Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Blood Queen Vs. Dracula #1

BQvsDrac01-Cov-A-AnacletoBlood Queen was a lesser seen series from last year, and while it had its merits, it never managed to catch an audience, as the genre was perhaps too saturated with fairy tale stories for another with little different on the surface to succeed.  Where it succeeded was by returning fairy tales to their roots.  As opposed to the Disneyfied versions, the story was much darker as most fairy tales generally are, and despite the story having no ties to existing fairy tales, it still managed to captured the same feeling in a fantasy setting.  The series did not last long, only five issues before abruptly ending, and while it did have its failings, it was still interesting to see at least something a little different being tried with the fairy tale genre.

It was a little unexpected that the series would see any kind of a revival.  The characters and conditions of the story were developed well enough over its five issues, but it also looked like so many other comic series that started well but left potentially good stories untold.  With the introduction of the new series, it is attempting yet another oddity for fairy tales, mixing legendary historical figures such as Dracula into the fold in a setting which is half historical and half fantasy.  There is talk of the Ottomans here to give grounding of the series into the real world, but so too does Dracula exhibit the same supernatural powers of any vampire.  The Blood Queen is shown presumably some time after her eventual rise to the power in her own kingdom, after having consolidated her power, and now her expansionary goals put her in the path of the infamous Transylvanian butcher.

The story is not entirely bad, but for those that were expecting more of the Blood Queen will be disappointed.  The character is changed enough to fit her into the story that what made her novel, instead now makes her mundane.  Without the richer fairy tale setting, the story reads as just another fantasy story with supernatural players.  That being said, it is not as though this story is bad, in fact it does read easily enough and it is entertaining, just it is the same as so much as which has come before.

Story: Troy Brownfield  Art: Kewber Baal  
Story: 7.3 Art: 7.3 Overall: 7.3 Recommendation: Pass

Dynamite Provided Graphic Policy with a free copy for review.   

Review: Lady Killer #3

lk03The mixture of 1960s housewife with cold-blooded assassin is not a natural one, but despite that this series has been an unexpected critical success over its previous two issues.  At some point though, the cracks would seem to have to appear in the mixture of two almost diametrically opposed character inspirations as the two really don’t match at all.  What is interesting about this third issue is that this schism is not avoided but rather confronted directly.  The creative team is aware of what a strange brew this is, and yet strives to add a degree of reality to the mix.

The story here follows a few different though intersecting paths as Josie is putting on a party for her neighbours, all the while her suspicious mother-in-law ruminates about her suspicions of Josie’s actions.  At the same time, her handler and his boss decide that this double-life is a detriment to Josie and the organization and decide on more drastic measures in order to protect themselves.  What might have seemed to be perhaps a step too far into the macabre with her next hit highlights the internal struggle of not only the character but also of the series.  A suburban mother of two is tasked to kill a small boy, and in the process the series almost loses its heart but also regains it.

It is maybe easy enough to see where this story is going, but it doesn’t even matter.  The combination of the design of the characters combined with the right storytelling makes this series remain as a gem.  The protagonist is deeply written and while not necessarily easy to associate with as a hero, still remains a character that the reader wants to see walk on the side of angels.  The character is made to be approachable and flawed and works all the better for it.  This is a now relatively short series (with only two issues left) but with the change of direction from this issue, it would appear that an engaging climax is set for this series.

Story: Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich  Art: Joëlle Jones
Story: 8.6 Art: 8.6 Overall: 8.6 Recommendation: Buy

Dark Horse provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.  

Review: Altered States Vampirella #1

AlteredVampi-Cov-A-TanSome might question the logic of this new direction for Dynamite characters which focus on retelling their stories in an alternate reality setting.  It first started with Legenderry in 2013, as a steampunk re-imagining of Dynamite’s most notable characters, and it continued recently with the launch of individual Legenderry titles as well as with the new alternate reality series Altered States.  Designed as a sequence of one-shots, Altered States takes the normal Dynamite characters and puts them in a different setting and with different backgrounds.

