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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Constantine Vol 1: The Spark and the Flame

Title: Constantine Vol 1: The Spark and the Flame

ISBN: 9781401243234
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2013
Artist: Renato Guedes, Marcelo Maiolo
Writer: Ray Fawkes, Jeff Lemire
Collects: Constantine #1-6

Rating: 3/5

The New 52 John Constantine first appeared in Peter Milligan's Justice League Dark and I was significantly underwhelmed. Trash-talking Constantine might have bullied some of his teammates, but there was hardly the roguish anti-hero the legends spoke of. Fawkes and Lemire, however, know what makes Constantine great (or terrible, in the story, but great as a character to read) and they bring it in the first issue. Constantine recruits young friend Chris on a quest for pieces of a magic compass, and then literally sacrifices Chris so that Constantine himself can escape from Sargon the Sorceress. Indeed that's what Milligan's Constantine was lacking -- Constantine letting one of his allies die so that he could live for the "greater good."

The "greater good" is a constant theme, especially in this book's early issues. In the fourth chapter Constantine argues with rival magician (and, as I understand it, constant Hellblazer foe) Papa Midnite, both that Constantine stealing from Midnite was an effort to help "protect" him from other enemies and also that the two should stand together against those enemies. Earlier, Constantine had run afoul of the Spectre, but managed to avoid his death by convincing the Spectre that Constantine is the lesser of two evils -- that the evil Constantine does is less than the evil he ultimately helps prevent. There is an arrogance to Constantine here, that if he does something wrong it must actually be right, that's eminently appealing in a character irrespective the universe.

Constantine's explanation to the Spectre is hardly an apology, to be sure, as not an issue later Constantine causes a monster to put out an old man's eyes, again to defeat his foes. If Fawkes and Lemire mean us to understand Constantine holds any guilt over his actions, it's only subtly, in the fourth, quieter issue, in which Constantine's "day off" reveals he really has no friends to speak of. (One can't help but see Dotty, Constantine's landlady, in this issue as akin to Una Stubbs's Mrs. Hudson in Sherlock, and it's not a far stretch to see some of Constantine in Benedict Cumberbatch's character and vice versa.)

That Constantine generally takes place in New York and not London is most likely a writer's conceit, though the idea that Constantine couldn't have his adventures in London and still run afoul of the globe-spanning Justice League seems like overthinking it. Nevertheless, in the three-part initial "pilot" story, the writers do take us to London and show why Constantine can't be there -- that the city itself has cursed him. If such explanation was necessary, I thought this fairly clever. The London issue also offers some good horror elements; the DC Universe proper doesn't tend to do horror well, always conflated as it is with superheroes, but the sub-London of hanged bodies was pretty disconcerting.

I know Fawkes mainly from a couple issues of Batgirl that I felt were too formulaic; I was bound to change that opinion with with the first four chapter of Constantine that Fawkes wrote with Lemire, but I do note that the final two issues by Fawkes alone are the least strong of the book. I appreciated that the sixth issue brought back Chris in ghostly fashion; I expected that storyline was done with the third chapter, so I was genuinely surprised to see it brought back up again. However, the chapter has by my count over a dozen pages of less interesting characters, like the villain Tannarak or Constantine's bartender fighting werewolves and demons, and only three or four pages actually featuring Constantine. This is a trend I sensed a bit in Fawkes's Batgirl, focusing on characters other than the book's main character, and I hope that's curbed in future issues.

The fifth chapter is the Trinity War tie-in issue, amusingly called (for an old JSA fan) "Stealing Thunder," and teaming Constantine with Shazam nee Captain Marvel. I remember the classic LEGION "War of the Gods" issue where Marvel fought Lobo, and the humor of the issue was seeing Marvel's extreme innocence contrasted with Lobo's sheer filthiness. Geoff Johns's new Shazam is quite a bit more of a brat than previous incarnations, and so there's an amusing but different interplay with Constantine, in that they're both jerks being jerky to one another.

The issue is problematic only because, as a Trinity War tie-in, it appears to have relevance to the Trinity War storyline, but ultimately the set-up turns out to be a misunderstanding and the issue factors into Trinity War not at all. That's bad for Trinity War, but the upside is that if you accept that Constantine and Shazam walk into a bar in the middle of the Trinity War goings on, there's not much more you need to know to enjoy the issue from a Constantine perspective.

Constantine Vol 1: The Spark and the Flame was, for me, better than it could have been, and I consider that a win though I understand others might feel more strongly. Between Constantine and Phantom Stranger, I think DC's doing fairly well with the "Dark" corner of the New 52, and I'm looking forward to the next collection of each.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


I have been a fan of the John Constantine character for many years. I like that even though he was based in the Vertigo "universe", he would occasionally make appearances in the DC universe (pre New 52, of course). And when DC decided to pull him into the DC universe with the cape and mask crowd, they even gave him his own team; Justice League Dark.

They were trying to make him more "mainstream" after the failed attempt with the Keanu Reeves movie back in 2005. With the relative success of DC's Arrow on The CW, and their attempt to bring Flash to TV as well, DC wanted to try and get Constantine on board as well.

When I heard that it was going to be on NBC, I was very skeptical. I didn't believe that NBC had what it takes to bring John Constantine to live better than Reeves' failed attempt earlier. When I saw Matt Ryan as Constantine for the first time, I thought "He looks the part." When I heard him as Constantine I thought "He sounds the part." After the first episode I was convinced that Matt Ryan was John Constantine. This was the role that he was made for.

When Constantine went on its Winter hiatus, speculation grew about whether NBC would call for a full season or even opt for a second one. That's when I first saw the following image pop-up on my Twitter feed:

I don't know how many times I made posts on Facebook or tweets across Twitter with the hashtag #SaveConstantine, but I do recall tweeting before every west coast broadcast of the latest episode to try and garner support. As we all know... that didn't work as well as we would have liked. There was a glimmer of hope that Constantine would be picked-up by a cable network that could continue the story and include more of the elements of John Constantine that NBC left out for public consumption. That has apparently went down the drain.

Then Stephen Amell gave us hope when he suggested that Constantine might appear in season for of Arrow. When I saw the episode of Arrow with Matt Ryan reprising Constantine, it warmed my heart... but I still want more. With the occasional crossover between Arrow/Flash, and the idea that there could be a crossover between Flash/Supergirl, I hope we can see Matt Ryan again in the DC universe shows.

In January 2016, Fox is going to have their new show Lucifer. I haven't read too many of the Lucifer trades, but I think John Constantine would be great popping-up there a time or two. This would be right up Constantine's alley.

Let's keep some hope alive and help to #SaveConstantine.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Harley Quinn: Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes

Title: Harley Quinn: Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes

ISBN: 9781401216573
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2007
Artist: Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, Craig Rousseau
Writer: Karl Kesel
Collects: Harley Quinn #1-7

Rating: 3/5

Superhero comic industry conventional wisdom has long held that supervillains simply didn’t work as the stars of their own titles.

In the good old days, this was due to the fact that villains generally had to get punished for their crimes at regular intervals, and apparently it was somewhat frustrating to end every single issue with your lead either being hauled off to jail or seemingly killed in an explosion or something (The classic example of supervillain comics being untenable is probably DC’s 1975 Joker, which lasted just nine issues).

I assume supervillain comics—or at least ones of the ongoing, monthly variety—are still really hard to make work, even if there’s less of an emphasis on good-always-triumph, crime-never-pays morality in super-comics. Nowadays, the most popular villains have motivations that make them poor leads: A comic about a villain robbing banks and avoiding capture might be rather thrilling, but how do you do a comic about a character’s whose goal in life is to, say, kill his archenemy?

Harley Quinn seemed an even more unlikely lead for her own ongoing monthly in that she was created to be The Joker’s henchwoman/moll/love interest. If doing a comic about a crazy, killer clown-themed villain seemed difficult, how do you do one about a crazy, killer clown-themed villain romantically obsessed with another, crazier, killer clown-themed villain, a relationship that can most charitably be described as abusive?

I don’t know. But in 2000, writer Karl Kesel seemed to have figured it out, making the then-new-to-the-DCU character into the star of her own monthly comic, one that lasted some three years and 38 issues (Well, Kesel himself only handled the first 25 issues, but still!)

The first seven issues of the title were collected and released in a 2008 trade paper back entitled Harley Quinn: Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes (Title sound vaguely familiar? It’s supposed to).

Back in 2000, Harley Quinn was familiar to Batman fans from Batman: The Animated Series (for which Paul Dini and Bruce Timm created her), and the various DC comics set in and around the “animated continuity” (Most notably 1994’s excellent special, Mad Love, by Dini and Timm). In late 1999, she was officially introduced into the DC Universe continuity, in a prestige format special which gave her an origin and superpowers. A few appearances in a few books later—this was around the time that the Bat-books were involved in the big “No Man’s Land” storyline/status quo—and BAM! Solo book.

Kesel’s approach was to keep things admirably light and fun. The Joker is still a psychopathic serial killer surrounded by hardened criminals and lunatics (like our protagonist), but Kesel established a tone similar to that the animated series that spawned his star.

A great deal of the violence is implied, talked about or otherwise danced around (One henchman has his head blown off, but the wound is obscured by someone standing in front of his body, rather than earning a detailed splash panel). The Joker and Harley are genuinely funny—even if occasionally just corny funny—and there’s not a whole lot of effort into making the book realistic, or dwelling on the sort of real world concerns that can destroy comic book stories. (You know that The Joker ogn? This is absolutely nothing like that).

Basically, Kesel writes as if he were writing the characters from and episodes of the animated series, only setting it in DCU continuity.

The book similarly benefits from its structure, which is a bit of a beaded-necklace of done-in-ones (or two’s), with connective threads holding them together.

The first issue begins with Harley and The Joker at their more-or-less default setting. She rescues him from Arkham Asylum and they begin a crime spree together, with him trying to bump her off and she eventually taking him down in self-defense. By the end of the first issue then, she’s Joker-less on her own.

From there she tries being second banana to Gotham’s next biggest supervillain (Two-Face), hosts a party for female supervillains, starts her own gang to break her pet hyenas out of the zoo, pulls off a heist at The Finger Warehouse (seen in Neil Gaiman and company’s Riddler story from Secret Origins Special #1) and, in the books only two-part story, attempts to rob Wayne Manor—at the same time The Riddler and his gang attempt to rob it (And with the Bat-people all busy, Oracle’s forced to call in then-Justice Leaguer Big Barda to save the day).

While Harley’s starting over as her own first banana in these stories, a foe she makes in the first issue has assembled a team to track her down and catch her for him, and Kesel imbues these characters and Harley’s gangmembers with strong personalities and individual voices (even the least rounded of them have a distinct character trait or tic to call their own).

It makes for interesting reading, but it’s the tone Kesel establishes that makes the book sing. It’s serious without ever being too serious, light-hearted and funny without ever being zany; it takes place within the greater DC Universe without being obsessed by continuity, and perhaps most remarkably given the general trend of Batman books over the last few decades, it’s fun and exciting rather than grim and gritty.

I think Kesel’s plots and dialogue probably could have established this well-balanced tone with different artistic collaborators, but the fact remains he has rather ideal ones in the form of Terry and Rachel Dodson.

The volume opens with about a half-dozen pages of perfect Bruce Timm homage (I actually checked and re-checked the credits to make sure that these pages were actually Terry Dodson working in the “animated” style, the aping of it is so perfect), so the book literally moves from the animated universe into the DC Universe.

The Dodson’s working in a perfect compromise style between cartoony and serious—the art is round, smooth, somewhat flat and devoid of unnecessary filigree, but the character designs are never too terribly exploded or exaggerated.

The worst you can say about the Dodson’s designs here are that all of the women are built just like Harley Quinn, but that’s certainly an effect they were intentionally going for. While there’s little of the out-and-out fan service and exploitive posing seen in the current Harley Quinn book, Gotham City Sirens, there’s an awful lot of cheese cake, of the wholesome, good girl variety.

I didn’t read this series at all when it was originally being released—I think the Our Worlds At War special guest-starring Jimmy Olsen and featuring art by the likes of Paul Grist and Amanda Connor and an issue guest-starring Martian Manhunter I found in a fifty-cent bin was the extent of my exposure to the title before now—but I was pleasantly surprised at how accomplished it was.

A large part of that surprise was due to the fact that it seemed like Kesel actually wrote a better Harley Quinn than Harley’s creator Paul Dini did (Since he started writing DCU comics regularly, Dini reformed Harley into a Catwoman-like bad girl hero). That, and I was surprised to see the Dodsons drew almost every page of this issue, save a handful near the end that Craig Rousseau penciled (in the animated style, inexplicably). When the Dodson’s became the “regular” art team of DC’s relaunched Wonder Woman title in 2006, they drew only the first four issues, and those took about seven months to come out…but then, I guess there were all sorts of problems with that Wonder Woman relaunch.

At any rate, Harley Quinn: Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes—great stuff. I’d love to see DC continue to collect the series for a while, if only because that would be the easiest way for me to find out what happens next. Failing that, I’m sure all of these are in fifty-cent and $1 bins somewhere.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Eugene Comic Con (EUCON) Experiences

When I heard that someone was working on another comic event for Oregon, I was thrilled. When I learned that one of the first guests that was going to make an appearance was going to be Larry Hama, I was ecstatic! I reached-out to the director, Royce, and he happily provided me with press passes for his first event.

The day before the event, I learned that Larry Hama wasn't going to be able to make it due to health concerns. As my loyal readers know, I primarily go to these events to expand my autograph collection. I had already gotten everything I own from Randy Emberlin and Ron Randall signed, so I made the decision that I was going to EUCON without the usual autograph agenda. I think that helped me to enjoy myself more.

When I arrived, there was a HUGE line of people waiting to get in. It was incredibly fortunate that the weather had decided to be nice for Saturday. I tried to find any event volunteer to help me with some questions outside, with no luck. Fortunately, we easily made it inside and got our wristbands. (I found out later that if we had arrived when the doors opened, we might have been able to receive a great looking bag from Dark Horse.)

The Lane County Event Center is small compared to other similar events that I've attended, but the layout was well designed. Even though there were a large number of people attending, it never felt as crowded as Rose City Comic Con or Emerald City Comic Con.

Since my autograph collecting was being put on hold for this event, there was an exclusive Deadpool variant that was being offered by one of the vendors; Dr. Hogan-Berry's Extraordinary Emporium. That was my first stop, and now I have the both Rob Liefield variant covers and the print that came with.

As with any event of this nature, I also wanted to make sure to stop by some of the wonderful artists that have contributed to my non profit; Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer.

Photo courtesy of {Chrysalis Rising Photographic Studio}

At EUCON, artists AnnMare Grove, Shawn Cruz, Ron Randall, Randy Emberlin and Randy Kintz were all in attendance for the inaugural event. From the feedback I received from everyone, the energy was positive all around. I heard the exact same message from other who attended.

My only problem with the entire event would be the MC. I'm not sure why people feel the need to have someone talking loudly into a microphone in a confined space would be a good thing. Another issue I have with the MC is that his voice had so much bass in it that it made it incredibly difficult to hold a normal conversation. My recommendation would be to either not have an MC, or at least limit the time they are actually on the microphone.

I did also manage to pick-up a few new prints for my collection from Mercenary Studios.

I was also fortunate enough to find a few trades to add to my collection. Good thing too since I'm starting to run out of them to read and review.

All in all, the event was great, and I'm looking forward to next year. Depending on how things go over the next year, maybe I'll work to get a table for Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer.

The best thing that happened was something I hadn't planned on at all. It seems as though my best friend and photographer was a huge fan of "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan. I have never seen her geek-out so much before. She decided that she would get an autograph and photos from him.

While we were standing in line waiting, the guy just in front of us purchased the last 2 pieces of 2x4's that Duggan brings with him to sign. When we got up there, Rita asked if he happened to have any more to sign. His assistant checked behind the curtain, and there was 1 last piece. It was fate telling us that this was meant to be. It was a great feeling to meet him.

I want to extend a big "THANKS" to Royce for allowing me the opportunity to come and review the event. I wish EUCON continued success over the years. Here is what was posted about the number of attendees for the first annual event. It can only go up from here!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Civil War

Title: Civil War

ISBN: 9780785121794
Price: $24.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2014
Artist: Steve McNiven
Writer: Mark Millar
Collects: Civil War #1-7

Rating: 3/5

In the comic world, every now and again, there are events. These are stories when it involves most of that universe's characters, and there are usually big events that change everything, or set a new status quo. For example, DC has had several "Crisis" book, these titles were massive events with universes, realities and character's lives on the line. In these events, we saw the destruction of the multiverse, the death of Batman amongst others, and other just massive events. Naturally, Marvel has had it's fair share. Like Secret War, where the heroes were at war against each other and casualties were taken, it was also the first appearance of the black-suited Spiderman. So, needless to say, event comics are big deals.

In 2006, Marvel launched a story called Civil War, which promised to pit Marvel's heroes against each other over their ideals, and nothing would ever be the same. Marvel delivered this, and it started out strong, but teetered out to a rather surprising conclusion (not the best though).

The story starts off with a group of young superheroes, The New Warriors, trying to make a name for themselves, try to take down some powerful super villains. This results in a massive explosion that takes out a neighborhood, including an elementary school while class was in session. We see the superheroes show up immediately to help with the clean up. This event was the last straw, and now the public and government have had enough of the superheroes and want them to go away. Tony Stark, getting a wake up call, negotiates with the government and after long discussions, they reach a conclusion. The Superhuman Registration Act would go into effect, forcing all superheroes to reveal their secret identities and become agents of the government, their workers essentially.

Iron Man, with Mr. Fantastic and Yellowjacket by his side, lead the push for the Act, realizing this was the only way superheroes would be allowed to legally do what they do. While Captain America leads the resistance of heroes who believe this Act takes away their rights and makes them simply tools of the government who have to obey their every command. The 2 sides clash over their ideals, bringing in a lot of big superheroes to take sides.

Ok, let's break down what went wrong. Now my first point is something Marvel messed up with their recent event, Avengers vs X-men: both sides were not given a fair chance. What I mean is, it was clear after the first issue, who Marvel has villainized and who has made who they want to win. If you want to make a compelling hero vs hero story, make both sides believable. Make people torn between choosing which heroes they want to follow, have both sides have equally just arguments that you can get behind and understand their points. Civil War does not do this.

It is clear after Captain America's argument with Maria Hill in the first issue, that Captain America's resistance is in the right, and that the side of registration will be the bad guys. Now, registration was a bad thing, and it should not have gone through, but if you really wanted fans to pick sides and get behind the conflict, the registration side should have been more than Iron Man working for the jerky government and doing what ever it takes to take down the resistance, no matter how despicable the methods. So the whole story, you are cheering for the resistance, and it just becomes another good vs evil story, not a compelling war.

Next, humanity. What. the. heck? Seriously, humanity looked like a bunch of ungrateful jerks throughout this story. Yes, the bombing was a horrible thing, and they shouldn't just sit back and take it on the chin from the supers like that, but come on! The humans come down REALLY hard on the heroes, you know, the ones who protected their worthless butts time and time again from certain destruction. I'm all for them saying that the heroes should train the younger and inexperienced heroes to prevent this kind of recklessness, but they wanted to go away for good!  You know, in a world where Doctor Doom or Red Skull could destroy them all in an instant. Because getting rid of their protectors makes sense. Even when that didn't go through, they wanted them to become soldiers of the government and reveal their secret identities, which Spiderman foolishly did. It was just incredibly frustrating to see the people being such unreasonable and unrealistic jerks. I almost wanted the heroes to take a vacation so that Galactus could come eat the planet or something.

The worst human amongst them, was Mr.s Sharpe. She was a mother of one of the children who were lost in the bombing. Yes, this woman lost so much in the attack, and she is unstable. However, this woman was downright annoying. She goes after Tony Stark at the funeral and blames him for everything. She became the focal point of Tony supporting the Act, forcing the downfall of Tony (more on that later.) Why this woman?! It would have made more sense if Tony showed support towards all of the families, or if he did speeches for all of the lost children. However, Mrs. Sharpe and her un-called for attacks on Tony, were right next to Tony at conferences, he even brought her on the Helicarrier. Every time she was on the page, I groaned, because I just hated her existence. I know she was supposed to represent the grieving families, but it could have been handled better.

