Monday, December 31, 2012

Eliza Dushku sends me a signed photo…or…goodbye 2012

As I say goodbye to 2012, I’ve been fighting bronchitis for about a week. I have good days and bad days but what’s important is that I’m on vacation from work so I’m not missing it.

A few months  ago, posted about an opportunity to support the post production of ElizaDushku’s untitled Albania documentary. I jumped at the opportunity to support something from one of my favorite actresses and get a cool reward at the same time. And I got part of the cool reward in the mail today: an autographed photo and an autographed Dushku family recipe for “Byrek.”

I was really excited to get it! I’m not well enough to go out tonight but I ended 2012 with an autographed photo of Eliza Dushku to enjoy today and a new recipe to try in the new year.

Thanks for a good year 2012. I hope 2013 will be just as kind.

Marvel NOW review: Avengers Assemble #9-10, Avengers #1-2, Avengers Arena #1-2, A+X #1-2, Cable and X-Force #1-2

Avengers Assemble #9-10 by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Stefano Caselli

Avengers Assemble is one of Marvel’s best books on the stands. It’s a fun, simple book that doesn’t get weighed down by continuity. Issue nine, Tony and Bruce have a disagreement about their views on technology. When a camp in Antarctica can’t be reached after their head scientist goes missing, Tony and Bruce make a bet that each can locate the missing scientist first. Tony takes Thor with them while Bruce recruits Spider-Woman. When the teams get to the camp however, they find mysterious monsters and the bodies of the remaining scientists.

GOOD: There’s a lot of humor in issue nine either stemming from each man’s failed attempts to convince a fellow Avenger to join their team or from the rest of the team monitoring their progress. I like Captain America’s confrontation with the main bad guy on a plane and Captain Marvel saving him at the last minute. It’s just a fun two issues.

BAD: Nothing I can think of.

Avengers #1-2 by Jonathan Hickman, Jerome Opena, and Dean White

When the Avengers get to Mars to stop Ex Nihlo and his crew from destroying the Earth as we know it, they are easily captured in Captain America sent back to Earth to warn them that change is coming. So Captain America does something that he and Tony have been talking about, making the Avengers roster larger. Now Captain America is going to return to Mars with reinforcements.

GOOD: I like seeing the reactions the team members had to being recruited – especially Sam and Roberto’s. I like seeing how the team comes together and I like the unique mix of characters. For a post-Avengers vs X-Men issue, I like that we don’t have to mention it. But I can’t help to think about the first time the new X-Men got together to fight Krakatoa because at the end of issue one the Avengers are all tangled up in vines.

BAD: I don’t know if it was the coloring or the artwork but it looked odd. It takes two issues to get the new team together and we don’t get to see them in action at all. With two issues to get into the action we also don’t get to see the new team members bond.

IN CONCLUSION: Not a great title. I didn’t enjoy Jonathan Hickman’s run on the Fantastic Four and I don’t think I’m going to enjoy his run on the Avengers either. Maybe I’ll check back in and a few issues to see if it’s any better, but for now I’ll stick to Avengers Assemble.

Avengers Arena #1-2 by Dennis Hopeless, Kev Walker, and Frank Martin

Arcade has kidnapped 16 teenagers from the Avengers Academy, the Braddock Academy, and from their homes to participate in the new Murder World based on “a couple kids’ books” he read in prison. The rules are simple: last man standing in an environment surrounded by force fields, festooned with booby-traps, and it’s every participant for themselves. The heroes try to stop him but Arcade proves to be too powerful for them. To prove that he means business he decides to take the first life and kills Mettle in front of Hazmat.

GOOD: Arcade has always been elaborate with his games so it makes perfect sense that he might put the young heroes in a Hunger Games – type scenario. It’s also a very cool way to do something like the Hunger Games in the Marvel Universe. And taking Mettle out at the end of the first issue was a great way to tell the reader that no one is off-limits.

BAD: In the other Avengers’ titles, no one is looking for the kids. I don’t know where this issue fits into continuity but that bothered me. Also after the great setup of issue one, we have to sit through the origin of another character who may or may not make it to the end of the series. Also for a bunch of teenagers were also heroes, they aren’t exactly acting like it. I know that the writer is trying to go for an atmosphere of fear and distrust and teenagers are probably the perfect target for it, but I don’t like how quick they were to divide up and get paranoid.

IN CONCLUSION: A nice idea but there aren’t enough characters that I care about participating with the exception of maybe Darkhawk, X-23, Hazmat, and Reptil. It’s not enough to bring me back for third issue. And considering how long one year takes in the Marvel Universe, it could be a long time before we see the end of 30 days.

A+X #1-2

A+X is a title that presents two stories per issue. It is meant to show one Avenger bonding with one X-Man.

Captain America & Cable by Dan Slott & Ron Garney

Cable jumps into the past to stop Trask from altering the timeline by building Sentinels for the Nazis.

The Incredible Hulk & Wolverine by Jeph Leob & Dale Keown

Wolverine and the Hulk are arguing over the last piece of cake when Maestro and Old Man Logan jump back into the past looking for the Red Hulk.

Black Widow & Rogue by Chris Bachalo & Tim Townsend

On a rare day off, Black Widow is forced to take on a Sentinel with Rogue’s help.

Iron Man & Kitty Pryde by Peter David & Mike Del Mundo

Resilient is looking to hire Kitty Pryde but she accidentally unleashes a squad of Brood. When the Brood get ahold of some of Iron Man’s armor and Kitty phases through it, stopping the Brood and destroying the armor, Iron Man realizes that having her around, “would be like Superman having a piece of kryptonite around.”

GOOD: It’s a nice way to reinforce the new status quo by showing Avengers and X-Men working together. The Black Widow and Rogue story was the only diamond in the rock pile of stories. I liked the creative use of Rogue’s power to use Black Widow’s sniping ability with her permission. It was a very cool team up. The Cable and Captain America story was really good, but if it really happened in continuity Captain America would have remembered Cable the first time they met so it’s a fluffy story and not really substantive. The artwork from all except the Kitty Pryde and Iron Man story was great.

BAD: I already covered the Captain America story being too fluffy. The Wolverine and Hulk story had no context for me who hadn’t read the Old Man Logan story. So unless that was the beginning of an upcoming storyline, that story didn’t mean much. And as far as the Kitty and Iron Man story, despite the fact that she is “kryptonite” to him, Kitty is brilliant and would be an asset to a company and with all of her X-Men training would be an asset to the Avengers. But here’s my question: Tony trusts Bruce but Kitty is a liability? The artwork in the Kitty Pryde and Iron Man story looked too cartoon-like for me.

IN CONCLUSION: This is another Avengers/X-Men book but doesn’t add anything to the overall books. I understand the AvX books that this is modeled after did add background to the Avengers vs X-Men miniseries but this book is all over the place in terms of tone and continuity. I would be more interested in seeing this type of interaction in a book like Peter David’s X-Factor where this mix of characters is getting to know one another while beating up bad guys.

Cable and X-Force #1-2 by Dennis Hopeless & Salvador Larroca

Hope and cable are reunited as X-Force embarks on their newest mission but they have to do it fast because cable is dying (again).

GOOD: Finally Hope is interesting again. She’s every bit as tough and resilient as Cable taught her to be.

BAD: I don’t know what X-Force’s mission is. And Cable dying is extremely boring at this point – he’s been dying since the day he was created. With the exception of Domino and Colossus, there’s no one on the team I care about. Domino I just find interesting but Colossus has been less interesting since telling his sister that he would kill her if he ever saw her again. And did I mention that title seems pointless?

IN CONCLUSION: A good Cable story is rare and I didn’t think this title would be great but I gave it a try. I will be back for the next issue.

Captain America #1-2 by Rick Remender, John Romita, Klaus Janson, and Dean White

Captain America and Sharon investigate the subway car traveling in ancient line abandon decades ago when he is captured and transported to Dimension Z by Arnim Zola. A year later Captain America and the baby he saved, Arnim Zola’s son, are trying to survive in an environment that is constantly trying to kill them.

GOOD: This is a very interesting story and of course John Romita’s art is fantastic.

BAD: I don’t notify by a story in which Captain America is marooned in Dimension Z for a year. Also, he doesn’t seem too worried about the humans that were also in the subway car.

IN CONCLUSION: If Captain America has been taking care of a child for a year I expect that to have real consequences once he rejoins the mainstream Marvel Universe. It would be great if he and Sharon adopted the boy as they were talking about marriage in the first issue. Though I am pretty sick of all the little-kid bad-guy clones floating around - the Fantastic Four have one, the X-Men have one, and now Captain America has his very own.

This is a pretty good book if only for the reason that I’m interested in the consequences of this adventure and the impact protecting or losing the kid will have on him. I’m also interested in seeing Captain America and Sharon take it to the next level. I might be back for the third issue.

Fantastic Four #1-2 by Matt Fraction, Mark Bagley, Mark Farmer, and Paul Mounts

Reed Richards’ body is breaking apart at a molecular level. What’s worse is that he suspects the rest of the teams bodies might be doing the same. With no known cure the solution seems obvious: explore unknown universes looking for the cure. Reed sells this to the team as a one-year family vacation with Franklin and Valeria and keeps them in the dark about his condition.

GOOD: Each teammate find their own replacements while they go on vacation (which was only supposed to be for four minutes). Those conversations were a lot of fun to watch. Finally a title with just the six family members and not the Army of supporting cast we’ve also had to read about.

BAD: So let’s see… Cable, Beast, Peter Parker, and the Fantastic Four are dying? I can already see my vote for most overused storyline of 2012. I understand why he doesn’t tell the rest of the family spare them and the kids from worrying. I just wish he was just taking a vacation with the kids for a year without looking for some kind of cure.

IN CONCLUSION: The added specter of death doesn’t do anything to up the ante in this title. Like I said, dying has been played with a lot this year. If it was just the team and the kids’s exploring new universes for a year it would be a fresh storyline but adding the search for a cure in makes the story feel less important. Of course it is Reed Richards, and he’s a pretty impersonal person (he created Mombots to take care of Franklin and Valeria when he and Sue are not there) so I completely see him being more interested in exploring and spending time with his family. After the last few years of storylines it would’ve been nice to have seen a more cheerful beginning.

FF  #1-2 by Matt Fraction, Michael & Laura Allred

Reed Richards calculated that the year they spent exploring would only feel like four minutes in the real world. So the Fantastic Four found people who could take their place for the four minutes they were gone. But something obviously went wrong with Reed’s plan so Antman, She Hulk, Medusa, and Torch’s popstar girlfriend, Darla Deering will have to be the Fantastic Four longer than they’d planned.

GOOD: We get to see the original FF team’s conversations with the new team from a different angle. I like that Antman has a strong negative reaction to taking care of kids after losing his daughter and the thought of taking care of the children at the Future Foundation for even four minutes is unthinkable. I like that he’s now in a position where he has to take care of them so that should be very interesting to watch. I also like the selection of Johnny’s popstar girlfriend as one of the team who suits up in a Thing-like suit of armor.

BAD: Some people are really big fans of Michael Allred’s artwork but I’m not. If I only had to put up with it for an issue I would let it go but it looks like he’ll be the regular artist. And when some version of the Human Torch comes out of the portal and obliterates it behind him, suggesting that the rest of the team is dead, I think I yawned.

IN CONCLUSION: With some version of the Human Torch alive, there’s no need for Darla Deering to be on the team and, honestly, reading more about her on the team would’ve been really interesting. And the whole, “Reed is dying,” “the Fantastic Four are dead,” stuff is old and used up. In the Marvel Universe – no body = no death. And even when there is a body, there’s always a way to bring the character back to life. There isn’t enough interest in either new Fantastic Four title to pick up a third issue. I just want a writer to tap what makes that team truly great which is that they are a family that has a real life outside of being superheroes and how much fun that can be.
The covers to Avengers #1, 2, 3

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Back in the Day: “Tales of the Gold Monkey” review

In 1981, Steven Spielberg gave us Raiders of the Lost Ark. In 1982, ABC Television gave us Tales of the Gold Monkey. I was a huge fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark and I was only nine years old when Tales of the Gold Monkey started airing. Back in 1982, if you saw something at the movies or something on television there wasn’t the option of going to a video store and renting it or buying it. You pretty much had to wait until it aired again as a rerun or until it got to syndication.

So it’s been 30 years since I’ve seen Tales of the Gold Monkey and it’s been out on DVD for a while now. I thought about buying it when it first came out but it was very expensive. I put it on my Netflix queue and it’s been sitting there for a few years. Recently has lowered the price of the series so I decided to queue it up at Netflix and give it a shot.

With most old shows that you watched when you were a kid, you tend to think they’re very good shows until you see them again as an adult. So I just finished watching the two-part pilot episode, and I’m ready to see more.

For those of you not familiar with the show, it takes place in the South Pacific in 1938. It features Stephan Collins as Jake Cutter, a freelance pilot living on Boragora with his dog Jack and his mechanic Corky. In the first episode Jake meets Sarah Stickney White who appears to be a damsel in distress but turns out to be an American spy. Because it’s set in the South Pacific and bears a very close resemblance to Raiders of the Lost Ark, they don’t shy away from (at least it looks like) homages to the first Indiana Jones movie and to Casablanca.

GOOD: Jake Cutter and his dog, Jack, have a very interesting relationship. Even 30 years later I remembered that one bark meant “no” and two barks meant yes. Stephen Collins is a convincing action star and I’m not sure why he didn’t get a lot of opportunities to show that on the big screen. It reminds me of Nathan Fillion who was extremely powerful as the captain in Firefly but is now relegated to a show where he’s not an action hero. It would be great to see either one of them in roles where they got to punch people in the face on a regular basis. Also I’d forgotten how good Corky was. As Jake’s mechanic, they both served together in the military and Corky had saved Jake’s life. But clearly Corky isn’t good at remembering things or controlling his drinking so while Corky fixes the plane Jake takes care of him.

There’s a fantastic appearance from Jonathan Hillerman who plays Fritz. He and the show’s main German spy, who is posing as the minister in town, disagree about who is in charge and Fritz stands in front of a painting of Adolf Hitler and takes off his hat. While they never directly say he is Hitler, the resemblance is uncanny.

In one of the discussions about the legend of the Gold Monkey, they mention a number of the things that Hitler is looking for including the Lost Ark of the Covenant which was a nice Raiders of the Lost Ark reference.

BAD: This is an 80’s show the way I remember them: crappy special-effects and despite the gunfire no one ever gets hit. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just something I wanted to point out. Sarah Stickney White comes off as the damsel in distress until it’s revealed that she’s an American spy and then she still comes off as the damsel in distress. I’ve read a couple of articles about how Buffy the Vampire Slayer ushered in the era of strong female characters. And I quietly disagreed though I had no proof and thought about old shows like Battlestar Galactica and Tales of the Gold Monkey. In the first episode she gets tied to a tree and when something threatens her she screams for help. I know it was 1982, but even Amy Allen in the A-Team never screamed at any sign of danger. I don’t know she was weak character because it was 1982 or because it was set in 1938.

Also the villains might have scared me as a kid, but as an adult they’re pretty silly. Especially the German soldier who hires Princess Kogi to help him find the Gold Monkey and spends the episode looking terrified of things.

IN CONCLUSION: I don’t know if this series holds up compared to my memory but it’s still a lot of fun to watch. I’m good to give the rest of the episodes a shot and see if it’s worth adding this series to my collection. If you haven’t seen it and you are a big Indiana Jones fan you should give it a look.

Amazing Spider-Man #699 – 700 Review

Amazing Spider-Man #699 – 700 by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos

A few weeks ago I reviewed Amazing Spider-Man #698. Back then I was excited about the possibility of his friends and colleagues figuring out what had happened and restoring him. But #699 – 700 put the nail in that coffin. While the two issues are Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus’ most intense fight in their long history a new era is ushered in.

GOOD: The stakes have never been higher. With Doctor Octopus parading around as Peter Parker, the real Peter Parker worries that he can hurt one of his friends or worse, his family. How Peter, trapped in Doctor Octopus’ failing body, held in a prison under the sea breaks free to take on his old enemy one more time was great. Peter Parker dies but does outsmart his enemy one last time by using the mind link Otto used to swap minds to make Doctor Octopus not just relive but experience firsthand all of Peter struggles. In that moment Doctor Octopus dedicates himself to being Spider-Man. I did like how each man was starting to act like the other as though the brains inside those bodies were asserting their original personalities.

BAD: While the storytelling is brilliant and Dan Slott has done a lot to put his mark on Peter Parker in the Spider-Man title in general, he may have painted himself into a corner with this one. Peter’s death, and the affirmation of it him in heaven, seems like a permanent state. The fans have already had a really bad reaction to this news. Dan Slott has gotten death threats. While I think it’s super stupid to make death threats to a writer… I get it. I was around when it turned out a clone was the real Peter Parker and then the writers quickly reversed that and when enough time passed, they brought the clone back as the Scarlet Spider.

But I think Peter Parker isn’t going to be the only casualty this time. Just like with the clone storyline, I think the readers will leave in droves. For Spider-Man, Marvel NOW begins with the fans’ betrayal. At least that’s how the readers will see it. Peter Parker is dead and no one knows it and we don’t get any chance to say goodbye or grieve with his family and friends. Instead his life is simply been hijacked by his greatest enemy and no matter how well he does as Spider-Man people may never catch on to the fact he’s not the real Peter Parker. At least in the Ultimate title, we got to see the grieving and watch the family and friends say goodbye – but here someone simply takes over.

Yes eventually some writer will find a way to bring Peter Parker back but the issue seems to indicate that his soul is in heaven which means that it is at peace. One of the only frames of reference I have for this is Buffy the Vampire Slayer once died and was brought back to life but the transition from heaven to life was painful and jarring. Or some writer could just suggest that Peter was always in his own body but cut off from his mind so he didn’t truly die. I don’t know where soul goes in the Marvel Universe or if brain swapping also means soul swapping, but somehow Peter’s soul also inhabited Doctor Octopus’ body. So if a writer suggests that, it dishonors Peter’s soul going to heaven.

And I’m a little disappointed in the supporting cast. Back in issue 698, Captain America asks Spider-Man if you’ll be okay and he says he won’t give Doctor Octopus a second thought. In hindsight I’m surprised no one questioned him on that comment or even traded a look. I’m disappointed that he talked out of character couple of times to Mary Jane and she never caught on. In a world that includes aliens, gods, and a liberal amount of mind control, Mary Jane never thinks to herself, “Something is very wrong with Peter.” Also, I understand Peter’s plan but he could’ve guided the robot straight to the media and simply announced, “Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus’ minds have been switched.” At least he could have done that as a backup plan. That way, at least the thought would be on his friends as well as the Avengers’ radar.

I’m probably going to get the first two issues of Superior Spider-Man because I ordered them before I knew that this was going to be Peter Parker’s final issue. But after that? I don’t think I’m coming back until Peter Parker is Spider-Man again. But who knows? It could turn out to be an interesting ride but it still doesn’t take sting out of Peter Parker’s death.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

“Back in the Day” review: Uncanny X-Men #205

Uncanny X-Men #205 (May 1986)

Thanks to Spiral’s Body Shop, Yuriko has been transformed into the living weapon, Lady Deathstrike. With a few cybernetic mercenaries at her side, she unleashes her new abilities on Wolverine. Injured and disoriented in the South Street Seaport during a blizzard, he runs into an ally who will help him stave off a berserker rage and claim victory:five-year old Katie Power, also known as Energizer of Power Pack. Katie becomes separated from the woman (Teacher? The story never says) taking her to see a choir when the mercenaries run through knocking the woman down during a blizzard.

Wolverine has been hurt so bad he’s reverted to an animal state so Katie has to keep him out of Lady Deathstrike and her mercenaries’ grasp long enough to get his mind back. Thanks to Katie and his healing factor, Wolverine snaps out of it and takes the fight to his enemies.

Back when Chris Claremont was writing the X-Men, he focused on character-driven stories and this issue is a good example of that. He takes time to define Lady Deathstrike and her mission before putting her into action. Katie Power's inner and outer dialogue is as detailed and random as you'd expect from a 5-year-old but he also shows the side of her that belongs to a superhero. With Wolverine, he shows him doing what he does best while relating to and protecting Katie from seeing it. Then there's the confrontation between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike where they argue their differences. Three distinct characters (Lady Deathstrike, Katie Power, and Wolverine) and Chris Claremont does a wonderful job with all three.

Barry Windsor-Smith did the pencils, inks, and color for the entire book. Sometimes I have a problem with the cover showing something that doesn't actually happen on the inside. But in this case, the cover of what it may have looked like (this book was before the Weapon X mini series in Marvel Comics Presents) when Wolverine got his adamantium mirrors the first few pages of the book where Lady Deathstrike and her mercenaries are getting their cybernetics added. This reminds readers that Wolverine has been through what they've gone through and that the fight is more or less even. Once Wolverine regains his mind and takes the fight to the enemies, the action panels convey all the skill and savagery Wolverine brings to a fight and doesn't pull punches. The gorgeous action scenes that Windsor-Smith draws are hard not to stare at.

The Wolverine/Katie talk at the end of the book is one of the best Wolverine moments. He's known for straight talk and he doesn't lie but he softens the delivery for her benefit and is able to impart some wisdom at the same time. When this issue came out there was no Wolverine series so a solo adventure was rare. This one issue adventure serves to introduce a powerful new foe, show Wolverine doing what he does best, and show the unlikely bonding between Katie and Wolverine.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review: Phantom Stranger, Talon, Sword of Sorcery, and Team 7

Phantom Stranger #1-2 by Dan Didio, Brent Anderson, and Philip Tan

The Phantom Stranger is a powerful supernatural force paying penance for his past by obeying a voice that commands him “to perform reprehensible acts in the name of the greater good.” He’s trying to serve that penance while maintaining a life with his wife and kids but with enemies like Trigon, Pandora, Belial, and the Haunted Highwayman, he has to remain ever vigilant.

Good: I think this is Raven’s first appearance in the new DCU. She is run through the wringer before being tricked and captured by Trigon. I know Raven will pop up again fully trained, escape, and deeply disturbed – but she’ll still be the hero we will get to know again. I can’t wait to see more Raven.

Bad: The Phantom Stranger seems directionless. He just does what the voice tells him. He doesn’t seem to have any passion in his personal life or as The Phantom Stranger. It’s hard to get close to a character who projects indifference. Pandora’s part was hard to read too – no clue why the box is important to her and no reason to care about it. And I know there are a lot of die-hard Brent Anderson fans and the art seemed to match the mood of the book, but I don’t like it very much. I won’t be back for #3.

Talon #0-1 by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, and Guillem March

Calvin Rose was trained as a Talon and sent out into the world as the Court of Owl’s weapon. When he refuses to kill an innocent woman and her child, he has to stay on the run. But one of the Court of Owl’s Talons has caught up to him. So Calvin Rose is going to do the one thing he thought he’d never do – return to Gotham City. It seems like a safe bet since Batman has scattered the organization but he survives another Talon attack and ends up with an ally who wants to take the Court of Owls down as badly as he does.

Good: This is one of the best new character origins in the new DCU. After #0 I was interested but after #1 I was invested in this character. It helps that there is a tie to a recent Batman storyline that I enjoyed. In the DCU there are a lot of new bad guys for the heroes to fight but the Court of Owls has been a fearsome foe and there are a lot of people watching Calvin kill a previous Talon including a small child who wants to watch – who knows who that child became. The art and the writing were great also. I’ll be back for #2.

Bad: Nothing. A great start to a fascinating new character.

Sword of Sorcery featuring Amethyst #0-1 by Christy Marx, Tony Bedard, Aaron Lopresti, and Jesus Saiz

Amy Winston is an outcast in school because she and her mother move from town to town in a trailer while training her to handle a sword. But all of the training comes in handy because on Amy’s 17th birthday, her mother takes her home to Gemworld. Not only did Amy never know Genworld existed, she didn’t know she had an Aunt who wants both of them dead, and she didn’t know she was a Princess.

Good: Amethyst (aka Amy) is a strongly written character. A strong mother/daughter book without the usual angst-ridden dialogue that comes from that kind of story. Amy follows without a lot of resistance and her mother leads without preaching. Lopresti’s artwork is gorgeous and perfect for the story. I’ll be back for #2.

Bad: The Beowolf story didn’t seem to set anything up and after two issues I’m still not real sure what’s going on or why the future is so messed up.

Team 7 #0-1 by Justin Jordan, Jesus Merino, Norm Rapmund, and Rob Hunter

Dinah Drake, Kurt Lance, Alex Fairchild, Amanda Waller, Dean Higgins, Slade Wilson, Cole Cash, James Bronson, and Summer Ramos are Team 7, a group put together for the purpose of trying to curb or control super-humans. The team is formed and on their first mission they break into a prison floating five thousand feet above the earth only to find the inhabitants being controlled by Eclipso. Will the team act like a team long enough to turn the odds?

Good: I loved the original WildStorm title because it teamed some of the most popular characters together and gave them a bond that carried over into the other titles. I’m a big fan of the new incarnation for a few reasons.

1)      Dinah Drake, Kurt Lance, Alex Fairchild, Amanda Waller, Dean Higgins, Slade Wilson, Cole Cash, James Bronson, and Summer Ramos together. Some of the characters are new to the DCU and others have never been linked before. We get to meet Dinah and Kurt before the two are married and Dinah has to kill him. Alex Fairchild’s daughter, Caitlin, is a powerhouse member of The Ravagers.
2)      The Grifter title felt a little lonely. Since being introduced it seemed like he was alone against the world. Now we find he had people he could probably call on for a favor. Now it will be interesting to see Grifter come across Black Canary for the first time post Team 7.
3)      The new DCU’s history has been unclear and laying this layer down helps to not only introduce the new characters, gives the characters we already know an interesting back story, and it helps blend the WildStorm Universe into the DCU.
4)      John Lynch formed the team and he’s behind something called the Majestic Project. Can this lead to the debut of the WildStorm Universe’s Majestic? I think it will (the foreshadowing is NOT subtle there).
5)      It will be interesting to see if the new characters survive being on the team and what becomes of them in the present day DCU.
6)      The writing and the art are really good and fit the title very well.

Bad: Some of the “putting the team together” scenes are kind of lame (I’m looking at you James Bronson) and not a lot of them show those members at their best.

I’ll definitely be back for #2.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Marvel NOW! Review: Iron Man #1-2 and Deadpool #1-2

Iron Man #1-2 by Kieron Gillen, Greg Land, and Jay Leisten

Maya Hansen was forced to recreate Extremis for AIM but she managed to escape and get a warning out to Tony Stark. Knowing how dangerous the technology is, he sets out to destroy it. Fortunately, Tony has a new suit of armor and a traveling armory that customizes his armor at will.

Good: It’s Tony doing what he does best – overpowering the competition with his brains and his technology. The dialogue is good and I like when he finds a way to destroy Extremis in issue #2, robbing the bad guys of a prolonged fight. Although I did like the way the bad guys used their own armor to enhance their martial arts abilities.

Bad: I don’t know Tony’s relationship with Maya Hansen but her death didn’t do much to Tony. Will anyone miss her? And Iron Man going after people who are using his technology is a recycled plot but could be fresh for people who haven’t been reading Iron Man off and on for about 25 years.

Deadpool #1-2 by Gerry Duggan, Brian Posehn, and Tony Moore

Someone is resurrecting dead presidents so they can get the country back on track but the resurrected presidents want to return the country to its former glory by killing all of the living. SHIELD can’t risk another embarrassing photo of Captain America accidentally decapitating a president so they turn someone the public already views as a scumbag: Deadpool. But Deadpool isn’t subtle and he leaves a trail of destruction wherever he goes.

Good: The premise is really pretty clever and the adventure is fun, funny, and action packed. The stuff in the zoo is the best – it’s hilarious.

Bad: I’m not a big Deadpool fan but the adventure is tailor made for him so no complaints here.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Quick Reviews: All New X-Men #1-2, Amazing Spider-Man #698, and more *SPOILERS*

All-New X-Men #1-2 by Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen
Cyclops, Emma Frost, and Magneto are wanted by the government and gathering new mutants. The X-Men are faced with increased government scrutiny but can’t go after them for fear of creating a mutant civil war.

Best decides to bring the original team back through time to talk sense into Scott. The original team’s arrival rips open old wounds while exposing the original team to a future they were working hard to prevent. But Beast wants to set everything right because the next stage of his mutation is killing him.

Good: No one but Brian Michael Bendis can have two issues with almost no action be two of the best issues of X-Men I’ve read in years. Having the original X-Men in the current title doesn’t just challenge the characters but, as a reader, it forced me to think about everything the characters have been through. The chaos is entertaining and bittersweet to watch. It’s easily one of the best titles Marvel has put out in years.

Bad: Beast dying is a little over the top. I’m tired of X-Men dying to generate drama. Still, his dying might have been the only reason he’d ever bring the original team to the present.

Freelancers #1 by Ian Brill, and Joshua Covey
Cassie and Val were raised in an orphanage that taught them kung-fu so they’d be able to take care of themselves in the real world. Now they’re mercenaries who have agents who pair them with rich benefactors who need things done.

Good: It’s an interesting idea.

Bad: Everything else.

Amazing Spider-Man #698 by Dan Slott and Richard Elson
Spider-Man has been kicking Doctor Octopus’ butt for decades. So what chance does a dying Doc Ock have of getting the final victory over his enemy? It turns out that he’ll not only get the final victory and cheat death, but he’ll also kill Peter Parker and take over his life.

Good: The issue reads like a typical issue of Spider-Man until he visits his old enemy Doc Ock. That’s when the reader discovers that Ock has been in Spidey’s body for a while and that Peter Parker is trapped in Ock’s body when he dies.

Bad: Ock in Spidey’s body? I can’t wait for people to figure it out and restore Peter Parker back to his body where he’ll have to undo all the damage Ock does to his life.

Green Lantern #14 by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, and Christian Alamy
The Justice League have to determine if Baz is wrongly accused or not but Baz’s Green Lantern ring isn’t going to make it easy to catch him because it seems to have a mind of its own.

Good: Hilarious dialogue and great action. Using the ring to create a lot of cars to cover his escape is a good idea.

Bad: This is the first time I’ve read about Baz but Power Girl had a story about a guy who tries to save a crashing plane when he’s mistaken for a terrorist so it feels a little stale for subject matter. Why does a new Arab-American character always have to be mistaken as a terrorist first?

Batman #14 by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, and Jonathan Glapion
The Joker is out for revenge (what else is new) and after all of Batman’s friends and allies. Unfortunately that includes Alfred.

Good: Most good Joker stories are horror stories and this is no exception. The writing and the art are sharp and the Joker is unpredictable.

Bad: With the stakes this high and the story arc promises a lot of damage, the only solution that makes sense is killing the Joker. Things have been going that way for years and there’s only so many times he can do the kind of fatal, irreparable damage without paying the ultimate price.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Toys R Us Exclusive Star Wars Vintage Millennium Falcon

I'm riding on a renewed wave of interest in Star Wars. I've added the new "Star Wars" from Dark Horse Comics featuring the original cast to my pull list, I'm re-reading the complete run of Star Wars Legacy, and I'm taking time to look at Star Wars figures at Toys R Us instead of blowing right past them on the way to Marvel Universe figures.

I was in Toys R Us the other day when I came around a corner and almost ran right into their newest exclusive: The Vintage Millennium Falcon. I was really excited until I saw the price: $250. I looked the box over and I was trying to figure out if it was the Millennium Falcon that could fit four figures in the cockpit. The box said it came with 2 figures but didn't say which ones. A $250 dollar Millennium Falcon isn't an impulse buy so I left the store empty handed.

I checked the internet for information but had an extremely vague description of the toy. I had to go to other news sites to see what they were saying about it. It was the huge Falcon they had a few years ago for the Legacy series and came with the same two figures: Han and Chewie.

According to the internet, this is a re-release of the Legacy collection’s Millennium Falcon which has:

* Light-up headlights and loads of electronic vehicle and weapon sounds – engine boost, cruise mode, fly-by, firing cannons, and more

* Opening, light-up cockpit can fit up to 4 figures. Vehicle includes Han Solo and Chewbacca and can hold up to 18 figures

* Remove outer panels to access the ship’s interior, then head for the medical bay to treat wounded Rebels

* Secret smuggling compartments to hide from Stormtroopers

* Boarding ramp with auto-opening action, deployment sounds and landing lights

* Pivoting gunner station to target Imperial fighters

* Light-up hyperdrive lights and authentic movie phrases and sounds from favorite characters: Han, Luke, Obi-Wan, C-3PO, Chewbacca and R2-D2

* Rotating laser turret fires 2 missiles and makes weapon sounds; ship also features a 3-missile launcher with blasting sounds, and a cannon that launches a “laser” missile

* Missile-firing mini-fighter fits inside an opening docking bay that makes electronic boarding and flight sounds

* Pivoting training probe makes lightsaber and movement sounds – learn the power of the Force

* Illuminated Dejarik table with holographic creatures – let the Wookiee win

The Millennium Falcon however, isn't just my favorite spaceship of all time, it's also something I had as a kid (the smaller version). Still, I regretted not getting the Legacy version the first time around so I was determined not to miss out on this. I had a coupon for 20% off one item at the store so I went and bought the Millennium Falcon for $200. Last year I bought the deluxe AT-AT which I'd never owned as a kid so for those of you who are counting (Just me? That's cool.) that's two Star Wars vehicles I have now. I'm even thinking about getting the Target exclusive Landspeeder on ebay.

Yes, I'm excited about Star Wars again and I imagine that I'm not alone.

IDW's Angel and Spike Collected editions - a quick review of all of them

By my count there were 17 collected editions of IDW stories featuring the crew from Angel. I decided to reread them then I decided I should review them because I never did the first time around.

Angel: After the Fall Volume 1 by Joss Whedon, Brian Lynch, and Franco Urro

Beginning months after the final episode of Angel, we find that Wolfram & Hart sent Los Angeles to Hell. That isn’t the only huge change masterfully handled by Brian Lynch. This volume is packed with twists and turns: Angel is human, Wes is an intangible emissary for Wolfram & Hart, Gunn is a vampire, Spike has taken up Angel’s role as champion, and Illyria and Lorne are both ‘lords’ of their respective territories.

Angel is doing his best to protect humans and find a way to pull Los Angeles out of Hell. He kills the son of a Lord and decides that instead of waiting for the father to take his revenge, Angel challenges all the Lords for control of Los Angeles. Angel doesn’t ask his friends for help but it turns out he doesn’t need to as the gang (sans Gunn) reunite to help Angel beat back the forces of evil once again. Meanwhile Gunn is plotting something big.

Good: We get to see Angel, Wes, Gunn, Lorne, Illyria, Spike, Connor, Nina, Gwen, and even Groo. The story is great, and the way the characters act feels like the show.

Bad: The artwork. I know Urro was handpicked, but it’s not great to look at. In one panel, where Gunn is looking at a photo, you can’t tell which character is Fred and which one is Cordelia.

Angel: After the Fall Volume 2: First Night by Joss Whedon, Brian Lynch, David Messina, Stephen Mooney, John Byrne, Nick Runge, Fabio Mantorani, Kevin Schmidt, Scott Tipton, and Mirco Pierfedericic

Brian Lynch shows us what happens to Angel, Wes, Gunn, Lorne, Illyria, Spike, Connor, Gwen, and Kate on their first night in Hell. For all the twists and turns in the first volume, we learn how Angel discovered he was human, Lorne helped make Silverlake a utopia, and what Connor and Gwen were doing the moment everything went to Hell.

Good: The best story was Lorne’s, done all in rhyming verses but Gwen’s was great too. I appreciated Gwen getting a little attention since she was a character I wished we’d seen more on the show. I loved Wes ‘going to Heaven’ to be reunited with Fred and seeing it for a Wolfram & Hart trick. Wes was always the smart one (except for that one time with kidnapping Connor and stuff).

Bad: Some stuff is just extraneous and didn’t need a back story. Concerning the “Civilians” chapter, Kevin Schmidt’s art is horrible and the story’s not that great.

Angel: After the Fall Volume 3 by Joss Whedon, Brian Lynch, and David Messina, Stephen Mooney, and Nick Runge

Team Angel defeats the Lords of Los Angeles. Now that they’ve been reunited they need a place to go since Gunn blew up the offices of Wolfram & Hart (in volume 1) so they set up shop at the Hyperion. Angel is back on the trail of a vampire sitting on a lot of power. Unfortunately, that path leads directly to Gunn who is convinced he has visions from the Powers-That-Be and wants revenge on Angel for not saving him from being turned. While Spike and Connor try to get past Gwen who has cut a deal, Gunn gets his revenge. Close to death, Angel has an out-of-body experience and is reunited with Cordelia who wants to make his passing easier.

Good: Gwen a traitor? Nice twist. It’s always great to see Cordelia and there’s a lot of great stuff with Wes and Illyria.

Bad: Nothing. This volume perfectly capitalizes on the storylines introduced in the first volume.

Angel: After the Fall Volume 4 by Joss Whedon, Brian Lynch, Stephen Mooney, and Franco Urro

Wolfram & Hart believe that Angel is prophesied to be evil’s MVP. Sending Los Angeles to Hell was more about Angel watching Connor, his friends, and his city suffer than it was about killing Angel. In fact, the Lords of Hell were under strict orders not to kill Angel. They even made him human so he’d be a less effective hero. What they didn’t count on was Gunn taking him to the precipice of death so Wolfram & Hart throws everything they’ve got at Team Angel to rescue their future MVP.

A mostly restored Angel has to then take on the most powerful being in Hell: Illyria. With Connor, his friends, and innocents dying all around him, Angel comes up with a solution that gets Los Angeles out of Hell. While the remnants of Team Angel keep Wolfram & Hart’s demons away, Angel uses Gunn’s hatred of him to get Gunn to kill him.

Wolfram & Hart cannot let Angel die so they pull Angel from the time stream during that epic battle at the end of season five and before they went to Hell. Not only does Team Angel remember everything in Hell but so do the citizens of Los Angeles. Angel saves Gunn from being turned and is reunited with a Connor who now remembers everything about his life. In the midst of Angel’s newfound notoriety (most people in Los Angeles know who he is because they saw him in Hell) he restarts Angel Investigations and gets back to the business of helping the helpless.

Good: So many moments in this volume. There’s a panel where Team Angel is walking toward the reader and Angel says “Cue the music.” There are two great scenes with Connor: one while he’s dying and one when he’s reunited with Angel. One of the extras the original outline for issue #1 and overview of the series that Brian Lynch gave Joss. The difference between that first proposal and what you see are a lot different but make for an interesting read.

Bad: Angel gives Groo his dragon. Exactly where does Groo take a dragon and a Pegasus where they won’t stand out? And Angel’s “Cue the music” moment would have been cooler if the artwork was better.

Angel Volume 5: Aftermath by Joss Whedon, Kelly Armstrong, Dave Ross, and Stefano Martino

While Spike, Gunn, Illyria, and Lorne go their own way, Angel assembles a new team to fight the forces of evil. Angel, Connor, and Kate are joined by redemption-seeking Gwen, the mysterious Dez, and the real-life angel, James. Angels are on earth doing a little demon clean-up but step over the line with they kill helpless humans. (IS THAT TRUE? CHECK AGAIN)

Good: I like meeting new and interesting characters and seeing them interact and bond with established characters. Dez and James both have unique origins that I haven’t seen in the Whedonverse. Plenty of laughs as Angel and Kate (the founding members of this incarnation of Angel Investigations) try to figure out how to screen jobs as they keep falling into ambushes and plots to get Angel’s autograph.

Bad: Nothing. Great characterizations, great stories, and interesting new characters made reading this volume a lot of fun.

Angel Volume 6: Last Angel in Hell by Brian Lynch, Franco Urru, Juliet Landau, and Stephen Mooney

In this volume, Non, a former Lord of Hell, restores Gunn to full health and has to face Illyria over what happened between them in Hell. Fortunately for Gunn, they’re both seeking a better understanding of who they are post-Hell. This single-issue story leads directly into the “Angel: Still Human” mini series. Drusilla is in a psyche hospital where some of the employees know she’s a vampire. The flaming sword that killed Angel in Hell is being auctioned at a sci-fi convention in San Diego. Suspecting that a winner will be someone who wants to kill him, he travels to San Diego with Groo and runs into Spike. Together they have to not only kill demons but keep the convention goers safe when they become the characters that they’re dressed as. And we get to read the adaptation of “Last Angel in Hell,” Hollywood’s film about what happened in Hell.

Good: I like the standalone issue that leads into the “Angel: Still Human” mini-series. The stuff with Angel and Spike at the sci-fi convention is funny but when Spike becomes Angel (thanks to a spell) the funny gets cranked up to, “I’m crying, please stop, it hurts.” Groo is consistently hilarious here. It could be that the two issues with Angel and Spike at the convention are the two best issues of the series.

Bad: Juliet Landau helps pen a tale that made me flip back and forth between pages as I tried to understand what was going on. The flashbacks were confusing and when the demon army comes for her at the end, I don’t understand why they attacked her or if she died (is she supposed to be in heaven at the end?).

Angel Volume 1: Immortality For Dummies by Bill Willingham, Brian Denham, Bill Williams, and David Messina

When Angel is captured by an evil corporation bent on using his blood to create vampires, Connor takes control of Angel Investigations. With his father missing, a mysterious army of women who claim they are his army, the return of Gunn, Illyria, and Spike to Team Angel’s ranks, Connor may have bitten off more than he can handle which will result in Gunn quitting the team. And Eddie Hope is a blue devil hunting down people who he has a score to settle with from his days in Hell.

Good: Finally Gunn says all the things to Connor that Connor-hating Angel fans have been wanting to say for a long time. Angel has a very uncomfortable conversation with Illyria Laura Kay Weathermill is an interesting addition to the Angel team and has a Watcher background. Great art throughout from Brian Denham & David Messina.

Bad: Dez and James get very little to do and are virtually ignored by the established characters.

Angel Volume 2: The Crown Prince Syndrome by Bill Willingham, David Tischman, Mariah Huchner, and Elena Casagrande

It turns out that James isn’t an angel and he wants Team Angel dead. A soul eating demon goes after the team and reveals that Spike has no soul and kills Dez before being killed. And Eddie Hope goes after Gunn for his crimes in Hell and Angel Investigations comes to the rescue.

Good: Great final fight at the end with all of Team Angel including Gunn.

Bad: After a great introduction in volume 5 and being almost virtually ignored through 2 more volumes, James is a villain and Dez is dead. These last few volumes have suffered through different writers who seem to focus strictly on the characters who appeared on TV instead of embracing all of the characters on the team. And Anne, a character who appeared on Buffy a few times (she was the vampire worshipper who got stuck in a demon dimension with Buffy and appeared over on Angel where she runs a teen shelter) dies. James pops in and has minions kill everyone in her teen center. The killing happens ‘off screen’ so she’s either dead or playing host to a demon that will have to be killed later. And no Groo? What’s up with that?

Angel Volume 3: The Wolf, The Ram, and The Heart by Mariah Huehner, David Tischman, Elena Casagrande, Stephen Mooney, and Jason Armstrong

Angel leaves Connor in charge of Angel Investigations and heads off into the sunset only to be ripped out of the timeline by Wolfram & Hart. Angel finds the future Los Angeles has become a collection a demon breeding farms and humans are the bottom of the food chain. Angel locates Illyria, the one person who can send him back to the past and help him stop James once and for all.

Good: The IDW series is over.

Bad: Darrow (a lawyer for Wolfram & Heart) starts as a powerful, jerk of a character who becomes a nice guy as he’s dying. After Rowant kills James, she tells Angel he’ll be in charge of Los Angeles. With a ‘god’ more powerful than James standing five feet from Angel, he asks Illyria to send him back through time and leaves without conflict. Connor’s new power allows him to take Anne’s pregnancy and transfer it to James to kill him. How about Connor’s new power in general? What does it do? What is it? This is a lousy story with too simple (or convenient) a solution to a promising premise.

Angel: Only Human by Scott Lobdell & David Messina

Illyria and Gunn are trying to sort themselves out post-‘After the Fall’ when Fred’s parents call to say her Uncle has passed away. Illyria and Gunn travel to Fred’s birthplace and Gunn finds himself between the Scourge and the Stygian demons they’re trying to kill while Illyria battles an old enemy who has a portion of her power thanks to the same mutari generator that took that power from her.

Good: The story was great from start to finish. The beginning reminds you of the things that happened between Gunn and Fred and his involvement in making Illyria possible. Gunn has always been one of the most badass members of the Angel team (he’s the guy who TWICE willingly put on a charm that caused him to get the heart ripped out of his chest every day) and this series reminds you why. Illyria is a compelling character made more interesting because the Team Angel can’t help but see Fred in her. The mini series is pitch perfect and Scott Lobdell should be doing more stuff in the Buffy/Angel universe.

Bad: Scott Lobdell should be writing more stories in the Whedonverse – he obviously loves the source material.

Spike: After the Fall by Brian Lynch & Franco Urru

Spike survived Wolfram & Hart’s siege only to find himself and Los Angeles in hell. The events of this mini series occur before the first issue of Angel: After the Fall.

Spike has been reunited with Illyria and together they’re rescuing and rounding up human survivors. Illyria keeps slipping back into the more vulnerable Fred so Spike tries to keep her Illyria. But when Non and her demon army show up, Spike is captured and tortured for over a month while Non sucks the life-force from his human followers. By the end, Spike has killed Non, freed her demon army, reunited with Connor, and lost every one of his human followers.

Good: Brian Lynch has a great grip on the characters, their personalities, and it seems like he wrote this before the first issue of Angel: After the Fall. This TPB isn’t just a companion to the main series, it’s the beginning of it and you should read it. Jeremy proves to be a fun character and his death is a true Whedon-inspired tragedy.

Bad: Spike kills vampire Hugh Heffner – RIP.

Spike Vol 1: Alone Together Now by Brian Lynch, Franco Urru, and Nicola Zanni

To tackle Las Vegas’ many demons and the local branch of Wolfram & Hart, Spike assembles a team: Betta George, Beck, Groosalugg, Cordelia the Dragon, a possessed Jeremy Johns, and…Drusilla??

Along the way, they save Twi-hards, battle a demon made of Elvis impersonators, and burn the Wolfram & Hart building to the ground. During Spike’s battle at Wolfram & Hart, he runs into John, a ruthless killer whose soul was taken to give to Spike. When the group makes their escape they discover there’s an invisible barrier keeping them in. So while the team lays low and regroups, Spike decides to add another member to the team: Willow.

Good: Brian Lynch takes full advantage of the character’s histories and many in-jokes. For example, Spike tries to call Angel at one point and the caller ID identifies him as Captain Forehead. And Brian Lynch perfectly sums the character’s complex history up in two pages and shows a “Twilight”-like movie that was made where the main vampire character was modeled after Spike. Franco Urru and Nicola Zanni’s art was fantastic. Urru’s artwork has either grown on me or the inker is really good at making his pencils work.

It’s good to see Jeremy again even if he’s being possessed by one of Wolfram & Hart’s demons. I don’t know who Beck is but I’m liking her. Groo is always a welcome sight because almost everything out of his mouth is hilarious. And Spike’s reunion with Dru was passionate and unexpected. But with their complicated history, I guess Spike wouldn’t just kill her as soon as he saw her.

Bad: Nothing. Brian Lynch makes great use of the characters and the mythology to craft a story that’s fun and further adds to the mythology.

Spike Vol 2: Stranger Things by Brian Lynch, Stephen Mooney, and Franco Urru

The Las Vegas branch of Wolfram & Hart rallies under Lilah Morgan’s leadership and change tack. Instead of continuing their efforts on Earth, the senior partners would like an spacecraft capable of interdimensional transport – and they get it. Meanwhile, Spike’s team is joined by Willow in time to take on John. But John has created a seal that when stepped on, removes a person’s soul. Willow tells Spike that the owner of the soul gets to decide who gets the soul and he chooses Drusilla. With Drusilla in incredible mental anguish, she gets back on the seal and gives Spike the soul back. Then Spike meets the bugs.

Good: Willow and Spikes reunion and their goodbyes were great. It’s a nice reminder that, with everything else going on in these character’s lives, there was always time for quality, meaningful interaction. There’s some nice stuff with Willow and Dru when she first gets the soul and is freaking out and Willow holds her. Spike is a certified bad ass who should have his own series.

Bad: It’s over. While I was happy that Dark Horse was uniting all the Buffy-verse characters under one roof, Brian Lynch is a genius with the Angel characters and great at introducing new characters. When Spike is standing on the seal carrying Dru, the seal is all pixilated like it was blown up to a size that was too large. It should have been drawn or at least cleaned up.

Spike: The Devil You Know by Bill Williams, Chris Cross, and Marc Deering

When a night on the town for Spike turns into an assassination attempt, he goes looking for answers. Tansy Fry, a vampire Spike is acquainted with from his days running with Angel, Darla, and Drusilla has resurfaced with a plan to open Hellmouths large enough to allow demons to come through but not big enough to attract Slayers and she plans to keep moving and opening Hellmouths from city to city. Tansy has an army but it’s not enough to keep Spike, joined by Eddie Hope, from closing her franchise before it beings.

Good: Eddie Hope and Spike have a lot of great dialogue as they go through the adventure together and watch each other’s backs. While they might not be best friends, they have a lot in common. The writing and the art were on point here.

Bad: When Eddie becomes a demon the tail rips out the back of his pants so when he changes back from human he changes pants. At one point he says he’s staying in demon form because he’s out of pants. Then a demon attacks and for no reason he changes back to a human. He tries to attack the demon but he’s swatted. Flying through the air you can clearly see his pants are intact in the back – what happened to the hole the tail left? Then he changes back to demon to help Spike out. It was just a weird moment where I thought, “Did the artist make the mistake changing him back to human and the writer had to go with it?”

Angel: Blood & Trenches by John Byrne

Angel reads a newspaper article about bodies being drained of blood in Europe and sees a drawing of the symbols found. Angel pokes around and discovers the symbol belongs to Kakistos. Kakistos is taking advantage of World War 1 by cutting a deal with the Kaiser and using the war as cover to recruit and feed. In order to stop him, Angel has to deal with soldiers who have had to defend themselves against vampires and know how to kill them, dodge a team of Watchers led by Geoffrey Wyndam-Price, and kill scores of vampires.

Good: The artwork in this book is all pencils with the only color being red blood. For John Byrne fans this is a unique book because of that. Usually all artwork is inked. And it’s cool to see Angel in action without the mention of atonement. Of course for people who aren’t fans, Angel kills vampires for no apparent reason. While the vampires talk about his history, there’s no clear accounting of his history. But since I’m a fan, I didn’t need the reminder.

Bad: The story jumps around a little bit and while it tells you things like “a week ago” you lose track of the time period as it either shows you a few weeks ago or a few hours ago. You can do jump back to periods before Angel got to Europe, but once there jumping around during his adventure in Europe gets confusing.

Illyria: Haunted by Scott Tipton, Mariah Huehner, and Elena Casagrande

Illyria is confused. She was once a god worshipped by thousands and able to slaughter anything that got in her way. Now she’s trapped in a shell with only a fraction of her power and all of Spike and Wesley’s memories of Fred in her head. She has no clear purpose in the world and no way to get back her former glory. Spike suggests she visit the Deeper Well which was her prison for so long. She gains some clarity of purpose in time to take on an ‘old one’ who she inadvertently helps escape from the Deeper Well.

Good: A lot of great stuff with Illyria trying to come to terms with her place in the world. There’s a really nice dream sequence with her and Spike where they are drawn in but all of the backgrounds are drawn in crayon. The artwork is some of the best in the Angel series and so is the vibrant color throughout. It’s good to see Illyria treated as a character and not something that delivers threats or literal statements because she doesn’t have anything to do in a story.

Bad: Her narration square is pink until she touches a gem in her old cell. Suddenly the narration square is blue and she’s thinking that she suddenly understands. What was the gem and what did it show her that made her whole?

Fallen Angel: Reborn by Peter David and J.K. Woodward

Illyria is trapped by a weak shell in a dimension in which she isn’t the all-powerful entity she used to be. When a stranger offers a way to get that power back, Illyria goes on a journey to find her two scythes and helmet. With those three items reunited, Illyria will be restored. When Illyria travels to Bete Noire she meets/fights with Fallen Angel and her son. Fallen Angel is forced into an uneasy alliance with Illyria while trying to convince her that being restored to her former glory will mean destruction for the Earth. But with all the pieces assembled, Illyria decides if she becomes what she was, everything will be the way it was when what she really wants is change. She destroys the helmet.

Good: The painted art was a nice change – I don’t see painted art very often. A nice addition to Illyria’s story, by crushing the helmet she eliminates any possibility of being the all-powerful god she used to be. I liked the dynamic between Illyria and Fallen Angel as they tried to get along on the way to uniting the three items.

Bad: I didn’t know anything about Fallen Angel going in but this story didn’t really endear me to any of them. I didn’t get a sense of who that character was and I didn’t get a clear indication of what her mission was in Bete Noir.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Archer & Armstrong and Bloodshot #1-3 review

Archer & Armstrong #1-3 by Fred Van Lente, Clayton Henry, and Matt Milla

Over ten thousand years ago, Armstrong’s brother Ivar activated The Boon – an instrument of the Gods that supposedly granted eternal life – to save their brother Gilad (old-school Valiant readers know Gilad as The Eternal Warrior). The Boon ended the world. Since then, Armstrong hid the six pieces of The Boon but various sects have been trying to put it all together for thousands of years.

Meanwhile Archer is a kid raised in an amusement park with more than a dozen foster kids all being trained to be warriors. When Archer is unleashed on the world to kill Armstrong, he’ll discover that his parents are evil and that Armstrong is a hero trying to keep a very dangerous weapon from being used for evil.

The original pull to this series was the contrast between the honorable but na├»ve Archer and the boisterous and inappropriate Armstrong. The first issue sets this relationship up and #2 and #3 do a great job showing these characters trading really funny lines. Archer and Armstrong’s motivations and missions are clearly laid out and both characters are likable. And who doesn’t like watching “nunjas” get smacked down.

Another welcome addition to the Valiant reboot.

Bloodshot #1-3 by Duane Swierczynski, Manuel Garcia, and Arturo Lozzi

Bloodshot is a nanite-infused super soldier who leaves his loving family’s side to go on one last mission to save his friend. When Bloodshot winds up in the hands of the man who helped create him, he learns that his life is actually many lives preprogrammed in his brain so that his handlers can change the channel to whatever scenario they need to motivate him. Driven crazy by the memories of many different sets of wives and children, Bloodshot is looking for answers.

Bloodshot was always a violent title but the first book does a great job introducing Bloodshot’s mission and putting him through his paces. When the character is parachuting down for a job and gets fatally injured I think we’re about to see the story of a guy who is dead or close to death who gets experimented on until he’s unrecognizable and can’t ever see his family again. Instead, the nanites are already a part of him and rebuild him even when he’s fatally injured. Bloodshot is already Bloodshot. The twist comes when you find out that the man with the loving family has multiple sets of families and that none of them truly exist.

With a full memory of his many lives, Bloodshot’s brain processes information from the nanties by showing him various family members who always appear to tell him what the nanites detect. It’s a nice touch to give Bloodshot the information while rubbing salt in the wounds. The first issue of the book’s front inside cover describes what various abilities the nanites give Bloodshot as well as their possible weaknesses.

The first three issues deliver a few mysteries. Is Kuretich, who downloaded all of Bloodshot’s memories and gave Bloodshot access to them, really a bad guy or is he trying to do the right thing by exposing Project Rising Spirit. Once Pulse gets free, is she going to be on Bloodshot’s side (she thought Bloodshot was dead and it didn’t seem to bother her and she encourages killing him – but her expression is horrified when he gets shot).

Overall, Valiant is building a universe and Bloodshot is a welcome addition.