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Review: Chew #50

Chew #50 CoverThis is it, the landmark Chew #50, and the showdown everyone’s been waiting for. With 10 issues to go this is the showdown between Tony Chu and The Vampire Cibopath in the cold snowy lands of Russia.

For quite a while now, the series has been building to the showdown between these two characters in what you know will be an all out battle between various powers gained. It’s been clear what Tony has to do to defeat The Vampire for a bit, and the question is would he go through with it? Yes. Yes. And Yes.

The issue is the excitement and kinetic energy you’d expect courtesy of the team of writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory. No matter how sad an issue might be, or how much pure action it is, there’s an infusion of humor that puts it all over the top and makes each issue one of the most enjoyable comics on the market.

Each issue Layman lays out food and eating related powers that are so out there it’s hard to not crack a smile, laugh, and just enjoy it. For 50 issues he’s consistently delivered in that department, and even with a build up so big, he still delivers. The issue doesn’t disappoint at all.

Part of that charm is Guillory’s art. With powers so over the top, it takes a talented artist to deliver, and he does. The small details that pepper each issue, and especially this issue, tells us a story even if it’s not directly laid out with the script and dialogue. We know (and can imagine ourselves) what happened off panel. And through it all, and a kinetic zaniness worthy of Loony Tunes, it puts a smile on your face.

While the series is heading towards its sixtieth and final issue, there’s not time like the present to start from the beginning and catch up. With games and a television show in the works, Chew is still poised to be a massive break-out in the comic world. It’s kind of hard for it not to be when it’s this so infectiously fun.

Story: John Layman Art: Rob Guillory
Story: 9 Art: 9 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Comixtravaganza’s and Unlockable Character’s Amy Sulam Talks Airboy and Image

Comixstravaganza‘s and Unlockable Character‘s Amy Sulam talks about transgendered individuals and talks about Image ComicsAirboy #2. If you’d like to find out more, you can read it here. If you’d like to take action, you can do so here.

Review: Trista + Holt #6

Trista + Holt issue 6 COVER ARTTrista & Holt #6 (Iffy Commix), the latest in Andrez Bergen’s 1970’s noir series, opens with Trista in trouble, having been stabbed by Issy Holt’s uncle, the hard-headed, hard-charging Moore Holt. Issy has been obsessed with Trista since first seeing her at Holt wheel man Lou Holden’s funeral, and now Issy finds her at death’s door on the floor of Samson’s bar. She knows the connections they share, but Issy doesn’t, and this promises to complicate things tremendously going forward.

Bergen is a master of the tropes and motifs of high noir and Trista & Holt shows how adept is he is at capturing the spirit and tone of ‘70’s neo-noir, placing the saga of Tristan and Iseult in a much more recent time and setting it to a disco beat. Marcella Cornwall, whose crime organization works opposite the Holts, is mostly portrayed by Angela Lansbury circa Murder, She Wrote. Marcella is the one who sent Trista on the dangerous errand to kill Moore Holt in the first place and she’s grown even more demented since last we saw her. While Trista’s level-headed confidante Governal shows concern for Trista’s well-being and knew she might not have been carrying enough fire-power Page_06to dispatch Moore once and for all, Marcella believes only that the end justifies the means, taking Trista’s loyalty for granted.

Page-006The artwork Bergen chooses to show the crime scene at the bar along with the traumatic aftermath is haunting, and cinematic effects such as stark lighting and varying levels of focus make Trista & Holt a rich visual and narrative experience. It doesn’t hurt that screen idols of the era surface frequently, such as when Paul Newman portrays Issy, adding ‘70’s gloss and glamour to the urban grittiness of the proceedings. There are some significant twists and turns in this issue, and some very striking imagery sets the stage for more to follow as the plot thickens considerably and the tantalizing entanglement between Issy and Trista grows ever more complicated—and dangerous.

Art and story by Andrez Bergen
Art: 10 Story: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

The artist/creator provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

Take Action: Image, Pull Airboy #2 from Shelves

take actionImage Comics‘ CEO Eric Stephenson himself highlighted the need for diversity in his 2014 Image Expo keynote chastising the industry for treating “gender equality and cultural issues as though they’re little more than gimmicks to increase sales.” Now’s the time to see if Image believes in the words their CEO stated.

Airboy #2 finds writer James Robinson and artist Greg Hinkle’s comic versions of themsevles at a bar with Airboy, who has noticed the women around them, and taking a liking. What Airboy does not realize is that these women are transgender, though Robinson and Hinkle are well aware. As if dreamt up by a frat boy trying to be edgy and funny, the next scene involves Airboy in one stall and Hinkle in the other both receiving oral sex. Airboy explodes in anger over the fact that the woman he hooked up with was a “lady with a penis” after he was asked to reciprocate oral sex. A debate ensues about the “men” they hooked-up with, Airboy storming off complaining about the “degenerate” world.

Without rehashing the numerous problems surrounding this issue, you can read Emma Houxboi’s take over at The Rainbow Hub and our own take here. This sums it up:

There’s no voice, no agency, no humanity to any of the trans women in this comic. Just an open mouth to fuck or a penis to gawk at.

Image, Robinson, and Hinkle’s Airboy #2 is transphobic and in an industry striving for inclusion and diversity the comic should not be afforded physical or digital shelf space.

TAKE ACTION: We are currently running a campaign to have individuals post to Twitter with the hashtag #ImageExpo during today’s event run by the publisher which runs from 1pm ET/10am PT through the day to show support. Below is some suggested text.

One in two transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their lives. It’s legal in every state, except California, to use “trans panic” as a defense after assaulting or murdering a transgender individual. There’s no reason to perpetuate myths about transwomen that endanger their lives.

This is not a call for censorship. James Robinson and Greg Hinkle have a right to create whatever they’d like, and we have as much of a right to show our disdain for that. Speech doesn’t mean protection from consequences. Image has the right to exercise their speech and pull the comic, and actually show they believe in the words and beliefs they claim they uphold.

After you are done Tweeting, please help spread the word.

Review: Coven #1

coven001Grimm Fairy Tales has mostly stuck pretty close to the same formula throughout its entire run.  Although it has vastly modified its source material, it has mostly depended closely on fairy tales, myths and legends in order to tell its stories.  There have been a few diversions where the characters involved are more or less completely original, although that has been the exception.  One of those cases was one which was a bit of a non-starter for Zenescope, a series called Salem’s Daughter and which told the story of Anna Williams, a witch who sought out to help people despite being constantly threatened because of her powers.  Although set in a different time, the character was still identified as part of the Grimm Fairy Tales universe on multiple occasions.

This new series is a combination of both inspirations.  The first part of the story deals with this same inspiration as was for the series of Salem’s Daughter as it shows a modern coven of witches in the Salem Woods, still targeted by witch hunters, though these witch hunters are a bit more refined than those in the past.  Out are pitchforks and in is full assault gear with state of the art weaponry.  While this serves as the introduction to the series, what follows is probably of note to many fans of the ongoing series, as it shows the return of Baba Yaga, a fan favorite who plays the anti-villain role, a female antagonist, who equally sometimes sides with the heroes when she doesn’t like what other villains are getting up to.  She leads the search for the abducted coven although she apparently isn’t aware of all of her actions as she seeks out help.

Grimm Fairy Tales has a tendency to get a bit bogged down in its main stories as it is so intricately woven together with its different inspirations.  This series on the other hand proves that there is a lot of hidden talent at this company, with the creative teams that it puts together to cover different concepts.  The result is this series which is a deviation from the usual Grimm Fairy Tales script, but a welcome one as it adds something extra to the universe which hasn’t been seen in some time, and manages to do so in an engaging way.

Story: Zach Calig Art: Diego Galindo
Story: 8.9 Art: 8.9 Overall: 8.9 Recommendation: Buy

Game Review: Batman: Arkham Knight (Console Version)

Batman: Arkham Asylum’s release back in 2009 was an amazing surprise that changed the way action elements in games were made, evident in releases like Shadow of Mordor and Witcher 3. Arkham City in 2011 tweaked and expanded the original foundation, fitted then with an open-world structure, enough to give the game a unique feel without stripping the formula of what made it so engaging in the first place. Now, this year’s Batman: Arkham Knight has done the same thing, offering more welcome tweaks and a big expansion in the form of the Batmobile’s offerings of high-speed travel and tank battle. Those gameplay evolutions along with the most interesting story of the trilogy, one that is sure to please even the most hardcore comic book readers, makes Arkham Knight a fitting conclusion to Rocksteady’s three games, even though it is troubled by some technical hiccups and downright embarrassing portrayal of women.

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Scarecrow takes over for Joker as the main antagonist this time around, but don’t expect anything nearly as memorable as the Clown Prince of Crime. Unfortunately, he serves mainly as a catalyst for getting Gotham evacuated again to give players a very video gamey playground to mess around with, as well as a catalyst for the developers to play around a whole lot with fear toxin as a plot device. Because of everything done with his fear toxin to create disturbing and exciting hallucinations, his disappointing role as the lead villain is easily forgivable. Sometimes the fear toxin leads to some cheap, that didn’t really happen! cop-outs, but it’s mostly great stuff. It also helps that there is certainly no lack of villains to go around, the titular Arkham Knight, an interesting riff on an established character that ties in thematically to the arc of the whole Arkham series, being the other most notable.

As a whole, the narrative is great. As always, the voice performances are top-notch stuff, making this game indistinguishable from the most high-profile animated films in that regard. There are constant twists and turns until the very end of the game, keeping one guessing the entire time. It’s a lot like The Dark Knight Rises in that it constantly punches Batman in the gut time and time again, testing his psychological and physical strength ruthlessly. Arkham Knight takes advantage of what’s become a common storytelling strategy in superhero stories in the modern age, that being displaying a hero’s strength by forcing him to overcome conflicts that exploit his greatest weaknesses. Along the way, players are treated with some truly high-concept, abstract, and daring segments that offer some of the most killer story beats in games the past few years.

Sadly, the biggest problem with the game cuts away at the narrative, one of its strongest facets. Almost point-for-point, Arkham Knight does a hugely disappointing disservice to the most prominent female characters of the series. Oracle, Poison Ivy and Catwoman, characters that at their best serve as some of the most fascinating and empowering female characters in superhero fiction, are treated miserably in this game. Oracle and Catwoman are stripped of any agency for the vast majority of their screen time, captured and in need of saving. Poison Ivy’s role is particularly laughable, serving as the first villain to challenge Batman at the start only to almost immediately give in and aid him in whatever he asks throughout the game. Not to mention the fact that the prison guards throw her in jail with mostly just underwear; it would be a shame to give up that eye-candy, after all.

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Things get a bit better towards the end of the main story, what with advancements like Harley Quinn’s inclusion in the plot featuring legitimate agency, but let’s be honest here; a character whose defining character trait in this series being her obsession with a man getting some decent screen time isn’t exactly a shining moment for feminism.

The PC version has secured Warner Bros. into quite the media spectacle, thanks to its prominent technical issues. I played the Xbox One version, and I can attest to an experience free of any regular framerate drops or similar glitches. The game did crash around three times, and another time Batman got himself stuck in the environment (even though he visually wasn’t touching anything, frustratingly) so bad that I had to restart to the last checkpoint. Thankfully, the game saves very frequently, so this isn’t too alarming of a problem.

On a more positive note, Rocksteady has done a tremendous job creating a Gotham to explore. This is truly a current-generation video game not possible on the PS3 and 360, with a gorgeous and massive city. There is a tremendous degree of draw distance and complex lighting and smoke effects, helping its world feel more and more alive. Great care was also taken to recreate iconic scenery, like Wayne Tower, Ace Chemical and the GCPD Building.

Grappling, gliding and swinging around in this world has never been quite this joyful. Like Metroid Prime 3 did for the Prime series, Arkham Knight doesn’t make players re-obtain abilities that were already available by the end of Arkham City. This not only means that the player is able to feel instantly powerful, but also means that the rest of the game is able to up the ante more and more. Upgrades to the boost ability after grappling to a surface make for a particularly pleasurable experience that feels almost like true flight. It works so seamlessly and quickly that it makes for an absolute blast. I don’t remember the last time I had so much fun screwing around in an open-world.

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The other method for quick travel in this game is the Batmobile, this game’s big new toy. The car is able to go blisteringly fast, forcing players to be wary of how much pressure they apply on the trigger to drive it, making for an intricate and dynamic driving experience. It has become a common complaint that the car is unwieldy, but I’d say with the proper amount of effort controlling the Batmobile is quite rewarding. It integrates into the rest of Batman’s antics without a hitch, too. There is a really remarkable satisfaction to diving off a building only to pull up toward the ground, calling the Batmobile to pull up underneath to catch Batman after the momentum from the dive has worn off.

Holding the left trigger instantly transforms the Batmobile into a tank: a necessary step Batman had to take to deal with the vast numbers of enemy tanks to deal with. There is a bit of a logistical hoop to jump through concerning Batman using guns, given his iconic, strict policy against firearms formed through the trauma of his parents’ death by gun shots, but it works. The plot conveniently pushes Batman into a corner, and he still refuses to kill. It’s worth it for the tank combat, because it’s a ton of fun. Dodging enemy missiles and taking down tanks to charge up a bar used to execute special abilities like missile barrages is sweet. Battles are intense, challenging and add much needed diversity to the Arkham formula.

That isn’t to say that the tried-and-true gameplay of the Arkham series isn’t enjoyable anymore, because that certainly isn’t the case. The hand-to-hand combat and stealth sections have only gotten more complex and challenging, adding another layer of nuance and satisfaction. Arkham Knight’s challenge is refreshingly respectful to players, expecting them to be caught up with the series enough to skip over introductory and boring sections at the beginning, without going too fast or forgoing any optional resources for newcomers or lapsed veterans.

Additionally, this installment features a bigger emphasis on puzzle-solving, and it is all rather clever. The environmental manipulation and use of gadgetry required to best these challenges offer some intellectually-rewarding bits that thankfully manage not to cause the pacing to suffer, like in other action games such as Uncharted 3. If the player finds him or herself particularly wrapped up in these puzzles, there are tons and tons of optional Riddler trophies to find, as always. The bulk of these collectables are hidden behind inventive little puzzles throughout the game’s world.

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I really love Arkham Knight and still find myself excited to tackle its side missions despite having already beaten the main story. Prompting these side missions does make one feel a lot like the Dark Knight, either stumbled upon by exploring (patrolling) the city or deciphering intercepted audio from crooks around the city that automatically plays, with directions to their whereabouts.

The most positive thing I can say about my time with Arkham Knight is that I was always excited to start it up again, really. It’s an exciting game, with a story that impresses so much that it doesn’t feel out of place in discussion of great Batman stories, despite its dreadful problems with women. Exploring the city is a blast, whether it be through swinging and grappling around or driving, both at breakneck speeds. Tank combat finds itself a welcome addition alongside the still engaging fisticuffs and stealth. Batman: Arkham Knight successfully ends one of the most beloved triple-A game series of the last decade.

Check out Matt’s online portfolio here

Review: Princess Leia #5

pl05Going into this series, even the creative team must have known that Princess Leia would be a hard sell.  She is a beloved character by most fans of Star Wars, but also in very few fan’s lists of favorite characters.  Instead the relatively dour character is one that has fulfilled the role as the main heroine in a functional way, but not in a way that most people would ever really consider to be fun.  Her role of main character has still often mostly been that of sidekick, and so a series about her own adventures might have seemed a bit out of place.  That she was given a chance to shine on her own is a risk which has paid off for Marvel, the more so that these stories are considered to be official canon of the Star Wars universe.

As the previous issue left off, Leia has promised to group together all Alderaanians who have survived the destruction of their home planet, and this has taken Leia to the extreme of exchanging herself for the traitor in their midst,  Tula, the former agent for the Imperials.  While the reader will know than Star Wars canon set between episodes IV and V featuring Leia means that the character has to live, her fate still feels very much in the danger as she steps into the hands of the Imperial officers, eager to rush her off to the fate which they think that she deserves.  Things do not exactly transpire like this, but the end result is that Leia is able to somewhat fulfill her goal, even to a degree which she had not thought possible, moving beyond prejudice to find a commonality for all.

Though it has been less talked about than the main Star Wars series, this series likely should have been.  It got off to a slow start, but it picked up steam quite quickly, and the entire five issues story reads better together than monthly.  With this final issue, it would also be nice to see the return of Evaan, the rare female character in the universe that is written like what most modern comic readers expect from a female character.  With this fifth and final issue, Leia proved two things as a character, first of all that she can carry a series, and secondly that she should probably given the opportunity to carry one or two more.

Story: Mark Waid Art: Terry Dodson
Story: 9.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Robyn Hood #12

rh012Although this series is a fan favorite, it is also one which has often seemed to take the easy way out in terms of its story telling.  It often relies on a sequence of one liners and fairly generic supernatural bad guys.  Beneath it all are two main characters who have the potential to be a lot deeper but for whom that attention is rarely given.  It has happened a little bit as Robyn has opened up to her therapist, or as Marian has opened up to her girlfriend, but mostly this series has been one full of unrealized potential as it focuses more on the gore of the supernatural than it does on the characters themselves.  Although there have been glimpses before, the series has generally followed them with other poorer examples to follow, and the level of consistency in this series is thus hard to grasp, as it verges on something better, but never attains it.

If there is an issue where they might break from this trend, then this might be it.  Robyn and Marian are confronted at the beginning of the issue by the Rotter, the somewhat zombie like character that has been helping them out.  As they soon discover, his help was not completely altruistic, instead he is looking for help in return.  He has been cursed to live but to slowly rot away, and he simply wants the easy release of death after suffering for so long.  Instead of big scale, Robyn and Marian focus on small scale and it works well for them here as they are able to show their ingenuity as they hunt down reasons for what may have caused this curse.

What ends up following is what is by far the best issue in this series thus far.  Although there are still a few staples of what has made this series falter at times, they are mostly shuffled to the side as the first truly good story is told in this series, one which focuses on the characters first and the concept second, even when the concept is strong enough as well.  It may not have proven itself with just one issue, but the series seems to be on its way, a gamble from Zenescope which seems finally ready to pay off.

Story: Patrick Shand  Art: Roberta Ingranata
Story: 8.6  Art: 8.6  Overall:  8.6 Recommendation: Buy

 

 

Review: Grimm Tales of Terror #12

tot012It is said that the best horrors contain elements of what is left unseen.  This horror which fills the mind with the thoughts of what could be there is often much scarier than to know what is there, as everyone’s personal bogeyman can be lurking around any corner when it is not shown, but the illusion is dropped when the true threat is revealed.  In the medium of comics this is often harder to realize.  Without camera tricks, lighting and sound effects, what can be off panel is just not as scary as maybe can lay at the end of a television or movie screen.

For most of its now 12 issues, this series has been one that has mirrored what was the early success of its predecessor, the main Grimm Fairy Tales story.  It took the format of showing someone is distress when series narrator Keres showed up and told them of a story where things had gone wrong for others.  This format has not been particularly heavily adhered to, but it is kind of the same thing here, with only a looser tie to this same story telling.  It tells the story of a mafioso who is in for a night in a gambling den, except that he has a dark past.  This is where the story diverges a little bit from this usual formula as the person learning the lesson is also the one that is involved with the main story featuring the horror element.  This story tells the tale of a man buried alive after crossing the mob, but one who fights back to find his family despite the odds.

Although it deviates a bit from the script, this issue ends up being one of the best so far in this series.  Instead of relying on shock value, the horror is played down where it needs to be and is mostly kept unseen.  At the same time, that both the narrator Keres and the one receiving her lesson are more present and related to the story makes this a bit better of a hook compared to others in the series.  Overall this is thus one of the best entries so far in the series, some of which had bit hits and others of which have been misses.

Story: Dan Wickline Art: Josh George and Ronilson Freire
Story: 8.5 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Read

Review: The Spire #1

Spire_001_A_MainThe heroine of The Spire is a shape-shifting lesbian with an eyepatch. If this alone is enough to make you want to buy the first issue of BOOM! Studios‘ new limited series, then by all means, stop reading this review and follow your instincts.

In case you’re not convinced yet – and really, you should be, because she also has spiky platinum hair and a cloak that flutters behind her even when there’s no breeze – I’ll put it another way. The Spire is one of the freshest recent takes on urban fantasy I’ve seen in any medium, delightfully weird but grounded in the language and problems of the real world. It’s like a Discworld novel played straight, with a cast of grotesque creatures going about mundane lives and sight gags that range from darkly funny to just unsettling.

Simon Spurrier‘s narrative shifts among several connected threads, at a pace that in less capable hands might become confusing. But artist Jeff Stokely adjusts the visual style and coloring just enough to orient the reader in each new scene and point of view. He often uses the cinematic trick of a large establishing shot followed by a close-up of the individuals within it, a shorthand with the added benefit of giving more and more information about the geography and architecture of The Spire‘s fantasy realm.

It’s clear that Stokely takes the most delight in bringing monsters to life, especially in order to reveal the humanity within them, and his expressive faces and bodies complement Spurrier’s sharp, believable writing. Aside from a few necessary nods to worldbuilding and a tiresome running gag with a character who speaks in verse, Spurrier’s dialogue sounds modern and unforced, owing more to crime drama than to fantasy tropes.

That’s a smart choice, because at its heart, The Spire is a murder mystery. Spurrier takes his time leading us through The Spire‘s world before we arrive at the dead body, but when we get there, it feels like a natural progression, not a genre break. Shå (the one with the eyepatch) gets enough character development that, by the time she’s saddled with the task of solving the crime, we know her as a person, not just as a plot device. I’m not sure how Spurrier and Stokely cram so much into thirty pages, but I’m impressed, and eager to see how the big reveals in the final few panels will fit into the larger picture.

Story: Simon Spurrier Art: Jeff Stokely
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy

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

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