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Review: Jem and the Holograms: Dimensions #1

Jem-Dimensions01_cvrB.jpgIDW Publishing kicks off their new Jem anthology series strong in Jem and The Holograms: Dimensions #1. The Dimensions series promises a set of stories told outside the main Jem narrative; a gateway book to the larger Jem universe, though it can also stand on its own. After issue one, however, it’s hard not to want more neon-colored nonsense.

The two stories, “Catnap” and “Roll With It” each tell a distinctly modern tale using ‘80s icons. Brightly-colored ski gear and Dungeons and Dragons games, all in the Jem palate of bold makup, huge hair, and stars and lightning bolts on every surface.

Sophie Campbell took the reins on “Catnap” as both writer and artist. Misfit groupie Clash is cat-sitting for band member Pizzazz, but doesn’t want to miss out on her ski trip. She decides to bring the kitty along on the slopes with her friend Misty, after girlfriend Blaze bails on her. When evil Jem groupies show up to steal the cat and get Clash booted from all future Misfit events, Blaze literally flies in to save the day—and the cat!

Jem_Dimensions_01-pr2-1Colorist M. Victoria Robado keeps things bright and rainbow-hued, even against a snow-capped backdrop. A high-speed chase followed by an avalanche of epic proportions turns the slopes into a flurry of color and action under Campbell and Robado’s efforts. Campbell’s story (and, I would assume, other Jem tales as well) blurs the line between “good” and “evil” as Misfit fans protect a helpless feline from the evil claws of Jem groupies. Some modern additions, such as Misty dressed in her colorful headscarf and Blaze and Clash’s kiss at the end, bring this 80’s classic into today’s landscape.

“Roll With It”, written by Kate Leth with art by Tana Ford, is lighter on story in favor of dissecting some classic characters at the end of their Infinite run. An exhausted group of Holograms try to get Jerrica to take a break after their tour. Kimber suggests a game of Dungeons and Dragons, but as the game is set up Jerrica is elected Dungeon Master—leaving her in charge of the group all over again. She soon loses her cool and the girls must come up with an alternate plan to give ALL of the Holograms the night off.

The girls game characters give a little peek into their psyche along with providing plenty of light-hearted laughter. And while Jerrica and Synergy drive the plot, Kimber shines through as the star of the story. Colorist Brittany Peer sticks to a blue and purple palate, so that when Jerrica attacks the D&D party with an overpowered dragon, the fire-breather truly stands out.

Jem and the Holograms: Dimensions is a super fun romp with a huge cast of female characters. This book not only passes the Bechdel test, but smashes it into pieces. The characters are well-rounded, diverse, and unafraid to be themselves—no matter how outrageous.

Story: Sophie Campbell, Kate Leth
Art: Sophie Campbell, Tana Ford Colors: M. Victoria Robado, Brittany Peer
Story: 9 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.3 Recommendation: Buy

IDW provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Jupiter Jet #1

Jupiter Jet Action Lab #1In the grand tradition of strong female characters, Jacqueline “Jacky” Johnson takes to the skies in a Robin Hood tale with a science fiction twist. Jupiter Jet #1 in a steampunk-y version of the 1940s. Jacky and her brother Chuck are struggling to keep their parents’ auto repair shop open despite financial woes (and the fact that they are children with no adult supervision). While the two use their smarts and Jacky’s jetpack to watch out for their neighbors and redistribute wealth, their do-good attitude has left little time or money to take care of themselves. The threat of leaving the city for a rural life with their Aunt and Uncle looms large over them, until said Uncle shows up and offers his farm for collateral against the shop.

The first issue leaves plenty of open-ended questions: what are the mysterious power sources Chuck and Jacky keep discovering? Who were the Johnson parents? And who are the figures lurking in the shadows? But it also builds a strong platform on which to answer those questions.

The writing from Jason Inman and Ashley Victoria Robinson is charming without being shallow. Of particular interest is how Chuck managed to turn what could have been a restrictive wardrobe into the female equivalent of Batman’s Utility Belt. Before the book is over, Inman and Robinson manage to squeeze in a little taste of what’s coming up, and I was delighted to see that space travel isn’t far off for our teenaged heroine.

Ben Matsuya, Mara Jayne Carpenter, and Taylor Esposito create the perfect aesthetic for this innovative world. Jacky soars through the sky with grace, but once she hits the ground she can’t manage to walk in a straight line without tripping. The movement comes off as a character trait, however, rather than a gag. Instead of seeming like a teenage girl cliché, it shows why Jacky might prefer the clouds.

Story: Jason Inman and Ashley Victoria Robinson Line Art: Ben Matsuya
Colors: Mara Jayne Carpenter Letters: Taylor Esposito
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

Action Lab Entertainment provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Reggie and Me Trade TPB


*Spoilers ahead for Reggie And Me and Archie #24*

Archie Comics’ mini-series featuring Riverdale’s bad boy Reggie Mantle is now available in trade paperback. Issues one through five of Reggie and Me put the spotlight on Reggie through the narration of his pet dog Vader. But without his canine companion, who keeps insisting Reggie is well-liked and kind-hearted, Reggie has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He spends all five issues trying to get someone else in trouble for the chaos he creates–usually Archie Andrews. Over the course of this series however, he also manages to stir up the ire of not only Riverdale’s rival football team, but also thick-headed Moose Mason, and sweet-as-apple-pie Betty Cooper.

Of all the classic characters, Reggie seems to have gone through the most changes from the old to new Archie universe, but it’s not really for the better. He primarily used to play the role of Archie’s romantic rival, though once he had Veronica or Betty on his arm, he left well enough alone. In Reggie And Me, he has it out for everyone in a more general role of chaotic evil.

Reggie is after Midge, who is happily dating Moose. When Reggie swipes Archie’s phone, he sees an opportunity to simultaneously get Moose away from Midge and Archie into a cast (or two. Reggie ain’t picky). Enter Betty Cooper who apparently spends her entire life discreetly following Reggie around, waiting for him to do something horrible. Throw in a little school rivalry, a quarterback trying to protect his familial honor, and a Principal with a keen ear, and Reggie’s plans fall quickly apart.

Reggie’s existence frustrates nearly everyone in the main gang–not even Jughead has patience for him. However, once Vader is injured, the entire town rallies to support him. Archie forgets the fact that Reggie tried to have him expelled. Midge forgets that Reggie ignored her rejections. And Moose (who, to be fair, has never been the sharpest crayon) forgets everything and even comes to Reggie’s aid.

Perhaps the Reggie and Me miniseries is meant to garner support for its title character as his fate changes in the main Archie series. You may recall that the end of “Over the Edge” saw Reggie in handcuffs, with his father taking advantage of the situation in order to push more papers. But if that is the case, there’s still a long way to go. Arguably, Reggie is a more sympathetic character in just a few panels of Archie #24 than all of Reggie and Me combined.

Vader turns out fine, and despite all Reggie’s efforts, the whole gang winds up on each other’s good sides. Betty even apologizes for potentially misjudging him in their youth. And we end up right where we began, with a devious smirk on Reggie’s face and an aparent storm brewing in his chaotic brain.

So the question remains: why did Reggie get the spotlight? He has been a bully since day one, and while the new Archies are filling him out with a sympathetic backstory, that’s not an excuse for his mistreatment of others. Vader continually defends his owner’s horrible behavior, but the “pranks” he pulls have the potential for very real consequences.

The preview of Your Pal Archie was a palate cleanser at the end of this off-color book.  Especially in today’s political and social climate, Reggie And Me feels tone deaf, almost asking readers to consider that bullies are people too, instead of admonishing bully behavior under any circumstances.  If Archie writers are trying to redeem the long-held Mantle (if you’ll excuse the pun) of Riverdale’s bad boy, Reggie and Me is not a good place to start.

Story: Tom Defalco Artist: Sandy Jarrell Colorist: Kelly Fitzpatrick Letters: Jack Morell
Story: 4.0 Art: 7.5 Overall: 6.0 Recommendation: Pass

Archie provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Harlequin Valentine

Neil Gaiman tends to make the already fantastic into something even More. In Harlequin Valentine, he does it again, with a simple twist on a classic story. Spoilers ahead.

Harlequin Valentine has roots in the Italian Commedia dell’ arte tradition; a tradition still played upon and taught in theatre classes today. The Harlequin is a character from the Commedia with iterations backwards and forwards in literature: a version of the trickster archetype that is largely motivated by his unrequited love.

In Gaiman and Bolton’s version, however, the object of his affection takes over the role when she bests him by eating his heart, left pinned to her front door on a chilly Valentine’s day. Missy is nonplussed when she finds the heart on the door, proceeding to unpin it, store it in a plastic bag, and clean up the blood. Harlequin describes her actions with all the creepy over-observing of a stalker, obsessed with Missy as an object rather than an individual.

As Missy goes about her day, trying to solve the mystery of the heart, Harlequin follows, assigning the other men in her life to other Commedia stereotypes disdainfully. Gaiman’s tale and Bolton’s art work together to keep the story tight, Harlequin’s perspective hyper-focused on Missy as the day unfolds. Both Gaiman and Bolton bring an eerie sensibility to an otherwise light-hearted trope, without applying too heavy of a hand. The result is spell-binding.

My recommendation is this one is a buy! Now’s your chance to get a reissue of a now 16 year old book in a shiny new shell. If you already own it, however, no need to add another copy to the collection. All content included is from the original 2001 publication, including Gaiman’s clever essays on both Commedia, and Bolton’s artistic methods.

Story: Neil Gaiman Art: John Bolton
Story: 8.5 Art: 9 Overall: 8.75 Recommendation: Buy, unless you’ve already got a copy!

Dark Horse provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Archie #24

JUL171404._SX360_QL80_TTD_*Spoilers for the end of “Over the Edge”!*

Riverdale returns to the screen this week and Archie Comics wrapped up their summer drama arc just in time. Archie #24 rounds out the “Over the Edge” event that conveniently spanned the Riverdale hiatus and kept fans new and old on the edges of their seats. Much like a classic Life with Archie, “Over the Edge” dialed everything up to 11, from the stakes (life or death) to the relationships (the entire Andrews family banned from the Cooper household?) to the consequences (Reggie Mantle in HANDCUFFS?).

There were very few laughs to be found in “Over the Edge”, but this issue sets us up for a return to life as usual, or as usual as it gets in Riverdale, with a sigh of relief all the way around.

As it turns out, no one died in the drag race of the century which kicked off the “Over the Edge” storyline. However, it’s fair to say almost everyone involved lost the life they’d grown accustomed to. After driving the car that pushed Betty Cooper over a cliff, Reggie is arrested. Archie sells the Mustang that started it all to help the Coopers make the needed renovations to their home. Renovations made necessary by Betty’s new wheelchair-bound state.

Archie24_09_colLast issue, the gang split up Betty’s enormous responsibilities among the Riverdale community. Now they shift gears to bake sales, Go Fund Me campaigns, and car washes—all to benefit Betty and the causes she holds dear. While Betty is plenty grateful, she’s also not one to let other people get their hands dirty on her behalf. From her friends to her parents to her physical therapist, Betty turns down offers to help, always adding “but thank you”, because she wouldn’t be Betty if she didn’t.

While the cover of Archie #24 teases Reggie in handcuffs as the main event, it’s almost a side-plot that will hopefully hold more weight in future issues. The entire town of Riverdale, unimpressed with Reggie to begin with, has decided to drag his name through the mud. Even his own father capitalizes on the drama surrounding his son to make a catchier headline in his paper.

Archie and Betty

Some things never change…

The real drama, as usual, exists between ol’ Cooper and Andrews. Betty takes a step back from her relationship with Dilton only to head home and shed some tears of frustration over her seemingly irreparable relationship with Archie. Mr. Cooper is having none of it, and actively lies to Betty about why Archie hasn’t been around since she got home from the hospital. In true Archie fashion, however, he finds a way to break the rules and let Betty know he’s still in her corner.

Writer Mark Waid continues capturing the true essence of the Riverdale crew. Archie’s self-awareness, Jughead’s lack thereof, and Betty and Veronica’s undying devotion to one another come through over the course of “Over the Edge.” But the truly remarkable relationship here is the one between Betty and Archie; the relationship that has kept the drama high since long before the first issue of the Archie re-brand, and it seems will keep us on an emotional rollercoaster until the end of time.

Archie #24 is the first for new-to-the-team Audrey Mok, but his art fits the upbeat style of previous issues. Mok’s Betty is particularly impressive, and the sequence with the most power is Betty’s breakdown, which requires no dialogue at all. That sequence alone makes this issue one to keep on the shelf.

Story: Mark Waid Art: Audrey Mok Colors: Kelly Fitzpatrick Letters: Jack Morelli
Story: 7.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 7.5 Recommendation: Buy

Archie Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Hero Cats Of Skyworld (Issues 16-18)

The concept behind Hero Cats is relatively simple: it’s cats, but in a fantasy setting. They’re heroic–putting their lives on the line for human and feline companions alike. The latest issues expand the Hero Cats world from Stellar City to a brand new, mysterious planet; the titual “Skyworld” which, as it turns out, exists at the core of Jupiter.

Hero Cats is firmly in the middle of the road, quality-wise. The book is an easy introduction to comics for younger readers without over-simplifying. While the main cast leans on archetypes to fill in a classic fantasy quest party, the character development is engaging and exciting. Combine that with a plot just shy of formulaic and the book remains fun without becoming remarkable.

Writer Kyle Puttkammer makes up for stock character design with interesting relationships between cats, humans, and the supernatural realm of creatures. Lead Hero Cat Bandit is out of his element, and must navigate a literal new world of challenges in order to save both Sky World and his home Stellar City from annihilation. Puttkammer skips over chunks of time that may, in a book for older readers, be spent on “side quest” type stories or more complex character studies. For simplicity’s sake, though, when the solution to a Hero Cat problem is discovered, it is often executed off-screen. A perfect example is Maddie, the kitten haunted by angels and demons alike, who learns to control these supernatural voices in between issues.

Another element that keeps Hero Cats from landing completely in a “skip” pile is Omaka Schultz’s art work, particularly with the cats themselves. They are illustrated in such a way that blends both realistically feline and supernaturally powerful movements. Battle scenes practically jump off the page. For comic book vets, this is par for the course. The illustration style overall is remniscent of webcomics like Looking For Group—there is something sterile or digital about the art that makes it an easy “in” for new readers.

Overall, Hero Cats is a fun romp in a simple universe that can sometimes read like a marketing ploy. Each planet in the solar system is ostensibly protected by a different team of Hero Cats. Each trade reveals a different “realm”—one for each planet of the solar system. The formulaic format does, however, make it an easy comic to pick up from almost anywhere.

Story: Kyle Puttkammer Artist: Omaka Schultz Colorist: Julie Barclay
Story: 5.0 Art: 6.5 Overall: 6.0 Recommendation: Read (for kids), otherwise skip

Action Lab comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

Review: DuckTales #1

DuckTales01_cvrA-copyDuckTales #1 makes up for allllll the flaws of Uncle Scrooge. It continues the work of the rebooted TV show: establishing the triplets as three separate characters rather than one run-on sentence. The humor that the boys exude perfectly extends from screen to page–the unique humor that makes the show literally laugh out loud funny is inside the pages of DuckTales #1, as well.

The only flaw with DuckTales, which was a problem with Uncle Scrooge as well, is the mistreatment of Donald as a character. His anger seems weirdly under contol. Compared to the Donald that fans know and love, DuckTales Donald spouts less expletives and suffers more slapstick. The series is more about the boys, anyhow, which is where the book (and the new show) really shine.

DuckTales #1 is broken up into two stories: “The Chilling Secret of the Lighthouse” and “The Great Experiment of the Washing Machine”. Both were written by Joe Caramagna, who has an outstanding grasp of DuckTales both old and new. “Lighthouse” reflects a more classic television DuckTales story, with an ancient legend debunked by the triplets exploring “uncharted” territory. “Washing Machine” is a little more modern, with iPhones used for distraction tactics, and the boys displaying their individual personalities. Huey in particular gets to shine as the inventor of the group.

Donald Duck # 1 IDW DT

They’ve come a long way from the original depiction of “the triplets”

The stories have different artists, but  both Luca Usai (“Lighthouse”) and Gianfranco Florio (“Washing Machine”) continue the tradition of pulling from 1940s Donald Duck comics. It’s one of my favorite things about the reboot, and I’m thrilled to see it continue on both show and book. The short tales are great, but I hope that an overarching plot emerges before long. Based on the teaser of issue #2, which features Della Duck on a quest with Donald and Scrooge, readers probably won’t have to wait for clues to a much larger mystery.

WooHoo indeed.

Story: Joe Carmagna Art: Luca Usai, Gianfranco Florio
Color: Giuseppe Fontana, Dario Calabria Letterer: Tom B. Long Editor: Joe Hughes

Story: 7.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 7.5 Recommendation: Read

IDW Publishing provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Babyteeth #4

Donny Cates, Gary Brown and Mark Englert continue to bring the house down with Babyteeth #4. In this issue, “The Prairie Wolf” comes to call as Heather and Sadie struggle to find a sustainable food source for hell-spawn Clark. Sadie has finally revealed that Clark does, in fact, have a father, but when Heather goes to find him, she gets way more than she bargained for.

What makes Babyteeth unique is the narrator. Main character Sadie tells the whole story in hindsight to her child, which means we get the tale in jumbled bits and pieces as she is admittedly a horrible storyteller. Well, perhaps just horrible at telling the story in order—otherwise, Sadie’s storytelling creates a world that Clark is probably lucky not to remember, as his life is constantly in danger.

The blood-sucking twist is an old one, but just like the teenage pregnancy in the first issue, it doesn’t take center stage and instead the problems lie in trying to find enough blood to sustain Clark’s voracious appetite. I continue to appreciate the fact that Babyteeth hasn’t stopped to make Sadie feel like a bad person, because she isn’t. In fact even Heather, who has broken the law and may or may not be a sociopath, is still treated like a human being because she IS one. All the characters, whether assassin or super-dad or mother to the devil himself, all show their humanity in one way or another, which, I think, is what makes Babyteeth something special.

Brown and Englert keep the pace break-neck with their sketchy art style and demonic color palette, and Cates’ story keeps up well. Each issue ends in the perfect place to keep readers on the edge of their seat, eager to find out the answer to a question they may not have even had on page one.

And, really. What’s the deal with the demon raccoon?

Story: Donny Cates Art: Gary Brown
Colors: Mark Englert Letters: Taylor Esposito

Story: 9.0 Art: 10 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy, add to pull list, enjoy.

Aftershock Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Snotgirl #7

After a six-month break, Snot Girl & Co are back in action. Snot Girl #7 is the second book in arc two, which ended with Charlene (Sunny’s new girlfriend), “falling” off the top of a building on New Year’s Eve. Issue #6 gave us some clues as to the general shape of this arc: lots of back story, and an ever-expanding cast of characters.

In issue #7, Caroline “Coolgirl” joins the crew in what Lottie calls “friendtegration”. At the same time, Charlene wakes up from her coma and the “fashion police” continue their off-the-books investigation. All three storylines give us more Virgil, whose status is more slippery than yards of fake silk. By the end of the issue, the girls are well on their way to San Diego for a mid-con blogger party. Charlene may or may not have revisited the scene of her fall as well as Caroline’s strange origins (see issues 1-4). Either way, her plastic surgery does NOT go as planned, and yes, that was most definitely Virgil performing “physical therapy”.

While creators Leslie Hung (artist) and Bryan Lee O’Malley (writer) call this a new arc, it’s certainly worth reading the first five issues before diving in. Arc One built a solid foundation of character connections. It may not be heavy on plot, but the inner-workings of Hung and O’Malley’s cast is almost impossible to explain in summary.

Snot Girl is a fascinating exercise. It took me a while to jump on the train, but now I don’t know what life would be like with Haters Brunch. I think that has a lot to do with Hung and O’Malley’s character-heavy story. I come away from every issue feeling like I’ve gotten a behind the scenes peek at the internet elite, which is, frankly, all I’ve ever wanted in life. Reading Snot Girl is like reading trashy paparazzi magazines, without the guilt of invading a real person’s privacy.

Hung’s artwork, too, is masterful. I would flip through lookbooks by her for hours, if they existed. (hint. Do the thing.) There is something delightful about the “classic” manga style applied to an undeniably American setting. The application may or may not lend itself to a comment on our fetishization of all things Japanese, especially considering the consumerist themes of the book itself. Thanks to Hung, our fashion-conscious cast never wears the same thing twice. It’s easy to believe that these girls have overstuffed closets in their tiny apartments, and that each item they put on has been carefully curated before they even consider walking out the door.

If I knew these people in real life, I would hate them, and you probably would, too. However, kept at the safe distance of “being fictional”, and dressed in what can only be described as the weirdest (and yet coolest?) couture I’ve ever seen, I can’t wait to find out what kind of trouble they get themselves into next.

Story: Brian Lee O’Malley Art: Leslie Hung Color: Rachael Cohen
Lettering: Maré Odomo Cover Color: Jason Fischer
Story: 8.5 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.75 Recommendation: Buy!

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Unholy Grail #3

Cullen Bunn (creator/writer) and Mirko Colak (artist) continue their Lovecraftian retelling of the King Arthur legends in Unholy Grail #3. The series so far has transformed Merlin into a demon, the Lady of the Lake into a siren-like creature, and the Holy Grail into, well, exactly what is says on the can. Issue three focuses on the relationship between Arthur and his new bride Guinevere. Almost instantaneously, the couple break their marital vows and Arthur promised his heart to the Lady of the Lake, and Guinevere offers herself up to Lancelot after he rescues her from a lair of demons.

While some of the motivations have changed, much of the story remains the same as ever, following a disappointingly predictable plot from beginning to end. Even some tropes that have been largely abandoned remain: an all-white, all straight, all attractive cast, and the sighing female who is helpless without her burly, bearded champion.

What makes Unholy Grail worth your time is the art. Fans of horror and especially demonic disemboweling will enjoy every issue of Unholy Grail so far, and #3 continues to deliver. Every time I began to think “Why am I reading another Arthur book?” the Lovecraftian horror returned and I was reminded why I picked this up in the first place. Along with colorist Maria Santaolalla, Colak makes use of color, form, and even shaking up the panel formats to bring you a bloody massacre that nearly pops off the page. Simon Bowland’s lettering adds to the art style with dramatically different speech patterns between the mortals and the demons that have joined them on Earth.

What is really going to keep me coming back for more Unholy Grail, though, is the twist on the Guinevere /Morgan La Fay dichotomy. Without spoiling too much of the book, issue #3 ends with a rather unique connection between the two—the first plot point in the series so far that has entirely diverged from the classic Arthurian legend.

Love the lettering: shows mortal versus demonic/other worldly.

Creator/Story: Cullen Bunn Art: Mirko Colak
Color: Maria Santaolalla Letters: Simon Bowland Editor: Mike Marts
Story: 7 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8 Recommendation: Read

AfterShock provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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