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WCBR’s Top Picks

Best from the past week: Manifest Destiny #6 – This issue capped off the first story cycle of Manifest Destiny in fine fashion.  The action was snappy, the art is wonderful and the ideas are pretty cool.  If you’re remotely interested in the idea of Lewis and Clark exploring an odd version of the Louisiana Purchase complete with minotaurs and alien plant zombies, this is well worth checking out.

Most anticipated this week: A LOT of quality at the top of the list

1. American Vampire: Second Cycle #2 – The first issue back for this series did a LOT of work.  It effectively recapped the series to date as well as laid out this compelling mystery of Who is the Gray Trader?  I’m intensely curious to know more about this Gray Trader.  Who is he?  Why does he prey on vampires?  Will it continue to fit into Scott Snyder’s use of AV as an allegory for the maturation of the United States?  You won’t find a comic with smoother writing and better art.

2. Batman #30 – The Zero Year story is getting very close to its finale.  It hiccuped a little bit at the beginning, but has since become a powerhouse.  Imagine that: A Scott Snyder written Batman being a powerhouse.  It only happens every time he begins a new Batman story.  Greg Capullo’s art isn’t too shabby either.

3. The Unwritten: Apocalypse #4 – It’s amazing that this 12-issue “finale series” is already on issue #4.  Last issue introduced Pullman, who was really the last relevant character from the first Unwritten series.  Now I hope that we can plunge headlong into the resolution of this outstanding story.  If you haven’t been reading along, this would be a poor place to jump in, but I can’t recommend the series highly enough.

4. Amazing X-Men #6 – Yay!  The fuzzy elf is BACK!  And not that silly Age of Apocalypse travesty either.  Jason Aaron seems more interested in the 80′s X-Men dynamic between Wolverine and Nightcrawler and that suits me fine.

5. Uncanny X-Men #20 – Because this has been a strong series.  I really enjoy most of what Bendis does with his X-books.

-Dean Stell

Manifest Destiny #6 – Review

By: Chris Dingess (writer), Matthew Roberts (art), Owen Gieni (colors) and Pat Brosseau (letters)

The Story: The resolution of the Plant Zombie storyline.

Review (with SPOILERS): A lot happened in this issue.  We got a good and exciting dose of Lewis & Clark (and men) fighting Plant Zombie Animals.  That was exciting and gave the art team a chance to stretch their legs a good bit.

Then the issue went totally sideways with this revelation that the Plant Zombies were being caused by some sort of underground Sarlacc-like creature.  I have to admit that this wasn’t something I saw coming at all.  I’ve consumed a lot of monster-fiction in my life and it takes quite something for a storyteller to throw me a complete curveball like this.  That alone isn’t enough to make the story wonderful or great – I’ll always contend that execution is more important to storytelling that a mere idea – but if you can be semi-original, more power to you.  I don’t mean to totally discount ideas, it’s just that there aren’t that many ideas that are actually all that new and novel.  But, this was at least “new” to me, so bravo!
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The Walking Dead #125 – Review

By: Robert  (writer), Charlie Adlard (pencils), Stefano Gaudiano (inks), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones) and Rus Wooton (letters)

The Story: Is Rick dying or not?

Review (with SPOILERS): I hada lot of “mixed feelings” with this issue.  It’s honestly been a difficult one to even review.  It’s just not an issue that inspires a single, unified feeling, just lots of stray thoughts and disappointments. And that’s a fail for this issue.  The action is coming to a crescendo, and it should inspire a solid feeling rather than a bunch of stray thoughts.

Teasing death is cheap: This cliffhanger would be a million times more effective if Kirkman hadn’t just yanked the football from in front of us a few issues ago.  I mean, we just saw this BIG tease that Rick was going to die because of the zombie-goop bolt.  That turned out to be a total nothing, so why should we get excited that Rick has nicked Negan’s neck with a knife?  Charlie Adlard could have drawn that scene any way he wanted to (or any way Kirkman asked him to).  It looks like a nick for a reason.  If they wanted to kill Negan, that knife would be buried up to the hilt.  They could have used either of these implied death cliffhangers, but not both.

Too much talking!: My goodness did Rick go on and on before trying to stab Negan!  They were building a better place, they were working together, blah, blah…  It’s the same rhetoric we heard back at the Prison and countless times in Alexandria.  I get it and it’s a noble goal.  It’s what we would all strive for in the apocalypse, but farming and blacksmithing don’t make for a very compelling story.  I know that Rick was talking about that to distract Negan so he could stab him, but he could have talked about anything.  He could have talked about surrendering.  He could have talked smack.  But, instead he talked about a theme that has already been kinda played out from a storytelling standpoint.  We’ve seen TWD do a “Let’s re-establish society!” theme for 40+ issues.  It’s time to see something else.

Negan is great: I really hope Negan isn’t dying because he’s so much fun.  Honestly, when he started agreeing with Rick’s spiel, I thought he was just going along with it to pull Rick’s leg, and the next second he was going to say, “What?  Are you nuts?  Just listen to yourself, Rick?  You sound insane!”I thought we were going to see him try to whack Rick with Lucille.  Negan is such an outstanding character, so well-written and drawn, that thinking Negan was about to play his own little trick on Rick is a perfectly plausible explanation.  It’s a credit to the creators that we can even speculate about such things.  Comics are usually pretty literal, but Negan allows for subtext.

So, where does all this leave us? I’m afraid I can’t look forward to any of the major storytelling possibilities.  If either Rick or Negan dies next issue, I’ll feel like this story was too long.  It isn’t that we didn’t need the All Out War story, but twelve issues and making artistic compromises to achieve bi-weekly shipping probably wasn’t necessary.  On the other hand, if both of these guys walk away unscathed next issue, it will feel cheap that they’ve both had their deaths teased, keeping the story from moving forward.  What would be next?  All Out War II?
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WCBR’s Top Picks

Best of the past week: Black Science #5 - This issue won’t contend for “Issue of the Year”, but it was the best thing I read last week.  The thing that held this back is that it was a little light on action, but it still hit some interesting and important story notes.  Most of the attention was grabbed by the appearance of a Grant from another reality, but I think the more important theme was the idea of abandoning The Pillar.  This item of technology is malfunctioning and keeps jumping the group into dangerous situations…..but their only hope of really going HOME is to stick with the Pillar and try to repair it.  On the other hand, they could settle for a nice reality when they arrive in one (like they are now), but that means never going home.  It’s a neat thought.

Most anticipated this week: 

1. The Walking Dead #125 – This is the penultimate issue of All Out War.  Kirkman usually opts to put his most shocking events in the finale, so this issue might be kinda on the quiet side, but it should give some guidance about the shape of that finale.  How this event concludes is pretty important to the future of the series.  Kirkman was teasing the death of a major character, but seemed to be flinching away from that and now it is anyone’s guess how this battle between Rick and Negan resolves itself.

2. Royals: Masters at War #3 – I guess the floundering mediocrity of many recent Vertigo launches chilled my enthusiasm for Royals, but it’s been really good.  I don’t think it’s an all-time classic, but it’s a nifty alt-history of World War II and who doesn’t enjoy alt-history?  The story is entertaining and the art is very solid.

3. Manifest Destiny #6 – I love how this series simultaneously feels like it is really moving along rapidly, but also feels like it has a lot left in the tank.  The creators haven’t lingered on any of the threats faced by Lewis and Clark so far, but we’re also barely exploring what kind of weirdness is going on with Sacajawea.  An entire forest of plant-zombie animals awaits in this issue.

4. East of West #11 – I’m really losing track of the plot in this series, but I remain transfixed by it.  I enjoy it when I’m reading it and can’t remember anything about it after I close the issue.

5. Batman Eternal #1 – I really don’t want another Batman series in my life.  I’ve been down the path that leads to reading ALL the books in a family and it just leads to comic misery.  So, I feel like I’m too smart to get sucked into reading ancillary series.  However, Scott Snyder has been so good with Batman proper (and Detective before that) that this is worth a look even if he isn’t doing it alone.  I’ll read it until it betrays me…

-Dean Stell

Black Science #5 – Review

By: Rick Remenber (writer), Matteo Scalera (art), Dean White (painted art) and Rus Wooton (letters)

The Story: Grant has to deal with a mysterious, masked assailant.

Review (with SPOILERS): Last issue of this series put it right back on the top of my reading stack.  It was fast and furious and ended in a really cool place with a nifty-looking villain (?) appearing to possibly menace Grant McKay and our heroes.

This issue wastes no time dragging out the mystery of this masked man, it’s Other Grant.  It would be wrong to think of him as Future Grant who is on a sort of Back to the Future mission to help out.  No, this is just Other Grant from another reality who somehow has knowledge about the normal sequence of events that takes place in alternate universes.  Except in Other Grant’s native reality, his Pillar exploded and killed his children and now he seems to be on a mission to stop Our Grant from killing his kids.
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The Field #1 – Review

By: Ed Brisson (writer/letters), Simon Roy (art) and Simon Cough (colors)

The Story: A man wakes up in a Field and gets into the wrong passing car.

Review (with SPOILERS): This is a play on a classic hitchhiker story.  We quickly meet a man who wakes up naked in a field and can’t even remember his name, but he has his phone and immediately starts receiving ominous text messages like, “Watch out!  They’re after you.”  It’s a little like that scene in the Matrix where Morpheus tries to help Neo escape the Agents by giving him instructions on the cell phone.  Eventually, the guy doesn’t follow the instructions, gets into a strange car and ends up on the worst car-ride/road-trip EVER.

Basically, the guy he rides with is NUTS, drug-addicted, violent, random…..  Nice one second, shooting up a restaurant the next.  The whole thing is supposed to make you uncomfortable and it accomplishes that mission very nicely.  The antagonist, Christian, reminds me of every bad hitchhiker cliche, and since our protagonist has amnesia, he has little choice but to follow along with the dude even if it is against his better judgement.

On the positive side, this comic is a good illustration of how panels can be constructed to create a sense of unease.  Zoom in, zoom out, perspective changes galore… I’m sure there is a solid visual theory that they teach in art school about how to make the audience/reader feel unsettled; I don’t know how to explain it, but Simon Roy is all over it in this issue.  Very solid job.
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WCBR’s Top Picks

 

Best of the past week: The Wake #7 – I loved this.  Seeing the weird, post-Waterworld version of America is amazing.  Seeing the huge merman thing destroy this cruise ship like a kraken was pretty incredible too.  But the thing I like the most is just having complete confidence in the storytellers.  Sean Murphy never has a poor panel.  I’ve never failed to enjoy a Scott Snyder story.  I’ve loved the two of them together on American Vampire.  In world where most stories disappoint a little, it’s nice to just not sweat it.

Most anticipated this week: 

1. Black Science #5 – This series has varied between awesome and pretty good, but I’m always excited about any series that has the potential for greatness in any single issue.  The writer/genre/artist/colorist are all in place, so any issue of Black Science can knock your socks off.  Last issue they found themselves in a sort of Star Wars-esque collection of aliens and I’m curious to see what happens.

2. Starlight #2 – I really loved the first issue of this series.  Mark Millar makes his own reputation, so it’s not fair to say that he “gets a bad rap.”  He made his rap.  But, just because he does loud and transgressive comics like Nemesis and Wanted, that doesn’t mean that he can’t do something clean and straight-forward.  I don’t detect anything off-putting about Starlight at all.  I’d be surprised if he even snuck in a really bad word just to see if we were still paying attention.  This is just good wholesome fun that will probably get turned into a movie at some point.

3. Trillium #8 – I think I’d enjoy this series a LOT more if I didn’t have to keep flipping the comic around in my hands.  But, the basic story is classic Lemire and we are close to the end….which means that gut punch is coming.  Lemire is better than any in the business at that stuff.

4. Field #1 – New series from Image by Ed Brisson and Simon Roy that is supposedly about a guy who wakes up naked in a field with ominous messages on his phone about people trying to kill him.  Supposedly it features Bible salesmen, Christian rock, dirty sex, meth and murder.  Probably worth a look.

-Dean Stell

 

The Walking Dead S04E16 – Review

Original air date: March 30, 2014

SPOILER ALERT

That was a largely decent finale for a show that missed badly at the end of Season 3. While I guess I am slightly disappointed that we didn’t get more of the story of Terminus this season, that’s more regret about what the show has stumbled around during this spring than any real misgivings about this episode.  It wasn’t perfect – and we’ll talk about the saggy parts – but it left us with a very nice sense of mystery for next season.  I’m really looking forward to Season 5 and that’s pretty amazing given how mediocre this show has been at times.

Let’s just get the bad parts out of the way first.  It seems fair since I generally liked the episode and it would be appropriate to end on a positive note…

Where this show keeps stepping in dog poop is when it gets into this whole issue of GOOD versus BAD.  It’s just highly insulting to have a show keep punching you in the face with this attitude about how Herschel was GOOD and he DIED.  Rick tried to be GOOD like Herschel, but he realized sometimes you have to be BAD to survive.  The little kid who plays with legos was GOOD and he DIED, whereas Carl is field-stripping weapons and he LIVES.  It’s just so in the face and clumsy that it’s insulting.  Any adult knows that the world is more simple than GOOD/BAD, BLACK/WHITE… Eespecially in an era of television where we have debated the morality of Tony Soprano, Don Draper, Walter White, Jack Bauer, etc.  There was a moment early in the episode when Rick and Gang were walking down the tracks and Carl asks, “Are we going to tell the people in Terminus what we did?  I mean, all of it?”  And my first thought was, “Did what?  When?”  I honestly couldn’t think of anything truly wretched that Rick and Gang had done.
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Alex + Ada #5 – Review

By: Jonathan Luan (story/art/design) and Sarah Vaughn (story/script)

The Story: Having been freed from her restrictive programming, what will Ada do?

The Review (with SPOILERS): This has been a wonderful series so far and this issue mostly serves as the fulcrum from the beginning of the story toward its second chapter.

So far we have seen young Alex be given a super-fancy android named Ada.  The gift was from his wealthy grandmother who wanted him to have a friend/companion/sex-toy.  Alex never wanted Ada, but was too kind of a person to abuse her and he eventually became frustrated with her lack of self-determination and sought out a group that could remove the blocks in Ada’s programming allowing her to be fully aware.  That took us up through the last issue where Ada “woke up” and screamed her head off.
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The Walking Dead #124 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (pencils), Stefano Gaudiano (inks), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones) and Rus Wooton (letters)

The battle on the Hilltop rages on… The best word to describe this issue is, choppy.  This is what happens when you push an art-team to grind out bi-monthly issues for an extended period.  The issue isn’t without its qualities – and we’ll discuss those – but it’s still a shame to see the visual storytelling suffer.  TWD has been such a visually strong series for so long that we all know what Charlie Adlard can do.  We’ve seen him glide through issues just like this one without a hiccup, but this bi-monthly schedule is causing his art to suffer.  It’s a little like watching a favorite racehorse start to run poorly because he’s been running too frequently without enough rest by an unscrupulous owner.  Although, unlike the racehorse, Adlard probably will be just fine with a little rest.

On to the issue…

  • Rick is sick: I’m really impressed that the comic still seems to be continuing down this path.  A lot of things could happen.  I mean, Rick could just have a standard infection, but Kirkman is really trying to tell us that Rick is going to die.  The more I think about it, the happier I am with this story direction.  We’ve seen a pretty complete story from Rick.  The only thing that’s left for him to do is die.  Now think of all the other grim signs: (i) Carl is pretty self-sufficient, (ii) Rick has found happiness with Andrea, (iii) Jesus shaking Rick a few issues ago saying Rick is the only possible leader for their group, (iv) Negan prattling on about how the group will fall apart once Rick dies…  However, even with a bedridden Rick, we see that Jesus and Michonne are able to devise a plan to clear out Hilltop, Carl is able to come to the rescue, Maggie has plans… This group shows us that they can be fine without Rick Grimes.
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WCBR’s Top Picks

Best of the past week: American Vampire – Second Cycle #1 – It was just so lovely to have this series back after its hiatus.  One of the best series of recent years returns with some of the same characters that we grew to love last time, but a mostly new story concept.  It’ll still be nifty allegory for the growth and history of the United States too, so if you want to look at the comic in a deeper way, there is that too.  Very intrigued by who this creepy new Gray Trader villain is.

Most anticipated this week: 

1. The Wake #7 – The first issue of the second chapter of The Wake was aces.  The whole series has been aces.  This series has two of my very favorite creators and I have 100% confidence that I’ll love every second of the story.  Waterworld, vicious mermen, trained dolphins, floating cities, apocalypse, hot heroine, etc…..

2. The Walking Dead #124 – This should be an interesting issue, because there is a chance that _____ will start down a bad path to a slow, inevitable death.  That death would really shake up the series and I’m generally curious about whether Robert Kirkman is brave enough to actually do it.

3. Uber Special #1 – This series is really sneaky good.  The only thing I haven’t loved about Uber is the art.  It’s just way, way, way over-inked.  But, the story itself if pretty hot stuff if you’re a military history fan and I think this Special has a different artist.  This wouldn’t be a bad issue to check out if you’re curious about the series.

4. Alex + Ada #5 – This issue should be interesting.  Last time, we saw that Alex had paid money to have Ada “uplifted”.  She won’t be a dumb, subservient robot anymore in this issue…..she’ll have self-determination.  Very curious to see where it goes as the story has been very thought-provoking.

5. Avengers #27 – Because Hickman’s Avengers has been consistently wonderful.

-Dean Stell

The Walking Dead S04E15 – Review

Original air date: March 23, 2014

Review (with SPOILERS): Geez! What a flat episode…  There wasn’t much great, but there wasn’t much to really hate on either.  I almost feel like I could end the review right now, by giving the episode a “B.”

Probably the best thing about this episode was the sense of forward momentum.  It reminded me of a car that is stuck in the mud that begins to inch forward before launching itself back onto the road.  Mind you, we didn’t get the full LAUNCH in this episode, but a story that had been swirling for weeks/months with everyone separated is finally headed in the right direction.  Things just started to snap together when Glen saw the touching notes Maggie had written in zombie goop.  Next thing you know, Glen’s group is united with Maggie’s group and they’re wandering into Terminus.  Ditto for Darryl’s band of rednecks as they are clearly right behind Rick/Carl/Michonne on the road to Terminus.  All roads lead to Rome– or Terminus.

This is important because the story has been a little stuck.  While I’m not exactly eager to see this entire band back in a fixed set for a half-season, the Terminus story has lingered a week or two longer than necessary.  Let’s just get there already!  It’s time to move onto whatever is next and this episode was a nice step in that direction.

Also interesting was the whole dynamic between Darryl and Joe the Redneck.  That’s mostly because both Norman Reedus and (especially) Joe Kober are both pretty charismatic actors.  They both have a presence about them where you just want to see what they’re doing next.  So, even if Joe rattled on a little more than was necessary about their stupid “CLAIMED!” system and the nature of man, it was at least entertaining.  That “claimed” system was a little stupid.  It wasn’t a very good way to show Darryl’s rejection or their methods; just because he won’t “claim” a place to sleep.  Or at the end when he “claimed” the roadside radishes?  I mean, was that the dumb guy who picked them up and forgot to say “claimed!” just the dumbest of the group?  Suddenly, Darryl is the fastest one to the magic word?  Or was it some joke where one of the guys ran ahead and peed on the radishes and they all let Darryl “claim” them?  But, here I am analyzing that silliness more than when I actually watched the episode.  It was only marginally dumb, so I’ll stop and move on since I generally enjoyed Darryl and the Rednecks.

There was a lot of “meh” in this episode too.  Probably the biggest downer was listening to Eugene talk.  This show just has a thing about getting actors to fake ridiculous southern accents.  We’ve already had the terrible accents from Shane and the Governor and the strange accents from Maggie and Rick, now we have this preposterous crap coming out of Eugene’s mouth.  I just don’t understand the fixation on forcing actors to affect these accents.  I mean, a southern accent isn’t important to the Eugene character in the comics and I doubt it is important to the TV version.  So why not just let the actor speak normally?  Furthermore, why would anyone believe that a guy who sounds like that (and looks like that) would have the solution to the zombie problem?

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Lazarus #7 – Review

By: Greg Rucka (writer), Michael Lark (art and letters), Brian Level (art assists) and Santi Arcas (colors)

The Story: Forever continues trying to unravel a terrorist conspiracy.  Waste see different paths to being uplifted.

Review (with minor SPOILERS): Another very powerful issue of Lazarus.  This is just about the perfect series for me.  The art is great.  I like the characters.  I love the dystopian near-future setting.  And I LOVE the attention to detail.

This things that I like best in this issue are the subtle moments.  One is when we see poor little Forever being trained as a little girl by Marisol.  Little Forever is so much more composed and collected than a typical 12/13 year old, but there are the moments when you remember she is still just a little girl.  You can train her and beat her with a stick to teach her stoicism, but she’s still a little girl who needs a hug sometimes.  Anyone who has a child can’t help but be touched by the situation and the art.  Kids that age alternate between impressing us SO much that they are nearly adults: They can handle complex concepts, do physically challenging things and start to say things that don’t sound entirely foolish, then the next second, they are crying and after your initial “WTF?” reaction, you remember that they are only 12 years old.  Rucka and Lark (especially Lark) are capturing that age perfectly here.

The other aspect of the comic I really enjoyed were the two different paths to uplift presented to these waste.  On one hand, we continue following this group that is trying to do uplift the right way.  They’re trekking across the country, dealing with death and banditry and awfulness…..but they are going to Wallyworld and look forward to the wonderfulness.  Only they get there and see a line that runs 20-30 miles out of the city of similarly desperate people who want to be uplifted too.  Not many people are going to get their dream.  That’s what they get for trying to be uplifted via the standard procedure.

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American Vampire: Second Cycle #1 – Review

By: Scott Snyder (writer), Rafael Albuquerque (art), Dave McCaig (colors) and Steve Wands (letters) 

The Story: After a hiatus, we get reacquainted with Pearl and Skinner.

Review: It’s lovely to have this comic back.  Even though creators Snyder and Albuquerque were always adamant that the hiatus was temporary, given Snyder’s new status of Master of the DC Universe and Albuquerque getting regular work on DC titles, there was always a fear that we might never see American Vampire again.  It’s such a relief to have it back because we don’t get comics as good as American Vampire that often.

This first issue back is part review of what came before and part set-up of what is to come.  The review is modest, but it’s just enough to give a new reader an introduction to who Pearl Jones and Skinner Sweet are.  It you want the whole story, you need to go read the back issues or collections, but if this is your first issue of AV, I’m sure you’ll be fine without the back material.  Scott Snyder is too inclusive of a writer to punish new customers with inside jokes that make new people feel unwelcome.

What we find in this issue is both Pearl and Skinner in a sort of Vampire Middle Age.  Pearl tried to basically live her early years as a vampire as if she was just a super-powered human.  She had human friends, a human husband and what-not, but they all got old and died while she is living forever.  So, now she is entering her hermit phase where she lives in an old farmhouse and appears to take in runaway vampire children.  It’s a neat concept and I like that Snyder is still playing with the idea that there are all these different races of vampires kinda like breeds of dog.  They look at her newest rescue project the way you’d look at a mutt at the dog park: “Hmmm…. He must have some chow because he has a partially black tongue and her snout is very terrier…”  We learn at the very end of the tale that one of these kids has had a run-in with The Gray Trader… Hmm…  I really like the idea of Pearl mothering to these kids who have been turned into a vampire.  I’d imagine that being a vampire is a difficult transition for a fully formed adult, but it would probably be really challenging for a child who hasn’t had time to develop the emotional strength to handle the transition.
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Batman #29 – Review

By: Scott Snyder (writer), Greg Capullo (pencils), Danny Miki (inks), FCO Plascencia (colors) and Steve Wands (letters)

The Story: Batman tries to disrupt Riddlers plans for Gotham.

The Review (with SPOILERS): This story is really hitting all the high notes right now.  What strikes me the most is that it is great in spite of a few structural things that bug me.

  • Overall length of the story/Passage of time: If you read many Marvel titles or The Walking Dead right now, a comic like Batman that comes out every 4 weeks (like clockwork) seems a little slow.  But Zero Year has been cleverly broken into subcomponents so that no parts of the story seem elderly.  There is an art to a Scott Snyder story where you are rewarded if you remember details, but never punished if things slip from your brain.  It’s hard to put my finger on how he does it and I suspect that it isn’t easy or obvious even to other writers – or else everyone would do it.
  • Interruptions in the story: Those stand alone issues that have allowed Greg Capullo to maintain this incredible pace of storytelling have been perfectly placed.  They’ve broken the story into chapters and still been relevant enough to the overall tale to not feel like filler.  Last issue was one of those issues and here we are coming back without missing a beat.
  • Lots of words: I usually like my comics to have fewer words to an allow the artist to do their thing.  But Scott Snyder has this easy and flowing way of writing that makes wordiness work.  It amazes me.  I mean, I write a lot for this blog (and others) and I tend to write in a more conversational manner, and I’m an acceptable writer.  But when I proof-read my work, I find all of these clumsy sentences, weird phrases, run-on thoughts…  Snyder just flows.  It’s one of those things where I look at his writing and remind myself to keep my day job.  I’m not saying that Snyder doesn’t work his butt off to get the story right, but I think he also has an innate talent for words that few other people can approach.

The art is glorious.  So much good stuff from the Capullo/Miki/FCO team.  Earnest faces, glorious colors, a monstrous villain.  It’s wonderful.  There isn’t a better looking comic on the stands and they do it all without sacrificing the storytelling. Continue reading

The Walking Dead S04E14 – Review

Original air date: March 16, 2014

The Review (with SPOILERS): For a show that is generally bumbling when it tries to have BIG moments, The Walking Dead has had a few that stick with me.  The biggest was probably that moment when little Sophia came shambling out of that barn back in Season 2.  It was unexpected until that instant before she appeared, we got to see her and appreciate what happened… And then Rick shot her.  Thank goodness Rick didn’t talk, because that would have ruined that very cinematic scene.  I still remember it vividly all this time later.

So, in an episode that had a lot of other iffy stuff, the creators again pulled out a really special moment when Carol had to shoot crazy Lizzie in the back of the head.  It wasn’t quite Fredo going out in the boat, but it was effective, especially after all the build up over the season and this episode.  We’ve seen Carol trying to take care of these girls, trying to teach them how to live in the apocalypse, striving to protect them…  And then to see one of them murder the other and have to kill the crazy one.  Yeesh…  It was rough and Melissa McBride really powerhoused it through the episode as Carol.  Again, a lot of these moments work so much better when the actor has less to say.  Any decent person knows what she’s feeling. She found these girls, wanted to protect them because all life is precious in the apocalypse… Especially children; and then to realize that something is wrong with one of those girls and only you think you can fix her… Bbut you ignored the signs and not only did she not get better, she killed the other kid, the normal one.  Ugh!  That’s a pretty tough pill to swallow.  Given that Carol is the one who “does what needs to be done” (as show when she killed Karen and what’s-his-hame). It is a bitter irony that the time she didn’t act decisively, it came back on her in a big way.

I was also really glad that they just went ahead and dealt with the whole “Who killed Karen thing?” thing.  I’m not sure what the point of that whole exercise was with the exiling and the Tyreese rage and all that… So, let’s just put that behind us and move on.
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The Walking Dead #123 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (pencils), Stefano Gaudiano (inks), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones) and Rus Wooton (letters)

The Story: Negan attacks!

The Review (with SPOILERS): Pretty big event on the final page, huh?  Robert Kirkman has either done something very brave OR very eye-rolling.

The topic for discussion is – of course – the fact that Rick Grimes was shot with a bolt from a crossbow on the final page.  Negan’s plan of attack has been to smear all of his Saviors’ weapons with zombie gunk, so this would imply that Rick is infected with zombie goo and is going to die.  He isn’t shot anywhere that can be amputated either – right through the abdomen.

If Kirkman really and truly is killing Rick, that is a very brave decision.  He is the main character and it is his story that we’ve followed since issue #1 back in 2003.  Rick is also the central character of the highest rated drama on cable television.  Can you imagine telling your friends who watch TV, but don’t read the comic that, Rick is dead in the comics?  The thought of that might actually sell some comics…

However, it would make a lot of sense to kill Rick.  I personally think his story has been used up for some time.  It isn’t that we can’t keep having stories with Rick in them, but wouldn’t it be interesting to see how a survivors group of Michonne, Maggie, Andrea and Carl managed after Rick was gone?  We’ve never seen that dynamic.  It would be new and fresh and The Walking Dead could use a little freshening.  It isn’t so much that I want to see the group do any particular thing, it’s just that I feel like I’ve seen the story with Rick in charge.  I’d like to try something new.  Let’s see what ELSE this group of humans can do.
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The Walking Dead S04E13 – Review

Original air date: March 9, 2013

The Review (with SPOILERS): Other than the first episode back, The Walking Dead has been entirely acceptable.  Within episodes, it has blips into the good and dips into the bad, but it has mostly been just fine.  I like sports analogies and TWD right now reminds me of a team that opened the season with a bunch of losses and has taken a very conservative approach just to steady the ship.  They’re not trying to hit home runs or make a spectacular pass, they’re just getting on base right now.

This episode was interesting in how it bounced back and forth between Darryl & Beth and Sasha/Bob/Maggie.  We’ve seen the show jump from segment to segment among the diaspora from the prison, but this was different.  This was alternating short scenes.  It was quick and snappy and gave this episode the feeling of more forward momentum than the story alone dictated.

The title for the episode was “Alone,” but I think it just as well could have been “Why can’t I have anything nice?”  I think I now understand why we had to watch Darryl retread his journey from nihilistic “white trash” (his words) to a nice guy who sees that there are still decent people in the world.  They had to show us that story again just so they could set-up what happened at the end of this episode when Darryl meets the rednecks who bothered Rick a few episodes ago (showing that my theory of them being hallucinations was dead wrong).  However, they are shoveling the story on us pretty thick here. Darryl and Beth find this nice mortician’s home, it has food, it’s clean, Darryl is carrying Beth around like a new bride, he likes her singing and he almost admitted that sweet, pure Beth had made him believe in humanity again.  They were totally going to kiss…  Then the white doggie of hope gets eaten by raging zombies, ruining any hope of sanctuary for Darryl and Beth.

Darryl is engaged in claustrophobic combat with the walkers, while Beth escapes and is eventually kidnapped by the mortician who you thought might be a nice guy based on his dusting skills.  God, does the works SUCK!  Then Darryl chases after Beth, before sitting down at a literal CROSSROADS with the reappearance of the redneck guys that Rick encountered in a previous episode… So the whole point of last episode was to make damn sure that the densest member of the audience understood where Darryl was as a character so they could appear to make him a bad guy again; or at least show Darryl struggle NOT to be the guy he used to be.  I’d rather see Darryl move onto something new since we’ve already seen Darryl tempted by Merle, but it seems like the creators enjoy this story a lot.
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Starlight #1 – Review

By: Mark Millar (writer), Goran Parlov (art), Ive Svorcina (colors) and Marko Sunjic (letters)

The Story: An aging former space hero finds life on Earth to be depressing.

Review (with SPOILERS): This was a really touching first issue. Back in the old days, I used to actually go on comic message boards.  God, what a horrible experience.  Fun at the time, but…. Ugh!  Mark Millar was always an active discussion topic on those boards.  Saying that you actually liked Mark Millar comics on a comic message board was like admitting that you picked your nose and ate the boogars.  The intellectual minority of the minority of comic fans that go on message boards likes to deride Millar as being a hype-machine who is just interested in doing shocking things to get a reaction.   I actually see a lot of experimental brilliance in his edgier works like Wanted, Kick Ass and Nemesis.  Sure….Millar can be offensive sometimes, but I think he is just interested in exploring artistic boundaries – and when you rigorously explore the boundary, you will cross the line sometimes.

But, dismissing Millar as”hype-machine who writes exploitative comics” really discounts some of his other works.  Did you ready Superior?  There were some really touching moments in that story.  How about Secret Service?  All that stuff about how poor the main character grew up?  That was pretty affecting.  There are even some powerful moments in Kick Ass (the original series).  Millar really can do a touching and heart-felt comic if he wants to.

I think Starlight is one of those more touching works.  If you don’t enjoy the “extreme” Mark Millar…..you should definitely give Starlight a try because it is very different.

It tells the story of Captain Duke McQueen who once had a very John Carter-esque experience of being sucked through a wormhole to a very Barsoom-like place where he fought villains with swords, saved a kingdom, was honored by scantily clad princesses, rode dragons, etc……but gave it all away to go back home to Earth and be with his lady love.  Only, when he got back to Earth, nobody really believed his story and he lived a mundane life with his wife.  And he was happy because he loved his wife….

The issue picks up with a very sad story of how Duke’s wife dies.  We only see her in flashback, but I love how Parlov draws her.  Duke himself looks like an old American football player who has kept himself in shape: big, broad-shouldered, but still gray haired and wrinkled.  His wife (in contrast) looks like one of those ladies who you first assume Duke has a trophy wife who is 25 years old, then you realize she’s just one of those ladies who has held onto her youthful beauty by virtue of hard-work, lifestyle and good genes.  She’s like the idealized version of what you thought your mom looked like as a kid: beautiful, not sexy, just beautiful.  And, since this is just Duke’s flashback memory, who knows if she really looked like that, or if she just looked like that in his mind because he loved he so much?  It doesn’t really matter.  Duke loved her and we get to see the moment where she finds a lump under her breast after a lovely evening out to dinner.  It is really painful and touching because in just those few pages, you get the feeling that she was someone who was a special light in the world and didn’t deserve to die young.
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Velvet #4 – Review

By: Ed Brubaker (writer), Steve Epting (art), Elizabeth Breitweiser (colors) and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: Velvet tracks down a former KGB operative for assistance.

The Review (with SPOILERS): Another strong issue of Velvet.  That’s to be expected at this point.  You really wouldn’t expect this creative team to be tossing stinkers.  But having an issue like this allows you to appreciate some of the little things that make this such a special comic series.  You know how sometimes you see a comic from new(er) creators and it has some crazy-brilliant stuff, but also some things that just don’t work?    Not a problem here.  All of the creators on this series know what will/won’t work in a comic book.

Let’s look at some of the clever stuff that gives this comic a little more…

  • Clever lettering: I can’t even type it here easily, but Chris Eliopoulos does this clever thing of making the Russian assassin say “sorry” by reversing the two Rs in “SORRY”.  It’s just a little trick that makes the guy sound like a James Bond villain in your mind, or Ivan Drago.  It’s important because there is nothing visually distinctive about a “Russian Assassin” – they are just white guys in tuxedos.  It’s just a little thing that makes the comic more effective AND it keeps Steve Epting from being tempted to somehow make the guys look Russian (however you do that) or make them spout some expository dialog during the fight (“Capitalist dogs!!!”).
  • Older, more “mature” hero: I loved the scene of Velvet getting ready for the Carnival of Fools.  She is still undoubtedly attractive, but she’s also in her 40s and things aren’t quite as firm or as lean as they used to be.  She’s not Kate Upton anymore.  In fact, if this were a real life movie, there would be a misogynist article or two about how it was time for Velvet to keep her clothes on.  Here in this comic, it’s just a very effective reminder that she isn’t 22 anymore.  It’s amazing that Epting can capture the little subtleties of a mature woman.
  • Velvet casing the party: When she is in the party and looking for targets, Epting uses this trick of drawing a detailed image of a single person inside a little ~1 inch circle and then having the rest of the party be vague.  It’s just a nifty way of showing, “I am focused on YOU…”  It’s also pretty accurate; if anyone has ever been in a crowded room and scanned it for threats or pretty girls or your spouse, you know the feeling of being hyperfocused and the rest of the room being reduced to white noise.
  • Masks!: It is really hard to draw and color realistic masks.  Do it wrong and the depth gets all wonky and the mask looks like it is floating in space in front of the person’s face.  I’m not talking about a superhero mask either, those are just colored skin.  These are masks like you and I would WEAR that are sitting just off your face.  Super job by Epting and colorist Breitweiser.

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The Manhattan Projects #18 – Review

By: Jonathan Hickman (writer), Nick Pitarra (art), Jordie Bellaire (colors) and Rus Wooton (letters)

The Story: Allegiances shift and new antagonists come to the fore….

Review (with SPOILERS): This issue of The Manhattan Projects was pretty interesting because it closed a chapter while opening a new set of possibilities.  I still think TMP is a little light on overall narrative, but the reshuffling in this issue will allow our oddball characters to be odd in new ways.

  • End of Oppenheimer?: Evil Oppenheimer has been a central character since TMP began and the prime antagonist for the last 6-7 issues.  Is he really dead?  Or did he just just download his brain into the Omni-President’s AI?  I did seem like Oppenheimer was “cured” of his dual personalities before he was shot….
  • Turncoat Einstein: As he says, he is “not a good man”.  All along, Einstein has never really been a team player.  He’s kinda done his own thing and it’s just so happened that his goals align with those of the team.  Now that the team is massively realigning, it’ll be interesting to see how Einstein fits into the new power structure.
  • McNamara is charge: What a great character he has been!  It’s tempting to call him a Rambo-wanna-be, except that he can really dish it out.  He kills the funny blue alien all by himself, takes the alien’s ear and now wants to carpet bomb the galaxy.  He’s kinda like a young version of how left-wing folks see neo-conservatives like Rumsfeld and Cheney.
  • Groves turncoat?: We’ve gotten used to the idea that Groves is somehow the ally of the scientists, but he’s really just been a man on a mission….and now we see that he’s still looking for dragons to slay.  Remember, he was pumped full of truth-serum when he joined McNamara.  He even got a promotion out of it!

The whole thing is a welcome shake-up for the series.  I’m not sure that TMP is ever supposed to really be about anything…..there is no massive storyline.  Or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that TMP is a comic series where the plot exists to service the characters.  I enjoy TMP not so much to find out “What will happen next?” but just to see what these whackos are up to.  It’s the comic equivalent of people watching.  That makes it somewhat unique in my pull list and it’s why I try not to get too bothered when I can’t remember plot details like what is/was going on with the FDR A.I.  It doesn’t really matter….the cool thing is that there a FDR A.I. exists at all. Continue reading

Chew #40 – Review

By: John Layman (writer) and Rob Guillory (art)

The Story: Tony Chu is tripping…

Review (with SPOILERS): I felt a lot better after reading this issue.  For some time, the over-arching “big story” of Chew has been slipping from my grasp like a greasy rope.  With easy issue, I had less and less of a grasp on what was really going on.  I still laughed at all the jokes and still found Toni to be really a touching character, but I was missing a lot of the bigger picture.

This issue kinda locked things back down.  Now I understand why Toni was involved and why NASA was involved, what the alien sky-writing means, etc.  I wouldn’t say that I could write the entire Wikipedia article about Chew, but I feel a lot more secure.  Things make sense instead of being random – still FUNNY, but random.  Nice job by the creators.  It has to be really hard to manage the big story for these series because what is a nice reminder for one reader is boring and repetitive for another.  I honestly have no idea where I fall on the spectrum of readers in terms of remembering plot details, but *I* enjoyed the reminders and summaries in this issue.

Also, mega-bonus points for the glossary of food powers in the back!
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The Walking Dead S03E12 – Review

Original air date: March 2, 2014

SPOILER ALERT

This episode of The Walking Dead was a blend of good, mediocre and acceptable.  That may sound like a back-handed compliment, but given some of the dreck that TWD has shoveled over the years, anything that isn’t “suck ass” – to steal a phrase from Beth – is a small victory.

Once again, the best parts of the episode are the horror elements.  I mean, that wordless opening with Beth and Darryl having to hide in the trunk of a Lincoln (just try to do this in a foreign car) was pretty tense stuff. The thumping of the zombies, the crack of light across their eyes, the need to be absolutely silent…  I was halfway excited at the prospect of them being trapped in there for the entire episode just to give us a different type of story.  But, that was not to be.  Eventually, they climbed out of the trunk, remarkably unstiff, and the episode began a steady decline into “acceptable.”

There were some other high notes as the duo scrounged the country club so that Beth could check “drinking” off her bucket list. There were also even a few good moments where the show used misdirection – like in the gift shop with the manikins.  I mean, if you see manikins in a horror movie, your sphincters immediately tighten… But the director just let the moment hang there and then dissipate…  That takes a lot of self-restraint and I love that they have enough horror ideas that they don’t feel the need to milk everything.

Where the show wasn’t as strong was with Darryl’s emotional journey.  All this speculation about Darryl’s past and it turns out he was just a derelict redneck up to no good, amounting to nothing with a lousy brother for his only companion: Trailer Trash.  The whole idea that Darryl has become someone better because of the apocalypse is very interesting and it would be affecting too, if it were not so clumsily and hastily handled.  The symbolism of Darryl pummeling a cashmere-clad golfer with a golf club was just a little too heavy-handed.  That zombie was basically Judge Smails from Caddyshack.  And it didn’t stop there.  The locker room where Darryl splattered those zombies is STILL nicer than anything that he lived in growing up… And the peach schnapps that Beth finds isn’t ironic just because it sucks, it’s ironic that the country clubbers camped out in their clubhouse and drank all the good booze.  They killed themselves because they’re not survivors like Darryl. Before even bothering to drink the schnapps, Darryl is left to get the mere scraps from a more affluent society that he was never a part of.  Even in death, they taunt him with discarded liquor and white cardigan sweaters and fine, wood-paneled locker rooms.  The only way the symbolism would have been stronger is if Darryl had gone out into the parking lot and started vandalizing the Porsches.

Of course, all along, Darryl is kinda being a jerk to Beth, which is way out of left-field because he wasn’t remotely upset with her until this episode.  Heck, it even seemed like you could see the two of them hooking up a few weeks ago.  Then Darryl goes on the worst and fakest angry drunk binge, before revealing his inner shame at being a loser and having let the group down with the Governor. Then they symbolically burn Old Darryl down (with stupid musical overlay)… Kinda like how Rick burned down his pig farming supplies.  Yeesh, I think I’d rather see what Tyreese was up to.
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Black Science #4 – Review

By: Rick Remender (writer), Matteo Scalera (art), Dean White (colors) and Rus Wooton (letters)

The Story: The protagonists try to escape from an alt-WWI while their leader is wounded.

The Review (with SPOILERS): Honestly, I don’t know what to make of this silly comic series.  The first issue was lights-out great!  The second issue was good, but concerning.  The third issue was kinda mediocre.  And, now we’re back to lights-out great.

If I had to give an opinion on this series it is that it will be somewhat inconsistent, but capable of blowing your socks off.  That alone makes it worthy.  Life is too short to even bother with comics that don’t have the potential for greatness.  That’s why I don’t usually bother with 3rd-tier Avengers books anymore: no potential for greatness.

There are a whole raft of attributes that make this a sharper issue than last:

  • WOW-level art: I took some stick last month for saying the art is issue #3 wasn’t quite as good as the previous issues.  I stand by that assessment.  This issue (like issue #1) is just loaded with images that will melt your eyes.  For me, there are two levels of good art.  One is just having the basic storytelling correct and not succumbing to weak panels.  That is a harder task that you might think with so much frenzied action – but Scalera is up to the task.  The second level is: Are there images that just have that singular quality where you go, “WOW!”?  I started to make a list of the panels that made me double-take, but it would probably be easier to list the panels that didn’t cause that reaction.  There are original pages in this issue that I want and I’m irritated that Matteo Scalera’s art rep doesn’t have them up on the site yet.  I won’t tell you which ones because I can’t take the chance that other people might buy them.  It’s inspirational art.  So, what sets this art apart?  It’s just got that little bit of extra energy to the whole sequence when Ward is fighting his way through the Techno Native Americas.  The art looks incredibly like that of Sean Murphy.  Everything is energetic, well-framed and detailed.  Then, we shift gears totally and see that Scalera can draw an incredibly soft-looking pretty woman AND imagine a world that is straight out of Star Wars.  Who knows why the art wasn’t quite to this standard in the last two issues?  Maybe Sclera had something going on in his personal life that knocked him off schedule, maybe the subject matter didn’t excite him as much…Who knows?  And who cares, because any series that can look like THIS is worth reading.
  • Shift away from Grant McKay: I have a feeling that Grant McKay is going to be the Rick Grimes of this series.  By that I mean, central character who I don’t like as much as the supporting cast. Continue reading

Sheltered #7 – Review

By: Ed Brisson (writer/creator/letters), Johnnie Christmas (art/creator), Shari Chankhamma (colors)

The Story: Things are coming apart at the seams as the murderous kids have to deal with outside intervention.

The Review (with SPOILERS): This was another really strong issue for this series.  It starts out kinda slow, but about 2/3 through the issue, it “gets real” when the remaining adult from the last issue is forced to kill one of the murderous little kids as they’re chasing him through the woods.

What I liked about the scene (and the series) is how unflinching it is.  The creators do perform the proper set-up for this fleeing adult: He has seen his friends murdered, he’s running through the snowy woods in the middle of the night (in the middle of nowhere), he’s been shot in the leg, and he STILL has three kids with guns chasing him.  So, the comic does go to great lengths to demonstrate that he really has no choice but to fight back and they demonstrate his remorse afterwards – even though he knew he had no choice.  But, the way they depict the shooting of a kid is pretty blunt.

The whole scene is surreal.  One moment they’re just kids running through the woods after an adult; they are KIDS and don’t really understand life and death and consequences.  They’re chasing the adult just because that’s what the other kids are doing.  The next moment one of these kids is shot through the chest- dying – and the other kids really don’t know what to do.  Their only prior experience with injury has been when friends skin their knees and you call for a parent, except they cannot do that because they killed all the parents.  Now they’re just kids lost in the forest who need help….but can’t get any help.
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