I did like the brother's narration, and Rude's artwork worked well with an impressive variety of characters and situations.

As an introduction, I got a great sense of what it is that Jack Mahoney does as The Moth, but not much sense of who he is or why he does it.

Rating: 5.5/10

Sonic the Hedgehog: Free Comic Book Day 2008

Another of the stack of random unread comics proves to be a 2008 FCBD book

Title: Sonic the Hedgehog: Free Comic Book Day Edition
Date: 2008
Publisher: Archie Comics / Sega
Writer: Ian Flynn, Michael Gallagher
Penciler: Dave Manak
Inker: Bill White
Letterer: Bill Yoshida
Colorist: Lyrad Namlede
Editor: Daryl Edelman, Richard Goldwater

This Free Comic Book Day offering from 2008 reprints the complete first issue of Sonic the Hedgehog from 1993.

There are two main stories here. First up, Dr. Robotnik has a horde of robotic Aubrey-II-resembling plants all set to take over the forest above Knothole. But much like the invading aliens in the film, Signs, Dr. Robotnik fails to take one question into consideration: What if it rains?

Next, Sonic attends a casino sales pitch by Dr. Robotnik only to be captured and trapped inside the ball of a giant pinbasll machine.

The book finishes with a trio of joke strips (not all that funny, but kids might enjoy the slapstick moments). There is also a recipe for chilli. No, really! Actually it's technically  a recipe for chilli DOGS, but it still looks quite tasty.

The jokes were hit-and-miss throughout this book. The action had its moments, but overall this early issue seemed to still be finding its footing.

Rating: 5/10

Friday, May 6, 2016

Astonishing X-Men #13 (Variant)

From the random stack of unread comics. This is the second of two (close, but not consecutive) issues of Joss Whedon's run on Astonishing X-Men that found their way into the unread comics stack. I reviewed #10 here. Not sure where I got these. This one is marked as a variant cover.

Title: Astonishing X-Men
Issue: 13
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: April, 2006
Writer: Joss Whedon
Artist: John Cassaday
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Mike Marts, Sean Ryan, Nick Lowe

Black-and-white variant cover on this issue.

This is something of a catch-up issue, that manages to be a lot more satisfying a read than #10 was, in spite of #10's emphasis on plot and action.

The focus here is on character development, particularly on the romance between Kitty and Colossus, and the conflicting forces influencing Emma Frost.

There is also a very amusing reveal of the new low-tech version of the Danger Room (after the room ran amuck over several issues around the previously-reviewed #10). Now that Ms. Room has been officially "future-endeavored" (or whatever happened to her), the new plan for combat training is simpler, more elegant, and far more dangerous: The trainees are simply put into a darkened room in which Wolverine kicks their asses. Why did they not think of this in the first place? It seems like it would have saved everybody a lot of grief, and the quality of training would not have suffered.

In addition to that amusing bit, there is lots of Emma-intrigue, some seeds planted for future storylines involving SHIELD, some dream sequences, and a very shock-value final scene.

This is moving in the right direction.

Rating: 6/10

Dinner Ditz

I bought this minicomic last summer at Connecticon.

Title: Dinner Ditz
Publisher: Sparkler, Chromatic Press
Date: 2015
Writer: Alexis Cooke
Artist: Alexis Cooke

Manga-style gay romance minicomic about a divorced dad who is has a bit of a hangup about cooking. He meets a culinary instructor who offers to help solve his tendency toward disaster in the kitchen, but he fears that he might be just too hopeless a case. Will his kid ever get a decent home-cooked meal when he's cooking? And did I mention there's romance (only romance; the book carries a 13+ rating).

The comedy around the kitchen disasters was good, but nothing too original, but the characters were great, especially considering the relatively short length of the story. Every cast member had a distinctive and interesting personality that hinted at a lot more depth.

The romantic aspect of the book was sweet and adorable, and had a pretty natural flow to it. The artwork was quite good. It might have benefitted from a larger format than this minicomic edition (I should point out that the book is also available in digital format).

Overall, a very nice feel-good romantic comedy.

Rating: 7.5/10 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Astonishing X-Men #10

From the random stack of unread comics, as chosen by the Kiddo. This is the first of two issues from this title that I've got in the to-read stack.

Title: Astonishing X-Men
Issue: 10
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: May, 2005
Writer: Joss Whedon
Artist: John Cassaday
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Mike Marts, Sean Ryan, Nick Lowe

So, the Danger Room AI has become not just self-aware, but also righteously pissed off, and she (she appears in a vaguely female shapeshifting robotic form) proceeds to mop the (Danger Room) floor with the X-Men.

The team in this case consists of Cyclops, Emma Frost, Wolverine, Colossus, Kitty Pryde, and Beast. Joss Whedon (you know, that guy from Buffy and firefly; the director of the film version of The Avengers) is writing, and in a moment-by-moment sense, this is all good. Danger Room knows all of the X-Men's tactics and weaknesses, and so she takes them apart with relative ease, only having a couple moments of trouble when they make some attempts at breaking their normal patterns.

Unfortunately, as well executed as it is, it just didn't feel all that original or interesting, and Danger Room's constant talking about how she's fought  the X-Men thousands or times and knows them better than they know themselves and whatnot does not help the cause. By the time I was half way through this, I wanted the X-Men to win, not because Danger Room was such a horrible threat, but just because of how annoying she was.

Also, would someone please give Danger Room a name so that I don't have to keep referring to her as Danger Room?

A couple of the characters are apparently killed by the time it's all said and done, but this is the Marvel Universe (and as we have said many times, there is dead, and then there is dead-in-the-marvel-universe, and those two things are not particularly related), so there isn't a whole lot of emotional punch to those scenes.

I did like the ending line. Joss Whedon has always been great with the one-liners, and this one works nicely. I wish it had been saved for a better story.

Rating: 4.5/10

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Astounding Wolf-Man #1 (Free Comic Book Day Edition)

Another books from Free Comic Book Day 2007.

Title: The Astounding Wolf-Man
Date: May, 2005
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Jason Howard
Letterer: Rus Wooton

A man is badly injured while camping with his family. He is transferred to a hospital in New York where he lies in a coma for 30 days only to be miraculously healed. Thirty days after that, things get even stranger.

This is a simple, straightforward werewolf story following pretty traditional werewolf mythology, that turns out to be quite a lot of fun.

Instead of focusing on what makes his werewolf different from everyone else's, writer Robert Kirkman (you might have heard of him from another Image comic: The Walking Dead) is able to rely on the readers knowing the basics of the folklore while the story focuses on character development, and a good plot twist at the end to hook the reader.

This was a clever and enjoyable story with good pacing, sparingly-used gore (enough to keep the horror vibe), and characters that show a lot of potential.

A good start.

This book also contains previews for Brit, Spawn: Godslayer, and the Witchblade tie-in First Born: Conception. Of those Brit looked entertaining, while the Spawn preview went with printing four full pages of art per page of the preview, badly limiting the effectiveness of the art. First Born took the opposite approach with lovely full-page character introduction pinups.

Rating: 7/10