Saturday, November 24, 2012

Point Blank Trade Paperback Review

Point Blank
DC Comics - Wildstorm
Softcover Trade Paperback
128 pages
$14.95 (2003)
$14.99 (2009)
ISBN 9781401201166

Contributors: Ed Brubaker, Colin Wilson, Simon Bisley, Janet Gale, and Comicraft

Reprints: Point Blank #1-5 (of 5)

Synopsis: Cole Cash is not a superhero.  He would rather drown his sorrows at the local pub than put on his mask and save innocent bystanders.  He was part of an elite covert ops squad called Team 7 which was subjected to an experimental process to create 'super-soldiers' for the United States government.  The experiment was partially successful as the members of Team 7 exhibit a myriad of enhanced psychic abilities.  The abilities are not consistent and often unreliable.  Cole himself shows no overt special abilities aside from a nasty drunk and the ability to offend people just by existing.  He shacked up with an alien assassin princess named Zealot who trained him to be a super-ninja, but she hates his guts too.  At some point he was part of a group of half-alien superheroes calling themselves the Wildcats waging a secret war against some other aliens.  It got old and he quit.
Lynch and Cole kick ass and take names

Now he's a professional barfly and the last few weeks have been a bit hazy.  His old buddies from Team 7 are either dead or government spooks.  His old commanding officer, Jack Lynch, was head of the dirtiest spookshow in town - International Operations.  I/O has been shut down, but Lynch is still tying up some loose ends.  He needs Cole's help to find someone, but Cole can't seem to remember their clandestine meetings.  His memory seems to be acting up and it could be the constant drinking.

Lynch is supposed to meet up with Cole one night, but never shows.  Cole leaves the bar they regularly meet at and discovers a crime scene.  Lynch has been shot in the head and is barely clinging to life.  The shooting sets Cole (aka the Grifter) on a rampaging mission to find the people responsible.  As Cole digs deeper into the case he starts to get conflicting information.  Did Lynch show up for their meeting after all?  Why can't he remember?  It seems like Cole is missing something and he goes to find Lynch's #1 adversary - Tao!  He's a genetically enhanced strategist and incredibly dangerous supervillain.  What hope does Cole and his whiskey-soaked brain have against the likes of Tao to solve the case?  
Cole kicks ass on his own

Pros: Excellent writing by Brubaker, perfectly redefined the superhero Wildstorm characters into a crime noir/spy fiction setting, gritty art by Wilson, the story is awesome - mature themes of sex, swearing, booze, and attempted murder, wicked ending, prequel to classic series Sleeper

Cons: Bisley covers feel a bit out of place, intentionally confusing, not a lot of backstory given for the characters (like how Lynch is the mentor to the Gen13 team, who is Savant, etc)

Mike Tells It Straight: In Point Blank Ed Brubaker overlays spy fiction and crime noir onto a corner of the Wildstorm universe populated by superheroes.  He writes a compelling mystery and really makes the most out of the history of Grifter (Cole Cash), Lynch, Tao, and Backlash (Marc Slayton).  These characters are better known for superhero brawls than character-driven stories.  It's an impressive feat and really revitalized the characters for me.

Cover to 2009 edition
The book is targeted at mature audiences due to the swearing, sexual themes, and violence.  These elements brought an appropriate atmosphere and contrast to the usual supervillain bashing.  None of the heroes or villains wear costumes and the story is supposed to read easily whether you know all of the characters or not.  I think it helps to know their backstory to fully appreciate the story.

Point Blank is the prequel to another series by Brubaker called Sleeper which goes on to explore what Lynch was investigating before getting shot in the head.  Sleeper builds from this story and is a true masterpiece of superhero spy fiction.  Brubaker really delivers a best-in-class genre mash-up story.  I give this title the highest recommendation along with Sleeper.  It's a much-needed change of pace.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Friday, November 23, 2012

100 Bullets Vol. 7 Samurai Trade Paperback Review

100 Bullets Vol. 7 - Samurai
DC Comics - Vertigo
Softcover Trade Paperback
168 pages
$12.95 (2004)
$49.99 (2012) Deluxe Edition Hardcover Vol. 3
ISBN 9781401201890

Contributors: Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso, Dave Johnson, Clem Robins, Trish Mulvihill, and Zylonol Studios

Reprints: 100 Bullets #43-49

Synopsis: A secret organization called The Trust rules from the shadows and using a group called the Minutemen to maintain the balance of power within their ranks.  Then the Minutemen and their boss Agent Graves were targeted for assassination.  They survived, but went underground and Graves is slowly massing his forces to get revenge on The Trust.  He tests people with a briefcase filled with an untraceable gun, one hundred untraceable bullets, evidence of the person who ruined their life, and the promise they will be able to use the weapon with impunity from law enforcement.  Some have passed his test while others have failed or died under the pressure.
Do you think Lono's cellmate is sleeping?

Chill in the Oven - Loop is doing time in prison after getting picked up for murder.  He's toughened up on the inside and learned to survive among the hardcore criminal cliques.  Problem is he accidentally broke the #2 toughest inmate's larynx and sent him to the infirmary.  Once Nine Train gets back into population he's going to snuff Loop with a vengeance.  Loop's no dummy and he's become buds with the #1 toughest guy by tutoring him despite the guy being the head neo-Nazi in the joint.

Adding gasoline to the fire is the newest inmate who's a familiar face to Loop - Lono, the toughest and meanest loose cannon inside or outside of the penitentiary.  Lono killed Loop's cousin and the two have history.  Not only is Lono gunning for Loop, but the crooked head guard Dirtz wants payback from Loop for making him look bad.  Now it's going to take more than fast-talking and luck to survive the world of hurt barreling down the road.  Can Loop survive or will he become another statistic?

Mikey and Jack get pulled over
In Stinked - Jack is a heroin addict who was visited by Graves and received a suitcase.  Nothing in his life has changed and he's still chasing the dragon on an ever-quickening downward spiral.  He hooks up with another junkie named Mikey and they visit Mikey's cousin Garvey who has a roadside exotic animal park.  Garvey is crooked as they come and sells the animals for sport on the side.  Jack finds an intoxicating kinship with the caged tigers, but Garvey has sold them to a group of gangsters for fur rugs.  Jack has nothing to lose - will he throw away his life to save the tigers with the gun Agent Graves gave him?

Pros: Resurgence of some great characters from earlier story arcs, excellent plot and writing by Azzarello, Risso's art is always solid, nice covers by Johnson, excellent story pacing, definitely a page-turner, Lono

Cons: Azzarello's dialogue has a few duds - where he's either trying too hard to be noir or drops in some puns, Lono

Mike Tells It Straight: Another fine installment of 100 Bullets brings back some old characters like Loop (from Vol. 3 Hang Up on the Hang Low) and smackhead Jack (from Vol. 4 A Foregone Tomorrow).  Loop's story is a nail-biter as he's up against a rock, a hard place, and a shiv in the back.  Not a whole lot of conspiracy theory in these stories, but pretty intense prison drama and off-beat crime noir.  Jack's story was good and I didn't know what to expect.  He's not a particularly likable character due to being a worthless junkie, but he starts to grow on you.

Don't ever play chicken with a caged
tiger.  They like to eat chicken
Azzarello's writing is great - excellent pacing and plot twists.  Seems his only weakness is dialogue and this volume has a few minor gaffs where it feels like he's trying too hard.  Risso's art is top notch and he's a wonderful visual storyteller.  Johnson's covers keep improving and capture the noir feel of the book.  

The usual disclaimer - this is the seventh volume in a series and readers must be familiar with the previous volumes to fully understand the stories.  Good follow up to the last collection (Vol. 6 Six Feet Under the Gun) which was six self-contained stories.  My only gripe is the plot doesn't really advance much, but the chess pieces are being moved around the board.  Damn entertaining and looking forward to the next volume.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Saturday, November 17, 2012

X-Men Anime Review

Sony Pictures
Complete Collection - 2 discs
287 mins. - 12 episodes
$14.99 (2012)
$14.99 (2012) Parts 1-2/ea.
ISBN 043396393295
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Fuminori Kizaki
Studio - Madhouse

Synopsis: Professor Charles Xavier founded a school to teach young mutants how to control their powers and his dream is to unite mutantkind with humanity in peaceful coexistence.  The dream is not yet a reality as humans fear and hate mutants because of their incredible powers.  Xavier created the X-Men from his first class of students as a response team to help those mutants in danger and oppose mutants who wish to harm humanity.  The team has operated for several years and the roster of active members has changed many times.  Xavier himself is the world's most powerful telepath.
The X-Men team - from left to right: Wolverine, Cyclops, Phoenix,
Professor X (seated), Storm, and Beast
The current field team is:
  • Cyclops - Scott Summers can project powerful optic blasts, but they are only held in check by his special ruby-quartz visor.  The epitome of a cool-headed, tactical leader.  He and Jean Grey are sweethearts since their school days at Xavier's
  • Phoenix - Jean Grey is an omega-level psychic with powerful telepathic and telekinetic abilities.  She is strong-willed and kind.  She and Scott Summers are sweethearts since their school days at Xavier's
  • Beast - Hank McCoy is a walking contradiction.  His mutation gives him a fearsome appearance yet he possesses a vast intellect and gentle heart.  Undergoing a secondary mutation later in life his power levels increased and his appearance became more feline
  • Storm - Ororo Munroe lost her parents in tragic accident when she was young.  She grew up on the mean streets of Cairo as a thief until her mutant weather-controlling abilities manifested.  Charles Xavier found her being worshiped as a weather goddess in Africa
  • Wolverine - An enigmatic brawler with adamantium-laced skeleton, six massive claws which can extend from his forearms, and a near-instantaneous healing power.  He cuts first and asks questions later.  Holds an unrequited love for Jean Grey
The two mutant lovebirds - Jean Grey and Scott Summers
We begin the story with a terrifying meltdown of Jean Grey's powers.  She has been manipulated by Mastermind, the leader of the rogue Inner Circle and she has become a danger to the world.  The X-Men try to bring her back under control, but fail utterly.  Cyclops catches a glimpse of Emma Frost, the Inner Circle's White Queen before Jean destroys herself to save the world.  Jean's death causes the X-Men to disband.
Jean Grey loses control of her Phoenix powers and becomes Dark Phoenix
Fast forward one year and a crisis in Japan centering around mutant powers rallies Professor X to bring the team back together.  He keeps seeing strange psychic visions and there exists a psychic dead zone where mutant-detecting technology cannot penetrate.  Each team member is glad to come back except Cyclops who has been living near the site of Jean Grey's death.  He grudgingly rejoins the team and puts aside his depression for the greater good. 
"Hasn't Scott been a total jerkwad since Jean died?"  "Yeah, I didn't think
the stick could go up any farther."  "Good one, Wolverine!" "Thanks,
Beast!"  "Guys.  I'm standing right here."
The X-Men journey to Japan to investigate the area and discover mutants have been disappearing.  They encounter a terrorist group called the U-Men who despise mutants and harvest their organs for research.  The team battles the cyborg U-Men and breaks into their facility.  Within they find a young mutant named Hisako Ichiki and are shocked to also find Emma Frost!  She has quit the Inner Circle and has become a mutant counselor helping young mutants with their powers.  
The X-Men discover Emma Frost protecting a young mutant.  Apparently
it's totally normal for mutant educators to wear outfits like hers.
Cyclops blames Emma for Jean's death and is instantly hostile towards her.  The rest of the team gives her the benefit of the doubt once they see Hisako's trust in Emma.  Hisako is enrolled at Xavier's and she is trained by the X-Men to use her power to project psionic-armor.  Emma stays on with the team to help.
The team heads back to Japan to reinvestigate the area
Eventually they return to Japan after uncovering a strange virus which causes mutant powers to overload.  They suspect the U-Men are behind it, but find another research facility run by Yui Sasaki, former head of the mutant school Hisako went to as a child.  Something doesn't feel right about the facility and Yui appears to be overly secretive.  What is her mysterious past with Professor X?  Can the X-Men discover the secret before the world is put in danger?  Can Hisako make it as a rookie X-Man?
Hisako and Emma Frost join the X-Men
Pros: Great character designs for the X-Men, visually slick anime rendition of old favorites, overall voice acting is decent, action is pretty intense and well-done, Emma Frost is totally hot, nice cameos of mutants around the world (Nightcrawler, Archangel to name a few)
Wolverine prepares to inflict some damage
Cons: Story pacing was too slow, ending was predictable, bad guys were pretty generic, Wolverine's battle on the Blackbird in mid-air was totally impossible, pricing for complete series is the same as each of the volumes ($14.99) - WTF!?, portrayal of Storm was off - her voice and personality show no trace of her African roots, opening/ending theme music was overly dramatic
Storm manifests lightning to protect Hisako and Emma Frost
Mike Tells It Straight: I love anime and I love the X-Men = I should love the X-Men anime, right?  I had really high hopes going into watching the anime version of the X-Men and my hopes soared even higher when I saw Warren Ellis credited as writer in the opening credits.  Ellis is a renowned comic book writer and has written the X-Men on several occasions.  I found the story in X-Men to be very typical Ellis fare in the vein of Astonishing X-Men Vol. 5: Ghost Box and Astonishing X-Men Vol. 6: Exogenetic.  These two stories are pretty good modern X-Men fare, but not particularly memorable.  Unfortunately the same thing happens to this anime version.  Ellis usually gives us forward-thinking science fiction and snarky dialogue for the protagonists, but instead we get a fairly dumbed-down plot.
Cyclops unleashes his optic blast
The character designs are a cross between the movie versions and Grant Morrison's New X-Men.  Visually the anime version is slick and the mutants have never looked better.  The action was all that I had hoped for - intense, fluid, and well-choreographed.  Voice actors were well-chosen (except for Storm).  Music was really bland and the opening/ending themes were completely lackluster (overly dramatic orchestra pieces).
Hisako powers up her psionic armor for battle
Overall I was pleased with the visuals and action, but the story was drawn out and kinda boring.  It would have been better if the Japanese creators were given free reign to re-imagine the X-Men as they saw fit.  Having Ellis as concept writer seems like a good idea yet I suspect it kept the story confined to the typical American expectations.  They could have taken the story in so many different directions and pulled in the major villains - Magneto, Sentinels, or the Dark Phoenix (instead of the teaser we get at the beginning when Jean Grey's powers overload).  Anime Sentinels could be absolutely dark and twisted!
We get a brief cameo of everyone's favorite Archangel
The ending hints at a sequel with Magneto breaking out of prison and I hope we can see this happen.  I liked seeing the X-Men in highly detailed adventures with great character designs and a somewhat interesting story.  Marvel's pricing scheme for the complete series vs. the two separate volumes is whacked - $14.99 for the complete set, but now they're offering two separate volumes at the same $14.99 price?  Why not $9.99 and they'll still make an extra $5 on people who buy both volumes?  I would recommend this series if you like the X-Men - they look good in the anime format and I absolutely love that Marvel tried this out with their characters.  Don't expect to have your mind blown.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Kick-Ass Trade Paperback Review

Marvel Comics - Icon
$39.99 (2013) Oversized Hardcover
$19.99 (2011) Trade Paperback
$24.99 (2010) Hardcover
ISBN 9780785132615

Contributors: Mark Millar, John Romita Jr., Tom Palmer, Chris Eliopoulos, Dean White and Steve McNiven

Reprints: Kick-Ass #1-8 (of 8)

Synopsis: Dave Lizewski is a high school nerd who likes comic books and is completely ignored by the opposite sex.  His mother died of a brain aneurysm and his dad is depressed all the time.  Dave reads comics as an outlet for his pathetic existence and one day the idea hits him - why not become a superhero?  People want to be just like asinine pop stars, but why not be like Spider-Man (minus the cool spider-powers of course)?
Great opening - sound familiar?

He sews a costume, ogles himself in the mirror in his room, and starts wearing it under his clothes at school.  It's a big rush.  He hits the gym to put on some meager muscle and walks rooftops at night.  The time comes to actually stop a real crime and poor Dave gets his ass kicked (and stabbed and run down by a car).  He spends the next six months in the hospital, but it's not enough to scare him off of the superhero kick.

Back on the street he gets another chance to stop a crime and actually manages to do it (while taking a massive beat-down in the process).  It gets captured on video and posted to YouTube - well, you can guess the rest, right?  Dave becomes an overnight internet sensation and celebrity.  His fame spawns copycats like the Red Mist - another teenage crime fighter, but with a sweet, superhero-themed car.

Is this your typical superhero?
Dave becomes jealous as the spotlight shifts away from him and his fame begins to ebb.  Then he runs into a father/daughter team of what appear to be the real deal - actual crime fighting superheroes.  Bid Daddy and Hit Girl are skilled, deadly, fearsome, and completely unknown to the general public.  Can Dave live up to their expectations when all he usually can do is get the crap kicked out of himself?  The real criminals are getting annoyed by all the costumed idiots and decide to make an example of one to scare them all away.  Will Dave survive when the hardened killers, both superhero and criminal, come calling?

Pros: Good concept/spin by Millar on real-life superheroes in the modern age of technology (using YouTube), art by Romita Jr. is competent, ultra-violent and filled with one-liners, turned into a successful movie, both comic book/movie have sequels, Dave being the gay best friend of the girl he likes is pretty hilarious, Hit Girl is bad ass
The introduction of Hit Girl
Cons: Highly improbable story - Dave would be dead or crippled ten times over with all the physical punishment he takes in the first two issues, Big Daddy's origin and reason for training Hit Girl was terrible - didn't make sense, no chance a ten-year-old girl could do that much damage - the weight and physical force needed is just not there, the proportions on Dave and Hit Girl (two young characters) by Romita Jr. are really inconsistent (i.e. not one of his strengths)

Mike Tells It Straight: Kick-Ass starts out as an amusing answer to "What if someone tried to be a superhero in the real world?".  Well, they would get the living crap kicked out of them and go to the hospital for a very long time.  It then devolves into a recurring over-the-top bloody beatdown massacre.  Highly entertaining, but not high art in any way.
Hit Girl and Kick-Ass...kicking ass
Millar has made quite a name for himself over the last ten years - The Authority, The Ultimates, Ultimate X-Men, Civil War, Superman: Red Son, Wolverine: Old Man Logan and Wanted.  He now has multiple movies based on his works (including Kick-Ass) and is one of the biggest comic book writers in Hollywood.  With fame comes detractors and a lot of people are choosing Grant Morrison in some bizarre comic book pissing contest lately.  I say Millar's success is earned despite being helped by Morrison in the early days - you don't stick around this long without some major talent (and luck).
You may have seen this movie

His work on Kick-Ass is pure fantasy for every fanboy who wanted to become a superhero.  It's a novel concept taken to the absolute graphic limit by Millar.  The story starts out serious enough, but soon jumps the shark into completely ridiculous ultra-violence for pure entertainment.  It's not going to change your outlook on life or make you stop to ponder some intellectual concept, but it's funny and violent as hell.  I'm glad the movie modified the origin for Big Daddy and Hit Girl.  Check it out if you like seeing buckets of blood flying about.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Green Lantern Vol. 3 Wanted: Hal Jordan Trade Paperback Review

Green Lantern Vol. 3 - Wanted: Hal Jordan
DC Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
$14.99 (2009)
$19.99 (2007) Hardcover
ISBN 9781401215903

Contributors: Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Daniel Acuna, Oclair Albert, W. Moose Baumann, Travis Lanham, Rob Leigh, and Ethan Van Sciver

Reprints: Green Lantern #14-20

Synopsis: Two story arcs:

Amon Sur vows revenge!
"Wanted: Hal Jordan" - Hal Jordan's fellow pilot Cowgirl runs a solo mission in Chechnya to try and pay back the terrorist group who captured the three pilots one year ago.  She gets shot down again and captured.  It's up to Hal as Green Lantern to rescue her, but just as he's about to learn her whereabouts the Global Guardians show up to capture him.  It turns out they're being manipulated by an outside party.  What does this have to do with Abin Sur's son, Amon Sur?  Can Hal survive long enough to save Cowgirl?

Meanwhile a hiking couple uncover a pink, glowing sapphire.  On the planet Qward in the Antimatter Universe the Weaponers have been enslaved by Sinestro.  He is slowly amassing a group of his own, but what is his ultimate goal and who will join the Sinestro Corps?

Star Sapphire always gets her man
"Mystery of the Star Sapphire" - The Star Sapphire once possessed Carol Ferris, the girlfriend of Hal Jordan, and turned her into one of his greatest enemies.  Now that Hal has returned the Sapphire is back to finish the job!  It's been a long time since Hal and Carol were an item, she's married (not so happily) and he's interested in fellow pilot Cowgirl.  The Sapphire only cares that it possess the heart's desire of Green Lantern Hal Jordan in order to 'mate' and preserve the entire planet in a crystalline substance.

What is the origin of the Star Sapphire?  Is it unique or one among many like the rings of the Green Lantern Corps?  The origins of both items are more similar than anyone could suspect and Hal must defend himself while trying to avoid harming the two women for which he cares.

Example of Acuna's art
Pros: Reis delivers some quality artwork in the first story arc, interesting stories by Johns, subplot of the Sinestro Corps advances nicely, Star Sapphire is hot with a majorly skimpy outfit, Acuna's art in the second story arc is interesting

Cons: Acuna's art is very cartoony - you'll either love or hate his style, what's up with the pilots getting shot down so much?, the art style shift between the two story arcs (from Reis to Acuna) was jarring, Global Guardians are a joke, Tales of the Sinestro Corps backup stories are not collected here - they're collected in the Green Lantern: Tales of the Sinestro Corps collected edition)

Mike Tells It Straight: The real story from this third collected volume of Geoff Johns' rebooted Green Lantern series is the Sinestro Corps subplot.  We get the conclusion to the One Year Later (OYL) storyline begun in the last volume (Vol. 2 Revenge of the Green Lanterns) which merely serves to tie up some loose ends and then the seeds are fully planted for the Sinestro Corps War.  Amon Sur first appeared as a villain fighting Green Lantern Kyle Rayner (along with Green Arrow), but having him take on Hal Jordan fully realizes Sur's character potential.

The Star Sapphire story gets the most criticism for Acuna's artwork (it's not too bad, but cartoony compared to previous artists on Green Lantern).  Johns has been building up the Sinestro Corps War, but we get the first hints at his grand plot involving the full emotional spectrum which plays out in the Blackest Night crossover.  He gives the origin of the Star Sapphire and builds it into an even larger mythos.  If I wasn't impressed with Johns' writing after Green Lantern: Rebirth then I'm completely impressed with his ability to build up to these big storylines like the Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night.
Guess who is chosen for the Sinestro Corps space
sector 2814 (same as Hal Jordan's) for his
ability to instill fear in others!?

New readers will be lost if they don't read at least the previous volume and preferably Green Lantern: Rebirth and then Green Lantern Vol. 1 No Fear in addition.  Taken alone these two stories are good, but definitely not great.  Put them in perspective with the events before/after and they add to the grander story of Hal Jordan's return as the prime Green Lantern.  John's run is an excellent cosmic superhero story and one of the best in the 2000s.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Clash Mini-Series Review

DC Comics
Prestige Format Mini-Series
48/ea. = 144 pages (1991)
$4.95/ea. = $14.85 

Published: Clash #1-3 (of 3)

Contributors: Tom Veitch, Adam Kubert, David Hornung, and Todd Klein

Synopsis: Joe McLash (or 'Clash' to his friends) works for his dad smuggling precious artifacts out of foreign countries.  Clash is good at what he does and doesn't give a damn about anyone else.  His latest caper in Afghanistan turns awry with Joe's lover, Helen Rojas, paying the price of Joe's dangerous lifestyle with her own life.  Clash is not a man to pause and reminisce as he heads back to his father in New York to collect a fat paycheck.  He's sick of the old man hoarding ancient knick-knacks and plans to sell them off one day to have a big party.  

The artifact Joe brings back from Afghanistan is an ancient mask which looks familiar to his dad.  Forty years ago the old man and his business partner, Roy Tavish, were trekking across Asia when Roy found the most amazing loot.  He mysteriously disappeared the next night with the location of the discovery, but Joe's dad uses the loot to start his business (and feed a growing Joe).  The mask appears to be from the same place and before you know it the McLashes are headed back to Asia on a treasure hunt.  

They camp with the Turkomen in an ancient region once called Panja.  The chief of the tribe wants to sell the artifacts for guns to fight a neighboring warlord called Mustafi, but most of the villagers hate the McLashes.  In the night an assassin comes to kill them and turns out to be a beautiful woman.  She and Joe fall in love as her knife glistens in the dark opposite his machine pistol.  The next day they discover a massive cavern filled with the remnants of a mighty civilization.

On the lowest level of the buried citadel in a hidden chamber is a strange stone apparatus surrounded by hideous statues.  Joe's dad accidentally triggers the apparatus and is jolted with arcane energies.  He suffers massive burns, but survives and is strangely powerful.  Joe uses it and is filled with power!  He is superstrong and can fly - now he's in control of his life and can do anything he wants.  

Joe doesn't care where the power came from, but the Archons are not happy he has stolen their secrets and refuses to do their bidding.  What really happened to old man McLash's business partner Roy Tavish all those years ago?  Is Joe truly free or will the Archons use his newfound power to pull his strings like a puppet?  How will the world react to a real life superman?

Pros: Very early Adam Kubert art shows a lot of promise despite a few rough edges, cool concept by Veitch with the theme of an alternative 'superman' in the real world

Cons: Joe is an unlikable character (so's his dad), dialogue is stiff and sounds campy, Nadja the assassin taking an interest in Joe is pretty unlikely (some assassin she turns out to be)

Mike Tells It Straight: I liked the concept behind Clash and enjoy Adam Kubert's art (not a huge fan of his brother Andy however).  The story was a cross between Indiana Jones and Superman, but with a violent twist.  I felt Veitch's scripting wasn't great and Joe was an annoying punk given god-like powers with no real purpose to his life.  He was a complete schmuck and it was hard to identify with him.

Almost all of the characters were depthless caricatures with no real personality.  Nadja's character made no sense - she's an assassin one minute and Joe's sex puppet the next.  The Archons and the ancient power-giving machine were the only cool parts to the story.  Overall Clash gives us some frustrated male wish-fulfillment and the outline of a good story, but not enough to be quite memorable.  You can probably find it cheap and don't bet on a collected edition anytime in the future.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Sunday, October 14, 2012

100 Bullets Vol. 6 Six Feet Under the Gun Trade Paperback Review

100 Bullets Vol. 6 - Six Feet Under the Gun
DC Comics - Vertigo
Softcover Trade Paperback
144 pages
$14.95 (2003)
$49.99 (2012) Deluxe Edition Hardcover Vol. 3
ISBN 9781563899966

Contributors: Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso, Dave Johnson, Trish Mulvihill, Clem Robins, Digital Chameleon, Zylonol Studios, and introduction by Greg Rucka

Reprints: 100 Bullets #37-42

Synopsis: Six self-contained stories following various main characters:
Graves meets with Shepard

  • On Accidental Purpose - Dizzy goes back to her old neighborhood and meets up with her old friends.  She has lost touch with them and they don't understand her vague explanations about what she has been doing for the past year.  Shepard and Graves meet to discuss their next steps (and chug cocktails)
  • Cole Burns Slow Hand - Cole returns to visit Sasha, his former fiancee, who he walked out on when his memories returned from being a Minuteman.  He wants to patch things up, but it's been over a year  and she's righteously pissed
  • Ambition's Audition - Benito accompanies his father down to Little Havana where Shepard checks in with him.  Benito despises his father and acts out to annoy him, but this time there might be an assassin in the crowd.  A turning point for Benito and his father
  • Night of the Payday - Shepard hooks Lono up with a job and gives him a warning - "You've pissed off some powerful people - time to lay low".  Lono was never one to back down or take orders, but there's no more room for loose cannons in the game
  • A Crash - Graves meets with a small group of dissenting family leaders from the Trust.  They don't agree with the head of the Medici family trying to consolidate power and they want to preserve their positions
  • Point Off the Edge - Wylie gets a visit from Graves and a briefcase filled with an untraceable gun/bullets.  It's Wylie's chance to escape his boring mess of a life where he works at a miserable gas station in the middle of nowhere.  Will he take it?

Shepard meets with Lono

Pros: Great plot and writing by Azzarello, Risso continues to deliver quality art, Johnson's covers are pretty good, good set of stories with some major plot developments, won an Eisner award in 2002 for Best Continuing Series

Cons: Azzarello's dialogue can be a bit thick - "You may play your cards close to the vest...but you wear your heart on your sleeve.  And frankly, it's what's up it that has us concerned.", no nudity, didn't like the ending to Lono's story

Mike Tells It Straight: The sixth (get it, Six Feet Under the Gun?) collection of 100 Bullets gives us six self-contained stories (after the fifth volume was one long story Vol. 5 The Counterfifth Detective).  This installment is a nice combination of character-focused stories laced with generic crime noir (i.e. in the Graves story we get scenes of a young couple finding a crashed car with a dead man clutching the winning lottery ticket) and always continuing the deeper conspiracy plot of Graves vs. The Trust.

Cole surprises Sasha
Art by Risso is consistently excellent and covers by Johnson remain interesting.  Azzarello's writing is really good with plotting and pacing being his main strengths.  Dialogue continues to be a little spotty as the characters break down into cliched speech patterns (Cole's talk with Sasha was a prime example as he laid it on pretty thick).

