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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Rose City Comic Con 2015 Experiences

In the ever-expanding duties of this blog, I was fortunate enough to garner media passes for this years Rose City Comic Con. In the past, I've posted my personal experiences at conventions from around the pacific northwest, and I feel like I came-up a little short somehow. For RCCC, I think I figured out what I was lacking and I was able to fill that void. Unless otherwise noted, the photographs are courtesy of {Chrysalis Rising Photographic Studio}.

The Friday before RCCC, I drove-up to pick-up our media badges. I felt on top of the world when I met Paula Brister and she them to me. Sure they had a typo, but these made me feel legit after writing this blog for almost 5 years. Also, I was glad to be able to have brought my friends to help and take photo's. I think this will work well for future events.

Photo taken by John.

2015 was the 4th year for Rose City Comic Con, and I've been there for every one of them. From the beginnings at the Double Tree Portland... which had around 4100 attendees... to this years event where they had over 30,000! You could really feel the increased numbers this year. In years past, I've always been able to find a parking space on site. This year, we got there around 10:30am and the parking at the Oregon Convention Center was already full.

This is where the worst part of the event came in for me. We found a parking lot a couple blocks away, but they were doing some serious price-gouging for the weekend of the event. Where it was originally posted (I later learned) that parking was normally $3/hour or $9 for the day, that was covered-up and the machine was charging $5/hour with a 5 hour maximum. Also, when I bought our first 5 hours, it said that the ticket expired in less than an hour. Fortunately we didn't get towed or ticketed. I hope that the city would do something to make sure that things like this don't happen for future events... or this may be common for event weekends at the convention center. Who really knows. I didn't let this darken my day.

The first thing on our list of things to do was to was to go to the CBCS booth an get a witness for the covers we were picking-up and getting signed for Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer. CBCS donated 10 of their services to our cause. I had never used their service before, and had never had a witness for autographs I've gotten for my personal collection, so this was a new and unique experience for me. I am so thankful to both CBCS and especially Steve Paulus for making this an easy experience. I'll definitely be recommending them to anyone in search of comic book grading services.

Several months before the event, I had connected with a handful of artists who were going to be at Rose City to see if they would be willing to donate to our cause and help raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Our first stop would be to Phil Hester. Unfortunately, Phil had taken ill and was unable to make the event. We marshaled our forces and carried on to the next artist.

At this years Free Comic Book Day event at my LCS, Tony's Kingdom of Comics, I was officially introduced to Gary Martin and asked him if he would be interested and willing to donate a cover to help us out. He agreed and we provided the Mega Man artist with a Darth Vader blank to work on. What he produced blew my mind.

As a fan of the Fables series, I was giddy with joy when our next new contributing artist agreed to do a Princess Leia cover for us. I have met Chrissie Zullo before at a few other events to have my personal items signed, and have have always been a huge fan of her work. I knew that her art would look wonderful on a cover for CBC4C.

When I was getting ready to go for the event, I thought that it might be nice to ask get the pair of Will Eisner's The Spirit covers signed since both Matt Wagner and Dan Schkade were going to be there. They both liked the idea of CBC4C and also the art that graced the covers I was asking them to sign. Thankfully, this helped to fill-out the void that Phil Hester left.

The first of 2 big experiences for me was next on our list. I had collected a number of covers from G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero from a few of our contributing artists, and the idea was to have Larry Hama sign them all and they would be submitted to CBCS. Several months ago, I even posted an artist challenge for classic G.I. Joe cover recreations especially for Hama to sign. Unfortunately, due to a variety of circumstances, those covers didn't arrive at our offices before RCCC. We did have enough covers to manage to fill the 10 services that CBCS had offered, though.

When we arrived, there was a small line waiting for Hama to return to his table from a panel he was speaking at. By the time he returned, the line stretched around half the entire table area. While not surprising, Hama had a 2 autograph limit. Unfortunately, we had brought about 5 covers for him to sign for CBC4C and it wasn't until after the covers were submitted to CBCS that I thought about handing 2 off to each of my friends. Lessons learned for future events.

Unfortunately, the photo of Hama that was taken at RCCC did not turn-out well.

As many of my regular readers know, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is the comic that brought me in to collecting comics. Later in the event, once my "duties" for CBC4C were officially done, I had Hama sign the very issue that my father had bought me over 30 years ago. Yes... I have kept it, and it's in great condition. Now that it's signed, it is now the personal prize in my collection. I was so awe-struck meeting him that I didn't even get a chance to tell him how much his work has meant to me. Fortunately, I will have another chance in November when we go to EUCON.

Next up was the 2nd of the big experiences that we at CBC4C have been building-up to for RCCC. When I received word that I would be getting media passes for Rose City, I also submitted a request to do an interview with Wil Wheaton. Unfortunately, Wil was not giving any interviews. No problem. Shortly after it was announced that Carrie Fisher was going to be in attendance, I submitted a request to see if CBC4C could get a special signing for a few covers by Carrie Fisher and Wil Wheaton. Unfortunately, that was not to be had either. Due to our level of financial resources, we could only do one of the autograph sessions. We chose Wil Wheaton.

Read bellow about why we don't have a personal photograph of Wil.

Getting a photo of Wil Wheaton signing the cover we received from artist Scott Carola was one of the primary reasons for having a photographer. When we came to the line for Wil, one of the henchmen informed us that no photography was allowed in the celeb area unless you had a "PRESS" pass. Upon hearing this, we each presented our "MEDIA" badges. The henchmen informed us that it would have to be specifically branded "PRESS" to be able to take photographs. This was a huge letdown for us, but I appreciate following the rules. I do wish we could have caught the expression on Wil's face when we presented him with the cover to sign.

Cover by Scott Carola.

His eyes lit-up when he saw this cover. I lost count how many times he said "Wow!" I gave him the information about CBC4C and let him know a little about Scott. I think the most telling part about how much he appreciated the cover came from his autograph. For the prints that he signed from people in front of us, he signed his name and circled it a couple of times. Pretty large signature. It took Wil a couple of minutes of admiring the cover before he finally decided to sign it at the lower left corner without the extra flourish. I can't wait to show you the final signed cover when it's returned from CBCS.

Our last stop for covers being sent to CBCS was with Batman `66 artist Jeff Parker. When I originally contacted him, he was enthusiastic about donating and even mentioned he had some blanks available. We originally stopped by his table earlier, but he mentioned how he actually needed to draw the cover and asked if we could come back later. This was not a problem, and I was happy with what Jeff provided.

Once we dropped-off the covers for CBCS, there was one last stop for my work for CBC4C at RCCC. I finally got to meet on our long-time contributing artists, Martin Sabala Jr.

Photo from Martin Sabala's Facebook page.

Martin has been a wonderful supporter of CBC4C since our meager beginnings in 2013. It's always great to be able to meet face-to-face with people who have helped make CBC4C the success it has become. As a testament to his continued support, Martin donated 2 more covers to us.

With my "duties" for CBC4C being done, now it was time to take-in the rest of the show. As I had previously mentioned, we came back to Larry Hama's table a couple more times to have most of my personal issues of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero signed. I really wished I had thought of giving my associates/friends the other CBC4C covers to have signed when we had the chance.

First was to get the rest of my personal comics signed by Larry Hama. It took a few trips, but we managed to get most of what I brought. The rest... and some carded action figures... will have to wait until November. (FYI- The photo's from here on out are taken by me. That's why they're not of better quality.)

The sketch cover in the middle is a work I commissioned from Randy Emberlin at Cherry City Comic Con in 2014.

That copy of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is the very same copy my father bought me when I was a kid. I have to admit that I felt very honored to have it signed by Larry Hama. These really made my day!

At the final Stump Town Comic Fest in 2013, I met Ron Randall. He introduced me to his character, Mercy St. Clair aka Trekker. I bought his Image #1 issue as well as the Trekker ashcan and gave it a look. I was hooked! It was my quest to find, and add to my collection, every issue of Trekker and her appearances. This meant several issues of Dark Horse Presents as well as a couple mini series. I even bought the trade paperback and the omnibus.

When I saw Ron in August at NW Comic Fest, I told him I was only a few issues away from completing the Trekker collection. Thanks to using Comic Collector Live, I was able to procure the remaining issues to complete my collection... and everything now has been signed by Ron. These are a treasure in my collection.

I will also admit that I some times have a speculative eye when picking-up comics. For instance, I don't collect Invincible, but I had my LCS put a copy of the issue 100 covers for me. It sparked my interest and I thought I'd add this to my collection. Now they are signed by artist Ryan Ottley.

Along with Ryan's cover for The Walking Dead issue 100. This is another great example of my speculative attempts at buying comics. They don't happen often, but they do happen.

The single comic I purchase at RCCC this year was from an artist named Ben Hansen. What drew me in was a G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero cover he had depicting Snake Eyes with Darth Maul, but it was this Star Wars cover that nearly took my breath away when I saw it.

Ben presented some great art at his table, and in the back of my mind I knew I wanted him to possibly be a contributing artist to CBC4C. So I asked, "Have you ever done work for charity before." His response was "Nobody has ever asked." Without thinking twice I said "Not any more." I provided him with my card and gave him the lowdown on CBC4C. I hope that we can make things happen in the near future.

While I was looking around in the artist area, I came upon the table for Gene A. Guilmette from Road Less Traveled Press. He asked me "What's 'Zanziber's Point of View'?" I informed him that I do weekly reviews of trade paperback and graphic novels. His response to that was "Have you ever reviewed a children's book?" Of course I haven't, but then he presented me with this...

As he explained it to me, Between Here and the Lint Trap would have been the type of book I would have loved to have read, or had read to me, as a child. I offered to buy the copy he handed me, but he informed me that he would appreciate the review. Stay tuned for it in the near future.

Things that I noticed specifically about the con:

  • I think the fact that there's a growing number of attendees every year and the parking at the convention center being full early is a testament to the popularity of this annual event.

  • Even though there were a large number of people. I never felt crowded as I did at the last Emerald City Comic Con I attended a few years back. I really hope it stays that way.

  • There was a moment where a woman had lost her daughter in the crowd. In a matter of maybe 10-15 minutes, mother and daughter had been reunited safely. Kudos to all the involved Henchmen and attendees.

  • I love how they have the areas marked off where you can see them. i.e. Section 600. Artist Area B. This made the floor easy to navigate to where we needed to go next.

As always, I wish I had done more. I've devoted my time to acquiring new autographs for my collection over getting new trades, comics or going to panels. Speaking of which... it wouldn't have been a northwest comic con without stopping at the I Like Comics area to pick-up some new trades to review... at 70% off! Unfortunately I didn't get as many as I would have liked, but I was being really picky. Next time... I won't be.

I didn't realize until I got to my hotel that the Ghost Rider trade is actually a volume 2. Now I need to get volume 1 somewhere.

That's it for my time at this years event. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, and I'm already looking forward to next year!

Batman: No Man's Land Volume 3

Title: Batman: No Man's Land Volume 3

ISBN: 9781401234560

Price: $34.99

Publisher/Year: DC, 2012

Artist: Mike Deodato Jr., Staz Johnson, Roger Robinson, Jason Minor, Sergio Cariello, Gordon Purcell, Paul Gulacy, Tom W. Morgan, Paul C. Ryan, Mat Broome, Rafael Kayanan, Dale Eaglesham, Michael Zulli

Writer: Dennis J. O'Neil, Chuck Dixon, Larry Hama, Ian Ediginton, Janet Harvey, Bronwyn Carlton Taggart, Steven Barnes, Devin Grayson, Alisa Kwitney

Collects: Batman: No Man’s Land Secret Files #1, Batman: Shadow of the Bat #89-92, Batman #569-571, Detective Comics #736-738, Azrael: Agent of the Bat #58, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #122-124, Robin #68-72

Rating: 3/5

Unlike the previous two volumes, I didn’t think that this one plummeted in quality after the midway point. Yes, it’s still a fairly inconsistent read, but it never took a nosedive. There are a lot of artists who use vibrant colors when darker, earthier tones would’ve been more fitting and there are writers who just couldn’t find the right voice for the characters. Bane shows up and his sections are written by Larry Hama, who is famous for his work on G.I. Joe. He also wrote the last chapter of the previous volume which was a story I absolutely hated. His work in this book isn’t much better. I feel like he just didn’t quite grasp the story or the world these characters inhabit. His dialogue in particular is really, really bad. Hama’s prose are alright, but the dialogue is cheesy and unnatural. People just say what they see even though the reader is looking at it happening thanks to the art because, after all, it is a comic book. Or you’ll see characters give long soliloquies about what they are going to do in the future–which would be fine if the words coming out of their mouth were not so artificial. Bane is probably the worst about this. He details his entire plan to himself while referring to himself in the 3rd person. It’s bad. I remembered him being much more threatening and intelligent in this saga but I’m obviously recalling the novelization by Greg Rucka, a book that I’ve referenced in each review. I think it’s pretty clear now that I recommend everybody check that out. I think I might even seek it out and re-read it again, it’s been a very long time.

Folks who pick up the No Man’s Land books expecting a Tom Hardy Bane are going to be very disappointed and might even find themselves confused at how Nolan and company had any faith in this character in the first place. Bane’s drawn ridiculously as well. It’s not human anatomy. He has the body of a bus and the head of an apricot, I’ve seen The Hulk and The Thing drawn with more reasonable proportions. And there was one line that really bugged me when I was reading this book. He made some little girl walk through a boobytrapped corridor before him and he sad “You are my Judas goat.” –I don’t think he understands what a Judas goat is. I think he meant guinea pig. A Judas goat is trained to lead other goats to slaughter but then it survives to do it again and again and again. Bane is sending this chick in to test if the deathtraps are still operational–he’s sending her in to die in his place. Oh well, at least it got me thinking about how “Judas Goat” wouldn’t be a bad band name if it wasn’t for Judas Priest already stealing the name’s thunder. “Stolen Thunder” wouldn’t be a bad band name either but maybe it would be better used as the name of like an autobiography…what if somebody did a story about Maxie Zeus in which he is reformed and writes an autobiography called “Stolen Thunder”–this is how my mind works when it’s in Batman-mode at 3 in the morning and… I’m actually going to leave this in the article.

Anyway, enough about Bane! Let’s talk about the other big standout performance of volume 3: Harley Quinn. She’s a fan favorite, and I’m happy to say she’s written well here by Bronwyn Carlton. Her two part story “The Code” about her trying to get a little respect and much needed attention from the Joker by following rules laid out in a magazine she found is just the sort of storyline you’d see in say an Animated Series episode. I know I’ve complained about detracting stories being littered throughout the NML saga but when a story is good, a story is GOOD. And I had fun reading this bit. The only drawback I’d say is that Harley pops up out of nowhere. We’ve seen the Joker in both of the previous volumes which stretch for almost 1000 pages and there’s never been any sign of Harley Quinn being anywhere near Joker. Now it seems like she’s been hanging on his arm the whole time and everyone in Gotham is familiar with her existence. Oh well, you’ll overlook it quickly. I did anyway.

Of course by adding even more larger-than-life characters to the mix and not advancing the plot enough over the past two volumes, a few other character end up with less attention than they deserved. Nightwing, who had one of the more memorable adventures from volume 2 is missing from this installment. Gordon and the Blue Boys, who were hands down the most riveting aspect of volume 1 play little to no role in this volume what so ever. In fact, the central plot of restoring Gotham moves so slowly that No Man’s Land doesn’t feel like it has much of a point anymore. It doesn’t feel like anyone is looking at the bigger picture. There are plenty of stories in which someone is trying to find medicine, gasoline, fresh water, or trying to traffic a few innocent lives out of the city but no attempt is really being made to restore Gotham to its former self. Had the story kept the momentum it had with Gordon and the Blue Boys in Volume 1 then NML could have been wrapped up in 2 volumes and been the most epic Batman story of all time. Instead we have dozens of different writers and artists taking a crack at the story but none of them know what to do with it or how far they can go with it. When I was a quarter of the way through this book I realized that the whole saga had lost any sense of urgency.

The smaller stories are definitely getting better, however. Seeing Robin try and take on Killer Croc and his gang alone was fun. Batgirl’s desperate attempts to defend a gas station from marauders was a really great moment for her. Heck, there’s even a Superman story here–SUPERMAN, who I could not hate more for being included in this saga, is given a chapter all his own that was actually very entertaining. If they ever do an animated movie of this I don’t want Superman anywhere near it, but still that story by Devin Grayson from Batman: Shadow of the Bat was well done and if more of these short stories were of that calliber then I would give each of these volumes a much higher score.

One of my biggest complaints with No Man’s Land Vol. 3 would have to be the severe lack of maps or time/date stamps. The other volumes did a great job of showing the reader where the gang territories were, how they had changed, and how many days have passed since No Man’s Land was declared. Here, I don’t know how much time has passed since volume #2 and I don’t know who owns what territory anymore. It should be summer but some writer/artist teams show characters wearing heavy coats. I thought that the power had been cut off—twice—but there are characters watching the mainland’s evening news. Could they be using generators? I thought all the fuel was used up but it seems like every 100 pages or so somebody lucks into a fresh canister. Again, there’s never any sense of urgency.

NML is perfect for bringing together characters that you would never see interact otherwise. No Man’s Land Volume 3 is a fine example of that. How else will you see Killer Croc and Penguin together in the same scene or Rat Catcher and Mr. Freeze teaming up? I had a better time with this installment after the fairly weak volume 2, but this saga desperately needs to pick up the pace.

This is definitely better than No Man’s Land Vol. 2 and although it holds up better on its own than the other two books and has a nice structure what with it beginning and ending on Killer Croc, Volume 3 is still not quite as good as No Man’s Land Vol. 1.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Batman: No Man's Land Volume 2

Title: Batman: No Man's Land Volume 2

ISBN: 9781401233808

Price: $29.99

Publisher/Year: DC, 2012

Artist: Mike Deodato Jr., Damion Scott, Andy Kuhn, Staz Johnson, Roger Robinson, Pascal Alixe, Eduardo Barreto, Graham Nolan, Scott McDaniel, Dan Jurgens, Jim Balent, Rick Burchett

Writer: Denny O'Neil, Greg Rucka, Scott Beatty, Chuck Dixon, Kelley Puckett, Dafydd Wyn, Chris Renaud, John Ostrander, Larry Hama

Collects: Young Justice: No Man’s Land #1, Batman: Shadow of the Bat #87-88, Batman #567-568, Detective Comics #734-735, Azrael: Agent of the Bat #56-57, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #119-121, The Batman Chronicles #17, Robin #67, Nightwing #35-37, Catwoman #72-74

Rating: 3/5

Like the last volume, #2 starts off strong with all the warring gangs and infighting among Gordon and his cops. Two-Face is rising to power and we are also introduced to Cassandra Cain, although it seemed kind of odd that she wasn’t mentioned at all in the previous volume. Looking past that it’s still pretty interesting stuff and seeing Two-Face’s plan unfold is even more riveting. The only thing I could’ve done without in his grand scheme was the use of a villainess named Echo who felt (and looked) like a blatant knock-off of Marvel’s Black Widow.

The book has a very heavy tone that’s great for the material until page 95 when Young Justice: No Man’s Land is inserted into the collection. It’s very over the top and goofy with Lagoon boy (says things like “Beats the kelp out of me!”, Superboy (Not the brooding emo Superboy of today, but a leather jacket wearing, girl crazy Superboy), Impulse (Flash boy), and Robin taking a “road trip” (that’s the title. Seriously, that’s the title) to Gotham for a little adventure. This story felt horribly out of place, as did the artwork which was cartoony in nature. It felt more like an episode of Tiny Toons (which actually had Paul Dini as a writer…everything ties back to Batman) than a chapter in the story of Gotham’s darkest hour. So don’t let the name fool you, it’s nothing like the Young Justice show on Cartoon Network, which is actually quite good.

Volume 2’s heaviest emphasis is on the allies. Whereas they were used hardly at all in the last book, this time they are seen more than The Dark Knight himself. In fact, as soon as Batman orders Oracle to “Call them.” Azrael, Nightwing, and Robin appear almost instantly. It makes it seem way too easy to move around Gotham or worse, in and out of Gotham. And if it’s that easy to move in and out of the city, why aren’t they trying to free some of the people who didn’t get a chance to flee on evacuation day all those months ago? Bruce Wayne could secretly hire an entire militia, bring ’em in, give them orders not to kill anybody, and clean up the streets in a pretty timely fashion if it’s this simple to traffic the good guys inside.

The first bat-family adventure (I’m not counting “Road Trip” because that should just be ignored. It’s the Star Wars Christmas Special of the No Man’s Land saga) features Nightwing and Robin teamed together and it has some nice character moments and funny banter but it wasn’t much of a story. Robin and Nightwing walk around the sewers until they run into a bad guy, beat him up, and continue walking around the sewers. The end. Which makes their sewage trek a prime example of my problem with these cross-over issues: practically none of them progress the plot.

Nick Scratch finally makes his move and his past is explained to those readers who couldn’t get their hands on Cataclysm. He’s a pretty lame character who, in my opinion would be the first thing to go from a DC animated film. His alien (“Star Beings”) background in particular has no business in a story like NML which is at its best when being grounded as a story of human survival. I will say that since he looks so much like Aladdin Sane I read his speech bubbles in David Bowie’s voice and that made the whole episode a lot more bearable. (By the way, my favorite rarely heard Bowie song would probably have to be this. What’s yours?)

After that came a story that actually featured Batman but it unfortunately dealt with Man-Bat Jr (a kid everyone wants because he can sniff out peaches and other perishables). This story was an unfortunate diversion when I really wanted to get back to the gang wars, survivor’s tale, and redemption of Gotham City. Instead volume 2 is mostly made up of short stories that don’t add to the saga nor are they very entertaining. Only one stands out to me as being pretty good and that was about Batman hijacking the airwaves to sway public opinion back in the States.

The biggest story of the book comes from Nightwing. He must infiltrate and reclaim Black Gate Prison from Lock-Up, who used to be an ally of Batman but has grown a bit drunk with power. A funny surprise was the inclusion of the Trigger Twins from Knightfall Volume 2, who act as Lock-Up’s lieutenants along with the KGBeast. Although it’s way too easy for Nightwing to break into the prison (the story skips over that aspect entirely) everything that followed was fairly entertaining. It never recaptures the dark and gritty tone of Bob Gale or Greg Rucka’s work but it found a nice balance between the light and dark, much like Dick Grayson himself. One of the weirdest things about this 3-part story was the way the artist handled Black Mask. He basically looked like Dracula’s man-bat form from Coppola’s film Bram Stoker’s Dracula and that really is the most perfect looking Man-Bat you’re ever going to see on film (also, Dracula was played by Gary Oldman who played Jim Gordon in Nolan’s trilogy–everything connects back to Batman). These Nightwing issues also have a subplot of their own regarding a “Nite-Wing” impostor in Bludhaven and the villain Roland Desmond needing a new heart—it adds nothing but confusion to the overall NML collection and it wouldn’t have hurt to just cut those bits out. I’m sure those threads played a large role in the Nightwing books at the time, but they are very out of place here. In the end, Nightwing’s adventure is over-the-top fun, but there’s never any sense of danger. He’s taking on one hell of a task, but there’s no urgency and Nightwing himself never even seems to get tired.

The biggest Batman story of the last half of the book deals with Clayface’s plan to get rich off crops he is forcibly making Poison Ivy grow for him. I found it interesting that just like Knightfall, No Man’s Land Vol. 2 featured Socko (a puppet personality of Ventriloquist from Knightfall Vol.1), The Trigger Twins, a large 3-part Catwoman story, and a large Clay-face story. Anyway, what’s Clayface going to spend his profits on? Where’s he getting the salt to torture Poison Ivy? Anyway, it never really goes anywhere  and the way Poison Ivy brings Clayface down so easily in the end that I can’t help but wonder why she didn’t think of it 6 months ago. The one good thing to come out of this tale is a little glimpse at what Bruce was up to back in the Prodigal days when Dick was wearing the cowl.

Volume 2 is full of stories that aren’t all that interesting, but it’s the smaller side-stories that really captured my attention. Seeing Huntress try and find her place in No Man’s Land, witnessing tough-cop Bill Petit break off from Gordon’s gang to start his own tribe, etc. These are the stories that make No Man’s Land great.

The whole book ended on a fairly sour note and I just wanted it to end. First was the 3-part Catwoman story which actually featured her wearing what could have been my favorite costume if it wasn’t for the suit also including a tail and whiskers. Those two details ruin the look. Those details made as little sense as Catwoman’s heist. She’s hired by Batman to steal mysterious computer discs that will “save Gotham” but she’s stealing them from ultra bad-ass mercenaries who were authorized by…wait for it…Bruce Wayne. What? Why? It stretches for three issues and it even managed to squeeze in Queen Bee, Maxie Zeus, a mystery woman, and a buffoon of a henchman who accidentally discovers he has the super power of surviving explosions at the small price of tripping balls immediately after the blast. And when I say tripping balls, I mean he gets high. Stoned. Needless to say I forgot I was even reading No Man’s Land at this point. But the book wraps up with a final chapter that left an even worse taste in my mouth. It’s the story of how Batman brought down Mr. Freeze and his power station and it has some of the worst dialogue of any comic I have ever read.

So…yeah. These No Man’s Land books are kind of a mixed bag. If you wanted all of it, every single cross-over issue from the No Man’s Land event then I’m sure it’s a collection that’ll make you happy. But if you’re just looking for a really good read then you’ll find yourself picking and choosing which chapters are worth your time when you open this thing up. It’s clunky.

Much like the previous volume, this book collects some good stories and some bad ones but it’s not quite as balanced. There are far more stinkers in this collection that I really wanted to skip past; stories that didn’t fit the tone of the book at all (particularly the cartoony Young Justice “Road Trip” story). Still, this volume is an integral part of the No Man’s Land saga and anyone who wants to read this epic needs to have part 2 in their collection as well or part 3 won’t make any sense at all. In for a penny, in for a pound I suppose.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer - How Can I Help?

I occasionally get asked how people can help Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer. I thought I'd post this for everyone who has asked and everyone that will.

If you're an artist, the most obvious way to help us is by donating your time and work on a cover (or more). Many of the artists who have already donated covers to CBC4C have done so repeatedly, and for that we are forever grateful. If you fit in this category, there are 2 options:

  1. If you're within the USA, we can ship blank covers to you to work on. We ask that you please return them within a reasonable amount of time (no longer than 6 months) and please keep in communication with us. Unfortunately, we do not have funding available to be able to ship internationally. I hope to be able to change that in the future because I've seen so many talented artists who have posted art that are outside the USA.

  2. If you have covers that you've already worked on that you would like to donate, we will graciously accept them. When we setup the auctions on eBay, we do designate when a cover and comic have been donated to us.

Although I give full artistic license to each artist on what they create, I do occasionally post an artist challenge to help inspire people. These challenges range from specific characters to themes to homage covers. I also appreciate when artist embrace the awareness side of our cause an add one of the various cancer ribbons to their work.

What do you get in return for your donation? We make sure that your contact information is passed along to the buyer so that they may (hopefully) contact you for future commission work. Also, when I see your posts on Facebook, I try to share them as much as possible indicating that you are a CBC4C contributing artist. I've also been adding a "Contributing artist badge" to Facebook posts from contributing artists in hope of not only spreading the word about CBC4C, but also that each artist has cared enough to lend their support to our cause.

If you're not an artist, there are ways you can help CBC4C as well:

  1. We have a GoFundMe campaign setup for those who would like to donated money to help us with our operating expenses. We do not currently have our non-profit organization status, therefore we are not eligible for grants that would otherwise help to fund our efforts. Right now, we operate out of donations received and my personal finances. With your help, we can keep this project going.

  2. If you are not comfortable with GoFundMe, we can also receive donations via PayPal. Our account is

  3. We have a wishlist on Amazon of items we commonly use or are in need of. These are items such as ink for our printer and shipping labels. If you wish to donate something from our wishlist, please contact me directly before placing and order. There are items on the list that are in higher demand than others and it wouldn't be beneficial to receive several boxes of shipping labels if we are out of ink to be able to print on them.

  4. Spread the word about Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer. Our primary base of operations online is on Facebook, but I also post on Twitter through @ZanziberPoV. Share our page with your friends:

I hope this helps answer whatever questions you may have about donating to Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer.

Batman: No Man's Land Volume 1

Title: Batman: No Man's Land Volume 1

ISBN: 9781401232253

Price: $29.99

Publisher/Year: DC, 2011

Artist: Alex Maleev, Roger Robinson, Dale Eaglesham, Frank Teran, Jason Pearson, Damion Scott, Chris Renaud, Guy Davis, Jon Bogdanove, Phil Winslade, D’Israeli

Writer: Bob Gale, Dennis J. O'Neil, Devin Grayson, Ian Edgniton, Greg Rucka, Scott Beatty, Lisa Klink, Kelley Puckett

Collects: Batman No Man’s Land #1, Batman: Shadow of the Bat #83-86, Batman #563-566, Detective Comics #730-733, Azrael: Agent of the Bat #51-55, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #116-118, The Batman Chronicles #16

Rating: 3/5

If you haven’t read the prelude, Cataclysm or Aftershock then reading the back cover is an absolute must. Everything from the first tremor to Bruce’s pleas to an uncaring congress (swayed by a charismatic alien-charged David Bowie figure…on second thought just ignore that aspect) are collected elsewhere. This book contains 22 issues altogether.

And since these 22 issues come from a variety of sources it means that this volume lacks a consistent vision. There were only 2-3 writers and 2-3 artists working on the two Knightfall issues I’ve reviewed so far but in just this one volume of No Man’s Land there are 8 writers and 11 artists! That’s not going to be a problem for folks picking up this book because they thought the previous printing lacked all the extra stuff that happened outside of Batman and Detective Comics and they like to be as complete as possible in their trade collection. But anyone reading this for the first time or folks like me who just want to sit down and enjoy a good story will see this conglomeration of creatives as having too many cooks in the kitchen. Each writer approaches the concept differently. The dystopian Gotham never feels the same from one creative team to the next. The best work comes from Back to the Future (Yes, THAT Back to the Future) scribe Bob Gale (who writes the most compelling stories here of all), Devin Grayson (who focuses on the Scarecrow as a Lucifer-esque character whispering in the ear of different gang leaders), and Greg Rucka (whose name is synonymous with No Man’s Land). One chapter will have incredible intensity and you’ll feel like these poor people could die at any moment and then another writer’s chapter makes the situation feel far less severe. It’s this way throughout all the first three volumes of No Man’s Land. It’s hard to take the story seriously when the gravity of the situation and the urgency of every act is constantly fluctuating. Often times it feels like nobody is focusing on the bigger picture. All of this extra material robs the story of its impact, it doesn’t enhance it.

The artwork goes from dark and gritty to colorful and cartoony far too often. D’Israeli’s art, while still good, doesn’t fit the material at all. His art looks more like Adventure Time than The Walking Dead meets Batman. The worst example of conflicting visions for the event is the way Joker was handled. Bob Gale did a great job of showing us a Joker who had something big planned. Joker’s portrayal was subtle, mysterious, and scary. But in the Azrael issues written by Denny O’Neil, The Joker shows up alone, bored, and with hair like Eraserhead. It turns out the Joker hasn’t been plotting, he’s made a giant death trap and he’s been waiting and waiting for months for Batman to show! Bored, Joker finally decides to pick up some orphans and see if putting them in danger will attract Batman. To do this he goes into a makeshift orphanage where stranded children are being cared for and the caretaker looks at him suspiciously and says, and I kid you not, “Y-you’re that criminal…that killer…” to which Joker basically says “Nope, I brought candy and stuff, see? Now where are the kiddies?” and SHE TAKES HIM TO THEM. She looked at him, suspected he was the most heinous killer in the world and then less than a minute later agreed to take him to where all the children are. All the tension built up around the Joker is gone after the Azrael stories are told.

Don’t get me wrong, No Man’s Land is very much a must-read for any Batman fan but my God does this thing need to be edited down (much like this review which is going to be over 2,000 words. Easily). I never had the chance to read this series when it was originally published. Instead, I read the novelization by Greg Rucka and although its been years since I flipped through that thing I remember it being a far better and far more focused story. The comics waste too much time trying to please everyone and connect the event to the rest of the DC universe. Acknowledging that there’s an extended DC universe really takes the wind out of the story’s sails. If Superman tries and fails to save Gotham, it’s not a testament to how screwed Gotham is, it just proves that someone isn’t very good at writing Superman. And even if Superman failed there’s an entire Justice League out there that could step in and easily clean up everything wrong with Gotham. The writers of NML try to play the “This is my city. All you other superheroes stay out.” card but I think that if the entire city was starving to death and murdering each other under tons and tons of rubble the Justice League would tell Batman to go f*@% himself. Just ignore the fact that the rest of the DC universe exists and you’ll get a more compelling story. TDKR would’ve sucked if Flash existed and could’ve ran in and checked everyone’s pocket for a detonator. But by occasionally showing Superman come in and screw up here in NML it keeps the Batman fans happy who love to see him outdo the super-folk. The other two kinds of Batman fans are appeased as well throughout the NML run. Volume 1, this book right here, makes the “I’m better than super-powered heroes” Batman fan and the solo-operator Batman crowd very happy, but the fans of a Batman who depends on his extended Bat-family pulling together will have to wait for Robin and Nightwing to show up in volumes 2 and 3. See, in order to get all those other side-kicks out of the way, Batman had to turn into Jerk-Batman and tell everyone to leave. Why? So that eventually he can say “I was wrong and you’re all important to the comic books.” in volume #2, thus making Batman&Friends fans happy. Of course, the solo-fans still have to put up with Azrael in this volume.

Azrael…where do I begin? When the common people have devolved into warring tribes in a crumbling city, seeing a colorful hero jumping off rooftops to beat-up thieves looks very silly. And look at this from my perspective, I just read volumes 1 and 2 of Knightfall in the past month for you guys so psycho Jean-Paul Valley is still fresh in my mind (as was Arnold Wesker being, well, dead!). At this point in DC history they tried to save the character and reinvent him. Author Denny O’Neil is trying way too hard to give Jean Paul a nice balance of light and dark but we already have a guy like that named Dick Grayson. Azrael describes himself as “nerdy”, makes wisecracks, wears a brightly colored suit that exposes his Fabio-like hair (the way the cowl opens looks a lot like the upcoming hero, Talon), and he even drives a Volkswagen beetle (not joking). Batman doesn’t need this many side-kicks and allies in Gotham. It’s lame. Sure, the last Azrael story in the book is entertaining because it has heart but it also has a terrible villain (Lord of the Dance, kills people with knives on his dancing shoes) that makes for a rather unsatisfying end.

As I said before, the Grayson, Gale, and Rucka stuff is the best and that basically makes up the first half of the book. Oddly enough, NML drops in quality in almost the same way Knightfall Vol. 1 did! As soon as there’s a chapter that goes back in time to show us something pre-event involving Two-Face it’s all downhill from there.

The first half of the book is a great read. All of the stuff about Gordon struggling to survive and lead his gang is really fascinating. Seeing average citizens turn on each other or lift one another up to survive is a refreshing break from the norm as well and guess what, some of the people are black! Hard to believe, right? Not enough artists portray people of color in Gotham. It’s something that always bugs me. Gotham should be a more diverse town but it’s all too often shown to be nothing but white folks. Blacks, Asians (not portrayed as ninjas), and Latinos are all a part of this Gotham City and it makes it all feel a lot more real. As for Batman, seeing him handle things on his own (with a little help from Oracle and a new, mysterious Batgirl) is gripping, especially since he can’t rely as heavily on technology in NML. This raises an interesting question: how much advanced tech can Batman use before he stops being Batman? The more tech he has, the less detective work he does and the more super-human he becomes as well. Just look at Snyder’s recent Batman run and the implementation of computerized contact lenses that read out data to Bruce as he sees the world! What about Batman Beyond? How much is too much when it comes to technology and Batman? While you’re thinking about that, let me just say that I think less is usually more when it comes to the Caped Crusader.

The more he gets by on his own know-how and hard work, the more interesting he is as a character. And that is what is at the heart of Batman in this volume of NML, he’s a Batman who has to go back to basics. THAT is what makes it a good read. Yes, the last half of the book meanders and the story loses any drive or sense of purpose so that it can be dragged out as an extra big money-making crossover, but the first half of this book shows a Batman who has to resort to his old detective skills and his urban legend and that’s fantastic. Here is a Batman who has to remind a city why they should be afraid of him. Watching him rebuild his myth is something you won’t soon forget.

No Man’s Land is a bold and exciting premise but it’s not that well executed. This is a great book for anyone who hasn’t read the story before or those who loved the original run of EVERYTHING No Man’s Land related and were disappointed when it was left out of the previous printing. For me, the majority of these tales that took place outside of Detective Comics and Batman were often distracting and made for a bloated story. But in those moments when we’re just seeing Gordon reclaim the city or Batman rebuild his legend and re-establish fear, the book is truly compelling.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Northwest Comic Fest - Thoughts And Experiences

Early in 2015, the thought of having a new comic-related event in Salem was brought-up to a group of individuals. They worked to come-up with some amazing ideas to make the event stand-out from others. And one man was the driving force behind this idea and made it a reality. That man being Casey Ocupe.

Casey had a vision, and stayed the path to watch this dream become a reality. With a TV show on local public access, Casey worked to bring the idea and several of its participants to the forefront of the area. Well before the actual event, there was also a session of Comic Talk's where many of the local artists came to talk about what they did. And thus Northwest Comic Fest was born!

As my loyal readers know, I run a non-profit to raise money for the American Cancer Society called Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer. From the original planning session, Casey offered me a table at the event to help promote our cause... free of cost. This was of great benefit to us since we had recently been getting some extra local attention from the local newspaper and Casey had me on his show; Northwest Comic Show.

I hadn't done an event like this ever, and the last time I had a table at any event was about 10 years ago at the Portland Comic Book Show. I had big dreams, but little funds. Unfortunately, I had been laid-off from work in 2014 and didn't have a steady income in which to fund our appearance at the event. Fortunately, through the generosity of Royce, the director of the upcoming Eugene Comic Con (EUCON), we were able to afford table banners, brochures, ink and paper for making prints to sell at the event.

Everything was lining-up perfectly... and then, a few days before the event, I receive a call from Casey. I wasn't sure what to think when I saw his name come-up on my cell phone. Happily, he offered to upgrade the table that he was giving us to a booth on the second floor. I was amazed!

Thanks to the help of some of the greatest friends a man could ever have, Scott and Rita, we were able to put the booth together in almost no time. This would be Scott's first time being a participant/vendor at an event like this. Rita helped me a couple times in the past at the previously mentioned Portland Comic Book Show. Without their help through the entire weekend, I don't think I could have made it. I owe them a great deal of thanks.

As luck would have it, our booth was right next to a friend of mine, Benjamin Kreger of Warrior Innkeeper Creative. This really helped to make the time more pleasurable and helped to keep my mind of the people that simply passed-by the booth without a second glance. As luck would have it, the first day of the event was also the opening for Benjamin's Kickstarter campaign for his comic, Black Suit of Death.

Being the first year for this event, there were some minor issues such as people not knowing that there were 2 floors and the occasional volume on the microphone. These are to be expected. There were a few empty tables and booths up on the 2nd floor, and this was a little disconcerting... especially when one of those booths was for an artist who I had lobbied with Casey on getting to attend because I felt he would be a successful draw to the event. I can't help but feel a little slighted for his lack of appearance, but I probably don't know the entire story of why he didn't show.

Even though I had a booth, I was able to make my way around the event and connect with many of my friends and artists who I have met through CBC4C. We were even fortunate enough to have a new contributing artist join the ranks of CBC4C, Neil Jorge. He picked-up a Princess Leia blank from our booth on Saturday, and by Sunday was donating a wonderful new cover.

One of my personal highlights of the event was a specific costume worn by a lovely woman. She dressed as the dragon Tiamat from Dungeons and Dragons. Those loyal readers from my RPG4EVR blog know that I have had a fixation on Tiamat ever since I was a child and watched the old D&D cartoons on Saturday mornings. Although I am no good at taking pictures at events, I was able to find a great photo from the Statesman Journal website when they posted an article about the first day of Northwest Comic Fest.

Through the 2-day event, I was able to meet with so many people and tell them about our cause. I was able to connect with some old friends who I haven't seen in a very long time, and I even made a few new friends. All-in-all it was a good event. We were able to spread the word about Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer and received several donations to help support the cause. Now that I have this extra experience, I not only hope that we can do it again for next years event, but I am also eyeing the possibility of asking for a table at next year's Cherry City Comic Con.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Black Suit of Death

A few years ago, at a FCBD event at my LCS, I first met Benjamin Kreger and was introduced to The Black Suit of Death. I was fortunate enough to pick-up a physical copy of The Black Suit of Death: The Ides of March - Redrum Edition.

As many of my loyal readers know, I generally don't read comics any longer. I prefer to read the trade paperbacks that give me an entire story (or sometimes more) than read the once-a-month stories that by the time the next issue is published I have forgotten much of the story. This was an exception.

In "The Ides of March", you learn about the origins of the BSD. Kreger and Ed Ellsworth tells the tale in a whimsical fashion with the occasional bit of humor to lighten the mood from the events that transpire. There's even a Star Trek reference that fans will appreciate. The artwork by Stefano Cardoselli help to provide the visual grim theme along with the occasional quip quite well in a black and white medium. It's almost like watching the original Psycho for the first time.

You can find BSD: The Ides of March on both Drive Thru Comics and Comixology.

Ides of March was originally published in 2011, and in the back of the comic it states-




In 2015, we have seen the light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks to Kreger's Kickstarter campaign, we should be seeing the continued story.

At Northwest Comic Fest, I was fortunate to have a table next to Kreger and he stunned me by gifting me with a draft of the script for the first issue of The Black Suit of Death: The Series. This is the first time I've been able to read and provide a review on an advanced reading copy or script, so I am very honored to be able to do this.

Title: The Black Suit of Death

"La Forza del Destino: Part 1"

Created by Ed Ellsworth & Benjamin J. Kreger

Written by Ben Danmytt & Shut Up Ed

Published by: Warrior Innkeeper Creative

Like many beginnings of series', you have to introduce your cast of characters so that the reader is aware of what they're getting themselves in to and to help develop a bond between them. Part 1 is that introduction to the cast that will play for the rest of the ongoing story.

We begin with a small group of friends, who also happen to be tabletop gamers. The setting for the events that unfold is Scottsdale Community College. We have the core group made of 4 guys and the requisite girl. Unfortunately for our main character, EDD, the girl in question, KRISS, happens to be the catalyst for the drama that brings all the players from fantasy to reality.

Kreger and Ellsworth's description of characters at the beginning of the script allowed me to be able to easily visualize them as I read. Each character was individually defined well and I felt as though I had met some of them before... being a gamer myself.

In that same vein, I loved the way the opening scenes were laid-out as we saw the characters of the comic as their characters in game facing a red dragon. I look forward to seeing the art that comes along with this script. I'm not familiar with Dexter Wee... who is on-tap to do the pencils and inks... or  Jeremy Kahn... who will be handling the colors... but if the artwork that has been posted on the Kickstarter is any indication, I'm confident they'll make some fantastic work from this script.

The one thing I found lacking in reading this was the lack of the actual BSD... but I understand that this is the character development portion and that my desire to see how EDD and the BSD come together will be resolved in the next issue or two.

It should also be noted that this comic is intended for more mature readers. The characters are in their late teens to early 20's so they occasionally use "colorful metaphors".

Let me make 1 point perfectly clear-

I have NEVER backed a Kickstarter campaign in my life until I saw The Black Suit of Death campaign. I genuinely enjoyed Ides of March and look forward to the continued adventures of the BSD. I have backed this campaign, and I urge you to do the same.

Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64 Volume 4 - Leaves on the Wind

Title: Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64 Volume 4 - Leaves on the Wind

ISBN: 9781616554897
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 2014
Artist: Georges Jeanty, Karl Story, Laura Martin
Writer: Zack Whedon
Collects: Serenity: Leaves on the Wind #1-6, Free Comic Book Day 2012: Serenity/Star Wars

Rating: 4/5

The series starts about 9 months after the events in the Serenity movie revolves primarily around the same characters.  This story starts with it being made clear that the transmission from Mr. Universe did make it out to the public, and the Alliance is working to minimize its effects while trying to hunt the crew down.  Additionally, as revealed in other comics taking place more immediately after the movie, Zoe is pregnant with Wash’s child.  Complications during childbirth force Mal to take Zoe to a doctor.  The ship and crew narrowly escape capture after having to come out of hiding, but are forced to leave Zoe behind, alone, to be healed. 

The series of comics also creates a new storyline by having a resistance group form after seeing the transmission; this storyline allows a new character to be added to the crew.  The comics also explore the storyline of River’s past, which allows some familiar faces to be brought back and new foes and dangers to be introduced.

The writing of the comics was solid.  All of the characters felt familiar.  They weren’t exactly the characters I’m used to from the show and movie, but close enough I couldn’t tell you what makes them different.  The art is amazing; everything, and perhaps more importantly, everyone looks clearly like their counterparts from the show and movie.

The only ding I gave this book is for that slightly off vibe I got in general from the characters.  I tore through it in one sitting and immediately wanted more (hint, hint, editor-in-chief).

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