Sunday, October 19, 2014

Red Trade Paperback Review

DC Comics - Wildstorm
Softcover Trade Paperback
128 pages
$14.99 (2010)
$14.99 (2009)
$14.99 (2009)
ISBN 9781401223465

Contributors: Warren Ellis, Cully Hamner, David Self, and John Costanza

Reprints: Red #1-3 (of 3)

Synopsis: Paul Moses is a retired CIA operative who specialized in the most covert and violent black-ops missions.  He's a force to be reckoned with and is currently Retired Extremely Dangerous (RED) after a long career of heinous wetwork.  Now he just wants to live in secluded peace for the rest of his days.  He is haunted by his past, but considers the suffering a kind of atonement for his sins.  His only link to the outside world is the weekly check-in call with his retirement handler, Sally.  She is an office worker who dreams of getting out an seeing the world, but Paul warns the world isn't as pleasant as it sounds.

Paul Moses is forced out of retirement
A new head of the CIA is appointed and every new director is shown the footage in Room R.  This footage reveals Paul Moses and sets the tone for new directors to understand the history of the CIA.  The latest director sees the footage and orders Moses dead.  Too monstrous to live.  It's a new millennium after all.  A kill team is sent to Moses' house in an attempt to bury the CIA's secret.  Ordering the kill on Moses is easier said than done and he comes out of retirement to punish the government agency which turned him into a monster.

Pros: Decent story concept and writing from Ellis, clean art from Hamner, violent with a suitably dark ending, pure action movie

Cons: Incredibly short read, flat characters, simple plot, not like the movie

Mike Tells it Straight: I haven't seen the movie based on this short mini-series, but it prompted me to check out the trade paperback.  Fairly light read and extremely straightforward story.  Nothing spectacular and certainly not a must-read book.  I found it to be very simple, violent, and mildly interesting.  Paul Moses is one bad mofo and he was better left alone.  Makes me wonder if any real people exist with the same job descriptions.  Okay, Ellis got lucky when this book was optioned for a movie which was much more entertaining (from the reviews I've read).  The book is pure action without too much character development.

Paul Moses is a ruthless killer who just wants to be left alone
I'll have to check out the movie to see the exact differences, but the biggest one I can see are all the additional characters in the live-action version.  Whereas the book has Paul Moses (played by Bruce Willis in the film), his retirement handler Sally, and a couple CIA higher ups.  Oh yeah, and a ton of CIA agents who get killed by Moses.  In the film we have Moses (renamed Frank) assailed by a hit squad without any explanation.  He then gathers a team of ex-agents to discover the truth.  None of this happens in the book.
The movie was completely different than the book

It's a blood bath for most of the three-issue series with a few minor character interactions (mostly ending in gunfire).  Standard action fare with some glossy/cool moments and witty banter.  The movie was popular (helped by an all-star cast including John Malkovich and Morgan Freeman).  It even spawned a sequel - Red 2 (with rumors of a third installment).   If you saw the movie first then don't bother reading the original story.  The success of the movie spawned a series of five one-shot prequels starring the additional characters of the movie and later collected into a trade paperback.  Look for a review in the next few months.  Now I'll have to check out the movie to see if it's really better.  What did you think?  Leave a comment and let people know!

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Number of the Beast Trade Paperback Review

Number of the Beast
DC Comics - Wildstorm
Softcover Trade Paperback
192 pages
$19.99 (2008)
ISBN 9781401219994

Contributors: Scott Beatty, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Neil Googe, Leandro Fernandez, Simon Coleby, Andy Smith, Drew Geraci, Brian Stelfreeze, Jonny Rench, Wes Abbott, Saida Temofonte, Mike McKone, and Darick Robertson

Reprints: Number of the Beast #1-8 (of 8)

Synopsis: A generation of heroes disappeared without a trace at the end of World War II.  Rumors would have you believe they died when the bomb went off at Hiroshima.  Some considered it a fitting end to the dangerous post-humans and vigilantes who fueled the war effort, but would be a liability back on domestic soil. Both heroes and villains were drafted into the war and they include:
  • The Paladins
    • The Redeemer - an immortal man who has walked the Earth for millennia, but still holds to himself and others to the highest standards of moral decency
    • Engine Joe - a massive cyborg made from tank and engine parts, he fights for the everyman
    • Mago - a mystic and premier magician, he rides a magic flying carpet
    • Black Anvil - a former football player who is now made of living iron
    • Aeronaut - uses a prototype jet engine on his pack and fights crime, full of himself
    • Thrush - she flies uses artificial wings
    • Falconette - the sidekick and daughter of the Thrush
    • Tumbleweed - a former army officer, he was changed from exposure to radiation at a bomb testing site, now he is covered in desert plants and has power over flora
    • Neandra - she is apparently a cavewoman with a big wooden club
    • Wallflower - has chameleon-like ability to blend with surroundings and can stick to walls
    • Midnight Rider - a leather-clad female vigilante who rides a motorcycle and beats people up
    • Johnny Ray-Gun - former ranch hand turned lazer pistol vigilante thanks to a pair of extraterrestrial pea-shooters
    • Honeybee - she has wings and a stinger, just like a bee and pretty good-looking
    • Mite - she can shrink to the size of a bug
  • The Crime Corps
    • Dr. Sin - genius-level intellect bent on world domination
    • The Stinkbug - wears a suit with a combination armor and terrible stink-smell producer
    • Hotfoot - youthful speedster with his eye on riches
  • The Changers
    • Eidolon - a spirit who glimpsed the world beyond, but was not allowed to pass on and is compelled to tell others of his experiences
    • The High - he was one of the most powerful superhumans on the planet, but went on a self-imposed exile.  He returned and attempted to alter society by giving humanity all of the tools to either succeed or fail.  His motto "Change or Die".  His plans were stopped by Henry Bendix and Stormwatch before he destroyed himself by crashing into Skywatch's 'storm shield' barrier system.   
The High comes face-to-face with the lost Paladins
What is the secret government program called "Number of the Beast" and its link to these forgotten superhumans?  The elite Kheran warrior, Nemesis, was warned by extra-dimensional seer, Void, of the Wildcats, that an extinction-level event was going to happen in the near future.  Nemesis was charged with trying to stop it.  She enlisted help and was able to uncover one fragment of the secret, but the whole truth will be laid bare at last.  Did the countdown to Armageddon just speed up?

We witness a seemingly endless loop of events as the heroes defeat the villains and avert the end of the world (again).  What happens when a new element is added to the program - namely Eidolon and The High of The Changers?  After the events of "Change or Die" the remains of the two superhumans were added to the Number of the Beast program, but their addition causes a massive instability.  Will it trigger the end of the world?  

Pros: Continues the Wildstorm Armageddon trilogy, some fun sci-fi elements (like when The High's liquefied remains get dumped into the Number of the Beast system), Chris Sprouse's art is slick as ever, seeing The High again was kinda cool, some mature themes and a suitably dark ending

Mago, Tumbleweed, and Engine Joe take a break from the Apocalypse
to have some breakfast
Cons: Plot is a bit scattered, The Paladins are all one-note characters, one scene where The High smashes a clone through the Moon is not done realistically, Reapers don't seem numerous enough to circle the globe, not as epic as I was hoping, inept government employees could not have kept the program secret for so many years

Mite is urged by Eidolon to reveal The High's deadly behavior
Mike Tells It Straight: DC Comics restarted the Wildstorm Universe in 2006, but by 2008 sales had waned and the idea for an epic, line-wide event was hatched.  It began with Wildstorm: Armageddon as an impending apocalyptic event was revealed and heroes were charged with stopping it.  Only one took the quest seriously and uncovered the first hint in Wildstorm: Revelations.  Number of the Beast is the next chapter in the story and sees the full scope of Armageddon unveiled along with the fate of the lost generation of superhumans.
The High somehow manages to survive
being smashed to jelly attacking Skywatch

Scott Beatty does a decent writing job by infusing the story with humor, gore, and intrigue.  The book reads like a '50s science fiction movie and was fairly entertaining.  Chris Sprouse's art is slick and competent as usual (he was coming off of a great run on Tom Strong).  Seeing The High again after his demise in Warren Ellis' classic Stormwatch: Change or Die storyline (which finished off that book and paved the way for The Authority) was welcome.  Despite being a clear Superman knockoff, The High felt like an untapped character whose screen time was cut short.

This book was fun, but ultimately a disappointment due to a few key factors.  The Paladins were all one-note characters and the reader doesn't get enough time to really care about them.  The bumbling antics of the government employees in charge of watching the Number of the Beast program (which is supposed to be incredibly covert) was pathetic and there's no way could it have been hidden for so long.  While I enjoyed the book after reading the first two chapters I'm not sure if it's a solid recommend.  If you're a fan of the Wildstorm Universe and have followed the first two chapters then go for it.  The events of this book continue in Wildstorm: After the Fall as John Lynch reforms Team 7 following the wake of Armageddon and also the separate World's End storylines in each Wildstorm title (Gen13, The Authority, Wildcats).  I'll follow it to the inevitable conclusion and post upcoming reviews.  The Wildstorm Universe officially ended and was later absorbed into the DC's The New 52 universe-wide relaunch.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Why I Hate Saturn Graphic Novel Review

Why I Hate Saturn
DC Comics - Piranha Press - Vertigo
Softcover Graphic Novel
208 pages
$17.95 (1998)
$14.95 (1990)
ISBN 9780930289720

Contributors: Kyle Baker

Synopsis: Anne is an insecure twenty-something living in New York City who manages to be a successful guerrilla columnist for an underground magazine named Daddy-O.  You can usually find her bar-hopping with her best friend Ricky who is a serial dater.  Anne drinks a lot (just like every good writer) and her life is full of angst.  She doesn't feel pretty and is hopelessly shy around any guy she fancies.  Most nights she drinks herself into oblivion yet manages to scrape together a column to keep herself afloat.

Anne and Laura don't exactly see eye to eye
Enter Anne's younger sister, Laura, who despite being taller and very fetching is apparently bat-shit crazy.  She dons a garrish space-girl outfit and proclaims she's the "Queen of the Leather Astro-Girls of Saturn".  Anne is too self-absorbed to question Laura's weird behavior or ask about the gunshot wound she had treated at the hospital (where Anne was concurrently being treated for alcohol poisoning).

Laura ends up staying at Anne's place and they're certainly an odd couple.  Anne drinks constantly, is a complete slob, and never cooks her own food.  Laura is a health nut, kind to others, an environmentalist, and doesn't really drink.  If not for the nutty Saturn thing she'd be perfectly normal.  Of course Laura drives Anne crazy and something has got to give sooner or later.

Anne's best friend Ricky is black and Baker offers a little perspective
Is there some truth to Laura's story?  She seems convinced of her Saturn origins, but Anne is hardly buying it.  When weird guys start appearing looking for Laura things get even more strange.  Things start happening which prove Laura is in real danger (I guess the gunshot wound didn't really tip Anne off).  Anne is left to decipher the clues and find out what's really happening.  Does she even care?

Pros: Expressive art by Baker, interesting story with some good plot twists, lots of wry comedy, intriguing characters, witty banter, very New York/metropolitan, great period piece - it felt very late 1980s/early 1990s, won an Eisner award
How Laura met her second-to-last boyfriend
Cons: Black and white (with some grayscale, but not full color), pages/panels feel a bit repetitive, almost feels like the dialogue/story is stream-of-consciousness, last quarter of the book gets a bit silly and wraps up too easily

Laura manages to annoy Anne even from afar
Mike Tells It Straight: This graphic novel was completely different than I expected.  The cover (Vertigo edition) had a goofy girl in a space suit vacuuming while eating an apple.  The title letters are big and cartoony in bright colors.  Nothing could be more different than the interior story and art.  First off the book is black, white, and grayscale.  No bright colors here.  It's a story centered around dialogue and the characters riffing on everyday situations (think Seinfeld).  It's an interesting and slightly perplexing read, but very hip (circa New York 1990) and has some great lines.  I can't believe it's 20+ years old at this point and shows its age a little (good thing the '80s/'90s style is cycling back around nowadays).  This graphic novel was Kyle Baker's major breakout work and earned him both an Eisner and Harvey awards.  The original printing with Piranha Press felt gritty and underground, but Vertigo's version with the garish retro-1950s cartoon lettering screamed sellout.  It's okay, Baker has earned it and he would probably agree.

I enjoyed Baker's art and story for what they were - comedy with a tiny hint of film noir.  It would make a decent movie.  Baker started in comics, but went off to Hollywood and did animation.  He kept roots in the comic book world and added many great works (several one-shots for DC's Vertigo imprint, a run on Plastic Man, and Truth: Red, White and Black for Marvel which tweaked Captain America's origin slightly).

The original graphic novel cover
Why I Hate Saturn put him on the map and achieved critical acclaim.  It's one of the best works from his early career and is a good read.  The book is older and it's steeped in popular culture of the time which may cause a barrier for enjoyment today (no cell phones and Anne doesn't have a checking account, driver's license, or anything linking her to the grid).  I grew up in the 1980s and had no problem following along, but younger audiences (i.e. millennials) may not dig it.  Plus it's grayscale.  Enjoy at your own risk.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Monday, September 29, 2014

Wildstorm: Revelations Trade Paperback Review

Wildstorm: Revelations
DC Comics - Wildstorm
Softcover Trade Paperback
144 pages
$17.99 (2008)
ISBN 9781401218676

Contributors: Scott Beatty, Christos Gage, Wes Craig, Jonny Rench, Web Abbott, and covers by Ivan Reis

Reprints: Wildstorm: Revelations #1-6 (of 6)

Synopsis: The Wildstorm Universe is headed toward an extinction level event caused by superhumans.  Void is a reality warping member of the team Wildcats who warned several heroes in the past (our present) of the impending doom.  She hoped one of them could stop the Armageddon from happening, but most blew off the warning as just another ordinary threat to the world.  Except one hero named Nemesis who often stands at odds with ordinary heroes and lives in the shadows.  She is a Kherubim born warrior and formerly of the Coda assassins (the same group Zealot was a member).

A brief recap of Wildstorm: Armageddon
Nemesis enlists the aid of Zealot's younger sister, Savant, and the new Backlash, Jodi Slayton (daughter of the original Backlash).  Savant is another immortal Kherubim like Nemesis and possesses advanced scientific knowledge (including teleportation and a mind link).  Jodi has superhuman speed and agility.  Now the three women are risking their lives to find information on the coming Armageddon in order to defuse it.

This puts them at odds with the world's most powerful and secretive organizations.  They must architect raids on Stormwatch (the UN-sanctioned superhuman organization), The Authority (sanctioned by no government, but taking responsibility for righting the wrongs of the world), the covert Department Psi of International Operations (of which Jodi's father Marc Slayton is the director), and Gamorra Island (the lair of the wicked Kaizen Gamorra).

The women must also sneak into a superhero planned community called Tranquility.  Their searching draws the attention of Zealot and Grifter, sometimes of the Wildcats.  Will the trio be successful in finding the cause of Armageddon?  One thing is for sure - they just made enemies of practically the entire Wildstorm Universe!  Of course Nemesis doesn't really mind...

Pros: Lots of action and intrigue, decent writing by Gage, great art by Wes Craig, nice covers by Ivan Reis, one big reveal concerning the relationship between Zealot and Savant, cool seeing Jodi one-up her dad (the original Backlash), the form of Armageddon is revealed (and it kind of makes sense), The Authority get served!

Cons: Only one major reveal that I could see (Zealot/Savant), the Welcome to Tranquility chapter feels a little out of place due to the tone of that series (less serious), Grifter and Zealot just sort of appear out of nowhere (like they're always hanging out fighting stuff together or something)
Nemesis is pretty tough if she can take on The
Authority all by herself

Mike Tells It Straight: Continuing from Wildstorm: Armageddon we follow Nemesis and her allies as they try to discover and stop the cause of Armageddon.  I enjoyed both Gage's writing and Craig's art in this chapter.  It was really nice to have one creative team after the multiple artists/styles on Armageddon.  This book was non-stop action as the trio of women must snatch n' grab information from some of the most dangerous groups in the Wildstorm Universe.  The big reveal about Zealot and Savant didn't seem new to me since I read it first in Majestic Vol. 3: The Final Cut.  Not sure which books were published first, but this mini-series didn't seem heavy enough on the revelations.

I particularly liked the chapter focusing on Jodi manipulating her father (Marc Slayton, the original Backlash) to buy time while Nemesis infiltrated Department Psi.  No Wetworks or Gen13 in this series, but it had enough going on without trying to cram more characters into the story.  The overall story progresses as the form of Armageddon becomes clear.  A superhuman apocalypse is on the horizon and seems pretty darn imminent.  This series continues directly into Number of the Beast and then World's End.  I've been a fan of Wildstorm since the beginning (Jim Lee was my favorite artists of the 1990s) and I enjoyed the DC revamp in the mid-2000s.  Look for upcoming reviews of the next chapters in this saga.

TO BUY and Recommendations: