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The Walking Dead #133 – Review

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

The Story: Lots of little story nudges and more about the skin-zombies.

Review (with SPOILERS): Well, this was a bit of a kick-the-can-down-the-road issue, huh?  It isn’t that it’s a poor issue, it’s just that nothing hugely important happens.  Lots of little plots get advanced.  Some of them are A-story (like the new skin-zombies) and most are definitely B-story (but still interesting).

There isn’t a whole lot revealed about the skin-zombies.  Anyone looking for answers to WHAT these guys are up to or HOW they are doing it will be disappointed.  I’m sure those answers will be forthcoming in the future, but we’ll just have to be patient.  I guess we did learn that they have “lands” that were “invaded” by the protagonists and also that they aren’t totally bloodthirsty, since they don’t kill Darius instantly.  I’m enjoying the mystery of the skin-zombies even if the logical parts of my mind are screaming in protest.  It just doesn’t seem to make much sense to wander around in zombie skin, but I’m still intrigued by the mystery.  We’ll just have to wait…
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The Walking Dead S05E03 – Review

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 11.33.50 AM

Original air date: October 26, 2014

Review (with SPOILERS): Sometimes I just don’t know what to make of The Walking Dead.  For a couple of seasons, my prevailing sentiment was that it was a pretty crappy TV show that did one thing well: horror/gore/tension.  It was almost like TWD was like a tennis player who is pretty mediocre overall, but has a blistering first serve and can be a huge threat on a grass court when their first serve is clicking, but is too poor to do much on any other surface.

But maybe TWD is more like a really good boxer, who has a glass jaw and an annoying tendency to get into brawls where said glass jaw is exposed.  Maybe it’s a decent show with one glaring weakness: an unhealthy fixation on the morality of its central characters and the need to have Rick and Carl be the primary spokespeople for that morality.  Maybe whenever TWD avoids that, it’s a pretty good show?

This episode was pretty light on zombie gore,  which sometimes feels like TWD’s only strength.  But the episode was tight, well-paced and enjoyable. Who knew?  There was also some dreck in the episode, and we’ll talk about that because it’s fun to be snarky, but it didn’t ruin what was otherwise a pretty good episode.

The primary strength of the episode lies in how fast and taut it was in terms of resolving The Hunters storyline.  In the past, TWD would have rolled around until the mid-season break with The Hunters and it would have been awful.  Now, just three episodes into Season 5 we are DONE with Terminus and Gareth.  They didn’t milk it and we are moving on to whatever comes next.  I love that!  One of the great things about post-apocalypse storytelling is seeing the protagonists encounter strange little micro-societies that could never happen in the real world.  It’s an opportunity to see how creative the writers are.  How many ideas do they have?  And how precious are their ideas/characters to them?  I love a story that moves along briskly not only because we get to see more ideas, but it gives me the feeling that the writers have plenty of concepts and they aren’t going to get bogged down anywhere.  Gareth was a great villain.  I liked him immensely more than The Governor.  But in dispatching him so quickly, the writers give the impression of, “Don’t worry.  We’ve got this.  No need to linger on Gareth. Wait till you see what we have lined up NEXT!”  And if what comes NEXT isn’t awesome and incredible?  No biggie, because the action will soon move on again.  Compare that to how precious The Governor was to the creative talent on the show.  They milked The Governor for everything he was worth.  Even the people who loved The Governor were over him by the time he finally died, and everyone who didn’t love him just had to watch an annoying TV non-drama for 2 seasons. Just keep the action moving and it’s all going to be okay.

As for the actual events of the episode, they were pretty much ripped right from the comics.  I think the lines of dialog were identical in many places.  As a reader of the comics, I would have liked to see a little variety, but the basic story is solid, so why fiddle with it?  It was quick and brutal.  It showcased Gareth as a compelling villain, showed how dangerous his group was and how they’d learned everyone’s name, and showed that Rick wasn’t going to leave them around to kill others.  In contrast to when Gareth got that lame “shot-in-the-shoulder-and-falls-off-camera-but-you-know-he-isn’t-dead” in the season premier, there isn’t any doubt that Gareth is dead this time.  Yuck.  As an aside, I have the original art page where the Gareth character from the comics is on his knees begging for Rick not to kill him.  Immortalized on the screen…
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The Walking Dead #130 – Review

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

This was a pretty interesting issue.  The Walking Dead delights in being a “slow burn” and that can be frustrating while readers are waiting for the story to coalesce (like a kid waiting for the Jello to harden), but once it does turn the corner and develop a sense of direction, TWD is able to instill more of a sense of anticipation that just about any other comic that I read.

This issue seems like it might be turning the corner to doing something real.  I say that mostly because of the sheer number of players in motion right now.  You’ve got the newcomers getting settled, we’ve seen them find Negan and resist his charisma, Rick is out visiting Maggie at Hilltop, Carl is having employment challenges, and maybe the zombies are changing.

Probably my favorite part of this issue dealt with Negan.  I liked how quickly he saw that his “HELP ME!!!” charade wasn’t working on the newcomers and we even saw him revert back to vintage Negan.  I really do wonder what Kirkman is going to do with Negan in the long term.  He’s too interesting to kill, and Kirkman probably could have killed him at the end of All Out War, but he’s such a fun character that Kirkman kept him around.  It was probably like when you were a kid and your parents told you that you were too old for some of your toys and they were right, but you kept one stuffed animal anyway because it was awesome.  I’m looking forward to what becomes of Negan.  I also enjoyed that the possibility of the newcomers naively letting him go didn’t come to pass.  That could have been a good story, but it would have been a little too fast.  I mean, surely anyone who has survived the zombie apocalypse this long isn’t a dummy. Continue reading

American Vampire: Second Cycle #4 – Review

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

The Story: The Gray Trader comes after Pearl.

The Review (with SPOILERS): This has been a very challenging review to write.  Anytime that happens it is a sure sign that the comic is one that I had high hopes for that has let me down in some way.
What’s weird about writing this type of review is that they easily veer heavily into what is wrong with this issue and the ways that it has disappointed me.  Then I proof-read the review and realize I have written 1000 words about the shortcomings of the issue, and then given it a “B” for a grade.  Which is weird…
So, just know that there is a longer analysis of the negatives of this issue as it relates to the prior run of American Vampire.  It was deleted, but this issue has slightly disappointed me for a couple of reasons.  One is that it really misses Henry.  Not only was the Henry/Pearl relationship fascinating, but Henry was interesting with everyone else too.  Great character.  He was also kinda the reader’s eyes into the world of vampires.  We could identify with him because he was a human and without him, there isn’t a similar anchor for our perspective.  And the Skinner/Pearl relationship isn’t anywhere near as interesting as Henry/Pearl.  In fact, Skinner just isn’t that interesting.  He’s just an anti-hero and while I think he was fine as a cool supporting character, he’s not quite strong enough to carry the series.
The other thing that hurt this story arc is that it felt less anchored to a point in American history.  It’s set in either the late 1950s or early 1960s, but there is no big theme to help me fix this story in time.  It sounds like that will change in the next story arc as our vampires get sucked into the space race.  THAT sounds very, very cool and not just because “Duh….vampires in effing SPACE!!!” but because the space race is an important part of American history.  I hope that we’ll also get some civil rights movement (possibly involving Cal) and some Vietnam War stuff in there too (again, Cal is a former soldier and could play a part).  But this story didn’t have that historical anchor and it suffered for that.

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Spread #1 – Review

By: Justin Jordan (script/creator), Kyle Strahm (art/creator), Felipe Sobreiro (colors) and CRANK! (letters)

The Story: A post-apocalypse nomad finds a baby that could hold the secret to defeating a demonic plague.

Review (with minor SPOILERS): This was a pretty solid first issue.  The post-apocalypse genre is very crowded.  It happens to be one of my favorite genres just because I like to see what storytellers can do when you take away certain rules.  It’s the same thing as telling a story where gravity didn’t exist or where faster-than-light travel was possible: Taking away rules opens new avenues for storytelling.  So, I’ll sample most things post-apocalyptic even if it means I get a healthy dose of crap sometimes.

Spread is pretty solid.  The reasons for the apoclaypse are vague: something about digging too deep and unleashing something nasty and horrible.  Humanity isn’t totally destroyed as we see dead researchers and their crashed plane.  And there are bandits, there are ALWAYS bandits.  But the focus is on a nomad named “No” who wanders the land and is immune to The Spread.

No has a neat look to him.  He looks like a less muscly version of Wolverine in civilian clothes: messy black hair, unshaven, sideburns, Candian wilderness attire, etc.  And we learn quickly that No can handle himself well in a fight when he uses twin hatchets to take down a Spread-possessed researcher.  Along the way, he finds a baby who may be the secret to saving humanity from the Spread, get’s chased by lots of Spread monsters and that’s it.  End of issue #1.  So, we meet the protagonist, his reason for being in the story and learn the basic set-up of this world.  Some comics take 4-5 issues to accomplish that.  Spread #1 pulls you in enough that you’ll be curious to see what happens in issue #2.
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The Walking Dead #129 – Review

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

The Story: Locking Negan up was always going to be a bad idea…

Review (with SPOILERS): If The Walking Dead could have a sub-title, it could be, “Hoist by one’s own petard.”

This whole shift in tone for The Walking Dead over the last several issues has really focused on a kinder, gentler and older Rick Grimes.  To me, he seems almost like Herschel, and I almost felt like they had made him too old.

But, what we saw in this issue is that he’s still the same old Rick.  For one thing, the scene where he beats the hell out of the highway patrolman shows how he continues to put a lot of stock in symbols.  Whether it is The Prison, some walled town, or now a Road, Rick always looks at these sorts of symbols as things that show that humanity is getting its act back together.  Or he’s had some selfish motive for valuing the symbol.  With the Road, it is obviously important because it is linking the various human settlements, and those settlements are important because moving from single-cities to a network of connected communities is a natural evolution.  But Rick really cares about the Road because his son is going to live in another community and he needs the Road open so that he can go see his son.  If a few highway patrolmen need to get flogged so that Rick can see his son, so be it.

You also see Rick’s ego coming into play with Negan.  He tells people that Negan is a prisoner because their community is too civilized to execute him.  But, the real reason is that Rick wants to rub his victory in Negan’s face.  He wants to visit Negan every day and spike the football in front of him.  That’s why he brings Negan his food personally, but makes a minion clean out Negan’s shit bucket.  The clever thing is that Negan knows the score.  He knows that Rick is making a mistake by not killing him for prideful reasons, and he knows that Rick will eventually pay for making the wrong choice for the wrong reason.

The other development in this issue is that we see the newcomers find Negan.  One of our commenters last month pointed to this possibility; that the newcomers would find Negan, he’d fill their heads with lies about Rick and they’d release him from jail.  I’m happy to see this storyline moving forward.  As readers of these reviews know, I’ve grown weary of the deliberate pacing of The Walking Dead.  It is has never been a fast comic book, but it has gotten slower over time and my opinion is that stories need to move more rapidly as they age.  And this story is gracefully moving forward.  I’m not entirely sure I want to see another round of Rick vs. Negan, especially after finishing two years of . But we’ll see what Kirkman & Co. come up with for these two…
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The Walking Dead #128 – Review

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

SPOILER ALERT

The Walking Dead has always been a slow-paced story, but this story is setting the bar higher (or lower?) than its ever been.

You’ve got Rick wandering around town talking about bread and giving out relationship advice.  You’ve got Andrea aggressively questioning the newcomers.  You’ve got newcomers talking about whether this place is trustworthy.  You’ve got Rick and Carl discussing his career options.  There just isn’t much to grab onto yet.

It’s all well and good to watch the characters that we’ve (mostly) grown to like living their lives, but I also don’t want to see The Walking Dead become even slower paced than it has been before.  It makes me wonder if Kirkman doesn’t have a plan or that he’s out of ideas and is just milking the story.

But, since we know that TWD isn’t going to become Archie, the danger will have to come from somewhere.  Right now we’ve got three possibilities.  I just hope we get on with developing these stories:

  1. Negan - He’s clearly not going to stay locked up in the cell forever.  And Kirkman is making great efforts to remind us of Negan’s attempts to manipulate Carl and befriend him, but Carl is going away to be a blacksmith.  Hmm… That seems odd: Reminding us of the Carl/Negan dynamic in the same issue where it is announced that Carl will be leaving the city.  Regardless, I’m amazed at how much charisma Negan has lost by growing his hair out.  He’s like the anti-Samson.  Grow his hair out and take away his bat (the jawbone of an ass?) and Negan is just a dude in a cell, and not a very interesting one either.
  2. Newcomers - Well, they clearly didn’t come all this way to fit quietly into Rick & Co’s lives.  But, beyond the obvious mutual suspicion, I don’t see a THREAT looming here.  The newcomers don’t seem to be evil and we know that Rick’s crew isn’t evil either.  So, what bad could happen?  Maybe they’re legitimately new characters who are going to be built up  to join the main cast and there won’t be any stress and conflict.  Jesus joined without any real stress.  Still, it seems a waste to not make something stressful happen.
  3. Zombie! - It all seems a little too convenient with the zombies right now.  It reminds me of a movie where there is some pompous corporate jackass boasting about how how *they* have “mastered the weather cycles of Earth” and how the “planet works for US now…” only to learn the hard way that Mother Earth will NOT be controlled and the corporate jackass is killed by a hurricane/shark/earthquake/Godzilla.  It’s the same story any time the arrogance of man allows him (it’s always a man) to think he can control the uncontrollable, and it comes back to bite him.  That’s kinda what I see going on with the zombies.  They’re basically a force of nature now and Rick & Co. seem to be getting a little cocky with how they can herd and control them.  It’s like the zombies aren’t even dangerous anymore… They’re just flood waters to be diverted into a ditch.  You know that won’t last.  To be honest, I’d like to see another round of the zombies being scary.  The political stuff with Negan and other survivors is fun, but it doesn’t quite compare to the horror of being gnawed alive or seeing your loved ones eaten in front of you.

The other thing I’m struck by is the change in Rick.  He’s kinda gone very quickly from a guy who yelled a lot and covered a lot of pages entirely in word balloons to a man of few words.  I mean, you could totally see that scene with him and Eugene talking about Rosita playing out differently with Rick going on for pages about the nature of relationships.  Now he’s almost Herschel-like.  I understand that this is a new Rick, but the combination of his shorter dialog and his new visual appearance makes him seem a little too old.  He’s not acting like a 40 year old man who has had his eyes opened, he’s acting like a 65 year old who is dispensing advice while letting the young folk learn lessons themselves.  I suspect this is just something for writer and artist to work out.  Either the dialog OR the art change would be okay, but the combo ages Rick a little more than they probably intended.  They’ll probably get this recalibrated in a few issues.

Watching the Rick/Carl dynamic continues to be interesting.  I’ve been complaining for months that TWD isn’t showing enough forward progress in the story, but if you look at where Carl was in the first story arc to now, he’s changed a lot.  Back then he was very much a child and now he’s a young adult.  Nevermind that he’s probably aged more rapidly than the rest of the cast, Carl has come a LONG way.  Kirkman clearly has some sort of plan for Carl/Rick/Negan because “Carl Grimes – Apprentice Blacksmith” isn’t going to be a very popular comic.  I have no idea where this Carl story will end up and that’s kinda fun.
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