That brings me to Tony himself. My gosh, why did Mark Millar (writer of this story) do this to you? It didn't seem like Tony was himself. Sure, he has been shaken up about everything, but he has gone through worst in his past, and still seemed like himself. Tony was so willing to take down his former teammates and lock them away forever. We saw moments of hesitation, like when he offered Daredevil freedom if he joined his cause, but then we saw him willing to cave in Captain America's skull. Tony was one of the reasons it was hard to get behind the registration, because Tony and his fellow partners, Mr. Fantastic mostly, were just asses who didn't care about past experiences and friendships/relationships, because this Act was now everything. Nothing else mattered. Mr. Fantastic almost ruined his marriage because he was excited about their plans to imprison the resistance and ruin what superheroes stood for. What a couple of jerks. They were even willing to enlist supervillains like Bullseye and Venom to get the job done. Villains they know would have no problem killing anybody. That was the biggest WTH moment of the book. Matt Fraction would go on to write Iron Man a little over a year later and redeem him, but Iron Man in this book was such a disgrace of the character. Even worse than Iron Man 3, yes that is possible.

Captain America and the resistance are not completely innocent either. His reaction to The Punisher's involvement was a little unnecessary, but it wasn't out of the realm of possibility.

Last complaint, the ending. Marvel has a reputation of butchering the endings of their event stories, and this is no exception. In the final battle of the story, we are getting the ending we want. There are cameos we wanted and seeing the good guys come out on top. Then...the humans...interfere (without spoiling anything), then in like 2 pages, the story abruptly ends without a lot of resolution other than, everything still stinks. We were building up such a big story with big resolutions, and the story flatlines. One side loses, one side wins, it just happens, and it is such a let down. Now I wasn't mad about the ending and think that it ruins anything, but it just stopped and I think it could've gone on.

Minor note: where was the Hulk, Ghost Rider and Moon Knight? They were featured in the advertisements, and Hulk and Ghost Rider don't just blend in the background.

Now for I did like, the art is beautiful. The characters and facial expressions are fantastic and highly detailed. In the battle scenes, they were impressive. Cloak is a teleporting character who uses his...cloak... to cover people and move them, these effects were stunning. I also really liked Spiderman's new Iron Spider costume, that was incredible. Also, when people took a hit or punch to the face, it showed. Iron Man and Captain America laid the smackdown on each other, and they looked it. The art had a serious and sort of dark tone to it, which was fitting for the story.

Also, Captain America was great in this story. He didn't accept flak from anyone, and he was the strongest character of the book. He was willing to take in people from Tony's side, and didn't want to fight. While Tony and registration hunted them down like dogs, you know what the resistance did? They stayed underground and still fought crime, capturing super villains and saving people. AND THESE ARE THE ONES THE PEOPLE WANT TO LOCK UP OR GO AWAY?! That is severely illogical and a blatant disregard for sanity. Captain America stayed a consistently great character and led a faction of characters that continued to shine in the face of the rest of the world being schmucks. 

The battles are also great. Intense and sometimes downright gritty action happens several times and it is great to see. It isn't typical over the top comic action. This seemed like explosive, gritty street fighting, and it was awesome.

Overall, past all of the complaining, I do enjoy Civil War. While the argument was one-sided, it was still great political drama, and it spoke out against how the government does things. The art is gorgeous and the characters are incredibly strong. Captain America was the best part of the book, and it was a strong read. It is just a shame that there were so many flaws with the story. Iron Man is one of my favorite heroes, but in this book he was written as the antagonist, a position I never wanted to see Tony in. I recommend reading Civil War, because not only was it an enjoyable read, but it set a big status quo, in other books after it. This was like the equivalent of reading Harry Potter 1-6. You get a lot of set up and change, you will just have to read what comes after it to get the resolution.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Cable and X-Force Vol. 1: Wanted

Title: Cable and X-Force Vol. 1: Wanted

ISBN: 9780785166900

Price: $17.99

Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2013

Artist: Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Salvador Larroca

Writer: Dennis Hopeless

Collects: Cable and X-Force #1-5, Marvel Now! Point One #1

Rating: 3/5

It’s apparent that for the Marvel NOW! initiative, the X-editors couldn’t figure out what format to use for X-Force. On the one hand, Rick Remender’s weirder and more continuity-laden Uncanny X-Force had been a hit. On the other hand, readers were clamoring for the return of classic X-Force characters, especially since Cannonball and Sunspot had been upgraded to Avengers. As a result, they made an interesting decision: “Let’s try both and see what happens." Unlike the multiple Avengers titles, there’s not a wide enough readership for multiple X-Force books, so there was a sense that only one format would survive. Dennis Hopeless and Salvador Larroca’s series won, at least in the sense that the books merged into a team led by Cable after a crossover. The first volume is Cable and X-Force Vol. 1: Wanted.

While Uncanny X-Force had the star power of Storm and Psylocke, it also shared them with Astonishing X-Men, Adjectiveless X-Men, Wolverine and the X-Men, and the other books based out of the Jean Grey School. The idea of a private X-assassin team operating out of a children’s school stretches the suspension of disbelief too far. This has been a problem that Uncanny X-Force struggled with ever since its launch a few years back with the all-black outfits. Conversely, Cable and X-Force is a covert team of mutants with questionable pasts and a desire to stay away from the main teams.

A second advantage Cable and X-Force had over Uncanny X-Force was in its character selection. Where Uncanny went with unusual choices like Spiral and Puck just to keep fans interested, it’s clear that Cable knows exactly who he wants for his team and why. Domino is an obvious choice, but fixing Forge’s brain and having him become Cable’s technical support was a very cool move. The same goes for recruiting the X-Club’s resident mad scientist Dr. Nemesis -- a character left out in the cold a bit with Beast’s involvement in All-New X-Men. Hopeless used the momentum of Avengers vs. X-Men’s sales to bring in readers by having Colossus and Hope (Cable’s adopted daughter) get involved.

Colossus illustrates one of the weaknesses of the book. It’s not that the character choice was a bad one; his post-Phoenix Force regret and need for absolution is in character. But his involvement interferes with the constant flash-forwards and flashbacks that Hopeless uses to set up the team’s unusual situation. The book begins with the Uncanny Avengers catching the team in what appears to be a slaughter of innocent factory workers. By the end, we know who the truth, catching up to what the Uncanny Avengers are seeing ... and then the final issue in the collection skips forward again to an uncertain point. This is where the Colossus issue comes in: he was a crucial part of X-Force’s infiltration of the factory, but we never see the infiltration happen. I have a feeling that this was intended to be a six-issue arc instead of five and the change came too late for Hopeless to revise his plotline.

I’m a little split on how Cable acts in Cable and X-Force. Hopeless does nail his characterization as a weary warrior with a heavy dose of PTSD, but he also changes Cable’s power set and gives him a new mechanical arm instead of a techno-organic one. I gave up on Cable and Deadpool because they kept screwing around with Cable’s powers so I’m always a little nervous when this kind of thing happens. On the positive side, the idea of giving Cable precognition is a creative one, especially when it’s clear that it’s indicative of a bigger change. A proactive X-team with a psychic leader who can tell when and where exactly to strike is something that X-Force should have had long ago. There are some other minor quibbles I have with the characterizations; Domino seems too eager to restart X-Force, while Hope seems overly emotional.

One last choice put Cable and X-Force ahead of Uncanny X-Force from the start: the art team. I have nothing against Ron Garney, but as someone who misses Invincible Iron Man dearly, it was a treat to see Salvador Larroca and Frank D’Armata creating the artwork here. D’Armata in particular sets up some clever color work, illustrating flashbacks with bluer tones compared to oranges in the present. There are moments when the art seems washed out but it works for a war-heavy comic. Larroca really gets to let loose in depicting “The Girth,” enormous zombies created by a food-borne virus. They look horrific on their own, and it only gets creepier as they combine.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

6 Years Now!

Another year in the books, and I'm still here!

I remember that in the first year of writing my blog, I was very enthusiastic and would post multiple reviews at a time while I was bored at work. This was before I learned how to schedule my posts so that I could sit at my computer for a few hours every few months and write several reviews for the coming months.

Over the course of the last year, my resources have been stretched, and that means that the availability of new trades to review was limited. A couple of months ago, I finally got a new job and now have the resources to continue to get new trades... but this new position does not afford me the luxury of having spare time to write during the week, and also finds me with limited energy on the weekends.

Never the less, I am undaunted and will continue to provide my weekly reviews and occasional editorials.

2015 has been a year of ups and downs for me. Here are the ups, so far:

  • I was allowed press/media access to both Cherry City Comic Con and Rose City Comic Con! I hope that my telling of the experiences I had will inspire you to join them for their events next year.

  • This was the first year for Northwest Comic Fest in my hometown, and I was fortunate enough to have received a free booth for my non-profit work for Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer.

  • Later in the month, I will be going to the first ever Eugene Comic Con (EUCON) with press/media credentials. I'm looking forward to seeing what Eugene has to offer us.

  • With my new job, I've been able to re-open my subscription box at my LCS.

  • There have been 2 articles written in the local newspaper about my work for Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer, and it has increased our visibility dramatically. To date, we have now raised $3450 for the American Cancer Society!

  • I was able to finally meet the man whose writing brought me into comic books to begin with; Larry Hama. The best thing is that I get to see him again at EUCON. 

  • I was asked to do a review based on a script from a series I've been dying to see come to live for several years. In a little under 6-months, the new Black Suit of Death Kickstarter campaign will start, and I hope that this time we'll be able to get it fully funded!

This time last year, we were over 42,000 page views. Today we stand at close to 69,000! Thank you so much for all your support!

In the next year, I'm planning on expanding my coverage some more. I've been asked to do a few reviews on some indy comics as well as a children's book. These will not take place of my regular trade reviews, but rather add to the depth of my writing for this blog. I look forward to also providing you with additional updates on how Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer is going.

As I look forward to 2016, here are my hopes and predictions:

  • At the 2016 edition of Cherry City Comic Con, I hope to not only bring you a review of the event, I hope to also have a table or booth there to help promote Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer.

  • I'm looking forward to seeing what may come from another year for both Northwest Comic Fest and EUCON.

  • Due to a scheduling conflict, I wasn't able to attend the first Emerald Vally Comic Fest. I hope to change that for 2016.

  • Rose City Comic Con was huge this year, and I predict it will be even bigger next year. I hope that I will continue to be graced with media badges for next years event.

  • I submitted an application to Emerald City Comic Con for media/press badges, but unfortunately that request was denied. With the 3 and 4 day passes already sold out, I'm not sure if I'll be able to attend. Time to play the waiting game.

  • I send a request to Wizard World for media/press passes for Wizard World Portland in February. I haven't heard anything from them yet, and I will continue to press forward on this front. It's been too long since I've been to WW Portland, and I'd like to see what has changed.

As I also collect other items related to my fandom of comics, I think I'll be occasionally posting photos of my collection, which rage from posters to glasses to action figures.

Thank you for 6 great years so far, and here's to hoping that the next years will be pleasant for one and all!

iZombie: Dead to the World

Title: iZombie: Dead to the World

ISBN: 9781401229658
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2011
Artist: Michael Allred
Writer: Chris Roberson
Collects: iZombie #1-5, The House of Mystery Halloween Annual #1

Rating: 3/5

It’s hard to assign a label to this work: on one hand it’s teen angst title as they work through the social awkwardness and on the other it’s a monster title.  The opposite of Buffy I’d be willing to suggest.  We’re introduced to a world where the undead and arcane appear everywhere but are presented as the boy and girl next door.  Everything is tongue and cheek, including a werewolf that turns into a terrier lycanthrope and an undead hunter that just wants to get a life.

The characters are quirky and easily likeable in this off framework that’s established; what’s not to like about an attractive zombie who works and lives in a graveyard to keep herself on a steady diet of brains?  Dialogue is fast and snappy, coming off whitty and original like everything about this series.  Sustainability comes from our lead Gwen’s ability to absorb a dead person’s memory when she eats their brains: this will lead her on a regular series of mystery adventures and allows for a long running ongoing series.

Art is solid Mike and Laura Allred.  Mike presents clean lines and thick outlined inks while Laura gives her muted and slightly blurred colours.  Great looking character design and right up their alley; odd monster type characters are the norm in their creator owned Madman.

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