Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Wildstorm! Mini-Series Review

Image Comics - Wildstorm
Comic Book Mini-Series
32/ea. = 128 pages (1995)
$2.50/ea. = $10.00

Published: Wildstorm! #1-4 (of 4)

Contributors: Aron Wiesenfeld, Walt Simonson, Louise Simonson, John Workman, Joe Chiodo, Mike Heisler, Simon Furman, Allen Im, Dan Panosian, Richard Starkings, Wendy Fouts, Mark Pacella, Wildstorm FX, Mike Zeck, Scott Beatty, Randy Green, Bob Wiacek, Bill Oakley, Byron Talman, Quantum Color FX, Drew Bittner, Jeff Johnson, Scott Kolins, Ominious, Brad Vancata, Nathan Lumm, Michael Friedman, Ryan Odagawa, Mark McKenna, George Davis, Merv, Tom Raney, Randy Elliot, John Tighe, Gina Going, In Color, Sarah Becker, Rick Ketchum, and Tony Kelly

Synopsis: Anthology series with short stories starring:

  • Gen13's Roxy and Grunge save a little boy and his parents from two kidnappers at the airport
  • A mysterious naked man wanders into a museum and dons a set of armor from several hundred years ago.  He doesn't speak English, is covered in what appear to be mystic tattoos, and is unusually strong.  Then he leaves the museum into a bustling metropolis and begins wreaking havoc.  He makes one big mistake by crossing paths with Deathblow.
  • Spartan is on a solo mission to investigate a suspicious shipping facility.  He runs into the Black Razors from International Operations ("I/O"), but will they trust a covert team's android leader?  It may mean the difference between life and death when a group of Hunter/Killers show up.
  • Taboo remembers her harsh training under the lethal Pike of The Cabal.  He gives her a mission to assassinate a scientist and if she fails - death to all quitters.  When the scientist turns out to be linked to her past can she still carry out the task?
  • Union patrols the city and seemingly discovers a runaway alien riding a cybernetic gorilla.  He naturally steps in, but something seems wrong with the scene.  
  • Nautika and Sunburst of Stormwatch are on an ocean cruise discussing their future.  Nautika is trying to convince Sunburst to rejoin the team after he was paralyzed in a battle.  The two are suddenly attacked by a group of masked terrorists.
  • Strafe, better known as Malcolm King, is Jackson King's younger brother.  Jackson is the field leader of Stormwatch.  Malcolm was recently released after his father, the villain Despot, tried to destroy the team and used Malcolm as his pawn.  Malcolm is feeling guilty for what he's done under the influence of his father and goes to a bar for some down time.  Too bad there's always some knucklehead trying to start something.  Well, you really shouldn't try it with a telekinetic.  
  • Fahrenheit is a strong member of Stormwatch, but we learn her tragic origin and how her powers were originally a curse.

Pros: Detailed art and covers by Wiesenfeld, spotlight on some peripheral characters from the Wildstorm universe

Cons: Terrible stories, worse dialogue, lame characters, and mostly awful (amateur) art

Mike Tells It Straight: I found this series in the quarter bin and thought it would be wizard to check out some pre-DC buyout Wildstorm stories from the retro 1990s.  Ouch, this series is terrible and reminded me of all the things I tried to forget from that infamous time period.  Wildstorm Studios attempted an anthology book (similar to the long-ish running Marvel Comics Presents) which usually had a veteran artist anchoring each issue to allow features from young artists or stories starring peripheral characters.  It was supposed to be an ongoing, but lasted only four issues for reasons I will spell out below.

The book was anchored by rising star Aron Wiesenfeld who gives the best art performance by far, but his story lacks any real emotional maturity or appeal.  It looked kinda neat - that's all.  The rest of the art is terrible.  Even veteran star Walt Simonson's art looks like crap when applied to Gen13.  The writing is also really bad and this short series is best left forgotten (whatever happened to Aron Wiesenfeld anyway? - find out here).

