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Sunday, November 29, 2020

Hellboy: The Chained Coffin and Others

Title: Hellboy: The Chained Coffin and Others

ISBN: 1569713499

Price: $17.95

Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 1998

Artist: Mike Mignola

Writer: Mike Mignola

Collects: Helloboy: The Wolves of St. August, Hellboy: Almost Colossus #1-#2, Dark Horse Presents #88-91 & 100-102, Hellboy Christmas Special, Hellboy: The Corpse and The Iron Shoes

Rating: 4/5

The third volume of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy features short stories compiled from a variety of sources, ranging from Dark Horse Presents to issues of the Diamond Comics catalog. Mignola gives the stories dates to indicate where they fall in the years before and after the events of Seed Of Destruction and Wake The Devil.

‘The Corpse’ (Ireland, 1959) is in many ways the definitive Hellboy short story. It has him performing an unusual task–a kind of hostage exchange–for the Little People to secure the return of a kidnapped child. A minor detail in this story will recur in a very big way a few books later. In Ireland two years later we have ‘The Iron Shoes’, Hellboy pitted against a goblin wearing the huge iron shoes of the title.

Set in Russia years before Wake The Devil ‘The Baba Yaga’ is an abandoned story rewritten especially for this collection, providing an explanation as to why the Baba Yaga hates Hellboy. It’s another incident that will prove to have consequences for him down the line. ‘A Christmas Underground’ is an adventure beneath a haunted English manor on Christmas Eve 1989, and ‘The Chained Coffin’, is also set in England immediately after Seed Of Destruction. In the ruined church where he appeared in this world, Hellboy learns something about who his parents were.

The Balkans in 1994 is the setting for ‘The Wolves Of Saint August’, as Hellboy investigates who murdered his friend, Father Kelly in a town beset by werewolves. It also features Dr Kate Corrigan.

The origin of Roger the Homunculus and how he uses Liz Sherman’s lifeforce which is currently animating him is a coda to Wake The Devil. ‘Almost Colossus’ is set in Romania immediately after that story.

An interesting side-effect of compiling these stories is seeing how Mignola’s drawing style evolves, as he begins to use less of the detailed linework and rendering expected in conventional comics. The design of his panels and page becomes more about shapes and edges, contrasting with black and areas of strong color. It’s still very much in the dynamic, Jack Kirby-esque tradition of superhero action, but more modern and lot more sophisticated. There’s plenty more innovation to come.

There’s an introduction to this volume by P. Craig Russell, and a gallery at the end featuring art by Kevin Nowlan, Duncan Fegredo and others.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Doctor Who: Agent Provocateur

Title: Doctor Who: Agent Provocateur

ISBN: 9781600101960

Price: $19.99

Publisher/Year: IDW, 2008

Artist: Rebekah Jose Maria Beroy, Mirco Pierfederici, Nick Roche, Stefano Martino

Writer: Gary Russell

Collects: Doctor Who # 1-6

Rating: 2.5/5

Agent Provocateur was a landmark when published as comics, being the first Doctor Who material commissioned for the US market. Rather than employ an American writer, IDW went for the safe hands of Gary Russell, once editor of Doctor Who Magazine, and with many Doctor Who novels under his belt. Bets were hedged via a concise single page synopsis starting the story explaining who the Doctor is, and the background of Gallifrey and the Time Lords, just in case someone unfamiliar with the Doctor and his world picks this up.

There’s a professional tidiness to Russell’s plots, as he provides single chapter adventures during which the bigger threat gradually manifests. It’s clever. In the opening story the threat is an alien gathering the last surviving member of different species, but with no real indication that what happened to their races becomes the overall plot. As the Doctor investigates people turned into sand we see the entire population of planets disappearing, and a trip to a world of humanized cats ties in also.

Detail and busy movement characterizes Nick Roche’s cartooning, but what first catches is the eye is the manic, gunning expressions he so frequently gives the Doctor and Martha Jones. Comedy moments have been integral to Doctor Who over the years, and David Tennant’s interpretation thrived on a sardonic responses to threats, but Roche tips the cast into pantomime and was the wrong choice. Jose Maria Beroy and Sefano Martino (sample art left) continue the style while toning down the exaggeration for a more acceptable balance, with Martino’s final chapter spreads hitting the spot. Mirco Pierfederici (sample art right) is very much the contrast by opting for a form of naturalism instead. A few odd faces betray a talented artist at the start of his career, but his is the style that works best on what are essentially serious science fiction adventure plots with a few jokes rather than comedy with a few thrills.

Russell’s good at leading us into believing one thing (along with the Doctor) when something else is actually the case, good at presenting the Doctor and Martha as per their TV personalities, and good at those moments where the Doctor reveals he’s actually completely on top of things. At the halfway point Russell shifts gears to focus on the primary plot, which escalates matters to saving the entire universe, with a nice complication thrown in.

