Monday, October 31, 2011

X-Force Vol. 1 Angels & Demons Hardcover Review

X-Force Vol. 1 - Angels & Demons
Marvel Comics
144 pages
$19.99 (2008)
$15.99 (2009) TPB
ISBN 9780785135524

Contributors: Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, Clayton Crain, and Cory Petit

Reprints: X-Force (2008) #1-6

Synopsis: William Stryker was an anti-mutant evangelist and his legacy is the paramilitary religious sect called the Purifiers.  They're actively targeting mutants for termination and have even infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. with a secret motive.  Cyclops tasks Wolverine with putting the X-Force team back together in an effort to stop the Purifiers latest plot, but this team is a decidedly different group of individuals and their mission is akin to a black ops assassination.  The team is comprised of
  • Wolverine - healing factor, unbreakable adamantium bones and retractable claws, skilled tracker
  • X-23 - clone of Wolverine with similar abilities and less conscience, hot chick
  • Warpath - Native American with enhanced speed, agility, and invulnerability
  • Wolfsbane - Irish werewolf raised by a strict Catholic priest, major guilt issues
  • Angel - billionaire playboy with wings, genetically modified by mutant evolutionist Apocalypse
It isn't long until the group is knee-deep in Purifier blood, but they never counted on the return of some of the most heinous villains from their past.  Will the group last long enough to accomplish their mission and how much emotional damage can these creatures sustain before giving in?

Pros: Bloody, good writing by Kyle & Yost, fascinating art by Crain - he does an impressive job of pencils/inks/computer colors, nice cliffhanger endings between issues, return of Archangel!, return of Nimrod/Bastion, Rob Liefeld never touched this project

Remember this showdown?
Cons: Crain's art is a bit too dark/murky at times and highly stylized, story is mostly action, could have used more recap on characters and plotlines (inherent problem in almost all modern X-books)

Bloody variant
Mike Tells It Straight: This initial story by the Kyle/Yost writing team brought X-Force back in a big way.  The bloody, excessive violence (not suitable for young readers) was very popular and is backed by an interesting plot, plus Clayton Crain's art is phenomenal.  Things happen a bit fast for new readers and some seriously old characters are brought back into play.  You'll enjoy the art regardless of the story which is heavily geared toward long-time X-Men readers based on the return of the many old characters. I was a huge Archangel fan and was stoked to see him return in a believable way.  This one gets a worthy recommendation.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Astonishing X-Men: Gifted Motion Comic Review

Astonishing X-Men: Gifted
Marvel Comics
Motion Comic
60 mins. - 1 disc - 6 episodes
$14.93 (2010) DVD
ISBN 826663121339
Directors - Joss Whedon, John Cassaday
Studio - Marvel Knights Animation

Synopsis: The X-Men are always a team in flux and the current iteration is led by Cyclops and Emma Frost.  They hold a press conference and unveil a new team to the world - a team to address crisis situations around the globe and not just police mutantkind. 

Stealing their thunder is news of a "cure" for mutants.  Civil unrest follows along with internal struggle for some members of the team - particularly the Beast, who has mutated into a progressively more feline form.  The team goes head-to-head with Ord, a powerful new adversary of extraterrestrial origin.  All this and the astonishing return of a former teammate!

Pros: Story/dialogue/art are exactly the same as original comic material, visual art remains highly detailed (vs. simplified animation style - used as a necessity to cut down on costs and production time)

Cons: Animation looks stiff because it's essentially the comic with motion added (some figure motion, mostly moving mouths)

Mike Tells It Straight: I'm a huge fan of Whedon and Cassaday's Astonishing X-Men run. This motion comic translation of the first story arc (Gifted) is a decent evolution essentially taking the printed page and adding motion/screen movement.  It still feels clunky because of the hybrid nature of a motion comic - it's not a comic anymore and it falls short of traditional animation.  Part of me likes the added motion to the already cool comic story with zero changes to plot/scenes/dialogue, but another part is disappointed because the animation is so much less than a regular 'cartoon'.   

Straight from the printed page the X-Men shamble onward
The motion comic genre is still very new and finding its legs.  Technological improvements have made it easier to translate printed comics into motion hybrids, but the question of audience and acceptance still remains.  Price to the consumer doesn't appear to be an issue since buying this DVD is equivalent to buying the trade paperback version - so it's just preference. 

How do you like to experience your comics?  Traditionally we only had one option - read a pamphlet-style comic book or the book-style collected edition.  A comic book page is read from the upper left corner diagonally down to the lower right corner.  The reader focuses on one panel at a time, first looking at the art then reading the dialogue then looking at the art for longer, and moving on to the next panel to start the process over again.  Rinse, repeat for each page.  This reading process is unique to the medium and drives the creative presentation of the material.  You are literally putting yourself through this process to read a comic.  Do you consciously enjoy or like the process?  If you're an avid comic reader you've trained yourself to perform this process in expert fashion.  Animation (or movie storyboarding) is very different and throws the comic book reading process out the window (it's not necessary due to the medium and animation/movies have their own familiar process). 

Let's talk about media devices.  The onset of the tablet reader allows greater options for reading books/watching movies on the go or just anywhere you can read a book comfortably (couch, bed, car, airplane).  The motion comic is kind of like listening to an audio book, but looking at pictures with lip movement to the words (well, it's a little more sophisticated than that as evidenced by the animation in this particular motion comic) and some sound effects. 
That's right, Kitty.  My lips move
It's going to come down to whether a majority of people like the added movement/audio with their regular comic book reading experience and/or whether the motion comic is more readily available at a good price point.  I subscribe to Netflix streaming and this motion comic is available, but I would have to pay extra for the print or digital versions.

Either way, the jury is still out, but this motion comic adds a little extra to the original work.  We'll see if these continue, but I would prefer a fully animated feature.  The format is definitely not for everyone and I recommend checking out a preview trailer to see if it's for you (unless you have Netflix or it's available on some other network, then go for it).  It feels like the evolution of printed comics to digital format is slowly progressing and the motion comic may be a new alternative.  Stay tuned.   

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bratpack Review

King Hell Press
Softcover Trade Paperback
176 pages
$19.95 (2009)
ISBN 9780980020618

Contributors: Rick Veitch, Gary Fields and introduction by Neil Gaiman

Reprints: Bratpack #1-5 (of 5)

Synopsis: Slumburg, Pennsylvania is a dirty, industrial city with its own group of vigilante protectors.  The urban citizens of Slumburg love their 'superheroes', but hate the petty, cling-on sidekicks following them around like lovesick puppies.  A popular radio show presents the question: "What should happen to the sidekicks?".  Everyone thinks they should eat $#!t and die! Well, guess what? They do. 

Now the 'heroes' must recruit (exploit) a new generation of eager youth willing to put themselves in harm's way in order to make a difference, including:
  • Midnight Mink (Batman) - literally a millionaire playboy by day (he publishes a men's magazine and is surrounded by beautiful half-naked centerfolds) and a masked vigilante by night with a penchant for young boys.  His sidekick is Chippy (Robin) - typically recruited from the altar boys at Saint Bingham's and clad in a pair of speedos, fishnet shirt and leather choker
  • King Rad (Green Arrow) - anti-war weapons dealer with a hankering for mood-altering drugs and free speech.  His sidekick is Wild Boy (Speedy) - skater punk riding a hover sled and the life of the party with no shortage of brews, reefer, pills, or smack
  • Moon Mistress (Wonder Woman) - a burnt-out, man-hating slut who transforms herself into an S&M bondage queen to lash out at the male-dominated world.  Her sidekick is Luna (Wonder Girl) - jailbait minx with a skintight suit and proper technique
  • Judge Jury (Captain America) - white supremacist hate-monger crushing the guilty (who just happen to be minorities).  His sidekick is Kid Vicious (Bucky) - steroid-pumped rhinestone cowboy sporting American flag pants, steel-toed sh*tkickers, and raging mood swings
  • True Man (Superman) - the real deal superhero who disappeared without a trace one day leaving the other heroes to their millions of dollars in licensing proceeds from both themselves and their sidekicks.  The other heroes have some major secrets concerning him 

Pros: Merciless deconstruction of the hero-sidekick relationship in comic books, drips bile, spits venom

Cons: Black and white, art is murky, corruption of the innocent

Mike Tells It Straight: I've never read a more twisted, cynical or grotesque comic book story in my life - and I loved every godforsaken minute.  No one can vilify the superhero genre better than Rick Veitch and this story is required reading for any supposedly 'mature' comic book reader.  Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman elevated the superhero to godlike status with Miracleman, but Veitch tears it all down and shows the heroes for the youth-corrupting, life-sucking hypocrites they really are! 

When I first read this story (back in the '90s) it felt like Veitch's 176 page f*ck you to DC Comics and their pantheon of golden age heroes with sidekicks (plus Captain America) after getting booted off Swamp Thing.  Today it reads like the ultimate dissection of the superhero genre.  Don't be afraid to swim in the deep end of the pool - check it out!

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Friday, October 28, 2011

X-Force and Cable: The Legend Returns Review

X-Force and Cable: The Legend Returns
Marvel Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
144 pages
$14.99 (2005)
ISBN 9780785114291

Contributors: Rob Liefeld, Fabian Nicieza, Matt Yackey, and Rus Wooton

Reprints: X-Force (2004) #1-6 (of 6)

Synopsis: Cable's past and future collide!  A group of modified humans from the future called the Helix travel into the past to awaken a mutant-eating monster named the Skornn.  Cable had defeated and imprisoned the Skornn many thousands of years ago. 

Now Cable and Domino must put the band back together (X-Force!) to stop the next mutant apocalypse. Unfortunately, not all of the old bandmembers want to team up with Cable again because he plays it a little too close to the vest.  Each former X-Force member has moved on - Shatterstar is trying to find patience with a bunch of kung-fu monks, Cannonball is a farmer, Warpath and Sunspot are XSE members, and Meltdown is bumming smokes down at the 7-11. 

Seriously, that's a bright yellow codpiece
Will Cable be able to convince everyone to help before random mutants get gobbled up like Pez?  Wolverine shows up and waves his hands around, the Thing and Human Torch from the Fantastic Four run around and yell a bunch of stuff, and Stryfe is back from the dead!?  Oh yeah, don't forget about the Skornn - a big talking lizard with the munchies.  Good luck.

Pros: Not much - Liefeld's art is a little more polished, he gives us better perspectives, cooler costume designs (although Cable's bright yellow codpiece is super-pervy)

Cons: Liefeld's art is still a train wreck (check out the cover, WTF is happening with Cable's arm and that gun?) including jacked up anatomy, no backgrounds, the characters don't look like they're holding objects properly, the objects, Nicieza scripts like pieces of wood are talking to each other, plot is fairly horrible, a couple issues of just straight up brawls for no reason, Shatterstar

Mike Tells It Straight: It's the '90s all over again with a reunion of the original X-Force creators Liefeld and Nicieza.  The nostalgia came sliding back on a wave of nausea.  Although I could see improvement in Liefeld's art, it still sucks donkey nards.  Overuse of splash pages (lazy), vague plot details, an all-powerful bad guy with absolutely no explanation besides "Graaa!  Eat mutants!", and it's the same old crap all over again!  The legendary return of suck.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

100% True? Review

100% True?
DC Comics - Paradox Press
64/ea. = 128 pages
$3.50/ea. = $7.00
ISBN 761941208268

Published: 100% True? #1-2 (of 2)

Contributors: Gahan Wilson, Frank Quitely, Russ Heath, Lennie Mace, Steve Dillon, Bronwyn Carter, Joe Orlando, Doug Moench, Robin Smith, Rick Geary, Carl Posey, Mike Zeck, Danny Hellman, Graham Higgins, Rick Parker, Feliks Dobrin, Charlie Adlard, Nancy Collins, Bill Alger, and others.

Reprints: Story excerpts from The Big Book of Death/Weirdos/Conspiracies/Freaks/Little Criminals/Losers

Synopsis: Bizarre events happen every day which no one can explain, strange people or creatures are born all across the world, tragic events are caused by clandestine organizations, and wicked minds run rampant in this chronicle of the fantastic.  From the Elephant Man to the electric chair and JFK's assassination - judge for yourself whether the stories are 100% true?

Pros: Quitely's Elephant Man story is the only worthwhile piece in the bunch

Cons: Black and white, most of the art is terrible, writing is weak (bad pulp)

Mike Tells It Straight: It's a greatest hits version of "The Big Book of..." series.  The writing and art is 98% bad (even Steve Dillon's art sucked).  Judge this book by it's cover and don't believe the hype.


100% Trade Paperback Review

DC Comics - Vertigo
Softcover Trade Paperback
256 pages
$24.99 (2005)
$39.99 (2009) Hardcover
ISBN 9781401203498

Contributors: Paul Pope, Lee Loughridge, and John Workman

Reprints: 100% #1-5 (of 5)

Synopsis: New York 2038 is a dirty place where life is cheap and thrills are expensive.  The current fad is gastro - seeing inside the guts and intestines of other people while they perform, specifically professional athletes and strippers. 

A dead stripper is found in a dumpster outside the gastro club where Kim works.  She freaks out, buys a gun and starts wearing it under her clothes.  Strel is Kim's friend and manages the club, but she's a single mom and dreams of opening a coffee roasting company.  John was once a promising lit major in college and is now a bus boy at the club after realizing academic life is purgatory.  Daisy replaces the murdered gastro dancer and is a fiery drifter never staying in one city too long.  Eloy is a janitor by day and a struggling artist by night.  Haitous is a gastro fighter and built like a tank.  All he wants is to be reunited with his wife and child. 

Six desperate, poor, and lonely people living their lives at 100% without a chance to look back at the consequences.

Pros: Marijuana is legal, mild nudity, some cool sci-fi concepts, interesting story and art by Pope

Cons: Black and white, Pope's manic art can be rough/difficult to decipher at times, don't ever trust a stripper, the ending is too gimmicky

Mike Tells It Straight: Paul Pope's book is a roller coaster ride through the lives of these desperate characters.  His art is always energetic, can sometimes be too dark/confusing, and will immerse you in a grimy, believable world.  I was surprised at how good his writing and dialogue were - it's a worthwhile read if you're a hopeless romantic.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Empowered Volume 1 Review

Empowered Vol. 1
Dark Horse Comics
Graphic Novel
248 pages
$14.95 (2007)
ISBN 9781593076726

Contributors: Adam Warren

Synopsis: Empowered is a self-conscious superhero and member of the super-group -  The Super Homeys.  She possesses a hypermembrane super-suit granting her enhanced abilities including stamina, strength, invulnerability, and energy casting.  The only drawbacks - it's skintight, completely revealing, doesn't work without skin-to-membrane contact (i.e. no underwear please), loses power when it gets ripped, and gets torn easier than the homecoming queen on prom night (oops!). 

Emp's typical night is getting hogtied and ball-gagged by a bunch of perverted villains with the Super Homeys eventually coming to her rescue.  Hopelessly unreliable due to the fragility of her super-suit, she can't get no respect.  She remains plucky despite the difficulty of her powers, but ends up dating a henchman dubbed "Thugboy".  She then becomes friends with a girl ninja named Ninjette and ends up with The Caged Demonwolf as a coffee table decoration. 

Pros: Warren's art is action-packed (lots of speed lines) and he is excellent at drawing curvy women, lots of pages, self-deprecating and sarcastic writing by Warren with many fourth-wall breaks

Cons: Digest-sized (like all that manga sitting on the shelves of Borders gathering dust - before they closed Borders), black and white, has too many chapter break intro pages, very corny, no nudity

Mike Tells It Straight: Empowered is a good read if you're looking for lighthearted comedy.  Her exploits are mostly failures and she's always self-consciously half-naked.  Warren crafts a humorous analogy to the insecurities and concerns of everyday life through his titular heroine. 

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Fall of Cthulhu Vol. 1 The Fugue Review

Fall of Cthulhu Vol. 1 - The Fugue
Boom! Studios
Softcover Trade Paperback
136 pages
$14.99 (2008)
ISBN 9781934506196

Contributors: Michael Alan Nelson, Jean-Jacque Dzialowski, Andrew Ritchie, and Tyler Walpole

Reprints: Fall of Cthulhu #0-5

Synopsis: Cy Morgan is a student at Miskatonic University in the city of Arkham and is spending lunchtime with Jordan, his fiance.  Their meal is interrupted by his Uncle Walt who is an anthropology professor and supposed to be on a dig in South America.  He looks disheveled and acts strangely, making Cy promise to stop "him". 

Then Uncle Walt blows his brains out. 

Cy attempts to pick up the pieces after his uncle's suicide and looks for clues at the Arkham Boarding House where Walt kept a room.  The air of the place is heavy with uncertain dread and Cy meets Mr. Arkham, the owner of the house.  Cy inspects his uncle's room and finds bizarre artifacts. 

The suicide begins to drive a wedge into Cy's relationship with Jordan as more weird events happen and he feels compelled to delve deeper into the mystery.  Then the dreams start - Cy is transported to a surreal landscape with menacing beings who tell him of the impending return of dread Elder Gods and the awakening of Cthulhu. 

Pros: Creepy mystery story filled with plenty of apprehension, expanding on the Cthulhu mythos created by H.P. Lovecraft

Cons: Art is unexceptional, some parts of story are predictable

Mike Tells It Straight: Perfect for any fan of H.P. Lovecraft and his creepy elder gods from outer-dimensional space.  A good horror mystery and the same quality as an exceptional Vertigo book during their heyday (not quite Sandman, but perhaps The Dreaming).  The art is my only complaint, but it doesn't detract heavily from this dark, moody thriller.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Abraxas and the Earthman Review

Abraxas and the Earthman
King Hell Press
Softcover Trade Paperback
88 pages
$16.95 (2006)
ISBN 9780962486487

Contributors: Rick Veitch

Reprints: Epic Illustrated #10-17

Synopsis: John Isaac is stationed on a nuclear submarine and researching whale songs.  The sub is attacked and scuttled by a giant squid creature which suddenly lifts off into space!  Isaac and Falco, the sub's commander, are the only survivors and become captives on the organic starship (which looks like a giant tree) of Captain Rotwang.  He leads a motley crew of interstellar whalers and is obsessed with finding the greatest space whale in history - the red behemoth Abraxas!

On a previous expedition Rotwang lost a leg to the great whale and has vowed revenge no matter how many fall in his mad quest.  His plan for Isaac is to have the Xlexu surgeons (giant preying mantises) merge the two hemispheres of his brain granting him vast psychic abilities and therefore able to track the whale from across the galaxy.  What secret prophecy do the surgeons know about humans and the mighty whale Abraxas that can change the universe forever?

Pros: Some neat concepts and oddly compelling characters, reading it feels like being on hallucinogens, a cheetah with a woman's head and six boobs, a new definition for stripped, giant alien nymphomaniacs, Veitch accomplished this entire story by himself! - probably on hallucinogens the whole time

Cons: Since this is based on Moby Dick we pretty much know how it ends, pricey at only 88 pages (but where else will you find it), weird - very, very weird

Mike Tells It Straight: Veitch takes Moby Dick by Melville and turns it into the most bizarre metaphysical science fiction adventure ever.  It's psychedelic and mind-altering, but totally entertaining and has that nostalgic 1980s feel (because it was first published back then).  If you liked Buckaroo Banzai, Logan's RunIce Pirates, or anything by Terry Gilliam then you'll feel right at home.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness Hardcover Review

Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness
Marvel Comics/Dynamite Entertainment
Oversized Hardcover
128 pages
$19.99 (2007)
$15.99 (2009) TPB
ISBN 9780785127437

Contributors: John Layman, Fernando Blanco, Fabiano Neves, Sean Phillips, June Chung, Randy Gentile, Rus Wooton, Arthur Suydam and Robert Kirkman consulting

Reprints: Marvel Zombies/Army of Darkness #1-5 (of 5)

Synopsis: Ash is possessed by the Deadites and his soul wanders to heaven, but things don't go so well (like his chainsaw hand does something really bad) and he's sent back to the physical plane - to the world of the Marvel Zombies!  The super zombie plague hasn't yet appeared and Ash tries to get help from the Avengers.  They blow him off as a crazy and then a flash of light appears in the sky.  It's not long before super zombies are roaming the street eating people and Ash is stuck in the middle.  He hooks up with the uninfected super-hotties Scarlet Witch and Dazzler to find a cure for the plague. 

Ash is convinced the zombies are Deadites with the only hope of stopping them being the Necronomicon.  Too bad Doctor Doom has it and he's not known for charity.  Now Ash has to get the book and hopefully get double-teamed by a pair of super-babes after saving the world.  Ashley J. Williams' luck is worse than the return policy at S-Mart and you know how this is going to end!

Pros: Great zombie covers by Suydam, amusing story, always cool to see Ash from Evil Dead (hey, at least he doesn't age or get overweight in the comics), nice oversized hardcover w/dustjacket

Cons: Interior art is kinda weak, same old Evil Dead and Army of Darkness jokes

Mike Tells It Straight: This book is a great installment into the Marvel Zombies saga and ranks right after the first mini-series IMHO.  It helps Kirkman was a consultant for the plot and the events are happening right along with the original series.  The covers by Suydam are seriously awesome with little Ash cameos to add that something extra.  If you liked the first book then you'll probably like this one (definitely read the first one before this story).  I wish they included Army of Darkness #13 with the events leading up to Ash's appearance in the MZ universe.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Marvel Zombies Return Hardcover Review

Marvel Zombies Return
Marvel Comics
Oversized Hardcover
120 pages
$24.99 (2009)
$19.99 (2010) TPB
ISBN 9780785142775

Contributors: Fred Van Lente, Seth Grahame-Smith, Jess Harrold, Jonathan Mayberry, John Rhett Thomas, David Wellington, Jason Alexander, Wellinton Alves, Nick Dragotta, Richard Elson, Andrea Mutti, June Chung, Lee Loughridge, Luca Malisan, Matt Milla, Simon Bowland, and Arthur Suydam

Reprints: Marvel Zombies Return #1-5 (of 5) and Marvel Spotlight: Marvel Zombies Return!

Synopsis: The zombie Avengers responsible for destroying almost all life across the universe were banished to another dimension by the son of Fabian Cortez in order to rid his universe of their threat forever. They all appear in the same universe, but at different times! 
  • Zombie Spider-Man arrives in the past and tries to reclaim his humanity through a mystical object, but with predictably tragic results
  • Zombie Giant Man arrives at Stark International while Tony is on a bender and only Jim Rhodes can fend off the zombie plague!  
  •  Zombie Wolverine appears in Madripoor fighting and eating the Hand.  Zombie Spider-Man is on his trail and it's a battle royale as a healthy Wolverine fights his undead shadow!
  • The Hulk arrives on the moon to confront Black Bolt at the beginning of World War Hulk, but something is wrong.  All he finds are zombie Inhumans - looks like Zombie Giant Man got there first!
  • This dimension has been overrun by zombies just like the one where the super zombie plague originated.  Zombie Giant Man is trying to harness the Watcher's technology so the zombies can use the multiverse as their own private buffet!  Zombie Spider-Man has formed a Zombie Avengers to stop them once and for all! 
Pros: Covers by Suydam return and are good, some gruesomely funny zombie stories, nice oversized hardcover w/dustjacket

Cons: Five different creative teams with no cohesion, price increase

Mike Tells It Straight: This series brings back the original Marvel Zombies after the events of the second series and returns some excitement to the franchise, but overall misses some great opportunities.  The five different creative teams make the story feel disjointed and the ending wraps everything up very neatly.  I think a single writer would have given the story more cohesion, but it's much better than the third and fourth installments.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Marvel Zombies 4 Hardcover Review

Marvel Zombies 4
Marvel Comics
Oversized Hardcover
112 pages
$19.99 (2009)
$16.99 (2010) TPB
ISBN 9780785139171

Contributors: Fred Van Lente, Kev Walker, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, Rus Wooton, Arthur Suydam, and Greg Land

Reprints: Marvel Zombies 4 #1-4 (of 4) and Tales of the Zombie #1

Synopsis: After the A.R.M.O.R. base in Florida is nearly overrun by the zombie plague, two zombies escape to a remote Caribbean island.  They are Simon Garth aka 'Zombie' and zombie Deadpool from the alternate dimension where the zombie plague originated.  Morbius and Jennifer Kale vow to stop the plague and form a new team including Jack Monroe aka 'Werewolf by Night' and Daimon Hellstrom aka 'Hellstorm'.

Meanwhile The Hood, who is an agent of Dormammu on Earth, is offered to purchase a super plague to hold the world ransom.  Dormammu is interested because the plague can remove the superheroes as opposition for when he takes over our universe.  The Hood brings the Night Shift to the buy meeting, but things get out of hand - they always do. 

Pros: Return of some old horror characters, zombie Deadpool, nice oversized hardcover w/dustjacket

Cons: Land's covers just aren't very good, story features a bunch of third-rate characters, story is weaker than previous installments

Mike Tells It Straight: This fourth installment of the Marvel Zombies saga just didn't have the same story quality or character draw as the rest.  Essentially a Midnight Sons resurrection with a boring plot and too conveniently wrapped up finish.  I would pass on this book unless you're either a big fan of the old Marvel horror characters or absolutely must have the complete set of Marvel Zombies books on your shelf.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Marvel Zombies 3 Hardcover Review

Marvel Zombies 3
Marvel Comics
Oversized Hardcover
104 pages
$19.99 (2009)
$15.99 (2009) TPB
ISBN 9780785136354

Contributors: Fred Van Lente, Kev Walker, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, Rus Wooton, Arthur Suydam, and Greg Land

Reprints: Marvel Zombies 3 #1-4 (of 4)

Synopsis: There exist soft spots in our world - where reality stretches paper thin and sometimes unknown forces from outside our universe can slip through.  One such place is a swamp in Florida where a pair of super zombies crawl out of the muck and eat a bunch of hicks. 

The official Florida superteam "The Command" (sponsored by the Fifty-State Initiative after the events of Civil War) investigate and are quickly dismantled by zombies.  Now it's up to Michael Morbius (the Living Vampire) working for A.R.M.O.R. to discover a cure before our world succumbs to the super plague.  His only hope - to get a living human blood sample from the original dimension of the plague.  Now Machine Man and Jacosta must travel to a world overrun by the evil dead while back at home A.R.M.O.R. is under siege!

