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Review: Manifest Destiny #6

ManifestDestiny-06“We had won the battle. But not without cost.”
– Captain Meriwether Lewis

Manifest Destiny #6 wraps up the wonderfully creative first arc of the alternative reality tale of Lewis & Clark’s journey through the American West of the early 1800′s. The story is filled with supernatural beasts and even zombie-like vine people to suggest that our heroes, Lewis & Clark, came across more than just raging rivers and mountainous terrain in their quest to map out the uncharted west. Chris Dingess’s story comes to life seamlessly when combined with the beautiful art and color by Matthew Roberts and Owen Gieni, respectively. The infested animals and ‘floral’ people appear to jump out of the page with how realistic it all is. It was difficult to continuously read the remarkable story when I all I could was stare at each character and marvel at how well drawn every page is. Manifest Destiny is really a work of art and, combined with a unique take on an important historical event, needs to at or near the top of everyone’s comic book pile.

Manifest Destiny #6 continues immediately after the events of Issue #5 with Lewis, Clark and York running from the ‘floral’ infested bear. I love how the book can be serious most of the time and with one perfectly placed panel, make me laugh. It was funny to see York knocked aside by the bear in the midst of them trying to fight it off. Lewis and Clark manage to set the animal ablaze and the bear quickly runs off. Our heroes think the best course of action is to follow it, not realizing how far they have strayed from the rest of their group. While they chase the animal their crew mates are busy batting other ‘floral’ infected beings with a few losses and some members becoming infected themselves.

Lewis and Clark are standing over their kill when all of a sudden an infected carnivorous flower (I am not sure what to call it, but it looks like a large flowering vine) emerges from the forest floor and attacks them, placing Lewis and Clark inside its floral maw. The neat part about all this is the fact that the flowering vine is sentient. It speaks to Captain Lewis and says in its land it is considered a lord or godlike. Immediately after their conversation, Lewis and Clark succumb to its hallucinatory drug effects released by its tongue (does this sound at all strange yet? Trust me, it’s a great comic book). With our fearless leaders incapacitated and helpless Sacagawea leaps to the rescue and saves them from being swallowed up and forgotten forever. The panel sequences of Sacagawea fighting off the evil plant are some of the best drawn in the entire series. It was interspersed with the dream images of Lewis and Clark and made for some really great art.

The issue ends with the crew cleansing to rid themselves of the infestation. The final page was drawn superbly with symbolic meaning. The river they travel down is getting redder as they progress. This, of course, hints at the treacherous journey that lay before our heroic team. One of my favorite parts of Manifest Destiny is the spin they put on Sacagawea. They make her out to be this being with super strength and keen hunting skills. She is a great character and they did a wonderful job of building her up.

Alternative reality stories are some of my favorite kinds of comic books to read and get lost in. It’s so interesting to experience a different take on a story you are already familiar with and enjoy that I often find myself day-dreaming about “what if” scenarios all the time. Isn’t that the beauty of most of the tales we immerse ourselves in any way; a series of “what-if” events that lead to something unique and fascinating? Even if you do not know the story of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark’s perilous journey in the early 1800′s to explore and map the newly acquired Louisiana Territory, Manifest Destiny is a comic book worth delving into. You do not need a degree in American history to know that Lewis & Clark did not come across strange vine monsters or rabid floral-infected animals on their trek, but the alternative reality that Chris Dingess conjures up suggests that they came into contact with that and a whole lot more.

Thoughts and Discussion

– What happened to the Minotaurs? Will we see them again?

– Are the “floral” people and animals all gone? Did any of them survive the final burning of the forest area?

– What did Lewis mean when he said Sacagawea doesn’t know why she is really there? What is her real purpose?

Thank You for checking out my Review! Please comment below so we can discuss this book and issue further!

Story: Chris Dingess – Art/Cover: Matthew Roberts – Colors/Cover: Owen Gieni – Letterer: Pat Brosseau
Story: 9 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy

Review: The Walking Dead #125

walkingdead_125“So that’s what we’re fighting for. A world without Negan.”
- Rick

The penultimate issue of the current story arc for The Walking Dead, All Out War, is also #125, a milestone in the comic book industry. When books reach a milestone readers can expect something ‘big’ to happen to one or more of the main characters. Robert Kirkman has been teasing the past few months that nothing will be the same after this arc concludes and I, for one, was worried it spelled the demise of our most beloved sheriff of the zombie apocalypse, Rick Grimes. The last issue had me trembling before each page, thinking that Rick was too damaged from Dwight’s bolt to continue fighting and survive. Not only did Rick make it into the house, but we learn Dwight did not taint the bolt meant for Rick; Dwight shot someone else with the one tainted arrow he had first. The Walking Dead #125 continues the heart-wrenching story of this grizzly war and Kirkman was right…nothing will be the same when it’s over.

Zombies, walkers, the walking dead. That is what citizens of the Hilltop would normally be accustomed to seeing if they peered over the security walls surrounding their village. Zombies they could handle; they have been battling them since the outbreak began years ago. Now, their vista has been transformed to include the clan that wants nothing more than to see them all enslaved, The Saviors. Negan, the sociopathic tyrannical leader of The Saviors, has been camped just outside their walls since the last battle. Him and his followers have been waiting for someone within to exit the Hilltop and surrender, thinking that because Rick is either dead or dying that they would lack the motivation or expert leadership to continue fighting.

While Negan was outside the walls, Rick was within and his mentality and health are the main feature of issue #125. I was half-expecting him to be lying in a hospital bed, but being a fan of the fearless leader I should have know better than to think he would go down without a fight. For someone who just had an arrow penetrate his abdomen, Rick is up and about and moving with such purpose that it felt like the series had already begun a fresh start with each turn of the page. Now that Rick is positive whose side Dwight is on, he quickly formulates a plan to confront Negan and finally put an end to all the death and destruction All Out War has caused. He acts like a general commanding his forces to take up siege positions and goes out to seek Negan one-on-one. Dubious that Rick is still alive and/or well, Negan figures out that Dwight has deceived him. Their confrontation appeared perfect in an issue with only one left in the arc and I actually believed that The Survivors and The Saviors would work as one with the final issue heralding in the new era Kirkman has been speaking about. Being a fan of Kirkman and The Walking Dead should have taught me better than to think like that. The final page was a perfect ending to 125 issues of comic book greatness.

The Walking Dead #125 is one of my favorite issues of the series. Charlie Adlard is phenomenal the way he makes us really feel for Nicholas’s family heartache. We also get two full page pieces by Adlard; one of Negan and one of Negan and Rick at the end. I love stories where the good guys get mean and dirty in order to achieve their goals. This issue reminded me of the Rick Grimes that had to deal with the Governor long ago. The Rick Grimes that had to take care of The Hunters in such a gruesome fashion. The Rick Grimes that had to rip a man’s throat out with his teeth to save Carl. That is the man I think we have been missing since Negan entered the story. This issue ties everything together nicely and prepares us for the final issue in the story-altering arc. The only thing that remains to be seen is how the event of the final page affects our survivors moving forward. I’m just glad that our old sheriff is back and in fighting form.

Thoughts and Discussion

- Did Rick tell anyone else his plan before going out to meet Negan?

- Does anyone else think that Rick is in a vulnerable position after what happened? Will he be able to get away in time?

- Where do they go from here? What will happen next? Kirkman promised us ‘nothing will be the same after issue #126…what did he mean?

Until Next Time…Thanks for checking out my Review!

Story: Robert Kirkman Art: Charlie Adlard Cover: Charlie Adlard/Dave Stewart
Story: 9.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard, V.2 #1

mar130802There’s something about mice with swords, fighting battles, living lives in complex, visibly-medieval societies in a world full of other rodents and creatures with similar societies that is charmingly appealing, if not downright awesome. Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard, Volume 2 #1 is just such a comic, following in a long tradition of rodents in literature, comics, and film, from Stuart Little (1945) and its movie (1999), to Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971), its movie version (1982), to the Redwall series (1986), Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo (1984), and to Image’s The Mice Templar comics (2007). Rodents seems to be culturally recognized around the world in mythology and folklore, partly because some of them learn quickly and can be trained, so they make great pets and cuddly companions (and the most vicious guardians, as Monty Python taught us). Wikipedia even has lists of fictional rodents in literature, comics, and animation!

Mouse Guard is a comic series begun in 2006 by David Petersen, who both writes and illustrates the series for Archaia Studios, and is an Eisner Award-winning publication. The Legends of the Guard imprint is an anthology series based in the Mouse Guard world, which allows other authors and illustrators to tell their own stories with Petersen’s creation.

This issue is the first in the second volume, and features stories by Stan Sakai (“Autumn Tale”), Alex Eckman-Lawn and Nick Tapalansky (“Leviathan”), and Ben Caldwell (“A Bone to Pick”). These three stories are embedded rather sweetly within a larger narrative drawn and written by Petersen himself. The premise: a bunch of mice have been lodging at a tavern, all of them racking up large debts to the owner, who offers that whoever tells the best story will have their debts cleared. This provides an easy entre into the Mouse Guard world, and though I’ve never read a single Mouse Guard issue before I felt right at home with the tales, each of which was tenderly written and could easily be understood by children but which are still mature enough in thematic content (or cute silliness, as with “A Bone to Pick”) to be appealing to adults.

The art for each of the three stories differs from beautiful watercolor-esque panels by Stan Sakai (47 Ronin, Usagi Yojimbo) to the more sketched, ethereal look of Eckman-Lawn’s illustrations, and finally Caldwell’s very fun, yet still complex art in the final story (reminiscent of The Secret of NIMH animation, actually). The pacing between stories and in the Petersen interludes allows for each story to be satisfactorily told, with enough interest created to desire just a little (or a lot!) more from each story-teller.

This is my first experience with Mouse Guard, but I have to say that I’m not only looking forward to delving into Petersen’s rodent world, but I’ll for sure put the next issue of this anthology, Legends of the Guard, Volume 2 on my pull-list. If you’re a fan of any of these artist, love rodent stories, or just want something fun to read and beautiful to look at, then this is the book for you.

Story: David Petersen, Stan Sakai, Nick Tapalansky, Ben Caldwell  Art: David Petersen, Stan Sakai, Alex Eckman-Lawn
Story: 8  Art: 9  Overall: 8  Recommendation: Read

Archaia provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Invincible #103, Invincible Universe #3

Invincible #103

Invincible 103In the Invinciverse (I think I coined this word!), things are still a lot shaky after Mark freed Dinosaurus and inadvertently caused the deaths of thousands of people worldwide. But despite that guilt weighing on Mark and the other supers working for Cecil, a lot is afoot: Mark’s engaged, his fiancé is pregnant, his father is the head of the Viltrumite Empire, and, oh yeah, Angstrom Levy’s just returned to dish out a new can of whoop ass to Mark, who he’s shot into a less than savory situation.

Robert Kirkman delivers a great story, with this issue not so much focused on the superhero troubles as on domestic goings-on, a well-earned bit of downtime from the chaos of the last story arc that allows Kirkman to better develop Mark and Eve’s relationship, and showcase the trials Nolan is facing in his new role as Emperor.

I keep Invincible on my pull list because it offers balance: superheroes, domesticity, violence (and usually outrageously so! See issue #102), and humor. Plus, there’s just something to be said about the relief of a smaller publisher like Image carrying an outstanding and wholly likable superhero book. Kirkman’s writing isn’t anything to marvel at in this issue, but Invincible #103 ranges successfully across a lot of narrative space.

I do appreciate Ryan Ottley and Cliff Rathburn’s art, since it’s got a semi-mainstream feel but is always exaggerative in mockery of exaggerated nature of superhero comics in general. Faces are either too round or too angular; muscles are as beefy as Hulk or scrawny as, well, me; and everything is mega THWOOM! and doom, even outside of battle. In short, the art is great fun, just as liberating as the humor and casually explosive violence! I also admit that I am particularly fond of the way Eve is drawn—she’s not a stick-figure, she has curves, but not in a porn-star sort of way…she’s just a real woman! And that’s something you just don’t see often in any comics drawn to mainstream style (something like Saga or Hellboy stands outside of this style, with the focus more on the narrative role of the art, rather than on the sexualized appearance of the characters).

I’m looking forward to seeing where Kirkman brings the return of Angstrom Levy, and to see Mark take on the next big challenge. And I hope Eve’s OK, too!

Story: Robert Kirkman  Art: Ryan Ottley and Cliff Rathburn
Story: 7  Art: 7.5  Overall: 7.5  Recommendation: Read

Invincible Universe #3

invincible-universe-3Invincible Universe replaced Image’s previous title, Guarding the Globe, and sort of works like the old Marvel Spotlight books, with different characters being featured, though the first two issues were more of a team book. Invincible Universe #3 focuses entirely on El Chupacabra, a single-issue story tackling Francisco Vasquez’s drinking problem and his effort to apologize to those he’s hurt via good ole Alcoholics Anonymous methods.

Phil Hester brings us to Serbia, to the family farm of Cast Iron, El Chupacabra’s former super-partner who died because Francisco was too drunk to defend himself. Hester’s plot is full of the sort of stereotypes Americans and Western Europeans have of Eastern Europe and its inhabitants, as the Stojakovic family are a corrupt, power-hungry mafia bullying a whole rural region into submission via extortion and threat of pain. While Hester does lay some poignant historical easter eggs (e.g. to the communist dictator Tito), these aren’t enough to win my adoration of Invincible Universe #3. It’s solidly written, but I’m torn between what to dislike more: the bastardization of Serbia (yet another reason why people will think Eastern Europe is full of criminals) or the awkward situation created when Francisco doesn’t like how the criminal Stojakovics respond to his apology, so he beats ‘em to a pulp and sends off to international jail (a feat somewhat justified, but perhaps not what an AA penitent should be doing).

But it’d be unfair to too harshly criticize a book because it takes advantage of media stereotypes, especially when warranted by the plot, and considering that most major books impinge on stereotypes once in a blue moon. On the brighter side, Todd Nauck provides art more detailed than what usually appears in Invinciverse issues, but which still captures the exaggerative nuances of the artistic style preferred for these sorts of books, and which on the whole looks rather great.

While I loved Invincible Universe #1 and #2, I can’t say I enjoyed this one greatly, aside from visually. My experience with Eastern Europe has tainted my view of the comic, but other, less politically-biased opinions can be found at Comic Book Roundup.com, which provides links to four other reviews. If you’re a fan of the Invinciverse, you’ll want to read this issue—the book will likely be around for a while (hopefully), and the stories are a great compliment to Invincible.

Story: Phil Hester  Art: Todd Nauck
Story: 6  Art: 8  Overall: 7  Recommendation: Read

Image provided Graphic Policy with FREE copies for review

Review: Swamp Thing #21

Swampy 21Swamp Thing, no matter its iteration, has always been a good thing, pushing the envelope of the then Comic Code Authority back in the 1970s and 1980s, and a big slap in the face to people who thought superheroes had to wear spandex and capes. The botanical incarnation known as Swamp Thing is probably best known from the work of comics superstar Grant Morrison, though a number of other big names (Alan Moore, Len Wein, Brian K. Vaughn, Scott Snyder, and twelve others) have penned various Swamp Thing books across its five volumes.

I have to say that I was nervous to see Snyder and Yanick Paquette leave the book, since they brought a richness to Swamp Thing that made the book popular on the market, but also artistically intense. But Charles Soule and Jesus Saiz (filling in for Kano), continue to make this book a sweet-and-savory treat for the eyes and ears.

Swamp Thing #21 features the character Capucine, a new character who looks almost exactly like Holland’s love, Abigail, who died in the end of the Rotworld arc (Swamp Thing #18). Capucine’s a badass swordfighter and seemingly immortal, and she introduces a new concept when she invokes Sanctuarium folium viride (‘santuary of the green leaf,’ and the Latin is correct for all you linguaphiles). Holland, who’s new to the whole Swampy gig (he was re-introduced in the end of the Brightest Day mega-series back in 2011, and is in fact the central character, in some ways), seeks knowledge form the Green’s Parliament of Trees.

We get zoomed back in time, and Soule teaches an important lesson about religious tolerance, showing us a witch burning in France during the 1000s, where a previous Swamp Thing intervenes to save the witches, who invoked religious asylum on account of the condemning nature of their belief in pagan gods and nature spirits. Also, there’s a Catholic Inquisitor, despite the Inquisition not appearing for several hundred years, and the dialogue between him and then-Swampy is edifying for those still pushing the envelope of religious orthodoxy.

Swamp Thing #21 is thoughtfully written, and Jesus Saiz captures the striking pages and intricate, botanical panel designs pioneered by Paquette in earlier New 52 issues of this book (I wouldn’t mind plastering my wall with prints of these). On the whole, Swamp Thing is a book you should be collecting, or at the very least reading—beautiful, literary, eloquently devised, and, besides, the meta-humans make for much cooler heroes than the supers (in my opinion).

Story: Charles Soule  Art: Jesus Saiz
Story: 8.5  Art: 9  Overall: 8.5  Recommendation: Buy

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