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Review: Avengers & X-Men Axis #3

Axis 3“Are we back here again?” – Scott Summers

déjà vu…the watch word for AXIS #3.

Issue# 3 of AXIS closes out the first arc of the event, bringing the story to an interesting break  and mini conclusion. The first thing that popped out at me about this issue  is the presence of so many connecting threads that go back to pivotal stories in the Marvel U. This comes with a caveat I will explain shortly. Although this has been a  consistent element since the first issue it’s much more prominent in this one. I’m really starting to see that thematically AXIS is not just a story about heroes and villains, it’s also a hub for a great deal of Marvel’s past stories.

Dedicated and eagle eyed readers will catch plot call backs from Doom and Wanda’s confrontation (Avengers: The Children’s Crusade)  as well as Genesis and Deadpool’s reunion (Uncanny X-Force Vol. 2)  as I’ve mentioned before I’m a sucker for continuity, so seeing these elements is not only enjoyable it reflects the author’s attention to detail and care for the characters. That said I do have some reservations. A lot of the plotting and story structure seems rehashed irrespective of this.  The greatest sin that AXIS #3 commits is reinventing the wheel so to speak (pun intended)

Given what Wanda has went through with Dr. Doom, (House of M /The Children’s Crusade) I find it highly suspect that she would risk performing Magic with him ever again. Additionally if a spell from Wanda going awry becomes the an enduring trope once more, I’ll have to let out a justified groan. The poor girl needs a break she’s earned it. The past keeps coming back  story structure wise, I can’t help but feel a sense of ennui. Like Scott said, we are back to familiar territory. The use of villains to save the day was very  much reminiscent of  the superhuman civil war. And the renewed conflict between the Avengers and X-men was very AVX.  That said I don’t want to throw the baby out with bathwater. There are some interesting developments worthy of mention. Evan Sabah Nur’s  inversion is definitely a new wrinkle in his story and builds upon years of foreshadowing. And Havok’s resignation as co-leader of the Avengers Unity Squad was huge.

In an earlier review I questioned Captains America’s choice of Havok as the leader of the team. This seemed to make him the “Uncle Tom” of Mutants in some respect. It appears he has come to his own similar conclusions in this issue and asserts himself in a manner we rarely see from him. The X-Men  in general appear to be headed in a new direction and I’m excited to see what follows next. Witnessing Evan usher in the genesis (apocalypse?) for this new X-era was particularly poignant and foreboding.

Overall the issue was good…good but familiar. I’m excited to see the new landscape that AXIS will carve but right now the story telling feels a bit formulaic. The art was very reflective of the story, and depicted the chaotic nature of the battle quite well.

Story: Rick Remender Art: Leinil Francis Yu
Story: 6 Art: 8.0 Overall: 7 Recommendation: Read

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There Are No Strings on Me

no strings 02Somewhat unexpectedly yesterday, Marvel Studios released earlier-than-expected the first live action trailer for what might be the most anticipated comic movie in history – Avengers: The Age of Ultron.  Not to be listed as being light on action, the trailer relied heavily on the battle between Tony Stark in Hulkbuster armour against the Hulk.  Perhaps more interestingly though is that the trailer introduced three new characters, new Avengers Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, as well as the movie’s antagonist Ultron.  While there is bound to be analysis and over-analysis of the trailer by those that can’t wait until next May, there is very little in terms of plot which can be discerned from the trailer.  It would seem as though after the teaser scene at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, that it is Ultron that rescues the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, and the battle between the Hulk and Iron Man which might set up the rumored next Hulk film focused on World War Hulk are both present, but no plot is there, and anything else beyond some speculation would only border on gossip.  What is interesting though is the theme of the trailer, and whether that will be an underlying theme of the movie.

Ultron and the twins

Ultron and the twins

Even dedicated fans of Disney would have been unlikely to recognize the melancholic version of “There Are No Strings on Me” playing in the background of the trailer, and if not for the final words of the villain at the end of the trailer, might have even gone unnoticed.   Robots searching for their humanity is one of the most common themes in regards to stories involving the artificial beings, and forms the basis for many of the most famous characters and stories in science fiction, whether it be Data in Star Trek or the replicants in Blade Runner.  Often times, and especially with well-established characters, there are references made to the artificial men of literature.  For instance, in one episode of Star Trek TNG, Data is compared to the Tin Man, who himself sought his own heart.

In a bit of a twist, Ultron though he is a robot with artificial intelligence has never been very concerned with his humanity, declaring his own sentience to supersede that of humans, despite having been patterned on the  persona of Hank Pym, though presumably someone else in this movie seeing as Pym has not yet shown up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.   The artificial man in reference in the trailer is Pinocchio, who as far as artificial men go is in a category of his own.  As the story goes, the wooden boy was first sculpted from a piece of magical talking wood, and strove for true humanity, but with a background based on magic, the impulse is still the same, to be truly human or as the song says “there are no strings on me”.  As a choice for the underlying music of the trailer it is therefore a little bit confusing.  Ultron is not the best example of a robot trying to understand humanity, and it is even seen as one of his fatal flaws, as the hero The Vision was able to overcome Ultron in an early appearance because The Vision had a conscience whereas Ultron did not.  Perhaps then, another reading of the music is necessary, not holding true to the story or the genre at all, but rather taken at face value.  Ultron and machines will not be ruled by man and this is all the setup that the new Avengers movie needs.

Review: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #18

she-raAlthough introduced fairly early into the stories of He-Man there has never been a very good way to overlap the stories of his sister with his own.  He-Man was at first a toy and then later a television series and comic, which was wildly popular among boys in the early 1980s.

Seeing the success of the franchise in one demographic, the creators tried their hand at a related franchise that would appeal to girls and they came up with She-Ra.  Although the animated show had some success, with two seasons compared to He-Man’s three, it never gained the same traction in terms of a fan base.  The characters were a weird mix of dolls and action figures, with the main character Adora/She-Ra focused equally on love as on fighting her mortal enemy, Hordak.   I remember as a young boy eager to fill out my own collection of action figures, that I took one look at a discounted Bow and scoffing and walking away, such a blatant romantic interest that he has a heart on his chest.  Equally although there must have been some, I never met a girl that collected She-Ra figures.   She-Ra has always been a character in need of a home and never really able to find one.

He-Man and the related characters now exist in popular culture primarily as comic book characters and since the relaunch of DC Comics into the new 52, has formed one of the sole ongoing and reliable series not tied to the main universe.  As a comic franchise it has had its ups-and-downs, though one constant has been an attempt to integrate She-Ra into the storylines.  The conclusion of the Blood of Grayskull story line introduces the character into He-Man universe as well as has probably ever been done.   Gone are the somewhat hoaky aspects of the character, replaced only by a strong story, which spanned 6 issues of the series and 1000 years of comic book time.

This final issue of the story arc is still one that is not going to be extremely moving for a lot of readers, as it borrows heavily from aspects of science fiction, fantasy and comic clichés to give a mostly action-focused story.  Nonetheless it is still interesting to read, well-produced and flows well with the bits of story and dialogue moving the action along well.  Fans of the franchise might be particularly interested in this issue, as after nearly thirty years it gives Adora a proper home and a new meaning.

Story: Dan Abnett Art: Pop Mhan
Story: 7.5 Art: 7.5 Overall: 7.5 Recommendation: Read

TV Review: Arrow S3E3 Corto Maltese

arrowOn this episode of Arrow, Oliver decides it’s time for Thea to come back to Starling City, so he packs for Corto Maltese, where Felicity has traced Thea’s whereabouts. Lyla asks Diggle to go with Oliver because one of her field operatives, Mark Shaw, has gone dark in Corto Maltese and she’d like him to look into it. Feeling responsible for Thea’s departure, Roy joins Oliver and Diggle on their journey. Shaw double-crosses Diggle, putting numerous A.R.G.U.S. agents, including Lyla, at risk. Meanwhile, Laurel meets Ted Grant, and Felicity adjusts to her new job.

Interspersed throughout the episode is Thea’s origin into whatever she is now. We get to see her and her father in the beginning, and generally how he won her over. Juxtapose that with Oliver and Roy attempting to bring her back and you get an interesting back and forth.

Then you have Laurel, who seems to be heading down an expected path, especially after the introduction of Ted Grant, a name that should be familiar to DC Comics fans. Blonde hair, and mask? Yeah, I think we might be seeing a new Black Canary in the making. We’ll see where it all goes though in the television series.

What’s a bit meh is the A.R.G.U.S. storyline which just feels like they needed to add in a big action sequence for the hell of it. The episode would have been much stronger focusing on Laurel and Thea instead and get rid of the side story. Giving more details on either of them, some more training, some more discussing their motives, that would have been much more interesting.

Overall, this is a needed episode that could have been done a bit differently with a much better result.

Overall rating: 8

Review: Lumberjanes #7

The world is filled with a ton of stupid noise caused by people being jerks and life being weird and arbitrary; comics like Lumberjanes serve as a lovely escape from the bad and a welcome reminder of the good. Yes, writers Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis and artist Brooke Allen’s Lumberjanes is a warm, cute little comic book, unlike those grim and gritty ones about bats and guns. The penultimate issue of this arc (the series is now ongoing!), out today, offers a solid story that makes sense of past issues’ mysteries and gives off the sense that everything is coming together. It’s great, accessible fun.

lumber7b

At this point in the series, an elegant feeling of camaraderie among the characters melts off of the pages. The simplest interactions between characters is enough to garner a smile, because of how much has been built up to by this point. It really is remarkable how well the creative team here has managed to make these girls worth caring about. All of the good times they share give off an infectious feeling of happiness, and every struggle, no matter how small, is felt; intimate character work is done incredibly well in Lumberjanes. Unfortunately, the amount of action in this issue is certainly lacking in comparison to others, but it is not without its bits of cathartic excitement.

After a silly, funny opening sequence at the start of this issue, the biggest chunk of the plot begins. Reveal after reveal and explanation after explanation ensue, making sense of every head-scratching moment from past issues. The only noteworthy problem with this series has been confusion associated with these intentional gaps in the plot, but this issue rids away those issues. With this one in the can, it is safe to say this arc will read noticeably better in a bulk, trade format.

Given the quality of Lumberjanes #7, it’s likely next month’s conclusion will stick the landing. If you missed out on this series as it came out, you better look out for the trade.

Story: Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis Art: Brooke Allen
Story: 8.75 Art: 8.25 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

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

Breaking: Tom DeLonge’s Poet Comes to Magnetic Press

Poet closeWe’ve got the scoop that Magnetic Press are producing and publishing an original graphic novel series entitled POET, created by multi-platinum recording artist and producer Tom DeLonge. DeLonge, best known as the co-founder and frontman for the legendary punk-pop group Blink-182 and the alternative rock band Angels & Airwaves, created the sci-fi fantasy adventure focusing on Poet Anderson, a “Dream Walker” who roams the realm of dreams, protecting sleepers from dark terrors that threaten to cross over into the waking world. Produced in conjunction with the upcoming release of the new Angels & Airwaves album, “The Dream Walker,” the POET comic series will serve as a prequel introduction to the universe.

In addition to the comic series, DeLonge’s production company To The Stars has produced a feature-quality animated short film that will premiere as an Official Selection of the 2014 Toronto International ShortFilm Festival, and debut publicly with the Angels & Airwaves album release on December 9th.

POET will introduce the main character, Jonas Anderson, an imaginative slacker teen who discovers an innate ability to lucid dream, opening the doors to an entire universe of wonders and dangers that effect his waking life in ways that will define his fate forever. With a story by DeLonge and Ben Kull (Mission Hill, The Oblongs), the series will be illustrated by award-winning artist Djet Stéphane, with covers by several comic industry pillars, including Gerald Parel (Iron Man, Captain America) and Bengal (Naja, Avengers).

“The Dream Walker” album will serve as a concept soundtrack, with songs and tracks exploring facets of lucid dreaming and the Poet universe. The first track, “Paralyzed”, premiered on Rolling Stone and rocketed onto the Top 10 on iTunes’s Alternative Chart. A full-length feature film is also in pre-production, as well as a novelization and various iconic collectibles and attire.

The three-issue series will debut both digitally and in print this Spring.

Check out the trailer below!

TV Review: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S2E5 A Hen in the Wolfhouse

Agents_of_SHIELD_logoCoulson’s team is up against the beautiful and deadly Bobbi Morse — Security Chief for Hydra. Meanwhile, Skye’s father forces Raina to reunite him with his daughter at any cost.

The first third of the episode, I honestly tuned out. Not much jumped out at me as exciting our all that interesting. It wasn’t until Coulson talks to Skye, and reveals she might be an alien…. now you have my interest…. until predictably Jemma is threatened with being outed as a mole for S.H.I.E.L.D. by Hydra. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. summed up in a two minute span right there.

But, really the episode is about the introduction of Bobbi Morse into the Marvel cinematic universe. And boy does she enter in a pretty bad-ass way.

The rest of the episode mixes things up a bit getting things settled for the rest of the season. Bobbi is now part of the team, and clearly has some history with folks, REALLY entertaining history. Skye’s pursuit of her father is probably the main story for the season, and I’d expect a big reveal at the end about Skye, or for it to lead to a further mystery next season. There’s the weird symbols Coulson is drawing. And Jemma is back, which can mean a whole lot of things for Fitz.

Overall, better than last week’s episode, but not quite the quality from the end of last season.

Overall Score: 6.5

TV Review: The Flash S1E3 Things You Can’t Outrun

theflash_full_costumeAs Barry and the team at S.T.A.R. Labs work to capture Kyle Nimbus a.k.a. The Mist, a dangerous new meta-human with toxic gas powers, they revisit the painful night the particle accelerator exploded and killed Caitlin’s fiancé, Ronnie. Meanwhile, Joe decides to finally visit Henry in jail after all these years, but things take a dangerous turn when Kyle shows up looking to punish Joe for arresting him years ago. Meanwhile, Iris and Eddie continue to hide their relationship from Joe.

Three episodes in and The Flash keeps running away as the freshest “comic” show to debut this year, might be why its been picked up for a full season.

Tonight’s episode introduces yet another meta-human for Barry to fight, but really the episode’s points are two other things. First, it addresses the fact that Barry could run into prison and grab his father. The second is the introduction of Ronnie Raymond. Why is he important? Well, fans of DC Comics will know him as the superhero Firestorm.

The episode is decent, not quite as strong as the first two, but like those first two it does an excellent job setting up what’s to come. We know there’s more Rogues, the Reverse Flash, Firestorm, lots for comic fans. The fact the show is able to do this in a fun package.

Yes the episode has issues, lets face it a vacuum could defeat the bad guy, but that’s not the point. This is a show that’s fun, and that’s something we need more of on tv.

Overall rating: 7.5

We Talk Wonderland with Erica J Heflin

calieAfter a few years working with GreyHaven Comics, Erica J Heflin was given the reins for Zenescope’s ongoing Wonderland series.  Turning the psychotic stories a bit on their side, she is now taking the title in a new direction.  She chatted with us for a bit and told us what it is like to go down the rabbit hole.

Graphic PolicyHow did you cross paths into Zenescope and Wonderland?  Was there a magical looking glass involved?

Erica J Heflin:  No looking glasses! My general history of disliking what I see reflected means that I avoid mirrors handily.

In this case it was the perfect combination of luck and hard work put me behind a table slinging my own books when the delightful Pat Shand happened upon the table. This was several years ago, and while he introduced himself as a writer I didn’t recognize his name. We had a pleasant conversation where I both told him about my books and tried to get him involved in an anthology project that I was working on with GrayHaven Comics. We exchanged some books and continued to share books at different cons. When the opening for Wonderland occurred, I was invited to pitch!

calieGPYou picked up writing duties on the series after Calie had managed to finally conquer Wonderland and take over as its queen.  Do you foresee a change in tone to the overall series now that she has “won”?

EH:  Oh, yes. Her victory and conquering of Wonderland really changes the entire landscape of the book. While it’s still a fantasy-horror series, the madness and claustrophobic lack of control isn’t as pervasive. These were some fundamental motifs in the earlier books and the ongoing, so it’s a pretty substantial change.

But in addition to Wonderland’s changes, Calie changes a lot too. She’s no longer in a position where her survival – and her daughter’s – is threatened in each moment. Though she has enough paranoia and experience to know that Wonderland is still a VERY dangerous place, her own relationship with it has changed. Moreover, Calie’s experiencing a life event that is both very normal and very emotional for a parent. Violet’s grown and is stepping out into the world as her own woman. So at the most basic level the dynamics of Calie’s life are changing.

calieGPThe Grimm Fairy Tales version of Wonderland is a combination of fantasy and wonder with horror and terror.  Which one do you think defines the realm more?

EH:  I’d say that in its natural state Wonderland holds to a combination of fantasy and wonder. Through the last several years it’s leaned heavily away from this whimsical charm and into the dark horror and now Calie is struggling to return the balance to Wonderland. Calie’s life hasn’t made her a particularly whimsical person, so watching her struggle to embrace the fantasy and wonder of the Realm she commands is a lot of fun.

GPMental health has been an ongoing theme in the collected series thus far.  Is that an important aspect to continue with, or do you think that Calie has kind of moved past this?

EH:  It will continue, but manifest in different ways. We’ll see a bit of it with Violet as she struggles with the spirit of the Hatter as well as her own demons. But overall there’s a shift away from featuring these concerns, simply because many of the characters of focus are now either birthed of Wonderland or have been fully absorbed into Wonderland. Though now that the creatures of Wonderland have free will – and free control of their destinies – there’s bound to be a lot more questioning of who and why they exist.

GP Did you read the novel as a youngster or just watch the movie?

calieEH:  I watched the movie when I was very young, but started reading Lewis Caroll in my teen years. It was assigned reading, I believe, but fantastical or horror stories were easy enough for me to get fully engrossed in.

I ended up reading Caroll’s work several more times – on my own, in college, etc. I love the way he built such an immersive universe and still managed a sharp commentary on historical events. I’m also a nerd for linguistics, and Caroll’s works offer such a rich breadth of word play that I love to revisit.

GPDo you have a favorite character?

EH:   I love Calie, but I have to admit that my favorite character to write at the moment is Dark Cheshire. He comes from such a unique background, and is continuing to struggle with the questions of who and why he is. He also has a history of not just doing terrible things, but taking joy from many of them. There’s a gleeful sense of affection for his own history even as he struggles to rise above the horror of what he was. It makes a very interesting dynamic to write.

GPDoes having a favorite affect how you see the series going forward?

EH:   My concept of Wonderland is very Calie-centric, but her relationship with the Dark Cheshire is deeply important. Through Dark Cheshire we get a deeper understanding of Calie and her relationship with Wonderland and its people. He’s a great gateway for both her and the reader. His presence doesn’t change the story’s direction, but allows for a deeper understanding of all the characters involved.

GPAre there any elements of the original Wonderland that you feel that the series has been missing so far that you would like to introduce?

EH:   Because of the nature of the stories, Wonderland has focuses on a tiny corner of the Realm, coupled with a lot of overlay of Earth life. Going forward I’m going to show how vast Wonderland is. This is a land with a long history – history that isn’t interlinked to Earth’s – and I’m very excited to pull away that curtain and reveal the rest of Wonderland.

GPLastly and most importantly, why is a raven like a writing desk?

EH:  You know, I have a strong desire to undermine the nature of this question and ramble about the talented Mr. (Raven) Gregory.

Review: Tomb Raider #9

tomb raider 9 coverThe transition from other mediums into comics can be a bumpy and perhaps no character typifies this better than Lara Croft.  Though not much of a video game player at any point in my life, for the short period that I was involved with video games I did play the first couple of Tomb Raider games from beginning to end.  There was a certain appeal to the character which never really translated well to other mediums.  Despite Angelina Jolie’s star power, she could not make much of the character on the big screen, and in comics the character has often struggled to find an identity.  Probably a big part of this is the application of the character over specific time frames.  Most people can cover an entire 3-5 issue story arc in under an hour, but in video games a single story arc takes days to complete.  The rich and complex scenarios which occur in comics are difficult to reproduce because the reader expects the same out of the character which is often difficult to duplicate, especially as there is a limited amount of material upon which to draw.

In the case of Lara Croft, while she is supposed to be an accomplished and unrivaled archaeologist, this often does not come through as she is instead portrayed as a soldier of fortune, using her military training and survival skills for a different purpose.  This is the case in Tomb Raider #9 as the character has been thrown into the radioactive hot zone that is Chernobyl and is forced to face off against what is essentially another mercenary.  The story in itself is not inherently flawed though it is somewhat unspectacular in its concept, but Lara Croft does not really come out of the story, rather the character could be any of a number of similar characters.  Even imagining her speaking in a British accent has no effect as the dialogue is fairly straightforward and usually uninspired. This is even all the more frustrating as Lara is being written by comic veteran Gail Simone as well as Rhianna Pratchett, scriptwriter for the games, as one would expect the two of them to get the character on track.

Fans of the character will therefore likely be disappointed with this particular story arc, even if there is nothing really wrong with it either.  At the heart of the character is one very deeply versed in an Indiana Jones model, and it is generally wise to let the characters continue the same dynamic which made them popular in the first place.  The series remains similar to how most of the comic portrayals of Lara Croft have been, equally both adequate and off-the-mark.

Story:  Rhianna Pratchett and Gail Simone Art: Derlis Santacruz
Story: 7.0 Art: 7.0 Overall: 7.0 Recommendation: Pass

Dark Horse provided Graphic Policy with a free copy for review

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