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: