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Sunday, October 27, 2019

Rat Queens Vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery

Title: Rat Queens Vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery

ISBN: 9781607069454
Price: $9.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2015
Artist: Roc Upchurch
Writer: GKurtis J. Wiebe
Collects: Rat Queens #1-5

Rating: 4/5

Meet the Rat Queens, a group of foul-mouthed badasses who brawl as hard as they party, and they do both with style. There’s Hannah, the spell-casting hot head; Violet, the beardless warrior dwarf; Dee, a divine sorceress who left the squid-worshipping cult that raised her; and Betty, the cute-as-a-button thief with a penchant for candy and magic mushrooms. Collecting the first five issues of the acclaimed new series, trade paperback Sass and Sorcery is a solid introduction to the group’s raunchy, sword-swinging escapades, and with a comic this fun to read, the larger dose is welcome.

While there’s no shortage of action, the personalities of the Queens drive the book. Writer Kurtis J. Wiebe has crafted a cast that’s rowdy, sarcastic and intensely loyal, like a magic-infused roller derby squad bashing its way through Middle-earth. It doesn’t matter if they’re fighting trolls, stabbing mercenaries or just angering the townsfolk, watching them interact with the world is where the fun is. That’s not to say that this volume is light on plot: someone has hired assassins to kill the Rat Queens, and they encounter some precarious situations as they try to uncover the culprit.

As engrossing as the plot is, Roc Upchurch’s art brings all of these personalities to life. His storytelling is dynamic, as characters often bound beyond panel borders, but he truly excels at facial expressions. He wields such minor mannerisms — a snarled lip, a dubious squint, a mischievous smirk — to massive effect. Whether it’s the crinkled eyebrows of a hangover, or Betty’s innocent smile spattered with troll blood, there’s so much expression in the pages you can almost forget that you’re looking at static drawings and word balloons.

Sass and Sorcery bounces seamlessly from gore to humor, sprawling action to small personal moments — sometimes simultaneously, and that’s what makes the whole thing work so well. In the end, the characters are built so strongly that you don’t just want to watch them raise hell — you want to grab a battle axe and join in.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Batman: Knightfall Part Three: KnightsEnd

Title: Batman: Knightfall Part Three: KnightsEnd  

ISBN: 1563891913

Price: $14.95

Publisher/Year: DC, 2000

Artist: Jim Aparo, Bret Blevins, Barry Kitson, Mike Manley, Graham Nolan, Ron Wagner

Writer: Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Jo Duffy

Collects: Batman #509-510, Detective Comics #676-677, Batman: Shadow of the Bat #29-30, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #62, Catwoman (Volume 2) #12

Rating: 3/5

The final volume in the three part Knightfall collected trade paperback series, following the excellent part one and the average part two, finds the original Batman, Bruce Wayne, prepare to take down his hand-selected successor John Paul Valley. Almost immediately after receiving the mantle of the bat from the injured Bruce Wayne, Valley (henceforth referred to as his other alter-ego Azrael, for clarity's sake) exhibited signs of extremism in his attempts to fight crime. By the end of book two, he had defeated Bane, but managed to stop just short of killing him, signaling that he might be alright as Batman after all.

Unfortunately, Azrael's conscious didn't stick. In the interim between part two and part three, he killed a criminal, which lead to the death of an innocent. When confronted about his dark turn by Robin, Azrael attacked the Boy Wonder. This leads to Bruce Wayne realizing that he had to defeat Azrael, as Valley's terror campaign on Gotham's underworld was the result of his mistake. There is an 8 issue gap between the two sets, at the interim series featuring Azrael as Batman, Knightquest, did not receive the TPB treatment. Unfortunately, this means that the reader misses out his decent into madness and darkness. Also, the sub-plot from part two involving Wayne and Alfred going to rescue Robin's father, with Catwoman stowing on board, is resolved in the interim and goes unmentioned. However, there's a good chance that those issues weren't that good, since Azrael is nowhere near as compelling a character as Bruce Wayne/Batman, so it's probably for the best that the series skips ahead to the story of him reclaiming his rightful position.

Before Wayne can take on Azrael, he first must regain his fighting edge. To do this, he enters into training with Lady Shiva in some ninja tales. This is the first half of the book, which alternately shows Wayne training and Azrael going nuts looking for the dead killer of his father. And it's kinda dull. Some of the fighting between Wayne and the ninja-types is fun enough, but the first half is definitely nothing special. The highlight of the first half is the interactions between Nightwing and Robin, especially when Dick Grayson returns to the Batcave, learning that you truly can't go home again.

The book picks up the pace once Wayne finishes his training and once again dons the traditional Batman costume (as opposed to the overly-stylised armoured monstrosity that Azrael wears as Batman). The shift is marked by issue twelve of Catwoman, thrown into the series to boost sales of Catwoman no doubt. But, it's a fun read, highlighted by the gorgeous art of Jim Balent. Then it kicks in to a multi-issue battle between the new and old Batmans. It's pretty good action, although for most of the first half of the set, Azrael is so far gone mentally that you have to wonder if he'd really be much of a challenge to the real Batman. I remember thinking that Nightwing could probably take him out. The writers must've also had that thought, because after it looks like a booby-trapped Batmobile kills Batman, Nightwing takes on Azrael one on one to avenge his former mentor.

He gives a good showing, but ultimately is beaten by Azrael for the same reasons Batman had trouble with him, the battle suit is too powerful, and Azrael has no concern for the lives of bystanders (unlike Batman and Nightwing). This leads to the final battle between Batman and Azrael, which brings the Knightfall story full circle. The two face off in the very place where Batman was originally defeated by Bane (which, in turn, lead to Azrael to become the new Batman), Wayne Manor. The battle was a little too talky for my liking, and a little unfulfilling in the way it finished up. But, in the end, the reader is treated to what they deserve: the one and only Batman victorious and ready to once again assume the mantle of the Dark Knight.

Sadly, the series never did reclaim the energy and brilliance of the first part of the series. Largely, I think this is because Jean Paul Valley just isn't that interesting a character. I think DC wanted to shake things up and get some attention by bringing in a new Batman and give him a new costume, and slipped a bit along the way in creating a good character. But, while flawed, it was still a pretty decent story that did an excellent job in showing that Batman is more than just a well-trained vigilante with lots of wonderful toys. Which is important, since I think some of the portrayals of Batman over the years have gone a little too dark. Yes, he is the Dark Knight, but he's not the Dark Avenger. Knight implies an honor code to Batman's dealings, and the series as a whole did a great job in examining it.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Batman: Knightfall Part Two: Who Rules the Night

Title: Batman: Knightfall Part Two: Who Rules the Night 

ISBN: 1563891484

Price: $14.95

Publisher/Year: DC, 2000

Artist: Jim Aparo, Bret Blevins, Klaus Janson, Kelley Jones, Graham Nolan

Writer: Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant

Collects: Batman #498-500, Detective Comics #664-666, Showcase `93 #7-8, Batman: Shadow of the Bat #16-18

Rating: 3/5

The second part of Knightfall collects the issues directly following the breaking of Batman and lead into Jean Paul Valley's transformation into a meaner, deadlier Bat. Think of this as Azrael: Year One, with Batman's successor, the former Azrael, taking on the mantle of the Bat.

They say power corrupts and this book proves it. Given the role of Batman, Jean-Paul quickly descends into vigilante madness. Using "The System," which was implanted into his mind by the Order of Saint Dumas, Jean-Paul can perform incredible physical feats and perform complex engineering tasks -- like designing a bat-suit that's more like battle armor. Bruce Wayne worked all his life to become Batman. Jean-Paul got brain-washed to earn his skills. Obviously this is a Batman that just won't do.

As Jean-Paul gets more aggressive, he and Robin split and we're all left hating the new Batman. The purpose, it seems, is to make us clamor and hope for a replacement that isn't an asshole. That's really not what I'd call top-notch writing. As the story plays out, jean-Paul is essentially building himself up through experience so he can face Bane and take him down. As he improves, so does the suit as "improvements" turn it into an ugly piece of work.

On the one hand, we get to see what life might be like with a different Batman, but it's all too obviously manipulated. We never really get a chance to see Jean-Paul as anything more than a jerk with a somewhat questionable background who has no business being Batman.

Had DC the courage, they would have let Dick Grayson come in. Imagine the conflict when Grayson (who would certainly do things a little different than Batman) holds his own as the Dark Knight only to have Wayne healthy and ready to return to the role. How can Dick not give up the suit, but then, what if the city is better for having him. What if Tim Drake prefers Grayson? Now instead of a somewhat forced conflict, you have some real drama that builds on the history of Batman.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Rose City Comic Con 2019 - My Experiences

September 13-15, 2019

Oregon Convention Center

Portland, Oregon

I have been attending this great event since its noble beginnings back in 2012 when it was in a small hall at the Lloyd Center Doubletree Hotel and there were over 4,000 people trying to fit in the venue. I remember pulling up to the hotel and there was a large line waiting to get in.

Since 2015, I have been fortunate enough to be accepted as a member of the press for RCCC. I have watched as this con grew from those original four-thousand to now an expected 75k people attending over the 3-days. The official attendance numbers over the years are as follows:

  • 2013 - 18,000

  • 2014 - 25,000

  • 2015 - 32,000

  • 2016 - 42,000

  • 2017 - 64,000 (first year as a 3-day event)

  • 2018 - 58,000

Rita Upton of {Chrysalis Rising Photographic Studio} and myself waiting to get in on day 1.

There have been a few changes this year over the previous. In the past 4 years I have been a member of the press, I have had the opportunity to get onto the show floor at least 30 minutes before it opened to the general public. This has always helped so that I can make some connections with artists and creators before it gets very busy. It's also helped to be able to get a lay-of-the-land without the thousands of other people. This year, we were told that we would only be allowed in during normal show hours. While this was a little upsetting, it didn't really mater to me until about 15 minutes after the show was to open when they finally let us in. While waiting, I had the chance to converse with a few other members of the press who also expressed their dislike for the change.

I would also like to point-out that when we received our badges, the experiences wasn't the same as years past. I remember speaking with Paula Brister directly before the event when I had questions. This year, my pre-show questions remained unanswered until I was face-to-face with Mikala Rempe (Senior Publicist, Linda Roth Associates). While she told me that the information about not being able to get into the show early was in one of her emails, I have scoured them and found nothing. This is the first time I could really feel that the event was less locally run and more corporately run.

But enough of that. Let's get into the show.

DAY 1-

The layout of the event was the same as the past years, which works very well for a good flow for people. Considering that Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, WA has boasted attendance numbers over 80k since 2015, I think that RCCC should seriously consider a larger venue within the next 5 years.

My first objective of day 1 was to get in line for "Weird Al" Yankovic. His first signing was to begin at 1:00pm or 1:15pm, and since we weren't let in until around 1:15pm, I felt the need to bypass everything to get to the media guest area, that was on the far side of the floor from where we were. Fortunately, I got a decent place in line and didn't have to wait for too long before Al showed-up. it was pretty great that Funko even sent a small crew down to present Al with the same Funko Pop Vinyl that I was about to ask him to sign for me. They also took my photo, which I asked them to email me a copy, but haven't seen or received it yet.

Now I'm not sure who was in charge of getting the guests to where they need in a timely manner, but from what I saw and heard from over the weekend is that they were lacking. There were several people commenting how they were rushed through a photo op because of timing or that one of the guests didn't arrive to their signing until very late because of a panel running long. I would hope that in the future, whoever is responsible for scheduling guests and managing their time will give a 30 minute gap (at least) between obligations so that there's enough time to get from one side of the event to another. More on this issue when I cover day 2.

Since creating Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer, I have always tried to include picking-up covers from contributing artists that are attending RCCC. This year was no different. My first visit was with one our newest contributors, Don Nguyen. Check-out Pablo the Gorilla.

Don Nguyen and I.

It's always great to meet-up with the different artist who have helped me make #CBC4C possible, and I love meeting new artists. My next visit was with Ron Randall. Please check-out Trekker.

Ron Randall with his latest donation to #CBC4C.

After meeting with Ron, I worked on acquiring a few personal autographs for my collection. I had brought things for Kelly Sue DeConnick, Adam Kubert and Terry and Rachel Dodson. Unfortunately, Kelly Sue and Adam weren't going to be at the show until Saturday and the Dodsons were only attending on Sunday. This makes me wish that this was published somewhere before the show. This would have saved me time packing books on Friday that I wouldn't be able to get signed until Saturday. More on this later.

One of my favorite things about going to RCCC is going to the I Like Comic booth because they always bring a load of trades at cheap prices. This is when I get to load-up on more trade to be able to read and review; and usually many that I would not have thought to purchase previously so as to expand my horizons. Unfortunately, they didn't bring any this year. They brought boxes of their back issues and many of their graded comics. I can fully appreciate the reasoning behind this because they have higher prices... and we do live in a capitalist society... I had to walk away from the area disappointed.

Another item on my list that I must do every event is stop off at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund booth. As much as I appreciate and support what they do, I love the selection of signed trades they have to offer. And when I saw The Walking Dead: Here's Negan signed by Charlie Adlard, I had to get a copy.

After checking-out a few other areas trying to find a good buy for trades, my body told me it was time to head home for the day. I stopped over at the RCCC merch area to pick-up some of the Rick and Morty blank covers for #CBC4C.

DAY 2-

Saturday's are always bigger at RCCC, and this day was no different. Even though we got up to the Convention Center plenty early, all the on-site parking had already been filled. We had to park over at the Moda Center, which is about a half mile away from the event... a walk that I was not planning on having this early in the day.

We were able to get in the press access area easily enough, and waited for the doors to open. My friend and I had guests to go get in line for, so we went our separate ways. He went to get ready for Billie Piper, while I went to queue for Wil Wheaton to get this Star Trek cover signed.

Art by Sydney Walton. Cover donated to #CBC4C.

 This is where the day started to go very negatively for me.

I found where Wil Wheaton's area was, and there was already a short line of about 12-15 people. For those who have attended comic cons in the past, you know that there is typically (what I have found common, at least) a taped path in a zig-zag formation to help form the queue. Even though it would seem common sense to follow the taped lines, there were some people in line behind me that thought the line was straight down the left side of the area. There wasn't a huge issue, it just made things a little frustrating when the line would occasionally progress forward.

Add to this frustration the fact that I was standing in line for over an hour, and at that point Wil was about 45 minutes late. This is when I learned from the henchman who was "working" the area that there would be no cash or credit sales at the table. The only way you could receive the autograph (that I had been waiting for) was to have pre-purchased. When I looked on my phone to make the purchase, it showed me that the only availability would have been in Group 3, and the time for that group was already 15 minutes past. On top of that, there is an 8% surcharge for purchasing online. The fact that I was only able to budget enough money for the actual autograph and now they were informing us about this kind of pissed me off, so I left the line. It didn't help that my good ankle was beginning to bother me from all the standing around for nothing. I would hope that for future events, changes like this would be posted where you could see them, preferably before getting in line.

After that fiasco, I needed to go sit for a while as the next item on my to-do list was getting autographs from Adam Kubert and Kelly Sue DeConnick, and they were both going to be at their respective areas at the same time. I also took some of this time to hit the Oni Press area as I have been interested in getting the Rick and Morty vs Dungeons and Dragons trade for a while. I also picked-up volume 1 of their regular series.

When I arrived at Adam Kubert's table, there was already a line waiting, and he wasn't scheduled to be there for another 10 minutes. So I queued. Again, I would like to point out that there are people in this world that don't understand the meaning of a line... and some that don't really care, it seems. In the time that it took for me to get in line and finally get to see Adam, there were more than one individual that was trying to circumvent the concept of a queue. My frustration was at a boiling point, but it is not my job, nor my responsibility, to teach people common courtesy in attending events of this nature. I abhor conflict, so I stew and write about it later.

In the line ahead of me was a man with a stroller. I thought nothing of it at first, except when I noticed he had 2 dogs in it. He also kept going through a large selection of comic he had, asking others in line if "he did the art for this". It was simple to see that this was not a fan of the work that Adam has put in over the past 30+ years, but rather someone looking to try and score some cash on his autograph.

When I got closer to the front of the line, that was when I overheard that Adam was charging $10 for autographs. This was counter to what I saw the day before at his table.

This changed things for me, but only a little since I had saved some extra money from not being able to get the autograph earlier from Wil Wheaton. When I got to Adam, I mentioned to him about my work with Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer, and he obviously wanted to help in some way. He asked if I was going to back on Sunday, but unfortunately that was not in the cards. He then offered a donation of some of the signed prints.

Original art donated by Mike Hatfield

Signed prints donated by Adam Kubert.

After this great meeting with Adam, my next intention was to visit with Kelly Sue. I have been collecting her autograph on her works for years, beginning with her run on the Dark Horse title Ghost. This is what brought her to my attention, and when I get a chance to see her again, I take the opportunity. Unfortunately for me, when I arrived at her table, there was a line about an hour deep and my ankle was not going to allow me to stand for that. Fortunately, since she and her husband are both Portlanders, I knew that there would probably be a good chance of being able to see her again in the near future.

Before going back to sit and rest, I stopped by the Hero Initiative booth. I always stop by to give me support for their cause. It it wasn't for them and the different 100 projects that they have done to raise money, I would not have been inspired to start Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer. After having my copy of the Walking Dead 100 Project for so long, and not being able to add any new signatures to it for quite some time, I thought I would pick-up a new book to start again.

While I was giving my body some rest, I thought I would tweet a photo of the prints that Adam Kubert had donated to #CBC4C and thank him publicly.

My tweet.

The response received from Adam. :)

Considering how poor the wifi signal is inside of the convention center, this made my day.

During the course of the remaining time at the event, my friends and I shared a wonderful experience from Wild Bill's Soda. I had seen them at past events, but dismissed them for one reason or another. I'm glad we got this mug/cup, and look forward to drinking from it again at future events.

I ended up paying more attention to people talking about their experiences for the rest of the event; good and poor. I have also noticed that there were many people venting their frustrations online after the event. We live and learn, and I hope that we can work to make RCCC 2020 even better. I look forward to being there myself.

To those who read this post, I would welcome you to share your personal experiences in the comments section. If you can provide some constructive criticism for things that may not have gone well for you, perhaps the management of Rose City will take notice and work to make improvements where they can.

Batman: Knightfall Part One: Broken Bat

Title: Batman: Knightfall Part One: Broken Bat

ISBN: 1563891425

Price: $14.95

Publisher/Year: DC, 2000

Artist: Jim Aparo, Jim Balent, Norm Breyfogle, Graham Nolan

Writer: Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon

Collects: Batman #491-497, Detective Comics #659-663

Rating: 4/5

In the 90's, DC comics shocked the industry with two unthinkable events. Superman died and Batman was broken. Interestingly enough, both were defeated by brand new foes. But where Superman was felled by an unstoppable force who simply tore through the DCU, Batman was defeated in a much more convincing and painful manner.

Bane, who in this book is a brilliant strategist and evil bastard, sets loose all of Arkham Asylum, gives them weapons and lets them run wild. While Batman fights against utter chaos, Bane sits and waits, watching his prey. He waits until Batman is completely drained, until he can barely stand, until he no longer wants to stand. Then he strikes. The battle is one-sided. Batman has nothing left, he knows he is dead. But instead of being killed, Bane does one worse -- he breaks Batman's back and leaves him like waste.

Knightfall Part One collects the run of Batman and Detective comics that begin with the Arkham breakout and end with the broken bat. A story such as this certainly has a chance to become an epic, but in retrospect, Knightfall doesn't resonate years later.

There are some great things about Knightfall Part One. Bane's plan is brilliant and executed flawlessly. The Batman's own ego ends up being part of his downfall. Running a gauntlet through Arkham's worst can make for some inspiring reading, but oddly enough, the majority of enemies Batman faces most people have never heard of -- Zsasz. Amydala, Firefly? Sure, a few classic baddies show up, but a lot of screen time is devoted to bit players.

More frustrating than anything is the complete exclusion of Nightwing in any way. Batman plays it tough and says not to call on Dick Grayson, but it's impossible to believe the Grayson, having heard about the massive breakout, never shows up on his own or bothers to even call. No, that's not possible, because it would ruin the story, would destroy Bane's plan. Instead of incorporating Nightwing into the story and into Bane's plans, he's shut out. As a long-time Batman fan, I don't buy it. And when you're going to crack Batman's back, you really do need to cover all bases.

Despite some shortcomings, Knightfall Part One is an enjoyable read. However, you should be warned that this trade doesn't explain why Bane hates Batman nor does it show the events leading into Knightfall. These events are crucial, because when Arkham inmates are sprung, Batman is already weak from some previous incidents.

If you are eager to read some books that are still a big part of Batman continuity, Knightfall Part One is a good choice. And really, if you are any kind of Batman fan you owe it to yourself to see how Batman's will was broken (which is much more interesting than cracking his back). The despair in Batman's face and his crumpled body language before his battle with Bane makes this a rather unique instance in Batman's history -- the one time where he loses it all.

WANTLIST - Hasbro SDCC 2024 G.I. Joe Classified Series: Cobra Commander (Once a Man) Figure

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