Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Promethea Book Three Hardcover Review

Promethea Vol. 3
DC Comics - America's Best Comics
150 pages
$24.95 (2002) Hardcover
$14.95 (2002) Trade Paperback
$99.99 (2010) Absolute Edition Vol. 2
ISBN 9781401200947

Contributors: Alan Moore, J.H. Williams III, Mick Gray, Jeremy Cox, and Todd Klein

Reprints: Promethea #13-18

Synopsis: Sophie Bangs is a college student in a future New York City where technology has advanced at a faster rate due to the influence of science-heroes.  Modern society prizes its sophistication, but Sophie learns of a deeper philosophy which has existed since the beginning of time - magic.  She seeks information on a forgotten heroine and falls headfirst into the underlying tapestry of the universe by becoming that heroine!  Now Sophie shares an existence with Promethea, a demi-goddess of imagination who lives in the Immateria.  Many incarnations of Promethea have existed throughout history and their spirits educate Sophie in her newfound abilities.

Barbara Shelley was the previous Promethea and passed the torch to Sophie.  The two became friends for a brief time, but Barbara succumbed to a mortal wound.  All of the former mortal hosts of Promethea appear in the Immateria after death, but Barbara doesn't.  Sophie decides to find her spirit in the after-life to make sure she's all right.  She leaves the material world behind in search of Barbara and sets up her best friend, Stacia, as her replacement while she's gone.  Stacia bonds with a former Promethea and the two become the new protector of New York.
Sophie says goodbye to Stacia before setting off on her journey
Sophie has been studying magic with a prominent wizard named Jack Faust (for a price, oh, what a price!) and has learned many secrets to expand her perceptions.  She manifests into Promethea and moves through the various planes of reality in search of Barbara.  The journey begins in the lands of the dead, but changes to something more profound as Promethea elevates.  Will she find Barbara amid the myriad levels of reality or will she succumb to their strange mysteries?  Why did Barbara bypass the Immateria and head into the after-life?

Meanwhile on the physical plane in New York Stacia is picking up the slack where Sophie left off.  The only problem is the former Promethea she's paired with is proving to be too powerful to control.  Despite battling crime and keeping the city safe from villains Stacia is helpless to curb the violent tendencies of her Promethea counterpart.  This Promethea teeters on the edge of becoming a greater threat than the menaces she thwarts.  Can the Five Swell Guys reign her in before it's too late?  If Sophie survives her tour through the universal architecture she may come back to a complete disaster!
Sophie and Barbara get stuck on an infinite loop - I'm still dizzy!
Pros: Complex and varied art by Williams, high concept writing by Moore and the infinite loop sequence was particularly imaginative, Stacia's real world actions are a good balance to the metaphysical stuff Sophie is exploring,  origin of Sophie's mom and Barbara was good, no more creepy sex with old magicians

Cons: Majority of the book is high concept and preachy metaphysical themes from Moore, Williams' art can be difficult to visually read (it's complex after all), book ends without resolving the story arc (to be continued...)

Mike Tells It Straight: In this third volume of Promethea the partnership of Moore and Williams gels together and the two hit their stride.  Moore perfectly balances his existential lectures on planes of reality with exciting action in the real world.  Williams' art hits a new high as he channels various styles and truly shines.  Impressive work and I'm beginning to see why this series got the Absolute treatment (over-sized deluxe hardcover format).
The pair stumble into the devil's web
The storyline slowly progresses with Sophie taking us on another tour of reality with each issue dedicated to one plane of existence.  Each one is intriguing and Moore does a nice job of educating us to the true workings of the universe.  This topic is obviously a labor of love for him and this book felt a lot less like an academic lecture than the previous one.  Stacia's predicament is entertaining and I liked how the two storylines intersected.
Trade Paperback Cover

Promethea is a unique series which deals with a lot of theories on the universe and how reality works.  Both the art and dialogue are densely imaginative.  I'm enjoying it so far, but the issues dedicated to one heavy concept after another can get tedious.  The quick action scenes with Stacia's Promethea are a welcome respite from the constant intellectual concepts.  The series already feels like a classic and has a lot of replay value as certain parts can strike a different chord depending on the readers' maturity levels (as we're all perpetually maturing).  It certainly breaks the mold of traditional 'superhero' stories.  I might be jaded to the philosophical ideas Moore emphasizes after so many issues dedicated to them.  It's a lot to take in hence the high replay value.  Highly creative and thought-provoking - I'm looking forward to the next volume.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Possessed Trade Paperback Review

The Possessed
DC Comics - Wildstorm - Cliffhanger!
144 pages
$14.95 (2004) Trade Paperback
ISBN 9781401202927

Contributors: Geoff Johns, Kris Grimminger, Liam Sharp, David Baron, and John Layman

Reprints: The Possessed #1-6 (of 6)

Synopsis: A very secret war is being raged between the real world and what can only be called Hell.  Innocent people are being possessed by vicious demons who only care about causing destruction and corrupting humans.  The Church is aware, but lacks the tools to truly make a difference.  Only one group has stepped up to make a difference in the struggle.  This motley band of exorcists are possibly scarier than the demons they face, but all share a common bond - they were possessed as children and rescued from their fate.
From left to right: Burroughs, Walt, Christian, Holly, and Trixie
The team is led by Christian whose ultimate goal is to defeat the Devil himself, but most consider it an impossible task.  Burroughs is a tough-as-nails priest who is even more devout.  Holly bears the scars from her possession as a sign of strength and is perhaps too sentimental towards the innocent victims the team rescues.  Walt is Holly's father and he was absent for most of her life and especially during her possession as a child.  He's making up for lost time and disapproves of her and Christian's relationship.  Trixie doesn't rely on faith when there's firepower available.

Burroughs uses his faith as a weapon
during an exorcism
Employing the latest gadgets and tactics against their cunning prey, the group exorcises demons and sends them back to Hell.  Christian has uncovered a pattern to the possessions which may very well lead to his ultimate goal - the Devil!  Is he being tricked by the ultimate trickster?  Can even this group of hardened exorcists hope to stock the

Pros: Demon-killing action, mildly interesting premise, the team of exorcists use some cool tactics, Sharp's art is hardcore and suits the book very well

Cons: Plot is very simple, Sharp's art gets less detailed as the series progresses, characters are flat

Some cool covers by Sharp
Mike Tells It Straight: This book feels like John Carpenter's version of The Exorcist!  I was surprised to see Geoff Johns involved since he's known almost exclusively for mainstream superhero comics with DC.  I've been a fan of Sharp's art since his Incredible Hulk days and he's gotten better over the years.  The first few issues have some highly detailed art, but he cuts corners in later issues.  The book is definitely a one-off for the two big names attached.

Johns' and Grimminger's plot is fairly simple and they progress through it respectably.  Each chapter gives a nice hook leading to the next and overall it's a competent effort.  The book remains mediocre due to flat characters and can't be saved by Sharp's art.  He shows some great chops early on, but I think everyone lost steam by the end.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A God Somewhere Graphic Novel Review

A God Somewhere
DC Comics - Wildstorm
200 pages
$24.99 (2010) Graphic Novel
ISBN 9781401226831

Contributors: John Arcudi, Peter Snejberg, Bjarne Hansen, and Wes Abbott

Synopsis: This is the story of three friends who grew up together and would be torn apart when one of them became a god.  Eric and Hugh are brothers, but complete opposites.  Hugh was good with studying and ended up mildly affluent while Eric was always a trouble-maker.  Both of them had good hearts and befriended Sam when they were kids.  More like saved Sam from getting beaten up for being the only black kid in school and an easy target.  They've been close friends ever since.

Now they're older and Hugh has a beautiful wife named Alma.  He lives in a nice house and has a high-paying job while Sam and Eric work at UPS.  Eric is happy, but Sam feels like he's missed his potential in life.  Hugh starts to feel like an outsider because of his higher social status.  The three plan to buy a boat together so they can reconnect.

Eric exhibits some extraordinary abilities
One night a meteor hits Eric's building and he's the only one left unhurt.  During the rescue operation to find survivors he shows incredible powers.  Some kind of miracle has changed him into a superman.  The media descends on him and his friends are unable to see him except in brief encounters.  Eric turns to religion to understand what has happened to him and begins doing good deeds.  He gains immense and unwelcome fame while losing touch with his family and friends.

A gap forms between Eric and Hugh which causes them both irreparable harm.  Sam ends up as a kind of sidekick to Eric and rides his coattails to fame.  What happens when a normal man becomes something beyond humanity?  Eric begins to change as his newly gifted powers set him apart from normal society.  What human authority can stop him when he's no longer human?  Is the world organized by God or by chance?  All that is certain is nothing will ever be the same.

Pros: An interesting take on the 'superbeing', good characters, competent art, suitably dark and shocking, definitely makes you think, Snejberg nails the emotional expressions of the characters

Cons: Snejberg's art is not particularly realistic, a few events were a little corny (like the LA showdown between a militia group and the police), probably offensive to people who are serious about believing in God

Mike Tells It Straight: John Arcudi writes a lengthy graphic novel to explore the moral crisis and resulting destruction a normal person would produce if randomly given superpowers.  This book reminded me of Arcudi's cult classic series Major Bummer where a slacker gains superpowers.  That series was funny while this story is grim and philosophical.  I enjoyed both and you know I love a good deconstructed superhero story!
Eric becomes a god-like figure

Arcudi focuses on the relationship between the three friends and its eventual breakdown once Eric becomes a demigod.  We see Eric, an essentially good man and a Christian, imbued with power that sets him apart from humanity.  He slowly questions why he needs to conform to human rules and society any longer.  The rift between brothers is particularly difficult to witness.

I really liked Arcudi's possible explanation for Eric's powers and the name of the book.  I won't give it away, but it's an interesting take on God and could be highly offensive to religious types.  Snejberg's art is pretty good.  He's done work on The Sandman with Neil Gaiman and is highly competent.  His art is fairly simple and I almost would have liked a more realistic artist, but he really draws great expressions on the characters' faces.

I suggest A God Somewhere as a mature alternative to superhero comics which gives a unique take on what happens when a regular person receives great power.  It's not pretty and I have to say it's more believable than someone putting on a costume to fight crime.  Despite being 200 pages the book is actually a fast read.  Check it out!

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

21 Down: The Conduit Trade Paperback + Series Review

21 Down: The Conduit
DC Comics - Wildstorm
176 pages
$19.95 (2003) Trade Paperback
ISBN 9781401201203

Contributors: Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Jesus Saiz, Paul Mounts, Richard Starkings, Comicraft, and covers by Joe Jusko

Reprints: 21 Down #1-7 (of 12)

Synopsis: Preston Kills is a morose 20-year-old with the power to see the final moments of a person's life before they died just by touching them.  As if seeing the final moments of dead people's lives wasn't bad enough Preston is supposed to die on his 21st birthday.  Now you see why he's so depressed.  It all started when he was visited one night by an entity known as Herod and gifted/cursed with this particular ability.  He works in a tattoo parlor and attends terminal cancer support groups because they're the closest thing to how he feels.  His brother Robert is a police detective and Preston is constantly helping him with cases.

On a whim of desperation, Preston fills out an online questionnaire from a website called 'You Will Be Judged'.  A beautiful blonde spook shows up at his doorstep and she knows a lot about Herod.  Turns out Preston was genetically altered into something called a 'Genie' and Herod is 'judging' these beings when they turn 21.  It's not quite clear what game Herod is playing, but the spook, Mickey, is trying to find Genies and figure it out.  She's a mystery wrapped up in an enigma as Preston soon learns.
Preston helps his brother with a murder case
Mickey and Preston form an uneasy partnership as they try to contact more Genies.  Unfortunately the Genie's they find are not as benevolent or psychologically sounds as our man Preston.  They're actually really dangerous and the two are put in increasingly deadly situations.  What is Mickey's hidden agenda and why is she being pursued by the FBI?  She's a loose cannon and almost irresistible to Preston's raging hormones.  Can he trust her (she lives out of a high tech van after all)?  Things get ugly when Preston's brother Robert gets involved.

Pros: Interesting concept for superpowers, decent art by Jesus Saiz, writing is okay, good covers by Jusko

Cons: Plot and script are a bit rough, initial story setup was not readily apparent and told after introduction to the characters, not many answers and the series is abruptly ended at issue #12
Events heat up as Preston's brother Robert closes in on the killer!
Mike Tells It Straight: 21 Down was an impulse read after I read an interview with Jimmy Palmiotti.  He's such a great comic industry personality and I've liked his later work with Justin Gray (Jonah Hex, Power Girl, Hawkman).  I decided to check out some of their early work and this one came up.  It's set in the Wildstorm universe and superheroes exist.  Preston is bummed out he didn't get any useful powers and instead ended up with essentially a curse.  The series has some good points and was a nice alternative to traditional superhero comics (i.e. spandex).

The writing is just okay and I didn't feel like the story setup with Herod was ever really fleshed out.  This volume collects the first major story arc which introduces all the main characters.  Preston was an old soul living in a 20-year-old's body.  Mickey Rinaldi, the rogue FBI agent, was a beautiful, but odd woman.  Unfortunately the series was very abruptly ended at issue #12 without any real answers or resolutions.  It's also too bad the final five issues were never collected, but considering the final issue wasn't even close to an ending I wouldn't expect to ever see it happen.

This was my favorite cover by Jusko

I enjoyed Saiz's art and he grows over the course of the series.  It was really cool that he drew all of the issues and it all looked consistent.  Overall the series was enjoyably dark, but wasn't overly memorable.  I think there was one reference to Planetary which confirmed the Wildstorm link.  A few concepts were pretty cool although no great reveals ever came.  I can't really recommend this book too highly because it ends so abruptly and the writing is not highly polished.

TO BUY and Recommendations: