Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Establishment Series Review

The Establishment
DC Comics - Wildstorm
32/ea. =  416 pages w/ads (2001-2002)
$2.50/ea. = $32.50

Published: The Establishment #1-13 (of 13)

Contributors: Ian Edginton, Charlie Adlard, GH, Jenna Garcia, and Wildstorm FX

Synopsis: The British government has used a covert team of superhumans for well over a century.  This group is known as The Establishment and protects Britain from all manner of impossible threats which conventional forces would be useless against.

The current group consists of:
Meet The Establishment (from left) - The Pharmacist, The Golden (3),
Jon Drake, George Bulman, Scarlet, and Raphe Equus
  • Jon Drake leads The Establishment and is a master tactician, but otherwise appears to be entirely human.  Looks can be deceiving and he holds within himself an insane superhuman waiting to be let loose.  He is a complex individual and sometimes rails against the orders handed down by the government.  
  • The Pharmacist was a child prodigy and incredible intellect.  His studies and self-experimentation while solving the riddles of the universe left him in dire physical distress.  He was rescued from death's door by an all-powerful entity from a neighboring dimension.  The extent of his abilities are unknown, but he is the most versatile member of the team.  He can destroy and heal in equally vast measures while possessing the benign innocence of an emotionally stunted man-child.  His hair is akin to The Bride of Frankenstein and he wears syringes on the tips of each finger.  Both traits provoke it being hard to make friends.
  • The Golden are a trio of siblings who nearly perished in a plane crash in the Himalayas, but were rescued by a lost tribe of humanity.  The children were given superpowers and mentally linked.  Their powers include flight, energy projection, and the ability to creep people out.  
  • Scarlet washed ashore on a beach with no memory of who she was or where she came from.  She possesses immense strength, speed, and intelligence.  Despite her seemingly capricious exterior she is a deeply caring person and married to another team member.
  • Raphe Equus is possibly the perfect human.  He possesses great strength, speed, intelligence, and gorgeous wife (Scarlet).  Highly capable, effective, and a snappy dresser.  
  • George Bulman is a drunk.  He usually hangs around The Establishment's headquarters either drunk or nursing a killer hangover before getting drunk again.  He's a normal human with only one talent - to channel the spirit of a dead gay man.  
  • Chris Truelove is a dead gay man who can be channeled by George Bulman.  Truelove died because of Bulman and the pair are cursed to share a psychic link from beyond the grave.  There exists a passageway for dead souls (called the "Dead Space" and actually the multi-dimensional corpse of a long-dead god) where Truelove inhabits.  Many Earthly woes are caused by seepage of toxic creatures of the after-life from the Dead Space.
  • The Baron is currently a teen with the ability to summon hard light armor and weapons.  All raging hormones and superhuman abilities.
The Establishment's latest mission includes repelling a Daemonite siege on a sleepy town where they discover a powerful metahuman named Charlie Arrows.  Pre-cognitive with a mean streak, he's come home to die after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.  Problems arise when an old schoolmate named Paul Frost appears and is definitely not what he appears to be (human that is).

The Pharmacist performs a quick diagnosis
of Charlie Arrows
Next they welcome the fine touch of publicity as the British government decides to debut them after The Authority hold the US government hostage.  A group of decades-lost astronauts returns to Earth, but they brought something dreadful back with them.  Only The Establishment can stop a takeover from little green men from outer space.

Something is rotten in Britain as the faces behind the manipulations are revealed on both sides.  Dr. Orwell amasses a group of clandestine superhumans to pierce a hole in The Bleed, but the shadowy figure behind The Establishment's origins appears to stop him.  Who is Mother?  Can The Establishment rally in the eleventh hour to save the very fabric of space and time?

Pros: Edginton and Adlard write/draw every single issue together, some interesting and out-there story concepts, links up to greater Wildstorm Universe stories, very British, team has shown up (albeit rarely) in subsequent Wildstorm titles, massive homage to British pop culture and literary works

Cons: This series has never been collected and probably never will, art is decent although not flashy, plot and storylines tend to have convenient and outlandish endings, often more emphasis on witty banter than actual characterization

Mike Tells It Straight: This series was loosely spun out of the wildly popular series The Authority and was as similarly short-lived as the other spinoff, The Monarchy (which lasted 12 issues).  Two Brits (Edginton and Adlard) are the duo behind the series and despite an obvious riff on the far more popular The Authority this series gives us some good science fiction stories.  What I found particularly incredible is just how fucking British this series is.  The amount of pop culture in-jokes and characters based as homages to other British television series/movies/novels was astonishing.
The Golden vs. an invading army from Venus

Listen, the art's not great, but Adlard went on to become the main artist on The Walking Dead (after Tony Moore evaporated following issue #6) and he can draw a story.  He does some good work here and his art skills grow over the course of the series.  Edginton is a solid writer and he writes some interesting stories.  I really liked the fact he used dangling plot lines from other Wildstorm books as part of the stories.  The most important one which ended this series was Alan Moore's Majestic at the end of the universe story from Wildstorm Spotlight #1 (reprinted in Alan Moore: Wild Worlds and Mr. Majestic).

The series is not the same caliber as The Authority (which had more flashy art, employed more widescreen scenes, and had better writing), but I found it rather entertaining.  We get some interesting concepts and it links to the wider Wildstorm Universe in surprising ways.  The ending felt a bit rushed, but was still good.  I would recommend this series as an offbeat alternative to the mainstream (and quite frankly played out) The Authority books.  

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Majestic Vol. 3 The Final Cut Trade Paperback Review

Majestic Vol. 3 The Final Cut
DC Comics - Wildstorm
128 pages
$14.99 (2007)
ISBN 9781401212117

Contributors: Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Bruce Jones, Neil Googe, Josh Middleton, Diego Olmos, Kevin West, Javi Bit, Dan Davis, Philip Moy, Wildstorm FX, Carrie Strachan, Phil Balsman, Pat Brosseau, and Jared Fletcher

Reprints: Majestic #13-17 (of 17), Wildstorm Winter Special (2005)

Synopsis: Majestros is a Kherubim warlord who came to Earth millennia ago while fighting an interstellar war with another alien race called the Daemonites.  Immensely powerful, he is the pinnacle of Kherubim physiology, mental prowess, and technology.  In modern times Majestros has assumed the guise of a superhero and calls himself Mr. Majestic.  The war with the Daemonites has ended, but Majestic remains on Earth to protect his adopted planet.

The battle heats up, but whose side is Helpsont on?
Majestic teamed up with his old partner Desmond (a genius-level tech geek) and Zealot to discover a secret cache of Kherubim technology hidden deep in the Earth.  It predates his arrival and includes a fully functional planet-shaper core.  The core is a hot commodity drawing Helspont into the open and even an envoy from Khera led by Majestic's old friend Javen.  Majestic, Zealot and Helspont learn the dark secret of the Kherubim species and its link to life on Earth.

Javen explains the situation to Majestic and wants to enlist his aid in bringing the core back to Khera.  He possesses a silver tongue and is an old friend, but can Majestic really trust him?  Meanwhile Zealot locates Savant just in time to confront another Kherubim warlord - Imperator!  He is teamed with Zealot's mother from the Coda and the pair have designs on the planet-shaper core as well.  Can Majestic fight off Helspont and a rival Kherubim warlord?

Pros: Very exciting storyline to close the Majestic series, revelations about the relationship between Zealot and Savant (with a cool backup story), Neil Googe's art looks great, unique finish to the series

Cons: Several artists work on different issues (Googe only does about half the issues and not the final one) with varying art styles (from good to not so good), poor Desmond really gets mistreated in this series, a few highly convenient plot resolutions, font size used for Desmond's dialogue bubbles is too small
Does Majestic really die at the end?

Mike Tells it Straight: Abnett and Lanning bring their Majestic series to a close with this final explosive story arc.  A major revelation drops concerning Zealot and Savant's origins amid the chaos.  Helspont is put back in major league baddie status and Majestic has to take on an equally powerful Kherubim warlord named Imperator.  The writers do a great job with pacing and ending each issue on a cliffhanger note.  Googe's art was the highlight for visuals, but he's only around for half the issues and not the final one.  The other artists are competent, but not nearly as polished.

Majestic faces one final threat with the world hanging in the balance.  The series reaches its inevitable conclusion and I liked how the writers tie everything up.  I guess all of the events here get retconned away in DC Comics New 52 version of Majestic which is a shame.  You don't really need a Majestic when you already have a Superman.  I enjoyed this series and Abnett/Lanning turned Majestic into a great alternative to the classic superhero with some good sci-fi stories.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Friday, September 5, 2014

Wildstorm: Armageddon Trade Paperback Review

Wildstorm: Armageddon
DC Comics - Wildstorm
Softcover Trade Paperback
144 pages
$17.99 (2008)
ISBN 9781401217037

Contributors: Christos Gage, Simon Coleby, Horace Domingues, Neil Googe, Dan Davis, Brandon Badeaux, Jonny Rench, Carrie Strachan, Jonboy Meyers, Tony Washington, Talent Caldwell, Steve Wands, Travis Lanham, Wildstorm FX and covers by Mike McKone, Randy Mayor.

Reprints: Midnighter: Armageddon #1; Welcome to Tranquility: Armageddon #1; Wetworks: Armageddon #1; Gen13: Armageddon #1; Stormwatch P.H.D.: Armageddon #1; Wildcats: Armageddon #1

Synopsis: The Wildstorm universe faces an apocalyptic event which threatens to destroy all life on Earth.  Void travels back in time to warn a handful of heroes in an effort to avoid the tragedy.  Her focus and powers are severely taxed.  Does she choose the right heroes or will they be unable to avert disaster?

  • Midnighter is brought to a London in ruins where The Authority's carrier has crash-landed.  Death is everywhere and Midnighter must find clues to what happened.  Roving groups of superhumans scour the landscape.  He assails the carrier's downed carcass to find clues to the whereabouts of his teammates and especially the fate of his lover, Apollo.  Can the world's deadliest man play detective long enough to save the future?  
  • Maximum Man has regained his powers and is reveling in the ability to transform from geriatric to invincible superman.  He's getting lucky with the ladies (what else would you do), but coming under fire from attractive sheriff of Tranquility.  Void appears and brings him to the future where Tranquility is in chaos.  The community of superheroes are trying to keep the tide of evil superhumans from breaching the city, but are bearing the toll of their efforts.  Can he figure out a way to stop the tragedy?
  • Jackson Dane and his Wetworks team are embroiled in battle with the Night Tribes.  Void transports him to the future where the Tribes have gained the upper hand in Europe.  They're using the remaining humans as cattle, but Wetworks is still fighting them from the shadows.  The team has gained a few new members and hope still remains.  Will Dane gain enough information to halt their rise to power before the Armageddon happens?
  • Caitlin Fairchild is tired of dealing with her immature teammates when Void sends her to the future.  Amid the disaster she finds Burnout and Grunge.  The pair have matured into true heroes and she helps them find Rainmaker who has been captured by a group of Coda.  The sisters have established control over a town and are building a new sisterhood in the wake of Armageddon.  Can Caitlin bring back enough experience to make a difference?
  • John Doran is a human cop enlisted by Jackson King to head up a new kind of Stormwatch to police superhuman threats.  Void brings him to the future where he tries to find the remnants of his team.  Some of them have disappeared, but a few fight for the safety of the powerless humans caught in the storm.  Jackson King has reformed Stormwatch on a rebuilt Skywatch. He's seems highly unstable and Doran is fearful King will become just like his late father, the mega-maniacal Despot.  Will John's police instincts glean enough knowledge from the future to avoid making it a reality?
  • Nemesis is a Kheran Coda warrior who trained under Zealot.  She's an outcast by nature and has history with Majestic.  When Void sends her to the future as her last ditch attempt at halting Armageddon she may have finally chosen right.  She hooks up with what's left of the Wildcats and is shocked to witness Majestic actively fighting them!  He's set up a utopian island in the midst of the carnage to try and restart society, but his ends don't justify the means.  Will Nemesis be swayed to his cause or fight for independence?
Jackson Dane surveys the ruins of a future Europe
Pros: Great sampling of the Wildstorm Universe's characters/titles, interesting premise as a terrible cataclysm looms and heroes are given a glimpse - will they stop Armageddon?, some cool art, nice crossover of characters and a few new ones, unifying factor is one single writer in Christos Gage

Cons: Many different artists with jarringly different styles - some good and some not so good, might be overwhelming for readers unfamiliar with Wildstorm
Wetworks has gained a few new members

Mike Tells It Straight: The Wildstorm Universe was restarted by DC Comics in the mid-2000s with some degree of success.  Armageddon was a sweeping crossover meant to generate buzz as sales began to wane.  In a series of one-shots we're presented with an ultimate crisis happening in the future and Void trying desperately to avoid it.  Her challenge is finding the right heroes who can bring back enough information to actually stop the atrocity.  It doesn't seem very hopeful.

What I enjoyed about this book is the ability to glimpse each of the varying Wildstorm titles' art.  I found Badeaux's art on Wetworks to be particularly detailed (followed by Talent Caldwell on Wildcats).  Some of the art was weak (sorry Welcome to Tranquility).  I think this series is a must-read if you enjoy Wildstorm and want to see where it goes (before the whole New 52 integration into the DC Universe).  The follow-ups are Wildstorm: Revelations, Number of the Beast and the assorted World's End books.  I'm planning to check those out next and stay tuned!

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Majestic Vol. 2 Meanwhile Back On Earth Trade Paperback Review

Majestic Vol. 2 Meanwhile, Back On Earth...
DC Comics - Wildstorm
128 pages
$14.99 (2006) Trade Paperback
ISBN 9781401209896

Contributors: Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Neil Googe, Georges Jeanty, Scott Iwahashi, Carlos D'Anda, Richard Friend, Sandra Hope, Trevor Scott, Jonny Rench, Carrie Strachan, and Phil Balsman

Reprints: Majestic #8-12

Synopsis: Majestros is a Kherubim warlord who came to Earth millennia ago while fighting an interstellar war with another alien race called the Daemonites.  Immensely powerful, he is the pinnacle of Kherubim physiology, mental prowess, and technology.  In modern times Majestros has assumed the guise of a superhero and calls himself Mr. Majestic.  The war with the Daemonites has ended, but Majestic remains on Earth to protect his adopted planet.

Majestic was shunted through the Bleed (an interdimensional passageway) to an alternate Earth where he briefly took the place of Superman when he disappeared from Metropolis.  Eventually Majestic was able to return to his Earth with Superman's help, but he found the planet and humanity in great peril.  He put things to rights and finally returns to an Earth in proper order, but he's been away for so long that things have changed.

Zealot shows up, but is she friend or foe?
His old partner, Desmond, a kid genius stuck in a wheelchair (a super-wheelchair at least), has used Kherubim technology to start a world-class cellphone company.  Majestic stops an ancient Kherubim war-robot from killing Desmond, but how can there be ancient technology on Earth which predates Majestic's arrival?  Can his former partner Desmond be trusted?  A massive plot emerges which shakes the foundation of the origins of both humankind and Kherubim.  This one's got it all - Zealot, Savant, Spartan, Majestic's old pal Javen from the Shaper's Guild, and even the return of the wicked Helspont!

Pros: Good follow up stories by writers Abnett and Lanning, art is fairly decent throughout, Majestic teamed up with some old allies (Zealot and Desmond), very nice use of bad guys - especially Helspont's return, very interesting origin for the Kherubim race and the war with the Daemonites

Cons: Majestic's new costume design is simplified...and boring, several artists work on this storyline with slightly different art styles, Desmond's character is mistreated

Mike Tells It Straight: The second volume of Abnett and Lanning's Majestic series started off very slowly and I thought it was going to a disappointment after the two thrilling stories from the first volume.  Needless to say it delivered an interesting story with a major cliffhanger ending.  I liked their reintroduction of Desmond (although why he was still young was a mystery) and the revelations of the Kherubim species' origin was well done.  The writers made Majestic a true step forward for the character with this series and didn't hold anything back.
Who or what is Biomass?

DC purchased Wildstorm from Jim Lee (originally published with Image Comics in the 1990s when all the A-list artists at Marvel defected to start their own company).  Lee stayed on as creative director for the publisher and DC allowed a bold crossover between Majestic/Superman in actual DC continuity (see Majestic: Strange New Visitor).  This series spawned from the crossover which followed into a mini-series.
The art was very competent in this book, but several artists contributed and they had slightly differing styles.  Neil Googe was the exclusive artists of the first book (he continued to improve), pencils the first issue in this volume and then is spelled by Georges Jeanty until returning for the final issues.  Overall good art and no major complaints.

The final image of the book absolutely begs for the reader to continue to the next volume.  I'll definitely bite and the third volume is the last of the series which seems like a shame.  Majestic started out as a knock off of Superman and Abnett/Lanning make him a great alternative to the classic icon.  More violent/mature, exciting, and with a less cumbersome history/supporting cast.  Stay tuned for the final review to this series.

TO BUY and Recommendations: