Author Archives: Daphne S

Movie Review: Shin Godzilla

shin-godzilla-11x17-poster_300-dpi_rgbShin Godzilla opens strong and never loses momentum. As the first Japanese Godzilla film after the franchise went on hiatus in 2004, fan expectations were higher than they’d been since Godzilla: Final Wars twelve years prior. Toho made the wise decision to return with as strong an entry as possible, tapping Hideaki Anno of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame to write the franchise reboot. With Shinji Higuchi co-directing, Anno crafted a Godzilla film unlike any other in the franchise. If you are a longtime Godzilla fan, how well you react to changes in the classic Godzilla formula will determine whether this movie works for you or fails. Speaking as a fan for over 20 years, it worked almost flawlessly.

Most of the time, when reviewing a Godzilla film, you can fill a couple paragraphs rehashing details about the franchise. You spend some time waxing poetic about the gravitas and somber tone of the original Gojira , you shift to the later films and work the phrase “b-movie shlock” in somewhere, and you make a condescending remark about rubber suits or cardboard buildings. The review at that point is almost halfway done and you can glide through the rest without a lot of extra work. I’ve seen it argued that the movies themselves occasionally show a similar lack of originality, with writers returning to standbys like Mechagodzilla or Mothra as Godzilla’s foes in the years before the hiatus.

Shin Godzilla is exactly the kind of film the franchise needed: it’s unique and original and takes serious risks with its changes to the classic formula. In this film, Godzilla is more a creature than a character – he is eerily silent through most of the film, attacks reactively when the military strikes him first and displays none of the intelligence and personality that previous incarnations have. This Godzilla is a natural disaster in the purest sense, his motivations unknown and the devastation he causes completely merciless. This shift in focus serves as a way to get to the film’s primary concern: social and political commentary about Japan itself. This is a film where kaiju action is interspersed with board meetings by committees and government officials.shingodzilla_jpn_1998x1080p24_dnxhrlb_1-52-40-18_rgb

While that might sound boring, the film doesn’t drag. The numerous meetings, where characters are introduced with job titles displayed on the screen (a running gag as characters’ titles get longer as they are promoted or other characters are written out of the film), all serve a purpose: showing how in the wake of a disaster nobody could predict or prepare for, the biggest threat to Japan is the inability of its government to act swiftly. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, Shin Godzilla examines not only how Japan as a nation responds to disaster but how the United States and the UN treat Japan during a crisis. Shin Godzilla doesn’t overdo these ideas, thankfully – there’s no monologue from the Prime Minister about whether he should bow to pressure from the UN. Instead, we watch outsiders in the Japanese government as a group of scientists, assistants, and novice politicians comes together as a special committee that ignores honorific titles and openly shares information with businesses and other countries. It’s this group of people who eschew traditional bureaucracy that make real progress and move the plot forward.

shingodzilla_jpn_1998x1080p24_dnxhrlb_1-48-43-19_rgb

Anno and Higuchi don’t just show their human characters discarding traditions, of course: it can’t be stressed enough how unique this interpretation of Godzilla is. In other movies it’s easy to read motivation and intent into his actions – Godzilla is a character in the films, usually the star. Here, calling him a villain feels misleading since aside from destroying buildings as he walks Godzilla’s attacks are all retaliation toward the Japanese and US military. This incarnation of Godzilla changes form multiple times in the movie, each time displaying new abilities to defend himself. The film uses Godzilla’s screen time to great effect, establishing him as a serious threat early on and upping the stakes every time he’s onscreen. This Godzilla has the most raw destructive power the franchise has ever seen, and when Shin Godzilla shows us what he can really do even his classic atomic breath is taken in a new direction that left my theater awestruck.

shingodzilla_jpn_1998x1080p24_dnxhrlb_2-06-28-08_rgb

Shin Godzilla is in many ways emblematic of the Godzilla franchise as a whole. Switching from humorous political commentary to kaiju destruction and back with ease, the movie is a lens through which Anno and Higuchi examine Japan’s future and past. In the west we tend to view the Godzilla franchise as having somehow fallen from grace – critics breathlessly praise the original Gojira and then talk about how campy and silly later film installments are – but to me the point of Shin Godzilla is that the franchise can’t be boiled down to one single idea. One individual Godzilla movie can’t convey every idea the franchise has had or every message it’s tried to send, and that’s why Shin Godzilla works. Shin Godzilla focuses on one specific idea: new ideas. New ideas are what save Japan from destruction, new ideas are what set this film apart from the rest of the franchise, and new ideas are what Toho Studios needs to make Shin Godzilla the first film in a revitalized and inspired new era of kaiju film. If Toho sticks to the ideas that Shin Godzilla stresses most, this movie is a sign of great things to come.

