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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Cable Vol 4: Stranded

Title: Cable Vol 4: Stranded

ISBN: 9780785141679

Price: $14.99

Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2010

Artist: Paul Gulacy, Gabriel Guzman, Mariano Taibo

Writer: Duane Swierczynski

Collects: Cable # 16-20

Rating: 3/5

The son of X-Man Scott Summers and a clone of Jean Grey, Nathan Christopher Summers was infected with a techno-organic virus as a baby. He was only saved by being sent through time, subsequently spending his formative years in the far future where he became an unlikely and largely unwilling savior of assorted humankinds against mutant overlord Apocalypse and his vile minions such as the clone-warrior Stryfe.

Afflicted with a stubborn certainty that he always knew best – probably due to his hard-earned foreknowledge and weary experience of how bad the days to come would be – Nathan evolved into time-travelling super-soldier Cable and gradually inserted himself into the lives of key figures in mutant history: figures such as Professor Charles Xavier and his own father Cyclops – the Moses and King David of mutant-kind…

Using his phenomenal psionic abilities to hold at bay the incurable, progressive condition inexorably consuming his flesh and only held in check by the victim’s indomitable force of will, the mysterious grizzled veteran slowly began interacting with and reshaping the past…

Hope Spalding-Summers was the first Homo Superior born on Earth after M-Day, when the temporarily insane mutant Avenger Scarlet Witch used her reality-warping powers to eradicate almost all fellow members of her terrifying sub-species from existence.

Considered by many to be some sort of mutant messiah, the newborn girl was “appropriated” by militant warrior Cable – no stranger to the role of Sole Saviour – who raised her in the furious future, training her in all manner of lethal survival skills before she inevitably found her way back to the present where she was adopted by X-Men supremo Scott Summers AKA Cyclops.

Hers was a horrifically memorable childhood as this slim, satisfying collection (gathering issues #16-20 of the monthly Cable comic book from July-November 2009) will surely attest…

From the start Hope had implacable foes hunting her. The most resourceful was another time-tossed former X-Man, Lucas Bishop, who was convinced the child would cause the diabolically dystopian alternate reality he originated in. To prevent such horror ever occurring, Bishop determined to kill her before she could become a mutant anti-Christ and not even Cable’s frequent temporal relocations would deter him…

With the entire time-busting saga scripted by Duane Swierczynski, the action here begins with the 2-part ‘Too Late for Tears’ – illustrated by legendary comics icon Paul Gulacy – as Cable and nine-year-old Hope prepare to again jump into the safely camouflaging corridors of chronality after a particularly contentious battle.

However, the increasingly rebellious girl strikes out at her protector during a fateful moment and the time-shift goes wrong…

Hope materializes in the same post-apocalyptic location but two years earlier in time and, with no further information to go on, endeavors to make herself secure until Cable finds her. Stuck in her future, Cable patiently waits for her to “catch up” but his techno-viral contagion flares up and threatens to end his appalling life before she gets then…

And 127 years prior to Cable’s latest crisis Bishop activates his own time-machine and remorselessly continues his pursuit of Hope…

Stuck, but not without resources, the girl explores a dying Earth where only two warring cities are still inhabited. Soon she is approached by a young boy named Emil who is instantly smitten by the lethally self-sufficient waif…

Just as Cable forces back his latest bout of all-consuming transmogrification by invasive code, Bishop arrives and a deadly destructive but ultimately inconclusive battle breaks out. The follower’s plan is obsessively simple: as soon as he sees Hope he will end her by detonating a nuclear device inside his body.

But she isn’t with Cable any longer…

In another era, Emil has gradually broken Hope’s wall of distrust but, just as she feels she can finally relax, the girl discovers that the revered spiritual head of the boy’s band of survivors is her very familiar foe. The “Arch-Bishop” has been so patiently waiting for his time-bending bĂȘte-noir to resurface…

The seemingly benevolent holy man has no problems wiping out his entire flock to finish her for good but Hope perpetually avoids him and Bishop just can’t trigger the nuke until he’s absolutely certain.

And two long years later, Cable moves into one of the two cities, makings plans, winning allies and waiting, waiting, waiting…

When at last 11-year old Hope is reunited with Cable, it’s as both cities are on the verge of mutual destruction and the mutant has no time for her protests. He has spent his time constructing a working space ship and after forcibly dragging his furious charge aboard takes off for the safety of space leaving a heartbroken Emil behind. Happily for the lovesick lad the wonderful Archbishop can also construct star-craft. Very soon they will all be reunited…

Artists Gabriel Guzman & Mariano Taibo take over for the eerie alien encounter ‘Brood’ beginning with ‘Bishop Takes Pawn’ wherein Bishop and Emil lead their people into a final battle with Cable’s ship and crew on the edges of the solar system. Thankfully the boy finds Hope before the mutant hunter does and she convinces her long-lost paramour of the deranged cleric’s true intentions before falling to Bishop’s murderous rage.

With nuclear obliteration seconds away events overtake all the manic participants as both ships – locked together in the vacuum of deep space – are invaded by creatures even more ferociously dangerous…

The Brood are ghastly alien parasites and rapacious intelligent body-stealers who lay eggs in hosts and use the victims’ genetic material to augment their unborn generations. For uncounted centuries they have greedily hungered for the exceptional advantages gained by infecting mutants and metahumans…

In ‘Queen Takes Bishop’ the disgusting matriarch of the invading beasts specifically targets Hope as her overwhelming spawn decimate the last remnants of humanity aboard both ships. However, the little lass has met Brood before and knows just how to deal with them. Elsewhere Bishop and Cable also manage to survive the appalling assault, both obsessed with finding Hope for their drastically opposing reasons…

As an entire space fleet of the noxious beasts zero in on the last humans alive, Bishop utterly succumbs to his obsession by allying himself with the Brood Queen to ensure the final fate of Hope, but has completely underestimated the child’s resiliency, Cable’s compulsive dutiful determination, and the unmatchable power of young love in the blazing conclusion ‘Checkmate’…

Time-travel tales often disappoint and frequently make people’s heads hurt, but this bombastic romp (augmented by covers and variants by Dave Wilkins & Rob Liefeld) manages to always stick to the point, offering sly tributes – and some not so much – to Les Miserables and Alien whilst following the pain-wracked consumption of Cable by of his own non-fleshly invaders through a clever and poignant Fights ‘n’ Tights sci fi horror drama that will impress and delight older fans of the genre(s).

Sunday, May 14, 2017

G.I. Joe Volume 1: The Fall of G.I. Joe

Title: G.I. Joe Volume 1: The Fall of G.I. Joe

ISBN: 9781631402203
Price: $17.99
Publisher/Year: IDW, 2015
Artist: Steve Kurth
Writer: Karen Traviss
Collects: G.I. Joe Vol 4 # 1-4

Rating: 3/5

G.I. Joe has won the war against Cobra, or so some would have you believe. Cobra has apparently given up the fight, and suddenly transitioned to a global peacekeeping force, set to rival the United Nations. In the aftermath of apparent victory, the Joe’s political enemies come out of the woodwork, along with a laundry list of covert agencies looking to siphon off the Joe’s resources, and claim their top operators for themselves. The team is in for a new kind of fight, one that takes place in the shadowed halls of the power brokers and puppet masters, not on the war-torn battlefields that they are used to. All the while, Cobra bides its time, plotting and waiting to strike at the perfect moment… The moment that will bring about the fall of G.I. JOE!

As a fan of both the original toy line, and of the Marvel comics series (mainly due to the writing by Larry Hama), I originally approached IDW’s version of G.I. Joe with a bit of trepidation, not knowing what to expect. After reviewing the first issue of this series, I came away more than satisfied with the adaptation, hoping that the tone of the initial issue would be carried throughout the rest of the series. After reading this collection, I have to report that, not only does it replicate the feel of the first issue, it builds upon it. The story by Karen Traviss is light on explosions, firefights, and battlefield action; it instead takes place in the shadows, with double agents and betrayals galore, portraying a Joe team fighting not only the obvious enemies, but politicians and covert agencies seeking to disband the unit.

While there are many familiar faces included in the story (Scarlett, Duke, and Roadblock being a few), the story chooses to travel a different path, one that focuses on behind-the-scenes dealings, and on entities that have their own shadowy agendas, rather than straightforward action. Despite having a number of parallel ongoing subplots, the flow of the story is never overwhelmingly convoluted, and the motivations of the various players are readily determined. This is a good portrayal of covert, black-bag ops, with the emphasis on covert. The Joe’s resident ninja would have a field day with this type of stuff, but unfortunately (from a long term fan’s perspective), Snake-Eyes is nowhere to be found. Oh well, the story is well-crafted and highly entertaining, even without his presence. Good stuff, indeed.

Steve Kurth’s style of art is a rather sketchy, roughed-in approach, which works both in the full color panels of the release, and in the black and white pieces that exist in the introduction to the collection. When working with close-up shots, Kurth’s line work definitely defines his character’s outer form, and then becomes more subtle with strokes that mold the character’s overall appearance and the play of light and shadow over the figure. Drawing back into more widescreen panels, he allows the dialogue to differentiate the various characters, dropping his detail and focusing on dynamic movement. While there is a dearth of true action sequences, his depictions of the few that are contained within the release are dynamic, free-flowing, and cleanly rendered. His panel composition moves the story along, at a goodly pace, and the reader is never left confused by a sudden misplaced panel. His character composition and sense of motion are both strongpoints, and highly contribute to the success of this book.

The cover art by Jeffrey Veregge is another key component to the overall appeal of the collection. When it comes down to it, a cover artist is tasked with coming up with a concept that not only draws the potential reader’s eye, but boils down the appeal of the release into a nutshell. The first thing a new reader is drawn to is the cover art, and this is a make-or-break moment, one that defines the art of selling the overall package to a potential new fan. Veregge’s clean line work, bold character design, and retro art deco style accomplishes this perfectly. Simple yet ornately designed, his cover art never fails to impress.

All in all, this is a rather superb, utterly satisfying release. It represents my first opportunity to check up on an ongoing series, after reviewing the first issue, and I’m more than pleased with the progression of the storyline. Containing an intricate, well-thought-out plot, well-crafted interior illustrations, and eye-catching cover art, this collection is an all-around win. With more double agents and double crosses than you can shake a stick at, fans of spies and covert action teams should seriously be taking a look at this series… Seriously! Happy reading, all!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Doctor Voodoo: Avenger of the Supernatural

Title: Doctor Voodoo: Avenger of the Supernatural

ISBN: 9780785144090

Price: $16.99

Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2009

Artist: Jefte Palo, Gabriel Hardman, Alessandro Vitti, Alex Massacci, Gene Colan, Geof Isherwood, Mickey Ritter

Writer: Rick Remender, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Doug Moench, R.J.M. Lofficer

Collects: Doctor Voodoo: Avenger of the Supernatural # 1-5, Doctor Voodoo: The Origin of Jericho Drumm, The Book of the Vishanti: The Mark of the Vodu

Rating: 3/5

Stephen Strange held the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme for a very long time, so long that it was probably quite discouraging to young magicians in the Marvel universe. I wouldn't be surprised if many of them looked up at that glass ceiling and promptly opened a rift into the Vertigo dimension, where they could be free to climb higher and higher up the ropes of employment, cursing and having dangerous sex as they did. So for Jericho Drumm, the man known as Brother Voodoo, to assume that office after Strange's fall from grace, it couldn't be easy. It's like Truman's first week in the White House, tripping over all those wheelchair ramps. Luckily for Voodoo, he had a couple of things going for him. The help of the outgoing Nikola Tesla Stephen Strange, the wispy remnants of his twin brother Daniel who speaks only in blue, and a fine creative team in Rick Remender, Jefte Palo, and Gabriel Hardman.  But then again, maybe the creative team didn't make it so easy for him.

Rick Remender is really sort of a bastard. In the opening pages of this volume, he pits Voodoo against the nefarious Dormammu, handing the good Doctor an early and impressive victory over one of Marvel's gnarliest villains. But at the conclusion of that first issue Voodoo's dealt the hand of Doom. Little Green Riding Hood takes him on a cosmic level Tom & Jerry marathon through the nether realms in pursuit of the articles of the Sorcerer Supreme. Without getting too specific, all hell kind of breaks loose. Or a good enough portion of it to keep Doctor Voodoo scrambling for a way out in the first few days of the job. Walking away from encounters with Dormammu and Doom in one issue? It's only the start of an incredibly ambitious storyline. 

What I love about Marvel's magic universe, it's arcane frontier, is the same thing I revel in with their cosmic offerings. Every word balloon's a party bag of possibilities. Forget hoary hosts of Hoggoth. How about 'psychlodermic mindphibians'? As with his Frankencastle tenure on The Punisher, Remender serves up some truly trippy concepts. His reverence for the Marvel monsters is clear, but he's also done his homework on voodoo culture and lore. In his introduction to the collection, Roy Thomas talks about creator Len Wein's initial reluctance about constructing an ongoing series around voodoo magic, concerned that there wouldn't be enough material to draw upon. Remender shows the texture of this culture, of the loas and the greater mythology. He also shows how Stephen Strange's brand of magic isn't the only way to operate in the Marvel U. That there are other demons and other planes and other approaches to this office of Sorcerer Supreme. There is a point where Voodoo is chided for his audacity, and I think that's part of what we love about what Remender's been doing at Marvel. I'll admit to being among the fans who was disappointed when he signed an exclusive contract with Marvel, thinking that company work might be a waste of his creative ferocity. That's hardly been the case. Creativity isn't about making something of nothing, but taking what you have and making something great. Remender has adopted the Marvel monsters and done some pretty compelling things with them. At first it seems that he's treating them with absolute abandon. But it turns out that pushing them to their limits and beyond is actually the best way of respecting them.

I was incredibly saddened to learn of the series' cancellation, and I have no grasp as to whether this five issue story is everything it was meant to be. If it's the organic end to a chapter or if that final issue was adjusted for truncation. Either way, this often feels like a tremendous six or seven issue story trapped within five. Those final issues tell of a large scale battle involving the entire magical community, I won't spoil the extended cameos here, but there are some real crowd pleasers. It doesn't fully gel, so for a lot of readers, this might seem like abstract magical concept after abstract magical concept. It's really difficult to make solutions seem concrete when they're anything but, and that's the tragic flaw for many stories of this kind.

Jefte Palo can draw a terrific shrunken head, and he's incredibly well-suited to capturing dire nightmares. His style is a little sketchy, but that's perfect for all these hellscapes and magician's parlors, all those faces twisted in agony. Doctor Voodoo himself is almost constantly dour, a very serious man with an impossible burden. Most importantly, Palo is dynamic. These aren't just wizards pointing wands at each other. This magic hurts. And it moves. The equally talented Gabriel Hardman steps in for sepia-toned flashback sequences that tell of Drumm's childhood and his curse. It's pure pulp, and the old man who puts a hex on the boy is one of the scariest character I've seen in a mainstream comic. Real Universal horror. There are a lot of books out there with characters three times as popular as Voodoo, and they don't look nearly as good. This was a labor of love and the look is 100% first class.

This isn't a book for every reader. It will assume you know the intricacies of Marvel magic or, more likely, that you're willing to live with a little ignorance and proceed into the dark. Which, you know, if fun sometimes. It certainly prodded at my imagination. If you're hungry for magic. If you love a little Doom. If you like more than a little audacity in your comics, it's definitely worth a peek.

MtG Decklist - One Deck to Rule Them All

  A few years ago, I was watching a video on The Commander's Quarters YouTube channel, and I remember loving the concept so much, that ...