In this story, Vampirella is reimagined as a space explorer by the name of Ella.  On a somewhat routine journey to Venus in the not so distance future, her ship along with its crew is thrown into another corner of the universe, where she is left to fend for herself on an alien planet.  The planet is populated with people that look a little like they might belong on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Barsoom, but so too is it populated with another group of people, somewhat vampiric in appearance that Ella must help to battle.  In the progress of the story there are enough ties to her own story to make fans realize that it is in fact Vampirella, but also enough of the new twists to impress.

Although the concept risks being too much of a parody of itself, it still works with the fresh approach to the story.  One of the better examples is the use of the name Ella, as she does become Vampirella in a sense, just perhaps not in the way that the readers might have expected.  More so, the success of this series is the injection of new inspirations into an old character.  Those inspirations themselves might be borrowed from other genres as well, but the formula works well here, and despite being a one-shot, this will likely leave fans wanting more.

Story: Nancy A. Collins  Art: Francesco Manna
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

Dynamite provided Graphic Policy with a free copy for review

Review: Cluster #2

cluster002The prison planet is often an overlooked setting for science fiction adventures.  Although well established within the genre as a place to launch some heroics, it is one which arguably has never had a standout or famous story told within its confines.  Somewhat surprisingly therefore there are at the moment two separate titles set on prison planets, both Cluster and Bitch Planet.  Invariably the two will be compared to one another with a similar story line of female protagonists being sent to a serve a sentence which they maybe did not deserve, except by the rules of a broken future society.  While Bitch Planet looked to make a point in terms of its stance on feminism, Cluster seemed to be making a similar statement as well, which made comparing the two all the easier.  With the second issue of Cluster though, it is evident that the comparisons between the two should stop, save for the surface details.

The story picks up from the last issue, except with some added intrigue.  It is revealed that Samara is more valuable to her captors than she first thought.  As the daughter of a politician that is opposed to the space prison, she is being used as a political tool more so than as a soldier.  The only problem is that she is still missing after the accident in the previous issue.  As her group struggles to find its way back, a search party is sent out to rescue her, although it is not even entirely clear if rescue is the desired goal.  As she continues her journey over the planet’s harsh surface she discovers that there is more to what is being told to her than she assumed.

This issue builds where it needed to, and develops some extra plot elements to add some deeper meaning to the plot.  While it is deserving of some recognition for its story and characters, the overall effect is less than stellar.  It is still a readable story, but is far from a standout in terms of the science fiction genre that is available on the market at the moment.

Story: Ed Brisson Art: Damian Couceiro
Story: 7.9 Art: 7.9 Overall: 7.9 Recommendation: Read

Boom! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a free copy for review.

 

Review: Halogen #1

halogen001aAt its heart there is maybe no better fit of a genre to a medium than science fiction to comics.  While comics has essentially every genre of fiction, science fiction fits best because science provides only so many answers, and it is to the dreamers to fill in the rest.  In the vast expanses of outer space, or in stories based in the future, there is no better medium to capture the essence of these stories.  Certainly movies and video games are good, but high and long production costs mean that only so many can be produced, and while books are good as well they lack the impressive visual element.  Science fiction stories thus have an advantage when it comes to this medium, but they are equally at a disadvantage.  They equally have to keep on top of the science, and they also have to be pretty imaginative to put out anything new compare to what has come before.

This series aims to be fairly ambitious.  It focuses on a futuristic space station which doubles as a large city. It is somewhat self-contained and floats in the middle of nowhere.  Instead of taking the Star Trek like image of the future where everyone works together, it instead regards humans as still just a greedy, willing to work within industrial espionage even when their entire living conditions is locked to the fate of their neighbors.  The main character Rell specializes in computer espionage but also knows a thing or two about holograms.  At the periphery of this story is the discovery of the corps of an ancient space god that still has devoted followers.

The problem with this series is that it does not really try anything new.  The mixture of all the elements together takes a smart approach to telling its own story, but it never hits anything deeper than the surface of the characters interacting.  As opposed to some series where characters jump out and beg to be paid to attention to, the characters here just aren’t as dynamic.  That is not to say that this is a bad series, it is quite readable (even if the formatting of the text bubbles is a bit sloppy at times), but it is also not gripping nor is it much different from thousands of other space stories.  The potential is there for something better, and hopefully the creative team manages to harness is in the coming issues.

Story:  Josh Tierney Art: Afu Chan
Story: 7.7 Art: 7.7 Overall: 7.7 Recommendation: Read

Boom Studios and Archaia provided Graphic Policy with a free copy for review.

Review: Nightcrawler

It didn’t take much of my first semester in college as a journalism major to realize why it’s so necessary to have entire courses dedicated to teaching journalists not to be jerks.

nightcrawler1

It makes all the sense in the world that Journalism Ethics classes exist while courses dedicated to the ethics of crafts like painting, acting, and creative writing don’t exist. The incentives are wonky in journalism, putting reporters in an environment in which what’s going to make them the most money in the fastest amount of time is often against the public’s best interest. It’s much more efficient and economically-solvent to simply use interview subjects and events for selfish goals. Almost any injection of morality leads to less financial profit and more amounts of work. Nightcrawler, an Oscar-nominated film directed and written by Dan Gilroy, represents this in a fully accurate manner, delivering a thrilling tale anchored around its main character Lou Bloom who embodies the most ruthless and efficient kind of journalist.

From the outset it’s clear that Bloom is a shifty individual determined to be the best damn capitalist he can be despite his well-deserved status as an outcast. One night, he stumbles into a career of filming disaster footage of privileged people who fall victim to crime and serious accidents to sell to a desperate and money-grubbing local news station. Moving at a solid pace, the film catalogues Bloom’s rise from a roaming scrap-metal salesman to a powerful freelance provider of video footage who gets whatever he wants, which extends beyond the realm of cash.

Bloom is a fascinating character made absolutely riveting thanks to Jake Gyllenhaal’s stellar performance. He is an utter bastard with no actual regard for anyone but himself. He does show positively charming affection towards multiple other people throughout the movie, from the very first scene to the very last scene, but it’s all fake, all an uncaring means to a self-serving end. Bloom scours the internet to do research of an academic level, giving the character an elusive and mysterious aura. He keeps everything secret that he needs to be secret, and only lets anyone peek behind the curtain when it suits him: a look behind that curtains tends to frighten and intimidate people, which are things he can use.

Watching all of Gyllenhaal’s nuanced facial expressions and body language proves constantly intriguing. Every fake smile and fit of analysis is acted out with the utmost control. Bloom almost always has things under control, all according to a given plan. Occasionally, things veer a bit away from what he’d like, but it’s clear these detours aren’t a complete surprise to him. Even rarer are the few times his plans completely tank, which prove to be the movie’s most horrific moments. This guy is almost perfect when it comes to getting done what he wants to be done, and he knows that and seems to take a ton of pride in that; whenever anything happens that goes against his self-image, he explodes.

nightcrawler3

To call Bloom’s actions as a journalist unethical is an understatement, from tampering with crime scenes solely to get a better shot to directly causing disastrous events just so he can film them. The environment he finds himself in is similarly vicious, first evident whenever a woman behind the scenes blatantly explains to Bloom that footage of white victims of minority criminals should be pursued because it brings in more viewers. It’s all believable, too, bringing the thrill to a whole new level. Bloom’s life gets progressively more luxurious as he keeps up with his unethical reporting practices, solidifying his motivations. The people he works for are characterized nicely as struggling local news providers, willing to sacrifice thoughts of ethics in order to get by.

