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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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The Walking Dead #122 – Review

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

The Story: After Alexandria is abandoned, both Rick and Negan prepare for the final battle.

The Review (with SPOILERS): This issue is mostly set-up for whatever comes next.  Judging by the letters page, we have four more issues left in the “All Out War” storyline, so the pacing really makes sense: Rick and Gang are bracing for the final battle, Negan is preparing a special type of weapon and Dwight might have some help on the inside.

Starting with Rick & Gang, it’s all pretty standard stuff: Rick knows they need to attack, Andrea is vigilant, Ezekiel is pulling himself back together, Maggie is dealing with her new leadership role, Health deals with only having one leg, Jesus is having a moment of quiet…  The only real call to action is that they don’t have enough food for the entire group.  That fact tells us that everyone hiding inside Hilltop is not an option: The people in there NEED to fan back out into the countryside again, and that isn’t an option until Negan has been dealt with.

It’s all fine build-up inside of Hilltop; nice little character moments.  I’m not sure that I care that much about character-building at this point in the story – I’d rather get onto the climax – but there’s nothing obnoxious and offensive about seeing this stuff.  And hey, Jesus is gay!  Who knew?  Subversion is awesome…

Meanwhile over in Negan-land, things are getting decidedly weird.  Negan has the great plan to smear zombie goop all over the Saviors weapons, and while I do think this foreshadows a sad death or two for Rick’s team (as they waste away from a scratch), it also seems really dangerous for Negan’s men.  I mean, he has thoroughly coated the barbed wire on Lucille with zombie goop, would you want to ride down the road holding onto that thing?  Oop! Hit a pothole and scratch your hand on the barbed wire.  Seems like it would make more sense to just stop on the way to Rick’s compound and get some zombie goop on the way.  And wouldn’t all of their weapons already have zombie goop all over them already?  I mean, it isn’t like we’ve seen the Saviors pouring peroxide all over their weapons before.
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The Walking Dead S04E11 – Review

Original air date: February 23, 2014

The Review (with SPOILERS): Not bad…  This wasn’t a great episode by any stretch, but with TWD, it’s nice to see mere competence rather than this weird oscillation between good and terrible.

Once again, we didn’t get to see all of our characters this week with the action being split between Rick/Carl/Michonne and Glen/Tara/New People.  At some point, the storytelling technique needs to stop because they have too many storylines going on at once.  I say they have one more week to see how Darryl/Beth and Tyreese/Carol/Girls are doing, and then they need to tighten things up a little bit.

  • Third wheel: big problem for TWD writers is how horribly Rick and Carl interact.  They have NO chemistry.  It’s almost like when they read for the roles, they picked an 8 year old and then stuck with him.  Obviously, for people who follow TWD lore, the Rick/Carl dynamic is pretty important, so a TV-solution must be found.  They can’t just keep flinging Carl and Rick into these two-hander scenes and expect the results to improve.  Enter Michonne.  She proved last season in “Clear” that she could fix this troublesome dynamic and she fills that same role here.  Part of the problem with Carl is that he just sounds like a stupid kid when he’s talking about anything important.  So, why not play him off Michonne and her whole “missing her son” thing?  You have to love children to be interested in their stories of barfing when their friend brought soy milk to school, because honestly, it’s kind of a crummy story.  If you love the little kid, you sit there and humor them and know that telling stupid stories is part of growing up.  If you don’t love that child,  you have to be very kind to listen to the story, much less make the television viewers watch it instead of switching channels to whatever Darryl is doing.  Putting Michonne in the same room with Carl allows us to see him more as kid and less of this proto-MAN that the show has been obsessing over.
  • Michonne’s family: So, she had a little kid named Andre.  I can’t say that I’m too affected by this because I’m not that interested in the pasts of these characters.  The cool thing about apocalypse fiction– and probably why we love it so much, is that amidst all the horror and carnage, you get a chance to be someone new.  It’s like a reset button for everyone.  So, past = boring.  But, if Michonne’s lost son is the motivation to keeping her around Carl, then Bravo! Carl isn’t going anywhere, so we need him to be as tolerable as possible and that only happens when Michonne is in the room.
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The Unwritten: Apocalypse #2 – Review

By: Mike Carey (script), Peter Gross (art), Chris Chuckry & Lee Loughridge (colors) and Todd Klein (letters)

The Story: As stories and reality unravel, Lizzie and Richie try to save the world by finding an old friend.

The Review (with SPOILERS): I can’t tell you how pleased I am with the first two issues of this second volume of The Unwritten.  When I heard that the series was renumbering for a final, 12-issues finale, I worried that we might have to endure a 3-4 issue arc that would make the story “accessible to new readers” but would be pretty drab for people who have been with the story since the beginning (like me).

It turns out that I needn’t have worried and – if I was really thinking – I shouldn’t have been worried in the first place.  Throughout this series, Mike Carey and Peter Gross have woven a lovely tale, but they have made you work for it.  There’s no spoon-feeding of the plot and hidden meanings.  You have to do your own homework.  So, it really would have been out of character for them to put the training wheels back on just as we’re beginning the finale.

Last issue struck a nice balance between “new reader friendly” while still serving the ongoing story.  This issue just plows right back into the thick of the story without any screwing around.  I love that.  Not only is it good for me personally since I’ve read all the issues, but it is true to the nature of The Unwritten as a story.  It would almost be a betrayal of everything The Unwritten was about if you could just “jump on” in the final 12 issues and understand everything.  The Unwritten is about stories and the importance thereof: You can’t just read that last chapter.  If you read this issue as a new reader and are a little perplexed, that’s because you’re supposed to be.  Go read the rest of the story.  You’ll enjoy it.  I’ve rarely read a comic story that had as much real cohesion as The Unwritten: The more you think about it, the more it makes sense.
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Manifest Destiny #4 – Review

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

The Story: Lewis & Clark are trapped by monsters in a frontier fort and can’t find their Native American guide.

Review (with SPOILERS): This first 20 pages of of this issue felt very much like a middle-Act type of story.  You know: The first few issues establish the stakes, then the middle does some plot development and then in an issue or two, we’d get some resolution before moving onto the next tale?

So, most of this issue was occupied with Lewis & Clark devising a strategy for getting past the “minotaurs” surrounding them and wondering where their Native America guide, Sacagewea, is.  There’s humor and fun like when they describe one plan as the “mad dash” to the boat and someone remarks that it would be a better plan if there wasn’t the need to include the term “mad”.  Then Sacagewea and her French husband show up with a pile of minotaur pelts and the problem seems to be solved, or at least ONE problem is solved.

There is clearly something weird going on with Sacagewea and her husband.  Never mind that she killed all those minotaurs (off panel) and is now somehow rendered silent and lets her husband do all the talking.  She’s also supposedly pregnant, which is weird because we saw her doing the super-ninja-warrior thing with the minotaurs.  And the husband just looks weird and acts weird…  Something strange is going to happen with these two….
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Rachel Rising #23 – Review

By: Terry Moore (writer/artist/letters)

The Story: Rachel and Jet try to save Aunt Johnny while preparing for the showdown with Lillith.

Review (with SPOILERS): This was an interesting issue of Rachel Rising because we very quickly find ourselves heading toward a climax with a showdown between Lillith and Rachel.  It’s odd because the series was being very, very methodical during the “Act 2″ phase of the story.  It just seemed like things were taking forever to come to a boil, then WHAM…..Rachel and Jet are plowing through the snow in a VW bus toward a showdown with Lillith.  In some ways, it made me wonder if Rachel Rising might only be a ~30 issue series because suddenly I feel like the end might be upon us before we know it.

In some ways, that wouldn’t be a bad thing.  I’ve enjoyed Rachel Rising, but I’m also eager to see the conclusion.  I’m also eager to see whatever story is percolating in the mind of Terry Moore after Rachel Rising gets finished.

On the other hand, there are some other elements of the story that are still much farther from resolution such as the struggle to reanimate Aunt Johnny and whatever creepy necrophilia Dr. Siemen is into.  How horrible for Johnny!  I mean, she is a lesbian in life and now her dead body is going to be violated by creepy Dr. Siemen.  Yuck, yuck, double yuck.
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The Walking Dead, S04E10 – Review

Original air date: February 16, 2014

The Review (with SPOILERS): This show is so damn bizarre.  Last week it comes back from winter hiatus and craps the bed.  Then this week, we get what is not only one of the best episodes of the series, but an episode that would be right at home with some of the finer programs on TV currently.  This was a really, really good episode.  The high points were very high and the lows were pretty minor.  When readers complain in the comment thread about the poor grades I give this show, they often say, “What do you want from this show?”  Well, I want more of THIS.  Last week was crap, this week was excellent!

The first thing that made this episode stand apart was just some novelty to the storytelling.  After starting out with the story of Darryl and Beth, we came back from commercial break to the tale of Tyreese and the girls.  Only, the story of Tyreese happened BEFORE the story of Darryl/Beth.  As soon as I saw it, I thought, “Wow, non-linear storytelling on The Walking Dead?  I’ll be damned…”  We have have seen non-linear storytelling on TWD before (see – S04E04 also directed by Tricia Block), but it is not common.  The theme continued with the stories of Maggie/Bob/Sasha and finally with Glen.  We actually picked up with Glen right in the aftermath of the Governor’s attack on the prison.  One of the things I’ve found so frustrating about TWD is the sheer repetitiveness of the episodes.  Everything is strictly linear and it gets a little old.  I don’t want non-linear storytelling all the time, but it’s nice to see them mix it up a little bit and try something new.  Not everything has to be a straight path from A to B.

There were other clever storytelling items in this episode.  The ambiguity about whether or not Maggie had killed a Zombie Glen was wonderful.  Before the commercial, we just saw her crying.  At first it looked like tears of sadness, like she had just killed her zombified husband.  Then it seemed to shift to tears of joy, Glen wasn’t on the bus, so he must have survived.  But, they never showed us the body.  They just sent us to commercial not really knowing what happened, but actually having a scene to interpret and discuss.  Holy crap!  This was so much more refined than Carl screaming at Rick, “I’d be okay if you died.”  Then we come back from commercial break to see Glen’s head with what looks like a stab wound in his forehead.  His eyes opened up and we realized he was really alive, but for a split second, we all thought that was dead, zombie Glen; “killed” by his beloved wife.  Isn’t it amazing how quickly your brain can churn through a complex situation in a tenth of a second?  Amazing thing, the human brain…  Very, very clever.  The fact that the whole scene with Maggie was so ambiguous was very out-of-character for TWD.  Usually, in a scene like this, someone like Rick shows up to tell us viewers exactly what is going on.  It was nice to have a chance to use my imagination a little with TWD.  Later, during Glen’s scene, we had a similar opportunity as he laid there on his cot.  There was no talking.  No Rick telling him to “Get up and fight to carry on!  Maggie would want you to carry on!” No Herschel or Dale giving old-man advice… Just Glen laying there with his thoughts with the viewer left to figure it out.
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Mercenary Sea #1 – Review

By: Kel Symons (writer), Matthew Reynolds (art/colors) and Pat Brosseau (letters)

The Story: A gang of misfits and bootleggers find adventure on the high seas of the pre-WWII Pacific Ocean.

Review: I’m always looking for different things to read.  It isn’t that I don’t like superheroes (and the talent working at the Big 2 – especially at Marvel – is tremendous), but I do feel like I’ve read a lot of the superhero stories before.  I’ve already seen the X-Men time travel and fight all the villains, you know?

But, I haven’t read very many stories that are set in the South Pacific during the 1930′s.

It’s mostly the setting that makes Mercenary Sea so alluring.  The set-up is that we have an old German U-Boat captain (probably from World War I) who somehow stole his submarine and has taken on an oddball cast of characters: bootleggers who can’t return to America, former heavyweight boxers who crossed the mafia, disgraced British doctors who killed patients by mistake when drunk, etc.  It’s a motley and charismatic crew.  From a big picture point of view, they’re looking for treasure, but to finance their operation, they have to take on various ill-advised jobs from shady characters.  They’re basically living out the Libertarian Dream on the high seas.

The combination of era, setting and characters is just very unique.  Nazis are boring, Imperial Japanese are novel…  So, even if the story itself isn’t totally curling my toes, there is something very enticing about a quickly paced, pulpy comic that is set in a unique place.  It’s $2.99.  You could spend more than that on the middle issue of a mediocre 6-story “epic” about a bunch of B-list Avengers that you don’t really care about.
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Batman #28 – Review

By: Scott Snyder & James Tynion, IV (writers), Dustin Nguyen (pencils), Derek Fridolfs (inks), John Kalisz (colors) and Sal Cipriano (letters)

The Story: What’s Batman without a young assistant?

The Review (with SPOILERS): This is another of those interstitial issues of Batman where we get a guest artist to allow Greg Capullo to keep up the regular monthly schedule.  What I’ve enjoyed about these issues is how they’ve told us a coherent story of a young girl named Harper Row, how she’s come to know Batman and – in this issue – how she became the new Robin (or Robin-like character since they call her Bluebird).

I have a weird perspective on the Batman and Robin relationship because – with the advent of the New 52 – I went from reading ALL Batman titles to just the “main” Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo title.  I literally haven’t cracked the cover of any other Bat-book in two years.  I missed the Death of Damien, haven’t read the new iteration of Dick Grayson as Nightwing and haven’t seen this new Tim Drake in whatever title he is in.  Therefore, I haven’t seen a “Robin” in over two years.

And that’s sad because I’ve always enjoyed the Batman – Robin relationship.  So I am tickled to see Batman with a new protege to team-up with.  If Zero Year is supposed to be an origin story for Batman, it would be awfully incomplete without a “Robin”.  In fact, if you want to continue comparing Zero Year to Year One, the biggest flaw in Year One is that it neglects the importance of Robin.
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The Walking Dead #121 – Review

 

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

The Story: Alexandria is burning!

The Review (with SPOILERS): This is a pretty good issue of The Walking Dead mostly because it has forward momentum from a plotting standpoint.  Even though there is some lurching and creaking, this story is clearly moving through a metamorphosis to “whatever comes next”.

So, let’s go through the events of the issue, because a LOT happens.  Certainly a LOT more than we typically get in an issue of The Walking Dead.

  • Leaving Alexandria: It’s burned and ruined.  While I have some factual problems with the storytelling, I’m glad to see Rick & Co. away from this stronghold.  The Walking Dead is like a shark and it dies if it stops moving forward.  Even with Negan out there, the status quo in Alexandria has been too comfortable.  The story doesn’t need zombies clawing at the walls all the time, but it needs more stress because stress is the fuel for dramatic tension.  It should always be zombies, bandits, cannibals, food rationing, disease, weather, a less than ideal gender ratio, etc.
  • Leaving Alexandria II: I’m very pleased at how quickly the decision to leave Alexandria happened.  Rick just kinda said, “We’re leaving.” and then it happened.  A part of me feels that the pace is inconsistent with some of the other storytelling in the series: This feels like there could have been a caption box saying, “Two days later…”  But, I’ll put that aside because I’d rather see them get on with the story rather than Rick arguing with some housewives about how Alexandria isn’t safe anymore and beating himself up over whether it is all his fault.
  • Leaving Alexandria, fact check: How ruined is Alexandria, really?  I mean, it still has good walls.  Aren’t walls the most important thing in the zombie apocalypse?  Just erect some tents or find the place that sells those $799 aluminum carports or go to Home Depot and get some of those $599 tool sheds.  And can you really put all the belongings of the whole community in a couple of buses?
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The Walking Dead S04E09 – Review

Original air date: February 9, 2014

The Story: After the fall of the Prison, the remnants of Rick’s party scatter and try to survive…

The Review (with SPOILERS): Funny how the human mind works.  We are incredibly adept at forgetting bad things like how horrible babies are.  I’ve even heard scientists hypothesize that it is an evolutionary trait that we forget some of the pain, agony, sleepless nights and dirty diapers lest every child be an only child – and the species die out for lack of offspring.

The run-up to The Walking Dead’s 2014 Spring Season was a little like waiting for that second baby to arrive. We’re excited, we hope for the best and we hope that all those bad things don’t happen again, because if we really dwell on the past 3.5 seasons we can still remember the pain.  

It really is time to stop hoping for better.  There was probably some plausible reason for hope.  Perhaps new Season 4 showrunner Scott Gimple would have clear highway now that he’d flushed Glen Mazzara’s Season 3 floater.  But, Gimple & Co. have eschewed that clear highway in favor of the familiar ditch.  As they say in BSG, it has happened before and it will happen again.

This was just more of the same for The Walking Dead.  The zombie scenes with Carl were really well done, especially the prolonged scene in the house.  I loved how the camera lingered on the stack of books as Carl and the zombie struggled from room to room, only for those books to come back into play at a key moment.  The prior zombie scene of Carl luring the walkers away, heavily hinting that he would trip and fall, when he never did…  There is nothing careless or accidental within the seconds of these horror scenes.  The talent on this show are true masters of horror and suspense.  They just know how to dance the dance and make us really uncomfortable.  Even when you KNOW that Michonne is not going to be eaten by zombies, you cringe a little every time one walks past her.  They just know how to dial the tension up to about an 8, and leave it there for 5 seconds longer than one would normally be comfortable with.  It’s all the camera angles, amount of zoom, sound, cuts… Simply Brilliant.
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Lazarus #6 – Review

By: Greg Rucka (writer), Michael Lark (art/letters), Santi Arcas (colors)

The Review (with SPOILERS): This is a little bit of a quiet issue of Lazarus because it is totally a “middle chapter” of a bigger story.  We get a little bit more of Story A, a little more of Story B, a little more of Story C, etc.  But the pieces aren’t fully connecting yet, so it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions.  There are some definite themes emerging and we can speculate about future plot directions, but Greg Rucka is so well-read and aware of stereotypes, that I suspect most of those speculations won’t come true.

We spend some of this issue on two Forever stories.  In the present, we see that she is clearly beginning to see some of the injustice of the current status quo where a few wealthy families control everything.  Remember back to the first issue where she killed that group of “waste” for stealing food from Family Carlyle?  Well, this time, she just kinda watches the thieving waste watches from the shadows.  She clearly could have stopped/killed these “waste”, but she elects to let them go.  And they’re not stealing food, but things like tanks of gas.  They’re making a bomb (probably) and she lets them go.  Hmmm…

Now, she isn’t totally derelict in her security duties for the Family as she does question one of the other “waste” about what the others are doing with the tanks of gas.  So, Forever still has that familial loyalty that was brainwashed into her at a very young age (and maintained by handfulls of pills that she may or may not be taking).  Still, you can see the cracks at the seams.  She is beginning to question her role in this system.  It’ll be ugly when it breaks.
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Uber #9 – Review

By: Kieron Gillen (writer), Caanan White (pencils), Joseph Silver (inks), Michael Dipascale (colors) and Kurt Hathaway (letters)

The Story: The Soviets turn the tide on the Eastern front.

The Review (with SPOILERS): This was another very solid issue for the series.  As with the whole series (and I’ve said this before), it remains much more of a war-comic rather than an alt-superhero comic.  I feel like I need to keep pointing that out because we’ve gotten so many World War II comics featuring superheroes (like Captain America or the Invaders or Hellboy or whoever) and then there are the “clever” comics/characters (like Red Son, Red Skull, etc.) that attempt to show us how the bad guys also wanted superheroes and how the post-War could have been very different.  Uber is decidedly not THAT.  It is not focused on characters, but on the narrative of the War itself.  We do get to know a little about the humans who are turned into super-soldiers, but it’s pretty shallow.  These guys aren’t Captain America where Cap’s origin as a humble, skinny kid are vital to understanding his entire world-view.  These are just disposable human soldiers who are deployed impersonally because war sucks.

Another thing that I loved about this issue is that it shows the series is (probably) going to be pretty faithful to the factual outcome of World War II.  I doubt it’ll be a series where we’ll examine, “What if the Nazis won?”  This issue focuses on the Eastern front of the European Theatre.  Aside from little snippets about the Battle of Stalingrad, the Eastern front doesn’t really enter our Anglo-centric consciousness.  That’s probably because the Allies had their hands full on the Western front, but also because the Soviets were the bad guys and we didn’t really care about what happened to them.  If the Soviets wanted to feed hundreds of thousands of citizens into the Nazi wood-chipper, that was great because it meant that many fewer American and British boys would die.
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Black Science #3 – Review

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

The Story: More background on the Pilar project.

Review (with SPOILERS): This issue is a perfect example of why I hate to see fans proclaiming a series as “great” after an exciting first issue.  So much can go wrong or change in the space of a few issues, that you really need to see a little more before registering a definite opinion on a series.

Where this issue goes wrong is in how far away from the original premise it has gotten after only a few issues.  That first issue was just electric.  We were dumped into the middle of this bizarre aquatic planet with frogmen and fishmen doing battle and some astronaut dude was running for his life.  Nothing was explained and we mostly had to figure it out ourselves.  Then – JUMP – we ended up on some weird future-tech planet at the end of the issue.  It almost seemed like this series could just be folks hopping around and trying to get home: cool world after cool world.  It felt really fast-paced and – screw the back-story – because those frogmen with the electric tongues were SO COOL.  Oh yeah…..and the art was incredible.

The second issue was a deviation from the first in that we started getting more backstory on the characters and less of the fantastical world they were exploring.  That wasn’t good.  And lots of the characters we really stereotypy.
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Chew #39 – Review

By: John Layman (writer/letters) & Rob Guillory (art/colors)

The Review: Remember the Gallsaberries from the 2nd (?) arc of Chew?  Those things that looked like a mash-up of a pineapple and an octopus?  Well, it seems like those things are going to be important.

I can’t tell you how fascinated I am by the transition that Chew is making from (A) the funniest comic on the market where plot didn’t seem to really matter to (B) a comic where multiple plot threads are converging.  These creators had a GREAT thing in the early issues of Chew and I give them huge credit for being bold enough to try to massage a wonderful story out of the whole thing.  That’s especially true because it isn’t clear that the overall story of the series is going to be as dramatic as the early issues were funny.  When Chew is funny, it is a perfect 10.  So far, when Chew is merely trying to be dramatic, it is more of a promising 6.

The big thing this issue makes me feel is that I should have paid closer attention to the early story arcs.  I mean, there is obviously something very important going on between the gallsaberries and the alien-language skywriting we’ve seen.  That means the cult that worships that alien skywriting is important.  And, it probably means that Agent Poyo is more than just a joke about how vicious roosters are.
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The Unwritten: Apocalypse #1 – Review

By: Mike Carey & Peter Gross (story & art), Chris Chuckry (colors), Todd Klein (letters)

The Story: Tom Taylor returns from death by spinning through a bunch of familiar stories.

The Background (with SPOILERS): This issue totally met my expectations for excellence.

The Unwritten has had an interesting history.  It started out with a lot of acclaim back in 2009, but rapidly followed the pattern of new ongoings where the mainstream comic media sites don’t really care about any comic with a bigger number than 10 on the cover.  So, it kinda fell off the radar screen for many readers.

But, if you follow sites like this (and few others) you’d know that The Unwritten developed into one of the deepest and most ambitious stories of recent memory.  It’s central premise was to question the separation and connection between story and reality.  The Unwritten started out with the smaller idea that “real” humans could cross over into stories and literary characters could cross over into the “real” world.  From that came the idea that some of these literary characters were basically kept alive because this creature called Leviathan enjoyed them….and Leviathan’s enjoyment kept them alive – sometimes FAR beyond where the character was sick and tired of being alive and wanted to end it.

One of these characters is/was a “man” named Pullman and we’ve learned through the series that he MAY be the Biblical Cain….or he may be something more primal: The Devil.  Leviathan may be some mystical cosmic beast OR Leviathan may be the sum total of humanity’s consciousness.  Anyway, Pullman – sick of being kept “alive” by Leviathan – came up with a way to gravely injure Leviathan.  This has led to a true crisis for reality.  When it was first presented to us, it was as if real-world humanity had lost the ability to imagine stories…..and THIS was damaging to the world.  This damage was illustrated to us in a story arc where the only people capable of crafting a story were children and they could only come up with zombie stories (an ironic meta-commentary on the amount of copy-cat zombie stories in the world of 2014).

This led us to a crossover with Fables which was mostly unfortunate.  It just didn’t have the punch of the rest of The Unwritten, but it DID introduce an interesting thought: That none of these worlds is really “real”.  There are no “real worlds”.  Everything is just a collection of stories: every world, every person.  So, when Leviathan is damaged to where he/she/it/us cannot comprehend/enjoy new stories, all realities are threatened.

The conceptual storytelling behind The Unwritten is SO rich.  It is/was truly the best form of storytelling where there are multiple layers to every story and where you can start to examine the real world in different ways because of the work.

FOR EXAMPLE: Just as I was typing this I reconsidered the anti-religious angle in The Unwritten.  If Leviathan is the collective conscious of humanity, then humanity’s long-term obsession with Abel and “original sin” and Biblical stories has led to humanity’s own downfall.  Rather than moving forward and applying the lessons of Abel, humanity became obsessed with the STORY of Able to the point where the original story was tortured beyond recognition and it rose up to bite humanity.  That could just be my imagination making connections OR it could be some meta-commentary on conservative Christianity.

See, deep stuff indeed… And I’ll tell you that there are few things more rewarding in stories than feeling this you are unraveling what a complex story IS REALLY ABOUT.

Review (with SPOILERS):  The main purpose of this issue is to get the train back on the tracks.  The Fables crossover did have a few interesting wrinkles, but it was largely a departure from typical The Unwritten storytelling.  At the same time, almost nobody read The Unwritten Volume 1.  So, this issue needed to be a jumping on point for people who are relatively new to the series.  Thus, it isn’t reasonable to expect this first issue to dive right back into the deep end – and it doesn’t.  

But, what we DO have in this first issue is a very powerful return of the themes of The Unwritten.  We basically see Tom Taylor – who died at the end of The Unwritten Volume 1 – trying to return to “life” and his own “reality”.  Along the way, he bounces from story to story before finally ending up in something that approximates his reality, except that his reality isn’t anything like our real world anymore.
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The Unwritten: Apocalypse #1 – Review

By: Mike Carey (script/creator), Peter Gross (art/creator), Ryan Kelly (select finishes), Chris Chuckry (colors) and Todd Klein (letters)

The Story: Tom & Gang try to escape a screwed up London.

Review (with minor SPOILERS): This was a much lighter issue of The Unwritten.  Often this series dives into some pretty deep waters in terms of story, but this issue is really here just to introduce the villain.

Of course, that villain is Pullman, but he isn’t introduced in all of his glorious depth.  He’s really just introduced as a “bad guy” and we don’t get into how he represents the story of original sin (or the devil or evil personified….whatever) and how humanity’s fixation on that story has both warped that story and made it worse….but also irritated the story itself and the story – through Pullman – has become sentient and fought back against humanity.  Carey and Gross certainly get all of the important pieces/mechanics on display in this issue, but they don’t really shake them in the reader’s face.  That’s fair enough.  That portion of The Unwritten’s story is really deep and these final 12 issues should be at least somewhat welcoming to new readers.  They haven’t dumbed the series down yet…..and I don’t think they will now.  They just didn’t emphasize the greatest depths of the narrative in this particular issue.

The only bad thing is that it leaves the issue a little light and it stays strictly in the action-adventure realm.  I mean….the issue is fun as we watch Tom & Gang trying to escape from a London that is beset by all the armies that have invaded London in all of fiction, but it is nothing more than fun.  Given that this series only has 8 issues remaining, I am reluctant to fully endorse any down-shift in ambition…..even if it is a temporary.

I also don’t remotely understand what is going on with the young Australian man and the veiled woman.  It makes no sense to me.  I know it’s just because I don’t get it yet.  Or perhaps I’m not supposed to understand yet?  I don’t doubt that once it is explained, these issues will merit a re-read.

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Batman #27 – Review

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

Wow! What a great issue!  Honestly, this is better than a Batman story has any excuse to be given that I kinda think of all these Marvel/DC characters are a little old and used up.  I mean, these comics usually have potential to be FUN, but it is hard for them to be GOOD.  I’ve read a LOT of Batman over the years and this is as good as anything that’s ever been done with the character.  I remain a huge fan of Year One and still think Year One is a superior story from the standpoint of Bruce’s motivations to become Batman, but Zero Year is stomping Year One when it comes to Batman himself and his relationship with Gordon (and Alfred).  It’s hard for me to say that something is superior to Year One, but it is true.

There are two things that really stand out about this issue. Continue reading

The Walking Dead #120 – Review

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

The Story: Negan goes on the offensive.

Review (with SPOILERS including some from much earlier in the series): Honestly, I have kinda mixed feelings about this issue.

On one hand, the All Out War seems to finally be rocking along, supporting characters are dying, bases are being destroyed, old friends come galloping to the rescue…  On the other hand, we’re still not done with the storyline.

I was actually sitting down to write a totally positive review until I remembered the last time that Rick & Co. were rousted from a base (by the Governor in issue #48).  Even though some of the Governor’s raid happened in the previous issue, the action in issue #48 is gloriously tight.  The deaths of supporting characters like Herschel’s son and Alice the Doctor only get a panel or two.  Herschel just gets a BLAM and he’s dead.  Even the death of Lori and baby Judith gets all of two pages (one full-pager of them getting splattered, one of Rick looking back and then urging Carl to run).  The Governor died over the space of a couple pages.  By the end of the issue, Rick and Carl are on a hillside overlooking the carnage of the prison and holding onto each other.  The End.

In this issue, we spent longer on the plight of Heath and Denise than we did on Lori, Herschel and the Governor combined.  That doesn’t necessarily make this a poor issue, but it’s a little window into how The Walking Dead has lost a few mph off its fastball over the years.  People talk about issue #48 years later for a reason.  It is tight, condensed, pulls no punches, etc.  Nobody will ever talk about issue #120 in such glowing terms.
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Alex + Ada #3 – Review

By: Sarah Vaughn (story/script) and Jonathan Luna (story/art/letters)

The Story: Alex introduces Ada to his friends.

Review (with SPOILERS): A bit of a transitional issue, this one.  But, that is okay and doesn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the series.  Sarah Vaughn and Jonathan Luna already established in the first two issues that they were interested in the sorts of deeper questions that I wanted to read about, so it’s okay for them to do a little of the necessary roadwork to get us from Point A to Point B.

This is the issue where Alex comes to grips with the fact that he owns an android (Ada).  She meets his friends and Alex starts to grapple with all the things that are normal when someone gets a new pet – because Ada is really just a pet at this point.  Much like a new dog owner needs to buy a few bowls and a leash, Alex needs to figure out what Ada will wear and how/when she needs to eat.  The question of whether she poops even came up.

But, the more interesting part is when Alex starts to wonder what to DO with Ada.  She’s remarkably compliant.  If he wants to dance, she’s happy to dance and she’ll happily watch whatever TV program he chooses.  But, by the end of the issue, we see that Alex is pretty disappointed because Ada doesn’t WANT anything on her own.  She’s just programmed to do whatever Alex wants.  In his frustration, he starts to explore getting her software upgraded to allow Ada to be more self-aware.
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Velvet #3 – Review

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

The Story: Velvet continues tracking down the story behind the death of another agent.

The Review (with SPOILERS): This was very nicely done.  The first two issues of Velvet were focused on starting fast and creating excitement for the reader.  This issue really starts to dig into the story and the type of character Velvet is.

It isn’t a surprise that the story is coming together so nicely.  Brubaker is a pro and has told us a lot of excellent stories in the past.  Further, I’m sure he shared the whole story with his artistic collaborator, Steve Epting, and Epting clearly has turned down all the regular-paycheck work he was getting at Marvel to work on a sweat-equity project like Velvet.  Really, the presence of Epting is what tips off the quality. There is probably a long line of up-and-comer artists who would give their kidneys to work with Brubaker, but getting a big-time, Marvel-regular artist to do a creator-owned comic says a LOT about the artist’s confidence in the project.

Part of what makes this issue a little more special than the first two is that we get to see Velvet running a mission instead of just running for her life.  It’s always fun to see an agent/spy running a mission: They have a plan, they improvise and the plan works because they’re better/smarter/faster than the bad guys.  That’s exactly how it plays out in this issue: Velvet goes in with a plan, the situation on the ground wasn’t quite what she expected, so she improvises and still accomplishes the goal.
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Black Dynamite #1 – Review

By: Brian Ash (writer), Ron Wimberly (pencils), Sal Buscema (inks), JM Ringuet (colors) and Chris Mowry (letters)

I have very mixed feelings about this issue.  Your enjoyment will really come down to how you like your Blaxploitation.  Back in the 1970s when the Blaxploitation genre existed, it was a deadly serious thing.  It was all about strong black men (and women) taking a stand for the community when politicians, police and businessmen didn’t care what happened in urban black neighborhoods.  Being a suburban white kid, I obviously couldn’t really understand it.  But it was clear than films like Shaft, Dolemite, Foxy Brown, Super Fly, etc. came from a place of anger rather than a place of laughter.

Then the 1980s happened and “we” decided all those afros and hot-girls in bell-bottom pants and strong black men learning kung fu was really silly and we started to get films like I’m Gonna Git You Sucker that turned Blaxploitation on its ear and made fun of everything….and I do mean EVERYTHING.  But, within those films, there was always a sense of homage to why the genre existed in the first place.

This story leads off by showing 1970s Black Dynamite fixing a problem in the neighborhood with nunchucks only to be cast out of the community for causing more wreckage than he solved.  After being cast-out, he goes on a walkabout only to be tracked down by the government at the very end of the issue.  I presume that the first issues of this miniseries will detail his exploits in present day with the government – and probably lead him full-circle back to the neighborhood.
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