Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Flash Gordon Holiday Special

FlashHoliday2014-Cov-A-ShanerChristmas somewhat fails in an application to the cosmos.  The origin of Christmas is from a hijacking by early members of the Christian church.  What was an observance of the solstice for previous religions was easily enough stolen and repurposed for the birth of the prophet, which historians believe was at least two weeks later (closer to what Orthodox worshippers observe.)  This leaves the solstice being more of an astronomical irregularity, and on the cosmic scale, it is mostly unimportant at the specific time at which planet Earth is exactly at the point where its rotation and axis being offset by 23.5 degrees matches the point in its revolution when this is most directly over that difference.  So too is Christmas a social phenomenon, not necessarily observed by Christians, but one which is obviously not going to be observed by alien species that have never been in contact with humans.

These are the challenges that the Flash Gordon Holiday Special faces, and although it does lack some of the relevance, the creative teams do their best to mix the cosmos with the festivities.  By far the weakest of the three entries in this special is the first, which tries to match the holidays of an alien planet to those of Earth.  Although it is a worthy enough attempt, it is still a bit of a misfire, as Flash live through various puns of Christmas traditions.  Much better are the following two stories, the middle one dealing with Hanukah and the final one dealing with New Year’s Eve celebrations.  The story dealing with Hanukah is a smarter approach to incorporating in the stories of the Christmas with those of the cosmos.  A lone alien stranded on Earth finds a strange friendship with a Jewish family, when that family needed it the most.  The best story of the group is the last, focusing on Dale Arden and her continued failures to have a good time on New Year’s Eve, a common enough failure for people with high expectations for this day.  It revisits some of her failures and then shows how she is happiest.

What could have been a mismatch in terms of context, content and concept ends up being a nice enough issue dealing with the holiday season. While at times it does feel like a bit of a reach to make this relevant, it fits in nicely.  Flash Gordon is after all a pulp character from another time, and so some of the anachronistic Christmas practices also don’t really feel out of place here.  Those looking for a nice and quaint holiday themed issue will find it here, but those liking neither science fiction nor the holidays might find this a bit taxing.

Story: Dan McCoy, Elliot Kalan, and Stuart Wellington Art: Joseph Cooper, Lara Margarida and Stephen Downey
Story: 7.7 Art: 7.7 Overall: 7.7 Recommendation: Read

Dynamite provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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Review: Storm #6

storm 006So far in this series, there has a been a lack of success in finding a defining direction for the character.  Although at times the character of Storm has been captured correctly, at others it has been muddled and muddied by outside developments which halt any interior development in this title.  This most recent issue is perhaps a chance to look at what has come before to put it behind as well as to highlight both the successes of the series so far as well as the strength of the character that has been built up over her many years of publication history.

As Storm leaves Yukio behind, she finds herself on a plane headed to La Guardia, but no plane ride it can seem can ever be normal for any superhero.  Instead of dealing with boring in-flight movies and stale pretzels, Storm has to deal with unruly passengers who are unhappy with a mutant flying on board.  While these are interjected in a forced way, there are also some nicer moments, specifically with a nurse escorting an organ for donation, who has recognized what Storm did in the first issue of this series by stopping the tidal wave.  As this ties into the other stories so far in this series, Storm is unable to escape from the unfortunate two part story arc that preceded this one, as some soldiers from one of the warring clans come looking for payback.  This sets up a good action sequence but it is equally forced in other ways specifically in the resolution.

As with any comic series, the stories here would benefit from a lack of influence of outside factors, but more so, it would seem that for all of the solo X-Men titles that they are lacking in the absence of other X-Men.  Storm is easily a compelling enough hero to hold her own book, but as a character she is not being able to let loose and carve out her own niche.  Until that time, this series is going to be searching for an identity, but at least in this issue there seems to be some promise that the series is heading that way.

Story: Greg Pak Art: Al Barrionuevo
Story: 7.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 7.0 Recommendation: Pass

Review: Inhuman #10

Inhuman 010The latest issue of Inhumans is one of two stories, and it is two stories which are cleverly balanced against one another, despite not directly dealing with each other.  Since its relaunch Inhumans has been one of the most interesting series in Marvel.  It is a fairly common theme in comics to have a group of outsiders and to have them desire some kind of assembly to make them feel more comfortable amongst themselves.  This is the case with the X-Men but it is also the case with the Inhumans, though the approach here seems to be more that of a true diaspora.  Instead of people finding out that there are others like them and seeking some acceptance, the people here already knew that there were others like them, only they can’t figure out how to get back together.

So far in this series, Medusa has been undoubtedly the breakout star.  As she struggles to find acceptance for new Attilan, she takes center stage both inside and outside of the comic.  While she is central figure here, the role that Axis played upon her is also not used as a detraction, but rather as an attraction.  The past two issues could have turned into an all-out slugfest but it did not.  What this series really needs is a pull to keep the stories interesting, and it has that in the Reader and Xiaoyi, the only problem being that they are not enough of a draw to keep most fans coming back.  What is enough of a draw though is a battle of Medusa versus Spider-Man, and so this is where the balance comes in.  The battle between the two heroes is a bit artificial and out of place, but it still provides the draw for the reader to be introduced to the more compelling story behind the scenes.

This issue does what it must.  It provides a bit of fluff to draw in the reader but also keeps the main story going in the background.  This duplicitous approach is perhaps needed, but is also indicative of what some comics need to do to survive.  Evidently though, Marvel is very interested in the concept of the Inhumans, and they will be doing everything that they can to keep the idea alive and relevant.  This issue does that at the very least, providing both some mostly meaningless fun but also the necessary gravity for the series to keep going strong.

Story: Charles Soule Art: Ryan Stegman
Story: 8.1 Art: 8.1 Overall: 8.1 Recommendation: Read

Review: Supergirl #37

Supergirl 037There has been an interesting trend at DC Comics in the past year.  Instead of portraying its young adult and new adult heroines as hopeless children, it has started to show more characterization, dealing with problems that might actually affect them, in addition to dealing with superheroics.  With Supergirl it seems as though the same approach is being taken, though due to the nature of the character it is perhaps not as pronounced.  This goes back to the same problems that all of the Super characters have lobbied against them, namely that with so many superlatives next to their names and their powers, that there is just not as much to draw the reader in.  The characters are never really threatened who cannot be harmed, and while some readers still adore these characters, others find the lack of a real threat to be boring.

What has worked so well for instance for Batgirl is thus a little dulled down here.  Supergirl is still on the Crucible and even though its true nature is not yet revealed, it would seem as though something is not right about it.  This is still an engaging environment for her, only just not as engaging as those faced by either Batgirl or Olive Silverlock.  At the same time, for the first time since Siobhan, there are supporting characters in this series that have more going for them than being stock secondary characters, and there are even two, in Tsavo and Maxima.   Tsavo particularly plays an important part in this issue as his background comes back to haunt him and he is forced to intervene on his home planet with his new allies.

The end result is an issue which shows that this series is moving in the right direction.  So often in this series it has felt like the character was waiting inside her own universe for some kind of purposeful meaning, and it seems as though it might finally be finding it over three years later. I thought that the cover was clever as well, as though it seems to be a representation of Kara’s search for an identity, it is actually tied into the issue in an interesting way.  This is not the best material that DC has to offer, but it is still a fun read and every issue seems to be getting better, and for those that have been waiting for a good time to finally pick up this title, this might be the start.

Story: K. Perkins and Mike Johnson Art: Ema Lupacchino
Story: 8.3 Art: 8.8 Overall: 8.3 Recommendation: Read

Review: Wonder Woman #37

ww038The previous issue of Wonder Woman was a significant change in direction for the series with the introduction of a new creative team, and many felt that it was filled with more than a few bumps along the road.  While there were some obvious reservations with the previous issue, at the same time it indicated the delicate balance which the creative team was trying to achieve between their own stories and those that preceded it, as tough an act to follow as that was.  In this the second issue of this new creative team, there is a little bit less of the immediate reaction away from what came before, but also better clues that the creative team does indeed know what it is doing here.

While still under pressure from various parts of her life, Diana takes time to work through some of her problems, both with Clark and then with her sisters.  While the plot is at times a little forced, the different layers of storytelling are evidently being well-played against one another.  This is a creative team that is juggling a lot of balls, but as is evident with the surprise final page, it would seem that they do have a plan on how to manage the task in front of them, and to do so in a way that will please the fans and do justice to the characters.

The end result is one which is not as obvious as the first issue for the new team.  The previous issue was more of the clean-break as opposed to this one which instead rests a little bit on the shock value of what has come before.   While it may be evident as well here that some of the developments of the previous issue may in fact be more of misfires, it is also evident that while this series might not yet be running on full cylinders, that the promise is there to do so.  Admittedly, Azzarello’s run on this series was a great one, but people seem to ready to write off this team before they have even had a chance to prove themselves, and this issue represents another step forward for them as they try to carve out their own part of this iconic character’s history.

Story: Meredith Finch Art: David Finch
Story: 8.2 Art: 8.2 Overall: 8.2 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Wytches #3

If any comic on the stands today knows how to control a specific atmosphere, it’s Scott Snyder and Jock’s Image Comics-published Wytches. The pages practically bleed colorfully painted splotches of suffocating dread. The latest issue, #3, continues to build onto the ongoing conflict of the Rooks family, offering lots of scares that delve deep into a very real kind of fear. While I was left a bit wanting in regards to plot progression, this third issue is a great comic that manages to keep getting readers to care more and more intimately about these characters while simultaneously courting some healthy skepticism.

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In classic Snyder fashion, this issue starts off with and occasionally flips back to a seemingly unrelated story from these characters’ past and thematically ties it into the present in a way that really affects. It’s so cool how this writer can take such a small anecdote about childhood play and present it in such a way that manages to conjure up all sorts of anxiety. A simple approach can go a long way when it comes to monster stories, but Snyder goes down a more complex road and succeeds. All looming danger in this series is caked in concern for this poor, anxious girl and her endlessly caring father.

This issue takes place some time after the first issue, exacerbated by a flashback that explains issue #2’s ending. Detailing a creepy encounter the father has with an odd, monstrous woman, this scene is not only viscerally uncomfortable, but gives some much needed hints at the mysteries of this first arc. Presented in this comic is an intriguing mystery that forces readers to think about the psychological limits of the characters. In the process, readers will probably stumble into having these thoughts about themselves, revealing the true terror of Wytches.

What’s unfortunate is that, despite all of this issue’s achievements, I was left wishing the plot had moved forward a little more. The regular monthly release cycle of comic books necessitates a substantial wait time between issues, so it can be a bummer when things don’t considerably progress. There are some fun surprises and a cliffhanger that seems to tease a truly exciting next issue, so it isn’t all bad.

The art here does continues to dazzle, in all of its eerie, discomforting and foreboding glory. On that same note of streamlining, however, I did occasionally find the paint-splattering in this issue to be a tad overdone. The purposely obtuse imagery that makes things hard to make out plays with one’s imagination in such a way as to force some dark analysis, even though sometimes I was left a bit annoyed that I couldn’t quite understand what I was looking at.

At the end of the issue, Snyder wrote up an essay delving into what emotionally drove him to develop Wytches. It’s a story that any die-hard Snyder fan will already know from interviews he’s done, but it’s a chilling and well-written read all the same. In it, he paints a clear connection between Wytches and real-life fears formed from the implications of relationships with loved ones combined with mind-numbing anxiety. He’s not full of shit.

Story: Scott Snyder Art: Jock
Story: 8.5 Art: 8.75 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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Review: Batman #37

Batman #37 moves with purely terrifying kinetic energy. With art at a higher production value than just about anything else on the market guided by writing done with a higher level of intelligence and nuance than just about anything else on the market, the latest issue of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman saga impresses more than any issue of the “Endgame” arc thus far. It creates a thrilling and claustrophobic atmosphere that makes it near impossible to look away from the page, and even more difficult not to throw money at DC Comics for the next chapter in the story. It’s amazing.

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Snyder’s writing is so grounded in horror that even his superhero stories embody terror in the same general fashion that his straight-horror creator-owned work does. Everything that happens in this issue is suspenseful music to one’s ears, all culminating into a pot that delves into deep fears of Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and other citizens of Gotham. In both “Endgame” and his past arc “Death of the Family,” Snyder and Capullo present more or less the only wholly scary version of the Joker in comic book form, save for parts of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke.

There’s a scene towards the end of the comic that spikes the adrenaline in both Batman and Gordon, delivering sequences that cut to their cores all thanks to the cunningly evil acts of the Joker. Through brilliant page layouts, these two scenes are spliced together to turn the excitement level up from 10 all the way to 20. Batman’s trouble isn’t totally original but shocking and powerful all the same. On the other half of the coin, Gordon’s run-in with the Joker reveals something rather unsettling about his character, aided most by simple, unfocused upon facial expression in his reaction.

The art team of Capullo on pencils, Danny Miki on inking, and FCO Plascencia on coloring has produced one of the most stunning issues of Batman yet with this 37th issue. The first page is a pretty realistic and completely creepy image of Bruce, frozen by paralysis from Joker-gas, trying to think himself out of emotionally breaking. It’s followed up by pages filled with detail that gets across every bit of finesse necessary for all of the twitching fear on strong men’s faces and for all of the little hands creeping in the background. It’s a comic that creates environments that feel cramped but that are still zipped through with a fast pace. Most of the comic is dark, filled with blobs of jet-black shadow, but it’s not without its tints of blue and orange, and occasional bits of jarring color.

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Not managing to be quite perfect, some small issues are worth noting. For one thing, unfortunate timing means that this story runs parallel to the “Amazo Virus” arc in Justice League. Both storylines feature an infection damaging large groups of innocent city folk, and a desperate hunt for a “patient zero” to figure out an antidote. This takes away from the oomph of the plot some because of the lame familiarity. It’s still entertaining in its own right, though, and this won’t be an issue for those reading in a trade much further down the line when this comic is inevitably recommended by comic readers of the future for anyone looking for essential Joker stories.

Another mild disappointment that hurts the arc as a whole is the drop in quality from the main story to the backups. These backups, penned by James Tynion IV, are well-written and provide captivating backstory that feels relevant to the main story. However, the art in these backups, while always unique and interesting, are never all that great. The backup of #37 is perhaps the best looking so far, with surreal and scrappy art by John Mccrea. It’s not bad art; honestly, it’s good. Coming off of art from Capullo really does leave a certain impact that makes the “good” art hard to appreciate for what it is, though. Past backups on Batman treated readers to comic book industry greats like Jock and Raphael Albuquerque, and sadly, that’s not what’s currently on the pages of the latest arc.

Most important here is the main story, and it will surely go down in history as something special. Snyder and Capullo have such a strong grasp of the Batman character that it is hard to imagine what the next creative team is going to have to do not to look puny in comparison. Batman #37 is an amazing reminder that despite any sad cancellations and weird continuity changes from DC Comics, there is a downright excellent comic that comes out every month that goes by the simple, unfettered title of Batman.

Story: Scott Snyder Art: Greg Capullo
Story: 9.5 Art: 9.75 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy

Check out Matt’s digital portfolio here

Review: The Death Defying Dr. Mirage #4

dm04With this the fourth of five issues in this miniseries, the resolution to the challenges against Dr. Mirage is nearly here, but in the meantime there is an assortment of problems faced by her before she leave the astral plane.  After the previous issue, little time is wasted for her reunification with her deceased husband Hwen, but at the same time the forces of Ivros are on the move and March’s scheming keeps the pace moving as numerous influences seek to destabilize the barrier between the astral plane and Earth, allowing for an invasion.

At its heart this is a fairly engaging story, with a well-conceived concept, but where it fails is with the artwork.  It is not even that the artwork is bad, because the artist is evidently skilled enough, only that when superimposed upon the astral plane, that it does not help the chaos of understanding who is where, but rather adds to the confusion.  With the astral plane as essentially a setting wide open in terms of creative inspiration or imagination, it makes sense for such a setting to be unfathomably bizarre and complex, but from the reader’s standpoint, it is still necessary to have an anchor to understand it, and the artist fails to do so with this issue.

On the whole though, this still succeeds in the way that it is meant to.  Once the confusion of the artwork is bypassed, the reader is left with a story that is full of both interesting plot twists as well as well-developed characters.  The villains are evil and the heroes are good and neither in solely a superficial sense.  The heroes face difficult choices from a moral standpoint and it is in those choices where the final issue of this series is headed.

Story: Jen Van Meter Art: Roberto de la Torre
Story: 7.7 Art: 7.0 Overall: 7.7 Recommendation: Read

Valiant provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Manifest Destiny #12

md12Definitely one of the most bizarre series in recent times has to be Manifest Destiny.  The usual frontier myths of Lewis and Clark are replaced with horror based stories focused on the things that they never reported back about.  So far in this series, the story has focused on the individual challenges of the team, be that the zombifying fungus or the collection of unusual monsters.  While the series has been big on suspense as the crew tries to figure out solutions to the dangerous dilemmas, it has also been relatively short on answers.  In this issue the team finally stop for a break, this time at an Indian village, and have a relatively uninterrupted chance to mend their wounds.  Of course, even at that things are not what they seem, but at least the crew is ready for more adventures at the end of this issue.

What this break does is that it allows the series to finally give a bit of a background to its stories.  Lewis specifically is shown as he is recruited by President Jefferson.  Once again traditional history is thrown on its side as the president reveals something from the Louisiana purchase which no one else had ever known about, the skull of a cyclops. While this provides some of the background for Lewis and Clark, there is also some added background for Sacagawea, though added only through some revelation of her personal reasons for aiding the group.  While it is not historical, it fits into the story line in the series, as it provides some reasoning to her actions thus far.

With a bit more background, this series is headed off once again into the wildernesses, against its unexpected foes, and while this issue does not contain the action and thrills that have been a hallmark of this series so far, it does give it a better center as finally the motivations behind the major characters are better understood.  Equally the challenges ahead in the coming issues are still evident, even as the elder in the small village explains something about some of the mysteries.  This compact issue does what has been needed for this series, and gives the reader more to ponder about as the crew head further into the continent.

Story: Chris Dingess Art: Matthew Roberts and Owen Gieni
Story: 8.3 Art: 8.2 Overall: 8.2 Recommendation: Read

Image provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.  

Review: Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches #4

witches 004 aFor a series that is focused on fairy tales dealing with witches, it makes sense that at some point it would have to include Baba Yaga, here drawn from an unused teleplay for the original television series.  While there are other witches who are more famous in fairy tales, many of them are not named specifically, and so Baba Yaga as a name is distinctive enough to merit some attention.  The story follows a fairly common theme among fairy tales, the death of a mother and her replacement with a mean step-mother and her mean daughters. The young girl acting as the protagonist is forced into a life of servitude, which is made all the worst when she is sent to the dark forest to live.

In the folklore tradition of Baba Yaga there is not one common narrative as there is with for instance Cinderella or Snow White, instead the witch is more like a legend or superstition in her portrayal, and often even a cautionary tale of what happens to children that do not behave.  Here though she is put into a story which captures a lot of the commonalities of fairy tales, even when they are not from a specific story dealing with Baba Yaga.  This makes the story seem a bit artificial at times, and this is even more evident, as the titular Storyteller is shown in this issue far more than in previous issues, and his presence seems almost like it is necessary to advance the plot. Equally though by pulling from stock material for fairy tales, it does allow the main character to display some redeeming qualities, notably when she is challenged to riddles which she quickly deciphers.

The end result for this issue and this series is a little bit of a disappointment.  While the series is quaint and interesting when approached from a certain angle, it also never really managed to reach the level that it could have or should have.  The collected edition might be a nice addition to a child’s library, but from an adult point of view, most of the fairy tales in this four part series missed the mark.  This fourth and final issue was probably the second best of the four, but as it is still only about average, it is indicative of the problems that this series faced.

Story: Anthony Mighella Art: Jeff Stokely
Story: 7.4 Art: 7.4 Overall: 7.4 Recommendation: Pass

BOOM! Studios and Archaia provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.  

 

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