Pros: Van Lente writes good dialogue and has a comprehensive story, some lame old characters get eaten, introduces zombie Deadpool, nice oversized hardcover w/dustjacket

Cons: Land's covers are not as good as Suydam's, a lot of third-rate characters no one cares about, hefty price tag for only four issues of material, not a big fan of Machine Man's post-Nextwave (Warren Ellis) attitude adjustment

Mike Tells It Straight: This story ups the stakes by having the super zombie plague show up in the real Marvel universe.  It's short at only four issues (and pricey), but actually written fairly well.  The art is mildly decent, but no major characters are featured which downgrades significance.  Van Lente brings back the horror-movie suspense by offing a few minor characters right in the beginning and setting a creepy tone.  Overall a modest entry.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Marvel Zombies 2 Hardcover Review

Marvel Zombies 2
Marvel Comics
Oversized Hardcover
128 pages
$19.99 (2008)
$15.99 (2009) TPB
ISBN 9780785125457

Contributors: Robert Kirkman, Sean Phillips, June Chung, Randy Gentile, Rus Wooton, and Arthur Suydam

Reprints: Marvel Zombies 2 #1-5 (of 5)

Synopsis: It has been decades since the infected zombie heroes left Earth to devour life across the cosmos.  Under the leadership of the Black Panther humanity has rebuilt itself in the ruins of Wakanda.  Survival is still uncertain and the Panther has grown old.  It's time for him to step down, but no true successor exists.  The son of Fabian Cortez has inherited his father's reckless pride and plans to usurp the Panther's status. 

The undead Avengers eventually return to Earth in search of the dimension-crossing gateway technology of Reed Richards.  They instantly sense the last remnants of life on the planet and attack!  Breakthroughs by Forge and Janet Van Dyne (infected and captured in the first series) have identified a waning in the hunger assailing the undead.  Will it come too late to save humanity?

Pros: More great covers by Suydam, same creative team as first series, nice oversized hardcover w/dustjacket

Cons: Story gets more crazy and convoluted, writing is not as good as first series, the bloom is off this rose

Mike Tells It Straight: Marvel Zombies was a smash success and rapidly spawned this sequel, but the same winning formula didn't recreate the same success.  The story starts out too predictable and becomes a convoluted mess by the end.  Kirkman's ending felt forced in order to keep an opening for another sequel.  It's a decent sequel following precisely in the footsteps of the first series, but the novelty has worn off quite a bit.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Marvel Zombies Hardcover Review

Marvel Zombies
Marvel Comics
Oversized Hardcover
136 pages
$19.99 (2006)
$15.99 (2008) TPB
ISBN 9780785122777

Contributors: Robert Kirkman, Sean Phillips, June Chung, Randy Gentile, and Arthur Suydam

Reprints: Marvel Zombies #1-5 (of 5)

Synopsis: It began with a flash in the sky and an unsatiable hunger took hold.  Our beloved heroes were the first victims and quickly spread the hunger throughout the globe.  Soon all of humanity had been eaten by the superpowered zombies once known as the Avengers.  Now the small pockets of uninfected must rally to survive this super plague.  How can the former heroes continue to go on after devouring their loved ones - and how can they possibly stop the coming of Galactus!

Pros: Good writing/art, lots of extras including the many cool covers by Suydam, sketchbook, foreword by Kirkman, nice oversized hardcover w/dustjacket

Cons: Completely off-the-wall story with far-fetched conclusion, a lot of hype, many reprintings with some less than spectacular covers

Mike Tells It Straight: This story was a massive hit and spun out of Mark Millar's run on Ultimate Fantastic Four when Ultimate Reed Richards came into contact with an alternate dimension overrun by a super zombie plague.  The team managed to stop more zombies from crossing dimensions, but the infected Fantastic Four remained becoming the Ultimate Frightful Four. 

Kirkman knows zombies (he writes The Walking Dead) and does an excellent job here, even having the heroes stop (after gorging themselves) to consider their grotesque plight.  They stay in character throughout as the scientists like Banner and Pym try to analyze the physiological changes of their new condition.  Having the Marvel heroes become zombies and eat people is a wild concept - Kirkman takes it even farther by adding a cosmic bent to the whole deal.  The ending is totally nuts and one thing is for certain, this is the best possible Marvel-heroes-as-zombies book you will find!

TO BUY and Recommendations:

The End League Volume 2 Weathered Statues Review

The End League Vol. 2 - Weathered Statues
Dark Horse Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
152 pages
$16.99 (2010)
ISBN 9781595825179

Contributors: Rick Remender, Eric Canete, Naomi Baker, Matt Wilson, Andy MacDonald, and Rus Wooton

Reprints: The End League #5-9 (of 9)

Synopsis: The End League are on the ropes as Dead Lexington summons Nargor'ri the Ravager to feast on the souls of those unfortunate masses of humanity still living in this nightmare world.  Only Thor's enchanted hammer filled with the combined power of the dead Norse gods can possibly turn the tide.  It's up for grabs, but can only be wielded by someone of pure intentions.  Codename Black investigates a rumor that The Smiling Man has it in his possession.  It's obviously a trap, but the options have run out for the final team of superheroes. 

Meanwhile Soldier American, The Prairie Ghost, and Blur Girl attempt to stop Dead Lexington, but must battle through Wolfsangel's group of Astonishman clones!  What secret does Soldier American hide buried in his past causing him to doubt his worthiness to hold Thor's hammer?  The deck is impossibly stacked against the heroes - how can they overcome evil and save the world this time!

Pros: Remender's writing and characterization skills shine, Canete's art is highly detailed and competent, Baker's colors are great (especially her ability to color Canete's manic art style), some comedy too!

Cons: Canete's art is highly stylized and gets a bit messy near the end of the series (reminds me of Carlos Meglia crossed with Keith Giffen), final issue drawn by MacDonald (not as exciting as Canete), Baker is replaced by Wilson after two issues (he's not as good), still just another post-apocalyptic, alternate-future knockoff of the Justice League!

Mike Tells It Straight: The knockdown, drag out finish to Remender's diabolical Justice League ripoff holds nothing back.  Canete's manic art is pulse-pounding, character origins are revealed, and this plot twists more than a suffocating mime.  I thoroughly enjoyed the ride through this dark, crazy world and the ending was spectacular.  The art gets a little rough and it would have been nice to have a consistent art team throughout, but definitely worth it.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Monday, October 3, 2011

The End League Volume 1 Ballad of Big Nothing Review

The End League Vol. 1 - Ballad of Big Nothing
Dark Horse Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
104 pages
$12.95 (2009)
ISBN 9781595821959

Contributors: Rick Remender, Mat Broome, Sean Parsons, Wendy Broome, Eric Canete, Naomi Baker and Rus Wooton

Reprints: The End League #1-4 (of 9)

Synopsis: He's the most respected and loved superhero in the world and he has a secret: he's responsible for destroying it.  Back in 1962, Astonishman caused the Green Event which granted hundreds of thousands of humans superpowers and forever changed society.  The age of Magnificents began and brought the end of the world as most superhumans were not altruistic enough to avoid exploiting their powers for selfish reasons.  The supervillains soon outnumbered the superheroes.  On the Day of Annihilation the villains teamed up and killed all of the heroes.  All except The End League - the final group of heroes for the end times. 

The team is a benchmark of iconic superheroes:
  • Astonishman - flight, super-strength, invulnerability, super-senses, laser vision, and vulnerability to hellfire (Superman)
  • Soldier American - super soldier enhancement, long life (active since WWII), and can generate energy swords (Captain America)
  • Divinity - counted among the Greek gods, called the "god-killer", wields a powerful sword with both awesome destructive and healing properties (Wonder Woman)
  • Codename Black - human without superpowers, near-perfect fighting abilities, advanced technological equipment, his family received superpowers from the Green Event and became heinous villains (Batman)
  • Blur Girl - superspeed, lesbian (The Flash)
  • The Blue Gauntlet - flight, energy-based powers from an alien parasite, lesbian (Green Lantern)
  • Mother Hive - telepath, immobile (Professor X)
  • The Prairie Ghost - living poltergeist, mystical horse and chain with massive hook (Ghost Rider)
  • Arachnakid - four arms, spider powers, crush on Blur Girl (sorry buddy, I mean Spider-Man)
  • Grimwood - plant-based powers (Swamp Thing)
  • Brother Occult - magician with a demon named Azul bound to him (Doctor Voodoo)
These last heroes must fight a losing battle against the world's most powerful villains: Dead Lexington, Scarecrow Sinister, The Smiling Man, Wolfsangel, and The Minister of Matter. 

Ambushed on a last ditch food raid the League is caught by their old ally - Thor, god of thunder!  Only Astonishman can match the lobotomized and reprogrammed Norse god's raw power and not everyone gets out alive! 

Pros:  Some good art by Broome, Remender writes a suspenseful thriller, characters are likable after only a few panels

Cons: Another post-apocalyptic, alternate-future knockoff of the Justice League, hefty price tag for a meager four issues, jarring art team switch halfway through last issue

Mike Tells It Straight: Remender blatantly copies every iconic superhero he can get his grubby little hands on, and I enjoyed each second.  The story premise is a bit far-fetched, but the characterization is very well done and similarities to existing heroes saves time explaining abilities, motivations, etc. along with neat little twists on powers/relationships.

The plot twists, secrets, and betrayals keep coming in this edge of your seat thriller.  Broome delivers some of the best art of his career and the story makes you feel like this is really the end of the line.  My only complaint is the introduction of a new art team halfway through the last issue.  Canete's style is much different (reminds me of Carlos Meglia) than Broome's.  We'll see if the final installment (released in 2010) will be as interesting, but if this first arc is any indication it will be one hell of a ride!

TO BUY and Recommendations: