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Sunday, March 27, 2016

East of West Vol 3

Title: East of West Vol 3

ISBN: 9781632151148

Price: $14.99

Publisher/Year: Image, 2014

Artist: Nick Dragotta

Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Collects: East of West #11-15

Rating: 4/5

It’s tempting to babble senselessly about how good this comic is, urge you to go out and buy all available issues right away, but I wouldn’t be much of a reviewer if I didn’t explain my fascination. I’ll start with a little back story.

Loosely based on the ‘Book Of Revelations’, ‘East Of West’ tells the story of impending apocalypse. It’s clear from the very first issue that the world has been destroyed and revived before in what might be an endless cycle. What’s not clear is the role to be taken by the very recognizable symbols of a biblical apocalypse. The Four Horsemen are missing one of their number, Death. The Seven Seals have been replaced by seven nations. The Beast is…difficult to explain without spoiling some of the surprises of the story. Then there is the Message, which is presented as a constraint upon the actions of all. A dictate on how the world will end. Mixed into this over-arching story are the lives of the people within each nation. The leaders and their friends and foes.

The cover of Volume 3 features Xiaolian. The title, ‘There Is No Us’, again perfectly encompasses the events of the collected issues as well as Xiaolian’s philosophy. After rallying her people, she departs for a meeting with the other nations where she plans to call for an end to the illusion of peace. We visit with each leader as they make their preparations and depart for the Wall, the neutral zone that will host the meeting. These glimpses of each nation serve as a quick reminder of who the players are and what they are up to. After waiting months for the next collected volume, I found it easy to slip back into the story and was surprised by how well I remembered each character’s quirks and faults. To me, that is a mark of great story-telling.

The second chapter begins with politicking. The dialogue is clever and again serves to establish the intention of each nation. The Endless Nation, which is the most obscure player thus far in that we haven’t seen a lot of them on the page, is called to project an outcome to the war Xiaolian wants. Predictably, they outline the terrible cost of any match of opponents and call for peace. Violence interrupts the meeting and the chain of events that follows ensures that war is the only outcome. The panels depicting the breakdown of negotiations are brutal and gory, which only serves to highlight the shocking nature of each incident.

From there, we move to the dead lands and the shootout between Death and the Ranger. While they duke it out, Wolf and Raven attempt to bind the power loosed by the death of wolf’s father. They…succeed in doing something. Trouble is averted for now. When Death reveals why he was dealing with a chosen, the Ranger stands down. Post-brawl negotiations are interrupted by a rumble overhead: the ships of The Endless Nation heading to war.

Next, we check in with the three Horsemen and Ezra. More panels of delightfully depicted gore here. The Horsemen want Ezra’s help in killing the Beast. As this is counter to the Message, Ezra goes a little nuts.

The final chapter has all four Horsemen arriving at the lair of the Beast. As always, this part of the story is creepy-cool. As always, I’m going to say very little regarding it, except that I was once again surprised by events.

Closing the back cover of the book, I saw a quote:

    "We would tell you to pray, but it wouldn’t do any good. You have earned what is coming to you."

These little quotes appear throughout Volume 3. They’re a reminder of how deep this story is and illustrate the attention to detail that makes this comic special. The art alone is spectacular. I rave about it every review and I’ll do so again here. The composition of each panel is stunning. No image is extraneous or wasted. The art tells as much of the story as the dialogue. But without the smart dialogue and strong characterization, the art would just be pretty. The collaboration between writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Nick Dragotta is what makes ‘East Of West’ such a delight to read.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

East of West Vol 2: We Are All One

Title: East of West Vol 2: We Are All One

ISBN: 9781607068556

Price: $14.99

Publisher/Year: Image, 2014

Artist: Nick Dragotta

Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Collects: East of West #6-10

Rating: 4/5

Fate was always going to put ‘East Of West’ in my path. I devour post-apocalyptic stories with unholy glee and have done since I discovered the ‘Book Of Revelation’, which is probably why I enjoy ‘East Of West’ so much. There is history here, a lot of it. Creators Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta have pulled snippets of story from several well-known legends and have fused the pieces together with their own imagination. I really love their take on the end of the world. I love this comic series. Now I’m going to continue to enthuse while I talk a little bit about ‘Vol. 2: We Are All One’.

The title is very appropriate. Throughout this collection, issues 6-10 of the comic, the back story widens to include and link several of our main characters. Many of them were involved in the past, willingly or unwillingly. Wittingly or unwittingly! They’re all connected, throughout history and time. There is a sense they are as fated to be together as me and this series.

On to the story. Accused of being a traitor, Bel escapes the conclave and goes to find Justice. We get our first delicious slice of back story here and a promise from Justice to serve just that, saving Bel for last, of course. Meanwhile on, Death is looking for his son. Insert another glimpse of back story, this time for Ezra Orion, who was caught up in Bel’s escape and is now paying a terrible price. My heart wrenched and my gut clenched for this one. It’s the story and the art. This is a partnership that breathes hyper-realistic life into every frame.

Back at the white tower, the city is on fire. Presidency is not an easy task, particularly under the constraint of the Message and the Word. Here, the reader gains a sense of both the urgency and the futility the seven must feel while the world races toward the end. They have to keep it together for just that long and then give it up. Talk about anti-motivation. Then again, I’m not the disciple type.

Death confronts the Oracle and she extracts a terrible price for information about the whereabouts of his son. These panels are suitably grisly. On to John Freeman, who receives a lesson in history from his father. This is another chunk of back story that shows timeless connection between many of the characters. The lessons from his father help glue the story together while reinforcing the fact it is huge.

‘East Of West’ has always had the depth of a novel. That’s why I enjoy it so much. The issues don’t feel episodic in the traditional comic book sense, even if each serves a purpose. Rather, each issue is a chapter of a larger and ever-growing tale. I love the combination of back story, plot and hints of possible futures. For me, each issue is another building block, I suppose. Separately, they serve a need. Together, they are so much more.

The last chapter has Death meeting the man who can tell him where his son is. Unfortunately, for all involved, the Ranger has also caught up with his prey. Cue epic battle and denouement. Of course, the story doesn’t end here. In fact, there is much left to tell.

Before the end, we check in with the Beast. I’m not going to detail this scene much except to say it had my skin crawling. Really and truly.

So, to reiterate, this is a fantastic story done justice by volume two. The art continues to be amazing and the writing is top notch. There are no characters undeserved by the collaboration of Hickman and Dragotta. I don’t want to discourage those who like to read their comics issue by issue, but I really love the way multiple issues work together in this series, as if designed to hang between two covers as a single unit. Unlike some collected comics, these graphic novels work well. They have a beginning and an ending, which only leads me to praise, once again, the scope of the project, and the imagination of its creators

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Saga Volume 5

Title: Saga Volume 5

ISBN: 9781632154385

Price: $14.99

Publisher/Year: Image, 2015

Artist: Fiona Staples

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Collects: Saga #25-30

Rating: 4/5

There is so much to say about Saga. It’s a series that transcends multiple genres at once while exemplifying the best of those genres. It’s written in a no-nonsense, funny and modern style that is easy to get in to. There’s no pretension; Saga knows exactly what it is and doesn’t give a fuck. It is also beautifully drawn by Fiona Staples. I’ve never known an artist able to capture even the slightest human expressions so perfectly, never mind the countless anthropomorphic animals she brings vividly to life.

For those not familiar with the series (and there’s really no good reason not to be if you’re a fantasy and/or Sci-Fi fan. You don’t even need to be in to comics), Saga follows the fugitives Marko and Alana, forbidden lovers from opposite sides of a galactic war, and their new-born baby Hazel – who narrates the series – as they run from never ending violence. The leaders of both sides have condemned Marko and Alana’s relationship, and their mixed-race child. The magical, horned humanoids of the moon Wreath, Marko’s home world, have sent assassins to kill off the parents and snatch the baby, while the militarized winged people of Alana’s planet Landfall have teamed up with the monitor-headed robot royalty to search for and destroy the little family.

Sounds complicated, eh? You have no idea. If you’ve not read it, close this review, go and buy the entire series, and then come back. I expect you’ll be a better person once you do.

Now that you’ve turned your life around, we can talk about Volume 5 in this series. Volume 5 collects issues 25 to 30. The opening to this particular arc shows us a brief history of the war, showcasing the way it has moved so far away from the planet and moon it started on that the inhabitants aren’t really aware of it anymore. It’s very nicely done and gives us a rare glimpse of the general population of Landfall, going about their lives. It felt like a clever analogue to the wars of recent years that both the UK and US have been a part of, yet most of the populations of those countries would only be aware of it as something in the news.

Stuck right in the middle and now the focus of both sides at this point, are our protagonists. Having been split up, Marko forms an uneasy alliance with Prince Robot IV (with the aid of druggie Yuma and cute-as-ever Ghüs), while Alana tries to protect Hazel from the Rebellion, a group of violent outlaws who have just turned up on her doorstep. Meanwhile, Sophie, Lying Cat, Gwendolyn and The Brand go in search of…well, dragon jizz…in order to heal The Will.

This arc moves a bit slower than previous volumes. Rather than trying to keep ahead of everyone, Marko and Alana are simply trying to find one another. Everyone is mostly stuck in one place; Alana with the Rebellion, Marko with the Prince, and Sophie et al on Demimonde as they search for a male dragon. This gives Vaughan a chance to work on his characters. There’s quite a bit of development for Marko. We get an insight to just why he’s so desperate to swear off violence yet finding it pretty damn difficult to do. There’s also a fair bit of sacrifice and risk-taking from characters we wouldn’t have expected it from so far.

A great aspect of this arc has been that a lot of the characters are out of their comfort zones. Marko and Alana don’t have one another to rely on; Robot IV is partnered up with the enemy; Sophie and Gwendolyn don’t have The Will. What’s interesting is how they react to these situations. Marko is sort of pathetic without Alana. He’s still badass, but he mopes like a teenager at some points. Robot IV acts as pompously as you would expect him to, but little flashes of decency do shine through, once he gets to know the little group he’s stuck with. It also introduces us to the Rebellion, who seem to be something of a common enemy between Landfall and Wreath; brutal terrorists with little regard for the well-being of either side. They act under the pretense of wanting to end the war once and for all, but their actions and attitude tell an entirely different story. They form a pivotal moment at the end of this arc, and it will interesting to see how both sides react to it.

As you would expect from Saga, the artwork is beautiful throughout, with plenty of disgusting moments as well. There’s one image that takes up double-page splash that is one of the grimmest things I’ve seen so far in a comic that has happily shown us inter-species orgies, placenta covered babies and a gigantic naked cyclops with a wart-covered nutsack the size of a car.

As well as this, there are plenty of cute moments. Not only do we get Hazel as a fun-loving toddler who seems blissfully ignorant of the horrible things going on around her, but we get plenty of adorable and hilarious Ghüs moments too. Ghüs is such an easy character to love, and Vaughan and Staples seems to love giving us more reasons to do so.

Vaughan’s humor is ever present. His dialogue is some of the best in any medium; I think he’s up there with the likes of Abercrombie and Rothfuss for wit and realism. The characters all feel distinct from one another, as opposed to some other recent comics I’ve read that contain quite wooden and flat characters.

So while it’s not as fast-paced as the volumes before, volume 5 is a great arc, and sets up what is sure to be the most exciting part of this story yet. Saga has already cemented itself as one of the best titles around at the minute, and with years of stories yet to come, it feels like it’s only going to get better.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Star Wars: Princess Leia

Title: Star Wars: Princess Leia

ISBN: 9780785193173
Price: $16.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2015
Artist: Terry Dodson
Writer: Mark Waid
Collects: Star Wars: Princess Leia #1-5

Rating: 3/5

Earlier this year Marvel released a five part comic series focusing on everyone’s favorite Galactic Princess – Princess Leia. Like many of the new Star Wars Canon items being released this year, “Princess Leia” takes place in between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.

The main storyline in Princess Leia is Leia and Rebel pilot, Evaan, leading a mission to rescue the survivors of Alderaan. It’s a personal story for Leia, who never really had a chance to process the destruction of her homeland in the films. And luckily for readers, it has enough action to keep things consistently interesting.

Princess Leia begins at the end of the medal ceremony on Yavin after the destruction of the first Death Star. Leia is asked to remain on Yavin and essentially just hide out. But after Rebel Pilot Evaan lets Leia know that the Imperials are hunting down all survivors of Alderaan, Leia and Evaan grab a ship to start their own rescue mission.

Leia’s first stop is Naboo where after a sighting of a Padme mural (nice touch) Leia rescues some Alderaanian musicians including Pareece and a young girl named Tace. Tace is desperately trying to contact her sister Tula who it turns out is secretly working for the Imperials.

Leia and her ship then move to Sullust where they find Jora who is in charge of an Alderanian enclave. Jora is suspicious of Leia, especially after they discover a transmission from Leia’s ship to the Imperials that has brought stormtroopers at their doorstep. After a narrow escape it is discovered that the spy who revealed their location is the unknowing Tace. Leia believes in Tace’s innocence and makes a plan for her to send a new message to her sister.

Jora and Pareece travel to Espirion where they meet Consul Rill, the leader of a group of half-Alderaanians. Jora insults Rill by expressing his interest in only saving Alderaanians that have not been “diluted” and Pareece is unable to convince Rill that Leia and the other Alderaanians don’t share Jora’s prejudiced views.

Leia makes an arrangement with the Imperials to swap herself for Tace’s sister Tula. However just as Leia is about to be taken onto an Imperial ship Nien Nunb, along with Evaan, comes to the rescue with a smuggled ship.

Without military help from Espirion, the Alderaanins Leia has called to join her are at risk of all being destroyed by the Imperials all in one swoop. In a last ditch effort, Leia broadcasts a call for unity that convinces Consul Rill to come to their rescue and join their efforts to bring together all of Alderaanian’s survivors.

The easy highlight is that this comic series is all about Leia – with many diverse and interesting female characters throughout the story. While Leia was always a strong character in the Star wars films, she was often on the sidelines of the action rather than being the central figure. I thought it was a great idea to start the series off with Rebel Leaders telling Leia she should just sit down and stay safe. When Leia chooses to jump in and get her hands dirty instead of sitting back and letting the boys take care of everything we get a storyline that fans of Leia have been waiting a long time for.

Other highlights include Evaan – who I’d love to see make an appearance in Rogue One – and her partnership with Leia. Like many of her fellow Rebel Pilots, Evaan started off harshly judging Leia for not having the “appropriate emotional reaction” about her home world’s destruction. Which proves that even Rebel Pilots can be jerks sometimes. Seeing how the two women slowly grow to trust and respect each other was much more interesting than if they would have started off the story as friends.

There is also a lot to love about the artwork in Princess Leia. The facial expressions on the characters were suitably compelling for such an emotional tale and I loved the color palette used in the series.

The miniseries stumbles by wrapping up much too fast. It seemed like there was a lot more story about the sister’s relationship, Nien and Evaan’s rescue of Leia, and the conflict between Jora and Consul Rill to be told. While the first four comics all felt evenly paced, the final comic was a bit of a blur right when it was all getting interesting. It would have been nice to stretch the series out a few more episodes.

The short length of the series also didn’t allow for more than one flashback section of Alderaan before its destruction. With all of the mentions in the series about the beauty and arts Alderaan was known for it would have been nice to have seen a bit more of the planet in these kinds of flashbacks.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

A funny thing happened to me on the way to breakfast...

As I was driving to breakfast this morning, I passed by a large empty lot where there once stood a mushroom factory in my youth. Then I thought to myself:

Self - "You know what would be cool there?"

Me - "What?"

Self - "A place where roleplayers could go to game."

Me - "YO!"

Self - "And not just tabletop. I'm thinking a place large enough to have its own LARP areas; indoor and outdoor."

Me - "Damn! That would be awesome!"

I remember when I was heavy into LARP that we always had a difficult time finding indoor facilities during the colder months. Right now I'm trying to figure out the best location to be able to run my Pathfinder game without having to beg one of the local shops for space that they would rather give to people who play Magic or Warhammer.

I've always had a dream of someday owning a RPG/comic shop that would have space enough for gamers of all types. Now I'm thinking of a space that would cater specifically to gamers who need a place they can go without the hassles of being pressured into buying things when they game, and comfortable enough to be able to relax when they do so.

I know this sounds like a huge pipe dream, and it may very well be. Let me address some concerns right off the bat: (From this point forward, I'm going to refer to this idea as the "facility".)

  • What I am proposing would, in no way, directly compete with any of the local stores because the focus wouldn't be on selling products.

  • As far as actual sales go, there would be food and beverages as well as incidentals items that gamers may need from time-to-time such as pens, paper, dice, other items to be determined.

  • There would be dedicated rooms for tabletop RPG's and areas designed primarily with LARPing in mind. Landscaping around the building would also be used as LARP environment.

  • There would be no direct involvement with hosting tournaments/events around games that are already locally supported by various stores. (i.e. no pre-release Magic: The Gathering stuff, no qualifying tournament stuff for any other CCG's.) If there is a need for space to host tournaments of this nature, it would be arranged with the facility and the supporting store.

  • There would be a membership fee of some kind to help differ the costs that will be associated with the facility. The actual cost and privileges of membership are yet to be determined.

My thought was to initially set this up as a crowd sourced project. While I am good at coming-up with ideas, implementation and design are qualities I lack. Here's what I'm thinking I would need help with to get this off the ground... if enough people think this would be a worthwhile project:

  • Project Designer - Someone who can see past the idea and help to figure-out what the path to success will take.

  • Facility Designer - Someone who has the ability to take the ideas and put them down in an illustrated format. Some CAD, some illustration based on CAD designs.

  • Crowd Sourcing Engineer - Someone who can help us get initial funding for the project.

  • Financial Adviser - The realist who has a firm grip on the concepts of money in, money out. Also someone who can assist the Crowd Sourcing Engineer find alternative methods of funding. (i.e. grants.)

I know there's probably more that needs to be considered, but that's where my idea begins to get blurry. I'd love to hear your ideas on this concept.

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: ...