Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ocean Trade Paperback Review

Ocean
DC Comics - Wildstorm
Softcover Trade Paperback
176 pages
$14.99 (2005)
$19.99 (2009)
ISBN 9781401208493

Contributors: Warren Ellis, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Michael Golden, Tony Avina, Wendy Broome, Randy Mayor, and Wildstorm FX

Reprints: Ocean #1-6 (of 6)

Synopsis: In one hundred years humankind has begun exploring the interior of the solar system.  The next frontier is interplanetary mining and of particular interest is the moon Europa orbiting Jupiter.  This unique moon is covered in ice and is thought to have an actual ocean beneath its surface.  The space station Cold Harbor orbits Europa in order to study its surface and interior.  What they discover beneath the moon's surface is a secret so large it could destroy the entire human race.
Nathan Kane meets the crew of the Cold Harbor

Expert weapons inspector Nathan Kane is immediately dispatched to Cold Harbor orbiting Europa.  His specialty is identifying weapons of mass destruction yet he abhors gun violence.  An expert at hand-to-hand combat and master strategist, he narrowly survives an assassination attempt on Mars.  Someone doesn't want him to reach Europa alive.

The Cold Harbor station is a remote outpost with a small crew of boring scientists.  These include station commander Fadia Aziz, engineer Siobhan Coney, field scientist John Wells, and analysis expert Anna Li.  The crew are completely freaked out by their discovery and the implications it has on the origins of human culture.  Kane assesses the situation and comes to the conclusion that the entire human race is in grave peril.

The scientists are not alone in their orbit of Europa and another space station is run by the mega-conglomerate, DOORS.  This company uses technology to subjugate the personalities of its employees into a hive mind during their lengthy work contracts for optimum efficiency and loyalty.  The higher up the corporate ladder you climb the more draconian the upgrades.  Commanding the DOORS station is a ego-maniacal corporate officer who prizes the capture of the alien technology over all else.  His only thought is to gain this ancient race's secrets to further his own self-serving agenda and he doesn't care who pays the price.

Warren Ellis redefines 'corporate lackey'
Only Kane and the Cold Harbor's crew stand between the technology getting into the hands of those who would exploit it to the detriment of humanity.  Can one skilled pacifist and a group of scientists repel the advances of a legion of corporate zombies?  The human race stands upon a precipice of destruction as the secrets of our origin unravel.

Pros: Great sci-fi concept and setup, some interesting characters and personalities - Nathan Kane is a confident badass, lots of witty banter and one-liners, idea of a future corporation rewriting their employees' minds was absolutely spot on, a few clever tech advances to combat on space stations, very clean art by Chris Sprouse, and excellent covers by Michael Golden

Cons: Story resolution doesn't answer all the questions raised from the setup, things wrapped up a little too neatly, a few jokes that fell flat (burned food in the microwave on a space station, right!), they use a saucer-shaped shuttle to smash through the ice surface of Europa repeatedly - no way is that feasible, felt like a straight-up sci-fi comic book vehicle to get a movie made (which has not happened yet)

Mike Tells It Straight: Warren Ellis (Supergod, Switchblade Honey) writes an interesting sci-fi story with a really great setup.  Chris Sprouse's (Tom Strong Vol. 1) art is superbly clean and he's a master of cinematic storytelling.  These two are a great creative team and produce a solid story.  Michael Golden provides some excellent covers.  It felt like I was reading the storyboards for a movie  and I could easily see this story being adapted to live-action (it's been optioned for a movie).  I'd say the story would make a fairly good, mainstream sci-fi film.

Ellis writes the best witty banter
We get a cool protagonist in Nathan Kane with clever one-liners and a knack for always coming out on top (think Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher).  Kane doesn't want to fight, but he'll kick your ass if you cross him.  The crew had the stereotypical personalities of your cliche international scientist group and the ending was suitably exciting.  Ellis and Sprouse add a few cool futuristic advances to technology (like guns that shoot special bullets on space stations) and the corporation that subjugates employees through technology was fairly brilliant.  

Despite a neat setup I felt the second half of the book didn't deliver the goods.  We get a frantic race between the two groups and an exciting confrontation in a unique environment (space station), but too few questions were answered about the discovery on Europa.  The conflict wrapped up too easily as with most standard sci-fi movies.  I'd say this book is a good, quick read which will peak your interest, but leave you a bit flat at the end.

A little sneak preview of what they discover beneath the surface of Europa

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Monday, July 14, 2014

Extinction Event Mini-Series Review

Extinction Event
DC Comics - Wildstorm
Comic Book Mini-Series
32/ea. = 160 pages (2003)
$2.50/ea. = $12.50

Published: Extinction Event #1-5 (of 5)

Contributors: Robert Weinberg, Brett Booth, Sal Regla, John Layman, and Wildstorm FX

Synopsis: The contents of a secret tomb in Texas threatens to rock the world when proof of sentient dinosaurs is revealed!  An unknown breed of technologically savvy dinosaurs is found in suspended animation amid the ruins of their incredible civilization.  They apparently safeguarded themselves from the extinction level event of a falling meteor which wiped out all the other dinosaurs on the planet millions of years ago.  Now a group of soldiers, scientists, and cowboys explore the silent halls of the dinosaurs ancient sanctuary.

The secret cave is located on the Double Bar Ranch owned by tom-boy heartbreaker Samantha Gonzalez.  General Steele calls in two specialists for the operation including retired ace pilot Colonel Benson and computer specialist Lieutenant Cornelius.  Alicia Vaughan is a reporter posing undercover to figure out the secret of the dig site and reveal it to the world.  Chief paleontologist Dr. Melissa Cyre is the dinosaur expert, but her knowledge could be lacking when the dinosaurs are actually alive!

It becomes apparent the dinosaurs had an incredibly advanced civilization after examination of their machinery shows it to still be functional.  Discovery of the creche triggers the process to awaken them and the dinosaurs are not impressed with the pathetic mammalian civilization which has supplanted their dominance over the planet!

When the dinosaurs awaken it becomes frighteningly clear the humans are not prepared for their arrival.  Equipped with powerful technology and psychic abilities the dinosaurs begin their destructive assault.  Only our intrepid group of specialists stand in the way of total dinosaur domination!  Humans have enjoyed mastery over nature and the planet for millennia, but what happens when they become the next endangered species?

Pros: Reminded me of Jurassic Park crossed with Aliens, some decent and mildly inspired art by Brett Booth (he draws good dinosaurs), unique sci-fi story premise

Cons: Short mini-series at only five issues, ending begs for a sequel which will never happen, Booth seemingly excels at rendering humans with tiny bodies and overly extended appendages, overall weak plot

Mike Tells It Straight: I came across this set of books in a bargain bin and decided to try them out.  The mini-series had a few interesting moments which mainly dealt with the discovery of the suspended dinosaurs, but was overall a mediocre book.  Don't expect this to be collected anytime soon.  While the premise seems mildly interesting and Weinberg does his best Jurassic Park interpretation the story ends up being far-fetched B-movie fodder.

Booth's art was a big draw for me since I was a child of the 90's during the formation of Image Comics.  The character Backlash and Booth's early work on Stormwatch were particularly memorable to me.  I'll always hold Backlash/Spider-Man in high regard, but it becomes obvious the artistic evolution of Image proteges doesn't include fundamental art principles when you get right down to it.  Despite the flash and style, Booth's anatomy is wonky (disproportionately long torsos and limbs) and backgrounds are spotty.  He's still a great artist with a lot of potential, but the art is awkward here.

I would let this one fade into obscurity.  It will never be collected and that's a sign.  I won't discount the obvious hard work involved in producing the series - the creators did a good job, however it's not a truly memorable story and won't be coming to a cinema near you.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Mr. Majestic Trade Paperback + Series Review

Mr. Majestic
DC Comics - Wildstorm
176 pages
$14.95 (2002) Trade Paperback
ISBN 9781563896590

Contributors: Joe Casey, Brian Holguin, Alan Moore, Ed McGuinness, Carlos D'Anda, Richard Friend, Mark Irwin, Jason Martin, Trevor Scott, Howard Shum, Dan Brown, Digital Chameleon, Richard Starkings, and Comicraft

Reprints: Mr. Majestic #1-6 (of 9); Wildstorm Spotlight #1

Synopsis: Mr. Majestic is a Kherubim Warlord, named Majestros, who came to Earth millennia ago during a war with the Daemonite species.  In the modern era he is a superhero who protects his adopted planet and its natives.  He uses a combination of extraordinary physical and mental exploits which make him one of the most powerful beings on the planet.  His powers include flight, tremendous strength and durability, laser vision, and an advanced Kherubim intellect.
McGuinness' Majestic is an imposing figure

A deadly entity called the Cosmic Negator is going to intercept our solar system in fifty years and only Majestic knows of its existence.  He rallies the most brilliant minds on the planet to devise a plan to save the world.  Among these minds is the young cybernetic-powered genius Desmond who later becomes Majestic's partner.  The group must figure out a way to disguise the solar system from the Negator's senses before it arrives while keeping the project secret to avoid mass-hysteria.  Can Majestic and his covert group accomplish this monumental task in time?  Watch as the decades tick by!

Subsequent adventures include a night on the town with fellow Wildcats member Ladytron.  She has found religion in the Church of Gort, but will her fellow robots accept her when she still has organic parts?  Majestic and Desmond must stop a space-time rift caused by an unlikely person.  Will Majestic be able to stop the danger to the entire world by sacrificing the life of an innocent?  Did you know Majestic had a son?  Majestros uses a stolen piece of space-time material to reunite with his son, but the result is another deadly rift which threatens the planet.  This time the stakes may be too high for Majestic to do the right thing.  An intergalactic prison ship crash lands on Earth and Majestic must bring them back to justice before they wreak havoc on the planet.  Majestic is ambushed by an interstellar gang of hot women who like to make powerful men their playthings.  Meanwhile on Earth, Desmond must help the governments of the world survive the malicious Y2K crisis!
Casey throws in some fun sci-fi bits which were
sorely lacking from the Superman books of the time

The final story is a chilling time where entropy has finally consumed the universe.  Only a handful of near-omnipotent beings have endured to witness this final passing.  Among them is Majestic, but all organic life has perished, the stars have gone cold, and darkness becomes all.  What awaits at the end of all things?

Pros: Joe Casey writes over-the-top super heroics, McGuinness pencils some solid art, Alan Moore story is pretty good, puts Majestic squarely in league with Superman in terms of power, each issue has a self-contained story, reminds me of the Silver Age Superman stories

Cons: Majestic is a knockoff of Superman, his supporting cast is woefully small (just Desmond apparently), short series, McGuinness is stolen away after only six issues, Casey's writing can be overly campy, final three issues of the series (not collected in this trade, thankfully) were pretty lame

Mike Tells It Straight: Mr. Majestic was introduced as an immensely powerful Kherubim in the pages of Jim Lee's Wildcats when it was still being published by Image Comics.  The character became a Superman knockoff, but found some popularity under the pen of Alan Moore during his run on the book with up-and-coming artist Travis Charest.  Majestic was portrayed as a stoic hero/warrior with no time for a personal life and consumed by the long war with the Daemonites.  He was the perfect straight man for the team and proved to be an interesting addition.  Most Image characters at the time were more flash than substance, but Majestic endured to become a recurring character in the series and eventually gained this solo book.
Majestic runs into an interstellar gang of
ladies who use men as sex objects (kewl!)

Joe Casey has become a prolific comic book writer and Ed McGuinness is one of the best modern artists today.  These two future stars paired up on this book and deliver a good product.  Casey's Mr. Majestic is a superhero who doesn't need a secret identity because he never has any down time, he performs impossible feats (like moving entire planets), and never lets any personal hardship or moral crisis get him down.  Casey essentially delivers Superman stories reminiscent of the Silver Age (where grim and gritty never existed and no one questioned the scientific validity of superheroes' outrageous accomplishments) and McGuinness delivers his trademark style (a bit anime-inspired, mixed with some Jack Kirby).

What I found really interesting here is McGuinness and Casey both got moved to the main Superman titles after this short Mr. Majestic series.  It became a stepping stone to much greater mainstream success with DC Comics.  The title only lasted another three issues (one story arc) once McGuinness left.  The final arc is not collected here and has never been reprinted.  It's a good thing as the art style by Eric Canete and Juan Vlasco was too different from McGuinness' signature style.  The story itself (which sees Majestic join an elite group of cosmic beings) seems to have been thankfully erased from the character's history.

Overall I enjoyed the first issue of this collection and the Alan Moore story.  The rest of it was decent, but not particularly noteworthy.  Joe Casey was filling a void at a time where the Superman titles were all convoluted messes.  If you liked Godland (also by Casey) then you'll probably dig this series.  I like where the Majestic character has gone since his beginnings in Wildcats and this first solo series may be interesting to others, but I don't highly recommend it.  His supporting cast is weak and the stories have no lasting impact that I can tell. Check out Majestic: Strange New Visitor for his crossover with the DC Universe.  I'll be reading the follow up solo series which came out of the crossover to see how it fares (it lasted twice as long as this series which is a good sign).

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Majestic: Strange New Visitor Trade Paperback Review

Majestic: Strange New Visitor
DC Comics
168 pages
$14.99 (2005) Trade Paperback
ISBN 9781401204839

Contributors: Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Karl Kershl, Ed McGuinness, Renato Guedes, Oclair Albert, Richard Horie, Tanya Horie, Carrie Strachan, Phil Balsman, Rob Leigh, Ken Lopez, Nick Napolitano, and Dexter Vines

Reprints: Action Comics #811, Adventures of Superman #624, Superman #201, and Majestic #1-4 (of 4)

Synopsis: Majestros is an immortal Kheran warlord stranded on Earth for millennia while battling a secret war against another alien race called the Daemonites.  Super-intelligent, immensely powerful, wielding ocular energy beams, and the ability to fly, in the modern era he goes by the superhero moniker, Mr. Majestic.  The war ended and Majestic remained on Earth.  While investigating a long-abandoned Daemonite science-base he stumbles upon an apparatus which opens a gateway into The Bleed.  Something causes him to fall in and he disappears from reality.
McGuinness gives us a Majestic version
of an old favorite!

"Strange New Visitor" - Superman has gone missing from Metropolis and a devastating reality storm is raging above the city.  Lois Lane is worried about her husband Clark Kent (aka Superman).  The other heroes of Metropolis band together to deal with the storm, but they're having a very difficult time.  They include Dr. John Henry Irons (formerly Steel), his daughter Natasha Irons (the current Steel), Superboy (Kon-El), and the Eradicator (an ancient Kryptonian machine which takes a semi-humanoid form).

Rumors emerge of a new hero who strikingly resembles Superman and saves innocent people caught in the storm.  Lois investigates in the hopes it's Superman, but discovers the hero is actually a stranger named Mr. Majestic.  He is displaced from his own reality and doing what he can to help people in immediate danger.  Lois presents Majestic to the other heroes, but they meet him with varying degrees of skepticism.  Is his reality-displaced presence causing the storm somehow?  The group of heroes don't know what to make of Majestic, but they can all agree on not trusting him.  When they turn on him it could mean the end of Metropolis!

"Grounded" - Majestic is trapped on a parallel Earth, but he doesn't stop being a hero.  His methods are deemed too harsh by this world's heroes including Superman and the two have a discussion.  Superman suggests Majestic gain some perspective as a regular human and he takes it to heart.  The next day Jim McArest rents a room in a small suburb outside of Metropolis.

Superman and Majestic have a chat over coffee
He befriends Ellen and her son Elijah, but finds it hard to assimilate into regular life and keep his superhero identity a secret.  How can he hold back when witnessing an injustice and do nothing?  Not only that, but something followed him from The Bleed and it threatens to destroy the small bit of real life Majestic has made for himself.  Will he be able to protect it?  Then the Eradicator shows up wanting to settle the score with Majestic after the events of the reality storm in Metropolis. It's not looking good for this fish out of water.  

Pros: Abnett and Lanning nail Majestic's character and give him much-needed depth as a hero, Kershl's art is surprisingly detailed and excellent, the book has the same creative team throughout, McGuinness turns in some good covers, very nice Wildstorm/DC crossover which is actually in-continuity, classic meeting between Superman and Majestic in a diner, character progression for The Eradicator

Cons: Actual plot is very basic and follows the typical crossover formula, Kershl's Lois Lane was not very metropolitan and appeared to wear over-sized (baggy) clothing, no noteworthy villain in either storyline, no Superman vs. Majestic battle
We get to see Majestic's memories
from Khera

Mike Tells It Straight: I found the Majestic crossover in Superman to be a daring move which predated the consolidation of the Wildstorm Universe into the DC Universe by seven years (it happened in the New 52).  At the time it was unheard of having an in-continuity crossover and  the writers, Abnett and Lanning, worked hard to make it unique.  They did a great job nailing Majestic's character while adding some much-needed depth. The two are known for their cosmic superhero stories and really did a great job here.

Kershl's art was highly competent and shone in several areas.  Great storytelling and lots of detail.  I really liked that the main creative team was consistent throughout the two storylines.  My only gripe was his baggy clothes-wearing Lois Lane.  A far cry from the cosmopolitan reporter I've grown accustomed to.  I guess it was a little disappointing to not have a big brawl between Superman and Majestic, but the crossover wasn't typical and I wouldn't trade the diner scene with the two for anything. It was classic.

We get to see some of Majestic's origin on Khera when he falls in love with a beautiful princess named Elan (that's the name he keeps calling Ellen).  I felt the only thing really missing was a worthy villain in the story.  The focus was on characterization more than anything else and the writers validated Majestic as a true hero (instead of just a Superman knock-off).  I liked the momentum they built for the character which launched him into a regular series.  I'll post a review for it soon!

TO BUY and Recommendations: