Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Angel and Faith #1 review, Flashpoint #5 review, Justice League #1 review

Comic Book Wednesday
Issue #16

For years, I ran a site called Buffyverse Comic Reviews. I figured I'd stop when I knew I was going to be writing a story for IDW's Angel: Yearbook, as it's tacky to write about comics that you know you'll be writing soon. If it's a positive review, it just seems as if you're kissing ass so you can write more in the future. If it's negative, you come off as a dick to the other people working on a book. Well, as I have absolutely nothing to do with the current Buffy/Angel comics, I figure... well, why not?

Also, this review will also cover with finale of Flashpoint and, really, the DC Universe as we know it... and the birth of the new DCU with Justice League #1. I also picked up another comic at the shop, but I'm not going to review this one... because I am in the middle of writing an issue of the series as we speak. I'll give more info on that when I can, but I'll tell you this... it's a blast.

And now, the reviews! Man, it's a good week.

Angel & Faith #1
Live Through This - Part One
Written by Christos Gage
Pencils by Rebekah Isaacs
Dark Horse Comics

Coming from someone who was extremely skeptical about Angel co-starring in his own title, someone who wrote for IDW's Angel and wants the title to himself (once you get a taste of writing Whedon characters, it's hard to stop - it's like crack or Pringles... it's like crack flavored Pringles), and someone who was more than slightly dubious about the Twilight plotline... the first issue of Angel & Faith is a damn good comic.

First and foremost, Angel as a character isn't sidelined at all. Every page is about him. Every page is about Giles. The comic is really about the two of them, and how Faith has become the level-headed slayer. She's not only playing the role of savior like Angel played for her in the television show... she has become a mentor for other slayers as well. She's grown, but she's still the same snarky, dark, powerful woman that she was in the show.

And Angel... as I said, the book focuses on him more than anything else. His time as Twilight casts a dark shadow over this comic (rightfully so), but you don't have to really buy his motive in order to enjoy this book. In fact, Faith even says, "Y'know what? Your whole Twilight phase makes about as much sense as a David Lynch movie." This isn't the creative team shrinking back from Buffy: Season Eight, though - Angel goes on to give more explanation as to his Twilight persona, though he never excuses himself or attempts to make sense of it. He knows that he was under the thrall of Twilight, but admits his fault in all of his actions. He's after redemption, and his end goal makes so much sense for who he is as a person. Angel is a fan of the big, sweeping actions (his plan in Not Fade Away, his plan in After the Fall #16, his time as Twilight), so of course he wants to bring Giles back to life. It's a heroic, sad, and misguided decision that I can't wait to see play out.

Whistler appears, and his role suggest that we might finally get some backstory for this character. Is he who he says he is? Besides balancing the scales of good and evil, what stake does he have in all of this? That scene also introduces Pearl and Nash, a pair of human/demon hybrids who seem to be the Big Bads of either this arc or the whole series. It'll be interesting to see how this all unfolds, but from what we've seen, these are some creepy, brutal beasties.

With one issue, Angel & Faith has already swept away my reservations and a bit of my jealousy (I'm a writer and a fan, so I want to write everything - it's a thing). It gets the voices pitch perfect, introduces the villains, and kicks off character arcs for Angel and Faith that already have more purpose and clarity than the entirety of each of their Season Eight storylines. Christos Gage and Rebekah Isaacs hit this one out of the park.

Flashpoint #5
Written by Geoff Johns
Pencils Andy Kubert
DC Comics

I've enjoyed all of Flashpoint, and I didn't expect anything less than excellence from this issue. I love everything I've ever read from Geoff Johns, I've found the storyline compelling, and I've been anticipating finding out how this will kickstart the New 52 for months. What I did not expect was for this issue to be as utterly moving as it was. For those who read the preview, the opening reveals that it isn't Reverse Flash who is responsible for the hellish world of Flashpoint, but Barry Allen himself. The rest of the issue brings the battle between Flash, Reverse Flash, Thomas Wayne, Aquaman, Wonderwoman, and the Resistance to a dramatic (but brief) climax. The action is quickly gotten out of the way for the real emotional meat of the comic... and I sobbed. Literal tears and all that. This is some of the most emotionally powerful storytelling I've read all year, and it moved me more than any comic book I've read since Brian Lynch's After the Fall (read my review for the finale of that series here).

Geoff Johns' love for these character is obvious in every panel of the books he writes, and this one just sings. Big character moments, gripping action, and a moving final scene, this sets the stage for many great stories to come.

Justice League #1
Written by Geoff Johns
Pencils by Jim Lee
DC Comics

And the New 52 begins here. While I understand and agree with the intention, it may have not been smart to release this issue the same day as Flashpoint #5. I obviously thought that the finale of Flashpoint was excellent, so it was a bit jarring to see how... let's say dialed back the premiere of Justice League is. It's made up of three long scenes, beginning with Batman running into Green Lantern while on the run from the authorities and in pursuit of an alien creature. Most of the issue (let's say 70%) is Hal boasting and Bruce making him look like a jerk. The rest of the issue shows football player Vic Stone dealing with daddy issues in his pre-Cyborg days and the bickery duo of Green Lantern and Batman trying to find and confront Superman.

It's a quick read that puts action before story. The action is good, though Jim Lee's explosions are a bit chaotic and sometimes take some effort to follow. It's a decent introductory issue, but I expected a bit more meat for the big start of the New 52.

TOMORROW: Kevin Smith's The Bionic Man #1 review & Batgirl #22-24 review

Friday, August 26, 2011

Biblio Babes Talk About ANGEL: YEARBOOK. Also, Women in Comics.

A bit of radness

Book reviewer, blogger, and fellow Angel/Buffy fan Kat Thomas did a write-up on ANGEL: YEARBOOK over at her site. Biblio Babes is a collaboration between Kat and her friend Cara. It's for the love of everything that is awesome about books. Specializing in genre fiction, Kat and Cara post frequent reviews, pictures of tattoos, book recommendations, and blogs in the Daily Radness section of their site.

A thought

I've been seeing the #girlsreadcomics hashtag on Twitter a lot, and I think this site is a good example of that. The Daily Radness section is just pure, unadulterated geeking out. Sometimes, the industry does tend to treat comics as a boys only club, but I think that misconception is on its way out the door. With Womanthology on the horizon (clicky for more information), the internet catching fire after the lack of female creators in the New 52, and creators, male and female, spreading awareness of the fact that there are already many female creators that are hungry to... well, create - I think the comics industry is in for a change. One that has been a long time coming.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bloog Pong #1

Here's something that I've been working on for a looooong time. I'm writing a comic book called BLOOD PONG with artist Ian McGinty cooking up these sweet black and white pages. We're putting together a proposal to pitch to comic companies next month, so I figured I'd whet your appetites with a preview page... I think this image is indicative of what Blood Pong is going to be like.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 Review

Comic Book Wednesday

Issue #15

Today is a special day. IDW's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 came out today. For those who don't recognize the significance of that, kindly see your way through the door (to HELL).

My childhood was defined by the heroes in half-shells. I was too young for the comic book in the nineties, but from the age of three and on, I completely absorbed anything TMNT I could find. All I watched were VHS tapes of the shows, and collecting the toys was my first true addiction. I remember being thrilled at getting a Casey Jones toy on my fourth birthday, only to have that joy burst into sweet, perfect nirvana when I opened up my next gift... the goddamn Technodrome. Also, I've been told I may have threatening to kill my babysitter's son because he had that tank that shot pizza pies out. Hey, kids will be kids, right?

Now, as you may have guessed from reading this blog, I'm a comic book fiend. Every Wednesday is like a little Christmas for me. I got my first book published through IDW's Angel and have had consistent comic book work ever since, so when I found out that my old childhood friends were linking up with IDW... I can't quite describe how I felt. I don't know if anything will ever match the eagerness with which I awaited issues of IDW's Angel: After the Fall series, but the announcement that they'd acquired the TMNT license and would be publishing a new on-going series made me feel like I had just turned four again and had a shiny new Technodrome awaiting me.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1
Story by Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz
Script by Tom Waltz
Art by Dan Duncan
IDW Publishing

This might be the best comic I've read all summer. It's a lot of set-up, backstory, and action, but it's just so well done. The way it balances the intrigue of how things came to be as they are with the kick-ass action is remarkable. Opening with a fight scene between the turtles and new villain Old Hob (a mutated cat), readers will quickly notice that Raphael is not present. The characters are... well, they're what readers, viewers, and toy collectors grew up on. Splinter, who narrates the battle, is wise, poetic, and a bit sad. Don and Leo get some great action bits, and Michelangelo has a one-liner for every situation. They win the battle (not really a spoiler - I mean, what did you think, they're the friggin' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), but it ends on a sour note when the defeated Old Hob finally addresses what we've all been wondering about. He says, "Just like that other stinkin' freak, you're all gonna disappear and be forgotten forever!"

We then see Raphael, wondering the dark streets, alone and homeless. The rest of the comic switches back from that scene to a flashback of scientists Chet, April O'Neil, and Baxter Stockman in a lab. April doesn't seem to quite know what's really going on, but it's clear that the experiments will lead the then lab animals (four turtles and a rat) to transform into our cast. I'm interested to see how these new interpretations of the characters will grow into the iconic roles.

One of the main draws for me is the rediscovery of characters that I was once obsessed with. The sly name dropping of Chet (the original owner of the turtles, back when their origin was very different), April O'Neil, Baxter, and Casey might not register with new readers as more than the introduction of new characters, but they were epic moments for me. The best, though? The estranged Raphael, while looking for food in a garbage can, pulls out a shirt with COWABUNGA! written on it, saying "Oh, now that's just wrong." These moments really made the issue for me, but I do believe that it's strong enough as a standalone book to make readers hungry for the second installment.

So yeah. I'm hooked again, just like that. The book, which find a nice balance between comedy, drama, and action, sets a new and interesting status quo for a classic series. If there's one new comic that you'll pick up this summer, let it be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1.

NEXT WEEK: Angel & Faith #1, Kevin Smith's Bionic Man #1, Flashpoint #5, Justice League #1

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Supergirl #67 review, Pariah #1 review, Mystic #1 review, Cloak and Dagger Spider Island #1 review

Comic Book Wednesday

Issue #14

Okay, let's get through this intro quickly, 'cause I've got a bunch of great comics to talk about. Before you read the review for the Supergirl finale, check out my blog entries covering the top five images of our modern Supergirl and the runners-up.

And now... here we go.

Supergirl #67
"This is Not My Life" - Part Three
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Pencils by ChrisCross
DC Comics

The finale of Supergirl is a blast. DeConnick's dialogue here is some of the wittiest I've read in a long while, which made the book a riot, and the climax of the plot is just so... well, cool. Supergirl, joined by the Silk Pajama Society, kicks the asses of (you guessed it) more robots and resident big bad Dr. Ivo. While the issue is almost flawlessly scripted, ChrisCross's pencils range from serviceable to atrocious. When Supergirl takes flight, it looks as if she just tripped and is about to fall on her face, which is bad enough, but the worst was that the facial expressions he gives characters took me out of the moment a handful of times - the worst instances were the two panels where he made Shirley look like an evil mannequin. It's sad, because Shirley had such great lines, but I was torn between rooting for her and worrying that she was going to go try to kill Doctor Who. This miniseries deserved a better artist, but thankfully the writing was strong enough that the bad pencils didn't completely ruin the story.

The issue (and the series... sniff) comes to a sweet end that reinforces the theme of the arc. I can only hope that DC will eventually get Kelly Sue back on the writerly reigns for Supergirl, because she is such a great fit. Her affection for the character shines through the pages, the supporting characters are charming, the action is great, and there's a goddamn Princess Bride reference. What a ride.

I normally don't do this, but what the hell. Here's a list of lines that made me acronym my ass off.

IVO: How do I look?
SUPERGIRL: Honestly? Like a horny toad at a Gundam convention.

GINGER GIRL: We're going to build a stun gun.
SHIRLEY: This is the best day of my entire life.

CHRIS: Lady, we were born ready.
SHIRLEY: Oh my God, I wanted to say that.

CHRIS: Y-you are made of awesome.
SHIRLEY: I know, right?

SHIRLEY (shooting the stun gun): Pew pew! Pew pew!

IVO: Impossible!
SUPERGIRL: I don't think that word means what you think it means, professor.

SUPERGIRL reboots to Issue #1 (along with 51 other DC titles) in September. The issue hits stands September 21st.

Aron Warner's Pariah #1
Written by Aron Warner & Philip Gelatt
Art by Brett Weldele
Sea Lion Books

I didn't plan on picking this up. I'd never heard of it. The cover grabbed my eye on the shelf, though, and I was intrigued by both the fantastic, strange art and the odd company logo. Sea Lion Books. Another instance of "never heard of 'em." I'm always up for a good creator-owned book, so I figured I'd give it a try.

Pariah #1 was decent. It's a high concept series set in 2025, following a group of "Vitros," which are essentially kids that are so intelligent that they are believed to pose a threat to the government. This first issue introduces Brent Marks, one of the Vitros, who struggles with his perception of normal people, how to handle the mixed signals a girl is sending him, and the never-ending stream of thoughts that race through his enhanced brain. After Vitros are suddenly (and a bit awkwardly) declared a terrorist cell, Brent finds himself with a whole set of new problems.

The issue suffers from a distinct lack of world-building. The concept isn't told to us in the context of the comic, but instead in a blurb on the inside cover. The odd, stylized art and the humanity of Brent's affection for his crush kept me interested, but I won't be picking up the subsequent issues. When all is said and done, I think I'll buy the TPB if the reviews are good, but this first issue gave so little to go on that I couldn't justify buying the series monthly.

Mystic #1
"The Tenth Apprentice"
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Pencils by David Lopez

This book looks so good. I saw the cover online last week and made it a point to pick it up based solely on the strength of that. I didn't follow the first Mystic series, but the cover was just so dynamic that I couldn't help myself. Stylistically, the art looks a bit Amanda Conner-y, which is pretty high praise considering how much I dig Conner's stuff. Now, the question is: Did the issue live up to my expectations?


A little bit Annie, a little bit Harry Potter, and a lotta bit Victorian steampunkery, Mystic #1 is a crazy, fun, and whimsical read. The writing is superb, the characters are already distinct and easy to love, the linework is great, and Nathan Fairbairn's colors add wonderfully to the light, magical atmosphere of the book. The tale throws a bunch of classic elements (orphan girls working for a cruel mistress, a commoner getting chosen to practice the noble art of magic, a rivalry that... okay, well, you'll see) together in this wonderful stew of a story. With this first issue, Mystic has already established itself as something that is unlike any other comic currently being published... so consider me belted in for the ride.

Cloak & Dagger: Spider Island #1
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Emma Rios
Marvel Comics

I don't know how this habit started, but I usually follow Marvel titles in trade and buy the singles of DC titles. When I heard that Nick Spencer, who penned the best comic I've read all year, was writing a fucking Cloak and Dagger miniseries, I knew I couldn't wait for the trade. Ever since their appearance in Brian K. Vaughan's Runaways, I've been hoping to see more C&D action from Marvel. They had a pretty decent role in Civil War, and now, thanks to Dan Slott's Spider Island event, they've got their own miniseries. This issue ties loosely into the event, opting to only include a quick brawl with those infected with the "Spidey-powers" and to focus more on the relationship between Cloak and Dagger. Spencer expertly boils down the essentials of their backstory, making this book accessible to new fans but not boring to folks who are well versed in their Cloak and Dagger lore. Spencer is clearly a hell of a lot more interested in who these characters are as people than he is in their considerably bad-ass powers, which is something that I think these the portrayal of these characters has been lacking in for quite some time.

The art is beautiful, reminding me of a mix of the covers of The Unwritten and the interiors of The Sandman (at their best, that is - as popular as that series is, it is wildly uneven art-wise). The panels are fluid, sometimes creatively borders by Cloak's... well, cloak; it isn't too artsy as to be hard to follow, though.

The series is narrated by inner monologue from the two lead characters. At first, they seem to in sync that they're finishing each other's unspoken sentences, but the issue really begins to sing when, through their thoughts, we see that though Cloak and Dagger care for each other, they have a fundamental misunderstanding of what the other person is feeling. Especially for a series with such an out-there concept, this issue kicked off a very human story about desire, lack of fulfillment, and the divide between what it means to be normal and what it means to be extraordinary.

I want to read every letter Nick Spencer has ever written.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Continued Tribute to Supergirl

Tomorrow, DC will release the final issue of the current Supergirl title. This book might not matter to as many people as books like Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and The Flash... but, for those who have followed the title from the first issue until tomorrows #67, we have watched Kara Zor-El evolve from a flat, absurdly sexualized, upsettingly naive character to a young woman who has developed confidence, depth, and integrity. Best of all? Around the time Sterling Gates took the reigns of the title, artists began to draw her as an actual person instead of a strange concoction of hips, five foot legs, and endless (and exposed) belly. The evolution of the character has been one of the most dramatic in the DC Universe, and I'm happy to have been documenting her continued development over the last two arcs with this blog.

Earlier today, I posted a blog that featured what I thought were the best and most iconic images of our modern Supergirl. You can read that here. Here are a few runners-up.

Any time Amanda Conner draws the character

...Especially when she cooks up hilarious sketches for fans at conventions. And whenever Supergirl and Krypto are in the same panel.

Joshua Middleton's work

Joshua Middleton, while a great artist, was a bit hit and miss in his duties as cover artist for Supergirl. The covers that paid too much attention to the shortness of Kara's shirt weren't selected for inclusion here. Instead, we've got the two awesome images included above. How dynamic is that newspaper one?

R. B. Silva's cover for Supergirl #67 (the finale)

Epic and intense. Tender and sweet. A great send off to both Kelly Sue DeConnick's arc and the series as a whole.