Agent Provocateur is an ambitious plot that plays out well, with both the scope and the small moments expected, although it does require a lot of expository final chapter dialogue to keep everyone up to speed and it still ends very abruptly. Was an additional chapter really that far beyond the bounds of possibility? Still, a fun read overall, but the art doesn’t always do the story justice.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Angel & Faith: Volume 2 - Daddy Issues

Title: Angel & Faith: Volume 2 - Daddy Issues

ISBN: 9781595829603

Price: $17.99

Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 2012

Artist: Rebekah Isaacs, Chris Samnee

Writer: Christos Gage

Collects: Angel & Faith # 6-10

Rating: 3.5/5

After getting out of a bit of a funk, Angel has his life on track.  He's got a purpose.  He wants to bring Giles back from the natural death that he caused.  He broke the Watcher's neck at the end of Buffy Season 8 and now he wants to make it right.  The second arc of Angel & Faith gets into some of the details of how he's planning to do that.  Angel is collecting pieces of Giles' soul through an Ancient Egyptian trinket that's currently piercing his nipple. 

While on the prowl for these soul pieces, the duo comes across Mother Superior, a vampire that's making waves in London.  She's not killing anyone, nor is she siring new bloodsuckers.  Instead she's treating people for their mental illness.  It doesn't always work though.  Some people are going crazy and killing others.  Angel & Faith decide to put a stop to it only to find out that Mother Superior is actually Drucilla.  She's my second least favorite character in the Buffyverse, (The first is Harmony.), so I wasn't too happy to see Drucilla pop up.  Fortunately, author Christos Gage makes her interesting.  She's sane.  With the help of a Lorophage Demon, her madness has been cured.  Now she's doing the same for others...with mixed results.

This element brings such an interesting piece to the story of both Angel and Faith.  Both are haunted by their past and the guilt over the horrible things that they've done.  Faith once killed an innocent man and despite doing time for it, she still carries that weight on her shoulders.  Angel has a ton of skeletons in his closest from before he had a soul.  If given the chance to release that burden, would they take it?  Or is living with this guilt part of what makes them the people they are today? 

To add to all of this, we're also introduced to Faith's dad.  When this was announced at NYCC in 2011, there was an audible "ooooo" and rightfully so.  Faith's father is someone that was very influential in creating her personality, but not necessarily in a good way.  She fell for the Mayor's ruse back in Season 3 due to her need of a father figure.  The introduction of this character puts things in perspective for Faith and makes her realize that she's moved on a bit.  There is a moment where she seems thankful for him to be around which seemed entirely out of character.  This was quickly swept away when she realizes that he's still the same asshole he always was.

Rebekah Isaacs drew Daddy Issues and did a fantastic job.  She has a real talent for capturing the likenesses of these characters.  They all look like the actors that portrayed them, but each has grown and matured a bit.  The Lorophage Demon is the real stand out piece in the artwork for the book though.  This thing is so friggin' creepy.  It stands in a trench coat, scarf, and hat, hiding in the shadows.  Then, when it's revealed, it pulls out a long beak-like nose and sharp, taloned fingers that pierce the brain of its victims, feeding off of their trauma. 

In addition to the four-issue Daddy Issues storyline, we're introduced to Giles' great aunts Lavinia and Sophronia in Women of a Certain Age.  They've been using their mystical powers and making deals for ages to keep themselves young but now that the seed of magic has been destroyed, demons and ghouls from all over are looking to collect.  They seek refuge in Faith's home in the hope that she and Angel will defend them.  What follows is a pretty fun montage of the pair battling a bunch of different monsters in increasingly bizarre ways.  We get a little more backstory for Giles, learning about the first time he showed a talent for magic and the last time he was truly a child.

Chris Samnee illustrated Women of a Certain Age.  He has a great design for the two aunts, making them look like classic debutantes.  There are a ton of different creatures that pop up in the book and Samnee keeps them looking fresh.  No two look alike.  They're scary but still fun.  The shot of the giant snake with Angel literally halfway down its throat is awesome.

Angel & Faith continues to be the story to watch in Buffy Season 9.  The characters are spot on, both in art and story.  Each of them has a purpose.  There's something motivating them to become better people and rise above their past indiscretions.  Angel is probably always going to be a brooding mess with a ton of mistakes made over the years, but this could be the one thing he does right

Monday, November 9, 2020

Project Multiverse RPG


I have been role playing for 36 years now, and I have played a wide variety of systems. From basic D&D to World of Darkness and so much in between. And I have enjoyed most of the systems I have had the pleasure of gaming with.

Around middle school, I started playing in the Palladium RPG system with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness. From there, we also played Heroes Unlimited, Beyond the Supernatural and Robotech. In 1990, Palladium released the game-changer; Rifts. This finally connected all the different game setting that Palladium had published and allowed the possibility of them to interact with one another. I loved this idea!

In D&D, yes there were other realms and planes of existence, but this seemed so much more. You could take your super-powered heroes into the Robotech universe to take on the likes of the Zentradi or Invid. Or how about taking your paranormal investigator and dropping them into the magic-meet-machine world of Rifts? The possibilities were endless, and my role playing group took liberty with those ideas. They were probably some of the most fun games I had played in my youth.

Bring the clock forward to modern time. When I tried to look for a new game to play, as I have been playing in the World of Darkness for over 20 years, I was having a difficult time recapturing that sense of fun with the Palladium system. It has not aged well over the past 3+ decades, and I could feel the flaws in the system that I had overlooked way back when. I couldn't find a single system that had the feel of what I was looking for, nor the multiple setting that I was craving.

In my dilemma, I created an opportunity. Since I couldn't find what I was looking for, why don't I try to design it? People seem to be doing it all over, and getting their dreams realized through things like Kickstarter.

I also know that I can't do this by myself, so I'm working to put together a team of fellow gamers so we can collectively pull together our experience to create a great new TT RPG system. Once the team has been established and we have forward progression, I hope to post monthly updates here.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Angel & Faith: Vol 1 - Live Through This

Title: Angel & Faith: Vol 1 - Live Through This

ISBN: 9781595828873

Price: $17.99

Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 2012

Artist: Rebekah Isaacs, Phil Noto

Writer: Christos Gage

Collects: Angel & Faith # 1-5

Rating: 3.5/5

After the events of season eight of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (available only in comic book form), it was time to expand.  Buffy got a season nine, but there was more story to tell, so Angel & Faith was started.  The vampire with a soul was left a gibbering mess after coming to grips with the heinous crimes he committed while under the influence of Twilight (not the sparkly vampires, but a world-ending power), including snapping the neck of Giles.  Faith inherited all of the former watcher's things, including a scenic townhouse in London and a library of books on the occult.  She's taken it upon herself to take care of Angel seeing as how they're both a little broken. 

During the Buffy TV show, I didn't really care much about Giles.  Yes, it sucked when his geeky lady friend got killed (coincidentally, also by Angel), but he was the dull adult in a series about kids killing supernatural creatures and other things that went bump in the night.  Author Christos Gage paints the character in an entirely new light, showcasing his past before he ever encountered Buffy and after the TV show ended.  Faith uncovers one of his old journals in which Giles bound a demon by sacrificing the memory of one of the best days of his life.  As long as he stayed alive, the demon was held back and the little girl it has possessed was safe.  Of course, that went to hell when Angel killed him.  This story is what snaps the vampire out of his funk.  It gives him purpose once more and he joins Faith on a trip to finish the job that the watcher started.

Angel sees this as a sign and takes up the personal mission to really atone for his sins by bringing Giles back to life.  This is a problem for several reasons.  First of all, magic is no more on Earth after the events of last season.  There are some artifacts that contain a little juice, but your basic spells don't work anymore.  The second and far scarier reason this is an issue is that Giles died a natural death.  He wasn't zapped into another dimension or cursed or some other magical thing.  His neck broke.  He stopped breathing.  He passed away.  Everything in the magic books says you can't bring someone back from that.  That's not going to stop Angel even though everyone that he meets says this is a horrible idea.

The first arc of the series, Live Through This, has the duo searching for the blood of a Mohra demon.  The Mohra appeared in the Angel TV series.  When Angel was exposed to the blood, he turned human so he figures that this might be useful for his quest to bring Giles back.  In many ways, this is a return to the Angel of old, where he's doing a bit of detective work.  Instead of working for a client, he's working for himself.  Faith is along for the ride to provide some much needed perspective.

Rebekah Isaacs illustrated this first arc and she does a fantastic job.  She nails the likenesses of the characters.  No one looks goofy and they all resemble who they're supposed to.  The various demons that pop up throughout the story are varied and pretty cool.  The aforementioned demon-possessed child is something out of nightmares.  Picture your average nine-year-old girl with about a dozen tentacles spewing from her mouth, whipping about while she levitates in the middle of the room. 

The last issue of the trade paperback is a standalone story featuring the Buffyverse character I hate the most: Harmony.  She's super popular now and the leader of a public vampire movement, but she's essentially a washed up celebrity.  She turns to Angel for help as she's being blackmailed.  There's a sex tape making the rounds where she sires the dashing young lad on camera.  This would be bad publicity because she advocates against the act.  Since I cannot stand Harmony, I read this chapter as quickly as possible.  It's not a bad story, but it lost a lot of the momentum that Angel & Faith had built up until that point.  The art from Phil Noto didn't help as the characters looked flat and lifeless, the complete opposite of Isaacs's work. 

Angel & Faith is a welcome addition to the Buffy storyline.  It's a spinoff that stands on its own.  You don't need to have seen the full TV series to be able to jump in, but reading the previous comics helps.  Author Christos Gage hadn't seen a single episode of either show before taking on the assignment, but he plowed through everything in a few days and manages to capture that signature Joss Whedon wit in his dialogue.  He brings a sense of humor to the story while also keeping it serious when it needs to be.   Live Through This is just the beginning of Angel's quest to bring Giles back to the land of the living.  There's a long road ahead of him and he has Faith watching his back and ready to put a stake in it should he go too far.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

11 Years Going & 2020


11 years ago, I started writing reviews on trades and graphic novels. Over the years, I have learned quite a lot and changed my style and incorporated more things to post about. For several years, I've been allowed to cover comic cons as a member of the media. It has been a fun ride, even though I have had to take a break every now and then.

But then, 2020 happened. Covid-19 and so many other issues have seriously hindered our ability to hold events like Rose City Comic Con and Emerald City Comic Con.

This has also hindered by ability to get covers for my non-profit, Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer. I typically reach-out to a number of artists who attend Rose City Comic Con to donate to #CBC4C. This year has been so stressful for us all.

I am hopeful for the future, but it may be false hope... I admit. I don't want to get political, but I have my doubts depending on what happens with this years election. I pray that whoever is in charge beginning 2021 that they have the wisdom to help us recover from the past year.

The good news is that I have a large stack of trades and graphic novels still to read and review, plus a nice selection of those that I have read and haven't had a chance to write the reviews for. I won't be stopping any time soon.

But this reminds me... Didn't I say something about changing formats from a blog to a podcast? Yes, I did. Unfortunately, I find myself not liking anything that I have tried to record. As with all creatives, I am my own worst critic. I took classes in high school and college for public speaking, with a focus on radio commentary. I even took 3rd place in the state competition for radio commentary my senior year of high school. Unfortunately, that was back in 1992 and a lot has changed. I find myself not as confident in my words, and that has been reflected in my attempts to record.

Here's hoping that 2021 treats us better than 2020 has. Here comes the beginning of our 12th year!

Geroge A. Romero’s Empire of the Dead: Act Three

Title: Geroge A. Romero’s Empire of the Dead: Act Three

ISBN: 9780785185208

Price: $19.99

Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2015

Artist: Andrea Mutti

Writer: Geroge A. Romero

Collects: Geroge A. Romero’s Empire of the Dead: Act Three # 1-5

Rating: 2/5

Much has happened since Dr Penny Jones first approached zombie wrangler Paul Barnum to study zombies that appeared to retain some intelligence. As seen in Act Two, she’s on the way to being turned into a vampire by New York Mayor Chandrake, fighting what’s become a bitter re-election campaign, unaware that a police detective is close to discovering his secret. And then there’s the matter of forces from the South on their way to take over the city and the vampires who’re abducting children.

George A. Romero has set a lot of plot threads loose, and certainly connects them professionally in the final episode, for which we have another new artist. Andrea Mutti’s looseness is very welcome as he returns the necessary grime to a zombie infested world. Once again the locations look as if they lack regular cleansing services, and the zombies as if they haven’t had a shower before shambling on set.

After a really strong Act One, the fundamental problem with Empire of the Dead is one of expectation. As far as Romero is concerned, he’s most famous for zombies, it’s zombies we want, and zombies are featured heavily on the covers of all three acts, yet although essential to the finale here, they’re otherwise all-but incidental. Beyond that, Romero ties his plots together cleverly. However, avoiding almost all the conflict we’ve been led to think is building may be clever, but it’s also disappointing. All-encompassing greed is underlined as wrong, while compassion is the ticket to survival. A smaller qualm is that the inclusion of a Damon Runyanesque casino owner doesn’t really work, his eccentric speech patterns coming over not as the intended homage, but just strange.

Whether Romero’s just bored with zombies or whether he was determined to have the third act as five chapters no matter what, the final scenes are incredibly rushed, and don’t provide the spectacle we’ve been waiting for. There’s no real sense of release as one hurried anticlimax follows another and those who thoroughly deserve it get what’s coming to them, except, well, some of them don’t. That certainly happens in the real world, but fiction demands greater satisfaction and ultimately renders Empire of the Dead disappointing. All three acts are combined in the hardcover George A. Romero’s Empire of the Dead.

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

  When I first started my action figure collection, I tried to keep it within the 3.75" realm because that's what scratched by nost...