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Sunday, November 24, 2019

Huntress: Crossbow at the Crossroads

Title: Huntress: Crossbow at the Crossroads

ISBN: 9781401237332

Price: $14.99

Publisher/Year: DC, 2012

Artist: Marcus To

Writer: Paul Levitz

Collects: Huntress #1-6

Rating: 2.5/5

By opting to write a story which revolves around human trafficking in Italy as a result of the Arab Spring, Paul Levitz immediately engages the reader by placing Helena in a real-world setting that feels relevant. The presence of Chairman Hassan, a thinly-veiled Muammar Gaddafi, as the primary villain enhances this quality. But the story is hampered by a formulaic structure; each issue is usually book-ended with skirmishes between Huntress and the villains henchmen while the middle is devoted to providing exposition in the form of two Italian reporters whom Helena befriends. As a result, the entire narrative feels as if it could have been condensed and more time could have been spent fleshing out the characters. At the same time, the action scenes are so well executed that it is easy to understand why they figure so heavily into the story.

The fight sequences themselves are one of the series greatest strength's due in no small part to Marcus To's artwork. To expertly depicts the almost nonstop action sequences. Huntress practically leaps off the page as she battles thugs and corrupt policemen. Additionally, Naples and Amalfi are beautifully and accurately depicted and the level of detail is such that the reader never forgets that this story is taking place in Italy.

Unfortunately, this book is held back by its lack of the characterization. While the plot is fairly interesting, there is little to no depth given to any of the characters, which is especially strange considering that in Legion of Superheroes Levitz was able to develop a massive cast of characters in as little as a few panels. The reader is given no background information regarding Helena herself; this is especially problematic as this mini-series was published in the spring of 2012 and marks Helena Wayne's first appearance in the New 52, meaning that we are unaware if her established continuity holds up or not. For most of Crossbow, the reader is unsure whether Huntress is actually Helena Wayne or Helena Bertinelli.Thus, the final "reveal" that it is in fact Helena Wayne of Earth-2 is more or less meaningless.

However, there is a lot to like in what we are told about Huntress. The reader can appreciate the way in which she utilizes a host of gadgetry and tactically plans each encounter in advance rather than simply diving right in. This differentiates her from the some of her previous depictions and takes the character back to her roots as originally imagined by Levitz himself. Additionally, many of the captions show Helena's playful side; she quips about the calories in Italian sweets and admonishes gangsters for their terrible attempts at flirting.

It is obvious from these instances that Levitz has a firm grasp on the character, which makes it all the more disappointing that the reader isn't given more. Her intelligence, planning, and sarcasm are traits that are all shared by several other members of the Bat-family; there is nothing that specifically ties Huntress to the plot, so she could just have easily been replaced in this series by another hero. As Batwoman: Hydrology demonstrated, a series gains a greater sense of cohesion when the hero has a personal stake in the crimes being committed, and both Huntress herself and the miniseries as a whole would have benefited from such a connection.

The same lack of characterization also applies to the villains, who are mostly generic mobsters and Arab stereotypes. The antagonists utilize nearly every tactic in the villain's arsenal to draw the reader's ire -- frivolous murder, violence towards women, sacrificing the lives of subordinates in order to escape, etc. -- but fail to generate any interest. When Huntress allows the mafia boss Moretti to die in the fourth issue, it's difficult to care much because he simply isn't that compelling. It is possible that the lack of characterization for Chairman Hassan was intentional, and the readers are meant to project their animosity towards Colonel Gaddafi onto the Chairman. Even so, the best analogues those that are able to exist on their terms within the story while also referencing someone else. Chairman Hassan is not given sufficient space to be anything other than a stand-in for Muammar Gaddafi, and the miniseries suffers because of it.

Huntress: Crossbow at the Crossroads is by no means a poor story, but the fine artwork is ultimately held back by the poor characterization of both the series heroine and her antagonists. Overall, it still makes for a fairly enjoyable read, but it probably won't expand Huntress' fanbase. Given Power Girl's appearance on the final page, it seems as if the purpose of this miniseries was mainly to solicit interest in the World's Finest series that followed. Levitz is unquestionably a strong writer, and hopefully he can provide a more detailed take on Helena Wayne in his ongoing monthly series.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Justice Society of America: Black Adam and Isis

Title: Justice Society of America: Black Adam and Isis

ISBN: 9781401225315
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2014
Artist: Jerry Ordway, Dale Eaglesham, Fernando Pasarin
Writer: Geoff Johns, Jerry Ordway, Matthew Sturges
Collects: Justice Society of America #23-28

Rating: 2.5/5

The Justice Society of America is in tatters, and the future of the team and its members are in question.  When Black Adam makes a power grab at the Rock of Eternity, the JSA will have to hold together in the hopes of stopping him and the “Black Adam Family”.  Plus, a ghost from the past forces members of the JSA to experience the release of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima…and only the Spectre can save them!

Written by Geoff Johns, Jerry Ordway, and Matthew Sturges, Justice Society of America:  Black Adam and Isis is a DC Comics superhero collection.  Following the events of Justice Society of America:  Thy Kingdom Come—Book 3, the collection features art by Jerry Ordway, Dale Eaglesham, and Fernando Pasarin.  The issues in the collection were also collected as part of the JSA Omnibus—Volume 3.

I will say that Justice Society of America has always been a great soap opera comic book and this collection continues it.  The series is largely about families and the rifts and arguments between the family members.  Examples include Hawkman taking flight (pun intended) from the team and Al and Courtney’s requited love.  It is largely emotionally driven stories and characters which gives them more depth than some other comic book teams.

The two stories in this volume aren’t the most satisfying.  While I certainly like aspects of the “Black Adam and Isis” issues, I feel that the middle part of the series and the conclusion is too rushed.  The action suddenly jumps to Kahndaq, the Wizard is restored, Black Adam & Isis are stopped, and Billy and Mary are left in the lurch…it seems like a lot happened that wasn’t explained or expanded upon.

The second storyline likewise is rather confusing and needs clarification.  The Justice Society is pulled back in time (maybe) and faces the ghosts of war.  The story feels like it should have been a three issue storyline and developed more.  The villain could have been more rounded, and I wish that the Crispus Allen Spectre was more explored.

Justice Society of America isn’t always the best title, but I enjoy the characters and the story of the JSA so it gets more of a pass than other DC titles.  The issues of the collection still have some of the great Alex Ross cover art which makes them worth reading alone.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

George R.R. Martin's The Sworn Sword

Title: George R.R. Martin's The Sworn Sword

ISBN: 9781477849293
Price: $14.95
Publisher/Year: Jet City Comics, 2014
Artist: Mike S. Miller
Writer: George R.R. Martin, Ben Avery

Rating: 4/5

This is a spoiler-free review since the twists are so fun to discover along the way, just like in A Song of Ice & Fire, I wouldn’t want to ruin it for anyone. It picks up basically two years after the events of “The Hedge Knight” with Dunk and Egg now serving under Ser Eustace Osgrey. There are basically two storylines we’re following here: the present-day conflict between House Osgrey and neighboring House Webber as well as the First Blackfyre Rebellion, told in flashbacks.

The story is set roughly a hundred years before the events of A Song of Ice & Fire, so the Targaryens are still ruling Westeros. Just because of that fact, I’m already sold on this series since they’re my favorite House. There are tons of references to various Targaryens that can be traced (thanks to Google and Wikipedia) all the way to Daenerys. I particularly enjoyed the story of the Blackfyre Rebellion, which was mentioned in A Storm of Swords but we’re given more details in this book. If you don’t remember what the rebellion was all about, essentially Aegon IV legitimizes his bastards so when he dies, one of his bastards Daemon Blackfyre tries to seize the Iron Throne from the legitimate son, Daeron. The art is amazing and definitely adds to the story, leaving me wanting to see the Blackfyre Rebellion flashbacks on the show or as a mini-series.

The other plotline with Osgrey and Webber was interesting but nowhere near as exciting as the rebellion. I did like the character of Lady Rohanne Webber or the Red Widow. She reminded me of a mix between Dany and Ygritte, and not just because she’s a widow and has red hair. It’s her fiery spirit and general badassness that made me think of the comparison.

While I liked “The Hedge Knight” more than “The Sworn Sword”, the second prequel graphic novel is an enjoyable must-read, The third novella has been adapted into graphic novel form as "The Mystery Knight". I’m looking forward to it since I think Dunk and Egg will encounter my second favorite House in Westeros, the Starks.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

10 Years of Zanziber's Point of View

As I was writing my recent post about autographs, I realized that it has now been 10 years since I started writing this blog.

Loyal readers will have noticed that there have been many changes over the years. I've gone from simply posting reviews of trades to writing reviews of comic cons. It's also been over 6 years since I created Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer.

I know there have been lapses on my consistency with publishing my reviews, but I have always made it back to make sure I keep this going. I'm in a better place now, and will be able to make the time necessary to continue writing.

Another upcoming change is that I want to transition from a blog into a podcast. This has been somewhat challenging because of time constraints and my unfamiliarity with the equipment/software. My ultimate plan is to actually combine the reviews of opinions of this blog with the insights, reviews and highlights from my RPG4EVR blog. I think that this will provide a better outlet for me to express my point of view.

As much as I enjoy writing, there are just some times where it's difficult to find the right words to type to express what I'm thinking and it's easier for me to verbally express them. Once I have the podcast in place, my expectation is to provide at least an hour episode each week. I hope you will all enjoy what I come up with.

The past few comic cons I have been to, I have noted that I've dealt with some physical issues. This is a combination of my age couple with the fact that I haven't taken the best care of my body over the past 45 years. After my birthday this year, I decided to make an early New Years resolution that I'm going to start taking better care of myself so I can continue to do the things that I enjoy; going to comic events, playing tabletop roleplaying games, continuing my work raising money for the American Cancer Society through Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer and so many other things, I know that this will involve a lot of lifestyle changes, and I am typically against big changes. But I have realized that I need to make these changes for myself, and they will be of benefit to everyone that reads my words, supports my work and relies on me for one thing or another.

Thank you to everyone who has been reading for as long as you have. As of this writing, this blog has had over 160k views. I consider that a success, and it could not have happened without you!

Autographs from Artists/Writers/Creators

After reading the article posted by Bleeding Cool about Adam Kubert refusing to sign a comic, and the subsequent comments that I have been reading, I felt that I wanted to express my point-of-view on the matter.

When I was younger, our area had a comic book show where they would have bigger named artists sign for $0.25 each signature, and the collected money would go to charity. In these days, I received signatures from the likes of Fabian Niceza, John Romita Jr., and there were so many other notables from the 90's that made appearances.

I mention this because this was the beginning of my desire to collect autographs. I had no problem with that arrangement. Of course, we also didn't have things like eBay, CGC/CBCS or the internet either. I'll admit that while I collected these autographs for myself, I always kept the idea of being able to sell anything I received a signature on for the future.

I continue to collect autographs with this mindset, and I will explain why this is.

I don't have any children, and for most of my life, I have never had much of a desire to have any. So that means I have nobody to necessarily pass my collection on to when I leave this world. It's my intention that whoever is the bearer of my eventual estate have a relatively easy time in liquidating my collections should the need arrive. This is also why I work to get a certificate of authenticity for everything that is signed.

So I typically prefer to have items simply signed and not personalized. I have received some books that were personalized to me, but they have been rare. I have never regretted these personalized autographs, and I would never seek an autograph for immediate personal financial gain.

With that being said, I think it's fair to say that the only exception to my statement about immediate personal gain are books that I look to get signed for my non-profit, Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer. When I get an artist or writers autograph on one of the covers or blanks set to be auctions for #CBC4C, I make sure that they know up front.

At Rose City Comic Con this year, I actually had a chance to interact with Adam Kubert. I was getting a personal book signed and a few books for #CBC4C. Feel free to read about my experience here. I felt that he was very receptive to all the people that came to receive his autograph. There was one person ahead of me that I felt was only trying to get Kuberts autograph to make a buck, but that's only this mans opinion. Adam didn't balk at signing the items that this guy put in front of him, including a Marvel line-up poster that he had already received several autographs on it.

I support creator's right to refuse to autographs any item they feel like and I support Adam's decision to sign the comic provisionally. If I were in the situation where a creator suggested that they personalize what I have asked to have signed, I would be more than happy to accept. Even though it may mean a little inconvenience for someone in the future, I would cherish the experience.

Several years ago, at Emerald City Comic Con, I had an opportunity to meet Bill Willingham and get some of my Fables trades and single issues signed including my copy of Peter & Max. Willingham asked to personalize the autograph for Peter & Max, and I did not hesitate to accept. This was the same year that a guy in line ahead of me for Willingham unloaded a duffle bag full of Fables, Cinderella and Jack of Fables books for him to sign. If ever I saw a time where a creator maybe should have either suggested to personalize or decline to sign so many items for a single person, this was it.

In the end, I support whatever decision a creator takes when being asked for an autograph. If they feel that the person is just out to make a quick buck, and they don't approve. they should feel empowered to decline or suggest the autograph be personalized. There are many who are charging for autographs already, and even charging more if there is a CGC/CBCS witness present. If people want to try and make some money off of, they should be willing to pay for it.

George R.R. Martin's The Hedge Knight

Title: George R.R. Martin's The Hedge Knight

ISBN: 9781477849101
Price: $14.95
Publisher/Year: Jet City Comics, 2013
Artist: Mike S. Miller
Writer: George R.R. Martin, Ben Avery

Rating: 4/5

The Hedge Knight is set in Westeros, 100 years prior to A Game of Thrones, the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. The story starts out with Dunk the Squire of Ser Arlan of Pennytree, a Hedge Knight, burying his master. Ser Arlan died of what I’m pretty sure was essentially pneumonia whilst the pair had been between destinations. Ser Arlan had no heir nor any family at all, besides Dunk. These facts, combined with his strength, prowess, and training, convince Dunk to take Ser Arlan’s place. And so Ser Duncan the Tall, the Hedge Knight, is born. The Hedge Knight is half a story of Dunk and his rise to (true) Knighthood and half a story of his friendship with Egg. Egg is a young orphan boy that Dunk meets on his way to his first tournament. They don’t hit it off from the start. Egg wants to be Dunk’s squire, but is rejected by him. To be fair, he rejects Egg because he thinks that he’ll be better off without him, but he doesn’t let him in on that. Egg refuses to give up, though, and Dunk has no choice but to give him a shot at squiring. Together they will take on the Ashford Tournament and their friendship will grow along the way.

I really liked everything about The Hedge Knight. I’ll start with the story. It is reminiscent of the Heath Ledger movie, A Knight’s Tale. Imagine that movie set in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire and you’ll start to get a good idea on what this graphic novel is like, but it’s so much more than that. One thing that I particularly liked about the story is the setting. As I mentioned, The Hedge Knight is set 100 years before the first book in the series, which is cool for multiple reasons. The first and most obvious is that it lets us explore more of the lore and the world that George R.R. Martin created and from new aspects and perspectives. These aren’t the characters that you love and hate from the regular series, but the world will feel very familiar to you. All of the big Houses are there. This is a time when House Targaryen ruled all in Westeros, so they have a heavy presence, as you might imagine. The only House that I didn’t see was House Stark, but who knows what they were up to at that time. Familiar places will be referenced, but not seen. The Hedge Knight takes place entirely in Ashford and it’s surrounding areas. Fans will also recognize many names from the books lore, but this graphic novel brings them to life. There’s even a singing of “The Bear and The Maiden Fair“, which I thought was a fun touch. The other reason that I liked the setting was that it allows us to see this universe in a time when things weren’t as heavy as they are in the books. Of course, there is always conflict, turmoil, etc. No time is ever completely peaceful and quiet, but at least for this story, we get to see a (mostly) lighter tone brought to the series for once, which is a nice change of pace.

As far as characters go, there were some great major and minor characters in The Hedge Knight. Dunk is a likable guy. He’s strong, courageous, determined, humble, righteous, and a dreamer. Good qualities for a Knight and a classic protagonist. Dunk does have his flaws and he’s still got a lot to learn, but he’s the type of person who will improve himself as time goes on. His sidekick, Egg, is a smart boy and you get the feeling that there’s more to him than meets the eye. Egg is persistent and has a servant’s heart, though, and you can’t help but like him. Together, Dunk and Egg make a really fun team, and I can’t wait to read more of their tales. With this graphic novel taking place mostly during a tournament, there are people from all over the realm in attendance, which makes for a very diverse cast of minor characters. As I already mentioned the Targaryens ruled Westeros at this time, so quite a few of the minor characters are made up of their people, such as Prince Baelar, who was one of my favorites. A couple of other standout characters were Raymun Fossoway (Steffon Fossoway’s squire and Dunk’s new friend) and Tanselle the Puppeteer (Dunk’s Dornish crush).

Overall, The Hedge Knight delivers a very fun and epic story filled with interesting characters, some of which you will come to love and to hate, just like in the book series.

As I mentioned above, The Hedge Knight, has a lighter tone than the A Song of Ice and Fire books, and so I think it was a good move on their part to apply a lighter tone to the art as well. They did a good job of it too. I had a feeling that it was going to be a lighter, more fun, take on the series from the art before the story. I thought they did good job at making it look just the right amount of realistic and not cartoony. Lighter tone/style works, but cartoony Game of Thrones? I don’t think so. I’m not sure what more I can say about The Hedge Knight‘s art, but I really did like it’s style.

The Hedge Knight is an exceptional graphic novel and a must read for all fans of the A Song of Ice and Fire series. It definitely measures up those books and fits right into the series. I loved it. Fans of the TV show will also thoroughly enjoy The Hedge Knight. In fact, I think they’ll enjoy it as much as fans of the books. The Hedge Knight offers a good opportunity to read a story in the Game of Thrones mythology, with a much lighter investment of your time and/or patience. I think fans of fantasy comic books can also enjoy this graphic novel, but fans of the books and the show will definitely get more out of it. As I said above, I can’t wait to check out the next chapter in the Tales of Dunk and Egg!

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