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Reviews

Review – Gotham Academy # 1 (2014)

tumblr_na5k4hdzaH1s5gizzo1_1280To begin this review, I must admit that I wasn’t originally going to read this title. I felt like my perception of the title was unfairly skewed by internal biases. I didn’t want to invest in another Bat-title, regardless of whether Batman was a central character or not. I also didn’t really cotton to the premise. It felt like Morning Glories in Gotham on paper. But I changed my mind on the book simply by virtue of the fact that I trust Becky Cloonan. I also really like Karl Kerschl’s artwork, but I’ve ignored books by artists I love before. Essentially, I put my faith in a writer I trust  to make magic with the premise. I’m glad I gave the book the chance, because it is truly something special.

I really haven’t found myself as enthralled in a Gotham title not featuring Batman since All Star Western launched back in 2011. With that title going away, this feels like a worthy replacement in my off-the-wall Gotham reading slot. Titles that play with the periphery of Batman’s world can be a hit or miss affair, but talented writers and artists can really make all the difference in the world.

Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher give us a truly wonderful book unlike anything else DC is publishing at the moment. Focusing on a handful of new characters, primarily on two young teenage girls, the book has the distinction of being one of the most diverse books on the market. In a world where the marketplace is expanding and the demand for characters who are anything but boring white males, a book featuring characters like Olive Silverlock and “Maps” Mizoguchi is a refreshing change of pace.

It is also appreciated that while Cloonan and Fletcher do establish that there is certainly mystery afoot, and the story arc they’ll be unspooling is certainly going to be interesting, the first issue is mainly focused on letting us get to know our protagonists as characters and really flesh them out. The reader is treated to a slow burn of a character study on these two young girls, letting us really get a feel for their personalities so that by the time we understand that things are truly not as they seem at Gotham Academy, we like these characters enough and are invested in them in such a way that the narrative carries a substantive amount of weight. Much like the family drama that drove the majority of Ms. Marvel earlier this year, Olive’s personal troubles and Maps’ enthusiasm for her life at a new school give us a lens through which we can view the stories that Cloonan and Fletcher want to tell.

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I feel like those willing to overlook their own hesitance to try the book, like myself, will find something to enjoy here. Truly a spectacular debut issue and quite possibly my favorite new DC launch in years.


Review – Thor #1 (2014)

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Allow me to be blunt. This is a comic book where on the second page the words “Activating Attack Sharks” is uttered with not a single hint of irony. Yes, in this issue of Thor, a deep ocean sea-lab run by the Roxxon corporation features a defense system consisting of what appear to be technologically enhanced super-sharks, who eventually engage in underwater combat with an army of invading Frost Giants from Jotunheim.

So, in short, it’s pretty much par for the course when it comes to a Thor comic.

The big hullabaloo about this issue has been that the fellow we have come to know and love as Thor is no longer going to be the titular character of the series. In the wake of the crossover event Original Sin, He is unworthy to wield mighty Mjolnir, the hammer that serves as the symbol of his power. Fans fearing that Thor would simply be discarded to make way for a new character will be relieved however, as this first issue in a new series spends a good majority of its time with Thor Classic.

New Thor does not show her face until the final page of the issue. In many ways, the storytelling structure of this issue of Thor is the polar opposite of something like Ms. Marvel # 1. While that issue and series has been a huge success for Marvel, the baseline of the narrative utilized by writer G. Willow Wilson would not suit the type of story that Jason Aaron is attempting to tell here. By the time the first issue of Ms. Marvel came around, the namesake had been vacant for a while as Carol Danvers had transitioned into being Captain Marvel for a bit by that point. The story was able to focus on Kamala Khan taking up the mantle and the circumstances that surrounded her beginning the hero’s journey. With Thor, Aaron seems to be setting up a dual track that will focus on the way that Thor Classic deals with his fall as much as the exploits of whoever it is that takes up the hammer now.

So, does the issue work?

I would say that overall it is a very interesting Thor book. However, I will also admit that I have no connection to the new “Thor” because no attempt has been made to make her anything more than a mystery at this point. At the end of the first issue in this series, ostensibly her series, she is no more fleshed out than she was before the series hit stands. There is no change in my view of her as a concept. As a debut issue in that regard, the book falls short. The book should have given me a reason to stay on board. It should have made a connection between the reader and our new protagonist. If the series is to succeed based on the merit of this new character, shouldn’t we get some inkling of who this new character is as a person? If this book is supposed to center around her, and we are to accept her as our new Thor, making her a side element in the first issue of her own series is not the boldest move to take. Perhaps taking the time to do more setup in the previous volume or even giving the issue the double-sized treatment might have solved some of these problems.

The book is worth a read if you’re a Thor fan. If you were hoping to find something akin to Ms. Marvel, with a fleshed out new female character that sticks the landing on its first issue, this might not be your best bet. For that reason I’m grading it on two separate scales. For longtime Thor fans, this is a solid 8/10. It plays with the lore, we get familiar faces and the best elements of a Thor book are there. For Marvel fans looking to jump on board, it falls closer to a 5/10. The artwork and writing are excellent but the enjoyment you get out of it is qualified by how intrigued you are by Thor and his mythos.

Here’s to hoping issue number two makes significant strides with regards to setting up the titular character.


Review – Wolverine # 1 (2014)

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I want to readily admit that I did not read the last volume of Wolverine. I just sort of missed out on it while it was going on. When I saw that they were relaunching the book, along with a host of others I thought I would give it a try because aside from Wolverine and the X-Men by Jason Aaron I haven’t been following a Wolverine-centric title in a while. Paul Cornell is always a competent writer and I figured it might be interesting to see where his take on the character has wandered.

The book picks up with a depowered Wolverine, stripped of his immortality and made vulnerable to all manner of hurt and injury. He’s sporting some heavy armor to protect himself from the elements of danger that being a superhero will put him in and he’s npw teamed up with a shady character called “The Offer.” This guy from my deductions is some sort of Vito Corleone “makes you a deal you can’t refuse” sort of fellow and he has tasked Wolverine with breaking someone out of a highly guarded facility with the aid of a couple of other folks that I didn’t recognize offhand. The issue focuses mainly on this little mission but there is some flashback to Wolverine’s conversations with Storm regarding the loss of his healing factor that helps put us in Logan’s headspace a little more firmly, or so we are led to believe.

Wolverine is a character that has gone through a number of different looks, personas, and interpretations. Everyone seems to fall back on the outsider/wandering samurai motif but sometimes it is fun to explore other options. Here we get something more akin to the stories of when he was a mercenary. A rogue agent who hadn’t yet found his true affiliation. This time he has some true friends to guide him along, as a scene with Black Widow is particularly effective in showing how he plans to cope with his new situation. The thing that strikes me about this issue, and this iteration of Wolverine, is that the focus seems to be on telling a fun, action oriented story that focuses less on the mysteries of Logan’s past and how it currently affecting him. In fact, the book seems heavily focused on showing Wolverine as a blank slate and the primary directive of the narrative is driven from where he could go in the future.

The ending of the book is supposed to be a shocker but based on context clues within the issue we could have seen it coming. The resolution of that climax however, could go in any number of ways and I’m interested in seeing how Cornell moves forward on the book.

Rating: 3.5/5


Review – Ms. Marvel # 1 (2014)

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I really am not the person who needs to be writing this review. There are many people who have more right to tell you why this book existing is good for Marvel, good for comics, good for diversity, good for female readership, just plain good. I am not the person who should be typing these words. I am a straight, white, male. There are plenty of books on the shelves for me. I can read just about any mainstream title and enjoy a sort of wish-fulfillment fantasy by swapping myself out with the title character. I could be Batman. I could be Captain America. I could be Peter Parker or Tony Stark. I could be Bruce Banner or Wolverine or Superman or Cyclops. The generic template for the superhero is one of the straight white male. We are the default, the blank slate. The starting point for 99.99% of mainstream comic characters. There are some wonderful characters that are more diverse and I am sure they are inspirations to the younger generation of readers discovering comics in this sort of geek renaissance that we are experiencing, but the comic book world needs and deserves more. As a white straight male I understand this. I know that seeing the same white straight male characters ad nauseum gets repetitive and boring. I myself am guilty of being repetitive and boring. I imagine that folks who do not identify as straight white males find it frustrating, to say the least, that there aren’t a greater number of characters out there for them to identify with. Marvel seems to be attempting to rectify that by not only developing new characters that stand apart from their white male brethren, but giving them real focus in their own books. We’re getting a Latino Ghost Rider solo book soon, people. Sit and think on that for a minute.

So Ms. Marvel is indeed a refreshing book. We have a female lead, still a teenager dealing with school and family issues in the tradition of great Marvel heroes like Peter Parker. We have a character who is of Pakistani descent living in New Jersey in a post-9/11 world, dealing with the ramifications of her own culture as it relates to her social life or lack thereof. If anything, this book is one of the most honest looks at the perception of “the foreign other” in the high school structure that I can remember in recent memory. I had a good friend in high school who went through much of the same struggle that our protagonist, Kamala, goes through in this issue; the balance of faith and family with school and societal norms. Kamala is a very realized character. She wears her inner conflict on her sleeve. Who she is and who she wants to be are at odds with each other in a way that feels very human and real. She is a teenage girl dealing with serious issues, the escapism that she seeks through writing Avengers fan-fiction is a solid indicator of what Kamala truly is like as a person. She longs for power as a means of control, not of others but of herself. She sees strength in The Avengers and admires it.

From a writer’s standpoint the issue is quite strong. We are introduced to the character and we organically learn her motivation. We take the journey with her and we can empathize with her because even if everyone reading the book isn’t Muslim, we all can sympathize with being a teenager and disagreeing with our parents over the level of trust and responsibility we were mature enough to bear. That is why it is so important to have books and characters like these, because there is an across the board connection that we can feel with the character regardless of our race or upbringing. There is a universal quality to any character in a comic book. We can relate to a talking raccoon and his sapling BFF so we should easily be able to identify with another human being, regardless of their nationality or heritage. But it is important that these characters exist for that one comic reader who is the real-life iteration of Kamala who wants to be represented in graphic fiction. She deserves this character. We all deserve this character.

Artistically speaking the book is an A-plus effort. Adrian Alphona puts some gorgeous artwork on display. It takes me back to the days when Runaways was still being published and makes me wish there was more stylistically emboldened artwork like this on more titles. The colors and the expressiveness of the characters blend together to make a truly astonishing debut issue that sets it apart from the myriad other first issues that hit the stands on any given week. Honestly, the book is simply gorgeous.

I shouldn’t be the one saying this but everyone should buy this book. It is an important book. But it is also a good book. Sometimes we have to suffer through importance but this time around we actually get to enjoy it. So please take the time to do so.

Rating: 5/5


Comic Review – Harley Quinn # 0

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There has been a lot of ink spilled about the controversy surrounding this Harley Quinn series. Mainly around that “tryout” page where artists were encouraged to draw a scene depicting the title character preparing to commit suicide in a bathtub with electrical devices hanging above her. There were plenty of good arguments made as to why that was a bad idea. The fact that it got hyped up in the middle of suicide prevention awareness month was a major blunder. We could easily spend a couple thousand words talking about whether a book focusing on a character who is clearly mentally deranged needs to walk the logistical tightrope of addressing a topic like suicide. No amount of context or satirical intent will silence certain elements on either side of the argument. I’m going to say that Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner are good people. I’ve never seen anything that would indicate either of them was looking for a cheap laugh, or to make light of suicide as a topic. It just isn’t in their character.

So the first thing I have to do while discussing this issue is point out that the panel in question does not appear in the final product. The talent search yielded a page by Jeremy Roberts where most of the page remains intact but the panel depicting the suicide is absent, replaced by a panel with Harley riding an Apollo style rocket in outer space. Within the context of the book, the fourth-wall breaking creators are discussing Harley’s role in the Suicide Squad, which would explain the panel in question. Honestly, with that context, it makes perfect sense. I applaud everyone involved for seeing that it is a sensitive topic however and going in a different direction. The page in question gives off a vibe of Harley’s perceived death wish without diving into the mental illness/suicide quagmire.

I know I dedicated a lot more space on that little issue than I intended. I wanted to cover the actual issue, not the issues people had before the book came out. So let’s start from the beginning.

This book is good. It’s fun. It put a smile on my face. Why? Well, Palmiotti and Conner have a playful tone that carries throughout and they manage to find a through-line for Harley criss-crossing through various art styles while breaking the fourth wall and showing us that Harley truly can be a versatile character. The book is essentially Amanda and Jimmy showing that there are an infinite number of possibilities for Harley as a character and, with the correct art team, any one of them could be a viable long-running series. This is an introductory issue where Harley has to figure out what Harley wants to be. It’s a metatextual commentary on the creation of comics itself filtered through a character who, for all intents and purposes, could be viewed as simply one dimensional.

I think that freed from the constraints placed upon her by the Suicide Squad book, this title could truly be a blast. Honestly, I was reminded of the way that Jimmy and Justin Gray put such a fun spin on Power Girl, who much like Harley had infinite numbers of interpretations waiting in the wings. No character is without merit, and while I personally don’t have much of a connection to Harley and only really found her intriguing within the context of Batman The Animated Series, I think this issue is one of the more solid releases DC has put out in a while. It certainly surprised me in ways I wasn’t expecting.

I say go in with an open mind and see where the issue takes you. You may find yourself surprised where you end up.

Rating: 4/5


Comic Review – Unity # 1

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The landscape of comics has been an ever shifting puzzle. Trends rise and fall, creators come in and out of favor, companies disappear and emerge from the ashes of their presumed demise. Valiant comics was founded back in 1989 by former Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Jim Shooter and artist Bob Layton following Shooter’s ouster from the company in the wake of a massive personnel shakeup. The company launched a number of titles that still populate comic store dollar bins to this day, while retaining a sizable fanbase of loyal customers. The company was sold off in 1994 to video game developer Acclaim who eventually shut the branch down ten years later in 2004.

The company was jump-started in 2005 and after a few years of rebuilding and restructuring Valiant took home the Publisher of the Year award from Diamond Comics Distributors in 2012, the same year of the “Summer of Valiant” promotional blitz that saw the relaunch of X-O Manowar, Harbinger, Bloodshot and Archer & Armstrong.

With 2013, Valiant launches a mega-event, tying together a majority of their properties and gives us Unity, a story where the Valiant universe bands together to stop X-O Manowar. The company founded by Jim Shooter, the man who birthed the mega-event craze with Secret Wars finally, finally steps up to the grown up’s table to cut themselves a slice of the big boy’s pie.

So how does the book measure up, you may ask?

Honestly, Valiant Comics aren’t much on my radar, aside from Greg Pak’s excellent reboot of Eternal Warrior. I don’t know much of anything about the characters within the pages of this book. Luckily, the issue begins with a Jonathan Hickman style infographic to get us all caught up on the wheelings and dealings regarding X-O Manowar, a character who is causing all sorts of problems. He’s essentially a caveman with the power of a nuclear reactor and that of course makes some folks very nervous.

A team is assembled and a plan devised to make sure that World War III doesn’t break out because of X-O’s occupation of a part of the Russian subcontinent. Led by Toyo Harada, a force is assembled to infilitrate the area and put an end to the devestation of X-O’s occupation, cultivated from the best and brightest of the new generation of superpowered individuals. On the ground, Ninjak works in stealth under Harada’s direction and nothing at all really goes according to plan.

I honestly found myself a little confused, as writer Matt Kindt doesn’t really do much to explain who these people are for the uninitiated. He hits the ground running at a hundred miles per hour and never lets up. This is definitely a book for the Valiant faithful. This feels very much like it has been built up in other books that I haven’t personally invested in.

The writing in and of itself is structured excellently, and Braithwaite’s pencils are dynamic and vivid. I feel like it is better prepared and creatively manufactured than what DC is doing with Forever Evil, that is to be sure. I attribute that to the lead-time the book has gotten as I’ve been seeing promotional material for it for what seems like a year. Valiant seems to have a lot riding on this one and they made a lot of good choices here. Hiring Matt Kindt was one of the smartest. That guy is everywhere and with good reason, he has great skill in surprising people. He’s surprised me on numerous occasions.

If you’re looking to get in on the Valiant renaissance, Unity seems like a good place to get started. You might want to do some research beforehand, but the product here is satisfying enough even to a newbie like myself.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5


Film Review – Thor : The Dark World

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When Marvel Studios released Thor in 2011, they entered into a different realm with their productions. Iron Man II and Incredible Hulk had begun laying the groundwork for The Avengers but the tone of those films were very similar. They were scientifically based superheroes, if you want to use that word, operating on a very heightened level of reality. With Thor, Marvel pushed the limit and blurred the lines between fantasy and sci-fi in a way that was very impressive, considering that had it failed to connect, the Avengers as a project may never have come together the way it did.

Thor – The Dark World, the sequel to 2011’s Thor is very much another example of Marvel pushing boundaries with how they want to test the public’s acceptance of genre-bending comic adaptations. Which is why Thor – The Dark World is basically the best Star Wars movie to come out in the last two decades. Looking at parts of it, Thor – The Dark World seems like a space opera in a fantasy setting more than anything else. Truly, it is astounding how fearless they were in putting this whole thing together. Moreso than the first Thor film, The Dark World asks a lot of the audience in terms of world building and genremashing filmmaking.

Of course, The Dark World is as much a sequel to The Avengers as it is the first Thor Film. They have much more leeway to play with themes and story-lines here than they otherwise might. The fallout regarding Loki is paid off here, and the second and third acts of the film are very much Loki-centric. Tom Hiddleston continues to shine as the darker foil to Hemsworth’s Thor, but their chemistry together here cannot be understated. Chris Hemsworth’s role as straight man to Hiddleston’s charming rogue is as just as deserving of praise, if not more. If Marvel has done anything right in their movies at all, it has been casting actors for these roles that play off against each other magnificently. Downey Jr. and Ruffalo, Hemsworth and Hiddleston, etc. All of these actors elevate the material in ways lesser actors could not.

The Dark World is definately a step up from 2011’s Thor, if only because the scope is intensified tenfold. We get more of Asgard here, more witty interplay between our central characters, and action that while not as grand as the climax as the Avengers, is perfectly in line with a sequel of this nature. The only shortfall that I can find with the film is that Christopher Eccleston is mostly wasted in his role as Malekith. Eccleston is a fine actor and his role in G.I. Joe – The Rise of Cobra had more meat on its bones than he is able to display here. I think much of that may stem from the fact that he is speaking an alien tongue for 90% of the runtime, but also his motivations and reasons for being the central antagonist do not get developed beyond rudimentary exposition dumps.

I think they truly nailed this one. Not many will find fault with this entry. They take risks that pay off well in the end. Those who so strongly opposed Iron Man III‘s narrative twists will not find anything similarly enraging here. This is the Marvel Phase II film that folks have been waiting for.

Rating: 7/10