Review: Jade St. Protection Services #1

JADE STREET PROTECTION SERVICES #1 1The magical girl genre has seen a popularity spike in the past year or two, and it’s hard to say what prompted it. An anime staple, western animators and webcomic artists have recently picked up on its visual cues, narrative tropes, and worldbuilding rules and run with them. All of a sudden, it’s hard for a magical girl comic to stand out among projects like Zodiac StarforceSleepless Domain, and Agents of the Realm. There’s enough magical girl stories currently running that I actually have to be picky about which ones I check out, so as to invest my time in the best entries in the genre rather than just consuming everything I can find. With that in mind, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Jade Street Protection Services when I first heard about it…and then I saw the cover of the first issue.

JSPS‘s color palette (courtesy of Mara Jayne Carpenter) and linework (penciled and inked by Fabian Lelay) make this comic really stand out. The graffiti-style look of the front cover (provided by Annie Wu and Kiki Jenkins) gives way to gradually shifting blues and greens, bright pinks and yellows or moody purples and browns. The character’s faces are easily distinguishable – it’s impossible to get two characters confused for one another – and Fabian Lelay’s inking strikes a great balance between simple and detailed depending on how a given panel is composed. These aren’t panels your eyes slide off of as you go from page to page: this comic is full of panels I found myself examining to admire composition or lighting or how characters were posed.

JADE STREET PROTECTION SERVICES #1 7 Thankfully, the story is just as strong as the artwork – rather than waste time on a three-paragraph page of exposition on the inside cover, the audience learns about the world the characters live inhabit as they discuss it naturally. We learn the name of the school the main cast attends on the same page where we see them attend their first class, where they learn how to pose and transform into proper magical girls. The nice thing about taking this approach is that any expository dialogue doesn’t come off as forced or stilted: it’s to be expected that a teacher would reiterate basics to remind her students what they should and shouldn’t focus on during a class. It works, and it works well. The first two pages give us a brief “here are your protagonists” montage, which is a device I usually don’t enjoy, but here it works because it gives us a broad idea of the main cast with plenty of room to flesh their personalities out in much more detail as the story progresses.

JADE STREET PROTECTION SERVICES #1 4We only get a brief glimpse of what may be the series’ central conflict, and there’s still plenty of worldbuilding to be explained in subsequent issues, but it’s easy to see that this info is being withheld simply because it would slow down the fast pace of the introduction. The first issue goes by quickly, but it’s because words aren’t wasted. Every panel has something to contribute to the mood, the story, and the worldbuilding; every line of dialogue establishes how the characters talk and think and interact with one another. This is a story where even the idle chatter and inane comments show us who a character is and what they’re like, and every panel has an obvious focus to draw the eye’s attention toward – this is the kind of writing and art magical girl comics should aspire to.

From what I’ve seen so far, JSPS is as enjoyable to stare at as it is to actually read and I can’t wait to see where it goes beyond issue one. If the first issue of this series sets the tone for what’s to come, I’m in all the way.

Story: Katy Rex Art: Fabian Lelay, Mara Jayne Carpenter, Annie Wu & Kiki Jenkins
Story: 8 Art: 9 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy!

Black Mask Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Pacific Rim: Tales from the Drift #1

1446836534067

If you’ve spoken to me in person, seen even a glimpse of my social media presence, or followed me on my journey through the Godzilla in Hell series, you know that the kaiju genre is one of my favorite things. I was first in line on opening day for Pacific Rim, and this series is something I’ve been hoping for since we found out ages ago that Guillermo del Toro planned to continue developing the franchise between films. The Tales from Year Zero collection is still safely shrink-wrapped in my room, carefully guarded by my twenty-something kaiju figures, and now at long last I have a copy of Tales from the Drift to kick off my next series of kaiju-related comic book reviews. So, how does Tales hold up compared to the decades-long history of kaiju stories that have come before it? Let’s find out.

Travis Beacham wrote the screenplay for Pacific Rim, as well as the Tales from Year Zero prequel, and he returns to write Tales from the Drift joined by Joshua Hale Fialkov and cements his position as the man who makes this world work. Marcos Marz and Marcelo Maiolo provide illustrations and color, respectively, creating a gorgeous world of massive jaegers and hulking kaiju. Both kaiju and jaegers are drawn with bold lines and bright, solid backgrounds to make them really stand out, making for dynamic and easy to follow fight scenes. In the early stages of the series it isn’t entirely clear where the focus lies – we don’t know much about the human pilots we’re seeing aside from they met when one of the first kaiju exited the Breach and attacked a submarine, and now they’re a married couple taking on alien monsters together. Many kaiju stories leave the humans as relatively undeveloped characters, basic ciphers that hit the plot points they’re required to hit so the story can progress and we can get back to kaiju action, but in these early stages I’m not sure which way Tales is going to go. The first issue opens with an introduction to the married couple who pilot Tacit Ronin, one of the very first jaeger, and spends quite a lot of time on flashbacks explaining how they first met.

The flashbacks are interspersed with present-day monster action but while both timelines are interesting, I found myself wishing the comic would focus on one and stick with it. The problem with exploring a story by alternating timelines is that when in the present day, characters are in danger of drowning, sometimes it’s hard not to think “Do you really have time for a flashback right now?” And then there’s the risk that if the flashbacks don’t make a viewer care about the characters in question, they’ll feel like a waste of time.

At this point, Tales from the Drift is in such an early state that it’s impossible to tell how in-depth it will go when it comes to human character development. Whether we’ll see favorite characters like Mako Mori or Newton Geiszler as the comic progresses is anybody’s guess, given the time jumps we see in the first issue, but the kaiju-versus-robot action is well worth the price of admission and hopefully the human drama will either be just as interesting or mercifully short. Pacific Rim is at its best when a balance between human drama and monster action is found, and if this team can manage that in the comic book series as well then Tales From the Drift will be in great shape.

Story: Travis Beacham, Joshua Hale Fialkov Art: Marcos Maz, Marcelo Maiolo
Story: 7 Art: 9 Overall: 8 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Godzilla in Hell #5

GODZILLAHELL_05_coverASo here we are. My journey through Godzilla in Hell has been a long and weird one, with a lot of mixed emotions and reservations about the direction and tone of the story. Now it’s all finally coming to an end… let’s talk about how this weird experiment of a series played out.

The final issue has the same person pulling both art and writing duty: Dave Wachter, whose eye for expert composition and refined stylistic sensibilities are on display from page one, with a gorgeously eerie page of Godzilla trudging through a white expanse as snow begins to fall. The image of a single snowflake looping around one of Godzilla’s spines is a very pretty one, and the art maintains its moody but beautiful aesthetic all the way through. One of the best things about this series has been the different artists rendering Godzilla and his kaiju foes, and while Matt Frank’s iconic work on other Godzilla series is sadly absent on this one we have seen some other very talented people do great things with the King of the Monsters.

Dave Wachter‘s art direction lends Godzilla a weight and presence that makes him seem present in a way some artists can’t master: it’s hard to convey the sheer size of something like Godzilla without him seeming unrealistic or imaginary, the way some CGI creatures don’t appear to actually interact with their environment. But suddenly Godzilla is the most normal thing on the page, compared to the snow- and lava-flooded hellscapes he’s trudging through and the winged monsters he fights off in swarms. The art carries this issue – which is a good thing, because the writing is just as inconsistent as that of the preceding issues in this series.

I’m not going to spoil the ending. If you’ve been following this series all the way through every previous issue, you and I both know you’re going to buy this and read it to find out what happens to Godzilla. I’m used to weird endings – Twin Peaks has a pretty infamous one and I’m notorious among my circle of friends for being one of the few people in the world who liked and had no complains about the series finale of LOST – but there is always some kind of context, some kind of interpretation to be drawn that ties events together and lets the reader or viewer come up with some sort of explanation for what they’ve experienced. Godzilla in Hell ended the way it began: with little explanation and context. The art carries the series, and the plot remains disjointed and spotty all the way through. I think there’s some metaphorical meaning to be gained from the series and it was a fun experiment into a different kind of Godzilla story, but… well, I can’t help but feel unfulfilled. While it’s true that any Godzilla is good Godzilla, either I’m spoiled by the fact that the movies and previous comics have had more coherent plots or I just really was hoping for something this series never intended to offer in the first place. Godzilla in Hell has more in common with the strange and experimental story arcs comics used in the 70s and 80s and while it definitely deserves a place in Godzilla franchise canon for being such an odd and unique take on Godzilla, I don’t think I could honestly say it ranks among my favorite Godzilla projects. It’s short, strange, and leaves me hoping for a much stronger, less directionless comics outing for the King of the Monsters sometime very, very soon.

Story: Dave Wachter Art: Dave Wachter
Story: 4 Art : 9 Overall: 7 Recommendation: Buy… but watch some of the movies afterward

Review: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1…Again!

The_Unbeatable_Squirrel_Girl_1_CoverHappy reboot day, everybody!

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is one of many comics being relaunched as Marvel’s latest crossover event, Secret Wars, winds down and comics are allowed to have self-contained plots again. As much as I would like to provide an explanation of what Secret Wars is and how it shook up Marvel Comics continuity by taking characters and plot elements from multiple different continuities and combining them all into one singular universe, I can’t. I never understood it much to begin with, other than the basic explanation that all the various Marvel universes and planets were destroyed and reconstituted into things like the planet A-Force takes place on, where every female superhero lives in one massive team, or Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps taking place on an isolated world Doctor Doom created when he rebuilt the universe. Aside from fun touches like the role of Thor being more like the reality police, able to enforce Doom’s will from dimension to dimension, not much of Secret Wars really stuck with me. I spent 2015 in Marvel Comics focusing solely on individual series and waiting for the big event to be over.

The_Unbeatable_Squirrel_Girl_1_Preview_2With that out of the way, let’s talk about The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, one of the most unique Marvel Comics I’ve read in ages. With the possible exception of Miss Marvel, the first Unbeatable Squirrel Girl run was easily the most lighthearted, entertaining, and straight-out fun series Marvel had to offer this year. Ryan North’s writing is silly and irreverent without being ridiculous, and Erica Henderson‘s art is bright, colorful, and clean – though it does have some quirks I want to talk about.

The Squirrel Girl relaunch picks up where the initial series left off, with two major changes: Squirrel Girl is now a member of the New Avengers, and she is no longer considered a mutant in Marvel Comics continuity, if the “Doreen is medically and legally distinct from being a mutant, and I can never take this back” line is to be taken seriously. While other comics would probably spend an entire issue making their protagonist mope and sulk and pontificate about what it means to be an Avenger, and if they’re truly worthy, and what this could mean for their future, and all the people they’ve lost along the way, eventually stopping a mugging or other small crime to remind you this is in fact a superhero comic you are reading, USG takes a different route: Doreen waves the teleporter to Avengers Island off as being cool, but unable to take her to the moon, and promptly rushes off with her roommate for a lunch date with Squirrel Girl’s parents.

Ryan North’s strength has always been his witty and hilarious dialogue, and every line in Squirrel Girl proves that. What would take another comic months to agonize over, Squirrel Girl drags into the open and has a healthy discussion about before moving on to tell more jokes. There’s no worry that Squirrel Girl is going to be bogged down with angst and there’s actually no real acknowledgement of the Secret Wars situation at all, short of the New Avengers aspect. (I suspect the mutant mention has to do with the weird position the mutants of the X-Men occupy in the Marvel universe now that Inhumans are becoming more and more prominent.) Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is not a comic that is interested in wasting time.

The_Unbeatable_Squirrel_Girl_1_Preview_1Writing, of course, only carries a comic book so far. The art style in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl  can be kind of a mixed bag – I love the clean lines and bright colors, I love how you can always tell what’s going on in every panel, and Erica Henderson has a great sense of composition that shines through in every page. This is tempered by some odd facial expressions – her characters’ mouths look contorted in odd ways and as much as I like the artwork it’s sometimes distracting how similar everyone’s faces are. In the original run of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, so many fight scenes happened off-panel that I began to wonder if she couldn’t draw them. But in issue #1 of the relaunch we see much more action and much more dynamic poses than we did before, so I think she just didn’t have an opportunity to showcase her abilities because of how the issues themselves were plotted. I could be wrong, but I am nothing but optimistic about the future of USG from both a writing and artistic standpoint.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a rare oddity in a medium dominated by grim and gritty reboots: it’s a fun, silly, genuinely entertaining adventure with a protagonist who prefers to talk to villains rather than throw them down elevator shafts, a series that’s safe and accessible for kids while still being a great choice for adults tired of dark, brooding antiheroes. It’s one of the most encouraging and positive comic books out there and everything about it – from the fourth wall breaks and running narrator commentary to the nods at Marvel Comics canon present and past – makes it an enjoyable and fascinating read. If all of Marvel’s comics are relaunched as successfully as USG, 2016 is going to be an amazing year for the House of Ideas.

Story: Ryan North Art: Erica Henderson
Story: 8 Art: 7 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy

Daphne purchased her own copy of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1. And after the relaunch she did it again.

Review: Godzilla in Hell #3-4

GODZILLAHELL_03-coverEvery issue of Godzilla in Hell has come with a change in lead artist and writer, and four issues into the series the swaps are quickly becoming both Godzilla in Hell’s biggest strength and largest stumbling point.

Issue 1 had story and art by James Stokoe, using a moody and almost surreal art style with a wide-eyed, expressive Final Wars-style Godzilla, fighting enemies out of John Carpenter’s The Thing. It was completely free of dialogue and initially made me concerned that the series would feel too experimental to gain a wider audience, though I was a massive fan of the art direction and mood.

Issue 2, with story and art by Bob Eggleton, felt like a biblical epic thanks to the painted illustrations inspired by John Martin’s The Last Judgement paintings and the works of Gustave Dore. It pitted a Godzilla 2000-style protagonist against four of his classic foes and used prose in narration boxes to make the issue feel like some ancient legend. I liked issue two much more for the gravitas it added.

As we look at issue three, which uses a much more cartoony style and the series’ first instances of spoken dialogue, I have to wonder how much communication there was between the writers. Buster Moody‘s art is bright and colorful, with very expressive kaiju in the form of Godzilla and Spacegodzilla, and the angels having Mothra wings is a brilliant touch, but the seeming new direction that Ulises Farinas and Erick Frietas add to the story is a little odd. I’m still not sure if the series is going to end up being a surreal dream Godzilla is having or if this is just a weird, experimental plot the way Toho Studios did movies like Godzilla’s Revenge or Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster, which took the series in different and unique directions. I love the idea of the angels wanting Godzilla to join their war against hell, and the demons wanting to serve Godzilla and follow him into battle against Heaven, but what I appreciate most is Godzilla’s refusal to help either side in exchange for trying to find a way out of the whole conflict. Godzilla kind of speaks for the audience here, in my opinion: he just wants to know what’s going on and when it’s going to end. Issue three has gorgeous art and if the story felt consistent, it would have worked much better. It feels more like issue three tossed a wrench into the works that later issues will either have to ignore or find a way to explain away.

GODZILLAHELL_04-coverMoving on to issue four, we see a Godzilla with a design that falls somewhere between his ghostly appearance in Giant Monsters All-Out Attack and the classic Toho designs of the Hesei-era movies, like Godzilla vs Destroyah. Written by Brandon Seifert and showcasing some gorgeous art by Ibrahim Moustafa, this one goes back to the experimental setup of the first issue, in a way: no dialogue, no exposition, just Godzilla in a fight. The surreal imagery returns as well – Godzilla’s battle against Destroyah and King Ghidorah cannot end. Each time one of the three kaiju dies, they heal their wounds and return to life. This is exactly what the Godzilla in Hell premise ought to be used for, but coming off the plot elements of issue three, it doesn’t make as much sense. Is Godzilla still being pursued by angels and demons who want him on their side? Is this his punishment for not choosing a side?

Godzilla_InHell_03-pr_page7_image12With only one issue left in the series, I have no idea how it’s going to end or if it will end in a way that feels satisfactory and explains how all of this happened in the first place. Maybe we’ll never get an explanation – which would make the existence of this series as strange and unusual as the plot itself. If Godzilla in Hell the comic book begins and ends without explanation, the way the plot of the comic appears to be heading, it would be an oddly fitting but ultimately unsatisfying way to close the series out. I’m enjoying Godzilla in Hell because I love Godzilla and the franchise he represents, with all the awesome kaiju designs and fights we’ve enjoyed for decades, and every artist has brought their A game to the series, but the story is leaving me ultimately unsatisfied. Here’s hoping that issue five lives up to the franchise and the level of storytelling Godzilla deserves. I’ll be waiting for it, but I’ll be doing so with a little more worry than I would like.

Godzilla in Hell #3

Story: Ulises Farinas, Erick Frietas Art: Buster Moody
Story: 7 Art: 8 Overall: 7 Recommendation: Buy

Godzilla in Hell #4

Story: Brandon Seifert Art: Ibrahim Moustafa
Story: 8 Art: 9 Overall: 8 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Over the Garden Wall #1-#2

If you enjoyed Cartoon Network’s animated miniseries Over the Garden Wall – a gorgeous, heartfelt, occasionally tear-jerking adventure in classic fairy-tale absurdity – I’m happy to inform you that you’re going to love the comic book series for the additional time we get to spend with Wirt, Greg, and Beatrice.

OverTheGardenWall_02_PRESS-12Both issues of the comic are set between episodes of the show so as not to interfere with the miniseries’ ending, and this is a brilliant decision on the part of the writers. While the miniseries episodes presented you with talking animals and magic in the matter-of-fact, ‘this is just how things are in this world’ way fairy tales employ, the comics employ the same tone but also fill in additional gaps in the story. If you were the sort of kid who asked “but wait, how did they get out of the castle at the end?” or “but where did the horse come from?”, these comics are for you. Issue #1 is set between episodes 3 and 4 of the miniseries, and answers the burning question of “when did they jump into the back of a cart?” in case that was a pressing concern. Issue #2 is set between episodes 4 and 5, and finally gives us the secret origins of Fred the Horse.

OverTheGardenWall_01_PRESS-14The Over the Garden Wall comic book is a great way for fans of the original miniseries to spend more times with the character and world we grew so close to in such a short time. The characters all sound like themselves – a really easy pitfall when writing prequel or in-between spinoff works is to fill all the dialogue with throwaway lines that foreshadow a character’s ultimate fate in the original series, but that’s mercifully been avoided here. The comics make sure to stay in the moment, and aren’t treated like flashbacks or exposition. It’s difficult to explain how the comic books feel here: if you’ve ever been told a bedtime story and asked “but what happened to the farmer?” and the person telling the story had another story to tell that answered your extra question but didn’t exactly fit into the main plot of their original story for brevity’s sake, the comics feel like that. They’re stories in between the main plot, additional details that didn’t need to be included in the main story but are welcome additions to the fairy tale you fell in love with.

That, I think, is the strength of the Over the Garden Wall comics – the return to the tone and mood of the original miniseries is flawless. The story (written by series creator Pat McHale) has the perfect mixture of whimsy, silliness, and occasional darkness that made the miniseries so memorable, the art is a joy to take in as the characters explore and travel through lush backgrounds drawn by Jim Campbell, who also helped storyboard the original series. The overall experience is familiar and comforting as we see more of the characters we love so much, and as we get insight into characters we didn’t stop to really wonder about during the show (Fred the Horse’s tragic past is a highlight, as is the appearance of someone we last saw interrupting Wirt in the tavern) we get some new stories to wonder and theorize about. The demand for the initial one-shot Over the Garden Wall comic book was great enough to lead to this series of comics, and I’m hoping the reception of the comics leads to even more material and story from this world. There’s so much more to explore and so much more to learn about – the expansion of the universe in ways that nobody saw coming is proof enough of that, even without the obvious question of “what happened when the show ended?”

The art doesn’t quite match up to the gorgeous, flowing animation of the miniseries (what comic book could?), but the writing is as strong as ever and everything you loved about the show is present in the comic books. I can’t wait for issues three and four, and hopefully for the announcement that there’s another miniseries or comic series on the way. Whatever happens next and wherever Wirt and Greg’s wandering takes them, I will definitely be along for the ride.

Story: Pat McHale Art: Jim Campbell
Story: 10 Art: 9  Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy

BOOM! Studios provided Graphic Policy with free copies of both issues for review, but Daphne bought her own anyway.

Review: Godzilla in Hell #2

'Hell is other kaiju'. - 50-foot tall radioactive SartreThere’s something really entertaining about properties whose titles describe them perfectly. Snakes on a Plane, Alien vs Predator, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians…if you know the 90s-era British phrase ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’, these titles are the perfect embodiment of that saying. What you see is what you get – the description sums up everything you need to know. Godzilla, King of the Monsters, has found himself in Hell (the actual, real hell, complete with a swirling cloud of lost souls that threatened to overwhelm him in issue #1) and is wandering the abyss, trying to find a way out.

The thing about comics is that as a medium, you can get away with just about anything as long as you sell it convincingly. Batman being shot with a time-traveling bullet that sends him back to prehistoric times, Superboy punching the walls of reality itself, Deadpool’s fourth wall breaks: if you really sell it, you can do anything you want. So Godzilla ending up in Hell, while causing some serious confusion to me as a lifelong Godzilla fangirl, is a concept I’m capable of rolling with as long as the writers make it work.

And do they ever. The first issue of Godzilla in Hell was interesting in how experimental it felt: with no speaking characters at all and no narration, all we saw was wordless panels as Godzilla tried to get his bearings and did battle with some monsters that would have fit right in on the set of John Carpenter’s The Thing. 

Where the first issue felt looser due to the more cartoony art style, the disorienting imagery of Hell and its denizens, and the lack of explanation as to what was happening and why, issue two feels more like an adaptation of some ancient fable. The narration is going for the sort of gravitas and solemnity you expect to hear from a voiceover at the beginning of a blockbuster fantasy film, and the art… wow.

So here’s the main thing that caught me about this issue: while Bob Eggleton‘s writing is strong, and moves the comic in a much more clear narrative direction than James Stokoe‘s wordless panels in issue #1, Bob’s art is phenomenal and lends the proceedings an almost Biblical feel. This is the recounting of an epic from generations ago, a story told by a wizened priest to awestruck students. Every page and panel of issue #2 is an actual painting by Bob, and it pairs with the narration to make something that I initially thought of as very silly feel serious and intense. In this issue Godzilla faces some of his classic foes, either demon-possesed or being impersonated by demons, and then – as the narration tells us – he runs into the reason he’s been brought to hell in the first place: his old nemesis King Ghidorah.

We’re only on issue #2 and we have a basic idea of why Godzilla is in Hell now, and we’ve seen his mortal foe either masterminding this whole thing or being used as a pawn in some greater scheme. We’ll probably have to wait a few more issues to get all the details, but I will definitely be there. Issue #2 of Godzilla in Hell ups the ante considerably, with a major upgrade to issue #1’s excellent art and a tighter plot now that there’s an unseen narrator setting the stage. I do still have my concerns that this is going to end up being all a dream or something equally frustrating and I always find myself wishing for more because these issues seem to end way too quickly for my tastes, but seeing Godzilla fight his way through Hell the way he’s already dominated planet Earth is incredibly fun, and the paintings that show us three amazing kaiju fights through one fast-paced issue are more than worth the price of admission. If you love Godzilla, you’re probably already finished reading your copy of this comic book, and if you aren’t or only have a vague interest in kaiju, you still owe it to yourself to check this comic out.

Story: Bob Eggleton Art: Bob Eggleton
Story: 7 Art: 10 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

IDW provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review. Daphne bought her own copy anyway.

Review: Invader ZIM #2

You were expecting a point-and-click adventure game?Invader ZIM is a franchise with a long history. Rehashing it here would take up a lot of time, and has been done by better writers than me, so the short version is this: Jhonen Vasquez tried to write a science-fiction cartoon for Nickelodeon, who didn’t realize when they hired him that he was responsible for adult-oriented comics like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. Creative differences abounded, Jhonen was pretty honest about how difficult working with Nick could be, and all the ZIM fans watched helplessly as the struggles with the network turned into cancellation. The fans subsisted upon brief glimmers of hope when Zim and GIR occasionally showed up in Nicktoon-themed games or when finished-but-unreleased episodes of the show turned up on DVD box sets.

Then, there was silence.

But then came the usual rumors that ZIM was coming back, that our junior high and high school daydreams were finally coming true! This repeated numerous times between 2003 and July of 2015, but at very very long last, putting to an end both the rumors and my own recap I said I wouldn’t do and then ended up doing anyway, Invader ZIM finally returned.

As a comic book.

It makes sense, really. Comics as a medium have always had different creative constraints than television or film. You can tell entirely different stories. Comics are the medium, after all, where a character can go missing after being shot with a time-traveling bullet and have adventures with cavemen, pirates, cowboys, and the witches of Salem before making it back to the present and resuming his traditional superheroics. It’s the perfect medium for a comic like ZIM, which was often hamstrung by the financial limitations the studio placed on the animators or the inexplicable censorship decisions. (One of the very first episodes of ZIM to air was the one where Zim steals the internal organs of numerous children at School in order to appear more human. That got permitted where things like implied character death – a mainstay of cartoons when writing characters out – were vetoed. I’ll never understand that.)

So, how does Invader ZIM fare as a comic compared to a television show? Issue one had a “We’re getting the band back together” feel, where we were reminded who the characters were and what the plot was about, and then as the new storyline kicked off the comic was over. It was a good first issue for introducing new readers to the premise and congratulating all the die-hard fans for not having given up over a decade later, but it was easy to see that it was merely the warmup act. Now we’re looking at issue #2, which is where things truly begin.EVERYONE'S BACK! AND EVERYONE'S SHOUTING. AAAAAAZim as a character, and Invader ZIM as a franchise, have very specific voices. The Zim character is myopic in his pursuit of global domination and completely obsessed with his own genius and talent. To hear Zim tell it, he’s the most intelligent and capable member of his race, an intellect beyond the ken of any human – especially his mortal enemy, Dib. In the television show, Zim and Dib were voice acted by Richard Horvitz and Andy Berman, who I imagine blew out their vocal cords every recording session based on all the screaming they did on the show. We don’t have the benefit of their voice acting during the comic, but if you’ve seen the show then every line of dialogue sounds like one of these as you read it. If you know how Dib talks, the way Zim screeches one second and then pauses for “eh? uh, oh! aha!” sounds every few minutes, or the modulations in GIR’s voice as he malfunctions and causes problems, all those familiar sounds are here. You know these characters and you know what they ought to sound like – and they sound just like they’re supposed to. With Jhonen Vasquez and Eric Trueheart writing again (Eric also wrote for the show, and Jhonen is responsible for this whole mess) the characters and narrative voices are just like they used to be.

To a newcomer, it may take time to acclimate to the fast-paced nature of the ZIM plot lines and dialogue. If someone isn’t screaming, they’re about to, and when they aren’t gesturing madly as they outline their greatest invention ever they’re usually recovering from an explosion or a should-be-fatal injury.

I wonder what reading these comics is like from the perspective of someone who wasn’t a fan of the show when it aired, or maybe hasn’t heard of the show at all. I’m used to the story beats – Zim’s leaders are still alternately disgusted by his existence and shocked he’s managed to live this long, Dib is the lone sane human on a planet full of unobservant civilians, Zim himself will stop at nothing to take over the earth on behalf of his species – but they might take a while for the uninitiated to get used to.

Characters don't have to throw up offscreen anymore! FREEDOM AT LAST!The story itself is an intergalactic chase, which I always appreciate. Episodes of the show where characters went into space were woefully uncommon, probably due to budgetary concerns, but they were always my favorites. While issue #2 doesn’t reach the same heights as Backseat Drivers from Beyond the Stars, which is still my favorite episode, there’s a lot of good stuff here. Dib pursues Zim in the ship he salvaged when Invader Tak, the fan favorite and subject of way too much fanfiction I don’t want to know about, crashed on Earth during the original series run. The art is a strong point here too: the aliens are suitably gross-looking when they need to be, the artists experiment with panels and layouts in ways I’m sure the show’s animators wished they could have, and the colors and shading are top-notch. I was going to say “this looks just like an episode of the show, only condensed into pages and panels” but that’s exactly what a comic book is.

I for one am glad to have Invader ZIM back. The comic book medium feels like a great fit for the franchise, the writing and art are just as good as fans of the show have come to expect, and the story never has time to get boring. The fact that the writing and plot are so fast-paced means issue #2 feels like it ends too soon, and makes me curious about how the subsequent issues will be paced: issue one and two are a complete story to themselves, almost an episode of the show, and I wonder if the series as a whole will be episodic or if there will be some kind of overarching plot. I know from interviews there were things Jhonen wanted to do with the story he never got to pursue, some of which were storylines involving new characters and world building ideas. Now is his chance to try them out, I’d assume, and maybe he will! Maybe he’ll go in an entirely different direction.

Ten years is a long time for both creator and fan to wait, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see something never even hinted at come out of this series. There’s endless possibilities for a series like ZIM, which has always played a little fast and loose with its canon and internal logic. It’s a sign of good writing that after what feels like a very short comic, my thought is “Where do we go next?” instead of “what, that’s it?” It makes me excited to see more of ZIM in the future and hopeful that the next issues keep up the momentum issue two builds up. I’m definitely going to be along for the ride.

The pacing is a little fast, and both the plot and narrative voice may take some time for newcomers to acclimate to, but this is a very good second issue. Invader ZIM was sorely missed, and I’m hoping for great things from the franchise now that it’s back in action and making its move right for the nostalgia center of my brain. Bring me more! Er, please.

Story: Jhonen Vasquez and Eric Trueheart Art: Aaron Alexovitch
Story: 8 Art: 9 Overall
: 8 Recommendation: Buy

Oni Press provided Graphic Policy with a free review copy of Invader ZIM #2. I totally forgot about that and bought my own. Whoops.