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Planetary Vol. 4 Spacetime Archaeology Hardcover Review + Final Series Thoughts

Planetary Vol. 4 Spacetime Archaeology
DC Comics - Wildstorm
224 pages
$75.00 (2014) Omnibus
$75.00 (2010) Absolute Edition Vol. 2
$24.99 (2010) Hardcover
$17.99 (2010) Trade Paperback
ISBN 9781401223458

Contributors: Warren Ellis, John Cassaday, Laura Martin, and Richard Starkings

Reprints: Planetary #19-27 (of 27)

Synopsis: Elijah Snow started out as a mysterious recluse who was recruited into the Planetary organization, a semi-covert group of modern archaeologists focusing on uncovering the history of the world.  He began as the third member of Planetary's field team including Jakita Wagner, perpetually bored superwoman, and The Drummer, technology savant and grunge rock burnout.  Snow has uncanny abilities to reduce temperatures, is a rare 'century baby', born on January 1, 1900, and ages at a decreased rate.  Planetary's greatest adversaries in their mission to gather secret knowledge is the clandestine superhuman group called 'The Four' who are the unknown manipulators of the world.  They have a history with Planetary, but Elijah's memory has artificial holes and he's been struggling to find out.
Snow begins to pull long buried resources

Now that Elijah's memory blocks are loosened 'the game is afoot' as a particularly renowned Victorian detective would say (who was also Elijah's mentor in the early part of the century).  He's no longer an unwitting pawn, but starts putting the Planetary organization's surprisingly vast resources to use in devising a plan against the Four. It's time for the final reveals as we learn the secret history of William Leather, what Jacob Greene really looks like, Randall Dowling's frightening power, and what price the Four paid to get their abilities.

Even while new mysteries are uncovered, such as a derelict space vessel which apparently transported a god-like being, Snow lays his traps.  Using secret technology, like a trio of cosmic recorders called 'angels' as bait, he prepares for a final confrontation with the Four.  It includes calling in favors from past allies such as John Stone, the ultimate secret agent.  When he comes in from the cold, whose side will he really be on?

Elijah goes to a magician (or maybe a shaman) to get a reading on what the outcome will be with the Four.  He goes on an impossible journey through the inner workings of the universe and comes out the other side with a new perspective.  We finally learn the origin of the Drummer and how he ended up with Planetary.  Just as Snow gets serious, the Four respond in kind.  They're not above using an orbital death ray to vaporize Planetary's field team and they don't care who gets caught in the crossfire.  Prepare for the ultimate showdown with the planet's fate hanging in the balance!

Pros: Cassaday's art at its peak - highly detailed yet very stylized, Ellis writes some complex and intriguing plots with heavy science fiction concepts, the series wraps up and answers all the questions, issues #19-20 were nominated for Eisner award in 2005 for best story, Cassaday won Eisner awards in 2004 through 2006 for best penciller/inker, awesome covers as always, we finally get a Drummer origin and he doesn't seem like such a one-dimensional character anymore
Jakita Wagner takes on John Stone

Cons: Long delay between third volume and this last collection loses some impact to the story (like get it over with already), final confrontation with the Four was somewhat disappointing, science fiction elements are just thrown at the reader and it gets confusing at times

Mike Tells It Straight: It took a long time for this final volume of Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's Planetary to get published (issue 27 came out 3 years after issue 26).  See reviews of the first 3 volumes + crossovers here - Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, and Crossing Worlds.  It's a larger collection than previous volumes (9 issues vs. 6 in each of the first 3 volumes) and I'm really glad DC didn't try to publish this in two volumes (especially considering how long between publication of later issues).  Cassaday's art is at its peak in these issues and he was recognized as best penciller/inker for three years in a row (he worked on other series during this time as well including Astonishing X-Men with Joss Whedon).  Ellis writes some great plot points, fun mysteries, and exciting science concepts.  He wraps up the series nicely with a few big reveals and origins along the way.

First off, we get a two-part space mission which is utterly fantastic.  Ellis writes an amazing science fiction tale which ends up just being a coincidence of Snow's revenge mission against the Four.  It's beautifully illustrated by Cassaday and colored by Laura Martin.  Just amazing stuff and nominated for an Eisner as best serialized story.  Then things get weird as Snow visits a mystic who sets him on a bad acid trip.  He seems to learn some unknown truth of the universe (a common side effect of psychotropic drugs) and continues his mission with greater resolve.  We learn the secret origin of William Leather and the line Snow is willing to cross in order to accomplish his task of ridding the planet of the Four.  Meanwhile Jakita and Drums are getting worried Snow is changing for the worse.  Who wouldn't worry if your associate is doing drugs and torturing people?
A fallen god drifting in space for eternity?
Ellis finally gives us the origin of The Drummer and it's a fun tale.  He's not just a one-dimensional sod who Snow often kicks in the ass.  Things get serious in this final volume as Snow reveals all of his secrets to his team and the Four perpetrate a heinous act of terrorism which the global governments/media completely ignore.  Seems John Stone knows a lot of vital information and doesn't want to share it.  How do you take down Nick Fury/James Bond?  Not easily.  We also learn the secret origin of the Four and it's appropriately evil.  Snow is armed with enough knowledge to confront the Four and it's an intense showdown.  One ingredient is missing and his name is Ambrose Chase.  Wait, Ambrose is dead, killed years ago by one of Dowling's henchmen.  How can he possibly be involved in the final tale of Planetary?
Cassaday's art is extremely detailed!
This final volume is a must-read for anyone who has been following the series.  I really liked that Ellis gave answers to all of the secrets and subplots he presented in previous issues.  Everything wrapped up nice and tidy at the end.  Cassaday's art keeps getting better (possibly owing to the length of time between issues).  Ellis writes some awesome science fiction and references different theories which sets him apart from other writers.  He typically throws a lot of jargon at the reader without much explanation, but we're talking comics here and your standard superhero story doesn't get half that much.
Alternate universe Planetary!?
My biggest complaint with this ending is the showdown with the Four and their final reveals.  William Leather gets the most 'screen-time' during the series and seems like a perfectly wicked version of Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. He's super-resilient and very powerful.  We see Jacob Greene for the first time and he's a wonderfully twisted version of Ben Grimm, the Thing.  Kim Suskind was shown in the last volume as having invisibility and force field powers just like Susan Storm, the Invisible Woman.  Although Kim can't see while invisible and has to wear specially designed goggles (nice touch).  Randall Dowling himself we expect to mimic Reed Richards as Mr. Fantastic with stretching powers, but Ellis gives us something similar yet very different.  It's an interesting twist, but the final confrontation seemed too quick and highly improbable.  Too much buildup for what eventually happens.
Final issue wraparound cover
The series is still one of my all-time favorites and gets a very high recommendation.  It's one of those series which crosses outside of the typical superhero genre.  It started out as a Wildstorm book, but never really got involved with any of the lame crossover stories and kept to itself.  At first I thought it was just a pop-culture rip off, but it evolved into something more after gaining its own voice (at the end of the second volume).  No one draws ominous face-shadowing like John Cassaday and nobody can throw more confusing pseudo-science at a reader than Ellis.  Elijah Snow reminds me of a grown-up Little Nemo as drawn by Cassaday (must be the baggy suit).  I suggest picking up the recently published Omnibus edition which offers the perfect format to enjoy Planetary - binge reading it without any pause to reflect on the actual science behind it.

It's a strange world.  Let's keep it that way.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year 2015!

It's a new year and I can't wait to see what changes happen in the comics industry this year!  Even more great collections are coming out and I look forward to reviewing them.

Mike & TPB Reviews

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Planetary: Crossing Worlds Trade Paperback Review

Planetary: Crossing Worlds
DC Comics - Wildstorm
192 pages
$75.00 (2014) Omnibus
$14.95 (2004) Trade Paperback
ISBN 9781401202798

Contributors: Warren Ellis, John Cassaday, Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, Laura DePuy, Ryan Cline, David Baron, Jerry Ordway, Wes Abbott, and Michael Heisler

Reprints: Planetary/The Authority: Ruling the World; Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta; Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth

Synopsis: The Planetary organization is a mildly covert group of mystery archaeologists focused on uncovering the secret history of the world.  Their field team consists of Jakita Wagner, indestructible and perpetually bored, the Drummer, techno-shaman and grunge rock burnout, and Elijah Snow, reclusive adventurer with holes in his memory.  These three pursue an altruistic mission to wrestle secrets from the covert organizations, both private and public, in order to place them in the hands of humankind for a better tomorrow.  Let's just say they're not very popular around town.
The Authority show up to deal with a massive monster terrorizing
a small American coastal town.  Guess who's already on the scene?
While they seek to uncover the truth about our world and the universe in general, sometimes they cross paths with other clandestine groups with similar yet vastly different purposes.  Three of these tales are presented here:
  • Ruling the World - The Planetary field team investigates a strange object in a small town and accidentally unleashes a monster.  It draws the attention of The Authority who are a group of superhumans who have proclaimed themselves stewards of humanity and act above the law to punish those perpetrating evil upon their fellow being.  They are incredibly dangerous and not the sort of people you want to mess with.  Perfect targets, according to Jakita, to have their secrets stolen by Planetary.  The Authority are led by Jenny Sparks who has something in common with Elijah Snow - they are both Century Babies.  Born on January 1, 1900 they age slowly and have incredible powers - Sparks electricity and Snow temperature control.  The field team attempts the impossible and assails The Authority's massive craft which traverses extra-dimensional space.  Seems like a really bad idea!
  • Terra Occulta - The Planetary organization rules the world from the shadows.  They have provided amazing technology to advance humankind including Bleed teleportation for public transit and anti-grav cars.  Despite these advances, Planetary holds the best technology for themselves and crushes anyone who opposes them.  Their base is a citadel built on the surface of the Moon.  Three individuals have comes together in secret to oppose them, but will this coup be any different.  They are Bruce Wayne, playboy heir to a billion-dollar fortune in Gotham City, Diana Prince, beautiful scientist who is secretly from a technologically advanced island of women, and Clark Kent, Kansas-born big-city reporter who possesses incredible superpowers.  Can these three take down Elijah Snow and his crew of super-powered henchmen?
  • Night on Earth - The field team arrives in Gotham City to investigate a series of grisly murders perpetrated by someone with trans-dimensional capabilities.  When they finally encounter their suspect they are taken on a journey through dimensions with one unsettling constant - a strangely dressed vigilante who is vehemently determined to bring this murderer to justice.  Our unwitting group may have met their match!
Batman takes on Jakita Wagner, get ready for a serious battle!
Pros: Some great artists - Jimenez is highly detailed, Ordway is a great storyteller, Cassaday is an impresario, Ellis writes some interesting stories with a few good plot twists and quirky dialogue, I liked seeing the Big Three (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) as the underdogs with Planetary as Earth's overlords, Cassaday's portrayals of Batman were great, funny past meeting of Elijah Snow and Jenny Sparks
Three clandestine heroes meet to defy the
oppression of the Planetary organization

Cons: Planetary never actually meets The Authority in their crossover, ending to JLA crossover is a little too neat (plus what happens to Superman), plot for Batman crossover is really simple (could be a good thing), 'villain' in Batman crossover has a slightly goofy character design

Mike Tells It Straight: I've reviewed the first three volumes of Planetary here (Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3) and decided to take a break before tackling the final volume.  I read this collection of crossovers which were all written by Ellis, but had a pair of different artists (Jimenez and Ordway) along with co-creator Cassaday.  The three stories were vastly different and of varying quality.  The first story is a crossover between two of Ellis' most successful creations which I expected to be a grand slam.  Oddly enough it was a flop with too much going on in the plot and the two teams never actually meeting.  Planetary started out as a typical in-universe Wildstorm title and it was important they operated completely under the radar from the line-leading The Authority.  While the art by Jimenez was detailed, it just didn't stand up to Cassaday's groundbreaking work and the book was mediocre.  Some good dialogue, but too much crap thrown in to be taken seriously (like what happens to the extra-dimensional Jenny Sparks).
Elijah Snow comes face-to-face with an alternate dimension Batman
(looks pretty similar and just as deadly as a certain Returned Dark Knight)
The next story was an unofficial crossover with the biggest DC title at the time - JLA (Justice League of America).  It was branded an Elseworlds tale (outside of continuity) and gave Ellis a huge sandbox to play in.  He reimagined the Big Three (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) as underdogs with Planetary taking the place of The Four, lording it over humanity.  I loved the character redesign of Elijah Snow to look more like Lex Luthor.  It was an engaging story because the reader doesn't know what will happen next and Ellis makes a few bold moves.  I didn't like the neatly wrapped up ending, but Ordway did a great job visually telling the story.

Ellis writes some funny dialogue
Our final tale is considered a classic as it's just received a deluxe hardcover reprint (similar to Batman: The Killing Joke a few years ago).  This story is drawn by Cassaday and excels because it's such a simple, straightforward tale.  Cassaday's art is amazing and he's really at the top of his game here.  The different renditions of Batman are great.  Ellis tells a simple story which works really well with all of the characters.  I don't think it's a true classic because nothing really changes for any of the characters, but it's a good read.  This collection is decent, but you won't lose anything by not reading it with the main Planetary series.  The stories are included in the omnibus and I suggest buying that book if you like the series.

TO BUY and Recommendations: