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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Fables: Super Team

Title: Fables: Super Team

ISBN: 9781401233068

Price: $14.99

Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2011

Artist: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, Eric Shanower, Terry Moore, Richard Friend

Writer: Bill Willingham

Collects: Fables #101-107

Rating: 4/5

In this next thrilling Fables trade, we have the characters preparing to defend Haven against Mister Dark. Flycatcher has a barrier that is keeping him at bay, but he can’t keep it up forever. Pinocchio arranges tryouts for his Super Team. He’s finally putting all those years of reading comic books to some good use, even having special costumes made for the team. Pinocchio sees himself as a kind of Professor Xavier as he wheels around in a wheelchair.

One of the other main plot points in this trade revolves around the North Wind and his affection for his grandchildren. Unfortunately, it turns out that he may have to kill Ghost, the Zephyr. That could cause a serious strain on the new found relationship he’s had with Bigby. This doesn’t end the way that you may have expected, and it leads to some interesting questions about what will happen in the next volume.

With everything else that is going on with our favorite Fables, we occasionally drop-in on Nurse Spratt who is working with Mister Dark. In this trade, Spratt is working to become the “fairest in all the land” and receive her very own handsome prince. At the end, Nurse Spratt doesn’t look anything like what she used to.

As always, the art is impeccable and the writing is incredible. I recently found out that Bill Willingham will be at the Emerald City ComiCon this year in Seattle, WA. I already have my tickets and I look forward to meeting the creator and mastermind behind one of the few series I can’t get enough of. I really wish I didn’t have to wait until July for the next volume. I’m really looking forward to find out what happens next.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

X-Men: Phoenix Rising

Title: X-Men: Phoenix  Rising

ISBN: 9780785157861

Price: $14.99

Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2011

Artist: John Buscema, John Byrne, Jackson Guice, John Bolton, Mike Collins

Writer: Roger Stern, John Byrne, Bob Layton, Chris Claremont

Collects: The Avengers  #263, The Fantastic Four #286, X-Factor #1, and material from Classic X-Men #8 & 43

Rating: 3/5

This collects a cross title story that both returned Jean Grey to Marvel continuity (after having been killed off a few years before) as well as inaugurating an X-Men spin-off comic, X-Factor. Though X-Factor evolved into a significantly different title, the initial premise featured here was to reunite the original X-Men in their own title: Cyclops, Beast, Angel, Ice Man, and, of course, Jean Grey a.k.a. Marvel Girl.

The significance of the story has been dulled somewhat by time. With Jean Grey alive and well a decade and a half later (well, okay, I guess she died again after I first posted this review), her "death" and resurrection seems a minor footnote in her history, and with X-Factor no longer comprised of the original X-Men, this origin tale will have little resonance for later fans. For X-Men completists, though, the story bridges some of the gap between the classic Dark Phoenix Saga and modern stories. And for nostalgists, this provides a nice window on its time period, with a Stern/Buscema Avengers, and John Byrne's work on the Fantastic Four.

As a standalone, read it for the story, Phoenix Rising is O.K. Not bad, not a must read, either.

It begins with the Avengers investigating an underwater disturbance in New York's Jamaica Bay. As written by Stern, and nicely illustrated by John Buscema (with Palmer on inks) it's an enjoyable tale, with the character interplay (mainly Wasp, Black Knight, Sub-Mariner, Captain Marvel II, Hercules and Captain America) taking priority over action; but there's enough mood and suspense generated by the Avengers' investigation to make it a page turner. There's a sedate approach taken that is oddly appealing, which I also noticed in another run of Stern/Buscema stories in Avengers Under Siege.

The Fantastic Four story (at a time when She-Hulk had temporarily replaced the Thing) picks up where the Avengers leave off. Jean Grey is resurrected and we are given the obligatory re-imagining of key X-Men history, explaining how everything we knew about her transformation into Phoenix and eventual death wasn't what we believed. This is the most significant, mythos-wise, of these issues. But it's also, perhaps, the weakest. I wasn't as big a fan of John Byrne's tenure on The Fantastic Four as many others are, so that plays into my ambivalence. I didn't entirely warm to his take on the characters, or his plotting in general. Here, the story isn't an adventure, per se, yet neither does he fill up time with ongoing character stuff (as Stern did in his Avengers issue) -- in fact, She-Hulk and the Human Torch appear only briefly. That makes for a piece that, though O.K., is a bit...dry. Even the dramatically powerful emotional stuff Jean Grey must deal with is muted because this is, after all, and FF story, so it's told more from their perspective than from hers.

Surprisingly, the strongest tale is the double-length X-Factor issue. I say surprisingly because I had read it when it was first published years ago (unlike the other two issues which I got recently)...and I had never bothered re-reading it in the ensuing years. I really didn't like it. That was partly because I was incensed at the decision to bring back Jean Grey. After all, the Dark Phoenix saga was such a milestone in comics history, how could they so cavalierly cheapen and negate it by bringing back Jean Grey -- particularly in the manner they did? As time went by, and Jean's return was a fact, I mellowed somewhat, and realized the question could also be turned around and asked, what right did Chris Claremont (and artist Byrne) have to kill her off in the first place? If they had the right to kill off a character others had created, didn't someone else have a right to bring her back? As well, at the time I wasn't impressed with Guice's workmanlike art, or other things. And maybe the fact that I just wasn't that familiar with the original X-Men meant the comic's basic appeal -- a reuniting of the old team -- was lost on me.

Whatever the reasons, re-read now, a decade and some later, I enjoyed it. Of the three issues reprinted here, it's the one that most becomes a story, showing how the original X-Men decide to form a new group, and their first adventure, while Cyclops struggles with his mixed feeling over his one-time love Jean Grey's return -- now that he's married and with a son. Like the other issues, this isn't chock full of action (though there is action) but it works well as a story, with nicely realized personalities. I enjoyed Guice's art now, appreciating the unsplashy, just-tell-the-story style in contrast to the garish cartooniness that is common today. Maybe it helps that I'm more familiar with the original team, and have developed an affection for them in the years between readings (thanks to TPB reprints).

What writer Bob Layton captures is the essence of the old team, and what distinguished them from most super hero groups: a sense that they're a family. The characters aren't as colorful as some, they don't bicker or butt heads so much, but there's an easy, believable camaraderie, here given extra depth by the fact that these are older, seasoned people. In fact, Layton maybe does a better job than John Byrne did when, years later, he tackled the original team in the X-Men: The Hidden Years series.

Of course, as noted, the X-Factor here bears little relationship to later incarnations. Most of the original X-Men drifted back to the parent comic over the years. And the ethically problematic concept -- the team exploiting mutant hating prejudice by pretending to be an anti-mutant organization -- was dropped early, apparently.

There's nothing here that makes Phoenix Rising a must read (just as a story, that is), but it's enjoyable enough, particularly when it indulges in its soap opera-y/character stuff. Heck, the X-Factor issue kind of makes me wish that comic was cheaper in the back issues bins, because I wouldn't mind sampling a few more issues. I’d suggest adding this to your collection if you are an X-Men fan..

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Walking Dead Board Game

Title: The Walking Dead Board Game
Price: $39.99
Ages: 13+

Number of Players: 1 – 4

Playing Time: 30 – 45 minutes

Box Contents:
  • 1 Game Board

  • 6 Character Cards

  • 6 Survivor Game Pieces With Bases

  • 2 Walker Game Pieces

  • 16 Ally Tokens

  • 40 Scrounge Cards

  • 40 Encounter Cards

  • 30 Walker Cards

  • 16 Location Cards

  • 4 Badges

  • 1 Six-sided Die

Rating: 4/5

As those of you who read my blog, I typically review trade paperbacks and graphic novels. This Christmas, I received a board game as a present from my parents, and had an opportunity to play it that very same evening with 2 of my friends. I was asked to please post a review by the owner of my local comic store, Tony's Kingdom of Comics, and I couldn't resist. Being a fan of both the trades and the television series, The Walking Dead Board Game interested me from the moment I saw it.


TWD is a board game where you roll-to-move around the zombie wasteland and try to capture four locations by moving and encountering different encounter cards. These cards, representing the zombies or other difficulties, usually challenge you to a die roll. You can modify this roll with scrounge cards which represent the helpful tools you find along the way. The game is played more competitively than cooperatively depending on the status quo; at first all 4 survivors are trying to survive and later there are two survivors against two zombies.

Gameplay Explanation:

The game is indeed thematic and accurately depicts a struggle to survive with inadequate supplies. The game is also very simple to play. Picture the game as a monopoly board. You start at camp, which is in the middle of the board, and move outwards to the monopoly like track, starting at the railroad centers. From there you may move clockwise or counter clockwise depending on how high you roll. You want to get to all four corners of the board, as each corner gives you a special location tile. The tiles are:

+1 to your move

+1 to your attack roll

Draw 2 scrounge cards/Pick up the bottom scrounge card from discard

+1 Ally (health) or +2 allies if you have no other location tiles.

The last location which gives you the +2 allies if you have no other location tiles tends to be the first one you visit and was a no brainer. The game kinda emphasizes player proximity by either rewarding or punishing you for being in the same region as another player. I say kinda, because if it both punishes you and rewards you simply by chance, then there is no actual strategy involving player proximity, but at least it emphasizes it.

So you're moving to these location tiles, and along the way you'll reach encounters. You pull an encounter card and play as many scrounge cards as you wish to aid in your roll of a d6. Your scrounge card might be a gun that gives you a +2 to your roll against an encounter of zombies of 7. If you roll a 6, you critically succeed. If you pass...nothing happens. If you fail, you lose an ally token. If you're out of ally're dead and you reanimate. Zombies get to draw their own zombie cards and either modify the difficulty or impose their own challenge on survivors.

If you're able to collect all 4 location cards and return back to the middle (Camp), then you win. If you reanimate as a Zombie and manage to kill off all the other survivors, then the zombies win. Fun either way. There's also a team play where one team is survivors who play against team zombies. Again, survivors retrieving all the locations and returning to camp before they die win the game. This game also includes rules for playing solo. Not something you often see in a board game, but I'm interested in giving it a try some day.

If you're a fan of TWD and you like playing board games, I suggest you pick this up and bring your friends over for the fun.

Cerebus Vol 3: Church & State Volume I

 Title: Cerebus Vol 3: Church & State Volume I ISBN: 0919359094 Price: $ Publisher/Year: Aardvark-Vanheim, 1987 Artist: Gerhard Writer: ...