The usual disclaimer - this is the sixth collection in a series and readers need to have read the previous volumes to fully understand the story.  It's a good collection of stories and actual events happen instead of just keeping the status quo (could have easily been a bunch of backfill stories with no plot development).  Looking forward to the next collection.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Friday, October 12, 2012

Green Lantern: Rebirth Trade Paperback Review

Green Lantern: Rebirth
DC Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
176 pages
$14.99 (2007)
$24.99 (2005) Hardcover
$75.00 (2010) Absolute Edition
$14.99 (2010) New Edition
ISBN 9781401204655

Contributors: Geoff Johns, Ethan Van Sciver, Prentis Rollins, Moose Baumann, and Rob Leigh

Reprints: Green Lantern: Rebirth #1-6 (of 6); Preview from Wizard Magazine (only in Absolute and New editions)

Synopsis: Kyle Rayner, once considered the last Green Lantern, discovers a secret on the outskirts of the universe and begins the long journey back to Earth to deliver the message - "Parallax is coming."  Meanwhile on Earth, Hal Jordan is spiritual host to the Spectre, the powerful spirit of vengeance.  Hal Jordan was the first member of the Green Lantern Corps from Earth and became the greatest hero among the legions of other Green Lanterns.  He fell from grace after his hometown of Coast City and all its inhabitants were annihilated by the alien warlord Mongul.  Losing control after the devastating loss, Hal attempted to resurrect Coast City with the energy from the central power battery on Oa destroying the Green Lantern Corps in the process.  He assumed the new identity Parallax and began searching for a greater power source to bring back Coast City.  Later he opposed the heroes of Earth during Zero Hour, actually killing several members of the Justice Society of America.  He sacrificed his life to restart the sun and save the Earth in a final bid for redemption during the Final Night event.
The Spectre, Hal Jordan, and Parallax wrestle for control

After his death, Hal Jordan's soul was bonded to the Spectre in another attempt at redemption.  The heroic spirit of the greatest Green Lantern working as a counterbalance to the Spectre's unforgiving vengeance wreaked upon the guilty.  The union has been incredibly difficult for both parties as each rails against the other's true nature in an ever-escalating battle of wills.  Something is awry in the bonding and Hal Jordan feels trapped as he watches the Spectre hand out successively more gruesome punishments to the guilty.  The Spectre defeats old Green Lantern villain the Black Hand and disintegrates his hand while Green Arrow helplessly watches.

Carol Ferris visits the old Ferris Airfield where Hal Jordan was a test pilot and she was the owner's daughter.  The two had a steamy relationship which eventually fell apart and Carol is now married.  The airfield is in disrepair and long abandoned.  John Stewart is another Green Lantern from Earth and reminisces with Guy Gardner, former Green Lantern.  Suddenly Guy's Vuldarian shapeshifting powers rage out of control as his body apparently begins rejecting them. John takes him to the Justice League of America watchtower for treatment.  The group is shocked to discover Coast City is slowly regenerating and rebuilding itself.

Meanwhile Carol watches disbelieving as Ferris Airfield returns to perfect condition right before her eyes.  Hal appears, but is he the former hero or a monster in disguise.  Batman suspects Hal has finally succeeded in harnessing the Spectre's power to rebuild Coast City where he failed in the past.  The JLA set out to stop him at all costs as Guy Gardner's body twists itself inside out.  Is Hal behind the resurrections or is there another even more sinister explanation?  What is the true nature of Parallax?
Kyle returns to Earth with a warning and a casket filled with...?
Pros: Johns writes a compelling comeback story for Hal Jordan, Van Sciver's ultra-detailed/realistic art is excellent, guest stars galore - a true universe-spanning epic which touches upon the entire history of Hal Jordan including the various other Green Lanterns, plot was exciting with twist after twist, explains the old "weakness to yellow" (yellow impurity) of the Green Lantern rings, rebirth done right, Absolute and New editions have great extras including Wizard prequel chapter and Johns' notes

Cons: Heavily laden with continuity - not for the uninformed/newbie, explanation of Parallax wiped out (or cast into doubt) some of the best Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories out there (the road trip saga), Batman gets the short end of the stick in this one, Sinestro drawn by Sciver looks pretty lame although he's just using the original character design (Sciver redeems himself by redesigning Sinestro later on in the Sinestro Corps War into an elegantly sinister villain)
Hal contemplates the return of Coast City and gets a shocking revelation
Mike Tells It Straight: Hal Jordan was replaced as Green Lantern in the 1990s by a young man named Kyle Rayner.  Long-time Green Lantern fans were appalled as Hal turned evil and was replaced by a punk kid "just to sell more comic books".  Some fans banded together to appeal the change and bring Hal back to his former glory, but DC editorial wouldn't take back their decision and instead used Hal as a villain in the blockbuster event Zero Hour.  Attempting to appease the stalwart Jordan fans he was given some bit of redemption (albeit at the cost of his life) saving the Earth in the Final Night event.  Another bid for redemption saw him become the host of the Spectre (an attempt to revive interest in that character), but interest waned quickly after the initial pairing.

Kyle Rayner's fan base slowly grew and he was accepted as the new Green Lantern, but sales began to decline in the mid-2000s and a restart was needed.  Along came Geoff Johns, a formidable writer (having proven himself on the title JSA) and diehard Hal Jordan fan, with a tale to reestablish the character's former prominence in the DC pantheon.  The story brings Hal back to his former glory along with the beginnings of a new Green Lantern Corps and revival of Coast City.  It touches upon important aspects of his history including his romance with Carol Ferris, the death of his father, and the destruction of Coast City.
Hal's battle with Parallax kicks into overdrive
Johns' story cleverly used the yellow impurity of the Green Lantern power rings (the impurity was removed when Kyle Rayner became a Green Lantern after Hal Jordan's destruction of the power battery on Oa) to explain Jordan's stint as Parallax and bonding with the Spectre.  It was sheer perfection in comic book story terms and fit like a glove.  It included the Justice League, all the other Green Lanterns from Earth, and the major Hal Jordan villains (Sinestro, Black Hand, and Hector Hammond).

Those Hal Jordan fans who grudgingly accepted Kyle Rayner (or dropped the Green Lantern series completely) rejoiced at the return of their one, true Green Lantern.  Those Kyle fans who never expected Jordan to return were mildly satisfied as Kyle was respectfully moved aside as the primary Green Lantern of Earth, but remained a strong supporting character (equal with John Stewart and Guy Gardner).  The story revitalized the franchise and Johns launched a new hit Green Lantern series afterwards which was very well received (check out my reviews of Green Lantern: No Fear and Green Lantern: Revenge of the Green Lanterns).

Rebirth is an incredibly successful character revival story with a lot of great moments and a rewarding ending.  It's truly one of the modern classics from DC and best stories of Green Lantern.  Both writing and art are top notch.  It's a continuity nightmare for those unfamiliar with Hal Jordan's history, but this holds true for any new fans trying to plug into any number of superhero "universe" (i.e. DC or Marvel) character's story. I knew the controversy of fans' preference for Hal vs. Kyle going into the story and could fully appreciate what Johns accomplished.  Some might say he tried too hard or made the story too complicated (too many characters), but I say he pushed the story to its absolute dramatic limit while still maintaining the plot's integrity for the big pieces (Parallax as yellow impurity).  Job well done, Sir!

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Monday, September 3, 2012

Wormwood Gentleman Corpse: Birds Bees Blood & Beer Trade Paperback Review

Wormwood Gentleman Corpse: Birds, Bees, Blood & Beer
Softcover Trade Paperback
152 pages
$19.99 (2006)
ISBN 9781600100475

Contributors: Ben Templesmith and Robbie Robbins

Reprints: Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse #0-4

Synopsis: Hard-drinking occult detective Wormwood has one up on the other guys - he's a walking cadaver animated by a demonic worm in his empty eye-socket.  He's seen it all and is known by all sorts of nasty demons and things that go bump in the night.  Wormwood is a right friendly chap if you get to know him, but seems to attract the wrong sort of crowd.  Attended by his clockwork man, Mr. Pendulum, Wormwood is more interested in knocking back a few than solving the grisly crimes of the heinous creatures who wander into our dimension from the nether regions.

Fond of spending time at a particularly notorious strip club, Wormwood and Mr. Pendulum discover the beer is spiked with demon seed which transforms the beer-swilling, degenerate customers into demon incubators.  If that weren't bad enough they stumble upon a demonic plot to spawn more demonic creatures from unlucky humans using laced erectile dysfunction medication (i.e. boner pills).

Phoebe Phoenix is a stripper with a penchant for using firearms and special tattoos which animate into powerful weapons.  She signs on to be Wormwood's extra bodyguard (as if a mechanical drinking buddy weren't enough) and doesn't quite know what she's getting into.  Rounding out the group is a ghostly detective who asks for help to solve the case.  Can Wormwood and crew figure out who is behind the quickly multiplying baby demons?

Pros: Dark humor, concept is pretty original and pulled off fairly well by Templesmith, art is passable (nice colors), scripting is good (amusing tongue-in-cheek jokes), bit of nudity (strip club after all), funny ending (although a bit anticlimactic), lots of extras including pinups & sketches

Cons: Slightly offensive with the demon spunk and zombie strippers, art and story are a bit simple (minimalist for sure, i.e. not much for backgrounds except pretty colors), quick read

Mike Tells It Straight: I like horror comics and Templesmith was the original artist on 30 Days of Night which was written by Steve Niles, now a household name in the horror genre.  His art is well known for being abstract with a heavy use of mood colors.  Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse is a fun, quick read.  I liked the characters and Templesmith proves himself good at scripting dialogue.

Now that's a disturbing image
His writing is very simple and straightforward - this book is meant as an establishing arc to introduce his main characters and entertain the reader.  A little suspense and mystery, but mostly a bunch of weirdos going on an adventure.  Wormwood is a nonchalant anti-hero with a chipper attitude and major league connections in the supernatural underworld.  Templesmith wins for originality and I was thoroughly entertained.  Looking forward to another round.  

TO BUY and Recommendations: