Review of Caliban #1

CALIBANThis first issue of Avatar Press’ Caliban focuses on the crew of the spaceship Caliban, travelling great stellar distances through warpspace, carrying a crew of miners in cryonic sleep to a planet ready for exploitation. The future universe that writer Garth Ennis and artist Facundo Percio convey in this comic is bleak; humanity appears to be alone in the universe, and the population of a polluted Earth is exploiting the lifeless planets it finds for minerals and oil. The crew members of the Caliban seem edgy, suffering from the cabin fever of a long space voyage. But then the ship collides with an alien spacecraft in warpspace, and the crew has to make sense of what is going on; unfortunately, so does the reader.

The story wasn’t easy to get into; there were a total of five characters introduced in the first issue, and I found it challenging to keep up with so many different characters (their personalities and the crew’s politics) and the strange setting and its physics.  Ennis does a great job of establishing the tension that exists between the characters, but keeping track of the names of and dynamics between five characters being introduced all at once was a challenge.   Percio’s art, with help from inker Sebastian Cabrol, makes each of the characters visually distinctive and conveys a claustrophobic quality to the Caliban, and contrasts the Earth ship neatly with the alien craft. Colorist Herran Cabrera provides muted red and grey colors that make the reader uneasy, which is appropriate for the horror tone of the comic.

Although I enjoyed the art, I found myself overwhelmed by the story elements, and future issues would do well to maintain the tension of the first issue while allowing a less hectic exploration of the characters and universe of Caliban.

Review of Dead Letters #1(with help from Matt Fraction)

Dead LettersWHAT’S IT ABOUT: Sam wakes up in a seedy motel room with no memory of who he is; he gets a phone call warning him to run, and Sam bolts through a strange city he doesn’t recognize. Captured by his pursuers, he is forced to join a gang that has need of Sam’s criminal expertise. Sam rebels, which leads him to a lady named Maia who offers revelations about who Sam is and the city in which he is stranded.

WHO MADE IT:  Christopher Sebela wrote it; Chris Visions provided the art. Ruth Redmond is the colorist, and Steve Wands lettered the comic; the comic was published by Boom! Studios.

WHAT MATT FRACTION HAS TO SAY ABOUT IT:  “DEAD LETTERS #1 is a GREAT first issue. And the hook on its first page is only surpassed by the hook on its last page. BOOM! might just have the next PREACHER on its hands. Even better, they have the first DEAD LETTERS on their hands. “ – Matt Fraction

WHAT I THINK:  Who am I to disagree with comics genius Matt Fraction? I would if I thought he was wrong, but he’s spot on about this comic. Okay – I respectfully disagree about Dead Letters being the next Preacher; Dead Letters is stylistically very different from Preacher. But the comic has an interesting premise, and Visions creates a strange, captivating setting with well-rendered characters and a lot of kinetic action.

 

 

 

Review of Dead Boy Detectives #4 by TheOtherBluth

JAN140373Dead Boy Detectives #4

Writer: Toby Litt Art: Mark Buckingham, Gary Erskine, & Lee Loughridge

 

Overview: So far out of the new Vertigo launches, I think Dead Boy Detectives has been my favorite. This issue wraps up the introductory storyline, and although there were some aspects I didn’t enjoy, I thought the arc overall was successful. As this issue begins, our titular dead boys Charles and Edwin are in the midst of an attempt to rescue our teenage heroine Crystal from the clutches of the demon-possessed headmaster and his cronies, who want to use her body to house the soul of yet another demon.  There is no shortage of demons in this issue, and naturally they want human bodies, cause we’re awesome.

Story: The story itself was done well, though nothing was exceptional, it was your standard save a girl from demonic possession, form a kinship after setting an evil boarding school on fire tale. I kid, but I watched a lot of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and this stuff was pretty commonplace in Sunnydale, so I’m a tad desensitized.   After witnessing her only friend and classmate Hana become possessed and comatose, Crystal is trying to save her from the evil folks in charge at St. Hilarions.  Edwin and Charles do their best to help Crystal, and in the end they all achieve a half-victory. I don’t know if I’ve fully bonded with any one character per say, but the three main kids are interesting enough that I want to read more so that I can eventually.

One thing I didn’t care for was the overuse, in my opinion, of caption boxes. We have three separate people narrating the events, along with dialogue, so things didn’t flow as well as they could. I found it hard to keep track of what was going on because the narration kept breaking up the dialogue.  The art team is very competent, so I thought the book would have been better served to let the art do its part to tell the story, and cut down on the use of narration as a crutch.  I felt a lot of the sequences didn’t need the captions, because they didn’t add much except commentary to the events, which didn’t help the flow of the story. In the end I thought the story was satisfactory, but I think it could’ve been a whole lot better with some minor changes.

Artwork: I’m a fan of Buckingham’s style, and it works really well in this title. There is a dark foreboding atmosphere to the events in this book, and Bucky’s deep, high-contrast shadows work well to establish that tone. He is also very talented in regards to facial expressions, he doesn’t use a whole lot of lines, but the definition and variety of looks he achieves is wonderful. The vacant eyes of the ghost-bullies paired with their schoolboy attire, is an effectively creepy design, I know I’d be freaked if they were chasing me around. One flaw I noticed was the coloring of the demons; due to the somewhat monochrome coloring, they appeared flat, and it was hard to decipher what was going on during the fighting. I think it would have been more effective to either pair down the elaborate design of their bodies, or add some depth shading to give a more three-dimensional shape.

Verdict: In the end I still enjoyed this issue despite some flaws, our heroes have now banded together, and I think some exciting adventures are in store for future issues. I hope some of the problems I had with the captions don’t become too much of a hindrance to the story flow, but I’m sure I will also get more used to the triple threat of captions as well. I’d say if you’ve enjoyed the series so far, you probably liked this one enough to continue like me. If you haven’t checked it out yet, give the first trade a shot. The title is a very good indicator, if you want to read stories about ghosts solving mysteries, then I think you would enjoy this; if not, then by all means don’t pick this up because that’s exactly what it is.

Review of Pariah #2

24210Pariah #2 By Aron Warner, Philip Gelatt and Brett Weldele

Alright I know you missed issue #1 but here is the good news they didn’t burn all the first issues.  There are still some available! So go and try this book.  The first issue was setting up the story of a space crew who it appears has been sent up on a doomed mission.  It looks like the plan all along has been to kill this crew and make it look like a mission failure.  I am fascinated by the story.  I love space. Somehow going up into space someday is on my bucket list.  I think the likelihood of that happening is very low but one can dream. So I’m going to be biased, no matter what this book is like I will most likely enjoy it.  To my surprise this issue shows me that the book is not entirely about the predicament these characters find themselves in.  Issue #2’s main focus is on the problem with being trapped in space with a crew you don’t really know.  It is a very intriguing look into human relationships in these types of situations.  How personality traits slowly come out and how relationships either suffer or strive because of it.  I was not expecting this book to go in that direction and I am very pleased it did.

The characters at the focal point of the issue quickly discover they should start learning a little something about all their fellow astronauts.  It is all fine and dandy going on a mission with a crew you don’t entirely know but when you get trapped in space and every decision could be a life or death decision, you might want to find out how badly the guy standing next to you wants to live. A very cool comic focusing on a space crew’s relationships when everything goes to hell.  The most interesting question this book asks is who would you want as your friend when everyone is looking out for themselves?  So catch up to this one before it gets out of hand.

– Dean

Review of Alex + Ada #5

Alex + Ada #5Alex + Ada #5  By Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn

I want to write that the pace of this book has slowed considerably.  However when I think about each issue of this story it has not slowed down, it has always been at this pace.  The slow pace is what I love about this book.  Alex + Ada is definitely a like it or don’t type book.  It is either for you or it is not.  Issue #5 we get into the transformation of Ada becoming more human.  I feel like I have seen this before in various different movies over the last decade so why does it feel fresh and new?  In a time of my life where I am buying more comics than I ever have.  A time where I wrap myself into cosmic battles, hero beginnings, world endings and adrenaline injected stories it is stress relieving to sit down and read a book about two individuals with a unique struggle to their relationship.  The construction of this issue is beautiful.  The emotional responses by both Alex and now Ada feel real and earned.

Ada begins by freaking out because of sense overload.  She has fully developed sense receptors (eyes, ears, mouth) but has never experienced the senses before.  She goes into a shutdown mode after her freak out.  In this shutdown mode Alex attempts to talk to her.  She is quite unresponsive until he uses his linked connection to call Ada with his mind.  She answers and they begin to have a conversation.  They have a connection building conversation which results in Ada ending the call and carrying on the conversation verbally.  Sounds like a simple moment but the progression to this moment is so real it feels very earned and when it does happen feels very powerful. The conversation that follows is Ada deciding where she would like to go next, whether she would like to choose to stay with Alex or not. The whole issue is just a conversation between the two and I couldn’t be more into it.  The issue ends brilliantly with a call back to issue #4 which again because of the journey pays off in a big way. A great issue of Alex + Ada.  Looking forward to seeing issue #6 on the top of my stack soon.

– Dean

Review of The Wake #7

JAN140387The Wake #7  by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy

I have been saying that Sean Murphy’s art on this book gets better and better with every issue.  I am at the point where I must be forgetting what the previous issue looks like or Sean Murphy has become head of the class because I’m going to say again that Sean Murphy’s art has never looked better.  He does not hook me with this art, he ties rocks to my ankles and drowns me in this art.  I am at the bottom of the ocean completely engulfed by the story and I don’t even remember what it is like to be back on the surface.  Okay perhaps that was an over exaggeration and I am a little two excited about this book. Or perhaps it is just that good. Either way you look at it when I get into the pages of The Wake nothing else matters. When I am in the pages there are no other comics, there is only Snyder, there is only Murphy and there is only The Wake.

First thing I noticed when opening up this book was the colors.  The purples and blues of this issue are beautiful.  My favorite panel of the book is the very second panel.  It is a shot of Leeward as a child.  She is wearing a purple hat with her blue hair sticking out and her blue eyes popping.  Her tanned complexion against the purple background really make the hair and the eyes pop off the page. I caught myself just staring her right back in the eyes before moving on.  These are the moments that make comics superior to novels.  You do not get this type of moment while reading a novel.  Don’t get me wrong you still get emotional reactions but in a novel a description of Leeward’s eyes would be given in great detail and you may be able to picture it but you will never be able to stare into those eyes and feel those eyes staring back at you.  This is why I read comics, magic is created when combining my favorite writer and art that speaks without words.

What was the issue about you might be asking? Well I will say this, the big mother fucker is back and he does some serious damage.  All of those doubters out there who just can’t comprehend the enormity of this monster should not drop off just because of it.  I am not sure if Synder provides an explanation or not of the big guy, but he does at least create a “What the fuck?” reaction in the final pages that will get your mind spinning about it.

I consider this series not a sci-fi horror but a horror sci-fi.  The first half of this series was horror heavy with a touch of sci-fi and the second half so far is more sci-fi heavy with a touch of horror.  Hence the horror sci-fi declaration. Every time I think I know where this book is going Snyder throws in a crazy final page.  I honestly have absolutely no idea where the next issue will take me and that is not only exciting but also refreshing. I can’t wait for the next issue.

Just so you know, if we are making a Murphy and Snyder power couple name it would be Murder.  That is both as equally terrifying as it is awesome.

– Dean

Review of Dead Body Road #4

jan140582

Dead Body Road #4  By Justin Jordan and Matteo Scalera

Did you blink?  If you did then you missed this issue of Dead Body Road.  I suggest grabbing a trade of this 6 issue mini when it finishes because I can guarantee you will have a lot of fun with this one.  Matteo Scalera blows me away every month with how exciting he can make a panel.  My heart starts racing, my lungs start tightening.  Every breath is a struggle as I fight to get oxygen into my blood. I constantly tell myself everything is going to be okay, no harm will come to me because I am sitting on my bed reading. I do not believe anyone has ever died from reading a comic. Although death by comic does sound like a good way to go. Now the real question at hand, if I died reading a comic which one of you writers is going to review the comic and write about my death? Sorry about that tangent, back to business.

Welcome to the car chase issue.  The dreaded car chase issue.  You don’t see many car chase issues these days.  Why is that?  I’ll tell you why, it is because the key to a car chase is fast paced, close call, edge of your seat action.  Okay easy, we just have to figure out how to draw fast paced close calls. Perhaps not as easy as I thought.  The car chase issue is not a popular one and it is simply because it usually does not work out.  If you attempt a car chase issue and it fails, it is really going to fail.  Especially in this type of book which has been fast paced since the first issue. Getting into issue 4 of a 6 part series and dropping the ball on a car chase issue is basically saying bye bye to a section of readers.  So how does Scalera do it? I ask because this is the best car chase issue I have read in a long time.  There is no other car chase issue that comes to my mind better than this one.  As I flip through the book to figure out how Scalera has accomplished it I see something I did not notice while reading for the first time.  Every page in the book is a two page spread.  Every page provides rows of scenes that continue across two pages.  I don’t know if this aided with the excitement of the issue or not but I was so into the comic that I didn’t even notice.  That’s a good sign!

I have not read a ton of Justin Jordan comics but honestly I think that is because there is not a ton of Justin Jordan out there.  I have read Luther Strode, which I enjoyed but I would say hands down Dead Body Road is my favorite Justin Jordan work.  These hard nose gritty characters fit Jordan’s style and he finds a way to make you love and hate practically every character in the story.  This book is not just a high paced thrill ride.  Jordan provides the humor and character development necessary to raise this book to the next level.  In my opinion this is one of Image’s most underrated books.  It really is fantastic and extremely fun to read.

So go buy a copy, take a deep breath, and dive into the pages of Dead Body Road.

Warning:  The creators of this book are trained professionals.  Do not attempt the panels they have created without consulting an expert.

– Dean

Review of Sandman: Overture #2

Sandman Overture #2 McKean regularSandman: Overture #2 by Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams III

After a slight delay (which hopefully will be the last), Gaiman resumed his return trip to The Dreaming this week. While the first issue took place in the year 1915, the second opens with a flash-forward to now. In the present, Dream announces to Lucien that the time has come for him to fulfill an obligation which he cannot ignore. So, leaving Lucien to entertain visiting dignitaries, Dream travels to chat with a certain Henriette. Henriette, better known as Mad Hattie, has long been a fixture of the magical corner of the DCU. She previously played a role in the life of both Dream and his sister Death. On this occasion, Dream and Hattie take a walk through a deeply haunted house in search of an item that she once hid there. Retrieving what appears to be a pocket watch, Dream bids Hattie farewell, and returns to the current duties of his realm. I trust that this expedition amounts to more than a visit with familiar faces and that Gaiman is laying the groundwork for something that will be important later in Overture.

The issue then picks up where the previous left off in 1915. Dream had been called away (more like forcefully seized by mystical powers) to an unfamiliar place. Even more disorienting is the fact that he is surrounded by creatures who appear to be strange variations on himself. It soon becomes clear that each of these figures represents an aspect of Dream’s essence. They are all one, yet also separate. While not expressed in quite this manner before, this theme has always played a part in the Sandman mythos. Dream appears in the form the viewer would best comprehend. Thus, when visited by a cat in “Dream of a Thousand Cats,” the Dream Lord appears as a feline. Throughout the series, artists portrayed Dream in a variety of ways, depending on their personal style. Williams pays homage to this tradition by dressing one of the Dream aspects in a flame-patterned robe which bears a strong resemblance to a garment worn by Marc Hempel’s Dream in The Kindly Ones.

Gaiman also uses this conclave of Dreams to hint at future events. As the conversation meanders through philosophical discussions & digressions, Dream asks if he is always like this: “Self-satisfied. Irritating . . . unwilling to concede center stage to anyone but myself?” Yes, is the answer he receives. “Ah, fascinating,” Dream muses. How Dream just described himself fits perfectly how his personality has been for millennia. The core of his character arc in Sandman is how he gradually learns to relax and allow himself to be more open to others. In the past, readers have concluded that it was Dream’s time in captivity which first sparked this reassessment. Here, however, Gaiman seems to be suggesting that it started a little earlier. Was it this experience with the aspects of himself which first forced Dream to confront who he was in all his ugliness? If so, will we see more hints of this shift before the conclusion of Overture?

Towards the end of the issue, Gaiman reintroduces a threat familiar to fans (hint: Doll’s House). Then on the final page he leaves the reader with a bit of a shocker. Less surprising is the fact that Gaiman continues to be a cat person.

As for the art, Williams simply amazes with every page. Somehow he has found a way to outdo his own stellar work on Batwoman. Each page is imaginatively constructed and beautifully rendered. From the shifting fantasy background ofdec130330d The Dreaming to the horror house tour with Mad Hattie to the cosmic setting for the gathering of Dreams, Williams shines. Credit should also be given to Dave Stewart’s outstanding colors, especially the bright reds of the ruby pages; also, Todd Klein deserves notice for keeping clear a wide assortment of fonts in the conclave section. And of course, no Sandman comic would be complete without a Dave McKean cover . . .

Overall, this issue seemed to be a bridge getting us through some exposition on the way to the primary conflict. Regardless, it is a very lovely bridge, which is a pleasure to stroll along. Having done so now, I am eager to see where the third segment of our journey will take us.

Cheers

Review of Silver Surfer #1

“His [Kirby’s] Surfer had been a being of pure energy who had to learn from Earthlings what emotion and individuation were all about. Stan’s was a man from another planet who’d made the supreme sacrifice in becoming Galactus’ herald.” – Gerard Jones and Will Jacobs, The Comic Book Heroes (1997)

Silver Surfer 1Fantastic Four collaborators Jack Kirby and Stan Lee had conflicting visions for Marvel’s Silver Surfer character. Created by artist Jack Kirby, the Silver Surfer debuted in Fantastic Four #48 (1966), a silver-toned alien being travelling through space on a vessel that resembled a surf board (some context – it was the 1960s, there was a surfing craze going on, and Kirby was one of the most daring and imaginative comics creators who ever lived) to scout out worlds to be consumed by his master – the immensely powerful alien being Galactus. The Silver Surfer, moved by the humanity he encounters on Earth, rebels against his master and helps the Fantastic Four defeat Galactus.

The Silver Surfer was a popular character and his adventures continued. Writer and editor Stan Lee saw the humanity in the character, and envisioned the Surfer as an alien man who had volunteered to serve Galactus in order to save his home planet. Kirby intended the character to be a cosmic alien being whose compassion would be learned by his interactions with humans. As editor, Lee had the final say, and his vision for the character endured.

Reading the first issue of Silver Surfer by writer Dan Slott and artist Mike Allred, it seems that the creative team is trying to reconcile the conflicting visions of Kirby and Lee. Slott and Allred’s Silver Surfer is a powerful cosmic traveler with a conscience, trying to make amends for his past actions, saving planets and hoping to atone for helping Galactus destroy worlds. The Surfer gets recruited by a mysterious alien civilization that he has never encountered before to help it repel a powerful threat.

The aliens introduce the Surfer to an Earth woman named Dawn, believing her to be of great importance to the Surfer. On Earth, Dawn and her twin sister Eve are very different; Eve likes to travel the world and have adventures, while Dawn likes to stay in her home town and help her Dad. The two sisters reflect the qualities that define the Surfer – compassion and adventure. It will be interesting to see how the Surfer reacts to Dawn’s presence in future issues.

Mike Allred’s art is brilliant; he’s clearly having fun rendering all the alien characters and worlds in the comic. Allred also nicely contrasts Dawn’s small town world with the Surfer’s strange cosmic universe. Colorist Laura Allred reinforces these differences with very bright colors for the Surfer’s panels, and slightly more subdued colors in Dawn’s.

Slott and Allred’s Silver Surfer combines cosmic strangeness with very human compassion, a neat reconciliation of two very different visions for the character.

THIS COMIC IS RANKED:

Entropic! | Redshift! | Blueshift! |  COSMIC!

 

 

Review of Rocky & Bullwinkle #1

Rocky & Bullwinkle #1Rocky & Bullwinkle #1 by Mark Evanier & Roger Landgridge

This week I bought two books which offered me a pair of nostalgic experiences. The first Sandman: Overture, I shall discuss at more length in separate review. For now, though, I’ll simply say again that reading Neil Gaiman’s series in high school made a lasting impression on me. So, naturally, when his return to the character was announced, I was excited; I was even more ecstatic to discover the new material matched the old in terms of quality.

Rocky & Bullwinkle offers a different type of nostalgia, which the new IDW comic does a good job of channeling. As a kid I checked out of the local library videos of the original show; nowadays I have the first two seasons on DVD. Never an obsessive fan, I was always fond of the program. Reading this issue today, it was easy to hear those familiar voices bumbling, quipping, and narrating their way through the story.

The issue is set up similar to the format an episode of the show: a Rocky & Bullwinkle segment, a special feature, followed by another installment of Moose & Squirrel. This issue’s middle section belonged to Dudley Do-Right, who was always my favorite of the “friends.” There is something about the Dudley stories which were even more absurdly ridiculous than the adventures of the main heroes. Maybe it was Horse. Regardless, the Do-Right chapter is a fun story involving yet another scheme of “the incessant” Snidely Whiplash. It was probably my favorite part of the issue. I am assuming that future issues will spotlight other special features (Fractured Fairy Tales, Aesop, etc). However, if they simply gave us more Dudley, I’d be OK with that decision.

The Rocky & Bullwinkle narrative is enjoyable as well. As par for the course, Boris Badenov has concocted yet another half-baked plan which is probably more complicated than need be. In this case, he is posing as a psychic in order to swindle the wealthy Louis F(ilthy) Lucre. Once Rocky catches on, he declares that Lucre should sue the charlatan. “That’s right,” replies Bullwinkle, “He should file a Seer Sucker Suit.” Yep, that’s correct, the series honors faithfully the TV show’s love of bad puns.

One of the reasons I took a chance on this comic was the talent involved. Writer Mark Evanier himself hits a nostalgia button for me due to his work on Groo, which I remember being passed around in junior high. Here Evanier has written a funny, charming comic, which honors what came before it. In a similar manner, Landgridge does well with the art, which should not come as a surprise for anyone familiar with his contributions to Boom’s line of great, though now defunct, Muppets comics.

All in all, this was an enjoyable debut issue, which I would recommend to other fans of the TV show. As for myself, I plan to pick up the second issue next month.

Here’s hoping Fearless Leader shows his scarred face at some point.

Cheers.