Much the film takes place at night, and it all looks great. The darkly-tinted colors of the night pop before they fade away. The movie moves at a break-neck speed at many points with a camera that keeps up with a constantly well-framed view of the action. Bloom’s adventures take him on high-speed car rides and frantic on-field filming, all of which constantly exciting. Every major performance in this film gets the job done brilliantly, from the woman who finds herself as somewhat as a love interest to Bloom’s loud-mouthed competitor.

Nightcrawler is a big success, always managing to be thought-provoking and thrilling. While the movie always makes it clear that the main character isn’t on the right side of morality, he does indeed win in the end. Unlike many madmen in fiction, Bloom is smarter than everyone he has to deal with.

Lou Bloom is the reason why journalists like myself have to complete courses on ethics in journalism.

Check out Matt’s online portfolio here… 

TV Review: Gotham S1E18 Everyone Has a Cobblepot

gotham cast While Gordon seeks information about the recent controversy with Commissioner Loeb, Fish’s allegiance with the prisoners is questioned when she appears to join forces with Dr. Dulmacher. Meanwhile, after an attack close to home, Bruce deals with the aftermath.

Gotham‘s latest episode shows the politics of work as Gordon gets rather dirty to get things cleaned up. The episode is a very interesting one where we see Gordon getting more in that gray area in order to survive.

The episode is really summed up at the end by a speech that Bullock gives to Gordon that really goes over the point of hour, but also foreshadows something to come.

Gordon’s journey is the most solid part of the episode, as the other half focuses on Fish and her ather odd journey. She deals with Dulmacher, but where that storyline is going, I seriously can’t tell. It better pay off, and right now I’m not confident it will.

The episode was a bit of a cliffhanger in a way, as the show is taking a month break. It’s not a shocking cliffhanger, but it is setting up what looks to be a solid final four episodes of the first season.

Overall Score: 8

TV Review: Comic Book Men S4E12 Secret Stashley

comic book menIn this episode of Comic Book Men, Kevin’s assistant Ashley brings her feminine wiles to the Stash and learns about comic book retail, also a pair of pro wrestlers wants to sell their comic.

The episode is a fantastic one once it gets going. Initially two wrestlers, one rather well-known, show up to sell their comic. It’s very staged and a not subtle advertisement for the comic series. It’s not a bad thing, but it’d be nice to show more about how stocking and purchasing happens, and how messed up it is in the comic book world. This isn’t at all realistic, though entertaining in its own way.

What’s really great is when Ashley shows up and is run through what its like to work at the shop. She brings a much different approach to the store, and gives the guys a hell of a run in how they do things. She’s a welcome addition to the series, someone I hope we see more of. How she buys and sells is something interesting, and the guys reactions are entertaining. It’s not super often we get women on this show, and this one is packed with them. A positive step, and maybe we’re seeing the show pick up on what the rest of the industry is starting to understand, women are a good portion of the fandom, and it’s time to include them.

The episode is the best of the year, and also brings something desperately needed, a feminine touch.

Overall rating: 8

TV Review: The Walking Dead S5E12 Remember

walking-dead-5 photoAfter Rick and his group arrive at Alexandria, they must adapt to a strange new lifestyle while Rick remains mistrustful.

The Walking Dead has the group nervous and very cautious, figuring out their new surroundings. For all they’ve gone through, it’s understandable why they’re so defensive.

We learn a lot about the community, and why it’s held up so well. The excuse given makes a lot of sense and how the survivors are brought in is methodical.

What’s fantastic is the fact that we as viewers are in the same position as Rick and his folks. After all we’ve witnessed and experienced, it’s hard to also not be worried and expect the worst.

But, the episode is all about their adjustment. Can Rick and the crew live a quieter life? It’s clear those living behind the walls have had it pretty safe for a while, even joking around when heading over the wall. This is in contrast to Rick and his folks who have lived a much harder life. And that difference in experiences leads to some interesting personality clashes.

But, it’s that ending that’s very interesting with the role Rick is given and the speech he gives. Can they blend in with these folks? Does the woman in charge have a bigger plan? It’s been five seasons of scares, death, horrible people, but the mundane might be the most disturbing thing of all.

Overall rating: 9

Review: Bullet Gal – It’s Not You, It’s Me

BULLET GAL_Its Not You Its Me_Under Belly TPB Collection_COVERIf you love classic noir, you’ll love Bullet Gal: It’s not You, It’s Me by Andrez Bergen (Underbelly Comics/IF? Commix) only this isn’t classic noir. It’s a new millennium pastiche of every noir motif there is but done as a stylized, digitized, mind-bending visual rhapsody that’ll leave you feeling like you’ve been slapped in the face by a French femme fatale.
The protagonist of Bullet Gal is seventeen year-old Mitzi (no last name) with a murkily tragic past who arrives in Heropa with little more than the clothing a Beat poet would carry in her valise and her 9mm Model B pistols with pearl handles. She hates injustice and has seen her share of it so she has no qualms about using those pistols to wreak havoc on the bad guys. Who are the bad guys? Gangsters and composites of every gangster you‘ve ever heard of or someday will. They’ve heard of Mitzi and even though she’s easy on the eyes, they know they have reason to watch their backs.

BULLET GAL sample 143Lee, a Cape (i.e. member of the Crime Crusaders Crew) is Mitzi’s mentor in this twisted and confusing universe that’s part Gotham/ Metropolis, part futuristic Melbourne, and part Chicago in the 1940’s. Lee gives her advice and vital information, but there are eight versions of him, in varying shades of seriousness, honesty and sincerity, so Mitzi has to rely on her own sharp instincts, smarts and toughness to survive. And man, is she tough. Her worst enemy is one she barely even knows, but who knows her: Brigit, French girlfriend of Sol. He’s a bad-ass gangster but even he defers to the supreme villainy of Mademoiselle (don’t call her ma’am or madam, please!) Brigit. Like Mitzi, tragedy has followed her as well, only she’s the one who deliberately left it in her wake, often using sharp objects.

Sample excerpt 3Bullet Gal has formerly been seen in individual comic book format and those are all here, so you can start from the beginning, read each installment and conclude with the final issues yet to be released as individual comics. Funded through Kickstarter, this volume, containing the entire Bullet Gal oeuvre, contains interpretations of her by various artists, which is amazingly appropriate because throughout Bullet Gal, Mitzi takes on varying looks and shapes according to whatever visual media/beautiful/ tough-girl avatar/ image has been selected to portray her. She is always Bullet Gal, that obscure object of desire armed with pearl handled pistols only half as dangerous as she is, but the various representations only reinforce the idea of Mitzi’s sublime adaptability, an indispensable trait in Heropa.

To say that one reads Bullet Gal is somewhat inaccurate; it’s really more of an experience. There’s sharp dialogue and clever narrative but the visuals are incredibly rich and amazing, especially if you like hard-boiled noir, whether set in the past, future, or in a digitized sci-fi world that might get re-set at any time. Like I indicated at the beginning, this is noir run through a blender and spiked with a little something illicit and exotic that’ll send you reeling. At first I felt like I might be missing something, tried to go back and see if there was more explanation that would help it all make sense sooner but then I realized that partaking of Bullet Gal is like looking at an expressionist painting, reading a modernist novel or watching The Big Sleep; if you look too closely it doesn’t make sense. You have to take a step back and get lost in it; feel it.

After all, confusion, liquor, cigarette smoke, and too much coffee late at night are all integral to the mood of noir, along with a vague sense of paranoia, longing, and wicked humor. Mitzi’s world is awash in all these things but she is a creature of it and navigates the dark stairways, lonely hospital hallways and deadly streets with self-assurance and confidence — and those two polished nickel 9mm Star Model B pearl-handled pistols. Mademoiselle Brigit, beware.

Writer/ Artist: Andrez Bergen
Story: 9.5 Artwork: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Andrez Bergen provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

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