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Review: Out #1

Out #1

Comics are a particularly fertile medium for different interpretations of the vampire mythos. From Vertigo’s Vamps, about a female biker vamp gang that spills the patriarchy’s blood wherever they go, to Image’s Dracula, Motherfucker!, a pulpy reinterpretation of the original vampire’s bloodsucking brides, there’s no shortage of examples about the storytelling possibilities the classic monster can still hold.

Rob Williams and Will Conrad’s Out, published by AWA Studios, is another great foray into vamp territory, but what makes it stand out is how well it tweaks the monster’s foundational myths to produce a more nuanced but infinitely more terrifying version of it. There’s enough classic horror here to satisfy veteran vampire fans with enough variation to keep those hungry for new blood well fed.

Out is essentially a prisoner of war story (P.O.W. for short) set in the final days of the Second World War, with the Allies quickly gaining on the Nazis in their home turf. Like any good POW story, the comic focuses on a small group of captured Allied soldiers that are being kept in a massive castle located deep in the mountains of Czechoslovakia. Dark priests and strange rituals are taking place inside the castle and they end with prisoners being fed to something that thirsts for blood, something ancient.

Out #1

A Native American soldier called Nocona emerges as the main character in all this, a code-talker that speaks several languages and that represents a whole group of First Nations servicemen that the American military enlisted to transmit coded messages during the war (codes the Germans didn’t know how to crack). His knowledge of languages figure greatly into the story and it’s one of the things that help make the vampire a deeper and more frightening character.

Without giving too much away, Nocona’s interactions with the vampire (who’s trapped by the Nazis in an effort to turn a losing war in their favor) are fascinatingly terrifying because of the character’s ability to speak in the same tongue as the creature. This allows Williams and Conrad to flesh out the monster beyond snarls, growls, and hisses.

Conrad creates a horrifying vamp here, bat-like in parts and almost alien-like in others, but William’s scripting choice to allow him to attempt communication means there’s more room afforded to its development as a multidimensional character. The comic shines in this regard.

Usually, vampire characters that are in a permanent bat monster mode rarely get the chance to speak or to add nuance to their personality. Williams and Conrad challenge this by doing the opposite, and it works well enough to set their vamp apart from the ones already out there in the field.

Nocona’s presence, though, isn’t just relegated to vampire whisperer. He’s also trying to help other POWs in the castle escape. It’s here that he meets a soldier that represents a level of attraction beyond any call of duty. His and Nocona’s interactions are among Out’s strongest and they help further differentiate this horror tale from the rest, especially in terms of how naturally it unfolds. Nothing is ever forced or propped up for shock value. It’s an organic type of development and it adds layers of emotion that pay off in the end.

Out #1

In a sense, it’s not unfair to describe Out as a cross between Dracula and The Great Escape. The elements of a POW escape yarn are firmly present and a lot of the tension Williams and Conrad produce comes from the same sense of urgency war movies of this iteration are known for. In turn, the horror elements turn the narrative two-tiered, a ‘busting out of captivity’ scenario paired with a creature feature that makes the need for escape all the greater. It’s smart and it makes for compulsive reading.

Out is a great example of how to take tradition and twist it into something that can appeal to more current sensibilities. It’s a classic horror story that reads like a POW war narrative with key adages and permutations that elevate it into more compelling forms of storytelling. Williams and Conrad came up with a clever and violently emotional exploration of war, death, and everything in between. In the process, they might also suggest learning other languages can be the deciding factor in some life and death situations. You never know when you might need to talk down a blood-sucking creature from using your head as a wine glass in its native tongue.

Story: Rob Williams Art: Will Conrad
Color: Marco Lesko Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy and learn an ancient language or two.


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Review: The Conjuring: The Lover #3

The Conjuring: The Lover #3
The Conjuring: The Lover #3

The Conjuring: The Lover #3 has finally put its main character, Jessica, on a straight path to the source of her haunting, and things are getting diabolically tense. The third entry of this horror series seems to be eyeing its endgame quite closely and is thus moving its pieces towards a terrifying finale where evil might actually prevail should Jessica not find a way to rid herself of the mysterious Satanist behind it all.

The Lover has been an immensely fun ride. It thrives on a sense of claustrophobia by keeping the focus close on Jessica and how the thing that’s haunting her further isolates her from friends and any chance of complete salvation from the situation. Issue #3 ramps up the haunting, isolating the character to the point of constant oppression, tricking her friends into believing her behavior stems from good old-fashioned madness.

In this sense, the story reminds me even more of the movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), in which a female college student struggles with behavior that her family thinks can be attributed to demonic possession when the evidence more directly points to mental illness (based on the true case of Annaliese Michel, who underwent 67 Catholic rites of exorcism that ultimately led to her death).

While the comic leaves less space open to interpretation as to the origin of Jessica’s haunting, it nonetheless resorts to similar storytelling elements to show just how this haunting disconnects someone from the world. It’s been a steady build to this since issue #1 and it’s paying off quite well here.

The Conjuring: The Lover #3
The Conjuring: The Lover #3

Garry Brown’s art is especially effective in portraying Jessica’s own sense of dread as she gets pulled away from the people that can help her the most by the person enacting the horror that’s latched on to her. Each panel feels claustrophobic, enclosing Jessica deeper within her environment. At points, it feels as if the panels themselves are attacking the character, pushing into even more uncomfortable spaces.

As has been the case in the previous two entries, this issue contains a back-up story featuring a haunted item from the Warren’s Artifact Room, and this issue’s tale might be it’s best yet. It looks at the now infamous Accordion Monkey and it’s written by Tim Seely with art by horror master Kelley Jones and colors by Jordie Bellaire.

It’s a tale that has a 1970’s horror vibe to it in that the inner workings of the haunted object contains a healthy dose of madness, violence, and insidiousness. The horror put on display has no qualms painting a bleak picture for those involved and it savors the idea that darkness tends to have a better chance at prevailing in cases such as this.

The Conjuring: The Lover #3
The Conjuring: The Lover #3

Seely’s script is tight and smartly gruesome when it needs to be, but Jones’ art is what seals the deal on this one. It’s a great reminder of why Jones deserves to be among the best horror illustrators in the business. It feels classic EC Horror to an extent, but it looks to be more than just an homage to horror’s past. It truly is a treat getting this story right after a solid entry of The Lover.

Things aren’t looking so good for Jessica and the next issue is shaping up to be an intense encounter with the dark forces that have decided to torment her. We can only hope the Warrens make a surprise appearance to save the day, but the way things are going, that doesn’t seem like it’s going to be the case.

Story: David L. Johnson-McGoldrick & Rex Ogle, Art: Garry Brown Color: Jordie Bellaire
Story: 8.0 Art: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy and always have a friend that believes you see ghosts.


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You Can’t Bring Work to Home In “Bliss #2”

Bliss #2 - cover

So, Bliss #1 acted as an introductory issue. You met the main characters, you got to know the setting of Feral City, and that Lethe, Greek Goddess of Oblivion, plays a huge role. Although, issue one mostly focused on the villain hero, Benton O’Hara, and his backstory. Our narrator is his son, Perry, desperately urging a courtroom full of people who, rightfully, want Benton dead for murdering their loved ones. The central theme of Bliss is Forgiveness, and I felt that was a hard sell given both the lack of information and heavily biased viewpoint. I concluded my review on a positive hope, expressing hope that future issues would complicated both whether Benton deserves forgiveness and the Lethe mythos which were only slightly mentioned.

I’m happy to report that Bliss #2 does succeed, mostly, on the former while dropping more hints on the latter. First though, let me talk about Caitlin Yarsky’s art. If you read my previous review, it should come as no surprise how excellent it is. The trademarks are all on display: A detailed gothic aesthetic, fluid motion, unique character designs, invocative body language and facial expression, and ornamented panel layouts that effortlessly decompress the narrative. I think all of Yarsky’s best qualities can be summarized by the very first page. 

Bliss #2 - image 1

Just marvel at how the oasis is both extremely detailed, yet maintains organic fluidity. The color choice invokes a deep supernatural feeling, its radiancy both alluring and intimidating. The silhouetted figures below are placed in a way where they aren’t overlooked, yet still show just how massive this structure is. This image alone should convince you of the overall quality of the art. 

Even with the familiar hallmarks, Yarsky still manages a few new surprises in her bag of tricks. In one scene, for example, Benton is waking through a tunnel and starts having visions. They start sweet and idyllic, him and his family together, happy. This is Benton’s guiding light, a reminder of the greater good he’s sacrificing his humanity for; a point made more explicit by Perry’s narration. But the visions soon turn dark. They become memories of all the people Benton’s killed. No matter how far he runs, every monstrous act he’s committed follows him. The nightmare doesn’t stop until he drinks more Bliss.

Interestingly, these memories are presented as emerging from eggs similar in color to the orbs from issue #1, and just as grotesque. I’m not sure what the shape of an egg is supposed to symbolize, but it sure does look cool and shows without telling that Benton is haunted by guilt. This also suggests that, perhaps, the effects of Bliis are not permanent. In the story, Bliss is supposed to be a drug that wipes away dark memories. The three reptilian humanods whom serve Lethe utilize this drug for witnesses or, in Benton’s case, to keep his mind at ease. It’s how they keep Feral City under their control. Ignorance is bliss, right? Or maybe not so much. 

It’s a nice way of visual world-building strong enough to imply without spelling it out. Clearly, the storytellers trust the reader to come to their own intrepretations. It’s now a matter of keeping an eye on how this develops, whether or not it has bigger implications later down the road.

Bliss #2 - image 2

The images of this scene are so strong, they are enough to communicate to the reader how Benton feels guilty. This doesn’t make Perry’s narration unnecessary though. What better way to argue that his father wasn’t a heartless? It’s certainly significant to the main theme of Forgiveness, but I’ll save that discussion for later. 

Another neat trick that Yarsky pulls, one that I hope doesn’t go unnoticed, is her use of micro sequentials. There’s probably a better term for that, but what I mean is decompressing seemingly simple actions that, as a result, makes movement appear gradual. Usually, these are done with 3-4 panels and put a lot of emphasis on seemingly mundane actions, yet because of their gradualness it builds up a strong emotion behind them. Whether that be happiness or guilt, the impact is felt, not like a ton of bricks but more of a gentle wave. I think how it’s formatted into a page, as smaller panels comparative to the rest, is what makes it so deceivingly effective. It just goes to show how the small moments matter as much as the big ones.

Bliss #2 - image 3

With that, it’s time to talk about Sean Lewis’s writing. First off, I want to address how one of the major criticisms I had for issue #1 is not just improved, but also the best part! When Mable O’Hara, Benton’s wife and Perry’s mother, was first introduced, I initially felt disappointed because my expectations were high given Lewis and Yarsky’s previous series, Coyotes. However, in this issue, Mabel becomes a fully-fledged, active character. It all starts with an argument between her and Benton. 

Benton comes home after another assignment and, while talking to Perry, has a mental breakdown, and he runs off. A little later, he comes home and Mabel is waiting outside for him. She is pissed off.  It’s not because of him running off though. Mabel knows Benton is hiding something from her and wants to know what. The way she delivers this interrogation, still loving Benton while not having his bullshit, is simply badass! Lewis’s writing is so poignant, and Yarsky’s body language equally so, that if Mabel were an actor, this would be an Oscar-winning performance. By the time she delivers her ultimatum, I was fist-pumping the air. This is my favorite scene in Bliss #2 and, honestly, I would rank it highly based off of this scene alone.

Bliss #2 - image 4

 

The only criticism I have is that there are minor formatting errors. For example, there is a balloon where the dialogue is slightly off to the right instead of the center. It’s easily overlooked though, certainly not the massive eyesore I’ve seen in some comics with regards to lettering.

Image

God, I get a panic attack just looking at that page.

Anyway, for the most part, the characters are all very well-written and consistent. Benton is the conflicted murderer that just wants to provide for his family. Perry is still the faithful son trying to save his father’s life. There is an outstanding side character, one of Benton’s victims. Despite her brief existence, she is a fleshed out character, an activist risking everything to bring down the corruption in Feral City. I couldn’t help but feel so compelled by the gusto this woman had even in the face of death. It just goes to show you how memorable a side character can be. 

So, technically, everything is all well and done, right? That’s great, but the real meat of Bliss #2 is the theme of Forgetting. Going back to the opening image of a bizarre tree, Perry narrates how all human societies have a tendency to forget the darkest chapters of their history. There are scientific explanations, but also mythical ones such as Lethe. Next page, Perry continues on his speech, transitioning to how forgetting the past allows us to survive. 

We see an image of a family at Thanksgiving, yelling at each other; pedestrians walking on a street, passing by a homeless man and his dog; people minding their own business on a subway, ignoring a woman begging for change; a group of boys living in squalor, yet they find time to enjoy a ball game. What all of these scenes show is the conflicting reality of Forgetting. On one hand, forgetting can allow us to continue enjoying life. On the other, ignoring the past can cause us to become oblivious of the injustice around us. In Benton O’Hara’s case, it can effect personal relationships too. 

Benton can drink all the Bliss he wants, but it’s not permanent. His crimes re-emerge as haunting visions, which leads to drinking even more Bliss, and I’m guessing that’s definitely not going to be good later on. Worse yet is how this affects his home life. I already talked about his argument with Mable, but it’s also create distance between him and Perry. He may not be abusive, but his sporadic behavior and refusal to tell the truth is still hurting them. It also affects Benton’s relationship with the reader. We want to be sympathetic because we know the circumstances of why he is a murderer. At the same time, though, the aftermath of Benton’s actions make that sympathy uncomfortable if not completely burnt away. 

Bliss #2 - image 5

Another major criticism in my review of issue #1 was how the narrative is seemingly biased toward Benton, not giving the other side of the equation–that of the victims–as proper representation as Perry’s. It made the central theme of Forgiveness seem too one-sided. However, issue #2 complicates this by making Forgetting complicated as well. We are shown one of Benton’s victims, we get to know her; we see how his actions affect his family, and how self-destructive he has become. Yes, you can make the argument that Benton is enslaved to servants of Lethe, but that doesn’t mean he is guiltless either. 

Whether or not Forgiveness is completely out of the question, Bliss #2 makes the answer uncertain. We can forget the past, but that doesn’t make the atrocities go away. We cannot just ignore their consequences. Eventually,  they come back, repeat themselves, and nothing gets better. We do not forgive. We do not move on. 

Sean Lewis flawlessly explores this theme of Forgetting in such a riveting way that doesn’t feel forced. It comes out naturally, allowing the story to be entertaining and trusts the reader to ponder the deeper implications. I mean, that is what I did just now. Maybe it is all gibberish, but the fact I had such profound thoughts should proof how Bliss, much like all of Lewis’s comics, inspire me to think critically. This is the kind of comic I want to read.  

The last thing to bring up is the world building. Much like the first issue, Bliss #2 has sprinklings of it, mostly visual, mostly visual ones. The suggestion that the effects of Bliss aren’t permanent, how Bliss is a known drug throughout Feral City, that the servants of Lethe fully control, and, to a larger extent, use it to control the city itself. There isn’t much else concrete until a twist at the end, which I’m not going to give away because it completely turns the tables of the story. All I will say is that things are about to rev up pass eleven. 

Much like the previous issue, this one is more focused on Benton and his family. The larger threat of Lethe and why Feral City is such a big part of her plot to destroy the world, is still just finally boiling up. As much as I enjoyed issue Bliss #2, that the barrel needs to go off on this powder keg. We understand enough about our main character, let’s have something happen. Let us explore the interesting ways the mythology of Lethe is implemented into the narrative. 

Bliss #2 manages to be a terrific follow up to an audacious debut, expanding upon every element introduced previously. Where this goes in the next issue, I have no idea, which is exciting. If the ending is any indication, Hell is coming to Feral City, and no one will remain blissfully ignorant for long. 

Story: Sean Lewis Art: Caitlin Yarsky Publisher: Image Comics
Purchase: comiXologyKindle Amazon

 

   

Review: Basketful of Heads #7

Basketful of Heads #7

Basketful of Heads deserves to be mentioned along the same lines as Meir Zarchi’s I Spit On Your Grave and Park Chan-wook’s Lady Vengeance, movies that flip the idea of revenge on its head. These films create characters that match male violence with a unique female resolve to return it in kind, and then some. Joe Hill and Leomacs’ story about a girl with a magical axe and the means to use it on corrupt and evil men does precisely that while also adding a thing or two to make the violence on display say more than it’s usually allowed to.

This seven-issue series, largely inspired by the aforementioned films plus a healthy dose of EC Horror comics, sets its aims on a cast of evil men that try to keep lead character June Branch from rescuing her boyfriend—a police officer named Liam that threatened to expose the corruption behind Brody Island’s own police force.

Issue #7 brings things to an already expected final showdown with the biggest and baddest cop of the bunch, but it does so with an unexpected twist. I won’t spoil it here, but Hill and Leomacs wade through lesser known waters to look at different kinds of evil and just how well they work in tandem even when they’re not directly related. Just how severely the men who succumb to these evils should be punished is a question that is answered as clear as an axe to the neck. It makes you think on what’s tolerable and what shouldn’t be.

That the final confrontation has echoes of Cape Fear in it and how it plays out also adds to the overarching sense of discovering new roads towards retribution that deal with the bad things we’ve yet tired of facing.

As has been the case throughout the entire run, Leomac’s art and Dave Stewart’s colors continue to bring out every ounce of 70s horror the story taps into to the forefront without letting those same elements overpower the narrative. There’s a sense of impending blood-letting that is carried by the colors that crescendos to the point of complete synchronicity with the unraveling of the story.

Letterer Deron Bennett continues to take advantage of every opportunity to give the SFX and the text a life of its own. Bennett does an amazing job of giving everything a very rhythmic and animated quality, with sounds bleeding into the background and speech bubbles threatening to burst with the violence behind some of its lines. Basketful of Heads had a team that understood the story and what it needed to shine.

If the first six issues didn’t make it clear enough, Hill’s script set out to make the story’s message crystal clear in its conclusion: bad men make the world a horrible place, and they’re good at it. The talking heads of evil men hound June almost constantly and each new male character that emerges into the story is always just shy of having a sign over his head reading “bad man about to get chopped.”

Much like the EC Horror comics of old, the message is spelled out without an ounce of subtlety in the process. While it’s an interesting message to keep exploring (being that it’s timeless, unfortunately), I did feel it tried way too hard to make sure everyone got it. It’s classically moralist—a true ‘good vs. evil’ story that’s comforting to have around when grey areas get too muddy—but by the final pages I was getting a bit impatient with it as I had got it from the first issue onward.

Fortunately, this doesn’t interfere with the enjoyment of Basketful of Heads. The final moments do a great job of bringing everything full circle and the twists and turns in this final issue do bring new things to the table in terms of who also deserves the axe but doesn’t always get it. It’s worthy of discussion and it invites a controversial opinion or two. I guess that’s the thing about stories with axes. No matter the cut, they always leave a bloody mess behind.

Story: Joe Hill Art: Leomacs
Color: Dave Stewart Letterer: Deron Bennett
Story: 9.0 Art: 10 Overall: Buy and read it to your axe

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


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Review: Holy F*cked #1

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 12.48.53If you’re looking for something new, hilarious and completely original, look no further. Holy F*cked is the comic for you.  It’s an interesting blend of adult humour and a slice of life with a hint of adventure.

Set in Los Angeles, Jesus and Satan along with their friend Maria are leading happy lives.  Jesus skates, Satan’s a housewife and Maria does charity work. However when word gets around that Jesus and Satan are expecting a baby, someone in Mount Olympus is angered by this news due to a tragic past event involving Jesus and he begins his journey to stop this pregnancy.

Written by Nick Marino, the comedic dialogue is consistent throughout. The tone is friendly, entertaining with the right amount of colloquial language.  From panel to panel there wasn’t a moment I wasn’t laughing or smiling to myself.

Arruda Massa is the artist of Holy F*cked and it’s terrific.  The art is exciting, fun and wild.  It has a late 90’s/early 00’s Cartoon Network nostalgia feel to it.  Moreover it’s fascinating to see a unique and modern portrayal of Satan and Jesus in terms of how they look and dress as well as how they speak.

In addition to the great comedic content and wonderful artwork, the characters are one of the best things about Holy F*cked.  It’s intriguing to see bibliographical and mythological characters together which is another reason why it’s so innovative.  Nonetheless there could be a little bit more about the characters as well as what they’re seen doing and saying since they feel a little unfamiliar.

On the whole, Holy F*cked is absolutely glorious and this is an awesome first issue.  It’s fast pasted, lively and like I mentioned before, hilarious.

Story: Nick Marino Art: Arruda Massa
Story: 8.75 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Definite Buy!

The creators provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Book Review: Another Day by David Levithan, or Another attempt to make money off a successful book

another day

Thee years ago, David Levithan, author of numerous contemporary novels, put out  a book called Every Day. It was met with criticism; some loved it, others hated it, I didn’t care. The book was not enjoyable, but not worthy of being loathed — it had shortcomings, but they were not that many.

Today the sequel/companion that was never supposed to materialise in flesh is out. And it’s bad. Desultory and tedious, Another Day tells the pretty much same story of Every Day, however, this time through another character’s eyes — Rhiannon’s.

Never have I been a fan of alternate point-of-view stories, but as the publisher sent this to me I decided to give it a try. Pushed myself to like it, but it was hard to get through this one. The writing is good, but it, alone, cannot save the book. The emotional pull that Every Day conveyed is gone and, maybe because I know how the story unravels, Rhiannon is not a riveting center of attention.The book ends on a cliffhanger, which makes me dread the worst — that an actual sequel may come out in the future.

On the whole, Another Day is a book with great writing, but barely has any other redeeming qualities, which can make me recommend this one. Nevertheless, if you have yet to read Every Day, you might enjoy this one. It will probably have some gravitas if you do not already know the story.

Rating:
2.5/5 stars

Review: Will Eisner’s The Spirit #1

TNSpirit01CovAPowell“Who killed The Spirit?”

I must say this was just a good ol’ fashioned reminder of what was the Golden Age of comics. The Spirit is a character (created by master comic book legend Will Eisner) who has been around since 1940 and reading this harkened back to that time period. For those who are unaware, The Spirit is the crime fighting alter ego of hardboiled private detective Denny Colt. The quick easy explanation is one night on the trail of his arch-enemy Dr. Cobra, Denny barges brazenly into a fight and in the process of getting shot at is exposed to a chemical which “kills” him in the line of duty. Long time fans know though, Denny Colt does not die. He was actually in a state of suspended animation and he comes back to fight crime. (Perfectly acceptable comic book logic there.)

Now this latest volume from Dynamite Entertainment serves as our reintroduction to The Spirit and his world. When I read who would be helming this project I was excited. Matt Wagner who is a long time fan of Will Eisner and pulp comics, made me feel this would be in terrific hands. I had only wished he was drawing in addition to scripting the book. Nevertheless I remained very hopeful.

The issue opens up with a splash page of a Central City Gazette Newspaper and it’s headline “Who killed The Spirit?” I like how the date is blurred out but from the surroundings and the rest of the comic you can tell it’s supposed to be in the  1940’s. Leaving it blurred allows for the reader to have a suspension of disbelief and keeps the story timeless. (Something that all comics should be in my humble opinion) Immediately after the splash page we are reintroduced to Commissioner Dolan, who is being interrogated by a newshound demanding he reveals what he knows about The Masked Mystery Man’s disappearance. Of course Dolan brushes it off by stating he knows what we all know, and that’s nothing.  Refreshingly the reporter states he doesn’t believe it as there is way too close of a connection to the late Mr. Colt and the good commissioner. (Good for him, a reporter with brains in the Golden Age is rare)

Dolan gets to his office for a reprieve to think to himself about the events that lead to Denny Colt becoming The Spirit and in the process reintroduce his origins to new readers. As he’s reminiscing, the arrival of his daughter Ellen (a striking blonde beauty usually clad in all white, who just happened to be love of our masked hero’s former life) She’s there to introduce her daddy to her new beau Archibald Shale who is up and coming on the fast track to be a district attorney. Dolan exchanges pleasantries and Ellen shows Archie out of the room for a moment of private time with her father. The Commissioner says a comment alluding to his daughters relationship with Shale being a sham, and Ellen gets defensive. Commissioner Dolan reminds her of what today is the anniversary of. Ellen then says it’s been two years since Denny’s death and she’s moved on. She had to. On her way out of the office though she breaks down to her dad that she really misses him. Dolan replies to his daughter “We all miss him.” “All of us.”

We then switch gears and go across town to the office door of Strunk & White: Private Investigators. One of the partners is actually Ebony White, long time sidekick of The Spirit now out on his own. Apparently the fledgling team is having trouble drumming up clientele and they are willing to take just about any case to keep the doors open. Sammy Strunk the younger partner to Ebony heads out with him on the case. There is a scene in the car where he asks Ebony what his real name is (Obviously his parents did not name him Ebony White or they have no sense of irony) and it’s a funny little moment.

After the name revelation, the rest of the issue features the introduction of a new character and a new direction as the former sidekick decides to honor his mentor by finding out what happened to him. This obviously sets up the tone for the new series and giving some face time to the supporting cast which I am ok with to start out.

Overall: This was a fun little read, but it read quite too quickly. I wanted a little bit more from this team’s opening salvo as I have always been a fan of The Spirit character and pulp comic heroes in general. I thought it was cool to reintroduce the audience by fleshing out the supporting cast without the title hero around (reminded me of the episode of Arrow where the team has to endure in Ollie’s absence) but it’s something that can only be done for an issue or two before it becomes tiresome. The writing is good enough and faithful to the source material, but I expect a little more oomph from Matt Wagner and I hope his turns it up a notch in subsequent issues. The art however I had a major disconnect with. I know it’s supposed to be presented in the style of comics in the 40’s with the simple page layouts and even the word balloon imaging but this was a definite miss. This was my first introduction to Dan Schkade’s art and it was just far too inconsistent. Main characters like The Spirit, Commissioner Dolan and Ellen were all rendered great, but any of the minor characters all came off looking very childlike. I’m hoping the art improves as he progresses because it really took me out of the story. I wish this title great success as it has so much to offer. I can’t wait to see what makes The Spirit comics great: Action, mystery, jaw dropping death traps, femme fatales, fisticuffs and did I mention the Femme Fatales? Unlike the hero himself, I hope this title doesn’t stay in suspended animation too long.

 

Story: Matt Wagner Art: Dan Schenke
Story: 7.5 Art: 5 Overall: 6 Recommendation: Read (for The Spirit fans)

 

 

 

Video Game Review: #IDARB (Xbox One)

idarb screenEmbrace the chaos. That could be the official motto of #IDARB.

As far as I can tell, there are a lot of firsts that #IDARB (which stands, incidentally, for “It Draws a Red Box” — more on that in a minute):

– First game to allow both tweets and Twitch comments to alter gameplay
– First game whose first “letter” is a hashtag
– First Xbox One game to incorporate QR codes to import new player characters
– First game to exist that is a cross between soccer, basketball, and Jumpman.

(Seriously, does anyone remember Jumpman? Jumpman was the best.)

Maybe you can find examples of the above “firsts” pre-#IDARB, but it doesn’t really matter. The point is, #IDARB is relentlessly innovative in its approach to competitive gameplay, even as it is relentlessly primitive in its execution. It is very plainly a game that could only exist in the 2010s, even as it goes out of its way to look like a game that could never have gotten out of the ’80s.

Here’s the basic idea of #IDARB: There are two teams of one to four players per team, two goals (one for each team), and one ball. Each team tries to pick up the ball and throw it into the goal. Each player can either pass, shoot, or knock the ball out of an opponent’s hand. The farther a shot goes and the more things it hits on its way to the goal, the more points it scores. Spectators, if they so choose, can lob “hashbombs” through Twitter or Twitch, which range from either aesthetic weaks to wholesale changes to the game. Timely example: #llama will make a llama (it looks more like a camel, but, like, whatevs) appear in the background of the playing field, along with a little shout-out to lo-fi dev demigod Jeff Minter.

That’s it! That’s the whole game! The arena is a bit of a platforming nightmare, but it’s well-designed enough to give any player a number of paths to get around opponents. The action is fast, but you get used to it quickly. It doesn’t take too long before you can be competitive, even if it’s almost impossible for those of us with human reflexes to perfect trick shots. Walking into the goal (with the ball, of course) is worth one point, and it’s the best way for a new player to get started.

This is a game designed as an eSport, something that can be played quickly and competitively, something for which a huge tournament bracket can be played through in a couple of hours. As such, it’s frenetic and fantastic.

idarb_etTry and play it by yourself, however, and it’s a little less fun. There is a single-player campaign, but it’s buried a bit in the menus, and there’s very little tension in learning the predictable patterns of computer opponents. Anyone who’s played a video game before will blow through the whole thing in a couple hours.

There’s plenty of fun to be had in creating and importing various characters as well. There are easily-manipulated editors for creating your own 8-bit sprites, and there’s a neat little tracker program for putting together some music. You can even import via QR code. I imported the little dude to the left because I want #IDARB to evoke every childhood memory I ever had. I programmed a theme song for him that sounds like a chippy dubstep version of the Indiana Jones theme song for maximum cognitive dissonance. For a game that so often seems to say “why not?,” it seems appropriate.

#IDARB started out of a single tweet: Other Ocean developer Mike Mika said “I’ve started a new project, it draws a red box,” and from there, he incorporated feature requests from his followers to turn the game into what it is today. What it is today, then, is a riot — something best enjoyed in short bursts but a total blast to play, especially with some friends and an audience.

Maybe it doesn’t sound like your thing. Well, it’s still free until tomorrow (February 28) for Xbox Live Gold subscribers. What do you have to lose?

Score: 7.9

Review: Naruto

Naruto-Shippuden-Ninja-Storm-RevolutionIn honor of its recent final chapter we’re going to be looking at Naruto. Yes, the ninja who never shuts up and sounds like someone who smoked for a majority of their life, that’s who we’re going to be looking at today. Naruto was created by writer and artist Masashi Kishimoto, who originally made a one shot of the character, who was changed only slightly into the hyper active character we know today. It has recently finished with a total of 700 chapters and the anime is still ongoing currently with a “final” movie having just recently premiered.

Alright story for those who don’t know:

Twelve years prior to the original start of the story the village of Konoha was attacked by a nine tailed fox, who was then trapped into a new born baby by the village leader, the fourth Hokage. This child’s name was Naruto and Christ did he get the short end of the stick. Made into the town pariah he is forced to grow up not only as an orphan but also the most hated member of the town for mistakes he didn’t make. The children his age even dislike him, just based upon how their parents acted to him, and that made for a very difficult and lonely childhood. But fear not because Naruto doesn’t care, well he does, but he would never show it. He wants to be hokage and prove to the village he can be more than some hated reject. So he decides to become a ninja despite having failed as a student so many times before. Finally achieving his goal, he strives to become the strongest ninja in all of Konoha and prove to everyone that he isn’t a waste of space!

There’s a lot more that I won’t exactly bring up, just in case there are people who are interested in reading the manga or watching the show still. But basically its Naruto’s quest to acceptance and the friends he makes because of that. It’s cheesy but hey the kids love it for some reason. I know I did when I was young and watching it.

Naruto is our lead, obviously, and he is… Endearing? Really he’s a fine character with a lot of enthusiasm but there’s just a lot of energy that you have to match up with. He basically raised himself, never knew his parents, and doesn’t understand why everyone in the village hates him. Well he finds out, but even then he has a hard time understanding. He’s a bit thickheaded like that. He wants to be hokage and shouts it to the world with a, “Dattebayo!” (Believe it). We want him to succeed because he grows up so well over time that you can’t help but want him to wear the stupid hat of power, because you grew up with him.

Sasuke is the second main character I suppose in that he is sort of a driving force behind a lot of Naruto’s actions. Loved by everyone in the village Sasuke is a bit jaded on the whole people thing, often seeing them as similar because none of them try to get to know the real him. All the girls his age adore him to the point of stalking and it’s a wonder no one’s ended up with a restraining order. He and Naruto start off hating each other, seeing each other as annoying, but eventually they learn to trust each other. I don’t really care about him, he’s kind of a huge jerkwad, and that’s all he ever amounts to being.

Sakura is our leading lady and probably the character with the most growth, minus the last few chapters, but yeah. She’s hotheaded and intelligent but is scared of showing people what she’s really like out of fear of rejection. Starting off she just sort of comes off as a girl desperately in love with Sasuke and someone who has literally no motivation for anything really. That does change quite a lot that she’s strong and independent. She uses her strength and intelligence to become a strong female medical ninja who still holds onto what she loves.

There are a series of like a hundred plus other characters, which yes they are important, but that would take a whole lot of time.

The animation is… Well it’s shonen jump alright! That’s not saying Masato Kishimoto isn’t a good artist, but at times it is very wonky, but only in earlier chapters. Now for those who may not know, shonen is a ‘boy’s’ oriented genre of manga, which includes titles like Bleach or One Piece, and typically is showcased in the magazine Shonen Jump. For the most part the manga is a lot more detailed than that of the anime, merely because the animation crew likes to make everyone appear as bland as possible. Though the fight scenes are really good in both series, though once again lose a lot because of the more defined sketchy art style of Kishimoto. Now that isn’t to say that there are sometimes that I wish there had been a cleanup crew, because dear lord if I could count the number of times I’ve seen extremely sloppy execution done during the Chunin Exam arc. Ultimately though it was a very unique style that I don’t think will ever been done quite the same.

The sound is, not the best in either English or Japanese really, but if I had to choose I’d rather listen to five hundred episodes with subtitles. That isn’t me saying the dub isn’t good either, though I would never… It’s not good. Watch it in Japanese, preferably, also because they don’t butcher the opening theme like a lot of Dubbing companies did in the early 2000s. Now Viz Media did the dub, but once again, all it really did was launch Yuri Lewonthal’s career along with a few choice others who were already in the dub scene. This includes Kyle Hebert, Steve Blum, and Crispin Freeman. Also Liam O’Brian! These are the only people I think are of note, but hey, everybody likes different other voice actors. Any who, the music is also pretty good, sad flute instrumentals abound though. Because it is a longer anime it has multiple openings and endings. I would say there are a few that are really stellar, but there is a lot to go through. I personally really liked a lot of the Shippuden themes.

I have a lot of issues revolving around this show because of fans and the ultimate final few chapters of the manga. I grew up with Naruto, so I do end up having a lot of embarrassed nostalgia about it, I was as we used to call them a Narutard. I will defend that this is a good show with a lot of really good heartfelt moments, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that there is problems. Ultimately it comes down to the final arc and plot thread that just felt like it was ham-fisted into the reader’s faces. It felt almost like an insult to us as readers. I can’t be too angry though, it isn’t my work, its Kishimoto’s, but I can’t help but be a bit angry.

Still as a fan and a reader I have to thank Kishimoto for the last 15 years and congratulate him on completing Naruto. After such a long time it’s time to say goodbye even if it feels like letting go of an important friend. It’s an endearing show that if you have the time, read or watch it, it’s heartfelt where it needs to be and silly in the same way.

Narurto: 7/10

Review: Space Dandy

11721369493_f26faa7b11_oIf you like anime you’re going to like this anime. If you don’t like anime you’re going to like this one. From Studio Bones and director Shinichiro Watanabe we have been given the goldmine that is Space Dandy. The series began in 2014, surprisingly in America before Japan, and was an instant hit. It’s a bit crude in places but also has the same deep sentiments that we gain from works like Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo. With an omnipresent voice that narrates all of the happenings with and around Dandy we are immediately kicked in the face with these storylines and plot that would probably never work in a different anime.

The story is literally about a Space Dandy, who, and I quote, is a dandy guy in space. What more could you want? It’s also basically an episodic anime with an overarching story line that we, as the audience, always are wondering where it is going to take us. But ultimately each episode is pretty fun and a standalone reason to try and sit down and watch this show. Also we have restaurants in this show called Breasturants, otherwise known as BooBies, which dear lord is probably a play on Hooters, or something. But anyway we have our three characters we are most faced with and then the other plot which an empire is trying to get their hands own our hero, because he may be the key to winning a galactic war.

So as said above we have Space Dandy, our dandy guy, and man is he just that. He is the best character to take away from probably this entire last new anime season. He’s on the hunt for new aliens to try and make a living off of, but ends up in high stakes shenanigans all the time. Dandy loves women and the booty, which he proclaims quite often. If he could live off the food at BooBies he would, but that’s just unrealistic. Still he has a sense of what is wrong and right while keeping a light sense of attitude towards most situations. While he can be entirely selfish he also usually ends up doing the right thing because deep down he is just a good guy. The big secret around him is also very cool and well done, which is another reason to sit down and try this out.

QT is Dandy’s second in command, an older model robot, and probably the most intelligent of the three mains we have. Shown to be older in model he is otherwise shown to be able to feel and process emotions like a human would. This makes it interesting as we have a robot who can love and be annoyed by things around him, and it makes for good storytelling as well as character development.

Meow is the unfortunate Betelgeusian that meets our heroes in the very first episode through a series of events. A bit of a pervert he is our otaku-esque character with very little want or care of pleasing his captain. Also he’s basically a cat. So he acts like one in certain situations despite a hatred of being called one. Everyone wonders why he left his home planet when he is such a homebody, basically, already, and it’s found that he didn’t want to end up in a mundane never ending life of boredom, which makes him quite endearing. He loves traveling with Dandy and QT, finding the excitement he couldn’t at home.

Then we have a whole slew of other characters that are technically side characters but are still important to the story plot overall and how it progress our main characters and forces them into situations. I won’t go into them because there are a lot of them, but I mean if you sit and decide you’re interested in the show you’ll get to meet them anyway.

The animation in this is… Just splendid. Every now and then it changes to a different style that is just as equally interesting as the plot. Each character is unique and independent, from Dandy’s pompadour to Dr. Gel’s gorilla like body. Also in the same style as Gurren Lagann it is big and encompassing to the point of being ridiculous. Yet we love it, we can’t help but want Dandy to go through another monologue where he just goes on about surfing and how life is just like that. Also it’s bright and shows exactly what we would want space to be like in that situation, people with hair that sparkles like the stars themselves or spaceships painted with Hawaiian shirt patterns. I cannot help but feel that this animation is the beginning much more top notch animation we’ll see in the future, especially from Studio Bones.

I want to talk about the dub before I go into the soundtrack. There is rarely a time that I will say watch the dub, but watch the dub dear lord it is golden. And in all technicality the dub for once is the original due to it airing in America before it did in Japan. For one Ian Sinclair is a perfect Dandy, hitting just that right amount of humor when it’s needed that you can’t help but want him to keep going. Colleen Clinkenbeard is also in the series which also ups how good this dub is to the point I want to call it pure perfection and put it on a shelf next to Cowboy Bebop forever. I have heard excerpts of the Japanese cast and I just prefer the English this time. It just feels far superior by simple matters of casting and the performance. But seriously just do it for Sinclair’s Dandy, it’s so worth it, just like you’d watch Bebop for Steve Blum. I cannot stress enough how rare it is that I will recommend a dub over the Japanese, so please if you take anything away from this and decide you want to check it out go and watch this version.

Now we can talk about the soundtrack. It’s so nice and uppity that you can’t help but feel good when the opening theme Viva Namida by Yasuyuki Okamura, which has its swoon worthy vocals that you can’t help but feel like yes this is worth my next twenty-four hours instead of sleeping before class. Also to give you an even bigger reason to watch the dub, we have episodes where the characters sing, and Sinclair as well as the rest of the cast actually sang the songs. They actually took the time to record these songs and make it fit the characters they were portraying. They don’t have Dandy sing in a perfect coo, rather his voice cracks when he sings higher notes, it fluxgates between octaves when he struggles to get that lyric out. It’s glorious. The mixture of music and dialogue was done very well that I didn’t struggle to hear or interpret what was going on.

I do have issues with this show. It isn’t the pure perfection I have built it up to be so far. Actually there is that issue of it being an episodic show. A lot of the episodes are throwaway ones that honestly you could skip a lot of. We have an interesting overarching plot that barely gets touched on because of hijinks that could be left to the side instead. That isn’t overtly bad as we’ve seen it well executed in Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, but we also want to just get to the point of what is going on. And we do get to it… Eventually. No spoilers of course, but still it just feels like it takes a while to really get to what we wanted. While each episode is unique and good I don’t feel that it works well to the degree it wants to.

Ultimately though,

Space Dandy: 8/10

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