Adam Hughes' two page story in Superman/Batman #75

This story, I think, speaks of how comic books are one of the strongest mediums of storytelling. using just a few images and a few carefully picked words, Hughes celebrates the history of Supergirl and Batgirl, paying homage to how they've gotten to be the wonderful characters they are today. I can only hope that the new DC Universe keeps these characters as awesome, strong, and dignified as they have been for the past few years.

Supergirl Covers

A few weeks ago, I read this excellent (and old) article that featured the images Comic Book Resources had dubbed the "five most iconic Supergirl" covers. I enjoyed the article, and mostly agreed on the covers... but one of the quotes included in the article inspired me to write this blog entry. Under an image of the current Supergirl, CBR blogger Brian Cronin wrote "People might not be a fan of the Jeph Loeb/Michael Turner Supergirl, but their take on Supergirl was pretty much the most popular Supergirl has been in comic books since her very early Silver Age appearances." I was at first surprised by this, but then realized that this article had been written prior to Sterling Gates's defining Supergirl run that served to transform Kara Zor-El from a thinly written superhero with no direction (both creatively and as a character) to character that is believable as a hero and as a teenage girl.

So I've decided to, in honor of the end of the current on-going Supergirl series, to pay tribute to the covers that feature the modern Kara Zor-El. Even though Supergirl will continue publication in September, starting with a new #1, the new character design (pictured below) and solicitation for the first issue make it seem as if Supergirl, at least as we know her, is coming to an end.

The new Supergirl costume is complete with the odd armor that Superman also wears. The boots have no knees, she has the same collar that a lot of the heroes are rockin', and she has no skirt. The design isn't bad... it's just different. I hope for the best. But for now? Let's celebrate what has worked for the last two years.

5. Perhaps one of the most recognized images of our current Supergirl is Adam Hughes's cover for Supergirl & the Legion of Superheroes #23. It's a bit cheesecakey for my taste, but there is no denying that this is an iconic image of the Maid of Might.

4. Amy Reeder, perhaps the best cover artist to tackle Supergirl, contributed this cover to Supergirl #57. What I love about this cover is how Supergirl isn't sexualized at all. Even excellent covers like the previous entry tend to show a bit more of Supergirl than needs to be shown, but Reeder excels at showing our hero as what she is... a teenage girl with way too much on her shoulders, an inconceivably large legacy to live up to, and more power than she knows what to do with. The hair might be a bit out of control, but this image is just gorgeous.

3. Interior artist Jamal Igle's cover for Supergirl #53 was the beginning of a more confident Supergirl. The sly smirk and the knowing eyes were showing readers what was to come in the Supergirl title.

2. Amanda Conner. She's one of my favorite comics artists, period. She made Power Girl, a character who has long been a ridiculous example of how women are made into nothing but eye candy in comics (I mean... a boob window? Seriously?), into a character that you can't help but feel for. She only drew one Supergirl issue, but a lot of her sketches from Comic Cons have been made public. It was very hard for me to pick my favorite of her Supergirl images (I almost settled on a comic strip featuring Supergirl and Krypto), but her design for this Supergirl bust just takes the cake.

1. The best Supergirl cover is from Amy Reeder, who contributed this cover to Supergirl #60, in a month when DC asked its artists to design covers that are simple, iconic, and speak for who the character is at his or her core. When I first reviewed #60, I wrote this of Amy Reeder's cover: "SUPERGIRL #60 is brilliant. Even if the issue had been horrible--which, let's just say it wasn't, for those who like to skim (also, hey, stop skimming!)--the cover is iconic. Supergirl, with the pink S behind her, stares out at the audience with a slight smile; after Gates' character defining run, Supergirl is in a good place. She's confident in herself, which just demonstrates how far she's come from the mess of a girl that arrived on Earth in Superman/Batman. The smile and calm look in her eyes on the cover of January's Supergirl #60 perfectly and subtly shows that Supergirl has finally earned the S; the symbol that she has constantly struggled to live up to. That's the art of Amy Reeder for you. Now, I'm just waiting for DC to throw her on interiors."

And what more needs to be said?

Just 'cause.

LATER: Honorable mentions.

TOMORROW: Supergirl #67 review.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dollhouse Epitaphs #2 review, Fly #3 review

Comic Book Wednesday

Issue #13

This is going to be a quick entry with just two reviews. However, you can head over to IMPULSE GAMER and check out my review for IDW's True Blood: Tainted Love miniseries. I've joined the staff of Impulse Gamer as a comic book reviewer, so I'll be splitting my duties between this site and that one. However, don't expect any less content here. In fact, I've got some new ideas (including a featured YouTube channel) that I'm planning on bringing to this blog.

Dollhouse: Epitaphs #2
Story by Andrew Chambliss, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen
Script by Andrew Chambliss
Pencils by Cliff Richards
Dark Horse Comics

Another solid installment. We see a bit more of the Epitaph crew from the TV show (Felicia Day's Mag and the snarky Zone), which is cool, but the draw of this series can be boiled down to one word: Alpha.

The Big Bad who has somehow become a hero continues his journey to stop Rossum Corp in this issue, and he has to make some hard choices along the way. One of the three Ivys gets imprinted, and Alpha makes the decision to leave her behind. It's totally zombie-world out there, because the rule the two groups seem to be going by is "Imprinted = dead." It becomes an issue for both Alpha and Mag's group, because this isn't like the person goes through the process of dying and coming back as an undead creature. One second, you're talking to a person and one phone call later, that person instantly switches into something else. It's a lot more personal... and a lot more horrific.

And speaking of horrific, Chambliss continues to tease readers about Alpha's mindstate. We haven't gotten a solid reason for his redemption yet (other than guilt), but this issue begins the deterioration of the heroic persona that Alpha has worn in the series so far. We're only two issues in, but things are already heating up.

Fly #3
Written by Raven Gregory
Pencils by Eric J
Zenescope Entertainment

Even at twenty-four pages, this issue is an incredibly quick read. It begins back in present day, where Eddie seeks Francis out and says, "She found me." We cut to a similar situation in the past, where a younger Eddie goes to Francis in a panic after killing Danielle's dad. He is feeling guilty about it, but both Francis and Danielle's reactions show Eddie that he was exhibiting heroism. The dichotomy of the present day scenes to these somewhat lighter past scenes (the childhood element of the scenes is accentuated by the art, especially on the page when hearts fill up the background when Danielle asks Eddie to be her boyfriend) continues to make FLY a textured read. Danielle's reaction to the rape at the hands of her father and his subsequent death seems oddly black & white in its positivity, but when you think about where Danielle ends up, it becomes clear that writer Raven Gregory is creating a purposeful balance between her seemingly carefree attitude in the past and her murderous, batshit crazy persona in the present.

The issue climaxes with the mysterious baddie from the previous issue finally interacting with one of the main characters. I won't give any spoilers on that, but the series continues to get grittier and grittier, shedding more light on how the Fly drug is continuing to destroy lives. This story is a satisfying combination of decompressed, slow-boil plot developments and breakneck-pace. Slow-boil and fast-paced don't seem as if they're ideas that work together, but FLY somehow makes it work. Well.

Looking forward to next month's issue.

NEXT WEEK: The entire blog will focus on Supergirl. The final issue of the series comes out next Wednesday, so we'll have a special little lead-up to the review. More details later.

IMPULSE GAMER: My next review will be for Image Comics' sold out THE VAULT #1.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - memories, reevaluations, and musings

Last week, I began a great adventure.

I cracked open my beaten, old hardcover of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and began to reread the series that changed the way I look at storytelling. I've read the books many times before, but I haven't embarked on a full series reread for two or three years. I've decided to track my progression on this blog, writing about each of the books as I finish them - not so much reviews, but closer to a collection of memories, reevaluations, and musings. I considered doing this after watching the final film (which was virtually perfect with its sensitively adapted version of the complicated second half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), but fellow blogger William Buhagiar had already done that with each of the films (you can read his great retrospective from the beginning here). I found that, after walking out of that theater, I was hungry to experience Harry Potter again. And what better way to do so than to reread the books?

When I received Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as a gift, I picked it up, read the first chapter, and promptly put it down. "Not my thing," I'd decided. I was big into Goosebumps then, committing myself to only read books written by R. L. Stine (or authors clearly trying to cash in on the success of books, such as M. T. Coffin's Spinetinglers and Betsy Hanes' Bone Chillers) so a book that started out with a grumpy old man being pissed off about things seeming out of sort wasn't something to which I thought I could devote my precious reading time. Time passed, and I stopped reading with the frequency that I'd been. Goosebumps was over, I felt older, and I wanted to find a new story that would make me care again. That Harry Potter book was sitting around unread, and I'm not sure what made me pick it up again, but I did... and this time I pushed myself past the first chapter. I finished the whole book, deciding that I had been an idiot (or, as the Hogwarts kids might've said, a git; British slang was a new treasure to me) for not realizing the excellence that awaited me even sooner. The night I finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, my junior high school was having a book fair, and I bought Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets there.

My hardcover copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
It isn't the paperback that I initially read, as I was afraid that would
fall apart after another reread. Since then, this book has been reread
many times and is, indeed, falling apart itself. Time for a new set?

That was over ten years ago, and I'm as satisfied after reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as I was then. While it isn't as complex as the later volumes, which are positively laced with obscure hints of things to come (further evidence that J. K. Rowling is the modern master of foreshadowing), Sorcerer's Stone stands apart as a glowing example of everything that children's literature should aspire to be. The question that I asked myself while reading this time is why this stands so far above the rest. In this first book, the writing, while mostly extraordinary, has its soft spots. Harry's speech that convinces Ron and Hermione that they have to take action to protect the stone is a bit flabby (pg. 270), and Rowling's writing is "oddly, and almost sweetly, insecure" in her use of adverbs as Stephen King noted in his excellent review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (read here). It's worth noting that Rowling's mortal writerly sin in this book (and, in fact, the whole series) isn't her use of adverbs in general. One reviewer called her lazy for her use of the adverb "deathly" in the title of the finale of this great series (read here), and that's a bit silly - it's tantamount to dismissing an entire part of speech as useless in writing. King is right, however, about her use of adverbs to modify dialogue being a symptom of insecurity. When someone speaks quickly, angrily, sleepily, and shortly as they do with great frequency in this volume and later volumes (in fact, open any of the larger Harry Potter books to any page of dialogue and you'll more than likely find a few of these offending adverbs), it's a symptom of the writer believing that their writing surrounding the dialogue isn't strong enough to convey the message they're attempting to convey. This flaw, comes off, as King said, as "almost sweet..." because the writing is so absurdly strong.

In fact, the flaws of this books don't manage to reduce the pleasure of the overall reading experience. In fact, Rowling's imperfections as a writer make the outright excellence of this book all the more phenomenal. Her world building is as strong as that of any fantasy writer I know. Tolkien fans might take issue with that, as that brilliant man developed entire languages and cultures in The Lord of the Rings (not to mention The Hobbit and, of course, The Silmarillion), but Rowling never attempts to do any of that. Her world building is one of simple fun, awe, and love. We discover the wizarding world as Harry Potter does, and as each page turns, another mystery unfolds, immersing the reader in this incredible piecework of a world.

This is the gorgeous 10th Anniversary Edition of Harry Potter
and the Sorcerer's Stone, which I hope to add to my collection.

The themes that will come into play in the later books, most especially 'Love is the strongest magic of all' and "To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure" (pg. 297), are present in this book, elegantly woven through the chapters. In a lesser writer's hands, these messages might have come off as heavy-handed, but Rowling is unrivaled at her skill of doling out bits of backstory, theme, and character development at the moment they're absolutely needed. I suspect that Harry Potter might be as excellent as it is, not only because those themes are at work in the story, but because those themes seem to be ideals to which J. K. Rowling lives.

Now, because I made a promise to a lady, it might be a week or two before I take on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I've promised to read The Hunger Games trilogy in full, and I'm actually quite excited for it. After those are finished... I'm taking the next step in the great Harry Potter adventure.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Superman #712 Review, Flashpoint #4 Review, Spike webcomic review, Screamland #3 Review

Comic Book Wednesday

Issue #12

And damn... it's a biggun.

Superman #714
Plotted by J. Michael Straczynski & Chris Roberson
Written by Chris Roberson
Pencils by Jamal Igle
DC Comics

"This is an imaginary story... aren't they all?"

This is it. The final issue of Superman before the series goes back to #1. Only one writer has ever written a Superman finale such as this before, and that would be the legendary Alan Moore. Legend has it that, when DC editor Paul Kupperberg told Alan Moore that would serve as an imaginary yet definitive end to the Superman story, Moore wrapped his hands around Kupperberg's neck and told him that, should Kupperberg let anyone else write that story, Moore would kill him. That itself is probably as imaginary as Moore's Superman finale, but it makes for a good story. I don't know if any strangling or death threats happened in the DC offices when Roberson was offered the arduous task of taking over J. Michael Straczynski's controversial and aborted storyline and writing the final Superman tale before the company-wide reboot, but I can imagine something similar going through Roberson's head. If you've read his run on Supes so far (or if you've seen this video), you know how much the man cares aboutSuperman. It's clearly a high honor that DC has bestowed upon the man, and Roberson does more than justice. He delivers a finale to the long-running series that pays homage to what has come before, paves a new road for Superman, and reminds fans that, even in the wake of this big reboot, the things that are important about Superman will always come back... because they are--and he is--legacy.

This beautifully written, moving comic includes Superman's final showdown with the woman who has been stalking him throughout Roberson's run, but it isn't your typical comic book brawl. Everything in this book feeds into Superman's emotional journey, which makes for a textured, emotionally rich story. This is not only the best issue of Roberson's run - it's one of the best Superman books I've read.

The issue ends, as Alan Moore's Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, with a wink. And really... what more can you ask for?

Screamland #3
Written by Harold Sipe and Christopher Sebela
Art by Lee Leslie
Image Comics

Though this issue is full of twists and turns that will keep readers engaged, there is still very little to latch onto. It's a fun enough read, but it suffers from the same problems as the first two installments... the leads are unlikable, the jokes never really stick, and the main story arc fails to live up to the back-up tales. The best thing about the series is the art, which follows through on the enormous potential of Sip and Sebela's concept. The monsters are gross, stylized, and great to look at. The coloring is perfect. The story, however, still has a lot of catching up to do.

Don't get me wrong... the series isn't bad. I'm sticking with it because of the wonderful concept, the fun cast of supporting characters, the great art, and the little gems of moments that have kept me entertained. It's a readable comic that has all the ingredients for being great... I'm just waiting for it to boil. It ends on a promising reveal, so I have high hopes for the fourth issue.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Nine
"Magical Mystery Tour"
Written by Jane Espenson
Pencils by Georges Jeanty
Dark Horse Comics

After I wrote Angel, I decided to bow out of reviewing Buffyverse comics. It just seemed right. However, with Season Nine on the horizon (I have no involvement), I figured... why not. It feels weird to be reviewing comics and not shedding some light on BtVS books, especially because most of my audience comes from the Whedon fandom.

This Spike-centric comic was released exclusively online, through a rather difficult process that involved getting a code from a list of approved retailers. Those who were able to get the comic, though, are in for a treat. Espenson delivers her best comic book work yet in this eight page tale. It follows Spike as he and the bug ship chase down the Vagina Monster from the finale of Buffy: Season Eight. I'm still dubious about the character design that has led to this creature being dubbed the Vagina Monster, but hey - at least it's dealt with quickly. The majority of the comic focuses on Spike's continued quest to adapt to life on a spaceship with a crew of bugs. Oddly, the plot seems almost as if Spike just got on the ship, while both Buffy: Last Gleaming and the Spike on-going series have established that Spike has been on the ship for quite a while. Other than being slightly confused about that, the comic is a ball of laughs. Every panel is a hoot; while it will do nothing for the folks who hated the appearance of the bug ship in both Dark Horse and IDW books, it will especially appeal to those who enjoyed the extensive Spike/bug interaction in the finale of Brian Lynch's excellent Spike series.

The comic ends on a brief but sweet moment between Buffy and Spike. As Spike crash lands back to Earth and bids the bugs farewell, Buffy asks him the question.

I'm not really sure what Buffy is wearing there (common with Jeanty's art), but the end of the comic is such a sweet turn that it doesn't take away from the overall moment. Overall, this is a good read that follows through on Joss Whedon's promise to cut the big budget hijinks and get Buffy back to the core of what it's supposed to be... a story about people that is moved along by small moments instead of clunky, sweeping plot movements.

Flashpoint #4
Written by Geoff Johns
Pencils by Andy Kubert
DC Comics

As the biggest event in DC history races toward its climax, Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert deliver an emotionally charged fourth issue. The build-up is done. The war between Aquaman and Wonder Woman is happening now. The Flash, Cyborg, and Batman (Thomas Wayne) make a last ditch effort to assemble a team of super-humans to stop the war from destroying the world. Joined by Captain Thunder (this universe's version of Captain Marvel who, before yelling SHAZAM, are just six kids who want nothing more than to be kids), the socially awkward Element Woman, and the shifty Enchantress, this makeshift Justice League infiltrates the battlefield.

Giving away more than that would be spoiling, so I'll leave it at this. The issue is full of big moments. The moment when Thomas Wayne decides to go with Flash to save the world is both tragic and moving. There are some big deaths here and, while I don't think a lot of the casualties will affect the DC Universe at large, the events of this bizarro Flashpoint world have a strange sort of emotional resonance. When Flash faces off with the murderous Aquaman, he doesn't see a completely different version... he sees the monster that his friend could have become, under different circumstances. To balance out all of the tragedy and action is Element Woman, who scores a laugh with every line of dialogue.

Those looking for a surprise reveal at the end will be disappointed... the Flash and the readers knew who was behind this world all along. His appearance in this issue, though, sets up things for the final installment of Flashpoint, which seems as if it will set a new status quo for the DCU.

Easily the best issue of Flashpoint so far. Johns, as always, delivers a gripping story that is more than worthy of the hype.

NEXT WEEK: Dollhouse Epitaphs #2, Fly #3