Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Godland Vol. 1 Hello, Cosmic! Trade Paperback Review

Godland Vol. 1 - Hello, Cosmic!
Image Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
144 pages
$14.99 (2006)
ISBN 9781582405810

Contributors: Joe Casey, Tom Scioli, Bill Crabtree, and Rob Steen

Reprints: Godland #1-6

Synopsis: Meet Adam Archer, former astronaut granted cosmic enlightenment and awesome superpowers on a space mission to Mars.  His home base is now the Infinity Tower in the middle of Manhattan with his three sisters (Neela, Stella, and Angie) as support staff - they tackle enigmatic menaces to mankind on a daily basis! 

A mysterious meteor crash lands on Earth drawing the nefarious attention of Basil Cronus, a dastardly villain who gets high by immersing his disembodied head in a jar of illegal drugs (or blood from cosmic beings).  The meteor contains a strange being with clues to the underlying cosmic tapestry of the universe.  Opposing Cronus is the enigmatic Friedrich Nickelhead, can Adam rescue the being from the clutches of these two lunatics?

Mmm...crunchy cosmic goodness
He must also save America's most beloved superhero, Crashman, from the foul clutches of S&M torturess, Discordia!  Seeds of discontent bear fruit at the Infinity Tower and this first series ends with a pop!

Pros: Quirky story with plenty of retro-cosmic action, rooted in the modern world despite the retro style, Scioli mimics Jack "King" Kirby's art style to perfection, cool cosmic enlightenment concept

Cons: Dialogue doesn't feel natural with art and character designs - i.e. Basil Cronus and Friedrich Nickelhead don't talk the way I would have expected based on their looks (too hip/modern), Crashman is kinda whack

Mike Tells It Straight: Get your retro comics fix right here!  The story and art are an homage to the epic cosmic-action tales of the '60s and '70s.  The plot is solid and Casey/Scioli design some neat characters.  Kirby's art (as aped by Scioli) looks good with the modern computer coloring techniques.  This book embraces the retro while keeping some modern sensibilities.  Casey is a master at hipster dialogue which didn't match up with the retro Kirby character designs for Cronus and Nickelhead.  Didn't quite feel natural to me, but I got over it.  A successful effort (convinced me to check out the next volume) and decent read.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Aztek: The Ultimate Man Trade Paperback Review

Aztek: The Ultimate Man
DC Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
240 pages
$19.99 (2008)
ISBN 9781401216887

Contributors: Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, N. Steven Harris, Keith Champagne, Clem Robins, Chris Eliopoulos, Mike Danza, Ed Benes, Steve Lightle, Dave Johnson, Mike Wieringo, Norm Breyfogle,

Reprints: Aztek: The Ultimate Man #1-10 (of 10)

Synopsis: A mysterious stranger comes to Vanity City - the second-most corrupt, life-sucking city in America (after Gotham of course).  His mission is to stop the return of an ancient death-god, but first he must create a new life and camouflage himself among the masses.  The Q Foundation has trained him since childhood to become the perfect human and he wields an incredible armor with a four-dimensional power source including an ancient helmet worn by the god Quetzalcoatl.
Yeah, cool helmet

While his training prepared him to be the ultimate warrior it neglected to teach him about the outside world.  He fumbles through the most mundane social relationships and views the world in innocent, simplistic terms.  Witnessing a super-powered bank robbery and the subsequent foiling by a homicidal superhero, Aztek steps in with disastrous results.  He discovers the real world has a steep learning curve and he better wise up if his mission has any chance at succeeding.

His journey is spectacular as he meets heroes Batman and Green Lantern, fights villains including the Joker and his failed predecessor from the Q Foundation, learns the truth about his father's death, and joins the JLA. 

Pros: Morrison/Millar give us some interesting superhero situations, Harris does all of interior art - it's consistent

Cons: Art by Harris is mediocre, initial print run on this book had major misprinting errors with missing/repeated pages, series ends suddenly without any resolutions (due to cancellation), his feather wings are lame

Squaaawwkkk! It's a bird!

Mike Tells It Straight: Kind of a let-down.  Back when Morrison's JLA series was still being published I heard a lot of good things about this book.  When the collected edition came out I finally got a chance to investigate the hype.  Although the art is consistently terrible, the writing has it's moments if you can understand the read-between-the-lines superhero critique subtext.  We get a glimpse of potential greatness to come from this series, but then it's cut short and abruptly ended.  If you loved Aztek in JLA then you'll enjoy this book, but otherwise I would pass.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Alias Omnibus Hardcover Review

Alias Omnibus
Marvel Comics
Oversized Hardcover
672 pages
$69.99 (2006)
ISBN 9780785121213

Contributors: Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos, David Mack, Matt Hollingsworth, Richard Starkings, Cory Petit, Bill Sienkiewicz, Mark Bagley, Rick Mays, Art Thibert and introduction by Allen Heinberg

Reprints: Alias (2001) #1-28 (of 28) and What If Jessica Jones Had Joined the Avengers? (2005) #1

Synopsis: Jessica Jones is a former superhero (codenamed "Jewel") who runs her own private investigations firm - Alias Investigations in New York City. She left behind the cape and the lifestyle, but still has powers and a major tendency for self-destruction.  She drinks, smokes, curses, and can throw you through a wall.

In her first case she manages to accidentally capture a premier superhero's civilian identity on film.  Now she's on the run from any one of the many clandestine organizations after said superhero.  She still has contacts in the superhero community, but will they help a 'washout'? 

Jessica working and smoking, smoking and working
Her next case has the wife of Rick Jones trying desperately to find her husband.  Oh, did you know Jessica is related to Rick?  Something doesn't smell right and the Skrulls might be involved.  Then J. Jonah Jameson hires her to find out Spider-Man's secret identity.  He wants to publicly 'out' him like what happened to Matt Murdock being 'outed' as Daredevil.

Next Jessica is hired to find a missing girl in a small rural town.  She discovers the ugly side of the townspeople and the reason the girl disappeared.  Is it too late to save her?  Then Jessica heads back to the city and finds a new love interest, but will her usual neurotic shenanigans ruin yet another relationship?

A drugged-out girl dressed in a spider-costume startles Jessica at home and earns her the venom of J. Jonah Jameson.  It's time to find another missing girl as Jessica delves into the underground drug trafficking of Mutant Growth Hormone (MGH), but this time she may be in over her head.

We finally learn the startling secret origin of Jessica Jones.  Improbable guest star Peter Parker aka Spider-Man.  More disturbing is the reason Jessica quit being a superhero as she is hired by victims of a mind-controlling villain to confront him on their behalf.  She was also victimized by the same villain and is tormented by the very thought of facing him again.  Can she overcome her fears or will she hide behind a bottle for the rest of her life?  Final issue has a life-changing resolution.

Beautiful covers by Mack
Pros: Bendis' writing is pretty kick ass w/great dialogue, Gaydos' art is consistently gritty, Mack's covers are cool, published under the Marvel MAX imprint for mature readers - this means there's a f*$%load of cursing and some mature themes (that Bendis sure likes to use the f-word!), the What If? issue is great, book was an Eisner Award nominee in 2004 for "Best Continuing Series" and "Best Serialized Story", beautiful omnibus hardcover edition with tons of extras including sketches, interviews, and original pitch

Cons: No nudity (or damn little of it) despite the MAX imprint, Gaydos/Bendis reuse art panels with different dialogue (picture Jessica's head in three consecutive panels staring at us with different word balloons, get it?) - always seems like cutting corners to me, the series ended, most of the mainstream Marvel characters were off-limits due to the MAX rating

Mike Tells It Straight: When this series was originally published the Alias television show starring Jennifer Garner was airing and I literally thought the comic was an adaptation of the show.  Never picked it up, why bother?  Adaptations usually suck anyway.  Boy, was I wrong!  This series is completely unrelated to the television program and a groundbreaking look at realistic situations involving superheroes.

Bendis' realistic dialogue and plot are a refreshing take on superheroes in real-life situations.  Alias is one of his best works and a phenomenal read.  It's not perfect by any means, but very interesting and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. Jessica's character development during the series was amazing as she falls on her face more often than she succeeds.  She is a flawed hero in the same vein as the classic Stan Lee characters and this is what Marvel is all about! 
Jessica, why so...purple?

The Marvel omnibus editions are great - best possible reprint versions out there.  This one is no exception, tons of extras for true fans of the work.  You get the bonus What If? encore story in this edition which is not included in any of the other Alias reprints.  Major downside as of this review is the scarcity of the omnibus - it's fetching upwards of $200 a copy these days.  Hopefully Marvel will get the hint and print a new edition so more people can afford to own it.  If not, buy the ultimate editions plus the What If?...Why Not? trade paperback for the whole story.  It's a mature story and definitely worth it. 

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Absolute Edition Review

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
DC Comics - America's Best Comics
Oversized Hardcover w/Slipcase
416 pages
$49.99 (2011) Omnibus
$75.00 (2003) Absolute Edition
$14.95 (2002) Trade Paperback
$24.95 (2001) Hardcover
ISBN 9781401200527

Contributors: Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill, Ben Dimagmaliw, and Bill Oakley

Reprints: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen #1-6 (of 6)

Synopsis: England faces an unparalleled threat to its security and only the most extraordinary team of adventurers can hope to save the empire.  They include:
  • Ms. Mina Murray (Bram Stoker) - former school mistress and one-time wife to Jonathan Harker.  Survivor of multiple visitations by Count Dracula.  Wears red scarf to cover bite mark scars.  Cursed
  • Allan Quatermain (H. Rider Haggard) - discoverer of King Solomon's mines and professional big game hunter with a crack shot.  Found near death in an opium den sucking the pipe
  • Captain Nemo (Jules Verne) - Sikh mariner, science-pirate and captain of the aquatic juggernaut, the Nautilus
  • Hawley Griffin (H.G. Wells) - embittered, misanthrope scientist who has turned his body invisible.  Found covertly raping girls under the guise of the Holy Spirit at a disreputable girls academy
  • Dr. Henry Jekyll (Robert Louis Stevenson) - troubled scientist who sought to separate his darker impulses from himself, but unintentionally birthed an unconscionable creature calling itself Edward Hyde and lacking all morals.  Found raping and dismembering French prostitutes
Edward Hyde doesn't play nice with others
The group must recover a missing new element called Cavorite which heralds sky-supremacy to the wielder.  Everything is not as it seems and their greatest allies may be their most wicked foes.  How can these five utterly different people work together to save England?

Can they keep the monstrous fiend Hyde in check for long?  Nemo's disdain for the British is near palpable, but why does he work for the Crown?  Quatermain is a washed up adventurer who may not have been worth saving.  Griffin's condition serves to further him from a humanity he already despises.  Can Mina Murray manage to wrangle these individuals to accomplish their lofty goal and who is the traitor?
The League regroups after some reconnaissance
Pros: Amazing concept/writing by Moore, quirky/interesting art by O'Neill, story is inspired by the best/greatest classic fiction writers of Victorian era, you can tell the creators had a blast working on this piece, Absolute edition has a ton of extras with an entire separate 192-page volume to house them, including original scripts by Moore (very detailed) and additional illos by O'Neill

Cons: Expensive book for a mere six-issue mini-series, wading through the extras can be a bit of a chore, O'Neill's art is heavily stylized, ending sky-battle is a bit hokey

Mike Tells It Straight: This is steampunk!  Wonderfully imaginative story by Moore as he borrows classic literary characters to make a psuedo-superhero team for the Victorian era.  You'll delight in uncovering the hidden gems of literary reference (Cavorite is from H.G. Wells' The Men in the Moon, plus many other references besides the main cast of characters) and it made me track down the original works by these famed authors.  Well worth the time - this book is for mature audiences (age 13+ recommended). 
Captain Nemo really, really dislikes the British
This Absolute Edition is an impressive collection.  Honestly, I found it to be a bit pricey and slightly overkill for my taste.  Perfect for the obsessed fan of this work or Moore in general, but the current rare status (out-of-print and fetching around $200 for a copy) makes it unattainable to my budget (I'm not alone there).  Buy the hardcover or trade paperback instead - this book is not the same as the movie, it's actually good.  Read it!
This movie was not approved by Alan Moore and it shows
TO BUY and Recommendations:

Empowered Volume 2 Review

Empowered Vol. 2
Dark Horse Comics
Graphic Novel
204 pages
$14.95 (2007)
ISBN 9781593078164

Contributors: Adam Warren

Synopsis: Empowered is a self-conscious superhero with a fragile hypermembrane super-suit giving her enhanced abilities, but it's flimsy and completely revealing.  She's the lowest-ranking member of the Super Homeys and a laughing-stock in both the criminal and hero community for getting captured/tied up regularly. 

Her self-image has improved a micron after befriending hard-drinking girl-ninja, Ninjette and dating reformed henchman, "Thugboy". 

In this volume we learn all sorts of keen information about the super-suit: it forms around Emp's hair follicles and if she doesn't shave her 'naughty bits' she'll wind up looking like a Brillo-pad down there, the suit enhances erotic pleasure, and it gives her x-ray vision.  We also learn Thugboy is on the run from a villain he betrayed and Ninjette kinda sorta has a thing for him.  All this and Thugboy explains why Emp's booty is righteous. 
This reminds me of a story about another sexy librarian :)

Pros: Warren's art is still action-packed (full o' speed lines) and Emp is one curvalicious babe with low self-esteem (just the way I likes 'em), chapter breaks are fewer and less lame, sexy librarian chapter rules!

Cons: Digest-sized (like all those Tokyo Pop manga volumes the nerdy high school kids were reading at Borders - before they closed Borders), black and white, less pages for same price as first volume (which was 248 pages), story doesn't progress too far in this volume, for the amount of beer Ninjette chugs she should be way less skinny, The Caged Demonwolf's talking in all caps and exclamation points gets old

Mike Tells It Straight: Warren delivers a solid second effort for his titular heroine.  We learn a bunch of stuff about Emp's suit and a few tidbits of her past.  I felt like this volume mainly set up storylines to be resolved in the next volume related to Emp's supporting cast.  The stories were still entertaining and good light-hearted comedy, but a little less interesting than the first volume (reviewed here Empowered Vol. 1).  I'm hoping the third volume makes up for it.

TO BUY and Recommendations: